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This etext was produced by Dudley P. Duck.

Etext prepared by John Bickers, jbickers@ihug.co.nz
and Dagny, dagnyj@hotmail.com


By H. Rider Haggard

First Published in 1922.


My Dear Little,

Some five-and-thirty years ago it was our custom to discuss many
matters, among them, I think, the history and romance of the
vanished Empires of Central America.

In memory of those far-off days will you accept a tale that deals
with one of them, that of the marvellous Incas of Peru; with the
legend also that, long before the Spanish Conquerors entered on
their mission of robbery and ruin, there in that undiscovered land
lived and died a White God risen from the sea?

Ever sincerely yours,
H. Rider Haggard.
Oct. 24, 1921.

James Stanley Little, Esq.



There are some who find great interest, and even consolation, amid the
worries and anxieties of life in the collection of relics of the past,
drift or long-sunk treasures that the sea of time has washed up upon
our modern shore.

The great collectors are not of this class. Having large sums at their
disposal, these acquire any rarity that comes upon the market and add
it to their store which in due course, perhaps immediately upon their
deaths, also will be put upon the market and pass to the possession of
other connoisseurs. Nor are the dealers who buy to sell again and thus
grow wealthy. Nor are the agents of museums in many lands, who
purchase for the national benefit things that are gathered together in
certain great public buildings which perhaps, some day, though the
thought makes one shiver, will be looted or given to the flames by
enemies or by furious, thieving mobs.

Those that this Editor has in mind, from one of whom indeed he
obtained the history printed in these pages, belong to a quite
different category, men of small means often, who collect old things,
for the most part at out-of-the-way sales or privately, because they
love them, and sometimes sell them again because they must. Frequently
these old things appeal, not because of any intrinsic value that they
may have, not even for their beauty, for they may be quite
unattractive even to the cultivated eye, but rather for their
associations. Such folk love to reflect upon and to speculate about
the long-dead individuals who have owned the relics, who have supped
their soup from the worn Elizabethan spoon, who have sat at the
rickety oak table found in a kitchen or an out-house, or upon the
broken, ancient chair. They love to think of the little children whose
skilful, tired hands wrought the faded sampler and whose bright eyes
smarted over its innumerable stitches.

Who, for instance, was the May Shore ("Fairy" broidered in a bracket
underneath, was her pet name), who finished yonder elaborate example
on her tenth birthday, the 1st of May--doubtless that is where she got
her name--in the year 1702, and on what far shore does she keep her
birthdays now? None will ever know. She has vanished into the great
sea of mystery whence she came, and there she lives and has her being,
forgotten upon earth, or sleeps and sleeps and sleeps. Did she die
young or old, married or single? Did she ever set /her/ children to
work other samplers, or had she none? was she happy or unhappy, was
she homely or beautiful? Was she a sinner or a saint? Again none will
ever know. She was born on the 1st of May, 1692, and certainly she
died on some date unrecorded. So far as human knowledge goes that is
all her history, just as much or as little as will be left of most of
us who breathe to-day when this earth has completed two hundred and
eighteen more revolutions round the sun.

But the kind of collector alluded to can best be exemplified in the
individual instance of him from whom the manuscript was obtained, of
which a somewhat modernized version is printed on these pages. He has
been dead some years, leaving no kin; and under his will, such of his
motley treasures as it cared to accept went to a local museum, while
the rest and his other property were sold for the benefit of a
mystical brotherhood, for the old fellow was a kind of spiritualist.
Therefore, there is no harm in giving his plebeian name, which was
Potts. Mr. Potts had a small draper's shop in an undistinguished and
rarely visited country town in the east of England, which shop he ran
with the help of an assistant almost as old and peculiar as himself.
Whether he made anything out of it or whether he lived upon private
means is now unknown and does not matter. Anyway, when there was
something of antiquarian interest or value to be bought, generally he
had the money to pay for it, though at times, in order to do so, he
was forced to sell something else. Indeed these were the only
occasions when it was possible to purchase anything, indifferent
hosiery excepted, from Mr. Potts.

Now, I, the Editor, who also love old things, and to whom therefore
Mr. Potts was a sympathetic soul, was aware of this fact and entered
into an arrangement with the peculiar assistant to whom I have
alluded, to advise me of such crises which arose whenever the local
bank called Mr. Potts's attention to the state of his account. Thus it
came about that one day I received the following letter:--


The Guv'nor has gone a bust upon some cracked china, the ugliest
that ever I saw though no judge. So if you want to get that old
tall clock at the first price or any other of his rubbish, I think
now is your chance. Anyhow, keep this dark as per agreement.

Your obedient,

(He always signed himself Tom, I suppose to mystify, although I
believe his real name was Betterly.)

The result of this epistle was a long and disagreeable bicycle ride in
wet autumn weather, and a visit to the shop of Mr. Potts. Tom, alias
Betterly, who was trying to sell some mysterious undergarments to a
fat old woman, caught sight of me, the Editor aforesaid, and winked.
In a shadowed corner of the shop sat Mr. Potts himself upon a high
stool, a wizened little old man with a bent back, a bald head, and a
hooked nose upon which were set a pair of enormous horn-rimmed
spectacles that accentuated his general resemblance to an owl perched
upon the edge of its nest-hole. He was busily engaged in doing
nothing, and in staring into nothingness as, according to Tom, was his
habit when communing with what he, Tom, called his "dratted speerits."

"Customer!" said Tom in a harsh voice. "Sorry to disturb you at your
prayers, Guv'nor, but not having two pair of hands I can't serve a
crowd," meaning the old woman of the undergarments and myself.

Mr. Potts slid off his stool and prepared for action. When he saw,
however, who the customer was he bristled--that is the only word for
it. The truth is that although between us there was an inward and
spiritual sympathy, there was also an outward and visible hostility.
Twice I had outbid Mr. Potts at a local auction for articles which he
desired. Moreover, after the fashion of every good collector he felt
it to be his duty to hate me as another collector. Lastly, several
times I had offered him smaller sums for antiques upon which he set a
certain monetary value. It is true that long ago I had given up this
bargaining for the reason that Mr. Potts would never take less than he
asked. Indeed he followed the example of the vendor of the Sibylline
books in ancient Rome. He did not destroy the goods indeed after the
fashion of that person and demand the price of all of them for the one
that remained, but invariably he put up his figure by 10 per cent. and
nothing would induce him to take off one farthing.

"What do /you/ want, sir?" he said grumpily. "Vests, hose, collars, or

"Oh, socks, I think," I replied at hazard, thinking that they would be
easiest to carry, whereupon Mr. Potts produced some peculiarly
objectionable and shapeless woollen articles which he almost threw at
me, saying that they were all he had in stock. Now I detest woollen
socks and never wear them. Still, I made a purchase, thinking with
sympathy of my old gardener whose feet they would soon be scratching,
and while the parcel was being tied up, said in an insinuating voice,
"Anything fresh upstairs, Mr. Potts?"

"No, sir," he answered shortly, "at least, not much, and if there were
what's the use of showing them to you after the business about that

"It was 15 you wanted for it, Mr. Potts?" I asked.

"No, sir, it was 17 and now it's 10 per cent. on to that; you can
work out the sum for yourself."

"Well, let's have another look at it, Mr. Potts," I replied humbly,
whereon with a grunt and a muttered injunction to Tom to mind the
shop, he led the way upstairs.

Now the house in which Mr. Potts dwelt had once been of considerable
pretensions and was very, very old, Elizabethan, I should think,
although it had been refronted with a horrible stucco to suit modern
tastes. The oak staircase was good though narrow, and led to numerous
small rooms upon two floors above, some of which rooms were panelled
and had oak beams, now whitewashed like the panelling--at least they
had once been whitewashed, probably in the last generation.

These rooms were literally crammed with every sort of old furniture,
most of it decrepit, though for many of the articles dealers would
have given a good price. But at dealers Mr. Potts drew the line; not
one of them had ever set a foot upon that oaken stair. To the attics
the place was filled with this furniture and other articles such as
books, china, samplers with the glass broken, and I know not what
besides, piled in heaps upon the floor. Indeed where Mr. Potts slept
was a mystery; either it must have been under the counter in his shop,
or perhaps at nights he inhabited a worm-eaten Jacobean bedstead which
stood in an attic, for I observed a kind of pathway to it running
through a number of legless chairs, also some dirty blankets between
the moth-riddled curtains.

Not far from this bedstead, propped in an intoxicated way against the
sloping wall of the old house, stood the clock which I desired. It was
one of the first "regulator" clocks with a wooden pendulum, used by
the maker himself to check the time-keeping of all his other clocks,
and enclosed in a chaste and perfect mahogany case of the very best
style of its period. So beautiful was it, indeed, that it had been an
instance of "love at first sight" between us, and although there was
an estrangement on the matter of settlements, or in other words over
the question of price, now I felt that never more could that clock and
I be parted.

So I agreed to give old Potts the 20 or, to be accurate, 18 14s.
which he asked on the 10 per cent. rise principle, thankful in my
heart that he had not made it more, and prepared to go. As I turned,
however, my eye fell upon a large chest of the almost indestructible
yellow cypress wood of which were made, it is said, the doors of St.
Peter's at Rome that stood for eight hundred years and, for aught I
know, are still standing, as good as on the day when they were put up.

"Marriage coffer," said Potts, answering my unspoken question.

"Italian, about 1600?" I suggested.

"May be so, or perhaps Dutch made by Italian artists; but older than
that, for somebody has burnt 1597 on the lid with a hot iron. Not for
sale, not for sale at all, much too good to sell. Just you look inside
it, the old key is tied to the spring lock. Never saw such poker-work
in my life. Gods and goddesses and I don't know what; and Venus
sitting in the middle in a wreath of flowers with nothing on, and
holding two hearts in her hands, which shows that it was a marriage
chest. Once it was full of some bride's outfit, sheets and linen and
clothes, and God knows what. I wonder where she has got to to-day.
Some place where the moth don't eat clothes, I hope. Bought it at the
break-up of an ancient family who fled to Norfolk on the revocation of
the Edict of Nantes--Huguenot, of course. Years ago, years ago!
Haven't looked into it for many years, indeed, but think there's
nothing there but rubbish now."

Thus he mumbled on while he found and untied the old key. The spring
lock had grown stiff from disuse and want of oil, but at length it
turned and reopened the chest revealing the poker-work glories on the
inner side of the lid and elsewhere. Glories they were indeed, never
had I seen such artistry of the sort.

"Can't see it properly," muttered Potts, "windows want washing,
haven't been done since my wife died, and that's twenty years ago.
Miss her very much, of course, but thank God there's no spring-
cleaning now. The things I've seen broken in spring-cleaning! yes, and
lost, too. It was after one of them that I told my wife that now I
understood why the Mahomedans declare that women have no souls. When
she came to understand what I meant, which it took her a long time to
do, we had a row, a regular row, and she threw a Dresden figure at my
head. Luckily I caught it, having been a cricketer when young. Well,
she's gone now, and no doubt heaven's a tidier place than it used to
be--that is, if they will stand her rummagings there, which I doubt.
Look at that Venus, ain't she a beauty? Might have been done by Titian
when his paints ran out, and he had to take to a hot iron to express
his art. What, you can't see her well? Wait a bit and I'll get a
lantern. Can't have a naked candle here--things too valuable; no money
could buy them again. My wife and I had another row about naked
candles, or it may have been a paraffin lamp. You sit in that old
prayer-stool and look at the work."

Off he went crawling down the dusky stairs and leaving me wondering
what Mrs. Potts, of whom now I heard for the first time, could have
been like. An aggravating woman, I felt sure, for upon whatever points
men differ, as to "spring-cleaning" they are all of one mind. No doubt
he was better without her, for what did that dried-up old artist want
with a wife?

Dismissing Mrs. Potts from my mind, which, to tell the truth, seemed
to have no room for her shadowy and hypothetical entity, I fell to
examining the chest. Oh! it was lovely. In two minutes the clock was
deposed and that chest became the sultana in my seraglio of beauteous
things. The clock had only been the light love of an hour. Here was
the eternal queen, that is, unless there existed a still better chest
somewhere else, and I should happen to find it. Meanwhile, whatever
price that old slave-dealer Potts wanted for it, must be paid to him
even if I had to overdraw my somewhat slender account. Seraglios, of
whatever sort, it must be remembered, are expensive luxuries of the
rich indeed, though, if of antiques, they can be sold again, which
cannot be said of the human kind for who wants to buy a lot of antique

There were plenty of things in the chest, such as some odds and ends
of tapestry and old clothes of a Queen Anne character, put here, no
doubt, for preservation, as moth does not like this cypress wood. Also
there were some books and a mysterious bundle tied up in a curious
shawl with stripes of colour running through it. That bundle excited
me, and I drew the fringes of the shawl apart and looked in. So far as
I could see it contained another dress of rich colours, also a thick
packet of what looked like parchment, badly prepared and much rotted
upon one side as though by damp, which parchment appeared to be
covered with faint black-letter writing, done by some careless scribe
with poor ink that had faded very much. There were other things, too,
within the shawl, such as a box made of some red foreign wood, but I
had not time to investigate further for just then I heard old Potts's
foot upon the stair, and thought it best to replace the bundle. He
arrived with the lantern and by its light we examined the chest and
the poker work.

"Very nice," I said, "very nice, though a good deal knocked about."

"Yes, sir," he replied with sarcasm, "I suppose you'd like to see it
neat and new after four hundred years of wear, and if so, I think I
can tell you where you can get one to your liking. I made the designs
for it myself five years ago for a fellow who wanted to learn how to
manufacture antiques. He's in quod now and his antiques are for sale
cheap. I helped to put him there to get him out of the way as a danger
to Society."

"What's the price?" I asked with airy detachment.

"Haven't I told you it ain't for sale. Wait till I'm dead and come and
buy it at my auction. No, you won't, though, for it's going somewhere

I made no answer but continued my examination while Potts took his
seat on the prayer-stool and seemed to go off into one of his fits of

"Well," I said at length when decency told me that I could remain no
longer, "if you won't sell it's no use my looking. No doubt you want
to keep it for a richer man, and of course you are quite right. Will
you arrange with the carrier about sending the clock, Mr. Potts, and I
will let you have a cheque. Now I must be off, as I've ten miles to
ride and it will be dark in an hour."

"Stop where you are," said Potts in a hollow voice. "What's a ride in
the dark compared with a matter like this, even if you haven't a lamp
and get hauled before your own bench? Stop where you are, I'm
listening to something."

So I stopped and began to fill my pipe.

"Put that pipe away," said Potts, coming out of his reverie, "pipes
mean matches; no matches here."

I obeyed, and he went on thinking till at last what between the chest
and the worm-eaten Jacobean bed and old Potts on the prayer-stool, I
began to feel as if I were being mesmerized. At length he rose and
said in the same hollow voice:

"Young man, you may have that chest, and the price is 50. Now for
heaven's sake don't offer me 40, or it will be 100 before you leave
this room."

"With the contents?" I said casually.

"Yes, with the contents. It's the contents I'm told you are to have."

"Look here, Potts," I said, exasperated, "what the devil do you mean?
There's no one in this room except you and me, so who can have told
you anything unless it was old Tom downstairs."

"Tom," he said with unutterable sarcasm, "Tom! Perhaps you mean the
mawkin that was put up to scare birds from the peas in the garden, for
it has more in its head than Tom. No one here? Oh! what fools some men
are. Why, the place is thick with them."

"Thick with whom?"

"Who? why, ghosts, of course, as you would call them in your
ignorance. Spirits of the dead I name them. Beautiful enough, too,
some of them. Look at that one there," and he lifted the lantern and
pointed to a pile of old bed posts of Chippendale design.

"Good day, Potts," I said hastily.

"Stop where you are," repeated Potts. "You don't believe me yet, but
when you are as old as I am you will remember my words and believe--
more than I do and see--clearer than I do, because it's in your soul,
yes, the seed is in your soul, though as yet it is choked by the
world, the flesh, and the devil. Wait till your sins have brought you
trouble; wait till the fires of trouble have burned the flesh away;
wait till you have sought Light and found Light and live in Light,
then you will believe; /then/ you will see."

All this he said very solemnly, and standing there in that dusky room
surrounded by the wreck of things that once had been dear to dead men
and women, waving the lantern in his hand and staring--at what was he
staring?--really old Potts looked most impressive. His twisted shape
and ugly countenance became spiritual; he was one who had "found Light
and lived in Light."

"You won't believe me," he went on, "but I pass on to you what a woman
has been telling me. She's a queer sort of woman; I never saw her like
before, a foreigner and dark-hued with strange rich garments and
something on her head. There, that, /that/," and he pointed through
the dirty window-place to the crescent of a young moon which appeared
in the sky. "A fine figure of a woman," he went on, "and oh! heaven,
what eyes--I never saw such eyes before. Big and tender, something
like those of the deer in the park yonder. Proud, too, she is, one who
has ruled, and a lady, though foreign. Well, I never fell in love
before, but I feel like it now, and so would you, young man, if you
could see her, and so I think did someone else in his day."

"What did she say to you?" I asked, for by now I was interested
enough. Who wouldn't be when old Potts took to describing beautiful

"It's a little difficult to tell you for she spoke in a strange
tongue, and I had to translate it in my head, as it were. But this is
the gist of it. That you were to have that chest and what was in it.
There's a writing there, she says, or part of a writing for some has
gone--rotted away. You are to read that writing or to get it read and
to print it so that the world may read it also. She said that 'Hubert'
wishes you to do so. I am sure the name was Hubert, though she also
spoke of him with some other title which I do not understand. That's
all I can remember, except something about a city, yes, a City of Gold
and a last great battle in which Hubert fell, covered with glory and
conquering. I understood that she wanted to talk about that because it
isn't in the writing, but you interrupted and of course she's gone.
Yes, the price is 50 and not a farthing less, but you can pay it when
you like for I know you're as honest as most, and whether you pay it
or not, you must have that chest and what's in it and no one else."

"All right," I said, "but don't trust it to the carrier. I'll send a
cart for it to-morrow morning. Lock it now and give me the key."

In due course the chest arrived, and I examined the bundle for the
other contents do not matter, although some of them were interesting.
Pinned inside the shawl I found a paper, undated and unsigned, but
which from the character and style of the writing was, I should say,
penned by a lady about sixty years ago. It ran thus:--

"My late father, who was such a great traveller in his young days
and so fond of exploring strange places, brought these things home
from one of his journeys before his marriage, I think from South
America. He told me once that the dress was found upon the body of
a woman in a tomb and that she must have been a great lady, for
she was surrounded by a number of other women, perhaps her
servants who were brought to be buried with her here when they
died. They were all seated about a stone table at the end of which
were the remains of a man. My father saw the bodies near the ruins
of some forest city, in the tomb over which was heaped a great
mound of earth. That of the lady, which had a kind of shroud made
of the skins of long-wooled sheep wrapped about it as though to
preserve the dress beneath, had been embalmed in some way, which
the natives of the place, wherever it was, told him showed that
she was royal. The others were mere skeletons, held together by
the skin, but the man had a long fair beard and hair still hanging
to his skull, and by his side was a great cross-hilted sword that
crumbled to fragments when it was touched, except the hilt and the
knob of amber upon it which had turned almost black with age. I
think my father said that the packet of skins or parchment of
which the underside is badly rotted with damp was set under the
feet of the man. He told me that he gave those who found the tomb
a great deal of money for the dress, gold ornaments, and emerald
necklace, as nothing so perfect had been found before, and the
cloth is all worked with gold thread. My father told me, too, that
he did not wish the things to be sold."

This was the end of the writing.

Having read it I examined the dress. It was of a sort that I had never
seen before, though experts to whom I have shown it say that it is
certainly South American of a very early date, and like the ornaments,
probably pre-Inca Peruvian. It is full of rich colours such as I have
seen in old Indian shawls which give a general effect of crimson. This
crimson robe clearly was worn over a skirt of linen that had a purple
border. In the box that I have spoken of were the ornaments, all of
plain dull gold: a waist-band; a circlet of gold for the head from
which rose the crescent of the young moon and a necklace of emeralds,
uncut stones now much flawed, for what reason I do not know, but
polished and set rather roughly in red gold. Also there were two
rings. Round one of these a bit of paper was wrapped upon which was
written, in another hand, probably that of the father of the writer of
the memorandum:--

"Taken from the first finger of the right hand of a lady's mummy
which I am sorry, in our circumstances, it was quite impossible to
carry away."

This ring is a broad band of gold with a flat bezel upon which
something was once engraved that owing to long and hard wear now
cannot be distinguished. In short, it appears to be a signet of old
European make but of what age and from what country it is impossible
to determine. The other ring was in a small leathery pouch,
elaborately embroidered in gold thread or very thin wire, which I
suppose was part of the lady's costume. It is like a very massive
wedding ring, but six or eight times as thick, and engraved all over
with an embossed conventional design of what look like stars with rays
round them, or possibly petalled flowers. Lastly there was the sword-
hilt, of which presently.

Such were the trinkets, if so they may be called. They are of little
value intrinsically except for their weight in gold, because, as I
have said, the emeralds are flawed as though they have been through a
fire or some other unknown cause. Moreover, there is about them
nothing of the grace and charm of ancient Egyptian jewellery;
evidently they belonged to a ruder age and civilization. Yet they had,
and still have, to my imagining, a certain dignity of their own.

Also--here I became infected with the spirit of the peculiar Potts--
without doubt these things were rich in human associations. Who had
worn that dress of crimson with the crosses worked on it in gold wire
(they cannot have been Christian crosses), and the purple-bordered
skirt underneath, and the emerald necklace and the golden circlet from
which rose the crescent of the young moon? Apparently a mummy in a
tomb, the mummy of some long-dead lady of a strange and alien race.
Was she such a one as that old lunatic Potts had dreamed he saw
standing before him in the filthy, cumbered upper-chamber of a ruinous
house in an England market town, I wondered, one with great eyes like
to those of a doe and a regal bearing?

No, that was nonsense. Potts had lived with shadows until he believed
in shadows that came out of his own imagination and into it returned
again. Still, she was a woman of some sort, and apparently she had a
lover or a husband, a man with a great fair beard. How at this date,
which must have been remote, did a golden-bearded man come to
foregather with a woman who wore such robes and ornaments as these?
And that sword hilt, worn smooth by handling and with an amber knob?
Whence came it? To my mind--this was before expert examination
confirmed my view--it looked very Norse. I had read the Sagas and I
remembered a tale recovered in them of some bold Norsemen who about
the years eight or nine hundred had wandered to the coast of what is
known now to be America--I think a certain Eric was their captain.
Could the fair-haired man in the grave have been one of these?

Thus I speculated before I looked at the pile of parchments so
evidently prepared from sheep skins by one who had only a very
rudimentary knowledge of how to work such stuff, not knowing that in
those parchments was hid the answer to many of my questions. To these
I turned last of all, for we all shrink from parchments; their
contents are generally so dull. There was a great bundle of them that
had been lashed together with a kind of straw rope, fine straw that
reminded me of that used to make Panama hats. But this had rotted
underneath together with all the bottom part of the parchments, many
sheets of them, of which only fragments remained, covered with dry
mould and crumbling. Therefore the rope was easy to remove and beneath
it, holding the sheets in place, was only some stout and comparatively
modern string--it had a red thread in it that marked it as navy cord
of an old pattern.

I slipped these fastenings off and lifted a blank piece of skin set
upon the top. Beneath appeared the first sheet of parchment, closely,
very closely covered with small "black-letter" writing, so faint and
faded that even if I were able to read black-letter, which I cannot,
of it I could have made nothing at all. The thing was hopeless.
Doubtless in that writing lay the key to the mystery, but it could
never be deciphered by me or any one else. The lady with the eyes like
a deer had appeared to old Potts in vain; in vain had she bidden him
to hand over this manuscript to me.

So I thought at the time, not knowing the resources of science.
Afterwards, however, I took that huge bundle to a friend, a learned
friend whose business in life it was and is, to deal with and to
decipher old manuscripts.

"Looks pretty hopeless," he said, after staring at these. "Still,
let's have a try; one never knows till one tries."

Then he went to a cupboard in his muniment room and produced a bottle
full of some straw-coloured fluid into which he dipped an ordinary
painting brush. This charged brush he rubbed backwards and forwards
over the first lines of the writing and waited. Within a minute,
before my astonished eyes, that faint, indistinguishable script turned
coal-black, as black as though it had been written with the best
modern ink yesterday.

"It's all right," he said triumphantly, "it's vegetable ink, and this
stuff has the power to bring it up as it was on the day when it was
used. It will stay like that for a fortnight and then fade away again.
Your manuscript is pretty ancient, my friend, time of Richard II, I
should say, but I can read it easily enough. Look, it begins, 'I,
Hubert de Hastings, write this in the land of Tavantinsuyu, far from
England where I was born, whither I shall never more return, being a
wanderer as the rune upon the sword of my ancestor, Thorgrimmer,
foretold that I should be, which sword my mother gave me on the day of
the burning of Hastings by the French,' and so on." Here he stopped.

"Then for heaven's sake, do read it," I said.

"My dear friend," he answered, "it looks to me as though it would mean
several months' work, and forgive me for saying that I am paid a
salary for my time. Now I'll tell you what you have to do. All this
stuff must be treated, sheet by sheet, and when it turns black it must
be photographed before the writing fades once more. Then a skilled
person--so-and-so, or so-and-so, are two names that occur to me--must
be employed to decipher it again, sheet by sheet. It will cost you
money, but I should say that it was worth while. Where the devil is,
or was, the land of Tavantinsuyu?"

"I know," I answered, glad to be able to show myself superior to my
learned friend in one humble instance. "Tavantinsuyu was the native
name for the Empire of Peru before the Spanish Invasion. But how did
this Hubert get there in the time of Richard II? That is some
centuries earlier than Pizarro set foot upon its shores."

"Go and find out," he answered. "It will amuse you for quite a long
while and perhaps the results may meet the expenses of decipherment,
if they are worth publishing. I expect they are not, but then, I have
read so many old manuscripts and found most of them so jolly dull."

Well, that business was accomplished at a cost that I do not like to
record, and here are the results, more or less modernised, since often
Hubert of Hastings expressed himself in a queer and archaic fashion.
Also sometimes he used Indian words as though he had talked the tongue
of these Peruvians, or rather the Chanca variety of it, so long that
he had begun to forget his own language. Myself I have found his story
very romantic and interesting, and I hope that some others will be of
the same opinion. Let them judge.

But oh, I do wonder what was the end of it, some of which doubtless
was recorded on the rotted sheets though of course there can have been
no account of the great battle in which he fell, since Quilla could
not write at all, least of all in English, though I suppose she
survived it and him.

The only hint of that end is to be found in old Potts's dream or
vision, and what is the worth of dreams and visions?




I, Hubert of Hastings, write this in the land of Tavantinsuyu, far
from England, where I was born, whither I shall never more return,
being a wanderer as the rune upon the sword of my ancestor,
Thorgrimmer, foretold that I should be, which sword my mother gave me
on the day of the burning of Hastings by the French. I write it with a
pen that I have shaped from a wing feather of the great eagle of the
mountains, with ink that I have made from the juices of certain herbs
which I discovered, and on parchment that I have split from the skins
of native sheep, with my own hands, but badly I fear, though I have
seen that art practised when I was a merchant of the Cheap in London

I will begin at the beginning.

I am the son of a fishing-boat owner and was a trader in the ancient
town of Hastings, and my father was drowned while following his trade
at sea. Afterwards, being the only child left of his, I took on his
business, and on a certain day went out to sea to net fish with two of
my serving men. I was then a young man of about three and twenty years
of age and not uncomely. My hair, which I wore long, was fair in
colour and curled. My eyes, set wide apart, were and still are large
and blue, although they have darkened somewhat and sunk into the head
in this land of heat and sunshine. My nose was wide-nostrilled and
large, my mouth also was over-large, although my mother and some
others used to think it well-shaped. In truth, I was large all over
though not so tall, being burly, with a great breadth of chest and
uncommon thickness through the body, and very strong; so strong that
there were few who could throw me when I was young.

For the rest, like King David, I, who am now so tanned and weather
worn that at a little distance were my hair and beard hidden I might
almost be taken for one of the Indian chiefs about me, was of a ruddy
and a pleasant countenance, perhaps because of my wonderful health,
who had never known a day of sickness, and of an easy nature that
often goes with health. I will add this, for why should I not--that I
was no fool, but one of those who succeed in that upon which they set
their minds. Had I been a fool I should not to-day be the king of a
great people and the husband of their queen; indeed, I should not be

But enough of myself and my appearance in those years that seem as far
off as though they had never been save in the land of dreams.

Now I and my two serving men, sailors both of them like myself and
most of the folk of Hastings set out upon a summer eve, purposing to
fish all night and return at dawn. We came to our chosen ground and
cast out the net, meeting with wonderful fortune since by three in the
morning the big boat was full of every kind of fish. Never before,
indeed, had we made so large a haul.

Looking back at that great catch, as here in this far land it is my
habit to do upon everything, however small, that happened to me in my
youth before I became a wanderer and an exile, I seem to see in it an
omen. For has it not always been my lot in life to be kissed of
fortune and to gather great store, and then of a sudden to lose it all
as I was to lose that rich multitude of fishes?

To-day, when I write this, once more I have great wealth of pomp and
love and power, of gold also, more than I can count. When I go forth,
my armies, who still look on me as half a god, shout their welcome and
kiss the air after their heathen fashion. My beauteous queen bows down
to me and the women of my household abase themselves into the dust.
The people of the Ancient City of Gold turn their faces to the wall
and the children cover their eyes with their hands that they may not
look upon my splendour as I pass, while maidens throw flowers for my
feet to tread. Upon my judgment hangs life or death, and my lightest
word is as though it were spoken from heaven. These and many other
things are mine, the trappings of power, the prerogative of the Lord-
from-the-Sea who brought victory to the Chanca people and led them
back to their ancient home where they might live safe, far from the
Inca's rage.

And yet often, as I sit alone in my splendour upon the roof of the
ancient halls or wander through the starlit palace gardens, I call to
mind that great catch of fishes in the English sea and of what
followed after. I call to mind also my prosperity and wealth as one of
the first merchants of London Town and what followed after. I call to
mind, too, the winning of Blanche Aleys, the lady so far above me in
rank and station and what followed after. Then it is that I grow
afraid of what may follow after this present hour of peace and love
and plenty.

Certainly one thing will follow, and that is death. It may come late
or it may come soon. But yesterday a rumour reached me through my
spies that Kari Upanqui, the Inca of Tavantinsuyu, he who once was as
my brother, but who now hates me because of his superstitions, and
because I took a Virgin of the Sun to be my wife, gathers a great host
to follow on the path we trod many years ago when the Chancas fled
from the Inca tyranny back to their home in the ancient City of Gold
and to smite us here. That host, said the rumours, cannot march till
next year, and then will be another year upon its journey. Still,
knowing Kari, I am sure that it will march, yes, and arrive, after
which must befall the great battle in the mountain passes wherein, as
of old, I shall lead the Chanca armies.

Perchance I am doomed to fall in that battle. Does not the rune upon
Wave-Flame, the sword of Thorgrimmer my ancestor, say of him that
holds it that,

"Conquering, conquered shall he be,
And far away shall sleep with me"?

Well, if the Chancas conquer, what care I if I am conquered? 'Twould
be a good death and a clean, to fall by Kari's spear, if I knew that
Kari and his host fell also, as I swear that fall they shall, St.
Hubert helping me. Then at least Quilla and her children would live on
in peace and greatness since they can have no other foe to fear.

Death, what is death? I say that it is the hope of every one of us and
most of all the exile and the wanderer. At the best it may be glory;
at the worst it must be sleep. Moreover, am I so happy that I should
fear to die? Quilla cannot read this writing, and therefore I will
answer, No. I am a Christian, but she and those about her, aye, my own
children with them, worship the moon and the host of heaven. I am
white-skinned, they are the hue of copper, though it is true that my
little daughter, Gudruda, whom I named so after my mother, is almost
white. There are secrets in their hearts that I shall never learn and
there are secrets in mine from which they cannot draw the veil because
our bloods are different. Yet God knows, I love them well enough, and
most of all that greatest of women, Quilla.

Oh! the truth is that here on earth there is no happiness for man.

It is because of this rumour of the coming of Kari with his host that
I set myself to this task, that I have long had in my mind, to write
down something of my history, both in England and in this land which,
at any rate for hundreds of years, mine is the first white foot to
press. It seems a foolish thing to do since when I have written who
will read, and what will chance to that which I have written? I shall
leave orders that it be placed beneath my feet in the tomb, but who
will ever find that tomb again? Still I write because something in my
heart urges me to the task.

I return to the far-off days. Our boat being full with merry hearts we
set sail before a faint wind for Hastings beach. As yet there was
little light and much fog, still the landward breeze was enough to
draw us forward. Then of a sudden we heard sounds as of men talking
upon ships and the clank of spars and blocks. Presently came a puff of
air lifting the fog for a little and we saw that we were in the midst
of a great fleet, a French fleet, for the Lilies of France flew at
their mast-heads, saw, too, that their prows were set for Hastings,
though for the while they were becalmed, since the wind that was
enough for our light, large-sailed fishing-boat could not stir their
bulk. Moreover, they saw us, for the men-at-arms on the nearest ship
shouted threats and curses at us and followed the shouts with arrows
that almost hit us.

Then the fog closed down again, and in it we slipped through the
French fleet.

It may have been the best part of an hour later that we reached
Hastings. Before the boat was made fast to the jetty, I sprang to it

"Stir! stir! the French are upon you! To arms! We have slipped through
a whole fleet of them in the mist."

Instantly the sleepy quay seemed to awaken. From the neighbouring fish
market, from everywhere sailormen and others came running, followed by
children with gaping mouths, while from the doors of houses far away
shot women with scared faces, like ferreted rabbits from their
burrows. In a minute the crowd had surrounded me, all asking questions
at once in such a fashion that I could only answer them with my cry

"Stir! the French are upon you. To arms, I say. To arms!"

Presently through the throng advanced an old white-bearded man who
wore a badge of office, crying as he came, "Make way for the bailiff!"

The crowd obeyed, opening a path, and soon we were face to face.

"What is it, Hubert of Hastings?" he asked. "Is there fire that you
shout so loudly?"

"Aye, Worship," I answered. "Fire and murder and all the gifts that
the French have for England. The Fleet of France is beating up for
Hastings, fifty sail of them or more. We crept through them in the
fog, for the wind which would scarce move them served our turn and
beyond an arrow or two, they took no note of a fishing-boat."

"Whence come they?" asked the bailiff, bewildered.

"I know not, but those in another boat we passed in the midst shouted
that these French were ravaging the coast and heading for Hastings to
put it to fire and sword. Then that boat vanished away, I know not
where, and that is all I have to tell save that the French will be
here within an hour."

Without staying to ask more questions, the bailiff turned and ran
towards the town, and presently the alarm bells rang out from the
towers of All Saints and St. Clement's, while criers summoned all men
to the market-place. Meanwhile I, not without a sad look at my boat
and the rich catch within, made my way into the town, followed by my
two men.

Presently I reached an ancient, timbered house, long, low, and
rambling, with a yard by its side full of barrels, anchors, and other
marine stores such as rope, that had to do with the trade I carried on
at this place.

I, Hubert, with a mind full of fears, though not for myself, and a
stirring of the blood such as was natural to my age at the approach of
my first taste of battle, ran fast up to that house which I have
described, and paused for a moment by the big elm tree that grew in
front of the door, of which the lower boughs were sawn off because
they shut out the light from the windows. I remember that elm tree
very well, first because when I was a child starlings nested in a hole
in the trunk, and I reared one in a wicker cage and made a talking
bird of it which I kept for several years. It was so tame that it used
to go about sitting on my shoulder, till at last, outside the town a
cat frightened it thence, and before I could recapture it, it was
taken by a hawk, which hawk I shot afterwards with an arrow out of

Also this elm is impressed upon me by the fact that on that morning
when I halted by it, I noted how green and full of leaf it was. Next
morning, after the fire, I saw it again, all charred and blackened,
with its beautiful foliage withered by the heat. This contrast
remained upon my memory, and whenever I see any great change of
fortune from prosperity to ruin, or from life to death, always I
bethink me of that elm. For it is by little things which we ourselves
have seen and not by those written of or told by others, that we
measure and compare events.

The reason that I ran so hard and then paused by the elm, was because
my widowed mother lived in that house. Knowing that the French meant
mischief for a good reason, because one of their arrows, or perhaps a
quarrel from a cross-bow, whistled just past my head out there upon
the sea, my first thought was to get her away to some place of safety,
no easy task seeing that she was infirm with age. My second, that
which caused me to pause by the tree, was how I should break the news
to her in such a fashion that she would not be over-frightened. Having
thought this over I went on into the house.

The door opened into the sitting-room that had a low roof of plaster
and big oak beams. There I found my mother kneeling by the table upon
which food was set for breakfast: fried herrings, cold meat, and a jug
of ale. She was saying her prayers after her custom, being very
religious though in a new fashion, since she was a follower of a
preacher called Wycliffe, who troubled the Church in those days. She
seemed to have gone to sleep at her prayers, and I watched her for a
moment, hesitating to waken her. My mother, as even then I noted, was
a very handsome woman, though old, for I was born when she had been
married twenty years or more, with white hair and well-cut features
that showed the good blood of which she came, for she was better bred
than my father and quarrelled with her kin to marry him.

At the sound of my footsteps she woke up and saw me.

"Strange," she said, "I slept at my prayers who did so little last
night, as has become a habit with me when you are out a-fishing, for
which God forgive me, and dreamed that there was some trouble forward.
Scold me not, Hubert, for when the sea has taken the father and two
sons, it is scarcely wonderful that I should be fearful for the last
of my blood. Help me to rise, Hubert, for this water seems to gather
in my limbs and makes them heavy. One day, the leech says, it will get
to the heart and then all will be over."

I obeyed, first kissing her on the brow, and when she was seated in
her armed chair by the table, I said,

"You dream too well, Mother. There is trouble. Hark! St. Clement's
bells are talking of it. The French come to visit Hastings. I know for
I sailed through their fleet just after dawn."

"Is it so?" she asked quietly. "I feared worse. I feared lest the
dream meant that you had gone to join your brothers in the deep. Well,
the French are not here yet, as thank God you are. So eat and drink,
for we of England fight best on full bellies."

Again I obeyed who was very hungry after that long night and needed
food and ale, and as I swallowed them we heard the sound of folk
shouting and running.

"You are in haste, Hubert, to join the others on the quay and send a
Frenchman or two to hell with that big bow of yours?" she said

"Nay," I answered, "I am in haste to get you out of this town, which I
fear may be burnt. There is a certain cave up yonder by the Minnes
Rock where I think you might lie safe, Mother."

"It has come down to me from my fathers, Hubert, that it was never the
fashion of the women of the north to keep their men to shield them
when duty called them otherwhere. I am helpless in my limbs and heavy,
and cannot climb, or be borne up yonder hill to any cave. Here I stop
where I have dwelt these five-and-forty years, to live or die as God
pleases. Get you to your duty, man. Stay. Call those wenches and bid
them fly inland to their folk, out Burwash way. They are young and
fleet of foot, and no Frenchman will catch them."

I summoned the girls who were staring, white-faced, from the attic
window-place. In three minutes they were gone, though it is true that
one of them, the braver, wished to bide with her mistress.

I watched them start up the street with other fugitives who were
pouring out of Hastings, and came back to my mother. As I did so a
great shout told me that the French fleet had been sighted.

"Hubert," she said, "take this key and go to the oak chest in my
sleeping room, lift out the linen at the top and bring me that which
lies wrapped in cloth beneath."

I did so, returning with a bundle that was long and thin. With a knife
she cut the string that tied it. Within were a bag of money and a
sword in an ancient scabbard covered with a rough skin which I took to
be that of a shark, which scabbard in parts was inlaid with gold.

"Draw it," said my mother.

I did so, and there came to light a two-edged blade of blue steel,
such as I had never seen before, for on the blade were engraved
strange characters whereof I could make nothing, although as it
chanced I could read and write, having been taught by the monks in my
childhood. The hilt, also, that was in the form of a cross, had gold
inlaid upon it; at the top of it, a large knob or apple of amber, much
worn by handling. For the rest it was a beauteous weapon and well

"What of this sword?" I asked.

"This, Son. With the black bow that you have," and she pointed to the
case that leaned against the table, "it has come down in my family for
many generations. My father told me that it was the sword of one
Thorgrimmer, his ancestor, a Norseman, a Viking he called him, who
came with those who took England before the Norman time; which I can
well believe since my father's name, like mine, till I married, was
Grimmer. This sword, also, has a name and it is Wave-Flame. With it,
the tale tells, Thorgrimmer did great deeds, slaying many after their
heathen fashion in his battles by land and sea. For he was a wanderer,
and it is said of him that once he sailed to a new land far across the
ocean, and won home again after many strange adventures, to die at
last here in England in some fray. That is all I know, save that a
learned man from the north once told my father's father that the
writing on the sword means:--

"He who lifts Wave-Flame on high
In love shall live and in battle die;
Storm-tossed o'er wide seas shall roam
And in strange lands shall make his home.
Conquering, conquered shall he be,
And far away shall sleep with me.

"Those were the words which I remember because of the jingle of them;
also because such seems to have been the fate of Thorgrimmer and the
sword that his grandson took from his tomb."

Here I would have asked about this grandson and the tomb, but having
no time, held my peace.

"All my life have I kept that sword," went on my mother, "not giving
it to your father or brothers, lest the fate written on it should
befall them, for those old wizards of the north, who fashioned such
weapons with toil and skill, could foresee the future--as at times I
can, for it is in my blood. Yet now I am moved to bid you take it,
Hubert, and go where its flame leads you and dree your gloom, whatever
it may be, for I know you will use it like Thorgrimmer's self."

She paused for a moment, then went on:

"Hubert, perhaps we part for the last time, for I think that my hour
is at hand. But let not that trouble you, since I am glad to go to
join those who went before, and others with them, perchance
Thorgrimmer's self. Hearken, Hubert. If aught befalls me, or this
place, stay not here. Go to London town and seek out John Grimmer, my
brother, the rich merchant and goldsmith who dwells in the place
called Cheap. He knew you as a child and loved you, and lacking
offspring of his own will welcome you for both our sakes. My father
would not give John the sword lest its fate should be on him, but I
say that John will be glad to welcome one of our race who holds it in
his hand. Take it then, and with it that bag of gold, which may prove
of service ere all be done.

"Aye, and there is one more thing--this ring which, so says the tale,
came down with the sword and the bow, and once had writing on it like
the sword, though that is long since rubbed away. Take it and wear it
till perchance, in some day to come, you give it to another as I did."

Wondering at all this tale which, after her secret fashion, my mother
had kept from me till that hour, I set the ring upon my finger.

"I gave yonder ring to your father on the day that we were betrothed,"
went on my mother, "and I took it back again from his corpse after he
had been found floating in the sea. Now I pass it on to you who soon
will be all that is left of both of us."

"Hark!" she continued, "the crier summons all men with their arms to
the market-place to fight England's foes. Therefore one word more
while I buckle the sword Wave-Flame on to you, as doubtless his women
folk did on to Thorgrimmer, your ancestor. My blessing on you, Hubert.
Be you such a one as Thorgrimmer was, for we of the Norse blood desire
that our loves and sons should prove not backward when swords are
aloft and arrows fly. But be you more than he, be you a Christian
also, remembering that however long you live, and the Battle-maidens
have not marked you yet, at last you must die and give account.

"Hubert, you are such a one as women will love; one, too, who, I fear
me, will be a lover of women, for that weakness goes with strength and
manhood by Nature's laws. Be careful of women, Hubert, and if you may,
choose those who are not false and cling to her who is most true. Oh,
you will wander far; I read it in your eyes that you will wander far,
yet shall your heart stay English. Kiss me and begone! Lad, are you
forgetting your spare arrows and the bull-hide jerkin that was your
father's? You will want them both to-day. Farewell, farewell! God and
His Christ be with you--and shoot you straight and smite you hard.
Nay, no tears, lest my eyes should be dimmed, for I'll climb to the
attic and watch you fight."



So I went, with a sore heart, for I remembered that when my father and
brothers were drowned, although I was then but a little one, my mother
had foreseen it, and I feared much lest it might be thus in her own
case also. I loved my mother. She was a stern woman, it was true, with
little softness about her, which I think came with her blood, but she
had a high heart, and oh! her last words were noble. Yet through it
all I was pleased, as any young man would have been, with the gift of
the wonderful sword which once had been that of Thorgrimmer, the sea-
rover, whose blood ran in my body against which it lay, and I hoped
that this day I might have chance to use it worthily as Thorgrimmer
did in forgotten battles. Having imagination, I wondered also whether
the sword knew that after its long sleep it had come forth again to
drink the blood of foes.

Also I was pleased with another thing, namely, that my mother had told
me that I should live my life and not die that day by the hand of
Frenchmen; and that in my life I should find love, of which to tell
truth already I knew a little of a humble sort, for I was a comely
youth, and women did not run away from me, or if they did, soon they
stopped. I wanted to live my life, I wanted to see great adventures
and to win great love. The only part of the business which was not to
my taste was that command of my mother's, that I should go to London
to sit in a goldsmith's shop. Still, I had heard that there was much
to be seen in London, and at least it would be different from

The street outside our doors was crowded with folk, some of the men
making their way to the market-place, about whom hung women and
children weeping; others, old people, wives and girls and little ones
fleeing from the town. I found the two sailormen who had been with me
on the boat, waiting for me. They were brawny fellows named Jack
Grieves and William Bull, who had been in our service since my
childhood, good fishermen and fighters both; indeed one of them,
William Bull, had served in the French wars.

"We knew that you were coming, Master, so we bided here for you," said
William, who having once been an archer was armed with a bow and a
short sword, whereas Jack had only an axe, also a knife such as we
used on the smacks for cleaning fish.

I nodded, and we went on to the market-place and joined the throng of
men, a vast number of them, who were gathered there to defend Hastings
and their homes. Nor were we too soon, for the French ships were
already beaching within a few yards of the shore or on it, their
draught being but small, while the sailors and men-at-arms were
pushing off in small boats or wading to the strand.

There was great confusion in the market-place, for as is common in
England, no preparation had been made against attack though such was
always to be feared.

The bailiff ran about shouting orders, as did others, but proper
officers were lacking, so that in the end men acted as the fancy took
them. Some went down towards the beach and shot with arrows at the
Frenchmen. Others took refuge in houses, others stood irresolute,
waiting, knowing not which way to turn. I and my two men were with
those who went on to the beach where I loosed some arrows from my big
black bow, and saw a man fall before one of them.

But we could do little or nothing, for these Frenchmen were trained
soldiers under proper command. They formed themselves into companies
and advanced, and we were driven back. I stopped as long as I dared,
and drawing the sword, Wave-Flame, fought with a Frenchman who was in
advance of the others. What is more, making a great blow at his head
which I missed, I struck him on the arm and cut it off, for I saw it
fall to the ground. Then others rushed up at me and I fled to save my

Somehow I found myself being pressed up the steep Castle Hill with a
number of Hastings folk, followed by the French. We reached the Castle
and got into it, but the old portcullis would not close, and in sundry
places the walls were broken down. Here we found a number of women who
had climbed for refuge, thinking that the place would be safe. Among
these was a beautiful and high-born maiden whom I knew by sight. Her
father was Sir Robert Aleys who, I believe, was then the Warden of the
Castle of Pevensey, and she was named the lady Blanche. Once, indeed,
I had spoken with her on an occasion too long to tell. Then her large
blue eyes, which she knew well how to use, had left me with a swimming
head, for she was very fair and very sweet and gracious, with a most
soft voice, and quite unlike any other woman I had ever seen, nor did
she seem at all proud. Soon her father, an old knight, who had no name
for gentleness in the countryside, but was said to be a great lover of
gold, had come up and swept her away, asking her what she did, talking
with a common fishing churl. This had happened some months before.

Well, there I found her in the Castle, alone it seemed, and knowing me
again, which I thought strange, she ran to me, praying me to protect
her. More, she began to tell me some long tale, to which I had not
time to listen, of how she had come to Hastings with her father, Sir
Robert, and a young lord named Deleroy, who, I understood, was some
kinsman of hers, and slept there. How, too, she had been separated
from them in the throng when they were attempting to return to
Pevensey which her father must go to guard, because her horse was
frightened and ran away, and of how finally men took her by the arm
and brought her to this castle, saying that it was the safest place.

"Then here you must bide, Lady Blanche," I answered, cutting her
short. "Cling to me and I will save you if I can, even if it costs me
my life."

Certainly she did cling to me for all the rest of that terrible day,
as will be seen.

From this height we saw Hastings beginning to burn, for the Frenchmen
had fired the town in sundry places, and being built of wood, it burnt
furiously. Also we saw and heard horrible scenes and sounds of rapine,
such as chance in this Christian world of ours where a savage foe
finds peaceful folk of another race at his mercy. In the houses people
were burnt; in the streets they were being murdered, or worse. Yes,
even children were murdered, for afterwards I saw the bodies of some
of them.

Awhile later through the wreaths of smoke we perceived companies of
the French advancing to attack the Castle. There may have been three
hundred of them in all, and we did not count more than fifty men, some
of us ill-armed, together with a mob of aged people and many women and
children. What had become of the other men I do not know, but orders
had been shouted from all quarters, and some had gone this way and
some that. Some, too, I think, had fled, lacking leaders.

The French having climbed the hill, began to attack our ill-fenced
gateways, bringing up beams of timber to force them in. Those of us
who had bows shot some of them, though, their armour being good, for
the most part the arrows glanced. But few had bows. Moreover, whenever
we showed ourselves they poured such a rain of quarrels and other
shafts upon us that we could not face it, lacking mail as we did, and
a number of us were killed or wounded. At last they forced the
easternmost gate which was the weakest, and got in there and over a
place in the wall were it was broken. We fought them as well as we
could; myself I cut down two with the sword, Wave-Flame, hewing right
through the helm of one, for the steel of that sword was good. Here,
too, Jack Grieves was killed by my side by a pike thrust, and died
calling to me to fight on for old England and Hastings town; after
which he said something about beer and breathed his last.

The end of it was that those who were left were driven out of the
Castle together with the women and children, the murdering French
killing every man who fell wounded where he lay, and trying to make
prisoner any women they thought young and fair enough. Especially did
they seek to capture the lady Blanche because they saw that she was
beautiful and of high station. But by good fortune more than aught
else, I saved her from this fate.

As it chanced we were among the last to leave the Castle, whence, to
tell the truth, I was loath to go, for by now my blood was up, and
with a few others fought till I was driven out. I prayed the lady
Blanche to run forward with the other women. But she would not,
answering that she trusted no one else, but would stay to die with me,
as though that would help either of us.

Thus it came about that a tall French knight who had set his eyes on
her, outclimbed his fellows upon the slope of the hill, for they were
weary and gathering to re-form, and catching her round the middle,
strove to drag her away. I fell on him and we fought. He had fine
armour and a shield while I had none, but I held the long sword while
he only wielded a battle-axe. I knew that if he could get in a blow
with that battle-axe, I was sped, since the bull's hide of my jerkin
would never stand against it. Therefore it was my business to keep out
of his reach. This, being young and active, for the most part I made
shift to do, especially as he could not move very quickly in his mail.
The end of it was that I cut him on the arm through a joint in his
harness, whereon he rushed at me, swearing French oaths.

I leapt on one side and as he passed, smote with all my strength. The
blow fell between neck and shoulder, from behind as it were, and such
was the temper of that sword named Wave-Flame that it shore through
his mail deep into the flesh beneath, to the backbone as I believe. At
least he went down in a heap--I remember the rattle of his armour as
he fell, and there lay still. Then we fled on down the steep path, I
holding the bloody sword with one hand and Lady Blanche with the
other, while she thanked me with her eyes.

At length we were in the town again, running up my own street. On
either side of us the houses burned, and behind us came another body
of the French. The reek got into our eyes and we stumbled over dead or
fainting people.

Looking to the left I caught sight of the elm tree of which I have
spoken, that grew in front of our door, and saw that the house behind
it was burning. Yes, and I saw more, for at the attic window, which
was open, the flames making an arch round her, sat my mother.
Moreover, she was singing for I heard her voice and the wild words she
sang, though this was a strange thing for a woman to do in the hour of
such a death. Further, she saw and knew me, for she waved her hands to
me, then pointed towards the sea, why, I did not guess at the time. I
stopped, purposing to try to rescue her though the front of the house
was flaming, and the attempt must have ended in my death. But at that
moment the roof fell in, causing the fire to spout upwards and
outwards. This was the last that I saw of my mother, though afterwards
we found her body and gave it burial with those of many other victims.

There was no time to stay, for the conquering French were pouring up
the street behind us, shooting as they came and murdering any laggards
whom they could catch. On we went up the steep slope of the Minnes
Rock. I would have fled on into the open country, but the lady Blanche
had no strength left. Twice she sank to the ground, stricken with
terror and weariness, and each time prayed me not to leave her; nor
indeed did I wish to do so. The end of it was that William Bull and I
between us half carried her with much toil to the cave of which I had
spoken to my mother. The task was heavy and slow, since always we must
scramble over sheer ground. What is more, a party of the French,
seeing our plight, followed us. Perhaps some of them guessed who the
lady was, for there were many spies in Hastings who might have told
them, and desired to capture and hold her to ransom.

At the least they came on after us and a few others, women all of
them, who had joined our company, being unable to travel further, or
trusting to William Bull and myself to protect them.

We reached the cave, and thrusting the women along it, William and I
stood in the mouth and waited. He had no bow and all my arrows were
gone save three, but of these I, who was noted for my archery,
determined to make the best use I could. So I drew them out, and
having strung the bow, sat down to get my breath. On came the French,
shouting and jabbering at us to the effect that they would cut our
throats and carry off /la belle dame/ to be their sport.

"She shall be mine!" yelled a big fellow with a flattened nose and a
wide mouth who was ahead of the others, and not more than fifty yards

I rose, and praying my patron, good St. Hubert after whom I was named
because I first saw light upon his day, the 23rd of November, to give
me skill, I drew the great bow to my ear, aimed, and loosed. Nor did
St. Hubert, a lover of fine shooting, fail me in my need, for that
arrow rushed out and found its home in the big mouth of the Frenchman,
through which it passed, pinning his foul tongue to his neck bone.

Down he went, and cheered by the sight I refitted and loosed at the
next. Him, too, the arrow caught, so that he fell almost on the other.

I set the third and last arrow on the string and waited a space.
Behind these two was a squat, broad man, a knight I suppose, for he
wore armour, and had a shield with a cock painted on it. This man,
frightened by the fate of his companions, yet not minded to give up
the venture for those in rear of him urged him on, bent himself almost
double, and holding the shield over his helm which was closed, so as
to protect his head and body, came on at a good pace.

I waited till he was within five-and-twenty yards or so, hoping that
the roughness of the ground would cause him to stumble and the shield
to shift so that I could get a chance at him behind it. But I did not,
so at last, again praying to St. Hubert, I drew the big bow till the
string touched my ear, and let drive. The shaft, pointed with tempered
steel, struck the shield full in the centre, and by Heaven, pierced
it, aye, and the mail behind, aye, and the flesh it covered, so that
he, too, got his death.

"A great shot, Master," said William, "that no other bow in Hastings
could have sped."

"Not so ill," I answered, "but it is my last. Now we must fight as we
can with sword and axe until we be sped."

William nodded, and the women in the cave began to wail while I
unstrung my bow and set it in its case, from habit I think, seeing
that I never hoped to look upon it again.

Just then from the French ships in the harbour there came a great
blaring of trumpets giving some alarm, and the Frenchmen of a sudden,
ceasing from their attack, turned and ran towards the shore. I stepped
out of the cave with William and looked. There on the sea, drawing
near from the east before a good wind, I saw ships, and saw, too, that
from their masts flew the pennons of England, for the golden leopards
gleamed in the sun.

"It is our fleet, William," I said, "come to talk with these French."

"Then I would that it had come sooner," answered William. "Still,
better now than not at all."

Thus were we saved, through Hamo de Offyngton, the Abbot of Battle
Abbey, or so I was told afterwards, who collected a force by land and
sea and drove off the French after they had ravaged the Isle of Wight,
attacked Winchelsea, and burned the greater part of Hastings. So it
came about that in the end these pirates took little benefit by their
wickedness, since they lost sundry ships with all on board, and others
left in such haste that their people remained on shore where they were
slain by the mob that gathered as soon as it was seen that they were
deserted, helped by a company of the Abbot's men who had marched from
Battle. But with all this I had nothing to do who now that the fight
was over, felt weak as a child and could think of little save that I
had seen my mother burning.

Presently, however, that happened which woke me from my grief and
caused my blood which had grown sluggish to run again. For when she
knew that she was safe the lady Blanche came out of the cave and
addressed me as I stood there leaning against the rock with the red
sword Wave-Flame in my hand, as I had drawn it to make ready for the
last fight to the death. All sorts of sweet names she called me--a
hero, her deliverer, and I know not what besides.

In the end, as I made no answer, being dazed, also hurt by an axe blow
on the breast which I had not felt before, dealt by that Frenchman
whom I slew near the Castle, she did more. Throwing her arms about me
she kissed me thrice, on either cheek and on the lips, doubtless
because she was overwrought, and in her thankfulness forgot her
maidenly reserve, though as William Bull said afterwards, this
forgetfulness did not cause her to kiss him who had also helped her up
the hill.

Those kisses were like wine to me, for it is strange how, if we love
her, by the decree of Nature the touch of a beautiful woman's lips,
felt for the first time, affects us in our youth. Whatever else we
forget, that we always remember, however false those lips afterwards
be proved. For then the wax is soft and the die sinks deep, so deep
that no after-heats can melt its stamp and no fretting wear it out
while we live beneath the sun.

Now my young blood being awakened, I was minded to return those
kisses, and began to do so with a Jew's interest, when I heard a rough
voice swearing many strange oaths, and heard also the other women who
had sheltered with us in the cave begin to titter, for the moment
forgetting all their private woes, as those of their sex will do when
there is kissing in the wind.

"God's blood!" said the rough voice, "who is this that handles my
daughter as though they had been but an hour wed? Take those lips of
yours from her, fellow, or I'll cut them from your chops."

I looked round astonished, to see Sir Robert Aleys mounted on a grey
horse, and followed by a company of men-at-arms who appeared to be
under the command of a well-favoured, dark-eyed young captain with
long hair, and dressed more wondrously than any man I had ever seen
before. Had he put on Joseph's coat over his mail, he could not have
worn more colours, and I noted that the toes of his shoes curled up so
high that I wondered however he worked them through his stirrups, and
what would happen to him if by chance he were unhorsed.

Being taken aback I made no answer, but William Bull, who, if a rough
fellow, had a tongue in his head and a ready wit, spoke up for me.

"If you want to know," he said in his Sussex drawl, "I'll tell you who
he is, Sir Robert Aleys. He is my worshipful master, Hubert of
Hastings, ship-owner, householder, and trader of this town. Or at
least he was these things, but now it seems that his ships and house
are burnt and his mother with them; also that there will be no trade
in Hastings for many a day."

"Mayhap," answered Sir Robert, adding other oaths, "but why does he
buss my daughter?"

"Perchance because he must give as good as he got, which is a law
among honest merchants, noble Sir Robert. Or perchance because he has
a better right to buss her than any man alive, seeing that but for
him, by now she would be but stinking clay, or a Frenchman's leman."

Here the fine young captain cut in, saying,

"Whatever else this worshipful trader may need, he does not lack a

"That is so, my Lord Deleroy," replied William, unmoved, "for when I
find a good song I like to sing it. Go now and look at those three men
who lie yonder on the slope, and see whether the arrows in them bear
my master's mark. Go also and look upon the Castle hill and find a
knight with his head well-nigh hewn from his shoulders, and see
whether yonder sword fits into the cut. Aye, and at others that I
could tell you of, slain, every one of them, to save this fair lady.
Aye, go you whose garments are so fine and unstained, and then come
back and talk of trumpeters."

"Pish!" said my Lord Deleroy with a shrug of his shoulders, "a lady
who is over-wrought and hangs to some common fellow, like one who
kisses the feet of a wooden saint that she thinks has saved her from

At these words I, who had been listening like a man in a dream, awoke,
as it were, for they stung me. Moreover, I had heard that this fine
Deleroy was one of those who owed his place and rank to the King's
favour, as he did his high name, being, it was reported, by birth but
a prince's bastard sprung from some relative of Sir Robert whom
therefore he called cousin.

"Sir," I said, "you know best whether I am more common than you are.
Let that be. At least I hold in my hand the sword of one who begat my
forefather hundreds of years ago, a certain Thorgrimmer who was great
in his time. Now I have had my fill of fighting to-day, and you,
doubtless through no fault of your own, have had none; you also are
clad in mail and I, a common fellow, have none. Deign then to descend
from that horse and take a turn with me though I be tired, and thus
prove my commonness upon my body. Of your nobility do this, seeing
that after all we are of one flesh."

Now, stung in his turn, he made as though he would do what I prayed,
when for the first time, after glancing at her father who sat still--
puzzled, it would seem--the lady Blanche spoke.

"Be not mad, Cousin," she said. "I tell you that this gentleman has
saved my life and honour, twice at least to-day. Is it wonderful,
then, if I thanked him in the best fashion that a woman can, and thus
brought your insults on him?"

He hesitated, though one of his curled-up shoes was out of the
stirrup, when suddenly Sir Robert broke in in his big voice, saying:

"God's truth, Cousin, I think that you will do well to leave this
young cock alone, since I like not the look of that red spur of his,"
and he glanced at the sword Wave-Flame. "Though he be weary, he may
have a kick or two in him yet."

Then he turned to me and added:

"Sir, you have fought well; many a man has earned knighthood for less,
and if a fair maid thanked you in her own fashion, you are not to
blame. I, her father, also thank you and wish you all good fortune
till we meet again. Farewell. Daughter, make shift to share this horse
with me, and let us away out of this stricken town to Pevensey, where
perchance it will please those French to call to-morrow."

A minute later they were gone, and I noted with a pang that as they
went the lady Blanche, having waved her good-bye to me, talked fast to
her cousin Deleroy and that he held her hand to steady her upon her
father's horse.



When the lady Blanche was out of sight, followed by the women who had
sheltered with us in the cave, William and I went to a stream we knew
of not far away and drank our fill. Then we walked to the three whom I
had shot with my big bow, hoping to regain the arrows, for I had none
left. This, however, could not be done though all the men were dead,
for one of the shafts, the last, was broken, and the other two were so
fixed in flesh and bone that only a surgeon's saw would loose them.

So we left them where they were, and before the men were buried many
came to marvel at the sight, thinking it a wonderful thing that I
should have killed these three with three arrows, and that any bow
which arm might bend could have driven the last of them through an
iron shield and a breastplate behind it.

This armour, I should tell, William took for himself, since it was of
his size. Also on the morrow, returning to the Castle Hill, I stripped
the knight whom I had slain with the sword, Wave-Flame, of his
splendid Milan mail, whereof the /plastron/, or breast-plate, was
inlaid with gold, having over it a /camail/ of chain to cover the
joints, through which my good sword had shorn into his neck. The
cognizance on his shield strangely enough was three barbed arrows, but
what was the name of the knight who bore it I never learned. This
mail, which must have cost a great sum, the Bailiff of Hastings
granted me to keep, since I had slain its wearer and borne myself well
in the fight. Moreover, I took the three arrows for my own cognizance,
though in truth I had no right to any, being in those days but a
trader. (Little did I know then how well this mail was to serve me in
the after years.)

By now night was coming on, and as we could see from the cave mouth
that the part of Hastings which lies towards the village of St.
Leonards seemed to have escaped the fire, thitherward we went by the
beach to avoid the heat and falling timbers in the burning town. On
our way we met others and from them heard all that had befallen. It
would seem that the French loss in life was heavier than our own,
since many of them were cut off when they tried to fly to their ships,
and some of these could not be floated from the beach or were rammed
and sunk with all aboard by the English vessels. But the damage done
to Hastings was as much as could scarcely be made good in a
generation, for the most of it was burnt or burning. Also many, like
my own mother, had perished in the fire, being sick or aged or in
childbed, or for this reason and that forgotten and unable to move.
Indeed on the beach were hundreds of folk in despair, nor was it only
the women and children who wept that evening.

For my part, with William I went beyond the burning to the house of a
certain old priest who was my confessor, and the friend of my father
before me, and there we found food and slept, he returning thanks to
God for my escape and offering me consolation for the loss of my
mother and goods.

I rested but ill that night, as those do who are over-weary. Moreover,
this had been my first taste of battle, and again and again I saw
those men falling before my sword and arrows. Very proud was I to have
slain them, wicked ravishers as they were, and very glad that from my
boyhood I had practised myself with sword and bow till I could fence
with any, and was perhaps the most skilled marksman in Hastings,
having won the silver arrow at the butts at the last meeting, and from
archers of all ages. Yet the sight of their deaths haunted me who
remembered how well their fate might have been my own, had they got in
the first shot or blow.

Where had they gone to, I wondered? To the priest's Heaven or Hell?
Were they now telling their sins to some hard-faced angel while he
checked the count from his book, reminding them of many that they had
forgotten? Or were they fast asleep for ever and ever as a shrewd
thinker whom I knew had told me secretly he was sure would be the fate
of all of us, whatever the priests might teach and believe. And where
was my mother whom I had loved and who loved me well, although
outwardly she was so stern a woman, my mother whom I had seen burned
alive, singing as she burned? Oh! it was a vile world, and it seemed
strange that God should cause men and women to be born that they might
come to such cruel ends. Yet who were we to question His decrees of
which we knew neither the beginning nor the finish?

Anyway, I was glad I was not dead, for now that all was over I
trembled and felt afraid, which I had never done during the fighting,
even when my hour seemed very near.

Lastly there was this high-born lady, Blanche Aleys, with whom fortune
had thrown me so strangely that day. Those blue eyes of hers had
pierced my heart like darts, and do what I would I might not rid my
mind of the thought of her, or my ears of the sound of her soft voice,
while her kisses seemed still to burn upon my lips. It wrung me to
think that perhaps I should never see her again, or that if I did I
might not speak with her, being so far beneath her in condition, and
having already earned the wrath of her father, and, as I guessed, the
jealousy of that scented cousin of hers whom they said the King loved
like a brother.

What had my mother told me? To leave this place and go to London,
there to find my uncle, John Grimmer, goldsmith and merchant, who was
my godfather, and to ask him to take me into his business. I
remembered this uncle of mine, for some seven or eight years before,
when I was a growing lad, because there was a plague in London he had
come down to Hastings to visit us. He only stayed a week, however,
because he said that the sea air tied up his stomach and that he would
rather risk the plague with a good stomach than leave it behind him
with a bad one--though I think it was his business he thought of, not
his stomach.

He was a strange old man, not unlike my mother, but with a nose more
hooked, small dark eyes, and a bald head on which he set a cap of
velvet. Even in the heat of summer he was always cold and wore a
frayed fur robe, complaining much if he came into a draught of air.
Indeed he looked like a Jew, though a good Christian enough, and
laughed about it, because he said that this appearance of his served
him well in his trade, since Jews were always feared, and it was held
to be impossible to overreach them.

For the rest I only recalled that he examined me as to my book
learning which did not satisfy him, and went about valuing all our
goods and fishing-boats, showing my mother how we were being cheated
and might earn more than we did. When he departed he gave me a gold
piece and said that Life was nothing but vanity, and that I must pray
for his soul when he was dead as he was sure it would need such help,
also that I ought to put the gold piece out to interest. This I did by
buying with it a certain fierce mastiff dog I coveted that had been
brought on a ship from Norway, which dog bit some great man in our
town, who hauled my mother before the bailiff about it and caused the
poor beast to be killed, to my great wrath.

Now that I came to think of it, I had liked my Uncle John well enough
although he was so different from others. Why should I not go to him?
Because I did not wish to sit in a shop in London, I who loved the sea
and the open air; also because I feared he might ask me what I had
done with that gold piece and make a mock of me about the dog. Yet my
mother had bidden me go, and it was her last command to me, her dying
words which it would be unlucky to disobey. Moreover, our boats and
house were burnt and I must work hard and long before these could be
replaced. Lastly, in London I should see no more of the lady Blanche
Aleys, and there could learn to forget the lights in her blue eyes. So
I determined that I would go, and at last fell asleep.

Next morning I made my confession to the old priest that, amongst
other matters, he might shrive me of the blood which I had shed,
though this he said needed no forgiveness from God or man, being, as I
think, a stout Englishman at heart. Also I took counsel with him as to
what I should do, and he told me it was my duty to obey my mother's
wishes, since such last words were often inspired from on high and
declared the will of Heaven. Further he pointed out that I should do
well to avoid the lady Blanche Aleys who was one far above me in
degree, the following of whom might bring me to trouble, or even to
death; moreover, that I might mend my broken fortunes through the help
of my uncle, a very rich man as he had heard, to whom he would write a
letter about me.

Thus this matter was settled.

Still some days went by before I left Hastings, since first I must
wait until the ashes of our house were cool enough to search in them
for my mother's body. Those who found her at length said that she was
not so much burned as might have been expected, but as to this I am
uncertain, since I could not bring myself to look upon her who desired
to remember her as she had been in life. She was buried by the side of
my father, who was drowned, in the churchyard of St. Clement's, and
when all had gone away I wept a little on her grave.

The rest of that day I spent making ready for my journey. As it
chanced when the house was burnt the outbuildings which lay on the
farther side of the yard behind escaped the fire, and in the stable
were two good horses, one a grey riding-gelding and the other a mare
that used to drag the nets to the quay and bring back the fish, which
horses, although frightened and alarmed, were unharmed. Also there was
a quantity of stores, nets, salt, dried fish in barrels, and I know
not what besides. The horses I kept, but all the rest of the gear,
together with the premises, the ground on which the house had stood,
and the other property I made over to William, my man, who promised me
to pay me their value when he could earn it in better times.

Next morning I rode away for London upon the grey horse, loading the
armour of the knight I had killed and such other possessions as
remained to me upon the mare which I led with a rope. Save William
there was none to say me good-bye, for the misery in Hastings was so
great that all were concerned with their own affairs or in mourning
their dead. I was not sorry that it fell out thus, since I was so full
of sadness at leaving the place where I was born and had lived all my
life, that I think I should have shed tears if any who had been my
friends had spoken kind words to me, which would have been unmanly.
Never had I felt so lonely as when from the high ground I gazed back
to the ruins of Hastings over which still hung a thin pall of smoke.
My courage seemed to fail me altogether; I looked forward to the
future with fear, believing that I had been born unlucky, that it held
no good for me who probably should end my days as a common soldier or
a fisherman, or mayhap in prison or on the gallows. From childhood I
had suffered these fits of gloom, but as yet this was the blackest of
them that I had known.

At length, the sun that had been hidden shone out and with its coming
my temper changed. I remembered that I who might so easily have been
dead, was sound, young, and healthy, that I had sword, bow, and armour
of the best, also twenty or more of gold pieces, for I had not counted
them, in the bag which my mother gave me with Wave-Flame. Further, I
hoped that my uncle would befriend me, and if he did not, there were
plenty of captains engaged in the wars who might be glad of a squire,
one who could shoot against any man and handle a sword as well as

So putting up a prayer to St. Hubert after my simple fashion, I pushed
on blithely to the crest of a long rise and there came face to face
with a gay company who, hawk on wrist and hound at heel, were, I
guessed, on their way to hunt in the Pevensey marshes. While they were
still a little way off I knew these to be no other than Sir Robert
Aleys, his daughter Blanche, and the King's favourite, young Lord
Deleroy, with their servants, and was minded to turn aside to avoid
them. Then I remembered that I had as much right to the King's Highway
as they, and my pride aiding me, determined to ride on taking no note
of them, unless first they took note of me. Also they knew me, for my
ears being very sharp, I heard Sir Robert say in his big voice:

"Here comes that young fisherman again. Pass him in silence,
Daughter"; heard, too, Lord Deleroy drawl it, "It seems that he has
been gathering gear from the slain, and like a good chapman bears it
away for secret sale."

Only the lady Blanche answered neither the one nor the other, but rode
forward with her eyes fixed before her, pretending to talk to the hawk
upon her wrist, and now that she was rested and at ease, looking even
more beautiful than she had done on the day of the burning.

So we met and passed, I glancing at them idly and guiding my horses to
the side of the road. When there were perhaps ten yards between us I
heard Lady Blanche cry:

"Oh, my hawk!" I looked round to see that the falcon on her wrist had
in some way loosed itself, or been loosed, and being hooded, had
fallen to the ground where one of the dogs was trying to catch and
kill it. Now there was great confusion, the eyes of all being fixed
upon the hawk and the dog, in the midst of which the lady Blanche very
quietly turned her head, and lifting her hand as though to see how the
hawk had fallen from it, with a swift movement laid her fingers
against her lips and threw a kiss to me.

As swiftly I bowed back and went on my way with a beating heart. For a
few moments I was filled with joy, since I could not mistake the
meaning of this signalled kiss. Then came sorrow like an April cloud,
since my wound which was in the way of healing was all re-opened. I
had begun to forget the lady Blanche, or rather by an effort of the
will, to thrust her from my thought, as my confessor had bidden me.
But now on the wings of that blown kiss thither she had flown back
again, not to be frighted out for many a day.

That night I slept at an inn at Tonbridge, a comfortable place where
the host stared at the gold piece from the bag which I tendered in
payment, and at first would not take what was due to him out of it,
because it bore the head of some ancient king. However, in the end a
merchant of Tonbridge who came in for his morning ale showed him that
it was good, so that trouble passed.

About two in the afternoon I came to Southwark, a town that to me
seemed as big as Hastings before it was burned, where was a fine inn
called the Tabard at which I stopped to bait my horses and to take a
bite and drink of ale. Then I rode on over the great Thames where
floated a multitude of ships and boats, crossing it by London Bridge,
a work so wonderful that I marvelled that it could be made by the hand
of man, and so broad that it had shops on either side of the roadway,
in which were sold all sorts of merchandise. Thence I inquired my way
to Cheapside, and came there at last thrusting a path through a
roaring multitude of people, or so it seemed to me who never before
had seen so many men and women gathered together, all going on their
way and, it would appear, ignorant of each other.

Here I found a long and crowded thoroughfare with gabled houses on
either side in which all kinds of trades were carried on. Down this I
wandered, being cursed at more than once because my pack mare, growing
frightened, dragged away from me and crossed the path of carts which
had to stop till I could pull her free. After the third of these
tangles I halted by the side of the footway behind a wain with barrels
on it, and looked about me bewildered.

To my left was a house somewhat set back from the general line that
had a little patch of garden ground in front of it in which grew some
untended and thriftless-looking shrubs. This house seemed to be a
place of business because from an iron fastened to the front of it
hung a board on which was painted an open boat, high at the prow and
stern, with a tall beak fashioned to the likeness of a dragon's head
and round shields all down the rail.

While I was staring at this sign and wondering emptily what kind of a
boat it was and of what nation were the folk who had sailed in her, a
man came down the garden path and leaned upon the gate, staring in
turn at me. He was old and strange-looking, being clad in a rusty gown
with a hood to it that was pulled over his head, so that I could only
see a white, peaked beard and a pair of brilliant black eyes which
seemed to pierce me as a shoemaker's awl pierces leather.

"What do you, young man," he asked in a high thin voice, "cumbering my
gate with those nags of yours? Would you sell that mail you have on
the pack-horse? If so I do not deal in such stuff, though it seems
good of its kind. So get on with it elsewhere."

"Nay, sir," I answered, "I have naught to sell who in this hive of
traders seek one bee and cannot find him."

"Hive of traders! Truly the great merchants of the Cheap would be
honoured. Have they stung you, then, already, young bumpkin from the
countryside, for such I write you down? But what bee do you seek?
Stay, now, let me guess. Is it a certain old knave named John Grimmer,
who trades in gold and jewels and other precious things and who, if he
had his deserts, should be jail?"

"Aye, aye, that's the man," I said.

"Surely he also will be honoured," exclaimed the old fellow with a
cackle. "He's a friend of mine and I will tell him the jest."

"If you would tell me where to find him it would be more seasonable."

"All in good time. But first, young sir, where did you get that fine
armour? If you stole it, it should be better hid."

"Stole it!" I began in wrath. "Am I a London chapman----?"

"I think not, though you may be before all is done, for who knows what
vile tricks Fortune will play us? Well, if you did not steal it,
mayhap you slew the wearer and are a murderer, for I see black blood
on the steel."

"Murderer!" I gasped.

"Aye, just as you say John Grimmer is a knave. But if not, then
perchance you slew the French knight who wore it on Hastings Hill, ere
you loosed the three arrows at the mouth of the cave near Minnes

Now I gaped at him.

"Shut your mouth, young man, lest those teeth of yours should fall
out. You wonder how I know? Well, my friend John Grimmer, the
goldsmith knave, has a magic crystal which he purchased from one who
brought it from the East, and I saw it in that crystal."

As he spoke, as though by chance he pushed back the hood that covered
his head, revealing a wrinkled old face with a mocking mouth which
drooped at one corner, a mouth that I knew again, although many years
had passed since I looked upon it as a boy.

"You are John Grimmer!" I muttered.

"Yes, Hubert of Hastings, I am that knave himself. And now tell me,
what did you do with the gold piece I gave you some twelve summers

Then I was minded to lie, for I feared this old man. But thinking
better of it, I answered that I had spent it on a dog. He laughed
outright and said:

"Pray that it is not an omen and that you may not follow the gold
piece to the dogs. Well, I like you for speaking the truth when you
are tempted to do otherwise. Will you be pleased to shelter for a
while beneath the roof of John Grimmer, the merchant knave?"

"You mock me, sir," I stammered.

"Perhaps, perhaps! But there's many a true word spoken in jest; for if
you do not know it now you will learn it afterwards that we are all
knaves, each in his own fashion, who if we do not deceive others, at
least deceive ourselves, and I perhaps more than most. Vanity of
vanities! All is vanity."

Then, waiting for no reply, he drew a silver whistle from under his
dusty robe and blew it, whereon--so swiftly that I marvelled whether
he were waiting--a stout-built serving man appeared to whom he said:

"Take these horses to the stable and treat them as though they were my
own. Unload the pack beast, and when it has been cleaned, set the mail
and the other gear upon it in the room that has been made ready for
this young master, Hubert of Hastings, my nephew."

Without a word the man led off the horses.

"Be not afraid," chuckled John Grimmer, "for though I am a knave, dog
does not eat dog and what is yours is safe with me and those who serve
me. Now enter," and he led the way into the house, opening the iron-
studded oak door with a key from his pouch.

Within was a shop where I saw precious things such as furs and gold
ornaments lying about.

"The crumbs to catch the birds, especially the ladybirds," he said
with a sweep of his hand, then took me through the shop into a passage
and thence to a room on the right. It was not a large room but more
wonderfully furnished than any I had ever seen. In the centre was a
table of black oak with cunningly carved legs, on which stood cups of
silver and a noble centre piece that seemed to be of gold. From the
ceiling, too, hung silver lamps that already had been lit, for the
evening was closing in, and gave a sweet smell. There was a hearth
also with what was rare, a chimney, upon which burned a little fire of
logs, while the walls were hung with tapestries and broidered silks.

Whilst I stared about me, my uncle took off his cloak beneath which he
was clothed in some rich but rather threadbare stuff, only retaining
the velvet skullcap that he wore. Then he bade me do the same, and
when I had laid my outer garment aside, looked me all over in the

"A proper young man," he muttered to himself, "and I'd give all I have
to be his age and like him. I suppose those limbs and sinews of his
came from his father, for I was ever thin and spare, as was my father
before me. Nephew Hubert, I have heard all the tale of your dealings
with the Frenchmen, on whom be God's curse, at Hastings yonder; and I
say that I am proud of you, though whether I shall stay so is another
matter. Come hither."

I obeyed, and taking me by my curling hair with his delicate hand, he
drew down my head and kissed me on the brow, muttering, "Neither chick
nor child for me and only this one left of the ancient blood. May he
do it honour."

Then he motioned to me to be seated and rang a little silver bell that
stood upon the table. As in the case of the man without, it was
answered instantly from which I judged that Master Grimmer was well
served. Before the echoes of the bell died away a door opened, the
tapestry swung aside, and there appeared two most comely serving
maids, tall and well-shaped both of them, bearing food.

"Pretty women, Nephew, no wonder that you look at them," he said when
they had gone away to fetch other things, "such as I like to have
about me although I am old. Women for within and men for without, that
is Nature's law, and ill will be the day when it is changed. Yet
beware of pretty women, Nephew, and I pray you kiss not those as you
did the lady Blanche Aleys at Hastings, lest it should upset my
household and turn servants into mistresses."

I made no answer, being confounded by the knowledge that my uncle
showed of me and my affairs, which afterwards I discovered he had, in
part at any rate, from the old priest, my confessor, who had written
to commend me to him, telling my story and sending the letter by a
King's messenger, who left for London on the morrow of the Burning.
Nor did he wait for any, for he bade me sit down and eat, plying me
with more meats than I could swallow, all most delicately dressed,
also with rare wines such as I had never tasted, which he took from a
cupboard where they were kept in curious flasks of glass. Yet as I
noted, himself he ate but little, only picking at the breast of a fowl
and drinking but the half of a small silver goblet filled with wine.

"Appetite, like all other good things, for the young," he said with a
sigh as he watched my hearty feasting. "Yet remember, Nephew, that if
you live to reach it, a day will come when yours will be as mine is.
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity!"

At length, when I could eat no more, again he rang the silver bell and
those fair waiting girls dressed alike in green appeared and cleared
away the broken meats. After they were gone he crouched over the fire
rubbing his thin hands to warm them, and said suddenly:

"Now tell me of my sister's death and all the rest of your tale."

So as well as I was able I told him everything from the hour when I
had first sighted the French fleet on board my fishing-boat to the

"You are no fool," he said when I had finished, "who can talk like any
clerk and bring things that have happened clearly to the listener's
eye, which I have noted few are able to do. So that's the story. Well,
your mother had a great heart, and she made a great end, such an one
as was loved of our northern race, and that even I, the old merchant
knave, desire and shall not win, who doubtless am doomed to die a
cow's death in the straw. Pray the All-Father Odin--nay, that is
heresy for which I might burn if you or the wenches told it to the
priests--pray God, I mean, that He may grant you a better, as He did
to old Thorgrimmer, if the tale be true, Thorgrimmer whose sword you
wear and have wielded shrewdly, as that French knight knows in hell

"Who was Odin?" I asked.

"The great god of the North. Did not your mother tell you of him? Nay,
doubtless she was too good a Christian. Yet he lives on, Nephew. I say
that Odin lives in the blood of every fighting man, as Freya lives in
the heart of every lad and girl who loves. The gods change their
names, but hush! hush! talk not of Odin and of Freya, for I say that
it is heresy, or pagan, which is worse. What would you do now? Why
came you to London?"

"Because my mother bade me and to seek my fortune."

"Fortune--what is fortune? Youth and health are the best fortune,
though, if they know how to use it, those who have wealth as well may
go further than the rest. Also beauteous things are pleasant to the
sight and there is joy in gathering them. Yet at the last they mean
nothing, for naked we came out of the blackness and naked we return
there. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!"



Thus began my life in London in the house of my uncle, John Grimmer,
who was called the Goldsmith. In truth, however, he was more than
this, since not only did he fashion and trade in costly things; he
lent out moneys to interest upon security to great people who needed
it, and even to the king Richard and his Court. Also he owned ships
and did much commerce with Holland, France, yes, and with Spain and
Italy. Indeed, although he appeared so humble, his wealth was very
large and always increased, like a snowball rolling down a hill;
moreover, he owned much land, especially in the neighbourhood of
London where it was likely to grow in value.

"Money melts," he would say, "furs corrupt with moth and time, and
thieves break in and steal. But land--if the title be good--remains.
Therefore buy land, which none can carry away, near to a market or a
growing town if may be, and hire it out to fools to farm, or sell it
to other fools who wish to build great houses and spend their goods in
feeding a multitude of idle servants. Houses eat, Hubert, and the

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