Part 1 out of 7
Transcribed by David Price, email email@example.com
THE ARMOURER'S PRENTICES
I have attempted here to sketch citizen life in the early Tudor
days, aided therein by Stowe's Survey of London, supplemented by Mr.
Loftie's excellent history, and Dr. Burton's English Merchants.
Stowe gives a full account of the relations of apprentices to their
masters; though I confess that I do not know whether Edmund Burgess
could have become a citizen of York after serving an apprenticeship
in London. Evil May Day is closely described in Hall's Chronicle.
The ballad, said to be by Churchill, a contemporary, does not agree
with it in all respects; but the story-teller may surely have
license to follow whatever is most suitable to the purpose. The
sermon is exactly as given by Hall, who is also responsible for the
description of the King's sports and of the Field of the Cloth of
Gold and of Ardres. Knight's admirable Pictorial History of England
tells of Barlow, the archer, dubbed by Henry VIII. the King of
Historic Winchester describes both St. Elizabeth College and the
Archer Monks of Hyde Abbey. The tales mentioned as told by Ambrose
to Dennet are really New Forest legends.
The Moresco's Arabic Gospel and Breviary are mentioned in Lady
Calcott's History of Spain, but she does not give her authority.
Nor can I go further than Knight's Pictorial History for the King's
adventure in the marsh. He does not say where it happened, but as
in Stowe's map "Dead Man's Hole" appears in what is now Regent's
Park, the marsh was probably deep enough in places for the adventure
there. Brand's Popular Antiquities are the authority for the
nutting in St. John's Wood on Holy Cross Day. Indeed, in some
country parishes I have heard that boys still think they have a
license to crack nuts at church on the ensuing Sunday.
Seebohm's Oxford Reformers and the Life of Sir Thomas More, written
by William Roper, are my other authorities, though I touched
somewhat unwillingly on ground already lighted up by Miss Manning in
her Household of Sir Thomas More.
Galt's Life of Cardinal Wolsey afforded the description of his
household taken from his faithful Cavendish, and likewise the story
of Patch the Fool. In fact, a large portion of the whole book was
built on that anecdote.
I mention all this because I have so often been asked my authorities
in historical tales, that I think people prefer to have what the
French appropriately call pieces justificatives.
C. M. YONGE.
August 1st, 1884
CHAPTER I. THE VERDURER'S LODGE
"Give me the poor allottery my father left me by testament, with
that I will go buy me fortunes."
"Get you with him, you old dog."
As You Like It.
The officials of the New Forest have ever since the days of the
Conqueror enjoyed some of the pleasantest dwellings that southern
England can boast.
The home of the Birkenholt family was not one of the least
delightful. It stood at the foot of a rising ground, on which grew
a grove of magnificent beeches, their large silvery boles rising
majestically like columns into a lofty vaulting of branches, covered
above with tender green foliage. Here and there the shade beneath
was broken by the gilding of a ray of sunshine on a lower twig, or
on a white trunk, but the floor of the vast arcades was almost
entirely of the russet brown of the fallen leaves, save where a fern
or holly bush made a spot of green. At the foot of the slope lay a
stretch of pasture ground, some parts covered by "lady-smocks, all
silver white," with the course of the little stream through the
midst indicated by a perfect golden river of shining kingcups
interspersed with ferns. Beyond lay tracts of brown heath and
brilliant gorse and broom, which stretched for miles and miles along
the flats, while the dry ground was covered with holly brake, and
here and there woods of oak and beech made a sea of verdure,
purpling in the distance.
Cultivation was not attempted, but hardy little ponies, cows, goats,
sheep, and pigs were feeding, and picking their way about in the
marshy mead below, and a small garden of pot-herbs, inclosed by a
strong fence of timber, lay on the sunny side of a spacious rambling
forest lodge, only one story high, built of solid timber and roofed
with shingle. It was not without strong pretensions to beauty, as
well as to picturesqueness, for the posts of the door, the
architecture of the deep porch, the frames of the latticed windows,
and the verge boards were all richly carved in grotesque devices.
Over the door was the royal shield, between a pair of magnificent
antlers, the spoils of a deer reported to have been slain by King
Edward IV., as was denoted by the "glorious sun of York" carved
beneath the shield.
In the background among the trees were ranges of stables and
kennels, and on the grass-plat in front of the windows was a row of
beehives. A tame doe lay on the little green sward, not far from a
large rough deer-hound, both close friends who could be trusted at
large. There was a mournful dispirited look about the hound,
evidently an aged animal, for the once black muzzle was touched with
grey, and there was a film over one of the keen beautiful eyes,
which opened eagerly as he pricked his ears and lifted his head at
the rattle of the door latch. Then, as two boys came out, he rose,
and with a slowly waving tail, and a wistful appealing air, came and
laid his head against one of the pair who had appeared in the porch.
They were lads of fourteen and fifteen, clad in suits of new
mourning, with the short belted doublet, puffed hose, small ruffs
and little round caps of early Tudor times. They had dark eyes and
hair, and honest open faces, the younger ruddy and sunburnt, the
elder thinner and more intellectual--and they were so much the same
size that the advantage of age was always supposed to be on the side
of Stephen, though he was really the junior by nearly a year. Both
were sad and grave, and the eyes and cheeks of Stephen showed traces
of recent floods of tears, though there was more settled dejection
on the countenance of his brother.
"Ay, Spring," said the lad, "'tis winter with thee now. A poor old
rogue! Did the new housewife talk of a halter because he showed his
teeth when her ill-nurtured brat wanted to ride on him? Nay, old
Spring, thou shalt share thy master's fortunes, changed though they
be. Oh, father! father! didst thou guess how it would be with thy
boys!" And throwing himself on the grass, he hid his face against
the dog and sobbed.
"Come, Stephen, Stephen; 'tis time to play the man! What are we to
do out in the world if you weep and wail?"
"She might have let us stay for the month's mind," was heard from
"Ay, and though we might be more glad to go, we might carry bitterer
thoughts along with us. Better be done with it at once, say I."
"There would still be the Forest! And I saw the moorhen sitting
yester eve! And the wild ducklings are out on the pool, and the
woods are full of song. Oh! Ambrose! I never knew how hard it is
"Nay, now, Steve, where be all your plots for bravery? You always
meant to seek your fortune--not bide here like an acorn for ever."
"I never thought to be thrust forth the very day of our poor
father's burial, by a shrewish town-bred vixen, and a base narrow-
"Hist! hist!" said the more prudent Ambrose.
"Let him hear who will! He cannot do worse for us than he has done!
All the Forest will cry shame on him for a mean-hearted skinflint to
turn his brothers from their home, ere their father and his, be cold
in his grave," cried Stephen, clenching the grass with his hands, in
his passionate sense of wrong.
"That's womanish," said Ambrose.
"Who'll be the woman when the time comes for drawing cold steel?"
cried Stephen, sitting up.
At that moment there came through the porch a man, a few years over
thirty, likewise in mourning, with a paler, sharper countenance than
the brothers, and an uncomfortable pleading expression of self-
"How now, lads!" he said, "what means this passion? You have taken
the matter too hastily. There was no thought that ye should part
till you had some purpose in view. Nay, we should be fain for
Ambrose to bide on here, so he would leave his portion for me to
deal with, and teach little Will his primer and accidence. You are
a quiet lad, Ambrose, and can rule your tongue better than Stephen."
"Thanks, brother John," said Ambrose, somewhat sarcastically, "but
where Stephen goes I go."
"I would--I would have found Stephen a place among the prickers or
rangers, if--" hesitated John. "In sooth, I would yet do it, if he
would make it up with the housewife."
"My father looked higher for his son than a pricker's office,"
"That do I wot," said John, "and therefore, 'tis for his own good
that I would send him forth. His godfather, our uncle Birkenholt,
he will assuredly provide for him, and set him forth--"
The door of the house was opened, and a shrewish voice cried, "Mr.
Birkenholt--here, husband! You are wanted. Here's little Kate
crying to have yonder smooth pouch to stroke, and I cannot reach it
"Father set store by that otter-skin pouch, for poor Prince Arthur
slew the otter," cried Stephen. "Surely, John, you'll not let the
babes make a toy of that?"
John made a helpless gesture, and at a renewed call, went indoors.
"You are right, Ambrose," said Stephen, "this is no place for us.
Why should we tarry any longer to see everything moiled and set at
nought? I have couched in the forest before, and 'tis summer time."
"Nay," said Ambrose, "we must make up our fardels and have our money
in our pouches before we can depart. We must tarry the night, and
call John to his reckoning, and so might we set forth early enough
in the morning to lie at Winchester that night and take counsel with
our uncle Birkenholt."
"I would not stop short at Winchester," said Stephen. "London for
me, where uncle Randall will find us preferment!"
"And what wilt do for Spring!"
"Take him with me, of course!" exclaimed Stephen. "What! would I
leave him to be kicked and pinched by Will, and hanged belike by
"I doubt me whether the poor old hound will brook the journey."
"Then I'll carry him!"
Ambrose looked at the big dog as if he thought it would be a serious
undertaking, but he had known and loved Spring as his brother's
property ever since his memory began, and he scarcely felt that they
could be separable for weal or woe.
The verdurers of the New Forest were of gentle blood, and their
office was well-nigh hereditary. The Birkenholts had held it for
many generations, and the reversion passed as a matter of course to
the eldest son of the late holder, who had newly been laid in the
burial ground of Beaulieu Abbey. John Birkenholt, whose mother had
been of knightly lineage, had resented his father's second marriage
with the daughter of a yeoman on the verge of the Forest, suspected
of a strain of gipsy blood, and had lived little at home, becoming a
sort of agent at Southampton for business connected with the timber
which was yearly cut in the Forest to supply material for the
shipping. He had wedded the daughter of a person engaged in law
business at Southampton, and had only been an occasional visitor at
home, ever after the death of his stepmother. She had left these
two boys, unwelcome appendages in his sight. They had obtained a
certain amount of education at Beaulieu Abbey, where a school was
kept, and where Ambrose daily studied, though for the last few
months Stephen had assisted his father in his forest duties.
Death had come suddenly to break up the household in the early
spring of 1515, and John Birkenholt had returned as if to a
patrimony, bringing his wife and children with him. The funeral
ceremonies had been conducted at Beaulieu Abbey on the extensive
scale of the sixteenth century, the requiem, the feast, and the
dole, all taking place there, leaving the Forest lodge in its
It had always been understood that on their father's death the two
younger sons must make their own way in the world; but he had hoped
to live until they were a little older, when he might himself have
started them in life, or expressed his wishes respecting them to
their elder brother. As it was, however, there was no commendation
of them, nothing but a strip of parchment, drawn up by one of the
monks of Beaulieu, leaving each of them twenty crowns, with a few
small jewels and properties left by their own mother, while
everything else went to their brother.
There might have been some jealousy excited by the estimation in
which Stephen's efficiency--boy as he was--was evidently held by the
plain-spoken underlings of the verdurer; and this added to Mistress
Birkenholt's dislike to the presence of her husband's half-brothers,
whom she regarded as interlopers without a right to exist. Matters
were brought to a climax by old Spring's resentment at being roughly
teased by her spoilt children. He had done nothing worse than growl
and show his teeth, but the town-bred dame had taken alarm, and half
in terror, half in spite, had insisted on his instant execution,
since he was too old to be valuable. Stephen, who loved the dog
only less than he loved his brother Ambrose, had come to high words
with her; and the end of the altercation had been that she had
declared that she would suffer no great lubbers of the half-blood to
devour her children's inheritance, and teach them ill manners, and
that go they must, and that instantly. John had muttered a little
about "not so fast, dame," and "for very shame," but she had turned
on him, and rated him with a violence that demonstrated who was
ruler in the house, and took away all disposition to tarry long
under the new dynasty.
The boys possessed two uncles, one on each side of the house. Their
father's elder brother had been a man-at-arms, having preferred a
stirring life to the Forest, and had fought in the last surges of
the Wars of the Roses. Having become disabled and infirm, he had
taken advantage of a corrody, or right of maintenance, as being of
kin to a benefactor of Hyde Abbey at Winchester, to which Birkenholt
some generations back had presented a few roods of land, in right of
which, one descendant at a time might be maintained in the Abbey.
Intelligence of his brother's death had been sent to Richard
Birkenholt, but answer had been returned that he was too evil-
disposed with the gout to attend the burial.
The other uncle, Harry Randall, had disappeared from the country
under a cloud connected with the king's deer, leaving behind him the
reputation of a careless, thriftless, jovial fellow, the best
company in all the Forest, and capable of doing every one's work
save his own.
The two brothers, who were about seven and six years old at the time
of his flight, had a lively recollection of his charms as a
playmate, and of their mother's grief for him, and refusal to
believe any ill of her Hal. Rumours had come of his attainment to
vague and unknown greatness at court, under the patronage of the
Lord Archbishop of York, which the Verdurer laughed to scorn, though
his wife gave credit to them. Gifts had come from time to time,
passed through a succession of servants and officials of the king,
such as a coral and silver rosary, a jewelled bodkin, an agate
carved with St. Catherine, an ivory pouncet box with a pierced gold
coin as the lid; but no letter with them, as indeed Hal Randall had
never been induced to learn to read or write. Master Birkenholt
looked doubtfully at the tokens and hoped Hal had come honestly by
them; but his wife had thoroughly imbued her sons with the belief
that Uncle Hal was shining in his proper sphere, where he was better
appreciated than at home. Thus their one plan was to go to London
to find Uncle Hal, who was sure to put Stephen on the road to
fortune, and enable Ambrose to become a great scholar, his favourite
His gifts would, as Ambrose observed, serve them as tokens, and with
the purpose of claiming them, they re-entered the hall, a long low
room, with a handsome open roof, and walls tapestried with dressed
skins, interspersed with antlers, hung with weapons of the chase.
At one end of the hall was a small polished barrel, always
replenished with beer, at the other a hearth with a wood fire
constantly burning, and there was a table running the whole length
of the room; at one end of this was laid a cloth, with a few
trenchers on it, and horn cups, surrounding a barley loaf and a
cheese, this meagre irregular supper being considered as a
sufficient supplement to the funeral baked meats which had abounded
at Beaulieu. John Birkenholt sat at the table with a trencher and
horn before him, uneasily using his knife to crumble, rather than
cut, his bread. His wife, a thin, pale, shrewish-looking woman, was
warming her child's feet at the fire, before putting him to bed, and
an old woman sat spinning and nodding on a settle at a little
"Brother," said Stephen, "we have thought on what you said. We will
put our stuff together, and if you will count us out our portions,
we will be afoot by sunrise to-morrow."
"Nay, nay, lad, I said not there was such haste; did I, mistress
housewife?"--(she snorted); "only that thou art a well-grown lusty
fellow, and 'tis time thou wentest forth. For thee, Ambrose, thou
wottest I made thee a fair offer of bed and board."
"That is," called out the wife, "if thou wilt make a fair scholar of
little Will. 'Tis a mighty good offer. There are not many who
would let their child be taught by a mere stripling like thee!"
"Nay," said Ambrose, who could not bring himself to thank her, "I go
with Stephen, mistress; I would mend my scholarship ere I teach."
"As you please," said Mistress Maud, shrugging her shoulders, "only
never say that a fair offer was not made to you."
"And," said Stephen, "so please you, brother John, hand us over our
portions, and the jewels as bequeathed to us, and we will be gone."
"Portions, quotha?" returned John. "Boy, they be not due to you
till you be come to years of discretion."
The brothers looked at one another, and Stephen said, "Nay, now,
brother, I know not how that may be, but I do know that you cannot
drive us from our father's house without maintenance, and detain
what belongs to us."
And Ambrose muttered something about "my Lord of Beaulieu."
"Look you, now," said John, "did I ever speak of driving you from
home without maintenance? Hath not Ambrose had his choice of
staying here, and Stephen of waiting till some office be found for
him? As for putting forty crowns into the hands of striplings like
you, it were mere throwing it to the robbers."
"That being so," said Ambrose turning to Stephen, "we will to
Beaulieu, and see what counsel my lord will give us."
"Yea, do, like the vipers ye are, and embroil us with my Lord of
Beaulieu," cried Maud from the fire.
"See," said John, in his more caressing fashion, "it is not well to
carry family tales to strangers, and--and--"
He was disconcerted by a laugh from the old nurse, "Ho! John
Birkenholt, thou wast ever a lad of smooth tongue, but an thou, or
madam here, think that thy brothers can be put forth from thy
father's door without their due before the good man be cold in his
grave, and the Forest not ring with it, thou art mightily out in thy
"Peace, thou old hag; what matter is't of thine?" began Mistress
Maud, but again came the harsh laugh. "Matter of mine! Why, whose
matter should it be but mine, that have nursed all three of the
lads, ay, and their father before them, besides four more that lie
in the graveyard at Beaulieu? Rest their sweet souls! And I tell
thee, Master John, an thou do not righteously by these thy brothers,
thou mayst back to thy parchments at Southampton, for not a man or
beast in the Forest will give thee good day."
They all felt the old woman's authority. She was able and spirited
in her homely way, and more mistress of the house than Mrs.
Birkenholt herself; and such were the terms of domestic service,
that there was no peril of losing her place. Even Maud knew that to
turn her out was an impossibility, and that she must be accepted
like the loneliness, damp, and other evils of Forest life. John had
been under her dominion, and proceeded to persuade her. "Good now,
Nurse Joan, what have I denied these rash striplings that my father
would have granted them? Wouldst thou have them carry all their
portion in their hands, to be cozened of it at the first ale-house,
or robbed on the next heath?"
"I would have thee do a brother's honest part, John Birkenholt. A
loving part I say not. Thou wert always like a very popple for
hardness, and smoothness, ay, and slipperiness. Heigh ho! But what
is right by the lads, thou SHALT do."
John cowered under her eye as he had done at six years old, and
faltered, "I only seek to do them right, nurse."
Nurse Joan uttered an emphatic grunt, but Mistress Maud broke in,
"They are not to hang about here in idleness, eating my poor child's
substance, and teaching him ill manners."
"We would not stay here if you paid us for it," returned Stephen.
"And whither would you go?" asked John.
"To Winchester first, to seek counsel with our uncle Birkenholt.
Then to London, where uncle Randall will help us to our fortunes."
"Gipsy Hal! He is more like to help you to a halter," sneered John,
sotto voce, and Joan herself observed, "Their uncle at Winchester
will show them better than to run after that there go-by-chance."
However, as no one wished to keep the youths, and they were equally
determined to go, an accommodation was come to at last. John was
induced to give them three crowns apiece and to yield them up the
five small trinkets specified, though not without some murmurs from
his wife. It was no doubt safer to leave the rest of the money in
his hands than to carry it with them, and he undertook that it
should be forthcoming, if needed for any fit purpose, such as the
purchase of an office, an apprentice's fee, or an outfit as a
squire. It was a vague promise that cost him nothing just then, and
thus could be readily made, and John's great desire was to get them
away so that he could aver that they had gone by their own free
will, without any hardship, for he had seen enough at his father's
obsequies to show him that the love and sympathy of all the scanty
dwellers in the Forest was with them.
Nurse Joan had fought their battles, but with the sore heart of one
who was parting with her darlings never to see them again. She bade
them doff their suits of mourning that she might make up their
fardels, as they would travel in their Lincoln-green suits. To take
these she repaired to the little rough shed-like chamber where the
two brothers lay for the last time on their pallet bed, awake, and
watching for her, with Spring at their feet. The poor old woman
stood over them, as over the motherless nurslings whom she had
tended, and she should probably never see more, but she was a woman
of shrewd sense, and perceived that "with the new madam in the hall"
it was better that they should be gone before worse ensued.
She advised leaving their valuables sealed up in the hands of my
Lord Abbot, but they were averse to this--for they said their uncle
Randall, who had not seen them since they were little children,
would not know them without some pledge.
She shook her head. "The less you deal with Hal Randall the
better," she said. "Come now, lads, be advised and go no farther
than Winchester, where Master Ambrose may get all the book-learning
he is ever craving for, and you, Master Steevie, may prentice
yourself to some good trade."
"Prentice!" cried Stephen, scornfully.
"Ay, ay. As good blood as thine has been prenticed," returned Joan.
"Better so than be a cut-throat sword-and-buckler fellow, ever
slaying some one else or getting thyself slain--a terror to all
peaceful folk. But thine uncle will see to that--a steady-minded
lad always was he--was Master Dick."
Consoling herself with this hope, the old woman rolled up their new
suits with some linen into two neat knapsacks; sighing over the
thought that unaccustomed fingers would deal with the shirts she had
spun, bleached, and sewn. But she had confidence in "Master Dick,"
and concluded that to send his nephews to him at Winchester gave a
far better chance of their being cared for, than letting them be
flouted into ill-doing by their grudging brother and his wife.
CHAPTER II. THE GRANGE OF SILKSTEDE
"All Itchen's valley lay,
St. Catherine's breezy side and the woodlands far away,
The huge Cathedral sleeping in venerable gloom,
The modest College tower, and the bedesmen's Norman home."
Very early in the morning, even according to the habits of the time,
were Stephen and Ambrose Birkenholt astir. They were full of ardour
to enter on the new and unknown world beyond the Forest, and much as
they loved it, any change that kept them still to their altered life
would have been distasteful.
Nurse Joan, asking no questions, folded up their fardels on their
backs, and packed the wallets for their day's journey with ample
provision. She charged them to be good lads, to say their Pater,
Credo, and Ave daily, and never omit Mass on a Sunday. They kissed
her like their mother and promised heartily--and Stephen took his
crossbow. They had had some hope of setting forth so early as to
avoid all other human farewells, except that Ambrose wished to begin
by going to Beaulieu to take leave of the Father who had been his
kind master, and get his blessing and counsel. But Beaulieu was
three miles out of their way, and Stephen had not the same desire,
being less attached to his schoolmaster and more afraid of
hindrances being thrown in their way.
Moreover, contrary to their expectation, their elder brother came
forth, and declared his intention of setting them forth on their
way, bestowing a great amount of good advice, to the same purport as
that of nurse Joan, namely, that they should let their uncle Richard
Birkenholt find them some employment at Winchester, where they, or
at least Ambrose, might even obtain admission into the famous
college of St. Mary.
In fact, this excellent elder brother persuaded himself that it
would be doing them an absolute wrong to keep such promising youths
hidden in the Forest.
The purpose of his going thus far with them made itself evident. It
was to see them past the turning to Beaulieu. No doubt he wished to
tell the story in his own way, and that they should not present
themselves there as orphans expelled from their father's house. It
would sound much better that he had sent them to ask counsel of
their uncle at Winchester, the fit person to take charge of them.
And as he represented that to go to Beaulieu would lengthen their
day's journey so much that they might hardly reach Winchester that
night, while all Stephen's wishes were to go forward, Ambrose could
only send his greetings. There was another debate over Spring, who
had followed his master as usual. John uttered an exclamation of
vexation at perceiving it, and bade Stephen drive the dog back. "Or
give me the leash to drag him. He will never follow me."
"He goes with us," said Stephen.
"He! Thou'lt never have the folly! The old hound is half blind and
past use. No man will take thee in with him after thee."
"Then they shall not take me in," said Stephen. "I'll not leave him
to be hanged by thee."
"Who spoke of hanging him!"
"Thy wife will soon, if she hath not already."
"Thou wilt be for hanging him thyself ere thou have made a day's
journey with him on the king's highway, which is not like these
forest paths, I would have thee to know. Why, he limps already."
"Then I'll carry him," said Stephen, doggedly.
"What hast thou to say to that device, Ambrose?" asked John,
appealing to the elder and wiser.
But Ambrose only answered "I'll help," and as John had no particular
desire to retain the superannuated hound, and preferred on the whole
to be spared sentencing him, no more was said on the subject as they
went along, until all John's stock of good counsel had been lavished
on his brothers' impatient ears. He bade them farewell, and turned
back to the lodge, and they struck away along the woodland pathway
which they had been told led to Winchester, though they had never
been thither, nor seen any town save Southampton and Romsey at long
intervals. On they went, sometimes through beech and oak woods of
noble, almost primeval, trees, but more often across tracts of holly
underwood, illuminated here and there with the snowy garlands of the
wild cherry, and beneath with wide spaces covered with young green
bracken, whose soft irregular masses on the undulating ground had
somewhat the effect of the waves of the sea. These alternated with
stretches of yellow gorse and brown heather, sheets of cotton-grass,
and pools of white crowfoot, and all the vegetation of a mountain
side, only that the mountain was not there.
The brothers looked with eyes untaught to care for beauty, but with
a certain love of the home scenes, tempered by youth's impatience
for something new. The nightingales sang, the thrushes flew out
before them, the wild duck and moorhen glanced on the pools. Here
and there they came on the furrows left by the snout of the wild
swine, and in the open tracts rose the graceful heads of the deer,
but of inhabitants or travellers they scarce saw any, save when they
halted at the little hamlet of Minestead, where a small alehouse was
kept by one Will Purkiss, who claimed descent from the charcoal-
burner who had carried William Rufus's corpse to burial at
Winchester--the one fact in history known to all New Foresters,
though perhaps Ambrose and John were the only persons beyond the
walls of Beaulieu who did not suppose the affair to have taken place
in the last generation.
A draught of ale and a short rest were welcome as the heat of the
day came on, making the old dog plod wearily on with his tongue out,
so that Stephen began to consider whether he should indeed have to
be his bearer--a serious matter, for the creature at full length
measured nearly as much as he did. They met hardly any one, and
they and Spring were alike too well known and trained, for
difficulties to arise as to leading a dog through the Forest.
Should they ever come to the term of the Forest? It was not easy to
tell when they were really beyond it, for the ground was much of the
same kind. Only the smooth, treeless hills, where they had always
been told Winchester lay, seemed more defined; and they saw no more
deer, but here and there were inclosures where wheat and barley were
growing, and black timbered farm-houses began to show themselves at
intervals. Herd boys, as rough and unkempt as their charges, could
be seen looking after little tawny cows, black-faced sheep, or
spotted pigs, with curs which barked fiercely at poor weary Spring,
even as their masters were more disposed to throw stones than to
By and by, on the further side of a green valley, could be seen
buildings with an encircling wall of flint and mortar faced with
ruddy brick, the dark red-tiled roofs rising among walnut-trees, and
an orchard in full bloom spreading into a long green field.
"Winchester must be nigh. The sun is getting low," said Stephen.
"We will ask. The good folk will at least give us an answer," said
As they reached the gate, a team of plough horses was passing in led
by a peasant lad, while a lay brother, with his gown tucked up, rode
sideways on one, whistling. An Augustinian monk, ruddy, burly, and
sunburnt, stood in the farm-yard, to receive an account of the day's
work, and doffing his cap, Ambrose asked whether Winchester were
"Three mile or thereaway, my good lad," said the monk; "thou'lt see
the towers an ye mount the hill. Whence art thou?" he added,
looking at the two young strangers. "Scholars? The College elects
not yet a while."
"We be from the Forest, so please your reverence," and are bound for
Hyde Abbey, where our uncle, Master Richard Birkenholt, dwells."
"And oh, sir," added Stephen, "may we crave a drop of water for our
The monk smiled as he looked at Spring, who had flung himself down
to take advantage of the halt, hanging out his tongue, and panting
spasmodically. "A noble beast," he said, "of the Windsor breed,
is't not?" Then laying his hand on the graceful head, "Poor old
hound, thou art o'er travelled. He is aged for such a journey, if
you came from the Forest since morn. Twelve years at the least, I
should say, by his muzzle."
"Your reverence is right," said Stephen, "he is twelve years old.
He is two years younger than I am, and my father gave him to me when
he was a little whelp."
"So thou must needs take him to seek thy fortune with thee," said
the good-natured Augustinian, not knowing how truly he spoke. "Come
in, my lads, here's a drink for him. What said you was your uncle's
name?" and as Ambrose repeated it, "Birkenholt! Living on a corrody
at Hyde! Ay! ay! My lads, I have a call to Winchester to-morrow,
you'd best tarry the night here at Silkstede Grange, and fare
forward with me."
The tired boys were heartily glad to accept the invitation, more
especially as Spring, happy as he was with the trough of water
before him, seemed almost too tired to stand over it, and after the
first, tried to lap, lying down. Silkstede was not a regular
convent, only a grange or farm-house, presided over by one of the
monks, with three or four lay brethren under him, and a little
colony of hinds, in the surrounding cottages, to cultivate the farm,
and tend a few cattle and numerous sheep, the special care of the
Father Shoveller, as the good-natured monk who had received the
travellers was called, took them into the spacious but homely
chamber which served as refectory, kitchen, and hall. He called to
the lay brother who was busy over the open hearth to fry a few more
rashers of bacon; and after they had washed away the dust of their
journey at the trough where Spring had slaked his thirst, they sat
down with him to a hearty supper, which smacked more of the grange
than of the monastery, spread on a large solid oak table, and washed
down with good ale. The repast was shared by the lay brethren and
farm servants, and also by two or three big sheep dogs, who had to
be taught their manners towards Spring.
There was none of the formality that Ambrose was accustomed to at
Beaulieu in the great refectory, where no one spoke, but one of the
brethren read aloud some theological book from a stone pulpit in the
wall. Here Brother Shoveller conversed without stint, chiefly with
the brother who seemed to be a kind of bailiff, with whom he
discussed the sheep that were to be taken into market the next day,
and the prices to be given for them by either the college, the
castle, or the butchers of Boucher Row. He however found time to
talk to the two guests, and being sprung from a family in the
immediate neighbourhood, he knew the verdurer's name, and ere he was
a monk, had joined in the chase in the Forest.
There was a little oratory attached to the hall, where he and the
lay brethren kept the hours, to a certain degree, putting two or
three services into one, on a liberal interpretation of laborare est
orare. Ambrose's responses made their host observe as they went
out, "Thou hast thy Latin pat, my son, there's the making of a
scholar in thee."
Then they took their first night's rest away from home, in a small
guest-chamber, with a good bed, though bare in all other respects.
Brother Shoveller likewise had a cell to himself, but the lay
brethren slept promiscuously among their sheep-dogs on the floor of
All were afoot in the early morning, and Stephen and Ambrose were
awakened by the tumultuous bleatings of the flock of sheep that were
being driven from their fold to meet their fate at Winchester
market. They heard Brother Shoveller shouting his orders to the
shepherds in tones a great deal more like those of a farmer than of
a monk, and they made haste to dress themselves and join him as he
was muttering a morning abbreviation of his obligatory devotions in
the oratory, observing that they might be in time to hear mass at
one of the city churches, but the sheep might delay them, and they
had best break their fast ere starting.
It was Wednesday, a day usually kept as a moderate fast, so the
breakfast was of oatmeal porridge, flavoured with honey, and washed
down with mead, after which Brother Shoveller mounted his mule, a
sleek creature, whose long ears had an air of great contentment, and
rode off, accommodating his pace to that of his young companions up
a stony cart-track which soon led them to the top of a chalk down,
whence, as in a map, they could see Winchester, surrounded by its
walls, lying in a hollow between the smooth green hills. At one end
rose the castle, its fortifications covering its own hill, beneath,
in the valley, the long, low massive Cathedral, the college
buildings and tower with its pinnacles, and nearer at hand, among
the trees, the Almshouse of Noble Poverty at St. Cross, beneath the
round hill of St. Catherine. Churches and monastic buildings stood
thickly in the town, and indeed, Brother Shoveller said, shaking his
head, that there were well-nigh as many churches as folk to go to
them; the place was decayed since the time he remembered when Prince
Arthur was born there. Hyde Abbey he could not show them, from
where they stood, as it lay further off by the river side, having
been removed from the neighbourhood of the Minster, because the
brethren of St. Grimbald could not agree with those of St. Swithun's
belonging to the Minster, as indeed their buildings were so close
together that it was hardly possible to pass between them, and their
bells jangled in each other's ears.
Brother Shoveller did not seem to entertain a very high opinion of
the monks of St. Grimbald, and he asked the boys whether they were
expected there. "No," they said; "tidings of their father's death
had been sent by one of the woodmen, and the only answer that had
been returned was that Master Richard Birkenholt was ill at ease,
but would have masses said for his brother's soul."
"Hem!" said the Augustinian ominously; but at that moment they came
up with the sheep, and his attention was wholly absorbed by them, as
he joined the lay brothers in directing the shepherds who were
driving them across the downs, steering them over the high ground
towards the arched West Gate close to the royal castle. The street
sloped rapidly down, and Brother Shoveller conducted his young
companions between the overhanging houses, with stalls between
serving as shops, till they reached the open space round the Market
Cross, on the steps of which women sat with baskets of eggs, butter,
and poultry, raised above the motley throng of cattle and sheep,
with their dogs and drivers, the various cries of man and beast
forming an incongruous accompaniment to the bells of the churches
that surrounded the market-place.
Citizens' wives in hood and wimple were there, shrilly bargaining
for provision for their households, squires and grooms in quest of
hay for their masters' stables, purveyors seeking food for the
garrison, lay brethren and sisters for their convents, and withal,
the usual margin of begging friars, wandering gleemen, jugglers and
pedlars, though in no great numbers, as this was only a Wednesday
market-day, not a fair. Ambrose recognised one or two who made part
of the crowd at Beaulieu only two days previously, when he had "seen
through tears the juggler leap," and the jingling tune one of them
was playing on a rebeck brought back associations of almost
unbearable pain. Happily, Father Shoveller, having seen his sheep
safely bestowed in a pen, bethought him of bidding the lay brother
in attendance show the young gentlemen the way to Hyde Abbey, and
turning up a street at right angles to the principal one, they were
soon out of the throng.
It was a lonely place, with a decayed uninhabited appearance, and
Brother Peter told them it had been the Jewry, whence good King
Edward had banished all the unbelieving dogs of Jews, and where no
one chose to dwell after them.
Soon they came in sight of a large extent of monastic buildings,
partly of stone, but the more domestic offices of flint and brick or
mortar. Large meadows stretched away to the banks of the Itchen,
with cattle grazing in them, but in one was a set of figures to whom
the lay brother pointed with a laugh of exulting censure.
"Long bows!" exclaimed Stephen. "Who be they?"
"Brethren of St. Grimbald, sir. Such rule doth my Lord of Hyde
keep, mitred abbot though he be. They say the good bishop hath
called him to order, but what recks he of bishops? Good-day,
Brother Bulpett, here be two young kinsmen of Master Birkenholt to
visit him; and so benedicite, fair sirs. St. Austin's grace be with
Through a gate between two little red octagonal towers, Brother
Bulpett led the two visitors, and called to another of the monks,
"Benedicite, Father Segrim, here be two striplings wanting speech of
"Looking after dead men's shoes, I trow," muttered father Segrim,
with a sour look at the lads, as he led them through the outer
court, where some fine horses were being groomed, and then across a
second court surrounded with a beautiful cloister, with flower beds
in front of it. Here, on a stone bench, in the sun, clad in a gown
furred with rabbit skin, sat a decrepit old man, both his hands
clasped over his staff. Into his deaf ears their guide shouted,
"These boys say they are your kindred, Master Birkenholt."
"Anan?" said the old man, trembling with palsy. The lads knew him
to be older than their father, but they were taken by surprise at
such feebleness, and the monk did not aid them, only saying roughly,
"There he is. Tell your errand."
"How fares it with you, uncle?" ventured Ambrose.
"Who be ye? I know none of you," muttered the old man, shaking his
head still more.
"We are Ambrose and Stephen from the Forest," shouted Ambrose.
"Ah! Steve! poor Stevie! The accursed boar has rent his goodly
face so as I would never have known him. Poor Steve! Best his
The old man began to weep, while his nephews recollected that they
had heard that another uncle had been slain by the tusk of a wild
boar in early manhood. Then to their surprise, his eyes fell on
Spring, and calling the hound by name, he caressed the creature's
head--"Spring, poor Spring! Stevie's faithful old dog. Hast lost
thy master? Wilt follow me now?"
He was thinking of a Spring as well as of a Stevie of sixty years
ago, and he babbled on of how many fawns were in the Queen's Bower
this summer, and who had best shot at the butts at Lyndhurst, as if
he were excited by the breath of his native Forest, but there was no
making him understand that he was speaking with his nephews. The
name of his brother John only set him repeating that John loved the
greenwood, and would be content to take poor Stevie's place and
dwell in the verdurer's lodge; but that he himself ought to be
abroad, he had seen brave Lord Talbot's ships ready at Southampton,
John might stay at home, but he would win fame and honour in
And while he thus wandered, and the boys stood by perplexed and
distressed, Brother Segrim came back, and said, "So, young sirs,
have you seen enough of your doting kinsman? The sub-prior bids me
say that we harbour no strange, idling, lubber lads nor strange dogs
here. 'Tis enough for us to be saddled with dissolute old men-at-
arms without all their idle kin making an excuse to come and pay
their devoirs. These corrodies are a heavy charge and a weighty
abuse, and if there be the visitation the king's majesty speaks of,
they will be one of the first matters to be amended."
Wherewith Stephen and Ambrose found themselves walked out of the
cloister of St. Grimbald, and the gates shut behind them.
CHAPTER III. KINSMEN AND STRANGERS
"The reul of St. Maure and of St. Beneit
Because that it was old and some deale streit
This ilke monk let old things pace;
He held ever of the new world the trace."
"The churls!" exclaimed Stephen.
"Poor old man!" said Ambrose; "I hope they are good to him!"
"To think that thus ends all that once was gallant talk of fighting
under Talbot's banner," sighed Stephen, thoughtful for a moment.
"However, there's a good deal to come first."
"Yea, and what next?" said the elder brother.
"On to uncle Hal. I ever looked most to him. He will purvey me to
a page's place in some noble household, and get thee a clerk's or
scholar's place in my Lord of York's house. Mayhap there will be
room for us both there, for my Lord of York hath a goodly following
of armed men."
"Which way lies the road to London?"
"We must back into the town and ask, as well as fill our stomachs
and our wallets," said Ambrose. "Talk of their rule! The
entertaining of strangers is better understood at Silkstede than at
"Tush! A grudged crust sticks in the gullet," returned Stephen.
"Come on, Ambrose, I marked the sign of the White Hart by the
market-place. There will be a welcome there for foresters."
They returned on their steps past the dilapidated buildings of the
old Jewry, and presently saw the market in full activity; but the
sounds and sights of busy life where they were utter strangers, gave
Ambrose a sense of loneliness and desertion, and his heart sank as
the bolder Stephen threaded the way in the direction of a broad
entry over which stood a slender-bodied hart with gold hoofs, horns,
collar, and chain.
"How now, my sons?" said a full cheery voice, and to their joy, they
found themselves pushed up against Father Shoveller.
"Returned already! Did you get scant welcome at Hyde? Here, come
where we can get a free breath, and tell me."
They passed through the open gateway of the White Hart, into the
court, but before listening to them, the monk exchanged greetings
with the hostess, who stood at the door in a broad hat and velvet
bodice, and demanded what cheer there was for noon-meat.
"A jack, reverend sir, eels and a grampus fresh sent up from
Hampton; also fresh-killed mutton for such lay folk as are not
curious of the Wednesday fast. They are laying the board even now."
"Lay platters for me and these two young gentlemen," said the
Augustinian. "Ye be my guests, ye wot," he added, "since ye tarried
not for meat at Hyde."
"Nor did they ask us," exclaimed Stephen; "lubbers and idlers were
the best words they had for us."
"Ho! ho! That's the way with the brethren of St Grimbald! And your
"Alas, sir, he doteth with age," said Ambrose. "He took Stephen for
his own brother, dead under King Harry of Windsor."
"So! I had heard somewhat of his age and sickness. Who was it who
thrust you out?"
"A lean brother with a thin red beard, and a shrewd, puckered
"Ha! By that token 'twas Segrim the bursar. He wots how to drive a
bargain. St. Austin! but he deemed you came to look after your
"He said the king spake of a visitation to abolish corrodies from
religious houses," said Ambrose.
"He'll abolish the long bow from them first," said Father Shoveller.
"Ay, and miniver from my Lord Abbot's hood. I'd admonish you, my
good brethren of S. Grimbald, to be in no hurry for a visitation
which might scarce stop where you would fain have it. Well, my
sons, are ye bound for the Forest again? An ye be, we'll wend back
together, and ye can lie at Silkstede to-night."
"Alack, kind father, there's no more home for us in the Forest,"
"Methought ye had a brother?"
"Yea; but our brother hath a wife."
"Ho! ho! And the wife will none of you?"
"She would have kept Ambrose to teach her boy his primer," said
Stephen; "but she would none of Spring nor of me."
"We hoped to receive counsel from our uncle at Hyde," added Ambrose.
"Have ye no purpose now?" inquired the Father, his jolly good-
humoured face showing much concern.
"Yea," manfully returned Stephen. "'Twas what I ever hoped to do,
to fare on and seek our fortune in London."
"Ha! To pick up gold and silver like Dick Whittington. Poor old
Spring here will scarce do you the part of his cat," and the monk's
hearty laugh angered Stephen into muttering, "We are no fools," but
Father Shoveller only laughed the more, saying, "Fair and softly, my
son, ye'll never pick up the gold if ye cannot brook a kindly quip.
Have you friends or kindred in London?"
"Yea, that have we, sir," cried Stephen; "our mother's own brother,
Master Randall, hath come to preferment there in my Lord Archbishop
of York's household, and hath sent us tokens from time to time,
which we will show you."
"Not while we be feasting," said Father Shoveller, hastily checking
Ambrose, who was feeling in his bosom. "See, the knaves be bringing
their grampus across the court. Here, we'll clean our hands, and be
ready for the meal;" and he showed them, under a projecting gallery
in the inn yard a stone trough, through which flowed a stream of
water, in which he proceeded to wash his hands and face, and to wipe
them in a coarse towel suspended nigh at hand. Certainly after
handling sheep freely there was need, though such ablutions were a
refinement not indulged in by all the company who assembled round
the well-spread board of the White Hart for the meal after the
market. They were a motley company. By the host's side sat a
knight on his way home from pilgrimage to Compostella, or perhaps a
mission to Spain, with a couple of squires and other attendants, and
converse of political import seemed to be passing between him and a
shrewd-looking man in a lawyer's hood and gown, the recorder of
Winchester, who preferred being a daily guest at the White Hart to
keeping a table of his own. Country franklins and yeomen, merchants
and men-at-arms, palmers and craftsmen, friars and monks, black,
white, and grey, and with almost all, Father Shoveller had greeting
or converse to exchange. He knew everybody, and had friendly talk
with all, on canons or crops, on war or wool, on the prices of pigs
or prisoners, on the news of the country side, or on the perilous
innovations in learning at Oxford, which might, it was feared, even
affect St. Mary's College at Winchester.
He did not affect outlandish fishes himself, and dined upon pike,
but observing the curiosity of his guests, he took good care to have
them well supplied with grampus; also in due time with varieties of
the pudding and cake kind which had never dawned on their forest-
bred imagination, and with a due proportion of good ale--the same
over which the knight might be heard rejoicing, and lauding far
above the Spanish or French wines, on which he said he had been half
Father Shoveller mused a good deal over his pike and its savoury
stuffing. He was not by any means an ideal monk, but he was equally
far from being a scandal. He was the shrewd man of business and
manager of his fraternity, conducting the farming operations and
making all the bargains, following his rule respectably according to
the ordinary standard of his time, but not rising to any
spirituality, and while duly observing the fast day, as to the
quality of his food, eating with the appetite of a man who lived in
the open fields.
But when their hunger was appeased, with many a fragment given to
Spring, the young Birkenholts, wearied of the endless talk that was
exchanged over the tankard, began to grow restless, and after
exchanging signs across Father Shoveller's solid person, they
simultaneously rose, and began to thank him and say they must pursue
"How now, not so fast, my sons," said the Father; "tarry a bit, I
have more to say to thee. Prayers and provender, thou knowst--I'll
come anon. So, sir, didst say yonder beggarly Flemings haggle at
thy price for thy Southdown fleeces. Weight of dirt forsooth! Do
not we wash the sheep in the Poolhole stream, the purest water in
Manners withheld Ambrose from responding to Stephen's hot
impatience, while the merchant in the sleek puce-coloured coat
discussed the Flemish wool market with the monk for a good half-hour
By this time the knight's horses were brought into the yard, and the
merchant's men had made ready his palfrey, his pack-horse being
already on the way; the host's son came round with the reckoning,
and there was a general move. Stephen expected to escape, and
hardly could brook the good-natured authority with which Father
Shoveller put Ambrose aside, when he would have discharged their
share of the reckoning, and took it upon himself. "Said I not ye
were my guests?" quoth he. "We missed our morning mass, it will do
us no harm to hear Nones in the Minster."
"Sir, we thank you, but we should be on our way," said Ambrose,
incited by Stephen's impatient gestures.
"Tut, tut. Fair and softly, my son, or more haste may be worse
speed. Methought ye had somewhat to show me."
Stephen's youthful independence might chafe, but the habit of
submission to authorities made him obediently follow the monk out at
the back entrance of the inn, behind which lay the Minster yard, the
grand western front rising in front of them, and the buildings of
St. Swithun's Abbey extending far to their right. The hour was
nearly noon, and the space was deserted, except for an old woman
sitting at the great western doorway with a basket of rosaries made
of nuts and of snail shells, and a workman or two employed on the
bishop's new reredos.
"Now for thy tokens," said Father Shoveller. "See my young
foresters, ye be new to the world. Take an old man's counsel, and
never show, nor speak of such gear in an hostel. Mine host of the
White Hart is an old gossip of mine, and indifferent honest, but who
shall say who might be within earshot?"
Stephen had a mind to say that he did not see why the meddling monk
should wish to see them at all, and Ambrose looked a little
reluctant, but Father Shoveller said in his good-humoured way, "As
you please, young sirs. 'Tis but an old man's wish to see whether
he can do aught to help you, that you be not as lambs among wolves.
Mayhap ye deem ye can walk into London town, and that the first man
you meet can point you to your uncle--Randall call ye him?--as
readily as I could show you my brother, Thomas Shoveller of
Granbury. But you are just as like to meet with some knave who
might cozen you of all you have, or mayhap a beadle might take you
up for vagabonds, and thrust you in the stocks, or ever you get to
London town; so I would fain give you some commendation, an I knew
to whom to make it, and ye be not too proud to take it."
"You are but too good to us, sir," said Ambrose, quite conquered,
though Stephen only half believed in the difficulties. The Father
took them within the west door of the Minster, and looking up and
down the long arcade of the southern aisle to see that no one was
watching, he inspected the tokens, and cross-examined them on their
knowledge of their uncle.
His latest gift, the rosary, had come by the hand of Friar Hurst, a
begging Minorite of Southampton, who had it from another of his
order at Winchester, who had received it from one of the king's
archers at the Castle, with a message to Mistress Birkenholt that it
came from her brother, Master Randall, who had good preferment in
London, in the house of my Lord Archbishop of York, without whose
counsel King Henry never stirred. As to the coming of the agate and
the pouncet box, the minds of the boys were very hazy. They knew
that the pouncet box had been conveyed through the attendants of the
Abbot of Beaulieu, but they were only sure that from that time the
belief had prevailed with their mother that her brother was
prospering in the house of the all-powerful Wolsey. The good
Augustinian, examining the tokens, thought they gave colour to that
opinion. The rosary and agate might have been picked up in an
ecclesiastical household, and the lid of the pouncet box was made of
a Spanish coin, likely to have come through some of the attendants
of Queen Katharine.
"It hath an appearance," he said. "I marvel whether there be still
at the Castle this archer who hath had speech with Master Randall,
for if ye know no more than ye do at present, 'tis seeking a needle
in a bottle of hay. But see, here come the brethren that be to sing
Nones--sinner that I am, to have said no Hours since the morn, being
letted with lawful business."
Again the unwilling Stephen had to submit. There was no feeling for
the incongruous in those days, and reverence took very different
directions from those in which it now shows itself, so that nobody
had any objection to Spring's pacing gravely with the others towards
the Lady Chapel, where the Hours were sung, since the Choir was in
the hands of workmen, and the sound of chipping stone could be heard
from it, where Bishop Fox's elaborate lace-work reredos was in
course of erection. Passing the shrine of St. Swithun, and the
grand tomb of Cardinal Beaufort, where his life-coloured effigy
filled the boys with wonder, they followed their leader's example,
and knelt within the Lady Chapel, while the brief Latin service for
the ninth hour was sung through by the canon, clerks, and boys. It
really was the Sixth, but cumulative easy-going treatment of the
Breviary had made this the usual time for it, as the name of noon
still testifies. The boys' attention, it must be confessed, was
chiefly expended on the wonderful miracles of the Blessed Virgin in
fresco on the walls of the chapel, all tending to prove that here
was hope for those who said their Ave in any extremity of fire or
Nones ended, Father Shoveller, with many a halt for greeting or for
gossip, took the lads up the hill towards the wide fortified space
where the old Castle and royal Hall of Henry of Winchester looked
down on the city, and after some friendly passages with the warder
at the gate, Father Shoveller explained that he was in quest of some
one recently come from court, of whom the striplings in his company
could make inquiry concerning a kinsman in the household of my Lord
Archbishop of York. The warder scratched his head, and bethinking
himself that Eastcheap Jockey was the reverend. Father's man,
summoned a horse-boy to call that worthy.
"Where was he?"
"Sitting over his pottle in the Hall," was the reply, and the monk,
with a laugh savouring little of asceticism, said he would seek him
there, and accordingly crossed the court to the noble Hall, with its
lofty dark marble columns, and the Round Table of King Arthur
suspended at the upper end. The governor of the Castle had risen
from his meal long ago, but the garrison in the piping times of
peace would make their ration of ale last as far into the afternoon
as their commanders would suffer. And half a dozen men still sat
there, one or two snoring, two playing at dice on a clear corner of
the board, and another, a smart well-dressed fellow in a bright
scarlet jerkin, laying down the law to a country bumpkin, who looked
somewhat dazed. The first of these was, as it appeared, Eastcheap
Jockey, and there was something both of the readiness and the
impudence of the Londoner in his manner, when he turned to answer
the question. He knew many in my Lord of York's house--as many as a
man was like to know where there was a matter of two hundred folk
between clerks and soldiers, he had often crushed a pottle with
them. No; he had never heard of one called Randall, neither in hat
nor cowl, but he knew more of them by face than by name, and more by
byname than surname or christened name. He was certainly not the
archer who had brought a token for Mistress Birkenholt, and his
comrades all avouched equal ignorance on the subject. Nothing could
be gained there, and while Father Shoveller rubbed his bald head in
consideration, Stephen rose to take leave.
"Look you here, my fair son," said the monk. "Starting at this
hour, though the days be long, you will not reach any safe halting
place with daylight, whereas by lying a night in this good city, you
might reach Alton to-morrow, and there is a home where the name of
Brother Shoveller will win you free lodging and entertainment."
"And to-night, good Father?" inquired Ambrose.
"That will I see to, if ye will follow me."
Stephen was devoured with impatience during the farewells in the
Castle, but Ambrose represented that the good man was giving them
much of his time, and that it would be unseemly and ungrateful to
break from him.
"What matter is it of his? And why should he make us lose a whole
day?" grumbled Stephen.
"What special gain would a day be to us?" sighed Ambrose. "I am
thankful that any should take heed for us."
"Ay, you love leading-strings," returned Stephen. "Where is he
going now? All out of our way!"
Father Shoveller, however, as he went down the Castle hill,
explained that the Warden of St. Elizabeth's Hospital was his
friend, and knowing him to have acquaintance among the clergy of St.
Paul's, it would be well to obtain a letter of commendation from
him, which might serve them in good stead in case they were
disappointed of finding their uncle at once.
"It would be better for Spring to have a little more rest," thought
Stephen, thus mitigating his own longing to escape from the monks
and friars, of whom Winchester seemed to be full.
They had a kindly welcome in the pretty little college of St.
Elizabeth of Hungary, lying in the meadows between William of
Wykeham's College and the round hill of St. Catharine. The Warden
was a more scholarly and ecclesiastical-looking person than his
friend, the good-natured Augustinian. After commending them to his
care, and partaking of a drink of mead, the monk of Silkstede took
leave of the youths, with a hearty blessing and advice to husband
their few crowns, not to tell every one of their tokens, and to
follow the counsel of the Warden of St. Elizabeth's, assuring them
that if they turned back to the Forest, they should have a welcome
at Silkstede. Moreover he patted Spring pitifully, and wished him
and his master well through the journey.
St. Elizabeth's College was a hundred years older than its neighbour
St. Mary's, as was evident to practised eyes by its arches and
windows, but it had been so entirely eclipsed by Wykeham's
foundation that the number of priests, students, and choir-boys it
was intended to maintain, had dwindled away, so that it now
contained merely the Warden, a superannuated priest, and a couple of
big lads who acted as servants. There was an air of great quietude
and coolness about the pointed arches of its tiny cloister on that
summer's day, with the old monk dozing in his chair over the
manuscript he thought he was reading, not far from the little table
where the Warden was eagerly studying Erasmus's Praise of Folly.
But the Birkenholts were of the age at which quiet means dulness, at
least Stephen was, and the Warden had pity both on them and on
himself; and hearing joyous shouts outside, he opened a little door
in the cloister wall, and revealed a multitude of lads with their
black gowns tucked up "a playing at the ball"--these being the
scholars of St. Mary's. Beckoning to a pair of elder ones, who were
walking up and down more quietly, he consigned the strangers to
their care, sweetening the introduction by an invitation to supper,
for which he would gain permission from their Warden.
One of the young Wykehamists was shy and churlish, and sheered off
from the brothers, but the other catechised them on their views of
becoming scholars in the college. He pointed out the cloister where
the studies took place in all weathers, showed them the hall, the
chapel, and the chambers, and expatiated on the chances of attaining
to New College. Being moreover a scholarly fellow, he and Ambrose
fell into a discussion over the passage of Virgil, copied out on a
bit of paper, which he was learning by heart. Some other scholars
having finished their game, and become aware of the presence of a
strange dog and two strange boys, proceeded to mob Stephen and
Spring, whereupon the shy boy stood forth and declared that the
Warden of St. Elizabeth's had brought them in for an hour's sport.
Of course, in such close quarters, the rival Warden was esteemed a
natural enemy, and went by the name of "Old Bess," so that his
recommendation went for worse than nothing, and a dash at Spring was
made by the inhospitable young savages. Stephen stood to the
defence in act to box, and the shy lad stood by him, calling for
fair play and one at a time. Of course a fight ensued, Stephen and
his champion on the one side, and two assailants on the other, till
after a fall on either side, Ambrose's friend interfered with a
voice as thundering as the manly crack would permit, peace was
restored, Stephen found himself free of the meads, and Spring was
caressed instead of being tormented.
Stephen was examined on his past, present, and future, envied for
his Forest home, and beguiled into magnificent accounts, not only of
the deer that had fallen to his bow and the boars that had fallen to
his father's spear, but of the honours to which his uncle in the
Archbishop's household would prefer him--for he viewed it as an
absolute certainty that his kinsman was captain among the men-at-
arms, whom he endowed on the spot with scarlet coats faced with
black velvet, and silver medals and chains.
Whereat one of the other boys was not behind in telling how his
father was pursuivant to my Lord Duke of Norfolk, and never went
abroad save with silver lions broidered on back and breast, and
trumpets going before; and another dwelt on the splendours of the
mayor and aldermen of Southampton with their chains and cups of
gold. Stephen felt bound to surpass this with the last report that
my Lord of York's men rode Flemish steeds in crimson velvet
housings, passmented with gold and gems, and of course his uncle had
the leading of them.
"Who be thine uncle?" demanded a thin, squeaky voice. "I have
brothers likewise in my Lord of York's meime."
"Mine uncle is Captain Harry Randall, of Shirley," quoth Stephen
magnificently, scornfully surveying the small proportions of the
speaker, "What is thy brother?"
"Head turnspit," said a rude voice, provoking a general shout of
laughter; but the boy stood his ground, and said hotly: "He is page
to the comptroller of my lord's household, and waits at the second
table, and I know every one of the captains."
"He'll say next he knows every one of the Seven Worthies," cried
another boy, for Stephen was becoming a popular character.
"And all the paladins to boot. Come on, little Rowley!" was the
"I tell you my brother is page to the comptroller of the household,
and my mother dwells beside the Gate House, and I know every man of
them," insisted Rowley, waxing hot. "As for that Forest savage
fellow's uncle being captain of the guard, 'tis more like that he is
my lord's fool, Quipsome Hal!"
Whereat there was a cry, in which were blended exultation at the
hit, and vituperation of the hitter. Stephen flew forward to avenge
the insult, but a big bell was beginning to ring, a whole wave of
black gowns rushed to obey it, sweeping little Rowley away with
them; and Stephen found himself left alone with his brother and the
two lads who had been invited to St. Elizabeth's, and who now
repaired thither with them.
The supper party in the refectory was a small one, and the rule of
the foundation limited the meal to one dish and a pittance, but the
dish was of savoury eels, and the Warden's good nature had added to
it some cates and comfits in consideration of his youthful guests.
After some conversation with the elder Wykehamist, the Warden called
Ambrose and put him through an examination on his attainments, which
proved so satisfactory, that it ended in an invitation to the
brothers to fill two of the empty scholarships of the college of the
dear St. Elizabeth. It was a good offer, and one that Ambrose would
fain have accepted, but Stephen had no mind for the cloister or for
The Warden had no doubt that he could be apprenticed in the city of
Winchester, since the brother at home had in keeping a sum
sufficient for the fee. Though the trade of "capping" had fallen
off, there were still good substantial burgesses who would be
willing to receive an active lad of good parentage, some being
themselves of gentle blood. Stephen, however, would not brook the
idea. "Out upon you, Ambrose!" said he, "to desire to bind your own
brother to base mechanical arts."
"'Tis what Nurse Joan held to be best for us both," said Ambrose.
"Joan! Yea, like a woman, who deems a man safest when he is a
tailor, or a perfumer. An you be minded to stay here with a black
gown and a shaven crown, I shall on with Spring and come to
preferment. Maybe thou'lt next hear of me when I have got some fat
canonry for thee."
"Nay, I quit thee not," said Ambrose. "If thou fare forward, so do
I. But I would thou couldst have brought thy mind to rest there."
"What! wouldst thou be content with this worn-out place, with more
churches than houses, and more empty houses than full ones? No! let
us on where there is something doing! Thou wilt see that my Lord of
York will have room for the scholar as well as the man-at-arms."
So the kind offer was declined, but Ambrose was grieved to see that
the Warden thought him foolish, and perhaps ungrateful.
Nevertheless the good man gave them a letter to the Reverend Master
Alworthy, singing clerk at St. Paul's Cathedral, telling Ambrose it
might serve them in case they failed to find their uncle, or if my
Lord of York's household should not be in town. He likewise gave
them a recommendation which would procure them a night's lodging at
the Grange, and after the morning's mass and meat, sped them on
their way with his blessing, muttering to himself, "That elder one
might have been the staff of mine age! Pity on him to be lost in
the great and evil City! Yet 'tis a good lad to follow that fiery
spark his brother. Tanquam agnus inter lupos. Alack!"
CHAPTER IV. A HERO'S FALL
"These four came all afront and mainly made at me. I made no more
ado, but took their seven points on my target--thus--"
The journey to Alton was eventless. It was slow, for the day was a
broiling one, and the young foresters missed their oaks and beeches,
as they toiled over the chalk downs that rose and sank in endless
succession; though they would hardly have slackened their pace if it
had not been for poor old Spring, who was sorely distressed by the
heat and the want of water on the downs. Every now and then he lay
down, panting distressfully, with his tongue hanging out, and his
young masters always waited for him, often themselves not sorry to
rest in the fragment of shade from a solitary thorn or juniper.
The track was plain enough, and there were hamlets at long
intervals. Flocks of sheep fed on the short grass, but there was no
approaching the shepherds, as they and their dogs regarded Spring as
an enemy, to be received with clamour, stones, and teeth, in spite
of the dejected looks which might have acquitted him of evil
The travellers reached Alton in the cool of the evening, and were
kindly received by a monk, who had charge of a grange just outside
the little town, near one of the springs of the River Wey.
The next day's journey was a pleasanter one, for there was more of
wood and heather, and they had to skirt round the marshy borders of
various bogs. Spring was happier, being able to stop and lap
whenever he would, and the whole scene was less unfriendly to them.
But they scarcely made speed enough, for they were still among tall
whins and stiff scrub of heather when the sun began to get low,
gorgeously lighting the tall plumes of golden broom, and they had
their doubts whether they might not be off the track; but in such
weather, there was nothing alarming in spending a night out of
doors, if only they had something for supper. Stephen took a bolt
from the purse at his girdle, and bent his crossbow, so as to be
ready in case a rabbit sprang out, or a duck flew up from the
A small thicket of trees was in sight, and they were making for it,
when sounds of angry voices were heard, and Spring, bristling up the
mane on his neck, and giving a few premonitory fierce growls like
thunder, bounded forward as though he had been seven years younger.
Stephen darted after him, Ambrose rushed after Stephen, and breaking
through the trees, they beheld the dog at the throat of one of three
men. As they came on the scene, the dog was torn down and hurled
aside, giving a howl of agony, which infuriated his master. Letting
fly his crossbow bolt full at the fellow's face, he dashed on,
reckless of odds, waving his knotted stick, and shouting with rage.
Ambrose, though more aware of the madness of such an assault, still
hurried to his support, and was amazed as well as relieved to find
the charge effectual. Without waiting to return a blow, the
miscreants took to their heels, and Stephen, seeing nothing but his
dog, dropped on his knees beside the quivering creature, from whose
neck blood was fast pouring. One glance of the faithful wistful
eyes, one feeble movement of the expressive tail, and Spring had
made his last farewell! That was all Stephen was conscious of; but
Ambrose could hear the cry, "Good sirs, good lads, set me free!" and
was aware of a portly form bound to a tree. As he cut the rope with
his knife, the rescued traveller hurried out thanks and demands--
"Where are the rest of you?" and on the reply that there were no
more, proceeded, "Then we must on, on at once, or the villains will
return! They must have thought you had a band of hunters behind
you. Two furlongs hence, and we shall be safe in the hostel at
Dogmersfield. Come on, my boy," to Stephen, "the brave hound is
quite dead, more's the pity. Thou canst do no more for him, and we
shall soon be in his case if we dally here."
"I cannot, cannot leave him thus," sobbed Stephen, who had the
loving old head on his knees. "Ambrose! stay, we must bring him.
There, his tail wagged! If the blood were staunched--"
"Stephen! Indeed he is stone dead! Were he our brother we could
not do otherwise," reasoned Ambrose, forcibly dragging his brother
to his feet. "Go on we must. Wouldst have us all slaughtered for
his sake? Come! The rogues will be upon us anon. Spring saved
this good man's life. Undo not his work. See! Is yonder your
horse, sir? This way, Stevie!"
The instinct of catching the horse roused Stephen, and it was soon
accomplished, for the steed was a plump, docile, city-bred palfrey,
with dapple-grey flanks like well-stuffed satin pincushions, by no
means resembling the shaggy Forest ponies of the boys' experience,
but quite astray in the heath, and ready to come at the master's
whistle, and call of "Soh! Soh!--now Poppet!" Stephen caught the
bridle, and Ambrose helped the burgess into the saddle. "Now, good
boys," he said, "each of you lay a hand on my pommel. We can make
good speed ere the rascals find out our scant numbers."
"You would make better speed without us, sir," said Stephen,
hankering to remain beside poor Spring.
"D'ye think Giles Headley the man to leave two children, that have
maybe saved my life as well as my purse, to bear the malice of the
robbers?" demanded the burgess angrily. "That were like those
fellows of mine who have shown their heels and left their master
strapped to a tree! Thou! thou! what's thy name, that hast the most
wit, bring thy brother, unless thou wouldst have him laid by the
side of his dog."
Stephen was forced to comply, and run by Poppet's side, though his
eyes were so full of tears that he could not see his way, even when
the pace slackened, and in the twilight they found themselves among
houses and gardens, and thus in safety, the lights of an inn shining
not far off.
A figure came out in the road to meet them, crying, "Master! master!
is it you? and without scathe? Oh, the saints be praised!"
"Ay, Tibble, 'tis I and no other, thanks to the saints and to these
brave lads! What, man, I blame thee not, I know thou canst not
strike; but where be the rest?"
"In the inn, sir. I strove to call up the hue and cry to come to
the rescue, but the cowardly hinds were afraid of the thieves, and
not one would come forth."
"I wish they may not be in league with them," said Master Headley.
"See! I was delivered--ay, and in time to save my purse, by these
twain and their good dog. Are ye from these parts, my fair lads?"
"We be journeying from the New Forest to London," said Ambrose.
"The poor dog heard the tumult, and leapt to your aid, sir, and we
made after him."
"'Twas the saints sent him!" was the fervent answer. "And" (with a
lifting of the cap) "I hereby vow to St. Julian a hound of solid
bronze a foot in length, with a collar of silver, to his shrine in
St. Faith's, in token of my deliverance in body and goods! To
London are ye bound? Then will we journey on together!"
They were by this time near the porch of a large country hostel,
from the doors and large bay window of which light streamed out.
And as the casement was open, those without could both see and hear
all that was passing within.
The table was laid for supper, and in the place of honour sat a
youth of some seventeen or eighteen years, gaily dressed, with a
little feather curling over his crimson cap, and thus discoursing:
"Yea, my good host, two of the rogues bear my tokens, besides him
whom I felled to the earth. He came on at me with his sword, but I
had my point ready for him; and down he went before me like an ox.
Then came on another, but him I dealt with by the back stroke as
used in the tilt-yard at Clarendon."
"I trow we shall know him again, sir. Holy saints! to think such
rascals should haunt so nigh us," the hostess was exclaiming. "Pity
for the poor goodman, Master Headley. A portly burgher was he,
friendly of tongue and free of purse. I well remember him when he
went forth on his way to Salisbury, little thinking, poor soul, what
was before him. And is he truly sped?"
"I tell thee, good woman, I saw him go down before three of their
pikes. What more could I do but drive my horse over the nearest
rogue who was rifling him?"
"If he were still alive--which Our Lady grant!--the knaves will hold
him to ransom," quoth the host, as he placed a tankard on the table.
"I am afraid he is past ransom," said the youth, shaking his head.
"But an if he be still in the rogues' hands and living, I will get
me on to his house in Cheapside, and arrange with his mother to find
the needful sum, as befits me, I being his heir and about to wed his
daughter. However, I shall do all that in me lies to get the poor
old seignior out of the hands of the rogues. Saints defend me!"
"The poor old seignior is much beholden to thee," said Master
Headley, advancing amid a clamour of exclamations from three or four
serving-men or grooms, one protesting that he thought his master was
with him, another that his horse ran away with him, one showing an
arm which was actually being bound up, and the youth declaring that
he rode off to bring help.
"Well wast thou bringing it," Master Headley answered. "I might be
still standing bound like an eagle displayed, against yonder tree,
for aught you fellows recked."
"Nay, sir, the odds--" began the youth.
"Odds! such odds as were put to rout--by what, deem you? These two
striplings and one poor hound. Had but one of you had the heart of
a sparrow, ye had not furnished a tale to be the laugh of the
Barbican and Cheapside. Look well at them. How old be you, my
"I shall be sixteen come Lammas day, and Stephen fifteen at
Martinmas day, sir," said Ambrose; "but verily we did nought. We
could have done nought had not the thieves thought more were behind
"There are odds between going forward and backward," said Master
Headley, dryly. "Ha! Art hurt? Thou bleedst," he exclaimed,
laying his hand on Stephen's shoulder, and drawing him to the light.
"'Tis no blood of mine," said Stephen, as Ambrose likewise came to
join in the examination. "It is my poor Spring's. He took the
coward's blow. His was all the honour, and we have left him there
on the heath!" And he covered his face with his hands.
"Come, come, my good child," said Master Headley; "we will back to
the place by times to-morrow when rogues hide and honest men walk
abroad. Thou shalt bury thine hound, as befits a good warrior, on
the battle-field. I would fain mark his points for the effigy we
will frame, honest Tibble, for St. Julian. And mark ye, fellows,
thou godson Giles, above all, who 'tis that boast of their valour,
and who 'tis that be modest of speech. Yea, thanks, mine host. Let
us to a chamber, and give us water to wash away soil of travel and
of fray, and then to supper. Young masters, ye are my guests.
Shame were it that Giles Headley let go farther them that have,
under Heaven and St. Julian, saved him in life, limb, and purse."
The inn was large, being the resort of many travellers from the
south, often of nobles and knights riding to Parliament, and thus
the brothers found themselves accommodated with a chamber, where
they could prepare for the meal, while Ambrose tried to console his
brother by representing that, after all, poor Spring had died
gallantly, and with far less pain than if he had suffered a wasting
old age, besides being honoured for ever by his effigy in St.
Faith's, wherever that might be, the idea which chiefly contributed
to console his master.
The two boys appeared in the room of the inn looking so unlike the
dusty, blood-stained pair who had entered, that Master Headley took
a second glance to convince himself that they were the same, before
beckoning them to seats on either side of him, saying that he must
know more of them, and bidding the host load their trenchers well
from the grand fabric of beef-pasty which had been set at the end of
the board. The runaways, four or five in number, herded together
lower down, with a few travellers of lower degree, all except the
youth who had been boasting before their arrival, and who retained
his seat at the board, thumping it with the handle of his knife to
show his impatience for the commencement of supper; and not far off
sat Tibble, the same who had hailed their arrival, a thin, slight,
one-sided looking person, with a terrible red withered scar on one
cheek, drawing the corner of his mouth awry. He, like Master
Headley himself, and the rest of his party were clad in red, guarded
with white, and wore the cross of St. George on the white border of
their flat crimson caps, being no doubt in the livery of their
Company. The citizen himself, having in the meantime drawn his
conclusions from the air and gestures of the brothers, and their
mode of dealing with their food, asked the usual question in an
affirmative tone, "Ye be of gentle blood, young sirs?"
To which they replied by giving their names, and explaining that
they were journeying from the New Forest to find their uncle in the
train of the Archbishop of York.
"Birkenholt," said Tibble, meditatively. "He beareth vert, a buck's
head proper, on a chief argent, two arrows in saltire. Crest, a
buck courant, pierced in the gorge by an arrow, all proper."
To which the brothers returned by displaying the handles of their
knives, both of which bore the pierced and courant buck.
"Ay, ay," said the man. "'Twill be found in our books, sir. We
painted the shield and new-crested the morion the first year of my
prenticeship, when the Earl of Richmond, the late King Harry of
blessed memory, had newly landed at Milford Haven."
"Verily," said Ambrose, "our uncle Richard Birkenholt fought at
Bosworth under Sir Richard Pole's banner."
"A tall and stalwart esquire, methinks," said Master Headley. "Is
he the kinsman you seek?"
"Not so, sir. We visited him at Winchester, and found him sorely
old and with failing wits. We be on our way to our mother's
brother, Master Harry Randall."
"Is he clerk or layman? My Lord of York entertaineth enow of both,"
said Master Headley.
"Lay assuredly, sir," returned Stephen; "I trust to him to find me
some preferment as page or the like."
"Know'st thou the man, Tibble?" inquired the master.
"Not among the men-at-arms, sir," was the answer; "but there be a
many of them whose right names we never hear. However, he will be
easily found if my Lord of York be returned from Windsor with his
"Then will we go forward together, my young Masters Birkenholt. I
am not going to part with my doughty champions!"--patting Stephen's
shoulder. "Ye'd not think that these light-heeled knaves belonged
to the brave craft of armourers?"
"Certainly not," thought the lads, whose notion of armourers was
derived from the brawny blacksmith of Lyndhurst, who sharpened their
boar spears and shod their horses. They made some kind of assent,
and Master Headley went on. "These be the times! This is what
peace hath brought us to! I am called down to Salisbury to take
charge of the goods, chattels, and estate of my kinsman, Robert
Headley--Saints rest his soul!--and to bring home yonder spark, my
godson, whose indentures have been made over to me. And I may not
ride a mile after sunset without being set upon by a sort of
robbers, who must have guessed over-well what a pack of cowards they
had to deal with."
"Sir," cried the younger Giles, "I swear to you that I struck right
and left. I did all that man could do, but these rogues of serving-
men, they fled, and dragged me along with them, and I deemed you
were of our company till we dismounted."
"Did you so? Methought anon you saw me go down with three pikes in
my breast. Come, come, godson Giles, speech will not mend it! Thou
art but a green, town-bred lad, a mother's darling, and mayst be a
brave man yet, only don't dread to tell the honest truth that you
were afeard, as many a better man might be."
The host chimed in with tales of the thieves and outlaws who then,
and indeed for many later generations, infested Bagshot heath, and
the wild moorland tracks around. He seemed to think that the
travellers had had a hair's-breadth escape, and that a few seconds'
more delay might have revealed the weakness of the rescuers and have
been fatal to them.
However there was no danger so near the village in the morning, and,
somewhat to Stephen's annoyance, the whole place turned out to
inspect the spot, and behold the burial of poor Spring, who was
found stretched on the heather, just as he had been left the night
before. He was interred under the stunted oak where Master Headley
had been tied. While the grave was dug with a spade borrowed at the
inn, Ambrose undertook to cut out the dog's name on the bark, but he
had hardly made the first incision when Tibble, the singed foreman,
offered to do it for him, and made a much more sightly inscription
than he could have done. Master Headley's sword was found
honourably broken under the tree, and was reserved to form a base
for his intended ex voto. He uttered the vow in due form like a
funeral oration, when Stephen, with a swelling heart, had laid the
companion of his life in the little grave, which was speedily
CHAPTER V. THE DRAGON COURT
Of credit and renown;
A trainband captain eke was he
Of famous London town."
In spite of his satisfaction at the honourable obsequies of his dog,
Stephen Birkenholt would fain have been independent, and thought it
provoking and strange that every one should want to direct his
movements, and assume the charge of one so well able to take care of
himself; but he could not escape as he had done before from the
Warden of St. Elizabeth, for Ambrose had readily accepted the
proposal that they should travel in Master Headley's company, only
objecting that they were on foot; on which the good citizen hired a
couple of hackneys for them.
Besides the two Giles Headleys, the party consisted of Tibble, the
scarred and withered foreman, two grooms, and two serving-men, all
armed with the swords and bucklers of which they had made so little
use. It appeared in process of time that the two namesakes, besides
being godfather and godson, were cousins, and that Robert, the
father of the younger one, had, after his apprenticeship in the
paternal establishment at Salisbury, served for a couple of years in
the London workshop of his kinsman to learn the latest improvements
in weapons. This had laid the foundation of a friendship which had
lasted through life, though the London cousin had been as prosperous
as the country one had been the reverse. The provincial trade in
arms declined with the close of the York and Lancaster wars. Men
were not permitted to turn from one handicraft to another, and
Robert Headley had neither aptitude nor resources. His wife was
vain and thriftless, and he finally broke down under his
difficulties, appointing by will his cousin to act as his executor,
and to take charge of his only son, who had served out half his time
as apprentice to himself. There had been delay until the peace with
France had given the armourer some leisure for an expedition to
Salisbury, a serious undertaking for a London burgess, who had
little about him of the ancient northern weapon-smith, and had
wanted to avail himself of the protection of the suite of the Bishop
of Salisbury, returning from Parliament. He had spent some weeks in
disposing of his cousin's stock in trade, which was far too
antiquated for the London market; also of the premises, which were
bought by an adjoining convent to extend its garden; and he had
divided the proceeds between the widow and children. He had
presided at the wedding of the last daughter, with whom the mother
was to reside, and was on his way back to London with his godson,
who had now become his apprentice.
Giles Headley the younger was a fine tall youth, but clumsy and
untrained in the use of his limbs, and he rode a large, powerful
brown horse, which brooked no companionship, lashing out with its
shaggy hoofs at any of its kind that approached it, more especially
at poor, plump, mottled Poppet. The men said he had insisted on
retaining that, and no other, for his journey to London, contrary to
all advice, and he was obliged to ride foremost, alone in the middle
of the road; while Master Headley seemed to have an immense quantity
of consultation to carry on with his foreman, Tibble, whose quiet-
looking brown animal was evidently on the best of terms with Poppet.
By daylight Tibble looked even more sallow, lean, and sickly, and
Stephen could not help saying to the serving-man nearest to him,
"Can such a weakling verily be an armourer?"
"Yea, sir. Wry-mouthed Tibble, as they call him, was a sturdy
fellow till he got a fell against the mouth of a furnace, and lay
ten months in St. Bartholomew's Spital, scarce moving hand or foot.
He cannot wield a hammer, but he has a cunning hand for gilding, and
coloured devices, and is as good as Garter-king-at-arms himself for
all bearings of knights and nobles."
"As we heard last night," said Stephen.
"Moreover in the spital he learnt to write and cast accompts like a
very scrivener, and the master trusts him more than any, except
maybe Kit Smallbones, the head smith."
"What will Smallbones think of the new prentice!" said one of the
"Prentice! 'Tis plain enough what sort of prentice the youth is
like to be who beareth the name of a master with one only daughter."
An emphatic grunt was the only answer, while Ambrose pondered on the
good luck of some people, who had their futures cut out for them
with no trouble on their own part.
This day's ride was through more inhabited parts, and was esteemed
less perilous. They came in sight of the Thames at Lambeth, but
Master Headley, remembering how ill his beloved Poppet had brooked
the ferry, decided to keep to the south of the river by a causeway
across Lambeth marsh, which was just passable in high and dry
summers, and which conducted them to a raised road called Bankside,
where they looked across to the towers of Westminster, and the Abbey
in its beauty dawned on the imagination of Stephen and Ambrose. The
royal standard floated over the palace, whence Master Headley
perceived that the King was there, and augured that my Lord of
York's meine would not be far to seek. Then came broad green fields
with young corn growing, or hay waving for the scythe, the tents and
booths of May Fair, and the beautiful Market Cross in the midst of
the village of Charing, while the Strand, immediately opposite,
began to be fringed with great monasteries within their ample
gardens, with here and there a nobleman's castellated house and
terraced garden, with broad stone stairs leading to the Thames.
Barges and wherries plied up and down, the former often gaily
canopied and propelled by liveried oarsmen, all plying their arms in
unison, so that the vessel looked like some brilliant many-limbed
creature treading the water. Presently appeared the heavy walls
inclosing the City itself, dominated by the tall openwork timber
spire of St. Paul's, with the foursquare, four-turreted Tower
acting, as it has been well said, as a padlock to a chain, and the
river's breadth spanned by London bridge, a very street of houses
built on the abutments. Now, Bankside had houses on each side of
the road, and Wry-mouthed Tibble showed evident satisfaction when
they turned to cross the bridge, where they had to ride in single
file, not without some refractoriness on the part of young Headley's
On they went, now along streets where each story of the tall houses
projected over the last, so that the gables seemed ready to meet;
now beside walls of convent gardens, now past churches, while the
country lads felt bewildered with the numbers passing to and fro,
and the air was full of bells.
Cap after cap was lifted in greeting to Master Headley by burgess,
artisan, or apprentice, and many times did he draw Poppet's rein to
exchange greetings and receive congratulations on his return. On
reaching St. Paul's Minster, he halted and bade the servants take
home the horses, and tell the mistress, with his dutiful greetings,
that he should be at home anon, and with guests.
"We must e'en return thanks for our safe journey and great
deliverance," he said to his young companions, and thrusting his arm
into that of a russet-vested citizen, who met him at the door, he
walked into the cathedral, recounting his adventure.
The youths followed with some difficulty through the stream of
loiterers in the nave, Giles the younger elbowing and pushing so
that several of the crowd turned to look at him, and it was well
that his kinsman soon astonished him by descending a stair into a
crypt, with solid, short, clustered columns, and high-pitched
vaulting, fitted up as a separate church, namely that of the parish
of St. Faith. The great cathedral, having absorbed the site of the
original church, had given this crypt to the parishioners. Here all
was quiet and solemn, in marked contrast to the hubbub in "Paul's
Walk," above in the nave. Against the eastern pillar of one of the
bays was a little altar, and the decorations included St. Julian,
the patron of travellers, with his saltire doubly crossed, and his
stag beside him. Little ships, trees, and wonderful enamelled
representations of perils by robbers, field and flood, hung thickly
on St. Julian's pillar, and on the wall and splay of the window
beside it; and here, after crossing himself, Master Headley rapidly
repeated a Paternoster, and ratified his vow of presenting a bronze
image of the hound to whom he owed his rescue. One of the clergy
came up to register the vow, and the good armourer proceeded to
bespeak a mass of thanksgiving on the next morning, also ten for the
soul of Master John Birkenholt, late Verdurer of the New Forest in
Hampshire--a mode of showing his gratitude which the two sons highly
Then, climbing up the steps again, and emerging from the cathedral
by the west door, the boys beheld a scene for which their
experiences of Romsey, and even of Winchester, had by no means
prepared them. It was five o'clock on a summer evening, so that the
place was full of stir. Old women sat with baskets of rosaries and
little crosses, or images of saints, on the steps of the cathedral,
while in the open space beyond, more than one horse was displaying
his paces for the benefit of some undecided purchaser, who had been
chaffering for hours in Paul's Walk. Merchants in the costume of
their countries, Lombard, Spanish, Dutch, or French, were walking
away in pairs, attended by servants, from their Exchange, likewise
in the nave. Women, some alone, some protected by serving-men or
apprentices, were returning from their orisons, or, it might be,
from their gossipings. Priests and friars, as usual, pervaded
everything, and round the open space were galleried buildings with
stalls beneath them, whence the holders were removing their wares
for the night. The great octagonal structure of Paul's Cross stood
in the centre, and just beneath the stone pulpit, where the sermons
were wont to be preached, stood a man with a throng round him,
declaiming a ballad at the top of his sing-song voice, and causing
much loud laughter by some ribaldry about monks and friars.
Master Headley turned aside as quickly as he could, through
Paternoster Row, which was full of stalls, where little black books,
and larger sheets printed in black-letter, seemed the staple
commodities, and thence the burgess, keeping a heedful eye on his
young companions among all his greetings, entered the broader space
of Cheapside, where numerous prentice lads seemed to be playing at
different sports after the labours of the day.
Passing under an archway surmounted by a dragon with shining scales,
Master Headley entered a paved courtyard, where the lads started at
the figures of two knights in full armour, their lances in rest, and
their horses with housings down to their hoofs, apparently about to
charge any intruder. But at that moment there was a shriek of joy,
and out from the scarlet and azure petticoats of the nearest steed,
there darted a little girl, crying, "Father! father!" and in an
instant she was lifted in Master Headley's arms, and was clinging
round his neck, while he kissed and blessed her, and as he set her
on her feet, he said, "Here, Dennet, greet thy cousin Giles Headley,
and these two brave young gentlemen. Greet them like a courteous
maiden, or they will think thee a little town mouse."
In truth the child had a pointed little visage, and bright brown
eyes, somewhat like a mouse, but it was a very sweet face that she
lifted obediently to be kissed not only by the kinsman, but by the
two guests. Her father meantime was answering with nods to the
respectful welcomes of the workmen, who thronged out below, and
their wives looking down from the galleries above; while Poppet and
the other horses were being rubbed down after their journey.
The ground-floor of the buildings surrounding the oblong court
seemed to be entirely occupied by forges, workshops, warehouses and
stables. Above, were open railed galleries, with outside stairs at
intervals, giving access to the habitations of the workpeople on
three sides. The fourth, opposite to the entrance, had a much
handsomer, broad, stone stair, adorned on one side with a stone
figure of the princess fleeing from the dragon, and on the other of
St. George piercing the monster's open mouth with his lance, the
scaly convolutions of the two dragons forming the supports of the
handrail on either side. Here stood, cap in hand, showing his thick
curly hair, and with open front, displaying a huge hairy chest, a
giant figure, whom his master greeted as Kit Smallbones, inquiring
whether all had gone well during his absence. "'Tis time you were
back, sir, for there's a great tilting match on hand for the Lady
Mary's wedding. Here have been half the gentlemen in the Court
after you, and my Lord of Buckingham sent twice for you since
Sunday, and once for Tibble Steelman, and his squire swore that if
you were not at his bidding before noon to-morrow, he would have his
new suit of Master Hillyer of the Eagle."
"He shall see me when it suiteth me," said Mr. Headley coolly. "He
wotteth well that Hillyer hath none who can burnish plate armour
like Tibble here."