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A Dream of John Ball and A King's Lesson by William Morris

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I. The Men of Kent
II. The Man from Essex
III. They Meet at the Cross
IV. The Voice of John Ball
V. They hear Tidings of Battle and make them Ready
VI. The Battle at the Township's End
VII. More Words at the Cross
VIII. Supper at Will Green's
IX. Betwixt the Living and them Dead
X. Those Two Talk of the Days to Come
XI. Hard it is for the Old World to see the New
XII. Ill would Change be at Whiles were it not for the
Change beyond the Change





Sometimes I am rewarded for fretting myself so much about present
matters by a quite unasked-for pleasant dream. I mean when I am
asleep. This dream is as it were a present of an architectural
peep-show. I see some beautiful and noble building new made, as
it were for the occasion, as clearly as if I were awake; not
vaguely or absurdly, as often happens in dreams, but with all the
detail clear and reasonable. Some Elizabethan house with its
scrap of earlier fourteenth-century building, and its later
degradations of Queen Anne and Silly Billy and Victoria,
marring but not destroying it, in an old village once a clearing
amid the sandy woodlands of Sussex. Or an old and unusually
curious church, much churchwardened, and beside it a fragment of
fifteenth-century domestic architecture amongst the not
unpicturesque lath and plaster of an Essex farm, and looking
natural enough among the sleepy elms and the meditative hens
scratching about in the litter of the farmyard, whose trodden
yellow straw comes up to the very jambs of the richly carved
Norman doorway of the church. Or sometimes 'tis a splendid
collegiate church, untouched by restoring parson and architect,
standing amid an island of shapely trees and flower-beset
cottages of thatched grey stone and cob, amidst the narrow
stretch of bright green water-meadows that wind between the
sweeping Wiltshire downs, so well beloved of William Cobbett. Or some
new-seen and yet familiar cluster of houses in a grey village of the
upper Thames overtopped by the delicate tracery of a
fourteenth-century church; or even sometimes the very buildings of the
past untouched by the degradation of the sordid utilitarianism that
cares not and knows not of beauty and history: as once, when I was
journeying (in a dream of the night) down the well-remembered reaches
of the Thames betwixt Streatley and Wallingford, where the foothills
of the White Horse fall back from the broad stream, I came upon a
clear-seen mediaeval town standing up with roof and tower and spire
within its walls, grey and ancient, but untouched from the days of its
builders of old. All this I have seen in the dreams of the night
clearer than I can force myself to see them in dreams of the day. So
that it would have been nothing new to me the other night to fall into
an architectural dream if that were all, and yet I have to tell of
things strange and new that befell me after I had fallen asleep. I had
begun my sojourn in the Land of Nod by a very confused attempt to
conclude that it was all right for me to have an engagement to lecture
at Manchester and Mitcham Fair Green at half-past eleven at night on
one and the same Sunday, and that I could manage pretty well. And
then I had gone on to try to make the best of addressing a large
open-air audience in the costume I was really then wearing--to wit, my
night-shirt, reinforced for the dream occasion by a pair of braceless
trousers. The consciousness of this fact so bothered me, that the
earnest faces of my audience--who would NOT notice it, but were
clearly preparing terrible anti-Socialist posers for me--began to fade
away and my dream grew thin, and I awoke (as I thought) to find myself
lying on a strip of wayside waste by an oak copse just outside a
country village.

I got up and rubbed my eyes and looked about me, and the landscape
seemed unfamiliar to me, though it was, as to the lie of the land, an
ordinary English low-country, swelling into rising ground here and
there. The road was narrow, and I was convinced that it was a piece
of Roman road from its straightness. Copses were scattered over the
country, and there were signs of two or three villages and hamlets in
sight besides the one near me, between which and me there was some
orchard-land, where the early apples were beginning to redden on the
trees. Also, just on the other side of the road and the ditch which
ran along it, was a small close of about a quarter of an acre, neatly
hedged with quick, which was nearly full of white poppies, and, as far
as I could see for the hedge, had also a good few rose-bushes of the
bright-red nearly single kind, which I had heard are the ones from
which rose-water used to be distilled. Otherwise the land was quite
unhedged, but all under tillage of various kinds, mostly in small
strips. From the other side of a copse not far off rose a tall spire
white and brand-new, but at once bold in outline and unaffectedly
graceful and also distinctly English in character. This, together
with the unhedged tillage and a certain unwonted trimness and
handiness about the enclosures of the garden and orchards, puzzled me
for a minute or two, as I did not understand, new as the spire was,
how it could have been designed by a modern architect; and I was of
course used to the hedged tillage and tumbledown bankrupt-looking
surroundings of our modern agriculture. So that the garden-like
neatness and trimness of everything surprised me. But after a minute
or two that surprise left me entirely; and if what I saw and heard
afterwards seems strange to you, remember that it did not seem strange
to me at the time, except where now and again I shall tell you of it.
Also, once for all, if I were to give you the very words of those who
spoke to me you would scarcely understand them, although their
language was English too, and at the time I could understand them at

Well, as I stretched myself and turned my face toward the village, I
heard horse-hoofs on the road, and presently a man and horse showed on
the other end of the stretch of road and drew near at a swinging trot
with plenty of clash of metal. The man soon came up to me, but paid
me no more heed than throwing me a nod. He was clad in armour of
mingled steel and leather, a sword girt to his side, and over his
shoulder a long-handled bill-hook.

His armour was fantastic in form and well wrought; but by this time I
was quite used to the strangeness of him, and merely muttered to
myself, "He is coming to summon the squire to the leet;" so I turned
toward the village in good earnest. Nor, again, was I surprised at my
own garments, although I might well have been from their unwontedness.
I was dressed in a black cloth gown reaching to my ankles, neatly
embroidered about the collar and cuffs, with wide sleeves gathered in
at the wrists; a hood with a sort of bag hanging down from it was on
my head, a broad red leather girdle round my waist, on one side of
which hung a pouch embroidered very prettily and a case made of hard
leather chased with a hunting scene, which I knew to be a pen and ink
case; on the other side a small sheath-knife, only an arm in case of
dire necessity.

Well, I came into the village, where I did not see (nor by this time
expected to see) a single modern building, although many of them were
nearly new, notably the church, which was large, and quite ravished my
heart with its extreme beauty, elegance, and fitness. The chancel of
this was so new that the dust of the stone still lay white on the
midsummer grass beneath the carvings of the windows. The houses were
almost all built of oak frame-work filled with cob or plaster well
whitewashed; though some had their lower stories of rubble-stone, with
their windows and doors of well-moulded freestone. There was much
curious and inventive carving about most of them; and though some were
old and much worn, there was the same look of deftness and trimness,
and even beauty, about every detail in them which I noticed before in
the field-work. They were all roofed with oak shingles, mostly grown
as grey as stone; but one was so newly built that its roof was yet
pale and yellow. This was a corner house, and the corner post of it
had a carved niche wherein stood a gaily painted figure holding an
anchor--St. Clement to wit, as the dweller in the house was a
blacksmith. Half a stone's throw from the east end of the churchyard
wall was a tall cross of stone, new like the church, the head
beautifully carved with a crucifix amidst leafage. It stood on a set
of wide stone steps, octagonal in shape, where three roads from other
villages met and formed a wide open space on which a thousand people
or more could stand together with no great crowding.

All this I saw, and also that there was a goodish many people about,
women and children, and a few old men at the doors, many of them
somewhat gaily clad, and that men were coming into the village street
by the other end to that by which I had entered, by twos and threes,
most of them carrying what I could see were bows in cases of linen
yellow with wax or oil; they had quivers at their backs, and most of
them a short sword by their left side, and a pouch and knife on the
right; they were mostly dressed in red or brightish green or blue
cloth jerkins, with a hood on the head generally of another colour.
As they came nearer I saw that the cloth of their garments was
somewhat coarse, but stout and serviceable. I knew, somehow, that
they had been shooting at the butts, and, indeed, I could still hear a
noise of men thereabout, and even now and again when the wind set from
that quarter the twang of the bowstring and the plump of the shaft in
the target.

I leaned against the churchyard wall and watched these men, some of
whom went straight into their houses and some loitered about still;
they were rough-looking fellows, tall and stout, very black some of
them, and some red-haired, but most had hair burnt by the sun into the
colour of tow; and, indeed, they were all burned and tanned and
freckled variously. Their arms and buckles and belts and the
finishings and hems of their garments were all what we should now call
beautiful, rough as the men were; nor in their speech was any of that
drawling snarl or thick vulgarity which one is used to hear from
labourers in civilisation; not that they talked like gentlemen either,
but full and round and bold, and they were merry and good-tempered
enough; I could see that, though I felt shy and timid amongst them.

One of them strode up to me across the road, a man some six feet high,
with a short black beard and black eyes and berry-brown skin, with a
huge bow in his hand bare of the case, a knife, a pouch, and a short
hatchet, all clattering together at his girdle.

"Well, friend," said he, "thou lookest partly mazed; what tongue hast
thou in thine head?"

"A tongue that can tell rhymes," said I.

"So I thought," said he. "Thirstest thou any?"

"Yea, and hunger," said I.

And therewith my hand went into my purse, and came out again with but
a few small and thin silver coins with a cross stamped on each, and
three pellets in each corner of the cross. The man grinned.

"Aha!" said he, "is it so? Never heed it, mate. It shall be a song
for a supper this fair Sunday evening. But first, whose man art

"No one's man," said I, reddening angrily; "I am my own master."

He grinned again.

"Nay, that's not the custom of England, as one time belike it will be.
Methinks thou comest from heaven down, and hast had a high place there

He seemed to hesitate a moment, and then leant forward and whispered
in my ear: "John the Miller, that ground small, small, small," and
stopped and winked at me, and from between my lips without my mind
forming any meaning came the words, "The king's son of heaven shall
pay for all."

He let his bow fall on to his shoulder, caught my right hand in his
and gave it a great grip, while his left hand fell among the gear at
his belt, and I could see that he half drew his knife.

"Well, brother," said he, "stand not here hungry in the highway when
there is flesh and bread in the Rose yonder. Come on."

And with that he drew me along toward what was clearly a tavern door,
outside which men were sitting on a couple of benches and drinking
meditatively from curiously shaped earthen pots glazed green and
yellow, some with quaint devices on them.



I entered the door and started at first with my old astonishment, with
which I had woke up, so strange and beautiful did this interior seem
to me, though it was but a pothouse parlour. A quaintly-carved side
board held an array of bright pewter pots and dishes and wooden and
earthen bowls; a stout oak table went up and down the room, and a
carved oak chair stood by the chimney-corner, now filled by a very old
man dim-eyed and white-bearded. That, except the rough stools and
benches on which the company sat, was all the furniture. The walls
were panelled roughly enough with oak boards to about six feet from
the floor, and about three feet of plaster above that was wrought in a
pattern of a rose stem running all round the room, freely and roughly
done, but with (as it seemed to my unused eyes) wonderful skill and
spirit. On the hood of the great chimney a huge rose was wrought in
the plaster and brightly painted in its proper colours. There were a
dozen or more of the men I had seen coming along the street sitting
there, some eating and all drinking; their cased bows leaned against
the wall, their quivers hung on pegs in the panelling, and in a corner
of the room I saw half-a-dozen bill-hooks that looked made more for
war than for hedge-shearing, with ashen handles some seven foot long.
Three or four children were running about among the legs of the men,
heeding them mighty little in their bold play, and the men seemed
little troubled by it, although they were talking earnestly and
seriously too. A well-made comely girl leaned up against the chimney
close to the gaffer's chair, and seemed to be in waiting on the
company: she was clad in a close-fitting gown of bright blue cloth,
with a broad silver girdle daintily wrought, round her loins, a rose
wreath was on her head and her hair hung down unbound; the gaffer
grumbled a few words to her from time to time, so that I judged he was
her grandfather.

The men all looked up as we came into the room, my mate leading me by
the hand, and he called out in his rough, good-tempered voice, "Here,
my masters, I bring you tidings and a tale; give it meat and drink
that it may be strong and sweet."

"Whence are thy tidings, Will Green?" said one.

My mate grinned again with the pleasure of making his joke once more
in a bigger company: "It seemeth from heaven, since this good old lad
hath no master," said he.

"The more fool he to come here," said a thin man with a grizzled
beard, amidst the laughter that followed, "unless he had the choice
given him between hell and England."

"Nay," said I, "I come not from heaven, but from Essex."

As I said the word a great shout sprang from all mouths at once, as
clear and sudden as a shot from a gun. For I must tell you that I
knew somehow, but I know not how, that the men of Essex were gathering
to rise against the poll-groat bailiffs and the lords that would turn
them all into villeins again, as their grandfathers had been. And the
people was weak and the lords were poor; for many a mother's son had
fallen in the war in France in the old king's time, and the Black
Death had slain a many; so that the lords had bethought them: "We are
growing poorer, and these upland-bred villeins are growing richer, and
the guilds of craft are waxing in the towns, and soon what will there
be left for us who cannot weave and will not dig? Good it were if we
fell on all who are not guildsmen or men of free land, if we fell on
soccage tenants and others, and brought both the law and the strong
hand on them, and made them all villeins in deed as they are now in
name; for now these rascals make more than their bellies need of
bread, and their backs of homespun, and the overplus they keep to
themselves; and we are more worthy of it than they. So let us get the
collar on their necks again, and make their day's work longer and
their bever-time shorter, as the good statute of the old king bade.
And good it were if the Holy Church were to look to it (and the
Lollards might help herein) that all these naughty and wearisome
holidays were done away with; or that it should be unlawful for any
man below the degree of a squire to keep the holy days of the church,
except in the heart and the spirit only, and let the body labour
meanwhile; for does not the Apostle say, 'If a man work not, neither
should he eat'? And if such things were done, and such an estate of
noble rich men and worthy poor men upholden for ever, then would it be
good times in England, and life were worth the living."

All this were the lords at work on, and such talk I knew was common
not only among the lords themselves, but also among their sergeants
and very serving-men. But the people would not abide it; therefore,
as I said, in Essex they were on the point of rising, and word had
gone how that at St. Albans they were wellnigh at blows with the Lord
Abbot's soldiers; that north away at Norwich John Litster was wiping
the woad from his arms, as who would have to stain them red again, but
not with grain or madder; and that the valiant tiler of Dartford had
smitten a poll-groat bailiff to death with his lath-rending axe for
mishandling a young maid, his daughter; and that the men of Kent were
on the move.

Now, knowing all this I was not astonished that they shouted at the
thought of their fellows the men of Essex, but rather that they said
little more about it; only Will Green saying quietly, "Well, the
tidings shall be told when our fellowship is greater; fall-to now on
the meat, brother, that we may the sooner have thy tale." As he spoke
the blue-clad damsel bestirred herself and brought me a clean
trencher--that is, a square piece of thin oak board scraped clean--and
a pewter pot of liquor. So without more ado, and as one used to it, I
drew my knife out of my girdle and cut myself what I would of the
flesh and bread on the table. But Will Green mocked at me as I cut,
and said, "Certes, brother, thou hast not been a lord's carver, though
but for thy word thou mightest have been his reader. Hast thou seen
Oxford, scholar?"

A vision of grey-roofed houses and a long winding street and the sound
of many bells came over me at that word as I nodded "Yes" to him, my
mouth full of salt pork and rye-bread; and then I lifted my pot and we
made the clattering mugs kiss and I drank, and the fire of the good
Kentish mead ran through my veins and deepened my dream of things
past, present, and to come, as I said: "Now hearken a tale, since ye
will have it so. For last autumn I was in Suffolk at the good town of
Dunwich, and thither came the keels from Iceland, and on them were
some men of Iceland, and many a tale they had on their tongues; and
with these men I foregathered, for I am in sooth a gatherer of tales,
and this that is now at my tongue's end is one of them."

So such a tale I told them, long familiar to me; but as I told it the
words seemed to quicken and grow, so that I knew not the sound of my
own voice, and they ran almost into rhyme and measure as I told it;
and when I had done there was silence awhile, till one man spake, but
not loudly:

"Yea, in that land was the summer short and the winter long; but men
lived both summer and winter; and if the trees grew ill and the corn
throve not, yet did the plant called man thrive and do well. God send
us such men even here."

"Nay," said another, "such men have been and will be, and belike are
not far from this same door even now."

"Yea," said a third, "hearken a stave of Robin Hood; maybe that shall
hasten the coming of one I wot of." And he fell to singing in a clear
voice, for he was a young man, and to a sweet wild melody, one of
those ballads which in an incomplete and degraded form you have read
perhaps. My heart rose high as I heard him, for it was concerning the
struggle against tyranny for the freedom of life, how that the
wildwood and the heath, despite of wind and weather, were better for a
free man than the court and the cheaping-town; of the taking from the
rich to give to the poor; of the life of a man doing his own will and
not the will of another man commanding him for the commandment's sake.
The men all listened eagerly, and at whiles took up as a refrain a
couplet at the end of a stanza with their strong and rough, but not
unmusical voices. As they sang, a picture of the wild-woods passed by
me, as they were indeed, no park-like dainty glades and lawns, but
rough and tangled thicket and bare waste and heath, solemn under the
morning sun, and dreary with the rising of the evening wind and the
drift of the night-long rain.

When he had done, another began in something of the same strain, but
singing more of a song than a story ballad; and thus much I remember
of it:

The Sheriff is made a mighty lord,
Of goodly gold he hath enow,
And many a sergeant girt with sword;
But forth will we and bend the bow.
We shall bend the bow on the lily lea
Betwixt the thorn and the oaken tree.

With stone and lime is the burg wall built,
And pit and prison are stark and strong,
And many a true man there is spilt,
And many a right man doomed by wrong.

So forth shall we and bend the bow
And the king's writ never the road shall know.

Now yeomen walk ye warily,
And heed ye the houses where ye go,
For as fair and as fine as they may be,
Lest behind your heels the door clap to.
Fare forth with the bow to the lily lea
Betwixt the thorn and the oaken tree.

Now bills and bows I and out a-gate!
And turn about on the lily lea!
And though their company be great
The grey-goose wing shall set us free.
Now bent is the bow in the green abode
And the king's writ knoweth not the road.

So over the mead and over the hithe,
And away to the wild-wood wend we forth;
There dwell we yeomen bold and blithe
Where the Sheriff's word is nought of worth.
Bent is the bow on the lily lea
Betwixt the thorn and the oaken tree.

But here the song dropped suddenly, and one of the men held up his
hand as who would say, Hist! Then through the open window came the
sound of another song, gradually swelling as though sung by men on the
march. This time the melody was a piece of the plain-song of the
church, familiar enough to me to bring back to my mind the great
arches of some cathedral in France and the canons singing in the

All leapt up and hurried to take their bows from wall and corner; and
some had bucklers withal, circles of leather, boiled and then moulded
into shape and hardened: these were some two hand-breadths across,
with iron or brass bosses in the centre. Will Green went to the
corner where the bills leaned against the wall and handed them round
to the first-comers as far as they would go, and out we all went
gravely and quietly into the village street and the fair sunlight of
the calm afternoon, now beginning to turn towards evening. None had
said anything since we first heard the new-come singing, save that as
we went out of the door the ballad-singer clapped me on the shoulder
and said: "Was it not sooth that I said, brother, that Robin Hood
should bring us John Ball?"



The street was pretty full of men by then we were out in it, and all
faces turned toward the cross. The song still grew nearer and louder,
and even as we looked we saw it turning the corner through the hedges
of the orchards and closes, a good clump of men, more armed, as it
would seem, than our villagers, as the low sun flashed back from many
points of bright iron and steel. The words of the song could now be
heard, and amidst them I could pick out Will Green's late challenge to
me and my answer; but as I was bending all my mind to disentangle more
words from the music, suddenly from the new white tower behind us
clashed out the church bells, harsh and hurried at first, but
presently falling into measured chime; and at the first sound of them
a great shout went up from us and was echoed by the new-comers, "John
Ball hath rung our bell!" Then we pressed on, and presently we were
all mingled together at the cross.

Will Green had good-naturedly thrust and pulled me forward, so that I
found myself standing on the lowest step of the cross, his seventy-two
inches of man on one side of me. He chuckled while I panted, and

"There's for thee a good hearing and seeing stead, old lad. Thou art
tall across thy belly and not otherwise, and thy wind, belike, is none
of the best, and but for me thou wouldst have been amidst the thickest
of the throng, and have heard words muffled by Kentish bellies and
seen little but swinky woollen elbows and greasy plates and jacks.
Look no more on the ground, as though thou sawest a hare, but let
thine eyes and thine ears be busy to gather tidings to bear back to
Essex--or heaven!"

I grinned good-fellowship at him but said nothing, for in truth my
eyes and ears were as busy as he would have them to be. A buzz of
general talk went up from the throng amidst the regular cadence of the
bells, which now seemed far away and as it were that they were not
swayed by hands, but were living creatures making that noise of their
own wills.

I looked around and saw that the newcomers mingled with us must have
been a regular armed band; all had bucklers slung at their backs, few
lacked a sword at the side. Some had bows, some "staves"--that is,
bills, pole-axes, or pikes. Moreover, unlike our villagers, they had
defensive arms. Most had steel-caps on their heads, and some had body
armour, generally a "jack," or coat into which pieces of iron or horn
were quilted; some had also steel or steel-and-leather arm or thigh
pieces. There were a few mounted men among them, their horses being
big-boned hammer-headed beasts, that looked as if they had been taken
from plough or waggon, but their riders were well armed with steel
armour on their heads, legs, and arms. Amongst the horsemen I noted
the man that had ridden past me when I first awoke; but he seemed to
be a prisoner, as he had a woollen hood on his head instead of his
helmet, and carried neither bill, sword, nor dagger. He seemed by no
means ill-at-ease, however, but was laughing and talking with the men
who stood near him.

Above the heads of the crowd, and now slowly working towards the
cross, was a banner on a high-raised cross-pole, a picture of a man
and woman half-clad in skins of beasts seen against a background of
green trees, the man holding a spade and the woman a distaff and
spindle rudely done enough, but yet with a certain spirit and much
meaning; and underneath this symbol of the early world and man's first
contest with nature were the written words:

When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the gentleman?

The banner came on and through the crowd, which at last opened where
we stood for its passage, and the banner-bearer turned and faced the
throng and stood on the first step of the cross beside me.

A man followed him, clad in a long dark-brown gown of coarse woollen,
girt with a cord, to which hung a "pair of beads" (or rosary, as we
should call it to-day) and a book in a bag. The man was tall and
big-boned, a ring of dark hair surrounded his priest's tonsure; his
nose was big but clear cut and with wide nostrils; his shaven face
showed a longish upper lip and a big but blunt chin; his mouth was big
and the lips closed firmly; a face not very noteworthy but for his
grey eyes well opened and wide apart, at whiles lighting up his whole
face with a kindly smile, at whiles set and stern, at whiles resting
in that look as if they were gazing at something a long way off, which
is the wont of the eyes of the poet or enthusiast.

He went slowly up the steps of the cross and stood at the top with one
hand laid on the shaft, and shout upon shout broke forth from the
throng. When the shouting died away into a silence of the human
voices, the bells were still quietly chiming with that far-away voice
of theirs, and the long-winged dusky swifts, by no means scared by the
concourse, swung round about the cross with their wild squeals; and
the man stood still for a little, eyeing the throng, or rather looking
first at one and then another man in it, as though he were trying to
think what such an one was thinking of, or what he were fit for.
Sometimes he caught the eye of one or other, and then that kindly
smile spread over his face, but faded off it into the sternness and
sadness of a man who has heavy and great thoughts hanging about him.
But when John Ball first mounted the steps of the cross a lad at some
one's bidding had run off to stop the ringers, and so presently the
voice of the bells fell dead, leaving on men's minds that sense of
blankness or even disappointment which is always caused by the sudden
stopping of a sound one has got used to and found pleasant. But a
great expectation had fallen by now on all that throng, and no word
was spoken even in a whisper, and all men's hearts and eyes were fixed
upon the dark figure standing straight up now by the tall white shaft
of the cross, his hands stretched out before him, one palm laid upon
the other.

And for me, as I made ready to hearken, I felt a joy in my soul that I
had never yet felt.



SO now I heard John Ball; how he lifted up his voice and said:

"Ho, all ye good people! I am a priest of God, and in my day's work
it cometh that I should tell you what ye should do, and what ye should
forbear doing, and to that end I am come hither: yet first, if I
myself have wronged any man here, let him say wherein my wrongdoing
lieth, that I may ask his pardon and his pity."

A great hum of good-will ran through the crowd as he spoke; then he
smiled as in a kind of pride, and again he spoke:

"Wherefore did ye take me out of the archbishop's prison but three
days agone, when ye lighted the archbishop's house for the candle of
Canterbury, but that I might speak to you and pray you: therefore I
will not keep silence, whether I have done ill, or whether I have done
well. And herein, good fellows and my very brethren, I would have you
to follow me; and if there be such here, as I know full well there be
some, and may be a good many, who have been robbers of their
neighbours ('And who is my neighbour?' quoth the rich man), or
lechers, or despiteful haters, or talebearers, or fawners on rich men
for the hurt of the poor (and that is the worst of all)--Ah, my poor
brethren who have gone astray, I say not to you, go home and repent
lest you mar our great deeds, but rather come afield and there repent.
Many a day have ye been fools, but hearken unto me and I shall make
you wise above the wisdom of the earth; and if ye die in your wisdom,
as God wot ye well may, since the fields ye wend to bear swords for
daisies, and spears for bents, then shall ye be, though men call you
dead, a part and parcel of the living wisdom of all things, very
stones of the pillars that uphold the joyful earth.

"Forsooth, ye have heard it said that ye shall do well in this world
that in the world to come ye may live happily for ever; do ye well
then, and have your reward both on earth and in heaven; for I say to
you that earth and heaven are not two but one; and this one is that
which ye know, and are each one of you a part of, to wit, the Holy
Church, and in each one of you dwelleth the life of the Church, unless
ye slay it. Forsooth, brethren, will ye murder the Church any one of
you, and go forth a wandering man and lonely, even as Cain did who
slew his brother? Ah, my brothers, what an evil doom is this, to be
an outcast from the Church, to have none to love you and to speak with
you, to be without fellowship! Forsooth, brothers, fellowship is
heaven, and lack of fellowship is hell: fellowship is life, and lack
of fellowship is death: and the deeds that ye do upon the earth, it is
for fellowship's sake that ye do them, and the life that is in it,
that shall live on and on for ever, and each one of you part of it,
while many a man's life upon the earth from the earth shall wane.

"Therefore, I bid you not dwell in hell but in heaven, or while ye
must, upon earth, which is a part of heaven, and forsooth no foul

"Forsooth, he that waketh in hell and feeleth his heart fail him,
shall have memory of the merry days of earth, and how that when his
heart failed him there, he cried on his fellow, were it his wife or
his son or his brother or his gossip or his brother sworn in arms, and
how that his fellow heard him and came and they mourned together under
the sun, till again they laughed together and were but half sorry
between them. This shall he think on in hell, and cry on his fellow
to help him, and shall find that therein is no help because there is
no fellowship, but every man for himself. Therefore, I tell you that
the proud, despiteous rich man, though he knoweth it not, is in hell
already, because he hath no fellow; and he that hath so hardy a heart
that in sorrow he thinketh of fellowship, his sorrow is soon but a
story of sorrow--a little change in the life that knows not ill."

He left off for a little; and indeed for some time his voice had
fallen, but it was so clear and the summer evening so soft and still,
and the silence of the folk so complete, that every word told. His
eyes fell down to the crowd as he stopped speaking, since for some
little while they had been looking far away into the blue distance of
summer; and the kind eyes of the man had a curious sight before him in
that crowd, for amongst them were many who by this time were not
dry-eyed, and some wept outright in spite of their black beards, while
all had that look as if they were ashamed of themselves, and did not
want others to see how deeply they were moved, after the fashion of
their race when they are strongly stirred. I looked at Will Green
beside me: his right hand clutched his bow so tight, that the knuckles
whitened; he was staring straight before him, and the tears were
running out of his eyes and down his big nose as though without his
will, for his face was stolid and unmoved all the time till he caught
my eye, and then he screwed up the strangest face, of scowling brow,
weeping eyes, and smiling mouth, while he dealt me a sounding thump in
the ribs with his left elbow, which, though it would have knocked me
down but for the crowd, I took as an esquire does the accolade which
makes a knight of him.

But while I pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the
battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of
their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant,
and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name--
while I pondered all this, John Ball began to speak again in the same
soft and dear voice with which he had left off.

"Good fellows, it was your fellowship and your kindness that took me
out of the archbishop's prison three days agone, though God wot ye had
nought to gain by it save outlawry and the gallows; yet lacked I not
your fellowship before ye drew near me in the body, and when between
me and Canterbury street was yet a strong wall, and the turnkeys and
sergeants and bailiffs.

"For hearken, my friends and helpers; many days ago, when April was
yet young, I lay there, and the heart that I had strung up to bear all
things because of the fellowship of men and the blessed saints and the
angels and those that are, and those that are to be, this heart, that
I had strung up like a strong bow, fell into feebleness, so that I lay
there a-longing for the green fields and the white-thorn bushes and
the lark singing over the corn, and the talk of good fellows round the
ale-house bench, and the babble of the little children, and the team
on the road and the beasts afield, and all the life of earth; and I
alone all the while, near my foes and afar from my friends, mocked and
flouted and starved with cold and hunger; and so weak was my heart
that though I longed for all these things yet I saw them not, nor knew
them but as names; and I longed so sore to be gone that I chided
myself that I had once done well; and I said to myself:

"Forsooth, hadst thou kept thy tongue between thy teeth thou mightest
have been something, if it had been but a parson of a town, and
comfortable to many a poor man; and then mightest thou have clad here
and there the naked back, and filled the empty belly, and holpen many,
and men would have spoken well of thee, and of thyself thou hadst
thought well; and all this hast thou lost for lack of a word here and
there to some great man, and a little winking of the eyes amidst
murder and wrong and unruth; and now thou art nought and helpless, and
the hemp for thee is sown and grown and heckled and spun, and lo
there, the rope for thy gallows-tree!--all for nought, for nought.

"Forsooth, my friends, thus I thought and sorrowed in my feebleness
that I had not been a traitor to the Fellowship of the Church, for
e'en so evil was my foolish imagination.

"Yet, forsooth, as I fell a-pondering over all the comfort and help
that I might have been and that I might have had, if I had been but a
little of a trembling cur to creep and crawl before abbot and bishop
and baron and bailiff, came the thought over me of the evil of the
world wherewith I, John Ball, the rascal hedge-priest, had fought and
striven in the Fellowship of the saints in heaven and poor men upon

"Yea, forsooth, once again I saw as of old, the great treading down
the little, and the strong beating down the weak, and cruel men
fearing not, and kind men daring not, and wise men caring not; and the
saints in heaven forbearing and yet bidding me not to forbear;
forsooth, I knew once more that he who doeth well in fellowship, and
because of fellowship, shall not fail though he seem to fail to-day,
but in days hereafter shall he and his work yet be alive, and men be
holpen by them to strive again and yet again; and yet indeed even that
was little, since, forsooth, to strive was my pleasure and my life.

"So I became a man once more, and I rose up to my feet and went up and
down my prison what I could for my hopples, and into my mouth came
words of good cheer, even such as we to-day have sung, and stoutly I
sang them, even as we now have sung them; and then did I rest me, and
once more thought of those pleasant fields where I would be, and all
the life of man and beast about them, and I said to myself that I
should see them once more before I died, if but once it were.

"Forsooth, this was strange, that whereas before I longed for them and
yet saw them not, now that my longing was slaked my vision was
cleared, and I saw them as though the prison walls opened to me and I
was out of Canterbury street and amidst the green meadows of April;
and therewithal along with me folk that I have known and who are dead,
and folk that are living; yea, and all those of the Fellowship on
earth and in heaven; yea, and all that are here this day. Overlong
were the tale to tell of them, and of the time that is gone.

"So thenceforward I wore through the days with no such faint heart,
until one day the prison opened verily and in the daylight, and there
were ye, my fellows, in the door--your faces glad, your hearts light
with hope, and your hands heavy with wrath; then I saw and understood
what was to do. Now, therefore, do ye understand it!"

His voice was changed, and grew louder than loud now, as he cast his
hands abroad towards that company with those last words of his; and I
could feel that all shame and fear was falling from those men, and
that mere fiery manhood was shining through their wonted English
shamefast stubbornness, and that they were moved indeed and saw the
road before them. Yet no man spoke, rather the silence of the
men-folk deepened, as the sun's rays grew more level and more golden,
and the swifts wheeled about shriller and louder than before.

Then again John Ball spoke and said, "In good sooth, I deem ye wot no
worse than I do what is to do--and first that somewhat we shall do--
since it is for him that is lonely or in prison to dream of
fellowship, but for him that is of a fellowship to do and not to

"And next, ye know who is the foeman, and that is the proud man, the
oppressor, who scorneth fellowship, and himself is a world to himself
and needeth no helper nor helpeth any, but, heeding no law, layeth law
on other men because he is rich; and surely every one that is rich is
such an one, nor may be other.

"Forsooth, in the belly of every rich man dwelleth a devil of hell,
and when the man would give his goods to the poor, the devil within
him gainsayeth it, and saith, 'Wilt thou then be of the poor, and
suffer cold and hunger and mocking as they suffer, then give thou thy
goods to them, and keep them not.' And when he would be
compassionate, again saith the devil to him, 'If thou heed these
losels and turn on them a face like to their faces, and deem of them
as men, then shall they scorn thee, and evil shall come of it, and
even one day they shall fall on thee to slay thee when they have
learned that thou art but as they be.'

"Ah, woe worth the while! too oft he sayeth sooth, as the wont of the
devil is, that lies may be born of the barren truth; and sooth it is
that the poor deemeth the rich to be other than he, and meet to be his
master, as though, forsooth, the poor were come of Adam, and the rich
of him that made Adam, that is God; and thus the poor man oppresseth
the poor man, because he feareth the oppressor. Nought such are ye,
my brethren; or else why are ye gathered here in harness to bid all
bear witness of you that ye are the sons of one man and one mother,
begotten of the earth?"

As he said the words there came a stir among the weapons of the
throng, and they pressed closer round the cross, yet with held the
shout as yet which seemed gathering in their bosoms.

And again he said:

"Forsooth, too many rich men there are in this realm; and yet if there
were but one, there would be one too many, for all should be his
thralls. Hearken, then, ye men of Kent. For overlong belike have I
held you with words; but the love of you constrained me, and the joy
that a man hath to babble to his friends and his fellows whom he hath
not seen for a long season.

"Now, hearken, I bid you: To the rich men that eat up a realm there
cometh a time when they whom they eat up, that is the poor, seem
poorer than of wont, and their complaint goeth up louder to the
heavens; yet it is no riddle to say that oft at such times the
fellowship of the poor is waxing stronger, else would no man have
heard his cry. Also at such times is the rich man become fearful, and
so waxeth in cruelty, and of that cruelty do people misdeem that it is
power and might waxing. Forsooth, ye are stronger than your fathers,
because ye are more grieved than they, and ye should have been less
grieved than they had ye been horses and swine; and then, forsooth,
would ye have been stronger to bear; but ye, ye are not strong to
bear, but to do.

"And wot ye why we are come to you this fair eve of holiday? and wot
ye why I have been telling of fellowship to you? Yea, forsooth, I
deem ye wot well, that it is for this cause, that ye might bethink you
of your fellowship with the men of Essex."

His last word let loose the shout that had been long on all men's
lips, and great and fierce it was as it rang shattering through the
quiet upland village. But John Ball held up his hand, and the shout
was one and no more.

Then he spoke again:

"Men of Kent, I wot well that ye are not so hard bested as those of
other shires, by the token of the day when behind the screen of leafy
boughs ye met Duke William with bill and bow as he wended Londonward
from that woeful field of Senlac; but I have told of fellowship, and
ye have hearkened and understood what the Holy Church is, whereby ye
know that ye are fellows of the saints in heaven and the poor men of
Essex; and as one day the saints shall call you to the heavenly feast,
so now do the poor men call you to the battle.

"Men of Kent, ye dwell fairly here, and your houses are framed of
stout oak beams, and your own lands ye till; unless some accursed
lawyer with his false lying sheepskin and forged custom of the Devil's
Manor hath stolen it from you; but in Essex slaves they be and
villeins, and worse they shall be, and the lords swear that ere a year
be over ox and horse shall go free in Essex, and man and woman shall
draw the team and the plough; and north away in the east countries
dwell men in poor halls of wattled reeds and mud, and the north-east
wind from off the fen whistles through them; and poor they be to the
letter; and there him whom the lord spareth, the bailiff squeezeth,
and him whom the bailiff forgetteth, the Easterling Chapman sheareth;
yet be these stout men and valiant, and your very brethren.

"And yet if there be any man here so base as to think that a small
matter, let him look to it that if these necks abide under the yoke,
Kent shall sweat for it ere it be long; and ye shall lose acre and
close and woodland, and be servants in your own houses, and your sons
shall be the lords' lads, and your daughters their lemans, and ye
shall buy a bold word with many stripes, and an honest deed with a
leap from the gallows-tree.

"Bethink ye, too, that ye have no longer to deal with Duke William,
who, if he were a thief and a cruel lord, was yet a prudent man and a
wise warrior; but cruel are these, and headstrong, yea, thieves and
fools in one--and ye shall lay their heads in the dust."

A shout would have arisen again, but his eager voice rising higher
yet, restrained it as he said:

"And how shall it be then when these are gone? What else shall ye
lack when ye lack masters? Ye shall not lack for the fields ye have
tilled, nor the houses ye have built, nor the cloth ye have woven; all
these shall be yours, and whatso ye will of all that the earth
beareth; then shall no man mow the deep grass for another, while his
own kine lack cow-meat; and he that soweth shall reap, and the reaper
shall eat in fellowship the harvest that in fellowship he hath won;
and he that buildeth a house shall dwell in it with those that he
biddeth of his free will; and the tithe barn shall garner the wheat
for all men to eat of when the seasons are untoward, and the
rain-drift hideth the sheaves in August; and all shall be without
money and without price. Faithfully and merrily then shall all men
keep the holidays of the Church in peace of body and joy of heart.
And man shall help man, and the saints in heaven shall be glad,
because men no more fear each other; and the churl shall be ashamed,
and shall hide his churlishness till it be gone, and he be no more a
churl; and fellowship shall be established in heaven and on the



He left off as one who had yet something else to say; and, indeed, I
thought he would give us some word as to the trysting-place, and
whither the army was to go from it; because it was now clear to me
that this gathering was but a band of an army. But much happened
before John Ball spoke again from the cross, and it was on this wise.

When there was silence after the last shout that the crowd had raised
a while ago, I thought I heard a thin sharp noise far away, somewhat
to the north of the cross, which I took rather for the sound of a
trumpet or horn, than for the voice of a man or any beast. Will Green
also seemed to have heard it, for he turned his head sharply and then
back again, and looked keenly into the crowd as though seeking to
catch some one's eye. There was a very tall man standing by the
prisoner on the horse near the outskirts of the crowd, and holding his
bridle. This man, who was well-armed, I saw look up and say something
to the prisoner, who stooped down and seemed to whisper him in turn.
The tall man nodded his head and the prisoner got off his horse, which
was a cleaner-limbed, better-built beast than the others belonging to
the band, and the tall man quietly led him a little way from the
crowd, mounted him, and rode off northward at a smart pace.

Will Green looked on sharply at all this, and when the man rode off,
smiled as one who is content, and deems that all is going well, and
settled himself down again to listen to the priest.

But now when John Ball had ceased speaking, and after another shout,
and a hum of excited pleasure and hope that followed it, there was
silence again, and as the priest addressed himself to speaking once
more, he paused and turned his head towards the wind, as if he heard
something, which certainly I heard, and belike every one in the
throng, though it was not over-loud, far as sounds carry in clear
quiet evenings. It was the thump-a-thump of a horse drawing near at a
hand-gallop along the grassy upland road; and I knew well it was the
tall man coming back with tidings, the purport of which I could well

I looked up at Will Green's face. He was smiling as one pleased, and
said softly as he nodded to me, "Yea, shall we see the grey-goose fly
this eve?"

But John Ball said in a great voice from the cross, "Hear ye the
tidings on the way, fellows! Hold ye together and look to your gear;
yet hurry not, for no great matter shall this be. I wot well there is
little force between Canterbury and Kingston, for the lords are
looking north of Thames toward Wat Tyler and his men. Yet well it is,
well it is!"

The crowd opened and spread out a little, and the men moved about in
it, some tightening a girdle, some getting their side arms more within
reach of their right hands, and those who had bows stringing them.

Will Green set hand and foot to the great shapely piece of polished
red yew, with its shining horn tips, which he carried, and bent it
with no seeming effort; then he reached out his hand over his shoulder
and drew out a long arrow, smooth, white, beautifully balanced, with a
barbed iron head at one end, a horn nock and three strong goose
feathers at the other. He held it loosely between the finger and
thumb of his right hand, and there he stood with a thoughtful look on
his face, and in his hands one of the most terrible weapons which a
strong man has ever carried, the English long-bow and cloth-yard

But all this while the sound of the horse's hoofs was growing nearer,
and presently from the corner of the road amidst the orchards broke
out our long friend, his face red in the sun near sinking now. He
waved his right hand as he came in sight of us, and sang out, "Bills
and bows! bills and bows!" and the whole throng turned towards him and
raised a great shout.

He reined up at the edge of the throng, and spoke in a loud voice, so
that all might hear him:

"Fellows, these are the tidings; even while our priest was speaking we
heard a horn blow far off; so I bade the sergeant we have taken, and
who is now our fellow-in-arms, to tell me where away it was that there
would be folk a-gathering, and what they were; and he did me to wit
that mayhappen Sir John Newton was stirring from Rochester Castle; or,
maybe, it was the sheriff and Rafe Hopton with him; so I rode off what
I might towards Hartlip, and I rode warily, and that was well, for as
I came through a little wood between Hartlip and Guildstead, I saw
beyond it a gleam of steel, and lo in the field there a company, and a
pennon of Rafe Hopton's arms, and that is blue and thereon three
silver fish: and a pennon of the sheriff's arms, and that is a green
tree; and withal another pennon of three red kine, and whose they be I
know not.[1]

[1] Probably one of the Calverlys, a Cheshire family, one of whom was
a noted captain in the French wars.

"There tied I my horse in the middle of the wood, and myself I crept
along the dyke to see more and to hear somewhat; and no talk I heard
to tell of save at whiles a big knight talking to five or six others,
and saying somewhat, wherein came the words London and Nicholas
Bramber, and King Richard; but I saw that of men-at-arms and sergeants
there might be a hundred, and of bows not many, but of those outland
arbalests maybe a fifty; and so, what with one and another of servants
and tipstaves and lads, some three hundred, well armed, and the
men-at-arms of the best. Forsooth, my masters, there had I been but a
minute, ere the big knight broke off his talk, and cried out to the
music to blow up, 'And let us go look on these villeins,' said he; and
withal the men began to gather in a due and ordered company, and their
faces turned hitherward; forsooth, I got to my horse, and led him out
of the wood on the other side, and so to saddle and away along the
green roads; neither was I seen or chased. So look ye to it, my
masters, for these men will be coming to speak with us; nor is there
need for haste, but rather for good speed; for in some twenty or
thirty minutes will be more tidings to hand."

By this time one of our best-armed men had got through the throng and
was standing on the cross beside John Ball. When the long man had
done, there was confused noise of talk for a while, and the throng
spread itself out more and more, but not in a disorderly manner; the
bowmen drawing together toward the outside, and the billmen forming
behind them. Will Green was still standing beside me and had hold of
my arm, as though he knew both where he and I were to go.

"Fellows," quoth the captain from the cross, "belike this stour shall
not live to be older than the day, if ye get not into a plump together
for their arbalestiers to shoot bolts into, and their men-at-arms to
thrust spears into. Get you to the edge of the crofts and spread out
there six feet between man and man, and shoot, ye bowmen, from the
hedges, and ye with the staves keep your heads below the level of the
hedges, or else for all they be thick a bolt may win its way in."

He grinned as he said this, and there was laughter enough in the
throng to have done honour to a better joke.

Then he sung out, "Hob Wright, Rafe Wood, John Pargetter, and thou
Will Green, bestir ye and marshal the bowshot; and thou Nicholas
Woodyer shall be under me Jack Straw in ordering of the staves.
Gregory Tailor and John Clerk, fair and fine are ye clad in the arms
of the Canterbury bailiffs; ye shall shine from afar; go ye with the
banner into the highway, and the bows on either side shall ward you;
yet jump, lads, and over the hedge with you when the bolts begin to
fly your way! Take heed, good fellows all, that our business is to
bestride the highway, and not let them get in on our flank the while;
so half to the right, half to the left of the highway. Shoot straight
and strong, and waste no breath with noise; let the loose of the
bowstring cry for you! and look you! think it no loss of manhood to
cover your bodies with tree and bush; for one of us who know is worth
a hundred of those proud fools. To it, lads, and let them see what
the grey goose bears between his wings! Abide us here, brother John
Ball, and pray for us if thou wilt; but for me, if God will not do for
Jack Straw what Jack Straw would do for God were he in like case, I
can see no help for it."

"Yea, forsooth," said the priest, "here will I abide you my fellows if
ye come back; or if ye come not back, here will I abide the foe.
Depart, and the blessing of the Fellowship be with you."

Down then leapt Jack Straw from the cross, and the whole throng set
off without noise or hurry, soberly and steadily in outward seeming.
Will Green led me by the hand as if I were a boy, yet nothing he said,
being forsooth intent on his charge. We were some four hundred men in
all; but I said to myself that without some advantage of the ground we
were lost men before the men-at-arms that long Gregory Tailor had told
us of; for I had not seen as yet the yard-long shaft at its work.

We and somewhat more than half of our band turned into the orchards on
the left of the road, through which the level rays of the low sun
shone brightly. The others took up their position on the right side
of it. We kept pretty near to the road till we had got through all
the closes save the last, where we were brought up by a hedge and a
dyke, beyond which lay a wide-open nearly treeless space, not of
tillage, as at the other side of the place, but of pasture, the common
grazing ground of the township. A little stream wound about through
the ground, with a few willows here and there; there was only a thread
of water in it in this hot summer tide, but its course could easily be
traced by the deep blue-green of the rushes that grew plenteously in
the bed. Geese were lazily wandering about and near this brook, and a
herd of cows, accompanied by the town bull, were feeding on quietly,
their heads all turned one way; while half a dozen calves marched
close together side by side like a plump of soldiers, their tails
swinging in a kind of measure to keep off the flies, of which there
was great plenty. Three or four lads and girls were sauntering about,
heeding or not heeding the cattle. They looked up toward us as we
crowded into the last close, and slowly loitered off toward the
village. Nothing looked like battle; yet battle sounded in the air;
for now we heard the beat of the horse-hoofs of the men-at-arms coming
on towards us like the rolling of distant thunder, and growing louder
and louder every minute; we were none too soon in turning to face
them. Jack Straw was on our side of the road, and with a few gestures
and a word or two he got his men into their places. Six archers lined
the hedge along the road where the banner of Adam and Eve, rising
above the grey leaves of the apple-trees, challenged the new-comers;
and of the billmen also he kept a good few ready to guard the road in
case the enemy should try to rush it with the horsemen. The road, not
being a Roman one, was, you must remember, little like the firm smooth
country roads that you are used to; it was a mere track between the
hedges and fields, partly grass-grown, and cut up by the deep-sunk
ruts hardened by the drought of summer. There was a stack of fagot
and small wood on the other side, and our men threw themselves upon it
and set to work to stake the road across for a rough defence against
the horsemen.

What befell more on the road itself I had not much time to note, for
our bowmen spread themselves out along the hedge that looked into the
pasture-field, leaving some six feet between man and man; the rest of
the billmen went along with the bowmen, and halted in clumps of some
half-dozen along their line, holding themselves ready to help the
bowmen if the enemy should run up under their shafts, or to run on to
lengthen the line in case they should try to break in on our flank.
The hedge in front of us was of quick. It had been strongly plashed
in the past February, and was stiff and stout. It stood on a low
bank; moreover, the level of the orchard was some thirty inches higher
than that of the field and the ditch some two foot deeper than the
face of the field. The field went winding round to beyond the church,
making a quarter of a circle about the village, and at the western end
of it were the butts whence the folk were coming from shooting when I
first came into the village street.

Altogether, to me who knew nothing of war the place seemed defensible
enough. I have said that the road down which Long Gregory came with
his tidings went north; and that was its general direction; but its
first reach was nearly east, so that the low sun was not in the eyes
of any of us, and where Will Green took his stand, and I with him, it
was nearly at our backs.



Our men had got into their places leisurely and coolly enough, and
with no lack of jesting and laughter. As we went along the hedge by
the road, the leaders tore off leafy twigs from the low oak bushes
therein, and set them for a rallying sign in their hats and
headpieces, and two or three of them had horns for blowing.

Will Green, when he got into his place, which was thirty yards from
where Jack Straw and the billmen stood in the corner of the two
hedges, the road hedge and the hedge between the close and field,
looked to right and left of him a moment, then turned to the man on
the left and said:

"Look you, mate, when you hear our horns blow ask no more questions,
but shoot straight and strong at whatso cometh towards us, till ye
hear more tidings from Jack Straw or from me. Pass that word onward."

Then he looked at me and said:

"Now, lad from Essex, thou hadst best sit down out of the way at once:
forsooth I wot not why I brought thee hither. Wilt thou not back to
the cross, for thou art little of a fighting-man?"

"Nay," said I, "I would see the play. What shall come of it?"

"Little," said he; "we shall slay a horse or twain maybe. I will tell
thee, since thou hast not seen a fight belike, as I have seen some,
that these men-at-arms cannot run fast either to the play or from it,
if they be a-foot; and if they come on a-horseback, what shall hinder
me to put a shaft into the poor beast? But down with thee on the
daisies, for some shot there will be first."

As he spoke he was pulling off his belts and other gear, and his coat,
which done, he laid his quiver on the ground, girt him again, did his
axe and buckler on to his girdle, and hung up his other attire on the
nearest tree behind us. Then he opened his quiver and took out of it
some two dozen of arrows, which he stuck in the ground beside him
ready to his hand. Most of the bowmen within sight were doing the

As I glanced toward the houses I saw three or four bright figures
moving through the orchards, and presently noted that they were women,
all clad more or less like the girl in the Rose, except that two of
them wore white coifs on their heads. Their errand there was clear,
for each carried a bundle of arrows under her arm.

One of them came straight up to Will Green, and I could see at once
that she was his daughter. She was tall and strongly made, with black
hair like her father, somewhat comely, though no great beauty; but as
they met, her eyes smiled even more than her mouth, and made her face
look very sweet and kind, and the smile was answered back in a way so
quaintly like to her father's face, that I too smiled for goodwill and

"Well, well, lass," said he, "dost thou think that here is Crecy field
toward, that ye bring all this artillery? Turn back, my girl, and set
the pot on the fire; for that shall we need when we come home, I and
this ballad-maker here."

"Nay," she said, nodding kindly at me, "if this is to be no Crecy,
then may I stop to see, as well as the ballad-maker, since he hath
neither sword nor staff?"

"Sweetling," he said, "get thee home in haste. This play is but
little, yet mightest thou be hurt in it; and trust me the time may
come, sweetheart, when even thou and such as thou shalt hold a sword
or a staff. Ere the moon throws a shadow we shall be back."

She turned away lingering, not without tears on her face, laid the
sheaf of arrows at the foot of the tree, and hastened off through the
orchard. I was going to say something, when Will Green held up his
hand as who would bid us hearken. The noise of the horse-hoofs, after
growing nearer and nearer, had ceased suddenly, and a confused murmur
of voices had taken the place of it.

"Get thee down, and take cover, old lad," said Will Green; "the dance
will soon begin, and ye shall hear the music presently."

Sure enough as I slipped down by the hedge close to which I had been
standing, I heard the harsh twang of the bow-strings, one, two, three,
almost together, from the road, and even the whew of the shafts,
though that was drowned in a moment by a confused but loud and
threatening shout from the other side, and again the bowstrings
clanged, and this time a far-off clash of arms followed, and
therewithal that cry of a strong man that comes without his will, and
is so different from his wonted voice that one has a guess thereby of
the change that death is. Then for a while was almost silence; nor
did our horns blow up, though some half-dozen of the billmen had leapt
into the road when the bows first shot. But presently came a great
blare of trumpets and horns from the other side, and therewith as it
were a river of steel and bright coats poured into the field before
us, and still their horns blew as they spread out toward the left of
our line; the cattle in the pasture-field, heretofore feeding quietly,
seemed frightened silly by the sudden noise, and ran about tail in air
and lowing loudly; the old bull with his head a little lowered, and
his stubborn legs planted firmly, growling threateningly; while the
geese about the brook waddled away gobbling and squeaking; all which
seemed so strange to us along with the threat of sudden death that
rang out from the bright array over against us, that we laughed
outright, the most of us, and Will Green put down his head in mockery
of the bull and grunted like him, whereat we laughed yet more. He
turned round to me as he nocked his arrow, and said:

"I would they were just fifty paces nigher, and they move not. Ho!
Jack Straw, shall we shoot?"

For the latter-named was nigh us now; he shook his head and said
nothing as he stood looking at the enemy's line.

"Fear not but they are the right folk, Jack," quoth Will Green.

"Yea, yea," said he, "but abide awhile; they could make nought of the
highway, and two of their sergeants had a message from the grey-goose
feather. Abide, for they have not crossed the road to our right hand,
and belike have not seen our fellows on the other side, who are now
for a bushment to them."

I looked hard at the man. He was a tall, wiry, and broad-shouldered
fellow, clad in a handsome armour of bright steel that certainly had
not been made for a yeoman, but over it he had a common linen
smock-frock or gabardine, like our field workmen wear now or used to
wear, and in his helmet he carried instead of a feather a wisp of
wheaten straw. He bore a heavy axe in his hand besides the sword he
was girt with, and round his neck hung a great horn for blowing. I
should say that I knew that there were at least three "Jack Straws"
among the fellowship of the discontented, one of whom was over in

As we waited there, every bowman with his shaft nocked on the string,
there was a movement in the line opposite, and presently came from it
a little knot of three men, the middle one on horseback, the other two
armed with long-handled glaives; all three well muffled up in armour.
As they came nearer I could see that the horseman had a tabard over
his armour, gaily embroidered with a green tree on a gold ground, and
in his hand a trumpet.

"They are come to summon us. Wilt thou that he speak, Jack?" said
Will Green.

"Nay," said the other; "yet shall he have warning first. Shoot when
my horn blows!"

And therewith he came up to the hedge, climbed over, slowly because of
his armour, and stood some dozen yards out in the field. The man on
horseback put his trumpet to his mouth and blew a long blast, and then
took a scroll into his hand and made as if he were going to read; but
Jack Straw lifted up his voice and cried out:

"Do it not, or thou art but dead! We will have no accursed lawyers
and their sheep-skins here! Go back to those that sent thee----"

But the man broke in in a loud harsh voice:

"Ho! YE PEOPLE! what will ye gathering in arms?"

Then cried Jack Straw:

"Sir Fool, hold your peace till ye have heard me, or else we shoot at
once. Go back to those that sent thee, and tell them that we free men
of Kent are on the way to London to speak with King Richard, and to
tell him that which he wots not; to wit, that there is a certain sort
of fools and traitors to the realm who would put collars on our necks
and make beasts of us, and that it is his right and his devoir to do
as he swore when he was crowned and anointed at Westminster on the
Stone of Doom, and gainsay these thieves and traitors; and if he be
too weak, then shall we help him; and if he will not be king, then
shall we have one who will be, and that is the King's Son of Heaven.
Now, therefore, if any withstand us on our lawful errand as we go to
speak with our own king and lord, let him look to it. Bear back this
word to them that sent thee. But for thee, hearken, thou bastard of
an inky sheep-skin! get thee gone and tarry not; three times shall I
lift up my hand, and the third time look to thyself, for then shalt
thou hear the loose of our bowstrings, and after that nought else till
thou hearest the devil bidding thee welcome to hell!"

Our fellows shouted, but the summoner began again, yet in a quavering

"Ho! YE PEOPLE! what will ye gathering in arms? Wot ye not that ye
are doing or shall do great harm, loss, and hurt to the king's

He stopped; Jack Straw's hand was lowered for the second time. He
looked to his men right and left, and then turned rein and turned
tail, and scuttled back to the main body at his swiftest. Huge
laughter rattled out all along our line as Jack Straw climbed back
into the orchard grinning also.

Then we noted more movement in the enemy's line. They were spreading
the archers and arbalestiers to our left, and the men-at-arms and
others also spread some, what under the three pennons of which Long
Gregory had told us, and which were plain enough to us in the dear
evening. Presently the moving line faced us, and the archers set off
at a smart pace toward us, the men-at-arms holding back a little
behind them. I knew now that they had been within bowshot all along,
but our men were loth to shoot before their first shots would tell,
like those half-dozen in the road when, as they told me afterwards, a
plump of their men-at-arms had made a show of falling on.

But now as soon as those men began to move on us directly in face,
Jack Straw put his horn to his lips and blew a loud rough blast that
was echoed by five or six others along the orchard hedge. Every man
had his shaft nocked on the string; I watched them, and Will Green
specially; he and his bow and its string seemed all of a piece, so
easily by seeming did he draw the nock of the arrow to his ear. A
moment, as he took his aim, and then--O then did I understand the
meaning of the awe with which the ancient poet speaks of the loose of
the god Apollo's bow; for terrible indeed was the mingled sound of the
twanging bowstring and the whirring shaft so close to me.

I was now on my knees right in front of Will and saw all clearly; the
arbalestiers (for no long-bow men were over against our stead) had all
of them bright headpieces, and stout body-armour of boiled leather
with metal studs, and as they came towards us, I could see over their
shoulders great wooden shields hanging at their backs. Further to our
left their long-bow men had shot almost as soon as ours, and I heard
or seemed to hear the rush of the arrows through the apple-boughs and
a man's cry therewith; but with us the long-bow had been before the
cross-bow; one of the arbalestiers fell outright, his great shield
clattering down on him, and moved no more; while three others were hit
and were crawling to the rear. The rest had shouldered their bows and
were aiming, but I thought unsteadily; and before the triggers were
drawn again Will Green had nocked and loosed, and not a few others of
our folk; then came the wooden hail of the bolts rattling through the
boughs, but all overhead and no one hit.

The next time Will Green nocked his arrow he drew with a great shout,
which all our fellows took up; for the arbalestiers instead of turning
about in their places covered by their great shields and winding up
their cross-bows for a second shot, as is the custom of such soldiers,
ran huddling together toward their men-at-arms, our arrows driving
thump-thump into their shields as they ran: I saw four lying on the
field dead or sore wounded.

But our archers shouted again, and kept on each plucking the arrows
from the ground, and nocking and loosing swiftly but deliberately at
the line before them; indeed now was the time for these terrible
bowmen, for as Will Green told me afterwards they always reckoned to
kill through cloth or leather at five hundred yards, and they had let
the cross-bow men come nearly within three hundred, and these were now
all mingled and muddled up with the men-at-arms at scant five hundred
yards' distance; and belike, too, the latter were not treating them
too well, but seemed to be belabouring them with their spear-staves in
their anger at the poorness of the play; so that as Will Green said it
was like shooting at hay-ricks.

All this you must understand lasted but a few minutes, and when our
men had been shooting quite coolly, like good workmen at peaceful
work, for a few minutes more, the enemy's line seemed to clear
somewhat; the pennon with the three red kine showed in front and three
men armed from head to foot in gleaming steel, except for their short
coats bright with heraldry, were with it. One of them (and he bore the
three kine on his coat) turned round and gave some word of command,
and an angry shout went up from them, and they came on steadily
towards us, the man with the red kine on his coat leading them, a
great naked sword in his hand: you must note that they were all on
foot; but as they drew nearer I saw their horses led by grooms and
pages coming on slowly behind them.

Sooth said Will Green that the men-at-arms run not fast either to or
fro the fray; they came on no faster than a hasty walk, their arms
clashing about them and the twang of the bows and whistle of the
arrows never failing all the while, but going on like the push of the
westerly gale, as from time to time the men-at-arms shouted, "Ha! ha!
out! out! Kentish thieves!"

But when they began to fall on, Jack Straw shouted out, "Bills to the
field! bills to the field!"

Then all our billmen ran up and leapt over the hedge into the meadow
and stood stoutly along the ditch under our bows, Jack Straw in the
forefront handling his great axe. Then he cast it into his left hand,
caught up his horn and winded it loudly. The men-at-arms drew near
steadily, some fell under the arrow-storm, but not a many; for though
the target was big, it was hard, since not even the cloth-yard shaft
could pierce well-wrought armour of plate, and there was much armour
among them. Withal the arbalestiers were shooting again, but high and
at a venture, so they did us no hurt.

But as these soldiers made wise by the French war were now drawing
near, and our bowmen were casting down their bows and drawing their
short swords, or handling their axes, as did Will Green, muttering,
"Now must Hob Wright's gear end this play"--while this was a-doing,
lo, on a sudden a flight of arrows from our right on the flank of the
sergeants' array, which stayed them somewhat; not because it slew many
men, but because they began to bethink them that their foes were many
and all around them; then the road-hedge on the right seemed alive
with armed men, for whatever could hold sword or staff amongst us was
there; every bowman also leapt our orchard-hedge sword or axe in hand,
and with a great shout, billmen, archers, and all, ran in on them;
half-armed, yea, and half-naked some of them; strong and stout and
lithe and light withal, the wrath of battle and the hope of better
times lifting up their hearts till nothing could withstand them. So
was all mingled together, and for a minute or two was a confused
clamour over which rose a clatter like the riveting of iron plates, or
the noise of the street of coppersmiths at Florence; then the throng
burst open and the steel-clad sergeants and squires and knights ran
huddling and shuffling towards their horses; but some cast down their
weapons and threw up their hands and cried for peace and ransom; and
some stood and fought desperately, and slew some till they were
hammered down by many strokes, and of these were the bailiffs and
tipstaves, and the lawyers and their men, who could not run and hoped
for no mercy.

I looked as on a picture and wondered, and my mind was at strain to
remember something forgotten, which yet had left its mark on it. I
heard the noise of the horse-hoofs of the fleeing men-at-arms (the
archers and arbalestiers had scattered before the last minutes of the
play), I heard the confused sound of laughter and rejoicing down in
the meadow, and close by me the evening wind lifting the lighter twigs
of the trees, and far away the many noises of the quiet country, till
light and sound both began to fade from me and I saw and heard

I leapt up to my feet presently and there was Will Green before me as
I had first seen him in the street with coat and hood and the gear at
his girdle and his unstrung bow in his hand; his face smiling and kind
again, but maybe a thought sad.

"Well," quoth I, "what is the tale for the ballad-maker?"

"As Jack Straw said it would be," said he, "'the end of the day and
the end of the fray;'" and he pointed to the brave show of the sky
over the sunken sun; "the knights fled and the sheriff dead: two of
the lawyer kind slain afield, and one hanged: and cruel was he to make
them cruel: and three bailiffs knocked on the head--stout men, and so
witless, that none found their brains in their skulls; and five
arbalestiers and one archer slain, and a score and a half of others,
mostly men come back from the French wars, men of the Companions
there, knowing no other craft than fighting for gold; and this is the
end they are paid for. Well, brother, saving the lawyers who belike
had no souls, but only parchment deeds and libels of the same, God
rest their souls!"

He fell a-musing; but I said, "And of our Fellowship were any slain?"

"Two good men of the township," he said, "Hob Horner and Antony
Webber, were slain outright, Hob with a shaft and Antony in the
hand-play, and John Pargetter hurt very sore on the shoulder with a
glaive; and five more men of the Fellowship slain in the hand-play,
and some few hurt, but not sorely. And as to those slain, if God give
their souls rest it is well; for little rest they had on the earth
belike; but for me, I desire rest no more."

I looked at him and our eyes met with no little love; and I wondered
to see how wrath and grief within him were contending with the
kindness of the man, and how clear the tokens of it were in his face.

"Come now, old lad," said he, "for I deem that John Ball and Jack
Straw have a word to say to us at the cross yet, since these men broke
off the telling of the tale; there shall we know what we are to take
in hand to-morrow. And afterwards thou shalt eat and drink in my
house this once, if never again"

So we went through the orchard closes again; and others were about and
anigh us, all turned towards the cross as we went over the dewy grass,
whereon the moon was just beginning to throw shadows.



I got into my old place again on the steps of the cross, Will Green
beside me, and above me John Ball and Jack Straw again. The moon was
half-way up the heavens now, and the short summer night had begun,
calm and fragrant, with just so much noise outside our quiet circle as
made one feel the world alive and happy.

We waited silently until we had heard John Ball and the story of what
was to do; and presently he began to speak.

"Good people, it is begun, but not ended. Which of you is hardy
enough to wend the road to London to-morrow?"

"All! All!" they shouted.

"Yea," said he, "even so I deemed of you. Yet forsooth hearken!
London is a great and grievous city; and mayhappen when ye come
thither it shall seem to you overgreat to deal with, when ye remember
the little townships and the cots ye came from.

"Moreover, when ye dwell here in Kent ye think forsooth of your
brethren in Essex or Suffolk, and there belike an end. But from
London ye may have an inkling of all the world, and over-burdensome
maybe shall that seem to you, a few and a feeble people.

"Nevertheless I say to you, remember the Fellowship, in the hope of
which ye have this day conquered; and when ye come to London be wise
and wary; and that is as much as to say, be bold and hardy; for in
these days are ye building a house which shall not be overthrown, and
the world shall not be too great or too little to hold it: for indeed
it shall be the world itself, set free from evil-doers for friends to
dwell in."

He ceased awhile, but they hearkened still, as if something more was
coming. Then he said:

"To-morrow we shall take the road for Rochester; and most like it were
well to see what Sir John Newton in the castle may say to us: for the
man is no ill man, and hath a tongue well-shapen for words; and it
were well that we had him out of the castle and away with us, and that
we put a word in his mouth to say to the King. And wot ye well, good
fellows, that by then we come to Rochester we shall be a goodly
company, and ere we come to Blackheath a very great company; and at
London Bridge who shall stay our host?

"Therefore there is nought that can undo us except our own selves and
our hearkening to soft words from those who would slay us. They shall
bid us go home and abide peacefully with our wives and children while
they, the lords and councillors and lawyers, imagine counsel and
remedy for us; and even so shall our own folly bid us; and if we
hearken thereto we are undone indeed; for they shall fall upon our
peace with war, and our wives and children they shall take from us,
and some of us they shall hang, and some they shall scourge, and the
others shall be their yoke-beasts--yea, and worse, for they shall lack
meat more.

"To fools hearken not, whether they be yourselves or your foemen, for
either shall lead you astray.

"With the lords parley not, for ye know already what they would say to
you, and that is, 'Churl, let me bridle thee and saddle thee, and eat
thy livelihood that thou winnest, and call thee hard names because I
eat thee up; and for thee, speak not and do not, save as I bid thee.'

"All that is the end of their parleying.

"Therefore be ye bold, and again bold, and thrice bold! Grip the bow,
handle the staff, draw the sword, and set on in the name of the

He ended amid loud shouts; but straight-way answering shouts were
heard, and a great noise of the winding of horns, and I misdoubted a
new onslaught; and some of those in the throng began to string their
bows and handle their bills; but Will Green pulled me by the sleeve
and said:

"Friends are these by the winding of their horns; thou art quit for
this night, old lad." And then Jack Straw cried out from the cross:
"Fair and softly, my masters! These be men of our Fellowship, and are
for your guests this night; they are from the bents this side of
Medway, and are with us here because of the pilgrimage road, and that
is the best in these parts, and so the shortest to Rochester. And
doubt ye nothing of our being taken unawares this night; for I have
bidden and sent out watchers of the ways, and neither a man's son nor
a mare's son may come in on us without espial. Now make we our
friends welcome. Forsooth, I looked for them an hour later; and had
they come an hour earlier yet, some heads would now lie on the cold
grass which shall lie on a feather bed to-night. But let be, since
all is well!

"Now get we home to our houses, and eat and drink and slumber this
night, if never once again, amid the multitude of friends and fellows;
and yet soberly and without riot, since so much work is to hand.
Moreover the priest saith, bear ye the dead men, both friends and
foes, into the chancel of the church, and there this night he will
wake them: but after to-morrow let the dead abide to bury their dead!"

Therewith he leapt down from the cross, and Will and I bestirred
ourselves and mingled with the new-comers. They were some three
hundred strong, clad and armed in all ways like the people of our
township, except some half-dozen whose armour shone cold like ice
under the moonbeams. Will Green soon had a dozen of them by the
sleeve to come home with him to board and bed, and then I lost him for
some minutes, and turning about saw John Ball standing behind me,
looking pensively on all the stir and merry humours of the joyous

"Brother from Essex," said he, "shall I see thee again to-night? I
were fain of speech with thee; for thou seemest like one that has seen
more than most."

"Yea," said I, "if ye come to Will Green's house, for thither am I

"Thither shall I come," said he, smiling kindly, "or no man I know in
field. Lo you, Will Green looking for something, and that is me. But
in his house will be song and the talk of many friends; and forsooth I
have words in me that crave to come out in a quiet place where they
may have each one his own answer. If thou art not afraid of dead men
who were alive and wicked this morning, come thou to the church when
supper is done, and there we may talk all we will."

Will Green was standing beside us before he had done, with his hand
laid on the priest's shoulder, waiting till he had spoken out; and as
I nodded Yea to John Ball he said:

"Now, master priest, thou hast spoken enough this two or three hours,
and this my new brother must tell and talk in my house; and there my
maid will hear his wisdom which lay still under the hedge e'en now
when the bolts were abroad. So come ye, and ye good fellows, come!"

So we turned away together into the little street. But while John
Ball had been speaking to me I felt strangely, as though I had more
things to say than the words I knew could make clear: as if I wanted
to get from other people a new set of words. Moreover, as we passed up
the street again I was once again smitten with the great beauty of the
scene; the houses, the church with its new chancel and tower,
snow-white in the moonbeams now; the dresses and arms of the people,
men and women (for the latter were now mixed up with the men); their
grave sonorous language, and the quaint and measured forms of speech,
were again become a wonder to me and affected me almost to tears.



I walked along with the others musing as if I did not belong to them,
till we came to Will Green's house. He was one of the wealthier of
the yeomen, and his house was one of those I told you of, the lower
story of which was built of stone. It had not been built long, and
was very trim and neat. The fit of wonder had worn off me again by
then I reached it, or perhaps I should give you a closer description
of it, for it was a handsome yeoman's dwelling of that day, which is
as much as saying it was very beautiful. The house on the other side
of it, the last house in the village, was old or even ancient; all
built of stone, and except for a newer piece built on to it--a hall,
it seemed--had round arches, some of them handsomely carved. I knew
that this was the parson's house; but he was another sort of priest
than John Ball, and what for fear, what for hatred, had gone back to
his monastery with the two other chantrey priests who dwelt in that
house; so that the men of the township, and more especially the women,
were thinking gladly how John Ball should say mass in their new
chancel on the morrow.

Will Green's daughter was waiting for him at the door and gave him a
close and eager hug, and had a kiss to spare for each of us withal: a
strong girl she was, as I have said, and sweet and wholesome also.
She made merry with her father; yet it was easy to see that her heart
was in her mouth all along. There was a younger girl some twelve
summers old, and a lad of ten, who were easily to be known for his
children; an old woman also, who had her livelihood there, and helped
the household; and moreover three long young men, who came into the
house after we had sat down, to whom Will nodded kindly. They were
brisk lads and smart, but had been afield after the beasts that
evening, and had not seen the fray.

The room we came into was indeed the house, for there was nothing but
it on the ground floor, but a stair in the corner went up to the
chamber or loft above. It was much like the room at the Rose, but
bigger; the cupboard better wrought, and with more vessels on it, and
handsomer. Also the walls, instead of being panelled, were hung with
a coarse loosely-woven stuff of green worsted with birds and trees
woven into it. There were flowers in plenty stuck about the room,
mostly of the yellow blossoming flag or flower-de-luce, of which I had
seen plenty in all the ditches, but in the window near the door was a
pot full of those same white poppies I had seen when I first woke up;
and the table was all set forth with meat and drink, a big salt-cellar
of pewter in the middle, covered with a white cloth.

We sat down, the priest blessed the meat in the name of the Trinity,
and we crossed ourselves and fell to. The victual was plentiful of
broth and flesh-meat, and bread and cherries, so we ate and drank, and
talked lightly together when we were full.

Yet was not the feast so gay as might have been. Will Green had me to
sit next to him, and on the other side sat John Ball; but the priest
had grown somewhat distraught, and sat as one thinking of somewhat
that was like to escape his thought. Will Green looked at his
daughter from time to time, and whiles his eyes glanced round the fair
chamber as one who loved it, and his kind face grew sad, yet never
sullen. When the herdsmen came into the hall they fell straightway to
asking questions concerning those of the Fellowship who had been slain
in the fray, and of their wives and children; so that for a while
thereafter no man cared to jest, for they were a neighbourly and kind
folk, and were sorry both for the dead, and also for the living that
should suffer from that day's work.

So then we sat silent awhile. The unseen moon was bright over the
roof of the house, so that outside all was gleaming bright save the
black shadows, though the moon came not into the room, and the white
wall of the tower was the whitest and the brightest thing we could

Wide open were the windows, and the scents of the fragrant night
floated in upon us, and the sounds of the men at their meat or making
merry about the township; and whiles we heard the gibber of an owl
from the trees westward of the church, and the sharp cry of a
blackbird made fearful by the prowling stoat, or the far-off lowing of
a cow from the upland pastures; or the hoofs of a horse trotting on
the pilgrimage road (and one of our watchers would that be).

Thus we sat awhile, and once again came that feeling over me of wonder
and pleasure at the strange and beautiful sights, mingled with the
sights and sounds and scents beautiful indeed, yet not strange, but
rather long familiar to me.

But now Will Green started in his seat where he sat with his daughter
hanging over his chair, her hand amidst his thick black curls, and she
weeping softly, I thought; and his rough strong voice broke the

"Why, lads and neighbours, what ails us? If the knights who fled from
us this eve were to creep back hither and look in at the window, they
would deem that they had slain us after all, and that we were but the
ghosts of the men who fought them. Yet, forsooth, fair it is at
whiles to sit with friends and let the summer night speak for us and
tell us its tales. But now, sweetling, fetch the mazer and the wine."

"Forsooth," said John Ball, "if ye laugh not over-much now, ye shall
laugh the more on the morrow of to-morrow, as ye draw nearer to the
play of point and edge."

"That is sooth," said one of the upland guests. "So it was seen in
France when we fought there; and the eve of fight was sober and the
morn was merry."

"Yea," said another, "but there, forsooth, it was for nothing ye
fought; and to-morrow it shall be for a fair reward."

"It was for life we fought," said the first.

"Yea," said the second, "for life; and leave to go home and find the
lawyers at their fell game. Ho, Will Green, call a health over the

For now Will Green had a bowl of wine in his hand. He stood up and
said: "Here, now, I call a health to the wrights of Kent who be
turning our plough-shares into swords and our pruning-hooks into
spears! Drink around, my masters!"

Then he drank, and his daughter filled the bowl brimming again and he
passed it to me. As I took it I saw that it was of light polished
wood curiously speckled, with a band of silver round it, on which was
cut the legend, "In the name of the Trinity fill the cup and drink to
me." And before I drank, it came upon me to say, "To-morrow, and the
fair days afterwards!"

Then I drank a great draught of the strong red wine, and passed it on;
and every man said something over it, as "The road to London Bridge!"
"Hob Carter and his mate!" and so on, till last of all John Ball
drank, saying:

"Ten years hence, and the freedom of the Fellowship!" Then he said to
Will Green: "Now, Will, must I needs depart to go and wake the dead,
both friend and foe in the church yonder; and whoso of you will be
shriven let him come to me thither in the morn, nor spare for as
little after sunrise as it may be. And this our friend and brother
from over the water of Thames, he hath will to talk with me and I with
him; so now will I take him by the hand: and so God keep you,

I rose to meet him as he came round the head of the table, and took
his hand. Will Green turned round to me and said:

"Thou wilt come back again timely, old lad; for betimes on the morrow
must we rise if we shall dine at Rochester."

I stammered as I yea-said him; for John Ball was looking strangely at
me with a half-smile, and my heart beat anxiously and fearfully: but
we went quietly to the door and so out into the bright moonlight.

I lingered a little when we had passed the threshold, and looked back
at the yellow-lighted window and the shapes of the men that I saw
therein with a grief and longing that I could not give myself a reason
for, since I was to come back so soon. John Ball did not press me to
move forward, but held up his hand as if to bid me hearken. The folk
and guests there had already shaken themselves down since our
departure, and were gotten to be reasonably merry it seemed; for one
of the guests, he who had spoken of France before, had fallen to
singing a ballad of the war to a wild and melancholy tune. I remember
the first rhymes of it, which I heard as I turned away my head and we
moved on toward the church:

"On a fair field of France
We fought on a morning
So lovely as it lieth
Along by the water.
There was many a lord there
Mowed men in the medley,
'Midst the banners of the barons
And bold men of the knighthood,
And spearmen and sergeants
And shooters of the shaft."



We entered the church through the south porch under a round-arched
door carved very richly, and with a sculpture over the doorway and
under the arch, which, as far as I could see by the moonlight, figured
St. Michael and the Dragon. As I came into the rich gloom of the nave
I noticed for the first time that I had one of those white poppies in
my hand; I must have taken it out of the pot by the window as I passed
out of Will Green's house.

The nave was not very large, but it looked spacious too; it was
somewhat old, but well-built and handsome; the roof of curved wooden
rafters with great tie-beams going from wall to wall. There was no
light in it but that of the moon streaming through the windows, which
were by no means large, and were glazed with white fretwork, with here
and there a little figure in very deep rich colours. Two larger
windows near the east end of each aisle had just been made so that the
church grew lighter toward the east, and I could see all the work on
the great screen between the nave and chancel which glittered bright
in new paint and gilding: a candle glimmered in the loft above it,
before the huge rood that filled up the whole space between the loft
and the chancel arch. There was an altar at the east end of each
aisle, the one on the south side standing against the outside wall,
the one on the north against a traceried gaily-painted screen, for
that aisle ran on along the chancel. There were a few oak benches
near this second altar, seemingly just made, and well carved and
moulded; otherwise the floor of the nave, which was paved with a
quaint pavement of glazed tiles like the crocks I had seen outside as
to ware, was quite clear, and the shafts of the arches rose out of it
white and beautiful under the moon as though out of a sea, dark but
with gleams struck over it.

The priest let me linger and look round, when he had crossed himself
and given me the holy water; and then I saw that the walls were
figured all over with stories, a huge St. Christopher with his black
beard looking like Will Green, being close to the porch by which we
entered, and above the chancel arch the Doom of the last Day, in which
the painter had not spared either kings or bishops, and in which a
lawyer with his blue coif was one of the chief figures in the group
which the Devil was hauling off to hell.

"Yea," said John Ball, "'tis a goodly church and fair as you may see
'twixt Canterbury and London as for its kind; and yet do I misdoubt me
where those who are dead are housed, and where those shall house them
after they are dead, who built this house for God to dwell in. God
grant they be cleansed at last; forsooth one of them who is now alive
is a foul swine and a cruel wolf. Art thou all so sure, scholar, that
all such have souls? and if it be so, was it well done of God to make
them? I speak to thee thus, for I think thou art no delator; and if
thou be, why should I heed it, since I think not to come back from
this journey."

I looked at him and, as it were, had some ado to answer him; but I
said at last, "Friend, I never saw a soul, save in the body; I cannot

He crossed himself and said, "Yet do I intend that ere many days are
gone by my soul shall be in bliss among the fellowship of the saints,
and merry shall it be, even before my body rises from the dead; for
wisely I have wrought in the world, and I wot well of friends that are
long ago gone from the world, as St. Martin, and St. Francis, and St.
Thomas of Canterbury, who shall speak well of me to the heavenly
Fellowship, and I shall in no wise lose my reward."

I looked shyly at him as he spoke; his face looked sweet and calm and
happy, and I would have said no word to grieve him; and yet belike my
eyes looked wonder on him: he seemed to note it and his face grew
puzzled. "How deemest thou of these things?" said he: "why do men die
else, if it be otherwise than this?"

I smiled: "Why then do they live?" said I.

Even in the white moonlight I saw his face flush, and he cried out in
a great voice, "To do great deeds or to repent them that they ever
were born." "Yea," said I, "they live to live because the world
liveth." He stretched out his hand to me and grasped mine, but said
no more; and went on till we came to the door in the rood-screen; then
he turned to me with his hand on the ring-latch, and said, "Hast thou
seen many dead men?"

"Nay, but few," said I.

"And I a many," said he; "but come now and look on these, our friends
first and then our foes, so that ye may not look to see them while we
sit and talk of the days that are to be on the earth before the Day of
Doom cometh."

So he opened the door, and we went into the chancel; a light burned on
the high altar before the host, and looked red and strange in the
moonlight that came through the wide traceried windows unstained by
the pictures and beflowerings of the glazing; there were new stalls
for the priests and vicars where we entered, carved more abundantly
and beautifully than any of the woodwork I had yet seen, and
everywhere was rich and fair colour and delicate and dainty form. Our
dead lay just before the high altar on low biers, their faces all
covered with linen cloths, for some of them had been sore smitten and
hacked in the fray. We went up to them and John Ball took the cloth
from the face of one; he had been shot to the heart with a shaft and
his face was calm and smooth. He had been a young man fair and
comely, with hair flaxen almost to whiteness; he lay there in his
clothes as he had fallen, the hands crossed over his breast and
holding a rush cross. His bow lay on one side of him, his quiver of
shafts and his sword on the other.

John Ball spake to me while he held the corner of the sheet: "What
sayest thou, scholar? feelest thou sorrow of heart when thou lookest
on this, either for the man himself, or for thyself and the time when
thou shalt be as he is?"

I said, "Nay, I feel no sorrow for this; for the man is not here: this
is an empty house, and the master has gone from it. Forsooth, this to
me is but as a waxen image of a man; nay, not even that, for if it
were an image, it would be an image of the man as he was when he was
alive. But here is no life nor semblance of life, and I am not moved
by it; nay, I am more moved by the man's clothes and war-gear--there
is more life in them than in him."

"Thou sayest sooth," said he; "but sorrowest thou not for thine own
death when thou lookest on him?"

I said, "And how can I sorrow for that which I cannot so much as think
of? Bethink thee that while I am alive I cannot think that I shall
die, or believe in death at all, although I know well that I shall
die--I can but think of myself as living in some new way."

Again he looked on me as if puzzled; then his face cleared as he said,
"Yea, forsooth, and that is what the Church meaneth by death, and even
that I look for; and that hereafter I shall see all the deeds that I
have done in the body, and what they really were, and what shall come
of them; and ever shall I be a member of the Church, and that is the
Fellowship; then, even as now."

I sighed as he spoke; then I said, "Yea, somewhat in this fashion have
most of men thought, since no man that is can conceive of not being;
and I mind me that in those stories of the old Danes, their common
word for a man dying is to say, 'He changed his life.'"

"And so deemest thou?"

I shook my head and said nothing.

"What hast thou to say hereon?" said he, "for there seemeth something
betwixt us twain as it were a wall that parteth us."

"This," said I, "that though I die and end, yet mankind yet liveth,
therefore I end not, since I am a man; and even so thou deemest, good
friend; or at the least even so thou doest, since now thou art ready
to die in grief and torment rather than be unfaithful to the
Fellowship, yea rather than fail to work thine utmost for it; whereas,
as thou thyself saidst at the cross, with a few words spoken and a
little huddling-up of the truth, with a few pennies paid, and a few
masses sung, thou mightest have had a good place on this earth and in
that heaven. And as thou doest, so now doth many a poor man unnamed
and unknown, and shall do while the world lasteth: and they that do
less than this, fail because of fear, and are ashamed of their
cowardice, and make many tales to themselves to deceive themselves,
lest they should grow too much ashamed to live. And trust me if this
were not so, the world would not live, but would die, smothered by its
own stink. Is the wall betwixt us gone, friend?"

He smiled as he looked at me, kindly, but sadly and shamefast, and
shook his head.

Then in a while he said, "Now ye have seen the images of those who
were our friends, come and see the images of those who were once our

So he led the way through the side screen into the chancel aisle, and
there on the pavement lay the bodies of the foemen, their weapons
taken from them and they stripped of their armour, but not otherwise
of their clothes, and their faces mostly, but not all, covered. At
the east end of the aisle was another altar, covered with a rich cloth
beautifully figured, and on the wall over it was a deal of tabernacle
work, in the midmost niche of it an image painted and gilt of a gay
knight on horseback, cutting his own cloak in two with his sword to
give a cantle of it to a half-naked beggar. "Knowest thou any of these
men?" said I.

He said, "Some I should know, could I see their faces; but let them

"Were they evil men?" said I.

"Yea," he said, "some two or three. But I will not tell thee of them;
let St. Martin, whose house this is, tell their story if he will. As
for the rest they were hapless fools, or else men who must earn their
bread somehow, and were driven to this bad way of earning it; God rest
their souls! I will be no tale-bearer, not even to God."

So we stood musing a little while, I gazing not on the dead men, but
on the strange pictures on the wall, which were richer and deeper
coloured than those in the nave; till at last John Ball turned to me
and laid his hand on my shoulder. I started and said, "Yea, brother;
now must I get me back to Will Green's house, as I promised to do so

"Not yet, brother," said he; "I have still much to say to thee, and
the night is yet young. Go we and sit in the stalls of the vicars,
and let us ask and answer on matters concerning the fashion of this
world of menfolk, and of this land wherein we dwell; for once more I

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