Grey Dolphin by Thomas Ingoldsby
"He won't—won't he?
Then bring me my boots!" said the Baron.
Consternation was at its height in the castle of Shurland—a caitiff
had dared to disobey the Baron! and—the Baron had called for his boots!
A thunderbolt in the great hall had been
a bagatelle to it.
A few days before, a notable miracle had been wrought in
the neighbourhood; and in those times miracles were not so common as
they are now:—no Royal Balloons, no steam, no railroads,—while the
few Saints who took the trouble to walk with their heads under their
arms, or pull the Devil by the nose, scarcely appeared above once in
a century:—so it made the greater sensation.
The clock had done striking twelve, and the Clerk of
Chatham was untrussing his points preparatory to seeking his truckle-bed:
a half-emptied tankard of mild ale stood at his elbow, the roasted crab
yet floating on its surface. Midnight had surprised the worthy functionary
while occupied in discussing it, and with the task yet unaccomplished.
He meditated a mighty draught: one hand was fumbling
with his tags, while the other was extended in the act of grasping
the jorum, when a knock on the portal, solemn and sonorous, arrested
his fingers. It was repeated thrice ere Emanuel Saddleton
had presence of mind sufficient to inquire who sought admittance at
that untimeous hour.
"Open! open! good Clerk of St. Bridget's," said a female voice,
small, yet distinct and sweet,—"an excellent thing in woman."
The clerk arose, crossed to the doorway, and undid the latchet.
On the threshold stood a lady of surpassing beauty: her
robes were rich, and large, and full; and a diadem, sparkling with gems that
shed a halo around, crowned her brow: she beckoned the clerk as he
stood in astonishment before her.
"Emanuel!" said the lady; and her tones sounded like those of
a silver flute. "Emanuel Saddleton, truss up your points, and follow me!"
The worthy clerk stared aghast at the vision; the purple robe,
the cymar, the coronet,—above all, the smile;—no, there was no mistaking
her; it was the blessed St. Bridget herself!
And what could have brought the sainted lady out of her
warm shrine at such a time of night? and on such a night? for it was as
dark as pitch, and, metaphorically speaking, "rained cats and dogs."
Emanuel could not speak, so he looked the question.
"No matter for that," said the Saint, answering to his thought.
"No matter for that, Emanuel Saddleton; only follow me, and you'll see."
The clerk turned a wistful eye at the corner-cupboard.
"Oh, never mind the lantern, Emanuel; you'll not want
it: but you may bring a mattock and shovel." As she spoke, the beautiful
apparition held up her delicate hand. From the tip of each of her
long taper fingers issued a lambent flame of such surpassing brilliancy
as would have plunged a whole gas company into despair—it was a
"Hand of Glory," such a one as tradition tells us yet burns in Rochester
Castle every St. Mark's Eve. Many are the daring individuals
who have watched in Gundulph's Tower, hoping to find it, and the
treasure it guards;—but none of them ever did.
"This way, Emanuel!" and a flame of peculiar radiance streamed
from her little finger as it pointed to the pathway leading to the churchyard.
Saddleton shouldered his tools, and followed in silence.
The cemetery of St. Bridget's was some half-mile distant
from the clerk's domicile, and adjoined a chapel dedicated to that illustrious
lady, who, after leading but a so-so life, had died in the odour of
sanctity. Emanuel Saddleton was fat and scant of breath, the mattock
was heavy, and the saint walked too fast for him: he paused to
take second wind at the end of the first furlong.
"Emanuel," said the holy lady good-humouredly, for she heard
him puffing; "rest a while, Emanuel, and I'll tell you what I want with you."
Her auditor wiped his brow with the back of his hand,
and looked all attention and obedience.
"Emanuel," continued she, "what did you and Father Fothergill,
and the rest of you, mean yesterday by burying that drowned man
so close to me? He died in mortal sin, Emanuel; no shrift, no unction,
no absolution: why, he might as well have been excommunicated.
He plagues me with his grinning, and I can't have any peace
in my shrine. You must howk him up again, Emanuel!"
"To be sure, madam,—my lady,—that is, your
holiness," stammered Saddleton, trembling at the thought of the task assigned
him. "To be sure, your ladyship; only—that is—"
"Emanuel," said the Saint, "you'll do my bidding;
or it would be better you had!" and her eye changed from a dove's eye to that
of a hawk, and a flash came from it as bright as the one from her little
finger. The Clerk shook in his shoes, and, again dashing the cold
perspiration from his brow, followed the footsteps of his mysterious guide.
The next morning all Chatham was in an uproar.
The Clerk of St. Bridget's had found himself at home at daybreak, seated in
his own arm-chair, the fire out, and—the tankard of ale quite exhausted.
Who had drunk it? Where had he been? How had he got home?—all
was a mystery: he remembered "a mass of things, but nothing
distinctly;" all was fog and fantasy. What he could clearly recollect
was, that he had dug up the grinning sailor, and that the Saint had
helped to throw him into the river again. All was thenceforth wonderment
and devotion. Masses were sung, tapers were kindled, bells
were tolled; the monks of St. Romuald had a solemn procession,
the abbot at their head, the sacristan at their tail, and the holy
breeches of St. Thomas-à-Becket in the centre; Father Fothergill
brewed a XXX puncheon of holy-water. The Rood of Gillingham was
deserted; the chapel of Rainham forsaken; every one who had a soul
to be saved flocked with his offering to St. Bridget's shrine, and
Emanuel Saddleton gathered more fees from the promiscuous piety of
that one week than he had pocketed during the twelve preceding months.
Meanwhile the corpse of the ejected reprobate oscillated
like a pendulum between Sheerness and Gillingham Reach. Now borne by the
Medway into the Western Swale, now carried by the refluent tide
back to the vicinity of its old quarters, it seemed as though the River
god and Neptune were amusing themselves with a game of subaqueous
battledore, and had chosen this unfortunate carcass as a marine
shuttlecock. For some time the alternation was kept up with great spirit,
till Boreas, interfering in the shape of a stiffish "Nor'-wester," drifted
the bone (and flesh) of contention ashore on the Shurland domain,
where it lay in all the majesty of mud. It was soon discovered by
the retainers, and dragged from its oozy bed, grinning worse than
ever. Tidings of the god-send were of course carried instantly to the
castle, for the Baron was a very great man; and if a dun crow had
flown across his property unannounced by the warder, the Baron would
have kicked him, the said warder, from the topmost battlement into
the bottommost ditch,—a descent of peril, and one which "Ludwig
the leaper," or the illustrious Trenk himself, might well have shrunk
"An't please your lordship—" said Peter Periwinkle.
"No, villain! it does not please me!" roared the Baron.
His lordship was deeply engaged with a peck of Feversham
oysters,—he doted on shellfish, hated interruption at meals, and had not
yet despatched more than twenty dozen of the "natives."
"There's a body, my lord, washed ashore in the lower creek,"
said the seneschal.
The Baron was going to throw the shells at his head;
but paused in the act, and said with much dignity,
"Turn out the fellow's pockets!"
But the defunct had before been subjected to the double scrutiny
of Father Fothergill and the Clerk of St. Bridget's. It was ill gleaning
after such hands; there was not a single marvedi.
We have already said that Sir Ralph de Shurland, Lord of
the Isle of Sheppey, and of many a fair manor on the main-land, was a man of
worship. He had rights of freewarren, saccage and sockage, cuisage
and jambage, fosse and fork, infang theofe and outfang theofe; and all
waifs and strays belonged to him in fee simple.
"Turn out his pockets!" said the Knight.
"Please you, my lord, I must say as how they was turned out
afore, and the devil a rap's left."
"Then bury the blackguard!"
"Please your lordship, he has been buried once."
"Then bury him again, and be——!"
The Baron bestowed a benediction.
The seneschal bowed low as he left the room, and the Baron
went on with his oysters.
Scarce ten dozen more had vanished when Periwinkle reappeared.
"An't please you, my lord, Father Fothergill says as how
that it's the Grinning Sailor, and he won't bury him anyhow."
"Oh! he won't—won't he?" said the Baron. Can it be
wondered at that he called for his boots?
Sir Ralph de Shurland, Lord of Shurland and Minster, Baron
of Sheppey in comitatu Kent, was, as has been before hinted, a very
great man. He was also a very little man; that is, he was relatively
great and relatively little,—or physically little and metaphorically
great,—like Sir Sidney Smith and the late Mr. Bonaparte. To the
frame of a dwarf he united the soul of a giant and the valour of a
gamecock. Then, for so small a man, his strength was prodigious;
his fist would fell an ox, and his kick—oh! his kick was tremendous,
and, when he had his boots on, would,—to use an expression of his own,
which he had picked up in the holy wars,—would send a man from
Jericho to June. He was bull-necked and bandy-legged; his chest
was broad and deep, his head large, and uncommonly thick, his eyes
a little blood-shot, and his nose retrousé with a remarkably red tip.
Strictly speaking, the Baron could not be called handsome; but his
tout ensemble was singularly impressive: and when he called for his
boots, everybody trembled, and dreaded the worst.
"Periwinkle," said the Baron, as he encased his better
leg, "let the grave be twenty feet deep!"
"Your lordship's command is law."
"And, Periwinkle,"—Sir Ralph stamped his left heel into
its receptacle,—"and, Periwinkle, see that it be wide enough to hold not
"Ye—ye—yes, my lord."
"And, Periwinkle,—tell Father Fothergill I would
fain speak with his reverence."
"Ye—ye—yes, my lord."
The Baron's beard was picked, and his moustaches, stiff
and stumpy, projected horizontally like those of a Tom-cat; he twirled the
one, stroked the other, drew the buckle of his surcingle a thought
tighter, and strode down the great staircase three steps at a stride.
The vassals were assembled in the great hall of Shurland
Castle; every cheek was pale, every tongue was mute, expectation and perplexity
were visible on every brow. What would his lordship do?
Were the recusant anybody else, gyves to the heels and hemp to the
throat were but too good for him: but it was Father Fothergill who had
said "I won't;" and, though the Baron was a very great man, the Pope
was a greater, and the Pope was Father Fothergill's great friend—some
people said he was his uncle.
Father Fothergill was busy in the refectory trying conclusions
with a venison pasty, when he received the summons of his patron to
attend him in the chapel cemetery. Of course he lost no time in
obeying it, for obedience was the general rule in Shurland Castle. If
anybody ever said "I won't," it was the exception; and, like all other
exceptions, only proved the rule the stronger. The Father was a friar
of the Augustine persuasion; a brotherhood which, having been
planted in Kent some few centuries earlier, had taken very kindly to
the soil, and overspread the county much as hops did some few centuries
later. He was plump and portly, a little thick-winded, especially
after dinner, stood five feet four in his sandals, and weighed
hard upon eighteen stone. He was moreover a personage of singular
piety; and the iron girdle, which, he said, he wore under his cassock
to mortify withal, might have been well mistaken for the tire of a
cart-wheel. When he arrived, Sir Ralph was pacing up and down by
the side of a newly-opened grave.
"Benedicite! fair son,"—(the Baron was as brown
as a cigar,) —"Benedicite!" said the chaplain.
The Baron was too angry to stand upon compliment.—"Bury
me that grinning caitiff there!" quoth he, pointing to the defunct.
"It may not be, fair son," said the Friar; "he hath perished
"Bury the body!" roared Sir Ralph.
"Water and earth alike reject him," returned the chaplain;
"holy St. Bridget herself——"
"Bridget me no Bridgets! do me thine office quickly, Sir
Shaveling; or, by the piper that played before Moses!——" The oath was
a fearful one; and whenever the Baron swore to do mischief, he was
never known to perjure himself. He was playing with the hilt of
his sword.—"Do me thine office, I say. Give him his passport to heaven!"
"He is already gone to hell!" stammered the friar.
"Then do you go after him!" thundered the Lord of Shurland.
His sword half leaped from its scabbard. No!—the
trenchant blade that had cut Suleiman Ben Malek Ben Buckskin from helmet
to chine disdained to daub itself with the cerebellum of a miserable
monk: it leaped back again; and as the chaplain, scared at its flash,
turned him in terror, the Baron gave him a kick!—one kick!—it was
but one!—but such a one! Despite its obesity, up flew his holy
body in an angle of forty-five degrees; then, having reached its highest
point of elevation, sunk headlong into the open grave that yawned to
receive it. If the reverend gentleman had possessed a neck, he had
infallibly broken it; as he did not, he only dislocated his vertebræ,—but
that did quite as well. He was as dead as ditch-water.
"In with the other rascal!" said the Baron, and he was
obeyed; for there he stood in his boots. Mattock and shovel made short work
of it; twenty feet of superincumbent mould pressed down alike the saint
and the sinner. "Now sing a requiem who list!" said the Baron, and
his lordship went back to his oysters.
The vassals at Castle Shurland were astounded, or, as
the seneschal Hugh better expressed it, "perfectly conglomerated," by this
event. What! murder a monk in the odour of sanctity,—and
on consecrated ground too! They trembled for the health of the
Baron's soul. To the unsophisticated many it seemed that matters
could not have been much worse had he shot a bishop's coach-horse;—all
looked for some signal judgment. The melancholy catastrophe
of their neighbours at Canterbury was yet rife in their memories: not
two centuries had elapsed since those miserable sinners had cut off
the tail of St. Thomas's mule. The tail of the mule, it was well
known, had been forthwith affixed to that of the mayor; and rumour
said it had since been hereditary in the corporation. The least that
could be expected was, that Sir Ralph should have a friar tacked on
to his for the term of his natural life! Some bolder spirits there were,
'tis true, who viewed the matter in various lights, according to their
different temperaments and dispositions; for perfect unanimity existed
not even in the good old times. The verderer, roistering Hob Roebuck,
swore roundly, "'Twere as good a deed as eat to kick down
the chapel as well as the monk."—Hob had stood there in a white
sheet for kissing Giles Miller's daughter.—On the other hand, Simpkin
Agnew, the bell-ringer, doubted if the devil's cellar, which
runs under the bottomless abyss, were quite deep enough for the
delinquent, and speculated on the probability of a hole being dug in
it for his especial accommodation. The philosophers and economists
thought with Saunders M'Bullock, the Baron's bagpiper, that "a feckless
monk more or less was nae great subject for a clamjamphry," especially
as "the supply considerably exceeded the demand;" while
Malthouse, the tapster, was arguing to Dame Martin that a murder
now and then was a seasonable check to population, without which
the Isle of Sheppey would in time be devoured, like a mouldy cheese,
by inhabitants of its own producing. Meanwhile, the Baron ate his
oysters, and thought no more of the matter.
But this tranquillity of his lordship was not to last. A
couple of Saints had been seriously offended; and we have all of us read at
school that celestial minds are by no means insensible to the provocations
of anger. There were those who expected that St. Bridget
would come in person, and have the friar up again as she did the
sailor; but perhaps her ladyship did not care to trust herself within
the walls of Shurland Castle. To say the truth, it was scarcely a decent
house for a female Saint to be seen in. The Baron's gallantries,
since he became a widower, had been but too notorious; and her
own reputation was a little blown upon in the earlier days of her
earthly pilgrimage: then things were so apt to be misrepresented: in
short, she would leave the whole affair to St. Austin, who, being a
gentleman, could interfere with propriety, avenge her affront as well as
his own, and leave no loop-hole for scandal. St. Austin himself seems
to have had his scruples, though of their precise nature it were difficult
to determine, for it were idle to suppose him at all afraid of the
Baron's boots. Be this as it may, the mode which he adopted was at
once prudent and efficacious. As an ecclesiastic, he could not well
call the Baron out, had his boots been out of the question; so he resolved
to have recourse to the law. Instead of Shurland Castle, therefore,
he repaired forthwith to his own magnificent monastery, situate
just without the walls of Canterbury, and presented himself in a vision
to its abbot. No one who has ever visited that ancient city can fail
to recollect the splendid gateway which terminates the vista of St.
Paul's street, and stands there yet in all its pristine beauty. The
tiny train of miniature artillery which now adorns its battlements is,
it is true, an ornament of a later date; and is said to have been added
some centuries after by some learned but jealous proprietor, for the
purpose of shooting any wiser man than himself who might chance to
come that way. Tradition is silent as to any discharge having taken
place, nor can the oldest inhabitant of modern days recollect any such
occurrence. Here it was, in a handsome chamber, immediately over
the lofty archway, that the superior of the monastery lay buried in a
brief slumber snatched from his accustomed vigils. His mitre—for
he was a mitred abbot, and had a seat in parliament—rested on a
table beside him; near it stood a silver flagon of Gascony wine, ready,
no doubt, for the pious uses of the morrow. Fasting and watching
had made him more than usually somnolent, than which nothing could
have been better for the purpose of the Saint, who now appeared to
him radiant in all the colours of the rainbow.
"Anselm!"—said the beatific vision,—"Anselm! are
you not a pretty fellow to lie snoring there, when your brethren are being
knocked at head, and Mother Church herself is menaced!
It is a sin and a shame, Anselm!"
"What's the matter?—Who are you?" cried the Abbot,
rubbing his eyes, which the celestial splendour of his visiter had set a-winking.
"Ave Maria! St. Austin himself!—Speak, Beatissime! what would
you with the humblest of your votaries?"
"Anselm!" said the Saint, "a brother of our order, whose
soul Heaven assoilzie! hath been foully murdered. He hath been ignominiously
kicked to the death, Anselm; and there he lieth cheek-by-jowl
with a wretched carcass, which our sister Bridget has turned out of
her cemetery for unseemly grinning. Arouse thee, Anselm!"
"Ay, so please you, Sanctissime!" said the Abbot:
"I will order forthwith that thirty masses be said, thirty Paters,
and thirty Aves."
"Thirty fools' heads!" interrupted his patron,
who was a little peppery.
"I will send for bell, book, and candle."
"Send for an inkhorn, Anselm. Write me now a letter to
his Holiness the Pope in good round terms, and another to the coroner, and
another to the sheriff and seize me the never-enough-to-be-anathematised
villain who hath done this deed! Hang him as high as Haman,
Anselm!—up with him!—down with his dwelling-place, root
and branch, hearth-stone and roof-tree,—down with it all, and sow the
site with salt and sawdust!"
St. Austin, it will be perceived, was a radical reformer.
"Marry will I," quoth the Abbot, warming with the Saint's
eloquence; "ay, marry will I, and that instanter. But there is one
thing you have forgotten, most Beatified—the name of the culprit."
"Ralph de Shurland."
"The Lord of Sheppey! Bless me!" said the Abbot, crossing
himself, "won't that be rather inconvenient? Sir Ralph is a bold baron
and a powerful; blows will come and go, and crowns will be
"What is that to you, since yours will not be of the number?"
"Very true, Beatissime! I will don me with speed, and do
"Do so, Anselm!—fail not to hang the baron, burn his castle,
confiscate his estate, and buy me two large wax-candles for my own particular
shrine out of your share of the property."
With this solemn injunction the vision began to fade.
"One thing more!" cried the Abbot, grasping his rosary.
"What is that?" asked the Saint.
"O Beate Augustine, ora pro nobis!"
"Of course I shall," said St. Austin.
"Pax vobiscum!"—and Abbot Anselm was left alone.
Within an hour all Canterbury was in commotion. A friar had
been murdered,—two friars—ten—twenty; a whole convent had
been assaulted,—sacked,—burnt,—all the monks had been killed,
and all the nuns had been kissed! Murder!—fire!—sacrilege! Never
was city in such an uproar. From St. George's gate to St. Dunstan's
suburb, from the Donjon to the borough of Staplegate, all was noise
and hubbub. "Where was it?"—"When was it?"—"How was it?"
The Mayor caught up his chain, the Aldermen donned their furred
gowns, the Town-clerk put on his spectacles. "Who was he?"—"What
was he?"—"Where was he?"—he should be hanged,—he
should be burned,—he should be broiled,—he should be fried,—he
should be scraped to death with red-hot oyster-shells! "Who was
he?"—"What was his name?"
The abbot's Apparitor drew forth his roll and read
aloud: "Sir Ralph de Shurland, Knight banneret, Baron of Shurland and
Minster, and Lord of Sheppey."
The Mayor put his chain in his pocket, the Aldermen took off
their gowns, the Town-clerk put his pen behind his ear,—It was a county
business altogether: the Sheriff had better call out the
While saints and sinners were thus leaguing against him, the
Baron de Shurland was quietly eating his breakfast. He had passed a tranquil
night, undisturbed by dreams of cowl or capuchin; nor was his
appetite more affected than his conscience. On the contrary, he sat
rather longer over his meal than usual; luncheon-time came, and he was
ready as ever for his oysters; but scarcely had Dame Martin opened
his first half-dozen when the warder's horn was heard from the barbican.
"Who the devil's that?" said Sir Ralph. "I'm not at home,
Periwinkle. I hate to be disturbed at meals, and I won't be at home to anybody."
"An't please your lordship," answered the seneschal,
"Paul Prior hath given notice that there is a body——"
"Another body!" roared the Baron. "Am I to be everlastingly
plagued with bodies? No time allowed me to swallow a morsel.
Throw it into the moat!"
"So please you, my lord, it is a body of horse,—and—and
Paul says there is a still larger body of foot behind it; and he thinks,
my lord,—that is, he does not know, but he thinks—and we all
think, my lord, that they are coming to—to besiege the castle!"
"Besiege the castle! Who? What? What for?"
"Paul says, my lord, that he can see the banner of St. Austin,
and the bleeding heart of Hamo de Crevecœur, the abbot's chief vassal;
and there is John de Northwood, the sheriff, with his red-cross engrailed;
and Hever, and Leybourne, and Heaven knows how many
more; and they are all coming on as fast as ever they can."
"Periwinkle," said the Baron, "up with the drawbridge; down
with the portcullis; bring me a cup of canary, and my night-cap. I
won't be bothered with them. I shall go to bed."
"To bed, my lord!" cried Periwinkle, with a look
that seemed to say, "He's crazy."
At this moment the shrill tones of a trumpet were heard to
sound thrice from the champaign. It was the signal for parley: the Baron
changed his mind; instead of going to bed, he went to the ramparts.
"Well, rapscallions! and what now?" said the Baron.
A herald, two pursuivants, and a trumpeter, occupied the
foreground of the scene; behind them, some three hundred paces off, upon
a rising ground, was drawn up in battle-array the main body of the
"Hear you, Ralph de Shurland, Knight, Baron of Shurland
and Minster, and Lord of Sheppey, and know all men, by these presents,
that I do hereby attach you, the said Ralph, of murder and sacrilege,
now, or of late, done and committed by you, the said Ralph, contrary
to the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his crown and dignity:
and I do hereby require and charge you, the said Ralph, to forthwith
surrender and give up your own proper person, together with the castle
of Shurland aforesaid, in order that the same may be duly dealt
with according to law. And here standeth John de Northwood, Esquire,
good man and true, sheriff of this his majesty's most loyal county
of Kent, to enforce the same, if need be, with his posse comitatus."
"His what?" said the Baron.
"His posse comitatus, and——"
"Go to Bath!" said the Baron.
A defiance so contemptuous roused the ire of the adverse
commanders. A volley of missiles rattled about the Baron's ears. Night-caps
avail little against contusions. He left the walls, and returned
to the great hall.
"Let them pelt away," quoth the Baron; "there are no
windows to break, and they can't get in." So he took his afternoon nap,
and the siege went on.
Towards evening his lordship awoke, and grew tired of the din.
Guy Pearson, too, had got a black eye from a brick-bat, and the assailants
were clambering over the outer wall. So the Baron called for
his Sunday hauberk of Milan steel, and his great two-handed sword
with the terrible name:—it was the fashion in feudal times to give
names to swords; King Arthur's was christened Excalibar; the
Baron called his Tickletoby, and whenever he took it in hand it was
"Up with the portcullis! down with the bridge!" said Sir
Ralph; and out he sallied, followed by the élite of his retainers.
Then there was a pretty to-do. Heads flew one
way—arms and legs another; round
went Tickletoby, and, wherever it alighted, down came horse and
man: the Baron excelled himself that day. All that he had done in
Palestine faded in the comparison; he had fought for fun there, but
now it was for life and lands. Away went John de Northwood; away
went William of Hever, and Roger of Leybourne. Hamo de Crevecœr,
with the church vassals and the banner of St. Austin, had been
gone some time. The siege was raised, and the Lord of Sheppey left
alone in his glory.
But, brave as the Baron undoubtedly was, and total as had
been the defeat of his enemies, it cannot be supposed that La Stoccata
would be allowed to carry it away thus. It has before been hinted that
Abbot Anselm had written to the Pope, and Boniface the Eighth
piqued himself on his punctuality as a correspondent in all matters
connected with church discipline. He sent back an answer by return
of post; and by it all Christian people were strictly enjoined to aid in
exterminating the offender, on pain of the greater excommunication
in this world, and a million of years of purgatory in the next. But
then, again, Boniface the Eighth was rather at a discount in England
just then. He had affronted Longshanks, as the loyal lieges had nicknamed
their monarch; and Longshanks had been rather sharp upon
the clergy in consequence. If the Baron de Shurland could but get
the King's pardon for what in his cooler moments he admitted to be a
peccadillo, he might sniff at the Pope, and bid him "do his devilmost."
Fortune, who, as the poet says, delights to favour the bold,
stood his friend on this occasion. Edward had been, for some time, collecting
a large force on the coast of Kent, to carry on his French wars
for the recovery of Guienne; he was expected shortly to review it in
person; but, then, the troops lay principally in cantonments about the
mouth of the Thames, and his majesty was to come down by water.
What was to be done?—the royal barge was in sight, and John de
Northwood and Hamo de Crevecœur had broken up all the boats to
boil their camp-kettles. A truly great mind is never without resources.
"Bring me my boots!" said the Baron.
They brought him his boots, and his dapple-grey steed along
with them. Such a courser! all blood and bone, short-backed, broad-chested,
and, but that he was a little ewe-necked, faultless in form and figure.
The Baron sprang upon his back, and dashed at once into the river.
The barge which carried Edward Longshanks and his fortunes
had by this time nearly reached the Nore; the stream was broad and the
current strong, but Sir Ralph and his steed were almost as broad, and
stronger. After breasting the tide gallantly for a couple of miles, the
Knight was near enough to hail the steersman.
"What have we got here?" said the king. "It's a mermaid,"
said one. "It's a grampus," said another. "It's the devil," said a
third. But they were all wrong; it was only Ralph de Shurland.
"Grammercy," quoth the king, "that fellow was never born to be drowned!"
It has been said before that the Baron had fought in the
holy wars; in fact, he had accompanied Longshanks, when only heir-apparent, in
his expedition twenty-five years before, although his name is unaccountably
omitted by Sir Harris Nicolas in his list of crusaders. He had
been present at Acre when Amirand of Joppa stabbed the prince with
a poisoned dagger, and had lent Princess Eleanor his own toothbrush
after she had sucked out the venom from the wound. He had slain
certain Saracens, contented himself with his own plunder, and never
dunned the commissariat for arrears of pay. Of course he ranked high
in Edward's good graces, and had received the honour of knighthood
at his hands on the field of battle.
In one so circumstanced it cannot be supposed that such a
trifle as the killing a frowzy friar would be much resented, even had he not
taken so bold a measure to obtain his pardon. His petition was
granted, of course, as soon as asked; and so it would have been had
the indictment drawn up by the Canterbury town-clerk, viz. "That
he, the said Ralph de Shurland, &c. had then and there, with several,
to wit, one thousand, pair of boots, given sundry, to wit, two thousand,
kicks, and therewith and thereby killed divers, to wit, ten thousand,
Austin friars," been true to the letter.
Thrice did the gallant Grey circumnavigate the barge,
while Robert de Winchelsey, the chancellor, and archbishop to boot, was
making out, albeit with great reluctance, the royal pardon. The interval
was sufficiently long to enable his majesty, who, gracious as he
was, had always an eye to business, just to hint that the gratitude he
felt towards the Baron was not unmixed with a lively sense of services
to come; and that, if life was now spared him, common decency
must oblige him to make himself useful. Before the archbishop, who
had scalded his fingers with the wax in affixing the great seal, had
time to take them out of his mouth, all was settled, and the Baron de
Shurland, cum suis, had pledged himself to be forthwith in readiness
to accompany his liege lord to Guienne.
With the royal pardon secured in his vest, boldly did his
lordship turn again to the shore; and as boldly did his courser oppose his
breadth of chest to the stream. It was a work of no common difficulty
or danger; a steed of less "mettle and bone" had long since
sunk in the effort: as it was, the Baron's boots were full of water,
and Grey Dolphin's chamfrain more than once dipped beneath the
wave. The convulsive snorts of the noble animal showed his distress;
each instant they became more loud and frequent; when his hoof
touched the strand, and "the horse and his rider" stood again in safety
on the shore.
Rapidly dismounting, the Baron was loosening the girths
of his demi-pique, to give the panting animal breath, when he was aware
of as ugly an old woman as he ever clapped eyes upon, peeping at
him under the horse's belly.
"Make much of your steed, Ralph Shurland! Make much of
your steed!" cried the hag, shaking at him her long and bony finger.
"Groom to the hide, and corn to the manger. He has saved your
life, Ralph Shurland, for the nonce; but he shall yet be the means
of your losing it, for all that!"
The Baron started: "What's that you say, you old faggot?"
He ran round by his horse's tail; the women was gone!
The Baron paused; his great soul was not to be shaken by
trifles; he looked around him, and solemnly ejaculated the word "Humbug!"
then, slinging the bridle across his arm, walked slowly on in the
direction of the castle.
The appearance, and still more, the disappearance of
the crone, had however made an impression; every step he took he became
more thoughtful. "'Twould be deuced provoking though, if he
should break my neck after all!" He turned, and gazed at Dolphin
with the scrutinizing eye of a veterinary surgeon.—"I'll be shot if
he is not groggy!" said the Baron.
With his lordship, like another great Commander,
"Once to be in doubt, was once to be resolved:" it would never do to go to the
wars on a rickety prad. He dropped the rein, drew forth Tickletoby, and,
as the enfranchised Dolphin, good easy horse, stretched out his ewe-neck
to the herbage, struck off his head at a single blow. "There,
you lying old beldame!" said the Baron; "now take him away to the knackers."
Three years were come and gone. King Edward's
French wars were over; both parties, having fought till they came to a stand-still,
shook hands; and the quarrel, as usual, was patched up by a royal marriage.
This happy event gave his majesty leisure to turn his attention to
Scotland, where things, through the intervention of William Wallace,
were looking rather queerish. As his reconciliation with Philip now
allowed of his fighting the Scotch in peace and quietness, the monarch
lost no time in marching his long legs across the border, and
the short ones of the Baron followed him of course. At Falkirk,
Tickletoby was in great request; and, in the year following, we find a
contemporary poet hinting at its master's prowess under the walls of Caerlaverock,
Obec eus fu achiminez
Li beau Rafe de Shurlande
Ki kant seoit sur le cheval
Ne sembloit home le someille.
A quatrain which Mr. Simpkinson translates,
"With them was marching
The good Ralph de Shurland,
Who, when seated on horseback,
Does not resemble a man asleep!"
So thoroughly awake, indeed, does he seem to have proved himself,
that the bard subsequently exclaims, in an ecstasy of admiration,
Si ie estoie une pucellette
Je li donroie ceur et cors
Tant est de lu bons lí recors.
"If I were a young maiden,
I would give him my heart and person,
So great is his fame!"
Fortunately the poet was a tough old monk of Exeter; since
such a present to a nobleman, now in his grand climacteric, would hardly
have been worth the carriage. With the reduction of this stronghold
of the Maxwells seem to have concluded the Baron's military services;
as on the very first day of the fourteenth century we find him once
more landed on his native shore, and marching, with such of his retainers
as the wars had left him, towards the hospitable shelter of
Shurland Castle. It was then, upon that very beach, some hundred
yards distant from high-water mark, that his eye fell upon something
like an ugly old woman in a red cloak. She was seated on
what seemed to be a large stone, in an interesting attitude, with her
elbows resting upon her knees and her chin upon her thumbs. The
Baron started: the remembrance of his interview with a similar personage
in the same place, some three years since, flashed upon his
recollection. He rushed towards the spot, but the form was gone;
nothing remained but the seat it had appeared to occupy. This, on
examination, turned out to be no stone, but the whitened skull of a
dead horse. A tender remembrance of the deceased Grey Dolphin shot
a momentary pang into the Baron's bosom; he drew the back of his
hand across his face; the thought of the hag's prediction in an instant
rose, and banished all softer emotions. In utter contempt of his own
weakness, yet with a tremor that deprived his redoubtable kick of
half its wonted force, he spurned the relic with his foot. One word
alone issued from his lips elucidatory of what was passing in his
mind,—it long remained imprinted on the memory of his faithful
followers,—that word was "Gammon!" The skull bounded across
the beach till it reached the very margin of the stream;—one instant
more, and it would be engulfed for ever. At that moment a loud
"Ha! ha! ha!" was distinctly heard by the whole train to issue
from its bleached and toothless jaws: it sank beneath the flood in a horse-laugh!
Meanwhile Sir Ralph de Shurland felt an odd sort of sensation
in his right foot. His boots had suffered in the wars. Great pains had
been taken for their preservation. They had been "soled" and "heeled"
more than once;—had they been "galoshed," their owner might
have defied Fate! Well has it been said that "there is no such thing
as a trifle." A nobleman's life depended upon a question of ninepence.
The Baron marched on; the uneasiness in his foot increased.
He plucked off his boot; a horse's tooth was sticking in his great toe!
The result may be anticipated. Lame as he was, his lordship,
with characteristic decision would hobble on to Shurland; his walk increased
the inflammation; a flagon of aqua vitæ did not mend matters.
He was in a high fever; he took to his bed. Next morning the
toe presented the appearance of a Bedfordshire carrot; by dinner-time
it had deepened to beetroot; and when Bargrave, the leech, at last
sliced it off, the gangrene was too confirmed to admit of remedy.
Dame Martin thought it high time to send for Miss Margaret, who,
ever since her mother's death, had been living with her maternal aunt,
the abbess, in the Ursuline convent of Greenwich. The young lady
came, and with her came one Master Ingoldsby, her cousin-german
by the mother's side; but the Baron was too far gone in the deadthraw
to recognise either. He died as he lived, unconquered and unconquerable.
His last words were—"Tell the old hag to go to——."
Whither remains a secret. He expired without fully articulating the
place of her destination.
But who and what was the crone who prophesied the catastrophe?
Ay, "that is the mystery of this wonderful history."—Some said it
was Dame Fothergill, the late confessor's mamma; others, St. Bridget
herself; others thought it was nobody at all, but only a phantom
conjured up by Conscience. As we do not know, we decline giving an
And what became of the Clerk of Chatham? Mr. Simpkinson
avers than he lived to a good old age, and was at last hanged by Jack Cade,
with his inkhorn about his neck, for "setting boys copies." In support
of this he adduces his name "Emanuel," and refers to the historian
Shakspeare. Mr. Peters, on the contrary, considers this to be
what he calls one of Mr. Simpkinson's "Anacreonisms," inasmuch as,
at the introduction of Mr. Cade's reform measure, the clerk would
have been hard upon two hundred years old. The probability is, that
the unfortunate alluded to was his great-grandson.
Margaret Shurland in due course became Margaret Ingoldsby,
her portrait still hangs in the gallery at Tappington. The features are
handsome, but shrewish, betraying, as it were, a touch of the old Baron's
temperament; but we never could learn that she actually kicked her
husband. She brought him a very pretty fortune in chains, owches,
and Saracen ear-rings; the barony, being a male fief, reverted to the
In the abbey-church at Minster may yet be seen
the tomb of a recumbent warrior, clad in the chain-mail of the 13th century.
His hands are clasped in prayer; his legs, crossed in that position so
prized by Templars in ancient, and tailors in modern, days, bespeak
him a soldier of the Faith in Palestine. Close to his great-toe, lies
sculptured in bold relief a horse's head; and a respectable elderly
lady, as she shows the monument, fails not to read her auditors a fine
moral lesson on the sin of ingratitude, or to claim a sympathising
tear to the memory of poor "Grey Dolphin!"