How Dickon Came by His Name by Harold Frederic

A Tale of Christmas in the Olden Time.

  CHAPTER I.

THE MAKING OF A SOLDIER.

Though more crests are blazoned nowadays than there are minutes in which the heralds may count them, yet old families still live, with roots deep down in rural England's soil, and nourish in quiet legends which, when they come to notice, are the fairest flowers in the garden of English folk-lore.

Such a tale the Tambows of Shropshire can tell. Once, it is dimly understood, the narrative was written out, and even printed from types in Caxton's own press. If this be true, the book has long been lost. But the story is worth keeping.

Dickon looked at this time to be well on in his teens. He was so tall and stout a lad that grown men spoke to him, now and again, as to one of themselves. Just what his age might be, however, it lay beyond mortal power to discover. His mother was long since dead. His native hamlet had been wiped by fire and sword from the face of the earth.

His father could remember nothing more of Dickon's birth than that it was either just before the Battle of Bloreheath in Stafford, or soon after the fierce fight at Mortimer's Cross in Hereford. The one would make him sixteen years old, the other scarcely more than fourteen. Whether it was sixteen or fourteen no living soul in England cared.

There was as yet no other name for him than Dickon—that is to say, any securely fastened name. He had been called Smithson, and even Smith, by word of mouth among strangers. But the rough men close at hand commonly hailed him with oaths, which pointed to no surname whatever. Indeed, surnames were matters strictly for his betters—for gentlefolk, or at the least for thrifty yeomen with a dozen cows or fourscore sheep on a walk.

There could never have been a thought, therefore, in Dickon's head as to what name was likest to stick to him, since of all unlabelled hinds in Salop surely he was the lowliest.

Thought, in truth, is an over-fine word for aught that went forward in Dickon's brain. He knew only some few things more clearly than did the horses and dogs about him.

He did know, first of all, that his grim master, who lived up in the castle just above, was named Sir Watty Curdle, and that the castle itself was Egswith. That he was Sir Watty's man was by far the most important thing there was for him to know; and that it might be kept always fresh before his eyes and patent to all others, this lord's device of two running hares, back to back, one turned upside down, was sewed upon the breast of Dickon's leather jerkin.

Dickon had more reasons for holding his master to be a foul ruffian and robber than the dumb brutes in stable and kennel could have possessed, though doubtless they, too, were of the same opinion. He knew, furthermore, that the king was a tall and fine young man, because he had seen him after Tewksbury. He knew that the Lady Curdle came from Cheshire, which was reputed to lie northward.

He knew that all men-at-arms who wore three stags' heads on their jackets were his natural enemies; and that it was thought better to be a soldier than the son of a smith. Sometimes he thought that it must be better to be dead than either.

Dickon's belongings were all on his back. He owned a thick shirt of rough woollen, which had been his share of the spoil of a Yorkist archer, slain the year before in a fray on Craven highroad. Formerly the lad had been harassed by dreams that the dead man, all shivering and frosted over, had come back for his shirt, but these dreams were past long since, and he wore the shirt now like a second skin, so wholly did it seem a part of him.

Over this shirt was drawn his leather tunic, which was becoming too tight. Under this were fastened with cowhide thongs the points of his old leathern hose, also strained now almost to bursting. His shoes were rude and worn contrivances of leather, bound on over ankle and instep with cords. His neck and tangled shock of yellow hair were hidden under a caped hood of coarse brown cloth.

In these garments he toiled miserably by day; in them he slept in his cold corner of the smithy floor by night. By night and day the solitary aspiration of his mind was for the time when he might escape his fathers curses and beatings, and bear a spear among the men-at-arms.

This chance came to him suddenly, on a December day, when the air over the Marches was so thick and gray and cold that men desired to fight, if only to keep their blood from chilling within them. Out of this chance proceeded strange things, the legend of which has lived these hundreds of years in Salop.

Sir Watty Curdle did what he dared toward being a law to himself. In the fastness of the Welsh mountains, just back of his domain, there were always whisperings of new Lancastrian plots and bold adventures. These drifted to Egswith Castle, on its steep, ugly crag, and made an atmosphere of treason there which hung over the Marches like a fog.

That Sir Watty had a rushlight's choice between King Edward and Queen Margaret no one ever believed. If it had suited his ends he would as easily have been the king's man. But since the hated Stanleys were cheek by jowl with the king, there could be nothing for Sir Watty but the other side.

Besides, he had grievances. That is to say, other gentlemen in the countryside had houses and fair daughters and plate and fat cattle. These things rankled in Sir Watty's mind.

Sir Watty rose on this December morning with his head clear from a month's carouse, with his muscles itching for sharp work, and with the eager sniff of rapine in his nostrils.

Word that sport was afoot ran presently about through the galleries and yards and clustering outer hovels within the high-perched walls of Egswith. Rough, brawny men forthwith dragged out haubergeons and sallets, and leathern jackets stuffed with wool, and smiled grimly over them and put them on.

Two troopers in sleeveless coats of plate mail, and heavy greaves and boots, came clanking down the jagged hill-path. They routed with loud halloos the threescore people who dwelt in the foul and toppling huts huddled at the foot of the crag, under the shadow of gray Egswith.

"Ho! Ho-o!" they bawled. "Out with you—out! out! Your lord rides to-day!"

A bustling crowd arose on the instant. Strong men swarmed in the open. Some were sent into the fields with horns to summon yokels who were grubbing among the roots. Others haled forth armor and saddle-gear, and bows and spears, and shouted joyous quips from group to group.

Dull-browed women, with backs bent like beasts of burden, brought food and hoods and such tackle at command, in sulky silence. Half-clad children hung about the doorways, gazing wonderingly. From the castle gates some horses were being led out; and about the high walls rang the shrill blare of trumpet-calls.

The two troopers, after setting all in motion outside, clanked their way into the smithy, and the black one, Morgan, he with a brutish face, seamed and gashed with red scars,—where only one eye remained to glare in rude arrogance,—kicked the door open, and cried out as he did so:

"Are you dead here, then? What are your ears for, fools? And no fire!"

Dickon crossed the floor of the smithy, and stood before the intruders.

"The old man will light fires no more," he said, with dogged indifference, pointing a sidelong thumb to the bundle of straw at the tail of the forge, beneath the bellows.

There, flat on his back, lay the smith, with wide-open, staring eyes, and a face of greenish-brazen hue; his huge grizzled beard spread stiffly outward like the bristling collar of some unclean giant vulture.

"He was ever a surly swine," Morgan growled. "Even as we need him most, he fails us thus!"

Dickon offered no opinion upon this. "It fell on him in the night," he said.

Morgan leant over as far as his iron casings permitted, to note what share of breath remained in the smith's body. Then he rose, and looked the lad from top to toe with his sullen single eye.

"Get you into his foot-gear, then, and follow on," he snarled curtly.

Then for the first time the other man-at-arms spoke. He was a huge, reddish warrior, with the shoulders of an ox, and a face which flamed forth from out the casings of his head-piece like a setting winter sun.

"Were it not better to leave him?" this Rawly asked. "If he chance to get his head broken, how will Sir Watty make shift for a smith?"

Morgan sneered this down. "The lout hath not the wit for the tenth part of a smith," he said. "Between this and Bromfield there are a dozen of the craft to be had at the bare mention of a halter."

Thus it was that a soldier's life opened before Dickon.

He made haste to don his father's sleeveless chain coat and sallet. Then, choosing a crossbow and sheaf of quarrels for himself, he gathered such other weapons as the smithy held, and carried them out into the open. Now the troop was forming, and the start close at hand.

The lad had seen many of these rallies for a raid; but this one, wherein he was to have part, had a new glory in his eyes. He rubbed shoulders with the men who were making ready against the ride. With the boldness of an equal he bore a hand to help them fit the armor to their backs. There was none to make him afraid. When a knavish hobler offered to force his cross-bow from him in exchange for a rusty pole-axe, Dickon smote him on the head with a full man's might and heart, and kept his weapon.

At last Sir Watty came stalking down the broken, winding path, with his chestnut stallion led prancing from rock to rock at his heels. Behind him came a score of men-at-arms, and then still other horses at halter.

The knight stopped on the boulder at the foot of the hill, that two men might lift him to the saddle. As he moved forward there arose a great, joyful shout and clanking bustle of men mounting to follow. Dickon was of the sorrier sort who must run on their own legs; but no man on armored steed was prouder than he.

Sir Watty sat with alert, poised lightness in his stirrups, as if the brigandines which cased him from nape to ankle had been of linen instead of close-set, burnished metal plates overlapping one the other like a fish's scales and planned with cunning joints. Gilt nails studded the angles of this glittering suit, and the body of it was covered with green velvet, with the two hares of Curdle wrought in gold upon the breast.

Unlike the lesser riders, he wore bascinet and gorget on head and neck, with light pauldrons, velvet-clad and shaped like eagles' talons, running out to his shoulders over the scaled mail.

There were unnumbered tales as to how Sir Watty had come by this princely harness, all of a likeness in that they imputed its possession to plunder. One might well credit this on looking at the man's face as he rode with lifted visor—the curved, bony, beak-like nose, the stone-gray eyes, the thin, brief line of lips twisted tight together—all as relentless and shrewd and cruel as something born of snake or hawk.

Clustering at his back rode thirty men-at-arms, no other knight among them. There were unfrocked monks, loose, wandering troopers, murderers, revolted townsmen and mere generic ruffians from anywhere on the face of the earth, all gathered to Egswith by the magnet of its lawless fame, and all risking life and facing punishment here and hereafter with Sir Watty because they knew him for a master knave and robber.

These wore ill-assorted armor, the random product of years of raiding—some nearly covered with iron, others with no more than a rusted haubergeon and battered sallet. Of weapons, too, there was as mongrel a show. Some bore hagbuts, or hand-guns, to be fired with powder, and had leather bags full of stone bullets hanging at their saddles. Among the others were crossbows with wyndacs and without, lances, bills, long and short pole-axes, and even spiked clubs of iron.

Dickon joined the score of footmen who turned into the road as the cavalcade filed by.

For a little these all trudged behind the horses, bearing their lighter cuirasses and caps and their long or cross-bows with easy spirits. It was a morning made for walking, with black frost holding the ground so stiff that it rang like stone under the clattering hoofs ahead. A sharp air tweaked nostrils and ears, and made the blood glow even in churlish veins.

It was to the footmen nothing short of delight to stride onward thus, with a captain in front who feared naught, and on one's shoulder a weapon of death.

Later in the day, when their course lay over a rough moorland stretch where bleak winds whistled, and hunger began to gnaw upon fatigue, the adventure became less joyful. Still Dickon pressed forward upon the freshest hoof-marks, gay of heart. Others, who carried more years and a staler fancy, began to lag. Then an interesting thing happened.

At a word from Morgan, huge Rawly and a dozen others wheeled out from the troop and, halting at the side of the highway in waiting till the footmen had passed, drew close in behind them.

To make the meaning of this more clear, some of these horsemen pleasantly pricked their spear-points into the weariest of those walking before them. Thereafter the whole body moved on more swiftly.

None of the peasants knew whither the expedition was proceeding. For the first few leagues, journeying down the valley of the little stream which rose back of Egswith, they had seen at a distance more than one frowning castle. But they had come near to no human habitation. Then had ensued the arduous march across the moor, with no sign of castle or roof-tree.

But now, some hours after high noon, they were advancing upon a better-ordered country, with smooth roads and farm-lands. The mountains on the right were farther away now, and hung pale blue upon the confines of the gray sky. There were farm-houses in view, and these were of a larger and more prosperous aspect than Dickon had seen before. The husbandmen seemed to have small appetite for fighting, too, for they could be discerned presently fleeing with their women, children, and cattle across their fields to woodland shelter.

The spectacle of people making their escape before his approach was new to Dickon. He swelled out his chest to a greater girth because of it, and forgot the heated aching of his feet.

Sir Watty permitted the men to enter and ransack one of these farm-places. No living soul was to be discovered, but of food there was plenty. Some of the older and wiser troopers knew where to look for gear of less transient moment. But the spoil was not of importance.

Soon they were all pressing on again, along the highroad traversing this peaceful and fertile plain. By and by an old archer who trudged by Dickon's side halted in surprise, and as he stepped forward again growled out in perplexed disquiet:—

"Nay—aught but that, Sir Waddy, aught but that!"

Dickon, looking ahead, noted that his lord, after a moment's parley, had turned his course to the left, and was leading the party into a narrow lane.

Some of the hoblers, mounted on their light nags, were sent flying off across fields still more to the left, and Morgan came galloping back to the rear of the column. When he had muttered some charge to Rawly and then set back again to join his chief, it became known that Rawly with his handful of horse and all the footmen were to continue on the highroad.

The lad would never have thought out what this division of forces signified, but the old archer, little by little, and more to hear his own voice than from kindness to the boy, informed his mind. The company had been split in twain because the quarry was near at hand, and must needs be surrounded.

This was good soldiery, but in the present case it would be useless. Sir Watty and every mother's son with him would be slain—the footmen as well as the rest. Of this there could be no tittle of doubt, the archer cheeringly insisted. He was a native of these parts, and knew the evil repute of the stronghold they were about to attack. Not a man-jack of them would ever find himself back upon this blessed highroad again! Of that he made certain.

Dickon listened to these astounding tidings without any very near sense of fear. To look Death in the eye seemed not an unnatural thing, now that he was a soldier and wore an iron jacket. But his blood chilled within him when he heard the answer to his idle query.

"Is it bigger then than Egswith?" he had asked.

The gray old archer, stealing an apprehensive glance about him, and whispering sidelong, replied:—

"There are no walls—that eye can see. But inside is a sorcerer who fights with magic fires, and can on the instant raise up battlements of poisoned adders and scorpions, and blow upon us with a wind so deadly that at its touch our flesh will melt from our bones. If yon men wist whither Sir Waddy led them, they would fall upon him first and tear him limb from limb."

  CHAPTER II.

A BURST FOR FREEDOM.

The crossbow was audibly rattling on Dickon's shoulder and his knees smote together after hearing what the old archer had told him about the so-called sorcerer. He looked hurriedly behind, with perhaps some vague thoughts of flight, but the sight of the fierce horsemen at his heels scattered these.

The boy plodded miserably forward, catching only here and there a stray word of what the archer further said. This was to the effect that the place they were pushing toward—dread Camber Dane—had been the home of the mad baron, Lord Tasktorn, for many years. Now for other many years his equally mad younger son, Sir John Camber, had been in possession of the estate.

A gruesome and awful man, by all accounts, was this Sir John, who lived alone with uncanny, dwarfish servant-people. It was said that he conjured gold and jewels out of the unholy flames he kindled, and was accurst of God and the church.

Little enough of this did Dickon comprehend, for the idea of an alchemist was new to him; but the terrors which the archer painted were none the less real to the lad.

He fancied that the air in the tangled copse through which they were now pushing their upward path already bore the fatal taint of magic. He strove to breathe as little of it as he could, and thus to avoid its spell.

The horses had been left behind, and their riders were now on foot like the rest.

Dickon looked anxiously about for some offer of escape. Then affrighted visions of what death really was rose before his eyes—all with startling suddenness taking on the likeness of his father, lying gasping on the straw of the squalid forge. It horrified his senses.

He stumbled blindly on with the rest, not seeing where or with whom he was going, and ever and again receiving blows from the armed men behind him, which he scarce noted.

All at once they all stood forth on the edge of a promontory. Beneath them spread out a picture of almost enchanted loveliness, with park and lawn, with garden, orchard, and lake. In the centre of all was a peaceful mansion, turreted and gabled for beauty rather than defence. Engirdling all was a broad oaken zone of forest. Midwinter though it was, the sylvan prospect seemed to speak of spring, and grass and trees alike were green.

As he looked down upon this scene, Dickon felt the fog of fright lifting from his mind. Somehow the notion dawned upon him that if death by a sorcerer's wiles awaited him here in this vale, it must be a gracious and almost pleasant death to fit the place.

His terrors left him,—as strangely swift as they had come,—and in their place there rose a curious sensation of regret that so sweet and goodly a home as this should be ravaged.

This was, however, too novel a thought to take easy root, and he forgot it again as they began creeping downward along the narrow, shelving path to the park. The marauding party were sheltered from view the whole length of this path by a hedge the height of a man's waist; and once the bottom was reached, their way led through a wood where bushes and saplings grew thickly in the shadow of giant oaks.

When at last the end of this had been won, they were close to the rear of a small stone building which they had not seen until now. An arrow's flight away was the great house, also in plain view—and there grave things were going forward.

As Dickon gazed out, a great cloud of black smoke burst forth from the upper window in one of the towers of this mansion, and through the smoke he saw a dark object hurled outward, and whirl swiftly to the ground.

As it fell and lay sprawled shapelessly there, the lad realized that it was a human being. Then, in a dazed way, he understood that he was witnessing the sacking of a manor-house.

Sir Watty and his troop were already inside, and from the narrow doors and windows faint noises proceeded—screams of terror, curses of rage, and the clashing of weapons. Through a little postern door two of the Egswith marauders were thus early dragging out spoil in hangings, armor, and russet and murray gowns.

At the back of the mansion, to judge by the sounds, there was fighting in the open air not less fierce than that within.

At sight of the booty issuing from the postern, Rawly uttered a roar of greedy exultation, and Dickon, in the twinkling of an eye, found himself bereft of all his late companions, who followed Rawly in a headlong race for the scene of plunder.

The old archer did hold aloof for a brief space, calling out to Dickon that in a minute, or two at the utmost, all these would assuredly be stricken dead; but when no such thing happened, and more costly stuffs appeared to view in the hands of the ravishers, he threw off his fears of magic, and ran forward at the top of his speed to join in the work of plunder.

Such combat as had been needed was now at an end. Sir Watty—unless, indeed, he had other visits on his mind—might have safely wrought all this mischief with the fifth part of his force. Dickon marvelled vaguely that so many men had been brought for such paltry fighting—in ignorance that his lord's true danger lay on the highroad, returning with his spoils.

Why the lad had not gone forward with his fellows he could not have told. There was no reason why the thought of plunder should be repugnant to him.

His whole life had been spent among men who lived by plunder, and only in the dimmest fashion did he comprehend that there were people able to command horses and armor who lived by other means.

Yet he made no motion to join the others, and in the curious interest with which he stared upon the scene before him, had wholly forgotten the crossbow under his arm.

As he looked a swaying, shouting knot of men-at-arms appeared at the chief door of the mansion, dragging forward, with great buffetings and scuffling, a person whom Dickon saw to be, despite his struggles and disorder, one of dignity and presence.

As they haled him out upon the sward, and he stood erect among them, the lad noted that he was tall and past middle age, with the white face which goes with gentle pursuits, and that he wore a blue side-gown with fur upon it, and had a chain of gold about his neck.

His brow was bleeding from a blow with an iron gauntlet, but he held himself straight and proudly. Now that they had ceased to buffet him, he seemed to be putting questions to them which they answered by ribald shouts. Instinctively Dickon left the wood and began to cross the open space, that he might the better hear the gentle questions and the rude answers.

Sir Watty Curdle came suddenly out from the door, and made his way with swift, striding steps to the centre of this strange group. The shouts of the soldiers rose the higher for a moment, and then ceased altogether, to make silence for what their dumb show gave to be a talk between the robber-knight and the gentleman.

Dickon had not won near enough to catch even the sound of their voices, when the parley came to an abrupt ending.

Sir Watty all at once lifted his mailed hand, and with it struck the other man a violent blow in the face. As the gowned and unarmed man reeled, a soldier with his pole-axe completed his master's work. The stricken gentleman fell heavily, sidelong, and two others on the instant pitched upon the body to tear off the chain and furred robe.

While he stood watching this, Dickon felt his heart leap upward, and then sink with a great sickening. He stood as if turned to stone for a moment; and when sense returned to him, he had unconsciously brought his crossbow forward and fitted a bolt in it, and begun to draw the string home. To do what? He never knew.

Some soldiers were running in his direction across the sward, sounding the halloo of the chase, and pointing their weapons toward him. His first thought—that their approach meant an attack upon him—bred promptly the resolve to die as hard as might be.

He set his heels firmly, and again began to draw his bow; but then it became apparent that these running men strove to call his attention to some other matter, for they themselves were headed now obliquely away from him.

Turning, he saw that two persons, an old man and a boy, were fleeing for their lives toward the wood. They had come from the small house near by, and might have won safety by this time if his presence there had not forced them to bend in their course.

Without an instant's thought he began running after them at his utmost speed. It seemed to him that he had never moved with half the swiftness before which now lightened his heels.

At the very edge of the forest, the old man staggered and tripped upon his long gown, and fell face to earth, so that the foremost of his pursuers tumbled over him. Dickon had a momentary glimpse of a reverend white head and long, snowy beard kicked on the ground among iron boots, and of a half-dozen furious men fighting over what seemed already to be a lifeless body.

Then he heard a hoarse voice cry out, "The lad has the jewels! After him! After him!" and two of these robbers plunged on in headlong pursuit of the fugitive boy.

What Dickon had seen thus swiftly had served to slacken his pace for but a moment, and now that he gave chase again he was nearer to the child victim than were the others.

As he rushed through the thick tangle of woodland, he could see that the boy ahead bore under his arm a casket, the weight of which so wore upon his frail strength that his flight could last but a little longer. Then it came that Dickon was between the strange lad and his pursuers, being very close to both, and was turned in hot resolve to face these murderers, with his crossbow strung and levelled.

It seemed to cover only a blinded and whirling instant of time—this struggle which enveloped him. Dickon sent his square-headed bolt with a twang! straight into the throat of him who, panting and red-eyed, led the chase. As this one threw up his knees and pitched forward, the young archer sprang fiercely over the body, and fell with the fury of despair upon the other.

There was a terrible brief wrestle upon the frosted leaves and moss. Then the second ruffian lay suddenly still.

Dickon stood in trembling amaze for a little, staring down upon these twain, whom he had in a frenzied second put beyond further combat. He shook like any winter leaf as he looked, and his legs bent beneath him—for this foremost dead man was Morgan, the very bone and sinew of Egswith's dread band.

To be burned alive were the lightest vengeance for such a trick as this.

Dickon now thought of flight. Turning in haste, he saw before him the boy with the casket, standing at the entrance to a rocky glade just beyond, and looking out upon him with a white face. He moved swiftly to him, and laid hold upon the box.

"Speed for your life!" he hissed; and then the pair, with no further word, set forth in a breathless stumbling race through the forest.

Before long the echoes of savage shouts at the rear rang over the thicket, but the hunted lads only shivered in silence and pressed on. Then the cries died away, and there was no sound in all the woodland save the rustle of their hurried footsteps.

At last, when they had crossed a second valley, and had arrived at a hill upon which tall fir trees grew sparsely, and the ground was spread with a dense carpet of dry spines, the strange boy threw himself to the earth.

"Further I may not stir," he groaned, and put his head down upon the soft pine-needles in utter weakness.

Dickon lifted the lad in his arms, and bore him a little way to a nook where some stunted firs, bunched close in a ring around an ancestral stump, offered shelter. There, when he had disposed his companion in comfort, and stripped off his own fretting haubergeon, Dickon had time to think and to look about him.

The lad whose life he had saved in so terrible a fashion was slender and small of stature, yet had a face which to Dickon seemed full of the wisdom of years. It was a pale and girlish face, with thin, fine lineaments and blue eyes from which shone knowledge and swift sense.

The brow was strangely high and white. Dickon had seen such once or twice among the younger of the preaching road-friars. The long hair which fell in two partings from it was of the color and softness of flax. His thin legs were cased in some light hose which Dickon held to be of silk—puny enough stuff for such a rude journey as they were making, and now much torn and stained.

His body was covered with a tight slashed tunic of a brown velvet. His cap—if he set out with one—had been lost in the flight.

The boy seemed to desire no talk, for he lay with his ear to the earth, breathing heavily, and so Dickon squatted himself on his haunches, and pried open the cover of the heavy casket he had borne so far.

Instead of jewels, as he had looked to find, there was naught but a block of leather, ornamented with raised strips of velvet and gilded lines, which wholly filled the box. When Dickon lifted it out from its encasing, this leather top turned as on a hinge; and fastened below it at the back were seen many folds of parchment, one upon the other, all covered with black markings strange to the eye.

Dickon gazed in wonder at the queer figures upon the parchment. Then his slow mind recalled the archers talk of magic, and he let the thing drop, open and with crushed pages, flat to the ground.

The lad sprang up at this with a murmur of alarm, and lifted the fallen object, solicitously smoothing out the parchments and shutting the leather over them. Then he reached for the casket, and put it inside again, eying his companion with vexed regard meanwhile.

"It is ill to mar what thou canst not mend," he said sharply.

"There are more bolts to my bow, an you mean me harm," Dickon answered, with a stout voice enough, but much uncertainty within. He took up his weapon to point the words.

The lad in velvet laughed. "What harm could be in me?" he said, and laughed again. "Bolts and bows, forsooth! Why, thou couldst spoil me with thy thumb." And still he laughed on.

"Yon leathern gear—is it goodly?" Dickon pointed to the casket.

"What—my Troilus?" Looking into Dickon's honest face, he understood his fears, and answered gently: "Nay, ease thy mind. It is a book—a book not written, but made with types. It tells to the skilled eye a brave story—but not braver, good fellow, than to-day's tale of thee. Art a stout carle, by the rood! Who is thy master?"

Dickon bent his chin upon his throat to overlook the device stitched upon his breast, but did not reply. A formless idea crossed his brain that perchance one might live in forests without a lord. It was worth thinking upon.

"And by what mercy camest thou at my heels?" the lad pursued.

Then, as these words brought up before him the awful scene at the woodland's edge, he fell to shuddering and choked with sobs.

"My good old master,—to die thus foully,—oh, woe! woe!" he moaned, and put down his head again.

Dickon pricked up his ears at the word. "Had you then a master, too?" he asked, and on the instant there sprouted in his heart a kindlier feeling for the lad. They were more of a common clay, it seemed, than he had thought.

"But you have no badge!" he commented.

"Badge? Badge?" the boy said hesitatingly, and Dickon noted now a strangeness of sound in his speech which, the while he had held him to be of rank, had passed unheard.

"What means it—badge?" asked the lad; and when Dickon pointed to the two hares on his own breast, the stranger burst again into laughter. A droll boy this, surely, who could be so merry and so tearful all in the same breath.

"Nay, I wear no mans collar," he said at last; and then, in pity for Dickon's perplexity, explained. "The good old man, Geraldus Hansenius, was my master only in love and courtesy, and in that he taught me in all the deep mysteries of his craft.

"He brought me from my own land, and here, where Sir John gave us honor and fair lodgment, we printed the book. And now, lo! in this short hour Sir John and Geraldus are foully done to death, and Camber Dane is despoiled—and the Troilus and I are hiding for our lives, like hares in a thicket. Ach Gott! Ach Gott!"

At this there were more moans.

"No hare am I," said Dickon, stoutly, "but if they try me, more like a wolf. Pick me out these threads."

He knelt beside the lad, who with a bodkin from his doublet ripped one by one the hated lines that had shown Dickon to be evil Sir Watty's man.

Then Dickon stood upright, and filled himself with a great, deep breath. The new sense of liberty seemed to raise his stature and swell his girth. He took off his iron sallet, and shook his free head proudly, nearer to the sky than it had ever before been lifted.

"We will live in the greenwood," he said in bold, boyish confidence.

  CHAPTER III.

A STRANGE CHRISTMAS EVE.

When two nights and two days had passed, Dickon and Andreas found themselves on the furthermost edge of the forest. Here skirted the woodland a highroad which neither had seen before. Beyond this were a rolling moor country and distant mountains, the sight of which was strange to them; but house of any kind there was none.

When their eager gaze, sweeping all the prospect, had made certain that no habitation was to be seen, Dickon groaned deeply, and little Andreas wept outright.

As they stood thus, Andreas clenched his hands at his breast, lifting his white face upward toward the bare boughs. Then he closed his eyes, and staggering a single step, fell forward to the ground, and lay there on his face like a log.

Dickon lifted his comrade in his arms, and bore him back into the thicket. Out in the open where the two youths had viewed the highroad the earth was frozen stiff, and snow lay thin-spread upon it; but behind them, on the path they had made, lay warmer nooks sheltered by tangled shrubs.

To the first of these Dickon pushed his way, and putting the lad softly down, began gathering dry, dead leaves by armfuls and piling them over the senseless body. On these he laid branches, and then again more leaves, until only the boyish, sleeping face met the air.

Now he made another journey to the outer place which they had won, and gleaning from the ground the three things he had left there, brought them back to where the lad lay under his leaves, and put them down beside him. These were the crossbow, the book in its casket, and the mangled carcass of a boar which he had killed, but had eaten of more to his harm than good, since there was no fire with which to cook the meat.

Dickon looked down to his friend, and saw that the boy was awake, and sick unto death. Cold and hunger and the toil of wild wandering had dealt harshly with even Dickon's own tough English flesh and blood. They were killing the fragile lad from foreign parts.

"Do you get warmth?" he asked dolefully, as he had asked scores of other times.

For answer the lad closed his eyes and shook his head in weakness.

Then Dickon knelt down and did a thing strange to all his knowledge of customs. He kissed the pale forehead which lay half-hid among the leaves. Then, as if in shame, he sprang to his feet.

"Bide you here till I come," he said, and turning, strode off toward the open, with the crossbow under his arm.

For warmth's sake and the peril which brooded behind him, he swung himself forward at a swift pace down the highroad. The air and the movement kindled his blood a little.

A full league it seemed to him he must have tramped, over barren moorland and through winding defiles with steep, unfriendly sides of bare rock, before he came to anything that spoke of human habitation. Then, as the skies were darkening into twilight, he entered unawares into the deeper shadows of a great wall, gray and forbidding, rising above the highway like a part of the boulders themselves.

At the base of this, as if entering upon the heart of the earth, was a small, black door of wood, framed in frowning stone.

On this door of the monastery Dickon pounded with his fists, and with the handle of his weapon, and presently there came a sound as of bolts withdrawn. The door opened half-way, and a chalk-faced young friar in white gown and hood stood before him.

"Enter," this spectral figure said, and trembled with the cold.

"Nay, fire is what I seek," stammered Dickon, almost in fright at the ghost-like form before him, and at the strange sound of a tinkling bell echoing from the rocks overhead.

"Canst not wait till thou art dead for that?" the white-robed phantom said, in tones of earthly vexation. He would have shut the door at this, but that Dickon sprang forward, thrust his bow against the inner frame, and clutched the friar by the arm.

"Fire! fire!" he cried. "Give me that to kindle fire, or I kill you—like the others!"

The monk stood stock-still, and curled the thin corners of his lips in scorn at this rude boy, and held him with his bright, sneering gaze. Dickon looked into these sharp, cold eyes, and felt himself a noisy fool.

"Nay, father," he stumbled on, pleadingly, "if I get not a fire, he dies!"

"Hast thy head full of dead men, seemingly," the young Cistercian replied.

He cast his glance down over this rough visitor, and noting the blood-splashes upon his hose, lifted his brows in wrathful inquiry. Then he snatched up the crucifix from the end of the chain at his girdle, and thrust it swiftly into Dickon's face.

"Who art thou, churl?" he demanded. "Whose blood is this?"

Dickon's nerve sank into his shoes.

"A boar that I have slain, good father," he answered in a mumbling whimper, "and lack fire wherewith to roast it; and the raw flesh is ill food, and he can eat naught of it, and gets no warmth, and must die if I win not a fire."

At this the monk softened. He led Dickon into the outer porch, and gleaned the purport of his story. Only Dickon said nothing of the book or of the two men he had killed.

"Fire thou shalt have," the young monk said, more kindly, when Dickon's tale was finished. "But first go through the gates before thee to the hall, and take all thou wilt of meat and ale. None will deny thee. 'Tis the eve of holy Christmas, and though we fast, thou and thy kind may feed in welcome."

"It is only fire I seek," said Dickon, doggedly, though all his vitals clamored in revolt against the speech. "Food I will none till he hath supped."

"So be it," said the monk, and left Dickon alone under the groined archway in the growing darkness.

Presently he came again, and put flint and steel and tinder into the lad's hand. He gave him also a leathern bottle stopped with wax and a little cheese wrapped in fine straw.

"Bear these along," he said. "It is the Christmas eve. Peace be with you," and so motioned the boy away.

Dickon's tongue was not used to words of thanks, and he had turned in silence to go out when the monk called to him, and then came forward to the outer door.

"You were to kill me—like 'the others,'" he said, with a grim smile curling his lips. "What others?"

"Two of Sir Watty's men, whom I smote down as they would have fallen upon him," said Dickon, pride struggling with apprehension.

The monk smiled at this outright, and departing again abruptly, returned with a pasty in a dish, enfolded in cloths.

"Now God be with you!" he said, heartily. "Hither bring your strange gossip on the morrow, if he find his legs."

Once outside the rock-girt postern, Dickon set to running, his arms full with the burden of the friar's gifts, and his heart all aglow with joy. It was a wearisome enough ascent, and the darkness of even was drawing ever closer over the earth, and the lad's empty stomach cried aloud at every furlong for food; but still he pressed on.

When at last he had gained the point on the road whence his quest had begun, the light had altogether failed. Then only he struck his flint, and set fire to some leaves. From these he kindled a knot of dry branches, and with this for a torch pushed his way into the woods.

"Andreas," he called out, when at last he stood above his friend, "here is fire and food!"

The white face among the leaves was the color of the snow he had left behind him. The eyes were half-open, but no answering light came into them. The boy lay as if dead.

With a startled cry Dickon let fall his spoils, and dropping to his knees, lifted the other's head up against his waist. It twisted inertly upon the thin neck and hung forward. Was life truly gone?

Like one in a daze, Dickon laid the boy down again among the leaves, and rose to his feet, still holding the burning sticks in his hand. The flames came painfully near to his flesh before he started into sense again.

Then he swiftly built a fire in a cleft among the rocks at the end of the little hollow, piling dry wood and leaves upon it till the blaze lighted up everything about. This done, he knocked off the waxen cover of his leather bottle, cut out the stopper, and kneeling once more, put its mouth to the dying lad's lips.

Strange tears came into his eyes as, after only a brief moment, those of his friend opened in truth, and gazed wonderingly upward at the luminous volume of ascending smoke. Then the slight frame shuddered piteously with a recurring chill, and the dread sleep fell upon it once more.

Dickon dragged him to the fire, piling leaves behind for support, and holding the lad's hands almost into the flames, so desperate did the strait seem to be. Then he stripped off his own leathern jacket, and wrapped it about Andreas.

He heaped fresh fuel on the fire, he rubbed the slender limbs for warmth with his rough hands, he forced more of the wine-drink down the boy's throat—all at once, as it were, in a frenzy of resolve that death should at all hazards be fought off.

And so it came about, for presently Andreas was sitting propped up upon the mound of leaves, smiling faintly with pleasure at the new warmth in his veins, and sucking bare the last bird-bones from the pie.

Dickon gnawed ravenously upon the smoky and half-cooked piece of tough meat he had cut from the ham of the boar, and watched the sweet spectacle of his friend restored to life, in an abstraction of dumb joy.

Andreas lifted his hand in air, and uttered an exclamation of surprise.

"It is Christmas eve!" he said. "I had forgotten!"

"So said the friar," Dickon mumbled between mouthfuls, tearing at the food meanwhile with his teeth. "He was in two minds about having me flogged, but for that. The monks have a fear of the king, they say, and on the days he marks for them durst not break bread for themselves. Thus this friar must needs fast to-day—so he said. How could the king know, if he slipped in some food while-times? He hath not been in these parts this many years."

"It is not the king, Dickon," answered Andreas. "A greater than any king ordereth these matters."

"Aye, the lord of Warwick," said Dickon. "My father rode with him, in far countries, when he was lusty. But the king slew him years agone, in a battle by London town. Wist you not that?"

"Tut, tut," the lad in ragged velvet made reply, smiling at first, and then more gravely. "Your Warwick is dust and bones, as every man shall be, the king not less than the meanest knave. But God does not die, and He ruleth all things."

"Sir Watty swore ever by Him," said Dickon. "But He hath not once set foot in Shropshire, in my time."

Andreas lifted himself at this, with eyes marvelling at such ignorance.

"Oh, Dickon lad, thou hast the very mother's milk of learning to find thy way to," he cried, and crossed his knees by the ruddy blaze, tailor-fashion, to begin.

The story that he told to Dickon was such a one as never Christian child in these times needs to hear, but rather draws in from every source, unconsciously, like speech and the shapings of thought. But to Dickon it was brand new, since at Egswith no godly man had ever shown his face. He listened to it all with open mouth and brain.

As for Andreas, he grew presently conscious of fatigue, and lay back upon his couch of leaves as his narrative unfolded. Then, the instant spur of food and warmth becoming spent, his voice grew fainter, and in the returning weakness his thoughts wandered from the thread of the sublime story to tender memories of how it had been illumined and decked out in his old German home.

"Ach, lieber Tannenbaum!" he murmured, with the firelight in his dreamy eyes. "It was a sight to live for, Dickon—the beautiful fir tree before you, with burning candles fastened in among the branches, and Christmas gifts hanging underneath,—every little minute something new you found,—and father, mother, brothers, sisters, all in the happy ring around the tree, with joyful songs and good wishes—woe! woe! I shall never see it again!"

"That thou shalt, and hundreds of them," said Dickon, cheerily.

But Andreas shook his head in sadness, and gazed into the crackling blaze as though it were a tomb.

"Old Geraldus and I would have had a tree," he sighed at last. "Each year since we came out from Augsburg we made us one, and sang the dear old German songs, and gave each other gifts. And this year we were both to give this goodly 'Troilus' to Sir John—and lo! they are both murdered, dead, and I am following them, close at their heels—and 'Troilus' will come to naught. And never had more cunning and shapely work been done, not even in Augsburg!"

"Is it far—that 'Owg'—what name do you call it?" asked Dickon. "As far as London town?"

The lad smiled faintly from where he lay. "It is across the sea, and many days' journey still."

"And does the king come there oftener than into Shropshire?"

"Dull boy! There your king durst never come. It is not his country. There is an emperor, and then a Wittelsbach Duke, but even these may not come into Augsburg if the burghers say them nay. The tongue is different there from yours, and so, glory be to the saints, are the manners, too. There learning flourishes, and men are gentle, and books like poor Troilus yonder are monthly made by dozens."

"Wherefore came you hither, then?" queried Dickon, with rude islander logic.

"It was the madness in my master's head. He deemed that here he should be welcome, bringing a new craft to make knowledge common. But these be beasts here in Shropshire, not men. They desire not books, but only blood and battle and red meat."

"Men come by knowledge to their hurt," said Dickon. "There was a clerk turned thief in Egswith with Sir Watty, and he was skilled to fashion marks on paper so wise men might know their meaning—and him they hanged at Rednal for a rogue four winters syne."

"For that he was a robber, and no true clerk," retorted Andreas.

Dickon looked into the fire for answer, and then at the black, starless sky overhead. He rose, and busied himself for a time in gathering fresh fuel, and then in roughly wattling some side shelter at the back of the bed of leaves. Some vagrant flakes of snow sifted through the branches above, and he reflected upon the chances of making a roof on the morrow. Or doubtless it would be better to go farther back, and build more securely there.

He put the question to Andreas by way of talk, restoring the fire meanwhile. The German boy smiled in wonder.

"Why, on the morrow, if strength comes back to me, hie we to the good white friars. They bade you come, and me, too!"

Dickon's face clouded over.

"Nay, I'm for the greenwood," he said stubbornly. "I will wear no man's collar more, nor sleep under roof. To be free, here in the open, it maketh a new man of me. And so, an you leave me, here I abide alone, or in these parts."

"How should I leave thee, Dickon?" said the other, softly. "That could not be. But freedom lies not alone out under the skies, in wind and cold. Was any other more free than I, with my old master? Come, thou shalt be ruled by me—and we will make our way out from these ruffian parts together, and somewhere we shall light upon a gentle patron, and there I will carve new types and build a press, and thy stout arms shall turn the screw, and I will teach thee learning, and——"

He broke off all at once, and gazed wistfully upward at the mounting volume of smoke and snapping sparks for a long time in silence. Dickon looked on him, speechless but with great things dawning confusedly in his head.

  CHAPTER IV.

UP IN THE WORLD.

Save the crackling of flame, and the small sound of branches overhead that were swayed a little by the draught from the fire on the forest floor, Dickon heard nothing while he waited for Andreas to finish the matter of which he had been speaking.

For the rude smithy-bred boy there was little meaning in the other's promise to teach him learning. No more meaning was there for Dickon in the young scholar's craving for types and a press to begin printing anew.

But the promise that Andreas would not part from him lingered in Dickon's ears, and uplifted his heart as he waited reverentially to hear again the gentle, convinced, and loving accents of the German youth.

At last Andreas spoke—as if he had not paused, and yet with a strange new wailing weakness in his voice:—

"And if the saints willed, thus might we win our way back to Augsburg. But that may never be, for I shall die here, here where I lie, and thou wilt turn to wild beast or robber when I am gone, and brave, goodly Augsburg will press on, leading all men, with never a thought of poor little me, dead here in the forest."

Dickon would have spoken in homely protest, but the change on his friend's face scared him to dumbness. Not even the flame-light could make it ruddy now. In the eyes there was a dimmed, far-away look which chilled Dickon's blood.

"Aye, when I lie forgotten here,"—the thin, saddened voice went on in increasing slowness,—"there the old gray walls and tiled gables will be, with the storks making their nests in the spring, and the convent boys singing at daybreak in the streets, and the good housewives stopping in the market-place on their way home from mass, and the smell of new grass and blossoms in the air ... and when Christmas comes I shall not know it ... these eyes shall not look again on the Tannenbaum. Woe! woe!"

"Is that the tree?" asked Dickon, some impulse to words and action stirring vaguely in his frightened heart.

"Aye," groaned Andreas, "the beautiful tree with candles blazing on its branches and shining gifts." He followed on in a weak murmuring of foreign words, seemingly without meaning.

Dickon bent one intent, long glance upon this childish, waxen face before him. Then he plucked a burning bough from the fire, and without a word pushed the bushes aside and plunged into the outer darkness of the forest.

After some time he returned, bearing an armful of rushes. He warmed himself for a moment, and then, seated so that Andreas might not observe his work, began with his knife to cut these down into lengths of a span, and to strip off all but a winding rim of their outer cover.

Then he hacked with his knife into the frozen boar's carcass. Cutting out portions of white, hard fat, he melted these a little at the fire, and then rolled them thinly between his palms about the trimmed rushes. This done, he flayed off a part of the boar's skin, scorched off the bristles, rubbed it all with ashes, and spreading it over his sallet, sliced it into a rude semblance of fine thongs.

Then, still uttering no word, he was gone again, once more bearing with him a lighted torch.

In front of Andreas, but to one side, as he lay in half trance and utter faintness watching the smoke, there rose at two rods' distance the dark outline of a fir tree, the lower parts of which were hidden by shrubs.

Suddenly the sick boy's gaze was diverted to the dim black cone of this tree, where a reddish radiance seemed spreading upward from the tangle underneath. Then a sparkling spot of white light made itself visible high up among the dusky branches—then another—and another. At last nearly a dozen there were, all brightly glowing like stars brought near.

Andreas gazed in languid marvelling at the development of this strange thing—as one quietly contemplates miracles in sleep. It seemed but a natural part of his dying vision of Augsburg—the Tannenbaum making itself weirdly real before his fading sight.

The rosy smoke parted to shape a frame for this mystic picture in its centre, and Andreas saw it all—the twinkling lights, the deep-shadowed lines of boughs, the engirdling wreaths of fiery vapor—as a part of the dreamland whose threshold he stood upon. And his heart sang softly within him at the sight.

Then all at once he awoke from the dream; for Dickon was standing over him, flushed with a rude satisfaction in his work, and saying:—

"Gifts had I none to hang, Andreas, save it were the bottle and what is left of the cheese. Look your fill at it, for boar's fat never yet was tallow, and the rushes are short-lived."

The dream mists cleared from the German boy's brain.

"Oh, it is thine!" he faintly murmured, in reviving comprehension. "Thou hast made it—for me!"

Dickon glanced out to where, in his eyes, some sorry dips guttered for a brief space on a tree-top. More than one of the lights was already flickering to collapse in the breeze.

"You said you never would see one again," he urged triumphantly. "Belike your speech about dying was no whit truer."

Andreas had no further words, but lifted his hand weakly upward, and Dickon knelt down and took it in his own hard palms.

Thus the two boys kept silence for a period—silence which spoke many things to both—and looked at the little rush-dips fluttering on the boughs against the curtain of black night.

Of a sudden, the stillness which had tenderly enwrapped them was roughly broken. If there had been warning sounds, the lads had missed them—for their hearts almost stopped beating with the shock that now befell.

A violent crushing of the bushes, a chance clank of metal—and two fierce-faced bowmen in half-armor stood in the firelight before their frightened gaze.

"Stir not—on your lives!" cried one of these strange intruders, with the cold menace of a pole-axe in his mailed hand. "What mummery is this?"

Somehow it dawned upon Dickon's consciousness that these warlike men, for all their terrifying mien, were as much frightened in their way as he was. This perception came doubtless from the lessons of a life spent with bold soldiers who yet trembled at sight of a will o' the wisp. He kept his jaw from knocking together with an effort, and asked as if at his ease:

"What mean you, good sir? No mummery is here."

"There! there!" shouted the other man-at-arms, pointing with his spear to where the rush-lights—or what remained of them—twinkled fitfully in the tree.

"Oh, that," said Dickon, with nonchalance. "It is a trick of foreign parts, made by me to gladden the heart of this poor lad, my master, who lies here sore stricken with sickness. Wist you not it is Christmas? This is our Tonnybow, meet for such a time."

The two men looked sharply at the boys, and then, after a murmured consultation, one turned on his heel and disappeared. The other, espying the leathern bottle, grew friendlier, and lifted it to his lips by an undivided motion from the ground. Then he said, drawing nearer to the blaze and heaving a long, comforted breath:—

"Whose man art thou?"

"This is my master," replied Dickon, with his thumb toward Andreas, "who was most foully beset by robbers, and is like now to die if he win not help and shelter."

"That shall be as my lord duke willeth," said the soldier.

As he spoke, the sound of more clanking armor fell upon the air. In a moment a half-dozen mailed men stood at the entrance to the copse, gazing in with curious glances.

Behind them were men with flaring torches, and in their front was the stately figure of a young knight, tall and proudly poised. A red cloak and fur tippet were cast over his shining corselet.

This young man had a broad brow under his hanging hair, and grave, piercing eyes, which passed over Dickon as mere clay, and fastened a shrewd gaze on the lad in velvet.

"It is the German gift-tree," he said to those behind him, whom Dickon saw now to be gentles and no common soldiers. "I have heard oft of this, but looked not to see it first in Shropshire. What do you here?" he asked at Dickon, rather than of him, and with such a flash of sharp, commanding eyes that the lad's tongue thickened, and he could make no answer.

Andreas it was who spoke, when words failed Dickon, in a voice firmer than before, and lifting himself on his elbow.

"He saved my life, my lord," he said. "And I am dying, I think, and this tree the good fellow tricked out to please my sick fancy. And I pray you, for a dead lad's sake, have a care for him when I am gone."

The knight, with the promise of a smile on his straight lips, looked from eager, fragile Andreas to burly, hang-dog Dickon, and back again.

"Art from the German countries?" he asked. "And how here, of all spots under the sky?"

"I am Andreas Mayer, from Augsburg," said the lad, "driven hence by robbers from the house of Sir John Camber, who was slain along with my good master, Geraldus Hansenius."

The young knight took a hasty step forward, and peered down upon the lad.

"Geraldus of the types and press—the printer?" he asked hurriedly. "And thou art skilled in his craft?"

"This is even more my handiwork than his," replied Andreas, with a boy's pride, reaching out for the casket containing his beloved "Troilus."

Dickon undid the cover, and handed out the volume to the young noble, who took it with a swift gesture, and turned over here and there a page, bending the book to the firelight and uttering exclamations of delight. Suddenly he closed the book, and gave it back to Dickon to replace in the casket.

"I thank thee, Sir Francis," he said to one of those behind him. "But for thy wonder at the lights in yon tree, we had passed this treasure by. Ho there, Poynter! Fashion me a litter on the moment, and we will bear this lad onward to the abbey as we go. Let some one ride on to say I am belated; hasten the others."

Then he took the precious volume from its casket once more, and mused upon its pages again, and spoke of them to the gentlemen closest behind him. Again and again he put pointed questions to young Andreas upon the method of their making.

"Thou hast heard of Master Caxton?" he asked the German boy.

"Aye, he of Bruges, and I have seen his work. Geraldus did as fair."

"Thou shalt help Caxton, then, to do fairer still. He is of Bruges no longer, saints be praised, but practises his good craft in his own native England now this two months syne at my own house in Westminster; and he will fall upon thy neck in joy when I do bring thee to him."

The boy's eyes sparkled with elation. Forgetting his weakness, he sat upright.

"I would not be over-bold," he said, "but with these mine hands have I held proofs for the Emperor to read from, and there is none of higher state in this thy island of a surety. Art thou the duke of these parts?"

"Rather a duke who fain would be of all parts," the young knight answered, and then smiled to note that the quip was lost upon the foreign lad. He made a little movement of his hand to signify that he would be no longer unknown, and one of the others informed the questioner.

"It is his Grace of Gloster—our good King's brother—who honors you with his princely favor."

Some archers bore in a bed of boughs at this, over which the Prince, still smiling, spread his own red cloak, jewelled collar and all. To another he gave the casket with the book.

"I keep my Christmas at the house of holy St. Bernard, down the valley," he said, as the men lifted Andreas gently into the litter, and folded the royal robe about his slender form. "Sobeit thou gainest strength there, in warm bed and cheerful care, shalt ride to London with me."

So, as he turned upon his heel, the torch-bearers spread themselves forth to light his way; and after him, with much rattling of iron, arms and armor, the knights and the men with the litter pushed their way.

Dickon stood by the declining fire, awed and struck dumb with what had come to pass. The brother of the King! They were bearing Andreas away, and he was left under the black winter sky with his crossbow and frozen boar and empty bottle, desolate and alone.

He stared stupidly at the dancing torch-lights on the armor of the passing group, with a dull ache in his breast.

Then suddenly he heard the shrill voice of Andreas crying, "Dickon! My Dickon!"

Dickon ran headlong forward, and stood boldly beside the litter, which for the moment was halted in its progress. When the Prince turned to look back, the smith's son faced even this mighty glance upright, and with his chin in the air. If the wrath of kings' brothers killed, then he would at least die beside Andreas.

"What to-do is this?" Richard of Gloster asked, with a bending of his brows upon the peasant lad.

The Prince had stopped, and with him all his cortège. Above him flickered in its final stage the last of the rush-lights on the tree. Now that he stood cloakless, one of his shoulders was revealed higher than the other.

"He saved my poor life, your Highness," spoke Andreas swiftly from his couch. "He came to Camber Dane along with the robber band, but in the pillage he bore no part, and with his own hands slew he two villains who would have run me down, and bore me through the forest here, and got food and drink and fire for me, and guarded my 'Troilus' there from loss and——"

"Whose man art thou, boy?" the Prince broke in.

"I was Sir Watty Curdle's man," Dickon made answer, with a stumbling tongue, but bold enough mien. "But that I will be no more, but rather die here first."

"Why, Sir Watty hath outstripped thee in that race. I set his head up on a pole in Craven market-place this morning, and Egswith hath the King's men in it to keep for once an honest Christmas," said the Prince, smiling grimly. "What name hast thou?"

"No other name save Dickon."

"Why, then, for all this doughty strife and brave work shalt have another atop of it," the Prince said, his shrewd, shapely young face melting into a kindly softness. "Art a good lad to be thus sued for."

He cast his swift glance about in instant search for some fit surname, and his eye caught the struggling taper-light upon the bough above him.

"Thou shalt be Dickon of the Tannenbaum," he called out, so that each might hear, "and wear my boar's head in exchange for that other thou didst slay, and hold thyself my man."

Then the torches moved on again, and behind them, in their dancing shadows through the wintry wood, the Prince and knights and litter passed; and Dickon followed to the highroad, where horses and five-score men-at-arms were waiting, and so to the abbey before ever midnight struck.

Seven years afterward, on bloody Bosworth field, when King Richard hewed his despairing way through the ring of steel which engirdled the pretender Richmond, and fell there dead, another Richard rode hotly at his heels, and like him was stricken to the earth.

But life was left in this second, and for the madness of his bravery it was spared. After he had lain a time in Leicester Abbey, to be cured of his wounds, he went to London, where Henry now was king instead. It was our Dickon.

The aged Master Caxton and Andreas Mayer, his right hand now, stood Dickon's friends at court, and it came in time to pass that he died Sir Richard Tannibow, for so the English tongue framed the strange foreign word Tannenbaum. Of the properties he left behind the chief was the domain of Egswith, where once he had been the lowliest of hinds.

In after ages the name of the family still further changed to Tambow; but it is not likely to undergo any further shortening. Though they do not hold Egswith now, and wear no title in these later times, the Tambows still bear upon their shield the fir tree and the candles, and rightfully hold their heads as high as any in all Shropshire.