Where Avon into Severn Flows by Harold Frederic
HUGH THE WRITER.
A boy of fifteen, clad in doublet and hose of plain cloth dyed a sober
brown, sat alone at one end of a broad, vaulted room, before a writing
table. The strong, clear light which covered him and his work fell
through an open window, arched at the top and piercing a stone wall of
almost a yard's thickness. Similar openings to the right and left of
him marked with bars of light a dozen other places along the extended,
shelf-like table, where writers had now finished their day's labor,
and, departing, had left covered horns of ink and cleansed utensils
behind them. But the boy's task lagged behind fulfilment, and mocked
Strive as he might, Hugh could not compel the tails of the longer
letters to curl freely and with decent grace, or even to run in the
same direction, one with the other. Though he pressed his elbow to the
board, and scowled intently at the vellum before him, and even thrust
out his tongue a little in earnest endeavor, still the marks went
wrong. At last there came at the end of a word an "f," which needs must
flow into shapely curves at top and bottom, if all fair writing were
not to be shamed—and, lo! it did neither, but sloped off shakily into
a rude angle above, a clumsy duck's egg below. Then he laid down his
reed pen, and groaned aloud.
This Hugh Overtown, having later come to man's estate and then
comfortably ripened into old age, has been dust and ashes now close
upon four hundred years. For every minute in that huge stretch of time,
some other boy since then has put aside his pen and groaned, because
the stubborn letters would not come right. But not many of these have
had such sound cause for vexation.
First of all, Hugh was a trained writer, who might look a little later
to be actually paid for his toil, if so be he did not take the black
habit and became a monk himself. All of their gentle craft that the
master limners and letterers in this great scriptorium of Tewkesbury
Abbey could teach him, he had learned. In all the ten major abbeys and
priories of Gloucestershire, perhaps no other lad of his years was so
skilled to use both brush and pen. His term of tutelage being passed,
he wrought now, in repayment for his teaching, upon the choicest of the
volumes written here for great nobles and patrons of art and letters.
And if ever sureness of glance and touch was called for, it was at this
present time, since the work must be meet for royal eyes. The
volume—when all its soft, creamy leaves should have been covered with
arabesques and high painted crests and shields and deftly regular text
of writing, and been sewed together inside their embossed covers—was
to be given, they said now, to the brother of the King. Prouder
ambition than this a craftsman could hardly dream of—yet now, all at
once, Hugh despaired to find himself making foolish mis-marks on the
precious page, and not able to contrive their betterment.
The boy stared in gloom upon the parchment, wondering if, in truth, it
were wholly spoilt; then his eyes wandered off through the open window
to the blue May sky, and drifting after their gaze went his thoughts,
in wistful reverie upon that gilded dreamland of princes and earls,
whither this book, in good time, was to wend its way. New promptings
stirred in his blood.
He had been a monk's boy in all these later years of peace, since his
father, the poor saddler, fell in his Nevill livery on Hedgely Moor,
away in the farthest north. The great kindly Abbey had been much more
his home than the dark, squalid little house in the village below,
where his widowed mother lived: here he had learned to write so that
even the Abbot, John Strensham, lofty magnate and companion of princes
though he was, had nodded smilingly over his work; here he had helped
to serve the Mass in the grand Abbey church, with censer and bell, and
felt his young mind enriched and uplifted by pious longings; here, too,
he had dreamed into the likeness of veritable and detailed history his
vision of the time when he should compose some wonderful chronicle, and
win thanks from the great ones of the earth, and be known to all men as
Hugh of Tewkesbury, whose book was to be prized above every other.
But now, after seven years wherein peaceful desires possessed plain
men—lo! here was fighting in the land. And now of a sudden it seemed
to Hugh that the writing of books, the quiet cloistral life, even the
favor of the Abbot himself, were paltry things. An unaccustomed heat
tingled in his veins at thought of what existence outside these thick
walls might now once more signify. Who would be a stoop-shouldered
scribe, a monk, or even a mass-priest when there were war harnesses to
wear, horses to mount, yew bows to bend till the shaft trembled in the
Hugh could almost believe that he heard the tramp and distant confused
murmuring of an armed host, as his musing dream took form. The very
pages lying before him spoke of this new outburst of war, and linked
him to it. The book was one of heraldry, and it had been begun for the
great Earl of Warwick. Both the fame and the person of this mighty
captain were well-known to the lad, for the King-maker was lord of
Tewkesbury, and the overshadowing patron of village and abbey alike.
But when scarcely the first sheets had been written this puissant lord
had fled the kingdom, and the cautious monks had laid the work aside.
Later came strange rumors and tales: how Warwick had returned and
driven the King away, and put up his whilom Red-rose foes to rule in
London—and then pens and brushes were set busily at the book once
more. But now the King had in turn come back and seized his own again,
and slain Warwick on bloody Barnet field—and the frightened monks had
bethought them to finish the book, with sundry emblazonings of the
royal arms now ingeniously married to those of the Nevills, and make it
a peace offering to Duke George of Clarence, who had wedded Warwick's
daughter, and would be lord of Tewkesbury in his shoes.
The half-written page of vellum on the table seemed to Hugh a living
part of all this stirring new romance of blood and spark-striking
steel. Almost it made a soldier out of him to touch it. The characters
engrossed thereon by his own hand danced before his eyes—waved in his
daydream like the motto on some proud knight's banner being borne
forward to battle.
Suddenly the boy sat upright. Beyond question there was an
unwonted noise, as of tumult, coming through the casement from the
village without. He could distinguish the clanking of iron harness and
weapons, the trampling of hoofs; and now—once! twice! a trumpet blast,
rising on the air above the dull, vague rumble which bespeaks the
assembling of a throng. He sprang to his feet, with the thought to
climb the embrasure and look forth—and then as swiftly sat down again
and bent over his work; the Chief Scrivener of the Abbey had entered
Brother Thomas came slowly to the table—a good, easy man, whose fat
white fingers knew knife and spoon now in these latter days much
oftener than brush or pen—and glanced idly over Hugh's shoulder at the
pages. Then he lifted the unfinished one, held it in the light to peer
more closely, and sniffed aloud. Next he put his hand under Hugh's
chin, and raised the boy's blushing face up till their glances met.
"What palsied spiders'-tracks are these?" he asked, holding out the
vellum. "Art ill, boy?"
The gentle irony in his master's tone touched Hugh's conscience. He
shook his head, and hung it, and kept a sheepish silence.
Thomas tossed the sheet upon the table, and spoke with something more
of sharpness. "It is the mummers that have led thy wits off
morris-dancing," he said. "These May-day fooleries stretch themselves
out now, each year more, until no time at all is left for honest work.
This it is I noted in thee yesterday, and marvelled at—when thou hadst
ruled the lines bordering the painted initial letter with effect to cut
off holy St. Adhelm's ear. Thy head is filled with idle sports and
frolics outside. Happen his Lordship shall put them down now, once for
Hugh's red face turned redder still, and when he would have spoken, his
tongue was tied in confusion. Brother Thomas had unwittingly drawn very
near to the truth of an awkward thing, the burden of which lay heavily
on the boy's mind. In the next room, hidden but indifferently, were the
fanciful garments which he himself had painted for the village
morris-dancers a month before. They had been returned in privacy to
him, and he had weakly pledged himself to trick them out anew against
their coming use at Whitsuntide. This guilty secret it was that had
preyed upon his peace, and robbed his hand of its cunning, ever since
the masking dresses had been brought to him on yester-morning.
In any other year, he might have spoken freely to his master of this
matter. But as evil chance would have it, on this very May festival,
now two days gone—when in their pleasant wont the youths and maidens
of Tewkesbury rose before cockcrow, and hied them to the greenwood with
music and the blowing of horns, to gather haythorn branches and
dell-flowers, to bathe their faces in the May-dew for beauty's sake, to
shoot at target with Robin Hood, and dance their fill about Maid
Marian—who but Brother Thomas should pass on his return from matins at
Deerhurst cell, nodding drowsily with each movement of his patient
mule? Hugh recalled with a shudder how some wanton ne'er-do-well had
from the bushes hurled a huge, soft swollen toadstool, which broke upon
the good monk's astonished countenance, and scattered miserably inside
his hood. It was small wonder that from this Brother Thomas conceived
sour opinions of May-day sports, and now hinted darkly that the Abbot
should make an end to them. But as it stood thus, Hugh dared not speak
concerning the morris-dresses, and so had hidden them, and now was
sorely troubled about it all.
It may be that here, upon the moment, he would have broken silence with
his secret, well knowing how truly gentle a heart had Thomas. But at
this the door was flung open, and there entered Brother Peter, his
gaunt gray poll shaking with excitement, his claw-like hands held up as
one amazed, his eyes aflame with eagerness.
"Know ye what is come upon us?" he called out breathlessly. "The
foreign woman—save her Grace, she that was—or is—Queen Margaret, I
mean—is at our gates, and with her the Lord Duke Somerset, and her son
the Prince Edward, and the great Earl's daughter, our Lady Anne, and
with them a mort of lords, and knights, and men-at-arms—running now
over every highway and lane inside Tewkesbury and out, taking to
themselves roughly whatever eye likes or belly craves—swearing by the
Rood they will have the Abbey down about our ears if we deny them or
food or drink!"
While Peter's vehement tongue hurled forth these tidings, the man
Thomas went pale with sudden concern for the great treasures and peace
of the house; the boy Hugh rose to his feet, all the miseries of
May-day and morris-garments clean forgotten, and only the inspiriting
ring of steel on steel in his ears.
"Oh! may I run and behold the brave sight?" he prayed aloud, but Thomas
held forth a restraining hand for the moment, and Hugh, much chafing,
heard what further Peter had to tell.
The Abbot, and with him the heads of the Chapter, had gone to the
gates, and by parley had warded off incursion. The Abbey servants,
threescore in number, were bearing forth meat and bread and ale to
spread on the ham by the mill for the famished Lancastrians, who had in
these thirty hours marched from Bristol by Gloucester, through forest
and foul by-ways, with scarcely bite or sup, and now ravened like
winter wolves. There were stories that King Edward, in pursuit, had
covered ground even more swiftly, and now was this side of Cheltenham,
in hot chase. With this dread foe at their tail, the Lancastrian lords
dared not attempt to ford the Severn, and so Queen, Prince, Duke, and
all were halted up above the village on the high Gaston fields, and
there would on the morrow give battle to King Edward.
"Oh! woe the day!" groaned Thomas, whose heart was in peaceful things.
"How shall we escape sack and pillage—our painted missals and fair
written tomes, our jewelled images, our plate of parcel-gilt, and
silver-gilt and white, the beryl candlesticks, the mitres, monstrances,
rings, gloves—wist ye not how after Wakefield's victory the Queen's
men broke open churches, and defiled altars, from York along to London
"Hast but a poor stomach for war times, good Thomas!" said the lean and
eager old Brother Sacristan, in a tone spiced with sneering. "Who
talketh of Wakefield? Who hath promised victory to these ribald Devon
louts? On the morrow, we shall see them cast off their coats to run the
better. Our stout King Edward hath never lost fight or turned tail yet.
Shall he begin now?"
The old monk had not forgotten the deep Yorkist devotion in which his
hotter secular youth had been trained, and his eyes sparkled now at
thought of how true a fighter King Edward really was. No such fire of
remembrance burned within Thomas, who none the less accepted the
"Of a certainty," he admitted, "the King hath won all his battles
heretofore. Doubtless he hath the close favor of the saints. I mind me
now of his piety—how that he would not be crowned on the day
appointed, for that it was Childermas, and the Holy Innocents might not
be thus affronted. Thus do wise and pious kings and men"—Thomas lifted
his voice here, and glanced meaningly at Hugh—"win Heaven's smiles,
and honor fitly the anniversaries of the year—not by dancing and
mumming in the greenwood."
"I ween that in this game now forward, hard knocks will serve King
Edward more than all his holiness, good Thomas," said Peter, who,
coming to the Abbey late in life, brought some carnal wisdom along in
his skull. "And this more—mark thou my words—when all is still again
the Abbey will be the richer, not the poorer, for it all."
"How wilt thou make that good?" asked Thomas. "At best, this beef and
ale must be at our cost—and the worst may more easily come to pass."
"Hast forgotten the funerals?" said Peter, dryly, with a significant
nod towards the door beyond. Then, noting no gleam of comprehension on
the faces of the others, he strode to this door, and threw it open.
Within, in the half light, they could see through the narrow archway
the dim outlines of rich banners standing piled against the walls, and
candles heaped on chests of vestments, and velvet palls.
"How make it good?" cried the worldly Peter. "Where we have put pence
into that room we shall draw forth rose-nobles. Know you not the King's
charge to his fighting men, 'Kill the lords, but spare the commons!' By
sundown of the morrow one may walk among dead knights round about like
sheeps' carcasses on a murrain'd moor. The Gastons, if there the Queen
holdeth her place till she be met, will turn to marshes with gentle
blood. And where shall they be buried, but here, within the holy
Abbey's walls? Then see what comes: item, for tolling the death-bells;
item, for streaking-board and face-cloth; item, for so many sin-eaters,
to be of our own servitors; item, for so much waste of funeral torches;
item, for funeral sermons; item, for the hiring of palls; item, for
hiring of garlands of wax and gum to hang over the graves; item, for
masses and candles before the rood at month's mind; item——"
"Peace, greedy Peter!" broke in the artist Thomas; "wert thou bred for
a gravedigger? His Lordship mislikes this funeral zeal of thine. When
thy grumbling for that the great Earl came not here from Barnet for his
burial reached the Abbot's ears, he spoke wrothfully concerning it."
"So would he not, when I had shown him the charges in my book for that
same," retorted Peter. "For how lives an Abbey save by the death of
generous and holy men and women? And was it not a foul thing that the
great Earl—lord of this manor, patron of this Abbey—should not have
profitably laid his bones here, where now for four hundred years lie
all the lords of Tewkesbury, Fitz-Hamons, Clares, De Spensers,
Beauchamps—but should be filched away to Berkshire to enrich those
Austin friars instead? Thus is religion scandalized, Sir Scrivener!"
Thomas turned away at this, mistrusting his temper in further argument;
and Hugh would gladly have followed him out of the room, but that Peter
bent his steps toward the storage chamber beyond, where lay hidden
those wretched morris trappings. Prudence counselled the lad to depart,
and let discovery take care of itself; but anxiety held him back, and
he went in at the heels of the Sacristan.
Old Peter sent a speculative eye shrewdly over the contents of the
room, making a rough enumeration as he progressed, and offering
comments aloud from time to time half to himself.
"Full seven dozen small candles," he muttered, "but scarce a score of
torches. How should we be shamed if they brought us a great lord like
Somerset! The moulds shall be filled overnight." Then he turned up the
corner of a purple velvet pall, noting its frayed edge and tarnished
gilt braid. "Time was," he grumbled, "when for this eight crowns was
gladly paid in hire; alack, but two months since Dame Willowby cried
out against me when I asked a paltry five, and buried her good man
under that fustian with the linen edge instead. Ah, the impious times
we are fallen upon! Yet, if so be the press to get buried is great
enough, and they carry the lights well up in air, a lord might be
content with it at ten crowns." Again he mused over the waxen wreaths
heaped on the floor.
"There are half as many more on the rood screen that may come down, if
it be deftly done, and go into hire again for better men. The
townspeople will be too stirred with battle talk to miss them."
Suddenly he turned to Hugh, and raised his voice. "The Sub-Prior will
not hearken to me. What we are richest in is banners—here, against the
wall, are a dozen of the bravest in all Gloucester. Yet in what do they
serve!—naught save those trivial processions of Rogation Week, where
all is outlay and nothing income. If he did but drop the hint, the
fashion would rise to hire them for funerals; yet when I urged this
upon him he laughed me to scorn! I tell thee, boy, there is no true
piety left in mankind!"
Hugh had listened with but dull ears, his mind wavering between
thoughts of what was going forward outside, and fears lest Peter should
push his inquiries within the chamber too far. Here he said:—
"Good brother, if I do help thee to-night with the moulds—and later
with what else is needful—wilt thou go with me now forth to the street
and view these strange new things? I have never yet seen an army,
harnessed for fighting, close at hand. And if thou art with me, Thomas
will not be vexed."
So the twain—the old monk full as eager as the lad to rub shoulders
with men-at-arms—made their way through the corridors and cloister
walks to the great western gate of the Abbey. They met no one either
within the buildings or in these cool, open-air paths: the monks were
at their prayers in the church, perhaps, or in the garden burying the
But when the gate was reached—"Angels save us!" gasped good Peter; "if
our walls win soundly through this next forty hours, commoners shall be
buried with candles till Ascension Day for threepence. I vow it to Our
Well might such as loved the Abbey feel their hearts sink at the sight!
Upon the green before the gate, which sloped smoothly for an arrow's
flight down to the mill pit on the Avon, swaggered or lounged at
leisure full five hundred base-born archers and billmen, mired to the
knees, unwashed and foul of aspect, with rusty chain coats or torn and
blackened leathern jackets. Some wore upon their heads battered iron
sallets; others had only hoods pulled forward to their brows, or even
lying back upon their shoulders, but over each face hung tangled masses
of thick hair, and on the cleanest chin sprouted a fortnight's beard.
These unkempt ruffians were for the most part swart of visage, as Devon
and Cornishmen should be. They waited now idly upon the return of their
lords from the great church in front. While their betters within prayed
to the saints in heaven against the morrow's carnage, these fellows
sauntered in groups on the green sward, or played at dice upon a cloak
spread flat on earth, or wrestled in rough jest to further amaze the
gaping natives. Many were already in their cups, yet still the servants
of the Abbey were to be seen, in the waning sunlight, on the ham
beyond, broaching new casks of ale. Ribald quips and drunken laughter
filled the air. In the distance, close upon the entrance to the church
itself, two soldiers had thrown a farmer to the ground, and one was
stripping off his doublet while the other kicked him as he lay. From
the direction of the mill there rose the scream of a woman—and no one
The Sacristan and the boy cowered for a time in the shadow of the
gateway, looking out with fearful eyes upon this unwonted scene. From
their cover, they watched until the great ones began coming out from
their prayers, and the idling men-at-arms were hurriedly gathered, each
after his livery, to attend them. These billmen bore upon their breasts
the cognizances of their masters, but so worn and defaced were many of
these that all Hugh's heraldic lore could not cope with them. Thus they
could but guess who this or that proud knight might be, as he passed
with gilded armor rattling in every joint, and the squalid knot of
soldiers tramping at his heels.
"But this—this is surely the three torteaux of the Courtenays,"
he whispered, nudging Peter. "And he who carries his casquetel in hand,
with fair curls and head bent in thought—that would be John, the new
Earl of Devon."
The two looked upon this fine, strong, goodly young nobleman, and read
in the three crimson circles wrought upon the jerkins of his retainers
a tale of stately long descent, of cousinship with kings, of crusades,
tournaments, and centuries of gallant warfare—familiar and stirring
then to every schooled mind in England.
"Ay—I mind him now," said Peter, peering eagerly forth. "I saw his
brother, the Earl Thomas, led to the block at York, after Towton
field—'tis nine years sine. There was a witch who then foretold that
those three ripe-red roundels of the Courtenays were blood spots from
three brothers' hearts, and all should die under the axe."
A stranger's voice, close behind them, took up their talk.
"My father saw the second brother, Earl Henry, beheaded at Salisbury
four years later—and men called then to mind this same bloody
prophecy—to the end that the Lord John fled the realm. Look where he
walks, with bowed head and face o'er-cast—a fateful man! Belike the
axe's edge is whetted for him, even now."
He who spoke thus, with a shivering sigh to close his speech, was young
and of slight form—clad from sole to crown in plain and dulled
plate-harness. His uplifted visor framed a face of small features and
soft lines, with saddened eyes. He had stepped aside into the gateway
unnoted by the two, and stood now at the Sacristan's elbow, gazing
forth as gloomily as ever affrighted monk might do.
Peter glanced him briefly over, and sniffed disdain.
"I know you not, young sir," he said, with curtness, "and offer no
offence. But I have seen stout fighting in my time—and were you kin of
mine, into to-morrow's battle you should not stir, with witches' babble
sickening your thoughts, and dead men's bones in your eyes. Hearten
yourself, I conjure you!"
That monk should bear himself thus masterfully toward warrior startled
Hugh for the moment, until he recalled that old Peter had on occasion
browbeaten even the Sub-Prior himself, and reflected that this Knight
seemed very young.
The stranger made no reply, but kept his anxious gaze fastened upon the
scene without. Then, with a sudden little shudder which rattled swiftly
like an echo through his armor, he lifted his head upright, and tossed
the end of his cloak across his shoulder.
"The streets are strange to me," he said proudly. "If you are so
minded, walk with me upon them. No harm shall befall you!"
His beckoning hand summoned from the outer shadows two tall old
men-at-arms, in bull's-hide jackets and bearing pikes.
"Fare ye close upon our heels, Wilkin and Ashman," the Knight
commanded. The monk and scrivener-lad took instant counsel of glances,
and without a word walked beside their new companion—forth from the
calm haven of Mother Church into the rude turbulence of murderous civil
Pressing tight together, the five made their way across the green and
into Church Street. To their left, above the black roofs of the Abbey
mills, the sunset sky was glowing with laced bars of blood and sulphur,
overhung by a pall of lead. Before them, the narrow street lay dark
beneath the shadows of projecting roofs and swollen galleries.
Here, as in the other streets which they traversed, the houses were for
the most part closed and lightless. Even in the market-place, where the
Tolzey cross glimmered faintly in the waning daylight like an altar in
some deserted unroofed church, the citizens gave no sign of life in
their homes; movement enough was on foot all about them, but it was
that of strangers. Knots of soldiers, some already with flaming
torches, strode aimlessly up and down before the taverns and in the
alleys, roaring forth camp songs, kicking at suspected doors, or
brawling with such trembling inhabitants as they had unearthed. Amidst
it all the Knight passed unquestioned, with head haughtily erect.
If the Knight had led the walk townwards with set purpose, it did not
appear; for presently he turned, and the five pushed back again through
the jostling, clamorous crowd to the open Abbey green. At the great
gate he paused, and motioned the two retainers to stand aside. Still he
hesitated, tapping the sward impatiently with his mailed foot, his gaze
astray among the clouds. At last he spoke, turning abruptly to the
"Canst write me a letter, to-night?"
"How wist ye he is a penman?" asked Peter, in amazed suspicion.
"What other wears ink upon his fingers? Nay—not you, good monk!—I
asked the lad."
"The scriptorium is long since shut," Hugh began; "and——"
"Mayhap this golden key will fit the lock," the Knight interposed,
drawing a coin from the purse at his side. "The letter is a thing of
life or death."
"It may be contrived," broke in good Peter, taking the money without
ceremony. "When a life hangs on a few paltry scratches of the pen,
should we be Christians to withhold them?"
The Sacristan led the way now by a postern door into a basement room,
and lighted two candles by the embers on the hearth.
"Run you," he said to Hugh, "and bring hither what is needful."
When the boy returned, and placed paper, inkhorn, and wax upon the
table, and, pen in teeth, looked inquiry upward, the Knights wits
seemed wandering once again. He paced to and fro about the chamber,
halting a dozen times to utter words which would not come, and then,
with a head-shake, taking up his march upon the stones. Finally, thus
he ordered the letter written, though not without many pauses, and
erasures in plenty:—
From a true friend: Much there is to tell you; how that the Lady
Katherine's father is dead, and herself for some time sore beset
and menaced by the enemy you wot of, but now in safety. Worse
betides you if this evil man works his will. This se'nnight four
villeins took horse from Okehampton with intent to slay you and win
reward from him; so that he gains your lands and hers, and gets her
to wife to boot. These foul knaves wear the Courtenay livery, and,
arrived to-day in your camp, mix with the Lord John's train; though
of this he is innocent. So watch and ware, as herself and I will
"There needs no signature," the Knight replied, when at the finish Hugh
looked up. "Seal it with this ring," and took from his baslard-hilt a
little jewelled hoop, with the signet of three fishes, upright. Then,
when the wax securely held the silk, he bade him superscribe the name
"Sir Hereward Thayer, Knt."
The Knight took the packet—saying, briefly: "I am in much beholden to
you both, and to all black monks through you, and shall forget nor one
nor other," and went his way through the postern into the darkness,
leaving the ring behind.
SIR HEREWARD'S RING.
From the spire of the Abbey church, throughout the night, the monks
could see on the high lands close by, to the south, long lines of red
camp-fires, and dancing torches here and there, as captains made their
watchful rounds. The cries of the sentries came to their ears through
the stilled air, as from the near side of Swilgate Brook itself, which
washed the Abbey's walls. Little of sleep did the cells or dormitories
know that frightened night, for servants were busy till the first
cock-crow burying jewels and plate in the Abbot's garden, and half the
brothers kept vigil in prayer before the High Altar, or in the chapels
of St. Eustacius and St. James, while others slumbered fitfully on
their pallets, or climbed the tower to watch the Lancastrians' lights.
Thus, at last, anxious morning broke, and the cawing of the rooks in
the branches close to Hugh's window roused the boy from his sleep. At a
bound he was on his feet, forgetting even to rub his eyes, and glad
that, having slept in his clothes, he might fare forth without loss of
time. His dreams had been all of archery—how that the best bows were
of Spanish yew, and he had tried to cut down the English yews in the
churchyard to make new weapons, and had been haled before the King's
justices because of the law to preserve the yews for the King's
armies—and the thread of this dream ran through his mind even as he
knelt and muttered his prayer.
It was full daylight when Hugh found himself outside the Abbey walls
and on the footpath leading over the brook up to the Vineyards. Behind
him the matin chimes were sounding from the belfry. Before him rose the
dismantled walls of Holme Castle, once the abiding place of the great
Earls of Gloster, but now long since grown over with ivy, and a harbor
for owls and bats. When he had come to the top of the knoll, at the
front of these ruins, the sight spread out before his eyes was one to
well quicken breath and set veins tingling.
A vast host of armed men seemed to cover the earth as far as he could
see. The boy had not known before that the whole world contained so
many soldiers. One company was in the rough meadow close at hand. In
the bright light he could discern them clearly—strong men of war, with
battered steel breastplates, half blue, half red with rust, and iron
caps upon their heads. Some of these were leading a score of horses
back and down to the brook whence he had come. Others toiled at
levelling some half-dozen camp-tents of white cloth, with crimson
stripes, while still others crowded about the place where sparks
crackled and black smoke curled about huge caldrons wherein food was
cooking. At the peak of the largest tent, high upon the staff, floated
gently in the early breeze an emblazoned standard, bearing the
blood-red three roundels of the Courtenays.
For a moment Hugh's thoughts stopped at the memory of the strange
Knight and his letter; somewhere among this band of brawny fighting men
would be the four caitiffs who were here to slay that unknown Devon
gentleman, Sir Hereward. He glanced at his little finger, whereon the
signet ring of the three fishes glittered unwontedly,—and marvelled to
find his base-born skin touched by such a trinket, for he had resisted
Peter's desire to take it over to the Abbey treasury,—and then the
glance lifted itself to still more marvellous things.
Away in the distance, on the topmost point to the left hand of the
highroad, Hugh had already noted a brave pavilion, guarded by banks of
earth raised since last he saw that familiar horizon, and overhung by
what he saw now to be the royal standard of England's Kings. A blare of
trumpets, rolling in sharp echoes from mound to mound across the field,
proceeded now from this point, and as he looked Hugh saw upon the
highway, setting forth in his direction, a little cavalcade of knights
and ladies whose dress and trappings sparkled in the morning sun, even
thus afar, like the lights on the High Altar beneath the painted
Onward this group of riders came—and the boy, creeping under the cover
of the hedge, stole forward with no other thought than to see them
close at hand. And so it was that he crouched in listening silence, not
more than twenty paces removed, when this thing happened.
The tall, grave-faced, golden-haired noble whom Hugh knew to be John,
Earl of Devon, clad all in burnished steel, and bearing a great
lion-crested tilting helmet upon his arm, strode forth from the company
near the ruins to the highway, and stood thus, with bare head erect in
the sunlight, until the riders, cantering lightly over the dew-laid
road, drew rein before him. Then he advanced, and bending with one knee
to earth, kissed the hand of a lady who, with a single knight, rode at
the head of the little train.
This lady, then,—she with the bold, beautiful face, pale now as an
ivory missal-cover, and drawn with stern lines, she with the burning
brown-black eyes, and proudly upright carriage,—was the Frenchwoman,
the Queen, the great Margaret of Anjou!
Hugh held his breath and stared out of fixed eyes at this terrible
foreign woman, whose hates had fastened war upon his country, had
killed even his own father, had drenched the land with blood—and
listened with all his ears.
"We have given you, out of our grace, the lands and titles which your
recreant brother Henry forfeited, and lost along with his head, when he
played fast and loose with the usurper," this Queen said, in loud, cold
tones, when the Courtenay stood upright again. "This day will test our
wisdom in the thing."
"Madame," the Earl made answer, holding her eye with his, "our house
has given three lives for you. If mine goes to-day I shall die
sorrowing chiefly for this—that there are no more of us to die for our
The knight who rode beside the Queen—Hugh through the bushes saw only
that he was tall and lean, with a delicately handsome young face and
reddish-brown hair under his beaver, and wore a silver swan on his
"My Lord of Devon, my mother rides now with the Lady Anne and her
tiring women to a place of safety on t'other side of Avon, there to
wait upon the good tidings we shall presently bring her. The place is
at Bushley, the Lady Anne being acquainted with it from childhood. From
this, I return to lead our centre, with the Prior and the Lord Wenlock.
My Lord Duke holds the front, beyond where our standard hangs. To you,
my lord, the rear is given, to swing across this field, with your back
against the ridge. The men from Somerset march to join you, even now.
God stead you, honest Courtenay, and bring us victory!"
The Prince at this threw himself off his horse and into his mother's
arms, his face buried upon her knees, his hands holding hers. The
Queen, with marble face, swept her agonized glance high into the
morning sky, and wept not, neither spoke, but bit her lips, and with
her eyes invoked the saints.
Then, like some dissolving mist before Hugh's gaze, everything was
altered. The Queen with her escort was ambling one way, toward the gray
Abbey walls and the passage at the mill; her gallant young son was
galloping with his group of knights back whence he came; the Courtenay
company, close at hand, was gathering itself into ranks, with knights
clambering heavily into saddles, and men-at-arms striking their pikes
together. The whole broad field was, as by some magic hand, set in
motion; everywhere troops were marching, standards fluttering forward,
trumpets calling shrill-voiced to one another.
The boy, lifting his head now above the hedge, looked upon this vast
shifting picture with but a dazed comprehension. The beauty of it all
was so great that its grim meaning missed his mind. As far as eye could
reach, armed bodies of men, with banners and harness glittering in the
sunlight, met the vision. And now, of a sudden, all movement ceased.
The birds in the ivy on the ruin behind him sang into the morning air,
and no trumpet answered them. The landscape stood still.
Suddenly the boy clapped hands to ears, and stared affrightedly about
him. A demon-like roaring sound had burst, as out of the very earth,
which rocked and quivered under the shock. A thousand thunder-claps in
one, out from the clear sky! Quailing with fright, as lesser belching
noises succeeded, shaking the ground and confounding all senses and
wits, Hugh backed out of the ditch, and felt, rather than made, his way
rearward to the shadow of the ruins. Creeping up upon a ragged heap of
tumbled stones, he ventured to look forth again.
A broadened veil of smoke—curious, thin, bluish smoke—all unlike that
from burning thatches or stubble refuse—hung now upon the horizon
where the royal standard had been. Was it still there? Hugh could not
tell. Flashes of fire leaped swiftly for an instant here and there from
this veil of smoky haze, and after each dart of flame there burst this
deafening, thunderous roar which had so appalled him. Then it broke
upon his brain that these were cannon, of which all men had long since
heard, but few had ever seen on English soil. More than this it was not
easy to grasp of what was going forward. Along the line of smoke, where
sky ought to meet earth, could be seen confused masses of horse and
footmen struggling together, but whither moving or how faring in their
conflict could not be told. The men under Courtenay's banner had
marched westward toward the windmill, and were not in sight.
All at once Hugh's gaze was diverted from this distant prospect to a
strange apparition nearer at hand—a brownish-gray sort of globe, like
a full moon, which, low to earth, stood between him and the smoke, and
seemed to wax in bigness visibly as he looked. There was not time for
thought before this ball, singing to itself as it came, swelled to
giant size in the lad's vision—then smashed into the vine-clad wall
beside him with a huge scattering of stones and mortar. The wall
quivered for a moment, then fell outward, prone to the sward.
Without hesitation, Hugh slid down from his perch, and half-choked with
dust and lime ran toward Swilgate Brook as fast as ever his legs would
carry him. He made no pause, nor cast any glance backward, until he
stumbled, panting and aflame with fright, into the cool shadow of the
Abbey's big west gate. Not till its ponderous doors had clanged shut
behind him, did he venture to draw breath.
Only the slowest and stoutest of the lay servitors in the kitchen
lingered yet over their morning meal when the boy, his hunger led
forward by keenest smelling sense, found his way thither. Within this
low-vaulted chamber it was as if the confusion of tongues had fallen
again. There were some hardier spirits who had, from sundry distant
points of vantage, seen a tithe of what Hugh had witnessed. These told
their tales to gaping, awe-stricken groups with much bold embroidery
and emblazoning of fancy, peopling the field with mailed giants, and
imputing to magic the mystery of the cannons, whose dire bellowings
gave even these stony kitchen walls a throbbing pulse. Worse still was
what the village vagabonds—permitted for the once to enter freely and
mix with their betters before the fires—related with rolling eyes and
quaking voices, to wile further victuals from the frightened cooks.
Into such riot ran this babel of loose tongues that not even the
Precentor's entrance stilled it. This gentle, soft-eyed old monk had,
indeed, no thought to govern aught or any, and gazed about over the
motley throng as one abashed, until his glance fell upon Hugh. To him
he beckoned, and, when the two were without upon the stairs, made
"His Lordship will himself sing the early Mass, with pontifical
procession, and full chapter ceremonial. Get thee with all speed into
thy surplice, comb out thy locks—shalt bear the cross!"
A brief while later, paced slowly from the cloisters the long
devotional line, Hugh, all aglow with pride in his new office,
advancing at its head, with the jewelled cross upheld aloft. After him
were singing boys in surplices and singing men with added copes; then
two score monks in ebon black with lighted tapers, the secular canons,
the priests of the Abbey, the priors, the deacons attired for the
altar, and last the venerable Abbot, John Strensham, bent with age and
infirmities, and wearing over his vestments an almuce with hood of
ermine, because his blood was cold. Into the choir the procession filed
with measured step and solemn chant—and then, as by some sudden stroke
of universal palsy, foot halted and song died on lips.
Such a scene as never monk or abbot had dreamt of in Tewkesbury lay
The doors of the rood screen hung wide, so that vision swept from the
choir down through the nave and its outer parts, where the simple and
base-born heard the Mass, straight to the great north porch. Here, too,
the doors were open, for daylight streamed therefrom transversely
across the nave. And in this light the amazed monks saw a mired,
blood-stained, bedraggled swarm of armed men struggling fiercely for
entrance before their fellows, and among these some who smote and
felled the others with their swords or battle-axes—amid clamor of
shrieks and violent curses, rising above the ground-note of a deep wild
shouting as from a multitude without, and the furious clash of steel on
steel. The wrath of hell raged here and tore itself before them on the
consecrated floor of heaven.
While yet this spell of bewilderment lay upon the astounded spectators
in the choir, Hugh felt himself clutched by the shoulder and pushed
forward down the steps and into the aisle by a strong though trembling
hand. It was the old Abbot, who in the moment of horror at this
sacrilege forgot his years. Raising himself to his full height, and
snatching the great beryl monstrance from the altar, he hurried now
down the nave at such a pace that the cross-bearer, whom he dragged at
his side, and the wondering monks and choristers who followed, were
fain almost to run if they would not let him reach the porch alone.
The western end of the nave held now a closely-packed mass of
fugitives, with scarce a weapon among them—gilded and blazoned knight
huddled against unkempt billman, lord and varlet jammed together—all
crowding backward in despair from the open porch where, bestriding
corpses on the blood-wet flags, a dozen mailed ruffians with naked
swords and axes bent ferocious, hungry scowls upon them.
Helpless and dazed, as in an evil dream, the boy felt himself thrust
forward into the very front of these war-wolves; and as he stood there,
holding the cross as steadily as might be, within a cloth-yard shaft's
length of their ravening jaws and flame-lit eyes, his foolish knees
knocked together, and he had liked to swoon.
But then—lo! these fierce men put down their blades, and, bowing
first, with ill-will slunk backwards to the sides of the porch; and the
foremost, still doggedly, even fell upon their knees. Then, the way
being clear, Hugh saw that where the churchyard graves had been was
now, underfoot, a slaughter pen, and above a wilderness of wild faces
and dripping pike-heads. And in the forefront of this awful array, with
one mailed foot on the threshold of the porch itself, stood the noblest
figure of a man the boy's eyes had ever compassed—a youngish man of
uncommon stature and great girth of shoulders, girt with polished steel
armor picked in gold, and having on its breast a silver sun with
flaring jewelled rays. He too grasped a huge naked sword, and sank its
point before the cross Hugh held—the while two esquires made loose the
rivets of his towering helmet and lifted it from him. Then he, not too
humbly, bowed his head—a shapely head, with reddish-golden curls—and
lifting it, looked into the church with the flushed face and glance of
a very god of war.
The Abbot, tottering as he came, pushed Hugh aside and reared himself
proudly in the porch, holding the monstrance with shaken hand above his
head, and crying out:—
"Where thou standest, my liege, thou art not King, but only Edward
Plantagenet, a sinner even as the meanest of us, and with the blood of
God's children on thy hands. Therefore abase thyself. It is the Host!"
The King dropped to his knees for the counting of ten, then rose and
made a step within the porch, still searching sharply with restless
eyes into the shadows of the nave.
"My Lord Abbot," he said, in a soft, full voice of stately measure
which belied his glance, "I and my brothers and our trusty friends have
desire to forthwith enter this holy edifice, and with thee offer
reverent thanks for this our resplendent victory." As the Abbot held
his silence, the King added, "I had not looked to find a Strensham
lifting himself between the saints and my piety."
The Abbot found his voice: "I am stricken in years, my liege. My life
has been thine as long as has thy crown; take it now if needs be. But
while it lasts me, into this consecrated house thou may'st not enter to
ravish or mete punishment. Pledge me thy royal faith that no man within
these walls shall feel thy wrath—that all shall be suffered to go
forth in peace!"
"Since what time, my Lord Abbot," asked the King, dryly, "hath the
privilege of sanctuary descended upon the black monks of Tewkesbury?"
"Where God's flesh and blood are, there is sanctuary!" shrilled
the Abbot. "By the pains of Calvary, thou shalt not enter
unpledged—save over my old bones!"
While the King's answer hung yet in doubt, an old monk slipped past the
Abbot, and, thrusting his shaven gray poll in obeisance close before
Edward, mumbled a request which none behind him might hear. It was
Peter, the Brother Sacristan—and the King, so far from buffeting the
audacious shaveling with his gauntlet, thought for a moment, then
smiled, and waved Peter aside.
"On my kingly honor, I promise," he said firmly, with a glance ranging
from Peter to the Abbot, and the half-smile playing on his handsome,
ruddy face. "Before God, I promise! And for this sacrilegious bloodshed
here, will I do penance!"
The Abbot's withered old lips formed a mute thanksgiving. "My liege,"
he faltered, "some forewarning of your triumph of a surety brought me
from my bed to the altar this day. Praise God thy enemies are put under
thy feet! Pray God for humility and a gentle spirit, these to stay thee
from trampling them! Wilt follow, and hear the Mass?"
Thus strangely, the broken procession was reformed, and Hugh, aweary
now under the weight of the cross, sick with the smell of blood and the
sight of hewn corpses at his feet, stumbled back again up the aisle,
past the rood screen, into the choir, the singers chanting the solemn
Te Deum Laudamus behind him, and King, princes, nobles and
knights and monks and soldiers following the Abbot to the High Altar.
Here, out of pity at his white face, another took his office on him,
and Hugh, escaping from the incense-laden air of the choir, staggered
into the ambulatory, faint and distressed. He had too little wit left
to note that the side aisles and transepts held scores of skulking
fugitive soldiers, and that others of a like kidney were hiding in the
shrine chapels about him.
Not even when one of these came forth from the enclosure dedicated to
St. Edmund the Martyr, and laid hand upon his shoulder, was he
startled, but only looked up with wan indifference on his chalk-like
"Where had ye that ring?" a deep voice asked, with tightened grip upon
his shoulder to point the query.
Hugh saw now that it was a stalwart young man who questioned him—and
one of quality, despite the miry disorder of his dress and armor, and
his dust-stained face. What could be discerned of this face was
pleasing enough, too—but the lad's head was whirling and his tongue
numbed at its roots. For his life he could not speak.
"That ring!" the stranger went on excitedly. "I saw it on your hand
whilst you held the cross—the which, now I think on't, saved our
lives. Fear nothing, lad! Tell me, how came you by it? Perchance I am
beholden to you for the letter last night—if so—will ye not speak, I
Hugh, with a despairing effort, gathered his wits, and asked faintly:
"Are you the Sir Hereward, then, to whom 'twas writ?"
"Aye, none other—what there is left of me. And writ ye the letter? And
at whose behest?"
The boy opened his mouth to answer, looked blankly up into his
questioner's face—then, as the swelling chant ceased suddenly in the
choir beyond, rolled supinely on the stones at Sir Hereward's feet, in
a deadly swoon.
Through what remained of this awful Saturday, and through the startled
hush of the Sunday following it, the boy kept his bed in a faint,
drowsing languor, broken by fits of shuddering under the terror of evil
dreams. Oft and again, the writing monks came in compassion to his
bedside, but his shaken wits made of these visitors only black figures
in the background of an endless scared vision of stark corpses, bearing
blood-stained heraldic shields along the pages of his book.
The second night came, and, lagging desperately through the long
watches, stole off by a trick at last while the lad slept—so that he
woke crowned as he lay with sunlight. The neglected book was in his
thoughts first of all—and then came consciousness that he was
better—and then, as he opened his eyes and blinked against the full
light, he saw that Peter was in the room, bearing a steaming dish of
"Art fit for great news?" the Sacristan asked, roughly enough, but
looking down upon the boy with a kindly light shining from under his
gray, shaggy brows. "The Prince Richard—my Lord Duke of Gloster—hath
sent hither for our best scrivener to attend him at the Tolzey, and
Brother Thomas, conferring with the Abbot, hath nominated thee. Not
that thou art our best, nor near it, but thy masters are in cowls and
gowns, and since Saturday's sacrilege no monk may stir forth to serve
the Princes or the King. Art fit for it?"
Hugh sat up in bed, and put hand to brow, and smiled wistfully. "Aye,
save for a foolish little wandering here," he made answer, "naught ails
me now!" And for proof he seized the dish and buried his jowl in it.
Peter strode up and down before the narrow casement, grumbling as his
gown flapped about his heels.
"Sacrilege! Sacrilege!" he sneered. "Well may the King laugh us to
scorn as witless loons! For what is 'sacrilege' but a weapon forged by
Holy Church to use against the laity, to our great profit and their
uplifting? Yet here are we, turning its point upon our own throats!
Because a little paltry blood was spattered in the porch—lo! for a
full month now the Church must lie in penitential darkness, no matins,
no masses, no vespers—until it be purified and newly consecrated. Was
ever such madness? Here with mine own eyes have I seen the son of a
king, he that was born Prince of Wales, shovelled into a grave in the
choir without so much as a rush-light. The flags are all up for
burials—the Earl of Devon, the Lord Wenlock, the Lord John Beaufort,
and scores of knights and brave gentlemen brought to us by God's own
hand—and yet we may not harvest so much as a penny for it all! Oh!
senseless chapter, to decree such folly!"
Hugh had in swift silence dressed himself the while the old monk
babbled, and stood now in all readiness. "I will to the scriptorium,
good Peter," he said eagerly, "to bring ink and pens and paper, and
then take orders from Brother Thomas for my going."
"Thomas thou may'st not see, nor any other," said the Sacristan; "each
is in his cell, upon his knees, because of this same sacrilege, and
there must stick for days!"
"But thou art here!"
"Oh, aye!" the old monk growled. "Belike I took the habit overlate in
life to learn the trick of good, thick, solid praying. They set me now
and again at small, light supplications, but when great things are
besought, my help seems never needful. Moreover, I have the burials to
order. A sweet task, truly! To be laying the bones of princes and lords
in consecrated ground as thick together as rogues in the stocks at
fair-time, and not the purchase of so much as a gum-wreath to show for
The two walked through the long deserted corridor overhanging the
cloisters, and entered the tenantless writing room. Naught had been
touched since that fateful Friday night, when Hugh had written the
letter for the strange knight. He recalled this now, as he took his
inkhorn from the dusty table.
"Oh—tell me, Peter," he said, "saw you aught of the Devon
gentleman—him to whom that letter was writ—he was in the Abbey
"Aye, more than once. He was holding you in his arms when Thomas and I
found you. A goodly youngster—a thought too hasty, it may be, but
sound at heart. He hath promised a year's masses for the dead Earl of
Devon, when things come right again. They were in some sort kinsmen.
And I have sown in his mind pious thoughts of, moreover, rearing an
altar-tomb in the Lady Chapel, with effigy and sculptured sides. Oh,
aye—he had food from me yestere'en here in this very room, and so
hotly pressed payment on me that——"
Even as the Sacristan spoke the veil of silence hanging like a pall
over the Abbey was rent by a shrill, piercing shriek from the
cloister-green below! Clambering to the table, and peering forth, Hugh
saw the figures of men running along the vaulted walks, and of others,
mailed, and with weapons, chasing them. From the church beyond
proceeded a great tumult, with angry shouts, and the clashing of steel.
The King's word was broken. The fugitives were being dragged from
Above the noises of search and despairing flight which now filled the
air, there rose suddenly the sound of heavy footsteps near at hand.
Then the further door was flung open, and Sir Hereward Thayer,
breathless, bareheaded, and without his corselet, made hasty entrance.
His eyes brightened as they fell upon Peter.
"The wolves are on us," he said, "and we have not so much as a stick to
fend them off. It is no shame to hide. Where shall I find security,
"Alack! there will be none here!" cried Peter. "If they are in the
church itself, think you they will spare mere cells and offices?"
"Whither leads this room?" asked Sir Hereward, opening the middle door,
and looking in upon Peter's array of candles, banners, wreaths, and
palls. "Here, under these, I can make myself secret till the search be
Without further words, he lifted from the darkest corner a pile of
disordered linen stuffs, loose shrouds, and grave-cloths, and coverings
for coffins. The Sacristan, as he looked from the doorway, noted with
shrewd swiftness the gay colors of the morris-dresses underneath, and,
stepping forward, laid his hand upon them. Then Hugh, hurriedly, and
with faltering lips, told Peter what they were, and the story of their
guilty presence—and lo! the old monk laughed aloud.
Then suddenly—as the clamor of the chase deepened outside—Peter
hissed commands into Sir Hereward's ear.
"Get you into this motley in all haste! Lose no moment! Thus only can
you win outside and pass the gates, and go unquestioned through the
HOW HUGH MET THE PRINCE.
Only a brief space later, Hugh and this new companion in painted fool's
clothes and with raddled cheeks made their way forth from the great
west gate to the green. No formless loitering of idle men-at-arms now
met their gaze. Straight lines of pikemen had been posted before each
entrance to church or monastery, and in the open space beyond stood
long regular ranks of other soldiers, with fluttering standards and a
forest of tall weapons—all newly burnished—ashine in the morning sun.
The twain, with as bold a front as might be, walked down this passage
of pikes until the captain of the watch, a burly, bearded man in
Flemish armor, stopped them with uplifted hand; and two dozen
pike-heads clashed down as by a single touch, to bar alike progress and
"I am the scrivener of the Abbey," Hugh called out from within this
steel girdle, "and go forth to the Tolzey at behest of your master and
mine—the Lord Duke of Gloster."
"And this merry fellow; hath the Duke need for him likewise?" the
captain asked, with sharp glances. "I'm sworn his Grace looks more for
headsmen than for morris-dancers, as to-day's wind blows."
"Put thy queries to the Duke himself," said Hugh; "and hold us no
longer waiting here, as he waits at the Tolzey."
Grumbling in his beard, the captain dropped his hand, and the pikes
flashed upward. Hugh and the mock fool passed forth, and turned their
feet townwards across the trampled sward. At the church gate to their
right hand, a greater body of armed men stood, and beyond these, within
the churchyard, high plumes on knightly helmets nodded in the morning
breeze. Of what was going forward there the two saw nothing, but
hurried on, glad to pass unquestioned.
They came thus to the market-place, held clear by solid walls of
troopers, mailed, and armed to the teeth, behind whom the townsfolk,
now heartily of but one opinion, strove to win friends and peep between
steel shoulders into the open space. Still unmolested, the boy, bearing
his inkhorn and scroll well before him as a badge of craft, passed with
his companion to the side of the cross—where workmen toiled with axe
and mallet to rear a platform of newly hewn beams and boards—and held
his course straight to the Tolzey.
"Saw you what they build, there by the cross?" whispered Sir Hereward.
"It is a scaffold, where presently axes shall hew flesh and blood, not
logs." And then he added, "Whither go we; into the very tusks of the
"Nay, but to get behind him," returned Hugh, in the same sidelong
whisper. "Halt you at the Tolzey door; mix there with the throng which
idly gapes upon the soldiery, until chance offers to steal through some
alley to the open fields."
"And you leave me there?"
"How shall it be otherwise? And—I say it now—farewell; the saints
"A word," the masker whispered. "Art sure it was a knight who ordered
the letter to be writ?"
"None other. A knight in full battle harness. And—Oh! God save
us! It is he!"
Before the low-browed Tolzey, or Toll-booth, a house of bricks on
timber, with projecting gallery reared over open pillars, an urgent
throng of citizens swarmed behind two rows of soldiers, to note the
uttermost of what was passing. This Tolzey—at once exchange and town
hall, court-house and jail—had in its long life seen strange things,
but nothing like unto to-day, when the King's brother, Richard of
Gloster, and John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, held bloody assize upon the
enemies of the King. Above the gable floated, side by side, two
standards of deep red stuff, on which were wrought, one the silver boar
of Gloster, Lord Constable of England, one the silver lion rampant of
Norfolk, Earl Marshal.
And at the porch, pushing their way through the press of onlookers
under the arches between the pillars, a knot of men-at-arms dragged
forward that same strange knight at whose bidding Hugh had written the
"Look! It is he!" the boy repeated breathlessly, quickening his pace
for the instant, then shrinking back dismayed.
Sir Hereward laid a firm hand on his arm. "I quit ye not here!" he
swore, between clenched teeth. "Hasten we forward, and into the
presence of the court."
"But—it means death to thee—" the boy began, as the other hurried him
"Better a thousand deaths—by fire and molten lead—than that
this should happen," the other gasped. "Up with thy chin! They
must not say us nay!"
What answers they gave, in what manner their arguments satisfied, the
twain barely knew. The chief matter was that they won their way into
the Tolzey, were borne up the foul, narrow staircase by the throng
close at the heels of the soldiers and their captive, and suddenly
found themselves stumbling over the threshold into a large room,
whereof one part was densely crowded, and one empty as a grave fresh
dug. A triple line of steel corselets, sallets, and bills, drawn from
side to side, split these parts asunder, and behind this line those in
authority at the door roughly made to drive the new-comers.
When Hugh had shown his writing tools and told his errand, they
smoothed their tone and bade him stand aside, in the cleared space. The
others—strange knight, his rude captors, the mummer-gentleman—all
were swallowed up behind the barrier into the throng which snarled, and
surged, and gnashed its teeth, in weltering heat and evil smells, under
the spell of the scent of blood.
After a little while there rose an echoing blast of trumpets from the
market-place without, riding as it were on the crest of a great wave of
cheering. Then hurriedly the officers brought forth from an outer room
two high chairs of state, gilded, and bearing the town's arms, and set
them upon the floor-cloth under a canopy, and put behind these, on
either side of the dais, other chairs and stools—and then bowed low as
the doors in the centre were flung open with loud knocks, and two
heralds, in blazoned tabards, entered. Behind these, with stately step,
by twos came a score of great warriors and lords, mailed to the throat,
and with pages bearing their cumbrous head-gear; then others of
distinction, for the most part advanced in years, who wore rich gowns
and chains, and held velvet caps in their hands; and lastly, two young
men in gowns who wore their caps on their heads. And one of these, of a
square, thick-featured aspect, with broad breast, and reddish hair, was
Earl Marshal of England, yet had scarce a look from any one, so bent
were all thoughts upon the other.
This other—clad in sober colors, with a broad chain upon his breast
and a black close-curling plume in his cap—came sedately forward and
sat in the large chair a hand's breadth in front of his companion's. He
let his glance rest easily upon the crowded half of the room, as if
noting things in idleness the while his mind was elsewhere.
The heralds called out each his master's exalted office, and what
matters they had come now to rightly judge upon; and Hugh, having been
seated at a desk by the window, hung with all his eyes to the face of
the youth in the foremost chair.
It was a thin, thoughtful face, dark of skin and with a saddened air.
The bended nose was long, the point well out in air to bespeak an
inborn swiftness of scent. And above, wide apart, there burned a steady
flame of great-hearted wisdom in two deep iron-gray eyes which embraced
all things, searched calmly and comprehended all things. This Prince,
though first subject and foremost soldier under the King, his brother,
was even now but nineteen years of age; and Hugh, gazing in rapt
timidity upon him, flushed with shame at thought of his own years,
close treading upon those of this Prince, and of his own weak
The boy wrote down what the old men in gowns bade him say concerning
the dreadful things that now were toward, and, writing, contrived also
to look and listen with an awed, ashen face and bewildered mind.
Other soldiers had entered the room, and, making a weapon-lined lane
between the door and the throng, brought forward now, one after
another, the captive lords and knights taken red-handed from the Abbey
or found in hiding in the town. Each in his turn, with elbows
thong-bound at his back, with torn raiment and dishevelled if not
bandaged head, was haled before the dais, and looked into these
deep-glancing eyes of his boy judge.
Richard held them in his calm, engirdling gaze with never sign of heat
or pity, and to each spoke in tones high and sharp-cut enough for all
to hear, but of a level in cold dignity. When they in turn replied, he
listened gravely, with lip uplifted so that his teeth were seen. Ever
and again his fingers toyed with the hilt of the baslard at his girdle
the while he listened; and these to whom he hearkened thus trembled
rightly at the omen. When all needful words were spent, the Prince
leaned for a moment to his right and whispered apart with Mowbray, Duke
of Norfolk; but this for very form's sake, and not to seek counsel.
Then, still in the same chilled, equable voice, he would mete out the
judgment, suiting to each with apposite words his deliverance, whether
they should lose their heads for their treason on the morrow, or depart
under the King's mercy as free men, paying fines in gold or land, or
suffering no penalty whatsoever. Well nigh two score and ten passed
thus before the Prince, and of this number two-and-twenty were sent to
the block. Of these, the greatest in estate was Edmund Beaufort, Duke
of Somerset, blood-cousin to his judge, and to whom gray hairs had
brought neither wisdom nor control. With him Prince Richard parleyed at
length, pointing out how the Beaufort line of John of Gaunt, beginning
in dishonor with Katherine Swynford, and filtering through envious
trickery and disloyalty, would on the morrow run itself miserably out
in muddy lees upon the scaffold. And then they led the childless Duke
away amid the angered hootings of the crowd.
None but this Somerset, and Sir John Longstrother, who was called the
Prior of St. John's, had courage wherewith to accuse the King of broken
faith, in that he had sworn to give mercy to all who sought refuge in
the Abbey. To this young Gloster, still deadly calm, made answer that
the King had given no such pledge, but only granted some old monk's
prayer that all of gentle blood who met their death, either in battle
or on the scaffold, might be buried in the Abbey without dismemberment;
this, and nothing more.
Of a sudden, Hugh, grown at home among these horrors, saw advancing
under guard between the glittering lines of bills, the mailed figure he
knew so well. The boy held his breath as the strange Knight stood
before the dais, helmeted and erect—and as he noted that the
morris-dancer, fiercely pushing his way, had followed close behind.
"What now!"—it was Mowbray who spoke—"Who comes thus covered? Loose
us his helm!"
"I pray ye both," spoke the Knight, "suffer me to thus remain! It is as
easy to lose one's head in this fashion as another. I crave no other
A pale, flitting smile played over the Prince's lips. "After such
stress of sober state affairs, cousin of Norfolk," he said, more
gently, "the jest is grateful. Hast brought thy morris-dancer with
thee, too, I note, good sir!"
The Knight swung round to follow Gloster's glance; then, after a
moment's earnest gaze upon the disguised man close at hand, turned with
closed eyes and hand on heart.
The Prince rubbed his hands softly together, and smiled again.
"Aye! lift us the basnet," he said to the soldiers standing guard. "The
jest will trip the better for more air and light"—and in a twinkling
the men had unfastened and raised the heavy helmet; and the Knight
stood, flushed and confused, no knight at all! but a young and
fair-faced woman, with loose golden hair tumbled sweetly upon her neck.
Richard's lips curled again, and his teeth gleamed under them, while
his eyes shone with a merry light.
"Most excellent!" he chuckled, looking to Mowbray's dull, puzzled face
in mock search for sympathy. "Now scrub us the paint off yon mummer's
cheeks, and let his head be bared. The jest goes bravely."
Before the astonished onlookers, this too was done, and Sir Hereward,
still arrayed to the throat in motley, with eyes sheepishly downcast,
The young Prince covered the two, as they stood, with his mirthful
regard, and rubbed his palms together in silent enjoyment.
"Read me the riddle, Lady Kate," he said at last. "I guess thy errand
to these parts, and his is clear enough—perchance too clear!—but why,
if thou must trick him out in morris-dress, why bring him here?
Nay!"—as the lady would have spoken—"fear nothing; I like the jest
thus far, but comprehend it only in part."
"My Lord Duke," the lady said, throwing back her hair with a proud
gesture, "we were children together,—you and I,—you will credit my
word. I knew not till this moment that he was here, but deemed
him—left—behind on the field. And I came hither, not in your despite,
or your dread brother's, but to warn my friend here, Sir Hereward, of
treason menacing him in his own camp; and to that end, on Friday night,
sent I a letter to him where he lay, by my own servant's hand."
"This is the letter," said Sir Hereward simply, drawing from his breast
the folded paper with its broken seal.
The Prince bent forward, took the missive, spread it out upon his knee,
and read carefully through from first to last. "I grieve to learn of
your good sire's death," he said once, lifting his eyes, and then read
on, musingly. At last he smiled, and shook his head.
"I have full knowledge—none better, Lady Kate," he said, "of thy high
spirits and brave temper. Thou wert of the mettle of knights-errant
even in short clothes. But what I looked not for was this clerkly hand,
this deft scrolling of lines and letters." Still with dancing eyes he
held the paper up before the Earl Marshal. "Why, look you, cousin of
Norfolk! 'Tis as fair as any guild work from Bruges. And from a woman's
hand, mark ye!"
The lady hung her head and blushed, then, lifting it, smiled. "Your
Grace ever loved his jest," she said. "Alas, I am no clerk, nor would
be with a thousand years of teaching. I could more easily ride, by
night and day, across from Devon to save my—my friend, than mark a
straight line on paper."
"And who writ ye this?" pursued Richard, eying the scroll afresh.
"A youth in the Abbey," said the lady, and Sir Hereward pointed him out
where he sat.
Then suddenly Hugh, staring vaguely at all this, heard some one say in
his ear that his Grace had called for him, and felt another push him to
his feet—and then saw, as through a golden fog, that the Prince held
up a jewelled finger, beckoning to him. The boys heart thumped to his
throat with every step as he moved to the dais.
"It is thy hand, eh?" Duke Richard asked, with kindly voice, and the
lad could only bow and blush. One of the old men at the table had
brought forward as well the scrolls on which Hugh had written the day's
grim record, and the Prince glanced over these with a student's
lingering eye. Then, with a quaint smile and sigh, he said:—
"Behold how fair and goodly a thing is learning! Of ye three, this
stripling boy comes first in the race. Thou mightst have had thy ride
for naught, my Lady Kate, but for his craft. And thou, sirrah, mightst
have been murdered in thy camp, but for this same letter. And wert thou
set upon by these knaves?"
"Aye, your Grace," Sir Hereward replied, "and slew two, with some small
hurt to myself, and their fellows fled—to be butchered elsewhere—down
by the mill pit."
The Prince nodded his head in satisfaction, then more slowly spoke
"Sir Hereward, were thy head a match for thy heart or thy vast sinews,
belike thou hadst not saved it to-day. 'Tis dull of wit, but belongs to
a simple valiant gentleman, and I will not lop it from his shoulders.
Get thee to Devon, and keep within the King's grace—and if the taste
for mumming rise in thee again, and will not down, go morris-dancing on
thine own estates—or hers. And thou—saucy Kate—go take thy man, and
make thy wit the complement of his slow honesty. But no tricks! Why,
silly pretty maid, didst think England was ruled by blind men! Thou
hadst not killed thy first horse, in Somerset, ere we knew of thee and
thy quest. And as for thy knight in motley, loud rumor preceded him
down the street to-day as if he had been the borough bellman."
Sir Hereward, holding the lady's hand, would at this have made some
speech of thanks, but that the Prince held up his finger to stop him.
"Nay—another day," he said, "perchance when we do send for thee to
come up to London town. Thy affairs have eaten up too much time, as it
stands. The saints speed thee, Lady Kate, and teach thee to write. In
this rude, topsy-turvy world, naught is secure but learning. Observe
what joy I have in this clerkly boy whose skilled hand mocks Master
Caxton's types in the Low Countries—but of that thou knowest nothing.
I am beholden to thee for the boy. This night I'll beg him of the
Abbot, and he shall be of my household at Baynard's. Go now. I am
aweary of good unlettered folk."
And as the twain, bowing, left the room, the Prince turned again to the