Where Avon into Severn Flows by Harold Frederic

CHAPTER I.

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 him.

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 strain?

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 the chamber.

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 all!"

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 town?"

"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 proffered consolation.

"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 Abbey's treasures.

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 Lady!"

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 heeded it.

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 war.

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 boy:—

"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 pray.

"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.

  CHAPTER II.

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 windows.

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 King."

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 breast—spoke now:—

"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 hurried explanation:—

"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 before them.

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 face.

"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 say!"

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 broth.

"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 it!"

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 when——"

"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 sanctuary!

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, good brother?"

"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 done!"

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 town!"

  CHAPTER III.

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 retreat.

"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 boar?"

"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 protect thee!"

"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 letter!

"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 on.

"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 unworthiness.

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 mercy."

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, stood revealed.

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 again.

"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 scrivener lad.