Wednesday, November 7, 2007



Weland's Sword
Puck's Song
A Tree Song
Young Men at the Manor
Sir Richard's Song
The Knights of the Joyous Venture
Harp Song of the Dane Women
Thorkild's Song
Old Men at Pevensey
The Runes on Weland's Sword
A Centurion of the Thirtieth
'Cities and Thrones and Powers'
A British-Roman Song
On the Great Wall
A Song to Mithras
The Winged Hats
A Pict Song
Hal o' the Draft
'Prophets have honour all over the Earth'
A Smugglers' Song
'Dymchurch Flit'
The Bee Boy's Song
A Three-Part Song
The Treasure and the Law
Song of the Fifth River
The Children's Song
Puck's Song
See you the dimpled track that runs,
All hollow through the wheat?
O that was where they hauled the guns
That smote King Philip's fleet!
See you our little mill that clacks,
So busy by the brook?
She has ground her corn and paid her tax
Ever since Domesday Book.
See you our stilly woods of oak,
And the dread ditch beside?
O that was where the Saxons broke,
On the day that Harold died!
See you the windy levels spread
About the gates of Rye?
O that was where the Northmen fled,
When Alfred's ships came by!
See you our pastures wide and lone,
Where the red oxen browse?
O there was a City thronged and known,
Ere London boasted a house!
And see you, after rain, the trace
Of mound and ditch and wall?
O that was a Legion's camping-place,
When Caesar sailed from Gaul!
And see you marks that show and fade,
Like shadows on the Downs?
O they are the lines the Flint Men made,
To guard their wondrous towns!
Trackway and Camp and City lost,
Salt Marsh where now is corn;
Old Wars, old Peace, old Arts that cease,
And so was England born!
She is not any common Earth,
Water or Wood or Air,
But Merlin's Isle of Gramarye,
Where you and I will fare.
The children were at the Theatre, acting to Three Cows as
much as they could remember of Midsummer Night's
Dream. Their father had made them a small play out of the
big Shakespeare one, and they had rehearsed it with him
and with their mother till they could say it by heart. They
began when Nick Bottom the weaver comes out of the
bushes with a donkey's head on his shoulders, and finds
Titania, Queen of the Fairies, asleep. Then they skipped
to the part where Bottom asks three little fairies to scratch
his head and bring him honey, and they ended where he
falls asleep in Titania's arms. Dan was Puck and Nick
Bottom, as well as all three Fairies. He wore a pointycloth
cap for Puck, and a paper donkey's head out
of a Christmas cracker - but it tore if you were not careful
- for Bottom. Una was Titania, with a wreath of
columbines and a foxglove wand.
The Theatre lay in a meadow called the Long Slip. A
little mill-stream, carrying water to a mill two or three
fields away, bent round one corner of it, and in the
middle of the bend lay a large old Fairy Ring of darkened
grass, which was the stage. The millstream banks, overgrown
with willow, hazel, and guelder-rose, made convenient
places to wait in till your turn came; and a
grown-up who had seen it said that Shakespeare himself
could not have imagined a more suitable setting for his
play. They were not, of course, allowed to act on
Midsummer Night itself, but they went down after tea on
Midsummer Eve, when the shadows were growing, and
they took their supper - hard-boiled eggs, Bath Oliver
biscuits, and salt in an envelope - with them. Three Cows
had been milked and were grazing steadily with a tearing
noise that one could hear all down the meadow; and the
noise of the Mill at work sounded like bare feet running
on hard ground. A cuckoo sat on a gate-post singing his
broken June tune, 'cuckoo-cuck', while a busy kingfisher
crossed from the mill-stream, to the brook which ran on
the other side of the meadow. Everything else was a sort
of thick, sleepy stillness smelling of meadow-sweet and
dry grass.
Their play went beautifully. Dan remembered all his
parts - Puck, Bottom, and the three Fairies - and Una
never forgot a word of Titania - not even the difficult
piece where she tells the Fairies how to feed Bottom with
'apricocks, green figs, and dewberries', and all the lines
end in 'ies'. They were both so pleased that they acted it
three times over from beginning to end before they sat
down in the unthistly centre of the Ring to eat eggs and
Bath Olivers. This was when they heard a whistle among
the alders on the bank, and they jumped.
The bushes parted. In the very spot where Dan had
stood as Puck they saw a small, brown, broadshouldered,
pointy-eared person with a snub nose, slanting
blue eyes, and a grin that ran right across his freckled
face. He shaded his forehead as though he were watching
Quince, Snout, Bottom, and the others rehearsing
Pyramus and Thisbe, and, in a voice as deep as Three Cows
asking to be milked, he began:
'What hempen homespuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy Queen?'
He stopped, hollowed one hand round his ear, and,
with a wicked twinkle in his eye, went on:
'What, a play toward? I'll be an auditor;
An actor, too, perhaps, if I see cause.'
The children looked and gasped. The small thing - he was
no taller than Dan's shoulder - stepped quietly into the Ring.
'I'm rather out of practice,' said he; 'but that's the way
my part ought to be played.'
Still the children stared at him - from his dark-blue cap, like
a big columbine flower, to his bare, hairy feet. At last he laughed.
'Please don't look like that. It isn't my fault. What else
could you expect?' he said.
'We didn't expect any one,' Dan answered slowly.
'This is our field.'
'Is it?' said their visitor, sitting down. 'Then what on
Human Earth made you act Midsummer Night's Dream
three times over, on Midsummer Eve, in the middle of a
Ring, and under - right under one of my oldest hills in Old
England? Pook's Hill - Puck's Hill - Puck's Hill - Pook's
Hill! It's as plain as the nose on my face.'
He pointed to the bare, fern-covered slope of Pook's
Hill that runs up from the far side of the mill-stream to a
dark wood. Beyond that wood the ground rises and rises
for five hundred feet, till at last you climb out on the bare
top of Beacon Hill, to look over the Pevensey Levels and
the Channel and half the naked South Downs.
'By Oak, Ash, and Thorn!' he cried, still laughing. 'If
this had happened a few hundred years ago you'd have
had all the People of the Hills out like bees in June!'
'We didn't know it was wrong,' said Dan.
'Wrong!' The little fellow shook with laughter. 'Indeed,
it isn't wrong. You've done something that Kings
and Knights and Scholars in old days would have given
their crowns and spurs and books to find out. If Merlin
himself had helped you, you couldn't have managed
better! You've broken the Hills - you've broken the Hills!
It hasn't happened in a thousand years.'
'We - we didn't mean to,' said Una.
'Of course you didn't! That's just why you did it.
Unluckily the Hills are empty now, and all the People of
the Hills are gone. I'm the only one left. I'm Puck, the
oldest Old Thing in England, very much at your service if
- if you care to have anything to do with me. If you don't,
of course you've only to say so, and I'll go.'
He looked at the children, and the children looked at
him for quite half a minute. His eyes did not twinkle any
more. They were very kind, and there was the beginning
of a good smile on his lips.
Una put out her hand. 'Don't go,' she said. 'We like you.'
'Have a Bath Oliver,' said Dan, and he passed over the
squashy envelope with the eggs.
'By Oak, Ash and Thorn,' cried Puck, taking off his
blue cap, 'I like you too. Sprinkle a plenty salt on the
biscuit, Dan, and I'll eat it with you. That'll show you the
sort of person I am. Some of us' - he went on, with his
mouth full - 'couldn't abide Salt, or Horse-shoes over a
door, or Mountain-ash berries, or Running Water, or
Cold Iron, or the sound of Church Bells. But I'm Puck!'
He brushed the crumbs carefully from his doublet and
shook hands.
'We always said, Dan and I,' Una stammered, 'that if it
ever happened we'd know ex-actly what to do; but - but
now it seems all different somehow.'
'She means meeting a fairy,'said Dan. 'I never believed
in 'em - not after I was six, anyhow.'
'I did,' said Una. 'At least, I sort of half believed till we
learned "Farewell, Rewards". Do you know "Farewell,
Rewards and Fairies"?'
'Do you mean this?' said Puck. He threw his big head
back and began at the second line:
'Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies
Do fare as well as they;
And though they sweep their hearths no less
('Join in, Una!')
Than maids were wont to do,
Yet who of late for cleanliness
Finds sixpence in her shoe?'
The echoes flapped all along the flat meadow.
'Of course I know it,' he said.
'And then there's the verse about the rings,' said Dan.
'When I was little it always made me feel unhappy in my
"'Witness those rings and roundelays", do you mean?'
boomed Puck, with a voice like a great church organ.
'Of theirs which yet remain,
Were footed in Queen Mary's days
On many a grassy plain,
But since of late Elizabeth,
And, later, James came in,
Are never seen on any heath
As when the time hath been.
'It's some time since I heard that sung, but there's no
good beating about the bush: it's true. The People of the
Hills have all left. I saw them come into Old England and
I saw them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, goblins,
imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heathpeople,
hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people,
little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders,
pixies, nixies, gnomes, and the rest - gone, all gone! I
came into England with Oak, Ash and Thorn, and when
Oak, Ash and Thorn are gone I shall go too.'
Dan looked round the meadow - at Una's Oak by the
lower gate; at the line of ash trees that overhang Otter
Pool where the millstream spills over when the Mill does
not need it, and at the gnarled old white-thorn where
Three Cows scratched their necks.
'It's all right,' he said; and added, 'I'm planting a lot of
acorns this autumn too.'
'Then aren't you most awfully old?' said Una.
'Not old - fairly long-lived, as folk say hereabouts. Let
me see - my friends used to set my dish of cream for me o'
nights when Stonehenge was new. Yes, before the Flint
Men made the Dewpond under Chanctonbury Ring.'
Una clasped her hands, cried 'Oh!' and nodded her head.
'She's thought a plan,' Dan explained. 'She always
does like that when she thinks a plan.'
'I was thinking - suppose we saved some of our
porridge and put it in the attic for you? They'd notice if
we left it in the nursery.'
'Schoolroom,' said Dan quickly, and Una flushed,
because they had made a solemn treaty that summer not
to call the schoolroom the nursery any more.
'Bless your heart o' gold!' said Puck. 'You'll make a fine
considering wench some market-day. I really don't want
you to put out a bowl for me; but if ever I need a bite, be
sure I'll tell you.'
He stretched himself at length on the dry grass, and the
children stretched out beside him, their bare legs waving
happily in the air. They felt they could not be afraid of
him any more than of their particular friend old Hobden
the hedger. He did not bother them with grown-up
questions, or laugh at the donkey's head, but lay and
smiled to himself in the most sensible way.
'Have you a knife on you?' he said at last.
Dan handed over his big one-bladed outdoor knife,
and Puck began to carve out a piece of turf from the centre
of the Ring.
'What's that for - Magic?' said Una, as he pressed up
the square of chocolate loam that cut like so much cheese.
'One of my little magics,' he answered, and cut
another. 'You see, I can't let you into the Hills because the
People of the Hills have gone; but if you care to take seisin
from me, I may be able to show you something out of the
common here on Human Earth. You certainly deserve it.'
'What's taking seisin?' said Dan, cautiously.
'It's an old custom the people had when they bought
and sold land. They used to cut out a clod and hand it
over to the buyer, and you weren't lawfully seised of
your land - it didn't really belong to you - till the other
fellow had actually given you a piece of it -'like this.' He
held out the turves.
'But it's our own meadow,' said Dan, drawing back.
'Are you going to magic it away?'
Puck laughed. 'I know it's your meadow, but there's
a great deal more in it than you or your father ever
guessed. Try!'
He turned his eyes on Una.
'I'll do it,' she said. Dan followed her example at once.
'Now are you two lawfully seised and possessed of all
Old England,' began Puck, in a sing-song voice. 'By right
of Oak, Ash, and Thorn are you free to come and go and
look and know where I shall show or best you please.
You shall see What you shall see and you shall hear What
you shall hear, though It shall have happened three
thousand year; and you shall know neither Doubt nor
Fear. Fast! Hold fast all I give you.'
The children shut their eyes, but nothing happened.
'Well?' said Una, disappointedly opening them. 'I
thought there would be dragons.'
"'Though It shall have happened three thousand
year,"' said Puck, and counted on his fingers. 'No; I'm
afraid there were no dragons three thousand years ago.'
'But there hasn't happened anything at all,' said Dan.
'Wait awhile,' said Puck. 'You don't grow an oak in a
year - and Old England's older than twenty oaks. Let's sit
down again and think. I can do that for a century at a time.'
'Ah, but you're a fairy,' said Dan.
'Have you ever heard me say that word yet?' said Puck quickly.
'No. You talk about "the People of the Hills", but you
never say "fairies",' said Una. 'I was wondering at that.
Don't you like it?'
'How would you like to be called "mortal" or "human
being" all the time?' said Puck; 'or "son of Adam" or
"daughter of Eve"?'
'I shouldn't like it at all,' said Dan. 'That's how the
Djinns and Afrits talk in the Arabian Nights.'
'And that's how I feel about saying - that word that I
don't say. Besides, what you call them are made-up things
the People of the Hills have never heard of - little
buzzflies with butterfly wings and gauze petticoats, and
shiny stars in their hair, and a wand like a schoolteacher's
cane for punishing bad boys and rewarding good ones. I
know 'em!'
'We don't mean that sort,'said Dan. 'We hate 'em too.'
'Exactly,' said Puck. 'Can you wonder that the People
of the Hills don't care to be confused with that paintywinged,
wand-waving, sugar-and-shake-your-head set
of impostors? Butterfly wings, indeed! I've seen Sir Huon
and a troop of his people setting off from Tintagel Castle
for Hy-Brasil in the teeth of a sou'-westerly gale, with the
spray flying all over the Castle, and the Horses of the
Hills wild with fright. Out they'd go in a lull, screaming
like gulls, and back they'd be driven five good miles
inland before they could come head to wind again.
Butterfly-wings! It was Magic - Magic as black as Merlin
could make it, and the whole sea was green fire and white
foam with singing mermaids in it. And the Horses of the
Hills picked their way from one wave to another by the
lightning flashes! That was how it was in the old days!'
'Splendid,' said Dan, but Una shuddered.
'I'm glad they're gone, then; but what made the People
of the Hills go away?' Una asked.
'Different things. I'll tell you one of them some day -
the thing that made the biggest flit of any,' said Puck. 'But
they didn't all flit at once. They dropped off, one by one,
through the centuries. Most of them were foreigners who
couldn't stand our climate. They flitted early.'
'How early?' said Dan.
'A couple of thousand years or more. The fact is they
began as Gods. The Phoenicians brought some over
when they came to buy tin; and the Gauls, and the Jutes,
and the Danes, and the Frisians, and the Angles brought
more when they landed. They were always landing in
those days, or being driven back to their ships, and they
always brought their Gods with them. England is a bad
country for Gods. Now, I began as I mean to go on. A
bowl of porridge, a dish of milk, and a little quiet fun with
the country folk in the lanes was enough for me then, as it
is now. I belong here, you see, and I have been mixed up
with people all my days. But most of the others insisted
on being Gods, and having temples, and altars, and
priests, and sacrifices of their own.'
'People burned in wicker baskets?' said Dan. 'Like
Miss Blake tells us about?'
'All sorts of sacrifices,' said Puck. 'If it wasn't men, it
was horses, or cattle, or pigs, or metheglin - that's a
sticky, sweet sort of beer. I never liked it. They were a
stiff-necked, extravagant set of idols, the Old Things. But
what was the result? Men don't like being sacrificed at the
best of times; they don't even like sacrificing their farmhorses.
After a while, men simply left the Old Things
alone, and the roofs of their temples fell in, and the Old
Things had to scuttle out and pick up a living as they
could. Some of them took to hanging about trees, and
hiding in graves and groaning o' nights. If they groaned
loud enough and long enough they might frighten a poor
countryman into sacrificing a hen, or leaving a pound
of butter for them. I remember one Goddess called
Belisama. She became a common wet water-spirit somewhere
in Lancashire. And there were hundreds of other
friends of mine. First they were Gods. Then they were
People of the Hills, and then they flitted to other
places because they couldn't get on with the English
for one reason or another. There was only one Old
Thing, I remember, who honestly worked for his
living after he came down in the world. He was called
Weland, and he was a smith to some Gods. I've
forgotten their names, but he used to make them swords
and spears. I think he claimed kin with Thor of
the Scandinavians.'
'Heroes of Asgard Thor?' said Una. She had been reading
the book.
'Perhaps,' answered Puck. 'None the less, when bad
times came, he didn't beg or steal. He worked; and I was
lucky enough to be able to do him a good turn.'
'Tell us about it,' said Dan. 'I think I like hearing of Old Things.'
They rearranged themselves comfortably, each chewing
a grass stem. Puck propped himself on one strong
arm and went on:
'Let's think! I met Weland first on a November afternoon
in a sleet storm, on Pevensey Level.'
'Pevensey? Over the hill, you mean?' Dan pointed south.
'Yes; but it was all marsh in those days, right up to
Horsebridge and Hydeneye. I was on Beacon Hill - they
called it Brunanburgh then - when I saw the pale flame
that burning thatch makes, and I went down to look.
Some pirates - I think they must have been Peor's men -
were burning a village on the Levels, and Weland's
image - a big, black wooden thing with amber beads
round his neck - lay in the bows of a black thirty-two-oar
galley that they had just beached. Bitter cold it was! There
were icicles hanging from her deck and the oars were
glazed over with ice, and there was ice on Weland's lips.
When he saw me he began a long chant in his own
tongue, telling me how he was going to rule England,
and how I should smell the smoke of his altars from
Lincolnshire to the Isle of Wight. I didn't care! I'd seen too
many Gods charging into Old England to be upset about
it. I let him sing himself out while his men were burning
the village, and then I said (I don't know what put it into
my head), "Smith of the Gods," I said, "the time comes
when I shall meet you plying your trade for hire
by the wayside."'
'What did Weland say?' said Una. 'Was he angry?'
'He called me names and rolled his eyes, and I went
away to wake up the people inland. But the pirates
conquered the country, and for centuries Weland was a
most important God. He had temples everywhere - from
Lincolnshire to the Isle of Wight, as he said - and his
sacrifices were simply scandalous. To do him justice, he
preferred horses to men; but men or horses, I knew that
presently he'd have to come down in the world - like the
other Old Things. I gave him lots of time - I gave him
about a thousand years - and at the end of 'em I went into
one of his temples near Andover to see how he prospered.
There was his altar, and there was his image, and
there were his priests, and there were the congregation,
and everybody seemed quite happy, except Weland and
the priests. In the old days the congregation were
unhappy until the priests had chosen their sacrifices; and so
would you have been. When the service began a priest
rushed out, dragged a man up to the altar, pretended to
hit him on the head with a little gilt axe, and the man fell
down and pretended to die. Then everybody shouted:
"A sacrifice to Weland! A sacrifice to Weland!"'
'And the man wasn't really dead?' said Una.
'Not a bit. All as much pretence as a dolls' tea-party.
Then they brought out a splendid white horse, and the
priest cut some hair from its mane and tail and burned it
on the altar, shouting, "A sacrifice!" That counted the
same as if a man and a horse had been killed. I saw poor
Weland's face through the smoke, and I couldn't help
laughing. He looked so disgusted and so hungry, and all
he had to satisfy himself was a horrid smell of burning
hair. Just a dolls' tea-party!
'I judged it better not to say anything then ('twouldn't
have been fair), and the next time I came to Andover, a
few hundred years later, Weland and his temple were
gone, and there was a Christian bishop in a church there.
None of the People of the Hills could tell me anything
about him, and I supposed that he had left England.'
Puck turned, lay on his other elbow, and thought for a
long time.
'Let's see,' he said at last. 'It must have been some few
years later - a year or two before the Conquest, I think -
that I came back to Pook's Hill here, and one evening I
heard old Hobden talking about Weland's Ford.'
'If you mean old Hobden the hedger, he's only seventy-two.
He told me so himself,' said Dan. 'He's a intimate
friend of ours.'
'You're quite right,' Puck replied. 'I meant old Hobden's
ninth great-grandfather. He was a free man and
burned charcoal hereabouts. I've known the family,
father and son, so long that I get confused sometimes.
Hob of the Dene was my Hobden's name, and he lived at
the Forge cottage. Of course, I pricked up my ears when I
heard Weland mentioned, and I scuttled through the
woods to the Ford just beyond Bog Wood yonder.' He
jerked his head westward, where the valley narrows
between wooded hills and steep hop-fields.
'Why, that's Willingford Bridge,' said Una. 'We go
there for walks often. There's a kingfisher there.'
'It was Weland's Ford then, dearie. A road led down to
it from the Beacon on the top of the hill - a shocking bad
road it was - and all the hillside was thick, thick oakforest,
with deer in it. There was no trace of Weland, but
presently I saw a fat old farmer riding down from the
Beacon under the greenwood tree. His horse had cast a
shoe in the clay, and when he came to the Ford he
dismounted, took a penny out of his purse, laid it on a
stone, tied the old horse to an oak, and called out:
"Smith, Smith, here is work for you!" Then he sat down
and went to sleep. You can imagine how I felt when I saw
a white-bearded, bent old blacksmith in a leather apron
creep out from behind the oak and begin to shoe the
horse. It was Weland himself. I was so astonished that I
jumped out and said: "What on Human Earth are you
doing here, Weland?"'
'Poor Weland!' sighed Una.
'He pushed the long hair back from his forehead (he
didn't recognize me at first). Then he said: "You ought to
know. You foretold it, Old Thing. I'm shoeing horses for
hire. I'm not even Weland now," he said. "They call me
'Poor chap!' said Dan. 'What did you say?'
'What could I say? He looked up, with the horse's foot
on his lap, and he said, smiling, "I remember the time
when I wouldn't have accepted this old bag of bones as a
sacrifice, and now I'm glad enough to shoe him for a penny."
"'Isn't there any way for you to get back to Valhalla, or
wherever you come from?" I said.
"'I'm afraid not, " he said, rasping away at the hoof. He
had a wonderful touch with horses. The old beast was
whinnying on his shoulder. "You may remember that I
was not a gentle God in my Day and my Time and my
Power. I shall never be released till some human being
truly wishes me well."
"'Surely," said I, "the farmer can't do less than that.
You're shoeing the horse all round for him."
"'Yes," said he, "and my nails will hold a shoe from
one full moon to the next. But farmers and Weald clay,"
said he, "are both uncommon cold and sour."
'Would you believe it, that when that farmer woke and
found his horse shod he rode away without one word of
thanks? I was so angry that I wheeled his horse right
round and walked him back three miles to the Beacon,
just to teach the old sinner politeness.'
'Were you invisible?' said Una. Puck nodded, gravely.
'The Beacon was always laid in those days ready to
light, in case the French landed at Pevensey; and I walked
the horse about and about it that lee-long summer night.
The farmer thought he was bewitched - well, he was, of
course - and began to pray and shout. I didn't care! I was
as good a Christian as he any fair-day in the County, and
about four o'clock in the morning a young novice came
along from the monastery that used to stand on the top of
Beacon Hill.'
'What's a novice?' said Dan.
'It really means a man who is beginning to be a monk,
but in those days people sent their sons to a monastery
just the same as a school. This young fellow had been to a
monastery in France for a few months every year, and he
was finishing his studies in the monastery close to his
home here. Hugh was his name, and he had got up to go
fishing hereabouts. His people owned all this valley.
Hugh heard the farmer shouting, and asked him what in
the world he meant. The old man spun him a wonderful
tale about fairies and goblins and witches; and I know he
hadn't seen a thing except rabbits and red deer all that
night. (The People of the Hills are like otters - they don't
show except when they choose.) But the novice wasn't a
fool. He looked down at the horse's feet, and saw the
new shoes fastened as only Weland knew how to fasten
'em. (Weland had a way of turning down the nails that
folks called the Smith's Clinch.)
"'H'm!" said the novice. "Where did you get your
horse shod?"
'The farmer wouldn't tell him at first, because the
priests never liked their people to have any dealings with
the Old Things. At last he confessed that the Smith had
done it. "What did you pay him?" said the novice.
"Penny," said the farmer, very sulkily. "That's less than
a Christian would have charged," said the novice. "I
hope you threw a 'thank you' into the bargain." "No,"
said the farmer; "Wayland-Smith's a heathen." "Heathen
or no heathen," said the novice, "you took his help,
and where you get help there you must give thanks."
"What?" said the farmer - he was in a furious temper
because I was walking the old horse in circles all this time
- "What, you young jackanapes?" said he. "Then by
your reasoning I ought to say 'Thank you' to Satan if he
helped me?" "Don't roll about up there splitting reasons
with me," said the novice. "Come back to the Ford and
thank the Smith, or you'll be sorry."
'Back the farmer had to go. I led the horse, though no
one saw me, and the novice walked beside us, his gown
swishing through the shiny dew and his fishing-rod
across his shoulders, spear-wise. When we reached the
Ford again - it was five o'clock and misty still under the
oaks - the farmer simply wouldn't say "Thank you." He
said he'd tell the Abbot that the novice wanted him to
worship heathen Gods. Then Hugh the novice lost his
temper. He just cried, "Out!" put his arm under the
farmer's fat leg, and heaved him from his saddle on to the
turf, and before he could rise he caught him by the back of
the neck and shook him like a rat till the farmer growled,
"Thank you, Wayland-Smith."'
'Did Weland see all this?' said Dan.
'Oh yes, and he shouted his old war-cry when the
farmer thudded on to the ground. He was delighted.
Then the novice turned to the oak tree and said, "Ho,
Smith of the Gods! I am ashamed of this rude farmer; but
for all you have done in kindness and charity to him and
to others of our people, I thank you and wish you well."
Then he picked up his fishing-rod - it looked more like a
tall spear than ever - and tramped off down your valley.'
'And what did poor Weland do?' said Una.
'He laughed and he cried with joy, because he had
been released at last, and could go away. But he was an
honest Old Thing. He had worked for his living and he
paid his debts before he left. "I shall give that novice a
gift," said Weland. "A gift that shall do him good the
wide world over and Old England after him. Blow up my
fire, Old Thing, while I get the iron for my last task."
Then he made a sword - a dark-grey, wavy-lined sword -
and I blew the fire while he hammered. By Oak, Ash and
Thorn, I tell you, Weland was a Smith of the Gods! He
cooled that sword in running water twice, and the third
time he cooled it in the evening dew, and he laid it out in
the moonlight and said Runes (that's charms) over it, and
he carved Runes of Prophecy on the blade. "Old Thing,"
he said to me, wiping his forehead, "this is the best blade
that Weland ever made. Even the user will never know
how good it is. Come to the monastery."
'We went to the dormitory where the monks slept, we
saw the novice fast asleep in his cot, and Weland put the
sword into his hand, and I remember the young fellow
gripped it in his sleep. Then Weland strode as far as he
dared into the Chapel and threw down all his shoeingtools
- his hammers and pincers and rasps - to show that
he had done with them for ever. It sounded like suits of
armour falling, and the sleepy monks ran in, for they
thought the monastery had been attacked by the French.
The novice came first of all, waving his new sword and
shouting Saxon battle-cries. When they saw the shoeingtools
they were very bewildered, till the novice asked
leave to speak, and told what he had done to the farmer,
and what he had said to Wayland-Smith, and how,
though the dormitory light was burning, he had found
the wonderful Rune-carved sword in his cot.
'The Abbot shook his head at first, and then he laughed
and said to the novice: "Son Hugh, it needed no sign
from a heathen God to show me that you will never be a
monk. Take your sword, and keep your sword, and go
with your sword, and be as gentle as you are strong and
courteous. We will hang up the Smith's tools before the
Altar," he said, "because, whatever the Smith of the
Gods may have been, in the old days, we know that he
worked honestly for his living and made gifts to Mother
Church." Then they went to bed again, all except the
novice, and he sat up in the garth playing with his sword.
Then Weland said to me by the stables: "Farewell, Old
Thing; you had the right of it. You saw me come to
England, and you see me go. Farewell!"
'With that he strode down the hill to the corner of the
Great Woods - Woods Corner, you call it now - to the
very place where he had first landed - and I heard him
moving through the thickets towards Horsebridge for a
little, and then he was gone. That was how it happened. I
saw it.'
Both children drew a long breath.
'But what happened to Hugh the novice?' said Una.
'And the sword?' said Dan.
Puck looked down the meadow that lay all quiet and
cool in the shadow of Pook's Hill. A corncrake jarred in a
hay-field near by, and the small trouts of the brook began
to jump. A big white moth flew unsteadily from the
alders and flapped round the children's heads, and the
least little haze of water-mist rose from the brook.
'Do you really want to know?' Puck said.
'We do,' cried the children. 'Awfully!'
'Very good. I promised you that you shall see What
you shall see, and you shall hear What you shall hear,
though It shall have happened three thousand year; but
just now it seems to me that, unless you go back to the
house, people will be looking for you. I'll walk with you
as far as the gate.'
'Will you be here when we come again?' they asked.
'Surely, sure-ly,' said Puck. 'I've been here some time
already. One minute first, please.'
He gave them each three leaves - one of Oak, one of
Ash and one of Thorn.
'Bite these,' said he. 'Otherwise you might be talking at
home of what you've seen and heard, and - if I know
human beings - they'd send for the doctor. Bite!'
They bit hard, and found themselves walking side by
side to the lower gate. Their father was leaning over it.
'And how did your play go?' he asked.
'Oh, splendidly,' said Dan. 'Only afterwards, I think,
we went to sleep. it was very hot and quiet. Don't you
remember, Una?'
Una shook her head and said nothing.
'I see,' said her father.
'Late - late in the evening Kilmeny came home,
For Kilmeny had been she could not tell where,
And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare.
But why are you chewing leaves at your time of life,
daughter? For fun?'
'No. It was for something, but I can't exactly remember,'
said Una.
And neither of them could till -
A Tree Song
Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak and Ash and Thorn.
Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer morn)!
Surely we sing no little thing,
In Oak and Ash and Thorn!
Oak of the Clay lived many a day,
Or ever Aeneas began;
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home,
When Brut was an outlaw man;
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
(From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak and Ash and Thorn!
Yew that is old in churchyard mould,
He breedeth a mighty bow;
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
And beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
And your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
To Oak and Ash and Thorn!
Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He will take no wrong when he lieth along
'Neath Oak and Ash and Thorn!
Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But - we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth -
Good news for cattle and corn -
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak and Ash and Thorn!
Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer morn)!
England shall bide till Judgement Tide,
By Oak and Ash and Thorn!
They were fishing, a few days later, in the bed of the
brook that for centuries had cut deep into the soft valley
soil. The trees closing overhead made long tunnels
through which the sunshine worked in blobs and
patches. Down in the tunnels were bars of sand and
gravel, old roots and trunks covered with moss or
painted red by the irony water; foxgloves growing lean
and pale towards the light; clumps of fern and thirsty shy
flowers who could not live away from moisture and
shade. In the pools you could see the wave thrown up by
the trouts as they charged hither and yon, and the pools
were joined to each other - except in flood-time, when all
was one brown rush - by sheets of thin broken water that
poured themselves chuckling round the darkness of the
next bend.
This was one of the children's most secret huntinggrounds,
and their particular friend, old Hobden the
hedger, had shown them how to use it. Except for the
click of a rod hitting a low willow, or a switch and tussle
among the young ash leaves as a line hung up for the
minute, nobody in the hot pasture could have guessed
what game was going on among the trouts below the banks.
'We've got half a dozen,' said Dan, after a warm, wet
hour. 'I vote we go up to Stone Bay and try Long Pool.'
Una nodded - most of her talk was by nods - and they
crept from the gloom of the tunnels towards the tiny weir
that turns the brook into the mill-stream. Here the banks
are low and bare, and the glare of the afternoon sun
on the Long Pool below the weir makes your eyes ache.
When they were in the open they nearly fell down
with astonishment. A huge grey horse, whose tail-hairs
crinkled the glassy water, was drinking in the pool, and
the ripples about his muzzle flashed like melted gold. On
his back sat an old, white-haired man dressed in a loose
glimmery gown of chain-mail. He was bare-headed, and
a nut-shaped iron helmet hung at his saddle-bow. His
reins were of red leather five or six inches deep, scalloped
at the edges, and his high padded saddle with its red
girths was held fore and aft by a red leather breastband
and crupper.
'Look!' said Una, as though Dan were not staring his
very eyes out. 'It's like the picture in your room - "Sir
Isumbras at the Ford".'
The rider turned towards them, and his thin, long face
was just as sweet and gentle as that of the knight who
carries the children in that picture.
'They should be here now, Sir Richard,' said Puck's
deep voice among the willow-herb.
'They are here,' the knight said, and he smiled at Dan
with the string of trouts in his hand. 'There seems no
great change in boys since mine fished this water.'
'If your horse has drunk, we shall be more at ease in the
Ring,' said Puck; and he nodded to the children as
though he had never magicked away their memories a
week before.
The great horse turned and hoisted himself into the
pasture with a kick and a scramble that tore the clods
down rattling.
'Your pardon!' said Sir Richard to Dan. 'When
these lands were mine, I never loved that mounted men
should cross the brook except by the paved ford. But
my Swallow here was thirsty, and I wished to meet you.'
'We're very glad you've come, sir,'said Dan.'It doesn't
matter in the least about the banks.'
He trotted across the pasture on the sword side of the
mighty horse, and it was a mighty iron-handled sword
that swung from Sir Richard's belt. Una walked behind
with Puck. She remembered everything now.
'I'm sorry about the Leaves,' he said, 'but it would
never have done if you had gone home and told, would it?'
'I s'pose not,' Una answered. 'But you said that all the
fair - People of the Hills had left England.'
'So they have; but I told you that you should come and
go and look and know, didn't I? The knight isn't a fairy.
He's Sir Richard Dalyngridge, a very old friend of mine.
He came over with William the Conqueror, and he wants
to see you particularly.'
'What for?' said Una.
'On account of your great wisdom and learning,' Puck
replied, without a twinkle.
'Us?' said Una. 'Why, I don't know my Nine Times -
not to say it dodging, and Dan makes the most awful mess
of fractions. He can't mean us!'
'Una!' Dan called back. 'Sir Richard says he is going to
tell what happened to Weland's sword. He's got it. Isn't it
'Nay - nay,' said Sir Richard, dismounting as they
reached the Ring, in the bend of the mill-stream bank. 'It
is you that must tell me, for I hear the youngest child in
our England today is as wise as our wisest clerk.' He
slipped the bit out of Swallow's mouth, dropped the
ruby-red reins over his head, and the wise horse moved
off to graze.
Sir Richard (they noticed he limped a little) unslung his
great sword.
'That's it,' Dan whispered to Una.
'This is the sword that Brother Hugh had from
Wayland-Smith,' Sir Richard said. 'Once he gave it me,
but I would not take it; but at the last it became mine after
such a fight as never christened man fought. See!' He half
drew it from its sheath and turned it before them. On
either side just below the handle, where the Runic letters
shivered as though they were alive, were two deep
gouges in the dull, deadly steel. 'Now, what Thing made
those?' said he. 'I know not, but you, perhaps, can say.'
'Tell them all the tale, Sir Richard,' said Puck. 'It
concerns their land somewhat.'
'Yes, from the very beginning,' Una pleaded, for the
knight's good face and the smile on it more than ever
reminded her of 'Sir Isumbras at the Ford'.
They settled down to listen, Sir Richard bare-headed to
the sunshine, dandling the sword in both hands, while
the grey horse cropped outside the Ring, and the helmet
on the saddle-bow clinged softly each time he jerked his head.
'From the beginning, then,' Sir Richard said, 'since it
concerns your land, I will tell the tale. When our Duke
came out of Normandy to take his England, great knights
(have ye heard?) came and strove hard to serve the Duke,
because he promised them lands here, and small knights
followed the great ones. My folk in Normandy were
poor; but a great knight, Engerrard of the Eagle -
Engenulf De Aquila - who was kin to my father, followed
the Earl of Mortain, who followed William the Duke, and
I followed De Aquila. Yes, with thirty men-at-arms out of
my father's house and a new sword, I set out to conquer
England three days after I was made knight. I did not
then know that England would conquer me. We went up
to Santlache with the rest - a very great host of us.'
'Does that mean the Battle of Hastings - Ten Sixty-Six?'
Una whispered, and Puck nodded, so as not to interrupt.
'At Santlache, over the hill yonder'- he pointed southeastward
towards Fairlight - 'we found Harold's men.
We fought. At the day's end they ran. My men went with
De Aquila's to chase and plunder, and in that chase
Engerrard of the Eagle was slain, and his son Gilbert took
his banner and his men forward. This I did not know till
after, for Swallow here was cut in the flank, so I stayed to
wash the wound at a brook by a thorn. There a single
Saxon cried out to me in French, and we fought together.
I should have known his voice, but we fought together.
For a long time neither had any advantage, till by pure
ill-fortune his foot slipped and his sword flew from his
hand. Now I had but newly been made knight, and
wished, above all, to be courteous and fameworthy, so I
forbore to strike and bade him get his sword again. "A
plague on my sword," said he. "It has lost me my first
fight. You have spared my life. Take my sword." He held
it out to me, but as I stretched my hand the sword
groaned like a stricken man, and I leaped back crying,
(The children looked at the sword as though it might
speak again.)
'Suddenly a clump of Saxons ran out upon me and,
seeing a Norman alone, would have killed me, but my
Saxon cried out that I was his prisoner, and beat them off.
Thus, see you, he saved my life. He put me on my horse
and led me through the woods ten long miles to this valley.'
'To here, d'you mean?' said Una.
'To this very valley. We came in by the Lower Ford
under the King's Hill yonder' - he pointed eastward
where the valley widens.
'And was that Saxon Hugh the novice?' Dan asked.
'Yes, and more than that. He had been for three years
at the monastery at Bec by Rouen, where' - Sir Richard
chuckled - 'the Abbot Herluin would not suffer me to remain.'
'Why wouldn't he?' said Dan.
'Because I rode my horse into the refectory, when the
scholars were at meat, to show the Saxon boys we
Normans were not afraid of an Abbot. It was that very
Saxon Hugh tempted me to do it, and we had not met
since that day. I thought I knew his voice even inside my
helmet, and, for all that our Lords fought, we each
rejoiced we had not slain the other. He walked by my
side, and he told me how a heathen God, as he believed,
had given him his sword, but he said he had never heard
it sing before. I remember I warned him to beware of
sorcery and quick enchantments.' Sir Richard smiled to
himself. 'I was very young - very young!
'When we came to his house here we had almost
forgotten that we had been at blows. It was near
midnight, and the Great Hall was full of men and women
waiting news. There I first saw his sister, the Lady
Aelueva, of whom he had spoken to us in France. She
cried out fiercely at me, and would have had me hanged
in that hour, but her brother said that I had spared his life
- he said not how he saved mine from the Saxons - and
that our Duke had won the day; and even while they
wrangled over my poor body, of a sudden he fell down in
a swoon from his wounds.
"'This is thy fault," said the Lady Aelueva to me, and
she kneeled above him and called for wine and cloths.
"'If I had known," I answered, "he should have ridden
and I walked. But he set me on my horse; he made no
complaint; he walked beside me and spoke merrily
throughout. I pray I have done him no harm."
"'Thou hast need to pray," she said, catching up her
underlip. "If he dies, thou shalt hang."
'They bore off Hugh to his chamber; but three tall men
of the house bound me and set me under the beam of the
Great Hall with a rope round my neck. The end of the
rope they flung over the beam, and they sat them down
by the fire to wait word whether Hugh lived or died.
They cracked nuts with their knife-hilts the while.'
'And how did you feel?' said Dan.
'Very weary; but I did heartily pray for my schoolmate
Hugh his health. About noon I heard horses in the valley,
and the three men loosed my ropes and fled out, and
De Aquila's men rode up. Gilbert de Aquila came with them,
for it was his boast that, like his father, he forgot no man
that served him. He was little, like his father, but terrible,
with a nose like an eagle's nose and yellow eyes like an
eagle. He rode tall warhorses - roans, which he bred
himself - and he could never abide to be helped into the
saddle. He saw the rope hanging from the beam and
laughed, and his men laughed, for I was too stiff to rise.
"'This is poor entertainment for a Norman knight," he
said, "but, such as it is, let us be grateful. Show me, boy,
to whom thou owest most, and we will pay them out of hand."'
'What did he mean? To kill 'em?' said Dan.
'Assuredly. But I looked at the Lady Aelueva where
she stood among her maids, and her brother beside her.
De Aquila's men had driven them all into the Great Hall.'
'Was she pretty?' said Una.
'In all my long life I have never seen woman fit to strew
rushes before my Lady Aelueva,' the knight replied,
quite simply and quietly. 'As I looked at her I thought I
might save her and her house by a jest.
"'Seeing that I came somewhat hastily and without
warning," said I to De Aquila, "I have no fault to find
with the courtesy that these Saxons have shown me." But
my voice shook. It is - it was not good to jest with that
little man.
'All were silent awhile, till De Aquila laughed. "Look,
men - a miracle," said he. "The fight is scarce sped, my
father is not yet buried, and here we find our youngest
knight already set down in his Manor, while his Saxons -
ye can see it in their fat faces - have paid him homage and
service! By the Saints," he said, rubbing his nose, "I
never thought England would be so easy won! Surely I
can do no less than give the lad what he has taken. This
Manor shall be thine, boy," he said, "till I come again, or
till thou art slain. Now, mount, men, and ride. We follow
our Duke into Kent to make him King of England."
'He drew me with him to the door while they brought
his horse - a lean roan, taller than my Swallow here, but
not so well girthed.
"'Hark to me," he said, fretting with his great wargloves.
"I have given thee this Manor, which is a Saxon
hornets' nest, and I think thou wilt be slain in a month -
as my father was slain. Yet if thou canst keep the roof on
the hall, the thatch on the barn, and the plough in the
furrow till I come back, thou shalt hold the Manor from
me; for the Duke has promised our Earl Mortain all the
lands by Pevensey, and Mortain will give me of them
what he would have given my father. God knows if thou
or I shall live till England is won; but remember, boy, that
here and now fighting is foolishness and" - he reached
for the reins - "craft and cunning is all."
"'Alas, I have no cunning," said I.
"'Not yet," said he, hopping abroad, foot in stirrup,
and poking his horse in the belly with his toe. "Not yet,
but I think thou hast a good teacher. Farewell! Hold the
Manor and live. Lose the Manor and hang," he said, and
spurred out, his shield-straps squeaking behind him.
'So, children, here was I, little more than a boy, and
Santlache fight not two days old, left alone with my thirty
men-at-arms, in a land I knew not, among a people
whose tongue I could not speak, to hold down the land
which I had taken from them.'
'And that was here at home?' said Una.
'Yes, here. See! From the Upper Ford, Weland's Ford,
to the Lower Ford, by the Belle Allee, west and east it ran
half a league. From the Beacon of Brunanburgh behind us
here, south and north it ran a full league - and all the
woods were full of broken men from Santlache, Saxon
thieves, Norman plunderers, robbers, and deer-stealers.
A hornets' nest indeed!
'When De Aquila had gone, Hugh would have
thanked me for saving their lives; but the Lady Aelueva
said that I had done it only for the sake of receiving the Manor.
"'How could I know that De Aquila would give it me?"
I said. "If I had told him I had spent my night in your
halter he would have burned the place twice over by now."
"'If any man had put my neck in a rope," she said, "I
would have seen his house burned thrice over before I
would have made terms."
"'But it was a woman," I said; and I laughed, and she
wept and said that I mocked her in her captivity.
"'Lady," said I, "there is no captive in this valley
except one, and he is not a Saxon."
'At this she cried that I was a Norman thief, who came
with false, sweet words, having intended from the first to
turn her out in the fields to beg her bread. Into the fields!
She had never seen the face of war!
'I was angry, and answered, "This much at least I can
disprove, for I swear" - and on my sword-hilt I swore it in
that place - "I swear I will never set foot in the Great Hall
till the Lady Aelueva herself shall summon me there."
'She went away, saying nothing, and I walked out, and
Hugh limped after me, whistling dolorously (that is a
custom of the English), and we came upon the three
Saxons that had bound me. They were now bound by my
men-at-arms, and behind them stood some fifty stark
and sullen churls of the House and the Manor, waiting to
see what should fall. We heard De Aquila's trumpets
blow thin through the woods Kentward.
"'Shall we hang these?" said my men.
"'Then my churls will fight," said Hugh, beneath his
breath; but I bade him ask the three what mercy they
hoped for.
"'None," said they all. "She bade us hang thee if our
master died. And we would have hanged thee. There is
no more to it."
'As I stood doubting, a woman ran down from the oak
wood above the King's Hill yonder, and cried out that
some Normans were driving off the swine there.
"'Norman or Saxon," said I, "we must beat them back,
or they will rob us every day. Out at them with any arms
ye have!" So I loosed those three carles and we ran
together, my men-at-arms and the Saxons with bills and
axes which they had hidden in the thatch of their huts,
and Hugh led them. Half-way up the King's Hill we
found a false fellow from Picardy - a sutler that sold wine
in the Duke's camp - with a dead knight's shield on his
arm, a stolen horse under him, and some ten or twelve
wastrels at his tail, all cutting and slashing at the pigs. We
beat them off, and saved our pork. One hundred and
seventy pigs we saved in that great battle.' Sir
Richard laughed.
'That, then, was our first work together, and I bade
Hugh tell his folk that so would I deal with any man,
knight or churl, Norman or Saxon, who stole as much as
one egg from our valley. Said he to me, riding home:
"Thou hast gone far to conquer England this evening." I
answered: "England must be thine and mine, then. Help
me, Hugh, to deal aright with these people. Make them
to know that if they slay me De Aquila will surely send to
slay them, and he will put a worse man in my place."
"That may well be true," said he, and gave me his hand.
"Better the devil we know than the devil we know not, till
we can pack you Normans home." And so, too, said his
Saxons; and they laughed as we drove the pigs downhill.
But I think some of them, even then, began not to hate me.'
'I like Brother Hugh,' said Una, softly.
'Beyond question he was the most perfect, courteous,
valiant, tender, and wise knight that ever drew breath,'
said Sir Richard, caressing the sword. 'He hung up his
sword - this sword - on the wall of the Great Hall,
because he said it was fairly mine, and never he took it
down till De Aquila returned, as I shall presently show.
For three months his men and mine guarded the valley,
till all robbers and nightwalkers learned there was
nothing to get from us save hard tack and a hanging. Side
by side we fought against all who came - thrice a week
sometimes we fought - against thieves and landless
knights looking for good manors. Then we were in some
peace, and I made shift by Hugh's help to govern the
valley - for all this valley of yours was my Manor - as a
knight should. I kept the roof on the hall and the thatch
on the barn, but ... the English are a bold people. His
Saxons would laugh and jest with Hugh, and Hugh with
them, and - this was marvellous to me - if even the
meanest of them said that such and such a thing was the
Custom of the Manor, then straightway would Hugh and
such old men of the Manor as might be near forsake
everything else to debate the matter - I have seen them
stop the Mill with the corn half ground - and if the
custom or usage were proven to be as it was said, why,
that was the end of it, even though it were flat against
Hugh, his wish and command. Wonderful!'
'Aye,' said Puck, breaking in for the first time. 'The
Custom of Old England was here before your Norman
knights came, and it outlasted them, though they fought
against it cruel.'
'Not I,' said Sir Richard. 'I let the Saxons go their
stubborn way, but when my own men-at-arms, Normans
not six months in England, stood up and told me what
was the custom of the country, then I was angry. Ah,
good days! Ah, wonderful people! And I loved them all.'
The knight lifted his arms as though he would hug the
whole dear valley, and Swallow, hearing the chink of his
chain-mail, looked up and whinnied softly.
'At last,' he went on, 'after a year of striving and
contriving and some little driving, De Aquila came to the
valley, alone and without warning. I saw him first at the
Lower Ford, with a swineherd's brat on his saddle-bow.
"'There is no need for thee to give any account of thy
stewardship," said he. "I have it all from the child here."
And he told me how the young thing had stopped his tall
horse at the Ford, by waving of a branch, and crying that
the way was barred. "And if one bold, bare babe be
enough to guard the Ford in these days, thou hast done
well," said he, and puffed and wiped his head.
'He pinched the child's cheek, and looked at our cattle
in the flat by the river.
"'Both fat," said he, rubbing his nose. "This is craft
and cunning such as I love. What did I tell thee when I
rode away, boy?"
"'Hold the Manor or hang," said I. I had never
forgotten it.
"'True. And thou hast held." He clambered from his
saddle and with his sword's point cut out a turf from the
bank and gave it me where I kneeled.'
Dan looked at Una, and Una looked at Dan.
'That's seisin,' said Puck, in a whisper.
"'Now thou art lawfully seised of the Manor, Sir
Richard," said he -'twas the first time he ever called me
that - "thou and thy heirs for ever. This must serve till the
King's clerks write out thy title on a parchment. England
is all ours - if we can hold it."
"'What service shall I pay?" I asked, and I remember I
was proud beyond words.
"'Knight's fee, boy, knight's fee!" said he, hopping
round his horse on one foot. (Have I said he was little,
and could not endure to be helped to his saddle?) "Six
mounted men or twelve archers thou shalt send me
whenever I call for them, and - where got you that corn?"
said he, for it was near harvest, and our corn stood well.
"I have never seen such bright straw. Send me three bags
of the same seed yearly, and furthermore, in memory of
our last meeting - with the rope round thy neck -
entertain me and my men for two days of each year in the
Great Hall of thy Manor."
"'Alas!" said I, "then my Manor is already forfeit. I am
under vow not to enter the Great Hall." And I told him
what I had sworn to the Lady Aelueva.'
'And hadn't you ever been into the house since?' said Una.
'Never,' Sir Richard answered, smiling. 'I had made
me a little hut of wood up the hill, and there I did justice
and slept ... De Aquila wheeled aside, and his shield
shook on his back. "No matter, boy," said he. "I will
remit the homage for a year."'
'He meant Sir Richard needn't give him dinner there
the first year,' Puck explained.
'De Aquila stayed with me in the hut, and Hugh, who
could read and write and cast accounts, showed him the
Roll of the Manor, in which were written all the names of
our fields and men, and he asked a thousand questions
touching the land, the timber, the grazing, the mill, and
the fish-ponds, and the worth of every man in the valley.
But never he named the Lady Aelueva's name, nor went
he near the Great Hall. By night he drank with us in the
hut. Yes, he sat on the straw like an eagle ruffled in her
feathers, his yellow eyes rolling above the cup, and he
pounced in his talk like an eagle, swooping from one
thing to another, but always binding fast. Yes; he would
lie still awhile, and then rustle in the straw, and speak
sometimes as though he were King William himself, and
anon he would speak in parables and tales, and if at once
we saw not his meaning he would yerk us in the ribs with
his scabbarded sword.
"'Look you, boys," said he, "I am born out of my due
time. Five hundred years ago I would have made all
England such an England as neither Dane, Saxon, nor
Norman should have conquered. Five hundred years
hence I should have been such a counsellor to Kings as
the world hath never dreamed of. 'Tis all here," said he,
tapping his big head, "but it hath no play in this black
age. Now Hugh here is a better man than thou art,
Richard." He had made his voice harsh and croaking, like
a raven's.
"'Truth," said I. "But for Hugh, his help and patience
and long-suffering, I could never have kept the Manor."
"'Nor thy life either," said De Aquila. "Hugh has
saved thee not once, but a hundred times. Be still,
Hugh!" he said. "Dost thou know, Richard, why Hugh
slept, and why he still sleeps, among thy Norman menat-
"'To be near me," said I, for I thought this was truth.
"'Fool!" said De Aquila. "It is because his Saxons have
begged him to rise against thee, and to sweep every
Norman out of the valley. No matter how I know. It is
truth. Therefore Hugh hath made himself an hostage for
thy life, well knowing that if any harm befell thee from
his Saxons thy Normans would slay him without
remedy. And this his Saxons know. Is it true, Hugh?"
"'In some sort," said Hugh shamefacedly; "at least, it
was true half a year ago. My Saxons would not harm
Richard now. I think they know him - but I judged it best
to make sure."
'Look, children, what that man had done - and I had
never guessed it! Night after night had he lain down
among my men-at-arms, knowing that if one Saxon had
lifted knife against me, his life would have answered for mine.
"'Yes," said De Aquila. "And he is a swordless man."
He pointed to Hugh's belt, for Hugh had put away his
sword - did I tell you? - the day after it flew from his hand
at Santlache. He carried only the short knife and the
long-bow. "Swordless and landless art thou, Hugh; and
they call thee kin to Earl Godwin." (Hugh was indeed of
Godwin's blood.) "The Manor that was thine is given to
this boy and to his children for ever. Sit up and beg, for he
can turn thee out like a dog, Hugh."
'Hugh said nothing, but I heard his teeth grind, and I
bade De Aquila, my own overlord, hold his peace, or I
would stuff his words down his throat. Then De Aquila
laughed till the tears ran down his face.
"'I warned the King," said he, "what would come of
giving England to us Norman thieves. Here art thou,
Richard, less than two days confirmed in thy Manor, and
already thou hast risen against thy overlord. What shall
we do to him, Sir Hugh?"
"'I am a swordless man," said Hugh. "Do not jest with
me," and he laid his head on his knees and groaned.
"'The greater fool thou," said De Aquila, and all his
voice changed; "for I have given thee the Manor of
Dallington up the hill this half-hour since," and he
yerked at Hugh with his scabbard across the straw.
"'To me?" said Hugh. "I am a Saxon, and, except that
I love Richard here, I have not sworn fealty to any Norman."
"'In God's good time, which because of my sins I shall
not live to see, there will be neither Saxon nor Norman
in England," said De Aquila. "If I know men, thou art
more faithful unsworn than a score of Normans I could
name. Take Dallington, and join Sir Richard to fight me
tomorrow, if it please thee!"
"'Nay," said Hugh. "I am no child. Where I take a gift,
there I render service"; and he put his hands between De
Aquila's, and swore to be faithful, and, as I remember, I
kissed him, and De Aquila kissed us both.
'We sat afterwards outside the hut while the sun rose,
and De Aquila marked our churls going to their work in
the fields, and talked of holy things, and how we should
govern our Manors in time to come, and of hunting and
of horse-breeding, and of the King's wisdom and
unwisdom; for he spoke to us as though we were in all sorts
now his brothers. Anon a churl stole up to me - he was
one of the three I had not hanged a year ago - and he
bellowed - which is the Saxon for whispering - that the
Lady Aelueva would speak to me at the Great House. She
walked abroad daily in the Manor, and it was her custom
to send me word whither she went, that I might set an
archer or two behind and in front to guard her. Very often
I myself lay up in the woods and watched on her also.
'I went swiftly, and as I passed the great door it opened
from within, and there stood my Lady Aelueva, and she
said to me: "Sir Richard, will it please you enter your
Great Hall?" Then she wept, but we were alone.'
The knight was silent for a long time, his face turned
across the valley, smiling.
'Oh, well done!' said Una, and clapped her hands very
softly. 'She was sorry, and she said so.'
'Aye, she was sorry, and she said so,' said Sir Richard,
coming back with a little start. 'Very soon - but he said it
was two full hours later - De Aquila rode to the door,
with his shield new scoured (Hugh had cleansed it), and
demanded entertainment, and called me a false knight,
that would starve his overlord to death. Then Hugh cried
out that no man should work in the valley that day, and
our Saxons blew horns, and set about feasting and drinking,
and running of races, and dancing and singing; and
De Aquila climbed upon a horse-block and spoke to
them in what he swore was good Saxon, but no man
understood it. At night we feasted in the Great Hall, and
when the harpers and the singers were gone we four sat
late at the high table. As I remember, it was a warm night
with a full moon, and De Aquila bade Hugh take down
his sword from the wall again, for the honour of the
Manor of Dallington, and Hugh took it gladly enough.
Dust lay on the hilt, for I saw him blow it off.
'She and I sat talking a little apart, and at first we
thought the harpers had come back, for the Great Hall
was filled with a rushing noise of music. De Aquila
leaped up; but there was only the moonlight fretty on the floor.
"'Hearken!" said Hugh. "It is my sword," and as he
belted it on the music ceased.
"'Over Gods, forbid that I should ever belt blade like
that," said De Aquila. "What does it foretell?"
"'The Gods that made it may know. Last time it spoke
was at Hastings, when I lost all my lands. Belike it sings
now that I have new lands and am a man again," said Hugh.
'He loosed the blade a little and drove it back happily
into the sheath, and the sword answered him low and
crooningly, as - as a woman would speak to a man, her
head on his shoulder.
'Now that was the second time in all my life I heard this
Sword sing.' ...
'Look!' said Una. 'There's Mother coming down the Long
Slip. What will she say to Sir Richard? She can't help
seeing him.'
'And Puck can't magic us this time,' said Dan.
'Are you sure?' said Puck; and he leaned forward and
whispered to Sir Richard, who, smiling, bowed his head.
'But what befell the sword and my brother Hugh I will
tell on another time,' said he, rising. 'Ohe, Swallow!'
The great horse cantered up from the far end of the
meadow, close to Mother.
They heard Mother say: 'Children, Gleason's old horse
has broken into the meadow again. Where did he get through?'
'Just below Stone Bay,' said Dan. 'He tore down simple
flobs of the bank! We noticed it just now. And we've
caught no end of fish. We've been at it all the afternoon.'
And they honestly believed that they had. They never
noticed the Oak, Ash and Thorn leaves that Puck had
slyly thrown into their laps.
Sir Richard's Song
I followed my Duke ere I was a lover,
To take from England fief and fee;
But now this game is the other way over -
But now England hath taken me!
I had my horse, my shield and banner,
And a boy's heart, so whole and free;
But now I sing in another manner -
But now England hath taken me!
As for my Father in his tower,
Asking news of my ship at sea;
He will remember his own hour -
Tell him England hath taken me!
As for my Mother in her bower,
That rules my Father so cunningly;
She will remember a maiden's power -
Tell her England hath taken me!
As for my Brother in Rouen city,
A nimble and naughty page is he;
But he will come to suffer and pity -
Tell him England hath taken me!
As for my little Sister waiting
In the pleasant orchards of Normandie;
Tell her youth is the time of mating -
Tell her England hath taken me!
As for my Comrades in camp and highway,
That lift their eyebrows scornfully;
Tell them their way is not my way -
Tell them England hath taken me!
Kings and Princes and Barons famed,
Knights and Captains in your degree;
Hear me a little before I am blamed -
Seeing England hath taken me!
Howso great man's strength be reckoned,
There are two things he cannot flee;
Love is the first, and Death is the second -
And Love, in England, hath taken me!
Harp Song of the Dane Women
What is a woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?
She has no house to lay a guest in -
But one chill bed for all to rest in,
That the pale suns and the stray bergs nest in.
She has no strong white arms to fold you,
But the ten-times-fingering weed to hold you
Bound on the rocks where the tide has rolled you.
Yet, when the signs of summer thicken,
And the ice breaks, and the birch-buds quicken,
Yearly you turn from our side, and sicken -
Sicken again for the shouts and the slaughters, -
And steal away to the lapping waters,
And look at your ship in her winter quarters.
You forget our mirth, and talk at the tables,
The kine in the shed and the horse in the stables -
To pitch her sides and go over her cables!
Then you drive out where the storm-clouds swallow:
And the sound of your oar-blades falling hollow
Is all we have left through the months to follow.
Ah, what is a Woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?
It was too hot to run about in the open, so Dan asked their
friend, old Hobden, to take their own dinghy from the
pond and put her on the brook at the bottom of the
garden. Her painted name was the Daisy, but for exploring
expeditions she was the Golden Hind or the Long
Serpent, or some such suitable name. Dan hiked and
howked with a boat-hook (the brook was too narrow for
sculls), and Una punted with a piece of hop-pole. When
they came to a very shallow place (the Golden Hind drew
quite three inches of water) they disembarked and
scuffled her over the gravel by her tow-rope, and
when they reached the overgrown banks beyond the
garden they pulled themselves upstream by the
low branches.
That day they intended to discover the North Cape like
'Othere, the old sea-captain', in the book of verses which
Una had brought with her; but on account of the heat
they changed it to a voyage up the Amazon and the
sources of the Nile. Even on the shaded water the air was
hot and heavy with drowsy scents, while outside,
through breaks in the trees, the sunshine burned the
pasture like fire. The kingfisher was asleep on his watchingbranch,
and the blackbirds scarcely took the trouble
to dive into the next bush. Dragonflies wheeling and
clashing were the only things at work, except the
moorhens and a big Red Admiral, who flapped down out
of the sunshine for a drink.
When they reached Otter Pool the Golden Hind
grounded comfortably on a shallow, and they lay
beneath a roof of close green, watching the water trickle
over the flood-gates down the mossy brick chute from the
mill-stream to the brook. A big trout - the children knew
him well - rolled head and shoulders at some fly that
sailed round the bend, while, once in just so often, the
brook rose a fraction of an inch against all the wet
pebbles, and they watched the slow draw and shiver of a
breath of air through the tree-tops. Then the little voices
of the slipping water began again.
'It's like the shadows talking, isn't it?' said Una. She
had given up trying to read. Dan lay over the bows,
trailing his hands in the current. They heard feet on the
gravel-bar that runs half across the pool and saw Sir
Richard Dalyngridge standing over them.
'Was yours a dangerous voyage?' he asked, smiling.
'She bumped a lot, sir,' said Dan. 'There's hardly any
water this summer.'
'Ah, the brook was deeper and wider when my
children played at Danish pirates. Are you pirate-folk?'
'Oh no. We gave up being pirates years ago,'explained
Una. 'We're nearly always explorers now. Sailing round
the world, you know.'
'Round?' said Sir Richard. He sat him in the comfortable
crotch of an old ash-root on the bank. 'How can it be round?'
'Wasn't it in your books?' Dan suggested. He had been
doing geography at his last lesson.
'I can neither write nor read,' he replied. 'Canst thou
read, child?'
'Yes,' said Dan, 'barring the very long words.'
'Wonderful! Read to me, that I may hear for myself.'
Dan flushed, but opened the book and began -
gabbling a little - at 'The Discoverer of the North Cape.'
'Othere, the old sea-captain,
Who dwelt in Helgoland,
To King Alfred, the lover of truth,
Brought a snow-white walrus-tooth,
Which he held in his brown right hand.'
'But - but - this I know! This is an old song! This I have
heard sung! This is a miracle,' Sir Richard interrupted.
'Nay, do not stop!' He leaned forward, and the shadows
of the leaves slipped and slid upon his chain-mail.
"'I ploughed the land with horses,
But my heart was ill at ease,
For the old seafaring men
Came to me now and then
With their sagas of the seas."'
His hand fell on the hilt of the great sword. 'This is
truth,' he cried, 'for so did it happen to me,' and he beat
time delightedly to the tramp of verse after verse.
"'And now the land," said Othere,
"Bent southward suddenly,
And I followed the curving shore,
And ever southward bore
Into a nameless sea."'
'A nameless sea!' he repeated. 'So did I - so did Hugh and I.'
'Where did you go? Tell us,' said Una.
'Wait. Let me hear all first.' So Dan read to the poem's
very end.
'Good,' said the knight. 'That is Othere's tale - even so
I have heard the men in the Dane ships sing it. Not
those same valiant words, but something like to them.'
'Have you ever explored North?' Dan shut the book.
'Nay. My venture was South. Farther South than any
man has fared, Hugh and I went down with Witta and his
heathen.' He jerked the tall sword forward, and leaned
on it with both hands; but his eyes looked long past them.
'I thought you always lived here,' said Una, timidly.
'Yes; while my Lady Aelueva lived. But she died. She
died. Then, my eldest son being a man, I asked
De Aquila's leave that he should hold the Manor while I
went on some journey or pilgrimage - to forget.
De Aquila, whom the Second William had made Warden of
Pevensey in Earl Mortain's place, was very old then, but
still he rode his tall, roan horses, and in the saddle
he looked like a little white falcon. When Hugh, at
Dallington, over yonder, heard what I did, he sent for my
second son, whom being unmarried he had ever looked
upon as his own child, and, by De Aquila's leave, gave
him the Manor of Dallington to hold till he should return.
Then Hugh came with me.'
'When did this happen?' said Dan.
'That I can answer to the very day, for as we rode with
De Aquila by Pevensey - have I said that he was Lord of
Pevensey and of the Honour of the Eagle? - to the
Bordeaux ship that fetched him his wines yearly out of
France, a Marsh man ran to us crying that he had seen a
great black goat which bore on his back the body of the
King, and that the goat had spoken to him. On that same
day Red William our King, the Conqueror's son, died of a
secret arrow while he hunted in a forest. "This is a cross
matter," said De Aquila, "to meet on the threshold of a
journey. If Red William be dead I may have to fight for my
lands. Wait a little."
'My Lady being dead, I cared nothing for signs and
omens, nor Hugh either. We took that wine-ship to go to
Bordeaux; but the wind failed while we were yet in sight
of Pevensey, a thick mist hid us, and we drifted with the
tide along the cliffs to the west. Our company was, for the
most part, merchants returning to France, and we were
laden with wool and there were three couple of tall
hunting-dogs chained to the rail. Their master was a
knight of Artois. His name I never learned, but his shield
bore gold pieces on a red ground, and he limped, much
as I do, from a wound which he had got in his youth at
Mantes siege. He served the Duke of Burgundy against
the Moors in Spain, and was returning to that war with
his dogs. He sang us strange Moorish songs that first
night, and half persuaded us to go with him. I was on
pilgrimage to forget - which is what no pilgrimage
brings. I think I would have gone, but ...
'Look you how the life and fortune of man changes!
Towards morning a Dane ship, rowing silently, struck
against us in the mist, and while we rolled hither and yon
Hugh, leaning over the rail, fell outboard. I leaped after
him, and we two tumbled aboard the Dane, and were
caught and bound ere we could rise. Our own ship was
swallowed up in the mist. I judge the Knight of the Gold
Pieces muzzled his dogs with his cloak, lest they should
give tongue and betray the merchants, for I heard their
baying suddenly stop.
'We lay bound among the benches till morning, when
the Danes dragged us to the high deck by the steeringplace,
and their captain - Witta, he was called - turned us
over with his foot. Bracelets of gold from elbow to armpit
he wore, and his red hair was long as a woman's, and
came down in plaited locks on his shoulder. He was
stout, with bowed legs and long arms. He spoiled us of all
we had, but when he laid hand on Hugh's sword and saw
the runes on the blade hastily he thrust it back. Yet his
covetousness overcame him and he tried again and
again, and the third time the Sword sang loud and
angrily, so that the rowers leaned on their oars to listen.
Here they all spoke together, screaming like gulls, and a
Yellow Man, such as I have never seen, came to the high
deck and cut our bonds. He was yellow - not from
sickness, but by nature - yellow as honey, and his eyes
stood endwise in his head.'
'How do you mean?' said Una, her chin on her hand.
'Thus,' said Sir Richard. He put a finger to the corner of
each eye, and pushed it up till his eyes narrowed to slits.
'Why, you look just like a Chinaman!' cried Dan. 'Was
the man a Chinaman?'
'I know not what that may be. Witta had found him
half dead among ice on the shores of Muscovy. We
thought he was a devil. He crawled before us and
brought food in a silver dish which these sea-wolves had
robbed from some rich abbey, and Witta with his own
hands gave us wine. He spoke a little in French, a little in
South Saxon, and much in the Northman's tongue. We
asked him to set us ashore, promising to pay him better
ransom than he would get price if he sold us to the Moors
- as once befell a knight of my acquaintance sailing
from Flushing.
"'Not by my father Guthrum's head," said he. "The
Gods sent ye into my ship for a luck-offering."
'At this I quaked, for I knew it was still the Danes'
custom to sacrifice captives to their Gods for fair weather.
"'A plague on thy four long bones!" said Hugh. "What
profit canst thou make of poor old pilgrims that can
neither work nor fight?"
"'Gods forbid I should fight against thee, poor Pilgrim
with the Singing Sword," said he. "Come with us and be
poor no more. Thy teeth are far apart, which is a sure sign
thou wilt travel and grow rich."
"'What if we will not come?" said Hugh.
"'Swim to England or France," said Witta. "We are
midway between the two. Unless ye choose to drown
yourselves no hair of your head will be harmed here
aboard. We think ye bring us luck, and I myself know the
runes on that Sword are good." He turned and bade
them hoist sail.
'Hereafter all made way for us as we walked about the
ship, and the ship was full of wonders.'
'What was she like?' said Dan.
'Long, low, and narrow, bearing one mast with a red
sail, and rowed by fifteen oars a side,' the knight
answered. 'At her bows was a deck under which men
might lie, and at her stern another shut off by a painted
door from the rowers' benches. Here Hugh and I slept,
with Witta and the Yellow Man, upon tapestries as soft as
wool. I remember' - he laughed to himself -'when first
we entered there a loud voice cried, "Out swords! Out
swords! Kill, kill!" Seeing us start Witta laughed, and
showed us it was but a great-beaked grey bird with a red
tail. He sat her on his shoulder, and she called for bread
and wine hoarsely, and prayed him to kiss her. Yet she
was no more than a silly bird. But - ye knew this?' He
looked at their smiling faces.
'We weren't laughing at you,' said Una. 'That must
have been a parrot. It's just what Pollies do.'
'So we learned later. But here is another marvel. The
Yellow Man, whose name was Kitai, had with him a
brown box. In the box was a blue bowl with red marks
upon the rim, and within the bowl, hanging from a fine
thread, was a piece of iron no thicker than that grass
stem, and as long, maybe, as my spur, but straight. In
this iron, said Witta, abode an Evil Spirit which Kitai, the
Yellow Man, had brought by Art Magic out of his own
country that lay three years' journey southward. The Evil
Spirit strove day and night to return to his country, and
therefore, look you, the iron needle pointed continually
to the South.'
'South?' said Dan suddenly, and put his hand into
his pocket.
'With my own eyes I saw it. Every day and all day long,
though the ship rolled, though the sun and the moon and
the stars were hid, this blind Spirit in the iron knew
whither it would go, and strained to the South. Witta
called it the Wise Iron, because it showed him his way
across the unknowable seas.' Again Sir Richard looked
keenly at the children. 'How think ye? Was it sorcery?'
'Was it anything like this?' Dan fished out his old brass
pocket-compass, that generally lived with his knife and
key-ring. 'The glass has got cracked, but the needle
waggles all right, sir.'
The knight drew a long breath of wonder. 'Yes, yes!
The Wise Iron shook and swung in just this fashion. Now
it is still. Now it points to the South.'
'North,' said Dan.
'Nay, South! There is the South,'said Sir Richard. Then
they both laughed, for naturally when one end of a
straight compass-needle points to the North, the other
must point to the South.
'Te,' said Sir Richard, clicking his tongue. 'There can be
no sorcery if a child carries it. Wherefore does it point
South - or North?'
'Father says that nobody knows,' said Una.
Sir Richard looked relieved. 'Then it may still be magic.
It was magic to us. And so we voyaged. When the wind
served we hoisted sail, and lay all up along the windward
rail, our shields on our backs to break the spray. When it
failed, they rowed with long oars; the Yellow Man sat by
the Wise Iron, and Witta steered. At first I feared the
great white-flowering waves, but as I saw how wisely
Witta led his ship among them I grew bolder. Hugh liked
it well from the first. My skill is not upon the water; and
rocks and whirlpools such as we saw by the West Isles of
France, where an oar caught on a rock and broke, are
much against my stomach. We sailed South across a
stormy sea, where by moonlight, between clouds, we saw
a Flanders ship roll clean over and sink. Again, though
Hugh laboured with Witta all night, I lay under the deck
with the Talking Bird, and cared not whether I lived or
died. There is a sickness of the sea which for three days is
pure death! When we next saw land Witta said it was
Spain, and we stood out to sea. That coast was full of
ships busy in the Duke's war against the Moors, and we
feared to be hanged by the Duke's men or sold into
slavery by the Moors. So we put into a small harbour
which Witta knew. At night men came down with loaded
mules, and Witta exchanged amber out of the North
against little wedges of iron and packets of beads in
earthen pots. The pots he put under the decks, and the
wedges of iron he laid on the bottom of the ship after he
had cast out the stones and shingle which till then had
been our ballast. Wine, too, he bought for lumps of
sweet-smelling grey amber - a little morsel no bigger than
a thumb-nail purchased a cask of wine. But I speak like a
'No, no! Tell us what you had to eat,' cried Dan.
'Meat dried in the sun, and dried fish and ground
beans, Witta took in; and corded frails of a certain sweet,
soft fruit, which the Moors use, which is like paste of figs,
but with thin, long stones. Aha! Dates is the name.
"'Now," said Witta, when the ship was loaded, "I
counsel you strangers to pray to your Gods, for, from
here on, our road is No Man's road." He and his men
killed a black goat for sacrifice on the bows; and the
Yellow Man brought out a small, smiling image of dullgreen
stone and burned incense before it. Hugh and I
commended ourselves to God, and Saint Barnabas, and
Our Lady of the Assumption, who was specially dear to
my Lady. We were not young, but I think no shame to say
whenas we drove out of that secret harbour at sunrise
over a still sea, we two rejoiced and sang as did the
knights of old when they followed our great Duke to
England. Yet was our leader an heathen pirate; all our
proud fleet but one galley perilously overloaded; for
guidance we leaned on a pagan sorcerer; and our port
was beyond the world's end. Witta told us that his father
Guthrum had once in his life rowed along the shores of
Africa to a land where naked men sold gold for iron and
beads. There had he bought much gold, and no few
elephants' teeth, and thither by help of the Wise Iron
would Witta go. Witta feared nothing - except to be poor.
"'My father told me," said Witta, "that a great Shoal
runs three days' sail out from that land, and south of the
shoal lies a Forest which grows in the sea. South and east
of the Forest my father came to a place where the men hid
gold in their hair; but all that country, he said, was full of
Devils who lived in trees, and tore folk limb from limb.
How think ye?"
"'Gold or no gold," said Hugh, fingering his sword, "it
is a joyous venture. Have at these Devils of thine, Witta!"
"'Venture!" said Witta sourly. "I am only a poor
sea-thief. I do not set my life adrift on a plank for joy, or
the venture. Once I beach ship again at Stavanger, and
feel the wife's arms round my neck, I'll seek no more
ventures. A ship is heavier care than a wife or cattle."
'He leaped down among the rowers, chiding them for
their little strength and their great stomachs. Yet Witta
was a wolf in fight, and a very fox in cunning.
'We were driven South by a storm, and for three days
and three nights he took the stern-oar, and threddled the
longship through the sea. When it rose beyond measure
he brake a pot of whale's oil upon the water, which
wonderfully smoothed it, and in that anointed patch he
turned her head to the wind and threw out oars at the end
of a rope, to make, he said, an anchor at which we lay
rolling sorely, but dry. This craft his father Guthrum had
shown him. He knew, too, all the Leech-Book of Bald,
who was a wise doctor, and he knew the Ship-Book of
Hlaf the Woman, who robbed Egypt. He knew all the
care of a ship.
'After the storm we saw a mountain whose top was
covered with snow and pierced the clouds. The grasses
under this mountain, boiled and eaten, are a good cure
for soreness of the gums and swelled ankles. We lay there
eight days, till men in skins threw stones at us. When the
heat increased Witta spread a cloth on bent sticks above
the rowers, for the wind failed between the Island of the
Mountain and the shore of Africa, which is east of it. That
shore is sandy, and we rowed along it within three
bowshots. Here we saw whales, and fish in the shape of
shields, but longer than our ship. Some slept, some
opened their mouths at us, and some danced on the hot
waters. The water was hot to the hand, and the sky was
hidden by hot, grey mists, out of which blew a fine dust
that whitened our hair and beards of a morning. Here,
too, were fish that flew in the air like birds. They would
fall on the laps of the rowers, and when we went ashore
we would roast and eat them.'
The knight paused to see if the children doubted him,
but they only nodded and said, 'Go on.'
'The yellow land lay on our left, the grey sea on our
right. Knight though I was, I pulled my oar amongst the
rowers. I caught seaweed and dried it, and stuffed it
between the pots of beads lest they should break. Knighthood
is for the land. At sea, look you, a man is but a
spurless rider on a bridleless horse. I learned to make
strong knots in ropes - yes, and to join two ropes end to
end, so that even Witta could scarcely see where they had
been married. But Hugh had tenfold more sea-cunning
than I. Witta gave him charge of the rowers of the left
side. Thorkild of Borkum, a man with a broken nose, that
wore a Norman steel cap, had the rowers of the right, and
each side rowed and sang against the other. They saw
that no man Was idle. Truly, as Hugh said, and Witta
would laugh at him, a ship is all more care than a Manor.
'How? Thus. There was water to fetch from the shore
when we could find it, as well as wild fruit and grasses,
and sand for scrubbing of the decks and benches to keep
them sweet. Also we hauled the ship out on low islands
and emptied all her gear, even to the iron wedges, and
burned off the weed, that had grown on her, with torches
of rush, and smoked below the decks with rushes
dampened in salt water, as Hlaf the Woman orders in her
Ship-Book. Once when we were thus stripped, and the
ship lay propped on her keel, the bird cried, "Out
swords!" as though she saw an enemy. Witta vowed he
would wring her neck.'
'Poor Polly! Did he?' said Una.
'Nay. She was the ship's bird. She could call all the
rowers by name ... Those were good days - for a
wifeless man - with Witta and his heathen - beyond the
world's end ... After many weeks we came on the great
Shoal which stretched, as Witta's father had said, far out
to sea. We skirted it till we were giddy with the sight and
dizzy with the sound of bars and breakers, and when we
reached land again we found a naked black people dwelling
among woods, who for one wedge of iron loaded us
with fruits and grasses and eggs. Witta scratched his
head at them in sign he would buy gold. They had no
gold, but they understood the sign (all the gold-traders
hide their gold in their thick hair), for they pointed along
the coast. They beat, too, on their chests with their
clenched hands, and that, if we had known it, was an evil sign.'
'What did it mean?' said Dan.
'Patience. Ye shall hear. We followed the coast eastward
sixteen days (counting time by sword-cuts on the
helm-rail) till we came to the Forest in the Sea. Trees grew
there out of mud, arched upon lean and high roots, and
many muddy waterways ran allwhither into darkness,
under the trees. Here we lost the sun. We followed the
winding channels between the trees, and where we
could not row we laid hold of the crusted roots and
hauled ourselves along. The water was foul, and great
glittering flies tormented us. Morning and evening a blue
mist covered the mud, which bred fevers. Four of our
rowers sickened, and were bound to their benches, lest
they should leap overboard and be eaten by the monsters
of the mud. The Yellow Man lay sick beside the Wise
Iron, rolling his head and talking in his own tongue. Only
the Bird throve. She sat on Witta's shoulder and screamed
in that noisome, silent darkness. Yes; I think it was the
silence we most feared.'
He paused to listen to the comfortable home noises of
the brook.
'When we had lost count of time among those black
gullies and swashes we heard, as it were, a drum beat far
off, and following it we broke into a broad, brown river
by a hut in a clearing among fields of pumpkins. We
thanked God to see the sun again. The people of the
village gave the good welcome, and Witta scratched his
head at them (for gold), and showed them our iron and
beads. They ran to the bank - we were still in the ship -
and pointed to our swords and bows, for always when
near shore we lay armed. Soon they fetched store of gold
in bars and in dust from their huts, and some great
blackened elephants' teeth. These they piled on the
bank, as though to tempt us, and made signs of dealing
blows in battle, and pointed up to the tree-tops, and to
the forest behind. Their captain or chief sorcerer then
beat on his chest with his fists, and gnashed his teeth.
'Said Thorkild of Borkum: "Do they mean we must
fight for all this gear?" and he half drew sword.
"'Nay," said Hugh. "I think they ask us to league
against some enemy."
"'I like this not," said Witta, of a sudden. "Back into
'So we did, and sat still all, watching the black folk and
the gold they piled on the bank. Again we heard drums
beat in the forest, and the people fled to their huts,
leaving the gold unguarded.
'Then Hugh, at the bows, pointed without speech, and
we saw a great Devil come out of the forest. He shaded
his brows with his hand, and moistened his pink tongue
between his lips - thus.'
'A Devil!' said Dan, delightfully horrified.
'Yea. Taller than a man; covered with reddish hair.
When he had well regarded our ship, he beat on his chest
with his fists till it sounded like rolling drums, and came
to the bank swinging all his body between his long arms,
and gnashed his teeth at us. Hugh loosed arrow, and
pierced him through the throat. He fell roaring, and three
other Devils ran out of the forest and hauled him into a
tall tree out of sight. Anon they cast down the bloodstained
arrow, and lamented together among the leaves.
Witta saw the gold on the bank; he was loath to leave it.
"Sirs," said he (no man had spoken till then), "yonder is
what we have come so far and so painfully to find, laid
out to our very hand. Let us row in while these Devils
bewail themselves, and at least bear off what we may."
'Bold as a wolf, cunning as a fox was Witta! He set four
archers on the fore-deck to shoot the Devils if they should
leap from the tree, which was close to the bank. He
manned ten oars a side, and bade them watch his hand to
row in or back out, and so coaxed he them toward the
bank. But none would set foot ashore, though the gold
was within ten paces. No man is hasty to his hanging!
They whimpered at their oars like beaten hounds, and
Witta bit his fingers for rage.
'Said Hugh of a sudden, "Hark!" At first we thought it
was the buzzing of the glittering flies on the water; but it
grew loud and fierce, so that all men heard.'
'What?' said Dan and Una.
'It was the Sword.' Sir Richard patted the smooth hilt.
'It sang as a Dane sings before battle. "I go," said Hugh,
and he leaped from the bows and fell among the gold. I
was afraid to my four bones' marrow, but for shame's
sake I followed, and Thorkild of Borkum leaped after me.
None other came. "Blame me not," cried Witta behind
us, "I must abide by my ship." We three had no time to
blame or praise. We stooped to the gold and threw it back
over our shoulders, one hand on our swords and one eye
on the tree, which nigh overhung us.
'I know not how the Devils leaped down, or how the
fight began. I heard Hugh cry: "Out! out!" as though he
were at Santlache again; I saw Thorkild's steel cap smitten
off his head by a great hairy hand, and I felt an arrow
from the ship whistle past my ear. They say that till Witta
took his sword to the rowers he could not bring his ship
inshore; and each one of the four archers said afterwards
that he alone had pierced the Devil that fought me. I do
not know. I went to it in my mail-shirt, which saved my
skin. With long-sword and belt-dagger I fought for the
life against a Devil whose very feet were hands, and who
whirled me back and forth like a dead branch. He had me
by the waist, my arms to my side, when an arrow from
the ship pierced him between the shoulders, and he
loosened grip. I passed my sword twice through him,
and he crutched himself away between his long arms,
coughing and moaning. Next, as I remember, I saw
Thorkild of Borkum, bare-headed and smiling, leaping
up and down before a Devil that leaped and gnashed his
teeth. Then Hugh passed, his sword shifted to his left
hand, and I wondered why I had not known that Hugh
was a left-handed man; and thereafter I remembered
nothing till I felt spray on my face, and we were in
sunshine on the open sea. That was twenty days after.'
'What had happened? Did Hugh die?'the children asked.
'Never was such a fight fought by christened man,'
said Sir Richard. 'An arrow from the ship had saved me
from my Devil, and Thorkild of Borkum had given back
before his Devil, till the bowmen on the ship could shoot
it all full of arrows from near by; but Hugh's Devil was
cunning, and had kept behind trees, where no arrow
could reach. Body to body there, by stark strength of
sword and hand, had Hugh slain him, and, dying, the
Thing had clenched his teeth on the sword. Judge what
teeth they were!'
Sir Richard turned the sword again that the children
might see the two great chiselled gouges on either side of
the blade.
'Those same teeth met in Hugh's right arm and side,'
Sir Richard went on. 'I? Oh, I had no more than a broken
foot and a fever. Thorkild's ear was bitten, but Hugh's
arm and side clean withered away. I saw him where he
lay along, sucking a fruit in his left hand. His flesh was
wasted off his bones, his hair was patched with white,
and his hand was blue-veined like a woman's. He put his
left arm round my neck and whispered, "Take my sword.
It has been thine since Hastings, O my brother, but I can
never hold hilt again." We lay there on the high deck
talking of Santlache, and, I think, of every day since
Santlache, and it came so that we both wept. I was weak,
and he little more than a shadow.
"'Nay - nay," said Witta, at the helm-rail. "Gold is a
good right arm to any man. Look - look at the gold!" He
bade Thorkild show us the gold and the elephants' teeth,
as though we had been children. He had brought away
all the gold on the bank, and twice as much more, that the
people of the village gave him for slaying the Devils.
They worshipped us as Gods, Thorkild told me: it was
one of their old women healed up Hugh's poor arm.'
'How much gold did you get?'asked Dan.
'How can I say? Where we came out with wedges of
iron under the rowers' feet we returned with wedges of
gold hidden beneath planks. There was dust of gold in
packages where we slept and along the side, and crosswise
under the benches we lashed the blackened
elephants' teeth.
"'I had sooner have my right arm," said Hugh, when
he had seen all.
"'Ahai! That was my fault," said Witta. "I should have
taken ransom and landed you in France when first you
came aboard, ten months ago."
"'It is over-late now," said Hugh, laughing.
'Witta plucked at his long shoulder-lock. "But think!"
said he. "If I had let ye go - which I swear I would never
have done, for I love ye more than brothers - if I had let ye
go, by now ye might have been horribly slain by some
mere Moor in the Duke of Burgundy's war, or ye might
have been murdered by land-thieves, or ye might have
died of the plague at an inn. Think of this and do not
blame me overmuch, Hugh. See! I will only take a half of
the gold."
"'I blame thee not at all, Witta," said Hugh. "It was a
joyous venture, and we thirty-five here have done what
never men have done. If I live till England, I will build me
a stout keep over Dallington out of my share."
"'I will buy cattle and amber and warm red cloth for the
wife," said Witta, "and I will hold all the land at the head
of Stavanger Fiord. Many will fight for me now. But first
we must turn North, and with this honest treasure
aboard I pray we meet no pirate ships."
'We did not laugh. We were careful. We were afraid
lest we should lose one grain of our gold, for which we
had fought Devils.
"'Where is the Sorcerer?" said I, for Witta was looking
at the Wise Iron in the box, and I could not see the Yellow Man.
"'He has gone to his own country," said he. "He rose
up in the night while we were beating out of that forest in
the mud, and said that he could see it behind the trees.
He leaped out on the mud, and did not answer when we
called; so we called no more. He left the Wise Iron, which
is all that I care for - and see, the Spirit still points
to the South."
'We were troubled for fear that the Wise Iron should
fail us now that its Yellow Man had gone, and when we
saw the Spirit still served us we grew afraid of too strong
winds, and of shoals, and of careless leaping fish, and of
all the people on all the shores where we landed.'
'Why?' said Dan.
'Because of the gold - because of our gold. Gold
changes men altogether. Thorkild of Borkum did not
change. He laughed at Witta for his fears, and at us for
our counselling Witta to furl sail when the ship pitched at all.
"'Better be drowned out of hand," said Thorkild of
Borkum, "than go tied to a deck-load of yellow dust."
'He was a landless man, and had been slave to some
King in the East. He would have beaten out the gold into
deep bands to put round the oars, and round the prow.
'Yet, though he vexed himself for the gold, Witta
waited upon Hugh like a woman, lending him his shoulder
when the ship rolled, and tying of ropes from side to
side that Hugh might hold by them. But for Hugh, he
said - and so did all his men - they would never have won
the gold. I remember Witta made a little, thin gold ring
for our Bird to swing in.
'Three months we rowed and sailed and went ashore
for fruits or to clean the ship. When we saw wild horsemen,
riding among sand-dunes, flourishing spears, we
knew we were on the Moors' coast, and stood over north
to Spain; and a strong south-west wind bore us in ten
days to a coast of high red rocks, where we heard a
hunting-horn blow among the yellow gorse and knew it
was England.
"'Now find ye Pevensey yourselves," said Witta. "I
love not these narrow ship-filled seas."
'He set the dried, salted head of the Devil, which Hugh
had killed, high on our prow, and all boats fled from us.
Yet, for our gold's sake, we were more afraid than they.
We crept along the coast by night till we came to the chalk
cliffs, and so east to Pevensey. Witta would not come
ashore with us, though Hugh promised him wine at
Dallington enough to swim in. He was on fire to see his
wife, and ran into the Marsh after sunset, and there he
left us and our share of gold, and backed out on the same
tide. He made no promise; he swore no oath; he looked
for no thanks; but to Hugh, an armless man, and to me,
an old cripple whom he could have flung into the sea, he
passed over wedge upon wedge, packet upon packet of
gold and dust of gold, and only ceased when we would
take no more. As he stooped from the rail to bid us
farewell he stripped off his right-arm bracelets and put
them all on Hugh's left, and he kissed Hugh on the
cheek. I think when Thorkild of Borkum bade the rowers
give way we were near weeping. It is true that Witta was
an heathen and a pirate; true it is he held us by force
many months in his ship, but I loved that bow-legged,
blue-eyed man for his great boldness, his cunning, his
skill, and, beyond all, for his simplicity.'
'Did he get home all right?' said Dan.
'I never knew. We saw him hoist sail under the moontrack
and stand away. I have prayed that he found his
wife and the children.'
'And what did you do?'
'We waited on the Marsh till the day. Then I sat by the
gold, all tied in an old sail, while Hugh went to Pevensey,
and De Aquila sent us horses.'
Sir Richard crossed hands on his sword-hilt, and stared
down stream through the soft warm shadows.
'A whole shipload of gold!' said Una, looking at the
little Golden Hind. 'But I'm glad I didn't see the Devils.'
'I don't believe they were Devils,'Dan whispered back.
'Eh?' said Sir Richard. 'Witta's father warned him they
were unquestionable Devils. One must believe one's
father, and not one's children. What were my Devils, then?'
Dan flushed all over. 'I - I only thought,' he stammered;
'I've got a book called The Gorilla Hunters - it's a
continuation of Coral Island, sir - and it says there that the
gorillas (they're big monkeys, you know) were always
chewing iron up.'
'Not always,' said Una. 'Only twice.' They had been
reading The Gorilla Hunters in the orchard.
'Well, anyhow, they always drummed on their chests,
like Sir Richard's did, before they went for people. And
they built houses in trees, too.'
'Ha!' Sir Richard opened his eyes. 'Houses like flat
nests did our Devils make, where their imps lay and
looked at us. I did not see them (I was sick after the fight),
but Witta told me, and, lo, ye know it also? Wonderful!
Were our Devils only nest-building apes? Is there no
sorcery left in the world?'
'I don't know,' answered Dan, uncomfortably. 'I've
seen a man take rabbits out of a hat, and he told us we
could see how he did it, if we watched hard. And we did.'
'But we didn't,' said Una, sighing. 'Oh! there's Puck!'
The little fellow, brown and smiling, peered between
two stems of an ash, nodded, and slid down the bank
into the cool beside them.
'No sorcery, Sir Richard?' he laughed, and blew on a
full dandelion head he had picked.
'They tell me that Witta's Wise Iron was a toy. The boy
carries such an iron with him. They tell me our Devils
were apes, called gorillas!' said Sir Richard, indignantly.
'That is the sorcery of books,' said Puck. 'I warned thee
they were wise children. All people can be wise by
reading of books.'
'But are the books true?' Sir Richard frowned. 'I like not
all this reading and writing.'
'Ye-es,' said Puck, holding the naked dandelion head
at arm's length. 'But if we hang all fellows who write
falsely, why did De Aquila not begin with Gilbert the
Clerk? He was false enough.'
'Poor false Gilbert. Yet, in his fashion, he was bold,'
said Sir Richard.
'What did he do?' said Dan.
'He wrote,' said Sir Richard. 'Is the tale meet for
children, think you?' He looked at Puck; but 'Tell us! Tell
us!' cried Dan and Una together.
Thorkild's Song
There's no wind along these seas,
Out oars for Stavanger!
Forward all for Stavanger!
So we must wake the white-ash breeze,
Let fall for Stavanger!
A long pull for Stavanger!
Oh, hear the benches creak and strain!
(A long pull for Stavanger!)
She thinks she smells the Northland rain!
(A long pull for Stavanger!)
She thinks she smells the Northland snow,
And she's as glad as we to go.
She thinks she smells the Northland rime,
And the dear dark nights of winter-time.
Her very bolts are sick for shore,
And we - we want it ten times more!
So all you Gods that love brave men,
Send us a three-reef gale again!
Send us a gale, and watch us come,
With close-cropped canvas slashing home!
But - there's no wind in all these seas.
A long pull for Stavanger!
So we must wake the white-ash breeze,
A long pull for Stavanger!
'It has naught to do with apes or Devils,'Sir Richard went
on, in an undertone. 'It concerns De Aquila, than whom
there was never bolder nor craftier, nor more hardy
knight born. And remember he was an old, old man at
that time.'
'When?' said Dan.
'When we came back from sailing with Witta.'
'What did you do with your gold?' said Dan.
'Have patience. Link by link is chain-mail made. I will
tell all in its place. We bore the gold to Pevensey on
horseback - three loads of it - and then up to the north
chamber, above the Great Hall of Pevensey Castle, where
De Aquila lay in winter. He sat on his bed like a little
white falcon, turning his head swiftly from one to the
other as we told our tale. Jehan the Crab, an old sour
man-at-arms, guarded the stairway, but De Aquila bade
him wait at the stair-foot, and let down both leather
curtains over the door. It was jehan whom De Aquila had
sent to us with the horses, and only Jehan had loaded the
gold. When our story was told, De Aquila gave us the
news of England, for we were as men waked from a
year-long sleep. The Red King was dead - slain (ye
remember?) the day we set sail - and Henry, his younger
brother, had made himself King of England over the head
of Robert of Normandy. This was the very thing that the
Red King had done to Robert when our Great William
died. Then Robert of Normandy, mad, as De Aquila said,
at twice missing of this kingdom, had sent an army
against England, which army had been well beaten back
to their ships at Portsmouth. A little earlier, and Witta's
ship would have rowed through them.
"'And now," said De Aquila, "half the great Barons of
the North and West are out against the King between
Salisbury and Shrewsbury, and half the other half wait
to see which way the game shall go. They say Henry
is overly English for their stomachs, because he hath
married an English wife and she hath coaxed him to give
back their old laws to our Saxons. (Better ride a horse on
the bit he knows, I say!) But that is only a cloak to their
falsehood." He cracked his finger on the table, where
the wine was spilt, and thus he spoke:
"'William crammed us Norman barons full of good
English acres after Santlache. I had my share too," he
said, and clapped Hugh on the shoulder; "but I warned
him - I warned him before Odo rebelled - that he should
have bidden the Barons give up their lands and lordships
in Normandy if they would be English lords. Now they
are all but princes both in England and Normandy -
trencher-fed hounds, with a foot in one trough and both
eyes on the other! Robert of Normandy has sent them
word that if they do not fight for him in England he will
sack and harry out their lands in Normandy. Therefore
Clare has risen, FitzOsborne has risen, Montgomery has
risen - whom our First William made an English Earl.
Even D'Arcy is out with his men, whose father I remember -
a little hedge-sparrow knight near by Caen. If Henry
wins, the Barons can still flee to Normandy, where
Robert will welcome them. If Henry loses, Robert, he
says, will give them more lands in England. Oh, a pest - a
pest on Normandy, for she will be our England's curse
this many a long year!"
"'Amen," said Hugh. "But will the war come our
ways, think you?"
"'Not from the North," said De Aquila. "But the sea is
always open. If the Barons gain the upper hand Robert
will send another army into England for sure, and this
time I think he will land here - where his father, the
Conqueror, landed. Ye have brought your pigs to a pretty
market! Half England alight, and gold enough on the
ground" - he stamped on the bars beneath the table - "to
set every sword in Christendom fighting."
"'What is to do?" said Hugh. "I have no keep at
Dallington; and if we buried it, whom could we trust?"
"'Me," said De Aquila. "Pevensey walls are strong. No
man but jehan, who is my dog, knows what is between
them." He drew a curtain by the shot-window and
showed us the shaft of a well in the thickness of the wall.
"'I made it for a drinking-well," he said, "but we found
salt water, and it rises and falls with the tide. Hark!" We
heard the water whistle and blow at the bottom. "Will it
serve?" said he.
"'Needs must," said Hugh. "Our lives are in thy
hands." So we lowered all the gold down except one
small chest of it by De Aquila's bed, which we kept as
much for his delight in its weight and colour as for any of
our needs.
'In the morning, ere we rode to our Manors, he said: "I
do not say farewell; because ye will return and bide here.
Not for love nor for sorrow, but to be with the gold. Have
a care," he said, laughing, "lest I use it to make myself
Pope. Trust me not, but return!"'
Sir Richard paused and smiled sadly.
'In seven days, then, we returned from our Manors -
from the Manors which had been ours.'
'And were the children quite well?' said Una.
'My sons were young. Land and governance belong by
right to young men.' Sir Richard was talking to himself.
'It would have broken their hearts if we had taken back
our Manors. They made us great welcome, but we could
see - Hugh and I could see - that our day was done. I was
a cripple and he a one-armed man. No!' He shook his
head. 'And therefore' - he raised his voice - 'we rode
back to Pevensey.'
'I'm sorry,' said Una, for the knight seemed very sorrowful.
'Little maid, it all passed long ago. They were young;
we were old. We let them rule the Manors. "Aha!" cried
De Aquila from his shot-window, when we dismounted.
"Back again to earth, old foxes?" but when we were in his
chamber above the Hall he puts his arms about us and
says, "Welcome, ghosts! Welcome, poor ghosts!"
Thus it fell out that we were rich beyond belief, and
lonely. And lonely!'
'What did you do?' said Dan.
'We watched for Robert of Normandy,' said the knight.
'De Aquila was like Witta. He suffered no idleness. In fair
weather we would ride along between Bexlei on the one
side, to Cuckmere on the other - sometimes with hawk,
sometimes with hound (there are stout hares both on the
Marsh and the Downland), but always with an eye to the
sea, for fear of fleets from Normandy. In foul weather he
would walk on the top of his tower, frowning against the
rain - peering here and pointing there. It always vexed
him to think how Witta's ship had come and gone
without his knowledge. When the wind ceased and ships
anchored, to the wharf's edge he would go and, leaning
on his sword among the stinking fish, would call to the
mariners for their news from France. His other eye he
kept landward for word of Henry's war against the Barons.
'Many brought him news - jongleurs, harpers, pedlars,
sutlers, priests and the like; and, though he was
secret enough in small things, yet, if their news misliked
him, then, regarding neither time nor place nor people,
he would curse our King Henry for a fool or a babe. I have
heard him cry aloud by the fishing boats: "If I were King
of England I would do thus and thus"; and when I rode
out to see that the warning-beacons were laid and dry, he
hath often called to me from the shot-window: "Look
to it, Richard! Do not copy our blind King, but see
with thine own eyes and feel with thine own hands."
I do not think he knew any sort of fear. And so
we lived at Pevensey, in the little chamber above the Hall.
'One foul night came word that a messenger of the
King waited below. We were chilled after a long riding in
the fog towards Bexlei, which is an easy place for ships to
land. De Aquila sent word the man might either eat with
us or wait till we had fed. Anon jehan, at the stair-head,
cried that he had called for horse, and was gone. "Pest on
him!" said De Aquila. "I have more to do than to shiver in
the Great Hall for every gadling the King sends. Left he
no word?"
"'None," said Jehan, "except" - he had been with De
Aquila at Santlache - "except he said that if an old dog
could not learn new tricks it was time to sweep out the kennel."
"'Oho!" said De Aquila, rubbing his nose, "to whom
did he say that?"
"'To his beard, chiefly, but some to his horse's flank as
he was girthing up. I followed him out," said jehan the Crab.
"'What was his shield-mark?"
"'Gold horseshoes on black," said the Crab.
"'That is one of Fulke's men," said De Aquila.'
Puck broke in very gently, 'Gold horseshoes on black is
not the Fulkes' shield. The Fulkes' arms are -'
The knight waved one hand statelily.
'Thou knowest that evil man's true name,' he replied,
'but I have chosen to call him Fulke because I promised
him I would not tell the story of his wickedness so
that any man might guess it. I have changed all the
names in my tale. His children's children may be still alive.'
'True - true,' said Puck, smiling softly. 'It is knightly to
keep faith - even after a thousand years.'
Sir Richard bowed a little and went on:
"'Gold horseshoes on black?" said De Aquila. "I had
heard Fulke had joined the Barons/ but if this is true our
King must be of the upper hand. No matter, all Fulkes are
faithless. Still, I would not have sent the man away empty."
"'He fed," said jehan. "Gilbert the Clerk fetched him
meat and wine from the kitchens. He ate at Gilbert's table."
'This Gilbert was a clerk from Battle Abbey, who kept
the accounts of the Manor of Pevensey. He was tall and
pale-coloured, and carried those new-fashioned beads
for counting of prayers. They were large brown nuts or
seeds, and hanging from his girdle with his pen and
ink-horn they clashed when he walked. His place was in
the great fireplace. There was his table of accounts, and
there he lay o' nights. He feared the hounds in the Hall
that came nosing after bones or to sleep on the warm
ashes, and would slash at them with his beads - like a
woman. When De Aquila sat in Hall to do justice, take
fines, or grant lands, Gilbert would so write it in the
Manor-roll. But it was none of his work to feed our
guests, or to let them depart without his lord's knowledge.
'Said De Aquila, after jehan was gone down the stair:
"Hugh, hast thou ever told my Gilbert thou canst read
Latin hand-of-write?"
"'No," said Hugh. "He is no friend to me, or to Odo
my hound either."
"'No matter," said De Aquila. "Let him never know thou canst
tell one letter from its fellow, and" - there he yerked us in the
ribs with his scabbard - "watch him, both of ye. There be devils
in Africa, as I have heard, but by the Saints, there be greater
devils in Pevensey!" And that was all he would say.
'It chanced, some small while afterwards, a Norman
man-at-arms would wed a Saxon wench of the Manor,
and Gilbert (we had watched him well since De Aquila
spoke) doubted whether her folk were free or slave. Since
De Aquila would give them a field of good land, if she
were free, the matter came up at the justice in Great Hall
before De Aquila. First the wench's father spoke; then
her mother; then all together, till the Hall rang and the
hounds bayed. De Aquila held up his hands. "Write her
free," he called to Gilbert by the fireplace. "A' God's
name write her free, before she deafens me! Yes, yes," he
said to the wench that was on her knees at him; "thou art
Cerdic's sister, and own cousin to the Lady of Mercia, if
thou wilt be silent. In fifty years there will be neither
Norman nor Saxon, but all English," said he, "and these
are the men that do our work!" He clapped the man-at-arms
that was Jehan's nephew on the shoulder, and
kissed the wench, and fretted with his feet among the
rushes to show it was finished. (The Great Hall is always
bitter cold.) I stood at his side; Hugh was behind Gilbert
in the fireplace making to play with wise rough Odo. He
signed to De Aquila, who bade Gilbert measure the new
field for the new couple. Out then runs our Gilbert
between man and maid, his beads clashing at his waist,
and the Hall being empty, we three sit by the fire.
'Said Hugh, leaning down to the hearthstones, "I saw
this stone move under Gilbert's foot when Odo snuffed
at it. Look!" De Aquila digged in the ashes with his
sword; the stone tilted; beneath it lay a parchment folden,
and the writing atop was: "Words spoken against
the King by our Lord of Pevensey - the second part."
'Here was set out (Hugh read it us whispering) every
jest De Aquila had made to us touching the King; every
time he had called out to me from the shot-window, and
every time he had said what he would do if he were King
of England. Yes, day by day had his daily speech, which
he never stinted, been set down by Gilbert, tricked out
and twisted from its true meaning, yet withal so cunningly
that none could deny who knew him that De Aquila
had in some sort spoken those words. Ye see?'
Dan and Una nodded.
'Yes,' said Una gravely. 'It isn't what you say so much.
It's what you mean when you say it. Like calling Dan a
beast in fun. Only grown-ups don't always understand.'
"'He hath done this day by day before our very face?"
said De Aquila.
"'Nay, hour by hour," said Hugh. "When De Aquila
spoke even now, in the Hall, of Saxons and Normans, I
saw Gilbert write on a parchment, which he kept beside
the Manor-roll, that De Aquila said soon there would be
no Normans left in England if his men-at-arms did their
work aright. "
"'Bones of the Saints!" said De Aquila. "What avail is
honour or a sword against a pen? Where did Gilbert hide
that writing? He shall eat it."
"'In his breast when he ran out," said Hugh. "Which
made me look to see where he kept his finished stuff.
When Odo scratched at this stone here, I saw his face
change. So I was sure."
"'He is bold," said De Aquila. "Do him justice. In his
own fashion, my Gilbert is bold."
"'Overbold," said Hugh. "Hearken here," and he
read: "Upon the Feast of St Agatha, our Lord of Pevensey,
lying in his upper chamber, being clothed in his
second fur gown reversed with rabbit -"
"'Pest on him! He is not my tire-woman!" said
De Aquila, and Hugh and I laughed.
"'Reversed with rabbit, seeing a fog over the marshes,
did wake Sir Richard Dalyngridge, his drunken cupmate"
(here they laughed at me) "and said, 'Peer out, old
fox, for God is on the Duke of Normandy's side."'
"'So did I. It was a black fog. Robert could have landed
ten thousand men, and we none the wiser. Does he tell
how we were out all day riding the Marsh, and how I near
perished in a quicksand, and coughed like a sick ewe for
ten days after?" cried De Aquila.
"'No," said Hugh. "But here is the prayer of Gilbert
himself to his master Fulke."
"'Ah," said De Aquila. "Well I knew it was Fulke.
What is the price of my blood?"
"'Gilbert prayeth that when our Lord of Pevensey is
stripped of his lands on this evidence which Gilbert hath,
with fear and pains, collected -"
"'Fear and pains is a true word," said De Aquila, and
sucked in his cheeks. "But how excellent a weapon is a
pen! I must learn it."
"'He prays that Fulke will advance him from his
present service to that honour in the Church which Fulke
promised him. And lest Fulke should forget, he has
written below, 'To be Sacristan of Battle'."
'At this De Aquila whistled. "A man who can plot
against one lord can plot against another. When I am
stripped of my lands Fulke will whip off my Gilbert's
foolish head. None the less Battle needs a new Sacristan.
They tell me the Abbot Henry keeps no sort of rule there."
"'Let the Abbot wait," said Hugh. "It is our heads and
our lands that are in danger. This parchment is the
second part of the tale. The first has gone to Fulke, and so
to the King, who will hold us traitors."
"Assuredly," said De Aquila. "Fulke's man took the
first part that evening when Gilbert fed him, and our
King is so beset by his brother and his Barons (small
blame, too!) that he is mad with mistrust. Fulke has his
ear, and pours poison into it. Presently the King gives
him my land and yours. This is old," and he leaned back
and yawned.
"'And thou wilt surrender Pevensey without word or
blow?" said Hugh. "We Saxons will fight your King then.
I will go warn my nephew at Dallington. Give me a horse!"
"'Give thee a toy and a rattle," said De Aquila. "Put
back the parchment, and rake over the ashes. If Fulke is
given my Pevensey, which is England's gate, what will
he do with it? He is Norman at heart, and his heart is in
Normandy, where he can kill peasants at his pleasure.
He will open England's gate to our sleepy Robert, as Odo
and Mortain tried to do, and then there will be another
landing and another Santlache. Therefore I cannot give
up Pevensey."
"'Good," said we two.
"'Ah, but wait! If my King be made, on Gilbert's
evidence, to mistrust me, he will send his men against
me here, and while we fight, England's gate is left
unguarded. Who will be the first to come through thereby?
Even Robert of Normandy. Therefore I cannot fight my
King." He nursed his sword - thus.
"'This is saying and unsaying like a Norman," said
Hugh. "What of our Manors?"
"'I do not think for myself," said De Aquila, "nor for
our King, nor for your lands. I think for England, for
whom neither King nor Baron thinks. I am not Norman,
Sir Richard, nor Saxon, Sir Hugh. English am I."
"'Saxon, Norman or English," said Hugh, "our lives
are thine, however the game goes. When do we hang Gilbert?"
"'Never," said De Aquila. "Who knows, he may yet be
Sacristan of Battle, for, to do him justice, he is a good
writer. Dead men make dumb witnesses. Wait."
"'But the King may give Pevensey to Fulke. And our
Manors go with it," said I. "Shall we tell our sons?"
"'No. The King will not wake up a hornets' nest in the
South till he has smoked out the bees in the North. He
may hold me a traitor; but at least he sees I am not
fighting against him; and every day that I lie still is so
much gain to him while he fights the Barons. If he were
wise he would wait till that war were over before he made
new enemies. But I think Fulke will play upon him to
send for me, and if I do not obey the summons, that will,
to Henry's mind, be proof of my treason. But mere talk,
such as Gilbert sends, is no proof nowadays. We Barons
follow the Church, and, like Anselm, we speak what we
please. Let us go about our day's dealings, and say
naught to Gilbert."
"'Then we do nothing?" said Hugh.
"'We wait," said De Aquila. "I am old, but still I find
that the most grievous work I know."
'And so we found it, but in the end De Aquila was right.
'A little later in the year, armed men rode over the hill,
the Golden Horseshoes flying behind the King's banner.
Said De Aquila, at the window of our chamber: "How did
I tell you? Here comes Fulke himself to spy out his new
lands which our King hath promised him if he can bring
proof of my treason."
"'How dost thou know?" said Hugh.
"'Because that is what I would do if I were Fulke, but I
should have brought more men. My roan horse to your
old shoes," said he, "Fulke brings me the King's Summons
to leave Pevensey and join the war." He sucked in
his cheeks and drummed on the edge of the well-shaft,
where the water sounded all hollow.
"'Shall we go?" said I.
"'Go! At this time of year? Stark madness," said he.
"Take me from Pevensey to fisk and flyte through fern
and forest, and in three days Robert's keels would be
lying on Pevensey mud with ten thousand men! Who
would stop them - Fulke?"
'The horns blew without, and anon Fulke cried the
King's Summons at the great door, that De Aquila with
all men and horse should join the King's camp
at Salisbury.
"'How did I tell you?" said De Aquila. "There are
twenty Barons 'twixt here and Salisbury could give King
Henry good land service, but he has been worked upon
by Fulke to send South and call me - me! - off the Gate of
England, when his enemies stand about to batter it in.
See that Fulke's men lie in the big south barn," said he.
"Give them drink, and when Fulke has eaten we will
drink in my chamber. The Great Hall is too cold for old bones."
'As soon as he was off-horse Fulke went to the chapel
with Gilbert to give thanks for his safe coming, and when
he had eaten - he was a fat man, and rolled his eyes
greedily at our good roast Sussex wheat-ears - we led him
to the little upper chamber, whither Gilbert had already
gone with the Manor-roll. I remember when Fulke heard
the tide blow and whistle in the shaft he leaped back, and
his long down-turned stirrup-shoes caught in the rushes
and he stumbled, so that Jehan behind him found it easy
to knock his head against the wall.'
'Did you know it was going to happen?' said Dan.
'Assuredly,' said Sir Richard, with a sweet smile. 'I put
my foot on his sword and plucked away his dagger, but
he knew not whether it was day or night for awhile. He
lay rolling his eyes and bubbling with his mouth, and
jehan roped him like a calf. He was cased all in that
newfangled armour which we call lizard-mail. Not rings
like my hauberk here'- Sir Richard tapped his chest -but
little pieces of dagger-proof steel overlapping on stout
leather. We stripped it off (no need to spoil good harness
by wetting it), and in the neck-piece De Aquila found the
same folden piece of parchment which we had put back
under the hearth-stone.
'At this Gilbert would have run out. I laid my hand on
his shoulder. It sufficed. He fell to trembling and praying
on his beads.
"'Gilbert," said De Aquila, "here be more notable
sayings and doings of our Lord of Pevensey for thee to
write down. Take pen and ink-horn, Gilbert. We cannot
all be Sacristans of Battle."
'Said Fulke from the floor, "Ye have bound a King's
messenger. Pevensey shall burn for this."
"'Maybe. I have seen it besieged once," said
De Aquila, "but heart up, Fulke. I promise thee that thou
shalt be hanged in the middle of the flames at the end of
that siege, if I have to share my last loaf with thee; and
that is more than Odo would have done when we starved
out him and Mortain."
'Then Fulke sat up and looked long and cunningly at De Aquila.
"'By the Saints," said he, "why didst thou not say thou
wast on the Duke Robert's side at the first?"
"'Am I?" said De Aquila.
'Fulke laughed and said, "No man who serves King
Henry dare do this much to his messenger. When didst
thou come over to the Duke? Let me up and we can
smooth it out together." And he smiled and becked and winked.
"'Yes, we will smooth it out," said De Aquila. He
nodded to me, and jehan and I heaved up Fulke - he
was a heavy man - and lowered him into the shaft by a
rope, not so as to stand on our gold, but dangling by
his shoulders a little above. It was turn of ebb, and the
water came to his knees. He said nothing, but shivered somewhat.
'Then jehan of a sudden beat down Gilbert's wrist with
his sheathed dagger. "Stop!" he said. "He swallows his beads."
"'Poison, belike," said De Aquila. "It is good for men
who know too much. I have carried it these thirty years.
Give me!"
'Then Gilbert wept and howled. De Aquila ran the
beads through his fingers. The last one - I have said they
were large nuts - opened in two halves on a pin, and there
was a small folded parchment within. On it was written:
"The Old Dog goes to Salisbury to be beaten. I have his Kennel.
Come quickly.
"'This is worse than poison," said De Aquila very
softly, and sucked in his cheeks. Then Gilbert grovelled
in the rushes, and told us all he knew. The letter, as we
guessed, was from Fulke to the Duke (and not the first
that had passed between them); Fulke had given it to
Gilbert in the chapel, and Gilbert thought to have taken it
by morning to a certain fishing boat at the wharf, which
trafficked between Pevensey and the French shore. Gilbert
was a false fellow, but he found time between his
quakings and shakings to swear that the master of the
boat knew nothing of the matter.
"'He hath called me shaved-head," said Gilbert, "and he hath
thrown haddock-guts at me; but for all that, he is no traitor."
"'I will have no clerk of mine mishandled or miscalled,"
said De Aquila. "That seaman shall be whipped
at his own mast. Write me first a letter, and thou shalt
bear it, with the order for the whipping, tomorrow to the boat."
'At this Gilbert would have kissed De Aquila's hand -
he had not hoped to live until the morning - and when he
trembled less he wrote a letter as from Fulke to the Duke,
saying that the Kennel, which signified Pevensey, was shut, and
that the Old Dog (which was De Aquila) sat outside it, and,
moreover, that all had been betrayed.
"'Write to any man that all is betrayed," said
De Aquila, "and even the Pope himself would sleep
uneasily. Eh, Jehan? If one told thee all was betrayed, what
wouldst thou do?"
"'I would run away," said Jehan. "it might be true."
"'Well said," quoth De Aquila. "Write, Gilbert, that
Montgomery, the great Earl, hath made his peace with
the King, and that little D'Arcy, whom I hate, hath been
hanged by the heels. We will give Robert full measure to
chew upon. Write also that Fulke himself is sick to death
of a dropsy."
"'Nay!" cried Fulke, hanging in the well-shaft.
"Drown me out of hand, but do not make a jest of me."
"'Jest? I?" said De Aquila. "I am but fighting for life
and lands with a pen, as thou hast shown me, Fulke."
'Then Fulke groaned, for he was cold, and, "Let me
confess," said he.
"'Now, this is right neighbourly," said De Aquila,
leaning over the shaft. "Thou hast read my sayings and
doings - or at least the first part of them - and thou art
minded to repay me with thy own doings and sayings. Take
pen and inkhorn, Gilbert. Here is work that will not irk thee."
"'Let my men go without hurt, and I will confess my
treason against the King," said Fulke.
"'Now, why has he grown so tender of his men of a
sudden?" said Hugh to me; for Fulke had no name for
mercy to his men. Plunder he gave them, but pity, none.
"'Te! Te!" said De Aquila. "Thy treason was all confessed
long ago by Gilbert. It would be enough to hang
Montgomery himself."
"'Nay; but spare my men," said Fulke; and we heard
him splash like a fish in a pond, for the tide was rising.
"'All in good time," said De Aquila. "The night is
young; the wine is old; and we need only the merry tale.
Begin the story of thy life since when thou wast a lad at
Tours. Tell it nimbly!"
"'Ye shame me to my soul," said Fulke.
"'Then I have done what neither King nor Duke could
do," said De Aquila. "But begin, and forget nothing."
"'Send thy man away," said Fulke.
"'That much can I do," said De Aquila. 'But, remember,
I am like the Danes' King. I cannot turn the tide."
"'How long will it rise?" said Fulke, and splashed anew.
"'For three hours," said De Aquila. "Time to tell all thy
good deeds. Begin, and, Gilbert, - I have heard thou art
somewhat careless - do not twist his words from his true
'So - fear of death in the dark being upon him - Fulke
began, and Gilbert, not knowing what his fate might be,
wrote it word by word. I have heard many tales, but
never heard I aught to match the tale of Fulke his
black life, as Fulke told it hollowly, hanging in the shaft.'
'Was it bad?' said Dan, awestruck.
'Beyond belief,' Sir Richard answered. 'None the less,
there was that in it which forced even Gilbert to laugh.
We three laughed till we ached. At one place his teeth so
chattered that we could not well hear, and we reached
him down a cup of wine. Then he warmed to it, and
smoothly set out all his shifts, malices, and treacheries,
his extreme boldnesses (he was desperate bold); his
retreats, shufflings, and counterfeitings (he was also
inconceivably a coward); his lack of gear and honour; his
despair at their loss; his remedies, and well-coloured
contrivances. Yes, he waved the filthy rags of his life
before us, as though they had been some proud banner.
When he ceased, we saw by torches that the tide stood at
the corners of his mouth, and he breathed strongly
through his nose.
'We had him out, and rubbed him; we wrapped him in
a cloak, and gave him wine, and we leaned and looked
upon him, the while he drank. He was shivering,
but shameless.
'Of a sudden we heard jehan at the stairway wake, but
a boy pushed past him, and stood before us, the Hallrushes
in his hair, all slubbered with sleep. "My father!
My father! I dreamed of treachery," he cried, and babbled thickly.
"'There is no treachery here," said Fulke. "Go!" and
the boy turned, even then not fully awake, and jehan led
him by the hand to the Great Hall.
"'Thy only son!" said De Aquila. "Why didst thou
bring the child here?"
"'He is my heir. I dared not trust him to my brother,"
said Fulke, and now he was ashamed. De Aquila said
nothing, but sat weighing a wine-cup in his two hands -
thus. Anon, Fulke touched him on the knee.
"'Let the boy escape to Normandy," said he, "and do
with me at thy pleasure. Yea, hang me tomorrow, with
my letter to Robert round my neck, but let the boy go."
"'Be still," said De Aquila. "I think for England."
'So we waited what our Lord of Pevensey should
devise; and the sweat ran down Fulke's forehead.
'At last said De Aquila: "I am too old to judge, or to
trust any man. I do not covet thy lands, as thou hast
coveted mine; and whether thou art any better or any
worse than any other black Angevin thief, it is for thy
King to find out. Therefore, go back to thy King, Fulke."
"'And thou wilt say nothing of what has passed?" said Fulke.
"'Why should I? Thy son will stay with me. If the King
calls me again to leave Pevensey, which I must guard
against England's enemies; if the King sends his men
against me for a traitor; or if I hear that the King in his bed
thinks any evil of me or my two knights, thy son will be
hanged from out this window, Fulke."'
'But it hadn't anything to do with his son,' cried Una, startled.
'How could we have hanged Fulke?' said Sir Richard.
'We needed him to make our peace with the King. He
would have betrayed half England for the boy's sake. Of
that we were sure.'
'I don't understand,' said Una. 'But I think it was
simply awful.'
'So did not Fulke. He was well pleased.'
'What? Because his son was going to be killed?'
'Nay. Because De Aquila had shown him how he might
save the boy's life and his own lands and honours. "I will
do it, " he said. "I swear I will do it. I will tell the King thou
art no traitor, but the most excellent, valiant, and perfect
of us all. Yes, I will save thee."
'De Aquila looked still into the bottom of the cup,
rolling the wine-dregs to and fro.
"'Ay," he said. "If I had a son, I would, I think, save
him. But do not by any means tell me how thou wilt go
about it."
"'Nay, nay," said Fulke, nodding his bald head wisely.
"That is my secret. But rest at ease, De Aquila, no hair
of thy head nor rood of thy land shall be forfeited," and
he smiled like one planning great good deeds.
"'And henceforward," said De Aquila, "I counsel thee
to serve one master - not two."
"'What?" said Fulke. "Can I work no more honest
trading between the two sides these troublous times?"
"'Serve Robert or the King - England or Normandy,"
said De Aquila. "I care not which it is, but make thy
choice here and now."
"'The King, then," said Fulke, "for I see he is better
served than Robert. Shall I swear it?"
"'No need," said De Aquila, and he laid his hand on
the parchments which Gilbert had written. "It shall be
some part of my Gilbert's penance to copy out the
savoury tale of thy life, till we have made ten, twenty, an
hundred, maybe, copies. How many cattle, think you,
would the Bishop of Tours give for that tale? Or thy
brother? Or the Monks of Blois? Minstrels will turn it into
songs which thy own Saxon serfs shall sing behind their
plough-stilts, and men-at-arms riding through thy Norman
towns. From here to Rome, Fulke, men will make
very merry over that tale, and how Fulke told it, hanging
in a well, like a drowned puppy. This shall be thy
punishment, if ever I find thee double-dealing with thy
King any more. Meantime, the parchments stay here
with thy son. Him I will return to thee when thou hast
made my peace with the King. The parchments never."
'Fulke hid his face and groaned.
"'Bones of the Saints!" said De Aquila, laughing. "The
pen cuts deep. I could never have fetched that grunt out
of thee with any sword."
"'But so long as I do not anger thee, my tale will be
secret?" said Fulke.
"'Just so long. Does that comfort thee, Fulke?" said De Aquila.
"'What other comfort have ye left me?" he said, and of
a sudden he wept hopelessly like a child, dropping his
face on his knees.'
'Poor Fulke,' said Una.
'I pitied him also,' said Sir Richard.
"'After the spur, corn," said De Aquila, and he threw
Fulke three wedges of gold that he had taken from our
little chest by the bedplace.
"'If I had known this," said Fulke, catching his breath,
"I would never have lifted hand against Pevensey. Only
lack of this yellow stuff has made me so unlucky in my dealings."
'It was dawn then, and they stirred in the Great Hall
below. We sent down Fulke's mail to be scoured, and
when he rode away at noon under his own and the King's
banner, very splendid and stately did he show. He
smoothed his long beard, and called his son to his stirrup
and kissed him. De Aquila rode with him as far as the
New Mill landward. We thought the night had been all a dream.'
'But did he make it right with the King?' Dan asked.
'About your not being traitors, I mean.'
Sir Richard smiled. 'The King sent no second summons
to Pevensey, nor did he ask why De Aquila had not
obeyed the first. Yes, that was Fulke's work. I know not
how he did it, but it was well and swiftly done.'
'Then you didn't do anything to his son?' said Una.
'The boy? Oh, he was an imp! He turned the keep
doors out of dortoirs while we had him. He sang foul
songs, learned in the Barons' camps - poor fool; he set the
hounds fighting in Hall; he lit the rushes to drive out, as
he said, the fleas; he drew his dagger on jehan, who
threw him down the stairway for it; and he rode his horse
through crops and among sheep. But when we had
beaten him, and showed him wolf and deer, he followed
us old men like a young, eager hound, and called us
"uncle". His father came the summer's end to take him
away, but the boy had no lust to go, because of the
otter-hunting, and he stayed on till the fox-hunting. I
gave him a bittern's claw to bring him good luck at
shooting. An imp, if ever there was!'
'And what happened to Gilbert?' said Dan.
'Not even a whipping. De Aquila said he would sooner
a clerk, however false, that knew the Manor-roll than a
fool, however true, that must be taught his work afresh.
Moreover, after that night I think Gilbert loved as much
as he feared De Aquila. At least he would not leave us -
not even when Vivian, the King's Clerk, would have
made him Sacristan of Battle Abbey. A false fellow, but,
in his fashion, bold.'
'Did Robert ever land in Pevensey after all?' Dan went on.
'We guarded the coast too well while Henry was
fighting his Barons; and three or four years later, when
England had peace, Henry crossed to Normandy and
showed his brother some work at Tenchebrai that cured
Robert of fighting. Many of Henry's men sailed from
Pevensey to that war. Fulke came, I remember, and we all
four lay in the little chamber once again, and drank
together. De Aquila was right. One should not judge
men. Fulke was merry. Yes, always merry - with a catch
in his breath.'
'And what did you do afterwards?' said Una.
'We talked together of times past. That is all men can
do when they grow old, little maid.'
The bell for tea rang faintly across the meadows. Dan
lay in the bows of the Golden Hind; Una in the stern, the
book of verses open in her lap, was reading from 'The
Slave's Dream':
'Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,
He saw his native land.'
'I don't know when you began that,' said Dan, sleepily.
On the middle thwart of the boat, beside Una's sunbonnet,
lay an Oak leaf, an Ash leaf, and a Thorn leaf,
that must have dropped down from the trees above; and
the brook giggled as though it had just seen some joke.
The Runes on Weland's Sword
A Smith makes me
To betray my Man
In my first fight.
To gather Gold
At the world's end
I am sent.
The Gold I gather
Comes into England
Out of deep Water.
Like a shining Fish
Then it descends
Into deep Water.
It is not given
For goods or gear,
But for The Thing.
The Gold I gather
A King covets
For an ill use.
The Gold I gather
Is drawn up
Out of deep Water.
Like a shining Fish
Then it descends
Into deep Water.
It is not given
For goods or gear,
But for The Thing.
Cities and Thrones and Powers
Stand in Time's eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die.
But, as new buds put forth
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth
The Cities rise again.
This season's Daffodil,
She never hears
What change, what chance, what chill,
Cut down last year's:
But with bold countenance,
And knowledge small,
Esteems her seven days' continuance
To be perpetual.
So Time that is o'er-kind
To all that be,
Ordains us e'en as blind,
As bold as she:
That in our very death,
And burial sure,
Shadow to shadow, well persuaded, saith,
'See how our works endure!'
Dan had come to grief over his Latin, and was kept in; so
Una went alone to Far Wood. Dan's big catapult and the
lead bullets that Hobden had made for him were hidden
in an old hollow beech-stub on the west of the wood.
They had named the place out of the verse in Lays of
Ancient Rome:
From lordly Volaterrae,
Where scowls the far-famed hold
Piled by the hands of giants
For Godlike Kings of old.
They were the 'Godlike Kings', and when old Hobden
piled some comfortable brushwood between the big wooden
knees of Volaterrae, they called him 'Hands of Giants'.
Una slipped through their private gap in the fence, and
sat still awhile, scowling as scowlily and lordlily as she
knew how; for Volaterrae is an important watch-tower
that juts out of Far Wood just as Far Wood juts out of the
hillside. Pook's Hill lay below her and all the turns of the
brook as it wanders out of the Willingford Woods, between
hop-gardens, to old Hobden's cottage at the
Forge. The sou'-west wind (there is always a wind by
Volaterrae) blew from the bare ridge where Cherry Clack
Windmill stands.
Now wind prowling through woods sounds like exciting
things going to happen, and that is why on blowy
days you stand up in Volaterrae and shout bits of the Lays
to suit its noises.
Una took Dan's catapult from its secret place, and
made ready to meet Lars Porsena's army stealing
through the wind-whitened aspens by the brook. A gust
boomed up the valley, and Una chanted sorrowfully:
'Verbenna down to Ostia
Hath wasted all the plain:
Astur hath stormed Janiculum,
And the stout guards are slain.'
But the wind, not charging fair to the wood, started
aside and shook a single oak in Gleason's pasture. Here it
made itself all small and crouched among the grasses,
waving the tips of them as a cat waves the tip of her tail
before she springs.
'Now welcome - welcome, Sextus,' sang Una, loading
the catapult -
'Now welcome to thy home!
Why dost thou stay, and turn away?
Here lies the road to Rome.'
She fired into the face of the lull, to wake up the
cowardly wind, and heard a grunt from behind a thorn in
the pasture.
'Oh, my Winkie!' she said aloud, and that was something
she had picked up from Dan. 'I b'lieve I've tickled
up a Gleason cow.'
'You little painted beast!' a voice cried. 'I'll teach you to
sling your masters!'
She looked down most cautiously, and saw a young
man covered with hoopy bronze armour all glowing
among the late broom. But what Una admired beyond all
was his great bronze helmet with a red horse-tail that
flicked in the wind. She could hear the long hairs rasp on
his shimmery shoulder-plates.
'What does the Faun mean,' he said, half aloud to
himself, 'by telling me that the Painted People have
changed?' He caught sight of Una's yellow head. 'Have
you seen a painted lead-slinger?' he called.
'No-o,' said Una. 'But if you've seen a bullet -'
'Seen?' cried the man. 'It passed within a hair's- breadth
of my ear.'
'Well, that was me. I'm most awfully sorry.'
'Didn't the Faun tell you I was coming?' He smiled.
'Not if you mean Puck. I thought you were a Gleason
cow. I - I didn't know you were a - a - What are you?'
He laughed outright, showing a set of splendid teeth.
His face and eyes were dark, and his eyebrows met above
his big nose in one bushy black bar.
'They call me Parnesius. I have been a Centurion of the
Seventh Cohort of the Thirtieth Legion - the Ulpia Victrix.
Did you sling that bullet?'
'I did. I was using Dan's catapult,' said Una.
'Catapults!' said he. 'I ought to know something about
them. Show me!'
He leaped the rough fence with a rattle of spear, shield,
and armour, and hoisted himself into Volaterrae as
quickly as a shadow.
'A sling on a forked stick. I understand!' he cried, and
pulled at the elastic. 'But what wonderful beast yields
this stretching leather?'
'It's laccy - elastic. You put the bullet into that loop,
and then you pull hard.'
The man pulled, and hit himself square on his thumbnail.
'Each to his own weapon,' he said gravely, handing it
back. 'I am better with the bigger machine, little maiden.
But it's a pretty toy. A wolf would laugh at it. Aren't you
afraid of wolves?'
'There aren't any,' said Una.
'Never believe it! A wolf's like a Winged Hat. He comes
when he isn't expected. Don't they hunt wolves here?'
'We don't hunt,'said Una, remembering what she had
heard from grown-ups. 'We preserve - pheasants. Do
you know them?'
'I ought to,' said the young man, smiling again, and he
imitated the cry of the cock-pheasant so perfectly that a
bird answered out of the wood.
'What a big painted clucking fool is a pheasant!' he
said. 'Just like some Romans.'
'But you're a Roman yourself, aren't you?' said Una.
'Ye-es and no. I'm one of a good few thousands who
have never seen Rome except in a picture. My people
have lived at Vectis for generations. Vectis - that island
West yonder that you can see from so far in clear weather.'
'Do you mean the Isle of Wight? It lifts up just before
rain, and you see it from the Downs.'
'Very likely. Our villa's on the south edge of the Island,
by the Broken Cliffs. Most of it is three hundred years
old, but the cow-stables, where our first ancestor lived,
must be a hundred years older. Oh, quite that, because
the founder of our family had his land given him by
Agricola at the Settlement. It's not a bad little place for its
size. In springtime violets grow down to the very beach.
I've gathered sea-weeds for myself and violets for my
Mother many a time with our old nurse.'
'Was your nurse a - a Romaness too?'
'No, a Numidian. Gods be good to her! A dear, fat,
brown thing with a tongue like a cowbell. She was a free
woman. By the way, are you free, maiden?'
'Oh, quite,' said Una. 'At least, till tea-time; and in
summer our governess doesn't say much if we're late.'
The young man laughed again - a proper
understanding laugh.
'I see,' said he. 'That accounts for your being in the
wood. We hid among the cliffs.'
'Did you have a governess, then?'
'Did we not? A Greek, too. She had a way of clutching
her dress when she hunted us among the gorse-bushes
that made us laugh. Then she'd say she'd get us
whipped. She never did, though, bless her! Aglaia was a
thorough sportswoman, for all her learning.'
'But what lessons did you do - when - when you
were little?'
'Ancient history, the Classics, arithmetic and so on,'he
answered. 'My sister and I were thickheads, but my two
brothers (I'm the middle one) liked those things, and, of
course, Mother was clever enough for any six. She was
nearly as tall as I am, and she looked like the new statue
on the Western Road - the Demeter of the Baskets, you
know. And funny! Roma Dea! How Mother could make
us laugh!'
'What at?'
'Little jokes and sayings that every family has. Don't
you know?'
'I know we have, but I didn't know other people had
them too,' said Una. 'Tell me about all your family, please.'
'Good families are very much alike. Mother would sit
spinning of evenings while Aglaia read in her corner, and
Father did accounts, and we four romped about the
passages. When our noise grew too loud the Pater would
say, "Less tumult! Less tumult! Have you never heard of
a Father's right over his children? He can slay them, my
loves - slay them dead, and the Gods highly approve of
the action!" Then Mother would prim up her dear mouth
over the wheel and answer: "H'm! I'm afraid there can't
be much of the Roman Father about you!" Then the Pater
would roll up his accounts, and say, "I'll show you!" and
then - then, he'd be worse than any of us!'
'Fathers can - if they like,' said Una, her eyes dancing.
'Didn't I say all good families are very much the same?'
'What did you do in summer?' said Una. 'Play about, like us?'
'Yes, and we visited our friends. There are no wolves in
Vectis. We had many friends, and as many ponies as we wished.'
'It must have been lovely,' said Una. 'I hope it lasted for ever.'
'Not quite, little maid. When I was about sixteen or
seventeen, the Father felt gouty, and we all went to the Waters.'
'What waters?'
'At Aquae Sulis. Every one goes there. You ought to
get your Father to take you some day.'
'But where? I don't know,' said Una.
The young man looked astonished for a moment.
'Aquae Sulis,' he repeated. 'The best baths in Britain. just
as good, I'm told, as Rome. All the old gluttons sit in hot
water, and talk scandal and politics. And the Generals
come through the streets with their guards behind them;
and the magistrates come in their chairs with their stiff
guards behind them; and you meet fortune-tellers, and
goldsmiths, and merchants, and philosophers, and
feather-sellers, and ultra-Roman Britons, and ultra-
British Romans, and tame tribesmen pretending to be
civilised, and Jew lecturers, and - oh, everybody interesting.
We young people, of course, took no interest in
politics. We had not the gout. There were many of our
age like us. We did not find life sad.
'But while we were enjoying ourselves without thinking,
my sister met the son of a magistrate in the West -
and a year afterwards she was married to him. My young
brother, who was always interested in plants and roots,
met the First Doctor of a Legion from the City of the
Legions, and he decided that he would be an Army
doctor. I do not think it is a profession for a well-born
man, but then - I'm not my brother. He went to Rome to
study medicine, and now he's First Doctor of a Legion in
Egypt - at Antinoe, I think, but I have not heard from him
for some time.
'My eldest brother came across a Greek philosopher,
and told my Father that he intended to settle down on the
estate as a farmer and a philosopher. You see,' - the
young man's eyes twinkled - 'his philosopher was a
long-haired one!'
'I thought philosophers were bald,' said Una.
'Not all. She was very pretty. I don't blame him.
Nothing could have suited me better than my eldest
brother's doing this, for I was only too keen to join the
Army. I had always feared I should have to stay at home
and look after the estate while my brother took this.'
He rapped on his great glistening shield that never
seemed to be in his way.
'So we were well contented - we young people - and
we rode back to Clausentum along the Wood Road very
quietly. But when we reached home, Aglaia, our governess,
saw what had come to us. I remember her at the
door, the torch over her head, watching us climb the
cliff-path from the boat. "Aie! Aie!" she said. "Children
you went away. Men and a woman you return!" Then
she kissed Mother, and Mother wept. Thus our visit to
the Waters settled our fates for each of us, maiden.'
He rose to his feet and listened, leaning on the shield-rim.
'I think that's Dan - my brother,' said Una.
'Yes; and the Faun is with him,'he replied, as Dan with
Puck stumbled through the copse.
'We should have come sooner,' Puck called, 'but
the beauties of your native tongue, O Parnesius, have
enthralled this young citizen.'
Parnesius looked bewildered, even when
Una explained.
'Dan said the plural of "dominus" was "dominoes",
and when Miss Blake said it wasn't he said he supposed it
was "backgammon", and so he had to write it out twice -
for cheek, you know.'
Dan had climbed into Volaterrae, hot and panting.
'I've run nearly all the way,'he gasped, 'and then Puck
met me. How do you do, sir?'
'I am in good health,' Parnesius answered. 'See! I have
tried to bend the bow of Ulysses, but -' He held up his thumb.
'I'm sorry. You must have pulled off too soon,' said
Dan. 'But Puck said you were telling Una a story.'
'Continue, O Parnesius,' said Puck, who had perched
himself on a dead branch above them. 'I will be chorus.
Has he puzzled you much, Una?'
'Not a bit, except - I didn't know where Ak- Ak
something was,' she answered.
'Oh, Aquae Sulis. That's Bath, where the buns come
from. Let the hero tell his own tale.'
Parnesius pretended to thrust his spear at Puck's legs,
but Puck reached down, caught at the horse-tail plume,
and pulled off the tall helmet.
'Thanks, jester,' said Parnesius, shaking his curly dark
head. 'That is cooler. Now hang it up for me .
'I was telling your sister how I joined the Army,' he
said to Dan.
'Did you have to pass an Exam?' Dan asked eagerly.
'No. I went to my Father, and said I should like to enter
the Dacian Horse (I had seen some at Aquae Sulis); but he
said I had better begin service in a regular Legion from
Rome. Now, like many of our youngsters, I was not too
fond of anything Roman. The Roman-born officers and
magistrates looked down on us British-born as though
we were barbarians. I told my Father so.
"'I know they do," he said; "but remember, after all,
we are the people of the Old Stock, and our duty is to
the Empire."
"'To which Empire?" I asked. "We split the Eagle
before I was born."
"'What thieves' talk is that?" said my Father. He hated slang.
"'Well, sir," I said, "we've one Emperor in Rome, and I
don't know how many Emperors the outlying Provinces
have set up from time to time. Which am I to follow?"
"'Gratian," said he. "At least he's a sportsman."
"'He's all that," I said. "Hasn't he turned himself into a
raw-beef-eating Scythian?"
"'Where did you hear of it?" said the Pater.
"'At Aquae Sulis," I said. It was perfectly true. This
precious Emperor Gratian of ours had a bodyguard of
fur-cloaked Scythians, and he was so crazy about them
that he dressed like them. In Rome of all places in the
world! It was as bad as if my own Father had painted
himself blue!
"'No matter for the clothes," said the Pater. "They are
only the fringe of the trouble. It began before your time or
mine. Rome has forsaken her Gods, and must be
punished. The great war with the Painted People broke
out in the very year the temples of our Gods were
destroyed. We beat the Painted People in the very year
our temples were rebuilt. Go back further still." He
went back to the time of Diocletian; and to listen to him
you would have thought Eternal Rome herself was on
the edge of destruction, just because a few people had
become a little large-minded.
'I knew nothing about it. Aglaia never taught us the
history of our own country. She was so full of her ancient Greeks.
"'There is no hope for Rome," said the Pater, at last.
"She has forsaken her Gods, but if the Gods forgive us
here, we may save Britain. To do that, we must keep the
Painted People back. Therefore, I tell you, Parnesius, as a
Father, that if your heart is set on service, your place is
among men on the Wall - and not with women among
the cities."'
'What Wall?' asked Dan and Una at once.
'Father meant the one we call Hadrian's Wall. I'll tell
you about it later. It was built long ago, across North
Britain, to keep out the Painted People - Picts, you call
them. Father had fought in the great Pict War that lasted
more than twenty years, and he knew what fighting
meant. Theodosius, one of our great Generals, had
chased the little beasts back far into the North before I
was born. Down at Vectis, of course, we never troubled
our heads about them. But when my Father spoke as he
did, I kissed his hand, and waited for orders. We Britishborn
Romans know what is due to our parents.'
'If I kissed my Father's hand, he'd laugh,' said Dan.
'Customs change; but if you do not obey your Father,
the Gods remember it. You may be quite sure of that.
'After our talk, seeing I was in earnest, the Pater sent
me over to Clausentum to learn my foot-drill in a barrack
full of foreign Auxiliaries - as unwashed and unshaved a
mob of mixed barbarians as ever scrubbed a breastplate.
It was your stick in their stomachs and your shield in their
faces to push them into any sort of formation. When I had
learned my work the Instructor gave me a handful - and
they were a handful! - of Gauls and Iberians to polish up
till they were sent to their stations up-country. I did my
best, and one night a villa in the suburbs caught fire, and I
had my handful out and at work before any of the other
troops. I noticed a quiet-looking man on the lawn, leaning
on a stick. He watched us passing buckets from the
pond, and at last he said to me: "Who are you?"
"'A probationer, waiting for a command," I answered.
I didn't know who he was from Deucalion!
"'Born in Britain?" he said.
"'Yes, if you were born in Spain," I said, for he
neighed his words like an Iberian mule.
"'And what might you call yourself when you are at
home?" he said, laughing.
"'That depends," I answered; "sometimes one thing
and sometimes another. But now I'm busy."
'He said no more till we had saved the family Gods
(they were respectable householders), and then he
grunted across the laurels: "Listen, young sometimesone-
thing-and-sometimes-another. In future call yourself
Centurion of the Seventh Cohort of the Thirtieth, the
Ulpia Victrix. That will help me to remember you. Your
Father and a few other people call me Maximus."
'He tossed me the polished stick he was leaning on,
and went away. You might have knocked me down with it!'
'Who was he?' said Dan.
'Maximus himself, our great General! The General of
Britain who had been Theodosius's right hand in the Pict
War! Not only had he given me my Centurion's stick
direct, but three steps in a good Legion as well! A new
man generally begins in the Tenth Cohort of his Legion,
and works up.'
'And were you pleased?' said Una.
'Very. I thought Maximus had chosen me for my good
looks and fine style in marching, but, when I went home,
the Pater told me he had served under Maximus in the
great Pict War, and had asked him to befriend me.'
'A child you were!' said Puck, from above.
'I was,' said Parnesius. 'Don't begrudge it me, Faun.
Afterwards - the Gods know I put aside the games!' And
Puck nodded, brown chin on brown hand, his big eyes still.
'The night before I left we sacrificed to our ancestors -
the usual little Home Sacrifice - but I never prayed so
earnestly to all the Good Shades, and then I went with
my Father by boat to Regnum, and across the chalk
eastwards to Anderida yonder.'
'Regnum? Anderida?' The children turned their faces
to Puck.
'Regnum's Chichester,' he said, pointing towards
Cherry Clack, 'and'- he threw his arm South behind him
-'Anderida's Pevensey.'
'Pevensey again!' said Dan. 'Where Weland landed?'
'Weland and a few others,' said Puck. 'Pevensey isn't
young - even compared to me!'
'The headquarters of the Thirtieth lay at Anderida in
summer, but my own Cohort, the Seventh, was on the
Wall up North. Maximus was inspecting Auxiliaries - the
Abulci, I think - at Anderida, and we stayed with him, for
he and my Father were very old friends. I was only there
ten days when I was ordered to go up with thirty men to
my Cohort.' He laughed merrily. 'A man never forgets
his first march. I was happier than any Emperor when I
led my handful through the North Gate of the Camp, and
we saluted the guard and the Altar of Victory there.'
'How? How?' said Dan and Una.
Parnesius smiled, and stood up, flashing in his armour.
'So!' said he; and he moved slowly through the beautiful
movements of the Roman Salute, that ends with a
hollow clang of the shield coming into its place between
the shoulders.
'Hai!' said Puck. 'That sets one thinking!'
'We went out fully armed,' said Parnesius, sitting
down; 'but as soon as the road entered the Great Forest,
my men expected the pack-horses to hang their shields
on. "No!" I said; you can dress like women in Anderida,
but while you're with me you will carry your own
weapons and armour."
"'But it's hot," said one of them, "and we haven't a
doctor. Suppose we get sunstroke, or a fever?"
"'Then die," I said, "and a good riddance to Rome! Up
shield - up spears, and tighten your foot-wear!"
"'Don't think yourself Emperor of Britain already," a
fellow shouted. I knocked him over with the butt of my
spear, and explained to these Roman-born Romans that,
if there were any further trouble, we should go on with
one man short. And, by the Light of the Sun, I meant it
too! My raw Gauls at Clausentum had never treated me so.
'Then, quietly as a cloud, Maximus rode out of the
fern (my Father behind him), and reined up across the
road. He wore the Purple, as though he were already
Emperor; his leggings were of white buckskin laced
with gold.
'My men dropped like - like partridges.
'He said nothing for some time, only looked, with his
eyes puckered. Then he crooked his forefinger, and my
men walked - crawled, I mean - to one side.
"'Stand in the sun, children," he said, and they
formed up on the hard road.
"'What would you have done," he said to me, "if I had
not been here?"
"'I should have killed that man," I answered.
"'Kill him now," he said. "He will not move a limb."
"'No," I said. "You've taken my men out of my
command. I should only be your butcher if I killed him
now." Do you see what I meant?' Parnesius turned to Dan.
'Yes,'said Dan. 'It wouldn't have been fair, somehow.'
'That was what I thought,' said Parnesius. 'But
Maximus frowned. "You'll never be an Emperor," he
said. "Not even a General will you be."
'I was silent, but my Father seemed pleased.
"'I came here to see the last of you," he said.
"'You have seen it," said Maximus. "I shall never need
your son any more. He will live and he will die an officer
of a Legion - and he might have been Prefect of one of my
Provinces. Now eat and drink with us," he said. "Your
men will wait till you have finished."
'My miserable thirty stood like wine-skins glistening in
the hot sun, and Maximus led us to where his people had
set a meal. Himself he mixed the wine.
"'A year from now," he said, "you will remember that
you have sat with the Emperor of Britain - and Gaul."
"'Yes," said the Pater, "you can drive two mules -
Gaul and Britain."
"'Five years hence you will remember that you have
drunk" - he passed me the cup and there was blue borage
in it - "with the Emperor of Rome!"
"'No; you can't drive three mules. They will tear YOU
in pieces," said my Father.
"'And you on the Wall, among the heather, will weep
because your notion of justice was more to you than the
favour of the Emperor of Rome."
'I sat quite still. One does not answer a General who
wears the Purple.
"'I am not angry with you," he went on; "I owe too
much to your Father -"
"'You owe me nothing but advice that you never
took," said the Pater.
"'- to be unjust to any of your family. Indeed, I say you
may make a good Tribune, but, so far as I am concerned,
on the Wall you will live, and on the Wall you will die,"
said Maximus.
"'Very like," said my Father. "But we shall have the
Picts and their friends breaking through before long.
You cannot move all troops out of Britain to make you
Emperor, and expect the North to sit quiet."
"'I follow my destiny," said Maximus.
"'Follow it, then," said my Father, pulling up a fern
root; "and die as Theodosius died."
"'Ah!" said Maximus. "My old General was killed
because he served the Empire too well. I may be killed,
but not for that reason," and he smiled a little pale grey
smile that made my blood run cold.
"'Then I had better follow my destiny," I said, "and
take my men to the Wall."
'He looked at me a long time, and bowed his head
slanting like a Spaniard. "Follow it, boy," he said. That
was all. I was only too glad to get away, though I had
many messages for home. I found my men standing as
they had been put - they had not even shifted their feet in
the dust, and off I marched, still feeling that terrific smile
like an east wind up my back. I never halted them till
sunset, and' - he turned about and looked at Pook's Hill
below him - 'then I halted yonder.' He pointed to the
broken, bracken-covered shoulder of the Forge Hill
behind old Hobden's cottage.
'There? Why, that's only the old Forge - where they
made iron once,' said Dan.
'Very good stuff it was too,' said Parnesius calmly. 'We
mended three shoulder-straps here and had a spear-head
riveted. The Forge was rented from the Government by a
one-eyed smith from Carthage. I remember we called
him Cyclops. He sold me a beaver-skin rug for my sister's room.'
'But it couldn't have been here,' Dan insisted.
'But it was! From the Altar of Victory at Anderida to the
First Forge in the Forest here is twelve miles seven
hundred paces. It is all in the Road Book. A man doesn't
forget his first march. I think I could tell you every station
between this and -! He leaned forward, but his eye was
caught by the setting sun.
It had come down to the top of Cherry Clack Hill, and
the light poured in between the tree trunks so that you
could see red and gold and black deep into the heart of
Far Wood; and Parnesius in his armour shone as though
he had been afire.
'Wait!' he said, lifting a hand, and the sunlight jinked
on his glass bracelet. 'Wait! I pray to Mithras!'
He rose and stretched his arms westward, with deep,
splendid-sounding words.
Then Puck began to sing too, in a voice like bells
tolling, and as he sang he slipped from Volaterrae to the
ground, and beckoned the children to follow. They
obeyed; it seemed as though the voices were pushing
them along; and through the goldy-brown light on the
beech leaves they walked, while Puck between them
chanted something like this:
'Cur mundus militat sub vana gloria
Cujus prosperitas est transitoria?
Tam cito labitur ejus potentia
Quam vasa figuli quae sunt fragilia.'
They found themselves at the little locked gates of the wood.
'Quo Caesar abiit celsus imperio?
Vel Dives splendidus totus in prandio?
Dic ubi Tullius -'
Still singing, he took Dan's hand and wheeled him
round to face Una as she came out of the gate. It shut
behind her, at the same time as Puck threw the memorymagicking
Oak, Ash and Thorn leaves over their heads.
'Well, you are jolly late,' said Una. 'Couldn't you get
away before?'
'I did,' said Dan. 'I got away in lots of time, but - but I
didn't know it was so late. Where've you been?'
'In Volaterrae - waiting for you.'
'Sorry,' said Dan. 'It was all that beastly Latin.'
A British-Roman Song
(A.D. 406)
My father's father saw it not,
And I, belike, shall never come
To look on that so-holy spot -
The very Rome -
Crowned by all Time, all Art, all Might,
The equal work of Gods and Man,
City beneath whose oldest height -
The Race began!
Soon to send forth again a brood,
Unshakeable, we pray, that clings
To Rome's thrice-hammered hardihood -
In arduous things.
Strong heart with triple armour bound,
Beat strongly, for Thy life-blood runs,
Age after Age, the Empire round -
In us Thy Sons,
Who, distant from the Seven Hills,
Loving and serving much, require
Thee - Thee to guard 'gainst home-born ills
The Imperial Fire!
'When I left Rome for Lalage's sake
By the Legions' Road to Rimini,
She vowed her heart was mine to take
With me and my shield to Rimini -
(Till the Eagles flew from Rimini!)
And I've tramped Britain, and I've tramped Gaul,
And the Pontic shore where the snow-flakes fall
As white as the neck of Lalage -
(As cold as the heart of Lalage!)
And I've lost Britain, and I've lost Gaul,'
(the voice seemed very cheerful about it),
'And I've lost Rome, and, worst of all,
I've lost Lalage!'
They were standing by the gate to Far Wood when they
heard this song. Without a word they hurried to their
private gap and wriggled through the hedge almost atop
of a jay that was feeding from Puck's hand.
'Gently!' said Puck. 'What are you looking for?'
'Parnesius, of course,' Dan answered. 'We've only just
remembered yesterday. It isn't fair.'
Puck chuckled as he rose. 'I'm sorry, but children who
spend the afternoon with me and a Roman Centurion
need a little settling dose of Magic before they go to tea
with their governess. Ohe, Parnesius!' he called.
'Here, Faun!' came the answer from Volaterrae. They
could see the shimmer of bronze armour in the beechcrotch,
and the friendly flash of the great shield uplifted.
'I have driven out the Britons.' Parnesius laughed like a
boy. 'I occupy their high forts. But Rome is merciful! You
may come up.'And up they three all scrambled.
'What was the song you were singing just now?' said
Una, as soon as she had settled herself.
'That? Oh, Rimini. It's one of the tunes that are always
being born somewhere in the Empire. They run like a
pestilence for six months or a year, till another one
pleases the Legions, and then they march to that.'
'Tell them about the marching, Parnesius. Few people
nowadays walk from end to end of this country,' said Puck.
'The greater their loss. I know nothing better than the
Long March when your feet are hardened. You begin
after the mists have risen, and you end, perhaps, an hour
after sundown.'
'And what do you have to eat?' Dan asked promptly.
'Fat bacon, beans, and bread, and whatever wine
happens to be in the rest-houses. But soldiers are born
grumblers. Their very first day out, my men complained
of our water-ground British corn. They said it wasn't so
filling as the rough stuff that is ground in the Roman
ox-mills. However, they had to fetch and eat it.'
'Fetch it? Where from?' said Una.
'From that newly invented water-mill below the Forge.'
'That's Forge Mill - our Mill!' Una looked at Puck.
'Yes; yours,' Puck put in. 'How old did you think it was?'
'I don't know. Didn't Sir Richard Dalyngridge talk
about it?'
'He did, and it was old in his day,' Puck answered.
'Hundreds of years old.'
'It was new in mine,' said Parnesius. 'My men looked
at the flour in their helmets as though it had been a nest of
adders. They did it to try my patience. But I - addressed
them, and we became friends. To tell the truth, they
taught me the Roman Step. You see, I'd only served with
quick-marching Auxiliaries. A Legion's pace is altogether
different. It is a long, slow stride, that never varies from
sunrise to sunset. "Rome's Race - Rome's Pace," as the
proverb says. Twenty-four miles in eight hours, neither
more nor less. Head and spear up, shield on your back,
cuirass-collar open one handsbreadth - and that's how
you take the Eagles through Britain.'
'And did you meet any adventures?' said Dan.
'There are no adventures South the Wall,' said
Parnesius. 'The worst thing that happened me was
having to appear before a magistrate up North, where a
wandering philosopher had jeered at the Eagles. I was
able to show that the old man had deliberately blocked
our road; and the magistrate told him, out of his own
Book, I believe, that, whatever his Gods might be, he
should pay proper respect to Caesar.'
'What did you do?' said Dan.
'Went on. Why should I care for such things, my
business being to reach my station? It took me twenty days.
'Of course, the farther North you go the emptier are the
roads. At last you fetch clear of the forests and climb bare
hills, where wolves howl in the ruins of our cities that
have been. No more pretty girls; no more jolly magistrates
who knew your Father when he was young, and
invite you to stay with them; no news at the temples and
way-stations except bad news of wild beasts. There's
where you meet hunters, and trappers for the Circuses,
prodding along chained bears and muzzled wolves. Your
pony shies at them, and your men laugh.
'The houses change from gardened villas to shut forts
with watch-towers of grey stone, and great stone-walled
sheepfolds, guarded by armed Britons of the North
Shore. In the naked hills beyond the naked houses,
where the shadows of the clouds play like cavalry charging,
you see puffs of black smoke from the mines. The
hard road goes on and on - and the wind sings through
your helmet-plume - past altars to Legions and Generals
forgotten, and broken statues of Gods and Heroes, and
thousands of graves where the mountain foxes and hares
peep at you. Red-hot in summer, freezing in winter, is
that big, purple heather country of broken stone.
'Just when you think you are at the world's end, you
see a smoke from East to West as far as the eye can turn,
and then, under it, also as far as the eye can stretch,
houses and temples, shops and theatres, barracks and
granaries, trickling along like dice behind - always behind
- one long, low, rising and falling, and hiding and
showing line of towers. And that is the Wall!'
'Ah!' said the children, taking breath.
'You may well,' said Parnesius. 'Old men who have
followed the Eagles since boyhood say nothing in the
Empire is more wonderful than first sight of the Wall!'
'Is it just a Wall? Like the one round the kitchengarden?'
said Dan.
'No, no! It is the Wall. Along the top are towers with
guard-houses, small towers, between. Even on the narrowest
part of it three men with shields can walk abreast,
from guard-house to guard-house. A little curtain wall,
no higher than a man's neck, runs along the top of the
thick wall, so that from a distance you see the helmets of
the sentries sliding back and forth like beads. Thirty feet
high is the Wall, and on the Picts' side, the North, is a
ditch, strewn with blades of old swords and spear-heads
set in wood, and tyres of wheels joined by chains. The
Little People come there to steal iron for their arrow-heads.
'But the Wall itself is not more wonderful than the
town behind it. Long ago there were great ramparts and
ditches on the South side, and no one was allowed to
build there. Now the ramparts are partly pulled down
and built over, from end to end of the Wall; making a thin
town eighty miles long. Think of it! One roaring, rioting,
cock-fighting, wolf-baiting, horse-racing town, from
Ituna on the West to Segedunum on the cold eastern
beach! On one side heather, woods and ruins where Picts
hide, and on the other, a vast town - long like a snake,
and wicked like a snake. Yes, a snake basking beside a
warm wall!
'My Cohort, I was told, lay at Hunno, where the Great
North Road runs through the Wall into the Province of
Valentia.'Parnesius laughed scornfully. 'The Province of
Valentia! We followed the road, therefore, into Hunno
town, and stood astonished. The place was a fair - a fair
of peoples from every corner of the Empire. Some were
racing horses: some sat in wine-shops: some watched
dogs baiting bears, and many gathered in a ditch to see
cocks fight. A boy not much older than myself, but I
could see he was an officer, reined up before me and
asked what I wanted.
"'My station," I said, and showed him my shield.'
Parnesius held up his broad shield with its three X's like
letters on a beer-cask.
"'Lucky omen!" said he. "Your Cohort's the next
tower to us, but they're all at the cock-fight. This is a
happy place. Come and wet the Eagles." He meant to
offer me a drink.
"'When I've handed over my men," I said. I felt angry
and ashamed.
"'Oh, you'll soon outgrow that sort of nonsense," he
answered. "But don't let me interfere with your hopes.
Go on to the Statue of Roma Dea. You can't miss it. The
main road into Valentia!" and he laughed and rode off. I
could see the statue not a quarter of a mile away, and
there I went. At some time or other the Great North Road
ran under it into Valentia; but the far end had been
blocked up because of the Picts, and on the plaster a man
had scratched, "Finish!" It was like marching into a cave.
We grounded spears together, my little thirty, and it
echoed in the barrel of the arch, but none came. There
was a door at one side painted with our number. We
prowled in, and I found a cook asleep, and ordered him
to give us food. Then I climbed to the top of the Wall, and
looked out over the Pict country, and I - thought,' said
Parnesius. 'The bricked-up arch with "Finish!" on the
plaster was what shook me, for I was not much more than a boy.'
'What a shame!'said Una. 'But did you feel happy after
you'd had a good -'Dan stopped her with a nudge.
'Happy?' said Parnesius. 'When the men of the Cohort
I was to command came back unhelmeted from the
cock-fight, their birds under their arms, and asked me
who I was? No, I was not happy; but I made my new
Cohort unhappy too ... I wrote my Mother I was happy,
but, oh, my friends'- he stretched arms over bare knees -
'I would not wish my worst enemy to suffer as I suffered
through my first months on the Wall. Remember this:
among the officers was scarcely one, except myself (and I
thought I had lost the favour of Maximus, my General),
scarcely one who had not done something of wrong or
folly. Either he had killed a man, or taken money, or
insulted the magistrates, or blasphemed the Gods, and
so had been sent to the Wall as a hiding-place from shame
or fear. And the men were as the officers. Remember,
also, that the Wall was manned by every breed and race
in the Empire. No two towers spoke the same tongue, or
worshipped the same Gods. In one thing only we were all
equal. No matter what arms we had used before we came
to the Wall, on the Wall we were all archers, like the
Scythians. The Pict cannot run away from the arrow, or
crawl under it. He is a bowman himself. He knows!'
'I suppose you were fighting Picts all the time,' said Dan.
'Picts seldom fight. I never saw a fighting Pict for half a
year. The tame Picts told us they had all gone North.'
'What is a tame Pict?' said Dan.
'A Pict - there were many such - who speaks a few
words of our tongue, and slips across the Wall to sell
ponies and wolf-hounds. Without a horse and a dog, and
a friend, man would perish. The Gods gave me all three,
and there is no gift like friendship. Remember this' -
Parnesius turned to Dan -'when you become a young
man. For your fate will turn on the first true friend you make.'
'He means,' said Puck, grinning, 'that if you try to
make yourself a decent chap when you're young, you'll
make rather decent friends when you grow up. If you're a
beast, you'll have beastly friends. Listen to the Pious
Parnesius on Friendship!'
'I am not pious,'Parnesius answered, 'but I know what
goodness means; and my friend, though he was without
hope, was ten thousand times better than I. Stop
laughing, Faun!'
'Oh, Youth Eternal and All-believing,' cried Puck, as
he rocked on the branch above. 'Tell them about your Pertinax.'
'He was that friend the Gods sent me - the boy who
spoke to me when I first came. Little older than myself,
commanding the Augusta Victoria Cohort on the tower
next to us and the Numidians. In virtue he was far my superior.'
'Then why was he on the Wall?' Una asked, quickly.
'They'd all done something bad. You said so yourself.'
'He was the nephew, his father had died, of a great rich
man in Gaul who was not always kind to his mother.
When Pertinax grew up, he discovered this, and so his
uncle shipped him off, by trickery and force, to the Wall.
We came to know each other at a ceremony in our Temple
in the dark. It was the Bull-Killing,'Parnesius explained to Puck.
'I see, said Puck, and turned to the children. 'That's
something you wouldn't quite understand. Parnesius
means he met Pertinax in church.'
'Yes - in the Cave we first met, and we were both raised
to the Degree of Gryphons together.' Parnesius lifted his
hand towards his neck for an instant. 'He had been on the
Wall two years, and knew the Picts well. He taught me
first how to take Heather.'
'What's that?' said Dan.
'Going out hunting in the Pict country with a tame Pict.
You are quite safe so long as you are his guest, and wear a
sprig of heather where it can be seen. If you went alone
you would surely be killed, if you were not smothered
first in the bogs. Only the Picts know their way about
those black and hidden bogs. Old Allo, the one-eyed,
withered little Pict from whom we bought our ponies,
was our special friend. At first we went only to escape
from the terrible town, and to talk together about our
homes. Then he showed us how to hunt wolves and
those great red deer with horns like Jewish candlesticks.
The Roman-born officers rather looked down on us for
doing this, but we preferred the heather to their amusements.
Believe me,' Parnesius turned again to Dan, 'a
boy is safe from all things that really harm when he is
astride a pony or after a deer. Do you remember,
O Faun,' - he turned to Puck - 'the little altar I built
to the Sylvan Pan by the pine-forest beyond the brook?'
'Which? The stone one with the line from Xenophon?'
said Puck, in quite a new voice.
'No! What do I know of Xenophon? That was Pertinax -
after he had shot his first mountain-hare with an arrow -
by chance! Mine I made of round pebbles, in memory
of my first bear. It took me one happy day to build.'
Parnesius faced the children quickly.
'And that was how we lived on the Wall for two years -
a little scuffling with the Picts, and a great deal of hunting
with old Allo in the Pict country. He called us his children
sometimes, and we were fond of him and his barbarians,
though we never let them paint us Pict-fashion. The
marks endure till you die.'
'How's it done?' said Dan. 'Anything like tattooing?'
'They prick the skin till the blood runs, and rub in
coloured juices. Allo was painted blue, green, and red
from his forehead to his ankles. He said it was part of his
religion. He told us about his religion (Pertinax was
always interested in such things), and as we came to
know him well, he told us what was happening in Britain
behind the Wall. Many things took place behind us in
those days. And by the Light of the Sun,' said Parnesius,
earnestly, 'there was not much that those little people did
not know! He told me when Maximus crossed over to
Gaul, after he had made himself Emperor of Britain, and
what troops and emigrants he had taken with him. We
did not get the news on the Wall till fifteen days later. He
told me what troops Maximus was taking out of Britain
every month to help him to conquer Gaul; and I always
found the numbers were as he said. Wonderful! And I tell
another strange thing!'
He joined his hands across his knees, and leaned his
head on the curve of the shield behind him.
'Late in the summer, when the first frosts begin and the
Picts kill their bees, we three rode out after wolf with
some new hounds. Rutilianus, our General, had given us
ten days' leave, and we had pushed beyond the Second
Wall - beyond the Province of Valentia - into the higher
hills, where there are not even any of old Rome's ruins.
We killed a she-wolf before noon, and while Allo was
skinning her he looked up and said to me, "When you are
Captain of the Wall, my child, you won't be able to do this
any more!"
'I might as well have been made Prefect of Lower Gaul,
so I laughed and said, "Wait till I am Captain."
"'No, don't wait," said Allo. "Take my advice and go home -
both of you."
"'We have no homes," said Pertinax. "You
know that as well as we do . We're finished men - thumbs
down against both of us. Only men without hope would
risk their necks on your ponies."
The old man laughed one of those short Pict laughs - like
a fox barking on a frosty night. "I'm fond of you two," he said.
"Besides, I've taught you what little you know about hunting. Take
my advice and go home."
"'We can't," I said. "I'm out of favour with my
General, for one thing; and for another, Pertinax has an uncle."
"'I don't know about his uncle," said Allo, "but the
trouble with you, Parnesius, is that your General thinks
well of you."
"'Roma Dea!" said Pertinax, sitting up. "What can you
guess what Maximus thinks, you old horse-coper?"
'Just then (you know how near the brutes creep when
one is eating?) a great dog-wolf jumped out behind us,
and away our rested hounds tore after him, with us at
their tails. He ran us far out of any country we'd ever
heard of, straight as an arrow till sunset, towards the
sunset. We came at last to long capes stretching into
winding waters, and on a grey beach below us we saw
ships drawn up. Forty-seven we counted - not Roman
galleys but the raven-winged ships from the North where
Rome does not rule. Men moved in the ships, and the sun
flashed on their helmets - winged helmets of the red-haired
men from the North where Rome does not rule. We watched, and we
counted, and we wondered, for though we had heard rumours
concerning these Winged Hats, as the Picts called them, never
before had we looked upon them.
"'Come away! come away!" said Allo. "My Heather
won't protect you here. We shall all be killed!" His legs
trembled like his voice. Back we went - back across the
heather under the moon, till it was nearly morning, and
our poor beasts stumbled on some ruins.
'When we woke, very stiff and cold, Allo was mixing
the meal and water. One does not light fires in the Pict
country except near a village. The little men are always
signalling to each other with smokes, and a strange
smoke brings them out buzzing like bees. They can sting, too!
"'What we saw last night was a trading-station," said
Allo. "Nothing but a trading-station. "
"'I do not like lies on an empty stomach," said
Pertinax. "I suppose" (he had eyes like an eagle's) - "I
suppose that is a trading-station also?" He pointed to a
smoke far off on a hill-top, ascending in what we call the
Picts' Call: - Puff - double-puff: double-puff - puff! They
make it by raising and dropping a wet hide on a fire.
"'No," said Allo, pushing the platter back into the bag.
"That is for you and me. Your fate is fixed. Come."
'We came. When one takes Heather, one must obey
one's Pict - but that wretched smoke was twenty miles
distant, well over on the East coast, and the day was as
hot as a bath.
"'Whatever happens," said Allo, while our ponies
grunted along, "I want you to remember me."
"'I shall not forget," said Pertinax. "You have cheated
me out of my breakfast."
"What is a handful of crushed oats to a Roman?" he
said. Then he laughed his laugh that was not a laugh.
"What would you do if you were a handful of oats being
crushed between the upper and lower stones of a mill?"
"'I'm Pertinax, not a riddle-guesser," said Pertinax.
"'You're a fool," said Allo. "Your Gods and my Gods
are threatened by strange Gods, and all you can do is to laugh."
"'Threatened men live long," I said.
"'I pray the Gods that may be true," he said. "But I ask
you again not to forget me."
'We climbed the last hot hill and looked out on the
eastern sea, three or four miles off. There was a small
sailing-galley of the North Gaul pattern at anchor, her
landing-plank down and her sail half up; and below us,
alone in a hollow, holding his pony, sat Maximus,
Emperor of Britain! He was dressed like a hunter, and he
leaned on his little stick; but I knew that back as far as I
could see it, and I told Pertinax.
"'You're madder than Allo!" he said. "It must be the sun!"
'Maximus never stirred till we stood before him. Then
he looked me up and down, and said: "Hungry again? It
seems to be my destiny to feed you whenever we meet. I
have food here. Allo shall cook it."
"'No," said Allo. "A Prince in his own land does not
wait on wandering Emperors. I feed my two children
without asking your leave." He began to blow up the ashes.
"'I was wrong," said Pertinax. "We are all mad. Speak
up, O Madman called Emperor!"
'Maximus smiled his terrible tight-lipped smile, but
two years on the Wall do not make a man afraid of mere
looks. So I was not afraid.
"'I meant you, Parnesius, to live and die a Centurion of
the Wall," said Maximus. "But it seems from these," - he
fumbled in his breast - "you can think as well as draw."
He pulled out a roll of letters I had written to my people,
full of drawings of Picts, and bears, and men I had met on
the Wall. Mother and my sister always liked my pictures.
'He handed me one that I had called "Maximus's
Soldiers". It showed a row of fat wine-skins, and our old
Doctor of the Hunno hospital snuffing at them. Each time
that Maximus had taken troops out of Britain to help him
to conquer Gaul, he used to send the garrisons more wine
- to keep them quiet, I suppose. On the Wall, we always
called a wine-skin a "Maximus". Oh, yes; and I had
drawn them in Imperial helmets.
"'Not long since," he went on, "men's names were
sent up to Caesar for smaller jokes than this."
"'True, Caesar," said Pertinax; "but you forget that
was before I, your friend's friend, became such a
good spear-thrower."
'He did not actually point his hunting-spear at
Maximus, but balanced it on his palm - so!
"'I was speaking of time past," said Maximus, never
fluttering an eyelid. "Nowadays one is only too pleased
to find boys who can think for themselves, and their
friends." He nodded at Pertinax. "Your Father lent me
the letters, Parnesius, so you run no risk from me."
"'None whatever," said Pertinax, and rubbed the
spear-point on his sleeve.
"'I have been forced to reduce the garrisons in Britain,
because I need troops in Gaul. Now I come to take troops
from the Wall itself," said he.
"'I wish you joy of us," said Pertinax. "We're the last
sweepings of the Empire - the men without hope.
Myself, I'd sooner trust condemned criminals."
"'You think so?" he said, quite seriously. "But it will
only be till I win Gaul. One must always risk one's life, or
one's soul, or one's peace - or some little thing."
'Allo passed round the fire with the sizzling deer's
meat. He served us two first.
"'Ah!" said Maximus, waiting his turn. "I perceive
you are in your own country. Well, you deserve it. They
tell me you have quite a following among the Picts, Parnesius."
"'I have hunted with them," I said. "Maybe I have a
few friends among the heather."
"'He is the only armoured man of you all who understands
us," said Allo, and he began a long speech about
our virtues, and how we had saved one of his grandchildren
from a wolf the year before.'
'Had you?' said Una.
'Yes; but that was neither here nor there. The little
green man orated like a - like Cicero. He made us out to
be magnificent fellows. Maximus never took his eyes off
our faces.
"'Enough," he said. "I have heard Allo on you. I wish
to hear you on the Picts."
'I told him as much as I knew, and Pertinax helped me
out. There is never harm in a Pict if you but take the
trouble to find out what he wants. Their real grievance
against us came from our burning their heather. The
whole garrison of the Wall moved out twice a year, and
solemnly burned the heather for ten miles North.
Rutilianus, our General, called it clearing the country.
The Picts, of course, scampered away, and all we did was
to destroy their bee-bloom in the summer, and ruin their
sheep-food in the spring.
"'True, quite true," said Allo. "How can we make our
holy heather-wine, if you burn our bee-pasture?"
'We talked long, Maximus asking keen questions that
showed he knew much and had thought more about the
Picts. He said presently to me: "If I gave you the old
Province of Valentia to govern, could you keep the Picts
contented till I won Gaul? Stand away, so that you do not
see Allo's face; and speak your own thoughts."
"'No," I said. "You cannot remake that Province. The
Picts have been free too long."
"'Leave them their village councils, and let them
furnish their own soldiers," he said. "You, I am sure,
would hold the reins very lightly."
"Even then, no," I said. "At least not now. They have
been too oppressed by us to trust anything with a Roman
name for years and years."
'I heard old Allo behind me mutter: "Good child!"
"'Then what do you recommend," said Maximus, "to
keep the North quiet till I win Gaul?"
"'Leave the Picts alone," I said. "Stop the heatherburning
at once, and - they are improvident little animals -
send them a shipload or two of corn now and then."
"'Their own men must distribute it - not some
cheating Greek accountant," said Pertinax.
"'Yes, and allow them to come to our hospitals when
they are sick," I said.
"'Surely they would die first," said Maximus.
"'Not if Parnesius brought them in," said Allo. "I
could show you twenty wolf-bitten, bear-clawed Picts
within twenty miles of here. But Parnesius must stay
with them in hospital, else they would go mad with fear. "
"'I see," said Maximus. "Like everything else in the
world, it is one man's work. You, I think, are that one man."
"'Pertinax and I are one," I said.
"'As you please, so long as you work. Now, Allo, you
know that I mean your people no harm. Leave us to talk
together," said Maximus.
"'No need!" said Allo. "I am the corn between the
upper and lower millstones. I must know what the lower
millstone means to do. These boys have spoken the truth
as far as they know it. I, a Prince, will tell you the rest. I
am troubled about the Men of the North." He squatted
like a hare in the heather, and looked over his shoulder.
"'I also," said Maximus, "or I should not be here."
"'Listen," said Allo. "Long and long ago the Winged
Hats" - he meant the Northmen - "came to our beaches
and said, 'Rome falls! Push her down!' We fought you.
You sent men. We were beaten. After that we said to the
Winged Hats, 'You are liars! Make our men alive that
Rome killed, and we will believe you.' They went away
ashamed. Now they come back bold, and they tell the old
tale, which we begin to believe - that Rome falls!"
"'Give me three years' peace on the Wall," cried
Maximus, "and I will show you and all the ravens how
they lie!"
"'Ah, I wish it too! I wish to save what is left of the corn
from the millstones. But you shoot us Picts when we
come to borrow a little iron from the Iron Ditch; you burn
our heather, which is all our crop; you trouble us with
your great catapults. Then you hide behind the Wall, and
scorch us with Greek fire. How can I keep my young men
from listening to the Winged Hats - in winter especially,
when we are hungry? My young men will say, 'Rome can
neither fight nor rule. She is taking her men out of
Britain. The Winged Hats will help us to push down the
Wall. Let us show them the secret roads across the bogs.'
Do I want that? No!" He spat like an adder. "I would keep
the secrets of my people though I were burned alive. My
two children here have spoken truth. Leave us Picts
alone. Comfort us, and cherish us, and feed us from far
off - with the hand behind the back. Parnesius understands
us. Let him have rule on the Wall, and I will hold
my young men quiet for" - he ticked it off on his fingers -
"one year easily: the next year not so easily: the third
year, perhaps! See, I give you three years. If then you do
not show us that Rome is strong in men and terrible in
arms, the Winged Hats, I tell you, will sweep down the
Wall from either sea till they meet in the middle, and you
will go. I shall not grieve over that, but well I know tribe
never helps tribe except for one price. We Picts will go
too. The Winged Hats will grind us to this!" He tossed a
handful of dust in the air.
"'Oh, Roma Dea!" said Maximus, half aloud. "It is
always one man's work- always and everywhere!"
"And one man's life," said Allo. "You are Emperor,
but not a God. You may die."
"'I have thought of that too," said he. "Very good. If
this wind holds, I shall be at the East end of the Wall by
morning. Tomorrow, then, I shall see you two when I
inspect, and I will make you Captains of the Wall for this work."
"'One instant, Caesar," said Pertinax. "All men have
their price. I am not bought yet."
"'Do you also begin to bargain so early?" said
Maximus. "Well?"
"'Give me justice against my uncle Icenus, the
Duumvir of Divio in Gaul," he said.
"'Only a life? I thought it would be money or an office.
Certainly you shall have him. Write his name on these
tablets - on the red side; the other is for the living!" and
Maximus held out his tablets.
"'He is of no use to me dead," said Pertinax. "My
mother is a widow. I am far off. I am not sure he pays her
all her dowry."
"'No matter. My arm is reasonably long. We will look
through your uncle's accounts in due time. Now,
farewell till tomorrow, O Captains of the Wall!"
'We saw him grow small across the heather as he
walked to the galley. There were Picts, scores, each side
of him, hidden behind stones. He never looked left or
right. He sailed away southerly, full spread before the
evening breeze, and when we had watched him out to
sea, we were silent. We understood that Earth bred few
men like to this man.
'Presently Allo brought the ponies and held them for
us to mount - a thing he had never done before.
"'Wait awhile," said Pertinax, and he made a little altar
of cut turf, and strewed heather-bloom atop, and laid
upon it a letter from a girl in Gaul.
"'What do you do, O my friend?" I said.
"'I sacrifice to my dead youth," he answered, and,
when the flames had consumed the letter, he ground
them out with his heel. Then we rode back to that Wall of
which we were to be Captains.'
Parnesius stopped. The children sat still, not even
asking if that were all the tale. Puck beckoned, and
pointed the way out of the wood. 'Sorry,' he whispered,
'but you must go now.'
'We haven't made him angry, have we?' said Una. 'He
looks so far off, and - and - thinky.'
'Bless your heart, no. Wait till tomorrow. It won't be
long. Remember, you've been playing Lays of Ancient Rome.'
And as soon as they had scrambled through their gap
where Oak, Ash and Thorn grew, that was all they remembered.
A Song to Mithras
Mithras, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall!
'Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all!'
Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,
Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day!
Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat,
Our helmets scorch our foreheads, our sandals burn our feet.
Now in the ungirt hour, now ere we blink and drowse,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us true to our vows!
Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main,
Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again!
Now when the watch is ended, now when the wine is drawn,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn!
Mithras, God of the Midnight, here where the great bull dies,
Look on Thy children in darkness. Oh, take our sacrifice!
Many roads Thou hast fashioned: all of them lead to the Light!
Mithras, also a soldier, teach us to die aright!
The next day happened to be what they called a Wild
Afternoon. Father and Mother went out to pay calls; Miss
Blake went for a ride on her bicycle, and they were left all
alone till eight o'clock.
When they had seen their dear parents and their dear
preceptress politely off the premises they got a cabbageleaf
full of raspberries from the gardener, and a Wild Tea
from Ellen. They ate the raspberries to prevent their
squashing, and they meant to divide the cabbage-leaf
with Three Cows down at the Theatre, but they came
across a dead hedgehog which they simply had to bury,
and the leaf was too useful to waste.
Then they went on to the Forge and found old Hobden
the hedger at home with his son, the Bee Boy, who is not
quite right in his head, but who can pick up swarms of
bees in his naked hands; and the Bee Boy told them the
rhyme about the slow-worm:
'If I had eyes as I could see,
No mortal man would trouble me.'
They all had tea together by the hives, and Hobden
said the loaf-cake which Ellen had given them was almost
as good as what his wife used to make, and he showed
them how to set a wire at the right height for hares. They
knew about rabbits already.
Then they climbed up Long Ditch into the lower end of
Far Wood. This is sadder and darker than the Volaterrae
end because of an old marl-pit full of black water, where
weepy, hairy moss hangs round the stumps of the
willows and alders. But the birds come to perch on the
dead branches, and Hobden says that the bitter willowwater
is a sort of medicine for sick animals.
They sat down on a felled oak-trunk in the shadows of
the beech undergrowth, and were looping the wires
Hobden had given them, when they saw Parnesius.
'How quietly you came!'said Una, moving up to make
room. 'Where's Puck?'
'The Faun and I have disputed whether it is better that I
should tell you all my tale, or leave it untold,' he replied.
'I only said that if he told it as it happened you
wouldn't understand it,' said Puck, jumping up like a
squirrel from behind the log.
'I don't understand all of it,' said Una, 'but I like
hearing about the little Picts.'
'What I can't understand,' said Dan, 'is how Maximus
knew all about the Picts when he was over in Gaul.'
'He who makes himself Emperor anywhere must
know everything, everywhere,' said Parnesius. 'We had
this much from Maximus's mouth after the Games.'
'Games? What Games?' said Dan.
Parnesius stretched his arm out stiffly, thumb pointed
to the ground. 'Gladiators! That sort of game,' he said.
'There were two days' Games in his honour when he
landed all unexpected at Segedunum on the East end of
the Wall. Yes, the day after we had met him we held two
days' Games; but I think the greatest risk was run, not by
the poor wretches on the sand, but by Maximus. In the
old days the Legions kept silence before their Emperor.
So did not we! You could hear the solid roar run West
along the Wall as his chair was carried rocking through
the crowds. The garrison beat round him - clamouring,
clowning, asking for pay, for change of quarters, for
anything that came into their wild heads. That chair was
like a little boat among waves, dipping and falling,
but always rising again after one had shut the eyes.'
Parnesius shivered.
'Were they angry with him?' said Dan.
'No more angry than wolves in a cage when their
trainer walks among them. If he had turned his back an
instant, or for an instant had ceased to hold their eyes,
there would have been another Emperor made on the
Wall that hour. Was it not so, Faun?'
'So it was. So it always will be,' said Puck.
'Late in the evening his messenger came for us, and we
followed to the Temple of Victory, where he lodged with
Rutilianus, the General of the Wall. I had hardly seen the
General before, but he always gave me leave when I
wished to take Heather. He was a great glutton, and kept
five Asian cooks, and he came of a family that believed in
oracles. We could smell his good dinner when we
entered, but the tables were empty. He lay snorting on a
couch. Maximus sat apart among long rolls of accounts.
Then the doors were shut.
"'These are your men," said Maximus to the General,
who propped his eye-corners open with his gouty
fingers, and stared at us like a fish.
"'I shall know them again, Caesar," said Rutilianus.
"Very good," said Maximus. "Now hear! You are not
to move man or shield on the Wall except as these boys
shall tell you. You will do nothing, except eat, without
their permission. They are the head and arms. You are
the belly!"
"'As Caesar pleases," the old man grunted. "If my pay
and profits are not cut, you may make my Ancestors'
Oracle my master. Rome has been! Rome has been!"
Then he turned on his side to sleep.
"'He has it," said Maximus. "We will get to what I need."
'He unrolled full copies of the number of men and
supplies on the Wall - down to the sick that very day in
Hunno Hospital. Oh, but I groaned when his pen
marked off detachment after detachment of our best - of
our least worthless men! He took two towers of our
Scythians, two of our North British auxiliaries, two
Numidian cohorts, the Dacians all, and half the Belgians.
It was like an eagle pecking a carcass.
"'And now, how many catapults have you?" He
turned up a new list, but Pertinax laid his open hand there.
"'No, Caesar," said he. "Do not tempt the Gods too
far. Take men, or engines, but not both; else we refuse."'
'Engines?' said Una.
'The catapults of the Wall - huge things forty feet high
to the head - firing nets of raw stone or forged bolts.
Nothing can stand against them. He left us our catapults
at last, but he took a Caesar's half of our men
without pity. We were a shell when he rolled up the lists!
"'Hail, Caesar! We, about to die, salute you!" said
Pertinax, laughing. "If any enemy even leans against the
Wall now, it will tumble."
"'Give me the three years Allo spoke of," he
answered, "and you shall have twenty thousand men of
your own choosing up here. But now it is a gamble - a
game played against the Gods, and the stakes are Britain,
Gaul, and perhaps Rome. You play on my side?"
"'We will play, Caesar," I said, for I had never met a
man like this man.
",Good. Tomorrow," said he, "I proclaim you
Captains of the Wall before the troops."
'So we went into the moonlight, where they were
cleaning the ground after the Games. We saw great Roma
Dea atop of the Wall, the frost on her helmet, and her
spear pointed towards the North Star. We saw the
twinkle of night-fires all along the guard-towers, and the
line of the black catapults growing smaller and smaller in
the distance. All these things we knew till we were
weary; but that night they seemed very strange to us,
because the next day we knew we were to be their masters.
'The men took the news well; but when Maximus went
away with half our strength, and we had to spread
ourselves into the emptied towers, and the townspeople
complained that trade would be ruined, and the autumn
gales blew - it was dark days for us two. Here Pertinax
was more than my right hand. Being born and bred
among the great country houses in Gaul, he knew the
proper words to address to all - from Roman-born
Centurions to those dogs of the Third - the Libyans.
And he spoke to each as though that man were as
high-minded as himself. Now I saw so strongly what
things were needed to be done, that I forgot things
are only accomplished by means of men. That was a mistake.
'I feared nothing from the Picts, at least for that year,
but Allo warned me that the Winged Hats would soon
come in from the sea at each end of the Wall to prove to
the Picts how weak we were. So I made ready in haste,
and none too soon. I shifted our best men to the ends of
the Wall, and set up screened catapults by the beach. The
Winged Hats would drive in before the snow-squalls -
ten or twenty boats at a time - on Segedunum or Ituna,
according as the wind blew.
'Now a ship coming in to land men must furl her sail. If
you wait till you see her men gather up the sail's foot,
your catapults can jerk a net of loose stones (bolts only cut
through the cloth) into the bag of it. Then she turns over,
and the sea makes everything clean again. A few men
may come ashore, but very few ... It was not hard work,
except the waiting on the beach in blowing sand and
snow. And that was how we dealt with the Winged Hats
that winter.
'Early in the spring, when the East winds blow like
skinning-knives, they gathered again off Segedunum
with many ships. Allo told me they would never rest till
they had taken a tower in open fight. Certainly they
fought in the open. We dealt with them thoroughly
through a long day: and when all was finished, one man
dived clear of the wreckage of his ship, and swam
towards shore. I waited, and a wave tumbled him at my feet.
'As I stooped, I saw he wore such a medal as I wear.'
Parnesius raised his hand to his neck. 'Therefore, when
he could speak, I addressed him a certain Question
which can only be answered in a certain manner. He
answered with the necessary Word - the Word that
belongs to the Degree of Gryphons in the science of
Mithras my God. I put my shield over him till he could
stand up. You see I am not short, but he was a head taller
than I. He said: "What now?" I said: "At your pleasure,
my brother, to stay or go."
'He looked out across the surf. There remained one
ship unhurt, beyond range of our catapults . I checked the
catapults and he waved her in. She came as a hound
comes to a master. When she was yet a hundred paces
from the beach, he flung back his hair, and swam out.
They hauled him in, and went away. I knew that those
who worship Mithras are many and of all races, so I did
not think much more upon the matter.
'A month later I saw Allo with his horses - by the
Temple of Pan, O Faun - and he gave me a great necklace
of gold studded with coral.
'At first I thought it was a bribe from some tradesman
in the town - meant for old Rutilianus. "Nay," said Allo.
"This is a gift from Amal, that Winged Hat whom you
saved on the beach. He says you are a Man."
"'He is a Man, too. Tell him I can wear his gift," I answered.
"'Oh, Amal is a young fool; but ' speaking as sensible
men, your Emperor is doing such great things in Gaul
that the Winged Hats are anxious to be his friends, or,
better still, the friends of his servants. They think you
and Pertinax could lead them to victories." Allo looked at
me like a one-eyed raven.
"'Allo," I said, "you are the corn between the two
millstones. Be content if they grind evenly, and don't
thrust your hand between them."
"'I?" said Allo. "I hate Rome and the Winged Hats
equally; but if the Winged Hats thought that some day
you and Pertinax might join them against Maximus, they
would leave you in peace while you considered. Time is
what we need - you and I and Maximus. Let me carry a
pleasant message back to the Winged Hats - something
for them to make a council over. We barbarians are all
alike. We sit up half the night to discuss anything a
Roman says. Eh?"
"'We have no men. We must fight with words," said
Pertinax. "Leave it to Allo and me."
'So Allo carried word back to the Winged Hats that we
would not fight them if they did not fight us; and they (I
think they were a little tired of losing men in the sea)
agreed to a sort of truce. I believe Allo, who being a
horse-dealer loved lies, also told them we might some
day rise against Maximus as Maximus had risen against Rome.
'Indeed, they permitted the corn-ships which I sent to
the Picts to pass North that season without harm. Therefore
the Picts were well fed that winter, and since they
were in some sort my children, I was glad of it. We had
only two thousand men on the Wall, and I wrote many
times to Maximus and begged - prayed - him to send me
only one cohort of my old North British troops. He could
not spare them. He needed them to win more victories in Gaul.
'Then came news that he had defeated and slain the
Emperor Gratian, and thinking he must now be secure, I
wrote again for men. He answered: "You will learn that I
have at last settled accounts with the pup Gratian. There was no
need that he should have died, but he became confused and lost
his head, which is a bad thing to befall any Emperor. Tell your
Father I am content to drive two mules only; for unless my old
General's son thinks himself destined to destroy me, I shall rest
Emperor of Gaul and Britain, and then you, my two children,
will presently get all the men you need. just now I can spare none. "'
'What did he mean by his General's son?' said Dan.
'He meant Theodosius Emperor of Rome, who was the
son of Theodosius the General under whom Maximus
had fought in the old Pict War. The two men never loved
each other, and when Gratian made the younger
Theodosius Emperor of the East (at least, so I've heard),
Maximus carried on the war to the second generation. It
was his fate, and it was his fall. But Theodosius the
Emperor is a good man. As I know.' Parnesius was silent
for a moment and then continued.
'I wrote back to Maximus that, though we had peace on
the Wall, I should be happier with a few more men and
some new catapults. He answered: "You must live a little
longer under the shadow of my victories, till I can see what
young Theodosius intends. He may welcome me as a brother-
Emperor, or he may be preparing an army. In either case I
cannot spare men just now. "
'But he was always saying that,' cried Una.
'It was true. He did not make excuses; but thanks, as he
said, to the news of his victories, we had no trouble on
the Wall for a long, long time. The Picts grew fat as their
own sheep among the heather, and as many of my men
as lived were well exercised in their weapons. Yes, the
Wall looked strong. For myself, I knew how weak we
were. I knew that if even a false rumour of any defeat to
Maximus broke loose among the Winged Hats, they
might come down in earnest, and then - the Wall must
go! For the Picts I never cared, but in those years I learned
something of the strength of the Winged Hats. They
increased their strength every day, but I could not increase
my men. Maximus had emptied Britain behind us,
and I felt myself to be a man with a rotten stick standing
before a broken fence to turn bulls.
'Thus, my friends, we lived on the Wall, waiting -
waiting - waiting for the men that Maximus never sent.
'Presently he wrote that he was preparing an army
against Theodosius. He wrote - and Pertinax read it over
my shoulder in our quarters: "Tell your Father that my
destiny orders me to drive three mules or be torn in pieces by
them. I hope within a year to finish with Theodosius, son of
Theodosius, once and for all. Then you shall have Britain to
rule, and Pertinax, if he chooses, Gaul. Today I wish strongly
you were with me to beat my Auxiliaries into shape. Do not, I
pray you, believe any rumour of my sickness. I have a little
evil in my old body which I shall cure by riding swiftly into Rome. "
'Said Pertinax: "It is finished with Maximus. He writes
as a man without hope. I, a man without hope, can see
this. What does he add at the bottom of the roll? 'Tell
Pertinax I have met his late Uncle, the Duumvir of Divio, and
that he accounted to me quite truthfully for all his Mother's
monies. I have sent her with a fitting escort, for she is the mother
of a hero, to Nicaea, where the climate is warm.'
"'That is proof," said Pertinax. "Nicaea is not far by sea
from Rome. A woman there could take ship and fly to
Rome in time of war. Yes, Maximus foresees his death,
and is fulfilling his promises one by one. But I am glad my
uncle met him."'
"'You think blackly today?" I asked.
"'I think truth. The Gods weary of the play we have
played against them. Theodosius will destroy Maximus.
It is finished!"
"'Will you write him that?" I said.
"'See what I shall write," he answered, and he took
pen and wrote a letter cheerful as the light of day, tender
as a woman's and full of jests. Even I, reading over his
shoulder, took comfort from it till - I saw his face!
"'And now," he said, sealing it, "we be two dead men,
my brother. Let us go to the Temple."
'We prayed awhile to Mithras, where we had many
times prayed before. After that, we lived day by day
among evil rumours till winter came again.
'It happened one morning that we rode to the East
shore, and found on the beach a fair-haired man, half
frozen, bound to some broken planks. Turning him over,
we saw by his belt-buckle that he was a Goth of an
Eastern Legion. Suddenly he opened his eyes and cried
loudly, "He is dead! The letters were with me, but the
Winged Hats sank the ship." So saying, he died between
our hands.
'We asked not who was dead. We knew! We raced
before the driving snow to Hunno, thinking perhaps Allo
might be there. We found him already at our stables, and
he saw by our faces what we had heard.
"'It was in a tent by the sea," he stammered. "He was
beheaded by Theodosius. He sent a letter to you, written
while he waited to be slain. The Winged Hats met the
ship and took it. The news is running through the
heather like fire. Blame me not! I cannot hold back my
young men any more."
"'I would we could say as much for our men," said
Pertinax, laughing. "But, Gods be praised, they cannot
run away."
"'What do you do?" said Allo. "I bring an order - a
message - from the Winged Hats that you join them with
your men, and march South to plunder Britain."
"'It grieves me," said Pertinax, "but we are stationed
here to stop that thing."
"'If I carry back such an answer they will kill me," said
Allo. "I always promised the Winged Hats that you
would rise when Maximus fell. I - I did not think he could fall."
"'Alas! my poor barbarian," said Pertinax, still
laughing. "Well, you have sold us too many good ponies
to be thrown back to your friends. We will make you a
prisoner, although you are an ambassador."
"'Yes, that will be best," said Allo, holding out a
halter. We bound him lightly, for he was an old man.
"'Presently the Winged Hats may come to look for
you, and that will give us more time. See how the habit of
playing for time sticks to a man!" said Pertinax, as he tied
the rope.
"'No," I said. "Time may help. If Maximus wrote us a
letter while he was a prisoner, Theodosius must have
sent the ship that brought it. If he can send ships, he can
send men."
"'How will that profit us?" said Pertinax. "We serve
Maximus, not Theodosius. Even if by some miracle of the
Gods Theodosius down South sent and saved the Wall,
we could not expect more than the death Maximus died. "
"'It concerns us to defend the Wall, no matter what
Emperor dies, or makes die," I said.
"'That is worthy of your brother the philosopher,"
said Pertinax. "Myself I am without hope, so I do not say
solemn and stupid things! Rouse the Wall!"
'We armed the Wall from end to end; we told the
officers that there was a rumour of Maximus's death
which might bring down the Winged Hats, but we were
sure, even if it were true, that Theodosius, for the sake of
Britain, would send us help. Therefore, we must stand
fast ... My friends, it is above all things strange to see
how men bear ill news! Often the strongest till then
become the weakest, while the weakest, as it were, reach
up and steal strength from the Gods. So it was with us.
Yet my Pertinax by his jests and his courtesy and
his labours had put heart and training into our poor
numbers during the past years - more than I should have
thought possible. Even our Libyan Cohort - the
Third - stood up in their padded cuirasses and did not whimper.
'In three days came seven chiefs and elders of the
Winged Hats. Among them was that tall young man,
Amal, whom I had met on the beach, and he smiled when
he saw my necklace. We made them welcome, for they
were ambassadors. We showed them Allo, alive but
bound. They thought we had killed him, and I saw it
would not have vexed them if we had. Allo saw it too,
and it vexed him. Then in our quarters at Hunno we came
to council.
'They said that Rome was falling, and that we must join
them. They offered me all South Britain to govern after
they had taken a tribute out of it.
'I answered, "Patience. This Wall is not weighed off
like plunder. Give me proof that my General is dead."
"'Nay," said one elder, "prove to us that he lives"; and
another said cunningly, "What will you give us if we read
you his last words?"
"'We are not merchants to bargain," cried Amal.
"Moreover, I owe this man my life. He shall have his
proof." He threw across to me a letter (well I knew the
seal) from Maximus.
"'We took this out of the ship we sank," he cried. "I
cannot read, but I know one sign, at least, which makes
me believe. " He showed me a dark stain on the outer roll
that my heavy heart perceived was the valiant blood of Maximus.
"'Read!" said Amal. "Read, and then let us hear whose
servants you are!"
'Said Pertinax, very softly, after he had looked through
it: "I will read it all. Listen, barbarians!" He read that
which I have carried next my heart ever since.'
Parnesius drew from his neck a folded and spotted
piece of parchment, and began in a hushed voice:
"'To Parnesius and Pertinax, the not unworthy Captains of
the Wall, from Maximus, once Emperor of Gaul and Britain,
now prisoner waiting death by the sea in the camp of Theodosius
- Greeting and Goodbye! "
"'Enough," said young Amal; "there is your proof!
You must join us now!"
'Pertinax looked long and silently at him, till that fair
man blushed like a girl. Then read Pertinax:
"'I have joyfully done much evil in my life to those who have
wished me evil, but if ever I did any evil to you two I repent, and
I ask your forgiveness. The three mules which I strove to drive
have torn me in pieces as your Father prophesied. The naked
swords wait at the tent door to give me the death I gave to
Gratian. Therefore I, your General and your emperor, send you
free and honourable dismissal from my service, which you
entered, not for money or office, but, as it makes me warm to
believe, because you loved me!"
"'By the Light of the Sun," Amal broke in. "This was in
some sort a Man! We may have been mistaken in his servants!"
'And Pertinax read on: "You gave me the time for which I
asked. If I have failed to use it, do not lament. We have gambled
very splendidly against the Gods, but they hold weighted dice,
and I must pay the forfeit. Remember, I have been; but Rome is;
and Rome will be. Tell Pertinax his Mother is in safety at
Nicaea, and her monies are in charge of the Prefect at Antipolis.
Make my remembrances to your Father and to your Mother,
whose friendship was great gain to me. Give also to my little
Picts and to the Winged Hats such messages as their thick heads
can understand. I would have sent you three Legions this very
day if all had gone aright. Do not forget me. We have worked
together. Farewell! Farewell! Farewell! "
'Now, that was my Emperor's last letter.' (The children
heard the parchment crackle as Parnesius returned it to
its place.)
"'I was mistaken," said Amal. "The servants of such a
man will sell nothing except over the sword. I am glad of
it." He held out his hand to me.
"'But Maximus has given you your dismissal," said an
elder. "You are certainly free to serve - or to rule - whom
you please. Join - do not follow - join us!"
"'We thank you," said Pertinax. "But Maximus tells us
to give you such messages as - pardon me, but I use his
words - your thick heads can understand." He pointed
through the door to the foot of a catapult wound up.
"'We understand," said an elder. "The Wall must be
won at a price?"
"'It grieves me," said Pertinax, laughing, "but so it
must be won," and he gave them of our best Southern wine.
'They drank, and wiped their yellow beards in silence
till they rose to go.
'Said Amal, stretching himself (for they were barbarians):
"We be a goodly company; I wonder what the
ravens and the dogfish will make of some of us before this
snow melts."
"'Think rather what Theodosius may send," I
answered; and though they laughed, I saw that my
chance shot troubled them.
'Only old Allo lingered behind a little.
"'You see," he said, winking and blinking, "I am no
more than their dog. When I have shown their men the
secret short ways across our bogs, they will kick me like one."
"'Then I should not be in haste to show them those
ways," said Pertinax, "till I was sure that Rome could not
save the Wall."
"'You think so? Woe is me!" said the old man. "I only
wanted peace for my people," and he went out stumbling
through the snow behind the tall Winged Hats.
'In this fashion then, slowly, a day at a time, which is
very bad for doubting troops, the War came upon us. At
first the Winged Hats swept in from the sea as they had
done before, and there we met them as before - with the
catapults; and they sickened of it. Yet for a long time they
would not trust their duck-legs on land, and I think,
when it came to revealing the secrets of the tribe, the little
Picts were afraid or ashamed to show them all the roads
across the heather. I had this from a Pict prisoner. They
were as much our spies as our enemies, for the Winged
Hats oppressed them, and took their winter stores. Ah,
foolish Little People!
'Then the Winged Hats began to roll us up from each
end of the Wall. I sent runners Southward to see what the
news might be in Britain, but the wolves were very bold
that winter, among the deserted stations where the
troops had once been, and none came back. We had
trouble, too, with the forage for the ponies along the
Wall. I kept ten, and so did Pertinax. We lived and slept
in the saddle, riding east or west, and we ate our worn-out
ponies. The people of the town also made us some
trouble till I gathered them all in one quarter behind
Hunno. We broke down the Wall on either side of it to
make as it were a citadel. Our men fought better in close order.
'By the end of the second month we were deep in the
War as a man is deep in a snowdrift, or in a dream. I think
we fought in our sleep. At least I know I have gone on the
Wall and come off again, remembering nothing between,
though my throat was harsh with giving orders, and my
sword, I could see, had been used.
'The Winged Hats fought like wolves - all in a pack.
Where they had suffered most, there they charged in
most hotly. This was hard for the defenders, but it held
them from sweeping on into Britain.
'In those days Pertinax and I wrote on the plaster of the
bricked archway into Valentia the names of the towers,
and the days on which they fell one by one. We wished
for some record.
'And the fighting? The fight was always hottest to left
and right of the great statue of Roma Dea, near to
Rutilianus's house. By the Light of the Sun, that old fat
man, whom we had not considered at all, grew young
again among the trumpets! I remember he said his sword
was an oracle! "Let us consult the Oracle," he would say,
and put the handle against his ear, and shake his head
wisely. "And this day is allowed Rutilianus to live," he
would say, and, tucking up his cloak, he would puff and
pant and fight well. Oh, there were jests in plenty on the
Wall to take the place of food!
'We endured for two months and seventeen days -
always being pressed from three sides into a smaller
space. Several times Allo sent in word that help was
at hand. We did not believe it, but it cheered our men.
'The end came not with shootings of joy, but, like the
rest, as in a dream. The Winged Hats suddenly left us in
peace for one night and the next day; which is too long for
spent men. We slept at first lightly, expecting to be
roused, and then like logs, each where he lay. May you
never need such sleep! When I waked our towers were
full of strange, armed men, who watched us snoring. I
roused Pertinax, and we leaped up together.
"'What?" said a young man in clean armour. "Do you
fight against Theodosius? Look!"
'North we looked over the red snow. No Winged Hats
were there. South we looked over the white snow, and
behold there were the Eagles of two strong Legions
encamped. East and west we saw flame and fighting, but
by Hunno all was still.
"'Trouble no more," said the young man. "Rome's
arm is long. Where are the Captains of the Wall?"
'We said we were those men.
"'But you are old and grey-haired," he cried.
"Maximus said that they were boys."
"'Yes, that was true some years ago," said Pertinax.
"What is our fate to be, you fine and well-fed child?"
"'I am called Ambrosius, a secretary of the Emperor,"
he answered. "Show me a certain letter which Maximus
wrote from a tent at Aquileia, and perhaps I will believe."
'I took it from my breast, and when he had read it he
saluted us, saying: "Your fate is in your own hands. If
you choose to serve Theodosius, he will give you a
Legion. If it suits you to go to your homes, we will give
you a Triumph."
"'I would like better a bath, wine, food, razors, soaps,
oils, and scents," said Pertinax, laughing.
"'Oh, I see you are a boy," said Ambrosius. "And
you?" turning to me.
"'We bear no ill-will against Theodosius, but in War-"
I began.
"'In War it is as it is in Love," said Pertinax. "Whether
she be good or bad, one gives one's best once, to one
only. That given, there remains no second worth giving
or taking."
"'That is true," said Ambrosius. "I was with Maximus
before he died. He warned Theodosius that you would
never serve him, and frankly I say I am sorry for my Emperor."
"'He has Rome to console him," said Pertinax. "I ask
you of your kindness to let us go to our homes and get
this smell out of our nostrils."
'None the less they gave us a Triumph!'
'It was well earned,' said Puck, throwing some leaves
into the still water of the marlpit. The black, oily circles
spread dizzily as the children watched them.
'I want to know, oh, ever so many things,' said Dan.
'What happened to old Allo? Did the Winged Hats ever
come back? And what did Amal do?'
'And what happened to the fat old General with the
five cooks?' said Una. 'And what did your Mother say
when you came home? ...'
'She'd say you're settin' too long over this old pit, so
late as 'tis already,'said old Hobden's voice behind them.
'Hst!'he whispered.
He stood still, for not twenty paces away a magnificent
dog-fox sat on his haunches and looked at the children as
though he were an old friend of theirs.
'Oh, Mus' Reynolds, Mus' Reynolds!' said Hobden,
under his breath. 'If I knowed all was inside your head,
I'd know something wuth knowin'. Mus' Dan an' Miss
Una, come along o' me while I lock up my liddle henhouse.'
A Pict Song
Rome never looks where she treads,
Always her heavy hooves fall
On our stomachs, our hearts or our heads;
And Rome never heeds when we bawl.
Her sentries pass on - that is all,
And we gather behind them in hordes,
And plot to reconquer the Wall,
With only our tongues for our swords.
We are the Little Folk - we!
Too little to love or to hate.
Leave us alone and you'll see
How we can drag down the Great!
We are the worm in the wood!
We are the rot in the root!
We are the germ in the blood!
We are the thorn in the foot!
Mistletoe killing an oak -
Rats gnawing cables in two -
Moths making holes in a cloak -
How they must love what they do!
Yes - and we Little Folk too,
We are as busy as they -
Working our works out of view -
Watch, and you'll see it some day!
No indeed! We are not strong,
But we know Peoples that are.
Yes, and we'll guide them along,
To smash and destroy you in War!
We shall be slaves just the same?
Yes, we have always been slaves,
But you - you will die of the shame,
And then we shall dance on your graves!
We are the Little Folk, we, etc.
Prophets have honour all over the Earth,
Except in the village where they were born,
Where such as knew them boys from birth
Nature-ally hold 'em in scorn.
When Prophets are naughty and young and vain,
They make a won'erful grievance of it;
(You can see by their writings how they complain),
But Oh, 'tis won'erful good for the Prophet!
There's nothing Nineveh Town can give
(Nor being swallowed by whales between),
Makes up for the place where a man's folk live,
That don't care nothing what he has been.
He might ha' been that, or he might ha' been this,
But they love and they hate him for what he is.
A rainy afternoon drove Dan and Una over to play pirates
in the Little Mill. If you don't mind rats on the rafters and
oats in your shoes, the mill-attic, with its trap-doors
and inscriptions on beams about floods and sweethearts,
is a splendid place. It is lighted by a foot-square window,
called Duck Window, that looks across to Little Lindens
Farm, and the spot where Jack Cade was killed.
When they had climbed the attic ladder (they called it
'the mainmast tree', out of the ballad of Sir Andrew
Barton, and Dan 'swarved it with might and main', as the
ballad says) they saw a man sitting on Duck Window-sill.
He was dressed in a plum-coloured doublet and tight
plum-coloured hose, and he drew busily in a red-edged book.
'Sit ye! Sit ye!' Puck cried from a rafter overhead. 'See
what it is to be beautiful! Sir Harry Dawe - pardon, Hal -
says I am the very image of a head for a gargoyle.'
The man laughed and raised his dark velvet cap to the
children, and his grizzled hair bristled out in a stormy
fringe. He was old - forty at least - but his eyes were
young, with funny little wrinkles all round them. A
satchel of embroidered leather hung from his broad belt,
which looked interesting.
'May we see?' said Una, coming forward.
'Surely - sure-ly!' he said, moving up on the windowseat,
and returned to his work with a silver-pointed
pencil. Puck sat as though the grin were fixed for ever on
his broad face, while they watched the quick, certain
fingers that copied it. Presently the man took a reed pen
from his satchel, and trimmed it with a little ivory knife,
carved in the semblance of a fish.
'Oh, what a beauty!' cried Dan.
''Ware fingers! That blade is perilous sharp. I made it
myself of the best Low Country cross-bow steel. And so,
too, this fish. When his back-fin travels to his tail - so - he
swallows up the blade, even as the whale swallowed
Gaffer Jonah ... Yes, and that's my inkhorn. I made the
four silver saints round it. Press Barnabas's head. It
opens, and then -'He dipped the trimmed pen, and with
careful boldness began to put in the essential lines of
Puck's rugged face, that had been but faintly revealed by
the silver-point.
The children gasped, for it fairly leaped from the page.
As he worked, and the rain fell on the tiles, he talked -
now clearly, now muttering, now breaking off to frown
or smile at his work. He told them he was born at Little
Lindens Farm, and his father used to beat him for drawing
things instead of doing things, till an old priest called
Father Roger, who drew illuminated letters in rich
people's books, coaxed the parents to let him take the boy
as a sort of painter's apprentice. Then he went with
Father Roger to Oxford, where he cleaned plates and
carried cloaks and shoes for the scholars of a College
called Merton.
'Didn't you hate that?' said Dan after a great many
other questions.
'I never thought on't. Half Oxford was building new
colleges or beautifying the old, and she had called to her
aid the master-craftsmen of all Christendie - kings in
their trade and honoured of Kings. I knew them. I
worked for them: that was enough. No wonder -' He stopped
and laughed.
'You became a great man, Hal,' said Puck.
'They said so, Robin. Even Bramante said so.'
'Why? What did you do?' Dan asked.
The artist looked at him queerly. 'Things in stone and
such, up and down England. You would not have heard
of 'em. To come nearer home, I rebuilded this little St
Barnabas' church of ours. It cost me more trouble and
sorrow than aught I've touched in my life. But 'twas a
sound lesson.'
'Um,' said Dan. 'We've had lessons this morning.'
'I'll not afflict ye, lad,' said Hal, while Puck roared.
'Only 'tis strange to think how that little church was
rebuilt, re-roofed, and made glorious, thanks to some
few godly Sussex ironmasters, a Bristow sailor lad, a
proud ass called Hal o' the Draft because, d'you see, he
was always drawing and drafting; and'- he dragged the
words slowly -'and a Scotch pirate.'
'Pirate?' said Dan. He wriggled like a hooked fish.
'Even that Andrew Barton you were singing of on
the stair just now.' He dipped again in the inkwell, and
held his breath over a sweeping line, as though he had
forgotten everything else.
'Pirates don't build churches, do they?' said Dan. 'Or
do they?'
'They help mightily,' Hal laughed. 'But you were at
your lessons this morn, Jack Scholar.'
'Oh, pirates aren't lessons. It was only Bruce and his
silly old spider,' said Una. 'Why did Sir Andrew Barton
help you?'
'I question if he ever knew it,' said Hal, twinkling.
'Robin, how a' mischief's name am I to tell these
innocents what comes of sinful pride?'
'Oh, we know all about that,' said Una pertly. 'If you
get too beany - that's cheeky - you get sat upon, of course.'
Hal considered a moment, pen in air, and Puck said
some long words.
'A,ha! that was my case too,' he cried. 'Beany - you say
- but certainly I did not conduct myself well. I was proud
of - of such things as porches - a Galilee porch at Lincoln
for choice - proud of one Torrigiano's arm on my
shoulder, proud of my knighthood when I made the gilt
scroll-work for the Sovereign - our King's ship. But Father
Roger sitting in Merton College Library, he did not forget
me. At the top of my pride, when I and no other should
have builded the porch at Lincoln, he laid it on me with a
terrible forefinger to go back to my Sussex clays and
rebuild, at my own charges, my own church, where us
Dawes have been buried for six generations. "Out! Son of
my Art!" said he. "Fight the Devil at home ere you call
yourself a man and a craftsman." And I quaked, and I
went ... How's yon, Robin?' He flourished the finished
sketch before Puck.
'Me! Me past peradventure,' said Puck, smirking like a
man at a mirror. 'Ah, see! The rain has took off! I hate
housen in daylight.'
'Whoop! Holiday!' cried Hal, leaping up. 'Who's for
my Little Lindens? We can talk there.'
They tumbled downstairs, and turned past the
dripping willows by the sunny mill-dam.
'Body o' me,' said Hal, staring at the hop-garden,
where the hops were just ready to blossom. 'What are
these? Vines? No, not vines, and they twine the wrong
way to beans.' He began to draw in his ready book.
'Hops. New since your day,' said Puck. 'They're an
herb of Mars, and their flowers dried flavour ale. We
say -
'Turkeys, Heresy, Hops, and Beer
Came into England all in one year.'
'Heresy I know. I've seen Hops - God be praised for
their beauty! What is your Turkis?'
The children laughed. They knew the Lindens turkeys,
and as soon as they reached Lindens orchard on the hill
the full flock charged at them.
Out came Hal's book at once. 'Hoity-toity!' he cried.
'Here's Pride in purple feathers! Here's wrathy contempt
and the Pomps of the Flesh! How d'you call them?'
'Turkeys! Turkeys!' the children shouted, as the old
gobbler raved and flamed against Hal's plum-coloured hose.
"Save Your Magnificence!' he said. 'I've drafted two
good new things today.' And he doffed his cap to the
bubbling bird.
Then they walked through the grass to the knoll where
Little Lindens stands. The old farmhouse, weather-tiled
to the ground, took almost the colour of a blood-ruby in
the afternoon light. The pigeons pecked at the mortar in
the chimney-stacks; the bees that had lived under the
tiles since it was built filled the hot August air with their
booming; and the smell of the box-tree by the dairywindow
mixed with the smell of earth after rain, bread
after baking, and a tickle of wood-smoke.
The farmer's wife came to the door, baby on arm,
shaded her brows against the sun, stooped to pluck a
sprig of rosemary, and turned down the orchard. The old
spaniel in his barrel barked once or twice to show he was
in charge of the empty house. Puck clicked back the
'D'you marvel that I love it?' said Hal, in a whisper.
'What can town folk know of the nature of housen - or land?'
They perched themselves arow on the old hacked oak
bench in Lindens garden, looking across the valley of the
brook at the fern-covered dimples and hollows of the
Forge behind Hobden's cottage. The old man was cutting
a faggot in his garden by the hives. It was quite a second
after his chopper fell that the chump of the blow reached
their lazy ears.
'Eh - yeh!' said Hal. 'I mind when where that old gaffer
stands was Nether Forge - Master John Collins's
foundry. Many a night has his big trip-hammer shook me
in my bed here. Boom-bitty! Boom-bitty! If the wind was
east, I could hear Master Tom Collins's forge at Stockens
answering his brother, Boom-oop! Boom-oop! and midway
between, Sir John Pelham's sledgehammers at Brightling
would strike in like a pack o' scholars, and "Hic-haec-hoc"
they'd say, "Hic-haec-hoc, " till I fell asleep. Yes. The valley
was as full o' forges and fineries as a May shaw o'
cuckoos. All gone to grass now!'
'What did they make?' said Dan.
'Guns for the King's ships - and for others. Serpentines
and cannon mostly. When the guns were cast, down
would come the King's Officers, and take our ploughoxen
to haul them to the coast. Look! Here's one of the
first and finest craftsmen of the Sea!'
He fluttered back a page of his book, and showed
them a young man's head. Underneath was written:
'He came down with a King's Order on Master John
Collins for twenty serpentines (wicked little cannon they
be!) to furnish a venture of ships. I drafted him thus
sitting by our fire telling Mother of the new lands he'd
find the far side the world. And he found them, too!
There's a nose to cleave through unknown seas! Cabot
was his name - a Bristol lad - half a foreigner. I set a heap
by him. He helped me to my church-building.'
'I thought that was Sir Andrew Barton,' said Dan.
'Ay, but foundations before roofs,' Hal answered.
'Sebastian first put me in the way of it. I had come down
here, not to serve God as a craftsman should, but to show
my people how great a craftsman I was. They cared not,
and it served me right, one split straw for my craft or my
greatness. What a murrain call had I, they said, to mell
with old St Barnabas'? Ruinous the church had been since
the Black Death, and ruinous she would remain; and I
could hang myself in my new scaffold-ropes! Gentle and
simple, high and low - the Hayes, the Fowles, the
Fenners, the Collinses - they were all in a tale against me.
Only Sir John Pelham up yonder at Brightling bade me
heart-up and go on. Yet how could I? Did I ask Master
Collins for his timber-tug to haul beams? The oxen had
gone to Lewes after lime. Did he promise me a set of iron
cramps or ties for the roof? They never came to hand, or
else they were spaulty or cracked. So with everything.
Nothing said, but naught done except I stood by them,
and then done amiss. I thought the countryside was fair bewitched.'
'It was, sure-ly,' said Puck, knees under chin. 'Did you
never suspect ary one?'
'Not till Sebastian came for his guns, and John Collins
played him the same dog's tricks as he'd played me with
my ironwork. Week in, week out, two of three serpentines
would be flawed in the casting, and only fit, they
said, to be re-melted. Then John Collins would shake his
head, and vow he could pass no cannon for the King's
service that were not perfect. Saints! How Sebastian
stormed! I know, for we sat on this bench sharing our
sorrows inter-common.
'When Sebastian had fumed away six weeks at Lindens
and gotten just six serpentines, Dirk Brenzett, Master of
the Cygnet hoy, sends me word that the block of stone he
was fetching me from France for our new font he'd hove
overboard to lighten his ship, chased by Andrew Barton
up to Rye Port.'
'Ah! The pirate!' said Dan.
'Yes. And while I am tearing my hair over this,
Ticehurst Will, my best mason, comes to me shaking, and
vowing that the Devil, horned, tailed, and chained, has
run out on him from the church-tower, and the men
would work there no more. So I took 'em off the foundations,
which we were strengthening, and went into the
Bell Tavern for a cup of ale. Says Master John Collins:
"Have it your own way, lad; but if I was you, I'd take the
sinnification o' the sign, and leave old Barnabas' Church
alone!" And they all wagged their sinful heads, and
agreed. Less afraid of the Devil than of me - as I saw later.
'When I brought my sweet news to Lindens, Sebastian
was limewashing the kitchen-beams for Mother. He
loved her like a son.
"'Cheer up, lad," he says. "God's where He was. Only
you and I chance to be pure pute asses. We've been
tricked, Hal, and more shame to me, a sailor, that I did
not guess it before! You must leave your belfry alone,
forsooth, because the Devil is adrift there; and I cannot
get my serpentines because John Collins cannot cast
them aright. Meantime Andrew Barton hawks off the
Port of Rye. And why? To take those very serpentines
which poor Cabot must whistle for; the said serpentines,
I'll wager my share of new continents, being now hid
away in St Barnabas' church-tower. Clear as the Irish
coast at noonday!"
"They'd sure never dare to do it," I said; "and, for
another thing, selling cannon to the King's enemies is
black treason - hanging and fine."
"'It is sure, large profit. Men'll dare any gallows for
that. I have been a trader myself," says he. "We must be
upsides with 'em for the honour of Bristol."
'Then he hatched a plot, sitting on the limewash
bucket. We gave out to ride o' Tuesday to London and
made a show of taking farewells of our friends - especially
of Master John Collins. But at Wadhurst Woods we
turned; rode home to the water-meadows; hid our horses
in a willow-tot at the foot of the glebe, and, come night,
stole a-tiptoe uphill to Barnabas' church again. A thick
mist, and a moon striking through.
'I had no sooner locked the tower-door behind us than
over goes Sebastian full length in the dark.
"'Pest!" he says. "Step high and feel low, Hal. I've
stumbled over guns before."
'I groped, and one by one - the tower was pitchy dark -
I counted the lither barrels of twenty serpentines laid out
on pease straw. No conceal at all!
"'There's two demi-cannon my end," says Sebastian,
slapping metal. "They'll be for Andrew Barton's lower
deck. Honest - honest John Collins! So this is his warehouse,
his arsenal, his armoury! Now see you why your
pokings and pryings have raised the Devil in Sussex?
You've hindered John's lawful trade for months," and he
laughed where he lay.
'A clay-cold tower is no fireside at midnight, so we
climbed the belfry stairs, and there Sebastian trips over a
cow-hide with its horns and tail.
"'Aha! Your Devil has left his doublet! Does it become
me, Hal?" He draws it on and capers in the shafts of
window-moonlight - won'erful devilish-like. Then he
sits on the stairs, rapping with his tail on a board, and his
back-aspect was dreader than his front, and a howlet lit
in, and screeched at the horns of him.
"'If you'd keep out the Devil, shut the door," he
whispered. "And that's another false proverb, Hal, for I
can hear your tower-door opening."
"'I locked it. Who a-plague has another key, then?" I said.
"'All the congregation, to judge by their feet," he says,
and peers into the blackness. "Still! Still, Hal! Hear 'em
grunt! That's more o' my serpentines, I'll be bound. One
- two - three - four they bear in! Faith, Andrew equips
himself like an Admiral! Twenty-four serpentines in all!"
'As if it had been an echo, we heard John Collins's
voice come up all hollow: "Twenty-four serpentines and
two demi-cannon. That's the full tally for Sir Andrew Barton."
"'Courtesy costs naught," whispers Sebastian. "Shall
I drop my dagger on his head?"
"'They go over to Rye o' Thursday in the wool-wains,
hid under the wool-packs. Dirk Brenzett meets them at
Udimore, as before," says John.
"'Lord! What a worn, handsmooth trade it is!" says
Sebastian. "I lay we are the sole two babes in the village
that have not our lawful share in the venture."
'There was a full score folk below, talking like all
Robertsbridge Market. We counted them by voice.
'Master John Collins pipes: "The guns for the French
carrack must lie here next month. Will, when does your
young fool" (me, so please you!) "come back from
"'No odds," I heard Ticehurst Will answer. "Lay 'em
just where you've a mind, Mus' Collins. We're all too
afraid o' the Devil to mell with the tower now." And the
long knave laughed.
"'Ah! 'tis easy enow for you to raise the Devil, Will,"
says another - Ralph Hobden of the Forge.
"'Aaa-men!" roars Sebastian, and ere I could hold him,
he leaps down the stairs - won'erful devilish-like
howling no bounds. He had scarce time to lay out for the
nearest than they ran. Saints, how they ran! We heard
them pound on the door of the Bell Tavern, and then we
ran too.
"'What's next?" says Sebastian, looping up his cowtail
as he leaped the briars. "I've broke honest John's face."
"'Ride to Sir John Pelham's," I said. "He is the only
one that ever stood by me."
'We rode to Brightling, and past Sir John's lodges,
where the keepers would have shot at us for deerstealers,
and we had Sir John down into his Justice's
chair, and when we had told him our tale and showed
him the cow-hide which Sebastian wore still girt about
him, he laughed till the tears ran.
"'Wel-a-well!" he says. "I'll see justice done before
daylight. What's your complaint? Master Collins is my
old friend."
"'He's none of mine," I cried. "When I think how he
and his likes have baulked and dozened and cozened me
at every turn over the church" - and I choked at the thought.
"'Ah, but ye see now they needed it for another use,"
says he smoothly.
also they did my serpentines," Sebastian cries. "I
should be half across the Western Ocean by now if my
guns had been ready. But they're sold to a Scotch pirate
by your old friend -"
"'Where's your proof?" says Sir John, stroking his beard.
"'I broke my shins over them not an hour since, and I
heard John give order where they were to be taken," says Sebastian.
"'Words! Words only," says Sir John. "Master Collins
is somewhat of a liar at best."
'He carried it so gravely that, for the moment, I thought
he was dipped in this secret traffick too, and that there
was not an honest ironmaster in Sussex.
"'Name o' Reason!" says Sebastian, and raps with his
cow-tail on the table, "whose guns are they, then?"
"'Yours, manifestly," says Sir John. "You come with
the King's Order for 'em, and Master Collins casts them
in his foundry. If he chooses to bring them up from
Nether Forge and lay 'em out in the church-tower, why,
they are e'en so much the nearer to the main road and
you are saved a day's hauling. What a coil to make of a
mere act of neighbourly kindness, lad!"
"'I fear I have requited him very scurvily," says
Sebastian, looking at his knuckles. "But what of the
demi-cannon? I could do with 'em well, but they are not in
the King's Order."
"'Kindness - loving-kindness," says Sir John. "Questionless,
in his zeal for the King and his love for you, John
adds those two cannon as a gift. 'Tis plain as this coming
daylight, ye stockfish!"
"'So it is," says Sebastian. "Oh, Sir John, Sir John, why
did you never use the sea? You are lost ashore." And he
looked on him with great love.
"'I do my best in my station." Sir John strokes his
beard again and rolls forth his deep drumming Justice's
voice thus: "But - suffer me! - you two lads, on some
midnight frolic into which I probe not, roystering around
the taverns, surprise Master Collins at his" - he thinks a
moment - "at his good deeds done by stealth. Ye surprise
him, I say, cruelly."
"'Truth, Sir John. If you had seen him run!" says Sebastian.
"'On this you ride breakneck to me with a tale of
pirates, and wool-wains, and cow-hides, which, though
it hath moved my mirth as a man, offendeth my reason as
a magistrate. So I will e'en accompany you back to the
tower with, perhaps, some few of my own people, and
three-four wagons, and I'll be your warrant that Master
John Collins will freely give you your guns and your
demi-cannon, Master Sebastian." He breaks into his
proper voice - "I warned the old tod and his neighbours
long ago that they'd come to trouble with their sidesellings
and bye-dealings; but we cannot have half
Sussex hanged for a little gun-running. Are ye content, lads?"
"'I'd commit any treason for two demi-cannon, said
Sebastian, and rubs his hands.
,"Ye have just compounded with rank treason-felony
for the same bribe," says Sir John. "Wherefore to horse,
and get the guns."'
'But Master Collins meant the guns for Sir Andrew
Barton all along, didn't he?' said Dan.
'Questionless, that he did,' said Hal. 'But he lost them.
We poured into the village on the red edge of dawn, Sir
John horsed, in half-armour, his pennon flying; behind
him thirty stout Brightling knaves, five abreast; behind
them four wool-wains, and behind them four trumpets
to triumph over the jest, blowing: Our King went forth to
Normandie. When we halted and rolled the ringing guns
out of the tower, 'twas for all the world like Friar Roger's
picture of the French siege in the Queen's Missal-book.'
'And what did we - I mean, what did our village do?' said Dan.
'Oh! Bore it nobly - nobly,' cried Hal. 'Though they
had tricked me, I was proud of them. They came out of
their housen, looked at that little army as though it had
been a post, and went their shut-mouthed way. Never a
sign! Never a word! They'd ha' perished sooner than let
Brightling overcrow us. Even that villain, Ticehurst Will,
coming out of the Bell for his morning ale, he all but runs
under Sir John's horse.
"''Ware, Sirrah Devil!" cries Sir John, reining back.
"'Oh!" says Will. "Market-day, is it? And all the
bullocks from Brightling here?"
'I spared him his belting for that - the brazen knave!
'But John Collins was our masterpiece! He happened
along-street (his jaw tied up where Sebastian had clouted
him) when we were trundling the first demi-cannon
through the lych-gate.
"'I reckon you'll find her middlin' heavy," he says. "If
you've a mind to pay, I'll loan ye my timber-tug. She
won't lie easy on ary wool-wain."
'That was the one time I ever saw Sebastian taken flat
aback. He opened and shut his mouth, fishy-like.
"'No offence," says Master John. "You've got her
reasonable good cheap. I thought ye might not grudge
me a groat if I helped move her." Ah, he was a masterpiece!
They say that morning's work cost our John two
hundred pounds, and he never winked an eyelid, not
even when he saw the guns all carted off to Lewes.'
'Neither then nor later?' said Puck.
'Once. 'Twas after he gave St Barnabas' the new chime
of bells. (Oh, there was nothing the Collinses, or the
Hayes, or the Fowles, or the Fenners would not do for the
church then! "Ask and have" was their song.) We had
rung 'em in, and he was in the tower with Black Nick
Fowle, that gave us our rood-screen. The old man
pinches the bell-rope one hand and scratches his neck
with t'other. "Sooner she was pulling yon clapper than
my neck, he says. That was all! That was Sussex
seely Sussex for everlasting'
'And what happened after?' said Una.
'I went back into England,' said Hal, slowly. 'I'd
had my lesson against pride. But they tell me I left St
Barnabas' a jewel - justabout a jewel! Wel-a-well! 'Twas
done for and among my own people, and - Father Roger
was right - I never knew such trouble or such triumph
since. That's the nature o' things. A dear - dear land.' He
dropped his chin on his chest.
'There's your Father at the Forge. What's he talking to
old Hobden about?' said Puck, opening his hand with
three leaves in it.
Dan looked towards the cottage.
'Oh, I know. It's that old oak lying across the brook.
Pater always wants it grubbed.'
In the still valley they could hear old Hobden's deep tones.
'Have it as you've a mind to,' he was saying. 'But the
vivers of her roots they hold the bank together. If you
grub her out, the bank she'll all come tearin' down, an'
next floods the brook'll swarve up . But have it as you've a
mind. The Mistuss she sets a heap by the ferns on her trunk.
'Oh! I'll think it over,' said the Pater.
Una laughed a little bubbling chuckle.
'What Devil's in that belfry?' said Hal, with a lazy
laugh. 'That should be a Hobden by his voice.'
'Why, the oak is the regular bridge for all the rabbits
between the Three Acre and our meadow. The best place
for wires on the farm, Hobden says. He's got two
there now,' Una answered. 'He won't ever let it be grubbed!'
'Ah, Sussex! Seely Sussex for everlastin',' murmured
Hal; and the next moment their Father's voice calling
across to Little Lindens broke the spell as little
St Barnabas' clock struck five.
A Smugglers' Song
If You wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Five-and-twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine;
Don't you shout to come and look, nor take 'em for your play;
Put the brushwood back again, - and they'll be gone next day!
If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining's wet and warm - don't you ask no more!
If you meet King George's men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you 'pretty maid,' and chuck you 'neath the chin,
Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been!
Knocks and footsteps round the house - whistles after dark -
You've no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
Trusty's here, and Pincher's here, and see how dumb they lie -
They don't fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by!
If you do as you've been told, likely there's a chance
You'll be give a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood -
A present from the Gentlemen, along o' being good!
Five-and-twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie -
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
The Bee Boy's Song
Bees! Bees! Hark to your bees!
'Hide from your neighbours as much as you please,
But all that has happened, to us you must tell,
Or else we will give you no honey to sell!'
A Maiden in her glory,
Upon her wedding-day,
Must tell her Bees the story,
Or else they'll fly away.
Fly away - die away -
Dwindle down and leave you!
But if you don't deceive your Bees,
Your Bees will not deceive you.
Marriage, birth or buryin',
News across the seas,
All you're sad or merry in,
You must tell the Bees.
Tell 'em coming in an' out,
Where the Fanners fan,
'Cause the Bees are justabout
As curious as a man!
Don't you wait where trees are,
When the lightnings play;
Nor don't you hate where Bees are,
Or else they'll pine away.
Pine away - dwine away -
Anything to leave you!
But if you never grieve your Bees,
Your Bees'll never grieve you!
just at dusk, a soft September rain began to fall on the
hop-pickers. The mothers wheeled the bouncing perambulators
out of the gardens; bins were put away, and
tally-books made up. The young couples strolled home,
two to each umbrella, and the single men walked behind
them laughing. Dan and Una, who had been picking
after their lessons, marched off to roast potatoes at the
oast-house, where old Hobden, with Blue-eyed Bess, his
lurcher dog, lived all the month through, drying the hops.
They settled themselves, as usual, on the sack-strewn
cot in front of the fires, and, when Hobden drew up the
shutter, stared, as usual, at the flameless bed of coals
spouting its heat up the dark well of the old-fashioned
roundel. Slowly he cracked off a few fresh pieces of coal,
packed them, with fingers that never flinched, exactly
where they would do most good; slowly he reached
behind him till Dan tilted the potatoes into his iron scoop
of a hand; carefully he arranged them round the fire, and
then stood for a moment, black against the glare. As he
closed the shutter, the oast-house seemed dark before
the day's end, and he lit the candle in the lanthorn. The
children liked all these things because they knew them so well.
The Bee Boy, Hobden's son, who is not quite right in
his head, though he can do anything with bees, slipped
in like a shadow. They only guessed it when Bess's
stump-tail wagged against them.
A big voice began singing outside in the drizzle:
'Old Mother Laidinwool had nigh twelve months been dead,
She heard the hops were doin' well, and then popped up her head.'
'There can't be two people made to holler like that!'
cried old Hobden, wheeling round.
'For, says she, "The boys I've picked with when I was young and fair,
They're bound to be at hoppin', and I'm -'
A man showed at the doorway.
'Well, well! They do say hoppin' 'll draw the very
deadest, and now I belieft 'em. You, Tom? Tom Shoesmith?'
Hobden lowered his lanthorn.
'You're a hem of a time makin' your mind to it, Ralph!'
The stranger strode in - three full inches taller than
Hobden, a grey-whiskered, brown-faced giant with clear
blue eyes. They shook hands, and the children could
hear the hard palms rasp together.
'You ain't lost none o' your grip,' said Hobden. 'Was it
thirty or forty year back you broke my head at Peasmarsh Fair?'
'Only thirty, an' no odds 'tween us regardin' heads,
neither. You had it back at me with a hop-pole. How did
we get home that night? Swimmin'?'
'Same way the pheasant come into Gubbs's pocket - by
a little luck an' a deal o' conjurin'.' Old Hobden laughed
in his deep chest.
see you've not forgot your way about the woods.
D'ye do any o' this still?' The stranger pretended to look
along a gun.
Hobden answered with a quick movement of the hand
as though he were pegging down a rabbit-wire.
'No. That's all that's left me now. Age she must as
Age she can. An' what's your news since all these years?'
'Oh, I've bin to Plymouth, I've bin to Dover -
I've bin ramblin', boys, the wide world over,'
the man answered cheerily. 'I reckon I know as much of
Old England as most.' He turned towards the children
and winked boldly.
'I lay they told you a sight o' lies, then. I've been into
England fur as Wiltsheer once. I was cheated proper over
a pair of hedgin'-gloves,' said Hobden.
'There's fancy-talkin' everywhere. You've cleaved to
your own parts pretty middlin' close, Ralph.'
'Can't shift an old tree 'thout it dyin',' Hobden
chuckled. 'An' I be no more anxious to die than you look
to be to help me with my hops tonight.'
The great man leaned against the brickwork of the
roundel, and swung his arms abroad. 'Hire me!' was all
he said, and they stumped upstairs laughing.
The children heard their shovels rasp on the cloth
where the yellow hops lie drying above the fires, and all
the oast-house filled with the sweet, sleepy smell as they
were turned.
'Who is it?' Una whispered to the Bee Boy.
'Dunno, no more'n you - if you dunno,' said he, and smiled.
The voices on the drying-floor talked and chuckled
together, and the heavy footsteps moved back and forth.
Presently a hop-pocket dropped through the press-hole
overhead, and stiffened and fattened as they shovelled it
full. 'Clank!' went the press, and rammed the loose stuff
into tight cake.
'Gentle!' they heard Hobden cry. 'You'll bust her crop
if you lay on so. You be as careless as Gleason's bull,
Tom. Come an' sit by the fires. She'll do now.'
They came down, and as Hobden opened the shutter
to see if the potatoes were done Tom Shoesmith said to
the children, 'Put a plenty salt on 'em. That'll show you
the sort o' man I be.'Again he winked, and again the Bee
Boy laughed and Una stared at Dan.
'I know what sort o' man you be,'old Hobden grunted,
groping for the potatoes round the fire.
'Do ye?' Tom went on behind his back. 'Some of us
can't abide Horseshoes, or Church Bells, or Running
Water; an', talkin' o' runnin' water' - he turned to
Hobden, who was backing out of the roundel - 'd'you
mind the great floods at Robertsbridge, when the miller's
man was drowned in the street?'
'Middlin' well.' Old Hobden let himself down on the
coals by the fire-door. 'I was courtin' my woman on the
Marsh that year. Carter to Mus' Plum I was, gettin' ten
shillin's week. Mine was a Marsh woman.'
'Won'erful odd-gates place - Romney Marsh,' said
Tom Shoesmith. 'I've heard say the world's divided
like into Europe, Ashy, Afriky, Ameriky, Australy, an'
Romney Marsh.'
'The Marsh folk think so,' said Hobden. 'I had a hem o'
trouble to get my woman to leave it.'
'Where did she come out of? I've forgot, Ralph.'
'Dymchurch under the Wall,' Hobden answered, a
potato in his hand.
'Then she'd be a Pett - or a Whitgift, would she?'
'Whitgift.' Hobden broke open the potato and ate it
with the curious neatness of men who make most of
their meals in the blowy open. 'She growed to be quite
reasonable-like after livin' in the Weald awhile, but our
first twenty year or two she was odd-fashioned, no
bounds. And she was a won'erful hand with bees.' He
cut away a little piece of potato and threw it out to the door.
'Ah! I've heard say the Whitgifts could see further
through a millstone than most,' said Shoesmith. 'Did
she, now?'
'She was honest-innocent of any nigromancin',' said
Hobden. 'Only she'd read signs and sinnifications out o'
birds flyin', stars fallin', bees hivin', and such. An, she'd
lie awake - listenin' for calls, she said.'
'That don't prove naught,' said Tom. 'All Marsh folk
has been smugglers since time everlastin'. 'Twould be in
her blood to listen out o' nights.'
'Nature-ally,' old Hobden replied, smiling. 'I mind
when there was smugglin' a sight nearer us than what
the Marsh be. But that wasn't my woman's trouble.
'Twas a passel o' no-sense talk' - he dropped his voice -
'about Pharisees.'
'Yes. I've heard Marsh men belieft in 'em.'Tom looked
straight at the wide-eyed children beside Bess.
'Pharisees,' cried Una. 'Fairies? Oh, I see!'
'People o' the Hills,' said the Bee Boy, throwing half of
his potato towards the door.
'There you be!' said Hobden, pointing at him. My boy
- he has her eyes and her out-gate sense. That's what she
called 'em!'
'And what did you think of it all?'
'Um - um,' Hobden rumbled. 'A man that uses fields
an' shaws after dark as much as I've done, he don't go out
of his road excep' for keepers.'
'But settin' that aside?' said Tom, coaxingly. 'I saw ye
throw the Good Piece out-at-doors just now. Do ye
believe or - do ye?'
'There was a great black eye to that tater,' said
Hobden indignantly.
'My liddle eye didn't see un, then. It looked as if you
meant it for - for Any One that might need it. But settin'
that aside, d'ye believe or - do ye?'
'I ain't sayin' nothin', because I've heard naught, an'
I've see naught. But if you was to say there was more
things after dark in the shaws than men, or fur, or
feather, or fin, I dunno as I'd go far about to call you a liar.
Now turn again, Tom. What's your say?'
'I'm like you. I say nothin'. But I'll tell you a tale, an'
you can fit it as how you please.'
'Passel o' no-sense stuff,' growled Hobden, but he
filled his pipe.
'The Marsh men they call it Dymchurch Flit,'Tom went
on slowly. 'Hap you have heard it?'
'My woman she've told it me scores o' times. Dunno as
I didn't end by belieftin' it - sometimes.
Hobden crossed over as he spoke, and sucked with his
pipe at the yellow lanthorn flame. Tom rested one great
elbow on one great knee, where he sat among the coal.
'Have you ever bin in the Marsh?' he said to Dan.
'Only as far as Rye, once,' Dan answered.
'Ah, that's but the edge. Back behind of her there's
steeples settin' beside churches, an' wise women settin'
beside their doors, an' the sea settin' above the land, an'
ducks herdin' wild in the diks' (he meant ditches). 'The
Marsh is justabout riddled with diks an' sluices, an'
tide-gates an' water-lets. You can hear 'em bubblin' an'
grummelin' when the tide works in 'em, an' then you
hear the sea rangin' left and right-handed all up along the
Wall. You've seen how flat she is - the Marsh? You'd
think nothin' easier than to walk eend-on acrost her? Ah,
but the diks an' the water-lets, they twists the roads
about as ravelly as witch-yarn on the spindles. So ye get
all turned round in broad daylight.'
'That's because they've dreened the waters into the
diks,' said Hobden. 'When I courted my woman the
rushes was green - Eh me! the rushes was green - an' the
Bailiff o' the Marshes he rode up and down as free as the fog.'
'Who was he?' said Dan.
'Why, the Marsh fever an' ague. He've clapped me on
the shoulder once or twice till I shook proper. But now
the dreenin' off of the waters have done away with the
fevers; so they make a joke, like, that the Bailiff o' the
Marshes broke his neck in a dik. A won'erful place for
bees an' ducks 'tis too.'
'An' old,' Tom went on. 'Flesh an' Blood have been
there since Time Everlastin' Beyond. Well, now, speakin'
among themselves, the Marsh men say that from Time
Everlastin' Beyond, the Pharisees favoured the Marsh
above the rest of Old England. I lay the Marsh men ought
to know. They've been out after dark, father an' son,
smugglin' some one thing or t'other, since ever wool
grew to sheep's backs. They say there was always a
middlin' few Pharisees to be seen on the Marsh.
Impident as rabbits, they was. They'd dance on the
nakid roads in the nakid daytime; they'd flash their liddle
green lights along the diks, comin' an' goin', like honest
smugglers. Yes, an' times they'd lock the church doors
against parson an' clerk of Sundays.'
'That 'ud be smugglers layin' in the lace or the brandy
till they could run it out o' the Marsh. I've told my woman
so,' said Hobden.
'I'll lay she didn't belieft it, then - not if she was a
Whitgift. A won'erful choice place for Pharisees, the
Marsh, by all accounts, till Queen Bess's father he come
in with his Reformatories.'
'Would that be a Act of Parliament like?' Hobden asked.
'Sure-ly. Can't do nothing in Old England without Act,
Warrant an' Summons. He got his Act allowed him,
an', they say, Queen Bess's father he used the parish
churches something shameful. justabout tore the gizzards
out of I dunnamany. Some folk in England they
held with 'en; but some they saw it different, an' it
eended in 'em takin' sides an' burnin' each other no
bounds, accordin' which side was top, time bein'. That
tarrified the Pharisees: for Goodwill among Flesh an'
Blood is meat an' drink to 'em, an' ill-will is poison.'
'Same as bees,' said the Bee Boy. 'Bees won't stay by a
house where there's hating.'
'True,' said Tom. 'This Reformatories tarrified the
Pharisees same as the reaper goin' round a last stand o'
wheat tarrifies rabbits. They packed into the Marsh from
all parts, and they says, "Fair or foul, we must flit out o'
this, for Merry England's done with, an' we're reckoned
among the Images."'
'Did they all see it that way?' said Hobden.
'All but one that was called Robin - if you've heard of
him. What are you laughin' at?'Tom turned to Dan. 'The
Pharisees's trouble didn't tech Robin, because he'd
cleaved middlin' close to people, like. No more he never
meant to go out of Old England - not he; so he was sent
messagin' for help among Flesh an' Blood. But Flesh an'
Blood must always think of their own concerns, an'
Robin couldn't get through at 'em, ye see . They thought it
was tide-echoes off the Marsh.'
'What did you - what did the fai - Pharisees want?'
Una asked.
'A boat, to be sure. Their liddle wings could no more
cross Channel than so many tired butterflies. A boat an' a
crew they desired to sail 'em over to France, where yet
awhile folks hadn't tore down the Images. They couldn't
abide cruel Canterbury Bells ringin' to Bulverhithe for
more pore men an' women to be burnded, nor the King's
proud messenger ridin' through the land givin' orders to
tear down the Images. They couldn't abide it no shape.
Nor yet they couldn't get their boat an' crew to flit by
without Leave an' Good-will from Flesh an' Blood; an'
Flesh an' Blood came an' went about its own business the
while the Marsh was swarvin' up, an' swarvin' up with
Pharisees from all England over, strivin' all means to get
through at Flesh an' Blood to tell 'em their sore need ... I
don't know as you've ever heard say Pharisees are like chickens?'
'My woman used to say that too,'said Hobden, folding
his brown arms.
'They be. You run too many chickens together, an' the
ground sickens, like, an' you get a squat, an' your chickens
die. Same way, you crowd Pharisees all in one place -
they don't die, but Flesh an' Blood walkin' among 'em is
apt to sick up an' pine off. They don't mean it, an' Flesh
an' Blood don't know it, but that's the truth - as I've
heard. The Pharisees through bein' all stenched up an'
frighted, an' trying' to come through with their
supplications, they nature-ally changed the thin airs an'
humours in Flesh an' Blood. It lay on the Marsh like
thunder. Men saw their churches ablaze with the wildfire
in the windows after dark; they saw their cattle scatterin'
an' no man scarin'; their sheep flockin' an' no man
drivin'; their horses latherin' an' no man leadin'; they
saw the liddle low green lights more than ever in the
dik-sides; they heard the liddle feet patterin' more than
ever round the houses; an' night an' day, day an' night,
'twas all as though they were bein' creeped up on, an'
hinted at by Some One or other that couldn't rightly
shape their trouble. Oh, I lay they sweated! Man an'
maid, woman an' child, their nature done 'em no service
all the weeks while the Marsh was swarvin' up with
Pharisees. But they was Flesh an' Blood, an' Marsh men
before all. They reckoned the signs sinnified trouble for
the Marsh. Or that the sea 'ud rear up against Dymchurch
Wall an' they'd be drownded like Old Winchelsea;
or that the Plague was comin'. So they looked for
the meanin' in the sea or in the clouds - far an' high up.
They never thought to look near an' knee-high, where
they could see naught.
'Now there was a poor widow at Dymchurch under the
Wall, which, lacking man or property, she had the more
time for feeling; and she come to feel there was a Trouble
outside her doorstep bigger an' heavier than aught she'd
ever carried over it. She had two sons - one born blind,
an' t'other struck dumb through fallin' off the Wall when
he was liddle. They was men grown, but not wageearnin',
an' she worked for 'em, keepin' bees and
answerin' Questions.'
'What sort of questions?' said Dan.
'Like where lost things might be found, an' what to put
about a crooked baby's neck, an' how to join parted
sweethearts. She felt the Trouble on the Marsh same as
eels feel thunder. She was a wise woman.'
'My woman was won'erful weather-tender, too,' said
Hobden. 'I've seen her brish sparks like off an anvil out of
her hair in thunderstorms. But she never laid out to
answer Questions.'
'This woman was a Seeker, like, an' Seekers they
sometimes find. One night, while she lay abed, hot an'
achin', there come a Dream an' tapped at her window,
an' "Widow Whitgift," it said, "Widow Whitgift!"
'First, by the wings an' the whistlin', she thought it was
peewits, but last she arose an' dressed herself, an'
opened her door to the Marsh, an' she felt the Trouble an'
the Groanin' all about her, strong as fever an' ague, an'
she calls: "What is it? Oh, what is it?"
'Then 'twas all like the frogs in the diks peepin'; then
'twas all like the reeds in the diks clip-clappin'; an' then
the great Tide-wave rummelled along the Wall, an' she
couldn't hear proper.
'Three times she called, an' three times the Tide-wave
did her down. But she catched the quiet between, an' she
cries out, "What is the Trouble on the Marsh that's been
lying down with my heart an' arising with my body this
month gone?" She felt a liddle hand lay hold on her
gown-hem, an' she stooped to the pull o' that liddle hand.'
Tom Shoesmith spread his huge fist before the fire and
smiled at it as he went on.
"'Will the sea drown the Marsh?" she says. She was a
Marsh woman first an' foremost.
"'No," says the liddle voice. "Sleep sound for all o' that."
"'Is the Plague comin' to the Marsh?" she says. Them
was all the ills she knowed.
"'No. Sleep sound for all o' that," says Robin.
'She turned about, half mindful to go in, but the liddle
voices grieved that shrill an' sorrowful she turns back, an'
she cries: "If it is not a Trouble of Flesh an' Blood, what
can I do?"
'The Pharisees cried out upon her from all round to
fetch them a boat to sail to France, an' come back no more.
"'There's a boat on the Wall," she says, "but I can't
push it down to the sea, nor sail it when 'tis there."
"'Lend us your sons," says all the Pharisees. "Give
'em Leave an' Good-will to sail it for us, Mother - O Mother!"
"'One's dumb, an' t'other's blind," she says. "But all
the dearer me for that; and you'll lose them in the big sea. "
The voices justabout pierced through her; an' there was
children's voices too. She stood out all she could, but she
couldn't rightly stand against that. So she says: "If you
can draw my sons for your job, I'D not hinder 'em. You
can't ask no more of a Mother."
'She saw them liddle green lights dance an' cross till
she was dizzy; she heard them liddle feet patterin' by the
thousand; she heard cruel Canterbury Bells ringing to
Bulverhithe, an' she heard the great Tide-wave ranging
along the Wall. That was while the Pharisees was workin'
a Dream to wake her two sons asleep: an' while she bit on
her fingers she saw them two she'd bore come out an'
pass her with never a word. She followed 'em, cryin'
pitiful, to the old boat on the Wall, an' that they took an'
runned down to the sea.
'When they'd stepped mast an' sail the blind son
speaks: "Mother, we're waitin' your Leave an' Good-will
to take Them over."'
Tom Shoesmith threw back his head and half shut his eyes.
'Eh, me!' he said. 'She was a fine, valiant woman, the
Widow Whitgift. She stood twistin' the eends of her long
hair over her fingers, an' she shook like a poplar, makin'
up her mind. The Pharisees all about they hushed their
children from cryin' an' they waited dumb-still. She was
all their dependence. 'Thout her Leave an' Good-will
they could not pass; for she was the Mother. So she shook
like a aps-tree makin' up her mind. 'Last she drives the
word past her teeth, an' "Go!" she says. "Go with my
Leave an' Goodwill."
'Then I saw - then, they say, she had to brace back
same as if she was wadin' in tide-water; for the Pharisees
just about flowed past her - down the beach to the boat, I
dunnamany of 'em - with their wives an' childern an'
valooables, all escapin' out of cruel Old England. Silver
you could hear chinkin', an' liddle bundles hove down
dunt on the bottom-boards, an' passels o' liddle swords
an' shields raklin', an' liddle fingers an' toes scratchin' on
the boatside to board her when the two sons pushed her
off. That boat she sunk lower an' lower, but all the
Widow could see in it was her boys movin' hamperedlike
to get at the tackle. Up sail they did, an' away they
went, deep as a Rye barge, away into the off-shore
mists, an' the Widow Whitgift she sat down an' eased
her grief till mornin' light.'
'I never heard she was all alone,' said Hobden.
'I remember now. The one called Robin, he stayed with
her, they tell. She was all too grieevious to listen to his promises.'
'Ah! She should ha' made her bargain beforehand. I
allus told my woman so!'Hobden cried.
'No. She loaned her sons for a pure love-loan, bein' as
she sensed the Trouble on the Marshes, an' was simple
good-willin' to ease it.' Tom laughed softly. 'She done
that. Yes, she done that! From Hithe to Bulverhithe,
fretty man an' maid, ailin' woman an' wailin' child, they
took the advantage of the change in the thin airs just
about as soon as the Pharisees flitted. Folks come out
fresh an' shinin' all over the Marsh like snails after
wet. An' that while the Widow Whitgift sat grievin'
on the Wall. She might have belieft us - she might
have trusted her sons would be sent back! She
fussed, no bounds, when their boat come in after three days.'
'And, of course, the sons were both quite cured?' said Una.
'No-o. That would have been out o' nature. She got 'em
back as she sent 'em. The blind man he hadn't seen
naught of anythin', an' the dumb man nature-ally he
couldn't say aught of what he'd seen. I reckon that was
why the Pharisees pitched on 'em for the ferryin' job.'
'But what did you - what did Robin promise the
Widow?' said Dan.
'What did he promise, now?' Tom pretended to think.
'Wasn't your woman a Whitgift, Ralph? Didn't she ever say?'
'She told me a passel o' no-sense stuff when he was
born.' Hobden pointed at his son. 'There was always to
be one of 'em that could see further into a millstone than most.'
'Me! That's me!'said the Bee Boy so suddenly that they
all laughed.
'I've got it now!' cried Tom, slapping his knee. 'So long
as Whitgift blood lasted, Robin promised there would
allers be one o' her stock that - that no Trouble 'ud lie on,
no Maid 'ud sigh on, no Night could frighten, no Fright
could harm, no Harm could make sin, an' no Woman
could make a fool of.'
'Well, ain't that just me?' said the Bee Boy, where he sat
in the silver square of the great September moon that was
staring into the oast-house door.
'They was the exact words she told me when we first
found he wasn't like others. But it beats me how you
known 'em,' said Hobden.
'Aha! There's more under my hat besides hair?' Tom
laughed and stretched himself. 'When I've seen these
two young folk home, we'll make a night of old days,
Ralph, with passin' old tales - eh? An' where might
you live?' he said, gravely, to Dan. 'An' do you think
your Pa 'ud give me a drink for takin' you there, Missy?'
They giggled so at this that they had to run out. Tom
picked them both up, set one on each broad shoulder,
and tramped across the ferny pasture where the cows
puffed milky puffs at them in the moonlight.
'Oh, Puck! Puck! I guessed you right from when you
talked about the salt. How could you ever do it?' Una
cried, swinging along delighted.
'Do what?'he said, and climbed the stile by the pollard oak.
'Pretend to be Tom Shoesmith,' said Dan, and they
ducked to avoid the two little ashes that grow by the
bridge over the brook. Tom was almost running.
'Yes. That's my name, Mus' Dan,' he said, hurrying
over the silent shining lawn, where a rabbit sat by the big
white-thorn near the croquet ground. 'Here you be.' He
strode into the old kitchen yard, and slid them down as
Ellen came to ask questions.
'I'm helping in Mus' Spray's oast-house,' he said to
her. 'No, I'm no foreigner. I knowed this country 'fore
your mother was born; an' - yes, it's dry work oastin',
Miss. Thank you.'
Ellen went to get a jug, and the children went in -
magicked once more by Oak, Ash, and Thorn!
A Three-Part Song
I'm just in love with all these three,
The Weald an' the Marsh an' the Down countrie;
Nor I don't know which I love the most,
The Weald or the Marsh or the white chalk coast!
I've buried my heart in a ferny hill,
Twix' a liddle low shaw an' a great high gill.
Oh, hop-bine yaller an' wood-smoke blue,
I reckon you'll keep her middling true!
I've loosed my mind for to out an' run
On a Marsh that was old when Kings begun:
Oh, Romney level an' Brenzett reeds,
I reckon you know what my mind needs!
I've given my soul to the Southdown grass,
An' sheep-bells tinkled where you pass.
Oh, Firle an' Ditchling an' sails at sea,
I reckon you keep my soul for me!
Song of the Fifth River
When first by Eden Tree
The Four Great Rivers ran,
To each was appointed a Man
Her Prince and Ruler to be.
But after this was ordained,
(The ancient legends tell),
There came dark Israel,
For whom no River remained.
Then He That is Wholly Just
Said to him: 'Fling on the ground
A handful of yellow dust,
And a Fifth Great River shall run,
Mightier than these four,
In secret the Earth around;
And Her secret evermore
Shall be shown to thee and thy Race.
So it was said and done.
And, deep in the veins of Earth,
And, fed by a thousand springs
That comfort the market-place,
Or sap the power of Kings,
The Fifth Great River had birth,
Even as it was foretold -
The Secret River of Gold!
And Israel laid down
His sceptre and his crown,
To brood on that River bank,
Where the waters flashed and sank,
And burrowed in earth and fell,
And bided a season below;
For reason that none might know,
Save only Israel.
He is Lord of the Last -
The Fifth, most wonderful, Flood.
He hears Her thunder past
And Her song is in his blood.
He can foresay: 'She will fall,'
For he knows which fountain dries
Behind which desert-belt
A thousand leagues to the South.
He can foresay: 'She will rise.'
He knows what far snows melt
Along what mountain-wall
A thousand leagues to the North.
He snuffs the coming drouth
As he snuffs the coming rain,
He knows what each will bring forth,
And turns it to his gain.
A Prince without a Sword,
A Ruler without a Throne;
Israel follows his quest.
In every land a guest,
Of many lands a lord,
In no land King is he.
But the Fifth Great River keeps
The secret of Her deeps
For Israel alone,
As it was ordered to be.
Now it was the third week in November, and the woods
rang with the noise of pheasant-shooting. No one hunted
that steep, cramped country except the village beagles,
who, as often as not, escaped from their kennels and
made a day of their own. Dan and Una found a couple of
them towling round the kitchen-garden after the laundry
cat. The little brutes were only too pleased to go rabbiting,
so the children ran them all along the brook pastures
and into Little Lindens farm-yard, where the old sow
vanquished them - and up to the quarry-hole, where
they started a fox. He headed for Far Wood, and there
they frightened out all the Pheasants, who were sheltering
from a big beat across the valley. Then the cruel guns
began again, and they grabbed the beagles lest they
should stray and get hurt.
'I wouldn't be a pheasant - in November - for a lot,'
Dan panted, as he caught Folly by the neck. 'Why did you
laugh that horrid way?'
'I didn't,' said Una, sitting on Flora, the fat lady-dog.
'Oh, look! The silly birds are going back to their own
woods instead of ours, where they would be safe.'
'Safe till it pleased you to kill them.' An old man, so tall
he was almost a giant, stepped from behind the clump of
hollies by Volaterrae. The children jumped, and the dogs
dropped like setters. He wore a sweeping gown of dark
thick stuff, lined and edged with yellowish fur, and he
bowed a bent-down bow that made them feel both proud
and ashamed. Then he looked at them steadily, and they
stared back without doubt or fear.
'You are not afraid?' he said, running his hands
through his splendid grey beard. 'Not afraid that those
men yonder' - he jerked his head towards the incessant
POP-POP of the guns from the lower woods -'will do you hurt?'
'We-ell'- Dan liked to be accurate, especially when he
was shy -'old Hobd - a friend of mine told me that one of
the beaters got peppered last week - hit in the leg, I
mean. You see, Mr Meyer will fire at rabbits. But he gave
Waxy Garnett a quid - sovereign, I mean - and Waxy told
Hobden he'd have stood both barrels for half the money.'
'He doesn't understand,'Una cried, watching the pale,
troubled face. 'Oh, I wish -'
She had scarcely said it when Puck rustled out of the
hollies and spoke to the man quickly in foreign words.
Puck wore a long cloak too - the afternoon was just frosting
down - and it changed his appearance altogether.
'Nay, nay!'he said at last. 'You did not understand the
boy. A freeman was a little hurt, by pure mischance, at
the hunting.'
'I know that mischance! What did his lord do? Laugh
and ride over him?' the old man sneered.
'It was one of your own people did the hurt, Kadmiel.'
Puck's eyes twinkled maliciously. 'So he gave the freeman
a piece of gold, and no more was said.'
'A Jew drew blood from a Christian and no more was
said?' Kadmiel cried. 'Never! When did they torture him?'
'No man may be bound, or fined, or slain till he has
been judged by his peers,' Puck insisted. 'There is but
one Law in Old England for Jew or Christian - the Law
that was signed at Runnymede.'
'Why, that's Magna Charta!' Dan whispered. It was
one of the few history dates that he could remember.
Kadmiel turned on him with a sweep and a whirr of his
spicy-scented gown.
'Dost thou know of that, babe?' he cried, and lifted his
hands in wonder.
'Yes,' said Dan firmly.
'Magna Charta was signed by John,
That Henry the Third put his heel upon.
And old Hobden says that if it hadn't been for her (he calls
everything "her", you know), the keepers would have
him clapped in Lewes jail all the year round.'
Again Puck translated to Kadmiel in the strange,
solemn-sounding language, and at last Kadmiel laughed.
'Out of the mouths of babes do we learn,' said he. 'But
tell me now, and I will not call you a babe but a Rabbi, why
did the King sign the roll of the New Law at Runnymede?
For he was a King.'
Dan looked sideways at his sister. It was her turn.
'Because he jolly well had to,' said Una softly. 'The
Barons made him.'
'Nay,' Kadmiel answered, shaking his head. 'You
Christians always forget that gold does more than the
sword. Our good King signed because he could not
borrow more money from us bad Jews.' He curved his
shoulders as he spoke. 'A King without gold is a snake
with a broken back, and' - his nose sneered up and his
eyebrows frowned down -'it is a good deed to break a
snake's back. That was my work,' he cried, triumphantly,
to Puck. 'Spirit of Earth, bear witness that that was my
work!' He shot up to his full towering height, and his
words rang like a trumpet. He had a voice that changed
its tone almost as an opal changes colour - sometimes
deep and thundery, sometimes thin and waily, but
always it made you listen.
'Many people can bear witness to that,' Puck
answered. 'Tell these babes how it was done. Remember,
Master, they do not know Doubt or Fear.'
'So I saw in their faces when we met,' said Kadmiel.
'Yet surely, surely they are taught to spit upon Jews?'
'Are they?' said Dan, much interested. 'Where at?'
Puck fell back a pace, laughing. 'Kadmiel is thinking of
King John's reign,' he explained. 'His people were badly
treated then.'
'Oh, we know that.' they answered, and (it was very
rude of them, but they could not help it) they stared
straight at Kadmiel's mouth to see if his teeth were all
there. It stuck in their lesson-memory that King John
used to pull out Jews' teeth to make them lend him money.
Kadmiel understood the look and smiled bitterly.
'No. Your King never drew my teeth: I think, perhaps,
I drew his. Listen! I was not born among Christians, but
among Moors - in Spain - in a little white town under the
mountains. Yes, the Moors are cruel, but at least their
learned men dare to think. It was prophesied of me at my
birth that I should be a Lawgiver to a People of a strange
speech and a hard language. We Jews are always looking
for the Prince and the Lawgiver to come. Why not? My
people in the town (we were very few) set me apart as a
child of the prophecy - the Chosen of the Chosen. We
Jews dream so many dreams. You would never guess it to
see us slink about the rubbish-heaps in our quarter; but at
the day's end - doors shut, candles lit - aha! then we
became the Chosen again.'
He paced back and forth through the wood as he
talked. The rattle of the shot-guns never ceased, and the
dogs whimpered a little and lay flat on the leaves.
'I was a Prince. Yes! Think of a little Prince who had
never known rough words in his own house handed over
to shouting, bearded Rabbis, who pulled his ears and
filliped his nose, all that he might learn - learn - learn to
be King when his time came. He! Such a little Prince it
was! One eye he kept on the stone-throwing Moorish
boys, and the other it roved about the streets looking for
his Kingdom. Yes, and he learned to cry softly when he
was hunted up and down those streets. He learned to do
all things without noise. He played beneath his father's
table when the Great Candle was lit, and he listened as
children listen to the talk of his father's friends above the
table. They came across the mountains, from out of all the
world, for my Prince's father was their counsellor. They
came from behind the armies of Sala-ud-Din: from
Rome: from Venice: from England. They stole down our
alley, they tapped secretly at our door, they took off their
rags, they arrayed themselves, and they talked to my
father at the wine. All over the world the heathen fought
each other. They brought news of these wars, and while
he played beneath the table, my Prince heard these
meanly dressed ones decide between themselves how, and when, and
for how long King should draw sword against King, and People
rise up against People. Why not? There can be no war without
gold, and we Jews know how the earth's gold moves with the
seasons, and the crops, and the winds; circling and
looping and rising and sinking away like a river -
a wonderful underground river. How should the
foolish Kings know that while they fight and steal and kill?'
The children's faces showed that they knew nothing at
all as, with open eyes, they trotted and turned beside the
long-striding old man. He twitched his gown over his
shoulders, and a square plate of gold, studded with
jewels, gleamed for an instant through the fur, like a star
through flying snow.
'No matter,' he said. 'But, credit me, my Prince saw
peace or war decided not once, but many times, by the
fall of a coin spun between a Jew from Bury and a Jewess
from Alexandria, in his father's house, when the Great
Candle was lit. Such power had we Jews among the
Gentiles. Ah, my little Prince! Do you wonder that he
learned quickly? Why not?' He muttered to himself and
went on:
'My trade was that of a physician. When I had learned
it in Spain I went to the East to find my Kingdom. Why
not? A Jew is as free as a sparrow - or a dog. He goes
where he is hunted. In the East I found libraries where
men dared to think - schools of medicine where they
dared to learn. I was diligent in my business. Therefore I
stood before Kings. I have been a brother to Princes and a
companion to beggars, and I have walked between the
living and the dead. There was no profit in it. I did not
find my Kingdom. So, in the tenth year of my travels,
when I had reached the Uttermost Eastern Sea, I returned
to my father's house. God had wonderfully preserved
my people. None had been slain, none even wounded,
and only a few scourged. I became once more a son in my
father's house. Again the Great Candle was lit; again the
meanly apparelled ones tapped on our door after dusk;
and again I heard them weigh out peace and war, as they
weighed out the gold on the table. But I was not rich - not
very rich. Therefore, when those that had power and
knowledge and wealth talked together, I sat in the
shadow. Why not?
'Yet all my wanderings had shown me one sure thing,
which is, that a King without money is like a spear
without a head. He cannot do much harm. I said, therefore,
to Elias of Bury, a great one among our people:
"Why do our people lend any more to the Kings that
oppress us?" "Because," said Elias, "if we refuse they stir
up their people against us, and the People are tenfold
more cruel than Kings. If thou doubtest, come with me to
Bury in England and live as I live."
'I saw my mother's face across the candle flame, and I
said, "I will come with thee to Bury. Maybe my Kingdom
shall be there."
'So I sailed with Elias to the darkness and the cruelty of
Bury in England, where there are no learned men. How
can a man be wise if he hate? At Bury I kept his accounts
for Elias, and I saw men kill Jews there by the tower. No -
none laid hands on Elias. He lent money to the King, and
the King's favour was about him. A King will not take the
life so long as there is any gold. This King - yes, John -
oppressed his people bitterly because they would not
give him money. Yet his land was a good land. If he had
only given it rest he might have cropped it as a Christian
crops his beard. But even that little he did not know, for
God had deprived him of all understanding, and had
multiplied pestilence, and famine, and despair upon the
people. Therefore his people turned against us Jews,
who are all people's dogs. Why not? Lastly the Barons
and the people rose together against the King because of
his cruelties. Nay - nay - the Barons did not love the
people, but they saw that if the King cut up and destroyed
the common people, he would presently destroy
the Barons. They joined then, as cats and pigs will join to
slay a snake. I kept the accounts, and I watched all these
things, for I remembered the Prophecy.
'A great gathering of Barons (to most of whom we had
lent money) came to Bury, and there, after much talk and
a thousand runnings-about, they made a roll of the New
Laws that they would force on the King. If he swore to
keep those Laws, they would allow him a little money.
That was the King's God - Money - to waste. They
showed us the roll of the New Laws. Why not? We had
lent them money. We knew all their counsels - we Jews
shivering behind our doors in Bury.' He threw out his
hands suddenly. 'We did not seek to be paid all in money.
We sought Power- Power- Power! That is our God in our
captivity. Power to use!
'I said to Elias: "These New Laws are good. Lend no
more money to the King: so long as he has money he will
lie and slay the people."
"'Nay," said Elias. "I know this people. They are
madly cruel. Better one King than a thousand butchers. I
have lent a little money to the Barons, or they would
torture us, but my most I will lend to the King. He hath
promised me a place near him at Court, where my wife
and I shall be safe."
"'But if the King be made to keep these New Laws," I
said, "the land will have peace, and our trade will grow.
If we lend he will fight again."
"'Who made thee a Lawgiver in England?" said Elias.
"I know this people. Let the dogs tear one another! I will
lend the King ten thousand pieces of gold, and he can
fight the Barons at his pleasure."
"'There are not two thousand pieces of gold in all
England this summer," I said, for I kept the accounts,
and I knew how the earth's gold moved - that wonderful
underground river. Elias barred home the windows,
and, his hands about his mouth, he told me how, when
he was trading with small wares in a French ship, he had
come to the Castle of Pevensey.'
'Oh!' said Dan. 'Pevensey again!' and looked at Una,
who nodded and skipped.
'There, after they had scattered his pack up and down
the Great Hall, some young knights carried him to an
upper room, and dropped him into a well in a wall, that
rose and fell with the tide. They called him Joseph, and
threw torches at his wet head. Why not?'
'Why, of course!'cried Dan. 'Didn't you know it was -'
Puck held up his hand to stop him, and Kadmiel, who
never noticed, went on.
'When the tide dropped he thought he stood on old
armour, but feeling with his toes, he raked up bar on bar
of soft gold. Some wicked treasure of the old days put
away, and the secret cut off by the sword. I have heard
the like before.'
'So have we,' Una whispered. 'But it wasn't wicked a bit.'
'Elias took a little of the stuff with him, and thrice
yearly he would return to Pevensey as a chapman, selling
at no price or profit, till they suffered him to sleep in the
empty room, where he would plumb and grope, and
steal away a few bars. The great store of it still remained,
and by long brooding he had come to look on it as his
own. Yet when we thought how we should lift and
convey it, we saw no way. This was before the Word of
the Lord had come to me. A walled fortress possessed by
Normans; in the midst a forty-foot tide-well out of
which to remove secretly many horse-loads of gold!
Hopeless! So Elias wept. Adah, his wife, wept too. She
had hoped to stand beside the Queen's Christian
tiring-maids at Court when the King should give
them that place at Court which he had promised.
Why not? She was born in England - an odious woman.
'The present evil to us was that Elias, out of his strong
folly, had, as it were, promised the King that he would
arm him with more gold. Wherefore the King in his camp
stopped his ears against the Barons and the people.
Wherefore men died daily. Adah so desired her place at
Court, she besought Elias to tell the King where the
treasure lay, that the King might take it by force, and -
they would trust in his gratitude. Why not? This Elias
refused to do, for he looked on the gold as his own. They
quarrelled, and they wept at the evening meal, and late in
the night came one Langton - a priest, almost learned - to
borrow more money for the Barons. Elias and Adah went
to their chamber.'
Kadmiel laughed scornfully in his beard. The shots
across the valley stopped as the shooting party changed
their ground for the last beat.
'So it was I, not Elias,' he went on quietly, 'that made
terms with Langton touching the fortieth of the New Laws.'
'What terms?' said Puck quickly. 'The Fortieth of the
Great Charter says: "To none will we sell, refuse, or delay
right or justice."'
'True, but the Barons had written first: To no free man. It
cost me two hundred broad pieces of gold to change
those narrow words. Langton, the priest, understood.
"Jew though thou art," said he, "the change is just, and if
ever Christian and Jew came to be equal in England thy
people may thank thee." Then he went out stealthily, as
men do who deal with Israel by night. I think he spent my
gift upon his altar. Why not? I have spoken with Langton.
He was such a man as I might have been if - if we
Jews had been a people. But yet, in many things, a child.
'I heard Elias and Adah abovestairs quarrel, and,
knowing the woman was the stronger, I saw that Elias
would tell the King of the gold and that the King would
continue in his stubbornness. Therefore I saw that the
gold must be put away from the reach of any man. Of a
sudden, the Word of the Lord came to me saying,
"The Morning is come, O thou that dwellest in the land."'
Kadmiel halted, all black against the pale green sky
beyond the wood - a huge robed figure, like the Moses in
the picture-Bible.
'I rose. I went out, and as I shut the door on that House
of Foolishness, the woman looked from the window and
whispered, "I have prevailed on my husband to tell the
King!" I answered: "There is no need. The Lord is with me."
'In that hour the Lord gave me full understanding of all
that I must do; and His Hand covered me in my ways.
First I went to London, to a physician of our people, who
sold me certain drugs that I needed. You shall see why.
Thence I went swiftly to Pevensey. Men fought all
around me, for there were neither rulers nor judges in the
abominable land. Yet when I walked by them they cried
out that I was one Ahasuerus, a Jew, condemned, as they
believe, to live for ever, and they fled from me everyways.
Thus the Lord saved me for my work, and at
Pevensey I bought me a little boat and moored it on the
mud beneath the Marsh-gate of the Castle. That also God
showed me.'
He was as calm as though he were speaking of some
stranger, and his voice filled the little bare wood with
rolling music.
'I cast' - his hand went to his breast, and again the
strange jewel gleamed - 'I cast the drugs which I had
prepared into the common well of the Castle. Nay, I did
no harm. The more we physicians know, the less do we
do. Only the fool says: "I dare." I caused a blotched and
itching rash to break out upon their skins, but I knew it
would fade in fifteen days. I did not stretch out my hand
against their life. They in the Castle thought it was the
Plague, and they ran out, taking with them their very dogs.
'A Christian physician, seeing that I was a Jew and a
stranger, vowed that I had brought the sickness from
London. This is the one time I have ever heard a Christian
leech speak truth of any disease. Thereupon the people
beat me, but a merciful woman said: "Do not kill him
now. Push him into our Castle with his Plague, and if, as
he says, it will abate on the fifteenth day, we can kill him
then." Why not? They drove me across the drawbridge of
the Castle, and fled back to their booths. Thus I came to
be alone with the treasure.'
'But did you know this was all going to happen just
right?' said Una.
'My Prophecy was that I should be a Lawgiver to a
People of a strange land and a hard speech. I knew I
should not die. I washed my cuts. I found the tide-well in
the wall, and from Sabbath to Sabbath I dove and dug
there in that empty, Christian-smelling fortress. He! I
spoiled the Egyptians! He! If they had only known! I
drew up many good loads of gold, which I loaded by
night into my boat. There had been gold dust too, but
that had been washed out by the tides.'
'Didn't you ever wonder who had put it there?' said
Dan, stealing a glance at Puck's calm, dark face under the
hood of his gown. Puck shook his head and pursed his lips.
'Often; for the gold was new to me,' Kadmiel replied. 'I
know the Golds. I can judge them in the dark; but this
was heavier and redder than any we deal in. Perhaps it
was the very gold of Parvaim. Eh, why not? It went to my
heart to heave it on to the mud, but I saw well that if the
evil thing remained, or if even the hope of finding it
remained, the King would not sign the New Laws, and
the land would perish.'
'Oh, Marvel!' said Puck, beneath his breath, rustling in
the dead leaves.
'When the boat was loaded I washed my hands seven
times, and pared beneath my nails, for I would not keep
one grain. I went out by the little gate where the Castle's
refuse is thrown. I dared not hoist sail lest men should
see me; but the Lord commanded the tide to bear me
carefully, and I was far from land before the morning.'
'Weren't you afraid?' said Una.
'Why? There were no Christians in the boat. At sunrise
I made my prayer, and cast the gold - all - all that gold -
into the deep sea! A King's ransom - no, the ransom of a
People! When I had loosed hold of the last bar, the Lord
commanded the tide to return me to a haven at the mouth
of a river, and thence I walked across a wilderness to
Lewes, where I have brethren. They opened the door to
me, and they say - I had not eaten for two days - they say
that I fell across the threshold, crying: "I have sunk an
army with horsemen in the sea!"'
'But you hadn't,' said Una. 'Oh, yes! I see! You meant
that King John might have spent it on that?'
'Even so,' said Kadmiel.
The firing broke out again close behind them. The
pheasants poured over the top of a belt of tall firs. They
could see young Mr Meyer, in his new yellow gaiters,
very busy and excited at the end of the line, and they
could hear the thud of the falling birds.
'But what did Elias of Bury do?' Puck demanded. 'He
had promised money to the King.'
Kadmiel smiled grimly. 'I sent him word from London
that the Lord was on my side. When he heard that the
Plague had broken out in Pevensey, and that a Jew had
been thrust into the Castle to cure it, he understood my
word was true. He and Adah hurried to Lewes and asked
me for an accounting. He still looked on the gold as his
own. I told them where I had laid it, and I gave them full
leave to pick it up ... Eh, well! The curses of a fool and
the dust of a journey are two things no wise man can
escape ... But I pitied Elias! The King was wroth with
him because he could not lend; the Barons were wroth
too because they heard that he would have lent to the
King; and Adah was wroth with him because she was an
odious woman. They took ship from Lewes to Spain.
That was wise!'
'And you? Did you see the signing of the Law at
Runnymede?' said Puck, as Kadmiel laughed noiselessly.
'Nay. Who am I to meddle with things too high for me?
I returned to Bury, and lent money on the autumn crops.
Why not?'
There was a crackle overhead. A cock-pheasant that
had sheered aside after being hit spattered down almost
on top of them, driving up the dry leaves like a shell. Flora
and Folly threw themselves at it; the children rushed
forward, and when they had beaten them off and
smoothed down the plumage Kadmiel had disappeared.
'Well,' said Puck calmly, 'what did you think of it?
Weland gave the Sword! The Sword gave the Treasure,
and the Treasure gave the Law. It's as natural as an oak growing.'
'I don't understand. Didn't he know it was Sir
Richard's old treasure?' said Dan. 'And why did Sir
Richard and Brother Hugh leave it lying about? And - and -'
'Never mind,' said Una politely. 'He'll let us come
and go and look and know another time. Won't you, Puck?'
'Another time maybe,' Puck answered. 'Brr! It's cold -
and late. I'll race you towards home!'
They hurried down into the sheltered valley. The sun
had almost sunk behind Cherry Clack, the trodden
ground by the cattle-gates was freezing at the edges, and
the new-waked north wind blew the night on them from
over the hills. They picked up their feet and flew across
the browned pastures, and when they halted, panting in
the steam of their own breath, the dead leaves whirled up
behind them. There was Oak and Ash and Thorn enough
in that year-end shower to magic away a thousand
So they trotted to the brook at the bottom of the lawn,
wondering why Flora and Folly had missed the quarry-hole fox.
Old Hobden was just finishing some hedge-work.
They saw his white smock glimmer in the twilight where
he faggoted the rubbish.
'Winter, he's come, I reckon, Mus' Dan,' he called.
'Hard times now till Heffle Cuckoo Fair. Yes, we'll all be
glad to see the Old Woman let the Cuckoo out o' the
basket for to start lawful Spring in England.'
They heard a crash, and a stamp and a splash of water
as though a heavy old cow were crossing almost under
their noses.
Hobden ran forward angrily to the ford.
'Gleason's bull again, playin' Robin all over the Farm!
Oh, look, Mus' Dan - his great footmark as big as a
trencher. No bounds to his impidence! He might count
himself to be a man or - or Somebody -'
A voice the other side of the brook boomed:
'I wonder who his cloak would turn
When Puck had led him round,
Or where those walking fires would burn -'
Then the children went in singing 'Farewell, Rewards
and Fairies' at the tops of their voices. They had forgotten
that they had not even said good-night to Puck.
The Children's Song
Land of our Birth, we pledge to thee
Our love and toil in the years to be;
When we are grown and take our place
As men and women with our race.
Father in Heaven Who lovest all,
Oh, help Thy children when they call;
That they may build from age to age
An undefiled heritage.
Teach us to bear the yoke in youth,
With steadfastness and careful truth;
That, in our time, Thy Grace may give
The Truth whereby the Nations live.
Teach us to rule ourselves alway,
Controlled and cleanly night and day;
That we may bring, if need arise,
No maimed or worthless sacrifice.
Teach us to look in all our ends,
On Thee for judge, and not our friends;
That we, with Thee, may walk uncowed
By fear or favour of the crowd.
Teach us the Strength that cannot seek,
By deed or thought, to hurt the weak;
That, under Thee, we may possess
Man's strength to comfort man's distress.
Teach us Delight in simple things,
And Mirth that has no bitter springs;
Forgiveness free of evil done,
And Love to all men 'neath the sun!
Land of our Birth, our faith, our pride,
For whose dear sake our fathers died;
O Motherland, we pledge to thee
Head, heart and hand through the years to be!

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