Puck of Pook’s Hill
A Tree Song
Young Men at the Manor
Sir Richard’s Song
Harp Song of the Dane Women
The Knights of the Joyous Venture
Old Men at Pevensey
The Runes on Weland’s Sword
A Centurion of the Thirtieth
A British-Roman Song
On the Great Wall
A Song to Mithras
The Winged Hats
A Pict Song
Hal o’ the Draft
A Smugglers’ Song
The Bee Boy’s Song
A Three-Part Song
Song of the Fifth River
The Treasure and the Law
The Children’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 Cæsar 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
where Nick Bottom the weaver comes out of the bushes with a donkey’s
headon his shoulder, 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 pointy-eared cloth 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 their stage. The mill-stream 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,
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 gatepost singing his broken June tune,
‘cuckoo-cuk,’ 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, ripe 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, broad-shouldered, 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 our 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 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
‘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 little 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 Horseshoes 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
‘Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies
Do fare as well as they;
For 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 inside.’
‘“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;
heath-people, 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 mill-stream 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
‘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 seizin 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 seizin?’ 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 seized 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
‘But it’s our own meadow,’ said Dan, drawing back. ‘Are you going to magic
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 seized 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
‘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 are a fairy,’ said Dan.
‘Have you ever heard me use 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 painty-winged, 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 Hill 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 Hill 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
Phœnicians brought some over when they came to buy tin; and the Gauls,
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
‘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 farm-horses.
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
‘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
the pale flame that burning thatch makes, and I went down to look. Some
pirates—I think they must have been Peofn’s men—were burning a village
the Levels, and Weland’s image—a big, black wooden thing with amber
round its 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 the 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, dear. 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 oak-forest, 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 recognise 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
‘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
‘“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
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
‘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
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 spearwise. 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 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 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 shoeing-tools—his hammer,
pincers, and rasps—to show that he had done with them for ever. It
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 shoeing-tools 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
‘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
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 azactly 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 Æneas 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 Judgment Tide,
By Oak, and Ash and Thorn!
YOUNG MEN AT THE MANOR
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 hunting-grounds, 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’s 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 bareheaded, 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
‘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
‘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 the 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
‘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 splendid?’
‘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 to-day 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 to 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
‘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
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
‘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
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 south-eastward 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 forebore 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, “Sorcery!”
[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 Ælueva, 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 his 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 Ælueva 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
war-horses—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 Ælueva 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 life I had never seen woman fit to strew rushes before my Lady
Ælueva,’ 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
‘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 war-gloves. “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
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 Allée, 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 deerstealers. A hornets’ nest indeed!
‘When De Aquila had gone, Hugh would have thanked me for saving their
lives; but Lady Ælueva 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 Ælueva herself shall summon me
‘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
‘“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
bows 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
‘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 this
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 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
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.
‘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 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
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
‘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 swine-herd’s brat on his
‘“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
‘“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 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 seizin,’ said Puck, in a whisper.
‘“Now thou art lawfully seized 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
‘“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
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
‘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
‘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
Ælueva’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 councillor to Kings as the world hath never
’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 men-at-arms?”
‘“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. It is
‘“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;
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 was 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 to-morrow, if it
‘“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
Ælueva would speak to me at the Great House. She walked abroad daily in
the Manor, and it was her custom to end 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 Ælueva, 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,
‘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
‘“Hearken!” said Hugh. “It is my sword,” and as he belted it on the music
‘“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. ‘Ohé, Swallow!’
The great horse cantered up from the far end of the meadow, close to
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 for 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!
THE KNIGHTS OF THE JOYOUS VENTURE
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,
You 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 Woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?
THE KNIGHTS OF THE JOYOUS VENTURE
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
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
pulled themselves up stream 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
watching-branch, and the blackbirds scarcely took the trouble to dive into
the next bush. Dragon-flies wheeling and clashing were the only things at
work, except the moor-hens 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 floodgates 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
‘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 the 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 Alfred, lover of truth,
Brought a snow-white walrus tooth,
That he held in his 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
‘I ploughed the land with horses,
But my heart was ill at ease,
For the old sea-faring 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 as I have heard the
men in the Dane ships sing it. Not in 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
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 Ælueva 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
‘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
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
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
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
the high deck by the steering-place, 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
‘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 Dane’s 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
‘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.
‘Té,’ 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.
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
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
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
thumbnail purchased a cask of wine. But I speak like a merchant.’
‘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
‘“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 dull-green glass and burned incense
before it. Hugh and I commended ourselves to God, and Saint Bartholomew,
and Our Lady of the Assumption, who was specially dear to my Lady. We
not young, but I think no shame to say, when as 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
‘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
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
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—
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 out of mud, arched upon lean and high roots, and
many muddy water-ways 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 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 pumkins. 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 elephant 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 his 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 midstream.”
‘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 blood-stained 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 that 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
foredeck 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
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 in shore; 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 bareheaded 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
‘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
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 hand 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
‘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 to 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
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
‘“Now find ye Pevensey yourselves,” said Witta. “I love not these narrow
‘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.
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 moon-track 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.
There is 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!
Hoe—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!
OLD MEN AT PEVENSEY
OLD MEN AT PEVENSEY
‘It has nought 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
sail—and Henry, his younger brother, had made himself King of England
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
‘“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
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, Fitz Osborn has risen, Montgomery
risen—whom our First William made an English earl. Even D’Arcy is out
his men, whose father I remember a little hedge-sparrow knight nearby
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
‘“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 our
‘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
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,
would he 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 faithful. Still, I would not have sent the man away
‘“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 penner and inkhorn 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”—here he jerked 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
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
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
‘“Reversed with rabbit, seeing a fog over the marshes, did wake Sir
Richard Dalyngridge, his drunken cup-mate” (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
‘“Ah,” said De Aquila. “Well I knew it was Fulke. What is the price of my
‘“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
‘“This is saying and unsaying like a Norman,” said Hugh. “What of our
‘“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.
‘“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 hornet’s 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
‘“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 shaft, where the water sounded
‘“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
‘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 wheatears—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 a while. He lay rolling his eyes and bubbling with his mouth,
and Jehan roped him like a calf. He was cased all in that new-fangled
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 hearthstone.
‘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 penner and inkhorn,
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
‘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’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
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
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.
‘“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
‘“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, to-morrow to the
‘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.
penner 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
‘“Té! Té!” 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 I can,” 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 their true meaning.”
‘So—fear of death in the dark being upon him—Fulke began; and Gilbert,
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
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 hall rushes in his hair, all slubbered with
sleep. “My father! My father! I dreamed of treachery,” he cried, and
‘“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 to-morrow, 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
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
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
‘“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
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 bed-place.
‘“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
‘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
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 sun-bonnet, 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.
A CENTURION OF THE THIRTIETH
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!’
A CENTURION OF THE THIRTIETH
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 a while,
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 from 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
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 turn and run away?
Here lies the rod of 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 believe I’ve tickled up a Gleason cow.’
‘You little painted beast!’ a voice cried. ‘I’ll teach you to sling your
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 its red horse-tail that
flicked in the wind. She could hear the long hairs rasp on his shimmery
‘What does the Faun mean,’ he said, half aloud to himself, ‘by telling me
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 an officer 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
The man pulled, and hit himself square on his thumb-nail.
‘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 is 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-
‘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
‘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
‘Do you mean the Isle of Wight? It lifts up just before rain, and we 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 spring-time
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,
‘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 gorze-bushes that made us laugh. Then she’d say
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
How Mother could make us laugh!’
‘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
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.’
‘At Aquae Solis. 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 Solis,’ he repeated.
‘The best baths in Britain. Just as good, I’m told, as Rome. All the old
gluttons sit in its 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
‘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
‘So we were well contented—we young people—and we rode back to
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
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. ‘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
‘Oh, Aquae Solis. 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 Solis); 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
‘“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
‘“Where did you hear of it?” said the Pater.
‘“At Aquae Solis,” 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 British-born 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 breast-plate. 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
‘“A probationer, waiting for a cohort,” 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
‘“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
sometimes-one-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
‘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 promote 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
‘The head-quarters 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
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
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
‘“Stand in the sun, children,” he said, and they formed up on the hard
‘“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
‘“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
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
‘“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 will make a good
officer, 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
‘“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
‘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
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
‘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
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 quæ sunt fragilia.
They found themselves at the little locked gates of the wood.
Quo Cæsar 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 memory-magicking 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!
ON THE GREAT WALL
ON THE GREAT WALL
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. Ohé, Parnesius!’ he called.
‘Here, Faun!’ came the answer from ‘Volaterrae.’ They could see the
shimmer of bronze armour in the beech crotch, 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
‘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
‘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 hand’s breadth—and that’s how you take the Eagles
‘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 God might be, he
should pay proper respect to Cæsar.’
‘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
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
‘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 kitchen-garden?’ 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, cockfighting, wolf-baiting,
horse-racing town, from Ituna on the West to Segedunum on the cold
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
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
‘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
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
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
‘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
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 as he said.
Wonderful! And I tell another strange thing!’
He jointed 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
Wall—beyond the Province of Valentia—into the higher hills, where there
are not even any of Rome’s old 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
‘“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
Pict’s 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
‘“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
‘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
‘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 an Officer 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 Cæsar for
smaller jokes than this.”
‘“True, Cæsar,” 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
‘“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
‘“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
‘“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
‘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
‘“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 re-make that Province. The Picts have been free
‘“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 heather-burning 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,”
‘“Yes, and allow them to come to our hospitals when they are sick,” I
‘“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 your 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
‘“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. To-morrow, then, I shall
see you two when I inspect; and I will make you Captains of the Wall for
‘“One instant, Cæsar,” said Pertinax. “All men have their price. I am not
‘“Do you also begin to bargain so early?” said Maximus. “Well?”
‘“Give me justice against my uncle Icenus, the Duumvir of Divio in Gaul,”
‘“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 to-morrow, O Captains of the
‘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.
understood 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,
‘Bless your heart, no. Wait till to-morrow. 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 grow, 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 lies,
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 WINGED HATS
THE WINGED HATS
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 cabbage-leaf 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 marlpit 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 willow-water is a sort of medicine for sick
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
‘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
‘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’ mouth after
‘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, Cæsar,” 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
‘“As Cæsar 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, Cæsar,” 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 Cæsar’s half of our men without
pity. We were a shell when he rolled up the lists!
‘“Hail, Cæsar! 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, Cæsar,” I said for I had never met a man like this man.
‘“Good. To-morrow,” said he, “I proclaim you Captains of the Wall before
‘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 the East end 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
‘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
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
‘“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
‘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
‘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. To-day 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 Nicæa, where the climate is warm.’
‘“That is proof!” said Pertinax. “Nicæa 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 to-day?” 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 sunk 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
‘“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
‘“It grieves me,” said Pertinax, “but we are stationed here to stop that
‘“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 letters 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
‘“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
‘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 Thirds—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
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 sunk,” 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 from 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 Good-bye!”
‘“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
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 Nicæa, 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
‘“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
‘“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
‘“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
‘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 were 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
‘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
‘By the end of the second month we were deep in the War as a man is deep
in a snow-drift 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 defender,
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’ 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
‘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 shoutings 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
‘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
‘“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
‘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
‘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’
an’ Miss Una, come along o’ me while I lock up my liddle hen-house.’
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 at 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.
HAL O’ THE DRAFT
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 O, ’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!
HAL O’ THE DRAFT
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
‘May we see?’ said Una, coming forward.
‘Surely—sure-ly!’ he said, moving up on the window-seat, 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 ink-horn. 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 Farms, 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,’ 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
re-builded this little St. Bartholomew’s church of ours. It cost me more
trouble and sorrow than aught I’ve touched in my life. But ’twas a sound
‘Um,’ said Dan. ‘We 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 re-built, re-roofed, and made
glorious, thanks to some few godly Sussex iron-masters, a Bristol 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?’ 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 ink-well, 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
‘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.
‘Aha! 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 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 re-build, at my own charges, my own
church, where we 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
‘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
The children laughed. They knew the Lindens turkeys, and as soon as they
reached Lindens’ orchard on the hill the 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
to-day.’ And he doffed his cap to the bubbling bird.
Then they walked through the grass to the knoll where Little Lindens
stands. The old farm-house, 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 dairy-window 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 garden-gate.
‘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-
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 sledge-
hammers 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
‘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 plough-oxen 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: ‘Sebastianus.’
‘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’s? Ruinous
the church had been since the Black Death, and ruinous she should
and I could hang myself in my new scaffold-ropes! Gentle and simple, high
and low—the Hayes, the Fowles, the Fanners, the Collinses—they were all in
a tale against me. Only Sir John Pelham up yonder to 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 any
‘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 remelted. 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
‘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’s 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
‘Then he hatched a plot, sitting on the lime-wash bucket. We gave out to
ride o’ Tuesday to London and made a show of making farewells of our
friends—especially of Master John Collins. But at Wadhurst Woods we
turned; rode by night to the watermeadows; hid our horses in a willow-tot
at the foot of the glebe, and stole a-tiptoe up hill to Barnabas’s church
again. A thick mist, and a moon coming 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
‘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 slits of window-moonlight—won’erful devilish-like.
Then he sits on the stair, 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
‘“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
‘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
‘“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 from 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 cow-tail 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
‘We rode to Brightling, and past Sir John’s lodges, where the keepers
would have shot at us for deer-stealers, 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
‘“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
choked at the thought.
‘“Ah, but ye see now they needed it for another use,” says he, smoothly.
‘“So they did my serpentines,” Sebastian cries. “I should be half across
the Western Ocean by this 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
‘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
‘“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 to 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 side-sellings 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
‘“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 us. 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 ran 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
‘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 help 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 Fanners
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 everlastin’!’
‘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’s a jewel—just about a jewel!
Wel-a-well! ’Twas done for and among my own people, and—Father Roger
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
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
‘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 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
‘Ah, Sussex! Silly Sussex for everlastin’,’ murmured Hal; and the next
moment their Father’s voice calling across to Little Lindens broke the
spell as St. Barnabas’s clock struck five.
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 brandywined;
Don’t you shout to come and look, nor take ’em for your play;
Put the brishwood back again,—and they’ll be gone next day!
If you see the stableyard setting open wide;
If you see a tied 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 Park—
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 the 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
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 doing well, and then popped up her head.’
‘There can’t be two people made to holler like that!’ cried old Hobden,
‘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.
‘I 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 hedging-gloves,’ said
‘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 to-night.’
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
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 went 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.
‘Gently!’ 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
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
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 the Marsh be. But that wasn’t my woman’s
trouble. ’Twas a passel o’ no-sense talk,’ he dropped his voice, ‘about
‘Yes. I’ve heard Marsh men beleft 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 senses. 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
‘I ain’t sayin’ nothin’, because I’ve heard naught, an’ I’ve seen 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 farabout 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’ve heard it?’
‘My woman she’ve told it me scores o’ times. Dunno as I didn’t end by
belieft in’ 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
‘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
‘An’ old!’ Tom went on. ‘Flesh an’ Blood have been there since Time
Everlastin’ Beyond. Well, now, speakin’ among themselves, the Marshmen
that from Time Everlastin’ Beyond the Pharisees favoured the Marsh above
the rest of Old England. I lay the Marshmen 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
‘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 beleft 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 o’ 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
‘True,’ said Tom. ‘This Reformations 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
‘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
laughing 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, striving all means to
get through at Flesh an’ Blood to tell ’en 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’ tryin’ to come through with
their supplications, they nature-ally changed the thin airs and 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’ and no man scarin’; their sheep flockin’ and 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, and 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, and t’other
struck dumb through fallin’ off the Wall when he was liddle. They was men
grown, but not wage-earnin’, an’ she worked for ’em, keepin’ bees and
‘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’ aching, there come a Dream an’ tapped at her
window, and “Widow Whitgift,” it said, “Widow Whitgift!”
‘First, by the wings an’ the whistling, 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 Groaning 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 peeping: then ’twas all like
the reeds in the diks clipclapping; 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.
‘“Will the sea drown the Marsh?” she says. She was a Marsh-woman first an’
‘“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
‘“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’ll 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 up: “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 ends 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’ Goodwill they could not pass; for she was
the Mother. So she shook like a asp-tree makin’ up her mind. ’Last she
drives the word past her teeth, an’ “Go!” she says. “Go with my Leave an’
‘Then I saw—then, they say, she had to brace back same as if she was
wadin’ in tide-water; for the Pharisees justabout flowed past her—down the
beach to the boat, I dunnamany of ’em—with their wives an’ children an’
valooables, all escapin’ out of cruel Old England. Silver you could hear
clinkin’, an’ liddle bundles hove down dunt on the bottom-boards, an’
passels o’ liddle swords an’ shield’s 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’ hampered-like to get at the tackle. Up sail they did, an’
away they went, deep as a Rye barge, away into the off-shore mistes, an’
the Widow Whitgift she sat down and 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 grievious 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-willing to ease it.’ Tom
laughed softly. ‘She done that. Yes, she done that! From Hithe to
Bulverthithe, fretty man an’ petty 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’ shining all over
the Marsh like snails after wet. An’ that while the Widow Whitgift sat
grievin’ on the Wall. She might have beleft 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 anything, 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 ferrying 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 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
make a fool.’
‘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
‘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
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
‘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 oasting, 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 and the Marsh and 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-vine yaller and woodsmoke blue,
I reckon you’ll keep her middling true!
I’ve loosed my mind for to out and run,
On a Marsh that was old when Kings begun;
Oh Romney Level and Brenzett reeds,
I reckon you know what my mind needs!
I’ve given my soul to the Southdown grass,
And sheep-bells tinkled where you pass.
Oh Firle an’ Ditchling an’ sails at sea,
I reckon you’ll keep my soul or me!
THE TREASURE AND THE LAW
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 the 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.
THE TREASURE AND THE LAW
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
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,
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
‘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
‘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 Gaol all the
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 become 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
‘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. Hé! 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 councillor. 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
‘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
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 eat 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
about his mouth, he told me how, when he was trading with small wares in
French ship, he had come to the Castle of Pevensey.’
‘Oh!’ said Dan. ‘Pevensey again!’ and looked at Una, who nodded and
‘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
‘So have we,’ Una whispered. ‘But it wasn’t wicked a bit.’
‘Elias took a morsel 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 say:
“To none will we sell, refuse, or deny 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 come 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
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
‘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
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 forth, 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. Hé! I spoiled the Egyptians! Hé!
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 away 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 bars, 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 at him because he could
not lend; the Barons were wroth at him because they heard that he would
have lent to the King; and Adah was wroth at 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?
‘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 memories.
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 rackon, 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 Somebody.’
A voice the other side of the brook boomed:
‘I marvel 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!