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"My son," spoke a gentle voice from behind the low, moss-grown wall, "we must not mourn and weep for those taken from us, as if we had no hope."Face downwards upon the newly-made mound of earth lay a youth of some fifteen or sixteen summers. His slight frame was convulsed by the paroxysm of his grief; from time to time a strangled sob broke from his lips. The kindly-faced monk from the Priory hard by had been watching him for some time before he thus addressed him. Probably he now saw that the violence of the outburst was spent.
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A Clerk of Oxford
The City of Oxford from an old print.
CHAPTER I. THE DIE CAST.
CHAPTER II. A RIVER JOURNEY.
CHAPTER III. OLD OXFORD.
CHAPTER IV. THE FIRST DAY.
CHAPTER V. THE NEW LIFE.
CHAPTER VI. A "MAD" PARLIAMENT.
CHAPTER VII. THE CONSTABLE'S CHILDREN.
CHAPTER VIII. STORMY SCENES.
CHAPTER IX. A STUDENTS' HOLIDAY.
CHAPTER X. THE FAIR OF ST. FRIDESWYDE.
CHAPTER XI. THE MAGICIAN'S TOWER.
CHAPTER XII. WINTER DAYS WITHIN THE CASTLE.
CHAPTER XIII. KENILWORTH CASTLE.
CHAPTER XIV. THE GREAT EARL.
CHAPTER XV. PRINCE EDWARD.
CHAPTER XVI. BACK AT OXFORD.
CHAPTER XVII. THE BELL OF ST MARTIN'S.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE NEW CHANCELLOR.
CHAPTER XIX. THE CHANCELLOR'S AWARD.
CHAPTER XX. TURBULENT TIMES.
CHAPTER XXI. KING AND STUDENTS.
CHAPTER XXII. IN ARMS.
CHAPTER XXIII. ON THE FIELD OF LEWES.
CHAPTER XXIV. AFTER THE BATTLE.
CHAPTER XXV. CHRISTMAS AT KENILWORTH.
CHAPTER XXVI. PLOTS.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE CAPTIVE A CONQUEROR.
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE FATAL FIGHT.
CHAPTER XXIX. LEOFRIC'S REWARD.
CHAPTER XXX. ON THE STILL ISIS.
"My son," spoke a gentle voice from behind the low, moss-grown wall, "we must not mourn and weep for those taken from us, as if we had no hope."
Face downwards upon the newly-made mound of earth lay a youth of some fifteen or sixteen summers. His slight frame was convulsed by the paroxysm of his grief; from time to time a strangled sob broke from his lips. The kindly-faced monk from the Priory hard by had been watching him for some time before he thus addressed him. Probably he now saw that the violence of the outburst was spent.
The youth started upon hearing himself addressed, and as he sprang to his feet he revealed a singularly attractive face. The brow was broad and massive, indicating intellectual power. The blue eyes beneath the pencilled arch of the delicate eyebrows looked out upon the world with a singular directness and purity of expression. The features were finely cut, and there were strength and sweetness both in the curved, thoughtful lips, and in the square outline of the jaw. The fair hair clustered in curling luxuriance about his head, and fell in sunny waves to his shoulders. His hands were long and white, and looked rather as though they had wielded pen than weapon or tool of craftsman. Yet the lad's habit was that of one occupying a humble rank in life, and the shoes on his feet were worn and patched, as though by his own apprentice hands. Beside him lay a wallet and staff, upon which the glance of the monk rested questioningly. The youth appeared to note the glance, yet it was the words addressed to him that he answered.
"I think it is rather for myself I weep, my father. I know that they who die in faith rest in peace and are blessed. But for those who are left—left quite alone—the world is a hard place for them."
Father Ambrose looked with kindly solicitude at the lad. He noted his pale face, his sunken eyes, the look of weary depression that seemed to weigh him down, and he asked gently,—
"What ails thee, Leofric, my son?"
"Everything," answered the youth, with sudden passion in his tones. "I have lost everything in the world that I prized. My father is dead. I have no home. I have no fortune. All that we had is swallowed up in paying for such things as were needful for him while he lay ill. Even that which he saved for masses for his soul had to go at the last. See here, my father, I have but these few silver pieces left in all the world. Take them, and say one mass for him, and let me kneel at the door of the chapel the while. Then will I go forth into the wide world alone, and whether I live or die matters nothing. I have no one in the wide world who will know or care."
But the monk gently put back the extended hand, and laid his own kindly upon the head of the youth.
"Keep thy money, my son. The mass shall be said—ay, and more than one—for the repose of thy father's soul. He was a good man and true, and I loved him well. That pious office I will willingly perform in memory of our friendship. But now, as to thyself. Whither goest thou, and what wilt thou do? I had thought that thou wouldst have come to me ere thou didst sally forth into the wide world alone."
There was a faint accent of reproach in the monk's voice, and Leofric's sensitive face coloured instantly.
"Think it not ingratitude on my part, my father," he said quickly. "I was coming to say good-bye. But that seems now the only word left to me to speak in this world."
"Wherefore so, my son? why this haste to depart? The old life has indeed closed for thee; but there may be bright days in store for thee yet. Whither art thou going in such hot haste?"
"I must e'en go where I can earn a living," answered Leofric, "and that must be by the work of mine own hands. I shall find my way to some town, and seek to apprentice myself to some craft. These hands must learn to wield axe or hammer or mallet. There is nothing else left for the son of a poor scholar, who could scarce earn enough himself to feed the pair of us."
Father Ambrose looked at the lad's white fingers, and he slightly shook his head.
"Methinks thou couldst do better with those hands, Leofric. Hast never thought of what I have sometimes spoken to thee, when thou hast been aiding me with the care of the parchments?"
The lad's face flushed again quickly; but his eyes met the gaze fastened upon his with the fearless openness which was one of their characteristics.
"My father, I could not be a monk," he said. "I have no call—no vocation."
"Yet thou dost love a quiet life of meditation? Thou dost love learning, and hast no small store for thy years. It is a beautiful and peaceful life for those who would fain flee from the trials and temptations of the world. And the Prior here thinks well of thee; he has never grudged the time I have spent upon thee. I shall miss thee when thou art gone, Leofric; life here is something too calm and same."
There was a touch of wistful regret in the father's tones which brought back the ready tears to Leofric's eyes. After his own father, he owed most to this kindly old monk, though it had never for a moment struck him that the teaching and training of a bright young lad had been one of the main interests in that monotonous existence.
"That is what I have felt myself," he answered quickly. "I love the calm and the quiet, the books and the parchments. I shall bless you every day of my life for all your goodness to me. But I would fain see the great world too. I have heard my father and others speak of things I would fain see with mine own eyes. It breaks my heart to go, yet I cannot choose but do so. I dare not ask to come to you, my kindest friend, my second father. I could not be a monk. I should but deceive and disappoint you were I to seek an asylum with you now."
Father Ambrose sighed slightly as he shook his head; but he made no attempt to influence the youth. Perhaps he loved him too well to press him to enter upon a life which had so many limitations and drawbacks.
Yet he would not let him go forth upon his travels with so small a notion of what lay before him. He led him into the refectory, where strangers were entertained, and had food brought and set before him. The lad was hungry, for he had of late undergone a very considerable mental strain, and had had little enough time or thought to spare for creature comforts. The long illness of his father, a man gently born, but of very narrow means, had completely worn him out in body and mind; and now, when thrown penniless upon the world, there had seemed nothing before him but to wander forth with wallet and staff, and seek some craftsman who would give him food and shelter whilst he served a long and perhaps hard apprenticeship to whatever trade he chanced upon.
He spoke again of this as he sat in the refectory, and again Father Ambrose shook his head.
"Thou art not of the stuff for an apprentice to some harsh master; thou hast done but little hard work. And think of thy skill with brush and pen, and thy knowledge of Latin and the Holy Scriptures; thy sweet voice, and thy skill upon the lute. What will all these serve thee, if thou dost waste thy years of manhood's prime at carpenter's bench or blacksmith's forge?"
Leofric sighed, and asked wistfully,—
"Yet what else can I do, my father?"
"Hast ever thought of Oxford?" asked Father Ambrose, rubbing his chin reflectively. "There be lads as poor as thou that beg their way thither and live there as clerks, being helped thereto by the gifts of pious benefactors. They say that the King's Majesty greatly favours students and clerks, and that a lad who can sing a roundelay or turn an epigram can earn for himself enough to keep him whilst he wins his way to some honourable post. Hast ever thought of the University, lad? that were a better place for thee than a craftsman's shop."
Leofric's eyes brightened slowly whilst the monk spoke. Such an idea as this had never crossed his mind heretofore. Living far away from Oxford, and hearing nothing of the life there, he had never once thought of that as a possible asylum for himself; but in a moment it seemed to him that this was just the chance he had been longing for. He could not bring his mind to the thought of the life of the cloister; yet he loved learning and the fine arts with a passionate love, and had received just enough training to make him ardently desire more.
"Would such a thing as that be possible for such as I, my father?" he asked with bated breath, seeming to hang upon the monk's lips as he waited for the answer.
"More than possible—advisable, reasonable," answered another voice from the shadows of the room. Leofric started to his feet and bent the knee instinctively; for, unseen to both himself and Father Ambrose, the Prior had entered, and had plainly heard the last words which had passed between the pair.
The Prior was a tall, venerable man, with eagle eye and an air of extreme dignity; but he was kindly disposed towards Leofric, and greeted him gently and tenderly, speaking for a few minutes of his recent heavy loss, and then resuming the former subject.
"Oxford is the place where lads such as thou do congregate together in its many schools and buildings, and learn from the lips of the instructed and wise the lore of the ancients and the wisdom of the sages. There be many masters and doctors there who began life as poor clerks, begging alms as they went. What one man has done another may attempt. Thou mayest yet be a worthy clerk, and rise to fame and learning."
"Without money?" asked Leofric, whose eyes began to sparkle and glow.
"Yes, even without money," answered the Prior: "for at Oxford there are monasteries and abbeys to each of which is attached a Domus Dei; and there are gathered together poor clerks and other indigent persons, to whom an allowance of daily food is made from the monks' table; whilst, through the liberality of benefactors, a habit is supplied to them yearly, together with such things as be absolutely needful for their support. Once was I the guest of the Abbot of Osney, and I remember visiting the Domus Dei, and seeing the portions of meat sent thither from the refectory. I will give thee a letter of recommendation to him, good lad. It may be that this will serve thee in some sort upon thy arrival."
Leofric bent the knee once more in token of the gratitude his faltering lips could scarce pronounce. The thought of a life of study, in lieu of that of an apprentice, was like nectar to him. Prior and Father alike smiled at his boyish but genuine rapture.
"Yet think not, my son, that the life will be free from many a hardship, to a poor clerk without means and without friends. There be many wild and turbulent spirits pent within the walls of Oxford. Men have lost life and limb ere now in those brawls which so often arise 'twixt townsmen and clerks. The Chancellor doth all he can to protect the lives of scholars and clerks; yet, do as he will, troubles ofttime arise, and men have ere this been forced to leave the place by hundreds till the turbulent citizens can be brought to reason and submission."
But Leofric was in nowise daunted by this aspect of the case. Trained up hardily, albeit of studious habits, the fear of hardships did not daunt him.
"So long as I have food to eat and raiment to wear, I care for no hardship, so as I may become a scholar," he said. "And can I, reverend Father, rise to the dignity of a master, if I do not likewise take the vows of the Church upon me?"
"Ay, truly thou canst," was the reply. "There are the scholastic Trivium of grammar, logic, rhetoric, and the mathematical Quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. These form the magic circle of the arts, of which thou mayest become a master without taking any vow to Holy Church. Yet methinks thou wouldest do well to wear the tonsure and the gown, that thou mayest in all quarrels or troubles have the right to claim the benefit of clergy, and so escape from the secular arm if it were stretched out against thee. This is the usual custom of clerks at Oxford and Cambridge. But it commits thee to nought, if thou art not willing to join thyself to any of our brotherhoods."
The Prior eyed him kindly, but Father Ambrose sighed, and Leofric himself felt a qualm of shame at his own distaste for the life of the cloister.
"The wish, the call, may come perchance," he answered humbly, glancing from one to the other; "but methinks I am not fit for the life of holy meditation, or surely the kindness I have here received would have inclined mine heart that way."
"Thou art still too young to take such vows upon thyself," said the Prior. "It is men who come to us aweary of the evils and strife of the world that know the blessedness of the cloistered life. Thou mayest learn that lesson in time; or thou mayest link thy lot with that of these wandering friars, who teach men that they have found the more acceptable way. For myself, I have found the place of rest, and I desire to end my days here in peace."
"And how may I journey from here to Oxford?" asked Leofric with some timidity, after a short silence. "Surely the way is long; and I have never fared farther than Coventry, which place I thought to make my home, if I could but find a master who would receive me as apprentice."
The Prior pondered awhile before replying.
"There be two ways of journeying—by land and by water," he replied; "if by land, thou wouldest have to beg thy way from place to place. At some hostel they would give thee bed and board, most like, if thou wouldest make them merry by a song; or at some great house, if thou couldst recite a ballad or speak a Latin grace. At the Monasteries thou wouldest receive food and bed, and mayhap an alms to help thee on thy way. Many a clerk begs his way to Oxford year by year, and is well received of all. Yet the perils of the way are many and great through the forests which lie betwixt thee and thy goal. It might be that the water way would be the better."
"I love the water," said Leofric eagerly; "and my little canoe lies beneath the bank under the alder clump. I have made many a miniature voyage in her before. Methinks she would carry me safely did I but know the way."
"And the way thou canst not miss," answered the Prior. "This little stream which flows past our walls joins itself, as thou dost know, to the wider Avon, which presently flows into a river men call the Cherwell, and in its turn that doth make junction with the Isis, whereon the town of Oxford is situate. This junction is hard by the town itself; when thou dost reach that, thy journey will have an end."
Leofric listened eagerly. He had heard, indeed, of these things, but hitherto they had been but names to him. Now it seemed as though the great unknown world, lying without the circle of his daily life, were about to open before him.
"I would fain try the water way," he said. "I am skilful with the paddle; and I can carry my little craft upon my back whenever rocks and rapids impede my progress. The season is favourable for the journey. The ice and snow are gone. There is a good depth of water in all the streams, and yet the weed and slime of summer and autumn have not begun to appear; nor will the overarching boughs from the trees hinder progress as they do when clad in their summer bravery. I love the river in the early spring, and if I do but follow the course of the stream I cannot miss my way, as I might well do upon the road in the great forest tracks."
"Yes, that is very true. Methinks thou wilt be safer so, if thou canst find sustenance upon the way. But thou canst carry with thee some provision of bread, and there be several godly houses beside the river where thou wilt be welcomed by the brothers, who will supply thy needs. Take, too, thy bow and arrows; thou wilt doubtless thus secure some game by the way. But have a care in the King's forests around Oxford how thou dost let fly thy shafts. Many a man has lost his life ere now for piercing the side of some fat buck."
Leofric's heart was now all on fire for the journey which lay before him. He could scarcely believe that but one short hour ago he had believed himself hopelessly doomed to a life of uncongenial toil. He had never thought of this student life—he hardly knew of its existence; but the Prior of the Monastery and some of the monks, who had known and befriended both Leofric and his father, had themselves discussed several times the question of dispatching the youth to Oxford for tuition; and the rather unexpected death of the father, after a lingering illness, seemed to open the way for the furtherance of this design.
Leofric had been the pet of the Monastery from his childhood. Always of a studious turn, and eager for information, it had been the favourite relaxation of several of the monks to instruct him in the Latin tongue, to teach him the art of penmanship, and even to initiate him into some of the mysteries of that wonderful illumination of parchments which was the secret of the monks in the Middle Ages.
Leofric profited by every opportunity afforded him. Already he could both speak and understand Latin easily. He had a very fair knowledge of certain portions of the Scriptures, and possessed a breviary of his own, which he regarded as his greatest treasure. For the age in which he lived these were accomplishments of no mean order, and it would have seemed to the ecclesiastics little short of a disgrace to them had they permitted their pupil to lose his scholarship in some craftsman's shop. They had frequently spoken of sending him as a clerk to Oxford, unless he could see his way to becoming one of themselves. This, however, was not to be. The boy, though reverent and devout, had no leanings after the life of the cloister, and the Prior was too wise a man to put pressure upon him. But he was willing to forward, by such means as he could, any project which should secure to Leofric the advantages of a liberal education.
So the lad was bidden to remain a guest of the Monastery for the few days necessary to his simple preparations. The Prior wished him to be provided with a habit suitable to his condition of clerk. This habit was made of a strong sort of cloth, and reached to the knees, being confined at the waist by a leather girdle. He was also provided with a change of under-raiment, with strong leggings and shoes, and with a supply of coarse bread and salted meat sufficient for several days. The Prior wrote a letter to the Abbot of Osney, recommending the lad to his favourable notice, and asking for him a place in the Domus Dei, should no better lodging be obtainable.
Leofric himself spent his time in the mending of his canoe, which had been somewhat battered by the winter storms. He had made the little craft out of the bark of trees, and had covered it with pitch to make it waterproof. Some story he had heard about wild men in unknown lands had given him the idea of constructing this little boat, and now it seemed as though it would be of real service to him in his new career.
Father Ambrose would sit beside him on the river bank, and talk to him as he prosecuted this task. There was a strong bond of affection between the old monk and the young lad.
"Thou wilt come back some day and see us, Leofric," he said once, as the task drew near to its accomplishment; "I would fain look again upon thy face before I die."
"Indeed I will, father. I too shall always love this place, and shall never forget the kindness I have received, nor how these many days masses have been said for my father, and never a penny paid by me, albeit I would gladly give my all."
"Nay, nay, boy, it is a labour of love; and we know that thou wilt some day, when thou art rich and famous, give of thine abundance to our shrine here. Thou wilt see strange things in the great world, my son. Thou wilt see the great ones of the earth rising up against their anointed King, and that King taking vows upon his lips which he has neither the wish nor the intention to fulfil. The world is full of terrible things, and thou wilt quickly see many of them. Yet keep through all a pure heart and clean hands, so will God love thee, be thy path what it will."
Leofric looked up quickly.
"I have heard somewhat from time to time of the feud betwixt the King and the Barons; but to me such tales are but as idle words. I know not what men mean."
"Thou wilt know more anon," answered the monk gravely. "We have heard from those who pass to and fro that times are dangerous, and men's minds full of doubt and fear. I know not what may betide this land, but there be those who say that the sword will ere long be unsheathed, and that brother will war against brother as it hath not been seen for many a long day. God forbid that such things should be!"
"And will such strife come nigh to Oxford?" asked Leofric. "Shall we hear ought there of the battle and the turmoil?"
"I trow well that ye will. Knowest thou not that the King hath a palace close by the walls of the city, and another but a few leagues away? Methinks that in yon city there will be much strife of tongues anent these burning questions of which we scarce hear a whisper. Thou must seek to be guided aright, my son; for youth is ever hot-headed, and like to be carried away by rash counsels. It is a grievous thing for a nation to rise against its anointed head; and yet, even as Saul was set aside by God, and another put in his place, we may not always say that a King can do no wrong—albeit we must be very slow to judge and condemn him."
Leofric listened eagerly. Every day of late he had heard words which roused within him the knowledge that beyond the peaceful circle of his past life lay a seething world into which he was shortly to plunge. The thought filled him with eager longings and desires. He wanted to shoot forth in his tiny craft and see this world for himself. And, behold, to-day his task was finished, and the Prior had ordained that at dawn upon the morrow he should go.
His habit and provision were already packed and stowed away. He had received his letter and messages, and had listened in meek silence to the admonitions and instructions of the Prior. He had slept his last night beneath the hospitable Monastery roof, and had heard mass for the last time in the grey dawning.
Now he stood with one foot in his little craft, pressing the hand of Father Ambrose, and looking round at the familiar faces and buildings with smiles and tears struggling for mastery in his face.
Then the canoe shot out into the midst of the stream.
His voyage was begun.
It was no light task that Leofric had set himself. The river wound in and out through forest tracts hardly ever traversed. Trees blown down in winter storms lay right athwart the stream. Débris brought down from above was often packed tight against such obstructions; and then there was no way of proceeding save by dragging up the canoe out of the water and launching it again lower down. As the forest was often very thick and tangled along the banks of the river, this was no light matter, and had Leofric not been gifted with a strong will and a very resolute purpose, he might well have given up in despair.
As it was, he found travelling a great deal slower work than he had anticipated, and already his store of provision was greatly diminished, although he could not flatter himself that he had travelled any very great distance. He was sometimes disposed to doubt whether, after all, he had been wise in choosing the waterway in preference to the road.
Night was falling, and it looked as though rain was likely to come on at moonrise. The clouds were sullen and lowering; the wind moaned and whistled through the trees, and lashed the water into angry little wavelets. Leofric was feeling weary and a little depressed by the intense loneliness of his voyage, when suddenly he heard himself hailed by a friendly voice from somewhere out of the thicket.
"Whither away, good friend, and why art thou afloat and alone at this hour of the evening? What dost thou in yon frail craft out on the darkling river?"
Leofric looked eagerly about him, and espied, not far away, a ruddy-faced youth of about his own age, sitting beside the water fishing, with a basket at his side that showed he had not thus sat in vain. With a few strokes of his paddle he brought himself alongside the bank. The sound of a human voice was as music to his ears after the long silence of the forest.
"Good-even, good comrade," he answered, stepping lightly ashore; "and welcome indeed is thy friendly voice. For four days have I been alone upon this river, and the sight of a kindly face is like a draught of new wine."
"But what dost thou alone upon the river?"
"Marry, that is soon told. I am a poor lad who would fain become a clerk, and I am on my way to Oxford, there to seek to maintain myself whilst I study the arts and win my way to a livelihood—"
Hardly had he got out these words before the other youth sprang to his feet with a whoop of joy, and to Leofric's astonishment flung his arms about his neck, and fairly danced in the exuberance of his delight.
"Now, what ails thee?" he asked, half amused, half bewildered. "Hast thou taken leave of thy senses, good friend?"
"Thou mayest well ask—methinks it must even seem so; but listen, fair youth, and soon shalt thou understand. I am the son of a farmer, but I, too, have a great longing after letters. I have heard of this same city of learning, and I have begged and prayed of my father, who has many other sons, to let me fare forth and find my way thither, and climb the tree of learning. At first he listened not, but laughed aloud, as did my brothers. But my mother took my part, and I learned to read last winter at the Monastery, and the kindly fathers spoke well of my progress. Through these winter days I have gone daily thither, taking an offering of fish, and receiving instruction from them—"
"That is how I obtained such learning as I possess," interposed Leofric eagerly; "and my father taught me too, for he was a scholar of no mean attainments. But it is the monks who possess the books and parchments."
"Yea, verily; and these last weeks I have mastered in some poor sort the art of penmanship. And now my father has almost consented to letting me go. Only he has said that I must wait until chance shall send me a companion for the way. From time to time there pass by clerks and scholars returning to Oxford after an absence, or making their way thither, even as thou art doing; and my father has promised that I may join myself to the next of these who shall pass by. Now thou dost understand why I did so embrace thee. For if thou wilt have me for a travelling companion, we may e'en start forth to-morrow, and find ourselves in Oxford ere another week be passed."
No proposition could have been more welcome to Leofric. He had had enough of loneliness, and this sturdy farmer's son would be the best possible comrade for him. He was delighted at the notion. His canoe would carry the double burden, and the fatigues of navigation would be greatly lessened when shared between two.
"Come up to the farm with me," cried his new friend, "and there will be bed and board and a hearty welcome for thee; thou shalt find there a better lodging than in some hollow tree by the river-banks; and my mother will give us provision enow ere we start forth upon our voyage to-morrow."
Leofric was grateful indeed for this invitation. He made fast his canoe, saw that his few possessions were safely protected from a possible wetting, and followed his new friend along the narrow winding track which led from the river-side to the clearing round the farmstead.
On the way he learned that his companion's name was John Dugdale—commonly called Jack. The farm where he had lived all his life was situated not more than five miles from the town of Banbury. Jack had plainly heard more of the news of the world than had reached Leofric in his quiet home on the upper river. Something of the stir and strife that was agitating the kingdom had penetrated even to this lonely farm.
The great Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort, had passed through Banbury on his way from Kenilworth to London, not long ago. There was a great stir amongst the people, Jack told Leofric, and men spoke of the Earl as a saviour and deliverer, and he was received with something very like royal honours when he appeared. Leofric asked what it was from which he was to deliver the people, and Jack was not altogether clear as to this; but it had something to do with the exactions of the King and the Pope; and he was almost certain that the clergy themselves were as angry with the King as the Barons could be. He had heard it said that half the revenue of the realm was being taken to enrich the coffers of the Pope, or to aid him in his wars. More than that Jack could not say, rumours of so many kinds being afloat.
"But let us once get to Oxford, good comrade, and we shall soon learn all this, and many another thing besides. I want to know what the world is saying and thinking. I am weary of being stranded here like a leaf that has floated into some backwater and cannot find the channel again. I want to know these things; and if there be stirring times to come for this land, as many men say there will, I would be in the forefront of it all. I would wield the sword as well as the pen."
This was a new idea to Leofric, who had contented himself hitherto with dreams of scholastic distinction, without considering those other matters which were exercising the ruling spirits of his day. Jack's words, however, brought home to him the consciousness that there would be other matters of interest to engross him, once let him enter upon the life of a rising city. Oxford could not but be a centre of vitality for the whole kingdom. Once let him win his way within those walls, and a new world would open before his eyes.
Talking eagerly together, the lads pursued their way through the forest path, and suddenly emerged upon the clearing where the farmhouse stood. Lights shone hospitably from door and window; a barking of dogs gave a welcome to the son of the house; and Leofric speedily found himself pushed within a great raftered kitchen, lighted by the blaze of a goodly fire of logs, where he was quickly surrounded by friendly faces, and welcomed heartily, even before Jack had told all his tale and explained who the stranger was.
The Dugdales were honest farmer folks, always glad to welcome a passing stranger, and to hear any item of news he might come furnished with. Leofric had little enough of this commodity; but the fact that he was making his way to Oxford as a prospective clerk there was a matter of much interest to this household. Farmer Dugdale was a man of his word. He had promised Jack to let him go so soon as he should find a companion to travel with. He would have preferred as companion one who had had previous experience of University life; but he would not go back on his word on that account. Leofric's handsome and open face and winning manner gained him the good-will of all at the farm: they pressed him to remain their guest for a few days, whilst Jack's mother made her simple preparations for sending out her boy into the world for an indefinite time, and the two companions learned to know each other better.
Leofric was willing enough to do this. He was very happy amongst these hearty, homely people, and became attached to all of them, especially to Jack. Together they strengthened the canoe, made a locker in which to stow away sufficient provision for the journey, and a second paddle for Jack to wield, which he quickly learned to do with skill and address.
Jack's mother took Leofric to her motherly heart at once, and she made sundry additions to his scanty stock of clothing, seeing that his equipment equalled that of her own son. It was little enough when all was said and done; for times were simple, and luxuries unknown and undreamed of, save in the houses of great nobles. The boys felt rich indeed as they beheld their outfits made ready for them, and there was quite a feast held in their honour upon the last evening ere they launched forth upon their long journey.
Happy as Leofric had been at the farm, he was still conscious of a thrill of pleasure when he and Jack dipped their paddles and set forth upon their journey together. The Dugdale family, assembled on the banks, gave them a hearty cheer. They answered by an eager hurrah, and then, shooting round a bend in the stream, they found themselves alone on the sparkling waterway.
To Leofric this voyage was very different from the last. There were the same obstacles and difficulties to be overcome, but these seemed small now that they were shared between two. Jack was strong, patient, and merry. He made light of troubles and laughed at mishaps. They fared sumptuously from the well-stocked larder of the farm, and the weather was warm and sunny. To make a bed of leaves in some hollow tree, and bathe in the clear, cold river on awaking, was no hardship to either lad. They declared they did not mind how long the journey lasted, save for the natural impatience of youth to arrive at a given destination.
"And I should like an adventure," quoth Jack, "ere we sight the walls and towers of Oxford Castle. Men talk of the perils of travel; but, certes, we have seen nothing of them. I've had more adventure tackling a great pike in the stream at home sometimes than we have seen so far."
Nevertheless Jack was to have his wish, and the travellers were to meet with an adventure before they reached their journey's end.
It came about in this wise.
They knew that they must be drawing near their journey's end. They had been told by a woodman, whose hut had given them shelter upon the last night, that the forest and palace of Woodstock were near at hand. They wanted to get a view of that royal residence. So upon the day following they halted soon after mid-day, and leaving their canoe securely hidden in some drooping alder bushes, they struck away along a forest track described to them by the woodman, which would, if rightly followed, conduct them to a hill from whence a view could be obtained of the palace.
Walking was tedious and difficult, and they often lost their way in the intricacies of the forest; but still they persevered, and were rewarded at last by a partial view of the place, which was a finer building than either of the lads had ever seen before. But the sun was getting low in the sky by this time, and they had still to make their way back to their boat, unless they were to sleep supperless in the forest; so they did not linger long upon the brow of the hill, but quickly retraced their steps through the forest, trying to keep at least in the right direction, even though they might miss the actual path by which they had come.
Suddenly they became aware of a tumult going on in a thicket not very far away. They heard the sound of blows, of cries and shouts—then of oaths and more blows. Plainly there was a fight going on somewhere close at hand, and equally plain was it that travellers were being robbed and maltreated by some forest ruffians, of whom there were always a number in all the royal forests, where fat bucks might chance to be shot, undetected by the king's huntsmen.
The lads had both cut themselves stout staffs to beat down the obstructions in the path. Now they grasped their cudgels tightly in their hands and looked at each other.
"Let us to the rescue!" quoth Jack, between his clenched teeth. "I can never hear the sound of blows without longing to be in the thick of the fray. Like enough in the gathering shades the assailants will think we be a larger party, and will make off. Be that as it may, let us lend our aid whilst it may serve those in distress."
Leofric nodded, grasping his staff firmly in his hand. He had all the courage of a highly-strung nature, even if he lacked Jack's physical vigour.
Springing through the leafy glades of the forest, they soon came upon the scene of the encounter, and easy was it to see that robbery and spoliation was the object of the attack.
Four stalwart young men, wild and dishevelled of aspect, armed with stout cudgels and bows and arrows, had set upon two travellers, whose clothes denoted them to be men of substance. They had been overpowered by their assailants, though plainly not till a severe struggle had taken place. Both were now lying upon the ground, overmastered each by a pair of strong knaves; and in spite of their cries and struggles, it was plain that these sturdy robbers were rifling them of such valuables as they possessed.
Jack took in the situation at a glance. With a yell of defiance he sprang upon the nearest rogue, and hurled him backwards with such right good will that he reeled heavily against a tree trunk, and fell prostrate, half stunned. In a second the traveller had wrenched himself free from the other assailant, and had dealt him such a sounding blow across the pate (he having laid aside his stick in order the better to plunder) that he measured his length upon the turf, and lay motionless; whilst the other pair of bandits, who had been belaboured by Leofric, seeing that they were now overpowered and in no small danger of capture, flung down their booty and made off to the woods, dragging their helpless comrade with them.
It was no part of the travellers' plan to take into custody these knaves, and they made no attempt to detain them, glad enough to see them make off in the darkening forest. But they turned to their preservers with words of warm gratitude, and showed how narrowly they had escaped being muleted of rather large sums of money; for one had a belt into which many broad gold pieces had been sewn, and the purse of the other was heavy and well plenished.
"We are travelling to Oxford," said he of the belt. "We joined for a time the convoy of one of the 'fetchers,' conveying young lads and poor clerks thither. But as we neared the place we grew impatient at the thought of another night's halt, and thought we would strike across the forest ourselves, and reach our goal soon after sundown. But we missed our way, and these fellows set upon us. It is a trade with some lewd fellows calling themselves clerks, and often pleading benefit of clergy if caught, to infest these woods, and fall upon scholars returning to the University, and rob them of such moneys as they bear upon their persons."
Leofric's eyes were wide with amaze.
"Surely those fellows were not clerks from Oxford?"
"Like enow they were. There be a strange medley of folks calling themselves by that name that frequent the streets and lanes of the city, or congregate without the walls in hovels and booths. Some of these, having neither means to live nor such characters as render them fit subjects to be helped from any of the chests, take to the woods for a livelihood, shooting the King's bucks or falling unawares upon travellers. Some clerks run to the woods for refuge after some wild outbreak of lawlessness. There be many wild, lawless knaves habited in the gown of the clerk and wearing the tonsure. Are ye twain from Oxford yourselves, or bound thither, since ye seem little acquaint with the ways of the place?"
Explanations were quickly made, and the two elder youths, who might have been eighteen and nineteen years old perhaps, suggested that they should finish the journey together on foot, lading themselves with the contents of the canoe, but leaving it behind in the alders, to be fetched away some other time if wanted. They were near to the river by this time, and the lads quickly fetched their goods, glad enough to travel into the city in company with two comrades who plainly knew the place and the life right well.
They were very open about themselves. The name of one was Hugh le Barbier, and he was the son of an esquire who held a post in the house of one of the retainers of the Earl of Leicester—"the great De Montfort," as the youth proudly dubbed him. His companion was Gilbert Barbeck, son of a rich merchant. His home was in the south of England, but he had been travelling with Hugh, during an interlude in their studies. In those days regular vacations were unknown. Men might stay for years at the University, hearing lectures all the time through; or they might betake themselves elsewhere, and return again and resume their studies, without reproof. The collegiate system was as yet unknown, though its infancy dates from a period only a little later. But there was a Chancellor of the University (if such it could be called), and learned men from all lands had congregated there; lectures in Arts and also in the sciences were regularly given, and degrees could be taken by those who could satisfy the authorities that they had been through the appointed courses of lectures, and were competent in their turn to teach.
The religious houses had been the pioneers in this movement, but now there was a reaction in favour of more secular teaching. The monks had some ado to hold their own, and obtain as many privileges as were accorded to others; and friction was constantly arising.
Moreover the recent migration of friars to Oxford had struck another blow at the older monastic system. The personal sanctity of many of these men, their self-denying life, their powers of preaching, the strictness with which they kept their vows, all served to produce a deep impression upon the minds of those who had grown weary of the arrogance of the Priors and Abbots.
The Grey Friars in particular, followers of St. Francis, were universally beloved and esteemed. They went about barefoot; they would scarce receive alms in money; their buildings were of the poorest and roughest, and were situated in the lowest parts of the town. They busied themselves amongst the sick and destitute; they lived lives of self-denial and toil. The favour of princes had not corrupted them, and the highest powers of the land spoke well of them.
Hugh told all this to his comrades as they walked through the darkening forest. He was plainly a youth of good parts and gentle blood, and he seemed taken by Leofric's refined appearance and thoughtful face.
"I would not go to Osney, or live in the Domus Dei there," he said. "Thou hast saved me the loss of all my wealth; it would go hard if thou wouldst not accept the loan of a few gold pieces, enough to establish thyself in some modest lodging in the town, or even in one of the empty niches upon the walls, where clerks have made shift to dwell ere now. Out beyond the walls, shut up on the island of Osney, away from all the bustle and roistering and tumult of the town, it scarce seems life at all; and methinks the monks will get hold of thee, and win thee to be one of themselves. Better, far better, be one of us in the town. Then wilt thou see all that is to be seen, and learn far more, too, than thou wilt in the schools of the monks."
Leofric listened eagerly to this advice.
"Is Osney then without the walls?"
"Ay verily, on one of the many islands that the river makes in its windings. Oxford itself is little more than an island, for that matter, since the city ditch has been dug on the north side of it. But within the city there is life and stir and stress, and all the Halls where the students lodge are there, and the lodgings amongst the townsfolks which some prefer. Come and belong to us, not to the monks. So wilt thou learn the more, and enjoy life as thou couldst not do cooped up on yon damp island in the Domus Dei?"
"I would fain do so," answered Leofric readily. "I have no desire for a monkish life. I would see what life is like without the cloister wall. But I have little money; I love not debts—"
"Tush! be not over scrupulous. Thou hast done me one good turn; I claim right to do thee another. Now no more of that. Let us put our best foot forward; for it will be dark ere we reach our destination. Perchance we may yet have to camp once more in the woods; for if the city gates be locked, we may have some trouble in getting admitted. The townsmen, albeit they live and thrive by them, love not the clerks. They will do us a bad turn an they can; yet methinks we are even with them, take one thing with another!"
Hugh showed his teeth in a flashing smile, and Gilbert laughed aloud. Then the party strode on through the darkness, till they paused by common consent to light a fire and camp for the night in company—it being plain by this time that they could not enter Oxford that night.
With glowing cheeks and beating hearts, Leofric Wyvill and Jack Dugdale beheld the walls of Oxford towering above them in the clear morning sunlight.
For many long hours during the previous night had the four travellers sat over their camp fire, listening and telling of the life of the mediaeval University city. Already Leofric and Jack felt a thrill of pride in the thought that they were to be numbered amongst its sons; already they had wellnigh made up their minds that they would set up together in some nook or turret in the city walls, make a sort of eyry there for themselves, and live frugally upon the small sum of money they possessed, until they were able to earn something towards their own maintenance, or could borrow from one of the "chests" provided for the benefit of poor students.
Hugh had carried his point, and Leofric's purse now held a few gold pieces as well as his own small store of silver. By the exercise of economy the two friends would be able to live in modest comfort for a considerable time, and Leofric, at least, hoped before long to earn money by his penmanship and talent in illuminating parchments.
PLAN OF OXFORD
SHOWING THE POSITION OF THE ANCIENT HALLS, etc.,
ACCORDING TO WOOD.
12th and 13th Centuries.
They knew by this time where their new comrades lived. Gilbert had a lodging with an honest citizen of the name of Seaton, who kept a shop hard by Carfax, and sold provisions of all sorts to clerks and others. He was one of the burgher class, who contrived to keep on good terms both with the scholars and his fellow-citizens, and in the frequent collisions between "town and gown"—to borrow the modern phrase—he stood good-humouredly aloof, and would not take sides in any dispute.
Hugh lived in one of the many Halls which had sprung up within the city walls. These were not collegiate institutions, but were merely places of abode, hired perhaps by a number of clerks collectively, perhaps by some master, who received inmates as boarders. They lived in these houses, and took their meals there—everything being of the roughest and simplest description—and attended lectures in the different schools according to their own fancy. Some of the richer students enlisted the services of a tutor; but many lived a free and lawless existence, learning almost nothing, frequenting lecture just for the fashion of the thing, but making no progress in scholarship, and spending the best part of the day in amusement or fighting.
In the schools attached to the religious houses there was more order, more comfort, and more decency of life than in these self-constituted Halls; but amongst such clerks as had no leaning towards the religious life there was a strong feeling of preference for simply secular abodes; and there were difficulties between the monks and the University authorities with reference to the course in Arts which held back many from attaching themselves to the monastic schools.
All this Leofric and Jack had been told with more or less of detail, and already Leofric was resolved against settling himself upon Osney Island, in the Domus Dei there. He would present his letter to the Abbot, but not until he had made a nook for himself somewhere else. Gilbert declared that he knew of a little turret in the city wall, not far from Smith Gate, in which two students had lived for a considerable time. If it were empty, they could take possession of it, and by the expenditure of a little money and ingenuity could transform it into quite a respectable living-chamber for themselves. Many a poor clerk had inhabited a chamber of that sort before, and Jack and Leofric secretly thought that they should prefer the quiet life on the wall to the noise and confusion which plainly too often reigned in the various Halls.
"We will go in by Smith Gate, and see if the turret be empty," said Gilbert; "if so, these lads can take possession forthwith, and we will show them where they can provide themselves with such things as be needful for them."
They were nearing the city by now. Already there had spread beyond the walls a certain number of Halls and other buildings. The Church of St. Mary Magdalene and the colony of the Austin Friars were without the wall on the northern side, and a few Halls had sprung up along Horsemonger Street, as it was then called, which was on the north side of the city ditch, where Broad Street now runs.
The Austin Friars were only just beginning to appear in Oxford; but the Black, White, and Grey Friars had already obtained a footing in the city. As the travellers approached the gate, they saw the cowled figures flitting about, some with black habits over their long white under-dress, some with a simple gown of grey or brown, bound with a cord at the waist. These latter, who all (save the old and infirm) went barefoot, were the Franciscans or Minorites—the Grey Friars of whom the lads had heard; and they regarded them with curiosity and veneration, believing them to be full of sanctity and virtue.
Out through the gate, just as the youths approached it, came a couple of Masters in their gowns and hoods. Leofric and Jack scanned them curiously, and eagerly inquired of their companions who they were.
"Nay, I know not the names of all the Masters in the city," answered Hugh, laughing; "there be too many for that. Belike they have been lecturing in School Street this forenoon, and are going back to their Halls. Some of these same Masters will like enough come and invite you twain to attend their lectures; but give not too ready an answer to the first who asks. Rather visit several and pick out those who please you most. It is oft the poorest and least learned who are most eager for listeners, the better sort having always their lecture-rooms full."
And now they were actually within the city precincts. Smith Gate being so close to School Street, the eager eyes of the two new-comers were immediately gratified by the sight of many hurrying figures of clerks and Bachelors and Masters, some going this way and some the other, talking earnestly together, disputing with some warmth and eloquence, or singing snatches of songs, like boys released from school.
It was not easy for unaccustomed eyes to distinguish the rank of the various passers-by; for academic dress was still in its infancy, and there were few, if any, statutory rules respecting it. The habit of the clerk was very much what he wore at home, and the black cappa of Bachelor or Master was often the same, though Masters were beginning to wear the square, tufted cap, and had the right to the miniver hood of the nobles and beneficed ecclesiastics. The scarlet gown of the Doctor had just come into use, but was at present seldom seen, as many were unable to purchase so costly a robe. The most common garment for every person in the University was the "tabard" with the girdle, and these tabards might be either red, black, or green; but black was the commonest colour, as being the most serviceable in daily wear.
Fain would the lads have lingered to watch the shifting throng of clerks and their preceptors, as they streamed out from the lecture-rooms for the mid-day meal; but Hugh and Gilbert laughed at their eager curiosity, and drew them along to the left down Hammer Hall Lane, pausing suddenly upon reaching a small turret in the wall, which once had been open to the street, but was now closed in by a few mouldering boards.
"Good!" cried Gilbert, as he pulled aside one of the boards; "the place has not been taken. Now look well at it, you two, and see if you think you can make shift to live here till a better place offers."
Pushing their way within the circular recess, the lads saw that a rude stairway led up to some sort of chamber overhead. Mounting the rickety steps with care—for they had become loose and rotten—they found themselves in a small and not unpleasing little chamber, lighted by several long, narrow loopholes, and roofed in securely from the weather overhead.
The flooring was rather decayed, and there was a mouldering smell pervading the place; but its former occupants had done various things to render habitation possible. A fireplace and chimney had been contrived in one corner, and some rude shutters had been affixed to keep out the cold air at night, or in inclement weather. A rickety shelf that would serve as a table still hung drooping from its nail. Plainly the place had been lived in before, and might well be again. Leofric and Jack looked round it, and smiled at one another.
"We could live here like princes, if there be nothing to hinder," said the latter. "Can we come and fix our abode here without making payment to any one?"
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