Literary Thoughts edition presents The Captain of the Wight by Frank Cowper ------ "The Captain of the Wight" is a 1889 published novel by Frank Cowper (1849-1930), who takes us back to 1488, to the time when Sir Edward Woodville was " Lord and Captain of the Isle of Wight', under Henry VII. All books of the Literary Thoughts edition have been transscribed from original prints and edited for better reading experience. Please visit our homepage www.literarythoughts.com to see our other publications.
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To my mind there is no more picturesque period in the history of Western Europe than that of the Renaissance.
Among the many aspects in which it is possible to regard this important epoch, that of its influence on chivalry is one of the most interesting. The rough simplicity of the proud mediæval knight, gradually yielding to the subtle spell of pure poesy and courtly love, while the barred helm and steel gauntlet were hardly doffed from the stern field, or gorgeous tourney, this is a subject which will always fascinate.
However practical the world may grow, and perhaps, because of its very practicality, there will always be minds which will turn with relief to the romantic and the ideal. In the turmoil of real life, with its sordid materialism, there are many men and women who dwell with delight on some noble life clothed round with the glamour of ancient time, and presenting itself to the mind in the garb of gorgeous pomp and splendid pageantry, who, while trying to achieve some great emprise themselves, will dream of the men of old time, who have soared aloft on the pinions of glorious fame.
With the privilege of a writer of fiction, I have chosen Sir Edward Woodville,[*] commonly called Lord Woodville, as the "eidolon" on which to clothe the heroic virtue of chivalry, without its many and grosser faults. So little is known of the Captain of the Wight, but what little there is, shows him in so noble a light, that I feel I am not necessarily exaggerating, may even be accurately describing, his knightly character. His attachment to his own unfortunate family, and his murdered nephews, caused him to be included among the list of nobles and knights, who were held up to public execration in that long and artful manifesto put forth by Richard III., before he set out for the campaign which ended in Bosworth field.
[*] I have adopted the spelling of the name Woodville, authorised by Lord Bacon. The varieties--Wydevil, Wydeville, Wyddevil, etc, etc.--are as numerous as those of Leicester, who wrote his own name eight different ways; while Villiers varied his fourteen times. But Mainwaring has outdone them all. It is said there are one hundred and thirty-one varieties!
Returning in the victorious train of Henry Tudor, now Henry VII. of England, Sir Edward Woodville was invested with the honourable post which had been lately held by his unfortunate brother, the accomplished Lord Scales. As "Lord and Captain of the Isle of Wight," he seems to have made himself so popular that, by his own influence alone, he was able to induce four hundred of the inhabitants to follow him to Brittany. "Noble and courageous," "hardie and valyant," "a valiant gentleman, and desirous of honour," are the epithets with which the old chroniclers speak of Sir Edward Woodville. That he was never married, and died upon the field of battle "valiantly fighting," are all the facts that are known about him. But these facts are enough to allow me to interpret his life as I have done.
Like another more exalted, but less fortunate, inhabitant of Carisbrooke Castle, in the last sad act of his life,
"He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene,"
but with his "crew of talle and hardie" men of the Wight, died fighting with his sword in hand, and his face to the foe, as became a valiant captain of that lovely isle.
I have consulted all the authorities I could find, in order to give as accurate a picture of the time as possible. I don't know that it is needful to mention all, but the "Tournois du Roi René d'Anjou," "The Memoirs of St Palaye," "The Boke of St Albans," Sir Thomas Malory's "Mort d'Arthur," and "La joyeuse hystoire du bon Chevalier, le gentil Seigneur de Bayart," have been my chief sources for knightly feats and the accessories of chivalry; while the chroniclers Halle, Grafton, Fabyan, Stowe, Philip de Commines, Bouchet, and the Paston Letters, have been my chief historical guides. Lord Bacon has surveyed the whole period from a loftier standpoint, and in his "Reigne of Henry VIIth," has presented us with a stately specimen of the art of writing history; although, as an old manuscript note in my edition briefly puts it, "it is somewhat more of a picture of a polished prince than a history exactly true, more vouchers and fewer speeches would have given it more strength, though less beauty."
It must be a subject of interest to the inhabitants of the Isle of Wight to know that, in writing of that fatal expedition to Brittany, every one of the old historians speak of the bravery of the predecessors, and, in many cases, the ancestors, of the present dwellers in the island.
It is to be deplored that there is no original account of the expedition of the four hundred, such as exists in the "Herald's" account of the expedition to Dixmude, preserved in John Leland's Collectanea, which happened in the same year (1488). I have tried laboriously to find out the names of the chief inhabitants of the Isle of Wight at that time; but owing to the great danger and discomfort there was in living in the island during the 15th century, arising from the constantly threatened invasions of the French, and their many actual occupations of the island, the chief families appear either to have become extinct in that period, or to have retired to the mainland.
It is also worthy of note, to see how many times the chief manors passed into new families through the female line. This fact is very significant of the troubled state of the times. It was not that the manhood of the island ceased for want of sons, but that these sons met a violent death in the many wars of that age.
In conclusion, I may add that, while the story is mainly written for the young, with which object in view I have paid less attention to the delineation of character than the animation of incident, and the variety of the scene, I trust their elders may also find information about a romantic episode in our local and national history.
In front of an old ivy-covered manor house, so built, with its projecting wings, as to form three sides of a quadrangle, a boy was standing, idly leaning his arms on the stone coping of the low wall which shut in the fourth side of the courtyard.
The boy was well grown, with fair, ruddy face, and brown hair, cut, after the picturesque fashion of the latter half of the fifteenth century, straight above his eyebrows, but falling in wavy masses on each side of his face. His eyes were bright, and full of life. His strongly-knit frame gave promise of strength and activity, and his age might well have been put at seventeen or eighteen even, so tall was he, and well grown, although, in truth, he was not more than fifteen.
The free life in the fresh Hampshire air, blowing from the sea, over forest, gorse-covered common, and well-tilled fields, had given play to his thews and sinews.
It was evening. The sun was just setting over the blue hills covered with woods, interspersed with heathy patches. Far as the eye could see, there were gently-swelling undulations, with a loftier hill looming out of the grey mist which rose, film-like, behind the nearer masses of the russet forest. Here and there some larger expanse of mist looked like a lake amid the overhanging trees, while over all brooded the silence of the evening, when all nature pauses in reverence to the setting sun, broken only by the lowing of some distant kine, or the faint hum of a beetle as it went booming by.
Suddenly the boy stood up, listened attentively, then, springing through the gateway, he darted down the road in front of the house, to meet a horseman who was riding up the forest glade.
The man was singing blithely as he rode, and the refrain of each verse rang merrily in the stillness of the evening. It was the sound of this which had told the boy of the new comer's approach.
"Ringwood, my hound, with a merry taste,
All about the green wood began caste,
I took my horn and blew him a blast
With tro-ro-ro-ro! tro-ro-ro-ro!
With hey go bet! hey go bet! ho!
There he goeth, there he goeth, there he goe,
We shall have sport and game enowe,"
rang out clear over the wood, and cheerily the boy answered,--
"In sooth, Humphrey, thou'rt in fine voice to-night; but, prythee, cease thy song for a while, and give me the gerfalcon, that I may see her."
"Certes, Master Ralph, thou wilt be well pleased anon. 'Tis the veriest sweetest little bird for mounting a heron, or springing a pheasant, as ever I did see. There, stroke her cautiously; see how she manteleth and warbelleth her wings."
So saying, the serving man, or varlet, as the falconer's assistants were called, stooped down and held out his right hand, which was protected by a stout leathern glove with a large gauntlet. Two leather thongs, called lunes, were connected by two rings or tyrrits, and the lunes were then fastened to the jesses, and the ends loosely twined round the little finger, to prevent the bird from escaping.
The bird was gaily hooded, and turned its head from side to side, causing the little artificial plume of feathers on its head to shake and flutter gaily.
The boy, in his eagerness to stroke his new possession--for it was his birthday, and his father had sent to Salisbury to buy this hawk for his favourite son--put out his hand too quickly, for the hawk made a peck at it; but he drew it back in time, and with more caution and gentle words he at last succeeded in stroking her wings and back.
"Marry Humphrey, she is a fine one. She is a long hawk, and ought to fly well."
"I' faith! will she so. I got her rare cheap; for the price has risen mightily sithen the tolls have been laid on all hawks. 'Tis one shilling and eightpence, over and above the price of the bird, I had to pay to Brother Anselm for the licence of bringing her over; but I got her cheap, marry, did I! An you'll find such another in all the south of England--ay, and the north too--for ten shillings, never call me Humphrey more."
They had now reached the gateway where Master Ralph, as Humphrey called him, had been waiting for his birthday present. The groom took off the leather glove and gave it to Ralph, who put it on, and took the bird into the house to show to his father and mother, while Humphrey rode round to the stables.
The interior of the hall was a large low oak-panelled room, with a wide fireplace on one side. Antlers, spears, bows, and bills were hung or fixed all along the walls, and a few skins of red deer and other wild animals lay about on the stone floor. Ralph crossed the hall, and went down a low dark passage. He paused at a little oak door, and tapped.
"Come in," said a lady's voice, and Ralph entered joyously.
"Oh, mother, look! She's a hawk fit for the emperor. Thank thee, father, thank thee; 'tis the best gift thou couldst have chosen!" And the boy went up to the large armchair, in which an old man was sitting, clad in a long robe of fur, while opposite to him was standing his wife, the Dame Isabel de Lisle.
"Ay, my son, so thou art right joyous, art thou? Well, and that's e'en as it should be. Thou art growing a stout lad, and 'tis time to be thinking of thy after life. I would fain have ye all started in the world, before God sees fit to call me to him; and methinks 'twill not be long now."
"Why, father, what ails thee, that thou talkest thus dolefully?" said Ralph, his ardour damped by the tone of his father's remarks.
"Nay, child," said his mother, stroking the glossy, waving hair of her son, who had doffed his cap the moment he entered his parents' presence, "nay, child, 'tis naught but the old wound thy father hath gotten at Barnet grieveth him to-night."
"May-be, may-be, fair wife," said the old knight, who always called his lady "fair," although she was certainly considerably past the age when any claims to fairness might reasonably be supposed to have been surrendered; but in his eyes she was always fair. "Perchance 'tis naught; but my mind misgiveth me, and I would fain talk gravely to my sons to-night. If God wills that I should live, well and good--if not, well and good too; leastways, I shall have settled matters aright before I go hence."
"But, father, thou hast not looked at my falcon that thou gavest me. See what a long hawk it is; and what a gay lune Brother Anselm hath put on it."
"Ay, marry, fair son, 'tis a fine bird, and will spring a partridge rarely, I'll venture. Thou must fly her to-morrow--there's many a gagylling of geese, or sord of mallards, down Chute Forest way."
"Certes, father, I'll e'en try her at a heron first."
At this moment another step was heard outside, and two other boys came in; one a good deal older, and the other a year younger than Ralph.
"Well, Ralph, what hast got there?" said the elder, coming up and looking at the bird. "Marry she's a fine hawk, but I'd rather have had a falcon gentil."
"Ay, ay, and pay twenty shillings for it, let alone the toll of forty shillings in bringing of her into the kingdom."
"Nay, thou mightest have gotten one cheap from old Simon Bridle. He knows where all the best birds are to be got--all through the country side--"
"Nay, Jasper, why dost try to put the lad out of countenance with his pretty bird? Thou knowest she is a good bird, and thou wouldst be glad enough to have her thyself," said his mother.
"Now leave we this talk of the gerfalcon, and sithen you are all here, and 'tis yet half an hour to supper, let me hear what you, my sons, would wish to do after I am dead and gone. Jasper, you are the eldest, to you will fall my Bailiwick of Chute Forest, my manors of Chute, Holt, and Thruxton, and many other fair lands. Now wouldst thou go to the court, and seek to increase thy estate, as did thy great-grandfather Sir John Lisle of blessed memory, or wouldst thou stay at home, and take place and rank in thine own county?"
The eldest son took little time to answer, but replied respectfully,--
"I would fain stay at home and care for you and my lady mother, and mind the fair lands God and my ancestors have left me."
"Then, my son, as God wills it, and you have chosen, so be it, and may God's blessing and thy parents' be upon thee. Now, Ralph, my son, what willest thou?"
The young boy hesitated. He looked at his mother, and then down, and finally, raising his eyes with a keen light of joyous but rather shy determination said,--
"Noble sire, I would fain go to learn arms, and be trained in some noble prince's household, for I am of an age now when I could do some deed which might earn me knighthood."
"Well, fair son, thou hast answered as I would have thee. 'Tis sad to thy lady mother and me to part with thee, even for a space, but it is thy life that must be spent, not ours, and we have ever thought on thy weal. I will take thought what can be determined to try purveyance and maintenance as befitteth a son of the De Lisles. And now, son Walter, what willest thou?"
Walter was a delicate, slight boy, with a studious face, and one who had always been looked upon as the scholar of the family. He knew well what his parents wished, and also what was the custom of those of gentle blood who were the youngest sons. They must either seek their fortune in war, or else in the Church. He had not physical strength, nor sufficiently combative instincts, for the profession of arms, although, boylike, he had often been led away, when reading the romances of the time, to wish to imitate the deeds of Roland, or Tristram, or Launcelot; but then he was very fond of their worthy chaplain, who was also the boys' tutor, and he had been strongly imbued with a desire to sacrifice himself to God, as it was called. He therefore answered,--
"Father, I would like much to be a clerk, and follow in the steps of Our Lord and Master. Perchance I may do some good work some day."
"Ay, in sooth wilt thou, my dear son; and thou hast made the choice most after thy mother's heart, albeit, weak man that I am, had I been a youth, I would have thought scorn of a clerkly life, yet, now I am old, I know well what awaiteth those who have devoted themselves to God and Mother Church from their youth upward. I will avise me what hath best be done for thee also, and will send a missive to my right reverend kinsman the Abbot of Quarr, and perchance he will do his best to help us. And now, my sons, since all is in fair trim for your future welfare, and thy noble and fair mother is right pleased, I know, as truly am I--and I give God thanks that He hath given me such right trusty and well-nurtured sons--let us all go to supper, for we have even to drink the health of our Ralph, who by God's will from henceforth will soon become a right honest varlet and trusty page, and in time will proceed to be a very worshipful knight, like his ancestors have been--worthy men, and leal to their liege lord."
So saying, the old knight rose up with difficulty, assisted by his sons, who ran to aid him, for he had received a severe wound from a bill, over his left thigh, and had never recovered the use of it since.
"Grammercy, fair sons! but, Ralph, do thou lead in thy lady mother, for to thee belongs the honour of the day."
And so the little party went down the passage and entered the hall, where supper was laid at the upper end. The servants were all assembled in the body of the hall, and the sons carved for their parents at the high table. Ralph's health was duly drunk amid much festivity, and the whole household retired to rest at a reasonable hour.
The next day a messenger was despatched to Salisbury, where the Abbot of Quarr, who was related to Sir John Lisle, or De Lysle, was staying, to ask him to come over to Thruxton Hall, and advise his kinsman on the future of his sons. The worthy Abbot came without delay; and that evening a family consultation was held in the old parlour, round the knight's armchair.
The old knight briefly explained the matter, and then left the worthy Abbot to comment on it.
"By the Holy Rood! but thy gentle sons have all well bethought them, and I could not have directed them better myself. Truly, 'tis the overruling spirit of God who has guided them to a right judgment!" said the Abbot. "Now for Jasper there will need to be no thought taken. Out of the abundance of thy lands he will be provided for, and may marry and raise up a fair lineage; but for our nephew Ralph other thoughts will be requisite. He will need fair clothes, as becometh one of a noble house, and an honest varlet to go with him, and a mettlesome courser; one not too fiery, that will lead him astray, and perchance disgrace him, or his clothes, but one that is stout withal, and not of a too tame spirit. And now methinks I know of just such a one, which the Prior of Christchurch, who is at Sarum now on business, wisheth to part with, having become too feeble or too stout for so mettlesome a nag. Nephew Ralph, I will e'en give him thee, with my blessing."
"My Lord Abbot, I give thee humble thanks," stammered Ralph delighted.
"And now we must bethink us to what noble lord we may apprentice him. Thou knowest what state my Lord Scales, lately deceased, kept in his Castle of Carisbrooke. He, poor man--and may the Lord have mercy on his soul--was grievously done to death near Stoney Stratford, by the late King Richard, whom the devil led far astray. Nevertheless, he was a man of war, and well skilled in subtle council. However, King Henry hath made his brother Captain-General of our land; and Sir Edward Woodville, whom most men call the Lord Woodville, and who some even think will be called to the council by the style of Lord Rivers, is but now on his way back from the hard fight at Stoke by Newark, where he hath gained himself fresh glory. Certes he is a gallant, very puissant, and right hardy lord, and one under whom much knighthood and gentleness might be learnt, and as he is the uncle of our sovereign lord the King's most noble wife, there is much hope Ralph might be advanced in the King's household. Now I can present our fair nephew to him, and he can be brought up under my eye in the right pleasant Castle of Carisbrooke, of the honour of which the Lisles hold the Manor of Mansbridge. How say you, kinsman mine, will this serve you?"
"Ay, marry will it, my Lord Abbot, and I see fair promise of the boy's doing well, and faring right puissantly. And now I bethink me, our kinsman of Briddlesford may take an interest in the lad. His own son, I hear, hath been disinherited by him for his wilfulness and strong fealty to the house of York. I would fain see them reconciled, but an that may not be, I see no wrong in Ralph marrying his only daughter. But now, canst thou do somewhat also for son Walter here?--he would like well to be a clerk."
"By Our Lady, but he is a good lad, and we will take order that he be well advanced, as far as our poor influence in the Holy Church goeth; but he should be entered at Oxen ford shortly, for he is of age to go thither. I will write to my well-beloved brother and kinsman, the Abbot of Abyngdon, who will get him entered at Queen's College, over which, when I was a scholar, the very puissant prince Cardinal Beaufort was provost."
Thus the future of the boy was well arranged, and it was agreed that the Abbot of Quarr should take Ralph with him, as soon as his outfit was ready; and in order to expedite matters, a serving-man was sent to Salisbury to fetch out a tailor with the necessary cloth and stuff suitable to apparel a young man of good birth who was going to be page to so potent a lord as the Lord Woodville. At the same time, the varlet received orders to negotiate with the Prior of Christchurch for the horse.
Meanwhile Ralph and his brother had tried the qualities of his new hawk.
"Thou well knowest, brother Ralph," said Jasper to him, as they rode along on their small ponies towards Chute Forest, "my peregrine will fly faster than thy gerfalcon."
"Marry, will it? that we shall see, I trow. See there's a bird yonder; 'tis a heron, now fly our birds at her."
No sooner said than done; off went the jesses, away went the hoods, and with a swing of the arm and wrist, the noble birds were cast off the fist. Up they sprang high in air. The gerfalcon mounted quicker, but the peregrine went straighter. Away they sped and the boys after them, halloing to the dogs to keep to heel.
"See, Ralph, I told thee so, thy bird can't hold a candle to mine. Well flown, Swiftwing, well mounted! Now she sees the quarry!"
"Ay, and the quarry sees her. Look, Jasp, she has turned, and, by St Edmund, she'll cross my beauty! Listen to the sweet tinkle of her bells. How swift she mounteth. Ah! my little lady, thou knowest thy work well."
"I'll bet you my new riding-whip against your new set of bells, that my hawk strikes her first."
"Done!" cried Ralph eagerly.
The attention of the two boys was keenly fixed on the two birds, and they rode on, heeding nothing, the varlet who attended his young lords keeping well up with them.
"Hi! Master Jasper, look where thou goest," cried out the servant; "thou will ride down yon old man!"
Jasper was not best pleased at being interrupted in his view of the sport, and, glancing down, saw a man with a hood drawn over his head, and an old tattered gown on, who was with difficulty walking across the heath, attended by a young girl, meanly attired, but very modest and sweet-looking.
"Why, old man, wherefore crossedst thou my path? Didst not see the game toward? Fie, I should have thought an old man like you wouldst have known better!"
"Nay, fair gentleman, I did cross thy path purposely. I have lost my way, and am parlous footsore; so is this poor lass, my daughter; and I crave you of your kindness tell me where we may get shelter."
"Ay, that will my father right willingly give you. Go you on, keep the path over the common, and we shall follow you anon. Thou canst not miss thy way. Say young Master Jasper of Thruxton sent thee. Thou wilt meet with care enough there."
"Grammercy, fair young master; but I will not keep thee from thy sport to waste thy time hearing a poor man's thanks."
So saying, the man and the young girl continued their way.
Ralph had been looking on; he saw how weary the man was, and his generous young heart beat with pity. He rode after the strangers, and, dismounting, insisted on the poor man getting up and taking his daughter on the croup behind him. There was something in the manner of the wanderers which seemed to tell him they were not common people. The man was evidently much touched. He thanked the boy with quiet dignity, and accepted his offer with ready pleasure; while the large hazel eyes of the girl filled with grateful emotion. She gave him a shy glance, full of gratitude.
At this moment a loud shout of disappointment came from Jasper.
"By St Edmund, thy falcon hath risen above the heron, and will strike in another second!"
This was too much for Ralph. With a joyous bound he left the new-comers on his pony, and ran after his brother, just in time to see his gerfalcon give a swoop, and the next minute descend like a falling bolt right on to the doomed heron, who, however, with prompt instinct, turned up its long neck, and held its beak like a sword on which the falcon should impale itself.
"Gare beak, my beauty; strike him sideways. There, by all the saints, she has done it! There they come. Ah! Melampus; ah! Ringwood; heel, sir, heel!"
And the boy ran as hard as he could to the spot where the heron, still struggling, but feebly, was falling with the hawk's claws and talons fixed firmly in its back, and its strong beak pecking into its brain.
"Well done! well sped, brave bird!" cried Ralph joyously.
"Ay, but I have lost my riding-whip," said Jasper ruefully.
"Nay, Jasp, I will never take it; 'twas but in sport."
And thus the first flight of Ralph's gerfalcon ended. They recalled the goshawk, and with hawks hooded, jesses on legs, and fast on fists, they returned home, carrying the heron with them.
When the boys drew near home, talking volubly all the time, as boys do, and wondering whether the poor man and his daughter had reached the manor before them, they met Humphrey, who was returning from Salisbury with the tailor and the new horse.
Ralph descried them some way off, and darted away like a hare, before Jasper and the groom had guessed the cause of his flight. Breathless the boy ran up to Humphrey, and could scarcely pour out the torrent of questions, mingled with ejaculations of pleasure and admiration, with which he overwhelmed the varlet, so scant of breath was he.
The horse was certainly a beauty, and did great credit to the taste and judgment of the worthy Abbot of Quarr.
"Ay, certes 'tis a fine beast; but the main fault, to my mind, is that he's too much for thee, Master Ralph. 'Tis a mettlesome hackney, and I don't marvel that fat Prior of Christchurch wanted to part with him. He'll find a difference between thy light weight and that old round shaveling yonder."
"Tush! Humphrey, let me get on him, that's all--an I bring him not to reason, beshrew me for a dullard and walk-a-foot."
By this time Jasper and the other groom had come up, and they were loud in their praises of the new horse.
"My faith! Ralph, thou'rt in luck to-day," said Jasper, somewhat discontentedly. "Thy falcon hath beat mine, and now thou ownest a horse the best, well-nigh, to look at in our stables. Thou'rt a lucky wight, that thou art."
They were approaching the manor house, and as they came within sight of the old buildings, they saw the Abbot of Quarr coming out of the hall door with Lady Lisle.
"Humphrey, let me mount him," said Ralph eagerly, "before they see us. I'd wager a mark my lady mother would be astonished, and so would my right reverend Lord Abbot."
"Nay, Master Ralph, better let one of the stable knaves try him first; he's a bit fresh and mettlesome. Maybe thou wouldst not master him."
"Marry, Humphrey, thou'rt parlous cautelous. Nay, but I will mount him; he's mine. An thou dost not hold him, I will e'en vault on him as he is, and take my chance."
Humphrey, seeing how wilful his young master was, and fearing lest the horse should kick him if he tried to mount as he threatened, drew up and held the horse. The boy, with a little run, vaulted on to the back of his steed, which stood quite still, only turning his head round, and looking at his new master with wise, mild eye. When the boy was firmly seated, and had taken the reins in his hand, for the horse was bitted and bridled, although there was only a cloth over its back, he clapped his heels to the animal's side, and urged him to a trot.
The others all watched him, and wondered to see the boy, who had hitherto only ridden his pony, sit so well and masterfully on the fine animal's back. His seat was firm, and the grip of his knees strong.
The horse, unaccustomed to so light a weight, sprang forward with a plunge, for it was fresh, and had been worked but little lately. With eager excitement the boy urged it on to a canter, and clapped both heels to its sides. Nothing loth, the splendid animal threw up its head, gave a snort of answering joy, and broke into a long easy stride.
In another minute they had reached the approaching figures, and Ralph waved his cap with joyous triumph.
"Why, 'tis Ralph!" cried his mother, in amazement. "My son, have a care; 'tis a parlous great horse for so young a boy."
"Nay, fair lady," said the Abbot; "see how well he manageth him: there is naught to fear. He is a likely lad enough, and will make a fine brave present for me to give to my Lord Woodville. There is promise of a noble knight in that stripling. In sooth, he cometh of fair lineage."
Meanwhile the boy was galloping round the greensward in front of the house, talking to the horse all the while, patting his neck and mane, perfectly at home on the back of the animal, and radiant with joy.
As he came round again he drew up in front of his mother and the Abbot, and, reining in the horse, made a low reverence to them with his cap.
"Grammercy, my Lord Abbot, for thy right noble present; 'tis the most brave horse in all England, and I am right thankful to thee for thy gracious kindness," said the boy.
"Well, young master, thou managest him well enough, and I am glad to see that thou hast profited by the lessons of thy lady mother, and hast learned courtesy and easy manners. An thou goest on thus, thou wilt bring credit on thy family, and my Lord Woodville will value thee and us right worthily. Take the horse with my benediction, and may the Lord be with thee, even as He was with David. May He make thine arm strong, and thy spear sharp against all that is vile, mean, and base in this world. Mayest thou win knighthood, and not filthy lucre, by thy prowess; though indeed, as Paul saith, 'The workman is worthy of his hire,' and they do err grievously who think that the ministrations of Holy Church should be rewarded only by thanks, and naught else."
During this speech, the tailor and Humphrey, with Master Jasper and his varlet, had come up, and the inferiors all doffed their caps as they listened respectfully to the Abbot.
"'Tis a learned man and a holy," said the tailor as they went round to the servants' offices, "and he draws a right subtle distinction in that same matter of the acquisition of goods; for as a rolling stone gathereth no moss, so a knight that acteth full knightly hath no means to acquire wealth for himself, whereas an Abbot, or churchman, who liveth well in one place, layeth up much goods for himself and Mother Church. Piety without wealth is as an addled egg that showeth a fair outside but is all fruitless and deceitful within. And as 'tis the duty of the Church to spend and be spent in the service of the saints, how can they spend if they have naught to give away."
While the tailor moralised thus to Humphrey, they entered the kitchen. Ralph and Jasper were walking by the side of their mother and the Abbot; they had dismounted from their horses, and had given them to the groom to take round to the stables.
After taking a few turns up and down in front of the house, Lady Lisle said she must go in and see the tailor, for no time was to be lost in cutting out and making the necessary clothes for Ralph to take with him.
It had been settled that all must be ready by to-morrow early, as the Abbot had to travel to Winchester to meet Sir Edward Woodville, who was going to stay there one night, on his way to Southampton to cross over to the Isle of Wight. There was, therefore, a great deal to be done, and Ralph was taken in by his mother to be measured and fitted, while she set her maids to work to sew the various pieces together as the tailor cut them out.
There was one part of the preparation Ralph liked very much; that was the selecting the weapons he would need as a page, and which might serve him if he should reach the rank of esquire before he returned home again. He was a tall boy and strong, therefore his father bade the old major-domo, who had acted as his esquire, select sound and strong arms, such as a good sword, a well-tempered dagger, and a stout bow with fitting arrows; while a target, a back and breast piece, and a light steel cap, with a strong under jerkin of leather, completed his defensive attire.
It was decided that Humphrey should go with him, and a sumpter horse was to take the baggage of master and man. The evening was passed in great excitement on the part of Ralph, who could not keep still for a minute, and caused Jasper to break out in wrath several times, while his father and mother watched him silently, the latter with eyes full of affectionate sadness. It was the first time the family circle had been broken up.
Suddenly Jasper remembered the poor man and his daughter, and, glad of an opportunity of directing attention to some other matter, he said,--
"Marry, Ralph, we never asked what became of that old beggar and thy nag; didst hear whether they had left him in the stables?"
"Was it a poor man and a young girl?" said Lady Lisle.
"Ay, mother; didst thou see them?"
"Certes I did, and a quandary it put me into too. For I saw it was thy pony, Ralph, and I marvelled what had come to thee. But the vagrant put me at ease. Poor old man, and poor little wench, they were sorely bested; and when I heard their tale, I felt proud of my son Ralph. 'Twas well done to succour the weary and footsore."
"Humph!" said the Abbot. "I know not, fair lady, whether 'twere altogether a wise action. The beggar was a stranger, and 'tis a mad prank to lend thy goods to people thou dost not know."
"Maybe, Lord Abbot; but I bethink me of One who not only lent but gave to those whom He did not know."
"Ay, marry, so do I, fair lady, but we who live in the world must be careful not to be visionaries or unlike other folk; and if Ralph goeth with me, he must be mindful of the saying, 'Honour to whom honour is due.' Now a beggar and his slut of a daughter are not fit people to give one's pony too--unless, indeed, he is mindful of being a saint; if so, he'd best not go to my Lord Woodville."
The evening was soon gone, and all things were in fair way for an early start to-morrow. The hospitable Lady Lisle had given a night's lodging to the two weary wayfarers, who had told her their journey lay to the Isle of Wight, where the aunt of the young girl lived; and Lady Lisle had said she would see what could be done to further them on their way--perhaps even the Abbot of Quarr would allow them to go in his train.
Before retiring to rest, Sir John Lisle called his son to him, and gave him solemn words of advice, and as Ralph listened, boy as he was, he felt proud of his father for speaking such noble words.
"My son," the old knight said, sitting in his large arm-chair, laying his hand on the boy's head, who sat at his feet on a low stool, looking up into his father's face, "my son, thou art going forth like a fledgling from the nest. Thou hast been gently nurtured, and hast proved that the good lessons of thy lady mother and Sir Thomas Merlin[*] have sunk into thy heart. But the world into which thou goest will offer many trials and sore temptations. I cannot guard thee beforehand against all; but there are some few things I can tell thee, and thy mother will tell thee some others. Fear God before all things! Fight the King's enemies, and those of thy country; and never turn thy back on the foe as long as thy chief bids thee fight. In all things be obedient, and pay reverence to those in authority over thee. Be liberal, courteous, and gentle. Let thy charges be as thy purse can pay. Thy kinsman, the Abbot of Quarr, will aid thee in all that is right for thy place in life; for I have assigned him certain lands and rents in trust for thee, and thou must maintain the rank of thy family and name. Brave I know thou art, and truthful, I well believe; but of the matters that appertain to thy gentle life, these thy lady mother will tell thee. I have been too much a man of war in these troublous times, and, I fear me, God loveth not those who have used the sword too freely. But 'tis in the blood, and we are not able to fight against it. And now, my son, may God be with thee. Fare thee well. Win thy spurs, and come home a very gentle, perfect knight."
[*] Priests were in that age called "Sir."
So saying, the old knight laid his hands on the boy's wavy hair, and let them rest there a little space, while his lips moved, as if in prayer. When he removed his hands, he raised the boy and kissed him on his forehead, and bid him "Good-night."
Ralph was touched, and went up to his room, for the first time that day sorry he was going; but soon the glorious life before him caused him to forget tender thoughts, and he got into bed longing for the night to be over and his adventures to begin. While he was lying wide awake, unable to sleep through excitement, he heard his mother's step outside the door, and in another minute she came in.
"My little son--nay, not so little after all, but to me always my little son--I have come to wish thee good-night, and to say farewell; for to-morrow we must all be busy, and I cannot then say what I would say now. Thy father hath told thee what appertains to knighthood, I would fain tell thee of what concerneth thy soul--albeit this also belongeth more to Sir Thomas Merlin's office; but a mother's words are always blessed, if God guideth her, as He surely doth. Remember always to say thy prayers, night and morning; and pray not only in thy words and memory, but with the real fervour of a thinking heart. Repeat not simply set sentences, but think of thy daily needs, and daily sins, and lay all before God. Be mindful to give thanks in thy prayers, for gratitude is the sign of a gentle heart. Remember, also, always to be generous to the poor; if thou gainest riches, give freely to those who need, for in so doing, thou layest up treasure in heaven. Help the weak, the widow, and the fatherless, and in all thy youthful strength and rejoicing, forget not the sick, the miserable, and those in grievous dolour. Avoid all bad words; be cleanly of speech, as well as of life; and think ever on thy Blessed Lord, the saints, and thy mother. And, lastly, be courteous, obedient, and humble. Be gay and light-hearted, as becometh youth, but never let wine overcome thee, or the temptations of the tavern and the dice-box. Avoid all boastfulness, but let thine arm and hand ever maintain thy word, as is fit for one who professeth arms, which is a calling honoured of Heaven, in the person of those puissant captains of Rome, the captain of the Italian company, and the captain that confessed our Blessed Lord. Now, good-night, fair son, and may God bless thee. I have brought thee a little purse; it containeth some small pieces that may procure thee favour with thy companions when thou meetest with them. Humphrey hath charge of thy wardrobe and body-linen, and will see to thy proper furnishing as one of gentle birth and fair lineage. God bless thee, my son, and bring thee back to us, as thy noble father said, 'a very gentle, perfect knight,' and, better still, bring thee, and all of us, to that rest above, where there is no more fighting--no more parting."
So saying, the sweet lady bent down and kissed her son with fervent love, and left him to his thoughts.
The next morning all were astir early--Ralph among the earliest. The worthy Abbot said Mass, assisted by the excellent Chaplain, Sir Thomas Merlin, and after breakfast the preparations for departure were completed.
The little cavalcade came round to the front of the old mansion, and a pretty scene it made. There were the sumpter horses of the Abbot and his two servants; Humphrey, and the baggage horse of Master Ralph; and Ralph's new present, the handsome charger, newly harnessed with new saddle and gay housings. Behind, mounted on Ralph's pony, was the young girl, while her father stood by her side ready to lead the pony, for Lady Lisle had bethought her of them, and had persuaded the Abbot to let them journey with him as far as Winchester, at least, although that worthy prelate was much averse to taking stray waifs in his train.
Ralph was already dressed in a new suit of clothes. Three suits had already been made, and more were to follow, if it was found that he was not dressed suitably to his rank and companions. And very handsome he looked in his gay attire. He wore a velvet bonnet on one side of his head, his wavy hair falling on each side of his free, merry face; a little linen collar was round his neck, and a close-fitting tunic of parti-coloured cloth, puffed at the shoulders and elbows, and pleated down the front and back below the chest and shoulder blades, was fastened round his waist by a leathern belt, from which hung a wallet and a poignard. Tight-fitting hose clad his well-formed legs, and were of different colours, according to the fashion of the time, on each leg. He held his falcon on fist, and carried a little riding-whip in his left hand. A riding-cloak was strapped over the pommel of his saddle, from which also hung some saddle bags containing a few needful articles for the journey and for immediate use.
All the household had come out to see the start.
The Abbot took leave of his kinsfolk, giving them his benediction, and promising to care well for their son. He then mounted his horse with the aid of his varlets, for he was a large and portly ecclesiastic, and, when mounted, presented a very majestic and dignified appearance in his white Cistercian cassock, with its black scapular hood and cloak, with a square, rather high black cap on his head.
"Come, cousin Ralph, haste thee, the day grows apace, and we should be at Winton before noon or little after."
Ralph had gone up to his father, and knelt down to receive his blessing, saying,--
"Farewell, my noble father, when I come again may I find thee and my lady mother well and in good state, and may I do naught that will bring dolour on thy life."
"Amen, fair son. Go and do valiantly--and the God of thy fathers go with thee."
Rising up, Ralph embraced his father and mother, took leave of his brothers and the servants, and mounted his horse. His heels were armed with spurs, and, touching the animal's flank he caused him to rear and paw the air.
"Marry, the lad sits the horse like a man of thirty. He will do well, and gain himself a name."
The cavalcade now turned off down the glade and disappeared round a bend of the ride, Ralph waving his cap as a last adieu.
"Well, fair wife, so our fledgling hath flown, let us get indoors and pray to God for His mercy."
When Ralph trotted after the little cavalcade, which he had allowed to get ahead of him as he waved his final adieu to his parents and his home, he felt all the pride of boyhood budding into independent manhood.
He had long chafed at his inactive life. The rough experience of the late civil wars had taught men to live fast, and many a hardy knight had begun the fierce struggle in the hand-strokes of war at the age of twelve or thirteen. The boyhood of King Edward the Fourth had often been told him, how early he had learned the accomplishments of the tilt-yard, and how early he had practised them on the stern field of war. A king by the right of his own good sword at the age of twenty, he had fought in many deadly fights as leader and simple man-at-arms for several years before.
Ralph had always been a good boy at his lessons, for he was fond of the chaplain who taught him, but the book he loved most of all was the recently printed book of Sir Thomas Malory, who had compiled and translated the Mort-d'Arthur. He gloated over the description of the single combats, the jousts, and the tourneys in that poetic story, and never tired of the numberless tales of "how the good knight Sir Bors or Sir Lamorak laid on either strokes, and how they foined and lashed, and gave each other blows till the blood ran down, and each stood astonied." His favourite knight was Sir Beaumains. He admired Sir Launcelot, but he was too far above him, while Sir Beaumains was only a beginner, and went through adventures which were not too far out of the common as possibly to occur to himself.
And now he was on the actual road to fortune. He was going to be trained in the household of a great knight, live in a castle, and have daily instruction with youths like himself, aspirants to fame and martial deeds.
The fresh air of the morning seemed never before so fresh, never had the birds sung so blithely. How springy the turf seemed under his horse's hoofs. He sang gaily as he trotted along, and flicked at the flies that tried to settle on his horse's neck.
"Softly, Master Ralph," cried Humphrey. "Thou art a light weight, I know, but we have far to go, and 'tis best to let the cattle go quiet."
The Abbot had settled himself comfortably in his saddle, and called his young kinsman up to him. The servants fell a little behind, Humphrey trying to draw the mendicant and his young daughter into conversation. But he only received short answers from the man, while the girl barely answered at all. The serving-man, unable to make anything out of either of them, gave up the attempt, and began to talk to the attendants of the Abbot.
It was a lovely June day. All the country looked crisp and bright in the clear sunlight. The road lay over a high hill, whence a broad landscape stretched before them, then it dipped down into the old town of Andover, where the cavalcade stopped before the rambling old wooden hostelry, and the Abbot refreshed himself with a cup of malmsey before they entered on the rather wild track of forest and down that lay between Andover and Winchester.
Leaving Andover, they crossed the low land on each side of the Teste, and that river itself near Chilbolton, and then rose over the steep acclivity of Barton Stacey down, with its wide ridge of hills stretching east and west in bleak loneliness, to face the sweeping winds that roared over them from the south-west bringing up the salt of the channel to invigorate the sheep that browsed over their slopes.
The Abbot discoursed from time to time of the various duties Ralph would have to fulfil, how he must conduct himself towards his superiors, equals, and inferiors; and his advice was certainly considerably more worldly-wise than had been that of Ralph's father and mother.
The boy listened attentively; but somehow, with the quick intuition of youthful directness, he detected the ring of worldly wisdom, as differing from the ingenuous simplicity of his' parent's advice. He could not help being amused and interested with the many little anecdotes with which the Abbot illustrated and enlivened his advice, while he felt more than ever how little he knew of the world and its ways.
"Now look you, fair kinsman," said the Abbot. "'Tis a right thing, and one well-pleasing to Holy Church, to be generous and free-handed; but 'tis not wise to give blindly, and without due inquiry. Thou lentest yonder idle vagrant thine horse yesterday. The holy saints guided him aright to thy father's house; but he might, for aught thou knewest, have just as well taken thine horse to Weyhill horse-fair, and there sold him, or ridden away where thou wouldst never have seen him more."
"But, my lord Abbot," cried the boy, "I liked the sound of his voice, and his words were fair: he could not but be honest."
"See there now; alack! good lack! the boy will surely come to harm an he goeth on like that! See you not, fair kinsman, that an you hearken to all fair words and gentle voices, you will e'en be stripped as clean as a rose bush with a blight on it? That is what I say, wait and see. I say not 'give not,' but look well before you give.
"Then again in a quarrel--for hot youth must needs quarrel--be wary how you enter in; see well that your adversary is one from whom you can hope to obtain honour,--one that if you vanquish him can yield you due satisfaction and fair guerdon, or, if he should vanquish you--for you must e'en look to both sides--that he be one to whom you may yield without loss of honour,--sithen he be so puissant a foe that there is as much honour gained in encountering him as there might be in overcoming another.
"In all things give heed and act discreetly. Be no tale-bearer, but listen well to all that goeth on. In all things serve thy master loyally; but be not so besotted as ever to be ruined for any. As for ensample, if thy lord choose a quarrel that must needs bring him to destruction, go not thou after him, but save thyself in time; as rats are said to cross by the hawser that mooreth a ship to the land, when they know of their own natural sagacity that ruin awaiteth that ship. Only give him fair notice thereof first. See how, during the late civil commotions, the Church hath acted discreetly, and saved her possessions in the midst of the broil. Even George, Archbishop of York, allied as he was to the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence, yet compounded with the late King Edward IV., on whose soul may God have mercy. But, blessed saints! whom have we here? 'Tis some noble baron, I doubt not, going to Winchester too, unless, indeed, it be the train of my Lord Woodville himself."
They had now reached a high bleak hill, and were nearly at the point where another road joined the one they were travelling by, which led from Marlborough and Cirencester to Winchester. Coming along this other road, which led from Reading, and just rising over the brow of the hill, Ralph could see a party of well-armed men. The dust from their horses obscured them partly, but he could make out that there were several footmen, carrying the formidable bill which dealt such deadly wounds, and gleaming above them were the helmets of two or three men-at-arms. The red crosses on their white surcoats, or tabards, showed that they belonged to the troops levied for the king, or at least raised by some noble for service, for which it was customary to take a contract.
"Ay, belike that's what they are," said the Abbot. "Do you, Peter, now ride on, while I tarry here to welcome my Lord Woodville; and take good lodgings for the night in Winchester, for me and my kinsman the Master Ralph de Lisle."
This was said to the chief of his lay brothers who acted as his serving-men, and who were clad in a dress very much resembling their lord's, but of a dark colour, instead of white.
Ralph was glad they were going to wait to meet the approaching party. He had never seen a band of armed men before, and he thought the appearance of these very imposing, as the pennons of the mounted men fluttered in the breeze.
"Ay, there's the banner of my Lord Woodville--he'll not be far behind," said the Abbot, as another little band mounted the hill, the centre figure carrying a little square flag on the end of a lance, which gaily waved its red and white colours as the horseman moved to the swing of his steed.
It was a very pretty sight. The wide-extending view, over broad pasture and swelling down, the distance hidden by a grey haze; the yellow road, leading straight across the green grass of the down, for the summer was hardly begun, while the gleaming weapons, white surcoats, and fluttering banners, mingled with the brilliant red of the crosses, and the blazon on the flag, contrasted well with the deep blue of the cloudless sky, fading away to the warm haze of the horizon. Gaily the grasshoppers chirped among the wild convolvulus on the roadside, the bees hummed over the clover, and the larks were soaring joyously in the azure overhead.
Ralph gave a sigh of enjoyment--life was already beginning.
The little party sat motionless on their steeds, the Abbot having reined up his horse at the junction of the two roads. Ralph sat on his horse beside him, and Humphrey, the other lay brother, and the sumpter horses, were grouped behind them--while behind them again was the poor man, leaning against the pony on which his daughter sat, who had, however, frequently insisted on her father taking her place.
Suddenly the Abbot remembered them.
"Beshrew me," he said, "I wish thy lady mother had not saddled me with these beggars; it beseemeth not a prelate like me to have such rapscallions attending on him."
The girl noticed the impatience of the Abbot, and partly heard his muttered words.
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