The Grey Dolphin by Richard Barham
'He won't--won't he? Then bring me my boots!' said the Baron.
Consternation was at its height in the castle of Shurland--a
caitiff had dared to disobey the Baron! and--the Baron had called for
A few days before, a notable miracle had been wrought in the
nieghbourhood; and in those times miracles were not so common as they
are now; no royal balloons, no steam, no railroads,--while the few
Saints who took the trouble to walk with their heads under their
arms, or to pull the Devil by the nose, scarcely appeared above once
in a century;--so the affair made the greater sensation.
The clock had done striking twelve, and the Clerk of Chatham was
untrussing his points preparatory to seeking his truckle-bed; a
half-emptied tankard of mild ale stood at his elbow, the roasted crab
yet floating on its surface. Midnight had surprised the worthy
functionary while occupied in dliscussing it, and with his task yet
unaccomplished. He meditated a mighty draft: one hand was fumbling
with his tags, while the other was extended in the act of grasping
the jorum, when a knock on the portal, solemn and sonorous, arrested
his fingers. It was repeated thrice ere Emmanuel Saddleton had
presence of mind sufficient to inquire who sought admittance at that
'Open! open! good Clerk of St. Bridget's,' said a female voice
small, yet distinct and sweet--an excellent thing in woman.
The Clerk arose, crossed to the doorway, and undid the
On the threshold stood a Lady of surpassing beauty: her robes wore
rich, and large, and full; and a diadem, sparkling with gems that
shed a halo around, crowned her brow: she beckoned the Clerk as he
stood in astonishment before her.
'Emmanuel!' said the Lady; and her tones sounded like those of a
silver flute. 'Emmanuel Saddleton,' truss up your points, and follow
The worthy Clerk stood aghast at the vision; the purple robe, the
cymar, the coronet,--above all, the smile; no, there was no mistaking
her; it was the blessed Saint Bridget herself!
And what could have brought the sainted Lady out of her warm
shrine at such a time of night? and on such a night? for it was as
dark as pitch, and metaphroically speaking, 'rained cats and
Emmanuel could not speak, so he looked the question.
'No matter for that,' said the saint, answering to his thought.
'No matter for that, Emmanuel Saddleton; only follow me, and you'll
The Clerk turned a wistful eye at the corner cupboard.
'Oh! never mind the lantern, Emmanuel: you'll not want it: bring a
mattock and a shovel.' As she spoke, the apparition held up her
delicate hand. From the tip of each of her long taper fingers issued
a lambent flame of such surpassing brilliancy as would have plunged a
whole gas company into despair--it was a 'Hand of Glory,' such a one
as tradition tells us yet burns in Rochester Castle every St. Mark's
Eve. Many are the daring individuals who have watched Gundolf's
Tower, hoping to find it, and the treasure it guards;--but none of
them ever did.
'This way, Emmanuel!' and a flame of peculiar radiance streamed
from her little finger as it pointed to the pathway leading to the
Saddleton shouldered his tools, and followed in silence.
The cemetery of Saint Bridget's was some half-mile distant from
the Clerk's domicile, and adjoined a chapel dedicated to that
illustrious lady, who, after leading but a so-so life, died in the
odour of sanctity. Emmanuel Saddleton was fat and scant of breath,
the mattock was heavy, and the Saint walked too fast for him: he
paused to take second wind at the end of the first furlong.
'Emmanuel,' said the holy lady, good-humouredly, for she heard him
puffing; 'rest awhile, Emmanuel, and I'll tell you what I want with
Her auditor wiped his brow with the back of his hand, and looked
all attention and obedience.
'Emmanuel,' continued she, 'what did you and Father Fothergill,
and the rest of you, mean yesterday by burying that drowned man so
close to me? He died in mortal sin, Emmanuel; no shrift, no unction,
no absolution: why, he might as well have been excommunicated. He
plagues me with his grinning, and I can't have any peace in my
shrine. You must howk him up again, Emmanuel!'
'To be sure, madam,--my lady,--that is, your holiness,' stammered
Saddleton, trembling at the thought of the task assigned him. 'To be
sure, your ladyship; only--that is--'
'Emmanuel,' said the saint, 'you'll do my bidding; or it would be
better you had! and her eye changed from a dove's eye to that of a
hawk, and a flash came from it as bright as the one from her little
finger. The Clerk shook in his shoes; and, again dashing the cold
perspiration from his brow, followed the footsteps of his mysterious
The next morning all Chatham was in an uproar. The Clerk of St.
Bridget's had found himself at home at daybreak, seated in his own
armchair, the fire out, and--the tankard of ale out too! Who had
drunk it?--where had he been?--and how had he got home?--all was a
mystery!--he remembered 'a mass of things, but nothing distinctly;'
all was fog and fantasy. What he could clearly recollect was that he
had dug up the Grinning Sailor, and that the Saint had helped to
throw him into the river again. All was thenceforth wonderment and
devotion. Masses were sung, tapers were kindled, bells were tolled;
the monks of Saint Romuald had a solemn procession, the abbot at
their head, the sacristan at their tail, and the holy breeches of St.
Thomas à Beckett in the centre;--Father Fothergill brewed a
XXX puncheon of holy water. The Rood of Gillingham was deserted; the
chapel of Rainham forsaken; everyone who had a soul to be saved,
flocked with his offering to Saint Bridget's shrine, and Emmanuel
Saddleton gathered more fees from the promiscuous piety of that one
week than he had pocketed during the twelve preceding months.
Meanwhile the corpse of the ejected reprobate oscillated like a
pendulum between Sheerness and Gillingham Reach. Now borne by the
Medway into the Western Swale,--now carried by the fluent tide back
to the vicinity of its old quarters, it seemed as though the River
god and Neptune were amusing themselves with a game of subaqueous
battledore, and had chosen this unfortunate carcass as a marine
shuttlecock. For some time the alternation was kept up with great
spirit, till Boreas, interfering in the shape of a stiffish
'Nor'-wester,' drifted the bone (and flesh) of contention ashore on
the Shurland domain, where it lay in all the majesty of mud. It was
soon discovered by the retainers, and dragged from its oozy bed,
grinning worse than ever. Tidings of the godsend were of course
carried instantly to the castle; for the Baron was a very great man;
and if a dun cow had flown across his property unannounced by a
warder, the Baron would have kicked him, the said warder, from the
topmost battlement into the bottommost ditch,--a descent of peril,
and one which 'Ludwig the Leaper,' or the illustrious Trenck himself
might well have shrunk from encountering.
'An't please your lordship--' said Peter Periwinkle.
'No, villain! it does not please me!' roared the Baron.
His lordship was deeply engaged with a peck of Feversham
oysters,--he doted on shellfish, hated interruptions at meals, and
had not yet dispatched more than twenty dozens of the 'natives.'
'There's a body, my lord, washed ashore in the lower creek,' said
The Baron was going to throw the shells at his head; but paused in
the act, and said with much dignity--
'Turn out the fellow's pockets!'
But the defunct had before been subjected to the double scrutiny
of Father Fothergill and the Clerk of St. Bridget! It was ill
gleaning after such hands; there was not a single maravedi.
We have already said that Sir Robert de Shurland, Lord of the Isle
of Sheppey, and of many a fair manor on the mainland, was a man of
worship. He had rights of freewarren, saccage and sockage, cuisage
and jambage, fosse and fork, infang theofe and outfang theofe; and
all the waifs and strays belonged to him in fee simple.
'Turn out his pockets!' said the knight.
'An't please you, my lord, I must say as how they was turned out
afore, and the devil a rap's left.'
'Then bury the blackguard!'
'Please your lordship, he has been buried once.'
'Then bury him again, and be--!' The Baron bestowed a
The seneschal bowed low as he left the room, and the Baron went on
with his oysters.
Scarcely ten dozen had vanished when Periwinkle reappeared.
'An't please you, my lord, Father Fothergill says as how that it's
the Grinning Sailor, and he won't bury him anyhow.'
Oh! he won't--won't he?' said the Baron. Can it be wondered that
he called for his boots?
Sir Robert de Shurland, Lord of Shurland and Minster, Baron of
Sheppey in comitatukent, was, as has been before hinted, a very great
man. He was also a very little man; that is, he was relatively great,
and relatively little--or physically little, and metaphorically
great--like Sir Sidney Smith and the late M. Bonaparte. To the frame
of a dwarf he united the soul of a giant, and the valour of a
gamecock. Then, for so small a man, his strength was prodigious; his
fist would fell an ox, and his kick--oh! his kick was tremendous,
and, when he had his boots on, would--to use an expression of his
own, which he had picked up in the holy wars--would 'send a man from
Jericho to June.' He was bull-necked and bandy-legged; his chest was
broad and deep, his head large and uncommonly thick, his eyes a
little bloodshot, and his nose retroussé with a remarkably red
tip. Strictly speaking, the Baron could not be called handsome; but
his tout ensemble was singularly impressive; and when he called for
his boots, everybody trembled and dreaded the worst.
'Periwinkle,' said the Baron, as he encased his better leg, 'let
the grave be twenty feet deep!'
Your lordship's command is law.'
'And, Periwinkle' Sir Robert stamped his left heel into its
receptacle--' and, Periwinkle, see that it be wide enough to hold not
'Y--y--yes, my lord?'
'And, Periwinkle!--tell Father Fothergill I would fain speak with
'Y--y--yes, my lord.'
The Baron's beard was peaked; and his moustaches, stiff and
stumpy, projected horizontally like those of a Tom Cat; he twirled
the one; he stroked the other, he drew the buckle of his surcingle a
thought tighter, and strode down the great staircase three steps at a
The vassals were assembled in the great hall of Shurland Castle;
every cheek was pale, every tongue was mute: expectation and
perplexity were visible on every brow. What would his lordship do?
Were the recusant anybody else, gyves to the heels and hemp to the
throat were but too good for him: but it was Father Fothergill who
had said 'I won't;' and though the Baron was a very great man, the
rope was a greater; and the Pope was Father Fothergill's great
friend--some people said he was his uncle.
Father Fothergill was busy in the refectory trying conclusions
with a venison pasty, when he received the summons of his patron to
attend him in the chapel cemetery. Of course he lost notime obeying
it for obedience was the general rule in Shurland Castle. If anybody
ever said 'I won't,' it was the exception; and like all other
exceptions, only proved the rule the stronger. The Father was a friar
of the Augustine persuasion; a brotherhood which, having been planted
in Kent some few centuries earlier, had taken very kindly to the
soil, and overspread the county much as hops did some few centuries
later. He was plump and portly, a little thick-winded, especially
after dinner; stood five feet four in his sandals; and weighed hard
upon eighteen stone. He was moreover a personage of singular piety;
and the iron girdle, which, he said, he wore under his cassock to
mortify withal, might have been well mistaken for the tire of a
cartwheel. When he arrived, Sir Robert was pacing up and down by the
side of a newly opened grave.
'Benedicite!' fair son '--(the Baron was as brown as a
cigar)--'Benedicite!' said the Chaplain.
The Baron was too angry to stand upon compliment. 'Bury me that
grining caitiff there!' quoth he, pointing to the defunct.
'It may not be, fair son,' said the friar, 'he hath perished
'Bury the body!' reared Sir Robert
'Water and earth alike reject him,' returned the Chaplain; 'holy
St Bridget herself--'
'Bridget me no Bridgets!--do me thine office quickly, Sir
Shaveling! or, by the Piper that played before Moses--' The oath was
a fearful one; and whenever the Baron swore to do mischief, he was
never known to perjure himself. He was playing with the hilt of his
sword. 'Do me thine office, I say. Give him his passport to
'He is already gone to Hell!' stammered the Friar.
'Then do you go after him!' thundered the Lord of Shurland.
His sword half leaped from its scabbard. No! the trenchant blade,
that had cut Suleman Ben Malek Ben Buckskin from helmet to chine,
disdained to daub itself with the cerebellum of a miserable monk;--it
leaped back again;--and as The Chaplain, scared at its flash, turned
him in terror, the Baron gave him a kick!--one kick!--it was but
one!--but such a one! Despite its obesity, up flew his holy body in
an angle of forty five degrees; then having reached its highest point
of elevation, sunk headlong into the open grave that yawned to
receive it. If the reverend gentleman had possessed such a thing as a
neck, he had infallibly broken it! as he did not, he only dislocated
his vertebrae--but that did quite as well. He was as dead as
'In with the other rascal!' said the Baron; and he was obeyed; for
there he stood in his boots. Mattock and shovel made short work of
it; twenty feet of superincumbent mould pressed dawn alike the saint
and the sinner. 'Now sing a requiem who list!' said the Baron, and
his lordship went back to his oysters.
The vassals at Castle Shurland were astounded, or, as the
Seneschal Hugh better expressed it, 'perfectly conglomerated,' by
this event. What! murder a monk in the odour of sanctity and on
consecrated ground too! They trembled for the health of the Baron's
soul. To the unsophisticated many it seemed that matters could not
have been much worse had he shot a bishop's coach-horse--all looked
for some signal judgment. The melancholy catastrophe of their
neighbours at Canterbury was yet rife in their memories: not two
centuries had elapsed since those miserable sinners had cut off the
tail of the blessed St Thomas's mule. The tail of the mule, it was
well known, had been forthwith affixed to that of the Mayor; and
rumour said it had since been hereditary in the the corporation. The
least that could be expected was, that Sir Robert should have a friar
tacked on to his for the term of his natural life! Some bolder
spirits there were, 'tis true who viewed the matter in various
lights, according to their different temperaments and positions; for
perfect unanimity existed not even in the good old times. The
verderer, roistering Hob Roebuck, swore roundly, 'Twere as good a
deed as eat to kick down the chapel as well as the monk.' Hob had
stood there in a white sheet for kissing Giles Miller's daughter. On
the other hand, Simpkin Agnew, the bell-ringer, doubted if the
devil's cellar, which runs under the bottomless abyss, were quite
deep enough for the delinquent, and speculated on the probability of
a hole being dug in it for his especial accommodation. The
philosophers and economists thought, with Saunders McBullock, the
Baron's bagpiper, that a 'feckless monk more or less was nae great
subject for a clamjamphry,' especially as the supply considerably
exceeded the demand; while Malthouse, the tapster, was arguing to
Dame Martin that a murder now and then was a seasonable check to
population, without which the Isle of Sheppey would in time be
devoured, like a mouldy cheese, by inhabitants of its own producing.
Meanwhile, the Baron ate his oysters, and thought no more of the
But this tranquillity of his lordship was not to last. A couple of
Saints had been seriously offended; and we have all of us read at
school that celestial minds are by no means insensible to the
provocations of anger. There were those who expected that St Bridget
would come in person, and have the friar up again, as she did the
sailor; but perhaps her ladyship did not care to trust herself within
the walls of Shurland Castle. To say the truth, it was scarcely a
decent house for a female Saint to be seen in. The Baron's
gallantries, since he became a widower, had been but too notorious;
and her own reputation was a little blown upon in the earlier days of
her earthly pilgrimage: then things were so apt to be
misrepresented--in short, she would leave the whole affair to St
Austin, who, being a gentleman, could interfere with propriety,
avenge her affront as well as his own, and leave no loop-hole for
scandal. St Austin himself seems to have had his scruples, though of
their precise nature it would be difficult to determine, for it were
idle to suppose him at all afaid of the Baron's boots. Be this as it
may, the mode which he adopted was at once prudent and efficacious.
As an ecclesiastic, he could not well call the Baron out--had his
boots been out of the question; so he resolved to have recourse to
the law. Instead of Shurland Castle, therefore, he repaired forthwith
to his own magnificent monastery, situate just without the walls of
Canterbury, and presented himself in a vision to its abbot. No one
who has ever visited that ancient city can fail to recollect the
splendid gateway which terminates the vista of St Paul's-street, and
stands there yet in all its pristine beauty. The tiny train of
miniature artillery which now adorns its battlements is, it is true,
an ornament of a later date; and is said to have been added some
centuries after by a learned but jealous proprietor, for the purpose
of shooting any wiser man than himself, who might chance to come that
way. Tradition is silent as to any discharge having taken place, nor
can the oldest inhabitant of modern days recollect any such
occurrence. Here it was, in a handsome chamber, immediately over the
lofty archway, that the Superior of the monastery lay buried in a
brief slumber, snatched from his accustomed vigils. His mitre--for he
was a mitred Abbot, and had a seat in Parliament--rested on a table
beside him; near it stood a silver flagon of Gascony wine, ready, no
doubt, for the pious uses of the morrow. Fasting and watching had
made him more than usually somnolent, than which nothing could have
been better for the purpose of the Saint who now appeared to him
radiant in all the colours of the rainbow.
'Anselm!' said the beatific vision,--' Anselm! are you not a
pretty fellow to lie snoring there when your brethren are being
knocked at head, and Mother Church herself is menaced?--It is a sin
and a shame, Anselm!'
'What's the matter?--Who are you?' cried the Abbot, rubbing his
eyes, which the celestial splendour of his visitor had set a-winking.
'Ave Maria! St Austin himself! Speak, Beatissime! What would you with
the humblest of your votaries?'
'Anselm!' said the saint, 'a brother of our order, whose soul
Heaven assoilzie! hath been foully murdered. He hath been
ignominiously kicked to the death, Anselm; and there he lieth
cheek-by-jowl with a wretched carcass, which our sister Bridget has
turned out of her cemetery for unseemly grinning. Arouse thee,
'Ay, so please you, Sanctissime!' said he Abbot. 'I will order
forthwith that thirty mases be said, thirty Paters, and thirty
'Thirty fools' heads!' interrupted his patron, who was a little
'I will send for bell, book, and candle--'
'Send for an ink-horn, Anselm. Write me now a letter to his
Holiness the Pope in good round terms, and another to the Coroner,
and another to the Sheriff, and seize me the
never-enough-to-be-anathematised villain who hath done this deed!
Hang him as high as Haman, Anselm!--up with him!--down with his
dwelling-place, root and branch, hearth-stone and roof-tree,--down
with it all, and sow the site with salt and sawdust!'
St Austin, it will be perceived, was a radical reformer.
'Marry will I,' quoth the Abbot, warming with the Saint's
eloquence; 'ay, marry will I, and that instanter. But there is one
thing you have forgotten, most Beatified--the name of the
'Robert de Shurland.'
'The Lord of Sheppey! Bless me!' said the Abbot, crossing himself,
'won't that be rather inconvenient? Sir Robert is a bold baron, and a
powerful; blows will come and go, and crowns will be cracked
'What is that to you, since yours will not be of the number?'
'Very true, Beatissime!--I will don me with speed, and do your
'Do so, Anselm!--fail me not to hang the Baron, burn his castle,
confiscate his estate, and buy me two large wax candles for my own
particular shrine out of your share of the property.'
With this solemn injunction the vision began to fade.
'One thing morel' cried the Abbot grasping his rosary.
'What is that? asked the Saint.
'O Beate Augustine, ora pro nobis!'
'Of course I shall,' said St. Austin, 'Pax vobiscum!'--and Abbot
Anselm was left alone.
Within an hour all Canterbury was in commotion. A friar had been
murdered,--two friars--ten--twenty; a whole convent had been
assaulted, attacked, burnt,--all the monks had been killed, and all
the nuns had been kissed! Murder! fire! sacrilege! Never was city in
such an uproar. From St George's-gate to St Dunstan's suburb, from
the Donjon to the borough of Staplegate, it was noise and hubbub.
'Where was it?--' When was it?--'How was it?' The Mayor caught up his
chain, the Aldermen donned their furred gowns, the Town Clerk put on
his spectacles. 'Who was he?'--'What was he?'--' Where was he?'--He
should be hanged,--he should be burned,--he should be broiled,--he
should be fried,--he should be scraped to death with red-hot oyster
shells! 'Who was he?'--' What was his name?'
The Abbot's Apparitor drew forth his roll and read aloud:--'Sir
Robert de Shurland, Knight banneret, Baron of Shurland and Minster,
and Lord of Sheppey.'
The Mayor put his chain in his pocket, the Aldermen took off their
gowns, the Town Clerk put his pen behind his ear. It was a county
business altogether--the Sheriff had better call out the posse
While saints and sinners were thus leaguing against him, the Baron
de Shurland was quietly eating his breakfast. He had passed a
tranquil night, undisturbed by dreams of cowl or capuchin; nor was
his appetite more affected than his conscience. On the contrary, he
sat rather longer over his meal than usual: luncheon-time came, and
he was ready as ever for his oysters: but scarcely had Dame Martin
opened his first half-dozen when the warder's horn was heard from the
'Who the devil's that?' said Sir Robert. 'I'm not at home,
Periwinkle. I hate to be disturbed at meals, and I won't be at home
'An't please your lordship,' answered the Seneschal, 'Paul Prior
hath given notice that there is a body--'
'Another body!' roared the Baron. 'Am I to be everlastingly
plagued with bodies? No time allowed me to swallow a morsel. Throw it
into the moat!'
'So please you, my lord, it is a body of horse--and Paul say there
is a larger body of foot behind it; and he thinks, my lord,--that is,
he does not know, but he thinks--and we all think my lord, that they
are coming to--to besiege the castle!'
'Besiege the castle! Who? what? What for?'
'Paul says, my lord, that he can see the banner of St Austin, and
the bleeding heart of Hamo de Crevecoeur, the Abbot's chief vassal;
and there is John de Northwood, the sheriff, with his red cross
engrailed; and Hever, and Leybourne, and Heaven knows how many more;
and they are all coming on as fast as ever they can.'
'Periwinkle,' said the Baron' 'up with the drawbridge; down with
the portcullis; bring me a cup of canary, and my nightcap. I won't
bothered with them. I shall go to bed.'
'To bed, my lord?' cried Periwinkle, with a look that seemed to
say, 'He's crazy!'
At this moment the shrill tones of a trumpct were heard to sound
thrice from the champaign. It was the signal for parley: the Baron
changed his mind; instead of going to bed, he went to the
'Well, rapscallions! and what now?' said the Baron.
A herald, two pursuivants, and a trumpeter, occupied the
foreground of the scene: behind them, some three hundred paces off,
upon a rising ground, was drawn up in battle array the main body of
the ecclesiastical forces.
'Hear you, Robert de Shurland, Knight, Baron of Shurland and
Minster, and lord of Sheppey, and know all men, by these presents,
that I do hereby attach roll, the said Robert, of murder and
sacrilege, new, or of late, done and committed by you, the said
Robert, contrary to the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his
crown and dignity: and I do hereby require and charge you, the said
Robert, to forthwith surrender and give up your own proper person,
together with the castle of Shurland aforesaid, in order that the
same may be duly dealt with according to law. And here standeth John
de Northwood, Esquire, good man and true, sheriff of this his
Majesty's most loyal county of Kent, to enforce the same, if need be,
with his posse comitatus--'
'His what?' said the Baron.
'His posse comitatus, and--'
'Go to Bath!' said the Baron.
A defiance so contemptuous roused the ire of the adverse
commanders. A volley of missiles rattled about the Baron's ears.
Nightcaps avail little against contusions. He left the walls, and
returned to the great hall.
'Let them pelt away; quoth the Baron: 'there are no windows to
break, and they can't get in.' So he took his afterooon nap, and the
siege went on.
Towards evening his lordship awoke, and grew tired of the din. Guy
Pearson, too, had got a black eye from a brickbat, and the assailants
were clambering over the outer wall. So the Baron called for his
Sunday hauberk of Milan steel, and his great two-handed sword with
the terrible name:--it was the fashion in feudal times to give names
to swords: King Arthur's was christened Excalibar; the Baron called
his Tickletoby, and whenever he took it in hand it was no joke.
'Up with the portcullis! down with the drawbridge!' said Sir
Robert; and out he sallied, followed by the élite of his
retainers. Then there was a pretty to do. Heads flew one way--arms
and legs another; round went Tickletoby; and, wherever it alighted,
down came horse and man: the Baron excelled himself that day. All
that he had done in Palestine faded in the comparison; he had fought
for fun there, but now it was for life and lands. Away went John de
Northwood; away went William of Hever, and Roger of Leybourne. Hamo
de Crevecoeur, with the church vassals and the banner of St. Austin,
had been gone some time. The siege was raised, and the Lord of
Sheppey was left alone in his glory.
But, brave as the Baron undoubtedly was, and total as had been the
defeat of his enemies, it cannot be supposed that La Stoccata would
be allowed to carry it away thus. It has before been hinted that
Abbot Anselm had written to the Pope, and Boniface the Eighth piqued
himself on his punctuality as a correspondent in all matters
connected with church discipline. He sent back an answer by return of
post; and by it all Christian people were strictly enjoined to aid in
exterminating the offender, on pain of the greater excommunication in
this world, and a million of years of purgatory in the next. But
then, again, Boniface the Eighth was rather at a discount in England
just then. He had affronted Longshanks, as the royal lieges had
nicknamed their monarch; and Longshanks had been rather sharp upon
the clergy in consequence. If the Baron de Shurland could but get the
King's pardon for what, in his cooler moments, he admitted to be a
peccadillo, he might sniff at the Pope, and bid him 'do his
Fortune, who, as the poet says, delights to favour the bold, stood
his friend on this occasion. Edward had been for some time collecting
a large force on the coast of Kent, to carry on his French wars for
the recovery of Guienne; he was expected shortly to review it in
person; but, then, the troops lay principally in cantonments about
the mouth of the Thames, and his Majesty was to come down by water.
What was to he done?--the royal barge was in sight, and John de
Northwood and Hamo de Crevecur had broken up all the boats to boil
their camp-kettles. A truly great mind is never without
'Bring me my boots!' said the Baron.
They brought him his boots, and his dapple-grey steed along with
them; such a courser! all blood and bone, short-backed,
broad-chested, and--but that be was a little ewe-necked--faultless in
form and figure. The Baron sprung upon his back, and dashed at once
into the river.
The barge which carried Edward Longshanks and his fortunes had by
this time nearly reached the Nore; the stream was broad, and the
current strong, but Sir Robert and his steed were almost as broad,
and a great deal stronger. After breasting the tide gallantly for a
couple of miles, the knight was near enough to hail the
'What have we got here?' said the King. 'It's a mermaid,' said
one. 'It's a grampus,' said another. 'It's the devil,' said a third.
But they were all wrong; it was only Robert de Shurland. 'Gramercy,'
said the King, 'that fellow was never born to be drowned!'
It has been said before that the Baron had fought in The Holy
Wars; in fact, he had accompanied Longshanks, when only heir apparent
in his expedition twenty-five years before, although his name is
unacountably omitted by Sir Harris Nicolas in his list of crusaders.
He had been present at Acre when Amirand of Joppa stabbed the prince
with a poisoned dagger, and had lent Princess Eleanor his own
tooth-brush after she had sucked out the venom from the wound. He had
slain certain Saracens, contented himself with his own plunder, and
never dunned the commissariat for arrears of pay. Of course he ranked
high in Edward's good graces, and had received the honour of
knghthood at his hands on the field of battle.
In one so circumstanced, it canot be supposed that such a trifle
as the killing of a frowsy friar would be much resented, even had he
not taken so bold a measure to obtain his pardon. His petition was
granted, of course, as soon as asked; and so it would have been had
the indictment drawn up by the Canterbury town-clerk, viz., 'That he,
the said Robert de Shurland, had then and there,, with several, to
wit, one thousand, pairs of boots, given sundry, to wit, two
thousand, kicks, and therewith and thereby killed divers; to wit, ten
thousand, Austin Friars,' been true to the letter.
Thrice did the gallant grey circumnavigate the barge, while Robert
de Winchelsey, the chancellor and archbishop to boot was making out,
albeit with great reluctance, the royal pardon. The interval was
sufficiently long to enable his Majesty, who, gracious as he was had
always an eye to business, just to hint that the gratitude he felt
towards the Baron was not unmixed with a lively sense of services to
come; and that if life were now spared him, common decency must
oblige him make himself useful. Before the archbishop, who had
scalded his fingers with the wax in affixing the great-seal, had time
to take them out of his mouth, all was settled, and the Baron de
Shurland had pledged himself to be forthwith in readiness, cum suis,
to accompany his lord to Guienne.
With the royal pardon secured in his vest, boldly did his lordship
turn again to the shore; and as boldly did his courser oppose his
breadth of chest to the stream. It was a work of no common difficulty
or danger; a steed of less 'mettle and bone' had long since sunk in
the effort: as it was, the Baron's boots were full of water, and Grey
Dolphin's chamfrain more than once dipped beneath the wave. The
covvulsive snorts of the noble animal showed his distress; each
instant they became more loud and frequent; when his hoof touched the
strand, and the horse and his rider stood once again in safety on the
Rapidly dismounting, the Baron was loosening the girths of his
demi-pique, to give the panting animal breath, when he was aware of
as ugly an oldwoman as he had ever clapped eyes upon, peeping at him
under the horse's belly.
'Make much of your steed, Robert Shurland! Make much of your
steed!' cried the hag; shaking at him her long and bony finger.
'Groom to the hide, and corn to the manger! He has saved your life,
Robert Shurland, for the nonce; but he shall yet be the means of your
losing it for all that!'
The Baron started: 'What's that you say, you old faggot?' He ran
round by his horse's tail; The woman was gone!
The Baron paused; his great soul was not to be shaken by trifles;
he looked around him and solemnly ejaculated the word 'Humbug!' then
slinging the bridle acrosss his arm, walked slowly on in the
direction of the castle.
The appearance, and still more, the disappearance of the crone,
had, however, made an impresslon; every step he took he became more
thoughtful. "Twould be deuced provoking, though, if he should break
my neck after all.' He turned and gazed at Dolphin with the
scrutinising eye of a veterinary surgeon. 'I'll be shot if he is not
groggy! said the Baron.
With his lordship, like another great commander, 'Once to be in
doubt was once to be resolved:' it would never do to go to the wars
on a ricketty prad. He dropped he rein, drew forth Tickletoby, and,
as the enfranchised Dolphin, good easy horse, stretched out his
ewe-neck to the herbage; struck off his head at a single blow.
'There, you lying old beldame!' said the Baron; 'now take him away to
Three years were come and gone. King Edward's French wars were
over; both parties having fought till they came to a stand-still,
shook hands, and the quarrel, as usual, was patched up by a royal
marriage. This happy event gave his Majesty leisure to turn his
attention to Scotland, where things, through the intervention of
William Wallace, were looking rather queerish. As his reconciliation
with Philip now allowed of his fighting the Scotch in peace and
quietness, the monarch lost no time in marching his long legs across
the border, and the short ones of the Baron followed him of course.
At Falkirk, Tickletoby was in great request; and in the year
following, we find a contemporary poet hinting at his master's
prowess under the walls of Caerlaverok--
Ovec eus fu achiminez
Li beau Robert de Shurland
Ki kant seoit sur le cheval
>Ne sembloit home de someille.
A quatrain which Mr. Simpkinson translates.
'With them was marching
The good Robert de Shurland,
Who, when seated on horseback,
does not resemble a man asleep!'
So thoroughly awake, indeed, does he seem to have proved himself,
that the bard subsequently exclaims in an ecstacy of admiration:
Si ie estoie une pucelette
Je li donroie ceur et cors
Tant est de lu bons lu recors.
'If I were a young maiden;
I would give my heart and person,
So great is his fame!'
Fortunately the poet was a tough old monk of Exeter; since such a
present to a nobleman, now in his grand climacteric, would hardly
have been worth the carriage. With the reduction of this stronghold
of the Maxwells seem to have concluded the Baron's military services;
as on the very first day of the fourteenth century we find him once
more landed on his native shore, and marching, with such of his
retainers as the wars had left him, towards the hospitable shelter of
Shurland Castle. It was then, upon that very beach, some hundred
yards distant from high-water mark, that his eye fell upon something
like an ugly old woman in a red cloak. She was seated on what seemed
to be a large stone, in an interesting attitude, with her elbows
resting upon her knees, and her chin upon her thumbs. The Baron
started: the remembrance of his interview with a similar personage in
the same place, some three years since; flashed upon his
recollection. He rushed towards the spot but the form was
gone--nothing remained but the seat it had appeared to occupy. This,
on examination, turned out to be no stone, but the whitened skull of
a dead horse! A tender remembrance of the deceased Grey Dolphin shot
a momentary pang into the Baron's bosom; he drew the back of his hand
across his face; the thought of the hag's prediction in an instant
rose, and banished all softer emotions. In utter contempt of his own
weakness, yet with a tremor that deprived his redoubtable kick of
half its wonted force, he spurned the relic with his foot. One word
alone issued from his lips, elucidatory of what was passing in his
mind--it long remained imprinted on the memory of his faithful
followers--that word was 'Gammon!' The skull bounded across the beach
till it reached the very margin of the stream;--one instant more and
it would be engulfed for ever. At that moment a loud 'Ha! ha! ha!'
was distinctly heard by the whole train to issue from its bleached
'and toothless jaws: it sank beneath the flood in a horse laugh.
Meanwhile Sir Robert de Shurland felt an odd sort of sensation in
his right foot. His boots had suffered in the wars. Great pains had
been token for their preservation. They bed been 'soled' and 'heeled'
more than once--had they been 'goloshed,' their owner might have
defied Fate! Well has it been said that 'There is no such thing as a
trifle.' A nobleman's life depended upon a question of ninepence.
The Baron marched on; the uneasiness in his feat increased. He
plucked off his boot;--a horse's tooth was sticking in his great
The result may be anticipated. Lame as he was, his lordship, with
characteristic decision, would hobble on to Shurland; his walk
increased the inflammation; a flagon of aqua vitae did not mend
matters. He was in a high fever; he took to his bed. Next morning the
toe presented the appearance of a Bedfordshire carrot; by dinner time
it had deepened to beetroot; and when Bargrave, the leech, at last
sliced it off, the gangrene was too confirmed to admit of remedy.
Dame Martin thought it high time to send for Miss Margaret who, ever
since her mother's death, had been living with her maternal aunt, the
abbess, in the Ursuline convent at Greenwich. The young lady came,
and with her came one Master Ingoldsby, her Cousin-german by the
mother's side; but the Baron was too far gone in the dead-thraw to
recognise either. He died as he lived, unconquered and unconquerable.
His last words were 'Tell the old hag she may go to--' Whither
remains a secret. He expired without fully articulating the place of
But who and what was the crone who prophesied the catastrophe? Ay,
'that is the mystery of this wonderful history.'--Some say it was
Dame Fothergill, the late confessor's mamma; others, St Bridget
herself; others thought it was nobody at all, but only a phantom
conjured up by conscience. As we do not know, we decline giving an
And what became of the Clerk of Chatham?--Mr. Simpkinson avers
that he lived to a good old age, and was at last hanged by Jack Cade,
with his inkhorn about his neck, for 'setting boys copies.' In
support of this he adduces his name 'Emmanuel,' and refers to the
historian Shakspeare. Mr. Peters, on the contrary, considers this to
be what he calls one of Mr. Simpkinson's 'Anacreonisms,' inasmuch as,
at the introduction of Mr. Cade's reform measure, the Clerk, if
alive, would have been hard upon two hundred years old. The
probability is that the unfortunate alluded to was his
Margaret Shurland in due course became Margaret Ingoldsby: her
portrait still hangs in the gallery at Tappington. The features are
handsome, but shrewish, betraying, as it were, a touch of the old
Baron's temperament; but we never could learn that she actually
kicked her husband. She brought him a very pretty fortune in chains,
owches, and Saracen ear-rings; the barony being a male fief; reverted
to the Crown.
In the abbey-church at Minster may yet be seen the tomb of a
recumbent warrior, clad in the chain-mail of the 13th century. His
hands are clasped in prayer, his legs, crossed in that position so
prized by Templars in ancient, and tailors in modern days, bespeak
him a soldier of the faith in Palestine. Close behind his dexter calf
lies sepultured in bold relief a horse's head: and a respectable
elderly lady, as she shows the monument, fails not to read her
auditors a fine moral lesson on the sin of ingratitude, or to claim a
sympathising tear to the memory of poor 'Grey Dolphin!'