Our Little Lady
by Emily Sarah Holt
CHAPTER ONE. SIX
CHAPTER TWO. HOW
AT UNCLE DAN'S
CHAPTER SIX. SET
CHAPTER SEVEN. A
AS A LITTLE
Our Little LadySix Hundred Years Ago, by Emily Sarah Holt.
This is one of the approximately thirty books by Emily Holt about
life in the Middle Ages. The language of the book is basically English
as we would understand it, strongly flavoured with words and phrases
from the Middle Ages. The other thing that comes across strongly is how
different the attitudes to life were in those days.
Avice, one of the elder women in the book, tells the story of how
she had become a nursery-maid in the Royal Palace, first at Windsor,
and then later at Westminster. One of the princesses she had to look
after was a most beautiful child, but had been born deaf and dumb. She
had various gestures with which she communicated, but the sadness was,
that they never could teach her to pray. Yet they were sure she spoke
to Christ in her own way. The poor child died young. This all took
place at the end of the thirteenth century, hence the six hundred years
of the title.
OUR LITTLE LADY, SIX HUNDRED YEARS AGO, BY EMILY SARAH HOLT.
CHAPTER ONE. SIX HUNDRED YEARS
AGOWHAT THINGS WERE LIKE.
The afternoon service was over in Lincoln Cathedral, and the
congregation were slowly filing out of the great west door. But that
afternoon service was six hundred years ago, and both the Cathedral and
the congregation would look very strange to us if we saw them now.
Those days were well called the Dark Ages, and how dark they were we
can scarcely realise in the present day. Let us fancy ourselves coming
out of that west door, and try to picture what we should have seen
there, six hundred years ago.
The Cathedral itself is hardly to be known. It is crowded with
painted images and embroidered banners, and filled with the smoke and
scent of burning incense. The clergy are habited, not in white
surplices or in black gowns, but in large stiff cloakscopes they are
calledof scarlet silk, heavy with gold embroidery. The Bishop, who is
in the pulpit, wears a cope of white, thick with masses of gold, and on
his head is a white and gold mitre. How unlike that upper chamber,
where the disciples gathered together after the crucifixion of their
Master! Is it better or worse, do you ask? Well, I think if the Master
were to come in, it would be easier to see Him in the quiet upper
chamber, where there was nothing else to see, than in the perfumed and
decorated Cathedral where there was so much else!
But now let us look at the congregation as they pass out. Are they
all women? for all alike seem to wear long skirts and thick hoods:
there are neither trousers, nor hats, nor bonnets. No, there is a fair
sprinkling of men; but men and women dressed more alike then than they
do now. You will see, if you look, that some of these long skirts are
open in front, and you may catch a glimpse of a beard here and there
under the hood. This is a poor woman who comes now: she wears a serge
dress which has cost her about three-halfpence a yard, and a threadbare
hood for which she may have given sixpence.
Are things so cheap, then? No, just the other way about; money is so
dear. The wages of a mason or a bricklayer are about sixpence a week;
haymakers have the same; reapers get from a shilling to half-a-crown,
and mowers one and ninepence. The gentlemen who wait on the King
himself only receive a shilling a day.
Here comes one of them, in a long green robe of shining silky stuff,
which is called samite; round his neck is a curiously cut collar of
dark red cloth, and in his hand he carries a white hood. Men do not
confine themselves to the quiet, sober colours that we are accustomed
to see; they are smarter than the ladies themselves. This knight, as he
passes out, throws his gown back, before mounting his horse, and you
see his yellow hose striped with blacktrousers and stockings all in a
piece, as it werewith low black shoes, and gilt spurs.
But who follows him?this superbly dressed woman in rich blue
glistening samite, with a black and gold hood, under which we see her
hair bound with a golden fillet, and a necklace of costly pearls
clasped round her throatfor it is a warm day, and she has not tied
her hood. She must be somebody of consequence, for a smart gentleman
leads her by the hand, and one with a long staff walks in front, to
keep the people from pressing too close on her. She is indeed somebody
of consequence the Countess of Lincoln herself, by birth an Italian
Princess; and she is so grand, and so rich, and so beautiful and
statelyand I am sorry to add, so proudthat people call her the
Queen of Lincoln. She has not far to go homeonly through the archway,
and past Saint Michael's Church and the Bull Gate, and then the great
portcullis of the grim old Castle lifts its head to receive its lady,
and she disappears from our sight.
Do you notice that carpets are spread along the streets for
her?not carpets like ours, but the only sort they have, which are a
kind of rough matting. And indeed she needs them, if those purple
velvet shoes of hers are not to be quite ruined by the time she reaches
home. For there are no pavements, and the streets are almost ankle-deep
in mud, and worse than mud. Dead cats, rotten vegetables, animal
refuse, and every kind of abominable thing that you could see or think
of, all lie about in heaps, in these narrow, narrow streets, where the
sun can hardly get down to the ground, and two people might sometimes
shake hands from opposite windows in the upper stories, for they come
farther out than the lower ones. Everybody throws all his rubbish into
the street; all his slops, all his ashes, all his everything of which
he wants to get rid. The smells are something dreadful, as soon as you
come out of the perfumed churches. It is pleasanter to have the
churches perfumed, undoubtedly; but it would be a good deal healthier
if they kept the streets clean.
Quietly following the grand young Countess, at a respectful
distance, come two women who are evidently mother and daughter. Their
dress shows that they are not absolutely poor, but it tells at least as
plainly that they are not at all rich. Just as they reach the west
door, a little girl of ten comes quickly after them, dressed just like
themselves, a woman in miniature.
Why, Avice, where hast thou been? says the elder of the two women.
I was coming, Grandmother, explains little Avice, and Father
Thomas called me, and bade me tell you that the holy Bishop would come
to see you this afternoon, and sup his four-hours with you.
Four-hours, taken as its name shows at four o'clock, was the meal
which answered to our tea. Bishops do not often drink tea with women of
this class, but this was a peculiar Bishop, and the woman to whom he
sent this message was his own foster-sister.
Truly, and I shall be glad to see him, says the Grandmother; and
on they go out of the west door.
The carpets which were spread for the Countess have been rolled
away, and our three humble friends pick their steps as best they may
among the dirt-heaps, occasionally slipping into a puddleI am afraid
Avice now and then walks into it deliberately for the fun of the
splash!and following the road taken by the Countess as far as the
Bull Gate, they then turn to the left, leaving the frowning Castle on
their right, and begin to descend the steep slope well named Steephill.
They have not gone many yards when two people overtake thema man
and a woman. The man stops to speak: the woman marches on with her arms
folded and her head in the air, as if they were invisible.
Good morrow, Dan, says the old lady.
Good morrow, Mother, answers Dan.
What's the matter with Filomena?
A touch of the old complaint, that's all, answers Dan drily. We'd
a few words o' th' road a-comingleastwise she had, for she got it
pretty much to herselfand for th' next twelve hours or so she'll not
be able to see anybody under a squire.
Is she often like that, Dan?
Well, it doesn't come more days than seven i' th' week.
Why, you don't mean to say it's so every day? said Agnes, the
younger woman of our trio.
Dan shook his head. Happen there's an odd un now and then as gets
let off, said he. But I must after her, or there'll be more hot
water. And it comes to table boilin', I can tell you. Good morrow!
Dan runs rather heavily after his incensed spouse, and our friends
continue to pick their way down Steephill. For rather more than half
the way they go, and when just past the Church of Saint Lawrence, they
turn into a narrow street on the left, and in a few yards more they are
Home is one of the smallest houses you ever saw. It has only two
rooms, one above the other; but they are a fair size, being about
twenty-five feet by sixteen. The upper, of course, is the bedroom; the
lower one is kitchen and parlour; and a ladder leads from one to the
other. The upper chamber holds a bed, which is like a box out of which
the bottom has been taken, filled with straw, and on that is a hard
straw mattress, two excessively coarse blankets, and a thick, shaggy,
woollen rug for a counterpane. There are not any sheets or
pillow-cases; but a thick, hard bolster, stuffed like the mattress with
straw, serves for a pillow.
At the foot of the oak bedstead is a large oak chest, big enough to
hold a man, in which the owners keep all their small property of any
value. There are no chairs, but the deep windows have wooden seats, and
two wooden stools are in the corners. As to wardrobes, chests of
drawers, dressing-tables, and washstands, nobody knows of such things
at that day. The chest serves the purpose of all except the washstand,
and they find that (as much as they have of it) at the draw-well in the
little back yard. The window is just a square hole in the wall, closed
with a wooden shutter, so that light and airif not wind and
raincome in together. A looking-glass they have, but a poor makeshift
it is, being of metal and rounded; and those who know what a comical
aspect your face takes when you see it in a metal teapot, can guess how
far anybody could see himself rightly in it. It is nailed up, too, so
high on the wall that it is not easy to see anything. This is all the
furniture of the bedroom.
Downstairs there is more though there are no chairs and tables,
unless a leaf-table in the wall, which lets down, can go by that name.
There are two or three long settles stretching across the wallthe
settle was called a bench when it had a back to it, and a form if it
had not. There is a large bake-stone in one corner; the bread is put on
the top to bake, with the fire underneath, and when there is no fire,
the top can be used as a table, a moulding board, or in many other
ways. But it must not be supposed that such bread is in large square or
cottage loaves like ours. It is made in flat cakes, large or small,
thick or thin. By the side of the bake-stone is the sink, or rather
that which answers to one, being a rough brick basin, with a plug in
the bottom, and just beneath it is a little channel in the brick floor,
by which, when the plug is pulled up, the dirty water finds its way out
into the street under the house door. People who live in this way
needand wearshort gowns and stout shoes.
The opposite corner holds the pine-torches and chips; they burn
nothing but wood, for though coal is known, it is very little used.
This is partly because it is expensive; but also because it is
considered shockingly unhealthy. The smoke from wood or turf is thought
very wholesome; but that from coal is just the reverse. Opposite the
bake-stone is the window; a very little one, much wider than it is
high, and rilled with exceedingly small diamond-shaped panes of very
poor greenish glass set in lead, there being so much lead and so little
glass that the room is but dark in the brightest sunshine. Indeed, it
is decidedly a sign of gentility that the house has any window at all,
beyond the square hole with the wooden shutter.
Up and down the room there are several stools, high and low; the
high ones serve when wanted as little movable tables. In the third
corner is a bread-rack, filled with hard oat-cake above, and the soft
flat cakes of wheat flour below; in the fourth stand several large
barrels containing salt fish, salt meat, flour, meal, and ale. From the
top of the room hang hams, herbs in canvas bags, strings of smoked
fish, a few empty baskets and pails, and anything else which can be
hung up. The rafters are so low that when the inmates move about they
have every now and then to courtesy to a ham or a pail, which would
otherwise hit them on the head. A door by the window leads into the
street, and another beyond the barrels gives access to the back yard.
How would you like to go back, gentle reader, to this style of life?
This was the way in which your forefathers lived, six hundred years
agounless they were very grand people indeed. Then they lived in a
big castle with walls two or three feet thick, and ate from gold or
silver plates, and had the luxury of a chimney in their dining-rooms.
But even then, there were a good many little matters in respect of
which I do not fancy you would quite like to change with them! Would
you like to eat with your fingers, and to find creeping creatures
everywhere, and to have no books and newspapers, and no letters,
and no shops except in great towns, and no way of getting about except
on foot or horseback, and no lamps, candles, clocks or watches, china,
spectacles, nor carpets on the floor? Yet this was the way in which
kings and queens lived, six hundred years ago.
In respect of clothes, people were much better off. They dressed far
more warmly than we do, and used a great deal of fur, not only for
trimming or out-door wear, but to line their clothes in winter. But
their furs comprised much commoner and cheaper skins than we use;
ordinary people wore lambskins, with the fur of cats, hares, and
squirrels. Such furs as ermine and miniver were kept for the great
people; for there were curious rules and laws about dress in those
days. It was not, as it is now, a question of what you could afford to
buy, but of what rank you were. You could not wear ermine or samite
unless you were an earl at the lowest; nor must you sleep on a feather
bed unless you were a knight; nor might you eat your dinner from a
metal plate, if you were not a gentleman. Such notions may sound
ridiculous to us; but they were serious earnest, six hundred years ago.
We should not like to find that we had to go before a magistrate and
pay a fine, if our shoes were a trifle too long, or our trimmings an
inch too wide. But in the time of which I am writing, this was an
In the house, women wore an odd sort of head-dress called a wimple,
which came down to the eyebrows, and was fastened by pins above the
ears. When they went out of doors, they tied on a fur or woollen hood
above it. The gown was very loose, and had no particular waist; the
sleeves were excessively wide and long. But when women were at work,
they had a way of tucking up their dresses at the bottom, so as to keep
them out of the perpetual slop of the stone or brick floor. Rich people
put rushes on their floors except in winter, and as these were only
moved once a year, all manner of unspeakable abominations were
harboured underneath. In this respect the poor were the best off, since
they could have their brick floors as clean as they chose: as, even
yet, there are points in which they have the advantage of richer
peopleif they only knew it!
But our picture is not quite finished yet. Look out of the little
window, and notice what you see. Can this be Sunday afternoon in a good
street? for every shop is open, and in the doorways stand young men
calling out to the passers-by to come in and look at their goods. What
lack you? what lack you?
Buy my fine kerchiefs!
Any thimbles would you, maids? Such cries as these ring on every
Yes, it is Sunday afternoonthe rest of the holy Sabbath unto the
Lord. But look where you will, you can see no rest. Everywhere the
rich are at play, and the poor are at work. What does this mean?
Think seriously of it, friends; for it will be no light matter if
England return to such ways as these again, and there are plenty of
people who are trying to bring them back. What it means is that if
holiness be lost from the Sabbath, rest will never stay behind. Play
for the few means work for the many. And let play get its head in, and
work will soon follow.
If you want to walk the road of happiness, and to arrive at the home
of heaven, you must follow after God, for any other guide will lead in
the opposite direction. The people who tell you that religion is a
gloomy thing are always the people who have not any themselves. And
things are very different, according to whether you look at them from
inside or outside. How can you tell what there may be inside a house,
so long as all you know of it is walking past a shut door?
Ever since Adam hid himself from the presence of the Lord God among
the trees of the garden, men and women have been prone to fancy that
God likes best to see them unhappy. The old heathen always used to
suppose that their gods were jealous of them, and they were afraid to
be too happy, lest the gods should be vexed! But the real God takes
pleasure in the prosperity of His people, and godliness hath the
promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come.
What language are our three friends talking? It sounds very odd. It
is English, and yet it is not. Yes, it is what learned men call Middle
Englishbecause it stands midway between the very oldest English, or
Anglo-saxon, and the modern English which we speak now. It is about as
much like our English as broad Scotch is. A few words and expressions
through the story will give an idea how different it is; but if I were
to write exactly as they would have spoken, nobody would understand it
And how do they live inside this tiny house? Well, in some respects,
in a poorer and meaner way than the very poorest would live now. Look
up, and you will see that there is no chimney, but the smoke finds its
way out through a hole above the fire, and when it is wet the rain
comes in and puts the fire out. They know nothing about candles, but
burn long shafts of pine-wood instead. There are such things as wax
candles, indeed, but they are only used in church; nobody dreams of
burning them in houses. And there are lamps, but they are made of gold
and silver, and are never seen except in the big castles. There is no
crockery; and metal plates, as I said, are only for the grand people.
The middle classes use wooden trenchersour friends have twohollowed
out to keep the gravy in; and the poor have no plates at all beyond a
cake of bread. Their drinking-glasses are just cows' horns, with the
tip cut off and a wooden bottom put in. They have also a few wooden
bowls, and one precious brass pot; half a dozen knives, rough unwieldy
things, and four wooden spoons; one horn spoon is kept for best. Forks?
Oh dear, no; nobody knows anything about forks, except a pitchfork.
Table-linen? No, nor body-linen; those luxuries are only in the big
castles. Let us watch Avice's mother as she sets the table for
four-hours, remembering that they are going to have company, and
therefore will try to make things a little more comfortable than usual.
In the first place, there will be a table to set. If they were
alone, they would use one or two of the high stools. But Agnes goes out
into the little yard, and brings back two boards and a couple of
trestles, which she sets up in the middle of the room. This is the
tablerather a rickety affair, you may say; and it will be quite as
well that nobody should lean his elbow on it. Next, she puts on the
boards four of the cows' horns, and the two trenchers, with one bowl.
She then serves out a knife and spoon for each of four people, putting
the horn spoon for the Bishop. Her preparations are now complete, with
the addition of one thing which is never forgottena very large wooden
salt-cellar, which she puts almost at one end, for where that stands is
a matter of importance. Great peopleand the Bishop is a very great
personmust sit above the salt, and small insignificant folks are put
below. We may also notice that the Bishop is honoured with a horn and a
trencher to himself. This is an unusual distinction. Husband and wife
always share the same plate, and other relatives very frequently. As to
Avice, we see that nothing is set for her. The child will share her
mother's spoon and horn; and if the Bishop brings his chaplain, he will
have a spoon and horn for himself, but will eat off the Grandmother's
Our picture is finished, and now the story may begin.
CHAPTER TWO. HOW THINGS CHANGED.
Open the door, Avice, quick! said Agnes, as a rap came upon it.
Yonder, methinks, must be the holy Bishop.
Avice ran to the door, and opened it, to find two priests standing
on the threshold. They entered, the foremost with a smile to the child,
after which he held up his hand, saying, Christ save all here! Then
he held out his hand, which both Agnes and her mother kissed, and sat
down on one of the forms by the table. Every priest was then looked
upon as a most holy person. Some of them were a long way from holiness.
But there were some who really deserved the title, and few deserved it
so well as Robert Copley, Bishop of Lincoln, whom, according to the
fashion of that day, people called Grosteste, or Great-head.
For surnames were then only just beginning to grow, and very few
people had themI mean, very few had received any from their fathers.
They had, therefore, to bear some name given to them. Sometimes a man
was named from his fatherhe was Robert John-son, or John Wil-son.
Sometimes it was from his trade; he was Robert the Smith, or John the
Carter. Sometimes it was from the place where he lived; he was Robert
at the Mill, or John by the Brook. But sometimes it was from something
about himself, either as concerned his person or his ways; he was
Robert Red-nose, or John White-hood, or William Turn-again. This is the
way in which all surnames have grown. Now, as Bishop Copley's soul
lodged well (as Queen Elizabeth said of Lord Bacon), in a large head
and massive brow, people took to calling him Great-head or Grosteste;
and it is as Bishop Grosteste, not as Bishop Copley, that he has been
known down to the present day.
I have said that he was a peculiar man. He was much more peculiar,
at the time when he lived, than he would have been if he had lived now.
Saint Peter told bishops that they were not to be lords over God's
heritage, but to be ensamples to the flock; but when Bishop Grosteste
lived, most bishops were very great lords, and very poor examples.
Bishops, and clergymen too, were fond of going about in gay clothes of
all colours, playing at games, and even drinking at ale-houses. Many of
them were positively not respectable men. But Bishop Grosteste and his
chaplain were dressed in plain black, and they were of the few who walk
not according to the course of this world. To them, I like was of no
moment, and I ought was of great importance. And what other people
would say, or what other people might be going to do, was a matter of
no consequence whatever.
Such men are scarce in this follow-my-leader world. If you are so
fortunate as to be related to one of them, take care you make much of
him, for you may go a long way before you see another. With most people
I like comes up at the top; and What will people say? comes next,
and often pretty near; but What does God tell me to do? is a long way
off, and sometimes so far off that they never come to it at all!
Bishop Grosteste lived in one of the darkest days of Christianity.
Thick, dense ignorance, of all kinds, overwhelmed the masses of the
people. Books were worth their weight in gold, there were so few of
them; and still worse, very few could read them. When we know that
there was a law by which a man who had been sentenced to death could
claim pardon if he were able to read one verse of a Psalm, it gives us
an idea how very little people can have known, and what a precious
thing learning was held to be. Even the clergy were not much wiser than
the rest, and they were generally the best educated of any. Most of
them could just get through the services, not so much by reading them
as by knowing what they had to say; and they often made very queer
blunders between words which were nearly alike. A few, here and there,
were really learned men; and Bishop Grosteste was one of them. He had
learned all that Europe could furnish, and he knew so much that the
poor ignorant people about him fancied he must have obtained his
knowledge by magic. But far better than all this, Bishop Grosteste was
taught of God. His soul was like a plant which grew up towards the
light, and Jesus Christ was his Sun.
In this day of full, brilliant Gospel light, we can hardly imagine
the state of affairs then. Perhaps one fact will help us to do it as
well as many. In every house there was an image set up before which all
prayers were said. Sometimes it was a crucifix, sometimes an image of
the Virgin Mary, sometimes of some other saintfor the saints, male
and female, were a great crowd. But the crucifix or the Virgin Mary
were generally preferred; and why? Because the poor worshippers fancied
that the crucifix had more power than the image of a saint, and that
the Virgin was able to look after her own candle! A torch, or in later
times a candle, was always burning in front of the image; and of course
if the image could keep it alight, it was much less trouble to the
But had they no common sense in those days? Well, really, it looks
sometimes as if they had not. When men once turn aside from God's Word,
it is impossible to say to what folly or wickedness they will not go.
The entrance of Thy words giveth light; yea, it giveth understanding
unto the simple.
Very few bishops then living would have taken any notice of the
humble foster-sister who lived in that tiny house, and worked: for her
living she and her daughter being both widows, and the child
dependent on them. It was hard work then, as now, for such people to
get along. It is often really harder for them than for the very poor.
The guests being now come, Agnes dished up the four-hoursif that
can be called dishing up when there were no dishes! She lifted a great
pan off the hook where it hung over the firefor it must be remembered
there were no bars, and pans had to be hung over the fire by a handle
like that of a kettleand poured out into the bowl a quantity of soup.
She then served out a cake of white bread to the Bishopa rare
dainty black bread to the chaplain and her mother, and hard oat-cake
for herself and Avice. They then began to eat, after the Bishop had
made the sign of the crossover the bowl, which answered to saying
grace; all the spoons going into the one bowl, the Bishop being
respectfully allowed to help himself first.
And how goes it now with thee, my sister Muriel? asked the Bishop.
The Grandmother gave a little shake of her head, though she answered
Things go pretty well, holy Father, I thank you. Work is off and
on, as it may be; but we manage to keep a roof over our heads, as you
see, and we can even find a bowl of broth and a wheat-cake for our
friends. The Lord be praised for all His mercies!
Well said, my sister. And what do you intend to make of your little
Marry, I intend to make a good worker of her, said Agnes in her
turn, and not an idle giggling good-for-nought, as most of the lasses
be. She shall spin, and weave, and card, and sew, and scour, and wash,
and bake, and brew, and churn, and cook, and not let the grass grow
under her feet, or else I'll see!
Truly a goodly list of duties for one maid, replied the Bishop,
with a smile. And yet, good Agnes, I am about to ask if thou canst
find room for another on the top of them.
Verily, holy Father, I am she that should work my fingers to the
bone to pleasure you, was the hearty answer.
I thank thee, good my daughter. How shouldst thou like to go to
To London, Father! And Agnes's eyes grew as round as shillings.
To go to London was then looked on as a very serious matter. People
made their wills before they started. And to ignorant Agnes, who had
never in her life been ten miles from Lincoln, it sounded almost as
tremendous an idea as being asked to go to the moon.
The Bishop smiled. He had been to Paris and Lyons.
Ay, even to London town. I do indeed mean it, my daughter. There
is, methinks, a career open to thee, which most should reckon rare
preferment, and good success. Ah, what is success? he added, as if to
himself. Howbeit, thou shalt hear. The Lady Queen lacketh nurses for
her children, and reckoning thou shouldst well fill such a place, I
made bold to speak for thee. And she thus far granted me, that thou
shouldst go up to Windsor, where the King's children are kept, and she
herself is at this present, there to talk with her, and let her see if
thou art fit for the post. If on further acquaintance she be pleased
with thee, then shalt thou be made nurse to one of the children; and if
not, then the Lady Queen will pay thy charges home. What sayest, my
daughter?and thou also, Muriel, my sister?
Both Muriel and Agnes felt as if their breath were taken away. As to
Avice, she was listening with those large ears for which little
pitchers are proverbial. The Bishop had spoken quietly, as if it were
an every-day occurrence, of this enormous change which would affect
their whole lives.
Verily, Father, you are too good to us, said Muriel gratefully.
And I will try to thank you, Father, added Agnes, when I get back
my senses, and can find out whether I am on my head or my heels.
The Bishop and his chaplain laughed; and Agnes, recalled to her
duties by seeing the soup-bowl empty, jumped up and took down the spit
on which a chicken was roasting at the fire. Chickens were dear just
then, and this one had cost three farthings, having been provided in
honour of company. People helped themselves in those days in a very
rough and simple manner. Agnes held the chicken on the spit to the
Bishop, who cut from it with his own knife the part he preferred; then
she served the chaplain and Muriel in the same way, and lastly cut some
off for herself and Avice. Finally, when little was left beside the
carcase, she opened the back door, and bestowed the remains on Manikin
the turnspit dog, a little wiry, shaggy cur, which, released from his
labours, had sat on the hearth licking his lips while the process of
helping went on, knowing that his reward would come at last. Manikin
trotted off into the yard with his treasure, and Agnes came back to the
table and the subject.
Truly, holy Father, I know not how to thank you. But indeed I will
do my best to deserve your good word, should it please God so to order
I doubt not thou wilt do well, my daughter. Bear thou in mind that
Christ our Lord is thy Master, and thy service must be good enough to
be laid at His feet. Then shalt thou well serve the Queen.
Agnes was a very ignorant woman. Bishop Grosteste, being himself a
wise man, could not at all realise how ignorant she was. She knew very
little how to serve God, but she did really wish to do it. And that,
after all, is the great thing. Those who have the will can surely,
sooner or later, find out how.
When the guests were gone, Agnes threw another log of wood upon the
fire, and came and stood before it. Well, Mother, what must we do
touching this matter? Verily I am all of a tumblement. What think you?
I think, my daughter, said old Muriel calmly from the
chimney-corner, that we are not going to set forth for London within
this next half-hour.
Nay, truly; yet we must think well on it.
We shall do well to sleep on it, and yet better to ask counsel of
But we must go, Mother! It would never do to offend the holy
Bishop Robert my brother is not he that should be angered because
we preferred God's counsel to his. But it may be that we shall find,
after prayer and thought, that his counsel is God's.
It was to that conclusion they came the next day.
After the Bishop's departure, for a long time all was bustle and
confusion. Agnes declared that she did not know where her head was, nor
sometimes whether she had any. Avice was at the height of enjoyment.
Old Muriel went quietly about her work, keeping at it, doing the next
thing, and got through more work than either.
The Bishop did all he could to help them. He found them a tenant for
the house, lent them moneyall his money not spent on real necessaries
was either lent or given to such as needed it more than he did; and at
last he sent them southwards on his own horses, and in charge of three
of his servants. From Lincoln to Windsor was a five days' journey of
rather long stages; and when at last they reached the royal borough,
simpleminded Agnes had begun to feel as if no further power of
astonishment were left in her mind.
Dear, I never thought the world was so big! she had said before
they left Grantham; and when they arrived at Aylesbury, her cry
wasEh, what a power of folks be in this world!
Old Muriel took her journey, as she did everything, calmly. She,
like Bishop Grosteste himself, lived too much with God to be easily
startled or overawed by the grandeur of man. Avice was in a state of
excitement and delight through the whole time.
They slept at a small inn; and the next morning, one of the Bishop's
servants, who had received his orders beforehand, took up to the Castle
a letter from his master, and waited to hear when it would please the
Queen to see them. He came back in an hour, with the news that the
Queen would receive them that afternoon.
Agnes was in a condition of restless flutter till the time came.
Then they dressed themselves in their very best, and Luke, the Bishop's
servant, took them up to the Castle.
If Agnes had felt confused at the mere idea of her interview, she
found the reality still more overwhelming than she expected. The first
thing she realised was that she stood in an immense hall, surrounded by
what seemed to her a crowd of very smart gentlemen. Then they were led
through passages and galleries, upstairs and downstairs, till Agnes
felt as though she could never hope to find her way back; and at last,
in a very handsome room, where the walls were covered with painting,
and the furniture upholstered in silk, they came into the midst of a
second crowd of very grand ladies. By this time poor Agnes had quite
lost her head; and when one of the fine ladies asked her what she
wanted, she could only drop a succession of courtesies and look totally
bewildered. Old Muriel managed better.
Under your leave, Madam, we have been sent for by my Lady the
Oh, are you the people who come about the nurses' place? said the
young lady, who looked good-natured enough. Follow me, and I will lead
you to the Queen's chamber.
How many more chambers can there be? was the wonder uppermost in the
mind of Agnes. But they walked through several more, each to her eyes
grander than the last, painted, with stained glass windows, and
silk-covered furniture. At length the young lady desired them to wait a
moment where they were, while she took in their names to the Queen. She
drew back a crimson silk curtain, and disappeared behind it; and the
threefor they had never thought of leaving Avice behindstood
looking round them in admiring astonishment. They were not left to
wonder long. The curtain was drawn back, and the voice of some unseen
person bade them go forward.
They found themselves in a smaller room than the last, beautifully
decorated. The walls were painted a very pale blue, and large frescoes
ornamented each side of the chamber. Thick marble columns, highly
polished, jutted out into the room, and in the recess between each pair
was a marble bench, with cushions of crimson samite. Two walnut-wood
chairs, furnished with crimson samite cushions, stood in the middle of
the room. Small leaf-tables were fixed to the walls here and there. The
floor was of waxed wood, very slippery to tread upon. At the farther
side of the room two doors stood open, side by side, the one leading to
a little oratory in the turret, the other to a balcony which ran round
the tower. In one corner a young lady sat at an embroidery frame, and
in another a little girl of seven years old, who deeply interested
Avice, was feeding her pet peacock. In one of the chairs, with some
fancy work in her hand, sat a lady whose age was about twenty-eight,
and whose rich dress of gold-coloured samite, and the gold and pearl
fillet which bound her hair, divided Avice's attention with the child
and the peacock. Agnes was dropping flurried courtesies to everybody at
once. Muriel, who seemed to have a much better notion of what she ought
to do, took a step forward, and knelt before the lady who sat in the
Lady, she said, we are the Queen's servants.
Queen Eleanor, for it was she, looked up on them with a smile. She
was a beautiful brunette, lively and animated when she spoke, but with
an easy-going, lazy expression when she did not. It struck Avice, who
had eyes for everything, and was making good use of them, that her
Majesty might have brushed her rich dark hair a little smoother, and
have fastened her diamond brooch less unevenly than she had done.
It was the pleasanter side of Queen Eleanor which was being shown to
them. She could be very pleasant when she was pleased, and very kind
and affable when she liked people. But she could be very harsh and
tyrannical to those whom she did not like; and she was one of those
many people with whom out of sight is out of mind. Let her see a
suffering child, and she would be sorry and anxious to help; but a
thousand suffering people whom she did not see, even if something which
she did had made them suffer, were nothing at all to her.
The Queen liked her visitors. She thought old Muriel looked
reliable; she was amused with the bewildered reverence of Agnes; and as
to Avice, a child more or less in Windsor Castle mattered very little.
She would do to feed the peacock when Princess Margaret did not choose
to attend to it. So the bargain was soon struck; and almost before she
had discovered what was going to happen to her, Agnes found herself the
day-nurse of the Lord Richard, the little Prince who was then in the
cradle. Muriel was made mistress of the nurses; and even little Avice
received a formal appointment as waiting-damsel on the Princess
Margaret, the little girl who was feeding the peacock. They were then
dismissed from the royal presence.
Thou hadst better go with them, Margaret Bysset, said the Queen,
with a rather amused smile, to the young lady who had brought them in;
otherwise they may wander about all day.
Guided by Margaret Bysset, they retraced their steps through the
suite of rooms, down winding stairs, and across the hall, to the great
door which led into the courtyard of the Castle.
Can you find your way now? asked the young lady.
Nay, we can but try! said Agnes. Pray you, my mistress, how many
chambers be there in this Castle?
Truly, I have not counted them, was the laughing answer.
Eh, dear, but I marvel if I can ever find mine own when we come to
That will you soon enough. Look, here cometh your serving-man. Give
you good morrow!
A few days saw them safely housed in the Castle, where two of them
were to dwell for ten years before they returned to their own home at
Lincoln. But old Muriel was never to return. She lived through half
that time, just long enough to hear of the death of Bishop Grosteste,
who passed away on the ninth of October 1253. He literally died weeping
for the sins of his age.
Christ came into the world to save souls, were the words uttered
with his last breath. He who takes pains to ruin them, shall he not be
called Antichrist? God built the universe in six days; but it took Him
thirty years to redeem fallen man. The Church can never be delivered
but by the sword from the Egyptian bondage in which the Popes hold
The good old Bishop could say no more. His voice broke down in
tears; and with one great sob for England he yielded up his soul.
CHAPTER THREE. AT UNCLE DAN'S SMITHY.
The royal baby for whose benefit Muriel and Agnes had been engaged
did not live long; but he was succeeded by his brother Prince William,
and before he was old enough to do without nurses, a little Princess
came upon the scene. She was the last of the family, and she lived
three years and a half. After her death, the services of the nurses
were no longer needed. Queen Eleanor dismissed them with liberal wages
and handsome presents, and the two who were leftAgnes and Avice
determined to go back to Lincoln. Avice was now a young woman of
But when they reached their old home, they found many changes. The
good Bishop Grosteste was gone, but his chaplain, Father Thomas, had
looked after their interests, and Agnes found no difficulty in
recovering her little property. Happily for them, their tenants were
anxious to leave the house, and before many days were over, they had
slipped quietly back into the old place.
There were no banks in those days. A man's savings bank was an old
stocking or a tin mug. Agnes disposed of the money she had left from
the Queen's payment, partly in the purchase of a cow, and partly in a
stocking, which was carefully locked up in the oak chest. They could
live very comfortably on the produce of the cow and the garden, aided
by what small sums they might earn in one way and another. And so the
years went on, until Avice in her turn married and was left a widow;
but she had no child, and when her mother died Avice was left alone.
I can never do to live alone, she said to herself; I must have
somebody to love and work for.
And she began to think whom she could find to live with her. As she
sat and span in the twilight, one name after another occurred to her
mind, but only to be all declined with thanks.
There was her neighbour next door, Annora Goldhue: she had three
daughters. No, none of them would do. Joan was idle, and Amy was
conceited, and Frethesancia had a temper. Little Roese might have done,
who lived with old Serena at the mill end; but old Serena could not
spare her. At last, as Avice broke her thread for the fourth time, she
pushed back the stool on which she was sitting, and rose with her
determination taken, and spoke it out
I will go and see Aunt Filomena.
Aunt Filomena lived about a mile from Lincoln, on the Newport road.
Her husband was a greensmith: that is to say, he worked in copper, and
hawked his goods in the town when made. Avice lost no time in going,
but set out at once.
As she rounded the last turn in the lane, she heard the ring of
Daniel Greensmith's hammer on the anvil, and a few minutes' more
walking brought her in sight of the smith himself, who laid down his
hammer and shaded his eyes to see who was coming.
Why, Uncle Dan, don't you know me? said Avice.
Nay, who is to know thee, when thou comes so seldom? said old Dan,
wiping his hot face with his apron. Art thou come to see me or my
I want to see Aunt Filomena. Is she in, Uncle Dan?
She's in, unless she's out, said Dan unanswerably. And her
tongue's in, too. It's at home, that is. Was this morning,
anyhow. What dost thou want of her?
Well, said Avice, hesitating, I want her advice
Then thou wants what thou'lt get plenty of, said Dan, with a
comical twist of his mouth, as he turned over some long nails to find a
suitable one. I'll be fain if thou'lt cart away a middling lot, for
there's more coming my way than I've occasion for at this present.
Avice laughed. I daresay Aunt is overworked a bit, she said.
Perhaps I can help her, Uncle Dan. Folks are apt to lose their tempers
when they are tired.
Some folks are apt to lose 'em whether they are tired or not, said
the smith, with a shake of his grizzled head. I've got six lasses, and
four on 'em takes after her. I could manage one, and maybe I might
tackle two; but when five on 'em gets a-top of a chap, why, he's down
afore he knows it. I'm a peaceable man enough if they'd take me
peaceable. But them five rattling tongues, that gallops faster than Sir
Otho's charger up to the Manoreh, I tell thee what, Avice, they do
wear a man out!
Poor Uncle Dan! I should think they do. But are all the girls at
home? I thought Mildred and Emma were to be bound apprentices in
Fell through wi' Mildred, said the smith. Didn't offer good
enough; and Sheby which pronoun he usually designated his vixenish
wifewouldn't hear on it. Emma's bound, worse luck! I could ha' done
wi' Emma. She and Bertha's the only ones as can be peaceable, like me.
Mildred's still at home, then?
Mildred's at home yet. And so's El'nor, and so's Susanna, and so's
Ankaret; and every one on 'em's tongue's worse nor t'other. Anda
very heavy sighso's She!
Avice knew that Uncle Dan was usually a man of fewer words than
this. For him to be thus loquacious showed very strong emotion or
irritation of some sort. She went round to the back door, and before
she reached it, she heard enough to let her guess the sort of welcome
she might expect to receive.
Just inside the open door stood Aunt Filomena, a thin, red-faced,
voluble woman, with her arms akimbo, pouring out words as fast as they
could come; and in the yard, just outside the door, opposite to her,
stood her daughter Ankaret, in exactly the same attitude, also thin,
red-faced, and voluble. The two were such precise counterparts of one
another that Avice had hard work to keep her gravity. Inside the house,
Susanna and Mildred, and outside Eleanor, were acting as interested
spectators; the funniest part of the scene being that neither of them
listened to a word said by the other, but each ran at express speed on
her own rails. The youngest daughter, Bertha, was nowhere to be seen.
For a minute the whole appearance of things struck Avice as so
excessively comical that she could scarcely help laughing. But then she
realised how shocking it really was. What sort of mothers, in their
turn, could such daughters be expected to make? She waited for a
moment's pause, and when it occurred, which was not for some minutes,
Oh, you're there, are you? demanded the amiable Filomena. You
just thank the stars you've got no children! If ever an honest woman
were plagued with six good-for-nothing, sluttish, slatternly shrews of
girls as me! Here's that AnkaretI've told her ten times o'er to wash
the tubs out, and get 'em ready for the pickling, and I come to see if
they are done, and they've never been touched, and my lady sitting
upstairs a-making her gown fine for Sunday! I declare, I'll
Her intentions were drowned in an equally shrill scream from Miss
Ankaret. You never told me a wordnot once! And 'tain't my place to
scour them tubs out, neither. It's Susanna as always
Then I won't! broke in Susanna. And you might be ashamed of
yourself, I should think, to put such messy work on me when Eleanor
You'd best let me alone! fiercely chimed in Eleanor.
Oh dear, dear! cried Avice, putting her hands over her ears. My
dear cousins, are you going to drive each other deaf? Why, I would
rather scour out twenty tubs than fight over them like this! Are you
not Christian women? Come, now, who is going to scour the tubs? I will
take one myself if you will do the others. Who will join me?
And Avice began to turn up her sleeves in good earnest. No, Avice,
don't you; you'll spoil your gown, said Eleanor, looking ashamed of
her vehemence. See, I'll get them done. Mildred, won't you help?
Well, I don't mind if I do, was the rather lazy answer.
But Ankaret and Susanna declined to touch the work, the latter
cynically offering to lend her apron to Avice.
As Avice scrubbed away, she began to regret her errand. To be
afflicted with such a lifelong companion as one of these lively young
ladies would be far worse than solitude. But where was the
youngest?the quiet little Bertha, who took after her peaceable
father, and whom Avice had rarely heard to speak? She asked Eleanor for
her youngest sister.
Oh, she's somewhere, said Eleanor carelessly.
She took her work down to the brook, added Mildred. She's been
crying her eyes out over Emma's going.
Ay, Emma and Bertha are the white chicks among the black, said
Eleanor, laughing; they'll miss each other finely, I've no doubt.
Avice finished her work, returned Susanna's apron, and instead of
requesting advice from her Aunt, went down to the brook in search of
Bertha. She found her sitting on a green bank, with very red eyes.
Well, my dear heart? said Avice kindly to Bertha.
The kind tone brought poor Bertha's tears back. She could only sob
And thou art all alone, my child, said Avice, stroking her hair.
She knew that loneliness in a crowd is the worst loneliness of all.
Well, so am I; and mine errand this very day was to see if I could
prevail on thy mother to grant me one of her young maids to dwell with
me. What sayest thou? shall I ask her for thee?
O Cousin! I would be so Bertha's ecstatic tone went no farther.
It was in quite a different voice that she saidBut then there's
Father! Oh no, Cousin. Thank you so much, but it won't do.
That will we ask Father, said Avice.
Father couldn't get on, with me and Emma both away, said Bertha,
in a tone which she tried to make cheerful. He'd be quite lostI know
Well, but began Avice.
Then he'd find his self again as fast as he could, said a gruff
voice, and they looked up in surprise to see old Dan standing behind
them. Thou's done well, lass. Thou's ta'en advice o' thy own kind
heart, and not o' other folks. Thee take the little maid to thee, and
I'll see thee safe out on't. She'll be better off a deal wi' thee, and
she can see our Emma every day then. So dry thy eyes, little un; it'll
be all right, thou sees.
But, Father, you'll not do without me!
Don't thee be conceited, lass. Old Dan was trying hard to swallow
a lump in his throat. I'll see thee by nows and thens. Thou'll be a
deal better off. And there'sthere's El'nor.
Eleanor's not always in a good temper, said Bertha
She's best o' t'other lot, said old Dan. She's none so bad, by
nows and thens. I shall do rarely, thou'll see. But, Avicedost thou
think thou could just creep off like at th' lee-side o' th' house, wi'
the little maid, afore She sees thee? When thou'rt gone I'll tell her,
and then I'll have a run for't till it's o'er. She's better to take
when first comings-off is done. She'll smooth down i' th' even, as like
as not, and then I'll send El'nor o'er wi' the little maid's bits o'
gear. Or, if she willn't go, I can bring 'em myself, when work's done.
Let's get it o'er afore She finds aught out!
Avice scarcely knew whether to laugh or to be sorry. Poor, weak,
easy-tempered Dan! They took his advice, and crept round by the
lee-side of the house, under cover of the hedge. When they were out of
sight, with a belt of trees between, old Dan took leave of them.
Thou'll be good to the little maid, Avice, said he. I know thou
will, or I'd never ha' let her go. But she'll be better offay, a deal
better off, she'll be. She gets put upon, she does. And being youngest,
thou seesI say, my lass, thou'd best call her aunt. She's so much
elder than thee; it'll sound better nor cousin.
Very good, Father, said Bertha. But, O Father! who'll stitch your
buttons on, and comb your hair when you rest after work, and sing to
you? O Father, let me go back!
Tut, tut, lass! said old Dan, clearing his throat energetically.
If one wife and four daughters cannot keep a man's buttons on, there's
somewhat wanting somewhere. I shall miss thy singing, I dare say; but I
can come down, thou knows, of a holy-day even, to hear thee. And as to
combin'stars knows I shall get enough o' that, and a bit o'er that I
can spare for old Christopher next door. He's got no wife, and only one
lass, and she's a peaceable un. He's a deal to be thankful for. Now,
God be wi' ye both. Keep a good heart, and step out. I'll let ye get a
bit on afore I tell Her. And then I'll run for't!
Avice and Bertha stepped out accordingly; and as nobody came after
them, they concluded that things were tolerably smooth. They did not
see anybody from the smithy until two days later; and then, rather late
in the eveningnamely, about six o'clockDan himself made his
appearance, with one bundle slung on a stick over his shoulder, and
another carried like a baby.
Well! said he, as he sat down on the settle, and wiped his hot
face with his apron. Well!
O Father, I'm so glad! said Bertha. Are those my things? How good
of you to bring them!
Ay, they be, said Dan emphatically. Take 'em and make the best
thou can of 'em; for thou'll get no more where they came from, I can
Was Aunt Filomena very much put out? asked Avice, in a rather
She wasn't put out o' nothing, answered Dan, except conduct
becoming a Christian woman. She was turned into a wild dragon, all o'er
claws and teeth, and there was three little dragons behind her, and
they was all a-top o' me together. If El'nor hadn't thought better
on't, and come and stood by me, there wouldn't have been much o' me to
bring these here.
Then you did not run, Uncle Dan? replied Avice.
She clutched me, lass! responded Dan, with awful solemnity. And
t'others, they had me too. Thee try to run with a wild dragon holding
on to thy hair, and three more to thy arms and legsjust do! I wonder
I'm not tore to bitsI do. Howsome'er, here I be; and I just wish I
could stop. Ay, I do so!
And Dan's apron took another journey round his face.
Uncle Dan, would you like to take Bertha back? was Avice's
Don't name it! cried Dan, dropping the apron. Don't name it!
There wouldn't be an inch on her left by morning light! I wonder
there's any o' me. Eh, but this world is a queer un. Is she a good
Yes, indeed she is, said Avice.
I'm fain to hear it; and I'm fain thou's fallen on thy feet, my
little un. And, Aviceif thou knows of any young man as wants to go
soldiering, and loves a fray, just thee send him o'er to th' smithy,
and he shall ha' the pick o' th' dragons. I hope he'll choose Ankaret.
He'll get my blessing!
Aunt Filomena seemed to have washed her hands of her youngest
daughter. She never came near them; and Avice thought it the better
part of valour to keep away from the smithy. When Emma had a holiday,
which was a rare treat, she often spent it with her sister; and on
still rarer occasions Eleanor paid a short visit. But the only frequent
visitor was old Uncle Dan, and he came whenever he could, and always
seemed sorry to go home.
CHAPTER FOUR. BABY.
A very quiet life was led by Avice and Bertha. The house work was
done by the two in the early morningcleaning, washing, baking,
churning, and brewing, as they were severally needed; and in the
afternoon they sat down to their work, enlivened either by singing or
conversation. Sometimes both were silent, and when that was the case,
unknown to Avice, Bertha was generally watching her features, and
trying to read their meaning. At length, one evening after a long
silence, she suddenly broke the stillness with a blunt question.
Aunt, I wish you would tell me what you are thinking of when you
How do I look, Bertha?
As if you were looking at something which nobody could see but
yourself. Sometimes it seems to be something pretty, and sometimes
something shocking; but oftener than either, something just a little
sad, and yet as if there were pleasantness about it. I don't know
exactly how to describe it.
That will do. When a woman comes to fifty years, little Bertha,
there are plenty of things in the past of her life, which nobody can
see who did not go through them with her. And often those who did so
cannot see them. That will leave a scar upon one which makes not a
scratch upon another.
But of what were you thinking, Aunt, if I may know?
That thou mayest. I fancy, when thou spakest, I was thinkingas I
very often doabout my little Lady.
Now, if Aunt Avice is very good, said Bertha insinuatingly,
and with brightened eyes, that means a story.
Aunt Avice smiled. Ay, thou shalt have thy story. Only let us be
sure first that all is done which need be. Cast a few more chips on the
fire, and light another pine-torch; that is burnt nigh out. And see thy
bodkin on the floorcareless child!
Bertha jumped up and obeyed. From one corner of the room, where lay
a heap of neatly-cut faggots, she brought a handful, and threw it into
the wide fire-place, which stretched across half one side of the room,
and had no grate, the fire burning on the stone hearth: then from a
pile of long pointed stakes of pitch pine, she brought one, lighted it,
and set it in an iron frame by the fire-place made for that purpose;
and lastly, she picked up from the brick floor an article of iron,
about a foot in length, and nearly as thick as her little finger, which
she called a bodkin, but which we should think very rude and clumsy
Hast thou heard, Bertha, said Avice, that when I was young, I
dwelt for a season in the Castle of Windsor, and my mother was nurse to
some of the children of the Lord King that then was? Brothers and
sister they were of our Lord King Edward that reigns now.
Bertha's eyes brightened. She liked, as all girls do, to hear a
story which had to do with great people.
No, Aunt Avice, I never knew that. Won't you tell me all about it?
So Avice began and told her what we know alreadyhow the Bishop had
recommended Agnes to the Queen, and all about the journey, and the
Castle, and the Queen herself. Then she went on to tell the rest of the
We lived nigh five years, said Avice, in the Castle of
Windsoruntil the Lord Richard was dead, and the Lord William was
nearly four years old. Then the Lady Queen removed to the royal Palace
of Westminster, for the Lord King was gone over seas, and she with Earl
Richard his brother was left to keep England. It was in August, the
year of our Lord 1253, at we took up our abode in Thorney Island, where
the Palace of Westminster stands. It is a marshy placenot over
healthy, some folks say; but I never was ill while we dwelt there. And
it was there, on Saint Katherine's Daywhich is the 25th of
Novemberthat our little Lady was born. Her royal mother named her
Katherine, after the blessed saint. She was the loveliest babe that eye
could rest on, and she was christened with great pomp. And on Saint
Edward's Day, when the Lady Queen was purifiednamely,
churchedthere was such a feast as I never saw again while I dwelt
with her. The provisions brought in for that feast were fourteen wild
boars, twenty-four swans, one hundred and thirty-five rabbits, two
hundred and fifty partridges, sixteen hundred and fifty fowls, fifty
hares, two hundred and fifty wild ducks, thirty-six geese, and
sixty-one thousand eggs.
Only think! cried Bertha. Did you get some, Aunt?
Surely I did, child. The Lady Queen, I told thee, was then keeper
of England, for the Lord King was away across the seas; and good
provision she made. Truly, she was free-handed enough at spending.
Would she had been as just in the way she came by her money!
Why, Aunt, what mean you? asked Bertha, when Avice expressed her
wish that Queen Eleanor had been as just in gaining money as she was
liberal in spending it.
Why, child, taxes came heavy in those days. When the Lord King
needed money, he sent home to his treasurer, and it was had as he could
get itsometimes by selling up divers rich folks, or by levying a good
sum from the Jews, or any way man could; not always by equal tenths or
fifteenths, as now, which comes not nigh so heavy on one or two when it
is equally meted out to all. But never was there king like our late
Lord King Henry (whom God pardon) for squeezing money out of his poor
subjects. Yet old folks did use to say his father King John was as ill
Taxes, in those days, were a very different thing from what they are
now, and were far more at the mere pleasure of the King, not only as to
the collecting of them, but as to the spending. Ignorant people fancy
that this is the case still; but it is not so. Queen Victoria has no
money from the taxes for her private spending. When she became Queen,
she gave up all the land belonging to her as Queen, on condition that
her daughters should be portioned, and that she should receive a
certain sum of money every year, of less value than the land she gave
up; so that it would be fraud and breach of trust in the people if they
did not keep their word to pay the sum agreed on to the Queen. There is
so much misunderstanding on this point that it is worth while to
Then were the King and Queen Bertha began.
Avice answered the half-asked question. They were like other folks,
child. They liked their own way, and tried to get it. And they liked
fine clothes, and great feasts, and plenty of company, and so forth; so
they spent their money that way. I'll not say they were bad folks,
though they did some bad things they were folks that only thought what
they liked, and did it; and folks that do that are sure to bring sorrow
to themselves and others too, whether they be kings and queens or cooks
and haymakers. The kings and queens can do it on a larger scale; that
is all the difference. There are few enough that think what God likes,
as holy Bishop Robert did, and like to do His will better than their
own; those that do scatter happiness around them, as the other sort
Well, after a while, the Lady Queen left England, to join the Lord
King across seas; but before she went, she took our little Lady down to
the Castle of Windsor to the rest of the King's children. There was
first the Lady Beatrice, who was a maiden of twelve years; and the Lord
Edmund, a very pretty little boy of nine; and the Lord William, who was
but four; and there were also with them other children of different
ages that were brought up with them; but only one was near our little
Lady's age, or had much to do with her. That was Alianora de Montfort,
daughter of Earl Simon of Leicester, that bold baron that headed the
lords against the King; and her mother was the King's own sister, the
Lady Alianora. She was fifteen months older than our little Lady, and
being youngest of all, the two used to play together. A sweet child she
was, too; but not like my own little Ladythere never was a child like
What was she like, Aunt?
Tell me what the angels are like in Heaven, and thou shalt hear
then. She is an angel nowshe hath been one these three-and-twenty
years. But methinks there can have been little to change in her face
when she blossomed into a cherub, and the wings would unfold themselves
from her as by nature. Never a child like her!no, there never was
one. She had bright, dark eyes, wonderful eyeseyes that her whole
soul shone in, and that took in everything which passed. She spoke with
her eyes; she had no other way. The souls of other children came out of
their lips; but she had not spent many months in this lower world,
before we saw with bitter apprehension and deep sorrow that God had
sealed her sweet lips with eternal silence. She saw all; she heard
nothing; she could never speak. My darling was deaf and dumb.
O Aunt Avice!
Ay, verily at times I wondered if she were indeed an angel that God
had sent down to earth, for whose pure lips our English was too rough,
and our French too rude, and who could only speak the tongue they speak
in Heaven. She went back but whence she came; we were not fit company
for her. Methinks she was sent to let our earthbound hearts have one
glimpse of that upper world; and when her work was done, her Father
sent for her back home.
Though our little Lady could never speak, yet long before we
discovered that, we found how lively, and earnest, and intelligent she
was. As I told thee, she talked with her eyes. Nothing could be done in
her presence but she must see and know all about it. A little pull at
my gown would tell me she was there; and then I turned to see the
bright eager eyes looking into mine, and asking me as plainly as eyes
could ask to let her know all about it. She would never rest till she
knew what she wanted. Ay me, those eager eyes look into angels' faces
now, and maybe into the face of God upon the throne.
But, Aunt, how could she understand, if she could not hear?
God told her somehow, child. He taught her, not we. We did our
best, truly; but our best would have been a poor business, if He had
not taken her in hand. Many a time, before I had finished trying to
explain something to her, that quick little nod would come which meant,
`I understand.' Then she had certain signs for different things. She
made those herself; we never taught them to her. She stroked what she
liked, as man would stroke a dog; when she disliked anything, she made
a feint of throwing her open hand out from her, as though she were
pushing it away. She had odd little ways of indicating different
persons, by something in them which struck her. Master Russell, the
Queen's clerk, and keeper of the royal children, used often to have a
sprig of mint or thyme in his lips as he went about; her sign for him
was a bit of stick or thread between her lips. For the priest, she
tolled a bell. For the Lady Beatrice, her sister, who had a little airy
way of putting her head on one side when anything vexed her, and my
Lord Henry de Lacy, who pouted if he were cross (which he was pretty
often)my little Lady imitated them exactly. The Lady Alianora
flourished her hands when she spoke; that was the sign for her. For the
Lord King, her father, whose left eyelid drooped over his eye, she
pulled her own down. She had some such sign for everybody. She noticed
Could she not say one word, Aunt?
Yes, she could say three. Verily, sometimes I marvelled if she
might not have been taught more; but we knew not how, and how she got
hold of those three we could never tell.
What were they?
They were, `up,' `who,' and `poor.'
Well, she could not do much with those.
Could she not! `Who' asked all her questions. It answered for who,
what, where, when, how, and why. She went on saying it until we
understood and replied to the sense in which she meant it. `Poor' was
the word of emotion; it signified `I pity you,' `I love you,' `I am
sorry,' and `Forgive me.' And sometimes it meant, `Forgive him,' or
`Don't you feel sorry for her?' And I think `up' served for everything
Aunt, said Bertha softly, how did you teach the little Lady to
pray? She could tell her beads, I suppose; but would she know what they
For Bertha, like everybody else at that time, thought it necessary
to keep count of her prayers. Prayer, in her eyes, was not so much
communion with God, as it was a kind of charm which in some
unaccountable way brought you good luck.
Beads would have meant nothing to her but toys, was Avice's reply.
The Lady de la Mothe taught her the holy signby which Avice meant
the crossand led her to the image of blessed Mary, that she might do
it before her. But I do not think she ever properly understood that She
seemed only to have an idea that it was something she must do when she
saw an image; and she did it to the statue of the Lady Queen in the
great hall. We could not make her understand that one image was not the
same thing as another image. But I fancy she had some ideastrange and
dim it might beof what we meant when we knelt and put our hands
together and looked up. I know she did it very often, without telling
always at night, before she slept. But it was strange that she never
went to the holy images at that time; she always seemed to go away from
them, and kneel down in a corner. And in her last illness, several
times, coming into the chamber, I found her lying with her hands folded
in prayer, and her eyes lifted up to Heaven. Perhaps God Himself told
her how to speak to Him. One of the strangest things of all was when
the little Lord William died; she was nearly three years old then. She
had been very fond of her little brother; he was nearest her age of all
her brothers and sisters, though he was almost four years older than
herself. She came to me sobbing bitterly, and with her little cry of
`Who? who?' I took it to mean `What has happened to him?' and I was
completely puzzled how to explain it to her. But all at once, while I
was beating my brains to think what I could say that would make her
comprehend it, she told me herself what I could not tell her. Making
the sign for the little Lord who was dead, she laid her head upon her
hand, and closed her eyes; and then all at once, with a peculiar grace
that I never saw in any child but herself, she lifted her arms,
fluttering her fingers like a bird flaps its wings, and gazing up into
the sky, while she said, `Up! up!' in a kind of rapture. And I could
only smile and bow my head to the truth which God had told her. [See
But how could she know it? asked astonished Bertha.
Avice shook her head. I cannot explain it; I can only tell what
happened. She was always very tender-hearted; she never could bear to
see any quarrelling, or cruelty, or injustice. If two of the children
strove together, our little Lady would run to them with a face of deep
distress, and take a hand of each and draw them together, as though she
were begging them to be friends; and if she could not get them to kiss
each other, she would kiss first one and then the other. I missed her
one day, and, after hunting a long while, I found her in the gallery
before a fresco of our Lord upon the Cross. She was stroking it and
kissing it, with tears in her eyes; and she turned to me saying, `Poor!
poor!' Her eyes always filled with tears when she saw the crucifix. The
moon used to interest her exceedingly; she would sit and watch it, and
kiss her hand to it. But, dear me! how the time must be getting on!
Jump up, Bertha, and prepare supper.
Bertha folded up her work and put it aside. She drew one of the high
stools between her aunt and herself, and put out upon it the two wooden
trenchers and two tin mugs. Going to a corner cupboard, Bertha brought
out a few cakes of black bread, which she set on a smaller stool beside
the other; and then, lifting a pan upon the fire, she threw into it
some pieces of mutton fat. As soon as these were melted, Bertha broke
four eggs into them, stirring this indigestible mixture with a wooden
thiblean article of which my northern readers will not require a
description, but the southern must be told that it is a long flat
instrument with which porridge is stirred. For the eggs were not merely
fried in the fat, but were beaten up with it, the dish when finished
bearing the name of franche-mule. A sprig or two of dried herbs were
then shred into the pan, and the whole poured out, half on each of the
trenchers. It is more than possible that the extraordinarily rich,
incongruous, indigestible dishes wherein our fathers delighted, may
have something to do with the weaker digestions of their children. The
tin mugs were filled with weak ale from a barrel which stood under the
ladder. It was an oddity at that time to drink water.
When supper was finished, Bertha washed the mugs and scraped the
trenchers clean (water never touched those), putting them back in their
places. She had scarcely ended when a tap was heard at the door.
Step in, Hildith, said Bertha, as she opened it. Christ give thee
a good even!
The like to thee, was the answer, as a rather worn-looking woman
came in. Mistress Avice, your servant. Pray you, would you lend me the
loan of a tinder-box? I am but now come home from work, and am that
weary I may scarce move; and yon careless Jaket hath let the fire out,
and I must needs kindle the same again ere I may dress supper for the
It was no wonder if Hildith looked worn out, or if she could not
afford a tinder-box. That precious article cost a penny, and her wages
were fifteen pence a year. If we do a sum to find out what that would
be now, when money is much more plentiful, we shall find that Hildith's
wages come to twenty-two shillings and sixpence, and the tinder-box was
worth eighteen-pence. We should fancy that nobody could live on such a
sum. But we must remember two things: first, they then did a great deal
for themselves which we pay for; they spun and wove their own linen and
woollen, did their own washing, brewed their own ale and cider, made
their own butter and cheese, and physicked themselves with herbs.
Secondly, prices were very much lower as respected the necessaries of
life; bread was four loaves, or cakes, for a penny, of the very best
quality; a lamb or a goose cost fourpence, eight chickens were sold for
fivepence, and twenty-four eggs for a penny. Clothing stuffs were dear,
but then (as people sometimes say) they wore for everlasting, and
ladies of rank would send half-worn gowns to one another as very
handsome presents. Fourpence was a good price to give for a pair of
shoes, and a halfpenny a day for food was a liberal allowance.
Any news to-night, Hildith? asked Avice, as she handed her
neighbour the tinder-box.
Well, nay; without you call it news that sheriffs man brought word
this morrow that the Lord King had granted the half of her goods to old
Barnaba o' the Lichgate.
She that was a Jew, and was baptised at Whitsuntide? I am glad to
Ay, she. I am not o'er sorry; she is a good neighbour, Jew though
Then I reckon she will tarry here, and not go to dwell in the House
of Converts in London town?
Marry, she will so, if she have any wisdom teeth left. I would not
like to be carried away from all I know, up to yon big town, though
they do say the houses be made o' gold and silver.
Avice smiled, for she knew better.
Nay, Hildith, London town is built of brick and stone like
Is it, now? I always heard it was made o' gold. But aren't there a
vast sight o' folk there? nigh upon ten thousand?
Ay, and more.
However do they get victuals for them all?
I got mine when I lived there, said Avice, laughing.
And don't they burn sea-coal?
They did once; it is forbidden now.
Dirty, poisonous stuff! I wouldn't touch it. Well, good-even. Shut
the door quick, Bertha, and don't watch me out o' sight; 'tis the
unluckiest thing man can do.
And Bertha believed it, as she showed by shutting the door.
Old Barnaba, the Jewess, had been dealt with tenderly. In those
days, if a Jew were baptised, he forfeited all he had to the King. Most
unaccountable it is that any Christian country should have let such a
law exist for an hour! These destitute Jews, however, were provided for
in the House of Converts, in London, which stood at the bottom of
Chancery Lane, between it and Saint Dunstan's Church.
It was bed-time soon after. Avice put away her distaff, Bertha
folded up her sewing, and they mounted the ladder. This was about seven
o'clock, which was then as late an hour as it was thought that
respectable people ought to be about. But by two o'clock the next
morning, Bertha was sweeping the kitchen, and Avice carding flax in the
corner. They did not trouble themselves about breakfast; it was an
unknown luxury, except for people who were very old or very delicate.
Two meals a day were the rule: dinner, at nine in the morning: supper,
at three in the afternoon. In those days they lived in a far harder and
less comfortable way than we do, and they had generally better health.
But, it must be admitted, they did not live nearly so long, and the
infant mortality among them was very great.
Morning was no time for story-telling. The rooms had to be swept,
the bread to be baked, the clothes to be washed, the pigs and chickens
to be fed. Moreover, to-day was the first day of the Michaelmas fair,
and things must be bought in to last till Christmas. The active work
was finished by about seven o'clock. Dinner was now got ready. It
consisted of two bowls of broth, then boiled dumplings, and lastly some
stewed giblets. Having made things tidy, our friends now tied on
woollen hoods, and each taking down from the rafter-hooks a capacious
basket, they went forth to do their shopping.
Note 1. The peculiar ways attributed to the little Princess, and
especially this incident, are taken from an account of a real deaf and
dumb child, published many years ago. There was certainly something
about the Princess which her attendants considered wonderful and
CHAPTER FIVE. THE DUMB PLAYMATES.
Out into the Michaelmas fair our friends went.
In these days, when fairs have quite changed their character, we
cannot easily form a notion of what they once were. The fair, held in
every town four times a year, was a very important matter. There were
much fewer shops than now; and not only in the town, but from all the
surrounding villages people flocked to the fair, to lay in food and
clothes and all sorts of necessaries, enough to last till the next
fair-day. They had very little fresh butcher's meat, and very few
vegetables except what they grew themselves; so they ate numbers of
things salted which we have fresh. Not only salt fish and salt neat,
but salt cabbage formed a great part of their diet. The consequence of
all this salt food was that they suffered dreadfully from scurvy. But
they did not run to the doctor, for except in rare instances there was
no doctor to run to! All doctors were clergymen then, and there were
very few of them. In the large towns there were apothecaries, or
chemists, who often prescribed for people; and there were wise women
who knew a good deal about herbs, and sometimes gave good medicines,
along with a great deal of foolish nonsense in the way of charms and
all sorts of silly fancies. At that time, ladies were taught a good
deal about medicine, and a benevolent lady was often the doctor for a
large neighbourhood. But we are wandering away from the Michaelmas
fair, and we must come back.
The fair was a very busy scene. In some places it was hard work to
get along at all. The booths were set up, not in the streets but in the
churchyards, the market place, and on any waste space available. And
what with the noise of business, the hum of gossip, the shouts of
competing sellers, and the sound of hundreds of clogs on the round
paving-stones, it may be readily supposed that quiet was far away.
Avice's first business was to lay in a stock of salt meat and salt
fish. Very little of either was used fresh, for it was not obtainable:
and still less would have been used so far as fish is concerned, had
not the law, alike of the Church and of the State, compelled it to be
eaten throughout Lent, and on every Friday in the year. Little enough
fish would anybody have touched then, but for that provision. Avice
bought half of a salted calf, which cost a shilling; five hundred
herrings, at half-a-crown; a bushel of salt, at threepence (which was
dear); twenty-five stock-fish, at two shillings; a quarter of a sheep,
at fourpence; a quarter of wheat, at six shillings; a quarter of oats,
at five shillings; half a quarter of salt cabbage, at five shillings;
and five pounds of figs, at three-halfpence a pound. This was her
provision for the three months which would elapse before the Christmas
fair. She then went to the drapery stalls, and laid in two hoods, for
herself and Bertha, at a shilling each; ten ells of russet, to serve
for two gowns, at eighteen-pence the ell; twelve ells of serge, at
three-halfpence the ell; two pairs of shoes, at fourpence each. The
russet was intended for their best dresses; the serge for common.
Considering how very little went to make a garment, it seems likely
that our ancestors wove their stuff a good deal wider than we do. Avice
also laid in a few other articles of different kinds: a brass pot,
which cost her 2 shillings 2 pence; five pounds of tallow, at
three-halfpence a pound, and as many of wax at sixpence; wax was
largely used for a variety of objects. Her last and costliest purchase
she would have been better without. It was a painted and gilded image
of Saint Katherine, and cost fifteen shillings. But Avice, though a
good woman according to her light, had enjoyed very little light, and
did not understand half so well as we do that she might go straight to
God through the new and living way opened upon the cross, without the
intervention of any mediator except the Lord Jesus. She thought she
must pray through a saint; and she had no idea of praying unless she
could see something to pray to. Her old image had lost much of its
paint, and half an arm, and its nose was hopelessly damaged. Therefore,
as she must have one, poor Avice thought it best to buy a new one,
rather than have her old saint tinkered up. Alas for the gods or the
mediators who require to be tinkered!
By the time that these purchases were made, and the goods brought
home, it was not far from the supper hour; and Bertha prepared that
meal by boiling a dish of salt cabbage from one of the barrels. This,
with black bread and ale, made their supper.
The meal was just ready, and Avice had put away her carding, having
finished that kind of work for the day, when a rap at the door was
followed by the lifting of the latch, and the old smith put in his
Any room for a man, have ye?
Plenty for you, Uncle Dan, answered Avice heartily; and Bertha's
eyes lighted up at the sight of her father.
Dan came forward and sat down on the stool which Bertha set for him.
Has it not been a charming day? said Avice.
Ay, it's fine weather i' Lincoln, was Dan's dry answer. Up at
smithy, it's none so bad neitheryet. Just a touch of thunder we had
this morning,a bit of a grumble i' th' distance like: but I've known
worser storms a deal. Ay, I have so!
Avice quite understood what kind of storm he meant.
How do you get on without me, Father? asked Bertha.
Well, I'll not say I don't miss thee, my singing bird; but I'm
willing, when it's for thy good. I've gotlet me seetwo buttons left
o' my blouse, and I think there's one o' my flannel shirt, but I'm none
so sure. It's rather troublesome, for sure, when there's none o' th'
sleeves; they keep for ever a-slippin' up man's arm; but I could put up
wi' that easy if there was nought more. It's true I don't want to pull
'em down while even comes.
Oh, Father, let me sew you some on! cried Bertha.
So thou shall, said Dan. But I've a bit o' news for thee, lass.
Susanna's to be wed.
With whom, Uncle?
Michael, cartwright, at corner.
Is it a good match?
He's got his match, and she's got hern.
They are well matched, then, said Bertha, laughing.
They're a pair, said Dan, grimly. He's eagre, and she's mustard;
and they'll none mix illbut they'll set folks' throats a-fire as
meddles wi' 'em.
Eagre is the old English word for vinegar, which is just
wine-eagre. It means anything sharp and acid.
Is Aunt Filomena pleased? asked Avice.
She's never pleased wi' nothing, was the reply of her unfortunate
husband. She give him lots o' sauce when he first come, and he's had
another spoonful every time since. He gives it her every bit as hotI
will say that for him. His mother went by name o' old Maud Touchup, and
he doth her no disfavour. She knew how to hit folksshe did.
And Michael's a chip o' th' old block.
A little more cabbage, Uncle Dan?
Nay, I thank thee. I must be going home, I reckon. Eh, but you're
peaceable here! I reckon man could sleep i' this house, and not be
waked up wi' jarring and jangling. I tell thee what, Avicewhen the
big folks up to London town runs short o' money, I wonder they don't
clap a bit of a tax on women's tongues! It'd bring 'em in a tunful in a
week, that would.
How would you collect it, Uncle Dan?
Nay, there thou floors me. They'd best send down a chap all over
steel to th' smithy, He'd get plucked o' pieces else. Well, God be wi'
thee, Avice. God bless thee, Bertha, my lass. Good-night!
And Uncle Dan disappeared into the darkness. There were no street
lamps then. Every man had to carry his own lantern, unless he chose to
run the risk of breaking his neck over the round stones which formed
the streets, or the rough ground, interspersed with holes and pits, to
be found everywhere else.
They now sat down to work for the rest of the evening, Avice on the
settle in the corner, Bertha on one of the low stools which she brought
up to the hearth.
Lack-a-day! what have I forgot! said Avice as Bertha drew up her
stool and unfolded the apron she was making. I thought to have asked
Nora Goldhue for a sprig of betony, or else purslane. 'Tis o'er late
to-night, and verily I am too weary to go forth again.
Have you bad dreams, Aunt? asked Bertha, knowing that a sprig of
either of those herbs under the pillow was believed to drive them away.
Ay, child; they have troubled me these four nights past, but last
night more especially.
No wonder, after a supper on franche-mule! But it never occurred to
ignorant Avice that supper and dreams could have anything to do with
Shall I fetch you a laurel leaf, Aunt? suggested Bertha.
Ay, do, child; maybe that shall change the luck. Best go ere it
rain, too; and that will not be long, for I saw a black snail in the
channel as we came in.
Bertha tied on her hood, and ran out to the house of the next-door
neighbour, who had a laurel in her garden, to beg a few of its leaves,
which were supposed to bring pleasant dreams. Having placed these under
her aunt's bolster, she sat down again to her work, and Avice resumed
her interrupted story.
It was in July, 1254, when our little Lady was but eight months
old, that the Lady Queen set forth to join the Lord King in Gascony.
There were many ships taken up for her voyage, amongst which were the
Savoy, the Falcon, and the Baroness, that was my Lord
of Leicester's ship. In the ship wherein the Lady Queen sailed, was
built a special chamber for her, of polished wood, for the which three
hundred planks were sent from the forest to Portsmouth. But so short
was she of money, that she was compelled to bid the Treasurer to send
her all the cups and basins which the King had of silver, and all gold
in coin or leaf that could be found in the treasuries. Moreover, the
Jews throughout England were distrained for five thousand marks, for
the ransom of their bodies, and their wives and little ones, and by
sale of their lands and houses. The Lady Queen took with her divers
pieces of English cloth for the Lord King, seeing that French cloth is
not nigh so good. Some things also she commanded for the children, who
were to tarry at Windsor during her absence. Twenty-four silver spoons
were made, and fifty wild animals taken for their provision in the park
at Guildford. Robes were served out, furred with hare's fur, for Edmund
the King's son and Henry de Lacy; four robes for the gentlewomen that
had the care of the children; and for Richard the chaplain, Master
Simon de Wycumb the keeper, and Master Godwyn the cook: these were of
sendal. And there were robes furred with lamb for the King's wards, and
for John the Varlet, and Julian the Rocker, and my mother, and me thine
aunt. [See Note 1.]
Both to Avice and Bertha it seemed quite a matter of course that the
Jews should find the money when the King wanted silk, or the King's
children silver spoons.
But it seems to me, Aunt, suggested Bertha, that the Lady Queen
must have spent all her money before she started.
Oh no! the money was for the Lord King. In truth, I know not
whether she paid for the other things. But I did hear that as soon as
the Lord King knew she would come, and that she was bringing with her
so much money and plate, he began to spend with both hands on his side
of the sea. He sent at once for six cloths of gold that the Queen and
Lord Edward might offer in the churches of Bordeaux when they should
arrive there; he commanded to be made ready a fair jewel for Saint
Edward the Martyr, and a hundred pounds of jewels for Saint Edward the
King, and divers more for Saint Thomas of Canterbury, all which were
offered when he and the Queen returned home in December. There came in
also, for the King's coming back, many frails of figs, raisins, dates,
cinnamon, saffron, pepper, ginger, and such like; I remember seeing
them unpacked in Antioch Chamber, the little chamber by the garden.
And what did it all cost, Aunt?
I know not, child. Maybe he never paid for those. He used to pay
for such things as he offered to the holy saints; but for debts to
tradesfolk and such, they took their chance. If he had money, he might
pay some of them or no, at his pleasure; and if not, then of course
they had to wait. Very sure am I that many a pound of musk came into
the wardrobe more than was paid for. Never was such a Prince for
scents. He loved musk as much as he feared lightning; and there was
only one thing in all this world that he feared more, and that was Earl
Simon of Leicester.
And did the Lady Queen squander her money as much as the Lord King,
She was every bit as bad. She always seemed to me as if a piece of
her brains had never grown up along with the rest. Some folks are like
that. In respect of money, she was a very child. She had not a notion
how far it would go, and she never would wait to have it before she
spent it. She always appeared to think it would come somehow: and so
far as she was concerned, it often did. But then she never saw the
homeless Jews who were sold up to furnish it, nor the ruined tradesmen
who had to wait till they could not pay their own way, and were sent to
prison for debt. I think she might have been sorry, if she had done. I
suppose we should all be sorry, if we knew half the evil we do. Well,
God pardon her!she is a holy sister now in the priory at Amesbury.
And our present Queen always pays her bills, I have heard say. Long may
she live to do it!
How old was the little Lady when her parents came back?
She was just over a year old. I waited on her from the Castle of
Windsor to the Palace at Westminster, for the Lord King desired to
behold her at once. And was not he delighted with her! I doubt if any
of the royal children were as dear to the hearts of their parents as
our little Lady.
Was she pleased to go?
Pleased!she gave nobody a bit of rest, said Avice, laughing.
All the journey through she was plucking at my gown, and pointing,
first here and then there, with her little cry of `Who? who?'for she
talked at fifteen months old as much as she ever spoke in this world.
And before I could find out what she meant, she was pointing to
something else, and `Who? who?' came over again.
Did you know then that she was deaf and dumb?
No! nor for months after. Truly, all her ways were so bright, and
her sense so keen, and her laugh so gladsome, that we never thought of
such a thing till she was long past the age when children ought to
speak freely. But when at last they began to fear the truth, it was
indeed a bitter grief to the royal parents. The Lord King offered five
cloths of gold at Saint Edward's shrine for the children, and specially
for our little Lady, in hope that the Divine mercy might be moved to
have pity on her. But it was all in vain.
Avice sighed heavily. And there was no one to say to her, O woman,
small is thy faith! Was the Divine mercy no greater, which called
that little child, unspotted by the world, to tread the fair streets of
the Golden City, than the mercy thou wouldst have had instead of it?
It was not long after that, said Avice, slowly drawing out the
white threads, that our little Lady's health began to fail. The heats
of summer tried her sorely. She drooped like a flower that had no
water. Instead of playing with the other children, her gleeful laughter
ringing through the galleries of the Castle, she would come and draw
her little velvet stool to my side, and lay her head on my knee as if
she were very weary. And when I looked down and smiled on her, instead
of smiling back as she was wont, the great, dark wistful eyes used to
look up so sadly, as if her soul were looking out of them. Oh, it was
pitiful to read the dear eyes, when they said, `I am suffering: cannot
you help me?' And as time went on, they said it more and more. When the
Lady Queen came to Windsor, she was shocked at the sad change in our
darling little Lady. She called in Master Thomas, the King's surgeon,
and he advised that our little Lady should be removed from Windsor to
some country place, where the air was good, and where she could play
about in the fields. So she was put in charge of Emma La Despenser,
Lady de Saint John, at her manor of Swallowfield, in Berkshire. Of
course I went with her, and her cousin Alianora also, who was her
favourite playfellow, for it was not thought well she should be
entirely with older people, though I cannot say I was sorry to get rid
of all those rough boys. The Lord King also commanded that a kid should
be taken in the forest, as small and fair as might be found, for our
little Lady to play with: and very fond she was of it. It was a lovely
little creature, and grew as tame as possible. Ah, they were much
alike, those two little things!both young, soft, lovelyand both
dumb! I marvelled sometimes whether they understood each other.
And did she not get any better, Aunt?
Yes; for a time she did. The country air and food and quiet did
seem to do her good. She was so much better that she came back to
Windsor for the winter. But it was not thought well by Master Thomas
that she should go to London to be present at the great rejoicings that
were made when the Lady Alianora came from Spainour Queen that now
is, the holy saints bless her! There were grand doings then, I heard;
all London city was curtained in her honour, and processions in every
church, and all superbly decorated; and the poor fed in the halls at
Westminster, as many as could get in; and the Lord King presented a
silver cross to the Abbey, and a golden plate of an ounce weight. Oh,
it must have been a grand sight!
Who paid that bill, I wonder? said Bertha, laughing.
Bless thee, child! how do I know? That was the autumn when there
was so much ado here at Lincoln touching the crucifixion of the blessed
Hugh, son of Beatrice, by the wicked Jews; one hundred and more of them
were brought to prison, first here, and afterwards at Westminster; and
when eighteen had been hanged, the rest were graciously allowed to buy
their lives for eighteen thousand marks. I daresay some of that went
for itthat is, for as much of it as got paid for.
That sum would now be equal to about two hundred and sixteen
thousand pounds. It never came into Avice's head to doubt whether the
Jews had crucified little Hugh. Such charges were often enough brought
against themwhen those who called themselves Christians wanted an
excuse for stealing the jews' money and jewels. There has never been a
single instance, in this country or any other, in which the charge has
been proved true. A further favourite accusation, that the Jews used
the blood of Christian children to make their passover cakes, we know
cannot have been true; for the Bible tells us that the Jews were
strictly forbidden to eat blood. But what absurdity might not be
expected from people who had no Bibles, and of whom not more than one
in a thousand could have read it if he had had one? Are we half
thankful enough for our own privileges?
Well! continued Avice, after this, the Lady Alianora came down to
Windsor with the Lady Queen, and our little Lady and she took to one
another wonderfully. And, indeed, it was little wonder, for she was as
fair and sweet a damsel as ever tripped over the greensward. Our little
Lady would run to her whenever she sat down in the children's chamber,
and say, `Up! up!' and then the Lady Alianora would smile sweetly, and
take her up beside her in the great state chair; and there they sat
with their arms round one another, looking like two doves with their
heads resting on each other's necks. And the Lady Alianora once said to
me, stroking our little Lady's hair`I hope, Avice, thou givest her
plenty of love. She can understand that, if she cannot anything else.'
Ay, and so she could! She fretted sadly over the Lady Alianora when she
went away from Windsor. I think she and the little kid were more than
ever together after that. I have found them both asleep in a corner of
the chamber, resting on one another.
Was she fond of pets?
She loved her little kid dearly, and she seemed to go to it for
comfort. I do not know that she cared much for anything else. The Lord
King was the one for gathering curious animals of all sorts. He had
three leopards in the Tower, and a white bear, which was taken out to
fish in the Thames; the citizens of London paid fourpence a day for the
bear's keep, and had to provide a chain and muzzle for it, and a long
cord whereby it was held when it fished in the river. And in the
spring, before the coming of the Lady Alianora, the French King sent to
our King a very strange animal, the like of which was never before seen
in England. It had scarcely any eyes that man might see, and not much
of a tail; but great flapping ears, and a most extraordinary thing that
hung down from its face, which was hollow like a pipe, and it could
pick things up with it as thou dost with thy fingers. It was a
lead-coloured beast, and ate nought but grass and hay and such-like; it
would not touch meat nor bones. They called it an oliphant,for so in
old time people pronounced elephant. The Lord King thought great
things of this beast, and had a house built for it, forty feet by
twenty, at the Tower: it was made very strong, lest the great beast
should break forth and slay men. But truly it seemed a peaceable beast
We dwelt much more quietly at Windsor, after the departure of the
Lady Alianora. For she went abroad with the Lord Edward her husband,
and Mariot de Ferrars, who had been there for some timeshe went too;
and the King's son Edmund was made King of Sicily by the Lord Pope, and
he and the other lads were taken away; our little Lady and her cousin
Alianora de Montfort alone were left. The King thought to have made
money by Edmund his son; he was a fair boy in very truth, and he clad
him in Sicilian dress, which was graceful and comely, and showed him
before the Parliament, entreating them to find him money for all these
many expenses. But the Parliament did not seem disposed to pay for
seeing the young Lord. And, indeed, I heard Master Russell say that he
thought it strange the Lord King should make merchandise of his child's
beauty, as though he were some curious animal to be seen in a show. But
Bertha, my dear heart! we clean forgot to buy any honeyand only this
minute is it come to my mind. Tie on thine hood, I pray thee, and run
to the druggist for an half-dozen pounds.
When it is understood that honey held in Avice's cookery and diet
the place that sugar does in ours, the necessity of remedying this
mistake will be seen. Sugar was much too expensive to be used by any
but wealthy people.
Note 1. The robes provided for Agnes and Avice are the sole
imaginary items in this account. Sendal was a very thin silk.
CHAPTER SIX. SET FREE.
As Bertha came back, carefully carrying her jar of honey, she heard
a considerable tumult in a street on her left hand, which led to the
Jews' quarter of the city. In every town, the Jews were shut up in a
particular part of it; and after London itself, the towns in which the
greatest number of Jews lived were Lincoln, York, Norwich, Oxford, and
Northampton. Since the dreadful persecution arising from the (real or
supposed) murder of little Hugh, Lincoln had been comparatively quiet
from such tumults; and Bertha was too young to know anything about it
but from hearsay. Wondering if some fresh commotion was going to arise,
and anxious to be safe at home before it should begin, Bertha quickened
her steps. There were only three more streets to cross, one of which
was a dark, narrow alley leading directly to the Jews' quarter. As
Bertha crossed this, she heard a low, frightened call upon her name,
and a slight figure crept out and crouched at her feet.
O Bertha! said a girl's voice, broken by sobs and terrified
catching of the breath, you are kind-hearted; I know you are. You
saved a little dog that the dreadful boys were trying to drown. Will
you save me, though I am beneath a dog in your eyes?
Who are you? asked astonished Bertha.
I am Hester, the daughter of Aaron, said the girl, and there is a
deadly raid on our quarter. They accuse us of poisoning the wells. O
Bertha, they lay things to us that we never do! Save me, for my
Poor soul! said Bertha, looking down at her. Come with me to Aunt
Avice. Maybe she will let thee tarry in some corner till the tumult is
over. I dare say it will not be much.
Bertha spoke in rather contemptuous tones, though they were not
wanting in pity. Everybody in England was taught then to rank Jews with
vermin, and to look upon it as a weakness to show them any kindness.
The two girls reached the door in safety, and Bertha led Hester in.
Aunt Avice, she said, there is a commotion in the Jews' quarter,
and here is a Jew maiden that wants to know if we will shelter her. I
suppose she won't hurt us much, will she?
The very breath of a Jew was fancied to be poisonous.
Avice looked at the pale, terrified face and trembling limbs of the
girl who had cast herself on her mercy.
Well, I dare say not, said she; at any rate, we will risk it.
Perhaps the good Lord may not be very angry; or if He is, we must say
more prayers, and beg our Lady Saint Mary to intercede for us. Come in,
Poor Avice! she knew no better. She had been taught that the Lord
who died for her was a stern, angry Judge, and that all the mercy
rested in His human mother. And the Jews had crucified Christ; so,
thought Avice, He must hate them! Perhaps, of such Christians as she
was, He may have said again, Father, forgive them; for they know not
what they do.
Hester came in quietly. May God bless you! she said. I will try
not to breathe on you, for I know what you think. And she sat down
meekly on the floor, in a dark corner, not daring to offer any help,
lest they should imagine that she would pollute anything she touched.
Avice threw her a cake of bread, as she might have done to a dog; and
Hester knew that it was a kinder act than she would have received from
most of the Christians around.
It was not yet quite bed-time, and Bertha sat down again to her
work, begging her aunt to finish the tale. They took no notice of
It is almost finished, said Avice; there is little more to tell.
The winter got over, but spring was scarcely begun when our little
Lady's health failed again. The Lord King was so anxious about her that
when he was away from Windsor, he bade the Lady Queen to send him a
special messenger with news of her; and so delighted was he to hear of
her recovery, that he commanded a good robe to be given to the
messenger, and offered in thanksgiving an image of silver, wrought in
the form of a woman, to the shrine of Saint Edward.
Then she did recover, Aunt?
Ay, but it was for the last time. As the summer drew on, the Lady
Queen asked Master Thomas if he thought it well that the little Lady
should have change again, and be sent into the country till the heat
was past. Master Thomas answered that he reckoned it unnecessary; and
the Lady Queen departed, well pleased. But as soon as she was gone,
Master Thomas said to me and Julian the Rocker, who were tending our
little Lady`She will have a better change than to Swallowfield.'
Quoth Julian, `Say you so, Master? Whither do you purpose sending her?'
And he said, looking sadly on the child, `_I purpose sending her?
Truly, good Julian, no whither. But ere long time be over, the Lord our
God will send for her, by that angel that taketh no bribe to delay
execution of His mandate.' And then I knew his meaning: my darling was
to die. But the steps of the angel were very slow. The autumn came and
went. The child seemed languid and dull, and the Lord King offered a
chasuble of samite to the blessed Edmund of Pontigny at his altar at
Edmund Rich, afterwards called Saint Edmund of Pontigny, was an
Archbishop of Canterbury with whom King Henry the Third was at variance
as long as he lived, much in the same way as Henry the Second had been
with Becket. Now he was dead, a banished man, the Pope had declared him
a saint, and King Henry made humble offerings at his shrine. But it is
amusing to find that with respect to this offering at least, his
Majesty's instructions were to buy the samite of the lowest price that
could be found!
It was all of no use, pursued Avice sorrowfully. The angel had
received the mandate. Great feasts were held at Easterthere were
twenty beeves and fifty muttons, fifteen hundred pullets, and six
hundred shillings' worth of bread, beside many other thingsbut ere
one month was over, the feast became a fast. When Saint Philip's day
dawned my darling lay in her bed, with her fair eyes turned up to
heaven and her hands folded in prayer; and who may know what she said
to God, or yet more what He told to her? She had never been taught to
pray; she could not be. Avice's only notion of prayer was repeating a
form of words, and keeping time by a string of beads. But I shall
always think that in some way beyond our comprehension, my darling
could speak to God. And on the evening of the Invention of the
Crosswhich is May 3rdshe spoke to Him in Heaven.
And did the Lady Queen sorrow very much, Aunt? I suppose, though,
great ladies like her would not care as much as poor people.
Wouldst thou, child? Ah, a mother is a mother, let her be a
cottager or a queen. And she sorrowed so sorely that for weeks
afterwards she lay ill, and all the skill of her physicians could avail
nothing. The Lord King, too, fell sick of a tertian fever, which held
him many days, and I believe it was out of sheer anguish for his
dearest child. He commanded a brass image of her to be placed on the
tomb, but ere it was finished he would have one of silver: and he gave
fifty shillings a year to the hermit of Charing, for a priest to pray
daily for her in the chapel of the hermitage.
Do you think she is still in Purgatory, Aunt?
Avice's religion, as taught not by the Word of God, but the
traditions of men, led her to be doubtful on that point. But her heart
broke its way through the bonds.
What, my white dove? my little unspotted darling, that never
wilfully sinned against God and holy Church? Child, if our holy Father
the Pope were to tell me himself that she was there, I would not
believe him. Do the angels go to Purgatory? Nay, I do verily believe
that, seeing her infirmity, Christ our Lord did all the work of
salvation for her, and that she sings now before our Father's face.
Poor Avice! she could get no further. But we, who know God's Word,
know that there is but one Mediator between God and man, and that He
has offered a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of
the whole world. Before Bertha could reply, an answer came unexpectedly
from the dark corner.
Your God must be hard to propitiate, said the young Jewess. In
old times, after the sacrifice was offered, a man was cleansed from
sin. He had not to cleanse himself by his own pain.
But you are heathens, said Avice, feeling it a condescension to
argue with a Jew. Our religion is better than yours.
How? was Hester's rejoinder.
Because we have been redeemed by our Lord, who died to save us from
It does not sound like it. Then why had the little child to go
She did not go there! She went to Purgatory.
She went to pain, if I understood you rightly. Why did your Messiah
not finish His work, and keep her from going to pain altogether?
I cannot answer such wicked questions, said Avice. The Church
teaches that God's love purifies His servants in Purgatory, and as soon
as their souls are clean they go to Heaven.
Our God does better for us than that, was Hester's quiet answer.
I do not know what `the Church' is. But I suppose God's love is not
And she relapsed into silence. Avice sat and spanand thought. Both
of them were terribly ignorant; but Avice did honestly desire to know
God's will, and such truth as was in Hester's words troubled her. And
as she thought, other words came to her, heard years ago from the
pulpit of Lincoln Cathedral, and from the long silent lips of that holy
Bishop Grosteste whom she so deeply revered.
By leaning on Christ, the Bishop had said, every true Christian
rises into true life, peace, and joy; he lives in His life, sees light
in His light, is invigorated with His warmth, grows in His strength,
and leaning on the Beloved, his soul ascends upwards.
Then for those who loved Christ and leaned on Him, either He must be
with them in Purgatory, and then it would be no pain at all: orAvice
shrank from the alternative that perhaps there was no Purgatory at all!
It is hard to break free from trammels in which we have been held all
our lives. Bertha did not follow the course of her aunt's thoughts, and
wondered why she said, after long silence
Methinks God is enough for His people, wherever they are.
Hester also had been thinking, and to as much purpose.
It is written, `In His name shall the Gentiles trust,' she said.
And I think, if He can love any Gentiles, it must be kindly and
merciful hearts like yours. Perhaps the Great Sacrificethe Messiah
Himselfis meant for all men. But I think He will finish His work, and
not leave it incomplete, as your priests seem to teach you.
He will do right by all men, if thou meanest our Lord, replied
Avice gently. And what was right for all, and best for us, we shall
know when we come to Him.
Then the little Lady knows it now, Aunt, said Bertha.
Yes, my darling knows it now. It may be she knows why her ears were
sealed and her tongue bound, now that they are unstopped and loosed.
And I marvel if any voice in the choirs of the angels can be so sweet
There was silence for a little while. Then Hester rose.
I thank you very much for your kindness, she said. I think I
might go home. The streets seem quieter now.
Avice went to the door, unlatched it, and peered forth into the
Yes, there seems to be no noise in the direction of your quarter
now. I think you will be safe. But if you feel uneasy, you can stay the
night in this room.
No, thank you, replied Hester gratefully. I will not put you to
that trouble. You have been very good to me. May the God of Israel
bless you with His blessing!
Avice felt rather uneasy. She had always been taught that Jews were
idolaters, and she never imagined that Hester could be blessing her in
the name of the one living God. She fancied that the benediction of
some horrible Moloch was being called down upon her, and feared it
accordingly. But she answered kindly, for unkindness was not in her
simple, loving, God-fearing heart. Hester went out, and latched the
door behind her.
I am glad she is gone, said Bertha. I could not feel easy while
she was here. Yet I could not have borne to turn her away without
asking you if you would take her in, Aunt. I hope we have not done
I hope not, indeed, replied Avice, who was not quite easy in her
own mind. I wonder why it should be so wrong to pity Jews, and be kind
to them. It looks so different from all the other commands of our
Different, most truly! But such causes for wonder were likely to be
frequent enough, so long as men allowed the traditions of men to run
alongside of the infallible Word of God. And they had no power to read
for themselves the real words of the Lord, who had said to the father
of all Israel, I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that
But the influx of visitors was not yet over for the evening. Hester
had not been gone long when a heavy rap came on the door. Come in!
said Avice; and Uncle Dan appeared.
Could you spare a chap a seat, think ye? said he. I've come for a
bit o' peace. We've got thunder and lightning and rain up at smithy.
She's thunder, and Ankaret's lightning, and Mildred's rain, for
she's a-crying: and El'nor and me, we 're wet to skin wi' 't. So I put
my cap on and come here to dry me a bit.
Avice laughed. You're always welcome, Uncle Dan, and I hope you
know it, said she. Bertha, my maid, bake a short-cake for thy father.
There's enough warmth in the bake-stone.
Short-cake's good, said Dan, and I'll not go to deny it; but love
and peace are better. She can make short-cake wi' anybody. It's
th' jam as goes wi' 't I don't like. She makes it so tart, and puts so
much on. Sure, if th' fire had went out, she'd easy bake a cake a-top
of her temper, and so could Ankaret. Eh, it do take a whole hive of
honey to sweeten some folks. There's bees in this world, for sure; but
there's many a waps to every bee.
In the present day, waps is considered a vulgar way of pronouncing
the word; but it was correct English at the time of which I am writing.
Wasp is really the corrupt pronunciation. In the same way, they said
claps where we say clasp.
Uncle Dan, I sometimes wonder you do not come and live in Lincoln
Dost thee? Think I haven't noise enough at smithy?
But I think you would make friends here, and find things
Humph! said Dan, laying a big, hardened brown hand upon each knee.
It's very plain to me, Avice, as thou doesn't live in a house where
everything thou does turns to hot water. Me make friends! She'd have
'em out o' th' door afore they'd a-comed in. They wouldn't come twice,
I reckonnay, they wouldn't. That'd be end o' my friend-making,
Uncle Dan, did you never try standing up to Aunt Filomena?
Did I never try what? Ay did I, onceand got knocked down
as sharp as ninepins. Standing up! I'd love to see thee try it. Thou'd
not be right end up long.
Bertha had gone upstairs, or Avice perhaps would not have spoken so
plainly, though the smith himself had long passed the stage of ignoring
his wife's failings in the presence of her children.
But you are her husband, Uncle Dan.
I reckon I know that Thou would, if she'd plucked as much of thy
whiskers out as she has o' mine.
And wives ought to obey their husbands.
Thou'll oblige me by saying so to her, and I'll be glad to know if
thou likes what thou'll get.
You think she cannot be managed?
Not without one o' th' archangels likes to try. I'll not say he
wouldn't be sorry at after.
It does seem such a sad way for you to live, said Avice pityingly.
Grin and bide, said Dan philosophically. Grin while I can, and
bide when I can't. But I'll tell thee whatif some o' them fighting
fellows as goes up and down a-seeking for adventures, 'd just take off
Ankaret and Mildredwell, I don't know about El'nor: she's been better
o' lateand eh, but they couldn't take Her, or I'd ha' given th' cow
into th' bargain, and been right glad on'tand if me and Emma and
Bertha could ha' settled down in a bit of a house somewhere, and been
peaceableCome, it's no use hankering over things as can't be.
Elsewise, I'd ha' said a chap might ha' had a bit o' comfort then.
Uncle Dan, did you ever think of praying that Aunt Filomena might
have a better temper?
Ever think of what? demanded Uncle Dan in the biggest capitals
ever seen on a placard.
You know God could make her temper sweet, Uncle Dan.
Thou believes that, does thou?
So will Iwhen I see't. I reckon I'll have a rare capful o' larks
by th' sky falling, first.
The sky will fall some day, my son, said the voice of Father
Thomas, behind Dan. His soft rap had been unheard through Dan's bass
voice, and he had entered unperceived.
Well, Father, you should know the rights on't, was Dan's answer,
with a pull at his hair. Being a priest, I reckon you're good friends
wi' th' angels and th' sky and all that sort of thing; butI ask your
pardon, Father, but She belongs to t'other lot, and you don't know her.
Eh, you don't, so!
And with an ominous shake of his head, and a good-night to Avice and
Bertha, Dan passed out.
Our Lord could do that, Father? said Avice softly.
Certainly, my daughter. `Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did
Hein the heavens, and in the earth, and in the sea, and in all
Father Thomas had not much of the Bibleonly one Gospel and a Book
of Psalmsbut what he had he studied well. And one page of the Word of
God will do a great deal for a man, with the Spirit of God to bring it
home to a willing ear and a loving heart.
May I pray for Aunt Filomena? I am so sorry for Uncle Dan. He is
not a bad man, and she makes his home unbearable.
God forgive her! By all means pray for both.
CHAPTER SEVEN. A SPICE OF PHILOSOPHY.
While Dan was thus detailing his troubles in Avice's kitchen, his
daughter Emma was finishing her day's work. She was apprenticed to an
embroideress; for all kinds of embroidery were in much greater use then
than now. There was no sort of trimming except embroidery and fur;
there were no such things as printed cottons; and not only ladies'
dresses, but gentlemen's, and all kinds of curtains and hangings, were
very largely ornamented with the needle. Mrs De la Laund kept eighteen
apprentices, and they worked in a long, narrow room with windows at
each endnot glass windows, but just square openings, where light,
wind, and rain or snow, came in together. It was about half an hour
before it would be time to stop work. There was no clock in the room,
and there were only three in all Lincoln. Clocks such as we have were
then unknown. They had but two measures of timethe clepsydra, or
water-clock, and the sun-dial. When a man had neither of these, he
employed all kinds of ingenious expedients for guessing what time it
was, if the day were cloudy and the sun not to be seen. King Alfred had
invented the plan, long before, of having candles to burn a certain
time; the monks knew how long it took to repeat certain psalms. Mrs De
la Laund stopped work when the cathedral bell tolled for vespersthat
is, at four o'clock.
You look tired, Antigone, said Emma to her nearest neighbour, a
pale girl of eighteen.
Tired? Of course I'm tired, was the unpromising answer. Where's
the good? One must go on.
She does not like the work, said the girl on the other side of
Do you? responded Antigone, turning to her.
The girl gave a little laugh. I don't think whether I like it or
not, she said. I like being taught what will get me a living some
I hate it! answered Antigone. Why should I have to work for my
living, when Lady Margaret, up at the Castle, never needs to put a
needle in or out unless she pleases?
Nay, you're wrong there. My sister Justina is scullion-maid at the
Castle, and I am sure, from what she tells me, you wouldn't like to
change with Lady Margaret.
My word, but I would!
Why not, Sarah? asked Emma.
Well, replied Sarah with a smile, Antigone likes what she calls a
bit of fun when the day's work is over; and she would not get nearly so
much as she does, if she were in Lady Margaret's place. She dwells in
three chambers in her mother's tower, and never comes down except to
hall, (namely, to meals,) with now and then a decorous dance under
the eyes of the Lady Countess. No running races on the green, nor
chattering away to everybody, nor gamesexcept upstairs in her own
room with a few other young damsels. Antigone would think she was in
prison, to be used like that. And learning!why, she has to learn
Latin, and surgery, and heraldry, and all sorts of needleworknot
embroidery only; and cooking, and music, and I do not know what else.
How would you like it, Antigone?
Well, at any rate, she has a change! said Antigone, with some
Not quite the same thing as no work at all, for which I thought you
were longing. And no liberty, remember.
But her gowns, Sarah, her gowns!and her hoods, and cloaks, and
everything else! Did you see her last Saint Michael? I'd have given a
bit of liberty for that orange samite and those lovely blue slippers!
Sarah laughed and gave a little shake of her head.
I know who is fond of Hunt the Slipper, said she. A pretty figure
an orange samite gown would cut after an evening of it! I think, too, I
would rather be free to go about on my feet than even to wear lovely
blue slippers. Nay, Antigone, you may depend upon it, there are less
pleasant things in Lady Margaret's life than orange gowns and blue
slippers. We can have a say about our weddings, remember: but she will
be handed over to somebody she never saw, as like as not. I'd rather be
as I am. Mother says folks' lots are more even than they like to think.
Poor folks fancy that rich ones have nothing to trouble them worth
mention; and a sick man thinks, if he were only well, he would not mind
being poor; and a man in prison says that if he could but be free, he
could bear both illness and poverty. The truth is, everybody thinks his
own trouble the worst; and yet, if we had our neighbours' instead, nine
times out of ten we should be glad to get back to our own. We know the
worst of them, and often we don't of the others. So that is why I say,
I'd rather be as I am.
But people look down on you! said Antigone.
Well, let them. That won't hurt me, answered Sarah.
Sarah, I do believe you've not a bit of spirit!
I'd rather keep my spirit for what it is good forto help me over
hard places and along weary bits of road. All women have those at
times. Mother says
Where's the good of quoting old women? They have outlived their
Well, at any rate they lived through it, and some of them picked up
a bit of wisdom by the way.
You may keep your musty wisdom to yourself! I want none of it!
said Antigone, scornfully.
I want all I can get, quietly responded Sarah. Mother says (if
you don't care for it, Emma may) that discontent is the worst companion
a girl can have for making everything look miserable. You'll be a deal
happier, she says, with a dry crust and a good will to it, than with a
roast ox and a complaining temper.
Ay, that's true! said Emma, with a sigh.
Poor Emma! laughed Antigone. You get enough of it, don't you, at
I would rather not talk over my mother and sisters, if you please,
Oh, you don't need to take airs, my lady. I know!
Come, let Emma be, said Sarah. Let's keep our tempers, if we
haven't much else. There's the vesper bell!
Antigone's work was not likely to be improved by the hasty
huddled-up style in which it was folded, while Sarah and Emma shook
theirs straight and carefully avoided creases. They had then to give it
in to the mistress, who stood at one end of the room, putting all away
in a large coffer. When the last girl had given in her work, Mrs De la
Laund called for silence.
On Thursday next, said she, I shall give you a holiday after
dinner. The Queen comes to Lincoln on that day, and I wish to give as
many as are good girls the chance of seeing her enter. But I shall
expect to have no creased work like Antigone's; nor split and frayed
like Geneveva's; nor dirtied like Femiana's. Now you may go.
They had odd names for girls in those days. Among the nobles and
gentry, most were like ours; young ladies of rank were Alice, Cicely,
Margaret, Joan, Isabel, Emma, or Agnes: a strange name being the
exception. But among working women the odd names were then the rule:
they were Yngeleis, Sabelina, Orenge, Pimma, Cinelote, Argentella, and
very many more of the same high-sounding kind.
When the apprentices left the work-room, they were free to do as
they liked till seven o'clock, when they must all re-assemble there,
answer to their names called over, repeat some prayers after Mrs de la
Laund, and go to bed in a large loft at the top of the house.
Characters came out on these occasions. The majority showed themselves
thoughtless and giddy: they went to run races on the green, and to play
gamesthe better disposed only among themselves: but the wild,
adventurous spirits soon joined a lot of idle youths as unsteady as
themselves, with whom they spent the evening in rough play, loud
laughter, and not altogether decorous joking. The little group of
sensible girls kept away from such scenes. Most of them went to see
their friends, if within reasonable distance; those who had none at
hand sat or walked quietly together. Emma and Sarah were among these.
Any person entering Lincoln on the following Wednesday would plainly
have seen that the town was preparing for some great event. Every house
draped itself in some kind of hangingthe rich in coarse silk, the
poorer in bunting or whatever they could get. The iron hoops here and
there built into the walls for that purpose, held long pine-sticks, to
be lighted as torches after dark; and they would need careful watching,
for a great deal of the city was built of wood, and if a spark lighted
on the walls, a serious fire might be the result. In the numerous
balconies which projected from the better class of houses sat ladies
dressed in their handsomest garments on the Thursday morning, and below
in the street stood men and women packed tightly into a crowd, waiting
for the Queen to arrive. There was not much room in a mediaeval street,
and the sheriffs did not find it easy to keep a clear passage for the
royal train. As to keeping any passage for the traffic, that would have
been considered quite unnecessary. There was not much to keep it for;
and what there was could go round by back streets, just as well as not.
Few people set any value on time in the Middle Ages.
Queen Alianora was expected to arrive about twelve o'clock. She was
not the Queen Eleanor of whom we read at the beginning of the story
(for Alianora is only one of the old ways of spelling Eleanor), but her
daughter-in-law, the Lady Alianora who had been a friend to the dumb
Princess. She was a Spanish lady, and was one of the best and loveliest
Queens who ever reigned in England. Goodness and beauty are not always
found in companyperhaps I might say, not often; but they went
together with her. She was a Spanish blondewhich means that her hair
was a bright shade of goldenneither flaxen nor red; and that her eyes
were a deep, deep bluethe blue of a southern sky, such as we rarely
if ever see in an English one. Her complexion was fair and rosy, her
features regular and beautiful, her figure extremely elegant and
well-proportioned. The crowd, though good-humoured, was beginning to
get tired, when she came at last.
The Queen, who was not quite thirty years of age, rode on a white
horse, whose scarlet saddle-cloth was embroidered with golden lions and
roses, and which was led by Garcia, her Spanish Master of the Horse.
She was dressed in green samite, trimmed with ermine. On her left hand
rode the Earl of Lincoln, on her right, her eldest surviving son, the
little Prince Alphonso, who was only seven years old. He died at the
age of eleven. After the Queen rode her two damsels, Aubrey de
Caumpeden and Ermetrude; and after them and the officers of the
household came a number of lesser people, the mob of sight-seers
closing in and following them up the street. [See Note 1.] Her Majesty
rode up Steephill to the Castle, where the Countess of Lincoln and her
daughter Lady Margareta girl of about fifteenreceived her just
inside the gate. Then the mob cheered, the Queen looked back with a
smile and a bow, the Almoner flung a handful of silver pennies among
them, the portcullis was hauled down, and the sight was over.
As Emma turned back from the Castle gate, she met her father and her
sister Eleanor, who, like her, had been sight-seeing.
Well! said Dan, did thou see her?
Oh yes, beautifully! answered Emma. Isn't she handsome, Father?
`Handsome is as handsome does,' philosophically returned Dan.
Some folks looks mighty handsome as doesn't do even to it. She
was just like a pictur' when I wed her. Ay, she was, so!Where art
thou going, Emma?
I thought of looking in on Aunt Avice, Father. Are you and Eleanor
I'm not, said Eleanor. I'm going to see Laurentia atte Gate. So
I'll wish you good even.
She kept straight on, while Dan and Emma turned off for Avice's
house. It was not surprising that they found nobody at home but the
turnspit dog, who was sufficiently familiar with both to wag a welcome;
but somebody sat in the chimney-corner who was not at home, but was a
visitor like themselves. When the door was unlatched, Father Thomas
closed the book he had been reading and looked up.
Good even, Father, said Dan to the priest. I reckon you've come
o' th' same errand as us.
What is that, my son?
Dan sat down on the form, and put a big hand on each knee.
Well, it's some'at like t' shepherd comin' to count t' sheep, to
see 'at none of 'em's missin', said he. It's so easy to get lost of a
big moor full o' pits and quagmires. And this world's some'at like
it.Ah, Avice! folks as goes a-sight-seeing mun expect to find things
of a mixtur' when they gets home.
A very pleasant mixture, Uncle, said Avice. Pray you of your
blessing, holy Father.
Father Thomas gave it, and Bertha, stooping down, kissed Dan on his
broad wrinkled forehead.
Did thou get a penny? asked Dan.
I got two! cried Bertha, triumphantly. And Aunt Avice got one.
Did you, Father?
Nay, lassnone o' my luck! Silver pennies and such knows better
nor to come my way. Nor they'd better not, without they'll come right
number. I should get tore to bits if I went home wi' one, as like as
not. She 'd want it, and so 'd Ankaret, and so 'd Susanna, and so 'd
Mildred; and atwixt 'em all it 'd get broke i' pieces, and so
should I. And see thou, it's made i' quarters, and I amn't, so it
wouldn't come so convenient to me.
Pennies were then made with a deep cross cut athwart them, so that
they were easily broken, when wanted, into halfpence and farthings, for
there were no separate ones coined.
Father, have one of mine! cried Bertha at the beginning of Dan's
Nay, nay, lass! Keep thy bit o' silveror if thou wants to give
it, let Emma have it. She'll outlive it; I shouldn't.
The silver penny changed hands at once. Avice had meanwhile been
hanging up her hood and cloak, and she now proceeded to prepare a dish
of eggs, foreseeing company to supper. Supper was exceedingly early
to-day, as it was scarcely three o'clock; but dinner had been equally
so, for nobody wanted to be busy when the Queen came. A large dish of
eggs and butter was speedily on the tablethe buttered eggs of the
north of England, which are, I believe, identical with the scrambled
eggs of the United States. The party sat down to supper, Father Thomas
being served with a trencher to himself.
And how dost thou get along wi' thy Missis, my lass? said Dan to
Oh, things is very pleasant as yet, Father, answered Emma with a
smile. There's a mixture, as you said just now. Some's decent lasses
enough; and some's foolish; and some's middlin'. There's most of the
I'm fain to hear it, said Dan. Lasses is so foolish, I should ha'
thought there 'd be most o' that lot. So 's lads too. Eh, it's a queer
world, this un: mortal queer! But I asked thee how thou got on with thy
Missis, and thou tells me o' th' lasses. Never did know a woman
answer straight off. Ask most on 'em how far it is to Newark, and
they'll answer you that t' wind was west as they come fro' Barling.
Thou hast not a good opinion of women, my son, said Father Thomas,
who looked much amused.
I've seen too much on 'em! responded Dan, conclusively. I've got
a wife and six lasses.
Bertha, we'd better mind our ways! said Emma, laughing.
Nay, it's none you, was Dan's comment. You're middlin' decent,
you two. So's Avice; and so's old Christopher's Regina. I know of ne'er
another, without it 's t' catand she scratches like t' rest when
she's put out. There is other decent 'uns, happen. They haven't
come my way yet.
Why, Father! cried Emma. Think who you're lumping togetherthe
Lady Queen, and my Lady at the Castle, and Lady Margaret, and the
Dean's sister, and
Thou'll be out o' breath, if thou reckons all thou'st heard tell
of, said Dan. There's cats o' different sorts, child: some's snowy
white (when so be they've none been i' th' ash-hole), and some's tabby,
and some's black as iron; but they all scrats. Women's like
'em.You're wise men, you parsons and such, as have nought to do wi'
'em. Old Christopher, my neighbour up at smithy, he says weddin's like
a bag full o' snakes wi' one eel amongst 'em: you ha' to put your hand
in, and you may get th' eel. But if you dunnawhy you've got to do t'
best you can wi' one o' t' other lot. If you'll keep your hand out of
the bag you'll stand best chance of not getting bit.
It is a pity thou wert not a monk, my son, said the priest, whose
gravity seemed hard to keep.
Ay, it is! was Dan's hearty response. I'm alway fain to pass a
nunnery. Says I to myself, There's a bonnie lot o' snakes safe tied up
out o' folkses' way. They'll never fly at nobody no more. I'm fain for
the men as hasn't got 'em. Ay, I am!
Avice and her young cousins laughed.
Do you think they never fly at one another, Uncle Dan? asked the
Let 'em! returned that gentleman with much cordiality. A man gets
a bit o' peace then. It's t' only time he does. If they'd just go and
make a reg'lar end o' one another! but they never does,and the smith
pushed away his trencher with a sigh. Well! I reckon I mun be going.
She gave me while four:and I'm feared o' vesper bell ringing afore I
can get home. There'll be more bells nor one, if so. God be wi' ye,
lasses! Good even, Father.
And the door was shut on the unhappy husband of the delightful
Filomena. Emma took leave soon after, and Bertha went with her, to see
another friend before she returned to her employer's house. Avice and
the priest were left alone. For a few minutes both were silent; but
perhaps their thoughts were not very unlike.
I wish, under your leave, Father, said Avice at length, that
somebody would say a word to Aunt Filomena. I am afraid both she and
Uncle Dan are very ignorant. Truly, so am I: and it should be some one
who knows better. I doubt if he quite means all he says; but he thinks
too ill of women,and indeed, with five such as he has at home, who
can wonder at it? He has no peace from morning to night; and he is
naturally a man who loves peace and quietas you are yourself, holy
Father, unless I mistake.
Thou art not mistaken, my daughter, said Father Thomas. Something
inside him was giving him a sharp prick or two. Did he love quiet too
much, so as to interfere with his duties to his fellow-men? And then
something else inside the priest's heart rose up, as it were, to press
down the question, and bid the questioner be silent.
I wonder, said Avice, innocently, quite unaware of the course of
her companion's thoughts, whether, if Aunt Filomena knew her duty
better, she might not give poor Uncle Dan a little more rest. He is
good, in his way, and as far as he knows. I wish I knew more! But
then, Avice concluded, with a little laugh, I am only a woman.
Yet thou art evidently one of the few whom he likes and respects,
answered the priest. Be it thine, my daughter, to show him that women
are not all of an evil sort. Do thy best, up to the light thou hast;
and cry to God for more light, so that thou mayest know how to do
better. `Pour forth thy prayers to Him,' as saith the Collect for the
First Sunday after the Epiphany, `that thou mayest know what thy duty
requires of thee, and be able to comply with what thou knowest.' It is
a good prayer, and specially for them that are perplexed concerning
their duty. [See Note 2.]
But when one does know one's duty, asked Avice with simplicity,
it seems so hard to make one's self do it.
Didst thou ever yet do that? Daughter, dost thou believe in the
Avice's immediate answer was what would be the instinctive
unthinking response of most professing Christians.
Why, Father, of course I do!
Good. What dost thou believe?
Avice was silent. Ah! said the priest. It is easy to think we
believe: but hard to put our faith into plain words. If the faith were
clearer, maybe the words would follow.
It is so difficult to get things clear and plain! sighed poor
Have one thing clear, daughterthe way between God and thine own
soul. Let nothing come in to block up thathowever fair, howsoever
dear it be. And thou shalt have thy reward.
Father, is it like keeping other things clear? The way to have the
floor clear and clean is to sweep it every morning.
Ay, my daughter, sweep it every morning with the besom of prayer,
and every night bear over it the torch of self-examination. So shall
the evil insects not make their nests there.
I don't quite know how to examine myself, said Avice.
And thou wilt err, answered Father Thomas, if thou set about that
work alone, with a torch lighted at the flame of thine own
righteousness. Light thy torch at the fire of God's altar; examine
thyself by the light of His holy law; and do it at His feet, so that
whatever evil thing thou mayest find thou canst take at once to Him to
be cleansed away. Content not thyself with brushing away thoughts, but
go to the root of that same sin in thine own heart. Say not, `I should
not have spoken proudly to my neighbour'but, `I should not be proud
in my heart.' Deal rather with the root that is in thee than with the
branches of acts and words. There are sins which only to think of is to
do. Take to our Lord, then, thy sins to be cleansed away; but let thine
own thoughts dwell not so much on thy sins, thy deeds done and words
said, but rather on thy sinfulness, the inward fount of sin in thy
That were ugly work! said Avice.
Ay. I reckon thou countest not the scouring of thy floor among
thine enjoyments. But it is needful, my daughter: and is it no
enjoyment to see it clean?
Ay, that it is, admitted Avice.
I remember, my child, many years agothou wert but a little
maidthat holy Bishop Robert came to sup with thy grandmother Muriel.
Tell me, wouldst thou have been satisfiedI say not as a little child,
since children note not such thingsbut as a woman, wouldst thou have
been satisfied to receive the holy Bishop with a dirty floor, and offer
to him an uncleansed spoon to put to his lips?
Oh no, Father, surely not!
Then see, daughter, that when the Bishop of thy soul lifteth the
latch to come in and sup with thee, He find not the soiled floor and
the unclean vessel, and turn sorrowfully away, saying, `I thought to
sup with My child this night, but this is no place for Me.' Trust me,
thou wilt lose more than He, if He close the door and depart.
Avice's eyes filled with tears.
O Father, pray for me! I cannot bear to think of that.
Father Thomas rose and laid his hand on Avice's head. His words, as
coming from a priest, rather surprised her.
My child, he said softly, let us pray for each other.
Avice stood looking out of the window after him as he went down the
I wonder, she said to herself, if our Lord ever turned away thus
because Father Thomas's chamber was not clean! He seemed to know what
it was so wellyet how could such a good, holy man know anything about
Note 1. Aubrey is now a man's name only, but in the earlier hall of
the Middle Ages it was used for both sexes.
Note 2. This collect was slightly altered from that in the Sarum
Missal. The form here quoted is the older one.
CHAPTER EIGHT. AS A LITTLE CHILD.
If you put a single straw into an eddying stream, other straws and
bits of rubbish of all sorts will come and join it, until by and bye it
looks like a little island in the midst of the water. And we often see
something like this going on in men's minds. A man drops one idea,
which another man takes up and considers, till ideas of his own come to
join it, many things seen and heard contribute their help, and at last
the single sentence grows into a mountain of action.
Avice would have been astonished if any one had told her that she
had made an island. But her simple suggestion fell like an odd straw
into the stream of Father Thomas's thoughts, and grew and grew there,
until a few days later it led to decided action.
Father Thomas was by nature a quiet man. His temper was gentle and
even; he hated everything like noise and bustle, far more tumult and
quarrelling. He was not fond even of conversation, except now and then
as a pleasant variety to a quiet life, full of thinking and reading. A
man of this sort is generally an innocent manby which I mean, a man
who does no harm to his neighbours: and considering how many men and
women spend their lives in doing their neighbours harm of one sort or
another, that is a good deal to say of any man. But there is another
point to be taken into account, namely, what good does such a man do?
Why, no more than a chrysalis. And he is a poor specimen of manhood who
is content to be of no more use in the world than a chrysalis, and to
be as little missed when he goes out of it. This was the point which
troubled Father Thomas's meditations. It was as if an angel had come
down to him, and pointed to the old smithy on the green, and said,
What are you doing for those people? God will demand an account of
their souls, some day, and from somebody. Are you not your brothers'
keeper? Hitherto Father Thomas had gone on very comfortably, with a
reflection which serves a great many of us to excuse our pride or our
lazinessI wish it might never be heard again from human lipsIt is
not my place. It was true, in one sense. The smithy was in Newport
parish, and Father Thomas belonged to the Cathedral. He tried to quiet
the angelwhich was really his own consciencewith the thought that
he had no business to intrude into somebody else's parish. But the
angel would not be quiet.
Will God take that answer at the Judgment Day? he said. You know
very well that the Vicar of Newport is an idle, careless man, who never
troubles himself about the souls of his people: that so long as you
observe the proper forms of civility, and ask his leave to visit these
people, he will give it you in a minute, and be glad enough to think he
is saved the trouble. That is the truth, and you know it.
Now, it is very unpleasant when one's conscience says in that blunt,
downright, cutting way, You know it: and Father Thomas found it so.
He made a few more excuses, which his conscience blew to the winds
before they were well finished: and at last it laid hold of him, as it
were, by the shoulders, and said, Look there!
Father Thomas looked thereat the cross which then hung in every
clergyman's room. There were two lines carved on the wood at the bottom
of thislines which it was then not unusual to put at the bottom of
This did I for thee; What dost thou for Me?
Look there! cried the Angel Conscience. Christ bore that heavy
cross for youbore the reviling and the agony, the spitting, the
scourging, and the shame; and you won't face the Vicar of Newport for
Him! You can't walk half a mile, and ask a civil question of a man from
whom you expect a civil answer, for love of the Man who came down all
the way from Heaven to earth, and endured all the contradiction of
sinners for three-and-thirty years, and faced all the malice of the
devil, for the love of you! Are you ashamed of yourself, Thomas de
Vaux, or are you not?
When it reached that point, Father Thomas was painting in a book.
Books in those days were often ornamented with very beautiful
paintings: and the one on which the priest was working, represented
Peter denying Christ in the High Priest's palace. He had just painted
one side of Peter's hair, but the other side was still blank. But when
the Angel asked that question, down went the brush.
Lord, pardon Thy servant! said Father Thomas humbly. I am not
worthy to carry so much as the corner of Thy cross after Thee. But I
will take it up, and go forth. Indeed, I did not know I was such a
selfish, lazy, ease-loving man as I am!
Saint Peter had to put up with only half his hair for the rest of
that day, for Father Thomas determinately washed and wiped his brush,
threw a cloth over his book and painting tools to keep them from the
dust, put on his fur cap, and went off to see the Vicar of Newport.
When a man braces himself up to do something which he does not like
for the love of God, sometimes God makes it a great deal easier and
less disagreeable than he expected to find it. The Vicar was just
coming out of his door as Father Thomas reached it.
A fine daypeace be with thee! said he. Whither go you,
May I have your leave, Father, to visit one of your
parishionersthe smith that dwells about a mile hence, on the Newport
The saints love you! you may visit every man Jack of my
parishioners, and take my blessing with you! said the Vicar with a
hearty laugh. I am not over fond of that same visiting of smiths and
tailors and fellows of that sort. I never know what to say to them,
save hear confession, and they never have nought to say to me. You are
cut from another quality of stuff, I reckon. Go your way, Brother
Thomas, and make decent Christians of them if you can. There's a
she-bear lives there: I wish you luck with her.
And with a farewell nod, the careless Vicar strode away.
And into such hands as these, men's souls are given! thought
Father Thomas. Lord, purify Thy Church! Ah, dear old Bishop! you might
well weep in dying.
He walked on rapidly till he came within sight of the forge. Daniel
Greensmith's ringing blows on the anvil grew more and more distinct and
at last the words he was singing as he worked came to the priest's
All things turn unto decay,
Fall, and die, and pass away.
Sinketh tower and droppeth wall,
Cloth shall fray and horse shall fall,
Flesh shall die and iron rust,
Pass and perish all things must.
Well I understand and say,
All shall die, both priest and lay;
And small time, for praise or blame,
When man dieth, lives his fame.
Note. This is translated from an old French poem, written before the
time of the story.
Father Thomas stopped beside the anvil, but the smith's back was
turned, so that he did not see him.
A sad song, my friendif that were all.
Eh? said Dan, looking behind him, and then immediately throwing
down the hammer, and giving a pull to his forelock. Great respect was
paid to priests at that day. Axe your pardon, Father! Didn't see who
I came to see thy wife, my son. Shall I go forward?
Not if you're o' my mind. Happen you aren't.
Is she not at home?
Oh, ay, she's at home!
The smith's tone might have meant that he could have wished she was
somewhere else. Father Thomas waited, till Dan flung down the hammer,
and looked up at him.
Had ye e'er a mother? asked he.
Ay, replied the priest.
Was she one 'at took th' andirons to you when you didn't suit her?
Truly, no. She was a full good and gentle woman.
And had ye e'er a sister?
Was they given to rugging your hair when they wasn't pleased?
Not at all, my son.
Ah! you'd best go home, I reckon.
What meanest thou? asked Father Thomas, feeling much amused at the
very unusual style of Dan's reception.
Well! said Dan, passing his fingers through his hair, I mean, if
that's the way you was fetched up, you don't know the animal you've got
to deal with here. There's five dragons i' that house o' mine: and each
on 'em's got teeth and claws, and they knows how to use 'em, they does.
If one on 'em wern't a bit better nor t'others, and did not come and
stand by me now and then, I should ne'er ha' lived to talk to you this
even. Nay, I shouldn't! Best go home, Father, while you've getten a
coat on your back, and some hair on your head.
Is it so bad as that?
Ah, it is! was Dan's short but emphatic reply.
But surely, my son, thy wife would never use a man ill that meant
Think she'll stop to ask your meanin'? said Dan, with a
contemptuous grunt. If she's not changed sin' I come fro' dinner,
she'll be a-top of you before you can say `mercy.' And she's none a
comfortable thing to have a-top of you, I give you fair warning.
How was she at supper, then?no better?
Supper! I durstn't go in for no supper. I likes hunger better nor a
fray. Happen El'nor 'll steal out to me with a crust after dark. She
And how long does it take thy wife to cool down?
Dan rubbed his forehead with his blackened hand.
I was wed to her, said he, th' year afore the great frost, if you
know when that wereand I'd better have been fruz, a deal. I've had it
mortal hot ever since. She's had that time to cool down in, and she's
no cooler nor she were then. Rather, if either, t'other way on, I
Before Father Thomas could reply, the shrillest scream that had ever
met his ears came out of the window of the smithy.
Ankaret! it said. Ankaret! An-ka-ret!
Ha! That's Her! whispered Dan, as if he were awed by the sound.
An answering scream, as shrill, but scarcely so loud, came from the
Whatever do you want now? said the second shriek.
What dost thou yonder, thou slatternly minx? returned the first.
I'll mash every bone of thee, if thou doesn't come in this minute!
Then I sha'n't! shrieked the second voice. Two can play at that.
Who is Ankaret? asked Father Thomas of the smith.
She's th' eldest o' th' dragonsthat's our Ank'ret, said Dan in
the same half-frightened whisper. If you mun face Her, you'd best do
it while Ank'ret's next door: both on 'em's too much for any man. Th'
Angel Gabriel couldn't match the pair on 'em: leastwise, if he comes
down to axe me, I sha'n't send him forward. And don't you go and
say I sent you, now. For pity's sake, don't!
Father Thomas walked off, and knocked at the house door. He was
beginning to think that if the former part of his task had been easier
than he expected, the latter was going to prove more difficult. The
door was opened by a young woman.
Good day, my daughter. Is thy mother within?
She's here, Father. Pray you, come in.
The priest stepped inside, and sat down on a bench. For those times,
the house was comfortable, and it was very clean. The young woman
disappeared, and presently a pair of heavy boots came clattering down
the stairs, and Father Thomas felt pretty sure that the sweet Filomena
herself stood before him.
Now then, what do you want? quoth she, in a tone which did
not sound as if she were delighted to see her visitor.
My daughter, I am a priest, said Father Thomas gently; and I am
come to see thee for thy good.
I've got eyes! snapped Filomena. Can't I see you're a priest?
What's the good of such as you? Fat, lazy fellows that lives on the
best o' the land, wrung out of the hard earnings o' the poor, and never
does a stroke o' work theirselves, but sits a-twirling o' their thumbs
all day long. That's what you arethe whole boiling of you! Get you
out o' my house, or I'll help you!
And Filomena took up a formidable-looking mop which stood in the
corner, as if to let the priest clearly understand the sort of help
which she proposed to give him. She had tried this style of reception
when the Vicar took the liberty of calling on her some months before,
with the result that the appalled gentleman in question never ventured
to renew his visit, and told the anecdote with many shakes of the head
over that she-bear up at the smithy. She understood how to deal with
a man of the Vicar's stamp, and she mistakenly fancied that all priests
were of his sort. Sadly too many of them were such lazy, careless,
self-indulgent men, who, having just done as much work as served to
prevent the Bishop or their consciences (when they kept any) from
becoming troublesome, let all the rest go, and thought their duty done.
But Father Thomas, as the Vicar had said, was cut from another kind of
stuff. Very sensitive to rudeness or unkindness, his feelings were not
permitted to override his duty of perseverance: and while he dearly
loved peace, he was not ready to buy it at the cost of something more
valuable than itself. While he might be slow to see his duty, yet once
seen, it would not escape him again.
The personal taunts which Filomena had launched at him he simply put
aside as not worth an answer. They did not apply to him. He was neither
fat nor lazy: and if Filomena were so ignorant as to fancy that the
clergy were paid out of the earnings of the poor, what did it matter,
when he knew they were not? He went straight to the root of the thing.
His words were gentle enough, but his tone was one of authority.
Daughter, what an unhappy woman thou art!
Filomena's fingers slowly unclosed from the mop, which fell back
into the corner. Father Thomas said no more: he merely kept his eyes
upon her. His calm dignity took effect at last. Her angry eyes fell
before his unchanged look. She was not accustomed to hear her abuse
answered in this manner.
I just am! she muttered with intense bitterness.
Dost thou wish to be happy?
That's none for the like of us. It's only for rich folks, isn't
that,folks as has all they wants, and a bit over.
No man has that, said Father Thomas, except the little children
who sit at the feet of Jesus Christ. Become thou as a little child, and
happiness shall come to seek thee.
Me a little child! There was no merriment in the laugh which
accompanied the words.
Ay, even thou. For `if there be a new creature in Christ, old
things pass away; behold, all things are made new.' [Note. 3
Corinthians five 17, Vulgate version.] That is the very childhood, my
daughterto be made new. Will thou have it? It may be had for the
asking, if it be asked of God by a true heartthat childhood of grace,
which is meek, patient, gentle, loving, obedient, humble. For it is not
thou that canst conquer Satan, but Christ in thee, that shall first
conquer thee. Thou in Christthis is safety: Christ in theehere is
strength. Seek, and thou shalt find. Farewell.
And without giving Filomena time to answer, Father Thomas turned
away, and was lost in a moment behind the bushes which separated the
cottage from the smithy. She stood for a minute where he left her, as
if she had been struck to stone. The whole style of his address was to
her something completely new, and so unlike anything she had expected
that for once in her life she was at a loss.
Filomena took up the corner of her apron and wiped her forehead, as
if she were settling her brains into their places.
Well, that's a queer set-out! said she at last, to nobody, for she
was left alone. Me a baby! Whatever would the fellow be at? I reckon I
was one once. Eh, but it would be some queer to get back again! What
did he say? `Meek, patient, gentle, loving, obedient, humble.'
That's not me! Old Dan wouldn't think he'd picked up his own wife,
if I were made new o' that fashion. It didn't sound so bad, though.
Wonder how it 'd be if I tried it! That chap said it would make me
happy. I'm none that, neither, nor haven't been these many years. Eh
deary me! to think of me a baby!
While these extremely new ideas were seething in Filomena's mind,
Father Thomas reached the smithy.
Glad to see you! said Dan, laying down his hammer. You did not
'bide so long! with a grim smile.
Long enough, said the priest shortly.
I believe you! If you wasn't glad to get your back turned, you
liked a tussle wi' a dragon better nor most folks. Was she white-hot,
or no-but [Only] red? El'nor, she came down to me while you was in
there, wi' a hunch o' bread and cheese, and she said it were gettin'
smoother a bit nor it had been most part o' th' day. What said she to
Less than I said to her.
You dunnot mean she hearkened you?
Not at first. But in the end, she hearkened me, and made me no
Dan looked his visitor all over from head to foot.
Well! said he, and shook his head slowly. Well! and wiped his
face with his apron, Well! he exclaimed a third time. If I'd ha'
knowed! I'd ha' given forty marks [Note 1.] to see th' like o' that.
Eh, do 'bide a minute, and let me take th' measure on you! T' chap that
could strike our Filomena dumb mun ha' come straight fro' Heaven, for
there isn't his like o' earth! Now, Father, do just tell a body, what
did you say to her?
I told her how to be happy.
Dan stared. She wants no tellin' that, I'll go bail! she's got
every mortal thing her own way.
That is not the way to be happy, answered the priest. Nay, my
son, she is a most unhappy woman, and her face shows it. Thou art
happier far than she.
Dan dropped the big hammer in sheer astonishment, and if Father
Thomas had not made a rapid retreat, more than his eyes and ears would
have told him so.
Me happier nor our Filomena! Me! Father, dunnot be angered wi' me,
but either you're downright silly, or you're somewhat more nor other
I have told thee the truth, my son. Now, wilt thou do somewhat to
help thy wife to be happy? If she is happy, she will be humble and
meek happy, that is, in the way I mean.
I'll do aught as 'll make our Filomena meek, replied Dan, with a
shake of his grizzled head: but how that's going to be shaped beats
me, I can tell you. Mun I climb up to th' sky and stick nails into th'
Nay, said the priest with a smile. Thou shalt pray God to make
her as a little child.
That's a corker, that is! Dan picked up the hammer, and
began meditatively to fashion a nail. Our Ank'ret were a babby once,
said he, as if to himself. She were a bonnie un, too. She were, so! I
used to sit o' th' bench at th' door of an even, wi' her on my knee,
a-smilin' up likeeh, Father, but I'll tell you what, if them times
could come back, it 'd be enough to make a chap think he'd getten into
Heaven by mistake.
I trust, my son, thou wilt some day find thee in Heaven, not by
mistake, said the priest. But if so, Daniel, thou must have a care to
go the right road thither.
Which road's that, Father?
It is a straight road, my son, and it is a narrow road. And the
door to it goes right through the cross whereon Jesus Christ died for
thee and me. Daniel, dost thou love the Lord Jesus?
Well, you see, Father, I'm not much acquaint wi' Him. He's a great
way up, and I'm down here i' t' smithy.
He will come down here and abide with thee, my son, if thou wilt
but ask Him. So dear He loveth man, that He will come any whither on
earth save into sin, if so be He may have man's company. `Greater than
this love hath no man, that he give his life for his friends.'
Well, that stands to reason, said Dan. When man gives his life,
he gives all there is of him.
Thou sayest well. And is it hard to love man that giveth his life
to save thine?
I reckon it 'd be harder to help it, Father.
Father Thomas turned as if to go. My son, said he, wilt thou let
the Lord Jesus say to the angels round His Throne,`I gave all there
was of Me for Daniel Greensmith, and he doth not love Me for it?'
The big smith had never had such an idea presented to him before.
His simple, transparent, child-like nature came up into his eyes, and
ran over. Men did not think it in those earlier ages any discredit to
their manliness to let their hearts be seen. Perhaps they were wiser
than we are.
Eh, Father, but you never mean it'd be like that? cried poor Dan.
Somehow, it never come real to me, like as you've put it. Do you mean
'at He caresthat it makes any matter to Him up yonder, whether
old Dan at t' smithy loves Him or not? I'm no-but a common smith.
There's hundreds just like me. Does He really care, think you?
Thou art a man, said the priest, and it was for men Christ died.
And there is none other of thee, though there were millions like thee.
Is a true mother content with any babe in exchange for her own, because
there are hundreds of babes in the world? Nay, Daniel Greensmith, it
was for thee the Lord Christ shed His blood on the cruel cross, and it
is thyself whose love and thanksgivings He will miss, though all the
harps of all the angels make music around His ear. Shall He miss them
any longer, my son?
Once more Dan threw aside the big hammerthis time on the inner
side of the smithy.
Father, said he, you've knocked me clean o'er. I never knowed
till now as it were real.
As a little child! said Father Thomas to himself, as he went back
to Lincoln. The road into the kingdom will be far smoother for him
than her. Yet the good Lord can lead them both there.
The very next visit that Dan paid to Avice and Bertha showed them
plainly that a change of some sort had come over him, and as time went
on they saw it still more plainly. His heart had opened to the love of
Christ like a flower to the sunlight. The moment that he really saw
Him, he accepted Him. With how many is it not the case that they do not
love Christ because they do not know Him, and they do not know Him
because no one of those who do puts Him plainly before them?
It was much longer before Father Thomas and Avice saw any fruit of
their prayers for Filomena. There was so much more to undo in her case
than in her husband's, that the growth was a great deal slower and less
apparent. Avice discovered that Dan's complaints were fewer, but she
set it down entirely to the change in himself, long before she noticed
that Filomena's voice was less sharp, and her fats of fury less
frequent. But at length the day came when Filomena, having been
betrayed into a very mild copy of one of her old storms of temper,
would suddenly catch herself up and walk determinately out of the back
door till she grew cool: and when she came back would lay her hand upon
her husband's shoulder, and say
Dan, old man, I'm sorry I was bad to thee. Forgive me!
And Dan, at first astounded beyond measure, grew to accept this
conclusion as a matter of course, and to say
Let her alone, and she'll come round.
And then Avice's eyes were opened.
One day, when she was unusually softened by the death of Susanna's
baby, Filomena opened her heart to her niece.
Eh, Avice, it's hard work! Nobody knows how hard, that hasn't had a
temper as mastered 'em. I've pretty nigh to bite my tongue through,
many a time a day. I wish I'd begun soonerI do! It'd ha' come easier
a deal then. But I'm trying hard, and I hope our Lord'll help me. Thou
does think He'll help me, doesn't thou, Avice? I'm not too bad, am I?
Father Thomas says, Aunt, replied Avice, that God helps all those
who want His help: and the worse we are, the more we want of His
That's true! said Filomena.
And Father Thomas says, continued Avice, that we must all go to
our Lord just like little children, ready to take what He sees good for
us, and telling Him all our needs of body and soul, as a child would
tell its mother.
They were walking slowly up Steephill when Avice said this.
Father Thomas has one apt scholar, said the priest's unexpected
voice behind her. But it was a Greater than I, my daughter, who told
His disciples that `whosoever did not receive the kingdom of God as a
little child, should in no wise enter therein.'
Note 1. A mark was 13 shillings 4 pence, and was the largest piece
of money then known.