"Why do you like boys better than girls?" he asked her point blank, one day.
"Men can fight," Lady Ebba answered, curtly.
"Of course," Roger reflected. "But women can make men fight. Father told me that once when the Danes tried to take your father's castle you held them off until he came back."
Lady Ebba did not say anything. She rose and stalked away, but although her back was to Roger, Eleanor could see that she was actually smiling.
Eleanor knew that story. It gave her a feeling of enormous admiration and awe when she thought of it, but love—for a grandmother who had commanded a garrison, on scanty rations, besieged by fierce and bloodthirsty pirates—seemed a little out of place.
It was certainly far pleasanter, having Roger for a playmate. Eleanor thought it was better than having a sister. He taught her to run, to fish, to play bowls, nine-men-morris, and draughts. The dismal stone hall was not half so grim with Roger in her corner.
These diversions did not, however, interrupt the daily lessons, the task in spinning, or the newly-begun tapestry. To her great satisfaction Eleanor found that Roger liked the tapestry chamber nearly or quite as well as she did. When he saw Eleanor's tapestry he persuaded Sir Hugh l'Estrange to spend a rainy morning in making sketches for it.
"Father has been to Egypt and the other places," he explained, "and knows just how they look. You never saw a dragon, though, father?" he added doubtfully.
"Not exactly, but I have seen a beast rather like one," laughed the knight, and he drew a very fair picture of a crocodile, adding wings and a fiery breath and fearsome talons by way of establishing its dragonship. "I have seen the place where they say the monster was killed. And did you know that Saint George is said to have helped the Allies under Godfrey in the First Crusade, at the battle for Jerusalem?" While the children looked on in fascinated wonder, he sketched in a battle-scene—rather cramped for space because of the narrow linen web—showing Godfrey de Bouillon cheering on his knights, the saint on his great white horse leading the charge, and the banner of the Cross rising above the host. From the tapestried walls Sainte Genevieve and her people looked on with kindly interest at the little group.
When the two fathers had gone away life settled into a quiet but pleasant order. Roger shared some of Eleanor's lessons, and when she was at her spinning or needlework he was often by, with a bow to shape, a spear to polish or some other in-door work to do, while they listened to Lady Philippa's stories. To him nearly all of them were new.
As the spring advanced the three spent much time in the garden. A drain was needed in one place, and Roger retrieved a spade from the gardener's quarters and went at it. He had heard Lady Philippa say that she should like to have a "mount" there—an artificial hill made of packed earth and stones—and as he dug he threw the dirt inward and tramped it down. He explained that this was the way a castle mount was made if the hill selected was not high enough. The one at Lewes that William de Warenne had made was a hundred and fifty feet high.
Eleanor caught the enthusiasm, brought stones and helped tread them down with her stout little leather shoes, and old Jehan's grandson with his sabots helped also.
"Wouldn't it be beautiful if we could build a castle on the top?" Eleanor suggested as they stood looking at it.
"Perhaps we can—if your mother is willing. Ask her if we may have all the stones we pick out of the garden—if we don't harm the plants—will you, Eleanor?"
Eleanor climbed the winding stairs to the tapestry chamber, and came flying back with the glad permission. Then the small building force went to work in deep earnest.
"I know exactly how to build it, for I saw the building of our castle from the very first," Roger explained.
"We lived in a tent all summer until it was done—part of it—so that we could have a room. First they dig a ditch, just like this one, around the mount, and they make a palisade of forest trees—whole trunks set close together—to keep off enemies. When they have time to build a stone wall, of course the wooden wall is taken down.
"Now here, on the most solid side of the mount, is the place for the keep. We use the biggest stones for that. The bottom storey of father's keep is partly cut right out of the rock, and the walls are twenty-five or thirty feet thick. Nobody can knock down that wall with a battering-ram! Here we'll make a great arched door, so that the knights can ride right in without dismounting when they're hard pressed by the enemy. Here's the drawbridge—" Roger hastily whittled off a piece of bark—"and this line I've scratched inside the outer wall is for the wall round the inner bailey. We'll have a watch-tower here—and here—and here. Father says that a good builder places his towers so that each one protects one or two others, and in the end every one is protected.
"In the storey above will be the great hall. These walls don't need to be so thick—not more than eighteen feet. Here on this side we'll cut a little room out of the thickness of the wall, for the private chamber of my lord and lady—"
"The tapestry chamber!" cried Eleanor.
"Yes," Roger went on, "and here on the other side we have the well- chamber. There's a stone bason with a shaft that goes away down to the well in the lowest part of the castle, and the defenders can always get water by lowering a bucket when they're besieged. Up above is another storey for a guard-room, and a flat roof with battlements around it, where the sentinels can see for miles and miles across the country."
The two children gazed at their castle mount and almost believed the walls, eighteen, twenty, thirty feet thick—rising before their eyes.
"But that isn't all of the castle," said Eleanor at last.
"No; we'll build more towers after awhile, and have a banquet hall to entertain the King. And the soldiers and people will live in tents and wattled huts until the stonework is done. But the keep is the first thing to build, because, you see, you have to defend yourself from enemies no matter when they come."
Lady Philippa's garden was cleared of stones in a much shorter time than she had expected. But to build a stone wall simply by laying one stone upon another is less easy than it seems. Roger had done something of the sort before, but he had had fragments of stone from the masons' work instead of water-washed pebbles. And when the keep was actually built as high as the first floor above the foundation, a heavy rain came, streams tore out one side of the mount, and the stone-work tumbled into a hopeless ruin.
In the crystal brilliance of the morning after the storm Roger surveyed it ruefully. "Father says," he recalled, "that everything depends on the foundations. We'll do it over again and make the mount more solid."
"And when it is done," said Eleanor, never losing faith, "I'll beg some linen of mother and make tapestry for the walls of the little room and the great hall."
But the stones would not stay in place. Roger tried plastering them with mud, then with clay. Neither would hold when dry. Then he saw a workman repairing part of the garden wall, and in an evil moment borrowed some of the mortar while the man was gone to his dinner. He had just set it down near the mount when Collet came to call the children to their own dinner. The bucket remained there, and Lady Ebba's old gray cat, chasing a hound she had discovered near the hole where her kittens were secreted, bounced off a wall and fell into the mortar—fortunately hind feet foremost. The indignant Jehan came searching for his bucket and kicked the pile of stones in all directions, Lady Ebba made stern inquiry into the misfortune which had come to her cat, and wall-building was abandoned.
For a week or more, Roger gardened, fished and practiced archery in a somewhat subdued fashion. Lady Philippa, watching Eleanor's brown head and the boy's tousled tow-colored mop, as they consulted over a boat Roger was making, smiled and sighed. She wished that Alazais were there to see them play together.
Not long after the disastrous building incident Sir Walter appeared one day with surprising news indeed. Sir Stephen Giffard, the elder brother, was about to marry and come to live in the old Norman chateau. The new chatelaine was a rich widow of Louvain. Sir Stephen and Lady Adelicia would be the lord and lady of the castle, and would have the tapestry chamber.
"Oh, moth-er!" cried Eleanor piteously. No other room in the castle would ever be so pleasant. She could not understand her mother's untroubled acceptance of the change.
"But my dear child," Lady Philippa went on, "we shall not be here; we are going away. King Henry has given your father a great estate in a wild country in the west of England, and he is building a castle for our home. You will be an English maiden, sweetheart, and have your tapestry of Saint George for your very own room."
Eleanor's eyes were starlike. Then her mouth began to droop a little. "Is Roger to stay here?"
"Roger will be with us. His father's castle is only a few leagues from ours, and he is going to leave Roger at our home for a year or more while he is away."
This made it quite perfect. Roger rejoiced openly at the prospect of going back to England. In stray moments Eleanor wondered a little how Lady Ebba liked it. She rather doubted whether Lady Adelicia would be as content there as her mother.
When they rode away from the old Norman gateway for the last time Eleanor laughed gleefully: "I don't care where we go, mother," she whispered, "we've the roots and seeds from your garden, and we shall have a tapestry chamber!"
O the Castle of Heart's Delight! The winds of the sunrise know it, And the music adrift in its airy halls, To the end of the world they blow it— Music of glad hearts keeping time To bells that ring in a crystal chime With the cadence light of an ancient rime— Such music lives on the winds of night That blow from the Castle of Heart's Delight!
O the Castle of Heart's Delight Where you and I go faring— Heritage dear of love and toil, Guerdon of faith and daring. For all may win to the ancient gate, Though some are early and some are late, And each hath borne with his hidden Fate,— For never a man but hath his right To enter his Castle of Heart's Delight!
THE FAIRIES' WELL
What a beautiful place this is," Lady Philippa said softly. She was standing with her husband near the great stone keep, looking out across a half-built wall at the hills and valleys of his wilderness domain. It was one of those mornings of early summer when the air is cool yet bright with sunshine, and the unfolding beauty of the world has something of heaven in it. Birds were singing everywhere, and the green of new leaves clothed the land in elvish loveliness. "Your England is very fair, Gualtier."
"It is good that you find it so, love," answered the knight. He had had misgivings a-plenty in bringing his gently-bred Provencal wife to this rough country. Often he had to be absent from dawn to moonrise, riding on some perilous expedition. He and his little force of men-at-arms and yeomen were doing police work on the Welsh border, and no one ever knew just when the turbulent chiefs of those mountains would attempt a raid.
Lady Philippa never complained. She ruled her household as he ruled his lands, wisely and well. She called her husband Gualtier instead of Walter, because he liked it, and sang to her lute the canzons and retronsas of her country, but she seemed to love his England as he did. She talked to the woodcutters' wives and the village women and farm people as if she had played in childhood about their doors. In fact the knight had a shrewd notion that if he had been a bachelor the taming of his half-British, half-Saxon peasantry would have been far less easy.
He had not wished to dominate and overawe the people, but to win them to true loyalty. He had known exactly what he wanted when he selected the place for his castle, and a man who knows his own mind can usually find men to do his work.
A castle in that place and time was a little town in itself, and it must be able to exist by itself when necessary, without markets or factories or outside help of any kind. Like most Normans the knight was a born builder, and had taken care to make his castle as proof against attack, and as scientifically built, as castle could be. Each landowner had to be his own architect. Certain general rules were followed, of course. The keep, the fosse, the inner and outer bailey, the general construction, were much the same in all fortresses of Normandy or Norman Britain. But no two sites were alike, and the work had to be planned not only according to the shape of the hill but with reference to the material to be had, the amount and quality of labor at hand, and the climate. This castle was on a hill not high originally, but made some fifty feet higher by heaping up earth and stone to bring the whole top somewhere near the level of the huge rock on which the keep was built. On that side the river flowed almost under the precipitous western face of the mount, so that a stone could be dropped from the battlements into the water. The young page, Roger, thought he could fish from his window if he could get a line long enough. The keep was still the living-place of the family, but the double line of stone wall encircling the mount was finished, and at exposed points small watch- towers were placed, known as the mill-tower, the armorer's tower, the smith's tower or the salt-tower, according to their use. If the castle should be attacked each one of these outworks would be the post of a small garrison and stubbornly defended, while the keep could be held almost indefinitely. The deep cellars would hold grain and salt meat enough for months, and there was a spring within the walls. Even the narrow windows were so shaped that an arrow aimed at one of them would almost certainly strike the cunningly-sloped side and rebound, instead of entering the building. The gate was of massive timbers held together by heavy iron hinges and studded with nails, and above it was a projecting stone gallery connecting the two gateway towers. This gallery was machicolated, or built with a series of openings in the floor, through which the defenders could shoot arrows upon the besiegers, or pour boiling pitch down upon them. This was a Saracen contrivance, and had been suggested and supervised by Sir Hugh l'Estrange, who had seen the like in Spain.
There was one place where all plans had gone wrong, and that was a part of the wall near the keep, almost under the windows of the well-chamber. It had been built three times, and always, before it was done, the stones would begin to slip and sink. Yesterday a section of wall had gone clean over into the river and carried a mason with it. Fortunately he could swim, and though nobody thought he would come out alive, he had scrambled up the bank very cold, somewhat bruised, and sputtering like a wet cat.
That brought the matter to a crisis. There were uneasy whispers of a curse on the mount, a tradition that no castle built there would ever be finished, an old custom of sacrificing some human being to be buried under the foundation of a castle for the pacifying of the ancient gods. And all of this uncanny terror was somehow connected with a hill some distance away toward the forest-clad mountains, where a low brown-tiled cottage crouched like a toad, under a poplar whose leaves were ever twinkling in the sun.
"Gualtier," queried Lady Philippa, her eye following his, "what is it about old Mother Izan? The maids have been telling all sorts of foolish tales about her enchantments. What has she been doing?"
The knight laughed, but not very mirthfully. "Nothing whatever, in my opinion. But I may as well tell you—they say that she has overlooked the mount so that we shall never be able to finish this corner of the wall. It is vexatious, because I meant that nook for your garden. It is the only place that is sheltered from the wind and at the same time has sunshine and a good outlook. But the wall has thrice been all but finished, and each time the stones have begun to sink and topple. This time Howel the mason was nearly killed. Of course, a feeble bent old woman who can hardly hobble ten rods cannot have undermined a wall at this distance. That is absurd. But the panic the men have got into is not. That wall will have to be finished—somehow."
Lady Philippa looked at the tumbled masses of stone. "It would be a charming place for roses," she mused, and looked again at the cottage, where beside the door a gleam of water caught the light. "That is the spring they call the Fairies' Well."
"Yes; it is one of the oldest wells in this part of England. The water is pure as the sunlight, and never fails. Hugh thinks it may be one of the places the heathen priests held sacred. It is not so very long since the people worshiped pagan gods."
The lady traced a pattern in the dust with the point of her slender shoe. "I think," she said, "that I will take the children and ride over to see Mother Izan."
The knight made no objection, for the country was quiet, and he could see the party from the castle mount as they set forth, Lady Philippa on her black Arabian jennet, Eleanor and Roger on their forest ponies.
The children had had their own discussion about that wall the day before, and returned to it as they rode along the trail that led to Mother Izan's cottage. It was a longer way than it seemed from the height, for a marsh full of tall reeds almost encircled the hill on which the Fairies' Well was, and the trail kept to the high moorland above.
"I do wonder what is the matter with the wall," mused Eleanor. "Do you suppose it can be bewitched, Roger?"
"Maybe," Roger admitted. "But if Mother Izan can't keep her cow out of the bog I don't see how she could pull down a stone wall. It's like the story of Dinas Emrys father told me," he added with relish. "King Vortigern was building a castle on Snowdon, and every night whatever they had built in the daytime fell down. After awhile they sent for old Merlin to see what the matter was. And it was two great serpents in a pool away down under the foundation. One was white and one was red, and they fought all the time. First the white one had the best of it, but the red one beat him at last, and chased him out of the pool. Merlin told them that the red serpent meant the British and the white serpent the Saxons, and the British would drive the Saxons out. But they haven't done it yet."
This was deliciously horrible. "You don't suppose there are snakes under our castle, do you, Roger?"
"Of course not," said Roger, pulling in his lively pony. "That was nothing but a tale. I wish I could bore a hole into the cliff, and see."
"Collet says Mother Izan is a witch," said Eleanor, abandoning the subject of snakes. "She hated it, when mother used some of her herb drinks last year."
"I like Mother Izan," said Roger sturdily. "She cured my leg once, when a stone fell on it—long before you came, when I was a little fellow." Roger was not quite ten. "She knows more about plants and animals than anybody. Ruric let her doctor his dog, the big one he calls Cuchullin."
"Collet doesn't like Ruric either," said Eleanor.
"She doesn't like anybody here really, except mother and me. I never mind very much about what she says. There's Mother Izan in the doorway,—and oh, what has she got hanging up in the big tree?"
The old woman was a queer bent creature with greenish eyes like a cat's, and white unruly hair that would not stay under her coif. In fact she looked not unlike a gaunt, grim old puss who had all her life fought what crossed her path, from snakes to staghounds. She was so old that the village people could not remember when she had been young, and her grandsons were elderly men.
A wicker basket hung from the lowest branch of the poplar tree. In it, cradled in close fine-woven osiers with a lining of rabbitskin, lay a solemn black-eyed baby, looking almost as old as the old woman herself.
"It's like a changeling," thought Eleanor, looking with fascinated eyes at the weird little being. Lady Philippa smiled, and laid her hand softly on the furry black head. "This is an unusual sight in your cottage," she said. "Whence came it, Goody?"
"Tis none of mine," old Izan grumbled, "'tis the brat of a scatter-brained woman—Kate, wife to Howel the mason. She came screeching at me saying the babe was a changeling I had left in place of her child of two years, and I should care for it. I have no mind for the tending of babes at my time of life, but I could not let the creature starve. Natheless 'tis but ill fed, for my cow was lost in the marsh, and none will let me have milk for it. Kate she's dead of a fever, and Howel will have naught of the young one, so I have made shift as I could, with bread soaked in herb drink."
Lady Philippa was twisting a vine-garland into a leafy canopy to keep the sun from the baby's eyes. "'Tis a pretty baby," she said, "though so small. The cow that was lost in the marsh—how did that happen?"
The old woman's eyes blazed with hatred. "My lady, the lads of the village drove her there, and the poor hunted beast floundered into a quagmire. I cursed them well for it, but that does not bring back the good cow. And Howel will do nothing for me because the child is so weazened and so small."
The lady frowned. "It is all wrong," she said, "the lads' cruelty and the cursing of them and the blame of the woman who thought you had witched her child. Sir Walter shall send you a goat that you can tether within sight of the cottage. In my country the folk often feed their babes on goat's milk, and I would like well to taste goat's milk cheese again. Is Howel at work now?"
"He was, my lady, but since he fell into the water he swears that he will work no more on the wall."
Lady Philippa spoke but with winsome frankness,—"The men say, good mother, that the wall is witch-ridden because it has fallen thrice. They are afraid, that is why they do not reason. Surely in God's world we should be safe from such evil, if we serve Him. Perhaps if the baby grows fat and merry, Howel will be kinder. Has it been christened yet?"
"Nay—what have we to do with such gear? But my lady—heard ye never the old rhyme—
"'Overlook the Fairies' Well— None did that since Adam fell; Overlook the Fairies' Hill— Then Old Nick shall have his fill.'"
"That has naught to do with our castle," said the lady wonderingly. "Look- -the keep is no higher than your roof-tree. My lord chose not the site for its loftiness but for the sure foundation."
"Aye," chuckled the old woman, "you say well, 'tis a good foundation. All but that corner. Tell your lord to raise no towers on that corner."
"I am sorry the wall has given so much trouble," Lady Philippa said regretfully, "for that is the only place for my garden—my roses and violets and herbs. My lord will try once more to finish it. If I might have but that piece of garden it would be like a bit of my old home, and that is a dear treasure, Mother Izan, in a foreign land."
Her voice trembled as she spoke, and Eleanor pressed close to her mother's side and held her hand. She had never heard a word before about her mother's longing for Provence.
As the three rode away old Izan stood for a long time, shading her eyes and gazing after them. Next morning a village boy in charge of Roger came up the path to her door, leading two bleating bewildered goats, which were securely fastened to a stake to graze at will.
"I came myself," said Roger loftily, "because I meant to make sure that it was all right. I haven't forgotten the time you cured my leg, Mother Izan, and neither has father. Have those blue-tit eggs hatched yet?"
The old woman's brown withered face crinkled in a smile. "Trust you, Master Roger!" she muttered. "Come still."
She hobbled around to the rear of the cottage and paused to draw aside a branch. Roger cautiously peered through the leaves, and a hiss like that of an angry snake sounded within.
"If I didn't know it was a bird I should think there was a snake or a cross cat in there," said Roger, after he had had a look at the small but spirited bird-mother. "What ever makes her do that, Mother Izan?"
Old Izan put out a gnarled hand to feed the titmouse a few live insects. "Same as an old woman don't mind folk saying she's a witch so they let her alone, mayhap," she said. "You'd not reach your hand in there if 'twas an adder's nest, I reckon."
"I'm teaching Eleanor all the birds' names," went on Roger, quite at his ease, munching a bit of flag-root. "They don't have the same names here that they do in Normandy, you know. Old Jehan—the gardener that used to know Eleanor's grandfather—taught me all their names when I was there. The nuthatch is Pic Macon, and the mum-ruffin is Pendolin, and the robin is Marie-Godrie. I'm going to show Eleanor the nest next time we come, if you don't mind."
To the surprise of everybody old Izan rode up the castle mount one day on a borrowed donkey. "Howel he loaned it to me," she explained dryly. "Seems like he has less fear of witches since little Gwillym began to fat up. I have secret things to speak of to my lord, Master Roger. Will 'ee take him word?"
In private, with only Sir Walter and Lady Philippa to hear, the old woman told her secret.
"'Tis the Fairies' Well that drags down your wall," said she. "My grandfather told me the tale, and he had it from his father. The outlet is a hidden stream that runs underground to the river, and not the stream in the marsh as folk think. The underground channel goes under a corner of your mount. When the snows melt and the waters are strong in mountain and in valley, then rises the water in this channel, deep under the mount, and heaves at the rocks above it and throws down your wall. That is all the witchcraft of it. So long as 'twas your stones and battlements that fell I cared no whit, but when my lady told me that she would have her garden there I could not bear to think of the peril for her and the younkets. I am no witch, my lord, unless it be Satan that gives us to know more than others. But I have hated the Normans who came here to steal our land, and have helped my people to harass them in years gone by. All but you and Sir Hugh l'Estrange, they have despoiled and plagued the folk. But build no wall above the stream, for 'twill fall—'twill fall—'twill fall. The waters will pull it down."
The knight sat thinking, his hands on the arms of his tall carved chair. "I am not so sure," he said. "Maybe we can lift the curse on the mount and make the wall secure. You shall dwell in peace by your well so long as you may live, and your children after you, if you will show me where this channel goes and keep the secret. Tis in my mind that it is best to keep it secret still."
The old woman looked up with bright inquiring eyes.
"See you," the knight went on, "if we dig a channel to let the waters run to the river by a shorter swifter way there will be no more trouble. I think that we will make an excuse of draining the marsh. Then if we can, when the underground way is no more the channel of the stream, we will wall it in to make a secret passage from the castle in time of need. You have kept the secret so long that I may trust it with you—and there will be no more talk of the powers of evil taking toll of my people."
Sir Walter rose and went his way, and in due time consulted with his head mason about the canal to the river. But Lady Philippa came and took both old Izan's work-hard hands in hers, and thanked her, with tears in her eyes. Thereafter no more masonry fell above the hidden waters, and the cottage by the Fairies' Well was left in peace.
LULLABY OF THE PICT MOTHER
Hush thee, my baby O! never thee cry, Cradled in wicker, safe nested so high. Never gray wolf nor green dragon come near,— Tree-folk in summer have nothing to fear.
Hee-o, wee-o, hear the wild bees hummin', See the blackcock by the burnie drummin',— Wattle-weaving sit we snug and couthie,— Hee-o, wee-o, birdling in our boothie!
Hush thee, my baby O! dark is the night— Cuddle by kiln-ring where fire burns bright. Trampling our turf-roof wild cattle we hear— Cave-folk in winter have nothing to fear.
Kling-klang, ding-dong, hear the hammers clinking— Stone pots, iron kettles, copper cups for drinkin'! Elf-shots for bowmen plough a mighty furrow— Hee-o, wee-o, foxling in our burrow!
Hush thee, my baby! The Beltane's aglow, Making the deasil the wiseacres go. Brewing our heather-wine, dancing in round— Earth-folk are we, by her spells are we bound.
Hee-o, wee-o, hear the pipes a-croonin', Like the dragon's beetle-wings a-droonin', Dyeea guard us from the Sword-man's quellin',— Hee-o, wee-o, bairnie in our dwellin'!
Hush thee, my baby O! hear the dogs bark, Herdin' the lammies home out o' the dark. Cradled and christened frae goblin's despite, House-folk we hear the kirk bells through the night.
Hee-o, wee-o! hear the cricket chirrin', Hear auld Bawthrens by the ingle purrin',— Christ us keep while daddie's gone a-huntin'! Hee-o, wee-o, bonnie Babie Buntin'!
The winds and the waters our Father shall praise, The birds, beasts and fishes shall tell o' His ways. By seashore and mountain, by forest and ling, O come all ye people, and praise ye our King!
THE WOLVES OF OSSORY
Philosophers generally incline to the opinion that the werewolf has no tail. Therefore, this being the sign—"
"Nennius positively states that in certain Irish families, the power to change at will into a wolf—"
"And who knows how numerous may be these abominable wizards?"
Padraig, the scribe, sat listening intently while the company around the guest-house fire discoursed in monk-Latin of werewolves in Ireland. "In saecula saeculorum"—"ab incunabilis horrendum"—"quocunque nomine notandum"—"coram diabolo"—the sonorous many-syllabled phrases clattered like the noise of rooks in treetops. It was January, the "wolf-month" of old English shepherds. Meadows ran floods of icy half-melted snow; mountain winds were screaming about the cloisters, and for two days travelers had been weather-bound at the Abbey.
Some time before, there had been rumors of wolves infesting the hills and displaying in their forays an all but human boldness and cunning. Then other tales began to be whispered. The peasantry huddled early about their turf-fires, and the shepherds of the Abbey sought counsel from their superior. They got small comfort from the Abbot, who curtly ordered them to attend to their duty and avoid vain babblings.
All the same, among the manuscript volumes in the nest-egg of a library the monks possessed, there were chronicles that mentioned the werewolf. Marie de France in her "Lays" included the Breton romance of Bisclaveret, the loup-garou. The nerves of the weaker ones began to play them tricks. It was less and less easy to keep unbroken the orderly round of monastic life.
This little religious community, toiling earnestly and faithfully under wise direction, might in time bring some comfort and prosperity into a desolate land. Ireland had once been known as the Isle of Saints. Now, despoiled by warring kings, pagan Danes and finally the Norman adventurers under Strongbow, the people were in some districts hardly more than heathen. This Abbey, set by Henry Plantagenet in a remote valley, was like a fort on the frontier of Christendom. The people were sullen, suspicious, ignorant, and piteously poor. To deal with them demanded all that a man had of courage, faith and wisdom. And now came these rumors of men-wolves.
When the floods had gone down and the guests departed, Brother Basil in the scriptorium found Padraig diligently at work on a new design for the border of the manuscript he was illuminating. The central figure was that of a wolf crouching under a thorn-bush to slip out of the shaggy skin which disguised his human form. Under his feet lay a child unconscious. At a distance could be seen the distracted mother, and other wolves pursued terrified people flying to shelter. Once, before he came to the Abbey, Padraig had been chased by wolves, and had spent the night in a tree. He drew his wolf with a lifelike accuracy, inspired by the memory of those long, cold hours under a winter moon.
Instead of pausing with a word of criticism or suggestion, as usual, Brother Basil took up the drawing and put it in his scrip. All that he said was, "Find another design, Padraig, my son."
To others Padraig might seem an unruly spirit, neither to command nor to coax, but the word of Brother Basil was his law and his gospel. He began to draw new figures on fresh parchment, but he could not quite put out of his mind the unlooked-for fate of his wolf. Current gossip often gave hints for the work of the illuminators, and he knew the work had been good.
It was plain enough that Brother Basil was in one of his absent-minded fits. There was no beguiling him into talk at such times. If any of those under his direction presumed upon his mood to do careless or ill-judged work, they found his eye as keen and his word as ready as usual. But his mind—his real self—was not there. Padraig wondered whether this could have any connection with the unlucky picture.
Next day there was deeper concern in the scriptorium. Brother Basil was not present at all. The work went on under Brother Mark, the librarian, but the heart of it was not the same. The untiring patience, brilliant imagination and high ideals of the man who was not only their master but their friend, had made him the soul of the little group of artists. He could not be away for a morning without every one feeling the difference. At times he had gone afield for a day or even longer, searching for balsams, pigments, minerals and other things needed for the work, but he had nearly always taken Padraig with him. This time he had gone alone.
Padraig was as curious as a squirrel and as determined as a mink, and he wished very much to know what this meant. He did not exactly believe the werewolf story, although it had so impressed him that he could not help making the picture; but he did not like to think of it in connection with the mysterious absence of Brother Basil. A priest of the Church might be able to defy a loup-garou, but if the wolves were real ones they might not know him from any ordinary man.
There is no land so full of fairy-lore and half-forgotten legends as Ireland. Princes in their painted halls and slaves in their mud cabins listened to the shanachies or wandering story-tellers, with wonder, terror and delight. Cluricaunes, banshees, giants, witches, monsters, pookas and the little red-capped people of the fairy rings, were known to the dwellers in many a wattled hut where Padraig had slept. Old people who spoke no language but their own luminous Irish winged his young imagination with tales far more marvelous than those of Nennius, the monk of Bangor.
Still, Padraig had never himself seen any of these extraordinary beings. He also suspected that Brother Basil would not vouch for the truth of everything in the Latin books he taught his pupils how to read.
Days passed, and Brother Basil had not returned. The uneasiness among the monks was growing. It was said that the Abbot himself was as much in the dark as they were. Padraig had just made up his mind that he could endure it no longer, when the Abbot sent for him.
It had been decided, Padraig learned, that he, as Brother Basil's wonted companion on such excursions, would have the best chance of finding him now. All that any one knew was that he had gone out of the great gate one morning early, and no one had seen him since.
"Nobody would," said Padraig, "if he went straight north into the hills. No one lives near the old road through the forest."
It was in that direction that all the wolf-tracks had led from the sheep- fold, and the country was a wilderness of marsh and mountain. The Abbot looked at the boy keenly, kindly.
"Are you willing to go alone?" he asked.
"It is the best way," Padraig replied quickly. "One can get on faster,— and there are not many here who can climb like him. I think he must have met with an accident far from any dwelling."
"He is well beloved by the people. If any one had found him we should have heard. And you have no fear?"
Padraig hesitated. "There are many frightful things in the world," he said slowly. "Long ago I knew that if I let myself fear, fear would be my master all the days of my life. But I am not like the others. I am his dog. I will find him if I live."
"Go, my son, and God be with you," said the Abbot solemnly. And Padraig went.
He took three days' provision in a leathern bag, and a pike such as the countrymen used, and headed straight toward the hills. He knew that copper was to be found in some parts of the range, but why Brother Basil should go there alone, particularly just at this time, Padraig could not see.
He trotted over the slopes of tilled land near the Abbey, forded the river, circled a pond, and crossed a bog by froglike leaps from hassock to hassock. In time he came to the base of a steep rocky height, almost a precipice. On the left was a black mud-hole; to the right were craggy masses of rock. A long slanting break in the cliff led upward to the left. He thrust his staff in this and began to climb.
Thus far there was no choice, for this was the only direction Brother Basil could have taken without some one having seen him on the way. From the height it might be possible to make observations.
Only a gossoon of the hills could have gone up the face of the rock as Padraig did, and he presently found himself on a ledge about twenty feet up, above the quagmire. It was less than a foot wide at first, but widened toward the left, and seedling trees had formed a growth which appeared to merge into the densely wooded hill beyond. He pushed his way along this insecure foothold until the trees began to thin as if there were an open space beyond. Then directly in front of him sounded the unmistakable snarl of a wolf.
There was no time to think. He braced himself against the cliff, and grasping his pike, awaited the assault of the beast. Either he or the wolf, or both together, would be tumbled into the slough. But there followed only a guttural word of command in Irish. Then a voice that he knew called, "Padraig, my son, is that you?"
Nothing in heaven or earth could have stopped Padraig then. He broke through the thicket into the clearing, and halted, breathless and amazed.
Brother Basil, unharmed and serene, sat upon a rude wooden bench at the entrance of a cave, and around him were gathered wolves and wolf-like human beings clad in wolf-pelts. One, who seemed the leader, stood erect, broad-shouldered and muscular, in a mantle made of the hide of a giant wolf, the head shaped into a helmet to be drawn mask-like down over the face. A fire smoldered in the cave's black throat, and meat—mutton-bones- -roasted on a sharpened stake thrust into a crevice of the rock. An old woman, wasted and wrinkled, wrapped in a yellow-gray wolfskin lined with lamb's wool, lay on a pile of leaves near the fire, and savage heads emerging from the undergrowth might have been those of wolves, or of men in the guise of wolves.
In the craziest legends of the chronicles there was no such scene as this. For one whirling moment Padraig believed everything he had heard or read of werewolf or of loup-garou. In the name of Saint Kevin, what could this be but the very lair of the beast? Yet Brother Basil showed neither fear nor aversion. Padraig knelt to kiss the outheld hand.
"Father," he faltered, "they sent me to find you."
"It is well that you have come," the monk answered with his untroubled smile, "you and no one else. I stumbled upon this place,—really stumbled, for a stone rolled under my foot,—and here I had to stay until this troublesome lame knee would permit me to walk."
"That is not the whole of it," growled the leader of the wolf-people. "Our dogs winded him, and had he been like any other monk who ever told beads he would have been pulled down. But he spoke to them in our own tongue, and my mother, hearing his voice, would have him come to her, for she had seen no priest for many years. When he heard our story he said that he would be our friend. And so he would, I believe, had we been what the foolish have thought us."
"Then," stammered Padraig, "it is not true that—that—"
"That the loup-garou is abroad in the land?" finished Brother Basil with delicate scorn. "No. Wolves are wolves, and men are men,—and some men are thieves."
"He means," snapped the wolf-man, "that one of your own stewards opened the gates to us, using our tracks to hide his own."
Padraig grinned knowingly. "Simon," he said. "Simon."
"Even so," said Brother Basil.
"He was very zealous about those wolves," said Padraig, reflectively, "especially about using spiritual weapons and not slings and spears against them. But how—"
"It was the thieving of young lambs of the choicest breed that set the shepherds to thinking there must be more than wolves abroad," the wolf- leader went on. "But for your Simon, with his long tongue, they might have driven us away, for Abbot Cuthbert is no coward, nor has he patience with cowards. But Simon came upon us one night, when we had broken into the sheep-fold and were making off, and he was not too frightened to choose for himself out of what was left. Then when we came again he gave us the meat we came for, taking certain fine fleeces and lambskins for himself. We stole as the wild creatures do, for food; we have no use for parchments or carded wool. We killed as they kill, to fend off our enemies. The Danish sea-wolves and the armored wild beasts of Strongbow and de Lacy hunted us as if we were wolves indeed. What could we do but hunt as the wolves hunt, snatch our meat where we could, hide like foxes in the holes of the mountain, make ourselves dreaded that we might live, and not die? The Normans brought to Dermot MacMurragh two hundred heads of the men of Ossory for his delight. All my mother's children were killed by them save only myself. Well for you that you are no Norman, young clerk with the red head, or not the word of a hundred priests had saved you."
"And sooner or later the Norman cross-bows would find you, even as they search out hart or heron," interposed Brother Basil sternly. "I have warned you, Ruric, that this harrying and plundering must cease. Turn from your wickedness and bear yourselves hereafter as Christian men, and your souls shall live. And because ye were sorely tried, with God's help a way may he opened for you to escape your enemies.
"Padraig, you see here a remnant of the men of Ossory, whom the Normans drove into the inhospitable haunts of the forest. The quarry of that evil hunting ran wild like the dogs who followed their masters. As the country grew more settled, these half-bred wolf-hounds found out the sheepfolds, and led their masters to the spoil."
"Even a Norman gives the road to the werewolf," said the Ossorian with a harsh laugh. "The mercy they deny to man or wolf, they granted us when they thought us neither man nor wolf. Aye, we chased them roaring to the very gates of their castles. Had our own people known the truth some of them might have betrayed us, being very poor. Therefore, we made it easiest for them to keep within doors after nightfall, and in this the priests and monks were of great help. Until you, Father, came to seek us out, believing that God had thought even for a man who had lost his human birthright, none hunted or hindered us. We were the masters, being without hope and without fear of God or man."
"Peace, my son," said Brother Basil gently. "Padraig, you will go to the Abbot and tell him what you have seen, and ask him of his charity to reveal nothing until I return. I would send him a letter, had I not lost my scrip with my tablets in my encounter with the dogs. Things being as they were, it would not have been safe to send any of Ruric's folk with a message."
"No,—not with Simon watching the gate," agreed Padraig, cheerfully. "I wonder does he know how many lies he has told in this matter?"
"He will have enough to do in accounting to the Abbot for those that are known," said Brother Basil with a certain edge to his voice that Padraig knew well. "I think, however, that he really believes he has had dealings with the werewolf. There are men who would run, shaking with terror, to pledge their souls to the foul fiend if they saw their profit in it. If he knew the truth he could sell his knowledge easily, and I am not disposed to undeceive him now. Since Ruric gave me his promise to end this evil I have thought much of the matter, and I believe that the Abbot will approve my plan. Let him send men with a hurdle to the foot of the cliff to- morrow. No one need be told more than that I am lame through an accident."
"Some of them will look foolish when they hear that," Padraig observed with satisfaction. "I grieve for your lameness, Father, and yet I could leap and sing all the way home for joy that it is not as we feared."
"There would be naught to laugh at if any other man had found us out, I warrant you," Ruric said gruffly. "The Father won my promise from me by his gentle and comforting words to my old mother in her distress, for she feared to die, knowing how we had lived. I had not thought there could be such fearless faith and kindness in any man. Say to your Abbot moreover that if he, or you, or any of your folk play us false they will find that a werewolf can hunt down anything that runs."
"If I deceived ye," Padraig answered gravely, "I would throw myself straightway into the river to cheat your vengeance." As he tightened the straps of his sandals he looked once more at the strange and savage assembly. There were some thirty men and women and several half-grown youngsters, garbed in wolfskins so shaped as to leave them free to run or climb. Shoes were skilfully fashioned like a great wolf-paw; skins were joined so cunningly that when the wearer loped along a hillside in the chill pale gold of the winter sunset, or skulked among the shadows of summer woods, any one would swear that what he saw was a lurking wolf. The wolf-mask with its long muzzle and furry ears concealed the face, the unshorn beards and hair mingled with the shaggy shoulder-fur of the tunics. A shepherd looking for missing lambs would find only wolf-tracks to guide him. Traps had been sprung or smashed, storehouses rifled, watchdogs killed. Even the hard-headed and harder-hearted Norman huntsmen turned back one day, when they discovered their hounds baying at the foot of a tree.
Padraig knew all about the slaughter done by Dermot MacMurragh and his Norman allies, up and down Ossory. Fierce in their despair, vengeful in their cunning, these refugees had run wild like their dogs. The huge untamed brutes were stronger than collies and wiser than wolves, and nothing could have kept them from raiding any sheepfold that they scented.
The Abbot heard Padraig's story through without comment, his eyes blazing under their shaggy brows. If any one but Brother Basil had asked him to stay his hand, he would not have given two thoughts to it, but it was Brother Basil, and the matter must be considered.
"These men," he said grimly, "are outlaws, red-handed robbers. They have broken the law of God and man. They deserve justice, not mercy."
"If they can be caught," ventured Padraig.
"You think they cannot be taken?"
Padraig shook his head. "I stood as near them as I am to you, and I did not see them until they wished to be seen. They run like foxes and climb like cats. They will be killed or kill themselves, every man and woman of them, rather than be taken. Were it not better they should live like christened souls than be hunted like beasts?"
The Abbot rose and began to pace the floor. "Go, my son," he said not unkindly, "and send Simon, the steward, to me."
But Simon was not to be found. Brother Mark, the librarian, being of a distrustful disposition, had been asking many questions of late regarding the parchments prepared for the scriptorium. Simon had perhaps taken fright. He had not returned, in any case, from the nearest market-town, whither he had gone that morning. When it was found that everything upon which he could lay his hands had gone with him, some of the brethren were inclined to think the whole werewolf panic an invention of the steward's to hide his thieving. Padraig went to the foot of the cliff, accompanied by two men with a hurdle, and found Brother Basil safe and in good spirits, but neither wolf, wolfling nor wolf-man was to be seen. Not so much as the sound of a wolf's howling was heard about the sheep-folds, and shepherds and sheep-dogs tended the lambs that spring undisturbed. There were those who said that the werewolves had been driven away by the prayers of Brother Basil when he visited the forest. After awhile a legend grew up and was told to the Welsh clerk Giraldus, about a werewolf who met a priest in the forest and begged him to give Christian aid and comfort to his dying mate. The story goes that the priest remained all night conversing with the unfortunate man, who behaved rather as a man than as a wolf.
When spring stirred the travel on the Irish roads a party of forest folk appeared one day at the Abbey and asked for baptism. Their children had, it appeared, grown up in the wilderness without knowledge of religion. Such things were not unheard of in those days, and after baptism the party went down to the seaport and took ship for England, where they lived for some years in the service of a Norman knight, Hugh l'Estrange. When finally a sort of peace was patched up in Ireland between the Normans and the Irish chiefs, Ruric and his folk returned. But no more was heard of the wolves of Ossory.
ST. HUGH AND THE BIRDS
When good Saint Hugh of Lincoln Was a boy in Avalon, He knew the birds and their houses And loved them every one, Merle and mavis and grosbeak, Gay goshawk, and even the wren,— When he took Saint Benedict's service It wasn't the least different then! "They taught me to sing to my Lord," quo' he, "And to dig for my food i' the mould And whithersoever my wits might flee, To come in out o' the cold."
When wise Saint Hugh of Lincoln Was a bishop wi' crosier tall, A wild swan flew from the marshes Over the cloister wall, Crooked its neck to be fondled— Giles, that was vain of his wit, Said, "Here is a half-made Bishop!" —But the Saint never smiled a bit! "My swan will fight for his lord," quo' he, "And remember what he has heard. He flies to my gatepost and waits for me— My friends, make a friend of the bird!"
THE ROAD OF THE WILD SWAN
"Four larders God gave man, four shall there ever be— The mountain, the valley, the marsh, and the sea."
Roger hummed the old rhyme absent-mindedly and then took to whistling the air, while his small strong fingers pulled and knotted at the hawk's lure he was making. Just now the training of young falcons was absorbing all of his leisure time. The falconer, Marcel, had showed him how to make the lure, which was shaped something like a pair of wings made of quilted leather and thickly fledged with the wing-feathers of game-birds. When the falconer, who carried it fastened to his wrist by a long cord, gave it a peculiar toss in the air, it looked very like a flying bird. He did this, giving at the same time a certain call, when he wished to bring back the hawk or falcon after flight.
This particular lure was intended for the education of a young merlin of great beauty and promise, destined for Eleanor's use. The merlin was a type of falcon well adapted to a lady's purpose, and hawking parties were common among the Norman-English families of the neighborhood—often including dames and demoiselles who flew their own falcons. Roger was rather proud of the fact that Eleanor could ride as well almost as he could, and was quite as fearless. The bright-eyed sleek-plumaged Mabonde had been her pet for weeks, and would already answer her call and eat from her hand. The little round bells of silver, the jesses and hood of Spanish leather, for the falcon's hunting-gear (Sir Walter's gift) were laid away in Eleanor's own coffret. She looked forward happily to riding forth some day with the falcon perched on her small gloved fist, alert for flight.
"Roger," she said, frowning a little in her puzzle, "that song is true enough, about the mountains and the valleys and the sea—the river, that is,—but what do we get out of the marsh? You can't even go in there with a boat."
Roger sloped whistling and gave the matter thought. "We get something out of it when we go hawking," he decided. "Herons and swans and ducks and wild geese,—widgeon,—all sorts of water-birds nest there. Maybe there used to be other game—when they made the song."
Most of Sir Walter's domain was fertile valley, dense forest or barren moorland, but there was an area of marsh whose usefulness was not yet clear. A swampy shallow strip was thick with osiers from the blown catkins of the pollard willows; reeds grew thick as wheat and higher than a man's head—if any man could have walked on the black oozy quagmire; and as Roger had said, the water-fowl, secure from dogs or bowmen, were nested in that wet paradise by scores. There was a heronry among the trees on the edge of it, but otherwise the marsh was not used save as a storehouse for the basket-makers. They made paniers, hampers, mews or wicker cages in which the hunting birds were kept when moulting, and even small boats from the osiers and reeds. But the greater part of the swamp was impassable to a boat and too insecure for foot-travel. In very rainy weather any one looking down upon it from a height could see that there was a sort of islet in the middle, but no one could have reached it with a boat unless in flood-time; and in very dry weather, when some of the ridges lay uncovered, the water-channels became thick black mud.
Nothing in all this, however, gave serious cause for uneasiness. A natural preserve for game-birds was a good thing to have. Forty or fifty varieties of water-fowl were found on Norman tables at one time or another. The objection to that marsh was that it was too convenient a refuge for runaways.
The serfs upon the land were not slaves, in the sense of being bought and sold like cattle. They belonged with the land. A nobleman who became owner of an estate took over with it the right to the obedience and service of its people. When he had a proper sense of his own obligations there was very little trouble, as a rule. If the shock-haired peasants toiled and sweated over the building of a castle, their own thatched cottages were so much the safer from invading enemies. If they paid rent in grain, cattle and fowls they shared in the feasting and gayety on any great occasion. The castle, with its large household and numerous guests, was a market for the neighborhood. It gave the people a chance of winning a better living than the stubborn soil alone would yield. Children growing up knew that if a boy could ride or fight or do any sort of work especially well, his lord would have use for him; if a girl could spin, weave, sew or had a knack with poultry, her lady would have a place for her. The country folk hereabouts had grown proud of belonging to the Giffard lands.
There were exceptions. One was Tammuz at the Ford. He and his black-a- vised kinfolk had little to do with the villagers, and the village had even less to do with them. It was said that they occasionally helped themselves to a sucking-pig, a fowl, or other produce, and if punishment was attempted, were none too good to burn ricks and maim cattle. It was said also that they had a hiding place in the swamp.
If the marsh became a den of runaway serfs it would not be well for the peace of the neighborhood. Sir Walter Giffard's patience was growing short. He thought of draining the marsh if possible, when the reeds could be burned and the land reclaimed.
In this way many a fenny district of England had been made into fat meadow-land by patient and efficient monks. The knight was glad to encounter one day in a neighboring castle a Carthusian prior whom he had once known in Normandy,—Hugh of Avalon. He invited this churchman to visit him and discuss this and more important matters. It so happened that soon after his arrival Marcel the falconer, Eleanor and Roger, and the squires, Ralph Courtenay and John Lake, were going to try the young falcons on the border of the marsh. There was nothing strange in Sir Walter Giffard suggesting that he and Prior Hugh ride along with the party, for hawking was a sport considered very suitable for churchmen. But on the way to the marsh the knight and the Prior paid little attention to the diversion of falconry. They were deep in consideration of the best way to drain the swamp and deal with it generally.
Eleanor's heart beat fast as they neared the heronry. It was not a heron, however, which claimed the maiden flight of Mabonde. It was a woodcock flushed in the edge of a copse. Instantly Roger unhooded the cherished hunting-bird, Eleanor gave her a toss into the air, and both sat their horses, eagerly watching her flight. Aloft she soared, the little bells singing like fairy chimes—then dropped like a plummet. There was a ripple in the undergrowth where she pounced, she was recalled to her perch, and presently Marcel, smiling broadly, came up with the woodcock, its gray- brown feathers hardly even ruffled, though it was quite dead.
Then Eleanor remembered something. "Oh!" she said pitifully. "O-h!"
She was recalling a summer day when she and Roger had startled a mother and her chicks from their nest of dead leaves among the grass, the cleverness with which the tiny balls of fluff had matched themselves with the foliage and the utter audacity of the mother bird as she carried them off one by one to safety, under the very eyes of her giant foes. And now she was setting Mabonde to kill those dainty chicks for her own pleasure!
Roger had gone off with the squires after a tercel of which great things were expected, but Sir Walter Giffard, coming up just then, caught sight of his daughter's woe-begone face. "What is the matter, my little maid?" he asked.
"Nothing," Eleanor answered, swallowing with some difficulty and winking very fast, "but—I—don't think I care to hunt any more to-day, father. Will you please take Mabonde?"
The knight's eyebrows lifted rather quizzically, but he did not question this sudden decision. "Ride with me instead, daughter," he said kindly, and Eleanor, very subdued and thoughtful, paced along by her father's side.
On the edge of the fen a cottager came out to beg audience of the knight, and the Prior began talking with Eleanor about the birds of that region. She found that he knew them both by their French and English names, and seemed to love them well. He told her that in the Carthusian monastery he lived, as did the other monks, in a little cell opening on a narrow garden-plot. In this garden he toiled during certain hours each day, tending the pulse, kale, and herbs which made a great part of his food. One evening a little bird came to share his simple supper, and returned each day. He fed her, and she earned her food by keeping his garden clear of grubs, worms and insects. Then for a long time she did not appear. He feared she had been killed, but at last she came proudly back with three nestlings just able to fly. This monk had always from his boyhood had bird-companions. The latest was a wild swan that came out of the marshes to follow him about. When he went away the swan would disappear in the marsh, but watched for his return and was always there to welcome him.
"Sometimes I think," he added, half to Eleanor and half to her father, "that there are people like that in this ancient stubbed land—men like the bittern and the eagle, who will not be tamed. They come to you sometimes, but they will not be driven."
"I see," said the knight thoughtfully. "But what of a man who will take a gift with one hand and thieve with the other?"
"Some men," said Hugh of Avalon, "are your friends because you have done them service, but now and then one is bound to you by service he has done you—and that is the stronger tie. My swan would not love me as he does if he came only to be fed."
The cottager had been complaining that Tammuz and his tribe had been destroying his crops, and wished them punished. The knight had ridden over to see, and came back doubtful. He said to the cottager that it did not seem to him like the work of a spiteful neighbor. Was it not possible that some four-footed creature had ravaged the crops? The cottager did not believe that it was. He was sure it was Tammuz. Neither knew that a lean black-haired peasant, lying along close to the limb of a great beech tree, had heard every word of the conversation and also witnessed the little scene with the falcon.
The marsh was very dry, and Sir Walter had a mind to ride into it a little way and see how far one could really go. If wild hogs were rooting about the place it would be well to know it. Bidding Eleanor wait for him in the tiny clearing, he and the Prior pushed their horses in among the reeds where a ridge offered a fair foothold. Marcel, the squires and Roger were not far off, having great sport.
Roger was rather disappointed in Eleanor. If she objected to killing things, why had she been so happy to come, and so fond of her falcon? The truth was that Eleanor had never thought of Mabonde as a cruel bird. It was the nature of a falcon to kill its own food. The spice of danger in the keen talons and fierce beak made her pet even a little more fascinating. But it seemed different, somehow, when she herself sent the merlin forth to kill. As she sat waiting for her father, she felt that never again would she wish to fly falcon at quarry.
There was a grunting and squealing, a rustle and crash in the tangled undergrowth of the bog, and an immense black boar stumbled out into the open and charged straight at Eleanor's horse. The startled animal reared and sprang, Marcel and the squires spurred in toward the clearing and checked the great brute on that side, and Eleanor had all she could do to avoid being thrown directly into the path of the furious beast. It seemed incredible that anything so heavy on such short legs and small hoofs could move so quickly. The wild boar's tusks, several inches long and sharp as razors through constant tearing and whetting, slashed viciously at the terrified horse, and in that cramped space his rage was as deadly as a lion's. Then a roughly-clad, wild-looking peasant dropped from a limb on the very back of the creature and sunk his knife to the hilt in its thick bristling neck. With a snort it bolted into the marsh, just as Sir Walter and the Prior came out a little distance away and the falconer and the squires came up on the other side. The peasant, who had swung himself up into another tree, slid to earth and stood staring sulkily, as if half minded to follow his late adversary to cover.
The knight and the Prior were pale as ghosts, Marcel was shaking from head to foot, and the lads gazed at Eleanor as if she had come back from the dead. She almost had. It was an exceedingly narrow escape. Any one but a very good rider must have been thrown. The wicked tusks of the wild boar will easily kill a strong hunting-dog, and the tough, hard hide was almost like armor. Rarely did a boar-hunt end without the killing of at least one dog and the wounding of a hunter. If there had been the slightest reason to think that such danger lurked in the swamp, the knight would never have left Eleanor where he did. But the herd of wild hogs had evidently been living on the high ground in the middle, and not come out until this drought gave them foothold.
Sir Walter beckoned to Tammuz, and the man came like a half-tamed dog, eyeing his lord warily. "You have given me more than mine own life this day, Tammuz of the Ford," he said a trifle unsteadily. "Kneel." And then and there Tammuz received his freedom and a hide of land for his own and his children's after him.
In the following months many hidden things came to light. Tammuz and his people had enjoyed many a good meal of the flesh of the wild hog, which is better than that of common swine. They had not encouraged strangers to come about, partly from a natural dislike to company and partly because they did not wish to be held responsible for anything that might happen. A boar-hunt, even with the big powerful mastiffs and the best of steel spears, was dangerous enough to be called the sport of kings, and it was only through long practice and unusual strength and agility that the marshmen had been able to kill any of the herd at all.
The first time that Tammuz ever entered the castle was on the night of the grand boar-hunt after the marsh was drained, when Sir John Courtenay, Sir Guilhem de Grantmesnil, Sir Yves de Vescey, and King Henry himself with several of his courtiers, went forth to slay the monster of the marsh, and the head of the three-hundred-pound brute was borne in triumph into the hall. The second time was on a dark night a little later, when he slipped in at the gate, no one knew how, and asked to see Sir Walter Giffard.
It was a serious tale he had to tell. The Welsh were on their way to invade England, knowing that the King was between Shrewsbury and Chester and had no very great force with him. Tammuz was among the disaffected peasants who had been relied upon to aid the enemy. But for a long time now he had had growing doubts about lending his aid to such work. He was neither blind nor foolish, and he could not help seeing that the people of the farms and hamlets dwelt in greater security and comfort than they ever had before that he could remember. He was well aware also that if the Welsh crossed the border the lords of the frontier castles would suffer, whoever else did or did not. When Tammuz thought of the brave and spirited little maiden who had had pity on the woodcock her falcon killed, and her gracious mother who had nursed sick children and heard the troubles of the poor, ever since she came to that rude land, he did not like to think of the torch and the pike of the half-barbaric Welsh let loose upon the valley. Therefore he had finally made up his mind to come and warn his lord of the peril in good season.
The knight wasted no time. He sent swift messengers to rouse the neighboring castles, armed guards turned out to patrol the marches, another messenger rode eastward to call the King and his troops to the threatened border. Moreover, the Norman lords did not wait for invasion; they made the first move themselves. They had no mind to risk their people and their homes if the thing could be avoided. Thanks to Tammuz, they knew in what direction the enemy might be expected, and some of the Welsh chiefs, seeing what was afoot, refused to join in the war at all.
The actual trial of strength took place on bare moorland some ten miles from the castle of the Giffards. From the battlements it was possible to see in a very distant way what went on. Lady Philippa, Eleanor and Roger stood together at a high window, and saw morions glitter in the sun, lances ranged like an orderly mass of reeds, and at last the King's banner dipping and lifting over the uneven ground as his reenforcements rode up. Then far through the fine cold air came trumpet-calls, and the enemy emerged from their cover in the woods. In comparison with the disciplined and controlled forces of the English, they seemed a motley rabble. Moreover, the Norman crossbowmen and the English archers with their long bows had the pike-bearing Welsh at a terrible disadvantage. This Roger explained, hopping with excitement, for he was full of information gathered from Ralph the bowyer, his firm friend.
The battle was a brief one. Before sunset Sir Walter Giffard and his men came riding home to tell of a speedy and easy victory.
"'Tis all the better," said the knight, as Lady Philippa helped him remove his armor. "There is no use in chasing these half-wild chiefs through their forests. Some day perhaps they will come to us of their own accord. They know now that it is hopeless to attempt to beat us back from our own frontier, and I think they will not readily try it again. There is wisdom in Hugh of Avalon. As he says,—the truest service ever comes by the road of the wild swan."
Straight stood we with our brethren in the wood— High-crested, strong, and proud, Fearing no fury of the threatening storm— Our chanting voices loud Rose to the mighty bourdon of the gale, The yelling tempest or the raging sea, Chanting and prophesying of great days In centuries yet to be.
The falcon flying down the windy sky, The swallow poised and darting in the sun, The guillemot beating seaward through the mist— We knew them every one, And heard from them of trumpets wakening war, Of steadfast beams that roofed our people warm, Of ships that blindfold through uncharted seas Triumphant rode the storm.
Now come we to the battle of our dreams,— The trumpets neigh, the ranks are closing fast In that stern silence that men keep who know This hour may be their last— That they, like us, may riven and useless lie Ere once again the bright steel greets the sun. This only pray we—that we may not die Until our work be done.
THE SWORD OF DAMASCUS
Dickon the smith stood under the great oak tree that sheltered the forge, weary and sick at heart. There was no better man of his inches in all Sussex, but the world is not always good to see, even at nineteen. Dickon's world had been empty ever since the departure of Audrey of the Borstall Farm, cousin to Edwitha, the wife of his friend Wilfrid the Potter.
Audrey had made one brief visit to her old home since she had gone to be a maid to Lady Adelicia Giffard, and in that time not only Dickon but other youths of the neighborhood had found her comely. Tall and straight and lissome, with the blue eyes and yellow hair of her people, white as milk and fair as a wild rose, she was a girl to be remembered—Audrey. But she cared for none of them and went back to Winchester with her lady. Since that time Sussex had been no home for Dickon.
He had learned all that any smith of those parts could teach him and all that he could teach himself, or he might have set his mind to his work. To Dickon work was more than bread and meat; it was the heart of life. Now his unquiet mind returned to an old ambition of his, to be a master armorer. This desire dated from a day in his early teens, when in his father's absence a Templar stopped to have his horse shod. Dickon could shoe horses as well as anybody. But when the knight wished a bit of repairing done on his helmet it was beyond the lad's knowledge, and the work had to wait until old Adam Smith came back from Lewes.
Meanwhile Dickon had eyed with a great fascination the Templar's sword, a magnificent piece of steel-work, blade and scabbard ornamented with curious inlay-work of gold. He dared not ask about it even if he could have made his question understood. The knight spoke only Norman and a little mixed French and English, and Dickon knew scarcely a word of any language but Saxon. When his father had come home and the knight had gone on his way, Dickon asked eager questions.
"'Tis a sword of Damascus," the old smith said shortly. "Belike he got it where he's been—in the Holy Land."
"Is't holy work then?" The boy knew as much of Palestine as he did of the planet Mars, the folk of his acquaintance being little given to pilgrimage.
Adam Smith snorted. "Nay, 'tis paynim work. Damascus is a heathen city. I mind somebody telling me that the only man that could forge that steel had been carried off to another country, so that no more of it could be made. They have a won'erful knowledge of metal-work, those infidels."
"Belike Satan taught 'em," grunted Wat of the Weald. "I don't hold wi' such trickery myself."
Adam straightened his back and shook his white head. "Satan never did work as good as yon sword," he chuckled. "'Tis a joy to the touch. Nay, lad, Satan teaches men to be idle—that's his cunning."
Dickon grinned, for Wat was never known to work save when driven, and like many others of his temper, looked at all devices for the increase of output with disfavor. Evidently there was no light on the subject of Damascus blades to be gained here, but the boy never forgot the look of that sword.
As he grew up he saw and heard other things which fitted in with the memory—Toledo blades that were said to be Moorish work, damascened and jeweled daggers, now and then a piece of splendid armor worn in tournaments where royalty itself looked on—Milanese and Spanish work rich with gold. But always the keenest edge and finest steel came of that mysterious heathen forging. Now, thinking of Audrey out in the great world, he determined to see that world for himself and find out whether he, a common smith's son, had any chance of learning the secrets of the Armorer's Guild.
Winchester was a greater city than he had any idea it would be, but he found his way to the house of Lady Adelicia only to learn that she had gone to Normandy, taking with her some of her household. Audrey, her own waiting-woman, had gone with her. Dickon went down to Southampton and took passage to Calais. He had not much money, but a smith as good as he was could get a living almost anywhere. There were plenty of English in Normandy, for both that province and Aquitaine were fiefs held by the King of England as a vassal of the King of France. It was often said that the vassal in this case held more land than his lord.
Without much trouble Dickon found the Norman castle he sought, but to his dismay, the lady was just about to set out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Sir Stephen Giffard, her husband, had been fighting against the Moors in Spain, and she feared that he was dead. She had decided upon this pilgrimage in the hope that her prayers and offerings at the shrine of Our Lady might avail to bring her husband back to her.
The Sussex youth used all his powers of language, which were limited, and all his strength of will, which was great, in trying to induce Audrey to leave service and go home to her people. Audrey was quiet, but she was as set as Blackcap Down.
"'Tis not my own fancy, Dickon," she pleaded at last, her blue eyes dim with tears. "I ha' no love for strange lands,—nor strange folk neither. But my lady has been ever kind to me, and she is in great trouble. If she fall ill on the journey there is none but me that knows her ways. I should ha' no peace if I left her in strange hands. 'Tis my duty, Dickon. There's no two ways of duty for any christened soul."
Dickon grew bolder at the sight of those tears. "Audrey," he said, "when you come back, and your lady is among her own folk again—then will you break the silver penny with me?"
"Oh," said Audrey shyly and quickly, her eyes downcast, "I'll do that now, if ye like,—Dickon, lad."
So they broke the coin and each kept half, and said farewell, she for the sake of her duty and he for the sake of his own honor, which was bound up with hers. But after she had gone away he was troubled by many doubts whether he should not have held on, and made her come with him in spite of herself.
Meanwhile he had no mind to return to England, and found work where he was. The little shop of Gaston of Abbeville would have interested any lad in love with the armorer's trade, and it had more attraction for Dickon than anything else he had found in that place. Wedged in, like a nutshell in the jaws of a nutcracker, between a round tower built by Rollo's men and the far older wall of a Roman basilica, it was partly built of Norman stone-work and partly of oak. Set close to the old Roman road through Gaul, it was in view of any knight or squire or man-at-arms who went by, and it was so arranged that all the contents could be seen at a glance.
The heavy and bulky forge and tools of an English smithy were not to be seen. Since horses were not shod there, little room was needed, and the armorer could lay his hand on any tool he needed without taking more than a step or two. Hammer, tongs, bellows and other belongings not at the moment in use were hung tidily on the walls. Some of these were most skillfully shaped to their use, and also ornamented with carving on the handles. The carving was not only decorative but was so designed as to give a firmer hold to the hand.
Along the upper part of the rear wall and the end wall on the right, supported on corbels of stone, was a narrow gallery, built of oak, the front carved in a series of open interlacing arches. Inside this were suits of costly armor, and weapons of especial value, which the armorer kept for sale. A flight of steps closed in by a paneled oaken partition descended from this gallery to the ground, and on each step was the straight demure figure of a carved saint in a pointed arch like a shrine. At the foot the stairway was closed by a door of seasoned oak reenforced by wrought iron hinges extending almost across its width. When this door was fastened the treasures in the gallery were safe from thieves. A little wall-shrine of carved, painted and gilded wood, on the opposite wall, held a statuette of Saint Eloi, the patron of metal-workers. In short, the shop, though small, had been made beautiful with the care of one who loved and reverenced his work.
When Dickon halted there at the close of a dusty summer day Gaston was engaged in some work for a knight of Saint John, which must be done that night and needed four hands in place of two. The armorer was doing it all himself, with the skill of a master-workman, but using much picturesque French language to relieve his mind.
It did not take a minute after Dickon got a hammer in his hand, for Gaston's frown to change to a broad and satisfied smile. Here was a helper after his own ideas—strong, deft, and no talker. Like many men who love talk for its own sake the master was not fond of chatterboxes. The job was finished in good and workmanlike fashion, and Gaston, who knew some English, went on talking while he attended to other odd matters and waited for his customer.
"If you want to see the world—this is your place. . . . There's not much that goes along this road that doesn't come to Gaston of Abbeville some day. . . . Damaskeening? You'll see as much damaskeened work here as you could in Damascus. . . . Look here, my lad, if you're in want of work, stay with me till snowfall and see the pilgrims, and the knights, and the bowmen, and the free companions with their plunder, go by to the sea. Then ye may go on to Damascus if you're still set on the place, with some hope of not losing your way."
This seemed to Dickon a rather good idea. In his brief sojourn in Abbeville he had come to see the difficulty of travel in a land where no one understands your questions.
It was as Gaston said. People of all races, kinds and conditions traveled the highway that ran past the armorers' shop. Once Guy Bouverel, whom Dickon had met once or twice at Wilfrid's house, gave him surprised and pleased greeting. A little later came Padraig, the Irish clerk, on his way to Rouen. Padraig somehow learned about Audrey in the few hours he spent there.
"I thought 'twas more than hammer and tongs that took you out of Sussex," he said. "I wish ye luck, but there's no knowing, Dickon, what they will do when they are seized with this pilgrimage fever."
"'Tis not the lass, 'tis her lady," Dickon muttered, his head in his hands. "And the worst o't is that I can do nothing but think of her away there among the paynim. A fine lady's train has no call for such as me."
Padraig's brows lifted in humorous but sympathetic understanding. "I see," he said. "I'll tell the maid, if I see her, that she'll find none so well worth her while among Saracens—or pilgrims either."
There was a great jousting at Crecy a little later, and Gaston went there to deal with certain knights and princes among the tilters, and left the shop in Dickon's charge. Restless with the magic of a summer night after he had barred the little place, he wandered away over the white ancient road. He lay down on a grassy bank, where boughs laden with drifting blossoms hung over an orchard wall, and looked up at the stars, thinking.
"'Tes like what they tell of the Saracens' magic," he said half aloud, "this that makes a man do what's clean against his own will."
"Hammer not cold iron, friend," said a deep voice near by. "Saracen magic is naught save the wisdom of necessity, and that we all learn in our time."
Dickon looked up at a tall man in a traveler's cloak, who had come through the gate in the wall just then. The upper part of the face was hidden by the hood, but the mouth wore a quiet smile. The voice was that of a knight, and Dickon got to his feet and bowed. "I know not what you were thinking of when you spoke of Saracen magic," the stranger went on, "but I would I could find an armorer for a bit of work on my dagger. 'Tis a Damascus blade, but there's no gramarye in it, I promise you."
This was something to do at any rate. "An't please you, my lord," Dickon said quickly, "I am journeyman to Gaston of Abbeville, who is counted the best armorer in these parts. I may be able for the work if 'tis not too skillful."
"I could do it myself," the knight said carelessly, "if I had but the fire and tools. I came but an hour ago, and I must go on to-morrow."
The two went back to the shop, and the fire was kindled, a torch was set in a wrought-iron wall-cresset, and the work begun. Dickon saw with surprise that the knight himself had no small knowledge of the craft of the armorer.
The dagger was of the finest Saracen steel work, the haft inlaid with gold. Inside it the knight wished to conceal some jewels of no very great value, in a hollow made for the purpose and opened by twisting a round boss on the hilt. This was often done by travelers, since a man's dagger was his companion day and night, and in case of disaster he might thus have at hand the means to pay his way.
"That blade," the knight observed, trying its edge, "was the gift of a Saracen emir I made friends with beyond Damascus. Nay, look not so amazed, lad. They are no more wizards than you or I."
He must have divined the questions trembling on Dickon's lips, for when the work was done he still sat in the doorway and seemed in no haste to go. The white moon flooded the place and with the glow of the brazier made curious blended lights and shadows. The knight had thrown aside his cloak, and showed himself bronzed, keen-faced and active, like one who had done his part both in council-hall and camp. "It is like this," he went on, clasping his knee with brown strong hands. "This Christendom of ours is all ringed round with heathenesse—Moors, Danes, Bulgars, Arabs, Turks— peoples white, brown, black, but caring naught for those things which are dear and precious to Christian men and women. I have been where the beacons flashed from hill to hill along the shore of Britain to warn the villages of Danish pirates. I have seen the Moors from Barbary come swarming over the borders of Granada and Andalusia until the Christians were all but driven back into the mountains. Our faith is not their faith, our oaths are not their oaths, nor our ways their ways.
"Now the paynim of the desert live not in towns and cities as we do, but in tents. The wealth of a chief is in his flocks and herds,—sheep and goats, camels, the swift desert horses. The wealth of a sultan is in the lances he can call to his banner in time of war, under their own leaders. There is only one war-cry that makes one host of them all, and that is 'Allah-hu!' Saladin might promise ten times over, and thousands of his subjects would never know it or be bound by it. And what can you do when a promise is of no value?
"It is the same with the heathen who come raiding over the North Sea. They plunder and pillage as they list, whether it be palace, abbey or nunnery that lies in their way. Honor has no meaning to those who prey on the helpless."
"My lord," said Dickon hesitatingly, "you mean that—that—honor is for all men—though they take no vows?"
The stranger's voice rang like steel on steel. "Honor is for all true men- -and women—king or knight, merchant or peasant, bond or free. A slave may be loyal to his master—the master must keep faith with the slave. Christ died for all—for their souls, not their houses of stone or brick or timber. Do you think, if He were on earth now, He would choose to be served only by those of gentle blood?"
This was a new thought to Dickon, though he had always known the stories of the healing of the blind and the leprous, and the birth at Bethlehem. The knight went on, rising and taking up his cloak, "As for the magic you have heard of, it is nothing but the practice of centuries. The desert chiefs, from whom the Moslems are mostly descended, are ever wandering from place to place, where their beasts can find grazing. Hence all their wealth must be carried on pack saddles. They can make with their many- colored shawls and rugs a palace out of a tent pitched for the night. They work leather, iron, brass, because this can be done without long stay in any one place. And when a people can have but few luxuries they grow very skillful in the making of those few. They carry their wisdom in such matters, as they do their wealth, wherever they go, and hand it down from father to son. That is all the sorcery they use.
"I have told you these things because a man should have neither overmuch fear nor any contempt for his enemy, and these paynim are, or may be at any time, our enemies. Our faith must be as this dagger, ready for service by day or night, but for defense, not for assassination. Since Saladin has come to the throne there is a stirring among the tribes that worship the false prophet, and they may be once more dreaming that they may conquer the world for Islam. They can never do it, but they may force us to another Crusade in time. I am on my way to England now to make report to the King of what I have seen. I hope that some day we may meet there. If ever you want work, Sir Gualtier Giffard on the Welsh border will bid you welcome if you say that you were sent by Hugh l'Estrange."
Moved by sudden impulse Dickon told in a few words the story of Audrey's service and their promise. The knight held out his hand in open kindliness. "You did well," he said. "Every man who keeps faith with his neighbor, every good soldier, every wise and gentle monk, and more than all, every true woman, is a link in a great chain that makes for the safety of Christendom. A token is a small thing,—yes—but what is our Cross itself but a token? I would wish my own lad Roger to have acted as you did."
Before the snows are melted that cradle the mountain streams, Before the bear and the dormouse rouse from their winter dreams, Before the earliest linnet flutes forth his roundel clear, There comes an authentic moment that marks the turn of the year.
A brightness in the sunshine, a hint of life in the air, A soft mist veiling the hilltops that were so brown and bare, Nothing to note or ponder, nothing to see or hear,— But there is a mystic difference that marks the turn of the year!