"Tarry here until the morning, and I will then give thee some further discourse on the matter."
"Nay, Sir Prior," answered De Poininges. "I thank your grace's courtesy, but this night I must away to the village or town hereabout, Ormschurch I think it be, and there, in all likelihood, I may abide for some days."
The prior bit his lips, but sought not to oppose his intent, further than by giving a hint that foul weather was abroad, and of the good cheer and dry lodging the priory afforded. De Poininges, however, took his way afoot, returning to the town, where his horse and two trusty attendants awaited him at the tavern or hostel.
The evening was fair, and the sky clear, save a broad and mountainous ridge of clouds piled up towards the north-east, from whence hung a black and heavy curtain stretching behind the hills in that direction. The sparkling of the sea was visible at intervals behind the low sand-hills skirting the coast, giving out, in irregular flashes, the rich and glowing radiance it received. A lucid brightness yet lingered over the waves, which De Poininges stood for a moment to observe, as he gained the brow of the hill near the church. To this edifice was then appended a low spire, not exhibiting, as now, the strange anomaly of a huge tower by its side, seated there apparently for no other purpose than to excite wonder, and to afford the clerk an opportunity of illustrating its origin by the following tradition:—
Long time ago, two maiden sisters of the name of Orme, the founders of this church, disagreed as to the shape of this most important appendage. Tower against spire was, in the end, likely to leave the parties without a church in answer to their prayers, had not the happy suggestion offered itself in the shape of a pair of these campanile structures suited to the taste of each.
That the foregoing is an idle and impertinent invention there is little need to show, inasmuch as both tower and spire might still have been built to satisfy the whim of the old ladies, though placed in the usual manner, one serving as a substratum to the other. A more probable solution is the following, though it may be as far from the truth:—At the dissolution of the priory of Burscough in the time of our great reformer Henry the Eighth—who, like many modern pretenders to this name, was more careful to reform the inaccuracies of others than his own—the bells were removed to Ormskirk; but the small tower beneath the spire not being sufficiently capacious, the present square steeple was added, and the wonder perpetuated to this day.
De Poininges, on crossing the churchyard, met there a personage of no less note than Thomas the Clerk, or Thomas le Clerke, retiring from some official duties, arrayed in his white surplice and little quaint skull-cap. He was a merry wight, and in great favour with the parish wives. He could bleed and shave the sconce; draw out bonds and quittances; thus uniting three of the professions in his own proper person. He was prime mover in the May games, and the feast of fools. Morris, Moriscoe, or Moorish dancers, there is good reason for supposing, were not then introduced, though by some said to have been brought into England in the sixth year of Edward III., when John of Gaunt returned from Spain; but few traces of it are found earlier than Henry VII., so that it is more probable we had them from our Gallic neighbours, or even from the Flemings.
He could dance, too, and play on the rebeck and citerne, this being a common amusement with the customers during the time they were in waiting at the barbers' shops, as newspapers were not then at hand to sustain this difficult office. He was of a dainty person; clad mostly in a kirtle of light watchet-colour, thick set with loose points. His hosen were grey, mingled with black, and his shoes were belayed with knots and ornaments, of which, and his other stray gear, he was not a little proud.
This Thomas was used to go about with a censer, on a Sunday, as Chaucer hath it,—
"Censing the wives of the parish feast."
Absalom, that pink of clerkly portraiture, seemed but a fair prototype of this individual, Geoffrey Chaucer at this time being a setter forth of rhymes and other matters for the ticklish ears of sundry well-fed and frolicksome idlers about the court of King Edward.
The merry knave of whom we speak was, however, in happy ignorance of all courtly fashions. Provided he obtained his Sunday contributions, and his Christmas loaf, and his eggs at Easter, little wot he how the world went round. He was a frequent visitor at the tavern, and De Poininges had already been distinguished by his especial notice.
From his character, and the means of information arising out of his multifarious occupations, De Poininges expected that some of the intelligence he was in search of might be gathered from this source.
The petty hostelry was now in sight, a projecting bush denoting the vintner's residence. The house was but thinly attended, though clean rushes and a blazing billet bespoke comfort and good cheer. De Poininges and his companion turned aside into a smaller chamber, where mine host was speedily summoned for a flagon of stout liquor. This being supplied, they addressed themselves to the wooden utensil with right goodwill; and as the draughts began to quicken, so did the clerk's tongue not fail to wag the faster. De Poininges adroitly shifted the discourse upon the business of which he was in quest, whenever there was a tendency to diverge, no rare occurrence, Thomas being somewhat loth for a while to converse on the subject. The liquor, however, and his own garrulous propensities, soon slipped open the budget, and scraps of intelligence tumbled out which De Poininges did not fail to lay hold of as hints for another line of examination.
"I reckon so, at any rate, and so said Geoffrey," replied the clerk, after a pause, subsequent to some close question.
"Sir Thomas, the Lord of Lathom, as you may have heard, he is a good-hearted soul, and this Margaret de la Bech was companion to his daughter Isabel. She was ever held as a dame of good family and descent, though a stranger in these parts. Then she was passing fair, so that both squire and gentleman, as they looked on her, were nigh devoured with love. They say, too, her conditions were gentle and winsome as a child; and"—
"Good," said De Poininges, who found he was slipping away from the main subject. "But hath not Sir Thomas made some apparent search since her disappearance from the hall?"
"Save the mark—she was drowned in the moat. So say the gossips," said the clerk, looking askance. "Her hood and mantle were on the brink—but her body! why, it never jumped out again to look for them—that's all."
"But did no one look for the body?" carelessly inquired De Poininges.
"The knight groped diligently in the castle ditch for many days; but light fishes make light nets, as we say. There was no corpse to be found, and many an Ave Maria has been said for her soul."
"What cause was then assigned for this fearful deed?"
"'Tis said she was in love, and went mad! I wot she was ever sighing and rambling about the house, and would seldom venture out alone, looking as though she were in jeopardy, and dreaded some hidden danger."
"Thinkest thou, friend, that some hidden danger might not be the cause; and this show of her drowning but a feint or device that should turn aside the current of their inquiry?"
The clerk looked anxious and uneasy, sore puzzled, as it might seem, to shape out an answer. At length, finding that the question could not be evaded, he proceeded with much hesitation as follows:—
"Safe as my Lord Cardinal at his prayers—she is dead though; for I heard her wraith wailing and shrieking up the woods that night as I stood in the priory close. It seemed like, as it were, making its way through the air from Lathom, for the smell of consecration, I reckon."
"Go on," said De Poininges, whose wits were shrewdly beginning to gather intelligence from these furtive attempts at concealment.
"Well-a-day," continued the clerk, draining an ample potation, "I've heard strange noises thereabout; and the big building there, men say, is haunted by the ghost."
"Where is the building thou speakest of?"
"The large granary beyond the postern leading from the prior's house towards the mill. I have not passed thereby since St Mark's vigil, and then it came." Here he looked round, stealing a whisper across the bench—"I heard it: there was a moaning and a singing by turns; but the wind was loud, so that I could scarcely hear, though when I spake of it to old Geoffrey the gardener, he said the prior had laid a ghost, and it was kept there upon prayer and penance for a long season. Now, stranger, thou mayest guess it was no fault of mine if from this hour I passed the granary after sunset. The ghost and I have ever kept ourselves pretty far apart."
"Canst show me this same ghostly dungeon?"
"Ay, can I, in broad daylight; but"—.
"Peradventure thou canst show me the path, or the clue to it; and I warrant me the right scent will lie at the end on't."
"And pray, good master, wherefore may your curious nose be so mightily set upon this same adventure?" said the clerk, his little red and ferrety eyes peering very provokingly into those of his opposite neighbour. Now, De Poininges was not for the moment prepared to satisfy this unexpected inquiry, but his presence of mind did not forsake him. Rightly guessing his friend's character—a compound in universal esteem, to wit, fool and knave—he drew from his pouch a couple of bright ship nobles, then but newly coined, which effectually diverted the prying looks of Thomas le Clerke.
"Why, look ye," said the latter, as the coin jingled in his bag, "I was ever held in good repute as a guide, and can make my way blindfold over the bogs and mosses hereabout; and I would pilot thee to the place yonder, if my fealty to the prior—that is—if—I mean—though I was never a groat the richer for his bounty; yet he may not like strangers to pry into his garners and store-houses, especially in these evil times, when every cur begins to yelp at the heels of our bountiful mother; and every beast to bray out its reproaches at her great wealth and possessions."
De Poininges was more and more convinced that his neighbour knew more of the matter than he durst tell; but it seemed expedient to conceal his suspicions for the present. In the end it was agreed that the cunning clerk should accompany him so far as to point out the situation; but on no account would he consent to keep watch during the absence of De Poininges. The latter assented to this arrangement, secretly resolving to dictate other terms where his will should both command and be obeyed.
They immediately set out on horseback, followed by the servants, to whom De Poininges had given a private signal.
The moon had risen. One bright star hung like a "jewel in an Ethiop's ear" in the dark sky above the sun's track, which at this season sweeps like a lucid zone, dividing day from night, round the northern horizon. Such a time of purity and brightness often succeeds the sultry and oppressive languor of the day, especially when refreshed by the passing storm; the air so clear that objects press, as it were, upon the eyeballs, affecting the sight as though they were almost palpable to the touch. The dews had not descended, but the leaves were still wet. Big drops glittered in the moonlight, pouring a copious shower on the travellers as they passed. The clerk began a low chant, humming and whistling by turns: this gradually grew more audible, until the full burst of the "Miserere" commenced, richly adorned with his own original quavers. So enamoured was he of his qualifications in this respect that he was fairly getting through high mass, when, midway in a ravishing "Benedictus" he made a sudden halt.
"What is that creeping behind the bushes there?" inquired he, in a sort of half-whisper to his companion. De Poininges looked in the direction pointed out, and thought he saw something, dark and mysterious, moving between the boughs on his left. He stopped, but the object, whatever its nature, had disappeared.
Sore alarmed was the timid chorister; but though his melodies had ceased, a plentiful supply of credos and paternosters were at hand to supply their place. Crossing himself with a great show of sanctity, he moved on with much caution, his deep hoarse voice having subsided into a husky and abrupt whisper, often interrupted when objects the most trivial arrested his glance and aroused his suspicions.
They arrived without molestation at an enclosure about a mile distant from the priory. Here they alighted, leaving the horses to the care of their attendants. Turning the angle made by a low wall, they observed a footpath, which the clerk pointed out as the shortest and most convenient course to their destination. Soon the east end of the priory chapel was visible, basking in the broad light of the harvest moon, then riding up full and unclouded towards her zenith. Buttress and oriel were weltering in her beam, and the feathery pinnacles sprang out sharp and clear into the blue sky. The shadows were thrown back in masses deep and unbroken, more huge in proportion to the unknown depths through which the eye could not penetrate.
"There—again! 'Tis a footstep on our track!" said the clerk, abruptly breaking upon the reverie of his companion.
"'Tis but the tread of the roused deer; man's bolder footstep falls not so lightly," was the reply; but this did not quiet the apprehensions of the querist, whose terrors were again stealing upon him. Their path was up a little glen, down which the mill-stream, now released from its daily toil, brawled happily along, as if rejoicing in its freedom. Near the mill, on a point of land formed by an abrupt bend of the stream, stood the storehouse or grange. It was an ample structure, serving at times for purposes not immediately connected with its original design. A small chamber was devoted to the poorer sort of travellers, who craved a night's lodging on their journey. Beneath was a place of confinement, for the refractory vassals and serfs, when labouring under their master's displeasure. It was here the garrulous clerk said he had been scared by the ghost, and his reluctance to proceed evidently increased as he drew nearer. He did not fail to point out the spot, but resolutely refused to budge a step farther.
"We had best return," said he; "I have told thee what I know of the matter."
"And what should scare thee so mightily, friend," said De Poininges, "from out the prior's grange? Methinks, these ghosts of thine had a provident eye to their bellies. These haunters to the granary had less objection to the victuals than to a snuff of the wind before cock-crow."
"I know not," replied Amen, rather doggedly; "'tis all I heard, though there be more that live hereabout than the prior and his monks, I trow."
"Thou hast been here ofttimes o' nights?" carelessly inquired the other.
"I have, upon some chance occasion it may be; but since that ugly noise got wind, to which my own ears bear testimony, I was not over-curious to pass within hearing, though it were only the rogues, some said, that were mulcting the flour-sacks."
"But thou knowest there was a hint dropped a while ago at the hostel, that the maiden, whom thou hast now forgotten, methinks, had some connection with this marvellous tale of thine; and now, it seems, I am to believe 'tis but the knaves or the rats purloining the prior's corn! Hark thee, friend," said De Poininges, in a stern tone, "no more evasion: no turn or equivocation shall serve thee: out with it, and lead on, or"—
A bright flash from his falchion here revealed the peril that he threatened.
"Miserere mei—Oh,—Salve et!"—
"Silence, knave, and pass quickly; but remember, if I catch thee devising any sleight or shuffle, this sharp point shall quicken thee to thy work. It may prove mighty efficacious, too, as a restorative for a lapsed memory."
"I'll tell thee all!—but—hold that weapon a little back, I prithee. Nay—nay, thou wouldest not compass a poor man's death in such haste."
"Lead on, then, but be discreet," said De Poininges, softly, at the same time pushing him forward at his sword's point.
"Here is some help to mine errand, or my craft fails me this bout."
After many qualms and wry faces, De Poininges, by piecemeal, acquired the following intelligence:—
One night, this honest clerk being with a friend on a predatory excursion to the prior's storehouse, they heard a muffled shriek and a sharp scuffle at some distance. Being outside the building, and fearing detection, they ran to hide themselves under a detached shed, used as a depository for firewood and stray lumber. Towards this spot, however, the other parties were evidently approaching. Presently three or four men, whom they judged to be the prior's servants, came nigh, bearing a female. They entered into the shed, and proceeded to remove a large heap of turf. Underneath seemed to be one of those subterraneous communications generally contrived as a retreat in times of peril; at any rate, they disappeared through the opening, and the clerk and his worthy associate effected their escape unobserved.
Fear of detection, and of the terrible retribution that would follow, hitherto kept the secret undivulged. There could be little doubt that this female was Margaret de la Bech; and her person, whether living or dead, had become a victim to the well-known lawless disposition of the prior.
They were now at the entrance to a low gateway, from which a short path to the left led them directly towards the spot. Entering the shed, they commenced a diligent search; but the terror and confusion of the clerk had prevented such accuracy of observation as could enable him to discover the opening, which they in vain attempted to find, groping their way suspiciously in the dark.
"Softly, softly!" said the clerk, listening. A low murmur came from the opposite corner, like the muttering of one holding audible communion with his own spirit. De Poininges listened too, and he fancied it was a female voice. Presently he heard one of those wild and uncouth ditties, a sort of chant or monotonous song, which, to the terrified psalm-singer, sounded like the death-wail of some unfortunate ghost.
The following words only became sufficiently distinct:—
"The sunbeam came on a billow of flame, But its light, like thine, is done: Life's tangled coil, with all its toil, Is broken ere 'tis run.
"The kite may love the timid dove, The hawk be the raven's guest; But none shall dare that hawk to scare From his dark and cloud-wreathed nest!
"Wail on, ye fond maidens, Death lurks in the cloud; The storm and the billow Are weaving a shroud:
"There's a wail on the wind; Ere its track on the main, A light shall be quenched, Ne'er to kindle again!"
"Surely I have heard that voice aforetime," thought De Poininges. It was too peculiar for him to mistake. The woman had loitered in his path a few hours before. It seemed her brain was somewhat disturbed: a wanderer and an outcast in consequence, she had here taken shelter ofttimes for the night. He determined to accost her; a feeling of deference prompted him, a superstitious notion, arising from an idea then prevalent, that a superior light was granted to those individuals in whom the light of reason was extinct. He approached with caution, much to the terror and distress of his companion.
"It is crazy Isabel," said he, "and the dark spirit is upon her!" But De Poininges was not in a mood to feel scared with this intimation. The way was intricate, and he stumbled over a heap of dried fuel. The noise seemed to arrest her attention for a moment; but she again commenced her song, paying little heed to this interruption. On recovering his position, he was about to speak, when, to his great surprise, she thus accosted him:—
"I have tarried long for thee. Haste—equip for the battle,—and then,
"'My merry men all, Round the greenwood tree, How gallant to ride With a gay ladye.'
"I am crazed, belike. Good wot; but I can ride o'er the neck of a proud prior.
"'And the moon shone clear In the blue heavens, where The stars twinkle through her veil of light:— There they gave me a merry shooting star, And I rolled round the wain with my golden car, But I leapt on the lightning's flash, beside The queen of this murky night!'"
"Crazed, indeed!" thought De Poininges.
"Hush," said she: "I'll tell thee a secret." She drew a light from some concealed recess, and flashing it full in the face of the intruder, seemed to enjoy the effect wonderfully. On a sudden her brow wrinkled, and the dark billows came over her spirit as she exclaimed—
"'Thou hast work to do, Or we may rue The thieving trade.'
"Go to—I must be calm. The spirit goeth forth, and I may not wander again. But my poor head: it burns here—here!" And she put her hand tenderly on that of De Poininges, raising it to her brow, which throbbed violently. She started back, as from some sudden recollection, gazing intently on his countenance.
"I know it—the vision tarrieth not. Now," she said—crossing herself with great solemnity, and with apparent composure, as if all trace of her malady had disappeared—"we must away. Follow; yet will I first set yon rogue to watch." She sought the terrified man of canticles, and, speaking in a low tone, raised her hand as though with some terrible denunciation in case of disobedience. Immediately she returned, and, pointing to a heap of loose stuff, began to throw it aside.
But De Poininges hesitated, thinking it a somewhat dubious adventure to follow a mad woman, it might be, in quest of her wits. Seeing his unwillingness to proceed, she whispered something in his ear which wrought a marvellous change. He looked as if petrified with wonder, but he followed now without shrinking. They entered by a narrow door, curiously concealed. On its closing after them, De Poininges and his companion seemed shut out from the world,—as if the link were suddenly broken which bound them to earth and its connections.
The first sensation was that of dullness and damp, accompanied by a mouldering vapour, like that from the charnel-house or the grave. Their way was down a winding and broken staircase; at the bottom a straight passage led them on to a considerable distance. Damps oozing from the walls made the path more and more tiresome and slippery as they proceeded. Shortly it became channelled with slime, and absolutely loathsome. The bloated reptile crawled across their path; and De Poininges beheld stone coffins piled on each side of the vault. Passing these, another flight of steps brought them to a low archway, at the extremity of which a grated door, now unbarred, led into a cell seemingly contrived as a place of punishment for the refractory or sinning brethren, who might be doomed to darkness and solitude as an expiation of their offence. The only furniture it contained was a wretched pallet, on which, as the light flashed doubtfully, De Poininges thought he beheld a female. He snatched the light, and eagerly bent over the couch. With a shout of joy he exclaimed—
"Be praised, ye saints, 'tis she!"
It was the wasted and squalid form of Margaret de la Bech. She raised her eyes towards him, but they were vacant and wandering. It was soon evident that her reason was impaired, and the spirit still inhabiting that lovely tenement was irrevocably obscured. Cruel had been her sufferings. Crimes too foul to name—but we draw a veil over the harrowing recital! When the last horrible act was consummated the light of her soul was put out, and her consciousness extinguished.
To meet thus! A living inhumation, where the body exists but as the spirit's sepulchre! It were better they had been consigned to oblivion, shut up and perishing in the dark womb of the grave. The cry of vengeance had gone up, but was offered in vain for a season. The present period of existence was not allotted for its fulfilment. It was permitted to this monster that he should yet triumph unpunished—his measure of iniquity was not yet full.
The limbs of the unconscious sufferer were pinioned:—the fiend-like mercy of her tormentors prevented her own hands from becoming the instruments of her release. De Poininges restored her to freedom; but alas! she knew it not. The thick veil which Heaven's mercy drew upon her spirit rendered her insensible to outward impressions. He raised her in his arms, bearing her forth from that loathed scene of darkness and disgrace; and when the pure breath of the skies once more blew upon her, it seemed as though it awakened up a faint glimmer in the dying lamp. She looked round with eagerness, and De Poininges thought some ray of intelligence began to brighten, as objects again appeared to develop their hidden trains of association on the memory; but the light was mercifully extinguished ere she could discover the fearful realities of her despair, and she again relapsed into hopeless and utter inanity.
They were still loitering in the little shed, the clerk groaning out a sad and mournful chant. De Poininges appeared unable to arouse himself to the exigencies of the moment, when Isabel, wildly waving her torch towards the entrance, cried—
"To horse—to horse! They will be here presently. Already has the raven snuffed your carcase—
"'But the bolt whistled through The heavens blue, And Sir Lionel lay on the battle-field.'"
She seemed to hearken, as though in apprehension of approaching footsteps. De Poininges, roused from this dangerous stupor, prepared to escape ere the prior's emissaries had intelligence of her removal.
They had passed the rivulet in safety, and had just gained the wood near to where the attendants lay in wait with the horses, when an arrow whizzed past De Poininges. For him the shaft was intended, but its destiny was otherwise—the unfortunate chanter lay stretched on the ground in his last agony. De Poininges flew on with redoubled speed.
"Treachery!" he cried. His men knew the signal, and galloped towards him; but their aid was too late. A shack-bolt, aimed with a sure hand, pierced him at this moment.
"Take her—Margaret de la Bech! The prior—a murderer—ravisher! Fly to"—
The remaining words fell unuttered. His faithful attendants bore off the lifeless body, together with the hapless Margaret, who was soon placed in safety, far from the relentless fangs of the Prior of Burscough.
Fearful and undeniable was the testimony and accusation they brought, but in vain. No effort was spared to bring upon this monster the just recompense of his crime; yet, from the great scandal which a public execution must have drawn upon the Church, but more especially from the great influence he possessed amongst the nobles and chief dignitaries of the land, not only did he escape unpunished, but he received the king's most gracious pardon, in the twenty-first year of Edward the Third: so true are the following words from an historian of that reign:—
"These men had so entrenched themselves in privileges and immunities, and so openly challenged an exemption from all secular jurisdiction, that no civil penalty could be inflicted on them for any malversation in office, and even treason itself was declared to be no canonical offence."
 Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. Somerset, Duke of Beaufort, now bears the portcullis for his crest. There is an engraving by Vertue, from a painting in the royal collection at Kensington Palace by Maubeugius in 1496, of the three children of Henry VII. and Elizabeth his queen, Prince Henry, Prince Arthur, and Princess Margaret, which is ornamented at the top with the portcullis surmounted with roses.
 Glazebrook's Southport.
THE EAGLE AND CHILD.
"She's over the muir, An' over the border, An' ower the blue hills far awa': With her callant, I trow,— On his saddle-bow, While the mist-wreaths around them fa'."
The main facts of the following narrative, lying scattered through a wide field of barren inquiry, the author has been at considerable pains to collect and arrange in a continuous narrative.
Little needs be said by way of introduction, the traditions here interwoven with the general history being mostly of a trivial nature, and not at all interfering with the facts developed by the historians and rhymers who have illustrated the annals of the house of Stanley. These accounts, exaggerated and distorted as they inevitably must have been, may yet, in the absence of more authentic testimony, afford a pretty accurate glimpse at the real nature of those events, however they may have been disguised by fiction and misstatement. Where tradition is our only guide we must follow implicitly, satisfied that her taper was lighted at the torch of Truth, though it may gleam doubtfully and partially through the mists and errors of succeeding ages.
One source from whence we have derived some information, though well known to the comparative few who have explored these by-paths of history, may not be thought uninteresting to the general reader, especially as it is connected with the most eventful portion of our narrative.
An ancient metrical account of the Stanleys, Earls of Derby, is contained in some uncouth rhymes, written about the year 1562, by Thomas Stanley, Bishop of Sodor and Man, and son of that Sir Edward Stanley, who, for his valour at Flodden, was created Lord Monteagle. There are two copies of these verses in the British Museum: one amongst Cole's papers (vol. xxix. page 104), and the other in the Harleian MSS. (541). Mr Cole prefaces his transcript with the following notice:—"The History of the family of Stanley, Earls of Derby, wrote in verse about the reign of King Henry the Eighth from a MS. now in possession of Lady Margaret Stanley, copied for me by a person who has made many mistakes, and sent to me by my friend Mr Allen, Rector of Tarporley, in 1758.—W. Cole."
The MS. formerly belonged to Sir John Crewe, of Utkinton, and was given by Mr Ardern, in 1757, to Lady Margaret Stanley.
The commencement of this metrical history is occupied in dilating upon the pleasure resulting from such an undertaking; and although the flow of the verse is not of remarkable smoothness, yet it hardly furnishes an apology for Seacome's mistake, who, in his "History of the House of Stanley," printed the first fifty lines as prose. The reverend versifier rehearses how Stanley sprang from Audley, and then shows the manner in which his ancestors became possessors of Stourton and Hooton. He dwells upon the joust betwixt the Admiral of Hainault and Sir John Stanley, the second brother of the house of Stanley of Hooton. Then follows the account, more particularly developed in our own story, of the adventures and moving accidents which have been liberally used to adorn the "Garland" of his descendant William, Earl of Derby. "For many generations this was the recognised chronicle of the family, until, in the time of James the First, a clergyman of Chester translated the rhymes of the Bishop into English, carefully retaining the mistakes of the original, and adding long and dull disquisitions of his own."
In the days of our valiant King Edward, while the fame of Cressy and Poictiers was fresh and stirring in all true and loyal hearts, while the monarchs of two powerful kingdoms were held captive in these realms, lived a worthy knight, of whom we had a brief notice in the preceding narrative. Sir Thomas Lathom of Lathom was a nobleman of great wealth and possessions. According to the Calendarium Rotulorum from the Charter Rolls in the Tower, he held lands, besides, in Knouselegh, Childewall, Roby, and Aulusargh. In Liverpool, he was proprietor of the tower, a structure of but little note until rebuilt and fortified by Sir John Stanley during his government in Ireland, of which we shall have more to say anon.
Sir Thomas married, in the year 1343, the youngest daughter of Sir Hamon Massey of Dunham Massey, in the adjoining county of Chester. Twelve years had since that period elapsed at the time when our story begins; and though earnestly desiring male issue, that his name and race might be perpetuated, yet was the sole fruit of their union hitherto a daughter, named Isabel, then just entering on her tenth year. Her winning and surpassing comeliness proved no solace to his disappointment. He grew moodish and melancholy in the midst of his vast wealth; apprehending the utter extinction of his name, and the intrusion of a stranger on his birthright. Hopeless of other issue by his own lady, he had recourse to unlawful means for this purpose, which procured for him a sore chastisement in the end, as our narrative will show.
In that neighbourhood dwelt a comely maiden, the only daughter of a substantial yeoman, of the name of Oskatell. This damsel, pleasing the amorous fancy of Sir Thomas, fell an easy prey to his arts and persuasions. Though concealed from her friends, their too frequent intercourse at length became visible in the birth of a son, greatly to the joy of the father, who meditated nothing less than to adopt this illegitimate babe for the perpetuation of his name. Yet were there preliminaries of no mean importance to be adjusted, as all men who have wives may well conceive. The lady of Lathom must first be consulted; but probabilities were strongly against the supposition that she would tamely submit to this infringement on the rights of her child by the interposition of a bastard. Nay, she had beforetime hinted that some individual of the name, of moderate wealth and good breeding, might in time be found for a suitable alliance. Still, the success of his scheme was an object that lay deeply at his heart, and he grew more and more anxious and perplexed. One evening, as he wandered out disconsolately in the company of an old and trusty servant, to whom he had imparted the secret, they came to a desert place in the park, nigh to where a pair of eagles had from time immemorial built their nests. A project struck him which promised fair to realise his wishes. After a multitude of schemes subservient to the main purpose had been thrown out and abandoned, the whole plot was finally unfolded in the following manner:—
A message was conveyed to the mother overnight, that betimes on the following morning the babe, richly clad, should be held in readiness, and a trusty servant would forthwith convey him to the hall. She was peremptorily forbidden to follow; and in her great joy at this announcement, naturally supposing that a more favourable posture of affairs had arisen between Sir Thomas and his lady on the subject, she cheerfully consented to this unexpected deprivation, confident that it was to the furthering of her child's welfare and advancement. The infant, smiling, and unconscious of the change, was taken from his mother's lap, his swaddling clothes carefully folded together, and committed to the care of the aged domestic.
Little was the anxious mother aware of the great peril he had to undergo ere the goal which bounded her anticipations was won.
It was the soft twilight of a summer's morning, and the little birds had begun to chirp their matins, and the lark to brush the dew from her speckled breast, waiting for the first gaze of the sun. The old man pressed the infant closer to his bosom as he drew nigh to the steep acclivity, the solitary dwelling of the eagle. He kissed the babe; then looking round, fearful of intruders, he laid the wicker cradle at the foot of the precipice, and sprang into a dark thicket close by, as if to watch for the descent of the rapacious bird.
Leaving the child, we turn to Sir Thomas, who on that morning, as was his wont, together with his dame, awoke betimes, but he was sooner astir and more anxious and bustling than usual. Their custom was, awaking with the sun, to begin the day with a quiet stroll about the grounds; and on this eventful morning their walk chanced happily towards the eagle's nest. Being something farther and more out of their common track, it was noticed good-humouredly by the lady, who seemed to possess a more than ordinary portion of hilarity on the occasion. Evidently under some exciting influence, their walk was unconsciously protracted.
In a gloomy dell, not far from the eyrie, Sir Thomas stood still, in the attitude of listening. The lady, too, was silent and alarmed, but no intimation of danger was visible. Her own senses, though, seemed to gather acuteness,—a circumstance by no means rare in the vicinity of an unusually timid and listening companion, who braces our perceptions to the tension of his own. Soon, however, the short and feeble cry of the babe was heard, when the knight sprang forward, feigning great astonishment at the discovery. Evidently dropped from the talons of the bird, it was looked upon as a special gift of Providence, a deposit direct from the skies; to have rejected which would have been a heinous offence, and an unlawful contravention of the designs of the Giver. Accordingly, the infant was taken home and carefully nursed, being baptized by the name of Oskatell.
The good lady became surprisingly enamoured of the little foundling, believing his adoption was dictated by the will of Heaven; and to this decision its father readily acceded. Sir Thomas, to give the greater sanction to this supposed miracle, as well as to remove all suspicion of fraud from the prying eyes of a censorious world, assumed for his crest an eagle on the wing, proper, looking round as though for something she had lost.
The child grew in years and stature, being liberally furnished in all things according with the dignity he was destined to receive. Sir Thomas purposed the sharing of his wealth equally between his children, a measure which had the entire concurrence of Lady de Lathom. Though younger by some years, Oskatell was generally considered by the world as the future husband of Isabella; but Sir Thomas, aware of danger on this head, early impressed them with some notion of consanguinity, and intimated the impossibility of their union. This prohibition, settling on a womanish fancy, might naturally have been expected to operate in a manner the reverse of his intention. Yet we do not find from history that Isabella ever cherished for him any other sentiments than those arising from a sisterly regard.
Growing up to man's estate, he sought the court of King Edward, where, though of a peaceable temper, his soul was stirred to participate in the gallant feats incident to that scene of martial enterprise.
Isabella was now in the full summer, or, it might be, ripening into the rich autumn of her beauty. Her father would by no means have permitted her union save with one of the highest rank, to which her gentle blood and princely inheritance entitled her. And though not a few hitherto, of noble birth and endowments, had sought the honour of her alliance, yet her heart was untouched, and in the end her suitors forbore their homage.
All the country was now mightily roused with the news of the French champion who, together with sundry of his companions in arms, had challenged the English nation to match them with the like number at a solemn joust and tourney, and of the great gallantry and personal accomplishments of Sir John, then Captain Stanley, who had first taken up the gauntlet in his country's behalf. The lists were prepared. The meeting, by the king's command, was appointed to be holden at Winchester, where the royal court was expected to witness this splendid achievement. Oskatell, returning home, strongly importuned his sister to accompany him to the show, it being then deemed a pleasant recreation for many a fair and delicate maiden to view their champions hack and hew each other without mercy. Isabella, unceasingly urged to this excursion, at length set out for the city of Winchester, followed by a numerous train of attendants, where, in due time, they arrived, mingling in the bustle and dissipation incident to these festivities.
Young Stanley was the second son of Sir William Stanley, Lord of Stanley and Stourton. As a younger branch of the house, he commenced his career, it is said, under the command of his relative Lord Audley; but this appears something doubtful. The battle of Poictiers, in which Captain Stanley is said to have been, was fought in 1357; and here he must have battled in petticoats, seeing that his father was but married 26 Edward III., and, consequently, making due allowance for accidents and irregularities, young Stanley, as the second son, could not then have proceeded beyond his third year! a precocity unprecedented, we believe, even in the annals of that fighting era. The conflicting statements we meet with about this time, both traditionary and recorded, we cannot attempt to reconcile. Sufficient information happily exists, however, on which no doubt arises; and by the aid of that we proceed with our narrative.
Stanley, according to some, having been a great traveller, had improved himself diligently in the art of war; and, as the old chronicles quaintly relate, "he visited most of the courts of Europe, even as far as Constantinople; wherein he made such advances in the school of Mars, that his superior skill in arms was generally applauded in every country he passed through." So distinguished and widely-extended a reputation for bravery could not fail to provoke the pride and envy of all Christendom, whereupon the young Admiral of Hainault, one of the bravest men of his time, together with divers gentlemen of the French court, defied the whole kingdom to a passage of arms, the result of which challenge has been shown.
Great was the confluence and resort to the city of Winchester, it being noised abroad as though the king would distinguish the affray by his presence; wondrous the stir and bustle of the soldiers, guards, and attendants, with hordes of idlers and hangers-on, from the vast array of knights and nobles, who came either to see or to share in the approaching trial. The splendid banners, the heraldic pomp and barbaric grandeur of their retinues, augmenting with every fresh arrival, made the streets one ever-moving pageant for many days before the conflict began. Isabella had full leisure to observe, from her own lattice, the gay and costly garniture, and the glittering appointments of the warriors, with the pageants and puerile diversions suited to the taste and capacity of the ignorant crowds by which they were followed. The king's mummers were arrived, together with many other marvels in the shape of puppet-shows and "motions" enacting the "old vice;" Jonas and the whale, Nineveh, the Creation, and a thousand unintelligible but equally gratifying and instructive devices; one of which, we are told, was "four giants, a unicorn, a camel, an ass, a dragon, a hobby-horse, and sixteen naked boys!"
The crowds attracted by these spectacles were immense, and the city nigh choked with the torrents that set in from every quarter.
From the windows of the houses, where lodged the knights appointed to the encounter, hung their several coats, richly emblazoned, rousing forth many a shout and hurrah, as one and another symbol was recognised to be the badge of some favourite chief; but more than all, was the young Stanley's escutcheon favoured by the fickle breath of popular opinion, which made it needful that a double guard should be mounted near his dwelling,—a precaution, moreover, rendered needful by the many tumults among the different partisans and retainers, not always ending without bloodshed. The arrival of the king, however, soon changed the current of the wondering multitude. Edward was now in his sixty-fourth year, and the fiftieth of his reign. Though the decline of his life did not correspond with the splendid and noisy scenes which had illustrated the earlier periods of his history, yet he still manifested the same restless and undaunted spirit, ever considered as the prevailing attribute of his character. Towards the close of his career he had the mortification to endure the loss of his foreign possessions, having been baffled in every attempt to defend them. He felt, too, the decay of his authority at home, from the inconstancy and discontents of his subjects. Though his earlier years had been spent amid the din and tumult of war and the business of the camp, yet was he, at this period, almost wholly given up to pleasure and the grossest of sensual indulgences. Alice Pierce, to whom he was immoderately attached, had gained an ascendancy over him so dangerous that the parliament remonstrated, with a courage and firmness worthy of a more enlightened era, and in the end he was obliged to remove her from court. Sometimes the spirit of his youth awoke; the glory of past ages was stirred up within him; and, like the aged war-horse neighing to the shrill note of the trumpet, he greeted the approaching tournament with something of his wonted ardour,—though now but an expiring flash, brightening a moment ere it was extinguished.
The day rose calm and unclouded. The thin haze of the morning had disappeared, and an atmosphere of more than common brilliancy succeeded. Through a great part of the preceding night the armourers had been busily employed altering and refitting the equipments, and the dawn had already commenced ere their labours were suspended. The lists were carefully scrutinised, and all chance of foul play averted. The priests, too, had blessed the armour and weapons from magic spells and "foul negromancie."
The barriers were built of stout boards, firmly riveted together; the royal pavilion being on the southern side, richly canopied and embroidered with costly devices. Galleries were provided for the nobles, not a few of whom, with their courtly dames, were expected to be present.
The lists were sixty paces in length and forty in breadth between the platforms on which the knights' tents were erected. The ground within was made hard and level, the loose stones and other impediments being carefully removed. There were two entrances, east and west, well guarded and strongly fenced with wooden-bars about seven feet high, so that a horse might not leap over. The tents of the warriors were fancifully decorated, every one having his shield newly emblazoned and hung out in front, where the pages and esquires watched, guarding vigilantly these sacred treasures. Nothing was heard but the hoarse call of the trumpet, the clank of mail, and the prancing of horses, pawing and eager for the battle.
Long before the appointed hour the whole city was in motion. Isabella, too, whose bright eyes had not closed since the first gleam had visited her chamber, was early astir. An ugly dream, it is said, troubled her. Though of ripe years, yet, as we have noticed before, love had not yet aimed his malicious shafts at her bosom, nor even tightened his bowstring as she tripped by, defying his power; so that the dream, which in others would appear but as the overflowing of a youthful and ardent imagination, seemed to her altogether novel and unaccountable, raising up new faculties, and endowing her with a train of feelings heretofore unknown. No wonder that her looks were betrayers: her whole deportment manifested some hidden power controlling her high spirit, insomuch that her favourite maiden was fain to abate her morning gossip; yet Isabella was not averse to speech, though the words seemed to linger heavily on her tongue, losing that lightness and exuberance which betokens the mind free from care and oppression.
She had dreamed that in her own wild woods a knight accosted her: she attempted to fly, but was withheld by some secret influence. He raised his visor, smiling as he bent his knee in token of homage. He was a stranger. Grasping her hand, she felt the cold hard pressure of his gauntlet. She awoke, and sure enough there was the impression as of some mailed hand upon her delicate fingers! While marvelling at this strange adventure, a deep slumber again overpowered her, when a graceful cavalier, unarmed, was at her side. He raised her hand to his lips, and her whole soul responded to the touch. He was about to speak, when her father suddenly appeared, with a dark and forbidding aspect. He began to chide, and the stranger, with a glance she could not erase from her recollection, disappeared. It was this glance which subdued her proud spirit to its influence. Her maidenly apprehensions became aroused; she attempted, but in vain, to drive away the intruder: the vision haunted her deeply—too deeply for her repose! Marks of some outward impression were yet visible on her hand, whether from causes less occult than the moving phantasma of the mind, is a question that would resist all our powers of solution. In a mood thus admirably fitted for the encountering of some marvellous adventure, did she mount her little white palfrey, all pranked out and caparisoned for the occasion.
Followed by a train of some length, with Oskatell by her side, the daughter of the house of Lathom allured the eyes of not a few as she passed on. Many a stately knight bent his head, and many an inquiry was directed to the esquires and attendants as she drew near.
The scene of this renowned combat was a spacious plain below the city, on the opposite side of the river Itchen. The chalky cliffs, which obtained for it the name of Caer Gwint, or the White City, were studded with gay and anxious multitudes, whose hopes and fears have long been swept off by the waves of passing generations.
Winchester being one of the fixed markets or staples for wool appointed by King Edward, the city had risen in power and affluence above its neighbours. Yet the plague, by which it was almost depopulated some years before, had considerably abated its magnificence. But the favour of royalty still clung to it, and Arthur's "Round Table" attested its early claims to this distinguishing character—a monarch's residence. The castle, where the Round Table is still shown, was then a building of great strength, and, enlivened by the king's presence, displayed many a staff and pennon from its stately battlements.
Isabella passed by the fortress just as the trumpets announced the near approach of the king down the covered way. The chains of the drawbridge were lowered, and presently issued forth the armed retinue of the monarch. Isabella and her train were obliged to remain awhile as idle spectators.
The king, though old and infirm, yet retained his lofty and commanding appearance. His charger was armed with the chanfrons and gamboised housings, having thereon the royal arms, and proudly did the conscious beast paw and champ, as if rejoicing under his burden.
Edward was dressed in a glittering surcoat of crimson silk, worked with lions and fleurs-de-lis. His helmet was cylindrical, surmounted by a lion as its crest. Round the rim was a coronet of gold, worked with fleurs-de-lis and oak leaves. A gorget and tippet covering the shoulders was fastened beneath the chin, giving the head a stiff but imposing air of command. He carried a short truncheon, which he wielded with great dexterity; yet his armour, though light and of the finest temper, seemed more cumbersome to him now than in former days.
The royal standard of England, thus described, was borne before him:—It was from eight to nine yards in length, the ground blue and red, containing, in the first division, the lion of England imperially crowned. In chief, a coronet of crosses pater and fleurs-de-lis, between two clouds irradiated. In base, a cloud between two coronets. In the next division the charges were, in chief a coronet, in base an irradiated cloud. In the third, the dexter chief and sinister base was likewise an irradiated cloud; the sinister and dexter chief a coronet, as before. Motto, "Dieu et mon droyt." The whole of this procession was one vast masquerade of pomp, little betokening the frailty and folly which it enveloped. Though to all outward show fair and glistening, yet was there a heavy gloom brooding over the nation. Prince Edward, the flower of chivalry, usually called the Black Prince, from the colour of his armour, lay then grievously sick, and the whole hope and welfare of the land seemed to hang on his recovery. The known ambition of John of Gaunt was a main source of alarm and anxiety. "Edward had, however," says the historian, "declared his grandson heir and successor to the crown, and thereby cut off all the hopes of the Duke of Lancaster, if he ever had the temerity to entertain any."
Not forgetting his former homage to the sex, the king's eye lingered on the form of Isabella, but she drew back, daunted by the ardour of his gaze. Oskatell saw the impression she had made, in nowise displeased, hoping some ray of royal favour would be reflected to him from the beam that already dawned on his companion.
We now pass on to the field, where everything was in readiness for the combat. The knights had heard mass and made confession, these being the requisite preparatives to the noble deeds they had that day vowed to perform. The heralds had made the usual proclamation against the use of magic, unlawful charms, and other like devices of the devil, when a loud flourish of trumpets announced the approach of Stanley, who first entered the lists mounted on a grey charger furnished with the chevron, or war-saddle, then of great use in withstanding the terrific shock of the assailant, being high up in front, and furnished at the back like an arm-chair. He was equipped in a full suit of Italian armour, displaying a steel cuirass of exquisite workmanship, deemed at that time a novel but elegant style of defence, and destined soon to supersede the purpoint or gamboised work called mail. If well tempered, it was found to resist the stroke of the lance without being either pierced or bent, nor was it liable to be pushed through into the body, as was sometimes the case with the "mailles" when the wambas or hoketon was wanting underneath. His shield was thus marshalled: argent; on a bend azure, three stags' heads cabossed. In the sinister chief, a crescent denoted his filiation; underneath was the motto "Augmenter." The shield itself or pavise was large, made of wood covered with skin, and surrounded with a broad rim of iron.
He looked gracefully round, first lowering his lance in front of the king's pavilion, and afterwards to the fair dames who crowded the galleries on each side. Whether from accident or design his eyes rested on Isabella with a strong expression of earnestness rather than curiosity. Doubtless, the noble representatives of the house of Lathom excited no slight interest among the spectators, and the young hero might have formed some yet undeveloped anticipations on this head.
She blushed deeply at this public and unexpected notice. The recollection of her dream made the full tide of feeling set in at once in this direction, much to her consternation and dismay; but when, happening to turn hastily round, a silken bandage, loosened by the sudden movement from some part of her dress, was carried off by the wind and deposited within the lists, she was greatly embarrassed; and her confusion was not a little increased as the young gallant with great dexterity transferred it to the point of his lance. At this choice of his "lady love," a loud shout arose from the multitude; and Isabella, now the object of universal regard, would have retired, but that the density of the crowd, and the inconvenient structure of the building, rendered it impossible.
Another flourish of trumpets announced the approach of the young Admiral of Hainault. His armour was blue and white, beautifully wrought and inlaid with silver. His steed was black, having the suit and furniture of the war-horse complete. The crouptiere and estival, together with the chanfron, were of the most costly description. A plume of white feathers decorated his casque, extending his athletic form into almost gigantic proportions.
The needful ceremonies were gone through; a deep and almost breathless silence succeeded, like the stillness that precedes the first swing of the storm. The trumpets sounded; the sharp click of the lances was heard falling into the rest; and the first rush was over. The noise of the shock was like the burst of the tempest on the forest boughs. Through the dust, the horses were seen to recoil upon their haunches; but as it blew heavily away, the warriors had regained their upright position, having sustained no injury, save by the shivering of their lances with the stroke. A loud shout of applause ensued; and the esquires being at hand with fresh weapons, each knight was too eager for the fray to lose a moment in requesting the usual signal. Again their coursers' feet seemed to spurn the earth. At this onset the French knight bent back in his saddle, whether from subtlety or accident was not known, but there was a loud clamour; and the Frenchman, recovering himself, spurred on his steed with great vigour, perhaps hoping to take his adversary at unawares; but the latter, darting aside with agility, the other's lance ran full against the boards, and in deep vexation he came back to the charge.
Trembling with choler, he hardly restrained himself until the prescribed signal; then, as if he would make an end of his opponent, he aimed his weapon with a direct thrust towards the heart; but Stanley, confident in his own might, was fully prepared for the blow, as the event sufficiently proved; for the French knight was seen to reel from his saddle, the point of his enemy's lance being driven completely through his armour. He rolled backwards on the ground, and so vigorous had been the attack, that his horse's back was broken, and they lay together, groaning piteously, besmeared with blood and dust, to the sore dismay of his companions. Stanley suddenly alighted, and helped the pages to undo his armour; but ere his beaver could be unclasped he had fainted by loss of blood, and being borne off the field, he shortly afterwards expired.
The king was mightily pleased with this great prowess of the victor, insomuch that he knighted him on the spot, and, according to the old ballad, gave him goodly manors—
"For his hire, Wing, Tring, and Iving, in Buckinghamshire."
He had so won, likewise, on the hitherto impenetrable disposition of Isabella, that when he came to render his homage at her feet, she trembled and could scarcely give the customary reply.
Raising his visor, and uncovering his helmet from the grand guard—a plate protecting the left side of the face, shoulder, and breast—he made a lowly obeisance at the gate of his mistress's pavilion, at the same time presenting the stolen favour he had now so nobly won. With a tremulous hand she bound it round his arm.
"Nay, thy chaplet, lady," shouted a score of tongues from the inquisitive spectators. Isabella untied a rich chaplet of goldsmith's work, ornamented with rose-garlands, from her hair, and threw it over his helmet. Still armed with the gauntlets, which, either through hurry or inadvertence, he had neglected to throw aside, as was the general courtesy for the occasion, the knight seized her hand, and with a grasp gentle for any other occasion, pressed it to his lips. The lady uttered a subdued shriek, whether from pain or surprise, it boots not now to inquire; mayhap, it was the remembrance of the mailed hand she had felt in her dream, and to which her fingers, yet tingling with the pressure, bore a sufficient testimony. Sir John bent lowlier than before, with one hand on his breast, in token of contrition. A thousand strange fancies, shapeless and undefined, rushed by, as the maiden looked on the warrior. It was the very crisis of her dream; her heart seemed as though it would have leapt the walls of its tenement,—and she was fain to hide her face under the folds of her mantle.
"Now, on my halidome," said the king, "there be two doves whose cooing would be the better for a little honest speech. Poor hearts! it were a pity their tongues had bewrayed their desire. Fitz-Walter, summon them hither."
The blushing Isabella was conducted to the royal presence, where the king was graciously pleased to impress a salute on her rich and glowing cheek—no mean honour from so gracious and gallant a monarch, who, though old, was yet accounted a mighty adept in the discernment of female beauty, he never being known to suffer contact of the royal lip with aught but the fairest and most comely of the sex.
"Sir John, I commend thee to thy mistress. A dainty choice. She is 'The Queen of Beauty' for the day, and to-night we command your presence at the banquet."
"My gracious liege," said Isabella, pointing to Oskatell, "I have a brother; unto his care it is but meet that I entrust myself; and he"——
"His person and endowments," interrupted the king, "are not unknown to us. I do honour thee by ennobling him; for though our ladies' brightness be all too dazzling to receive a glory from us, yet peradventure for their sakes our courtesy is vouchsafed. Rise, Sir Oskatell de Lathom."
Again a flourish of trumpets proclaimed the king's favour, who with many more gracious speeches won the affection of all who heard him that day.
Several other jousts and "gentle passages" were held, the success of which falling principally with the English combatants, the boasting pride of France was again humbled before the king, who seemed to renew his former victories at this memorable "Tourney of Winchester."
But Isabella had bartered years of repose for this brief season of intoxicating splendour. The barbed arrow was in her heart, and the more she struggled, the more irreclaimable it grew. Doubtless that unlucky dream had rendered her more susceptible to the wound.
Dreams have this operation; and whether good or evil, they leave an impression that no simple act of the will can efface. It seems to be the work of a power superior to our own, for "the less begetteth not the greater;" how, then, can the mind originate a train of conceptions, or rather creations, superior to itself—above its own power to control?
But Isabella was too much engrossed by her feelings to attempt their solution. She lay restless on her couch, but there was no escape. An unquenchable flame was kindled in her soul, that not all the cool appliances of reason could subdue. Tomorrow she must depart, and that gay pageant vanish as a dream; and yet not like her own dream, for that was abiding and indelible. To-morrow the brave knight must withdraw, and the "Queen of Beauty," homaged for a day, give place to another whose reign should be as brief and as unenduring. In this distempered mood, with a heart all moved to sadness, did the Lady Isabel pass the first hours of the following night.
Suddenly the sharp twang of a citerne was heard in the street below her window,—nothing new in these piping times of love and minstrelsy; but so sensitive was the ear now become to exterior impressions, that she started, as though expecting a salutation from the midnight rambler. Her anticipations were in some measure realised, the minstrel pausing beneath her lattice. A wooden balcony projected from it, concealing the musician. Isabella threw a light mantle around her, and rousing one of her maidens, she opened the window. The rich melody came upon her senses through the balmy odour of myrtle boughs and leaves of honeysuckle. The chords were touched with a skilful hand, and the prelude, a wild and extempore commentary on the ballad, was succeeded by the following ditty:—
"My ladye love, my ladye love, The moon through the lift is breaking; The sky is bright, and through the night The queen of love is waking. Yon little star that twinkleth so, Fluttering her bright eyes to and fro, How doth she chide, That thou shouldest hide, All joyance thus forsaking. My ladye love, my ladye love, The moon through the lift is breaking; The sky is bright, and through the night The queen of love is waking."
The singer withdrew; and Isabella was convinced, or her eyes were befooled by her fancy, that, as he emerged from his concealment, his form could be none other than the one her imagination was too familiar with to mistake. He, too, had caught a glance of the listeners, for presently a folded paper was thrown over the balusters, and the minstrel departed. The first light that came through the long low casements revealed all that her hopes anticipated. The billet was from Sir John Stanley, whose regrets, mingled with vows and protestations of love, were to this purport, that he must needs be away before daybreak, on urgent business from the king. He sent a sigh and a love-token, commending himself to her best thoughts, until he should gain his acquittance so far as to visit Lathom.
Passing over the departure, the bustle, and the weariness of a twelve days' journey, let us behold the maiden once more in her pretty bower at Lathom. How changed! The whole assumed a fresh aspect, thus viewed from a different state of the mind. Her favourite spaniel licked her hand, but she did not notice his caresses; all about her was as if the wand of the enchanter had been there, changing its image, each object calling forth a train of sensations heretofore unknown. Even the hangings and figured draperies wore a grim and perturbed expression; and Jephtha's daughter and the Queen of Sheba looked more dismal and profuse than ever from the dusky arras.
She strayed out, as beforetime, into the woods; but their gloom was more intense, and the very birds seemed to grow sad with her melancholy musings. Their song, that used to be so sprightly, was now subdued and mournful, and all their gay and bubbling hilarity was gone. If she wandered forth towards evening, the owl hooted in her path, and the raven croaked above her. She heard not the light matin of the lark. Fancy, stimulated alone by gloomy impressions, laid hold on them only, failing to recognise aught but its own image.
Sir Oskatell and her father had often taken counsel together since his return. Shortly afterwards, Isabella received a summons to attend Sir Thomas in private. What was the precise nature of that interview does not appear, save that the lady withdrew to her chamber, and the brow of Sir Thomas was for a long space moody and disturbed. Sir John Stanley, though of gentle descent, was not endowed with an adequate inheritance, at least for the heiress of Lathom, whose extensive possessions, though shared by Oskatell, were deemed by Sir Thomas of sufficient magnitude to command a connection of higher rank and importance. As a younger brother he could have slight pretensions to patrimony, and save the manors, then but a slender endowment, just granted by King Edward, his profession as a soldier supplied his chief revenue. His exclusive notice of the Lady Isabella at the tournament was quickly conveyed to the ear of Sir Thomas; and, it was said, the latter had vowed that no portion of wealth should descend to his daughter if wedded to Sir John, but that the whole should be settled on Sir Oskatell. "The course of true love never did run smooth." That Sir John Stanley had a watchful eye at the time to the fortune as well as to the person of Isabella, is by some rather freely hinted. This, however, turns out to be an unfounded calumny, as the events hereafter unfolded will abundantly demonstrate.
Sir John, after vainly endeavouring to avert this cruel purpose, and to win the old man's favour, entered into the service of the king. He hoped that some lucky adventure would enable him to appear with more certainty of success the next time he played the suitor at Lathom.
Isabella, though sorely importuned to the contrary, remained true to her first and only attachment; and Sir Oskatell was likely, in the end, to gather to himself the whole of these vast possessions. A disposition to this effect she had for some time suspected. His conduct, too, was less kindly of late, and he took upon himself an authority more direct and unconditional. Indeed, it seemed but too evident that Sir Oskatell was looked upon as the ultimate possessor. The maiden pined sorely at her lot, and lack of perpetuity in the inheritance. But woman's wits have compassed a sea of impossibilities, and will ever continue irresistible until their beautiful forms shall no longer irradiate these dull mortalities with their presence.
One day an aged minstrel craved admission. Sir Thomas had just retired from the banquet. Isabella and the lady of Lathom were at their usual employment in their private chamber, plying the needle in "Antres vast," and wildernesses of embroidery, along with the maids. The request was granted; soon after which an old man, bending apparently under an accumulation of years and infirmities, entered the apartment. There was a keen scrutinising restlessness of the eye, stealing through the silvery locks about his brow, that but ill accorded with his apparent decrepitude.
After a very profound obeisance, which the lady-mother scarcely recognised, he addressed himself to his vocation. A mighty indifferent prelude succeeded the arrangement of the strings, then a sort of jig, accented by the toe and head of the performer. Afterwards he broke into a wild and singular extempore, which gradually shaped itself into measure and rhythm, at times beautifully varied, and accompanied by the voice. We shall attempt a more modern and intelligible version of the sentiments he expressed:—
1. "Rich round thy brow are the clusters bright, And thy tresses are like the plume— The plume of the raven, glossy with light, Or the ray on the spirit's deep gloom.
2. "As I gaze, the dim echoes of years that are past Bring their joys to my bosom in vain; For the chords, which their spell once o'er memory cast, Ne'er shall waken to gladness again!"
"I hold these minstrels now no better than the croaking of your carrion crow," said the elder lady: "these are not like the songs we used to hear in hall and bower at Dunham Massey. Then "—the old lady forgetting that her own ears had played her false, and her relish for these dainties had departed—"Then," raising her voice and gazing round, as past scenes recurred to her fancy, "how my young heart would leap at the sound of their ditties! and how I long to hear again 'Sir Armoric' and the 'Golden-Legend,' and all about the lady with the swine's snout and the silver trough!"
But Isabella heard not her mother's reminiscences. The minstrel engrossed her attention, absorbing her whole thoughts, it might seem, with the display of his cunning. Her cheek was flushed, and her lip trembled. Some mysterious faculty there was either in the song or the performer.
Again he poured forth a strain more touching, and of ravishing sweetness:—
1. "Smile on, my love; that sunny smile Is light and life and joy to thee; But, oh, its glance of witchery the while, Is maddening, hopeless misery to me.
2. "Another bosom thou mayest bless, Whose chords shall wake with ecstasy; On mine, each thrilling thought thy looks impress Wakes but the pang of hopeless destiny.
3. "Smile on, my love; that sunny smile Is light and life and joy to thee; But, oh, its glance of witchery the while, Is hopeless, maddening misery to me."
These were burning thoughts from the bosom of age; and had not the old lady's perceptions been somewhat obtuse, she might have guessed the minstrel's purpose. His despair was not so utterly hopeless and without remedy as the purport of his song seemed to forebode—for the morning light saw the bower of Isabella vacant, and her bed undisturbed. She was then far over the blue hills into Staffordshire, where another sun saw her the wife of Sir John Stanley; immediately after which they departed into Ireland.
Sir Thomas threw the reins on the neck of his choler, and, as tradition reports, did then disinherit her for ever in favour of Sir Oskatell. How far the latter might be privy to this resolve, or whether Sir Thomas, goaded on aforetime to the aggrandisement of his name, seized the present opportunity only as it served his purpose, both history and tradition leave us without the means of deciding. There does, however, seem reason to suspect some unfair solicitations practised on Sir Thomas, which subsequent occurrences strongly corroborate; but particularly the fact, that on his deathbed he solemnly revoked this injustice, appointing Sir John Stanley his lawful heir, disinheriting Sir Oskatell, save a slight provision hereafter named, and declaring his illegitimacy. We would not lightly throw out an accusation of this nature; but surely an act of retribution so unsparingly administered would not have been put in force, had not past circumstances in some measure rendered it just.
Let us now resume our narrative from the date of the tournament; soon after which King Edward died, and Sir John Stanley, in the first year of his successor, Richard II., was honoured by him with a commission to Ireland, for the purpose of assisting in the total reduction of that unfortunate kingdom. By his great prudence and success he brought under submission the great rebel chiefs, to wit, O'Neal, King of Ulster; Rotherick O'Connor, King of Connaught; O'Caral, King of Uriel; O'Rurick, King of Meath; Arthur M'Kier, King of Leinster; and O'Brien, King of Thomond. In the year 1379, Richard coming in person to Ireland, these chieftains did homage to him as their sovereign prince. For his great and eminent services on this occasion Sir John had granted to him, by patent for life, the manor and lands of Black Castle in that country.
Ten years did Sir John sojourn, by the king's order, in this unquiet and troublesome appendage to the English crown. And it may be conceived that if true love had any hold on his affections, they were oft communing with Isabella, forsaken, as she then thought, by him whom she had once too surely trusted. In the tumult of war, and in the administration of his high office, no doubt her gentle form would visit his spirit, and, like the star of future promise, guide him on to his achievements.
About the year 1390, when the return of Henry Duke of Lancaster from his banishment, without leave of the king, had caused a sore dismay throughout the land, Richard, harassed with the apprehension of danger, appointed Sir John Stanley Lord Justice of Ireland for six years. He was now able, in some measure, to confer a sufficient dignity on his beloved, though not yet equal, in point of wealth, to the wishes of Sir Thomas. But feeling desirous to know the state of her disposition towards him, he set out in disguise for Lathom, where, as we have before stated, he so far prevailed that she became Lady Stanley in spite of all the opposition she had endured. Aware of the determination of her father, he deemed her love a sufficient recompense, thus fully refuting the insinuations that her dower had more charm for him than her person.
Returning to Ireland with his lady, they lived there happily for some years.
When Henry of Lancaster was crowned by the title of Henry the Fourth, Sir John being still Lord Justice of Ireland, and holding the government there in favour of the deposed king, the new monarch, well knowing the knight's power, together with his skill and experience, as well in the senate as in the field, found means to attach him to the reigning interest, and, as a mark of signal favour, granted to him and his heirs for ever, by letters patent, many lands there named, lying in the westerly part of the county of Chester. Soon afterwards occurred that memorable rebellion, when the Welsh blood, boiling to a ferment by the hot appliances of one Owen Glendower, an esquire of Wales, and in his youth a resident at the Inns of Court in London, kindled the flames of intestine war. After he had conspired with the Percies and their adherents, together with a large body of the Scotch, these malcontents threatened to overthrow the now tottering dominion of King Henry.
The most prompt measures were, however, taken to meet this exigency,—and Sir John Stanley was suddenly called out of Ireland; Sir William Stanley, then Lord of Stanley and Stourton, being appointed his deputy. Sir John soon applied himself in such earnest to the service of the king, his master, that a large and powerful army, headed by Henry himself, together with "Prince Harry," his son, marched against the rebels. Near to Shrewsbury the latter were overthrown; Sir John, by his great bravery and address, mainly contributing to the success of the engagement. His presence was now become of essential service to the king, who in consequence appointed his second son, the Duke of Clarence—who claimed the title of Earl of Ulster in right of his wife—Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in his stead, the new governor landing at Carlingford on the 2d August 1405.
Sir John obtained, as a favour granted but to few, and those of the highest rank, licence from the king to fortify a spacious house he was then building at Liverpool, the site whereof was given by Sir Thomas Lathom, who, we may now suppose, had in some measure swerved from his most unjust purpose, possibly on apprehending the great honours and influence that Sir John had already acquired without his aid or furtherance. This plot of land, it was said, contained 650 square yards, which he held together with several burgage houses and lands in that town.
He had full licence to build a castle or house of strength, embattled and machicolated, with tenellare, or loop-holes in the walls, and other warlike devices, which no subject could undertake without special leave from the king.
The Isle of Man was at this time, by Northumberland's rebellion, forfeit to the crown. Sir John the same year obtained a grant of it for life, and in the year following a re-grant to himself and his heirs for ever, with the style and title of "King of Man."
It were needless to enumerate all the honours and distinctions heaped in such unwonted profusion upon our illustrious hero. It has rarely happened that so rapid a career has met with no reverse, for the fickle goddess mostly exalts her votaries only to make their downfall the more terrible.
Henry dying in 1413, was succeeded by his son Henry V., with whom Sir John was held in equal esteem, being again appointed to the government of Ireland; but, landing in Dublin, his health was now visibly on the wane. Four months afterwards he died at Ardee, to the great grief of his family, and the irreparable loss of the nation. He was a rare instance wherein a courtier, through four successive reigns, carried himself unimpeached, and unsullied by the political vices which were then too general to excite reproach. He was truly a knight "sans peur et sans reproche."
He left two sons, John and Thomas, and one daughter, whose fortunes, at this time, we shall not attempt to follow.
Lady Stanley, his widow, returned to Liverpool with her children, and lived there until her death, in the house built by her husband.
Now did the beam of Sir Oskatell's favour, like an April day, suddenly change its gaudy and suspicious brightness. Sir Thomas, waning in years and ready to depart, began to consider his former misdoings. His daughter and her offspring were, by the laws of nature, justly entitled to his possessions, which he, reflecting on the great impiety and injustice of withholding, bequeathed, with some exceptions, to Lady Stanley and her heirs, revealing at the same time the fraud which he had practised, and extinguishing for ever the hopes and expectations of Sir Oskatell. Yet was he not left entirely destitute: to him and to his descendants were reserved, by due process of law, the manors of Irlam and Urmston, near Manchester, with divers other valuable inheritances. At the same time was given to him the signet of his arms, with the crest assumed for his sake, an eagle regardant, proper. It was only subsequent to the supplanting of Sir Oskatell that his rivals took the present crest, "The Eagle and Child" where the eagle is represented as having secured his prey, in token of their triumph over the foundling, whom he is preparing to devour. This crest, with the motto "SANS CHANGER," the descendants of Sir John Stanley, the present Earls of Derby, continue to hold: the foregoing narrative showing faithfully the origin of that singular device.
 "Thomas Stanley, Bishop of Man, was a cadet of the noble family of the Stanleys, Earls of Derby; and, after he had spent some time in this and another university abroad, returned to his native country (Lancashire), became rector of Winwick and Wigan therein; as also of Badsworth, in the diocese of York, and dignified in the church. At length, upon the vacancy of the see of the Isle of Man, he was made bishop thereof, but when, I cannot justly say; because he seems to have been bishop in the beginning of King Edward VI., and was really bishop of that place before the death of Dr Man, whom I have before mentioned under the year 1556. This Thomas Stanley paid his last debt to nature in the latter end of 1570, having had the character when young of a tolerable poet of his time."—Wood's Athenae Oxonienses.
 This extract is from an interesting pamphlet, printed for private circulation only, by Thomas Heywood, Esq. of Manchester, entitled, "The Earls of Derby, and the Verse Writers and Poets of the 16th and 17th Centuries." 1825.
THE BLACK KNIGHT OF ASHTON.
"O Jesu I for Thy mercies' sake, And for Thy bitter passion, Save us from the axe of the Tower, And from Sir Ralph of Assheton!"
It would be a curious inquiry to trace the origin of services and other customs, paid by tenants to their feudal sovereign. Connected as the subject is with the following tradition, it may be worth while if we attempt to throw together a few notices on that head. A rose was not a very unfrequent acknowledgment. Near to the scene of our story, the tenant of a certain farm called Lime Hurst was compelled to bring a rose at the feast of St John Baptist. He held other lands; but they were subject only to the customary rules of the lordship, such as ploughing, harrowing, carting turves from Ashton-moss to the lord's house, leading his corn in harvest, &c. This species of service was called boon-work; and hence the old adage, "I am served like a boon-shearer." It, however, seems that some trifling present was made in return. In a MS. of receipts and disbursements belonging to the Cheethams, kept in the time of Charles II., there is an item for moneys paid for gloves to the boon-shearers at Clayton Hall, where Humphrey Cheetham, founder of the college at Manchester, then resided. The acknowledgment of a rose before mentioned might seem to have some allusion to the Knights Hospitallers. The estate of Lime Hurst was called John of Jerusalem's land, and the tithes and rent, in all probability, once went to the support of that order.
In the Ashton pedigree we find a Nicholas Assheton, as it was then spelt, who enrolled himself amongst these warrior-monks. It seems not improbable that the profits of this estate belonged to him.
The custom of heriotship, however, was the most oppressive, being paid and exacted from the parties at a time when they were least able to render it. Our tradition will best illustrate this remnant of barbarism, to which, even in the customs of the most savage tribes, we should scarcely find a parallel.
In the early records of the Ashton family we find that Thomas Stavely, or Stayley, held a place called the Bestal by paying one penny at Christmas. This Bestal was, perhaps, a place of security or confinement. Adjoining the hall yard, the ancient residence of the Ashtons, is an old stone building facing the south, now called the Dungeon. It is flanked at the east and west corners by small towers with conical stone roofs. The wall is pierced by two pointed windows. Judging from its appearance, it must have been a place of strength; the name Bestal being probably a corruption of Bastile, basilion, or bastilion—all of which we find appropriated to places of this description. Tradition, indeed, says the ancient lords of Ashton made this a place of confinement, when the power of life and death were at their command. A field near the old hall, still called Gallows Meadow, was then used as a place of execution.
Sir John Assheton, in the fifth year of Henry VI., became possessed of the manor on payment of one penny annually. He is generally supposed to have founded the church about the year 1420. We find him assigning the forms or benches to his tenants: the names for whose uses they are appointed are all females. From this it may seem that seats in our churches were first put up for their convenience. Eighteen forms or benches are mentioned for the occupation of one hundred wives and widows, who are named, besides their daughters and servant wenches. Their husbands had not this privilege, being forced to stand or kneel in the aisles, as the service required. In the windows there yet remains a considerable quantity of painted glass, but very much mutilated. Three or four figures on the north side represent a king, saints, &c. In the chancel are the coats and effigies of the Asshetons in armour, kneeling. In one part seems to have been portrayed the invention of the Holy Cross by St Helen. At whatever period the church was built, the steeple must either have been erected afterwards, or have undergone a considerable repair in the time of the last Sir Thomas Assheton; for upon the south side are the arms of Ashton impaling Stayley. There is a tradition, that while the workmen were one day amusing themselves at cards, a female unexpectedly presented herself. She asked them to turn up an ace, promising, in case of compliance, that she would build several yards of the steeple; upon which they fortunately turned up the ace of spades. This tale may owe its origin to the following circumstances:—Upon the marriage of Sir Thomas Assheton with the daughter of Ralph Stayley, a considerable accumulation of property was the consequence. This might induce him to repair the church, and perform sundry other acts of charity and beneficence. Whilst the work was going on, Lady Elizabeth Assheton, it is not improbable, surprised the builders at their pastime; and giving a broad hint that a part of her money was being employed in the erection, might desire that her arms should be fixed in the steeple, impaled with those of her husband. The shape of an escutcheon, having a considerable resemblance to a spade-ace, in all likelihood was the origin of the fable.
Sir John Assheton, the founder of the church, is the reputed father of Ralph, whom the following tradition commemorates. The origin of "Riding the Black Lad" is involved in great obscurity—some ascribing it to the tyranny of Sir Ralph, and others to the following circumstance, which may have been fabricated merely to throw off the odium attached to his name:—In the reign of Edward III., one Thomas Assheton fought under Queen Philippa in the battle of Neville's Cross. Riding through the ranks of the enemy, he bore away the royal standard from the Scotch King's tent, who himself was afterwards taken prisoner. King Edward, on his return from France, conferred on Thomas the honour of knighthood, with the title of Sir Thomas Assheton of Ashton-under-Line. To commemorate this singular display of valour, he instituted the custom of "Riding the Black Lad" upon Easter Monday at Ashton; leaving the sum of ten shillings yearly to support it, together with his own suit of black velvet and a coat of mail. Which of these accounts is correct we cannot presume to determine. There is, however, sufficient testimony upon record to account for the dislike entertained towards the memory of Sir Ralph Assheton.
In the town of Ashton-under-Line, or Lime, called in the ancient rent-rolls Ashton-sub-Lima, a singular custom prevails. On Easter Monday in every year, the ceremony of "Riding the Black Lad" takes place. According to some, it is a popular expression of abhorrence towards the memory of Sir Ralph Assheton, commonly called The Black Knight, whose character and conduct would seem to warrant the odium thus attached to his name. The following is a brief account of the ceremony;—An effigy is made of a man in black armour, and this image is deridingly emblazoned with some emblem of the occupation of the first couple that are married in the course of the year. The Black Boy is then fixed on horseback, and after being led in procession round the town, is dismounted, made to supply the place of a shooting-butt, and all sorts of fire-arms being in requisition for the occasion, he is put to an ignominious death. Five shillings per annum are reserved from some neighbouring estate for the perpetuation of this absurd custom.
Sir Ralph Assheton was sheriff of York in the reign of Edward IV., and knight marshal and lieutenant of the Tower under Richard III., being in great esteem with the latter monarch. In the Harleian MSS. annuities are mentioned as being granted to him, with divers lordships, and a tun of wine yearly. So powerful was his jurisdiction, that a grant was made him to the effect, that if in cases of emergency suitable persons could not be procured for the trial of delinquents, his own authority should be a sufficient warrant for the purpose. Hence, from the nature of his office, and the powers that were intrusted to him by the king, and probably too from the natural bent of his disposition, arose the popular dislike which vented itself in the well-known traditionary distich we have taken as our motto.
In those days, when the gentry went little from home, set times of mirth and recreation were constantly observed in their spacious and hospitable mansions. Yule, or Christmas, was a feast of especial note and observance. The great hall was mostly the scene of these boisterous festivities; where, from the gallery, the lord of the mansion and his family might witness the sports, without being incommoded by the uncouth and rustic manners of their guests. It was the custom to invite all who were in any way dependent on the proprietor, and who owed him suit and service.
The mansion of Sir Ralph had, like those of the neighbouring gentry, its lofty and capacious hall. At one end was a gallery resting on the heads of three or four gigantic figures carved in oak, perhaps originally intended as rude representations of the ancient Caryatides.
The Christmas but one following the elevation of Richard to the throne, in the year of our redemption 1483, was a season of unusual severity. Many tenants of Sir Ralph were prevented from assembling at the Yule feast. A storm had rendered the roads almost impassable, keeping most of the aged and infirm from sharing in this glorious pastime.
The Yule-log was larger than ever, and the blaze kept continually on the roar. No ordinary scale of consumption could withstand the attacks of the enemy, and thaw the icicles from his beard.
The wassail-bowl had gone freely about, and the company—Hobbe Adamson, Hobbe of the Leghes, William the Arrowsmith, Jack the Woodman, Jack the Hind, John the Slater, Roger the Baxter, with many others, together with divers widows of those who owed service to their lord, clad in their holiday costume—black hoods and brown jackets and petticoats—were all intent upon their pastimes, well charged with fun and frolic. Their mirth was, however, generally kept within the bounds of decency and moderation by a personage of great importance, called the Lord of Misrule, who, though not intolerant of a few coarse and practical jokes upon occasion, was yet, in some measure, bound to preserve order and decorum on pain of being degraded from his office. To punish the refractory, a pair of stone hand-stocks was commonly used, having digit-holes for every size, from the paws of the ploughman to the taper fingers of my lady's maiden. This instrument was in the especial keeping of the dread marshal of these festivities.
The custom of heriotship, or a fine payable on the death of the landholder to the feudal lord, was then in most cases rigorously exacted. This claim fell with great severity upon widows in poor circumstances, who were, in too many instances, thus deprived of their only means of subsistence. Then came fees and fines to the holy Church, so that the bereaved and disconsolate creature had need to wish herself in the dark dwelling beside her husband. Sir David Lindsay may not be unaptly quoted in illustration of this subject. His poem called "The Monarch" contains the following frightful picture of the exactions and enormities committed on these defenceless and unoffending victims of their rapacity:—
"And also the vicar, as I trow, Will not fail to take a cow, And uppermost cloths, though babes them an, From a poor seely husbandman, When he lyes ready to dy, Having small children two or three, And his three kine withouten mo,— The vicar must have one of tho, With the gray cloke that covers the bed, Howbeit that they be poorly cled; And if the wife die on the morn, And all the babes should be forlorn, The other cow he takes away, With her poor cote and petycote gray: And if within two days or three The eldest child shall happen to dy, Of the third cow he shall be sure, When he hath under his cure; And father and mother both dead be, Beg must the babes without remedy. They hold the corse at the church style, And thare it must remain awhile, Till they get sufficient surety For the church right and duty. Then comes the landlord perforce, And takes to him the fattest horse; Poor labourers would that law were down, Which never was founded by reason. I heard them say, under confession, That this law was brother to oppression."