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   Chapter 4 IN LONDON

A March on London By G. A. Henty Characters: 32506

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"I am glad indeed to see you, my young swordsman," Sir Ralph, who was waiting at the door to receive them, said to Edgar after he had greeted his wife and children. "This affair at Dartford threatens to be more serious than I expected. I was on the point of starting for home when I heard of the trouble, and should have done so had not the king asked me to remain here, seeing that at present his uncles and many other nobles are absent, and that, as he was pleased to say, my advice and sword might be useful to him should the trouble grow serious. When, therefore, we received news that all that part of Kent was in a blaze, I sent out a messenger to you, dame, to come hither to me. What is the latest news?"

"Master Ormskirk can best tell you, Sir Ralph, seeing that he was himself yesterday in Dartford and learned something of their intentions."

Edgar then recounted what he had seen and heard in the streets of

Dartford.

"Your account tallies with the news that came here but an hour since, namely, that a crowd of men were marching towards Rochester; a panic prevails in that town, and the wise heads have sent off this messenger, as if, forsooth, an army could be got together and sent down to their aid before these rioters reach the place."

"I am glad to come up, husband," Lady De Courcy said. "'Tis some time since I was in town, and I would fain see what people are wearing, for the fashions change so rapidly that if one is away from town six months one finds that everyone stares, as if one had come from a barbarous country."

"I was afraid of that when I wrote to you," Sir Ralph laughed, "and felt that your coming up would cause me to open my purse widely; but, indeed, in this case you are not far wrong, for there has been a great change in the fashions both of men and women in the last year. The young king is fond of brave attire, and loves to see those around him brightly arrayed, and indeed it seems to me that money is spent over-lavishly, and that it were cheaper for a man to build him a new castle than to buy him suits of new raiment for himself and his wife. The men at Court all dress in such tightly fitting garments, that, for my part, I wonder how they get into them."

"And the women, husband?"

"Oh, as to that I say nothing; you must use your own eyes in that matter. However, just at present men's thoughts are too much occupied by these troubles in Essex and Kent to think much of feasting and entertainments, and it will be well to wait to see what comes of it before deciding on making new purchases."

"Is there any chance of trouble in the city, father?" Albert asked.

"I know not, lad. The better class of citizens are assuredly opposed to those who make these troubles, although they have often shown that they can make troubles themselves when they think that their privileges are assailed; still, as they know that their booths are likely to be ransacked, were bands of rioters to obtain possession of the town, they will doubtless give us any aid in their power. But the matter does not depend upon them; there are ever in great towns a majority composed of the craftsmen, the butchers, and others, together with all the lower rabble, who are ready to join in tumults and seditions; and like enough, if the rioters come here, they will take part with them, while the burgesses will be only too glad to put up their shutters and do or say naught that would give the mob an excuse for breaking into their magazines.

"Would that Lancaster were here with a thousand or so of men-at-arms," he went on, gloomily; "there is no one at the Court who can take command. The king this morning asked me if I would undertake the defence of the palace; but I said to him: 'I am but a simple knight, your Majesty, and neither the young lords of the Court nor the citizens would pay any heed to my orders; moreover, I am not one of those whose head is good to plan matters. I would die in your Majesty's service, and would warrant that many of your enemies would go down before I did. I could set a host in battle array, were there a host here; but as to what course to follow, or how it were best to behave at such a pinch, are matters beyond me. As to these, it were best that your Majesty took counsel with those whom the Duke of Lancaster has appointed, and to whom such business appertains.

"'If you will give me orders I will carry them out, even if I am bade to defend London Bridge with but half a dozen men-at-arms, and at such work I might do as well as another; but as to counsel I have none to give, save that were I in your place I would issue a proclamation to these knaves saying that you would hold no parley with men having arms in their hands, but that if they would peacefully disperse you would order that a commission be appointed to examine into their complaints, and that any ills that proved to be justified should be righted, but that if forced you will give nothing, and that if they advance against London their blood must be on their own heads.

"'Should they still come on I would shut myself up in the Tower, which has a good garrison, and where you may well hold out against all the rascaldom of the country until your barons can raise their levies and come to your assistance. Still, it may well be, your Majesty, that these fellows will think better of it, and may, after all, disperse again to their homes. I pray you, take no heed of my words, but refer the matter to those accustomed to deal with affairs of state. The noble prince, your father, knew that he could lay his orders on me, and that I would carry them out to the utmost of my strength. If he said to me, "Lead a party, Sir Ralph, to attack that bridge," I gave no thought as to whether the defences were too strong to be carried or not; or if he entrusted the command of a post to me, and said, "Defend it against all odds until I come to your assistance," he knew that it would be done, but more than that I never pretended to; and I deem not that, as I have grown older, I know more of such matters than I did when I was in the prime of my strength.'"

"And what said his Majesty, Sir Ralph?"

"He laughed and said that I was the first he had known who was not ready to give him advice, and that he would that all were as chary of so doing as I was. When I told him this morning that I had sent for you and my son and daughter, as I misliked leaving you in the centre of these troubles, he offered apartments in the Tower, but I said that, with his permission, I would remain lodged here, for that, seeing his lady mother was away, I thought that you would prefer this lodging, as there is here a fair garden where you and Aline can walk undisturbed, to the Tower, which is full of armed men, young gallants, and others."

"It will indeed be more pleasant, Sir Ralph, for in the Tower Aline could never venture from my side, and there would be neither peace nor quietness."

The city had already stretched beyond the walls, and on the rising ground between it and the Tower, and on the rise behind the latter, extending to some distance east, many houses had been built. Some of these were the property of nobles and officials of the Court, while others had been built by citizens who let them to persons of degree, who only came occasionally to Court on business or pleasure. The house in which Sir Ralph had taken up his lodging was the property of a trader who, when the house was not let to one needing it all, resided there himself as a protection to the property it contained against robbers or ill-doers, often letting one or more rooms to those who needed not the whole house. Thus Sir Ralph was enabled to obtain good accommodation for his family.

"The first thing to be done," he went on, "is to take the lads to a tailor's to obtain clothes more suitable than those they wear."

"I was going to ask you if you would be good enough to do so, Sir Ralph," Edgar said. "My father has furnished me with money for the purpose."

"That is well," the knight said, "though indeed it would have mattered not if he had not done so, for I had intended that you and Albert should have garments of similar fashion at my cost, seeing how much I owe to you."

"Indeed, Sir Ralph, such obligation as there is, is far more than discharged by your kindness in speaking of me to the king and offering to present me to him; indeed, I am ashamed that what was a pleasure to me, and was done from the love I bear your son, should be regarded as worthy of thanks, much less as an obligation."

"Cannot we come with you also?" Lady De Courcy said. "From what you say we must need garments to the full as much as the boys; besides, this is Aline's first visit to town. We saw but little as we rode through, and we would fain look at the shops and see the finery before I make my choice."

"So be it, wife; indeed, I had not intended that you should stay behind."

It was but a quarter of a mile's walk to Aldersgate, and as they reached East Chepe, the young people found infinite amusement in gazing at the goods in the traders' booths, and in watching the throng in the street. It was late in the afternoon now, and many of the citizens' wives and daughters were abroad. These were dressed for the most part in costly materials of sober hues, and Dame Matilda noted that a great change had taken place since she had last been in London, not only in the fashion, but in the costliness of the material; for with the death of the old king and the accession of a young one fond of gaiety and rich dresses, the spirit of extravagance had spread rapidly among all classes. With these were citizens, of whom the elder ones clung to the older fashions, while even the young men still displayed a sobriety in their costumes that contrasted strongly with the brilliancy of several groups of young courtiers. These sauntered along the streets, passing remarks upon all who passed, and casting looks of admiration at some of the pretty daughters of the citizens.

Among all these moved craftsmen and apprentices, the former taking to their employers work they had finished at home, the latter carrying messages, hurrying nimbly through the crowd, or exchanging saucy remarks with each other, for which they were sometimes sharply rebuked by their elders. From East Chepe the party passed on through Chepe to St. Paul's, and then having chosen the shop at which they could make their purchases the ladies entered a trader's booth, while Sir Ralph went in with the two lads to another hard by.

"What can I serve you with, sir knight?"

"I require two suits for my son and this gentleman, his friend," Sir Ralph said. "I desire clothes befitting a presentation to the king, and wish them to be of the fashion, but not extravagantly so."

At the trader's orders his apprentices showed numerous samples, most of them light and bright in colour.

"I want something more sober in hue," the knight said. "These are well enough for men with long purses, and who can afford ample provision of garments, but they would show every spot and stain, and would soon be past wearing; besides, although doubtless such as are mostly used at Court, they would be useful for that only, for in the country they would be far too conspicuous for wear."

Other goods were brought down, and Edgar's eye at once fixed upon a rich maroon. Sir Ralph took longer before he made his choice for Albert, but finally fixed upon a somewhat light blue, which well suited the lad's fair complexion and light golden hair. While they were choosing, the mercer had sent into his neighbour, a tailor, who now measured them. The goods were of satin, and both suits were to be made in precisely similar fashion, namely, a close-fitting tunic reaching down only to the hips. They had loose hanging sleeves, lined with white silk, which was turned over and scolloped; the hose, which were of the same colour as the doublets, were tight fitting.

The caps were to match the dresses in colour. They were turned up at the brim, resembling in shape those still worn in Spain. As the matter was pressing, the tailor promised that both suits should be ready by the following evening.

It took the ladies longer to make their purchases, and it was some time before they issued out from the mantua makers, when the dame informed her husband that she had chosen white satin for Aline's bodice, which was to be tight fitting, in the fashion, and trimmed round the bottom and neck with white fur, while the skirt was of lilac and of the same material. For herself, she had chosen a purple robe reaching below the knees, with white skirt, both being of satin. The caps, which were closely fitting to the head, were of the same material, and of light yellow for herself and lilac for Aline.

"We shall have to economize, my lady," Sir Ralph laughed. "'Tis well that I am too old for foppery."

"That is all very well, Sir Ralph, but you must remember that you had a new suit the last time you were in London, and have not worn it from then till now, and I will warrant me that it cost well-nigh as much as Aline's garments or mine."

While waiting for the ladies, two sword-belts had been bought for the lads, Edgar's being embroidered with gold thread, Albert's with silver.

"Now, boys, I think that you will do," Sir Ralph said. "You may not be able to compete with some of those young peacocks of the Court, but you will make a sufficiently brave show, and need not feel envious of the best of them."

When the shopping was completed they returned to their lodgings. Here they partook of a meal, after which Sir Ralph went to the Tower, while his wife and daughter, fatigued by their day's journey, speedily betook themselves to their beds. The lads sat talking for some time over the events of the day.

"I fear, Edgar," Albert said, presently, "that from my father choosing for me so light a coloured suit, instead of a graver hue like that which you selected, he has hopes that I shall not go into the Church after all."

"Well, why should you, Albert? You are gaining in strength, and I doubt not that you will yet grow into a strong man. Of course as long as you were weak and delicate, and, as it seemed, would never be able to bear the weight of armour, it was but natural that he should regard a life in the Church as one that was best fitted for you, and that you yourself would be perfectly willing to follow that profession, but now it is wholly different; besides, even if at present you may not wish, as I do, to be a soldier, you may well become a wise councillor, and hold high position at Court. There are few young nobles, indeed, who have so much education as you, and surely such a life would be better than burying yourself in a cloister."

Albert was silent for some time. "Do you really think, Edgar," he said, at last, "that I shall be ever able to bear arms with credit? To become a councillor, one must needs be a courtier, and I am sure that a life at Court would suit me no better than it would suit you, therefore that thought I must put aside. My tastes are all for a quiet life in the country, and you know I could be very happy living at home as I have done from my childhood. But if I am to be in the world I must bear my part, and if needs be follow the king to battle, and unless I could do my duty manfully I would rather follow out the life I thought must be mine, and enter the Church. I should like, most of all, to be able to be always with you, Edgar, and to fight by your side. We have long been like brothers. I know that you will win rank and fame, and though I have no ambition for myself I should glory in your success, and be well content with your friendship as my share in it."

"That, you may be sure, you will always have, Albert, and as to your plan, I see not why you should not carry it out. In war time you and I could ride together, and in peace you could live at the castle, which is so close to St. Alwyth that we can ride over and visit each other daily when I am there, which mayhap would not be very often, for when England and France are at peace, and there is no trouble between us and Scotland, I may join some noble leader of free-lances i

n the service of an Italian or German prince. Such, when there is peace at home, is the best avenue for fame and distinction."

"I cannot say yet what I may feel as I gain strength and skill in arms, but it may be that even there I may be your companion should strength and health permit it."

"That indeed would be good-so good that I can scarce yet believe that it can be so, although there is no reason to the contrary. It has for years been a grief to me to know that our paths lay so far apart, and that the time must soon be coming when we should be separated, and for ever. It was with some faint hope that exercise might bring more colour to your cheeks, and that with strength and skill in arms might come thoughts of another life than that of the cloister, that I first urged you to let me teach you the use of arms. That hope has grown gradually since I found how much you benefited by the exercise, and acquired a strength of arm that I had hardly hoped for.

"Moreover, Albert, you cannot but be proud of the name your father and those before him have won by their gallant deeds, but if you went into the Church it would no longer appear in the roll of the knights of England. It would be ill indeed that a line of knights, who have so well played their part on every battle-field since your ancestor came over with the Conqueror, should become extinct."

"I had never thought of that before, Edgar," Albert said, after a long pause. "You see, for years I have looked forward to entering the Church as a matter settled for me by nature. I had no enthusiasm for it, but it seemed there was no other place for me. Of late, since I have gained health and strength, I have seen that possibly it might be otherwise. At first I struggled against the idea and deemed it the suggestion of the Evil One, but it has grown in spite of me, although I never allowed myself fully to entertain it, until I saw the joy with which my father perceived that I was not altogether the weakling that he had deemed me.

"Since then I have thought of it incessantly, but until now have been unable to come to any decision. On the one hand I should please my father, and at the same time satisfy the desire that has of late sprung up for a more stirring life than that of the Church, and should be able to remain your comrade. On the other hand, I have always regarded the Church as my vocation, and did not like to go back from it, and moreover, although stronger than of old, I thought that I might never attain such health and strength as might render me a worthy knight, and feared that when tried I should be found wanting. Thus I have wavered, and knew not which way my inclinations drew me most strongly, but I never thought of what you have just said, that if I were to enter the Church our line would come to an end. However, there is no occasion definitely to settle for another year yet, but I will tell my father to-morrow that if at the end of that time he deems that I have so far continued to gain in strength that he may consider me not unworthy to represent our name in the field, I shall be ready to submit myself to his wishes, while, upon the other hand, should he think me, as before, better fitted for the Church. I will enter it at once."

"I am glad, indeed, to hear you say so, Albert. I think that there is no reason to doubt that you will continue to gain strength, and will prove worthy of your name."

Accordingly, the next morning Albert asked his father to accompany him into the garden, and there detailed to him the conversation that he had had with Edgar, and its result.

"Glad indeed am I, Albert, that this should have come about," the knight said, laying his hand on the lad's shoulder. "What your friend said to you has often been in my mind. It was a sore thought, my son. There have ever been De Courcys on the battle-roll of England since our ancestor fought at Hastings; and I might well feel grieved at the thought that it might possibly appear there no more, and the pleasure that you have given me is more than I can express. I will not allow myself to fear that, now you have made so fair a start, you will fail to gather fresh strength and vigour, and I will wager that you will bear our banner as forward in the fight as those who have gone before you.

"I blame myself deeply that I have misjudged you so long. Had I encouraged, instead of slighting, you, you might long since have begun to gain strength, and might early have commenced the exercises that are so essential to form a good knight. In future, I will do all I can to make up for lost time. As far as swordsmanship goes, you can have no better instructor than your friend. I myself will train you in knightly exercises on horseback-to vault into the saddle and to throw yourself off when a horse is going at full speed, to use your lance and carry off a ring; but I will take care not to press you beyond your strength, and not to weary you with over-long work. My effort will be to increase your store of strength and not to draw unduly upon it; and I will warrant me that if you improve as rapidly under my tuition as you have under that of Master Edgar, before a year is up I shall be able to place you in the train of some noble knight without a fear that you will prove yourself inferior to others of your own age."

Going into the house again when the morning meal was served, Sir Ralph said:

"There is bad news as to the rioters in Kent, lads. Last night I heard that a message had arrived, saying that they had entered Rochester, broken open the jail, and released not only those held there for non-payment of taxes, but malefactors; that they had been joined by the rabble of the town, had slain several notaries and lawyers, and torn up all parchments, deeds, and registers; had maltreated some of the clergy, broken open cellars and drunk the wine, and that from thence they intended to march to Maidstone and then to Canterbury, raising the country as they went."

"This should at least give us time for preparations, Sir Ralph."

"So I pointed out last night," the knight replied; "but who is to make the preparations? A proclamation was drawn up by the council, warning all to return to their homes on pain of punishment, and promising an inquiry into grievances. It is to be scattered broadcast through Kent and Essex, but it is likely to have no effect. The men know well enough that they have rendered themselves liable to punishment, and as they were ready to run that risk when they first took up arms, it is not likely that they will be frightened at the threat now when they find none to oppose them, and that their numbers grow from day to day. Seeing that time is likely to do little for us, I would rather they had marched straight on to London; they would then have arrived here in more sober mood; but now that they have begun to slay and to drink, they will get fiercer and more lawless every day, and as their numbers increase so will their demands."

Day by day more and more serious news came in. Canterbury was occupied by the rebels, and they declared their intention of slaying the archbishop, but he had left before they had arrived. There they committed many excesses, executed three rich citizens, opened the prisons, killed all lawyers, and burned all deeds and registers as they had done at Rochester, and kept the whole place in a state of terror while they remained, which they did while the stores of wine remained unexhausted.

"Why should they be so bitter against lawyers, and why should they destroy deeds and registers, father?" Albert asked.

"It can be but for one reason, Albert. The great part of them have small plots of land, an acre or two, or perhaps more, on terms of villeinage, paying so much in kind or money, and their desire is to destroy all deeds and documents in order that they may henceforth pay no rent, claiming the land for themselves, and defying those from whom they hold it to show their titles as lords of the soil. There must be some shrewd knaves among them. This Wat the Tyler and the men of the towns can care naught for such matters; but they suffer those who have an interest in the matter to do as they choose. They know that their deeds have so far committed them that they will not dare to draw back, and must follow Wat's leadership implicitly. You will see erelong that from murdering lawyers they will take to murdering lords."

"If the council here is taking no steps to summon the knights of the shire and the feudal lords to hasten hither with their levies and retainers, how do they think to arrest the course of the ill-doers?" Edgar asked.

"Their opinion is that the king has but to ride out and meet the rebels, and that they will all, on seeing him, fall on their knees and crave pardon, whereupon he will promise to redress their grievances, and they will disperse to their homes. I have no such hope. Is it likely that they will quietly go home, having once worked themselves up to fight for what they call their rights, and with the thought of taking vengeance on those they consider their enemies, and of unlimited drinking and feasting, and, on the part of some, of rich plunder in London, when they see that there is no one to prevent their taking this satisfaction? Nothing but force will avail, and though something might be done that way, it is more difficult than it looks.

"The knights of the shire could hardly raise their levies, for most of those who would be called out are already with the mob, and of the others few would venture to answer to the summons. When they returned they might find their houses burned and their families slain. You see we know not how far this fire may spread. We hear that both in Suffolk and Hertfordshire men are assembling and parties marching away to join those of Essex. In truth, lads, the thing is far more formidable than I deemed it at first, for they say that two hundred thousand men will march on London."

"But in the French Jacquerie there were as many as that, Sir Ralph, and yet they were put down."

"They were so, but only after they had done vast damage. Besides, lad, your English villein differs from your French serf. An Englishman, of whatever rank, holds by what he considers his rights, and is ready to fight for them. Our archers have proved that the commonalty are as brave as the knights, and though badly armed, this rascaldom may fight sturdily. The French peasant has no rights, and is a chattel, that his lord may dispose of as he chooses. As long as they met with no opposition all who fell into their hands were destroyed, and the castles ravaged and plundered, the peasants behaving like a pack of mad wolves. Our fellows are of sterner stuff, and they will have a mind to fight, if it be but to show that they can fight as well as their betters. Plunder is certainly not their first object, and it is probable that whatever may be done that way will be the work of the scum of the towns, who will join them solely with that object.

"I doubt whether less than five thousand men-at-arms and archers would be able to show face to such an array as is said to be approaching, especially as there will be many archers among them who, although not to compare with those who fought at Poictiers, are yet capable of using their weapons with effect. I see no prospect of gathering such a force, and the matter is all the worse, as the rascaldom of London will be with them, and we shall have these to keep in order, as well as cope with those in the field. Besides, one must remember that in a matter like this we cannot fully depend on any force that we may gather. The archers and men-at-arms would be drawn largely from the same class as the better portion of these rioters, and would be slack in fighting against them. Certainly, those of the home counties could not be depended upon, and possibly even in the garrison of the Tower itself there may be many who cannot be trusted. The place, if well held, should stand out for months, but I am by no means sure that it will do so when the time comes. I shall certainly raise my voice against the king abiding here. He with his friends could ride away without difficulty, if he leaves before the place is beleaguered."

"I suppose you will take my mother and sister into the Tower, father, should the mob come hither?"

"That I know not, nor can I say until I see the temper of the garrison when these rioters approach."

On the day after the new clothes arrived, Sir Ralph took his son and

Edgar to the castle and presented them to the king.

"This is my son, your Majesty, of whom I spoke to you. I am happy to say that I think he will some day be able to follow you to battle as I followed the noble prince your father; for he has now resolved, should his health remain good, to take up the profession of arms."

"I am glad to hear it," the young king said, "for indeed 'tis more suited to the son of a valiant knight like yourself, Sir Ralph, than that of the Church, excellent though that may be for those who have inclinations for it. He seems to me a fair young gentleman, and one whom it would please me to see often at Court."

"This, your Majesty, is Master Edgar Ormskirk, a young gentleman of good family, but his father has not, although holding more than a knight's feu, taken up that rank, his tastes being wholly turned towards learning, he being a distinguished scholar, having passed through our own university at Oxford, and those of Padua and Pisa. He is one of my most esteemed friends. Master Edgar, as I told you, is greatly skilled for his years in the use of the sword, to which he has long devoted himself with great ardour. It is to him my son is indebted for having gained health and strength, together with more skill in the sword than I had ever looked for from him. I beg to recommend him highly to your Majesty's favour, and can answer for his worth, as well as for his strength and skill."

"You could have no better recommendation, Master Ormskirk," the young king said, pleasantly, "and I trust that although your father cares not for knighthood, you will have an opportunity of gaining that honour for yourself."

"I should value it, if won fairly, your Majesty, as the greatest honour I could gain. It is not that my father holds the honour more lightly than I do, but I know that 'tis his opinion that if given merely for possession of land 'tis but an accident of birth, but that if the reward of bravery, 'tis an honour that is of the highest, and one that, were it not that his thoughts are wholly turned towards scholarship and to discovering the secrets of nature, he himself would gladly have attained."

"Methinks that he is right," the king said. "In the time when every landowner held his feu on condition of knightly service rendered whenever called upon, it was well that he should be called a knight, such being the term of military command; but now that many are allowed to provide substitutes, methinks that it is an error to give the title to stay-at-homes. I shall be glad, young sir, to see you also at Court, though, methinks," he added, with a smile, "that you have inherited some of your father's sobriety of nature, and will hold our pleasures at small price."

"I thank your Majesty for your kindness," Edgar said, bowing; "but indeed I should not presume to judge amusements as frivolous because I myself might be unused to them; but in truth two years ago I studied at the convent of St. Alwyth, and my spare time then and most of my time since has been so occupied by my exercises in arms that I have had but small opportunity for learning the ways of Courts, but I hope to do so, seeing that a good knight should bear himself as well at Court as in the field."

"You will have small opportunity now," the king said, rather dolefully. "Our royal mother is absent, and our talk is all of riots and troubles, and none seem even to think of pleasure."

After leaving the king Sir Ralph presented his son and Edgar to Sir Michael de la Pole, who held high office; Robert de Vere, one of the king's special favourites; and several other young nobles, who all received them kindly for the sake of Sir Ralph.

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