Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership




Title:      The Blanket of the Dark (1931)
Author:     John Buchan
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0301411.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          November 2003
Date most recently updated: November 2003

This eBook was produced by: Don Lainson dlainson@sympatico.ca

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

--------------------------------------------------------------------------


A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      The Blanket of the Dark (1931)
Author:     John Buchan





"Where is Bohun?  Where is Mowbray?  Where is Mortimer?  Nay, which
is more and most of all, where is Plantagenet?  They are intombed
in the urns and sepulchres of mortality."

SIR RANULPHE CREWE, 1625.





TO

DOROTHY GASKELL




CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I.  THE PAINTED FLOOR

II.  IN WHICH PETER IS INTRODUCED TO FORTUNE

III.  IN WHICH PETER LURKS IN THE SHADOW

IV.  IN WHICH PETER GOES DEEPER INTO THE GREENWOOD

V.  THE PARLIAMENT OF BEGGARS

VI.  IN WHICH PETER EMERGES INTO THE LIGHT

VII.  HOW A WOULD-BE KING BECAME A FUGITIVE

VIII.  HOW PETER SAW DEATH IN THE SWAN INN

IX.  THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS

X.  OF THE CONCLAVE AT LITTLE GREECE

XI.  HOW PETER CAME AGAIN TO AVELARD

XII.  OF THE VISION IN THE SNOW

XIII.  THE UNLOOSING OF THE WATERS

XIV.  HOW PETER STROVE WITH POWERS AND PRINCIPALITIES

XV.  HOW THE SWAN OF BOHUN WENT DOWN

XVI.  HOW PETER RETURNED TO THE GREENWOOD

EPILOGUE




CHAPTER I

THE PAINTED FLOOR


Peter Pentecost, from his eyrie among the hazels, looked down on
the King's highway as it dipped from Stowood through the narrow
pass to the Wood Eaton meadows.  It was a King's highway beyond
question, for it was the main road from London to Worcester and the
west for those who did not wish to make Oxford a halting-place; but
it was a mere ribbon of rutted turf, with on each side the
statutory bowshot of cleared ground between it and the forest
fringes.  And, as he looked, he saw the seventh magpie.

Peter was country-bred and had country lore in the back of his
mind.  Also, being a scholar, he respected auspices.  So, having no
hat to doff, he pulled his forelock.  Seven magpies in one day must
portend something great.

He had set off that summer morning on an errand for the cellarer of
Oseney Abbey to the steward of the King's manor of Beckley, some
matter touching supplies for the Abbey kitchen.  The sun had risen
through lamb's-wool mists, the river was a fleckless sheet of
silver, and Peter had consecrated the day to holiday.  He had done
his errand long before noon, and had spent an hour watching the
blue lagoons on Otmoor (there was much water out, for July had
begun with rains), with the white geese like foam on the edges.
The chantry priest at Horton had given him food--a crust only and a
drink of ale, for the priest was bitter poor--and in the afternoon
he had wandered in the Stowood glades, where the priory of Studley
had right of pannage and the good sisters' droves of swine rooted
for earth-nuts.  Peter was young, and holiday and high summertide
could still intoxicate.  He had lain on the spicy turf of the open
spaces, his nose deep in thyme and rock-rose; he had made verses in
the shadow of the great oaks which had been trees when Domesday
Book was written; he had told his dreams aloud to himself at the
well under the aspens where the Noke fletchers cut their arrows.
The hours had slipped by unnoted, and the twilight was beginning
when he reached his favourite haunt, a secret armchair of rock and
grass above the highway.  He had seen four magpies, so something
was on the way.

The first things he saw in the amethyst evening were two more of
the pied birds, flapping down the hollow towards Wood Eaton.  After
them came various figures, for at that hour the road seemed to have
woken into life.  Travellers appeared on it like an evening hatch
of gnats.

First came a couple of friars--Franciscans by their grey habits--
who had been exploiting the faithful in the Seven Towns of Otmoor.
Their wallets swung emptily, for the moor-men had a poor repute
among the religious.  They would sleep the night, no doubt, in the
Islip tithe-barn.  After them appeared one of the Stowood hogwards,
with the great cudgel of holly which was the badge of his trade.
Peter knew what he was after.  In the dusk he would get a rabbit or
two for his supper on the edge of the Wood Eaton warren, for the
hogwards were noted poachers.

From his view-point he could see half a mile down the road, from
the foot of the hill to where it turned a corner and was lost in
the oakwoods of the flats.  It was like the stage of a Christmas
mumming play, and Peter settled himself comfortably in his lair,
and waited with zest for the entry of the next actors.  This time
it was a great wool-convoy, coming towards him from the Cherwell.
He watched the laden horses strain up the slope, eleven of them,
each like a monstrous slug buried in its wool-pack.  There were
five attendants, four on foot and one riding a slim shaggy grey
pony.  They might be London bound, or more likely for Newbury,
where Jack Winchcombe had his great weaving mill and the workmen
wrought all day in sheds high and dim as a minster--so many workmen
that their master twenty years back had led his own battalion of
spinners, carders and tuckers to Flodden Field.  Peter viewed the
convoy with no friendly eye.  The wool barons were devouring the
countryside, and ousting the peasants.  He had seen with his own
eyes hamlets obliterated by the rising tide of pasture.  Up in
Cotswold the Grevels and Celys and Midwinters might spend their
wealth in setting up proud churches, but God would not be bribed.
Let them remember Naboth's vineyard, those oppressors of the poor.
Had not the good Sir Thomas More cried out that in England the
sheep were eating up the men?

The next arrival was a troop of gipsies, a small furtive troop,
three donkeys laden with gear, five men on foot, and two women,
each with an infant at breast.  In his childhood Peter remembered
how these vagabonds had worn gaudy clothes and played openly on
fantastic instruments of music; they were shameless priggers and
rufflers, but they were welcomed everywhere except by the dwellers
in lonely places, for they brought mirth and magic to the
countryside.  Now they were under the frown of the law, and at the
will of any justice could be banished forth of England, for it was
believed that among them they harboured Scots and Spaniards, and
plotted against the King's peace.  This troop were clad like common
peasants, and drab and dingy at that, but there was no mistaking
their lightfoot gait, and even at that distance Peter could mark
their hazel-nut skins and bird-like beaks.  They came on the stage
stealthily, first reconnoitring the patch of open road, and, when
they neared the other corner, sending out a scout to prospect
ahead.  Peter saw the scout turn his head and give a signal, and in
a second the Egyptians, donkeys and all, had taken cover like
weasels, and were deep in the wayside scrub.

Presently the cause was apparent.  Down the hill trotted an
imposing cavalcade, four gentlemen, no less than six servants armed
with curtal-axes, and two led baggage-horses.  One of the gentlemen
was old, and his white hair mingled with the ermine collar of his
purple cloak.  The others rode cloakless in the warm evening.  Two
had the look of lawyers, being all in black and white, except for
their tawny horsemen's boots, but the fourth was a gay gallant,
with a wine-red doublet, a laced shirt, sleeves monstrously puffed
and slashed, and on his head a velvet bonnet with a drooping blue
feather.  Two of the servants carried at their saddle-bows the flat
leather boxes which scriveners used.  Peter guessed their errand.
They were some of the commissioners whom the King was sending far
and wide throughout the land to examine into the condition of the
religious houses.  Their destination might be the Augustinians at
Bicester or the Benedictines at Eynsham--the latter he thought, for
there were better roads to Bicester from London than this, and
these men were doubtless from the capital.  They were in a hurry,
and passed out of sight at a sharp trot, the led horses shying at
the smell of the gipsy donkeys hidden in the covert.  In two hours'
time they would be supping off Thames trout--for it was a Friday--
in the Eynsham fratry.

When the last of the company had jolted round the far corner the
stage was empty for a while.  The amethyst was going out of the
air, and giving place to that lemon afterglow which in a fine
summer never leaves the sky till it is ousted by the splendours of
dawn.  The ribbon of road was beginning to glimmer white, and the
high wooded sides of the glen to lose their detail to the eye and
become massed shadows. . . .  But the play was not yet ended, for
up the road towards him came a solitary rider.

Down a gap from the west fell a shaft of lingering sunlight which
illumined the traveller.  Peter saw a tall man mounted on a weedy
roan, which seemed to have come far, for it stumbled at the lift of
the hill.  His head was covered with an old plumeless bonnet, he
had no cloak, his doublet was plain grey, his trunks seemed to be
of leather, and between them and his boots were hose of a dingy
red.  He wore a narrow belt fastened in front with a jewel, and
from that belt hung a silver dagger-sheath, while at his side
dangled a long sword.  But it did not need the weapons to proclaim
that this was no servant.  The man's whole poise spoke of
confidence and pride.  His shaven face was weathered like a
tinker's, his eyes searched the covert as if looking for
opposition, his mouth was puckered to a whistle, and now and then
he flung back his head and sniffed the evening odours.

Peter watched and admired with a pain at his heart.  Here was one
who rode the broad ways of the world and feared nothing; a
masterful man who would have his way with life; one who had seen
with his own eyes that wonderful earth of which Peter had only
read; a fierce soul who would be a deadly enemy, but who might also
be a delectable comrade, for there was ease and jollity in his air.
Peter sighed at this glimpse of the unattainable.

And then he saw the seventh magpie.

The heats of the day, the constant feasting of the eyes upon blue
horizons, had had the effect of wine upon Peter's brain, and this
drunkenness had been increased by the spectacle of the masterful
traveller.  The scholar, whose days were spent among books, felt
himself within hail of the pomp of life.  He had almost forgotten
the heavy thoughts which had burdened him so many days.  The hour
was growing late, and he was miles from his bed in the Castle
precincts, but he had no intention of going home yet awhile.  For
he was near to a place which was his own discovery, his special
sanctuary, and he was minded to visit it before he slept. . . .

And then came the seventh magpie, a chequered zigzag in that dim
world.  The bird was an invitation to adventure.  Peter rose from
his eyrie, shook the moss and twigs from his clothes, and scrambled
down the slope to the highway.  He was clad in a tunic and long
summer hose of thin woollen, and his gown, which was the badge of
studentship, he carried loose on his arm.

He padded in the sweet-smelling dust of the road for a little way,
and then turned to his left to climb the farther side of the
hollow.  He had forgotten about the Egyptians in the covert.  They
were still there, and had settled down for the night, for suddenly
he saw in a cleft beside him the glow of a little fire on which a
pot was bubbling.  He was too late to avoid it, his foot slipped,
he slid into the cleft, and found a hand at his throat.  The hand
was relaxed, and the grip changed to his shoulder, while a small
covered lantern was flashed in his face.

Shaken and startled, he saw one of the gipsies standing above him,
a man with a thin wolfish face and burning eyes.  Peter's youth and
the sight of the gown on his arm apparently convinced the man that
here was no danger.  He grunted, and picked up what seemed to be a
book which had fallen to the ground.

"You are far from home, clerk," the voice said.  "What do you at
this hour prowling in Stowood?  You are not of the Children of the
Moon."

The Egyptians bore an ill name for secret robbery and murder, and
Peter's heart had pounded on his side when he felt the clutch at
his throat.  But this man whom he could only see dimly, a grey
ghost flecked with firelight, seemed no marauder.  His voice was
not the Egyptian whine, and his words were not the Egyptian jargon.
In spite of his rags he had a certain air of breeding and
authority.  The other gipsies were busy with their cooking, and the
women were suckling their babes, but this man seemed to be engaged
with papers and he had the lantern to light him.  Peter realised
that the gaze fixed on him was devouring and searching, but not
hostile.

"A clerk," said the man.  "One of the blind eyes and dumb mouths
that have Oxford for their stepmother.  I have forgot what Oxford
is like.  Do you still plough the barren fields of the Trivium and
the Quadrivium?  Do you yet mumble the leavings of Aristotle?  Are
your major gods Priscian and Cato and Alexander of Villa Dei?  Is
the hand that leads you up Parnassus that of old John Leland?  Ut
rosa flos florum sic Leland grammaticorum--it is so long since I
heard it I have lost the jingle.  Or perhaps you are for the new
masters, for I hear that to-day in Oxford the Trojans are few and
the Grecians many?"

"Troy has fallen," said Peter, amazed to hear such speech from a
gipsy's tongue.

"And her folk are scattered.  They have put Duns and Aquinas in
Bocardo.  They tell me that the great vellum leaves of the
Sentences flap in the wind about the college courts, and that
country louts gather them to make flappers to keep the deer within
the pales."

"What know you of Oxford and her ways?" the stupefied Peter
demanded.

"This much," said the man fiercely, "that her ways are not the
paths of truth, and that her fruits, old or new, are but husks to
be flung to swine.  I tell you, clerk, there is only one new
learning, and that is the ancientest.  It is here," and he held up
his book, "and it is old and yet ever young.  For it is the wisdom
not of man but of God."

"Show it me," said Peter, but the man put it behind his back.

"Not yet, clerk.  England is not yet ripe for it, but the hour
draws near."

"Who are you that speak in riddles?"

The man laughed.  "Under the blanket of the dark all men are alike
and all are nameless.  Let me view your countenance that I may know
it when I meet it again."

He held up the lantern, and the light also revealed his own face.
It was that of a man in early middle life, very lean and haggard,
with a long nose broken in the middle, and eyes that seemed to burn
in a fever.  But the brow was broad and fine, and the mouth was
gentle.

"An honest face," he said.  "You were no churl's get, young
clerk. . . .  Now get you hence to your prayers, and leave me
to mine."

During this short dialogue the other gipsies had taken no notice of
Peter.  He felt the thrust of the man's hand, and in a moment he
was out of the hollow and the firelight and back in the midnight
dusk of the woods.

He ran now, for his head was in a whirl.  The magpie was a wise
bird, for that night he was indeed seeing portents.  He had
observed one kind of authority mounted and jingling on the highway,
and now he had witnessed another kenneling with the gipsies.  The
world was strange and very wide.  It was time for him to find his
sanctuary, where he could adjust these new experiences and think
his own thoughts.

The place was his very own, for he had unearthed it after it had
been lost for centuries.  In a charter in Oseney he had read how
the King of Wessex had given to the Bishop of Winchester a piece of
land by Cherwell side, which ran from a certain brook "along the
green valley by the two little hills and past the Painted Floor,"
till it reached a certain thorn patch and a certain spring.  The
words had fired his fancy.  Once the Romans had strode over these
hills, the ruins of their massive causewayed highroads ran through
marsh and forest, they had set their houses with vines and reaped
their harvests where now only wild beasts rustled.  To one like
Peter, most of whose waking thoughts dwelt on Greece and Italy, the
notion of such predecessors among his familiar fields seemed to
link his wildest dreams to the solid world of fact.  That Painted
Floor must be found, for it could only be a fragment of Roman work;
there was such a floor in the midget church of Widford on Windrush,
a mile or two from the home of his childhood.  He knew the green
valley and the little hills of the charter; they lay east from Wood
Eaton, between the demesne of that manor and the ridge of Stowood.
The Romans had been there beyond doubt, for not long since a
ditcher in that very place had turned up a pot of gold coins with
Emperors' heads on them--some were now at Oseney among the Abbey's
treasures.

So Peter had spent the dry March days nosing like a fox in the
shallow glade which dropped from the high slopes to the Wood Eaton
meads.  The Painted Floor was not among the run-rigs of beans
and oats and barley, nor in the trodden grass of the common
pastureland; it must be nearer the hills, among the rough meadows
where the brook had its source, or in the patches of oaken scrub
which were the advance pickets of the forest. . . .  He found it--
found it one April day in a coppice of ash and thorn, guided to it
by a sudden flatness in ground which nature had clearly made
hummocky.  It was a floor indeed, carpeted with fine turf and
painted only with primroses and windflowers.  Peter's nails clawed
up the turf and came on tiles, and in an hour he had cleared a yard
or two and revealed what even in the dusk of the trees showed
brighter colours than earth and stone.

Peter borrowed an axe and a mattock from an Elsfield forester, and,
with the tools hidden in his gown, journeyed to the spinney every
hour of holiday.  In places seeds had found lodgment among the
tiles, and had grown to trees, the roots of which split the mosaic.
In one part a badger had made his earth and powdered a yard or two
into dust.  But when Peter had cut down encroaching saplings and
had stripped off the layers of turf, there lay revealed a hundred
square yards of tesselated pavement.  Perhaps since Roman days the
place had been used as a sheep fold, for there were signs of a
later circumscribing wall, but once beyond doubt it had been the
floor of a Roman's dwelling. . . .  Peter fetched water from the
spring among the bracken, and washed off the dirt of centuries.
Bit by bit he unveiled a picture.  In the centre, in the midst of
an intricate design of grape leaves, sat a figure of some goddess--
Ceres perhaps or Proserpina.  At each corner were great plaques
which presently revealed themselves as the Four Seasons--Spring
with Pan's pipes, Summer with a lap of flowers, Autumn lifting
aloft a cornucopia, and Winter a fur-clad hunter holding a rabbit.
And all between was a delicate maze of convolutions so that the
central goddess seemed to float upon clouds.  It was simple rustic
work, for the greys were the limestone rock, and the yellows and
browns a neighbouring sandstone, and the blue slate or glass, and
the reds coarse earthenware; but the design had a beauty which to
Peter was a revelation.  He felt it akin to the grave music with
which sundry Roman poets had ravished his soul.

The place was forest land, he knew, and therefore belonged to the
King, though it was very near the Wood Eaton clearing and Sir Ralph
Bonamy's ground.  But it was his own by the oldest and strongest
tenure, effective occupation.  No one but himself knew of this
marvel.  He concealed his movements going and coming as if his
purpose had been crime.  The Wood Eaton churls were not likely to
drag their heavy feet to a place where there were neither tasks to
be wrought at nor coneys to be snared, and the foresters would
neglect a trivial spinney which offered no harbourage to deer.
Only Peter had business there.  He would lie in the covert in a hot
noon, watching the sun make a chequer of green and gold, till he
fell asleep, and awoke, startled, to see what for a moment he
thought was the shimmer of a woman's gown and to hear the call of
an elfin flageolet.  But it was only fancy.  The Floor was dim with
dusk, and the wood was silent but for homing birds.

To-night he crossed the brackeny meadow and came to the coppice
with a sudden wild expectation.  The seventh magpie!  There had
been marvels many that day, but a seventh magpie must portend still
more.  The spring bubbled noisily among its greenery; he had never
heard it so loud.  He lay prone and drank a great draught of the
icy water, so cold that it sent little pains running behind his
eyes.  Then he entered the coppice.

It had been his custom to treat it as a sacred place and to enter
with reverent feet and head uncovered.  Nor did he enter it direct.
He would fetch a circuit and come in from the top to his own perch
above the Floor, like a seat in one of the tiers of an amphitheatre
looking down on the arena.  So he climbed the slope to where half a
dozen great oaks hung like sentinels above the coppice, and found
his way downhill through the scrub of hazels and briers.  The moon
was already well up in the heavens, and the turf was white as with
frost, but inside the wood it was dark till he reached the edge of
the Floor.  There, since the taller trees fell back from it, light
was permitted to enter from the sky.

Peter parted the bushes, found a seat of moss between two boulders,
and looked down from the height of perhaps twenty feet upon the
moon-silvered stage.

The Floor had a sheen on it, so that the colours were lost in a
glimmer of silver.  The colours, but not the design.  The enthroned
Ceres in the heart of it seemed like a reflection of a great statue
in a deep clear pool.  Bits of the corner plaques could be seen
too--the swung rabbit in Winter's hand, half of Autumn's
cornucopia, more than half of Summer's lapful of flowers.

The place was very quiet.  It had the scent of all woodland places
in high summer--mosses, lush foliage, moist earth which has had its
odours drawn out by a strong sun.  There was also a faint sweetness
of cut hay from the distant Wood Eaton fields, and something
aromatic and dry, which was the savour of stone and tile and
ancient crumbling mortar.  There seemed to be no life in the
thicket, though a few minutes before the world had rustled with the
small noises of insect and bird.  At that hour there should have
been sleeping doves in the boughs, and hunting owls, and rasping
nightjars looking for ewes and she-goats to milk.  Or the furtive
twist of a stoat, or the pad of a homing badger.  But there were
none of these things, no sound even of a wandering vapour; only the
moonlight, the scents, and the expectant silence.

But surely there was movement, though it was soundless.  Peter,
entranced with the magic of the place and hour, saw in the steady
radiance of the moon shadows slip across the Floor.  It almost
seemed as if Ceres had lifted her hands from their eternal
entwinement.  The flowers had shifted in Summer's lap, Spring had
fingered her pipe. . . .

Peter crossed himself with a shaking finger and began a prayer.
Suddenly company had come out of the night.  He realised that he
was not alone.

Something was moving on the Painted Floor, something which so
blended with the moonlight that its presence could be known only
when it obscured the pattern. . . .  From where he sat, Peter
looked beyond the little amphitheatre to a gap in the encircling
coppice, a gap through which could be seen the descending glade and
a segment of far hills.  The moonlight on the Floor, being framed
in trees, was an intenser glow than the paler landscape beyond.
Suddenly against this pallor a figure was silhouetted--the figure
of a girl.

Peter tried to pray.  He tried to say a prayer to the Mother of God
which was his favourite invocation in emergencies.  It began,
Imperatrix supernorum, Superatrix infernorum, but he did not get as
far as superatrix.  For he found that he had not the need to pray.
His fear had been only momentary.  His heart was beating fast, but
not with terror.  The sight before him was less an invocation to
prayer than an answer to it.  Into his own secret sanctuary had
come the appropriate goddess.

It was a mortal who danced below him--of that he had instant and
complete assurance.  The misty back world of Peter's mind, for all
his schooling, held a motley of queer folk, nymphs, fays, witch-
wives, who had their being on the edge of credence.  But this was
not of that kind.  It was a mortal with blood in her veins. . . .
She had flung up her arms, when she showed in the gap, in a very
rapture of youth. . . .  He had seen her head clear--eyes over
which the eyelids drooped, a smiling mouth, a delicate face on a
slim neck. . . .  Her garments were now drawn tight round her, and
now floated wide like the robes of a fleeing nymph on a Greek gem.
They seemed to be white, but all of her was white in the moon.  Her
hair was silvered and frosted, but it might be gold or ebony by
day.  Slim and blanched, she flitted and spun like a leaf or a
blown petal, but every line of her, every movement, spoke of youth
and a rich, throbbing, exultant life.

The pattern of her dance seemed to be determined by the pictures
under her feet.  Sometimes she tripped down the convolutions and
whorls till the eyes dazzled.  At the corner plaques she fitted her
movements to their design--wild in Spring, languorous in Summer, in
Autumn a bacchanal, in Winter a tempest.  Before the throned Ceres
she became a hierophant, and her dance a ritual.  Once she sank to
the ground, and it seemed that her lips rested on the goddess's
face.

Never before had Peter stared at a woman and drunk in the glory of
her youth and grace.  He had seen very few, and had usually passed
them with averted eyes.  They were the devil's temptation to the
devout, and a notorious disturbance to the studious.  But this
woman had come into his sanctuary and made free with it as of
right.  He could not deny that right, and, since the sanctuary was
his, the two were irrevocably linked together.  They were
worshippers at the same secret shrine. . . .  He looked at her more
calmly now.  He saw the pride and nimbleness of motion, the
marvellous grace of body, the curves of the cheek as the head was
tilted backwards.  It was a face stamped indelibly on his memory,
though under the drooped eyelids he could not see the eyes.

Afterwards, when he reconstructed the scene, Peter held that he
fell into a kind of waking dream, from which he awoke with a start
to realise that the dance was ended and the Floor empty.  The moon
had shifted its position in the sky, and half the Floor was in
shadow.  There was still no fear in his mind and no regret.  The
nymph had gone, but she would return.  She must return, as he must,
to this place which had laid its spell upon both. . . .  He felt
very drowsy, so he found a bigger patch of moss, made a pillow of
his gown, and went to sleep in that warm green dusk which is made
for dreams.

But he was too young and too healthily tired to dream.  He woke, as
was his habit, at sunrise, sniffed the morning, and turned round to
sleep for another hour.  Then he rose, when the trees were still
casting long shadows on the meadow and the Painted Floor was dim
with dew, and took the road towards Wood Eaton and its little
river.  He would not go back to Oxford yet awhile, he decided, but
would seek his breakfast at Oseney, which was without the gates.
He came to the Cherwell at a narrow place overhung with willows;
there he stripped, bundled his clothes inside his gown, and tossed
the whole to the farther bank.  Then he dived deep into the green
waters, and thereafter dried himself by cantering like a colt among
the flags and meadowsweet.  The bath had sharpened both his energy
and his hunger, so that he passed at a trot the Wood Eaton granges
and crossed the Campsfield moor, where the shepherds and cowherds
were marshalling their charges for the day.  Presently he was
looking into a valley filled with trees and towers, with, on the
right, below a woody hill, the spire of a great church set among
glistening streams.



CHAPTER II

IN WHICH PETER IS INTRODUCED TO FORTUNE


Peter did not slacken pace till he descended from the uplands and
crossed the highway which joined Oxford and Woodstock, a frequented
road, for by it the staplers sent their pack-trains to load their
wool in the river barges.  There was a great green plain on his
right hand, grazed upon by a multitude of geese, and already
country folk with baskets of market stuff were on their way to the
north gate.  He turned down a lane by Gloucester Hall, where he
looked over a close of pippins to the Rewley fishponds, and passed
the little stone quays at Hythe bridge, where men were unloading
sweet-smelling packages from a lumpish green boat.  In the huts of
Fisher Row strange folk, dingy as waterweeds, were getting ready
their cobles and fishing-gear against the next fast-day.  Peter
crossed the main stream at Bookbinders bridge, and came on a broad
paved path which ran to what seemed a second city.  Walls, towers,
pinnacles rose in a dizzier medley than those of Oxford, which he
had seen five minutes before beyond the north gate.  In especial
one tall campanile soared as the stem of a pine soars from a
wilderness of bracken, white and gleaming among the soberer tints
of roof and buttress.

Suddenly from it there fell a gush of lovely sound, the morning
canticle of the noblest peal of bells in the land.  Peter stopped
to listen, motionless with delight.  In the diamond air of dawn the
bells seemed to speak with the tongues of angels, praising God for
His world, with the same notes that birds used in the thickets or
the winds on the waters.  As the peal slowed and ebbed to its
close, one bell lingered, more deep and full than the rest, as if
its rapture would not be stayed.  Peter knew it for Thomas of
Oseney, which had no equal in England--as great as Edward of
Westminster or Dunstan of Canterbury.

The bells told him the hour.  Prime was long past, and now the
Chapter was over.  There would be no food for four mortal hours
unless he could make favour in the kitchen.  He hurried through
Little Gate and past the almshouses to Great Gate, with its cluster
of morning beggars.  It was dark under the portals, so dark that
the janitor did not at first recognise him, and caught him roughly
by the cloak till his face was revealed.  Beyond was the wide
expanse of Great Court, one half of it in shadow, one half a pool
of light.  On three sides, north, east and west, lay the cloisters,
roofed with Shotover oak, and faced with the carved work of old
Elias of Burford.  Peter knew every inch of them, for, far more
than his cell in St George's College in the Castle, the Oseney
cloisters were his home.  There on the west side was his
schoolroom, where he instructed the novices; there on the north was
the scriptorium, where lodged the Abbey's somewhat antiquated
library; there on the south, beside the kitchen, was the Abbey's
summer parlour, and the slype which led to the graveyard, the
gardens and the river.  This last was Peter's favourite corner, for
in the morning hours it had the bustle of a market-place.  On its
stone seats sat those who waited on business with the Abbot, and
foreign merchants using Oseney as a consulate, and brethren who
could snatch a half-hour of leisure.  It was a window from which
the Abbey looked out into the world.

This morning there was a great peace in all the cloisters.  Two old
canons were taking the sun, and a half-dozen children stood in a
ring repeating what might have been equally a game or a lesson.  To
Peter's chagrin there was no comfort in the kitchen.  The morning
meal in the fratry was still hours distant, and the under-
kitchener, who was his friend, had gone to the Abbot's lodging,
busied about an early collation for the Abbot's guests.  To forget
his hunger Peter turned into Little Court, whence by way of the
infirmary he could reach the back parts of the Abbey.

He found himself presently in a strange place, a place of lanes and
closes, cot-houses and barns, from which came the clang of hammers
and the buzzing of wheels.  It was a burgh of itself, that part of
the Abbey precincts which was known as Oseney-town, where dwelt the
artificers.  Here during the centuries there had grown up a
multitude of crafts--tanners who prepared the Cotswold skins;
bookbinders who clad in pigskin and vellum the archives of abbey
and college; illuminators who decked the written word with gold and
vermilion; wax-chandlers who made the lights for the holy places;
shoemakers and workers in all kinds of leather and fine metals.
Here were the millers who ground the corn from the Abbey farms, and
carpenters and smiths and fullers and weavers of wicker-work.  From
every doorway came the sound of busy folk, and as an undertone the
rhythmic beat of mill-wheels and the babble of little chinking
rivulets.  From this hive of industry there rose, too, a dozen
smells, pleasant smells which told of wholesome human life--the
bitter reek of the tan-pits, the freshness of new leather, the
comfortable odour of ground corn which tormented Peter's emptiness.
And everywhere the clean scent of running water.

But Peter did not linger amid the busyness of Oseney-town.  A gate
between two dovecotes, where homing pigeons made a noisy cloud, led
him across a bridge to the Abbey gardens.  First came orchards of
apples, pears and plums, quinces and apricots, and a close of
plainer fruits, filberts, walnuts, almonds, and the cornels from
which sweet drinks were made.  There were fig-trees on the west
walls, and a vineyard whose small grapes were used for a rough
wine, but mostly for sweet pasties.  Beyond lay the herb-garden,
where Brother Placidus was now pottering.  He had beds of every
herb that healed the body and some which hurt, for he had mandrakes
which must be torn up only by a black dog in the dark of the moon.
There were flowers, too, in their July glory, admitted shamefacedly,
since they were idle and fruitless things, and served only to make
nosegays for the children of the craftsmen.  Then came more meadows,
some already shorn, some heavy with hay, and more dovecotes and
orchards.  Through all of these meandered runnels, which spouted
sometimes over tiny lashers.  Last came the fish-ponds, oblongs of
clear green water, where in the depths great carp and bream and
tench could be seen, motionless but for an occasional flicker of
their tails.  Beyond them, after a banked walk among willows, lay a
shining loop of river, and across the farther meadows the smoke of
Hinksey village and the hills of Cumnor, already dim with the haze
which promised another day of breathless summer.

Peter crossed the meadow called Nymph's Hay, the fodder from which
was reserved for the Abbot's stalls, and entered the little orchard
named Columbine, which was all of apple trees.  He chose the place
because it had an open view, on one side to Cumnor and Wytham, on
the other to the soaring tower of Oseney Great Church, with the
hump of Oxford Castle and the spire of St Mary the Virgin beyond
it.  He was hungry and had long to wait before he breakfasted, but
that was nothing new to Peter.  It was his soul not his belly that
troubled him.  The high spirits of yesterday, the vigour of that
very morning, had gone, and he was in a mood of profound disquiet.
He flung himself among the long cool grasses, and sniffed the scent
of earth; he lay on his back and watched pigeons and finches
crossing the space of blue between the trees; and then he shut his
eyes, for his trouble was within, in his heart.

It had been coming on for a long time, this malady of the mind.
There were days like yesterday when youth and sunshine and holiday
gave him the unthinking happiness of childhood.  Sometimes for as
much as a week he would be at peace, busy with his books, his small
duties at the Abbey, and the pleasant ritual of food and sleep.
And then a film seemed to dim his outlook, and all that had been
coloured grew drab, and what had seemed a wide horizon narrowed to
prison walls.

He raised his head and looked at the lift of the Abbey towers
beyond the apple trees.  Sometimes he thought the sight the noblest
on earth, not to be bettered surely by Rome or Jerusalem.  But now
he saw it only as a jumble of grey stone, and under that jumble he
knew that there were weedy courtyards, and seventeen ageing canons
stumbling aimlessly through their days of prayer, and an Abbot on
whose brow sat the cares of the world rather than the peace of God,
and shrill-voiced impudent novices, and pedlars who made the
cloisters like St Giles's Fair--a shell once full of fruit, but
empty now but for weevils and a few dry and rotting shreds. . . .
A medley of singing rivulets filled the place, freshening the
orchards and meadows, sending strong leats to wash away filth,
edging the walks, turning mill-wheels, making everywhere pools and
founts and cisterns.  In a happier hour he had told himself that
Oseney was a northern Venice, a queen of waters; now in his
distemper it seemed only a mouldering relic among sewers.

He wanted life and power and pride; not in a sinful cause, but for
noble purposes--this he told himself hastily to still a doubting
conscience.  He wanted to tear the heart out of learning, which was
to him the mother of power.  He wanted to look the world in the
face, to cast a spell over men and make them follow him.  In all
innocency he hungered for pomp and colour, trumpet notes, quick
music, the stir of the heart. . . .  And he was only a poor scholar
of St George's College in the Castle, entitled to little more than
lodging and a commons of bread and ale; a pensioner of Oseney under
an ancient corrody of the keepers of Wychwood Forest; a teacher of
noisy infants and dull hobbledehoys; a fumbler at the doors of
knowledge when he should be striding its halls; a clerk in a shabby
gown, whom no woman cast a second glance at and proud men thrust
from the causeway; a cypher, a nobody, neither lay nor cleric,
gentle nor simple, man nor maid. . . .  He remembered the face of
the traveller on the weary roan whom the night before he had seen
ride in the gloaming into Stowood, and at the memory of his mastery
Peter turned on his side and groaned.

The queer gipsy man, who spoke like a clerk, had said he was no
churl's get.  But he had been wrong.  Peter's mind flew back to
what he remembered of his youth.  His only recollection was of the
forester's cottage on the edge of Wychwood, looking down upon
Windrush.  Mother Sweetbread, the forester's wife, was all of a
mother he had ever known, and the forester all of a father.  He was
not their child, but more distant kin--his father, he was told, had
been a soldier slain in the wars. . . .  His early life had been
that of other country children--long summer days in wood and
meadow, and winters snug at the back of the fire.  But there had
been sudden odd gleams athwart it.  He remembered once being
hurried into the deeps of Wychwood by Mother Sweetbread, where he
lived for several days in a cold cleft by a stream, and somehow
that hasty journey was associated in his mind with trampling horses
and a tall man with a scar on his brow. . . .  Then there was
Brother Tobias, who superintended his schooling.  Tobias was an
Oseney canon, whose face, as long as Peter remembered it, had been
wrinkled like a walnut.  Tobias had taught him his letters, and
arranged for him to attend the Witney school, where he boarded with
the parson.  Tobias had spoken to him of wonderful things and
opened up new worlds and set him on the scholar's path.  It was
Tobias who had got him an entrance to St George's College, and had
been his guide and benefactor when the Wychwood corrody placed him
on the Oseney foundation.  To Tobias he had gone in every trouble
save his present discontent.  That he could not carry to him, for
Tobias would declare that it was sin.  Tobias hoped that he would
presently take up the religious life: it was for such a purpose
that he had brought him from the Windrush cottage.

Peter had been now three years in Oxford, and in those three years
he had strayed far from the Witney school and the precepts of
Tobias.  He had found the place humming with a strange jargon and
fevered with the beginnings of a new life.  There was Greek to be
had in the new lectures at Corpus Christi College, and Greek was
not a fresh subject to be added to the Trivium or Quadrivium, but a
kind of magic which altered all the rest of man's knowledge.  It
made him contemptuous of much that his betters still held
venerable, and critical even of the ways of God. . . .  But there
was more astir in Oxford than Greek.  The sons of great men were
coming now to college, instead of going like their fathers to a
nobleman's household or the King's Court, and they were bringing
the wind of politics into its sheltered groves.  All was in a flux
in Church and State.  Great things were happening, greater still
were promised; it was hard to keep the mind on study when every
post from London set the streets and taverns in a babble.

It was a moment when barriers seemed to be cracking, and there were
wild chances for youth.  But in such chances Peter had no share.
The most that lay before him was the narrow life of the religious,
regular monk or secular priest, or a life not less narrow spent in
the outer courts of learning as a copier of scripts and a
schoolmaster to youth.  He was a peasant and a son of peasants, and
there was no place for him in the glittering world. . . .  Once the
Church might have helped him to a pinnacle, as it had helped the
great Cardinal of York, now dead.  But the Church was crumbling;
soon it would be no more than an appanage to the King's palace, and
its affairs would be guided by high-handed oppressive folk such as
he had watched last night jingling through Stowood.

Again Peter raised his head, and this time his eye was held by the
soaring tower of the great church.  It was of Taynton stone, and
whiter than the fabric; a sudden brightness seemed to fall on it
and make it a shaft of alabaster with a light behind it. . . .  He
saw again Oseney as he had first seen it, a mystic city filled with
all the wisdom of God and man.  Especially he remembered how the
tower had seemed to him to leap into the skies and marry earth and
heaven.  Something of the old mood returned to him.  Sinner that he
was, he had the Faith to hold him up, the Faith for whose mysteries
he had once hungered and trembled.  The world might go withershins,
but here was a cornerstone which could not be removed, an anvil
which had worn out many hammers.  To remember that he was a clerk
gave him a second of pride, almost of defiance, for the Church and
her clerks had many foes.  He was not obscure so long as he was a
member of that celestial brotherhood, nor humble when he had a
title to the pride of Heaven. . . .  He gazed again at the shining
tower, and a fount of affection welled in his dry heart.  At that
moment Thomas, the great bell, boomed the hour for High Mass.

Peter hurried through the orchard closes and over the little
bridges and through the purlieus of Oseney-town.  The place smelt
less pleasingly than it had an hour ago, and, with the dazzle of
dawn out of his eyes, he could see the squalor of much of it--the
dirt and offal in the runnels, a sluttish woman at a door,
crumbling styes and byres, a bridge mended with a broken cart-
wheel, a scum of grease filming an eddy in a stream.  He ran past
the infirmary and across Little Court, for Thomas had had a
peremptory note in his voice, and he did not slacken pace till he
was in the cloisters of Great Court, and joined a little convoy of
canons proceeding to the west door of the church. . . .  Then
suddenly he was in a hollow like the inside of a mountain, a hollow
lit with twinkling lights and strange jewelled belts of sun, thick
with incense smoke, and tremulous with the first notes of the great
organ.

The growing poverty of Oseney had not yet shown itself in its
mighty church.  Peter, in his seat below the choir, felt himself
once again secure from the temptations of life and lapped in an
ancient peace.  Nothing could stale for him the magic of this
hollow land whose light and colour and scents were not those of the
world.  He followed the service mechanically from long practice,
but his thoughts were far away.  Oseney kept up the old fashion: no
prick-song with its twists and tremors, but the honest plain-song
of their fathers.  The solemn cadences dwelt in the dim recesses
above him like a night-wind among the clouds.  They soothed him,
and yet quickened the life in him, so that his fancies ranged in a
happy medley.  On the wall opposite him hung a tapestry of some
saint of the Thebaid, with Libyan lions dogging his heels, and an
aureoled angel offering him something in a cup.  In the background
little yellow hills ran out to a blue river, beyond which, very far
away, lay a city with spires, and a sea with two ships.  The sun
coming in through the rose window in the south transept made the
phylactery which the angel bore glow like a topaz, and gilded the
hermit's bald head, while it turned the ciborium below into shining
gold. . . .  Slowly Peter's mind passed from a happy vacuity to
making tales about the scene depicted in the tapestry, and, as his
fancy ranged, the peace which the dim light and the grave harmonies
had given him began to shiver like mist and disappear.  Adoramus te
Christe--sang the pure voices of the choristers--Jesu fili Dei
vivi--but Peter's thoughts were not on God.  That tapestry had
become a window through which he looked again upon the secular
world which tormented him.

At the benediction he made straight for the fratry, for his hunger
was now grievous.  At the laver in the cloister he bathed his face,
and washed hands which were stained with the soil and moss of the
orchard.  The fratry was on the south side of Great Court, to be
reached by a broad stairway, for all the ground-floor was occupied
by cellars and store-rooms.  It was too large by far for the
present community, for the officers, canons, novices and clerks
attached made only a cluster at one end of the great hall.  The
das was empty, since Abbot Burton was entertaining guests in his
own lodgings.  The precentor gabbled a grace, and the little
company began their meal on the viands already on the table, for
there were no hot dishes when fast was broken in summer-time.  The
food was plentiful and good--rye bread in abundance, and for each a
commons of the fine white Oxford loaves called "blanchpayn," the
Abbey's own ale, the Abbey's own cheese and butter, smoked London
herrings, and dishes of fresh lettuces of Brother Placidus's
growing.  Peter's place was at the lower end, and he ate hungrily,
having no ear for the novice, who in a stone pulpit read aloud from
St Jerome.  The black dog was on his back again.  He was a poor
clerk in a poor place, disconsidered even by the disconsidered.
The homely smell of the food, of the scrubbed floor and woodwork,
of the coarse fabric of his neighbours' clothes, filled him with a
childish exasperation.  He looked at the grey heads around him.
Was he to grow old like them in this place of shadows?

A hand was laid on his shoulder as he descended the staircase into
the July sunlight, and he found Brother Tobias beside him.  Brother
Tobias was a little lame, and leaned heavily on his arm while he
spoke in his placid cooing way in his ear.  Brother Tobias had a
very small face, red and rosy and wrinkled like a walnut, and a
very long neck, stringy as a hempen rope.  From earliest days he
had been Peter's guardian, patron, father in God, or whatever title
covers the complete oversight of interests in time and eternity.
He had blue eyes a little dim from study, for he was Oseney's chief
scholar and accounted a learned Thomist as well as a noted Grecian,
but those same eyes saw much that others missed, and at moments
they could gleam with a secular fire.  For Tobias had not always
been a churchman; there were tales of a youth spent in camps and
courts, for he was come of high stock from Severn side.

His dragging arm led Peter to the slype beside the summer parlour.
On the stone seats some of the brethren, who had already eaten,
were basking in the sun.  Two men in green, clothiers from the
Stour, were engaged in argument with the hosteller about certain
coverlets supplied to the hostel beds. . . .  Brother Placidus, a
lean old man with a skin the colour of loam, was upbraiding Brother
Josephus, because the latter, who was skilled in the work of
illumination, had plucked as a model the leaf of a certain rare
plant, which the former alleged to have been thereby destroyed.
The leaf in question was now past the use for which Brother
Josephus had designed it, having been rolled into a pellet
in Brother Placidus's angry hands. . . .  A pedlar of wild
strawberries had plumped his baskets on the flags and was extolling
the merits of fruit picked that morning in the Besselsleigh
woods. . . .  Two brethren were imperilling their digestions by a
theological argument as to whether our Lord, combining a divine and
a human nature, was to be described as conflatus or commixtus.  A
third joining in, urged that the proper word was unitus, or perhaps
geminatus, and quoted a sentence of St Augustine. . . .  A group of
younger canons were discussing the guests whom the Abbot was then
entertaining.  One was Sir Ralph Bonamy of Wood Eaton--he was a
familiar figure; but the other, the old man with the small white
beard and the quick anxious eyes?  Doubtless a confrater, or lay
member of the Abbey, come to consult on Oseney business.  One
claimed to know the face as that of a lord in the west country who
was very close to the King's ear. . . .  The reeve from the Abbey's
lands at Kidlington was engaged with the sub-cellarer on an
intricate computation of the number of beeves to be fattened for
the Abingdon market. . . .  Peter, who could not choose but hear
fragments of the tattle, felt an overpowering weariness of soul.

Brother Tobias, stretching his old legs in the sun's warmth, looked
curiously at his friend, whose gown had slipped from his shoulders,
and who stood before him very comely in his young grace, but with
something listless and dejected in his air.

"I missed you at supper last night, son Peter," he said.  "Were you
in the woods, maybe?  You have become more of a forester these days
than a clerk.  In this summer of God no doubt the woods are the
best school.  Would that my limbs were less ancient and I could go
with you, but where I must jog on a mule you can stride like a
hunter.  When saw you Mother Sweetbread last?"

"Yesterday seven days."

"She was in health?"

"In the health which her age permits."

"Ay.  That good wife grows old like me.  Age needs cherishing, and
she is all the kin you have.  Next week, if the Lord spare me, we
will go together upstream and taste the Windrush trout and the
Forest strawberries.  But before that we must speak together of
some difficult matters.  You are a man now, with your twenty-first
year behind you.  It is time to consult about the future."

"That is what I desire," said Peter moodily.

"Let it be this evening before compline."  He looked up at the
boy's shapeliness, the clean limbs, the narrow loins, the breadth
of shoulder, at the face dark with weather, the straight brows, the
noble lines of head and jaw, the candid grey-blue eyes at present
sullen and puzzled, the crisp brown hair, for Peter had never been
tonsured.  All this Brother Tobias gazed at, and then he sighed,
before he rose to limp back to his studies.  He wondered whether
such youth would submit readily to the dedication which religion
demanded.  "I must require of him some special discipline," he
thought.



Peter finished his duties in the novices' school by an hour after
noon.  He visited his attic in St George's College in the Castle.
It was very hot, and, since the window opened to the south, the
little room was like an oven.  He looked at his unslept-in bed,
with its mean bedclothes, his shelf of papers weighted by a book or
two, the three-legged stool and the rickety table which were all
the furniture, and a pair of blue flies buzzing at a broken pane,
and the sight did not increase his cheerfulness.  Poverty lay like
dust over everything.  He had meant to give the afternoon to his
own studies, to that translation of a book of Plato into Ciceronian
Latin, at which, with a fellow of Corpus Christi College, he had
been for some months at work.  But he found it impossible.  On such
a day and in such a mood he would go mad in that stuffy cell.  He
would go to the library of Merton College, where he had permission
to read, and look up certain passages in Diogenes Laertius till
dinner-time.

It had become a day of blistering heat.  The last summer had been a
succession of fogs and deluges, so that the hay rotted in the mead
and the beans in the field.  But this year, though there had been
many comforting rains, there had also been weeks of steady heat,
when the sun rose in a haze, glared at noontide from a cloudless
sky, and set again in amethyst and opal.  Peter entered the city by
the west gate, and by way of Friars' Street came into St Aldate's
opposite the gate of what had once been Cardinal College.  It was
still unfinished, a barrack of gaunt masonry, noble only in its
size, with beyond the raw gables and the poles of the scaffolding
the lovely grey spire of St Frideswide's Church.  Peter on his way
to Merton passed through the new main quadrangle, which was as yet
more like a quarry than a dwelling for men.  The older work was of
hard Burford stone, but much of the finishing, to save time and
cost, was in the soft stone of Headington, and the masons who
wrought on it filled the air with a fine dust and made the place in
the sultry afternoon like a desert in a sandstorm.  On the older
plinths and buttresses Peter read the great Cardinal's arms, and he
wished his soul well wherever it might be.  Wolsey had loved
grandeur and pomp, and had made all men bow to him.  Also he had
loved sound learning, and, had his dreams been realised, the Greek
of Corpus would have been to the Greek of Cardinal as a cup of
water to a flood.

Merton Street gave him shade, where the town houses of the gentry
of the shire beetled over the narrow pathway.  Beyond he saw bare
ground up to the city wall; that had once been a populous quarter
of the city, but it had been untenanted since the Black Death a
hundred years before. . . .  The great Cardinal dwelt in his mind,
not as a warning against pride, but as an encouragement to the
humble.  Though tragedy had been the end of him, he had wrested
rich prizes from life.  Dukes had held the ewer while he washed,
and earls had tied the strings of his shoes.  His palaces at
Hampton and Tittenhanger and the More had been as noble as the
King's.  He had travelled about with three hundred servants, and
he, the flesher's son, had sat as equal at the council-board with
the Emperor and the King of France.  Peter's fancy fired at the
thought, and in a dream he climbed the library steps with long
strides and found his accustomed corner.

But the mood did not last. . . .  Wolsey had been Wolsey, and he
was Peter Pentecost, without a friend save Brother Tobias and the
Oseney canons, and with no means to raise himself from his
humility.  His obscurity was too deep for any good fortune to
disinter him.  Diogenes Laertius that day was not profitably
studied, for Peter sat on the oak settle with his eye on the page
and his mind far away. . . .  He thought of his happy careless
childhood with irritation.  Born a peasant in a peasant's hut, not
very clear even about his own humble kin, learning had opened
windows for him and given him a prospect beyond his station.  But
learning having made the promise could not give him fulfilment.
The Church offered no career.  It was crumbling; as Tobias said,
the gates of Hell were prevailing against it.  A churchman met hard
glances nowadays wherever he went; and, worse, he found the doors
of power barred to him.  There was a new world coming to birth, and
it was a world which, instead of exalting Peter Pentecost, must
force him deeper down into the mire. . . .  Mother Sweetbread was
growing old, and she was all the kin he knew.  The thought at the
moment brought no kindness to his heart, for youth has its hard
patches.  He felt something which was almost resentment against the
woman who had reared him for so narrow a life.  Yet in those days
he had been happy.  His memory of them was of an infinite series of
golden hours, green woods and clear waters and gentle faces.
Illusion, no doubt, but it was better than the grim reality of to-
day. . . .

And then his thoughts flew to the Painted Floor, and the strange
spectacle of the night before.  Since his youth could not be
recovered, might he not win that clean and gracious world which the
classical poets had revealed to him, another and a fairer youth, an
eternal springtide of the spirit?  But the harsh present was too
insistent, nor did he believe that he had the makings of the true
scholar.  He could not consent to live only with books and dreams,
even if that life were free to him.  He had revelled in old poets
because they had given him a sphere so remote from squalid reality
that he could indulge the fancy that within it he was a master and
not a slave.  He had rejoiced in the Painted Floor, because it was
his own, and he was king there by the strongest right of tenure.
But did not the secret of both affections lie in the fact that they
made him what he could dream, but could never attain to? . . .

He had a momentary thought of breaking all shackles and seeking
another course of life.  He had been taught the use of arms by the
Wychwood foresters.  Brother Tobias himself had seen to it that he
had some skill of the sword, a rare thing in a clerk.  His chest
was deep and his limbs were tireless.  What of the big unclerkly
world beyond Oseney gates and Oxford walls? . . .  The notion only
crossed his mind to be dismissed.  Learning, even a little
learning, had spoiled him for beginning life in the ranks among
bullies and cut-throats and fellows whose sole possession was their
sinews.  It had made him fastidious.  He hungered, and yet could be
dainty about any offered dish. . . .  Peter shut his book and
dropped his head on his arms.  He was feeling the pressure of life
which sets a man's nerves twitching and confuses his brain, and
which can be mastered only by blinding the eyes and concentrating
on a single duty, or--the poet's way--by weaving tumultuous
phenomena into the simplicities of art.  What were those words of
Tobias which he was always using of England?--"The blanket of the
dark."  The gipsy with the hot eyes in Stowood had said the same.
Peter had a sense of a great cloud of darkness encumbering him, a
cloak at once black and stifling.

His restlessness drew him from the shadowed library and sent him by
way of Merton Lane into the bustle of High Street.  It was cooler
now, but, since that narrow street ran east and west, the sun's
beams fell in a long slant and there was no shade.  Peter, filled
with his own thoughts, and keeping close to the booths, found
himself so jostled that he was shaken into cognisance of the world
around him. . . .  A cowman, leading a red bull by the nose, was
pulled off his legs and had a wordy brawl with a mounted lackey
wearing the Harcourt liveries. . . .  For a moment the street was
cleared, while a veiled lady on a palfrey was escorted by four
running footmen and an armed steward.  Great folk from Ewelme,
thought Peter, for the men had the Suffolk colours. . . .  He saw
two friars cross the street and disappear within the Wheatsheaf
passage, moving furtively and fast.  They were from a Dominican
house among the south marshes, a foundation long decayed and now
trembling to its fall.  Dr John London, the Warden of New College,
emerged from the Bear inn, wiping his lips and arguing loudly with
a pale priest in a cassock.  Dr John's red face and vehement eye
dominated the pavement, and the citizens doffed their caps to him,
while the friars quickened their pace at the sight, for he was deep
in Cromwell's confidence and purposed to make himself a scourge for
the religious houses under the direction of the masterful chief
whip of the Council. . . .

There were plenty of threadbare scholars of Peter's own complexion,
and a sprinkling of a different kind of youth--ruddy boys, richly
doubleted and booted, and in defiance of statute bearing arms--
young sprigs of gentrice and nobility, to whom the life of Oxford
was that of a country house.  The sight of them made Peter shrink
still farther into what shadow he could find. . . .  In a press at
a corner he thought he caught a glimpse of the lean face and the
hot eyes of the gospeller of the night before.  And of one face he
was certain.  Down the causeway, as if he were its squire, strode
the tall horseman whom he had seen twenty hours ago ride up the
hill into Stowood.  He had changed his clothes, for gone were the
plumeless bonnet and battered doublet: now he was handsomely
dressed in black and silver, with a jewel in his cap, but the same
long sword swung at his side. . . .  Opposite Haberdashers' Hall,
which was on Oseney ground, there was a loud cry to clear the way,
and, a hundred yards off, he saw the head of a mounted man bobbing
above the throng.  It was a post from London, no less than the
Vice-Chancellor's own private courier, and, since he had many
acquaintances, he was delayed by people plucking at his stirrups
and bridle and asking for news.  To avoid the crowd Peter stepped
into an open door of the Ram inn, and found a seat well back in the
dusk.

It was a place which he sometimes frequented, when his weekly three
silver pennies permitted the indulgence.  A drawer brought him a
pot of ale, and when he had taken the edge from his thirst he
looked round the room, which was bright in front where its low
windows and door admitted the sunlight from the street, but at the
back was dusky as a vault.  A clerk sat on the settle next him, and
he saw without pleasure that it was that Jeremy Wellaby of Corpus
with whom he was at work on Plato.

There was a clamour at the door and loud cries on Master Puncheon
the vintner to bring forthwith a hogshead of ale to quench the
drought of an honest man.  The Vice-Chancellor's messenger had
halted at the Ram door and was being treated by his friends.  Peter
could not choose but catch echoes of the babble, as the said
friends discussed the news.  The Pope's men rising . . . Norfolk
way . . . some say the Bishop leads 'em . . . nay, not the Duke of
Norfolk, who was the right hand of the King's grace . . . Darcy
maybe, and unnamed lords in the north . . . St Albans had fallen to
them . . . some said they were stopped at Huntingdon. . . .  Nay,
nay, Master Giles had been clear that there was no rising as yet,
only the fear of one. . . .

The crowd surged on, but, like an ocean billow, it left some
flotsam behind it.  Several figures had entered the taproom of the
Ram.  One was already a little drunk, and had the look of a
scrivener's jackal, for there were ink stains over his large splay
hands.  He sat near the door, spilling his ale as he drank over a
grimy doublet, and he seasoned his draught with complaints to all
within earshot.

"Ay, my masters," he hiccuped, "the King's grace has gotten the
Pope at last in his belly.  Now that the big black Cardinal crow is
dead, the rookeries will be hewn down, and there will be rook pie
for every poor soul that seeks it.  A better world, says I.  No
more mortuaries and probates and a right to sin for every lousy
clerk.  Dr John!  Dr John London!  More power to your stout arm!
They waxed fat and kicked fat, forsooth . . . three dishes at a
meal for the plain gentleman and only six for a great lord of
parliament, but nine on the board of him that was Cardinal of
York. . . .  It is the day of recompense, my masters, and blessed
be the eyes which shall see it. . . ."

The man saw something in the street which plucked him from his
bench and sent him staggering into the open.

"It is the day of loose tongues," said a grave man, an Oxford
mercer who was dining handsomely off a roast duck and a cup of
sack.  "The stocks and a clipped ear await that one. . . .
Doubtless it would be a pleasant world lacking mortuaries and such-
like, but what an honest man saves from the Church he will pay to
the King.  An Englishman is born to be fleeced by the mighty ones,
and what with subsidies and loans and amicable aids he is like to
be worse off than before.  His money is lost to him whether it goes
to Pope or bishop or exchequer clerk.  I am a good citizen and a
true and loyal King's man, but it is the right of a freeman to have
his grumble."

Master Wellaby spoke up.

"You had an England of laymen and clerks, and you are destroying
it.  What better will it be to have an England of rich and poor?
Will there be more peace and happiness, think you?"

A new-comer had ordered a meal, with an observing eye upon the
mercer's fare.  He was a countryman by his ruddy face and the dust
on his square-toed boots and leather breeches, but from his dress
he might be reeve or steward or verderer or petty squire.

"Marry, there will always be rich and poor," he said, "since the
Scripture orders it, and since the new breed of rich is less gentle
than the old, the poor will fare the worse.  Are the new men that
lord it to-day the make of the old?  I trow not.  What is Russell
and Audeley and Wriothesley to Mowbray and Bohun and Mortimer, or
Seymour to De Vere, or Fitzwilliam to Lovell?  You have a new man
at the King's elbow, Master Crummle, of whom they speak great
things.  Nevertheless he is but a gilded scrivener.  My own cousin
saw him a score of years back a ragged serving-lad at the door of
Messer Friskyball's bank in Florence.  It sticks in my mind that
the new masters will be harsher than the old, since they are but
risen servants."

"History confirms you, sir," said Master Wellaby eagerly.  "In
ancient Rome the freedman was the worst tyrant."

"I know nought of Rome, ancient or new, but much of England,
notably that part of it which lies between Cherwell and Severn, and
I declare before God that I love the old ways best, as I love best
old ale and old pasture.  'Twere better if instead of bare-back
fleshers and scriveners the ancient masters bore rule again in the
land.  Such an one as the mighty Duke of Buckingham."

"Him that suffered in '21?" the mercer inquired.

"The same.  His blood was direct from Bohun and King Edward.  There
was the great lord!  He had fourteen thousand marks of rental each
year, and he never stirred abroad without four hundred armed men at
his back."

"Too proud," said the mercer.  "Too proud for a naughty world.
Wherefore did he die, good sir?  I was only a stripling then and
forget the tale."

"Because of an old wives' gossip of treason.  Wolsey, whom the
devil burn, feared to go to the French wars and leave such a man
behind him.  It is our foolish fashion to sacrifice some great one
before we fight our enemies.  'Twas Pole in '13, and 'twas
Buckingham in '21.  I uphold that the Duke's death was a crime in
God's eyes, and that He hath visited it not only on Wolsey who was
the guilty one, but on the King's grace who was an innocent
partaker.  Witness his lamentable barrenness in the matter of
posterity. . . ."

There was a hush at the words, as if each auditor feared his
neighbour.  But the countryman went on undaunted.

"And now there is nought left of the proud race of Stafford and
Bohun, and old England is the poorer place."

After that he spoke no more but gave his mind to a meat pasty.
Presently Wellaby rose to leave, and soon Peter was the only
occupant of the taproom.  It was the hour of the evening meal at
Oseney, but Peter had no mind to it.  He expended one of his few
coins on a little bread and cheese, and sat on as the dusk deepened
and the booths put up their shutters and women called their
husbands to supper.

He was in a mood of profound dejection, for two things had befallen
him that afternoon.  He had realised that the life to which he had
vowed himself was in danger of becoming no more than a blind alley,
and that the huge fabric of the Church was falling about his ears.
Also he had been made aware that great events were toward in the
State, and he had seen the happy bustle of men with purpose and
power, while he himself sat a disconsidered oddment in a corner.
The blanket of the dark was very thick about him.



A hand touched him and woke him from his lassitude.  It was one of
the Abbey servitors from Oseney.

"Make haste, Master Pentecost--'ee be wanted.  I've been rakin'
Oxford for 'ee this past hour.  Brother Tobias bade me bring 'ee
post-haste."

Peter followed him into the street, listless and incurious.  This
was the consultation, no doubt, for which Tobias had trysted him
that morning.  But what could Tobias do?  Peter had not lost the
savour of life; the deadly sin of accidia was not his; he felt the
savour with a desperate keenness, but he despaired of passing from
the savour to the taste of it. . . .  The crowd in the street was
less, since it was the meal hour, but there were travellers on the
road, spurring through the city to some Cotswold inn or manor.
Also there were many of the new proud breed of collegians, coming
from the Beaumont field to the colleges nearest the river, or
forsaking their bare commons for a tavern supper.  There were
merchants of the town, too, taking the air and discussing the last
news, comfortable men, with a proper reverence for a lord and a
proper contempt for a poor scholar. . . .  To everyone he met, even
the humblest, he was nothing--a child of country peasants, a
dabbler in unwanted learning, a creature of a falling Church.  In
the bitterness of his soul he clenched his hands till the nails
hurt his palms.  As he crossed Bookbinders bridge and entered the
Abbey he felt like a dog whistled back to its kennel.

So low were his spirits that he did not notice that he was being
conducted to the Abbot's palace till his feet were on the
threshold.  The messenger handed him over to the seneschal, who
appeared to be awaiting him.  This was an odd spot for his
appointment with Tobias, for he had never entered the place before,
but he followed his guide dully through the outer hall, and through
the dining chamber and up a stairway of Forest marble.  He entered
a room part panelled and part hung with tapestries, which looked
westward over the Botley causeway and the Wytham meadows.  It was
lit by the summer sunset, and beside the table stood two men.

One was Tobias, whose crab-apple face seemed strangely perturbed.
He looked at Peter with hungry eyes as if striving by them to say
that which he could not put into words.  The other was an old man
dressed soberly in black, who wore a rich chain of gold and a jewel
on his breast.  His face was deeply lined, his mouth was grim, and
he had the eye of one used to command.  Recollection awoke in Peter
at the sight.  This was the very man whom he had seen wearing a
purple cloak and an ermine collar in the cavalcade of the evening
before.  He had guessed that he was one of the King's commissioners
sent to deal with the religious houses.  Eynsham had not been his
goal.  He must have been Oseney's guest for the night.

Both men rose at his entrance and remained standing, a strange
thing for a great one in the presence of a youthful clerk.  The
elder looked at him steadily, ardently, his eye taking in every
detail of the threadbare clothes and lithe form and comely face.
Then he sighed, but his sigh was not of disappointment.

"The same arch of the brows," he murmured, "and the little cleft in
the upper lip."

"You are he whom they call Peter Pentecost?" he said.  "I have
searched long before I found you, my child.  They told me that you
were an inmate of a religious house in these parts, but which I
could not learn.  Having found you, I have much to tell you.  But
first answer my question.  Who and what are you and what was your
upbringing?"  There was no rudeness in the interrogation, but
nevertheless it was peremptory, and the speaker's air had that in
it which compelled an answer.

"I was reared by one Mistress Sweetbread at Leafield, the wife, and
now the widow, of a Wychwood forester."

The old man nodded.

"Your father?"

"Of him I know nothing.  I have heard that he was a soldier who
fell in the wars oversea."

"Your mother?"

"I never saw her.  She was, I think, of near kin to the
Sweetbreads, a sister or a sister's child."

The other smiled.

"It was a necessary imposture.  There was no safety for such as you
except to bury you deep in some rustic place.  You remember nothing
of the years before you came to Leafield?"

Peter shook his head.  A wild hope was beginning to surge in his
heart.

"Then it is my privilege to enlighten you.  There were some who
knew the truth, but it did not become them to speak.  This good man
for one," and he turned to Tobias.

"I judged it wiser to let the past sleep," said Tobias, "for I
considered only the happiness of him whom I loved as my own son.
There was no need . . ."

"The need has arisen," said the old man firmly.  "We who were your
father's friends have never lost sight of that likelihood, though
i' faith we let you sink so deep into Oxfordshire mud that it has
been hard to find you.  That was the doing of our reverend brother
Tobias.  You have lived a score of years in a happy ignorance, but
the hour has come when it must be broken.  Your mother . . ."

He paused, and Peter's heart stood still.

"Your mother was no Sweetbread kin.  She was the Lady Elinor, the
eldest daughter of Percy of Northumberland."

Peter's heart beat again.  He felt his forehead flush and a wild
gladness in him which sent the tears to his eyes.  He was noble
then on the distaff side, noble with the rarest blood of England.
What runaway match, what crazy romance, had brought him to birth?

"My father?" he asked.

"Be comforted," said the other, smiling back.  "I read your face,
but there is no bar sinister on your shield.  You were born in
lawful wedlock, a second son.  Your mother is long dead, your elder
brother is these three months in his grave.  You are now the only
child of your father's house."

"My father?"  The tension made Peter's voice as thin as a bat's.

"Your father?" said the old man, and he rolled the words out like a
herald at a tourney.  "Your father was that high and puissant
prince, Edward, Duke and Earl of Buckingham, Earl and Baron of
Stafford, Prince of Brecknock, Count of Perche in Normandy, Knight
of the Garter, hereditary Lord High Steward, and, in virtue of the
blood of Bohun, Lord High Constable of England."

"He died in the year '21," said Peter, blindly repeating what he
had heard in the Ram inn.

"He died in the year '21, a shameful and unmerited death.  His
lands and honours were thereby forfeited, and you have not one rood
to your name this day.  But in the eyes of God and of honest men
throughout this land you are Buckingham and Bohun and the sixth man
from Edward the Third.  I and those who think with me have sought
you long, and have planned subtly on your behalf, and on behalf of
this unhappy realm which groans under a cruel tyranny.  The times
are ripe for a change of master, and there will be no comfort for
our poor people till that change be accomplished."

"You would make me a duke?" Peter stammered.

The westering sun was in the old man's face, and it showed that in
his eyes which belied his age.  He was suddenly transfigured.  He
came forward, knelt before Peter, and took his hand between his two
palms.

"Nay, sire," he said, "by the grace of God we will make you King of
England."



CHAPTER III

IN WHICH PETER LURKS IN THE SHADOW


Four weeks later to a day Peter sat again in his old eyrie, above
the highway which descended from Stowood to the Wood Eaton meads.
Strange things had happened meanwhile.  Twenty-four hours after
the meeting in the Abbot's lodging the heat had broken in
thunderstorms, followed by such a deluge of rain as washed the
belated riverside haycocks to the sea and sent Isis and Cherwell
adventuring far into distant fields.  In the floods a certain
humble dependent of Oseney, Pentecost by name, had the ill-luck to
perish.  For two days he was missed from his accustomed haunts, and
on the third news came up the river from Dorchester that he had
been last seen attempting a crazy plank bridge over Thame which had
been forthwith carried down by the floods.  The body was not
recovered, but there were many nameless bodies washed up those
days.  Perfunctory masses were sung for the soul of the drowned man
in a side chapel of Oseney Great Church, and in the little chapel
of St George in the Castle, and Brother Tobias wore a decent mask
of grief and kept his chamber.  A new master in grammar was found
for the novices, and there was a vacancy in an Oseney corrody and
an empty bed in the Castle garret.  In a week a deeper tide than
that of Isis had submerged the memory of Peter Pentecost.

"It is necessary to do such things cleanly," the old Lord Avelard
had said.  "There must be no Lambert Simnel tale that might crop up
to our undoing."  He was a careful gentleman, for Brother Tobias
was sent to Wychwood to spread the news, so that those who had sat
by Peter on the benches of Witney school might spare a sigh for a
lost companion.

Then Peter by night was taken to Sir Ralph Bonamy's house at Wood
Eaton.  No servant saw him enter, but in the dark a clerk's gown
was burned, and in the morning a young man broke his fast in Sir
Ralph's hall, who bore the name of Bonamy, and was a cousin out of
Salop.  The manor-house of Wood Eaton was no new-fangled place such
as fine gentlemen were building elsewhere.  It was still in
substance the hall of Edward the First's day, with its high
raftered roof, its solar with plastered walls, its summer parlour,
its reedy moat, which could nevertheless be speedily filled bank-
high by a leat from Cherwell, its inner and outer courtyards
bastioned and loopholed for defence.  Sir Ralph was as antique as
his dwelling.  A widower and childless, he lived alone with an
ancient sister, who spent her days amid the gentle white magic of
herbs and simples.  He was well beyond three-score and ten years,
but still immensely strong and vigorous, and able to spend long
days in the field with his hounds or on the meres with his fishing
pole.  He was short and broad, with a noble head of greying reddish
hair, and he was clad always in coarse green cloth like a yeoman,
while his boots were as massive as an Otmoor fowler's.  He was a
lover of good fare and mighty in hospitality, so that his hall was
like a public house of entertainment, where neighbour or stranger
could at any time get his fill of beef-pudding and small beer.  It
was an untidy place, murky in winter with wood-smoke and dim even
in summer, for the windows were few and dirty.  It smelled always
of cooked meats and of a motley of animals, being full of dogs--
deer-hounds and gazehounds, and Malta spaniels, and terriers;
likewise there were hawks' perches, and Sir Ralph's favourite
tassel-gentle sat at his elbow.  The stone floor was apt to be
littered with marrow-bones and the remains of the hounds' meals,
and the odour was not improved by the drying skins of wild game
which hung on the walls.  Sir Ralph had a gusty voice and a habit
of rough speech, which suited his strange abode, but he was also
notably pious, and a confrater of Oseney; a small chapel opened
from the hall where the family priest conducted regular devotions,
and he kept his Fridays and fast days as rigidly as any Oseney
canon.  He was an upholder of the old ways in all things--religion,
speech, food and furnishing.

Peter, clad in a sober, well-fitting suit of brown such as became a
country squire out of Salop, breakfasted his first morning at Wood
Eaton with his head in a whirl.  His host, in a great armed chair,
made valorous inroads on a cold chine of beef, and drank from a tun
glass of ale which he stirred with a twig of rosemary.  The long
hawking-pole, which never left him, leaned against his chair, and
by his hand lay a little white stick with which he defended his
platter against the efforts of a great deer-hound and two spaniels
to share its contents.  Sir Ralph had welcomed his guest with a
gusto which he had in vain attempted to make courtly, and since
then had said nothing, being too busy with food and dogs.  "Eat,
sir," he had said, "youth should be a good trencherman.  Now, alas!
I can only pick like a puling lanner."  Then he cut himself a wedge
of pie which might have provisioned a ploughman for a week.

Peter turned his head at a sound behind him.  Lord Avelard had
entered the hall, preceded by his body-servant, who arranged his
chair, procured him some wheaten cakes and butter, filled a glass
of sack which he mixed with syrup of gillyflowers, and then bowed
and took his leave.  Seen for the first time in the morning light,
the face of the old man was such as to hold the eyes.  His toilet
was but half made; he had slippers on his feet and still wore his
dressing-gown; his age was more apparent, and could not be less
than four-score; nevertheless, so strong was his air of purpose
that he seemed ready forthwith to lead an army or dominate a
council.  A steady fire burned in his pale eyes, a fire of
enthusiasm, or, it might be, of hate.  Peter, as he looked on him,
felt his curiosity changing to awe.

But the old man was very cordial to the young one.  He greeted him
as a father might greet a son who was presently to be pope or king.

"We will call him for a little by your name, Ralph," he said.
"Master Bonamy--Master Peter Bonamy--I have forgot what is his
worship's manor t'other side of Severn. . . .  Wood Eaton will be a
safe retreat for a week or two, till I am ready to receive him at
Avelard."

"By your leave, my lord," said his host, "it is none too safe a
sanctuary.  Wood Eaton has a plaguey name as a house of call for
all and sundry.  It is as open as the Oxford corn-market.  Likewise,
I have lodging here my niece Sabine--old Jack Beauforest's
daughter--you mind Jack of Dorchester, my lord?  Come to think of
it, Sabine is as near kin to your deceased lady as to me.  She is
gone for a week to the nuns at Godstow, where she went to school--
Abbess Katherine was her mother's cousin--but will be home to-
morrow.  The secret with which you have entrusted me is too big for
a maid's ear, and I do not want Mistress Sabine and this new cousin
of ours to clap eyes on each other.  You see the reason of it, my
lord, though, as one with a hospitable name, I think shame to urge
it."

"But I have a plan to offer," he continued, when he saw the old
man's countenance fall.  "Let him go into Stowood to a verderer's
lodge.  I, as principal ranger, can compass that.  There is one
John of Milton, a silent man, who lives deep in the forest, and to
him I would send our cousin, my lord.  There no eye will see him
save that of gipsy or charcoal-burner or purley-man, and he will
have leisure to perfect himself in arts in which I gather he is
lacking.  A month will pass quick in the cool of the forest."

Lord Avelard pondered.  "Your plan is good, Ralph," he said.  "Wood
Eaton is a thought too notable because of its master."  He looked
at Peter and smiled.  "How will you relish taking to the greenwood
like Robin Hood or Little John?  You are dedicated, my son, to a
great purpose, and it has always been the custom of the dedicated
to sojourn first for a while in the wilderness."

His face, as he looked on the young man, was lit for a moment with
a strange tenderness, but the next second it had fallen back into
the wary mask of the conspirator.

"How goes the country, Ralph?" he asked.  "What does Oxfordshire
say of the latest doings at Court?"

"Oxfordshire is very weary of the Welshman," was the answer, "and
grieves for the fate of poor Hal Norris.  It was well to cut off
the Concubine's head, but why should Hal have been made to suffer
for her misdoings--Hal whom I knew from boyhood and who was
innocent as a christom babe?  Wychwood and Langley forests had
never a better keeper than Hal. . . .  Who is to have the post,
think you?  I heard talk of Jack Brydges. . . ."

"The King, as you know, has married the Seymour, so he has a new
breed of wife's kin to provide for."

"The Welshman makes a poor business of marrying, for he has nothing
to show for his pains.  The Lady Mary is outlawed, and the
Concubine's child is outlawed, and . . ."

"Nay, but there is a new conceit," said Lord Avelard.  "Parliament
has granted the King's grace the power to bequeath the Crown of
England by will, as you or I might legate an old doublet."

"God's wounds!" cried Sir Ralph, "but this is sacrilege!  If a pack
of citizens can decide the disposition of the crown what becomes of
the Lord's anointing?  It is the tie of blood which God has
determined. . . ."

"Do not vex yourself, for the thing works in our favour.  If the
King forget the obligations of lawful descent, England remembers
them. . . .  What further do you report of the discontents?"

"There is the devil's own uproar over the King's extortions among
the gentle, and the simple complain that they are sore oppressed by
the inclosers and the engrossers and the wool-staplers.  Likewise
the pious everywhere are perturbed, since heretics sit in high
places and the blasphemer is rampant in the land.  Crummle's
commissioners go riding the roads, with the spoils of God's houses
on their varlets' backs, copes for doublets and tunics for
saddlecloths.  There are preachers who tell the folk that the Host
is only a piece of baker's bread, and that baptism is as lawful in
a tub or a ditch as in a holy font; and will allow a poor man none
of the kindly little saints to guide his steps when God and His
Mother have bigger jobs on hand.  Certes, the new England they will
bring upon us is good neither for Jack nor his master."

"Jack knows it," said Lord Avelard.  "I will prophesy to you,
Ralph.  In a matter of months, or maybe of weeks, you will hear
strange news out of the eastern and northern shires.  There will be
such a rising of poor Christian people as will shake the King on
his throne."

"Ay, ay.  I have heard something of it.  But Jack alone will never
oust the Welshman.  That is a job for Jack's masters.  What of
them, my lord?  What of the nobles of England?"

"Their turn will come," was the answer.  "First, the priests and
the common people.  Then, when they have fluttered the heart of the
Court and drawn the King's levies into a difficult campaign, we
shall strike in the western and midland shires, and the blow will
not be by a bill in a clodhopper's hand but by a glaive in a steel
gauntlet.  First the commonalty, then the gentles--that is our
stratagem."

"And of these latter more puissant folk what numbers can you
command?  Remember, my lord, I have been a soldier.  I was at
Flodden and Therouanne.  I am not ignorant of the ways of war."

Lord Avelard consulted a paper.  "Your walls are secret?" he asked.

"As the grave.  Likewise I have no servant who is not deaf or dull
in the wits."

"Of the plain country squires throughout the land, three out of
four are on our side. . . .  For the greater ones--Norfolk is
Harry's man, and Suffolk married his sister--we can reckon on
neither. . . .  In the north there is hope of Northumberland.  He
was once affianced to the Concubine and weeps her death, and
likewise he is your cousin's kin on the distaff side."  He smiled
on Peter.  "Westmoreland and Cumberland are with us, and Latimer
and Lumley.  In the mid shires and the east we shall have Rutland
and Huntingdon and Hussey and Darcy.  We can count assuredly on the
Nevilles. . . .  Shrewsbury we cannot get, but if we lose the
Talbots we have the Stanleys."

"What of the west?" Sir Ralph asked.  "What of Exeter?"

"I have good hopes.  But the Courtenay blood is hard to judge,
being in all things capricious, and my lord of Exeter is a grandson
of Edward Fourth, and so himself within modest distance of the
throne.  He cannot love the Tudor, but he may not consent to give
place to a son of Buckingham.  Yet we shall see. . . .  What of
you, old friend?  Will you strike again for England against the
Welshman the shrewd blow which you struck against the Scot at
Flodden?"

"I am aged," was the answer, "and am somewhat set in my habits.
But I stand for holy Church, the old blood and the old ways, and
not least for Ned Stafford's son.  I will ride with you, provided
your campaigning season does not fall athwart my other duties. . . .
Let me consider.  In the months of August and September, I am
engaged, as principal ranger of the King's forests of Stowood and
Shotover, in thinning the deer.  The fallow buck are already ripe
for the bolt, and in a week the velvet will be off the red deer's
horns.  That brings me to October, when we take the wild fowl from
the Otmoor fleets; a heavy task which needs a master's eye and
hand.  Then up to Yule I hunt the fox and badger and get the pike
out of the river.  January is a busy time with my falcons, seeing
that the geese are on the wing if it be frost, and if it be mild
the pigeons are in every spinney.  February and March are the
training months for the eyasses, while the herons nest, and in
April and May there are the trout to be caught in the Fettiplace
waters and the monks' ponds of Bicester.  In summertime I have the
young haggards to consider which my men take in the forest, and
that, too, is the season when the mange must be looked to against
the hunting months."

"You have filled up your year to the last minute," said Lord
Avelard.

"By the sorrows of God, I have."  He pondered in deep perplexity.
"Let it be summer, then," he said at length.  "I must leave the
haggards to my falconer Merryman.  I will mount and ride with you
if your summons come on the first day of June.  But, as you love
me, not a day sooner, for Windrush trout rise heartily till the
last moment of May."



So Peter had exchanged the gloomy halls of Wood Eaton for the
verderer's lodge deep in the heart of Stowood, where the ground
fell steeply from the chantry of Stanton St John to the swamps of
Menmarsh.  The lodge stood in a glade among oaks, beside a strong
spring of water--a pleasant spot, for the dwellers there looked
northward over dim blue airy distances and a foreground as
fantastic as a tapestry.  The verderer, John of Milton, who came
from the Milton hamlets in the east by Thame side, was all day
absent on his own errands, and to Peter, as a cousin of the chief
ranger, he behaved as a respectful servitor, sparing of speech but
quick to execute his wishes.  The boy was not lonely, for he went
anew to school.  Under Sir Ralph's direction he was taught the
accomplishments of his rank.  One of the Wood Eaton men, who had
like his master confronted the Scottish spears at Flodden, taught
him various devices in the use of the two-edged, cut-and-thrust
blade, of which he already had mastered more than the rudiments.  A
hedge-captain came out from Oxford to instruct him in the new
Spanish sword-play, where the edge was scarcely used and the point
was everything.  Peter had often marked the man in Oxford and had
taken him for a lord from his fierce eyebrows and arrogant air--but
he proved only a different kind of usher, who doffed his cap
respectfully to Sir Ralph's kin.  Likewise, Sir Ralph's chief
falconer, Merryman, who was an adept at the cross-bow, made Peter
sweat through long mornings shooting at a mark, and a Noke man
taught him to stretch the long-bow.  Peter was no discredit to his
tutors, for his eye was true, his sinews strong and his docility
complete.  Besides, his training had been well begun years before
on the skirts of Wychwood.

At last had come Brother Tobias, riding out on an Abbey mule, when
the little wild strawberries were ripe in the coverts.  Tobias
liked these fruits, and had a bowl of them, lappered in cream from
the verderer's red cow.  He regarded Peter nervously, avoiding his
eye, but stealing sidelong glances at him, as if uncertain what he
should find.  Peter himself had no shyness, for this old man was
the thing he loved best in the world.

"You knew all the time?" he asked when he had settled his guest on
a seat of moss beside the spring.

"I knew, and I was minded never to tell," was his answer.  "You
were born too high to find peace; therefore I judged that it was
well that you should remain low, seeking only the altitude which
may be found in God's service.  It was not so decreed, and I bow to
a higher wisdom."

But if Tobias was embarrassed he was likewise exalted.  It appeared
to him that his decision had been directly overruled by
Omnipotence, and that his pupil had been chosen for a great
mission--no less than the raising again of Christ's Church in
England.  He expounded his hopes in an eager quivering voice.  The
Church stood for the supremacy of spiritual things, and the King
out of a damnable heresy would make it a footstool to the throne.
The Church stood for eternal right and eternal justice; if it fell,
then selfish ambition and man-made laws would usurp the place of
these verities.  Upon the strength of the Church depended the unity
of Christendom.  Weaken that integrity, and Christendom fell
asunder into warring and jealous nations, and peace fled for ever
from the world.  Granted abuses many; these must be set in order by
a firm hand.  But Pope must be above King, the Church's rights
above the secular law, or there could be no Christian unity.  God
and Mammon, Christ and Csar--they could not share an equal rule;
one must be on top, and if it were Mammon or Csar then the soul's
salvation was ranked lower than the interests of a decaying and
transitory world.  It was the ancient struggle which began in Eden,
and now in England it had come to the testing-point, and Peter was
the champion by whose prowess the Church must stand or fall.

The old man's voice ceased to quiver and he became eloquent.
Forgotten was the Grecian, the exponent of new ways in learning,
the zealous critic of clerical infirmities; he who sat on the moss
was a dreamer of the same dreams, an apostle of the same ideals, as
those which had filled his novitiate.

Peter said nothing--he spoke little these days.  But he remembered
the sinking revenues and the grass-grown courts of Oseney, the
pedantries of the brethren, the intrigues and quarrels that filled
their petty days.  He remembered, too, the talk of Lord Avelard.
Those who took the Church's side in the quarrel had, few of them,
much care for the Church, save as part of that ancient England with
which their own privileges were intertwined.  None had such a
vision as Brother Tobias.  Peter had travelled far in these last
years from his old preceptor, and had come to think of the Church
as no better than a valley of dry bones.  Could those bones live
again?  Were there many with the faith of Tobias, life might still
be breathed into them.  But were there many?  Was there even one?
He sighed, for he knew that he was not that one.  Disillusionment
had gone too far with him, and his youth had been different from
that of the old believer at his side.



He sat that August afternoon on his familiar perch above the
highway, and his head was like a hive of bees.  It had been humming
for weeks, and had become no clearer.  Outwardly he was a silent
and reflective young man, very docile among his elders, but
inwardly he was whirlpool and volcano.

He had got his desire, and he was not intoxicated or puffed up or
strung to a great purpose; rather he was afraid.  That was his
trouble--fear--fear of a destiny too big for him.  It was not
bodily fear, though he had visions now and then of the scaffold,
and his own head on that block where once his father's had lain.
Rather it was dread of an unfamiliar world in which he had no part.

Lord Avelard's was the face that stuck in his mind--that wise,
secret face, those heavily pouched eyes, the gleam in them of an
unquestionable pride and an undying hate.  He had treated him
tenderly as the son of an old friend, and respectfully, as one of
whom he would make a king.  But Peter knew well that he was no more
to Lord Avelard than the sword by his side, a weapon to be used,
but in a good cause to be splintered.  The man and all his kin, the
ancientry of England, were at deadly enmity with this Welshman who
had curbed their power, and was bringing in a horde of new men to
take their places.  They professed to speak in the name of the
burdened English commons, but for the poor man he knew they cared
not a jot; given the chance they would oppress as heartily as any
royal commissioner; was it not they who had begun the ousting of
tillage by the new sheep pastures?  They claimed to stand for the
elder England and its rights, and the old Church, but at heart they
stood only for themselves. . . .  And he was to be their tool,
because he had the blood of the ancient kings in him.  He was being
trained for his part, so that when he came into the sunlight he
should have the air and accomplishments of his rank. . . .  Peter
sickened, for it seemed to him that he was no more than a dumb ox
being made ready for the sacrifice.

They professed to fight in the name of Christ's Church.  For a
moment a recollection of Tobias's earnest eyes gave this plea a
shadow of weight.  Sir Ralph, too.  That worthy knight, if he could
be dragged from his field sports, would fight out of piety rather
than concern for his secular privileges. . . .  But the rest! . . .
And was that Church truly worth fighting for?  Had he any desire to
set Aristotle and St Thomas back in their stalls?  Was he not vowed
heart and soul to the new learning which Colet and Erasmus had
brought into England, and would not his triumph mean a falling back
from these apples of the Hesperides to the dead husks of the
Schools?  Was it any great matter that the Pope in Rome, who had
been but a stepfather to England, should have the last word, and
not an anointed king?  Was there no need of change in the
consecrated fabric?  Half the religious houses in England were in
decay, no longer lamps to the countryside, but dark burrows where a
few old men dragged out weary days.

He tried to recover that glowing picture of the Church of God which
he had brought with him from Witney school, when Oseney's towers
seemed to be bathed in a heavenly light, and its courts the abode
of sages and seraphs.  He tried to remember and share in Tobias's
vision of Christendom.  It was useless.  He saw only the crumbling
mortar and the warped beams of Oseney cloisters, and heard Brother
Lapidarius and Brother Johannes disputing shrilly about the
Kidlington dues, over their fried onions at supper. . . .  The
glamour had passed.  How could he champion that in which he had no
belief or men who at the best were half-believers?

 As he looked at the strip of highway passing through the canyon of
the forest he recalled with a shock that evening a month before,
when at the end of a day of holiday he had watched the pageant of
life on the road beneath him, and longed for an ampler share in it
than fell to the lot of a poor clerk of St George's.  He had got
his wish.  He remembered his bitter jealousy in the hot Oxford
streets of a sounding world in which he had no part.  He was in the
way during the next few months of getting a full portion of that
world.  And he realised that he did not want it, that the fruit was
ashes before he put his mouth to it.

Peter tried to be honest with himself.  One thing he had gained
that could never be taken from him.  He was not born of nameless
peasants, but of the proudest stock in England.  He had in his
veins the blood of kings.  That was the thought which he hugged to
his breast to cheer his despondency. . . .  But now he knew that he
wanted that knowledge, and nothing more.  He did not desire to live
in palaces or lead armies.  He wanted, with that certainty of his
birth to warm his heart, to go back to his old bookish life, or to
sink deep among countryfolk into the primordial country peace.  He
had thought himself ambitious, but he had been wrong.  His early
life had spoiled him for that bustling fever which takes men to
high places.  He did not like the dust of the arena, and he did not
value the laurels.

The opposite slope of the hill towards Elsfield was golden in the
afternoon sunlight, and mottled with the shadows of a few summer
clouds.  He saw the brackeny meadow, and above it the little
coppice which hid the Painted Floor.  He had a sudden longing to go
there.  It was his own sanctuary, hallowed with his innermost
dreams.  It represented a world of grace and simplicity ons
removed from the turbid present. . . .  But he did not dare.  He
must go through with the course to which he was predestined.  He
had got what he had hungered for, but he felt like a wild thing in
a trap.  Yet he was Buckingham's son, and there could be no turning
back.

A magpie flew down the hollow, but he had turned his head to the
hill and did not notice it.



There was a hunt that day in Stowood.  At dawn the slowhounds had
been out to start the deer and the greyhounds had been unleashed
before noon.  They had begun by running a knobber in the
Shabbington coverts, but in the afternoon the sport had been
better, for they had found a stag of ten in the oak wood by Stanton
and had hunted him through the jungle of the Wick and the Elsfield
dingles, and killed in the hollow east of Beckley.  As Peter made
his way back to the verderer's lodge he had heard the mort sounded
a mile off.

He hastened, for he wished to be indoors before he was seen by any
straggling hunter.  Such had been Sir Ralph's precise injunction;
when the hunt was out he must bide indoors or in cover.  But this
time he was too late.  He heard cries and laughter on all sides; a
knot of hunt servants, whom they called Ragged Robins, crossed the
road ahead of him at a canter.  Worse, he saw two of the hunters
coming towards him, whom he could not choose but pass.  One was a
woman on a black jennet, the other a young man on a great grey
gelding.  The first wore a riding dress all of white, with a velvet
three-cornered cap, and a rich waistcoat of green velvet, the other
had the common green habit of the woods, and was not to be
distinguished from a yeoman save by the plume and the jewel in his
flat cap.

Peter recognised the man first.  He was the rider whom he had
envied a month ago, first at the gate of Stowood and then in the
Oxford street, because he seemed so wholly master of his world.
The man had still that mastery.  He passed the boy with a lifted
hand to acknowledge his greeting, but he scarcely spared him a
glance; nor were his eyes set on his companion, but roaming
fiercely about as if to seek out matter of interest or quarrel.
His weathered face had the flush of recent exertion, but his pale
eyes were cool and wary.

These same eyes might well have been on the girl at his side.
Peter had a glimpse of ashen gold hair under the white cap, a cheek
of a delicate rose above the pale ivory of the uncovered neck.  She
bowed her head slightly to his salute, and ere she passed on for
one instant the heavy lids were raised from her eyes.

Peter stood stock still, but he did not look after them.  This was
the white girl who had danced at midnight on the Painted Floor.
Now he had seen her eyes, and he knew that there was that in them
of which the memory would not die.

He continued his way in a stupor of wonderment and uneasy delight.
He halted at the spring by the verderer's lodge, and turned at the
sound of hoofs behind him.  To his amazement it was the girl.  She
sprang from her horse as lightly as a bird.  The jennet, whose bit
was flecked with foam, would have nuzzled her shoulder, but she
slapped its neck so that it started and stood quivering.

"I am warm with the chase, sir," she said.  "I would beg a cup of
water."

Peter fetched a bowl from the lodge and filled it at the spring.
When he gave it her she sipped a mouthful.  Her face was no longer
rose-tinted but flushed, and she was smiling.

"Greeting, cousin," she said.  "I think you are my cousin Peter
from Severn side.  I am niece of Sir Ralph Bonamy at Wood Eaton.
My name is Sabine Beauforest."

She offered him her cheek to kiss.  Then she drew back, and to
Peter it appeared that she blushed deeply.  She sank in a low
curtsey on the moss, took his hand and carried it to her lips.

"I am your Grace's most loyal and devoted servant," she said.



CHAPTER IV

IN WHICH PETER GOES DEEPER INTO THE GREENWOOD


Two days later came Sir Ralph Bonamy to the verderer's lodge in
Stowood.  He left his big-boned horse in a servant's charge half a
mile from the place, and reached the cottage by a track among
brambles and saplings, walking so fast that the sweat beaded his
brow.  Clearly Sir Ralph's errand was one of speed and secrecy.

"This is but a feeble harbourage," he told Peter.  "I thought you
were safe here as in the heart of Otmoor, but you have taken the
air too freely, my lad.  It seems you have been seen, and questions
asked, for a youth of your shape and bearing is a scarce thing in
the forest."

"There was a lady . . ." Peter began.

"Ay.  That was my niece Sabine.  If I ever trusted woman with a
secret, it would be niece Sabine, for she is close as a hazel-nut.
She had word of a cousin from beyond Severn who was sojourning in
Stowood, and, being a quick-witted wench, put a name to you when
she saw you.  It is not Mistress Sabine that troubles me, for I can
control my womenkind, but he that rode with her.  Did you mark
him?"

"A tall fellow with a stiff neck and a proud eye."

"That is he.  That is Master Simon.  I have naught against the lad,
though my sire and his fought like cockerels.  They both claimed
for their scutcheons the barry nebuly of Blount, and they wrangled
as bitterly over that device as Scrope and Grosvenor over the bend
d'or.  The lad himself is well enough, a good man to horse and
hound, a keen eye for a cross-bow, and a strong hand for the sword.
But he is not of our faction."

"Is he one of Crummle's men?"

"Nay, he loves Crummle and his rabble as little as I.  But he is a
King's man, and has been on some errand of the Welshman's to the
northern states of Europe.  Also, he has been on voyages with the
Bristol merchants, and has picked up some vile heresies in
outlandish parts.  My news is that he is asking questions about a
stranger in Stowood, and when such an one asks he is likely to get
an answer.  He lives too plaguily near at hand for my peace of
mind, for he is Simon Rede of Boarstall--his home is not five miles
distant under Muswell hill.  Also through his mother he has heired
the manor of Headington, and his lawful occasions take him often
through this forest.  We must find you a safer lodging, friend
Peter."

Sir Ralph removed his bonnet, and with his great brown face, and
his ancient brown doublet, much soiled at the shoulders by his
falcons, he looked not unlike a stump of oak.

"You are not due at Avelard yet awhile, and we must jealously
observe my lord's instructions.  But Avelard is the other side of
Cotswold, and the nearer you are to it the better for my lord's
purposes.  My advice is that you move west in the company which I
shall appoint for you.  I had thoughts of sending you to Otmoor
among the moormen, but Simon is a moorman himself after a fashion,
and Boarstall is on the edge of the meres.  You will be safer in
Wychwood and Cotswold."

"I was bred there," said Peter.  "There are many living who
remember me.  Mother Sweetbread . . ."

"Why, so much the better.  Peter Pentecost is dead and masses sung
for his soul, but Mother Sweetbread will not have forgot him and
will welcome her foster-child restored to her, whatever name he may
choose to bear.  She has all along been privy to your tale, for she
was a serving-woman of your mother's.  There you will be safe from
the sharp eyes of Simon Rede, and the coverts of Wychwood are
deeper than the coverts of Shabbington.  But to make security
certain I have trysted with one who will accompany you and never
leave your side till you are safe at Avelard.  He will be here
before sunset to start with you, and 'twere well that you keep
yourself privy till then."

"Who is this guide?" Peter asked.

Sir Ralph smiled and scratched his head.  "That were hard to say.
The name he will give you is Solomon Darking, but he has many
others.  He is of the old race of these parts, the squat dark folk
we call the Wens, who were here a thousand years before the Romans.
He is a true man and a wise man, and if he seems strange to you,
remember that wisdom is apt to cohabit with oddity.  There are
mannikins plenty who have seen something of oddity in ME.  This I
can tell you.  If I were fleeing for my life it is to Solomon
Darking I would go, for he could call the beasts of the field and
the birds of the air to my defence. . . .  Farewell and God bless
you.  I must get me to Beckley, where there is a gyr-falcon
training for me at the Upper Lodge."

Off rode Sir Ralph, leaving Peter to an afternoon's meditation in
the deeps of an oak coppice.  Two days had worked a miracle in his
mood.  He was no more the doubter, proud only of his rediscovered
race, but shrinking from the hazards and heartbreaks of the career
into which others would thrust him.  He now longed for it.  He
longed to set his foot on the wildest road so long as it led him to
the hill-top.  For he had seen someone for whom a hill-top was the
only dwelling.

The girl, of whom he had had two glimpses in the afternoon sunshine
of Stowood, whom he had seen dancing at midnight on the Painted
Floor under the moon, had sent warmth and light running through a
world that had seemed all frost and shadow. . . .  He had never
since his childhood looked a woman full in the face.  He had been
aware of them as mysterious beings, sometimes old and witch-like,
sometimes young and shining, but always to be shunned by him who
would serve God and save his soul.  Yet he had had his own fancies.
He had seen in imagination the slim girls in Theocritus dancing to
the shepherd's pipes, and he had exulted in the proud tales of old
queens, for whom men had counted the world well lost.  So he had
come in time to make for himself pictures of a woman who should be
fair as Helen and gentle as the Virgin Mother, pictures as vague as
gossamer, for they rested on no base of human meaning.  Sometimes
indeed, when the sun was bright of a spring morning, his visions
had taken a simple form, and he had felt strange stirrings of the
blood, which he had not resisted as sin--which he had not even
questioned, for they seemed as innocent as thirst or hunger.

But now, suddenly, all his imaginings and desires had become
centred on a living woman.  She had first come to him on his own
Painted Floor, a fellow discoverer.  Two days ago she had taken his
hand and called him liege-lord.  Surely in this there was a divine
foreordering.  What if the two of them were predestined to tread
the road together?  That road which seemed so grim would be
different indeed if that white girl were by his side, and if at the
end of it he could make her a queen.  For a queen she was born
to be; nothing less would content him, or be worthy of her
magnificence. . . .  Peter, deep in the oak scrub, felt a wild
hunger to be up and doing, to be treading the path to greatness
which others had marked out for him.  It was a fine thing to be
Buckingham and Bohun; it would be a finer to lay England at Sabine
Beauforest's feet.  He thought of her with none of the tremors of a
lover.  He did not ask her beauty for his arms, but that
principalities and powers should rest in her slender hands.  He was
in that first stage of love when it is divinely unselfish.

When the shadows began to lengthen he returned to the verderer's
lodge, dressed himself for a long journey, and put a few simple
belongings into his wallet.  He was to be still in the greenwood,
but a little nearer to the hour and the place where he would begin
his new life.

Presently out of the thicket came an urchin.  John of Milton was
gone to Bernwood, so Peter was the only living thing in the place
for the messenger to accost.  The boy was about twelve years of
age, squat and freckled and frog-like.  He spoke in a tongue which
was hard to comprehend, but his intention was made clear by a
jerked thumb.  He had been sent to lead him somewhither to someone.
Peter picked up his wallet and followed.

The urchin led him, at a pace surprising in one so small, past the
granges of Woodperry, and downhill to where a long tongue of Otmoor
crept into the forest.  After that the road lay in the dry belt of
tall reeds along the edge of the marsh, till the slopes of Beckley
had been turned and the rise of Wood Eaton hill was visible, and
the hovels of Noke, smoking for the evening meal, could be seen
over pools now reddened with the sunset.  Then they turned north,
along a causeway which brought them to the little river Ray, which
they crossed by a plank under the hamlet of Oddington, where geese
were making a great clamour in the twilight.  Once again they were
in forest country, a long rough hillside full of hollows and
thickets.  Into one of these they plunged, and after a rough
passage came into an open space in the heart of it, where a fire
burned.  There the urchin disappeared, and Peter found himself
confronted with a man who rose from tending a pot and doffed his
cap.

The man was short and burly in figure, his dress was that of a
forester, and he carried a cross-bow slung on his back and a long
hunting knife in his girdle.  His face was sharp and yellow, like
one who had suffered from the moor-ill, and a mop of thick black
hair fell to his shoulders.  His eyes, seen in the firelight, were
like a dog's, large and sombre and steadfast.

"I seek Solomon Darking," said Peter.

"He is before you, my lord," was the answer.  "He that you wot of
has spoken to me.  I make you welcome to a hunter's hearth.  You
will eat and then you will sleep, but dawn must find us many miles
on our way.  Sit ye down.  No grace is needed for food eaten under
the sky."

He made a seat for Peter on a heap of fern, and served him with
stew from the pot on a little iron platter.  He did not eat
himself, but waited upon his guest like a servant.  When Peter had
finished he cleansed the platter in a well of water and made his
own meal.  The same water was the sole beverage.  Not a word was
spoken; the only sounds were the crumbling of the fire's ashes, the
babble of a brook that ran from the well, and--very far off--the
chiming of bells from Islip church.  When he had finished the
forester again washed the platter, cut some swathes of bracken and
made two beds, and stamped out the embers.  He stood listening,
like a dog at fault, for a moment, and then, like a dog, shook his
head and stretched himself.

"To your couch, my lord," he said.  "You have four hours to sleep
ere we take the road.  A wise man feeds full and sleeps deep when
he has the chance, for it may be long before that chance returns."

Peter asked no questions.  There was something about this man which
made them needless.  He had the sense of being shepherded by wise
hands, and laid his head on the bracken as confidently as he had
ever laid it on his pallet in the Oxford attic.

He was awakened while it was still night, though there was a thin
bar of grey light on the eastern horizon.  Darking stood ready for
the road, and Peter, rubbing sleepy eyes, did up the belt of his
doublet and prepared to follow him.  There was a thick dew on the
ground, and Peter was soon soaked to the knees; also the air blew
cold as if rain was coming from the west.  Come it did before they
had crossed the Cherwell, and Peter, empty and chilly, felt his
spirits sink.  Soon, however, he found that he had so much ado to
keep up with his companion's vigour that he had no leisure to
despond.  Darking moved at a prodigious pace, so fast that Peter,
who was half a foot taller and had longer legs, was compelled often
to trot to keep abreast of his stride.  Moreover, the road chosen
seemed to be the worst conceivable.  Anything like a path was
shunned, even when it bent in the right direction.  Open
meadowland, the bare crest of a hill, a broad woodland glade were
avoided as if an enemy's arrows commanded them.  Darking did not
even take advantage of the fords, for streams were crossed at their
deepest and miriest.  Presently, as they toiled through a thicket
of oak saplings, the sun came out.  Darking sniffed the air.  "The
rain has gone," he said.  "It will be fine till sunset.  We are
nearing our breakfast."

They came to an outcrop of rock rising above the woods and thatched
with wild berries.  From a distance its bald head could not be
distinguished from the oak tops; it looked like a patch of dead
wood in the coppice.  There was a hollow on the left, and this had
been roofed with timber, now so lichened as to be indistinguishable
from stone.  The result was a narrow hut, discernible only at the
closest quarters by one who knew what he sought.  In front of it a
blackened angle of the rock showed where a fire had once burned.

Darking brought some dry billets and twigs from the hut, and laid
and lit a fire.  From the hut, too, he fetched a pan, some collops
of deer's meat, a lump of deer fat, a loaf of rye-bread, and a
leatherjack of ale.

"Strip," he commanded.  "You will have ague in your young bones if
you sit in a damp shirt.  For me, I am so full of it that a wetting
more or less does not concern me."

So Peter, stripped to the buff, sat warming his toes at the fire,
while the meat sizzled in the pan, and his clothes, stretched on
the rock face, dried fast in the sun.

"You have led me by a hard road," he said, when Darking filled his
platter.  "Why need it have been so secret?  Are you a man of many
enemies?"

Darking's gravity did not respond to the smile on the young man's
face.

"It is well to be secret in such times," he said.  "Households are
divided within themselves and sons are set against fathers.  No man
knows his enemy.  He who would live at peace must take the byways.
I was told that it is most needful that you, my lord, keep out of
men's sight yet awhile; therefore, while you are in my company we
will court no questions."

He broke off and pointed to the south, where a flock of birds was
wheeling.  He stared till they were out of sight, and when he spoke
his voice was solemn.

"That is the second portent within the week.  Last Thursday in
Horton spinney I saw a bramble with both ends growing in the
ground.  Know you the meaning of that?  It is the noose the Devil
makes for his next hunting. . . .  And now, behold these birds."

"They are only curlews," said Peter.

"Curlews and whimbrels--young birds bred on the hills.  But what do
they here in the tail of August?  Two months ago they should have
been on the salt beaches.  Remember, the long beaks are no common
fowls, but have foreknowledge of many things, and their lives are
full as long as a man's.  They tarry inland to see what they shall
see.  The old wives say that a curlew after June spells foul
weather.  Foul weather comes, not in the heavens, but in the ways
of men.  Therefore it were wise to go secretly."

They crossed the little streams of Dorn and Glyme and came out of
the forest to wide downs of grass and furze.  Bearing northward,
they still ascended, Darking in the bare places showing as much
precaution as if he were stalking a winter's hind.  They never
passed a crest except on their bellies, or crossed an open slope
without a long reconnaissance.  They had seen no dwelling or sign
of man, but he behaved as if he were in a populous land.  At last
they reached a point which seemed the highest ground in the
neighbourhood, for on every side the country fell away into
valleys.

Peter recognised his whereabouts.  He was on the skirts of
Wychwood, the other side from where he had dwelt as a child, and so
to him unknown country.  Away to the south he saw the lift of the
Leafield ridge, and that gave him his bearings.  All about them the
forest flowed in a dark tide, so that it seemed to cover the whole
visible earth.  The little clearings round the hamlets were not
seen, and the only open patches were the marshy stream-sides far
below, which showed bright green among the dun and olive of the
woods.  It seemed a country as empty of man as when primeval beasts
had trumpeted in the glades and wallowed in the sloughs.  And yet
their journey had been as stealthy as if enemies had lurked in
every acre.

"There are no folk left hereabouts," Peter said.  "Why have we made
so secret a business of this morning?"

"The hamlets are emptying, but the woods are filling," said
Darking.

"But we have seen no sign of humanity since sunrise."

"YOU have not, my lord, but you have not the ears and eyes for the
forest.  I have seen and heard many."

Peter stared.

"There were charcoal-burners in the coppice above the Dorn.  There
was a camp of Egyptians a mile on--I smelt their cooking--a fawn, I
think.  A man with a long-bow was in the thicket this side of
Glyme.  I saw two of the Ditchley foresters pass on our left but an
hour ago, and there was a horseman in a mighty hurry on the road
from Woodstock to Enstone.  Also the prickers were out among the
hazels beyond Wootton.  One way and another I have seen a score of
mortals since we broke our fast."

"They did not observe us?"

"Of that I am certain."  A slow smile lit his sallow face.

"But I have seen no smoke from cot or village," said Peter.

"You will see none.  There are few cots, save here and there a
forester's lodge, and scarcely a village.  The land has become all
wood and sheep-walks."

"And the people?"

"Dead or wanderers.  England is full of broken and masterless men
this day.  They have gone under the ground, finding life too hard
above it.  Let us press on, and I will show you something."

They came presently to an upland meadow whence rose one of the
feeders of Evenlode.  Once there had been a village here, for there
were the ruins of a score of mud-and-wattle huts.  The baulks of
the common field were still plain; likewise orchards running wild,
and that rank growth of weeds which means abandoned ploughland.  In
one corner by the brook stood a heap of stones, which at first
sight Peter took for a quarry.  Darking stood for a little gazing
at the scene.

"When I was a child," he said, "this was a thriving village.
Bourtree was its name--Bourtree in the Bush, men called it.  Half a
hundred souls had their dwelling here, and it was noted over all
the land for its honey.  You must know that there was a miracle
wrought here.  Once upon a time a fellow stole a fragment of the
Host that he might work magic by it, and set it by his hives to
improve their yield.  But the bees, the little pious ones, built
round it a church all of wax, with altar and windows and steeple,
to protect its holiness.  You have heard the tale?"

Peter nodded.  He had told the story to the novices at Oseney.

"Behold Bourtree to-day!  The church is a heap of stones, most of
which they have carried off to help build the new great church at
Charlbury.  What was once tillage and orchard is now sheep-walks
for the graziers.  The men and women that dwelled here are most of
them under the sod, and if any still live, they are nameless folk
drifting like blown leaves in the shadows."

He lifted his head and looked Peter full in the face with his odd
melancholy eyes.  "Much of old England is gone to ground, my lord,"
he said.  "Keep that in your mind and ponder on it, for it may
deeply concern your own business."



"I have brought you to a Pisgah-sight," said Darking an hour later.
"The land is your own, so long as I am with you, and you are as
secure as a badger in its earth.  What are your commands, my lord?
I can hide you so snugly till the summons comes that all the King's
armies searching daily for ten years would not find you.  But that
might be but a dismal life for youth in sunshiny weather.  Or . . ."
He paused.

"Or?" Peter repeated.

"Or I can take you with me a little way underground--among the
masterless folk who will soon be half our people.  I ask no
questions, my lord, but he at Wood Eaton warned me that you were a
precious piece of goods that mattered much for the welfare of
England.  The gentles play their high games and the noise of them
fills the world, but in the end it is the simple who decree the
issue.  Would you sojourn for awhile among the simple?"

"I was bred among them," said Peter.  "I would first see my foster-
mother, the widow Sweetbread, who lives below Leafield on the
forest edge.  Do you know the place?"

"Nay, then, since you are Mother Sweetbread's fosterling, you have
already the right of entry among all the forest people.  Well I
know her.  Her good-man, Robin Sweetbread, was my trusty comrade."
He seemed suddenly to look at Peter with changed eyes, as if a
special password to his confidence had been spoken.

When they took the road again, so as to ford Evenlode and come down
the Windrush side, Darking, while still wary in choosing obscure
paths, was no longer silent.  Friendliness now mingled with his
dignity.  He spoke to Peter like a respectful kinsman.  He was
quick to point out, here a derelict farm, there a ruined village,
among the grassy spaces of the hills.

"'Twas the little granges first, and then the hamlets, and now, if
all tales be true, 'twill soon be the proud abbeys.  Nought of
man's work in England is steadfast, not even the houses he has
built for God.  What sends an earl to the block sends a churl to
the gallows' hill, and the churl's wife and children to eat nettles
by the wayside.  None is safe to-day save those who do not raise
their noses above the covert, and the numbers in the covert grow
fast."

"Are you among them?" Peter asked.

Darking lifted his head proudly.  "No man can harm us of the old
England and the older blood.  Kings and nobles and priests may
pass, but we remain.  Ours is the fallentis semita vit, which is
beyond the ken of the great."

Peter cried out in surprise:  "Have you the Latin?"

"A tag or two," and a smile wrinkled the sallow cheeks.



Mother Sweetbread welcomed Peter as one recovered from the dead.
She strained him to her breast and wept over him.  "They said you
were drowned," she crooned.  "Brother Tobias spoke a word in my ear
that you still lived, but he warned me that I should never see you
more.  And now you come stepping like Robin Hood out of the woods,
clad as a proper man and no clerk.  Son Peterkin, you are now a man
indeed."

She had been a tall woman till age had bent her, and she had none
of the deformity of the old peasant, crippled with ague and
incessant toil.  Her petticoat was coarse but spotless, and on her
head was the snowy curch which was Peter's clearest memory of his
childhood.  Out of her high-coloured old face looked two eyes as
black as sloes.  Merry eyes they still were, for mirth and she had
never been strangers.

She prepared food for him, those dishes which she remembered him
liking as a child, and set before him a jug of her own cowslip
wine, heady as ale and scented of flowers.  But she did not sit
with him at meat, nor did Darking; they waited on him till he had
finished, and then ate their meal.

Her eyes followed him hungrily, and now and then she would stroke
his sleeve with her old fingers.

"You are still the lad I nurtured," she said; "but you are grown
too mighty for this nest.  I thought you were an eyas with clipped
wings that would never fly far from me.  That was the hope of
Brother Tobias, too, but God has ordered it otherwise.  Once you
favoured your mother, and I took it for a happy omen, but now,
childing, I see your sire in you.  You have that kindly sullenness
in the eyes which men spoke of in his grace.  Heaven send you a
happier fate."  And she crossed herself and muttered a prayer.

"How long?" she asked of Darking.  "Not till St Martin's day?  You
have come among your own folk, Peterkin, and we must make you ready
for your flight.  You are safe among us, and maybe we can do
something ere that day to help your fortunes.  You will soar out of
our ken, but we can make certain that, if your wings tire, there is
cover where you can clap down."

Darking took him to a hut in Wychwood in a patch of ashes above St
Cyther's well, which had been used sometimes to give a night's
shelter when the hunt was up in that quarter of the forest.  There
they made their dwelling, and it was as lonely as a hill-top, the
new ranger not having yet taken up his office, and every verderer
and forester being under the spell of Darking's strange authority.
There Darking took Peter in hand and taught him much not commonly
known by those who have in their veins the blood of kings.  The boy
was country bred, and started with some equipment of wild lore, but
presently he understood that he had dwelt hitherto only in the
porches of nature, and that he was now being led into the inner
chambers.  "Have patience, my lord," said his tutor.  "Great folk
live and move high above the common world.  But now and then they
come to ground, and it is well to have a notion of that ground
where you must creep and cannot fly."

So Peter learned the ways of weather--what was portended by rooks
flying in line, and mallards roosting in the trees, and herons
leaving the streams for the forest pools.  He learned to read what
haze signified at dawn and sunset, and to smell distant rain.  He
was taught the call and cry of all the things that ran and flew, to
imitate a stoat's whistle and a badger's grunt, the melancholy
trumpet of the bittern, and the broken flageolet of the redshank,
the buzzard's mewing and the grey crow's scolding.  Presently he
knew the mark of every pad in mud or herbage and the claws that
patterned the streamside shingle.  Something he learned too of the
medicinal lore of the woods, how to make febrifuge and salve, what
herbs sweetened foul water, or quieted hunger, or put a wakeful man
to sleep.  He was a ready pupil at this lore, for it gave his mind
something to work on in those weeks of idleness.  Also it seemed to
marry the new strange world into which he was entered with that old
world he was forsaking.  It was pleasant to think that he, who
might yet be a king, should go first to school with the ancient
simplicities of earth.

Darking gave him another kind of tutoring.  He made him discard
the clothes he had worn, and put on the rough garb of a lesser
forester.  And then, enjoining on him to hold his peace at all
costs, he took him far and wide through the neighbourhood.  They
visited the fairs in the little towns and sat in alehouses
listening to the talk of peasants.  They joined themselves to wool
convoys on the highroad, and attended the great wool markets in
Northleach and Burford and Campden.  One day they would eat their
bread and cheese in a smithy, the next in a parson's kitchen, and
the third day in a cornfield with the harvesters at their noonday
rest.  Darking seemed to have a passport to any society, some word
which set people at their ease and opened their mouths.

"You are school-bred and abbey-bred," he said.  "It were well that
you should learn of the common folk on whose shoulders the world
rests.  If you are to be Jack's master, it is time to know a little
of Jack."

Peter, with his memory full of pinched faces and furtive talk of
oppression, and eyes that spoke more eloquently than words,
shivered a little.

"What has become of merry England?" he asked.  "It is a sad world
you have shown me, and a dark.  Most men are groping and
suffering."

"There is small merriment nowadays," he was told, "save among the
gilded folk at the top, and those who have sunk deep down into the
coverts.  But it is a world very ripe for change."

Mother Sweetbread favoured a different kind of preparation.  She
was in her way a devout woman, but she believed in an innocent
magic outside the sanctities of the Church.  Like all peasants, she
was a storehouse of traditional lore which had descended from days
long before Christ came to England.  Her special knowledge was of
herbs and simples, some for medicines, but most for spells, since
there was a motley of vague beings to be placated if one would live
at ease.  During Peter's childhood she had practised many harmless
rites on his behalf.  She had tried to foresee his future by fire
and running water.  The way of it was that you flung a blazing wisp
of straw into a stream at midnight of a Thursday and repeated a
benedicite and the rune "Fire burn, water run, grass grow, sea
flow," and then finished with a paternoster.  But she had gained
nothing that way except a fit of ague.  She had striven to ward off
evil from her charge by sticking a knife into a plant of helenium
at sunrise on Michaelmas Day, in the hope that the proper demon
would appear, whom at that hour and with such preparation she would
have power to command.  But no spirit, good or bad, had made
himself visible, though the awaiting of him had been a business
requiring all her courage.  But with her herbs she had been more
fortunate.  She had mixed the juices of dill and vervain and St
John's wort, and it was to this application, accompanied by the
appropriate words, that she attributed Peter's notable freedom from
childish ailments.

Now she must go further, and the next step was for a true initiate.
There was a woman lived at Shipton-under-the-Forest, Madge
Littlemouse her name, who was reported to be learned in the old
wisdom, and yet whose doings had left her on the sheltered side of
the law and the Church.  Indeed, there was no breath of discredit
against Madge; she never dried up the ewes or the kine with the
charm--


     "Hare's milk and mare's milk,
      And all the beasts that bears milk,
      Come ye to me . . ."


or brought pains and death to her neighbours with nigromantic
images, or fasted the Black Fast against her ill-wishers.  She was
a meek-faced old woman, whose garden was full of bee-hives, and to
her bees she would talk as to a gossip.  For certain, there was no
such honey as hers in all Cotswold; but there were those who said
that her bees were more than bees, that they were familiar spirits.
The miller of Chadlington had found her asleep one summer noon, and
had seen bees issuing from her mouth and ears, so that, being then
in liquor, he had been instantly sobered, and had sworn off ale for
a twelvemonth.  But Madge's repute was not hurt by this tale.
Beyond doubt she had power, but her magic was white and unhurtful--
no trafficking with the horrid relics of dead men and foul beasts,
no blasphemous juggling with the sacred chrism or the more sacred
Host, but clean invocations to decent spirits, who might reasonably
be called good angels.

This potent ally Mother Sweetbread desired to enlist on Peter's
behalf, and she especially desired that Madge should make him a
ring, the possession of which would attach to him a friendly
guardian spirit.  So she managed to obtain during Peter's visits
some oddments of his belongings--a lock of his hair, the paring of
a nail, a fragment of linen which had been worn next his body--
indispensable things without which Madge would be helpless.  The
ring must be of silver, so for the purpose she sacrificed a
precious buckle, the gift of her old mistress: and she offered
Madge as her fee a gold noble out of her small hoard.

She spoke to Darking of what she had done.  He was not less
superstitious than she, but he shook his head.

"Remember what befell the lad's father," he said.  "The beginning
of the lord duke's calamities was the prophecy that he would be
King.  'Twas one Nicholas, a Carthusian monk, that made it.  There
are some things too high for mortal men to meddle with."

"Nay, Solomon," she said.  "I would not tempt God by such meddling.
But I would make him a ring such as the great Cardinal had, which
will assure his fortune and keep a good angel by his side."

"What sort of angel had Wolsey?" Darking cried.  "I have heard of
that ring.  It brought a devil named Andrew Malchus to do his will,
and all men know the consequence."

"This shall be decently and piously made, with prayers and
paternosters," she pleaded.

But Darking still shook his head.  "Many a man has sought to secure
a good spirit, and has found a fiend answer his call.  I like not
this dabbling in forbidden things.  But go your ways, mother, for
you are wiser than me. . . .  I will tell you how you can best
benefit my lord.  Get Goody Littlemouse to tell him where treasure
is hid and you will make his fortune secure.  For, hark you,
mother, my lord has nothing now but his name and his birth.  He has
no great estate to milk or vassals to arm; therefore he is but a
tool in the hands of those who seek his interest just in so far as
it serves their own.  Give him his own privy purse, and, so it be
large enough, he will be able to carry his head high."

The old woman pondered the words, which had been spoken lightly
enough, and from a chance remark or two later it appeared that she
had taken counsel with Madge Littlemouse on the matter.  One day
Peter and Darking were overtaken by a violent thunderstorm which
split a great oak before their eyes.  Darking laughed, as he wrung
the wet from his cap.  "Mother Sweetbread is busy about treasure-
trove and is raising foul weather."

But one night he talked for a long time apart with the old woman.

"The hour of the summons is near," he said, "and soon the lad will
be out of our care.  I have taught him where and how to find
refuge, if all else fails.  Presently he will be set on a pinnacle,
but a pinnacle is poor footing, and he will be alone.  I am for
showing him where to find allies, besides those great ones who will
companion him. . . .  There will be a gathering soon of them we
know of.  I saw Catti the Welshman yesterday on the Burford road,
and old John Naps was at the Rood Fair on Barton Heath, and there
is word of Pennyfarthing in the Cocking dingle."

Mother Sweetbread opened her eyes wide.  "You would not take my
lord into such company?"

"I would take my lord to any company that can strengthen his hands.
Listen, mother.  England is all of a turmoil nowadays, and no man
knows which is the true road or who are his friends.  There is
dispeace in the King's Court, and disorder in the Council, and
disquiet in Parliament, and everywhere divided minds.  But far down
below there are those who know their own purposes and hang together
like a nest of wasps.  I would take my lord to the only part of
England that is stable."



CHAPTER V

THE PARLIAMENT OF BEGGARS


The first frosts began with October, and after the hot September
suns the leaves yellowed fast and hung loose, waiting for the
Martinmas gales.  One evening Darking and Peter left their hut in
Wychwood and took the road up Evenlode, while the forest behind
them was a riot of colour, and the waterside meadows lay yellow as
corn in the sunset.  Both were shabbily dressed, Mother Sweetbread
having obtained for the boy a suit which her husband had worn for
twenty years at the winter woodcutting.

"You are my prentice for the nonce," said Darking, "and you have no
name save Solomon's Hob."

"Where are we bent?" Peter asked.

"To Kingham Waste.  There is a place in the heart of it called
Little Greece, where we shall meet with company.  You must not open
your lips, but follow me and gape like a bumpkin."

"What company?"

"Strange company, my lord.  I have told you that half England has
gone to ground.  This night you will see some of those who hold
rule among the vagabonds.  Little Greece is no common bowsing-ken.
All trades have their laws and disciplines, and not less that which
is the trade of idleness.  You would think, maybe, that the limping
rogue you meet on the road obeyed no law but his own desires and
necessities.  Yet you would be wrong.  He is under as strict rules
as any soldier of an army.  To-night you will see some of his
officers.  Twice a year they meet to take counsel upon matters that
affect their living, and in this beggars' parliament you will see
the men who govern all the vagabondage between Thames in the south
and Severn in the west and Trent in the north."

"Tell me of this strange world.  I know nothing of it."

"You could not.  They keep wide of the King's forests for the most
part, though I have known a batch of wild rogues raid the deer.
Nor will you find them often in the Oxford streets or the lanes
about Oseney.  But elsewhere they are thicker than crows on a March
ploughland."

Peter asked the origin of so great a multitude.

"The poor we have always with us," Darking quoted.  "There have
always been the unfortunates whose craft has failed them, or who
have come to odds with the King's laws, and find it convenient to
have no fixed habitation.  But in the last fifty years there has
been a breaking up of England, so that honest fellows, with
generations behind them of laborious forbears, have not known where
to turn to for the next crust.  Such are now on the roads.  Also
the end of the wars both here and abroad has deprived many soldiers
of a trade.  Then there are those who take willingly to the life
because of the restlessness of their bones or the corruption of
their hearts.  Every year sees a fresh hatch-out.  The King's
rabbling of the small religious houses has sent a new swarm abroad,
and trebled the number of patricoes.  Lastly, there are some who
take the wallet for a deeper purpose at the bidding of great men.
You must know that every vagabond must have his billet or licence
duly signed and sealed, else he will be taken and whipped at the
next town-end.  Such billets can be granted by anyone in authority--
justice, or knight, or noble, or churchman--and what easier for a
great one, who wishes to know the truth of what is happening in
England, than to equip his own men with such licences and send them
forth to glean tidings?  The device has not been practised by the
King's Council, but some, who like not the King, have used it
freely.  There are many of my Lord Avelard's intelligencers abroad
with the beggars."

"Tell me of these beggars," said Peter.  "Are there several kinds
of them?"

"As many as there are kinds of fly hatched out in summer.  They
have their own names, and their own manner of speech and way of
business, and if I were to recite them all I should not have done
by the morrow's dawn.  There are those known by the misdeeds they
favour.  Such are the rufflers and the rogues and the highwaymen,
who use violence, and the coney-catchers and cozeners and hookers
and horse-priggers and fraters who use guile.  Some have their
trades, like the tinkers and pedlars, the jugglers and the
minstrels, the crowders and fortune-tellers and bearwards.  Some
are plain beggars; others practise different arts to excite
compassion, as the palliards, who make sores on their bodies with
ratsbane and spearwort--the abrahams who sham madness, and the
cranks who counterfeit the falling sickness--the dommerers who are
deaf and dumb, and the whipjacks who tell a lamentable tale of
shipwreck at sea or have a father or brother made captive by the
Turk.  There are more varieties of calling in vagabondage than in
honest trade, and more ranks and classes than at the King's Court.
And at the top of all are those whom they call the Upright Men,
that are their captains and justices.  Them we shall meet at Little
Greece."

"But for what purpose?" Peter asked.

"For many.  These rogues have their ears very near the ground and
hear much which other men miss.  They have knowledge which the
King's Council could not buy for gold.  Also they are strong and
secret, and throng as a swarm of bees, and they cover all England.
If we win their favour they may come to your aid when you are hard
beset and your great friends are powerless."

"Why should they bear good-will to me?"

"They will know nothing of you.  To them this night you will be my
servant, a gaping youth out of the forest.  You will watch my
movements and follow them like a lackey, and for the Lord's sake
utter not one word, for your speech would betray you.  A man's life
would not be worth a moment's purchase if he broke in unwarranted
on the Beggars' Parliament.  In half an hour his throat would be
slit and he would be six foot deep under a farm midden.  For me, I
have a name among them and certain credentials.  They will not harm
me and may even do as I desire.  But for you, my lord, safety lies
only in an owlish silence."

They were now traversing a flat moorish space where narrow tracks
ran through thickets of furze and blackthorn.  Their goal seemed to
be near, for Darking instructed Peter in a low voice.

"The captain of this parliament is one they call John Naps, an old
whipjack who is in some sort the owner of Little Greece.  No man
gave him the title, but there is none who would dispute it with
him.  He is an ancient merry villain, and a kind of king among the
vagabonds between Cotswold and Chiltern. . . .  For the rest I can
tell you some who will be there.  Mark well a little, black-eyed,
beetle-browed ruffian with a long knife at his belt.  That is him
they call Catti the Welshman, whose special business is to rob
travellers who go from Thames to Severn.  He bears a woman's name,
but he is not womanish.  None knows so well every road and track
and horse-path in south England. . . .  There will be a fat man
whose jaws never stop munching so that he seems to be chewing the
cud like kine.  That will be Timothy Penny-farthing, otherwise True
Timothy, who is master of the palliards, that make their bodies
foul with sores and cry their ailments at every doorstep.  He is a
longheaded rogue with a shrewd judgment, and, except in his trade,
a certain honesty. . . .  Likewise, there will be Henry Hooker,
chief of them that thieve with a crooked stick and prig the
goodman's shirt out of an open window.  He has special authority
Warwick and Northampton way. . . .  Flatsole will be there beyond
doubt--a lean man with a poxed face and eyes of different colours.
He is a horse-thief to trade, and knows every fair and feast and
market south of Trent.  Do not engage him in sword-play, my lord,
for Flatsole has been a soldier, and no court gallant can match him
at the cut-and-thrust business.  The rogue is well-mannered, too,
for he is the by-blow of some noble house. . . .  Also, you will
meet one Pierce the Piper, who travels farther afield than the
rest, for he has carried his cow's bladder benorth of Tweed among
the wild Scots and west of Severn among the wild Welsh.  He is a
scholar of a sort--some say of Balliol College--and when he is well
drunk, can make music to wring a man's heart. . . .  None of the
raggle-taggle following will be there, and the doxies will be left
behind, for this is a high occasion for the rogues, and they are as
solemn about it as a mayor and aldermen. . . .  Walk warily now,
for we are nearing their sentinels."

A pole was suddenly thrust from the covert athwart Darking's
breast, and he stopped in his tracks.  A voice said something in
what seemed to Peter a strange tongue, and Darking replied with
like gibberish.  The pole was withdrawn, and from the thicket came
words which seemed to be a direction.

They were now in what was little better than a maze.  High walls of
furze and bramble and hazel, matted with wild clematis, stood up on
each hand, and the path was no wider than a rabbit track.  Also it
twined and zigzagged and split into baffling sideways, so that more
than once Darking hesitated.  A second pole across his chest and
another colloquy in jargon gave him the clue, and after a little
the path widened, and the jungle was varied with patches of heath
and now and then a tall tree.  The moon had risen, and instead of a
green dusk there was now an alternation of silver spears and inky
shadows.

Three times more the travellers were brought to a halt and a
password exchanged.  The last time the sentinel himself emerged
from the scrub--a slim boy whom Peter at first took for a girl.  He
made a sign by drawing his forefinger down the right side of his
nose and then cupping his right ear, and Darking replied with a
gesture which seemed to satisfy him.  The boy looked sharply at
Peter, and Darking explained his presence in words not one of which
Peter understood.  Then the boy preceded them and led the way to a
space where the thicket ceased altogether.  There was a paddock
with several horses at graze and several more tethered to the
paling; there was a slender stream issuing from a broad pool which
was indeed one of the springs of Evenlode; there was a grove of
tall ashes and oaks, and in the midst of it the dark loom of a
dwelling.  No light showed, but as they rounded the end of it the
sound of human speech came from within.  The place seemed once to
have been the tithe-barn of a manor, for fallen stones and broken
walls showed all around.  At the door stood two sentinels, tall men
in beggars' rags, each with a curtal-axe held at guard.

Here again there was a halt and a parley.  The boy who had guided
them spoke in whispers with the sentries, and then entered the
barn, diving beneath a thick curtain.  He was absent for a minute
or two, and when he returned he seemed to look at Darking with a
new respect.  He said something in his queer jargon.

"They have finished their council," Darking whispered to Peter,
"and are about to feed.  We are bidden to the banquet."

The boy raised the flap of the frieze curtain and they entered the
barn.  The place was dimly lit, smoky and very hot, for a fire had
been made on the stone floor, and there were no windows except the
vent in the roof.  At the far end a covered lantern had a pedestal
formed of two barrels on end, and another stood on a table on the
near side of the fire, a table which appeared to be loaded with
dishes and flagons.  Ten men sat round the fire, sprawling on
straw-stuffed cushions, their legs outstretched to the blaze.  Each
of them had a platter and a mug, and two ancient crones were acting
as servitors, carrying food and drink from the table to the
feasters.

Peter was sharp-set with his long walk in the chill evening, and
his eye went first to the laden table.  Never had he seen such a
riot of coarse dainties.  There were great dishes of tripe and cow-
heel.  One earthenware platter was loaded with pig-food, another
with white and black puddings, while a third bore a gigantic
haggis.  A mighty copper kettle was full of a broth which from its
odour had been made of various sorts of game, while another bubbled
with hasty pudding.  But the chief dish was a huge pie which
contained the mortal remains of one of the King's deer.  There was
a plate of pippins to give refinement to the feast, and one of
almonds and raisins.  The drink was ale in blackjacks, no thin and
common brew, but strong October, heady and ripe and dark as bog
water.  The ancient women hobbled between the table and the circle,
replenishing platters and mugs, for the company seemed to have been
starved for months, so resolutely did they set about the duty of
feeding.

Suspicion woke in the eyes of several as the two strangers entered,
but a deep voice beyond the fire bade them welcome.  It came from a
little old man, who in spite of the heat of the barn wore a cloak;
since, unlike the rest, he squatted instead of sprawled, he looked
like a broody hen.  He had a ragged white beard, and white hair
which fell on each side of lean mahogany cheeks.  His nose was long
and his weak eyes seemed to be always weeping, but there was comedy
at the corners of his mouth.  The voice was magnificent--rich,
fruity, sentimental, cajoling, capable of an infinity of gross
humour and grosser pathos.

Peter looked with interest at the captain of the vagabonds of the
south.  John Naps, who at the first sight seemed only comic,
improved at the second.  The man had a magisterial eye, and in his
voice was that complete self-confidence which is the best endowment
for a leader.  He cried out a welcome to Darking with his mouth
full of pasty, but his jargon was beyond Peter's comprehension.  He
made room for him at his right hand, and Peter sat modestly behind,
where he was served presently with broth and ale.

There were ten men at meat, but only nine in the circle, for one
sat apart out of the glare of the fire.  Peter, as he satisfied his
hunger, let his eye rove among his neighbours.  Some he made out at
once from Darking's description. . . .  There was True Timothy, the
king of the palliards, a vast browsing figure, whose paunch stuck
out beyond the others like a flying buttress.  Timothy was very
serious about the business of eating, and gobbets of pasty were
shovelled into his cavernous mouth as fuel goes into a furnace. . . .
No doubt either about Catti the highway robber.  The Welshman
was as Darking had said, small, swarthy, beetle-browed, and the
haft of his long whinger, as he sat, was almost at his chin.  Yet
it was not a face to inspire fear, for, as it lifted and Peter
could see the mouth and eyes, there seemed something elfin and
mirthful in it.  He remembered tales of this Catti, which had
penetrated to Oxford taverns--how he robbed especially rich men and
usurers and the King's servants, but spared the Church and the
poor--a shabby Robin Hood with, instead of the greenwood humour,
something of the wildness and magnanimity of his own hills. . . .
Flatsole, too, he made out, from his meagreness and pitted cheeks.
The horse-thief did not sprawl but sat lightly, as if ready to
spring to his feet at a word of danger.  The face was turned from
Peter, so he could not see the twy-coloured eyes.  A by-blow of
some noble house, Darking had said; and for certain there seemed to
be breeding in the slim neck and the graceful poise of his head.
The man had swordsman written in every line of him.

But the one that held Peter's eyes was he who sat outside the
circle.  This must be the piper Pierce, for, though his pipes were
not there, a rude boxwood fiddle lay over his knees.  He appeared
to have no appetite for food, for a wedge of pie lay untouched
beside him, but his tankard was constantly being replenished.  The
rest of the company had sober garments, like those of a small
farmer on market day, but Pierce wore a jerkin of faded red and
blue, and atop of his shock of black hair was set a damaged hat of
black felt bound with a riband of the same colours.  The hair fell
over his brow and almost hid his deep-set eyes.  His cheeks were
shrunken and Isabella-coloured, he had no beard, and his lips were
perpetually parted in something between a pout and a sneer.  Peter
remembered that, according to Darking, thus man had once been a
scholar, and decided that he looked more like a warlock.

Suddenly Pierce lifted his fiddle and began to play, accompanying
the music with a voice of a curious softness and power.  The
crackle of the fire and the steady munching of human jaws seemed to
hush as the clear notes mounted the air.


     "Peter sat at Heaven's gate
      Beeking in the sun,
      While the souls came up the stair
      Limping every one,
      Like the weary homing rooks
      When the day is done."


The ballad went on to tell how kings and nobles and bishops and
mitred abbots presented themselves and got but a dusty answer from
the Keeper of the Gate, but how when the beggarman appeared he was
welcomed as a boon companion.  It was the kind of ribald song
popular at a time when men had lost much of their awe of the divine
mysteries.  He followed it with a piece of naked uncleanness, which
won much applause, and then--with a startling suddenness--broke
into a sad old catch with an air like a wandering wind and the
patter of raindrops.

"Godsnigs, Pierce," John Naps commanded, "put more mirth into your
music.  That tune gripes one like sour ale, till I feel the cart
moving beneath me and the rope at my weasand."

The piper obeyed and broke into a song, of which everyone took up
the chorus.


     "When is the time to drink with a friend?
      When is it meetest thy money to spend?
      O now, now, now.
      O now, now, now.

     "When should a man fill his belly with meat,
      Cool his hot throat and anoint his sore feet?
      O now, now, now.

     "When are most honied the lips of a lass?
      When tastes the sweetest the foam on the glass?
      O now, now, now."


There were a dozen verses or more, and the revellers swelled the
chorus O now, now, now like a kennel of full-throated hounds.

Then came toasts, mostly in the beggars' patois, at which tankards
were emptied and refilled.  The company, heads of oak all of them,
seemed to get no drunker in spite of their potations.  But jollity
increased and suspicion departed, till Peter found himself meeting
the gaze of others and exchanging friendly grins.  His body was far
from comfortable, for he was not accustomed to squatting or
lolling, and the heat of the fire and the heavy flavour of food and
ale had made the place like a limekiln.  Soon he felt he must drop
off to sleep.  But suddenly he was shaken into wakefulness by a
hush in the babble of tongues.  Darking was speaking and every face
was turned to him.

Solomon was not using the beggars' jargon, and he treated that odd
gathering as if it were the most dignified assembly in the land.
He was honoured, he said, with the right of entry to the councils
of the Upright Men.  He had missed the consultation of that
evening, when doubtless matters of great import had been decided,
but he craved permission to bring them again into council.  No
doubt after a feast the wits of most men were slow, but this
company was different, for with such seasoned vessels the malt was
never above the meat.

Permission was granted by general assent, for Darking seemed to be
in favour with these kings of vagabondage.  Even True Timothy
propped himself on a bulky elbow to listen.

"I have often come to you for counsel, my masters," Darking said,
"and sometimes I have given it to you.  We have been benefactors to
each other, I think.  Tonight I have something to give you and
something to ask from you.  You, whose life passes like a shuttle
through England, can tell better than any other the maladies of the
land.  How is it with England today?  What says the lord of Little
Greece?"

Old Naps shook his head.  "Badly.  We touched on that matter at our
consult.  The skies are darkening, and presently a thunderbolt may
fall.  Let Master Flatsole speak, and after him Master Pierce, for
they go farthest afield."

He spoke no longer in jargon, nor did Flatsole.  The latter set
down his mug, stiffened his back, and in a slow crooning voice
testified to things which drove from Peter's head every atom of
drowsiness. . . .  The King's levies were proving more burdensome,
and in all the land there was discontent.  The new rich were
becoming richer and the poor poorer.  He who had been a squire with
ten free tenants was now himself a tenant on other men's lands,
hard put to it to snatch a living.  He who had been a free farmer,
with two yokes of plough oxen, a good horse, a dairy cow and a
score of sheep, was now a labourer for daily hire.  And he who had
been a labourer was now on the roads--or dead of hunger. . . .  The
land was full of men broken in the wars, and trained to arms.
There were concealed weapons everywhere. . . .  None loved the
King, save his pensioners, and the plain man groaned to see his
substance wasted on royal harlots and jacks-in-office.

"As for us of old England," he said, "we like not the Welshman nor
his ways.  He is making our trade too throng for a man's comfort.
And now he is laying hands on God's houses, and soon there will be
a horde of abbey-lubbers and unfrocked priests to cumber the roads
and milk the charitable."

"What of the abbeys?" Darking asked.  "Will the people at large
approve the King's doing, or will fear of Hell and hope of Heaven
set them in a ferment?"

"It is hard to say," was the answer.  "Most men to-day think of
their next meal before their hopes of Heaven, and their bellies
before their souls.  Holy water will not wash a foul shirt clean.
But beyond question the devout are perturbed, and it would take
little to bring them into the streets with staves and pikes.  I
have heard of a stirring Lincolnshire way, and Pierce will tell you
that a very little spark would fire the northern moors.  But I have
been in too many wars to set much store by what the commonalty
alone can do.  There are plenty of foot-sentinels, but 'tis the
captain that matters."

"Ay," said John Naps, "'tis the captains.  What say the great folk,
good sir?  The poor knave whose back is broke with beating hemp has
no guts in him to strike the first blow, but he may lay shrewdly
about him if he find a trusty leader."

"Granted such a leader," Darking asked, "with what cry could he
raise England?"

There was no answer.  Each man seemed to be puzzling over the
question.  "The safety of the Church?"

"'I faith, no.  The Church has bled 'em too hard and has stirred up
too many grudges.  Here and there a pious soul might risk his neck
for his salvation, but most would leave the business to the
churchmen.  It is not Christ that is in jeopardy, but his holiness
of Rome and a score or two of plump abbots."

"The redress of wrongs?"

"Ay.  There you have a cock would fight.  Let some great one offer
to ease the burdens on the poor and hang the rich who oppress them,
and the trumpet would sound from Devon to Berwick."

"And the great one--who would be such a leader?  My lord of
Exeter?"

Catti the highwayman spat vehemently and his eyes blazed.  "I'd
liefer slit his weasand than follow him," he growled.

"Talk to Saint Peter of cockerels but not to friend Catti of that
lording," said Naps.  "He once suffered lamentably from his
justice."

Darking ran over other noble names, and all were received with
doubt or disfavour.

"None will fight," said Flatsole, "to make Neville or Percy King
save their own men.  If you are to oust the whoreson Welshman you
must have a prince indeed, and one of the old blood, for the
English have long memories."

"Such an one as Buckingham was?"

Flatsole considered.  "Ay, such an one as Buckingham, for he was of
the ancient kings, and had the bearing that the plain man loves."

"If such an one appeared--of Buckingham's house and kindred, say--
and with Buckingham's art to charm the people--and bade men follow
him that merry England might come again--would he succeed, think
ye?"

"Yea.  'Tis a salmon to a gudgeon that the Welshman goes."

Pierce broke in, having hitherto not opened his mouth except in
song.  He spoke as he sang, in a voice so soothing to the ear that
it compelled attention.  Unlike the others, he said, he had no
terrestrial bounds, not even south England, to limit him.  He had
penetrated beyond Severn and threaded his way among the green
foothills of Clun and Wye into the stony Welsh vales till he had
looked from the Dyfi mouth on the Atlantic.  He had been in the
north among the great seas of heather that lined the track for days
and days, and had talked with their hard, heather-bred folk.  He
had been in the south-west among the tin-miners of Cornwall and the
rich Devon pastures, and round the coast from the Dorset dunes to
the Kent chalk-cliffs and the Essex marshes and the sea-meres of
Norfolk.  And inland he had carried his pipes and his fiddle from
the Malvern hills to the Cambridge fens, and from the Hampshire
wolds to the fat meadows of Trent and the dark glens of Derwent.
For the great he could not speak, though he had made music in
castle halls, but he could tell of a thousand taverns and hamlets
and granges where his playing had enlivened the cheesecakes of the
simple.

"It is a dim land nowadays," he said.  "The blanket of the dark
lies heavy on it."  (Peter started at the phrase.)  "But there is
an uneasy stirring, and that stirring may soon be an upheaval that
will shake down crowns and mitres.  There is a new world coming to
birth, good sirs, though men know it not and crave rather to have
an older world restored."

"That is truth," said Flatsole, "as I can bear witness.  Only a
leader is wanted."

"Ay, but what leader?" the piper asked in his soft far-away voice.
"If it is a great one he will only lead the nobles against the
King, or some of the nobles against others.  Who will lead the
people against both?"

"I care for none of your new worlds," said Naps.  "We of the road
want the old world with its wealth of cakes and ale, and we are for
anyone that will give it back to us."

Peter, at Darking's shoulder, looked round the circle where the
faces had become dimmer as the fire declined.  It was hard to
believe that this was a gathering of the kings of wastreldom.  Each
face, on which time and hard living had written curious tales,
seemed to be sunk in musing.  No doubt it was only the effect of
October ale, but it looked like profound meditation.  Darking was
speaking.  "If such a thing should come, and a prince of the old
blood should appear with a strong following to ease the people of
their discontents, could he reckon on your support?"

Naps replied for the others.  "If you vouch for him, Master
Solomon, we are his men.  That is, up to our capacities.  We are
not an army, though we have fighting men among us, and we are poor
folk, though now and then we can sup like gentles."

"I ask no more," said Darking.  "But such an one might well call
for help from those who know our England to the roots and who have
their folk in every square mile of the land.  What token can he
give so that such help will be forthcoming?"

The old man's face took on a sudden shrewdness.

"Is such a business in train?"

"Maybe.  And I would make all things ready against the hour."

"'Tis well.  You know yourself the pass-words of our different
orders.  But I will give you a master-word and I will warn the
troops so that, on its presentation, every wayfaring man in England
is bound to honour it, though it put his neck in a halter.  Are we
secret here, think you?  Who is he that sits at your back?"  And he
looked hard at Peter.

"A forest lad in my service," was the answer.  "I brought him with
me because it was more convenient than to leave him behind.  He is
thick as an oak-log," and he tapped his forehead.

Old Naps considered.

"Hearken, sirs," he cried.  "The master-word I appoint is this.
The question will be asked, 'How far is it to the skirts of
Wychwood?'  The answer will be, 'As far as to Peter's Gate.'  Upon
which says the questioner, halting between each word--'Alack--I--
shall--not--be--there--in--time.'  Whoever hears such question and
reply, must put his all at the disposal of him who asks it.  Let
that go out to the troops as my command. . . .  Another jug of ale,
gammer, for I am dry with talk, and do you, Pierce, give us a
stave."

The tankards beside the dying fire were refilled and the fiddle
woke.  But it was no drinking song that came from it, but an air as
slow and solemn as a Gregorian chant.  The words seemed to be a
comment on the piper's last speech, and, in that place of strange
faces and crooked shadows, they sounded as ominous as the owl's
complaint before a stormy dawn.


     "Worm at my heart and fever in my head--
      There is no peace for any but the dead.
      Only the dead are beautiful and free.
      Mortis cupiditas captavit me."


John Naps flung an empty ale-pot at his head.

"God's curse on your snivelling, Pierce," he cried.  "Give us Kind
Heart or Banbury Bobby--summat to warm our blood."



CHAPTER VI

IN WHICH PETER EMERGES INTO THE LIGHT


I


Cotswold lay asleep in the October afternoon under a haze like the
bloom on a plum.  Long before the western rim of the uplands was
reached Peter and Darking had entered the pale of Avelard.  Its
stone walls began before they passed the upper waters of Coln and
came out on the high bleak tableland where all the tributaries of
the young Thames have their source.  It was now a country of
pasture, with the short sweet bite for sheep, but here and there
rank patches showed where there had once been ploughlands.  There
were no hamlets or farms, only shepherds' cabins, and the ruins of
former habitations from which the walls of the pastures had been
built.  The sheep were small and shaggy to Peter's eye, accustomed
to the heavier animals of the lowlands; the shepherds were wild-
looking folk, with their swathes of rags for footgear and their
long hazel crooks, and the dogs were savage and noisy.

"These are my lord's flocks," said Darking.  "He has been a great
pasture-maker, and most of his wealth comes from these dirty
hides."

But at the scarp the pasture ceased, for the land fell not in
gentle shallow vales as on the east, but in a declivity of a
thousand feet to the huge hollow of a river.  The slope was a wild
park, full of fern and furze and seedling thorns, with here and
there clumps of scrub oak and holly and hazel.  In places there
were acres of greensward among the bracken.

"See there," said Darking, pointing to one of the clearings.  "This
has not long been forest land.  A dozen crofts were sacrificed to
make my lord's park."

But Peter was not listening, for the breath was taken from him by
the vast prospect, the widest he had ever beheld, since the western
scarp of Cotswold was the highest ground which his feet had yet
trod.  The slope ended far below in a champaign of meadow and
woodland, but mainly woodland.  A wide river looped itself through
the plain, and on its banks he saw the walls of more than one town,
and the spire of a great church.  Beyond he could see foothills,
for in the Severn valley the upland haze had gone, and the western
skies were darkening for rain.  And far away, a spectral blue
against the rain-clouds, loomed a field of black mountains, higher
than anything that the lowland-bred Peter had dreamed of, menacing
and yet inviting with their promise of unknown worlds.

"The hills of Wales," said Darking, with a jerk of his head.  "Ill
neighbours for peaceable folk."

Half-way to the valley below, and a little to the right, was a
broad shelf of ground, partly terraced with gardens.  In the midst
rose a great house, clearly new, for the yellow Cotswold limestone
was not yet grey with lichen and weather.  It was built in the form
of a double L, and from where they stood above it could be seen the
green of the lawns enclosed in the half quadrangles.  To Peter it
seemed more immense than any dwelling he had seen--far bigger than
Stanton or Woodstock or Ewelme, greater than any college except the
unfinished Cardinal.  His heart beat faster, for he knew what it
was without Darking's words.

"That is the castle of Avelard.  It is also new built, save for the
keep on the left, which in its time stood many sieges in the
Barons' Wars and from the wild Welsh.  Now my lord is rich and
peaceful, and he has built him a house without defences.  Let us
make haste before the storm breaks."

There was a postern gate in a battlemented wall abutting on the
hill.  The travellers had been seen, for a serving-man awaited them
there.  Darking spoke aside to Peter.

"Here I leave you, my lord.  God prosper you in your venture.
Remember that you have a bodyguard in the forest.  You have but to
speak the word old John Naps taught you to command their aid.  That
way, too, you can send me a message if you have need of me."

Peter wrung his hand.  The kindness in the sombre face brought
tears to the boy's eyes.

"Your goodness is beyond my gratitude," he stammered.  "What have I
done to merit it?"

"I was your father's man," was the answer.  "In old days there was
never a Bohun rode to the wars but a Darking ran by his stirrup."



Solomon slipped into the thicket after he had given Peter's satchel
into the servant's hands.  The man bowed low and led the way
through the postern.  Peter found himself in a demesne enclosed
from the wild park, a place of wide lawns set with clumps of
foreign bushes.  Then came a sunken garden running the whole length
of the terrace--a pleasance still in the making, for the containing
walls showed recent marks of the chisel, and the long pool in the
centre was empty of water and its bottom littered with heaps of
quicklime.  Two fountains were spouting, one of white marble shaped
like a pyramid, on the apex of which sat a marble bird, and one a
cluster of sea nymphs around Neptune.  Here there were trim walks
of grass, and fantastic plots of withered flowers.  A marble
staircase led to the terrace, a quarter-mile of sward a little
browned with the September drought, edged by a parapet of blue
Forest stone.  Above it rose the southern faade of the house, all
a dazzle of high square-headed windows surmounted by cornices
moulded in the Italian manner, but ending far up in Gothic gables.
In the centre was a great porch set with columns and capitals of
the Tuscan order, and carrying a shield carved in deep relief with
the lion rampant of Avelard.

A tall grave man was waiting in the porch.  He bowed low.

"My lord has not yet returned," he said, "but all is ready for your
lordship's reception."

He led Peter into a hall, the height of two storeys of the house,
with a gilt and painted plaster ceiling of dolphins and gorgons and
the Avelard lion.  It was panelled half-way up with small squares
of oak, new and not yet darkened by smoke, and the immense chimney
of white stone looked like a work of yesterday.  Peter stared in
bewilderment, his eyes running from the sober hangings of black and
gold velvet to the rich hues of the plaster, the brilliance of a
Spanish foot-cloth below the central table, the silver sconces and
the great carved silver chandelier, the huge buffet laden with
silver and gold plate, the Avelard lion, sable on or, ramping above
the fireplace, set between two mighty alicorns.  He had not
believed that such magnificence dwelt even in kings' palaces.

The yeoman of the hall handed him over deferentially to the yeoman
of the chambers.  Behind screens of Spanish leather they entered a
lesser hall, whence rose a broad staircase of oak on the newels of
which sat the Avelard lion.  On the first floor he passed through a
narrow gallery full of pictures into the Great Chamber, hung with
Flemish tapestry, where stood a state bed of scarlet and sky-blue,
and a raised chair of state under a silk canopy, cabinets of ivory
and tortoiseshell and ebony, stools covered with velvet and
embroidered fustian, and a medley of musical instruments, including
one of the new upright spinets, called a clavicytherium, which
Peter had heard of but had never seen.  From this he passed to a
nest of lesser chambers, in one of which a wood-fire burned on the
hearth.  It was a bedroom, for there was a great bed with Ionic
pilasters and brocaded valance and curtains.  Here a groom awaited
him.

"Your lordship will bathe before he sups?"

Peter assented, with his head in utter confusion.  He suffered
himself to be undressed, and bathed in a tub with a curtain-like
covering.  The water was perfumed and warm.  Then he was clothed in
a new suit, the like of which he had never seen--a shirt of
delicate white silk, a doublet of purple velvet slashed with yellow
satin, and a surcoat of heavy silk lined with marten's fur.  His
trunk hose were of silk, and on his feet were soft fur-lined
slippers of cherry velvet.  This done, he passed into the adjoining
room, which was fitted up as a winter parlour.  There he found a
table covered with fine linen, and two grooms waiting to serve his
meal.  He had not broken bread since the morning, and, in spite of
his bewilderment, fell to with a will.  The grave man who had first
received him again made his appearance.

"My lord has not yet returned," he said.  "Meantime we wait your
lordship's commands."

Peter made his supper off sausage served with a sauce of almond
milk, an omelette of eggs and chopped herbs, a slice of a venison
pasty, and a tart made from warden pears.  He was offered a variety
of wines, white and red, but chose the mild beer made bitter by
hops which was just come into England.  This he drank from a
tankard fashioned in the shape of an Avelard lion, in the bottom of
which was set a piece of unicorn's horn.  When he rose from meat he
drew back the curtains and looked out.  The night had fallen dark
and wet, with a howling wind.

Again the old usher appeared.

"My lord still tarries.  Maybe he is storm-stayed and will stay the
night at his house of Minster Carteron.  Has your lordship any
commands?"

"I am weary," said Peter.  "I go to bed."  He had risen two hours
before sunrise.

A groom undressed him and put on him a nightgown of quilted satin
lined with ermine.  There was a table beside the bed with spiced
wine in a gold posset-dish and a silver lamp burning scented oil.
The air in the room was as heavy as that of a chapel at high mass.
As soon as the man had withdrawn Peter pulled back the curtains,
opened one of the lattices and let in a breath of the soft western
wind.  Then he turned the lamp low, for he felt that a night light
would be a comfort in this strange place.  He flung from him his
night-robe, and dived between the cool cambric sheets, which to his
naked body were as grateful as spring water.  Such a bed he had
never known, for he seemed to sink deep in down and yet float on
air.  The sheets were as fine as silk, and the Chalons blankets as
soft as fur--far different from the rude Witney fabric which had
hitherto been his only covering.  The strangeness and the luxury,
maybe too the rich supper and the posset, sent him forthwith to
sleep.

Presently he awoke.  The wind had freshened and the open lattice
rattled noisily.  He came back slowly to consciousness and
struggled for a little to discover his whereabouts.  He had been
dreaming, and had thought that he was in Wychwood, crawling through
a covert which grew thicker with every yard and pressed down on him
from above.  He tossed the blankets from him, and stuck his legs
out of bed, where a cold draught from the window brought him to his
bearings.  The lamp was flickering in the wind, so he shut the
lattice, and as he did so he noticed his right hand in the light,
the middle finger of which wore a broad silver ring.  That had been
Mother Sweetbread's gift, the work of the wise woman at Shipton-
under-the-Forest.  It was the talisman which was to bring him
safety and fortune on his new road.  The sight of it cheered him in
the midst of this unfamiliar magnificence, for it seemed to him a
link with his old world.

Then, above the riot of the gale, he heard music.  It came not from
without, but from somewhere within the house, for when he opened
the lattice again he did not hear it.  He sat on the edge of the
bed straining his ears.  The thing was fitful like a wind, now
dying away, now rising into a perceptible air.  He believed that it
came from the Great Chamber, and that someone was playing on the
clavicytherium.  Had Lord Avelard returned and brought company?

Whoever played accompanied the music with the voice.  For an
instant the melody came strong and full, and he could almost catch
the words.  A girl was singing, and by some strange wizardry the
voice was familiar.  The sound of it brought pictures before his
eyes--the summer midnight and the dancer on the Painted Floor--an
August afternoon in Stowood, and the white girl who had called him
cousin and offered her cheek to kiss. . . .  Then the music ceased
and the only sounds were the night wind without and the hoot of an
owl.

He breathed freely now, for ever since he arrived he had had the
sense of walking in a stifling dream.  Out there in the darkness
was the world he knew, the world of simplicity and bare living and
old silent things.  A mile or less distant, in the straw of a
cowshed or in a dell of the woods, were men who, when he spoke the
word, would do his bidding.  He had felt imprisoned--but only a
sheet of glass separated him from the most ancient freedom. . . .
Meantime, this magnificence was his; he was born to it; he
commanded servants; soon he might command all England; and there
was a girl with a linnet's voice waiting for him to set a crown
upon her head.

He snuggled again into the sheets.  "I am Bohun," he told himself.
"I am even now in God's sight a duke, and soon I may be a king."

But he did not sleep, for the music had been resumed, nearer it
seemed, perhaps in the next room.  This time the voice of the
singer had lost the note of a wild bird.  It was seductive music,
languorous, rousing strange tremors in his body.  It seemed to
invite to new and lawless delights. . . .  Peter shivered, for he
knew that whoever sang was calling him, was awaiting him.  They two
were alone in that great dark house.  He had a moment of wild
exultation, succeeded by sheer terror.  He was being tempted, and
was in the mood to yield. . . .  He buried his head under the
clothes and said a prayer.  When he uncovered his ears the music
had stopped, and to his horror he found himself longing for it to
begin again.

When he was wakened by a lackey, who drew the curtains and
proffered a morning draught in a gold cup, Peter found himself in a
new mood of pride and expectancy.  He had forgotten his scruples.
This fantastic world into which he had fallen was full of strange
delights, and, if some were unlawful, the deeper their witchery.
"I am Bohun," he repeated.  "I must assuredly remember that, if I
am to keep my back stiff in this palace."


II


Lord Avelard had returned and received Peter in a little room which
opened from the Great Chamber.  He was dressed as ever in plain
black and silver, and he sniffed a gold pomander, for October was
the month when men feared the plague.  His lined waxen face and the
dark pouches beneath his eyes gave him in the cruel morning light
an air of immense age, but the eyes themselves were keen as a
hawk's, and there was none of the impotence of senility in his
delicate stubborn jaw.  He took the boy's hands in his.

"Welcome to Avelard," he said.  "You are master here, and my
servants will do your bidding as they would my own.  But your rank
and name must still be secret.  You are a kinsman from the west
country whom I would make my heir, and I have seen to it that
whatever is needed for that station has been forthcoming.  Here you
will stay till the times are ripe, and I think that the days of
waiting will pass pleasantly.  I am too old to be a fit companion
for youth, but there are those here who will better suit your age.
Young Messynger will arrive to-morrow, and my dead wife's niece,
Mistress Beauforest, will provide the graces.  She is niece too to
Sir Ralph Bonamy whom you know. . . .  Meantime, I have news for
you.  Yesterday morning there came a post out of Lincolnshire.  The
commons are up in the eastern shires and the King's agents are
hanging like crabs on every wayside tree.  The church bells are
ringing, and the priests are on the march, and ten thousand men are
moving on Lincoln under the banner of the five wounds of Christ."

The voice in which he spoke had no fervour in it, but rather a cool
irony, and his waxen cheek puckered in a smile.

"All goes as I foresaw," he said.  "Soon the trouble will spread
north beyond Trent and fire the Yorkshire dales.  I learn that the
King is hurrying every man he can muster to this peasant war.
Suffolk has clomb into the saddle, and Norfolk is on the road, and
Beauchamp and Russell and Fitzwilliam.  Presently there will not be
a stand of arms left in the Tower of London, or a vassal of the
King's lords who is not tramping Lincolnshire mud.  The King
purposes to use the eastern shires as he used Wales, when five
thousand rebels decked the gibbets.  I have not been slack in my
loyalty," and again the smile flickered, "for a troop of my
Gloucester lads is on the way to join my lord of Shrewsbury.
Crummle will have no word to speak against the name of Avelard.  I
shall have a letter from the Welshman commending his affectionate
cousin.  And in the meantime . . ."

He broke off and his eyes seemed to burn into Peter's soul, while
every line of the old face spoke of a consuming passion.

"Meantime," he went on, "behind the cover of this eastern revolt
our preparations ripen.  When the King is embroiled deep with
priests and commons, we of the old houses will strike.  It is time
to let you deeper into our plans, for they touch you nearest of
all.  When we take the field our banner will not be any monkish
device, but the silver knot of Stafford and the swan of Bohun."

He spread some papers on a table.  Shire by shire, demesne by
demesne, he took Peter through the details of the rising.  This
lord was good for so many mounted men, this squire for so many
footmen.  Peter found himself enthralled by the vision of great
numbers waiting under arms from the Cumberland lakes to the Devon
moors till the word was given, and then moving like a river fed by
many streams towards London and victory.  His cause was strong, it
seemed, along all the western shires of England, with outposts in
the midlands and the south.  They lay on the flank of the royal
army, and the farther that army was beguiled north of Trent the
more deadly their blow. . . .  There were the Welsh, too, twenty
thousand of the mountaineers, who would fight for a mercenary's
wage, but with something more than a mercenary's fury, since they
had a long tale of wrongs to avenge. . . .  They passed to minute
computations of armament, wagons, horses and supplies.  Wales would
furnish a reserve of horses, and at various key-points provisions
had been long accumulating.  Serpents and culverins were making in
the Dean forest.

"Who will command?" Peter asked, and was told himself.  "Only a son
of Buckingham can keep such a concourse to its purpose.  Never
fear.  You shall have skilled marshals to assist you.  We do not
look for the arts of war in one clerkly bred.  There are with us
many old captains of the French and Scottish wars--men accustomed
to order a battle--no mere carpet-knights and jousters like the
King."

Peter asked one last question.  Whence came the funds for this
great venture?  Lord Avelard smiled wryly.

"You have set your finger on our weakness.  We have somewhat, but
not enough.  Some, like myself, are ready to pledge their private
fortunes, and there will be certain payments coming from the
Emperor, who wishes us well.  But we cannot do as the King does,
and order requisitions in the name of the law.  We must depend on
the good-will and ardour of our followers, who will venture their
substance knowing that victory will repay them a hundredfold."

"But if the King has bled the land sore, will there be any
recompense for those who overthrow him?  He has plundered the
Church and the poor, and such a course is barred to us."

Lord Avelard glanced sharply at Peter.

"A way will be found," he said.  "There are many resources for the
victorious."



Peter's life at Avelard was not to be idle.  His mentor was
satisfied with his skill in swordsmanship and something more than
satisfied with his prowess with long-bow and cross-bow.  But the
boy had no more than a peasant's knowledge of a horse, and he spent
long hours that afternoon at the mange, where Lord Avelard's
master of horse, a Walloon from Ghent, proved an exacting, albeit a
respectful, tutor.  For the rest he seemed to be solitary in that
immense echoing house.  Lord Avelard did not show himself after the
conclave of the morning, and there was no flutter of skirts in
doorway or corridor to reveal the girl who had sung to the
clavicytherium.

Peter watched the dusk gather over Severn valley, and roamed from
the terrace to the pleasance and to the edge of the outer
curtilage.  The smell of wet bracken and rotting leaves drifted up
to him from the woods, and a whiff of wood-smoke from the fire of
some tinker or forester in the dingles.  He had lost his sense of
strangeness.  He felt that this world of power and riches was his
by right, and he looked on the lackeys with a possessing eye.  His
imagination was fired by what he had heard that morning, and he
burned to see the argent and gules of Buckingham marshalled against
the Tudor verd and argent.  He must learn--learn savagely, for
there was but little time in which to become a leader of men.  He
must be wary, for he stood alone.  He was a pawn in the game, but
when that pawn became a king it would be no more a pawn.  His
followers would fight for him only because he might help them to
satisfy their own desires.  There had been kindness in Lord
Avelard's face, he was well-disposed to the son of his old friend,
but kindness would never be the overmastering motive with such a
man.  That old face, with the shadows blue as in a snowdrift, was
like white fire. . . .  He stiffened his back, and felt a sudden
access of manhood.  These men should not use him save in so far as
his will consorted with theirs.  Money--that was what he lacked,
what the whole enterprise lacked.  Had he but wealth behind him he
would assuredly call the tune.  As it was, he would play high for
fortune.  He was Bohun--of that pride none could deprive him.

But, indoors again, his thoughts were suddenly switched to a
different world.  "Mistress Beauforest begs permission to join you
at supper"; the yeoman of the hall told him, and his cheeks burned
foolishly.  He was to see for the third time this lady who had
become the constant companion of his dreams.

He ransacked his new wardrobe for a suit which took his fancy, and
finally chose one of rose-coloured silk taffeta, with a surcoat of
primrose velvet.  Boy-like, he was first of all delighted with his
magnificence, and then abashed.  He wore a sword--he was entitled
now to that, since he would soon have an army behind him.  And
then, with his heart beating hard, he entered the Great Chamber,
where he proposed to sup.  "My lord keeps his room," the usher told
him, and his heart went faster.

He had not long to wait.  A girl entered, followed by her tire-
woman, who carried her comfit-box, a gold pomander, and a little
pied Italian greyhound.  She swept Peter a curtsey so deep that her
knee almost touched the floor.  She did not offer him her cheek;
instead she took his hand and carried it to her lips.  The tire-
woman withdrew, the lackeys, after placing some dishes on the
table, also left the room, and the two were alone.

A girl, so he had thought of her.  But this was no girl, no woman,
but the very goddess of love, Venus sprung from the foam.  She wore
a gown of black satin bordered with black velvet, an ebony sheath
for her dazzling whiteness.  There were jewels with a frosty blue
sparkle on her hand and in her hair.  To Peter's fascinated eyes it
seemed that her gown was scarcely a covering, for the snow of her
neck and bosom was revealed, and, as she moved, the soft supple
lines of her body.  But it was her eyes that held him in a spell.
This was a woman whom he had never seen before, and such eyes he
had never dreamed of, coaxing, inviting, challenging.

She waited his permission to sit down.  The fire on the hearth was
burning brightly, and its flicker caught her jewels and the sheen
of her satin.  The heavy curtains shut out the world.

She toyed daintily with her food, but Peter's meal was a farce, for
he could not swallow, though he drank a goblet of wine in answer to
her pledge.  She fed the little greyhound on scraps, and talked to
it wooingly.  To Peter she spoke in a soft voice like music, with
an air of tremulous respect.  But she was wholly mistress of
herself, and in her eyes was a strange seductive boldness.  Her
every movement was voluptuous--the turn of her limbs when she
switched her train beside her chair, the sudden glimpse of a
shapely arm outstretched to take a pear from a platter, the
occasional fall of her cloak which revealed more of a white bosom.

Peter was in a tremor, in which there was as much fear as delight.
Dimly he perceived that this woman was his for the taking, that she
was part of the appurtenances of one who was Bohun and might be
King of England.  But he had not bargained for such a goddess.  He
had thought of her as a difficult Artemis, and now, behold, she was
Aphrodite.  Something monastic and virginal in him was repelled.
He suddenly found his self-possession and the power of speech.
But, as he recovered his tongue, she lost hers and she answered
only with her eyes.  And gradually into her eyes, which had been so
full of lure and challenge, crept something different--was it
disappointment, anger?  Peter could look steadfastly at her now,
and he observed that these eyes, which with her ashen blondeness
should have been grey or blue, were the faintest hazel, like a
shallow moorland stream running over white sand.  The light in the
limpid waters seemed suddenly to grow hot and sullen.

It was she who rang the silver bell which brought the servants and
concluded the meal.  Her tire-woman caught up her greyhound and her
trinkets, and the lackeys bowed her to the door.  She offered her
cheek to Peter in a cousinly good-night, and to his lips it was
cold.

As Peter went to bed he passed Lord Avelard in a furred night-robe
and it seemed to him that the old eyes opened a little wider as if
in surprise.

He fell asleep with his head full of the strange beauty which might
be his, but he did not dream of her.  Instead he saw a great army
trampling over England, with, in the van, the silver knot of
Stafford and the swan of Bohun.


III


Next day came Sir Gabriel Messynger out of Wales.  It had been
rough weather beyond Severn, but that morning Sir Gabriel had made
a fresh toilet, and was as trim and bright as if he had never left
the Court.  He was a young man not yet thirty, high coloured and
ruddy, with reddish hair cut close to the bone after the new
fashion, so that his round head flamed like a noontide sun.  His
clothes had the extravagance of the town--a shirt of fine laced
silk, a doublet of cloth of gold, and sleeves puffed and slashed in
a magnificence of rose and purple.  Peter's forecast proved true.
This was the gallant he had seen that evening in Stowood when he
had first set eyes on Lord Avelard.

Sir Gabriel showed that he was in the secret by treating the boy
with an elaborate respect, while his shrewd pale eyes--blue in one
light, green it seemed in others--sought his face furtively, as if
hungry to appraise him.  He had news of importance for Lord
Avelard's ears, and was closeted with him till the dinner-hour.  At
that meal Sabine Beauforest appeared--to be the recipient of Sir
Gabriel's loftiest courtesy.  Yet the two seemed to be old
acquaintances, for they shared together many covert jests, and
their eyes would often meet in secret confidences.  Her manner to
Peter was one of stiff decorum; to the other she unbent like a
friendly child.

After dinner they rode in the wild park in a brief clearing of the
weather.  Sabine and Sir Gabriel rode like madcaps, and Peter,
still in his novitiate, found himself often in these gallops half
out of the saddle and only saved from falling by an unseemly clutch
at the mane.  Happily his horse, Spanish blood crossed with the
nimble Welsh, was wise and sure-footed, and needed little
management, for Peter had none to give.  While they walked their
beasts, Gabriel and Sabine yielded place to him as to a superior,
consulting his wishes, and falling a little behind like dutiful
servants; but, once let them swing into a gallop in some aisle of
turf, and Peter was forgotten.  He pounded precariously in their
rear, while their laughter came back to him above the beat of
hoofs, and sounded like mockery.

The consequence was that, once indoors again, with his blood brisk
from movement and weather, Peter found himself in a mood of jealous
irritation.  He had been excluded from a world which should have
been his own, he lagged last when he should have been foremost.
Before supper in the hall they played games--Pope July,
shovelpound, imperial, and the new French deckles--and he played
badly, for his temper was sour and his self-consciousness extreme.
Sir Gabriel--in a fresh suit--was in a merry mood, and Sabine was
prepared to condescend, but Peter's sulks kept the air tense.  He
was ready to quarrel with Sir Gabriel, whose fine clothes offended
him, his idiot laugh and aggressive geniality.  With Sabine he
could not quarrel, for she regarded him not; only by a respectful
inclination or a humble dropping of the eyes did she acknowledge
his presence.  She had some grievance against him, and barred him
resolutely from her world.  But Sir Gabriel refused to quarrel; he
accepted Peter's contradictions meekly, and turned his rudeness
with a pleasant laugh, so that the boy for very shame was forced to
civility.

At supper a new Sir Gabriel was revealed.  When the servants had
gone and a bowl of spiced wine had been mixed against the damp,
they talked of the King, half under their breath, and with many
glances at the doors.  The goblets were all of crystal, a new
device to guard against poison.

"You have his colouring, Gabriel," said Lord Avelard.  "Were your
mother's virtue not notorious, you might be reckoned his son."

"He never begot anything so sound of flesh," the young man laughed.
"My lord, have you not observed that his blood is tainted?  When he
is bruised in a tourney, he shows black for months.  If his skin is
broke, he will bleed for many hours.  The nature of his body is all
evil humours."

"In his youth he was like Phoebus," said the old man, "rosy and
effulgent, so that the commons on whom he beamed hailed him as half
divine.  Never was such a bewitcher of empty heads.  But to those
who marked him close there was something of ill-breeding in the
little eyes near set in that vast shining face.  He seemed
something less, if something more, than man.  There was a devil,
too, in his vast appetites."

Sir Gabriel cracked a walnut.  "There are tales not seemly for a
gentlewoman's company, which would bear out the truth you have
spoken.  He is of another breed from the old, rugged, hard-faced
masters of England.  As you know, my lord, I am of an ancient but
modest house, and so, being in a middle place, am well situated to
note the heights and the hollows.  I go not in my judgments by a
man's countenance.  The ancient nobility had as many different
visages as coats, but were all large-featured and lean, the body
being but a sheath for a strong spirit.  Their colour was dusky or
wan, since their flesh was in close subjection.  But now comes the
King and his race of new men, and they are all much cumbered with
fat and overfull of blood.  There was the Cardinal of York, with
his cheeks like a Martinmas boar.  There is this Crummle with his
litter of chins and his swine's eyes.  There is Russell and
Wriothesley and Fitzwilliam, all fair of flesh like applewomen.
Above all, there is the King's grace.  The Beast has come to rule
in England and it is ousting men made in their Maker's image. . . .
But mark you, if they have boar's cheeks and boar's eyes, they have
also boar's jaws which do not easily slacken their hold."

Lord Avelard smiled.  "You have wits in that popinjay's head of
yours, Gabriel.  The Welshman has indeed the lust to acquire and
the lust to retain.  That is the devil in his blood, and it will
not be subdued save by blood-letting."

"Ay, my lord," said Sir Gabriel, "but let us remember this for our
comfort.  If you let clean blood, you free a man from surfeits and
make him whole, but if you let tainted blood you kill, for the
wound will not heal.  There is some nice chirurgeon's work in store
for England."

Lord Avelard retired early, and the others sat in the Great
Chamber.  Sabine had withdrawn into a distant stateliness, and was
fingering a lute as if it burned her fingers.  "Music, music," Sir
Gabriel cried, stretching himself on a long stool.  "Music to
dispel the ugliness of our table talk.  Sing of bright and jolly
things.  Hark to the wind!  Winter is on us, and God knows what
that winter will be.  Sing of summertime."

"I am in no mood to sing," said the girl, but she plucked softly at
the lute's strings.

"Tush, my lady, you are always singing.  Your face is a madrigal,
and your hair is a mesh of sweet notes.  You are all music to the
eye, so make music also for the ear."

The girl sighed, cast one sombre glance at Peter who was standing
by the hearth, and then let her eyes rest on the smouldering logs.
She touched a chord or two and began to sing:


     "Summer is come with love to town,
      Throstle in bush and lark on down
      Merrily tell their tale O.
      Folk that pine
      Now drink sunshine
      More strong than winter's ale O.
      Sweet mistress, why so pale O?
      I hie to thee
      As river to sea
      When the deer draw to the dale O."


It was a rude thing of several verses, each ending with the refrain
about the deer and the dale.  But, as the girl sang it, it was no
longer a country catch, a thing for milkmaids and shepherds, but
the pan of youth and spring with the bravado of all lovers since
the world was born.  Into that shuttered and curtained chamber,
outside which the wet October winds blew, it carried a fragrance
like flowers.  Sabine sang soft and slow, her eyes on the fire, her
face abstracted from Peter.  She repeated one verse, and then broke
into a flight of grace notes, a fantasy which she followed with her
voice, a rich eddy of curious music twisting in and out in an
aerial dance.  She was singing to please herself, for she had
forgotten Peter by the hearth and Sir Gabriel on his couch.
Presently a gentle snore broke in on the music.  Sir Gabriel, tired
with his Welsh journey, was asleep.

It was the fantasia, rather than the singing, which stirred Peter's
heart.  For the rhythm it made was the rhythm of the dance which he
had watched in the midsummer night on the Painted Floor.

She fell silent at last, and let the lute drop, while she sat with
her hands between her knees, her head bent forward.

"I thank you."  Peter's voice sounded intolerably harsh in his ear--
the words of Mercury after the songs of Apollo.  "You sing like
the blessed angels. . . .  I have heard that song before."

She bent her face slowly towards him, and he noted that her eyes
were blind, as if turned back in some inward absorption.  "That
cannot be," she said.

"Nay, but it is so.  Not heard it, maybe, but felt it.  For I
watched you dancing to that very air one July night on the Roman
floor by Wood Eaton."

Her absorption was gone.  She flushed rosily to the tips of her
little ears.  "You know the place?" she stammered.  "You saw
me? . . ."

"I first found the place, being guided thereto by the words of an
ancient deed, and with my own hands I cleared it.  We are twin
discoverers, mistress."

She rose and held out her hands, and in her eyes was a sudden wild
abandonment which made their cool shallows a molten fire.  She was
giving herself to his arms--she was inviting him to her breast--and
an answering passion awoke in the boy.  But at that moment Sir
Gabriel rolled off his couch and woke.  He saw Peter holding
Sabine's hand to his lips, and speaking words of gratitude with a
warmth which he had not looked for in one so fish-like.


IV


Peter was roused before dawn next morning by Lord Avelard standing
by his bed.  The collar of his furred night-robe stood about his
head like a crest, so that to the boy's sleepy eyes he had the air
of an immense gnome.

"The devil is in this business," he said.  "Who think you are here?
One of Crummle's wolves--Plummer his name, a Middle Temple lawyer--
on his way to take reckoning with the Gloucester monks.  He has a
secretary with him, and four armed servants, and as a companion
young Rede of Boarstall, who once saw you and inquired concerning
you.  What brings them here?  They are ten miles out of the
straight road to Gloucester, and there is no religious house in
these parts to stir their greed.  It may be that Crummle has got a
hint of our doings and would spy out the land.  I like not this
young Rede's presence, for he has been known as a King's man, but
no Crummle's man, and yet here he is playing fugleman to the worst
of them."

"Must I get me gone?" Peter asked.

"Nay, that would be to make suspicion certainty, if, as I believe,
they know of your presence here.  But, while they know of your
presence they do not know who you are.  Mark well, my son.  You are
no more than my cousin and destined heir, Master Bonamy from Dyston
in Salop.  My servants have been instructed, and Sabine and Gabriel
will keep up the play.  God send our guests do not tarry long.  It
behoves us to treat the rogues like princes and welcome them like
May flowers.  Haply we will get from them some later news out of
the east and north."

It was a clear mild October day, and at breakfast in the hall the
sun shone full on the company.  Master Plummer, the commissioner,
was a black-avised man of middle age, with a yellow parchment skin,
a quick eye like a fowl's, and the voice of the hectoring lawyer.
He was servile to his host, civil to Gabriel and Peter, fulsome to
Sabine, but always with an air of one who condescended, and could
at any moment change the velvet glove for the iron hand.  He ate a
breakfast of a size miraculous for one so slight, and, as he
gobbled noisily, he babbled of his doings at Court, of his purchase
with his master and his power with the King, and of the noble work
he had wrought already in curbing the vice and gluttony of the
religious.  "Honest men must come to their own," he cried so often,
that it sounded as if he demanded from the company some proof of
honesty.

The other traveller, Simon Rede, for the most part kept silence.
Three times Peter had seen him--once on the midsummer night in
Stowood when he had envied his conquering air, once in Oxford
streets, and once on that afternoon when he had ridden with Sabine
from the hunt.  Now, in his travelling dress which bore the stains
of the road and was scarcely richer than a yeoman's, he looked more
formidable than ever.  There was power in every movement of his
limbs, the small shapely head set on a strong neck, the breadth of
the shoulders, the gnarled brown wrists beneath his cuff-bands.
His face appeared to have been weathered by hotter suns than
England's, for, except below the eyes and ears, it was the colour
of dark oak, and seamed with the fine lines which come only from
the glare and the spray of the sea.  It was a hard face, and yet
prepossessing, for its arrogance was a clean thing like a north
wind, not the fussy pride of the commissary. . . .  He met Peter's
eye with no sign of recognition, though he had had him in full view
on that afternoon in Stowood, and, according to Sir Ralph Bonamy,
had set afoot inquiries about him.  Sir Gabriel was a stranger to
him, but Sabine was plainly a friend.  She had greeted him as such,
and at breakfast his eyes were always travelling towards her, and
whenever she spoke, he seemed to bend to listen. . . .  Peter had a
sudden conviction.  This man was in love with her.  He had come
here because of her, using the commissary's visit as an excuse to
enter Avelard.  And with this conviction came a spasm of furious
jealousy.

Master Plummer, having ridden through part of the night, was weary,
so he retired to his chamber to sleep, announcing that he would
push on towards Gloucester in the late afternoon.  So far so good,
but it was necessary to dispose safely of Master Rede.  Sir Gabriel
took upon himself the duty of master of ceremonies.  There was a
heavy buck harboured in Dainton wood, which would for certain run
towards the river, where the going was good even in a soft October.
So horses were brought and the four young people rode out into the
sloeberry bloom of the autumn wilds.  For three hours they ran the
buck, but the mort was never sounded, for he took to the water and
found sanctuary beyond the flooded Severn.  By midday, too, the
weather had changed, a torrent of rain descended, and long ere they
won the shelter of Avelard the four were soaked to the bone.

Peter had been all morning violently out of temper.  The thought of
Simon Rede as a lover of Sabine had thrown him into a mood of deep
disquiet.  Sir Gabriel's intimacy with the girl had not perturbed
him, but there was that in the other's air of mastery which struck
fear to his heart.  What woman could resist one who had the face of
the god of battles, and treated the world as his own demesne?
Before such assurance Peter felt raw and impotent.  This galling
sense of inferiority was increased by the incidents of the hunt.
Where the others leaped their horses easily over ditches and pales,
he was compelled to make an ignominious circuit.  The result was
that he fell far behind, and the stag had taken to the river while
he was still ploughing a mile away through swampy thickets.

From a knoll he saw the others turn, while the prickers' horns
sounded to recall the hounds.  The rain had begun, and in deep
disgust he too swung his horse round for home.  Below him in a
hollow were some charcoal-burners at work, and one of them, a young
man, followed him, and touched his stirrup.

"How far be it, master, to the skirts of Wychwood?" he asked in a
broad Gloucestershire burr.

For a moment Peter was taken aback, and could only stare.  Then he
remembered.

"As far as to Peter's Gate," he replied.

"Alack!" said the man, stumbling between each word, "I shall not be
there in time."  Then he grinned.  "I have a message for ye, brave
sir.  Mas'r Darking be mighty eager to see ye.  Ye will get news of
him at Goody Sweetbread's.  The word given me to pass on was that
there was summat in the ground as concerned your fortunes."  The
man pulled a forelock, and went back to his companions.

To Peter the message was like a breeze to dispel the fog of his
discontents, since it reminded him of the high road on which his
feet were set.  What was Simon Rede to him who would soon be the
master of ten thousand men?  His ambition rekindled, and burned
side by side with his passion for Sabine, for the two were one.

After dinner, while the rain pelted on the windows, came word that
the commissary, fearing the swamps of the valley in such weather,
had resolved to postpone his going till the morrow.  So the good-
humoured Sir Gabriel set himself to devise amusement for indoors.
Little Welsh horses were provided, their feet cased in monstrous
shoes of felt, and he and Simon held a miniature tourney on the
black-and-white marble pavement of the hall.  Sir Gabriel won, and
was crowned by the laughing Sabine with a wreath of ivy.  There was
sword-play, too, in which Peter could hold his own, and a nice show
of dagger-and-buckler work by Sir Gabriel, who at the French court
had learned to be a master of games.  Then, as the wet dusk drew
in, they sat around the big hearth and talked, the commissary being
engaged with Lord Avelard elsewhere.

It was curious talk, in which Peter, restored to good humour,
joined but little, sitting apart and watching the others.  It began
with the foreign wars, and it seemed to him that Sir Gabriel was
bent on discovering, with adroit courtesy, something of Simon's
past life and present ventures.  But, with equal courtesy, the
other put the questions by.  He had been much about the northern
courts on errands for the Council, but such business was not for
gossip, as Sir Gabriel well knew.  Peter observed that the latter's
manner had lost its bravado, and that his face had become that of
an older and shrewder man.  Almost it seemed to him that it had
acquired something of the hardness of the commissary upstairs.

To the girl Simon was more forthcoming.  "There is a wider world
than Europe, my lady," he said, "and I have ventured some way into
it."  And then, in response to her questions, he began to tell
tales, drifting casually into them, smilingly disclaiming any
importance for them, and, as he spoke, his face too seemed to
change.  It became gentler, less wary and assured, and he smiled as
if his memories were happy.  He told how, as a boy, he had
journeyed in the Bristol gabbarts to Gascony for wine, to Portugal
with salted fish, to Ireland, and once far north, involuntarily,
with a storm behind him, into icy seas.  And, when come to man's
estate, he had sailed with Cabot of Bristol in the service of the
King of Spain to the new world beyond the Western Sea. . . .  For a
space all hung on his words, and Sabine, with her head bent forward
and her lips parted, never took her eyes from his face.  He told of
great rivers so wide that a man in midstream could see neither
shore, of forests with their feet in the salt water, of strange
bright fruits and birds, and dark-skinned people a touch of whose
arrows brought death.

"Gold and jewels?" she asked breathlessly.  "Did you find them?"

He laughed.  "A little of each, mistress, such as a hasty seafarer
can carry on board.  But those lands are rich beyond mortal dreams.
There is a dark blanket which covers Europe, but beyond it there
are open skies and the sun."

She looked at him with wide eyes.

"How can you endure to sit at Boarstall and look out on Otmoor mud,
when you know that there are such brave lands for the finding?"

Again he laughed.

"I am an Englishman," he said, "and I may wish to give a hand in
raising the blanket that covers us."

At that all fell silent, for they realised that they had come very
near forbidden things, and each wondered what was in the other's
heart.

Lord Avelard broke in upon the conclave, and with him came the
commissary, now rested and refreshed and in a mellow temper.

"We have another guest," said the old lord, "and an ill-boding one.
There is a fellow here, one of the new gospellers, who has been
working mischief among the Oxford clerks.  He is Cambridge bred,
but the devil sent him to sow tares in the Oxford fields.  The
proctors laid hold on him, but he escaped, and his grace of
Lincoln, having a mind to end the evil, sent his men after him, and
he has been taken while attempting to cross the marches into Wales.
He has been brought here, and it is required that I keep him in
safe custody and send him guarded to Oxford for the Bishop to deal
with.  They are bringing him in that I may have a look at him.
Master commissary, we know well that the King's grace, though he
has a grudge against certain of the religious, has an ardent mind
to pure religion and will tolerate no heresy-making."

The commissary nodded and blinked.

"The King's grace is a good Christian.  And so likewise is his
grace's Vicar-General."  But he seemed uneasy, and shot a sharp
glance at Simon, which Peter intercepted.

"'Tis a difficult time for a Christian," said Sir Gabriel airily.
"If he have a liking for the Pope he may be hanged for treason, and
if he like not the mass he may burn for heresy."

The commissary frowned, and Lord Avelard shook a warning head.
Simon had risen and Peter observed that his face had become grim.

"What is the man's name?" he asked, and it was clear that he strove
to keep his voice soft.

"One Sturmy or Sturdy," said Lord Avelard.  "His grace of Lincoln
writes a plaguey bad hand.  But here comes the fellow."

The outer door of the hall was thrown open by an usher, and five
men entered.  Four wore the Bishop's livery and carried halberts.
The fifth was the man Peter had met with the gipsies in the Stowood
covert--he could not mistake the thin face and the burning eyes.
He was no longer in rags, but wore a sober clerk's garb much
splashed with mire.  He had damaged his left arm, which hung in a
dirty sling.  There was a chain round his middle, the other end of
which was locked to the wrist of one of the warders.

The prisoner seemed in no way perturbed.  He looked weary and
famished, but he held his head erect, and his eyes met Lord
Avelard's bent brows with a scornful composure.

"You are one Sturmy, Nathaniel Sturmy, a clerk of Cambridge?"

The man bowed.  "I am that one."

"Who after working mischief in Oxford fled to Wales, but was taken
on the bank of Severn?"

"I was stayed by the Lord's hands.  He sent His floods as a sign
that He had still work for me to do in England."

"You are charged with speaking against the holy mysteries, and with
distributing certain books among the common people whereby their
hearts are seduced?"

"The charge is true.  I have spoken against mummeries which pervert
the truth, and I have laboured to spread the knowledge of God's own
word."

"You have already been found guilty of like blasphemies, and have
confessed and repented.  At Uxbridge you carried a faggot in a
procession of heretics, and did penance on the altar-steps?"

A spasm of pain crossed the man's face.  "Woe is me, it is true.
The flesh was weak and I was afeared.  Now I have gotten strength
to endure all things."

The commissary spoke out, and his tone was harsh.  "A plague on
such ignorant lubbers.  When the King's grace is bent on reforming
Holy Church, you must needs step in with your follies, thereby
delaying the good work.  Know you the penalty, fellow, for your
errors, the penalty established by the law's wisdom?  To be drowned
in a sack or to be burned in a public place."

The man looked scornfully at his inquisitor.

"Threaten those things to rich and dainty folk who are clothed in
purple and have their life in this world.  Thanks be to God, I care
not whether I go to Heaven by land or water or fire!"

As he spoke, he looked round the company, and his eyes fell on
Simon.  Some intelligence seemed to pass between them, for of a
sudden his face lightened, and when Peter glanced at Simon he saw
that his mouth was set hard. . . .  And then Peter had a strange
experience.  As he looked, the world seemed to go small.  The noble
hall with its carvings and gildings and escutcheons suddenly shrank
into a little bare place.  Lord Avelard seemed a broken old man
with deathlike cheeks, Sir Gabriel a painted lath, the commissary a
hollow thing like an empty barrel, Sabine a pretty mask with
nothing behind but a heart ticking foolishly.  Even Simon looked
wooden and lifeless.  But this wisp of a man, manacled to his
jailer, seemed to give out life as fiercely as a furnace gives out
heat.  There was such a convincing purpose in him that in his
presence all the rest of them with their brave appurtenances
dwindled and withered.

The mood lasted but for a second.  When he looked again he saw only
a shabby prisoner, and heard Lord Avelard saying:  "Take him away.
I will furnish two extra guards to carry him to-morrow to Oxford."

The rest of the evening was all discomfort.  The commissary was out
of temper, and suspicious of everybody, notably of Sir Gabriel,
whose persiflage fell as flat as rain-water in a strong sun.  Simon
was moody, and seemed to be thinking his own thoughts, while Lord
Avelard laboured in vain to play the genial host.  Sabine, too, was
in an odd mood, dropping her eyes, chary of her smiles, forgetful
of her graciousness of the night before.  She spoke only to Simon,
who gave her short answers.  Peter's jealousy burned fierce, for it
had much to feed on.  He went to bed angry with the world, angry
with the girl, and with the conviction that in Simon Rede he had
found a rival and an enemy.

Lord Avelard came to him in his chamber.  He at any rate was not
out of temper, for his cheeks puckered in smiles.

"That was a pretty play," he said.  "'Tis well known that Crummle
is the blackest heretic in the land, and this young Rede I fear is
no better.  They are walking on difficult ground, for with one hand
they are plundering the Church and with the other must smite all
who deny the Church's creed, because their thick-witted master
still hopes to save his soul.  They cannot quarrel with my urgency
to oblige the Bishop, since 'tis their King's wish, but you could
see what gall and wormwood it was to them. . . .  But Avelard is no
place for you at this moment.  Both Rede and that black commissary
have been examining my servants concerning you.  Best go back for a
little to Stowood till this visitation be past.  There is good news
from the east, where the stubble is ablaze, and soon Crummle and
his crew will have their hands full in that quarter.  You had best
leave at dawn to-morrow.  I am sending two of my fellows to
strengthen the Bishop's guard--needless enough, but a proof of my
good-will--and what more natural than that my young kinsman should
accompany them, as a pledge of the holy zeal of the house of
Avelard?"

"Does Master Rede go to-morrow?"

"He rides with the commissary to Gloucester.  What brought him
here, think you?  I have my guess that it was the bright eyes of
Mistress Sabine.  But that dainty flesh is not for him."  The old
eyes looked at Peter with that in them which restored his
confidence and set his heart beating.

He did not tell Lord Avelard of the charcoal-burner's message.
That side of his life had nothing to do with Avelard, and at the
moment it did not seem to him of much importance.



CHAPTER VII

HOW A WOULD-BE KING BECAME A FUGITIVE


Sleep banished the dregs of Peter's ill-temper.  The sky had
cleared after the rain, and he set out on his journey in a world
all blue and golden.  Master Plummer, too, made an early start, and
to his surprise Peter found that Simon Rede had made a still
earlier one, having left before dawn for Gloucester to prepare the
way for the other's reception.  The sour-faced commissary was
therefore a witness, as Lord Avelard had intended, to the zeal of
the house on the Church's errands.  The Bishop's four servants wore
sad-coloured liveries with a cross on their shoulders, but the two
Avelard men were splendid in Avelard's yellow and black.  As they
started uphill towards the crest of Cotswold the Severn vale swam
in a clear morning light, and the far hills rose blue and wraith-
like against the pale sky.  Every thicket was a riot of autumn gold
and crimson, the pools left by the rain were alive with wild-fowl,
and a great wedge of geese was winging across the valley.  Peter
drew long breaths of the sharp, scented air.  In such a world it
was good to be alive.

His heart had lightened as a boy's will at the coming of a new
pleasure, and his head was filled with two pictures.  One was
Sabine, as he had seen her that night when he had revealed his
knowledge of the Painted Floor, and her arms had opened towards
him.  Fool that he had been not to accept his fortune!  A
malediction on Sir Gabriel for his inopportune awakening!  She had
invited him to a deeper intimacy, since they two were sharers in
one secret. . . .  She had invited him before.  He remembered her
appealing music on his first night at Avelard, and the night when
they had supped together and her eyes had been like a siren's.  Now
he saw these incidents in a different light, and he recalled Lord
Avelard's words the evening before.  He was the unicorn who,
according to the tale, could only be captured by the wiles of a
virgin's lap.  This girl was destined for him, was his for the
taking--and she was not unwilling.  A delicious tremor shook him;
he exulted, yet with fear.  What mattered Simon Rede when her heart
was his?  He told himself that he had already conquered. . . .  And
then another picture took the stage in his brain, inspired by the
quick movement and the jingle of harness in the diamond morning.
He saw himself riding at the head of an immense concourse--all
England--with the swan of Bohun above him.  The picture fairly
ravished him.  What, forsooth, mattered Simon Rede to one born to
such a fortune?

Ay, but what of Simon Rede?  There was that in the man's face which
could not be put aside, and Peter's high mood suddenly fled.  The
man was stronger than he.  He had travelled far and wrought
mightily and mastered his world, while he was still in his
tutelage. . . .  The thought brought back all his uncertainties.
He was but a tool in the hands of others and his power and place
was only on sufferance.  He was the painted flag men sent before
them into battle--a thing valued not for its own sake but because
it was a symbol of their pride.  And, as he looked back on the
company at Avelard, the picture seemed to darken.  The old lord
with his waxen face fought for the antique privileges of his order,
and since Peter was of his order and a comrade's son he had a
kindness for him.  But nothing more.  Sir Gabriel was a squire in
the same cause--a crusader with a very mercantile interest in his
crusade, for he had studied his face and seen the cool calculation
behind the gaiety.  Sabine was the delicate lady of the order, the
prize for the man who should be its champion.  But Simon Rede was
of a different world.  Whatever course he followed would have
daylight and honour in it.  He was the spending, not the getting,
kind, and would fling his cap over the moon for a gallant whimsey.
Curses on that high air of his!  It might leave Sabine cold, but
for Peter it had an ill-boding sorcery.

And that rag of a man, the gospeller!  He had spoken strange words
the night before, when he had scorned the commissary's threats, and
had bidden him use them to those "whose hope was in this world."
Peter had been bred to think that this world at its best was a
perishing thing, and that man's first business was to save his
soul.  But now all his thoughts were on mundane glory and mundane
joys.  There was small relish of salvation in his new life. . . .
He was to be the champion of the old Church against the King, but
what cared Lord Avelard and his like for the Church, save as a prop
to their own fortunes? . . .  He was now engaged in the repression
of heresy, but there were some who had called both him and Brother
Tobias heretics, because they had followed Erasmus and the new
learning.  This gospeller's offence was spreading knowledge of the
Scriptures, a thing which Tobias had long urged and which the
King's grace himself had toyed with. . . .  Acute doubts assailed
him, doubts not only of his own powers, but of the merits of his
cause.  Was he fighting only for the lust of the eyes and the pride
of life?  If so, his cause smacked somewhat of damnation.

Hitherto he had ridden ahead, but when they were descending the
long slopes to the Coln, with Cirencester town smoking below on
their right, he fell back on the party.  The gospeller rode between
two of the Bishop's servants with the two others behind him, and
the Avelard men bringing up the rear.  He was no longer manacled,
but a stout thong joined his bridle hand to the belt of one of the
servants.  Peter ordered the thong to be loosed that he might ride
abreast of the man, and bade the others fall back a little.  The
Bishop's servants, ill-looking rogues all of them, sullenly obeyed.
At first it seemed that they might refuse, for they knew nothing of
Peter, and the old clothes which he had resumed did not suggest
rank, but a word from the Avelard men brought their compliance.

The gospeller looked ill and weary.  In the daylight his skin had
the yellow tinge of one who had suffered much from ague, and the
same colour showed in the whites of his eyes.  He drooped in the
saddle, and his wounded left arm seemed to pain him.  He stared in
front of him, while Peter adjusted the cavalcade, and when they
rode forward together he did not raise his eyes.  He seemed to be
repeating a prayer, for his lips moved continually.

"You are a sick man," Peter said.  "I will call a halt, when you
wish, that you may rest.  There is no need for haste."

"Nay, friend, I am well enough," was the answer.  "Like the
Psalmist, I pass through the valley of misery and find springs
therein."

"We have met before.  In July at midnight in the hollow below
Stowood as you go to Wood Eaton.  You were with a troop of gipsies,
and I tumbled by chance on your encampment."

At last the man raised his head and looked at his companion.  "I
remember.  An Oxford clerk in a poor gown.  What does such an one
in the halls of the great?  I saw you yesternight among the
gentles, clothed as they.  What part has a scholar in that
magnificence?  What has a poor Grecian to do with the rich and the
oppressive?"

"You said, when you looked in my face that night, that I was no
churl's get."

The man set his penetrating eyes on his companion.  "I spoke truly.
So you are of the blood of Avelard.  Well, 'tis a high stock to
them who value such vanities, but 'tis a strange taproot for a
Grecian.  Yon old fox is the steeliest bigot in all the west
country.  He loves not the King, but he will compound for treason
by being hot against heresy."

A bank of cloud had obscured the sun and the wind blew suddenly
sharp from the south-east.  The gospeller shivered, for he had no
cloak.

"I like not the weather," said Peter, sniffing the air.  "The
mallard are flighting low, too.  It smells like the first snows."

The gospeller muttered to himself.  "When it is evening, ye say,
'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red'; and in the morning,
'It will be foul weather to-day, for the sky is red and lowering.
O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky, but can ye not
discern the signs of the times?'"

Then he lifted his hand.  "You are abbey-bred, young sir?"

"Ay," said Peter.  "Oseney."

The man's face softened.  "Well I know it, and 'twas once a noble
palace of God.  But it is falling, falling, like all the others.  I
looked on it again this very summer, and my eyes watered as I gazed
on that noble tower which would make a fit resting-place for
archangels, and my ear heard its myriad of chinking rivulets.  When
I passed through its courts I saw old men mazed in foolish worldly
toils, and the stones crumbling, and grass growing in their cracks.
There are few sins in Oseney save those of omission, but its feeble
innocence will not save it.  It goes the way of the rest, for the
Lord is purging His threshing floor. . . .  You are doubtless one
who would save such relics, even when they fester."

"Nay, I would reshape them.  There are abuses enough, God knows,
and some of them I have seen with my own eyes.  But I would not
plunder God to enrich Mammon."

"So that is your way of it."  The man seemed to have lost his
weariness and sat straighter in the saddle.  "Where then should the
abbey spoils go when the folk are sent packing?  If you say 'to the
service of a purified Church,' then you and I think the same.
Strange, if you are kin to Avelard!"

"I would not send the folk packing.  They have not oppressed the
poor, like many of the great ones, and the poor in these days have
few friends."

The man bent his brow.  "Stranger still for Avelard blood!  Why,
man, your ancient kinsman has been in his day the harshest
oppressor this side of Severn!  You are right in one thing.  The
poor man needs every friend who will stand between him and the
bitter blasts that blow from the high places.  But the abbeys were
not protectors.  No nursing mothers they, but harsh stepdams."

"Then what is this news from the eastern shires?" Peter asked.  "It
would seem that the commons of those parts are ready to risk their
necks for the religious houses."

"That is the lovable simplicity of poor folk.  But it is not for
the monks they fight but for their hope of salvation.


     "'Christ crucified
       For thy wounds wide
       Us commons guide
       Which pilgrims be!'


That is their song.  The hearts of Englishmen are not turned from
God, but their eyes are dim.  But God is preparing His own salve
for their blear eyes, and soon they will see clear.  England will
be merry again when she has turned from the glosses and corruptions
of man to the plain script of God.  To that great purpose many
contribute, though they know it not.  The King on the throne, for
one, and the broad-faced scrivener Crummle who gathers treasure for
his master.  They are but instruments to win the world back from
the Church to Christ. . . ."

"They are strange instruments for a strange end," said Peter.  "And
the same instruments will bear hard on you, my friend."

"Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him," was the answer.  "The
bodies of many will be dung for the fields before the new grain
springs."

Peter rose in his stirrups to look behind him.  There were the
Bishop's four servants, but what had become of the Avelard men?
They must have fallen far back and be beyond a turning of the road
which lay straight to the eye for a mile and more.  For the party
was now on the great Fosse Way, the Roman highroad which ran from
south-west to north-east across England.  The six of them stopped
at the tavern of Fosse Bridge to eat, where the road crossed the
Coln, but they finished their meal without any sign of the truants.
Peter, intent on his own errands, saw no reason to delay for them,
since the Bishop's men were a sufficient posse, so presently they
were jingling up the hill towards the town of Northleach, where the
road branched off for Oxford.  But before they came in sight of its
great church, as big as many a minster, and heard the rattle of the
windlasses in the wool-sheds, another horseman on a bay gelding
struck in from a by-path on their right and joined them.  To his
surprise and disgust Peter recognised Simon Rede.  The gospeller
too recognised him, for his pale face flushed and a sudden light
came into it.

Simon ranged himself on Peter's other side.

"A fair day for the road, my friend, but 'twill be snow ere night."
His face was ruddy with the weather, and his pale eyes were merry.

"I thought you had gone to Gloucester," said Peter glumly.

"I have done my errand in that direction, and now business calls me
back to Boarstall.  I and my horse are used to long and sudden
journeys.  It appears that you are shedding your convoy, Master
Bonamy.  I passed two of my Lord Avelard's men five miles back,
drunk as swine in a hedge alehouse."

Peter cried out.  "They were sober fellows as ever I saw."

"They are most marvellously unsober now.  Strong ale and strong air
go fast to a man's head.  But the Bishop may do very well without
them.  Four lusty rogues are sufficient to carry a feeble man to
jail."

How it was managed Peter did not know, but at a nod from Simon the
escort closed up, and the gospeller fell back among them.  "Secure
that thong," they were told, and the prisoner was again bound up to
the belt of the lackey.  Thus Peter found himself riding ahead with
Simon as his companion.

All his antagonism had revived.  This man had taken charge of the
party and ousted him from the command, without so much as a word of
explanation.  The arrogance of it left him speechless, and rankled
the more since it seemed so natural.  The intruder made no question
of it, for he assumed that no question could be asked.

Yet they had scarcely left Northleach when he found himself forced
into conversation with the interloper, and they had not gone a mile
before that conversation had driven all other thoughts from his
head.  For it was clear that this man did not despise him--nay,
that he might even fear him.  He seemed disposed to friendship, and
felt his way towards it with a careful diplomacy.  He accepted him
as Lord Avelard's heir, a cousin, too, of old Sir Ralph at Wood
Eaton.  But his curiosity did not seem to be about Lord Avelard's
affairs but about Sir Gabriel.  Who and what was Sir Gabriel?  What
did he at Avelard?  An unwilling admiration seemed to lurk in
Simon's voice, and dislike too, as for one too showy and foppish, a
distaste which he flatteringly assumed Peter must share.

But Peter had little to tell him.  Sir Gabriel was of the Court,
and had been useful in going to and from the King of France. . . .
And then he guessed at the cause of Simon's interest.  He feared
Sir Gabriel as a rival with Sabine, and would probe his quality.
But he did not fear Peter. . . .  And at the thought his vexation
returned, and he gave short answers.

But Simon's good humour seemed unbreakable, and it was hard to be
short with him.  For, presently, detecting his companion's mood, he
swung off to different topics.  He spoke, as he had spoken the
night before, of a widening world.  The man had scholarship of a
kind, for he could quote a phrase of Aristotle and a line of Seneca
to the effect that one travelling towards the sunset would in time
come round to the sunrise.  Peter's interest was acutely stirred,
and there might have been confidences between the two had not the
weather suddenly turned to the vilest.  The road, strung high along
open wolds, ran eastward, and the riders were met by the full force
of a blizzard of snow.  It drove with the violence of the first
precursor of the winter's storms, whipping their faces, blinding
their eyes, and shutting out the Windrush vale with a screen of
leaden mist.

"If we would enter upon this new world," Simon was saying, "we must
purge our baggage.  A man must travel light."  Then he flung a fold
of his cloak around his throat.  "A murrain on this weather," he
cried, "for I must be beyond Otmoor ere I sleep.  There is promise
of a heavy fall.  You will be well advised, Master Bonamy, to seek
a shelter for the night, since in your errand there is no need of
spurring.  It matters little when the wretch behind us lies in the
Bishop's prison so long as he duly reach that haven.  In an hour
the night will fall.  Best look for a lodging while there is a
spark left of daylight."

The counsel was good, and Peter was conciliated by this deference
to him as leader of the party.  But it was no easy task to find
port in such a place in such weather.  The road ran solitary among
downs, now piebald with snow, and the prospect on either side was
only a few yards of driving vapour.

Peter had decided to push on to Burford, which he judged to be but
a few miles distant, in spite of his aversion to lying at a tavern
on such an errand, when in a sudden clearing of the snow he saw a
light flicker on his left.  He decided that they were close to
Barrington woods, which were outliers of Wychwood.  This must be
some forester's hut, and where a forester lodged there would be an
outhouse of some kind where they could camp, and fuel for a
bivouac.  So he gave the order to turn north, and, after a hundred
yards of rough pasture, they reached the light and smelt the smoke
of green boughs.

The place proved to be a wretched hovel of logs and mud, through
the chinks of which came the gleam of a fire.  In the dim light
there could be seen around it broken walls and one large ruinous
barn.

"This was once a snug farm," said Simon.  "Now some waif squats in
the ruins, as a bird builds its nest in the nettles of a
stoneheap."

A shout from Simon brought someone to the door, a half-naked boy in
his middle teens.  Simon flung himself from his horse and pushed
past him into the hovel, while Peter followed.  It was a single
room with an earthen floor, on which the snow, melting on the
wattled roof and drifting through the holes, was making deep
puddles.  There was no light in the place but a new-kindled fire of
wet wood, the smoke from which filled the air and set the eyes
smarting.  Furniture there was none except a three-legged stool and
in a corner a heap of straw on which it seemed that a human figure
lay.  This was no forester's hut, but a hovel of the very poorest.

On the stool sat a man who seemed to be engaged in cooking
something in a broken pot.  He was a bent creature with tangled
tow-like hair.  A ragged sack was his only garment, and through the
rents of it showed ribs as sharp as the bars of a harrow.  At the
sight of the strangers he let the pot drop so that some of its
contents spilled and fizzled in the ashes, while his face was drawn
in an extreme terror.  Yet it was a vacant terror, a physical
rather than a mental passion, for, while his cheeks and mouth were
contorted, his eyes remained dull and blind.

Simon sniffed, for the spilled food sent out a vile odour.

"We want lodgings and kindling for a fire," he said.  "What of the
barn?  Is the roof reasonable tight?"

The man only muttered, and it was the boy who answered.

"Tighter than this, master.  There be store of faggots, too,
against the next deer-drive.  But we have nought to do with the
place, for it belongs to Master Lee, the verderer."

"We will take Master Lee's permission for granted, for we travel on
the King's business.  What have you in that pot?"

The man now spoke, his thin jaws working with a great effort, and
his voice was like a bat's squeak.  But his speech, like the boy's,
was not that of an ordinary churl.

"Nothing, gentle sirs, but some nettle broth, with the thickening
of a dead partridge, half-plucked by a hawk, which Dickon found in
Waterman's Acre."

"The bird must have been dead a week," said Simon, screwing up his
nose.

"You speak truth, sir," said the man eagerly.  "'Twas only carrion,
and therefore honestly come by for a poor man."  And, all the while
his lips and eyes seemed to be twisting towards the pot, as if he
were in the last stage of famine.

"What is that on the straw?" Simon asked.

"My wife, noble sir.  She has been dead twelve hours, and Dickon
and I wait for the snow to pass to bury her."

"Of what sickness?" Simon demanded in a sharpened voice, for the
whole world feared the plague.

"Of none.  Of a lamentable lack of food.  Dickon did not find the
partridge in time, and we have had nought for our bellies this past
sennight but hips and haws and beechmast."

Simon swung round.  "Go on with your meal, brother.  We will camp
in the barn and make use of Master Lee's faggots.  We carry food
with us, so need not borrow yours."

Peter, whose stomach was turning at the stench of the pot and the
spectacle of the dead thing on the straw, followed him hastily out
of doors.  The men were soon settled in the barn, which proved to
be tolerably water-tight, a fire was made and a lantern lit, and
the food wallets unpacked; while the horses were tethered among
some straw at the far end.  When the meal was eaten, Simon
resaddled his beast.

"I must get me onward," he said, "for the storm seems to abate.
Farewell, Master Bonamy, and good speed to your journey!  If you
will honour my humble dwelling of Boarstall I will show you the
work of the Italian chart-maker whom I spoke of."  Then to the men,
"See you truss up that fellow when you lie down.  If you sleep like
hogs, and he is unshackled, he will be over Severn by the time you
wake."

Peter's first intention had been to pass the night with the others.
But the sight of a patch of clear sky and a few stars made him
incline to follow Simon's example.  He was not concerned to deliver
the gospeller to the Bishop's charge: that was for the Bishop's
servants, and the two Avelard men, now lying drunk many miles in
the rear.  His business was to find Darking, and for that he must
get him to Mother Sweetbread.  The distance was not more than five
miles, and he knew every cranny of the countryside.

So he, too, resaddled his horse, and with a word to the men to go
on to Oxford next day as they had been bidden, he opened the door
and flung his cloak about his shoulders.  It had an odd feeling,
and, when he took it to the lantern, he realised that it was
Simon's cloak of grey frieze, and that his own, which was of soft
murry-coloured woollen from the Stour, was now on Simon's back on
the road to Boarstall.  There was small loss in the exchange, for
the two men were much of a height.

Then another thought struck him.  He picked up some of the remains
of the food, a piece of loaf, a knuckle of salted beef, and a
fragment of pie.  There was enough left for the men to breakfast
off, and they would be in Oxford for the noontide meal.  He slung
the viands in a corner of his cloak, and led his horse to the hovel
door.

The couple had finished their meal, for the pot was empty.  The man
was picking his teeth with a bit of bone, and the boy was scraping
the pot.  The fire had sunk, and the light was so dim that he could
not see the dead woman on the straw.

"Here are some broken meats," he said.  "And see here, friend.
Here are also three silver pennies, that your wife may be decently
put in the earth."

The man scarcely lifted his head, but the boy seized eagerly on the
gifts.

"If I were found with those monies on me I would hang," said the
man.

"Nay, father, I know where I can spend them secretly," said the
boy.  "And here be enough food to keep us for a week.  God bless
ye, my lord."

The man cast one look to the corner, and shook his matted head like
a puzzled animal.  "Would that God had sent him twelve hours
sooner, or that Dickon had been quicker in finding the bird."  He
hunched himself again on the stool, and stared into the ashes.
There was neither sorrow nor regret in his voice, only bewilderment.

The snow had gone, and there was sufficient clear sky to permit of
a faint starlight.  Peter put his horse to a trot, for he wished to
put miles between him and that place of death and famine.  Fresh
from the splendour of Avelard, he felt like a man in thin raiment
coming from a warm and scented room into a bitter wind.  To one
brought up in the homely comfort of the Wychwood cottage, and the
simple abundance of Oseney, this sudden glimpse of unimagined
poverty was an awful revelation.  He could not banish the picture
from his mind, as he rode through the slush of the highway and the
sprinkled meadows to Mother Sweetbread's cottage high up on the
skirts of Wychwood.

There he found the warm fire, and the lighted lamp, and the old
welcome.  He stabled his horse in an outhouse commonly occupied by
forest ponies, and supped off a stew of game and a cup of Mother
Sweetbread's famous sloeberry wine.

"Solomon Darking left word that you were to follow him without
delay to Oxford," he was told.  "You will find him, he said, at the
Swan tavern over against the Ox Pens.  You were to go secretly, and
only under cover of night. . . .  Now to bed with you, Peterkin--
for I will call you by no other name.  You look as weary as John
Gowglass when he fled home from the night-riders on Bartholomew
Eve."

But Peter had not been three hours between Mother Sweetbread's
blankets, when he was roused by voices at the door, and found a
lean urchin gabbling a message to his hostess.  At the sight of him
the boy slipped to his side, and in his eagerness took him by the
hands.  It was the boy from the hovel, and his errand was urgent.
Someone had attacked the posse in the barn and released the
prisoner, setting him on the best horse.  The Bishop's men had been
overpowered in their sleep . . . bound with ropes, too, and had
only freed themselves after the fugitives had been half an hour
gone.  They had been in a great taking, and had gone to Squire
Fettiplace at Swinbrook, who was a zealous King's man and would for
certain mount his servants and scour the country. . . .  "They
think it was you that done the deed, master," the boy added,
"for they swear they recognised the cloak of him that mishandled
them. . . .  I heard them say that the villain was one Bonamy,
who had ridden with them from Avelard and decoyed them to their
undoing."

Peter's first impulse was to laugh.  Simon Rede with the borrowed
cloak had bested him nobly.

"Haste ye, master," said the boy.  "I followed ye here by your
horse's tracks.  There is a powdering of snow and others can do the
same."



CHAPTER VIII

HOW PETER SAW DEATH IN THE SWAN INN


In the light of Mother Sweetbread's rush candle Peter stared at the
sparrow-like child, and the sparrow-like child stared at Peter.

There was no manner of doubt as to his peril.  If the Fettiplace
men laid hands on him, he would have the evidence of the Bishop's
servants against him--honest evidence, for it would rest upon the
sight of his own cloak on the back of the man who had freed the
gospeller.  To rebut it he must proclaim his connection with
Avelard and reveal the details of his journey, and that meant that
he, who for the moment must court obscurity, would stand out
glaringly to the whole shire--nay, even to Oxford and the Bishop of
Lincoln.  The thing was not to be thought of.

"I am trysted with Solomon in Oxford," he told the woman, "but
not till the dark hours, so I must get me to cover.  I am for
Stowood. . . .  Feed the child, mother, for he has earned it well."
Then to the boy, "What is your name?"

"They call me Dickon," was the answer.  "Dickon of the Holt!"

"Then, Dickon, get you back the road you came.  Put yourself in the
way of the Swinbrook men and let them drag from you news of me.
You saw me on the Witney road with the prisoner, riding like one
possessed. . . .  This horse of mine, mother, you will send into
the forest till I can recover him.  Hide him where no Fettiplace
can penetrate, for he is a damning link with Avelard.  Then give me
some provender for the road, for I will be hungry before to-
morrow's e'en."

"This is the vigil of Hallowmas," said the old woman anxiously.
"'Tis an ill night to take to the greenwood."

"Better Hallowe'en witches than the rough hands of Squire
Fettiplace.  Haste you, mother.  I must be beyond Cherwell ere
daybreak."

Ten minutes later Peter--cloakless, for he must travel light--had
slipped from the hut, where a hungry lad was supping bear-meal
porridge, and an old woman was saying spells by the fire for his
protection.  The snow had ceased to fall, but it lay an inch and
more deep on the ground.  The wind had dropped, a few stars showed,
and on the horizon there was the prelude of moonrise.  It was
bitter cold, so he ran--first across the slushy pastures, then
through the scrub of the forest bounds, and then by a path he knew,
which in the shadow of the trees was almost bare of snow, and which
took him down the southern ridge of the Evenlode vale.

Now that he had leisure to think, his anger surged up against Simon
Rede.  The man was a foe to God, for he had freed a heretic--Peter
made the reflection mechanically and without conviction, for it
seemed to set his grievance on higher grounds than his own pride.
Simon was certainly an enemy to himself, for he had deforced the
Bishop's men in such a way as to lay the blame on his innocent
head.  Doubtless, too, he had earlier in the day made the two
Avelard men drunk.  For what purpose?  To free the gospeller?  But
why incriminate Peter?

He was of the opposite party, and must suspect something--Lord
Avelard had feared this--Sir Ralph Bonamy had feared it--that was
why he himself had had to take the road again.  The man was as
cunning as he was bold.  Peter thought bitterly of how he had
thawed to this enemy, and a few hours ago had looked on him almost
as a comrade.  He remembered ruefully his admiration of the man's
carriage and conversation.  And he had been nobly duped.  The
stolen cloak, the tale of a journey post-haste to Boarstall, the
friendly parting--every incident rankled in his memory. . . .
Well, it was for him to defeat Master Simon's conspiracies.  He had
something against him--the knowledge, the certain knowledge, that
he was in league with those who defied the King's grace in matters
of religion. . . .  And then he laughed sardonically, for he
himself was about to defy the King's grace in things of greater
moment.

He strove to keep his mind on the notion that Simon's hostility to
him was because of state policy.  But it would not stay there.  The
unpleasing reflection would edge its way in that the cause was
Sabine Beauforest.  The man had not come to Avelard to please
Crummle's commissary, but to be near the girl.  Of that he was as
certain as that he was now stumbling through the scrub oaks above
Evenlode with owls hooting like lost souls around him.  Presently
the thought became a conviction, and the conviction an oppression.
Simon was a rival, a deadly rival, and he had won the first bout by
turning the heir of Avelard into a mockery.  He saw that lean face
puckered with mirth, and those cool, arrogant, contemptuous eyes,
and he had a miserable consciousness of weakness in the face of
such an antagonist.  Decked with the pomp of Avelard he could
condescend on one who was no more than a squire of modest estate,
but now Simon was mounted and fronting the world, while he was
afoot and a fugitive.

In his depression the picture of Sabine seemed to limn itself on
the dark night--Sabine, not as he had last seen her, distracted and
sullen, but Sabine on that night when she had opened her arms to
him, her pale loveliness suddenly become a fire.  Once he had
thought of a fair woman as something dim and infinitely distant,
like a sickle moon in an April twilight.  Now he had seen the
fairest of all, her eyes dewy with kindness, her lips tremulous
with surrender. . . .  The picture entranced and maddened him, but
it also drove Simon Rede from his head.  He was Bohun, and his
business was to win in the lists which had been set for him.  To
victory there all other things would be added, chief of which was a
laughing girl.

Before dawn the snow returned, big powdery flakes with no wind
behind them.  In a crook of Bladon heath, just outside the deer-
park of Woodstock, he stumbled upon a small encampment of horse-
priggers, round a hissing fire.  Half a dozen weedy garrons, with
their heads muffled in sacking, were tethered near by.  John Naps's
watchword saved him a slit throat, and secured him a bed of
moderately dry bracken and enough of the fire to warm his toes.
There he slept till an hour after daybreak, when he was roused by
the encampment shifting ground.  He breakfasted on some of the food
he had brought from Mother Sweetbread, distrusting the stew of the
priggers.  The ruffians were civil enough and a little abashed in
his presence, for Flatsole ruled the clan with an iron hand.  They
showed some relief when he prepared to leave them, and they gave
him a useful bit of news.  Catti the Welshman was in the alehouse
at Gosford, lying hid because of a broken rib.  Peter must find a
place to spend the daylight hours, and in such weather he preferred
the shelter of a roof to a cold hollow of Stowood.  Where Catti lay
he might reckon on a safe sanctuary.

The snow grew heavier as he crossed the open moorlands towards the
sharp spire of Kidlington church.  He skirted the village and came
to the tiny hamlet of Gosford, hard upon a ford of Cherwell.  He
remembered the alehouse, a pleasant place where, in a garden beside
a colony of bees, he had had many a summer draught.  Now the bush
at its door was turned upside down--the innkeeper's sign that there
was sickness in the hostelry and that no guests could be
entertained.  There was an utter silence in the hamlet, not a soul
showed or a dog stirred, nothing but the even descent of the snow.
But behind doors and windows he seemed to catch a glimpse of
furtive faces.

Peter made for the back-quarters of the tavern.  There he found a
sluttish girl plucking a cockerel, and tossing the white feathers
to mix with the falling snow.  "Will you carry a message, Mother
Goose," said Peter, "to him who lodges here?"

"There be no one lodging here, master," she said.  "Feyther has the
autumn sickness, and mother is new brought to bed."

"Nevertheless, you will take my message and give it to whom you
will," and he spoke the first part of John Naps's watchword.

She looked up at Peter, and, seeing him young and well-favoured,
relaxed her stubbornness.  She flung the half-plucked fowl to him
with a laugh.  "I dare not idle, master, with all the work of the
house on my hands.  Do 'ee finish my job and I will carry your word
indoors."

In an instant she was back, giggling.

"Feyther he says, 'Far as to Peter's gate.'  What play be it,
master?  Wychwood's no more'n six miles."

"Say, 'Alack, I shall not be there in time.'"

She nodded.  "Ay, that was what I was bidden wait for.  Come 'ee
indoors, but first shake the clots from your feet, lest you muck up
my floor."

Catti was not in the house, but in a chamber, the remnant of an old
priory, which was connected with the building by a vaulted passage.
There he lay on a couch of straw and rags in a darkness illumined
only by a brazier which burned beside him and such light as came
from above through the slats of the roof.  But even in the dimness
Peter saw the beetle brows and the fierce black eyes and the hilt
of a long knife.

The man was genial and open, for Naps's pass was clearly a master
word.  When he heard that Peter--whose name he did not ask--was on
his way to meet Darking and in some peril from the law, he became
reassuring.  Peter was safe for the daylight hours, and what easier
than to slip into Oxford by the east gate in weather which would
keep the inquisitive at home?  Thereafter Solomon would see to him,
Solomon who could, if he wanted, pass a red-handed felon through
the guards of a palace.

He had got his own hurt on the Worcester road.  It was near healed,
and he proposed to move towards London, where trade would be brisk,
since the King's law was gone Lincoln way.  Peter, with Lord
Avelard's talk in his head, was amazed to find how well informed
this bandit was on every matter they had spoken of with hushed
voices.  He knew what was stirring on the western marches, and
named the very numbers which Neville and Latimer had under arms.

Peter asked about Simon Rede, and Catti scratched his head.

"He is a ready man with his blade," he said, "as some of us know
to our cost.  But he is merry, too, and Boarstall has a good
name among us wandering folk.  They say he is hot for some new
thing called Gospel, which the King mislikes.  There are many
that hate him, but more that fear him, and he goes his own road
unquestioned. . . .  Nay, he is not one of us.  They say that
Gospel is harder on an honest man than the King's justices.  Job
Cherryman that took up with it fell to groaning and weeping and
died of a wasting in a twelvemonth.  'Tis some madness of the
gentles, and not for the poor."

Peter ate the rest of his food in Catti's company, and noted how
messages came all day to the recluse--a head thrust past the door,
a question asked and answered, all in the jargon which he had heard
at Little Greece.  When the time came for him to leave, Catti
appointed a ragged urchin to show him the road down the right bank
of Cherwell.

"You are well served," said Peter.

Catti laughed.  "Needs must in a trade like mine.  This morning,
master, you came from Brother Friday's priggers on Bladon heath.  I
had news of you before you passed Kidlington granges, and, had you
not come from honest company, you had never had speech with Cis
here, and gotten entrance to this cell of mine."



An hour after dark Peter entered Oxford by the side-gate adjoining
Magdalen College.  The snow had passed, and the air had sharpened
to a still frost, but a light fog held the upper heavens, and there
was no moon or star.  There had been a glow by the east gate, which
lit up everything, for Magdalen College, which was without the city
wall, had fired a great bonfire to drive away the plague.  The High
Street was dark in patches, but opposite University College there
was a glare also, for in its quadrangle was another bonfire.
Though the hour was yet early, the place seemed empty and quiet.
Farther on, where Peter had to grope his way to avoid the swollen
gutter, there came the music of an organ and young voices across
the way.  Peter remembered that it was the Eve of All Souls, and
that, according to custom, masses were being sung in Chichele's
college for the repose of the dead fallen in France.  There was an
echo of singing, too, from Brasenose, and Haberdashers' Hall had
lights in all its upper windows.  But beyond that it was very dark.
The Ram inn had shut its outer door, so that only a narrow thread
of light escaped to the cobbles.  The flesher near by had shuttered
his shop, but the carcase of a buck from Shotover was hanging
outside from a hook of the balcony, and Peter's forehead took the
beast's rump with such force that he sat down heavily in the slush.

At the place called Quarvex, where the church of St Martin hung
above the meeting of four streets, stood a stone seat called the
Pennyless Bench, built for the comfort of the market-folk.  The
little square was deserted, and Peter stepped out with more
confidence, for he was now on the confines of the west part of the
city, which was his own quarter.  But from the shadows of the
Pennyless Bench a voice spoke:

"'Tis a raw night to go cloakless, friend," it said.

Peter started and slipped in a puddle of snow.  He understood now
that the faint glow from the east window of the church must have
illumined his figure to one sitting in the shadows.  Moreover, he
knew the voice.  He took a step forward, and saw in the corner of
the bench what seemed to be the figure of a tall man.

Even as he stared the figure twitched a cloak from its shoulders
and tossed it towards him.

"Take it, friend," said the voice.  "You have the better right to
it."  And Peter caught in his hands his own murry-coloured cloak of
woollen.

The voice spoke again.

"You would fly at my throat, but I pray you consider.  This is no
place to brawl for one or t'other of us.  Also you are unarmed, and
I bear a sword.  Doubtless I used you scurvily last night, but I
had weighty reasons, which some day I may recount to you.  Thank
God for a restored garment, and go in peace."

Peter's anger flared up at the cool air of authority.

"I have no sword, but, if you are a man, you will unbuckle yours.
Come with me across Bookbinders bridge to a corner I know of where
we may be undisturbed.  There I will fight you with the weapons
that God gave us both at birth, and bring you to task for last
night's work."

A laugh came from the shadow.

"'Twould be good play, doubtless, and would warm our blood in this
nipping weather.  But I have no time for such sport, nor, methinks,
have you, Master Bonamy.  I am within easy hail of Boarstall, but
you are very far from Avelard.  Get you to Oseney and your supper."

There was a noise farther down the Cornmarket street and a sudden
gleam of light, which announced the watch.

"I have but to wait," Peter said, "and proclaim that you are he
that loosed the heretic from the Bishop's men."

Again the man laughed.  "You would not be credited," he said.  "I
am better known in Oxford town than the reputed heir of my Lord
Avelard out of the west country.  Besides"--he paused--"bethink
you what, if so minded, I could proclaim of you.  Begone, my
priestling.  A cell at Oseney is healthier for you than the cobbles
of Quarvex on a November night."

The sound of the oncoming watch grew nearer, and Peter let prudence
govern his temper.  This was not the place or hour for a reckoning
with Simon Rede.  He flung the cloak round his shoulders, and
turned down a lane that led to the Castle.  He was angry and
shamed.  Once again his enemy had had the laugh of him, and at the
thought of the scornful merriment in Simon's voice he shivered, but
not with the cold.

It was darker and quieter among the lanes beside the Castle which
sloped to the river.  Down in Fisherrow there were moving lights,
and high in the sky Peter saw the lamp in the bell-tower of Oseney.
Even as he gazed Thomas began to strike the hour of eight.  He
passed no one except a lay brother hurrying to Rewley, and a party
of young bloods from one of the colleges, who had come from hawking
in Botley fen, and had been making a great clamour at the west
gate.  At the said gate a band of west-country clothiers were
setting out, hoping to lie the night at Witney, so as to make
Gloucester on the morrow.  Peter slipped round the shaggy
cavalcade, and found himself without the walls, on the Oseney
causeway.

From there it was but a step to the Ox Pens, a piece of open ground
where a cattle-market was held of a Tuesday.  Beyond it was a
cluster of small houses, huddled round the approach to the river
bridge called the Fennel.  It was rough going, for the ground was
slippery with dung and offal, and there were many miry puddles now
crackling with frost.  The Swan tavern was not hard to find, for it
had an open door from which slanted a broad band of light that
illuminated a white swan on a scarlet ground on a board surmounting
a pollarded willow.  The place, now that Thomas's strokes had died
on the night, was as silent as the heart of Wychwood.  Even the lit
tavern made no sound.

It was a very humble place, but the rushes on the floor were fresh
and the logs on the hearth crackled cheerfully.  There was no one
there.

Peter shook the powder of snow from his cloak, stamped his feet
clear, and warmed himself at the blaze.  The place had the air of a
room much frequented and expecting guests.  He called loudly for a
drawer.

A little girl peeped round the corner of an inner door, and laid
her finger on her lips, her eyes wide with apprehension.

"Whisht!" she said.  "Ye manna make no noise--he be near his dead-
throes."

"Master Darking?" Peter began, but the child had gone.  He noticed
that at least a dozen lights, besides that of the fire, were
burning in the little room, so that the place was as bright as a
high altar at Candlemas.  There was no sound except the logs
crackling.  The door was pinned open to its widest, and from the
silent tavern an eerie radiance flooded out into the silent night.

Peter felt a spell creeping upon him.  He took off his cloak, sat
down on a stool, and stared into the fire.  This was the place that
Darking had appointed, and his task was done in coming here.
Meantime he could rest, for he felt listless and out of temper.

A hand was laid on his arm, and he saw that it was Darking, who had
come in by the door through which the child had peeped.  He wore a
townsman's clothes, so that he looked like some prosperous trader,
save for his lean, outland face.

"God's mercy has brought you here, my lord," he said.  "I feared my
message would not be in time, or that you might have some pressing
business at Avelard.  But indeed no business could be more pressing
than this.  One lies dying in this house that has something to say
to you."

Darking pulled another stool to the hearth.

"'Tis the outcome of Mother Sweetbread's care and the spells of
Madge of Shipton.  They have sought treasure for you, and maybe
they have found it. . . .  You have heard of the great Lord
Lovell?"

Peter nodded.  "Him that died after the Stoke battle--drowned in
Trent?"

"Nay, he did not drown in Trent.  He came in secret to his own
house of Minster Lovell, and what befell him after that is known
only to God.  But he is dead long since, for that is fifty years
back.  But mark you what manner of man was this Francis Lovell.
With Catesby and Ratcliffe he ruled the land under King Richard.
You have heard the country rhyme:


     "'The Cat, the Rat, and Lovell our dog
       Ruled all England under the Hog.'


He brought your grandsire, Harry of Buckingham, to his death, and
got his office of Constable.  He had the plundering of the whole
nation, and, being no spender, he amassed uncounted riches.  Where,
think you, has that wealth gone?  Harry the King had never a groat
of it.  'Tis buried somewhere among the ruinous courts of Minster
Lovell, and it may be yours for the finding.  A third of it, my
lord, would give you the sinews of war, and make you master indeed,
for you would have your own privy purse, and be dependent on none."

Peter was stirred to the liveliest interest.  "But what hope? . . .
Who can know? . . ."

"Listen!  My tale goes on.  At Minster Lovell there was one
household thirled above all others to the wicked lord.  Its name
was Blackthorn, and Giles Blackthorn was at my lord's bridle hand
in all his iniquity.  Where Lovell pricked Blackthorn slew, and
where Lovell pinched Blackthorn skinned.  Well, this Giles died
beyond question on Stoke field from an arrow in the throat, but he
left a widow more evil than himself.  'Twas to Mother Blackthorn at
Minster Lovell that my lord fled after his cause had gone down, and
Mother Blackthorn alone knew what end he made.  She lived for but a
month after Stoke, and died in the terrors of hell, screaming that
she could not leave her lord, and, as I have been told, being held
down in bed by four men to control her frenzy.  With her an ugly
stock passed out of the world, save for her son Jack.  He had been
page to Lovell, and had been at Stoke with him and had accompanied
him home, and, though only a stripling, was as wicked as his
master.  Whatever black secrets Lovell had this Rustling Jack, as
they called him, was their sure repository.  After his mother's
death he disappeared, like my lord, and was believed long since to
be in the devil's hands.  But it seems the world was wrong.  He was
in far countries, fighting for the Spaniards, and a prisoner for
years among the heathen.  Now, by the arts of Goody Littlemouse, he
has been discovered."

"Where?" Peter asked breathlessly.

"In this very house, where he is now at the point of death.  The
priest of St Thomas awaits to shrive him.  But he cannot save his
soul by confession like a Christian, for it seems that he has done
things which cannot be told even to holy ears.  Also he has some
restitution to make, and till he make it his soul will not leave
his body.  He has a horror of darkness on him, and that is why
these lights burn.  Also he has a horror of sound, and cries that
the pealing of Oseney bells are the yells of the damned."

"What has he to restore?"

"My guess is that it is the clue to Lovell's treasure.  Mother
Littlemouse, who has her own ways of getting knowledge, is assured
that he has such a secret in his keeping.  But he will not
surrender it to any chance comer.  He cries out for one of the
blood of Lovell to help him die.  You, my lord, are of that blood,
for Lovell and Stafford and Bohun were all intermingled.  They say,
too, that you are the living image of your grandsire, Duke Harry.
Maybe, when he sees you, he may be moved to make you his confessor.
But we must make haste, for his thread of life wears thin."

The boy's mood in a violent revulsion was now one of excited
triumph.  It seemed like God's hand leading him by strange paths to
recover that heritage of which he had been harshly robbed.
Lovell's treasure was Buckingham's treasure, since Lovell had clomb
to power on Buckingham's ruin. . . .  A sudden memory gave him
assurance.  The sign of this place was the swan, and the swan was
the badge of Bohun.

The frontage of the tavern was narrow, but the building was deep,
since behind it lay a nest of small rooms, dug out of a fragment of
old masonry which may have gone back to Norman days.  Peter found
himself in a crooked passage, blazing with tallow dips in iron
sconces.  There was a little window with a broken hasp, through
which came eddies of air that set the lights smoking.  As he passed
it he had a glimpse without of swollen rushing waters.  This place
abutted on the river--a fine strategic point for lawless folk.

Darking ushered him into a big room which looked like the girnel of
an ancient mill.  Here, too, many lights blazed, which revealed the
cobwebbed rafters, the floor deep in dust, and a vast rusty pin
projecting from the wall.  On a pallet in the centre lay the dying
man, with beside him an old woman, the inn-wife, who from time to
time moistened his lips with sour wine.  A man in a priest's gown
stood by the far wall, a timid youth who was busy with his beads.
As they entered Darking fell back, the old woman rose and withdrew
to the priest's side, and Peter found himself alone by the pallet,
looking down at a grey face distorted with fear.

The man whom they called Rustling Jack was very old.  His neck was
a mere string of sinews, his cheeks were fallen into ghastly
hollows, and the lips he moved incessantly were blue like the
blackthorn fruit.  A great scar ran athwart his brow, and the
wrists which lay on the coverlet were grooved deep with the
manacles which had once attached him to his oar in the Moors'
galleys.  The eyes were shut, and through his clenched teeth came a
slow moaning.

Peter stood awestruck, regarding the tortured face.  He had never
seen a man die, and this one was having a cruel passage.  In spite
of age and weakness the man on the pallet seemed to him a fearful
thing, for on his face was printed as in a book a long odyssey of
evil.

Suddenly he saw that the eyes had opened and were staring at him,
and so hungry was their stare that he stepped back a pace.  A voice
filtered painfully between the lips.

"Who is it?" it croaked.  "In God's name what are you that vexes
me?  Your name?  Your name?  You have eyes I mind of. . . ."

"I am Bohun," said Peter, and he was not conscious of what he said.

There came an exulting laugh.

"There is no Bohun in England--not these fifty years--it is Lovell
I see--Lovell."

"I am the grandson of Henry of Buckingham."

A gleam of intelligence came into the frenzied eyes.

"You are Henry of Buckingham. . . .  I saw him die at Salisbury . . .
his head rolled a good yard beyond the sawdust, and I sopped my
kerchief in the blood of it. . . .  Yea, you have his eyes . . . he
had pretty eyes to beguile hearts, but they could not save him. . . .
Harry Stafford . . . my lord liked him ill."

A last spasm of life galvanised him into action.  He half raised
himself, and Peter saw the neck muscles knot like eggs.

"Be you from Heaven or Hell I care not . . . Lovell slew you, but
you have Lovell's blood, and I summon you to give my master peace.
If you are a blessed one, I plead in Christ's name.  My lord never
leaves me . . . his voice whinnies and sobs in my ears, and I
cannot go to meet him till I have done his commands.  Angel or
devil, I charge you to lay his spirit. . . .  Listen. . . .  Bend
down, ghost, for my breath is short. . . ."

Peter bent till his ear was close to the dying man's lips.  The
words came slow and faint but very clear.  "The west court," it
said, "the corner under the dovecot. . . .  Three paces from the
east wall. . . .  Haste ye in the name of God the Father and God
the Son and . . ."

He fell back choking on the bed, and at the same moment all the
lights in the room swayed and flickered as if from a rush of wind.
Peter, white with awe, thought it was the waft of death, till he
saw that the door by which he had entered had opened, and that the
scared little girl he had already seen was standing in it.  There
was a noise beyond as of men's heavy feet and men's speech.

At the same moment he felt Darking's hand on his arm.  "You have
the word?" was his excited whisper.  "Then this is no place for you
and me.  There are men here seeking Jack, and they will find only
clay.  Quick--follow me."

Someone in a hurry blew out the lights, all but two at the bed head
and one at the foot.  Peter found himself dragged by Darking into a
passage, narrower than that by which they had entered, and dark as
a pit.  Presently cold air blew in his face, and he was at a
window, through which he was made to clamber.  "Drop," said
Darking's voice, and he was sprawling in the bottom of a wherry,
riding on a rough current.  A second later Darking joined him,
untied a mooring rope, and took up the oars, and the boat shot
under the bridge called the Fennel.

"You heard the words clear," Darking asked, and made Peter repeat
them.  "God be thanked, my lord.  'Twas a race between us and the
Devil, and we won by a hair."



CHAPTER IX

THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS


Darking drew in to a corner of the upper Fisherrow which made a
tiny wharf, and shipped the oars.  The flurries of snow had ceased,
and the air had become still and very cold.  Thomas of Oseney rang
the hour of ten, and his notes lingered long in the black vault of
night.  When they had died away, there was no sound in the world
but the swirl of the flooded river.

"We must get a bed for the night," said Darking, stamping his feet
against the chill, "and be off by dawn for Wychwood.  Goody
Littlemouse must lend her aid, for this is a dark business, my
lord, and must be done very secretly and in the night."

Peter shivered.  He could not banish from his memory the possessed
face and the tortured eyes of the dying man in that room of many
lights.

"I do not venture near Minster Lovell except in holy company.
Brother Tobias goes with us, or I stir not a yard.  God save us,
Solomon, but there is a fearsome relish of damnation about this
business."

Darking looked at him sharply.  "So be it.  Your purpose is honest,
my lord, and you but recover your own, but it is true that the
Devil walks wherever Lovell trod. . . .  Now for bed.  We can lie
at Mother Shabbit's in Titmouse Lane."

Peter did not dare himself to enter Oseney.  Though his clothes
were no more clerkly, and his recent life had changed his colour,
yet he could not hope to conceal himself from those who had seen
him daily in chapel and fratry.  So Darking did his errand, and
brought him word that Tobias was engaged with the holy business of
All-Hallows day and could not leave Oxford till the next morning.
The weather was setting to heavy frost, and Peter had no mind to
spend the day shivering in the bed-loft of Mother Shabbit's tavern.
He left Darking to make the necessary arrangements for the morrow,
since Tobias was an old man who must ride and needed a sober beast
to carry him.  Darking should bring him to Mother Sweetbread's
before dark on the following day, while Peter would go on ahead and
await him there.

So early in the forenoon he took the road on foot, out of the west
gate and along the Botley causeway to where the highway to the west
country ran between Wytham hill and the shaggy slopes of Cumnor.
The sky was an icy blue, and an east wind blew sharp into his back,
and on the flood-waters skeins of wildfowl squattered among the
crackling cat-ice.  The highroad was busy that day, for, besides
the usual pack trains, and a variety of religious padding it
between Oxford and Eynsham, he passed three armed companies
swinging in from Gloucestershire.  These men were the King's
levies, on their way to the King's army in Lincoln, and the sight
of them cheered him.  The fewer of that breed left in the west the
better for his cause.

From Swynford bridge, where he crossed a swollen Thames, he took a
short cut over the downland and forestland which make a barrier
between Evenlode and Windrush.  His head was full of war, for the
tramp of horses and the clatter of harness had power to intoxicate
him.  He had forgotten his scruples and his qualms; the dying face
in the Swan inn was no longer an ironic comment on human glory.
The biting air and the free movement of his limbs on the winter
turf had revived in his blood the pride of life. . . .  Lord
Avelard was the master strategist!  Peter saw, as in a view from a
hilltop, the King (he pictured him as fat and buxom in a suit of
gold tissue) sore pressed in the fenlands by a horde of churls who
welcomed death in their certainty of heaven; and all the while a
vast silent gathering drawing from north and west and creeping like
a dark shadow ever nearer the doomed tyrant, who for his lusts had
made England sorrow.  He saw pallor steal over the ruddy cheeks and
fear dawn in the witless eyes.  And at the head of the shadow he
saw the swan of Bohun. . . .  What was his own place?  Was he no
more than a watchword, a badge, an oriflamme?  That had been his
dread, but the dread was gone.  If he were the paymaster he would
be leader, not in name but in deed.  It seemed as if God had moved
in the matter to make plain his road, and the hot blood of youth
and the clerk's conscience were alike at peace under this assurance
of celestial favour.

He came to Mother Sweetbread's cottage just before the sun sank in
a fiery haze over Cotswold.  As he forded Windrush, where the ice
was forming on the edge of the slack water, he saw, a mile behind
him, the towers of Minster Lovell glowing blood-red in the
sunsetting.  He halted to gaze, and the sight made him uneasy.
Somewhere in that maze of dark stones lay the treasure which was to
ensure his triumph--that was what he told himself, but he found his
heart incredulous.  The place, a jumble of ink and blood and murky
gold, seemed too fantastic for earth--unhallowed, too, a thing
founded on lust and death and lit terribly by the fires of hell.
He remembered how in his boyish days the name of Lovell had been a
dark spell, and how, except in bright weather, no one had dared to
go near that castle by the stream.  In its shadow even Windrush
lost its speed, and flowed stagnant and dim under the battlements.
He was thankful that he had summoned Tobias to his aid, for he
needed all that was of good report behind him.

To his amazement there was no sign of life in Mother Sweetbread's
cottage.  There was no candle, no fire on the hearth, no food on
the table, though the door was unbarred according to the forest
custom.  Mother Sweetbread had clearly gone a-journeying.

Peter lit a fire, and found food in the cupboard, on which he made
his supper.  Then, for no reason which he could give, he dropped
the heavy bar over the door, and clamped the window shutters.  He
was ill at ease, for he could not rid himself of the memory of that
grim tower not a mile off, where none had dwelt for half a century.
Nothing human, at least, but God knew what things of the night had
made their lair in it.  The picture of it as seen in the cold
twilight filled his mind.  It had seemed to be awaiting him,
beckoning him, offering some dark commerce. . . .  Thank God, he
was above it now, three hundred feet nearer Heaven, and close to
the friendly beasts of the forest.  He stretched himself on his
foster-mother's bed, close to the hearth, and fell instantly
asleep, but he had ill dreams.  Door and windows rattled, though
the night was bound still in frost.  The first time he woke he
started at a crooked shadow which ran towards him, till he saw that
it was caused by the dying spurt of a log on the hearth.  Twice he
woke again and each time he seemed to hear the beating of great
wings without, and had much ado to compose his mind with prayers.
He commended his soul and his cause to God.

"I am only His instrument," he told himself, "I follow where He
leads, and, whether it be His will to break me or to exalt me, I am
content."  But in his heart he knew that he lied.

Morning brought a heavy sky and a fiercer cold, but it brought to
Peter some peace of mind.  He unbarred door and windows, and let in
the grey light.  With his teeth chattering, he revived the fire,
fetched water from the well which rarely froze, and made himself
some porridge.  He laved his face and breast and arms, and set his
blood moving by a brisk run in the forest clearing.  He returned to
the cottage to find that Mother Sweetbread had returned, and with
her an ancient woman whose face was waxen with age, but whose
eyebrows and the hair on a mole on her chin were black as jet.

His foster-mother clasped him in her arms.  "Woe is me," she cried,
"that you should come to my house and get so cold a welcome!  You
found food and firing, you say? . . .  But you had to get it for
yourself, Peterkin, and that is no task for a great man. . . .  I
durst not sleep the night here, for there are devils unloosed--I
could hear them whimpering in the dark--so I took shelter with
Mother Littlemouse, and Madge has come back with me to bear me
company."

The little old witch-wife looked him over with eyes like pits of
bog-water.

"You have my ring on your finger, my lord," she said, "so no ill
can hurt you yet awhile.  When do the others come?"

Peter told her that Darking would appear before evening, and with
him Brother Tobias.  At the name of the latter Mother Sweetbread
cried out with delight, but Madge looked grave.  "He cannot go
where you must go, my lord.  It is decreed that he that would
challenge the spirits of earth must challenge them alone.  A priest
will scare them and wound their dignity.  The Church, on which be
blessings, has its own land, and these spirits have theirs, and God
has ruled that for the time the boundaries shall be fixed. . . .
You were no more than in time at the Swan inn.  It was needful that
you saw him they call the Rustler before his death, and I sat at
Shipton sweating with fear lest you should be too late.  He died
three minutes and twenty seconds after you left him."

"How did you learn? . . ." Peter began.

"Hush, sir, and ask not," said Mother Sweetbread.  "Madge here has
her own ways of knowledge."

The witch-wife regarded him with placid eyes.

"The day before yesterday I followed your every step after you left
the priggers' camp at Bladon.  I watched you visit Master Catti,
and saw you creep into Oxford and have words with a certain one at
Quarvex.  I could have wept with vexation at every minute you
tarried, for I saw also the Rustler with the breath choking in his
throat."

"You saw?" Peter stammered.

"I saw, but with the eye of spirit, not the eye of flesh.  I have
woven a chain 'twixt you and me, which keeps me aware of all your
doings.  Ask me not how, for that is my secret."

"And with Rustling Jack?"

"With him I have long had such a chain, for once we were lovers."

"Tell me of to-night.  Is there indeed treasure at Minster Lovell?
Shall I harvest it?"

"I cannot foretell what God decrees is to come to pass.  My
knowledge is only of things that already are in being.  But this I
can tell you.  There's that in Minster Lovell which the Rustler
valued as dear as his own life, and which the Lord Lovell valued no
less.  'Tis for you to guess what that can be. . . ."

She flung a sort of cowl over her face and withdrew to a corner.
"I would be alone now, that I may be busied with arts for your
safety this night.  Yon earth is as full of dark spirits as there
are rooks in Shipton copse, and, Tobias or no, it behoves us to go
warily.  Many a time the earth devils have played their pranks upon
a holy man."

Peter walked the woods that day, the favoured haunts of his
childhood, and his mood was high.  He had no doubt as to what the
coming night would bring forth.  He saw himself able to speak with
Avelard and Exeter, with Neville and Latimer, as a potent equal.
As one who supplied the sinews of war he would have a final word
in that war's purpose.  He told himself--this to his clerk's
conscience--that thus he would keep pure the purpose of the
crusade--for God and His Church and the poor commons of England.
But deep down in his heart he knew that he had other thoughts.
Ambition welled fiercely within him.  The nipping air wrought upon
his head.  His imagination was full of trampling horses and bright
swords and banners, the mad cheering of multitudes, thrones and
palaces and soft raiment, the soft eyes of fair women. . . .  From
a high point in the forest he looked down on Wychwood and saw the
blur of Minster Lovell among its trees.  The place had no longer
any power to affright him.  The old pale ghost of its dead lord was
an obedient shadow, waiting to surrender its charge before it fled
to its appointed torment.

As the day drew to evening the clouds mounted in the east, clouds
like foul wool with leaden shadows.  "Winter is early upon us,"
said Mother Sweetbread; "there was not a swallow in the eaves by
mid-September, and they are the birds that know."  The dark had
fallen before Brother Tobias's cob, led by Darking, came up the
road from the ford.  Tobias was in a sad humour.  The journey had
tired his bones, and the lowering weather depressed one accustomed
to sheltered Oseney, for in his old age it was not his custom to go
abroad except when the sun shone.  Also he mistrusted his errand,
for Lovell was a name of ill omen.  "God's blessing never went with
aught of that breed," he told Peter, "and belike it will not go
with their gear."

"But it will be spent for an honest purpose," said Peter.  "Pecunia
non olet."

Tobias wrinkled his nose, as if he doubted the truth of the adage.

Mother Sweetbread set supper before them, and drew Madge of Shipton
from her solitary communings.  The little old witch-wife went on
her knees to Tobias and sought his blessing, which was given with a
doubting face.  Then she seemed to take command of the party.  Her
toothless mumbling changed into a tone of authority; alone of them
she seemed to know not the goal only but the road to it.  She bade
Darking get mattock and pick from the Sweetbread store, for, said
she, "The frost has bound the earth, and earth lies heavy on that
which we seek."  The keys of the outer curtilage and the keep had
been long in Mother Sweetbread's care, and these were sought out, a
mighty bunch of rusted iron strung on a strip of cowhide.  "But
these are not the keys we seek," said the witch-wife.  "There are
deeps in Lovell's castle which no mortal key will unlock.  For
these we have the Rustler's word."  Nor would she allow them to
start till she gave the signal.  "Let the daylight get out of the
earth and the night currents begin to move.  We can work only under
the blanket of the dark."

When at last they left the cottage the night was thick as a cloak
round them, windless and piercing cold.  Darking had a lantern and
guided them by a track down a shaggy slope, among scrub of thorn
and holly.  The old women marched like soldiers, but Brother Tobias
stumbled often and leaned heavily on Peter's arm.  "I am afraid,
son Peter," he murmured.  "This is no work for a priest. . . .  I
doubt if it be work for any Christian man, but in these days a
Christian must have a stout stomach."

They skirted swampy meadows fringed by elders, which rustled
eerily, though there was now no wind.  Then suddenly they came on a
little church, where the altar had long lacked servers; the slats
were falling from its roof, and its north door stood open to the
weather.  There were roofless huts beside it, and nettle-grown
heaps of stones, and beyond a dark mass like a mountain.

"There is no entrance this way," said Darking.  "We must seek the
Water-gate."  So with difficulty they picked their way through
ruinous closes till the lantern caught the tides of Windrush, which
here drowsed in long lagoons.  There was a postern half blocked by
a fallen lintel, through which they squeezed.  "This is the west
court," said Darking, and an owl seemed to echo the whisper.

It was a strange place, grown thick with grass, with on three sides
of it walls which beetled like crags.  Fifty years had worked a
ruin.  The paving was broken into hollows, and every now and then a
trickle of falling masonry sounded above them.

"Now where in God's name is the dovecot?" Darking asked, flashing
his lantern upon the precipitous sides, and was told by Madge
Littlemouse, "The northeast corner."  Sure enough in the far angle
the echo which their feet awoke was answered from above by a sound
of wings.  There were still pigeons making their home in that round
tower on the roof which no man had entered for half a century.

"This is the place," said Darking.  "Three paces from the east wall
was the Rustler's word."  He started back.  "Others have been
here!"

What they saw was an opening in the ground made by the removal of a
heavy slab.  Steps ran down, green with ferns and slime.  Darking
turned the lantern on them.  "Nay, these have not been trodden for
a hundred years.  This is some ancient doing."  He descended as far
as the steps allowed.  "Something has fallen," he announced out of
the depths.  "Reach me a mattock.  It is only soil and rubble."

He wrought for some minutes, flinging out shovelfuls above their
heads.  Then he stopped.  "There is a door," he said.  "I think it
opens inwards."  There came a sound of heavy blows, then a
splintering and rending, and the falling forward of a heavy body.
Presently Darking emerged spitting earth from his mouth.  "The door
is gone rotten with age.  Beyond is a passage in which a man may
creep.  The Rustler no doubt spoke truth.  But let us clear our
wits before we take the next step, for we may be on the edge of
dangerous things."

Peter shivered violently.  His eagerness had not died in him, but
it was blanketed by a weight of nameless fears.  The black night,
the echoing cavern of the court, the cold which froze even his
young blood, seemed to lay a palsy on his mind.  He had pictured an
adventurous journey among vaults, a treasure-hunt in brisk company;
instead he seemed to be standing on the brink of a noisome tomb.

He screwed up his courage.

"I go," he said.  "I am the chosen one."

Madge Littlemouse croaked.  "He goes.  He is the chosen one.  And
he goes alone."

But Tobias broke in.  "Nay, that he does not.  I go with him.
Whatever is beneath ground we face together."

The witch-wife protested.  "Ye will anger the spirits, holy sir.
They are lost spirits who obey not the Church.  They are biddable,
if they be taken wisely, but if ye anger them they will flee to the
abyss and take Lovell's gold with them."

"Avaunt thee, woman!"  Tobias's voice had gained assurance, for his
wrath was stirred.  "If it be devil's gold, it is not for us, who
be Christian folk.  I tell you, it is the treasure of one who was
mortal man, and is now a lost soul.  Our purpose is honest, for we
would use in a holy cause what now festers idly in the earth.  In
the name of God, I go forward."

He would have led the way, but Peter prevented him.  Darking had
lit a second lantern, which burned clear in the windless air.  With
this in his hand Peter descended the steps.

"Give us as much time," he called to Darking, "as a man may walk a
mile.  After that come and seek us."

The passage sloped downward, and was so low that the two had to
bend double.  But after the first few yards it was dry, as if cut
from solid rock, and it was powdered with a fine dust.  Soon the
roof lifted and they could walk upright.  Peter stopped now and
then to take his bearings.  "We are going north," he whispered.
"We must now be under the keep.  The air is fresh.  Doubtless there
is some vent from above."

But presently they reached a subsidence which almost blocked the
corridor.  Above the rubble there was a gap through which a man
could squeeze, and Peter managed to enlarge it so that Tobias
passed.  Beyond they found steps which descended steeply.  The air
smelled damper and closer, and there was a sound of dripping water
behind the containing walls.  "We are in the bowels of the earth,"
said Peter, "and that flow I take to be the Castle well.  Wary is
the word, lest we plunge into the pit where Lovell is said to have
made an end of his ill-wishers."

But the road straightened itself, the roof rose, and the lantern
showed a door bound with rusty iron.  This was no such rotten thing
as Darking had broken down at the entrance to the passage.  Peter
flung his weight on it, and it held like a rock.  Then he had
recourse to Mother Sweetbread's keys, which he had carried on his
left arm.  He tried one and then another in the great lock, and the
third fitted.  But as his fingers moved to turn it, he was taken by
a second fit of shivering.  He turned to Tobias.

"Pray," he said between clenched teeth.  "This is the last stage.
Pray that we be given strength to face what may be beyond this
door."

Tobias's voice was calm.  "Expectans expectavi Dominum," he said,
"et intendit mihi, et exaudivit preces meas, et eduxit me de lacu
miseri, et de luco fcis, et statuit super petram pedes meos.
Lead on, my son.  He who has brought us thus far will lead us to a
secure place."

Peter's fingers trembled so that he fumbled for long with the key.
At last the bolt lifted with a shriek like an animal in pain.  The
door opened towards them, and as they drew back to let it swing it
seemed that a foul wind, smelling of a charnel house, blew for an
instant in their faces. . . .  Then the lantern gave them a view.

It was a little chamber hewn out of the living rock, and there must
have been an entrance of air from above, for after the first
noisome blast the place smelled pure and cold.  And it was empty.
There were none of the chests and strong boxes which might be
looked for in a treasury.  Rather it was like an anchorite's cell.
There was a table and a chair, and in one corner a pallet heaped
with rotting bedclothes.  There were objects scattered on the
floor, and on the table a sconce for candles, and some mildewed
parchments.  There were other things, for as Peter stepped in he
tripped over something which lay close to the door. . . .  With
horror he saw that the something had once been a man.

For a moment he thought it lived, that it was creeping to catch his
foot.  He cried out and dropped the lantern.  Fortunately, it was
not extinguished, and Tobias caught it and turned it on the body.

It lay huddled and crooked, as if it had been struggling with the
door, and had used its last flicker of life in a hopeless assault.
It was the body of a tall man, and it was not yet a skeleton.
There had been no rats or worms to deface it, and, though the eyes
had shrunk to things like dried berries, the skin, grey and
wrinkled, still hung on the bones.  The beard had become like
lichen, and so had the fur collar of the surcoat.  The teeth had
mostly dropped from the withered gums, but two protruded over the
grey lips, with an awful air of ravening and pain. . . .  The man
had died of hunger and thirst, had died in mortal agony, for he had
gnawed his finger-tips and bitten deep into his left wrist.
Wrinkled at their feet, every limb contorted, the garments
disordered in the last extremity, the body was an awful parody of
the image of God.

Peter, deadly sick, leaned on the table.  Tobias touched the jewel
at the belt, and it fell from the decayed leather.  He took a broad
ring from a claw-like finger.

"This is not Lovell's treasure," he said softly.  "It is Lovell
himself.  See, here is the barry nebuly and the chevronels. . . .
So passes the world's glory.  We will seek no more gold, son Peter,
for God this night has shown us a better thing.  He has shown how
sure and righteous are His judgments.  Qui fodit foveam, incidet in
eam, et qui dissipat sepem mordebit eum coluber."  He signed
himself with the cross, and stood with downcast eyes.

Peter's bodily sickness was passing.  He could look now at the
thing in the gloom. . . .  He saw the dreadful panorama of the
man's death as if he had been an eye-witness.  The fugitive from
Stoke battle, with the avenger of blood at his heels, had sought
refuge in his own house, where Mother Blackthorn hid him beyond the
reach of any pursuit.  She alone knew the secret of his lair, and
had the means of entrance.  There Lovell waited till a way could be
found of moving himself and his ill-gotten wealth overseas. . . .
But the woman had fallen sick, a mortal illness, and, since she was
the sole guardian of the hermitage, the refugee deep in the earth
had no one to give him food and drink.  She had grown delirious,
men had had to hold her down in bed and check her frenzy, for she
knew that her master below was dying by inches; presently she had
passed into stupor and death.  Meanwhile, he who had been a great
prince and had ruled England had grown hourly weaker, impotent as a
babe to save himself.  He had licked up from the floor the crumbs
of his last meal, he had eaten the candle-ends, he had gone mad and
chewed his hands, until at the end in his ultimate mania he had
beaten on the unyielding door till he dropped with death in his
throat. . . .

The first emotion of horror had left Peter.  He had now only a
great pity and a great clearness, as if some cloud had lifted from
his brain.  In that subterranean cell he seemed to view the world
from a high hill.

He turned the lantern on the crumpled vellum pages on the table.
He saw that it was an account-book.  Lovell had been passing the
hours of his confinement in counting his wealth.  Perhaps the book
would give a clue to its whereabouts? . . .  With a spasm of nausea
he dismissed the notion.  Lovell's treasure seemed to him a thing
accursed, and any motion to win it a sure plunge into damnation.

"Let us be gone," he said faintly, "and seal up this place so that
no eye may ever look on it again."

"Nay," said Tobias gently, "we must first give this body Christian
burial.  We are bound to the dying man in Oxford who pledged you to
lay the wandering spirit of his lord.  I will have masses sung in
Oseney for his soul's repose.  Do you go and bring Darking to
help."

"I dare not leave you alone in this place."

"Nay, I have no fear.  What is there to affright me in a handful of
bones and parched skin?  His spirit will not hurt me, for I do it a
kindness.  Haste you, son Peter, while I meditate on him who once
was Francis Lovell."

Peter made his way back to the outer air, fumbling in the dark, for
he had left the lantern in the cell.  It seemed an age till he
caught a speck of light, and saw Darking's face peering in at the
tunnel's entrance.  When he emerged into the bitter night, a new
faintness came over him, and he leaned, choking, on Darking's arm.

"You have found the gold?" Darking asked.

"We have found its master," he gasped.

The witch-wife cried out.  Her curch had slipped and her grey locks
hung loose like a mnad's.

"Lovell is there!  I dreamed it!  White and picked like an ancient
crow!  But what of the gold he guards, my lord?  Let us deal
mercifully with his bones that his ghost may be kind.  See, I have
brought a dead-cloth, that he may be decently and piously planted
in holy earth."

She drew from her bosom a coarse shroud, which fluttered ghoulishly
in the night.

"Come with us," said Peter to Darking, "that we may get him above
ground."

They broke off the table legs and made a bier of the top, wrapping
what had been Lovell in his rotting surcoat.  Once in the open
Madge Littlemouse shrouded him in her linen, and Peter and Darking
bore him to the graveyard of the ruinous church.  There, among the
broken headstones, they dug a grave with the mattock which had been
destined to unearth treasure, and into that grave, before the earth
was shoveled back, Peter flung the vellum account-book which might
contain the clue to Lovell's hoard.  Tobias said the prayers for
the dead, and it seemed to Peter that as he spoke the air
lightened, and the oppression lifted from the black trees and
mouldering walls.  There was a sudden rift in the clouds, and the
moon rode out into clear sky.

"Nihil enim intulimus in hunc mundum," rose the voice of Tobias;
"haud dubium quia nec auferre quid possumus. . . .  Nunc autem
Christus resurrexit a mortuis, primiti dormientium. . . ."

As the voice ceased, the witch-wife plucked at Peter's arm.

"The gold!" she croaked.  "We have laid the ghost. . . .  Now the
road is plain. . . .  Where Lovell laired the treasure cannot be
far distant."

"I have found it," he answered, "for I have got me a new mind."



CHAPTER X

OF THE CONCLAVE AT LITTLE GREECE


At Mother Sweetbread's he found the lean urchin Dickon of the Holt,
whose rags now hung on yet barer bones.  He greeted Peter with a
pull of his forelock.

"They be after ye, master," he said.  "The other of you two, a tall
man, him that set free the prisoner three nights back, has been at
his tricks again.  Maybe 'twas he set the Fettiplace men after ye,
forbye that ye were seen this day in the forest.  In less than an
hour they'll be here, for they know that this is your hidy-hole.
They were to muster at Asthall crossroads, for I was dobbing down
in a chump of furze and heard them plan it."

"Are you hungry?" Peter asked, and the boy's wolfish eyes answered.

"Give him food, mother," said Peter.  "There is a bare cupboard at
the Holt."

"There be no cupboard there," said the boy, "and there be no Holt.
When I followed ye t'other night, father he set the place afire,
and hanged himself to a rafter, and him and mother was all burned
to cinders."  He spoke calmly as if such doings were trivial, and
his eyes followed Mother Sweetbread as she brought food.

"Then you have no home?  Where do you sleep?"

"Where there is a chance of meat.  Outside Martin Lee's kennels,
where I can pick up scraps from the hounds' dish, or beside the
swine-troughs up Swinbrook way.  That's how I come to hear the talk
of the Fettiplace folk."

"You will come with me, Dickon lad, for it seems you are destined
to serve me.  Have you any old garments of mine, mother, to amend
his raggedness?"

"We must be on the move," said Darking.  "Little Greece is the best
shelter.  I know not if John Naps be there, but I have the right of
entry, and no Fettiplace durst follow."

Madge of Shipton took up the tale.  She was in a sullen mood, and
had sat mumbling to herself in a corner.

"What of Lovell's gold, young sir?  The gold I have tracked by my
spells through air and earth and water?  What of the treasure that
will set you among kings?"

"Let the first comer have it," said Peter.  "I have no longer need
of it.  I am beholden to you, Mother Littlemouse, but I am done now
with spells and treasure.  I have a path to tread where it would
only cumber me."

Peter's tone, solemn and resolute, woke Brother Tobias from the
half-doze which the fatigues of the night had brought on him.

"And you, Father," said Darking, "will sleep here the night, and
to-morrow I will send a man who will lead you back to Oseney."

"Not so, friend," said the old man.  "My bones are rested, and my
horse can carry me to Little Greece, which I take to be no great
journey.  I have a notion that my son Peter will need my counsel,
and Oseney can well spare me."

"Then let us haste," said Darking, "or we shall have the
Fettiplaces on our backs, and I for one am in no mood for a mellay.
Food, mother, for there may be no larder at Little Greece.  Make
speed, Dickon, with that new jerkin."

When they left the cottage, Dickon in the frieze of Peter's
boyhood, Tobias stiff and weary on his ambling cob, Peter and
Darking striding ahead, the clouds had for the most part lifted,
and the moon was riding in mid-heaven.  There was no sign of
pursuit, as they entered the forest aisles, and in ten minutes,
through Darking's subtle leading, there was no fear of it.  They
were back in an ancient world where Darking, and indeed Peter
himself, could baffle any Fettiplace lackey.  The cold had lessened
with the dark, and the wind seemed to have shifted, for it blew in
their left ears now and not in their right.  Darking sniffed the
air.  "Winter has taken a step back," he said.  "St Martin will not
forget his little summer.  The moles were throwing up fresh earth,
so I knew that the frost would not hold."

Few words were spoken on that journey, and none by Peter, for he
was in the grip of a great awe and a new enlightenment.  The
tortured dead, sprawled by the locked door, had tumbled down his
fine castle of dreams.  What was the glory of the world if it
closed in dry bones and withered skin? . . .  Lovell had been, next
the King, the greatest man in all England, and he had died like a
rat in a trap, gnawing his fingers in his agony.  The starved
peasant gasping out his last breath in a ditch had a better ending.
And, as Lovell, so had been his grandsire, Henry of Buckingham, and
his father, save that their threads of life had been shorn by a
clean axe in the daylight for all men to see.  It was not death
that he feared, but the triviality of life.  He had the awe of
the eternal upon him, and he saw mortal things as through an
inverted spy-glass, small and distant against the vast deserts
of eternity. . . .  Only a few hours back his head had been full
of trumpets and horsemen, and his blood as brisk as a March morning.
Now they all seemed little things, short-lived and weakly.  The
song of Pierce the Piper came to his mind--


     "Worm at my heart and fever in my head--
      There is no peace for any but the dead.
      Only the dead are beautiful and free--
      Mortis cupiditas captavit me. . . ."


But no, he had no craving for death, as he had no fear of it, and
he did not yearn for a peace which was rottenness.  It was the
littleness of life that clouded his spirit.

He had known these moods of disillusion before, when light and
colour had gone out of everything.  At Oseney, often, when he was
tempted to forswear his gods, and the solemn chants of the choir in
the great abbey church and the manuscripts of Plato in Merton
library alike seemed foolishness.  Since his new life began, he had
scarcely felt them; rather he had been filled with a young lust of
living.  But now he had seen the world grow suddenly small, once at
Avelard when the gospeller spoke his testimony . . . once when he
saw the dead woman in the hut at the Holt . . . and two nights ago
when he had looked at the dying face of the Rustler. . . .  And if
earthly greatness had shrunk for him, he was not recompensed by any
brighter vision of celestial glory.  Was it accidia that troubled
him, that deadly sin?  Or was it illumination, the illumination of
the King Ecclesiast, who had cried Vanitas vanitatum et omnia
vanitas.

Nay, there was one thing that was no vanity.  In the atmosphere of
decay which surrounded him one thing shone fresh and bright and
living, a star among clouds, a rose among the graves.  The beauty
of Sabine came over him like a benediction. . . .  He had got a new
mind, he had told Madge of Shipton, and he had spoken the truth.
In the last hour he had become very old and wise.  He had
sacrificed all his whimsies.  He would do whatever work God called
him to, but he asked no reward.  He did not seek kingdoms or
dukedoms, or purple and fine linen, or trampling armies behind him.
Such pomps he renounced as willingly as any monk.  But in his
revulsion from death he hungered for life, and to him Sabine shone
as life incarnate, youth in excelsis, beauty sanctified.  A great
tumult of longing filled him.  A line of some forgotten wandering
poet came into his head--


     "O blandos oculos et inquietos!"


It was true; her eyes were both lovely and wild, unquiet and kind.
He searched his memory for more.  Illic--how did it go?--yes--


     "Illic et Venus et leves Amores
      Atque ipso in medio sedet Voluptas."


He tried to turn the couplet into his own tongue:


     "For there dwells Venus, and the tiny Loves,
      And in their midst Delight."


The word Voluptas offended him.  It should have been Desiderium.

They threaded without challenge the maze of thorn scrub which
surrounded Little Greece, and when they reached the great barn
there was no light in it.  But the door was unlocked, as Darking
had told them was the custom, and within there was plenty of
kindling, and on the rafters a ham or two and the side of a fat
buck.  Darking and Dickon, who showed himself assiduous in his new
duties, made a fire on the stone floor, and from the bean straw in
the far end shook out four beds.  "We will rob old John's larder,"
said Darking, and he cut slices from one of the hams and fried them
on Naps's griddle.  But of the party he alone ate, and Dickon, who
had vast arrears to make up.  Peter would have flung himself on his
pallet that he might dream of his love, but Tobias detained him.
The old man lay couched on the straw, his head on his hand, and the
firelight on his face revealed an anxious kindliness.

"There are no secrets among us, son Peter," he said.  "For certain
you have none from me, for I read you like a printed book.  This
night you have seen a vision, such as befell St Paul on the
Damascus road.  You have seen the vanity of earthly glory, and your
soul is loosed from its moorings.  Speak I not the truth?"

"It is the truth."  Peter spoke abstractedly, for he had been
called from the deeps of another kind of meditation.

"I have wondered sometimes," Tobias continued, "whether of late
months you had not forgot your upbringing, and had become over-
worldly for one of your high calling.  The lust of the eyes and the
pride of life were new things to you, and I have often feared that
you were dazzled.  But this night you spoke words which were balm
to my heart.  You said you had got you a new mind, and that you
trod a road where Lovell's gold would only cumber you.  If you
meant what I take it you meant, you have indeed had a baptism of
grace.  I would have had you get treasure that you might be the
more free to work a noble purpose.  But if you sought it only to
hold your head higher among worldly men and attain more readily to
worldly honour, then your purpose was evil and God in His mercy has
frustrated it."

Peter made no answer.

"For you are a soldier of Christ, my son."  The old man's voice had
a crooning tenderness.  "If you fight in your own strength and for
your own cause, you will go down--I know it as if God had whispered
to me.  You will be the third of your house to die a violent and a
futile death.  For you may drive out the Tudor and yet go the way
of Duke Harry and Duke Edward, for he who draweth the sword in his
own quarrel will himself be slain by the sword.  But if you fight
as the champion of God's Church and His poor folk you cannot fail,
for if you fall you fall a blessed martyr, and angels will waft you
to Paradise--and if you win, your crown will be like the crown of
Israel's High Priest, with the words writ thereon, 'Holiness to the
Lord.'"

Tobias had raised himself on his couch, eyes and voice had become
rapt like a prophet's, and he held out his arms to Peter in an
ecstasy of appeal.  Then he sank back, for the fire blazed up in a
sudden draught, and there was a bustle at the doorway.

John Naps had entered.  The master of Little Greece was wrapped up
in several ragged mantles, as if he had found the night chill.
From these rags there protruded only some wisps of white hair, the
long coppery nose, and the moist magisterial eyes.

"Ho, masters!" he cried, and his voice boomed like a bittern's.
"What a Christ's mercy ha' we here?  Godsnigs, but you are at ease
in another man's house!"  Then his eye fell on Darking.  "Solomon,
my love, is't thee?  Welcome, old friend, and I prithee present
your company!"

Then he caught sight of Brother Tobias, and doffed his hat.  "A
brother of Oseney, i' faith?  My greeting, holy sir.  Lardy!  It is
the good Tobias that never denied alms to a poor man.  May your
reverence feed high and sleep deep in John Naps's kennel!"

His rheumy eyes next covered Peter.  "Your 'prentice, Solomon--the
honest lad that attended ye at our parliament a month back?"

"Know him by his true name," Solomon laughed.  "To the king of the
Upright Men I present Master Bonamy, out of the west country."

The old whipjack's face underwent a sudden change.  The comedy left
it, and it fell into the stern lines which Peter remembered.  His
voice, too, became hard and grave.

"Him that has the Word--our Word, Solomon!  'Twas passed to him a
sennight back at Avelard, and he passed it to Catti the Welshman
t'other day at Gosford.  Bonamy, you say?  Well, one name will
serve the present need as well as another, but maybe the true one
also spells with a B.  Say, friend," and he spoke low, "is't the
one we await?  In the words of Holy Writ, is't him that should come
or must we look for another?"

"You have said it," was Darking's answer.

Naps cast off his ragged cloak and revealed a very respectable suit
of brown frieze and leather.  He bobbed on his knee before Peter,
looking like some king of the gnomes with his domed skull, his
mahogany cheeks, and his wisp of white beard.  He took the young
man's right hand, and laid it on the crown of his own head and on
his heart, mumbling all the while a thing like a paternoster.  He
took a water-jug which stood on the floor, and sprinkled some drops
on his palm.  He picked a half-burned stick from the fire, and
quenched the glowing end with his wet fingers.  Last, he plucked a
knife from his belt, and drew the edge over the back of one thumb
so that a drop of blood spurted.  What he had done to his own left
hand, he did to Peter's right.

"I swear you the beggar's oath of fealty, sire," he said, and the
whipjack had a sudden hierarchic dignity.  "The oath by water and
fire and cold steel and common blood.  Whenever your call sounds,
the beggars will rise around ye like an autumn mist out of every
corner of England."

Then his eyes became anxious.

"We be all true men here?" he asked.  "The reverend father?"

"Be comforted, John," said Darking.  "'Twas he that had the
bringing up of my lord.  He knew his secret first of any."

The whipjack's humour changed, and he was again the jovial ruffian.
He got himself some food, and made himself a bed of straw by
Darking's side.

"What brings this high and mighty company to Little Greece?  Few,
save ourselves, come here, unless the King's law be troublesome."

"'Tis the King's law troubles us," said Darking.  "My lord has his
own business about the land, and for the moment must lie as close
as a badger in snow.  But some nights ago there was trouble at the
Holt about the setting free of a gospeller, who was captive to his
grace of Lincoln, and through a trick the deed was blamed on my
lord.  This day we come again into this countryside to find the cry
still out and the Fettiplace hounds hot on the scent.  Wherefore we
seek refuge in a place which no Swinbrook man dare enter."

Naps laughed long and loud.  "Behold the foppery of the world!" he
shouted.  "He that will soon be the first man in England is at the
mercy of a loutish esquire who thinks to curry favour with Law.
The good Tobias, a pillar of Holy Church, is privy to an offence
against that Church, and must needs go into hiding.  And these two
great ones seek shelter from old John Naps, who all his days has
had little favour from Church and none at all from Law. . . .  But
the cream of the jest ye have yet to hear."

He lowered his voice.

"There is another seeking sanctuary.  He knows the road hither, and
may be here any moment, and his need is greater than yours, for he
is the guilty man.  Ye have heard, maybe, of the young lord of
Boarstall, him they call Simon Rede, him that has been fighting
overseas ever since his beard sprouted.  It seems he has took up
with the thing Gospel--though what this Gospel be I know not--some
say 'tis a fetter to bind the poor and others a club to beat the
rich.  'Twas he that freed the gospeller at the Holt, and hid him
for the time in a place which I know but will not tell.  This day
he returned to put the man in still safer hiding, and get my help
on the job, for Boarstall has ever been a kindly door to wandering
men.  Nay, Solomon, fear not.  He is not one of us, as you are--as
this lord is.  He has not the Word.  Well, he succeeded, and the
gospeller, a sour, starveling fellow with no stomach for ale, was
hid away as snug as a flea in a blanket.  But Esquire Fettiplace's
long nose was smelling out the business, and, if he came on the
scent of my lord here, he comes plump and fairly on the footprints
of Master Rede.  Wherefore these last hours the said Master Rede
has been hard put to it to shake off the hounds.  With my aid he
has done it, for he doubled back in the forest, and I sent one of
my lads on a horse to draw the hunt towards the Glyme, so that by
this time the Fettiplace dogs are giving idle tongue in Wootton or
Glympton.  And Master Simon will presently be here, if he remembers
my guiding and does not fall into Borney marl-pit or drown in
Capperton mere.  He will be a weary man, sore in need of bed and
supper. . . ."

Darking looked grave.

"There is no love between him and my lord.  Also, he is said to be
of the King's faction, though he has a taste for this Gospel.
Above all, he is not in the secret.  We must be wary, John, and
guard our speech, and do you, my lord, let wrongs be forgot for
this night."

The name of Simon Rede had stirred Peter into complete wakefulness,
for it was with Sabine that he chiefly associated the squire of
Boarstall.  All his old jealousies revived.  The theft of the
cloak, the arrogant air of superiority--such offences now seemed
trivial compared with the fact that he dared to raise his eyes to
the girl at Avelard. . . .  Was he certain?  Might it not be only
his fancy?  He longed to have Simon face to face to make sure.  And
yet he dreaded the meeting, for the man rasped his soul like a
rough cloth on a sore.

But Simon was long a-coming.  That was a restless night in Little
Greece, for midnight was past, and Naps was snoring like a trumpet,
and Peter mazed with the wheel of thought that spun in his brain,
and Tobias sleeping the light sleep of old age, when the door
opened, and the dead embers of the fire blew up in spirals of cold
ashes.  Thereafter there was no more peace.  Dickon set the fire
going again, and further rashers were set to broil, and Peter,
elaborately incurious, at last raised his eyes to see on the straw
opposite him the tall figure he knew so well.

Simon had had a rough journey.  His boots were mired above the
knee, and his hose and doublet had suffered heavily from the thorn
scrub.  But his dark face seemed content.  He had a mug of ale in
his hand--for Naps had revealed a secret store--and when he caught
Peter's eye he raised it to him.

"Greeting, Master Bonamy," he said.  "We are fated, it seems, to
forgather in strange places.  That cloak of mine, now?  You have
your own back, and I would welcome my own old mantle."

He laughed, but there was no malice in the laugh.  He seemed a new
being, a boyish, friendly figure, that played pranks and frankly
avowed them.  Peter answered in the same strain.

"The frost has gone, so you will need it the less.  But 'tis at
Mother Sweetbread's by Leafield under the Forest when you care to
seek it."

"I thank you for your stewardship.  I make you my compliments, too,
on the speed of your travels, for you cover the countryside like a
Welsh cattle-lifter.  I leave you by the Burford road, and twenty-
four hours later meet you on the Oxford plainstones, and now I find
you thirty miles off by the springs of Evenlode.  You must have
weighty business on your hands."

"Weighty enough, but less urgent than yours, it seems.  Have you
gotten yon gospeller into safe hiding at last?"

The man's face hardened.

"Please God, he is now where no Bishop's jackal will ever unearth
him!"  He stopped, for he saw the eyes of Brother Tobias fixed on
him, and he realised for the first time that Tobias wore the Oseney
habit.

"What does a monk in Little Greece?" he asked sharply of Naps, and
his eye was stern and wary, while his hand travelled to his side.

"Be comforted, master," said Naps.  "None that shelter here dare
speak what they learn beyond these walls.  That is the first of our
laws, and it is death to break it. . . .  These gentles know your
tale.  They, too, have had trouble this very day from the
Fettiplace folk that hunted you.  We be all comrades, and secret as
a stone tomb."

Then Tobias spoke.  He had had all the sleep he needed, and now sat
up, very wakeful.

"In spite of my habit, friend, I am not against you.  I am not of
those who would punish man for giving the Scriptures to the
commons--in truth I laboured myself in that cause long ere you were
born.  To-day there is a sad confusion on the matter in the
Church's rule and the King's laws.  I wish yon gospeller relief
from his tribulations.  My hand would never be lifted against such
as he."

Simon looked at him harshly, till the gentleness in the old man's
face and voice seemed to thaw his suspicions.

"Is it so?" he said.  "Then there is one honest Christian in the
abbeys?"

"There be many," Tobias answered.  "And there be many kinds of
Christian.  You are young and I am old, and youth is a hard judge.
God has not made all His servants of one mould."

"That is strange doctrine for an Oseney brother.  The Church would
have every man and woman conform to its own rusty pattern, and
those that jib at such antique moulds and seek the liberty of God's
children she dubs heretics and would consume with fire."

"You are harsh to the Church, good sir.  Maybe, you have met too
many worthless clerks."

"I have met worthy and worthless, but they are alike in bonds.
See, father.  I have been wearing my youth in far lands where there
is no room for cloistered virtues, and I have learned the greatness
of God in deep waters and on desperate battlefields.  I return to
find those who call themselves His servants in this land making a
mockery of His service--babes mazed in childish mummeries or
hucksters selling God's mercies for gain.  Wherefore I say--and I
will cry it on the housetops--that there is need of a harsh broom
and a strong broom in England."

"Doubtless," said Tobias.  "I have long pled for such a broom.  But
see that it truly sweeps out the foul corners, and does not hurt
the tender and gracious things."

"In such a sweeping frail things must be broke.  It is a cheap
price to pay for a cleaner land."

"When you have emptied the sanctuary and burned its old furniture
how will you furnish it anew?"

"With the plain truth of God's Scriptures," said Simon.

"That were well.  I have preached for thirty years that man must go
back to the Scriptures.  And yet--and yet.  The Church is a fold
for all, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, the child and the
grown.  If she do no more than preach the bare and difficult
sentences of God's Word, her meat will be too strong for her little
ones, and her poor ones.  The Word must be tempered and translated
for the weaker lambs of the fold."

"It must be the truth," said Simon, "the truth, the naked truth,
without human trimmings."

"The truth!"  Tobias dwelt long on the word.  "No doubt such fare
would be fit for your puissant youth.  But for the simple and the
unlettered? . . .  Moreover, what is the truth?  'Tis a question no
philosopher has yet answered.  What is the truth of the Scriptures?
There be many commentators, and they are not agreed, for Clement
says one thing, and Athanasius another, and Austin a third, and the
great St Thomas may differ from all."

Simon shook his head angrily.  "That is a monkish subtlety.  The
truth is plain to read for all that have eyes and an honest heart."

"The truth may be, the truth of man's salvation, but men are a
diversity of creatures, and it must present itself to them in
different forms.  I have lived in this world nigh three-score and
ten years, and I fear to circumscribe by mortal dogma the infinite
ways of God.  I incline to the belief that in the light of eternity
all our truths are shadows, and that the very truth we shall only
know hereafter.  Yet I think that every truth in its own place is a
substance, though it may be a shadow in another place.  And I think
that all such shadows have value for our souls, for each is a true
shadow, as the substance is a true substance."

Simon looked long at Tobias, and something melted in him under that
innocent gaze.

"I think you are a good man," he said.  "But what would you do in
the present discontents?  You will not deny that the Church has
fallen from its high estate, and that the religious houses are too
often haunts of lechery and greed."

Tobias smiled.  "I would use the broom--a stiff broom.  But I would
not burn down an ancient dwelling whose walls are sound because
there is filth in some of the rooms.  I would not give the worldly
man what was destined for God, and I would not, like the King's
grace, slay men because they account that to be a shadow which some
hold truth, and truth what many call shadow."

"Ay.  That's the rub and a plague on it!  I am a man that loves
clear courses.  I am for the King against the abbeys, but I am most
vehemently against the King in this matter of heresy.  I am of
those that the Spaniard calls Luteranos, who would have God's
revelation rewrit for simple men.  But for the one faith the
Bishops would burn me if they had the power, and for the other the
King would assuredly hang me. . . .  'Tis a hard choice, yet on the
whole I am for the King's way of it.  He has men around him who may
guide him into wiser roads.  But if the Church and the Pope once
again put their foot on his neck, then farewell to all hope for
England."

He cast his eye round the company.  Peter lay on the straw, his
eyes half shut; Naps was busy with the blackjack; Tobias sat erect
with his hood fallen back from his bald head; Dickon was asleep,
and Darking's sombre face was heavy with its own thoughts.

"We here in Little Greece," Simon cried, "are for the moment of one
company.  We can speak freely, for our lips hereafter are sealed.
There is word of a great revolt preparing against the King, with
the Church behind it, and the Church's serfs, and many great ones
whom Harry has flouted!  What know you of it, John Naps?  Your ear
is very close to English ground."

"Look Lincoln way," said the whipjack.  "The trouble has begun
there, and there is word that it is spreading northward."

"There is more in it than that.  The rising in the east is an
affair of peasants, which the King's men-at-arms will crush.  But
strange tales come out of the west, and that is a graver matter."

He suddenly dropped the guarded tone he had been using and spoke
out like a soldier crying a command.

"Who is this Master Bonamy that spends his time on the road between
Oxford and Avelard?  What part has he in those doings?  I have
heard a whisper of strange tales."

Peter's head buzzed like a hive, there was heaviness about his
eyes, and pain in the back of his neck.  He had scarcely listened
to the talk, for his wits were wool-gathering.  But he pulled
himself together at the challenge.

"Little Greece is a sanctuary," he said, speaking his words slowly
and with difficulty, "but it is not a confessional, and you, Master
Rede, have no warrant as an inquisitor. . . .  I am the Lord
Avelard's heir."

"Doubtless," said Simon.  "But what does the heir of Avelard do so
far from his manor west of Severn?  What does he at Avelard itself
and at Stowood and Wood Eaton?"

"I will answer you of my courtesy," said Peter.  "I am in those
parts because I am paying court to a lady--my lord's niece."

Simon started as if a whiplash had stung him.

"Sabine!  Mistress Beauforest!  Man, she is affianced to me.  We
were boy and girl together in the Boarstall woods."

Then his face flushed deep and his temper broke.

"The devil take you for your insolence! . . .  By God, you will
never get her. . . .  If yon old fox at Avelard play false to me
and her dead father, I will wring his neck though all Severn side
were at his back."



CHAPTER XI

HOW PETER CAME AGAIN TO AVELARD


Of the later events of that night Peter had no clear memory.  He
was conscious of trying to speak and finding utterance hard; his
mouth was dry, and the words stuck to his lips; also his head
ached.  After that came a blank, and the next thing he remembered
was lying, not on straw, but on a rough pallet bed with wet cloths
on his temples.  There seemed to be a pool of water in front of him
which glimmered in the darkness; it was a belt of sunlight coming
through the half-shuttered window in the barn.  There was a woman
there, an ancient woman whose face seemed familiar, and Darking sat
beside him on a three-legged stool. . . .  The pain in his head had
gone, but a wheel was still turning dizzily inside it, and his eyes
pained him so that he could not look at the pool of light.

Then, after another spell of oblivion, he heard Darking's voice,
and made sense of his words.  He was speaking to John Naps--he
could not mistake Naps's parrot-like white head.

"No more than a common fever," Darking was saying.  "He went down
like a felled ox--that is the way of youth that knows nothing of
sickness.  'Tis this soft weather.  When St Martin starts his
summer before the feast of Simon and Jude young blood must suffer.
Also he may have got a whiff of some malady by the Rustler's bed or
in that crypt where Lovell died.  God knows there were foul airs
enough in that hole to sicken an army."

The whipjack laid his horny claw on the wet clouts on Peter's brow.

"He burns like a lime-kiln," he said.  "Heaven send the holy one
make haste and bring a leech, for there is need here of drenching
and purging and blood-letting."

After that came confusion again.  His next memory was of Tobias
with a grave face, sitting by his bed and conning his breviary.
Then came a new figure--a wisp of a man with a small head and
a sharp nose, a figure like a heron, that stooped and pecked
at him.  He was conscious of little stabs of pain, and of spasms
of great weakness, after which he floated away on clouds into
forgetfulness. . . .

These were hard days for Brother Tobias.  To see the lad, whom he
had never known sick or sorry, lie helpless in fever, wrung his old
heart and put amazing vigour into his old bones.  There was a wise
man at Banbury, one Pyramus, who had studied medicine at Palermo;
so to Banbury went Tobias, and, having his own means of persuasion,
brought the leech straightway to Little Greece.  Dr Pyramus
pronounced it no common autumn fever.  He suspected poison, and
finally amended his diagnosis to an infection by evil breath,
whence breathed he could not tell.  He bled his patient with such
vigour that the boy's face became like tallow and Tobias could not
look at it without a heart pang.  He compounded noxious draughts,
made out of foul things like wood-lice, and spiders, and powdered
deer horn, and the dung of white doves, and these, mixed with hot
ale, Peter was compelled to swallow.  They did one thing
effectively, for they made him deathly sick, thereby relieving his
body of evil humours.

One day Mother Sweetbread stood beside him weeping, and with her
Madge of Shipton, who, to the scandal of Tobias, made spells with
well water and a lighted candle and the tail hairs of a black mare.
Tobias's own part was to keep the brow cool and the lips moist, to
prevent him tossing the blankets off him, and to hold his hand when
Peter clutched at the air in a feverish dream.  Also to pray,
incessantly, to God and God's Mother, and to all the saints who
furthered the healing art--St Blaize and St John the Almoner, St
Timothy and St Michael the Archangel, St Anthony who cures heats of
the skin, and St Lazarus who was himself once a youth raised by our
Lord from the dead.

The fever was stubborn, but whether it was the purgings and
bleedings, Goody Littlemouse's spells or Tobias's prayers, there
came a day when it left Peter, and he lay as weak as a kitten,
while the tides of life began to drift back slowly into his body.
Dr Pyramus came from Banbury for the last time, and pronounced over
him the curative benediction, half Latin and half Arabic, of the
Palermo physicians.  Then it was the task of others to speed the
patient up the slopes of health.  Goody Littlemouse came from
Shipton, and this time she did not weave spells.  A big fire was
lit, and a pot boiled, and she washed Peter in scalding water, and
wrapped him in a skin new stripped from a heifer calf.  Also her
cunning hands, strong as a bear's paws, picked out and kneaded
his flaccid muscles, and soothed the tormented nerves of neck
and face, and pounded his breast so that vigour should return to
his heart. . . .  Mother Sweetbread took up her quarters in Little
Greece, and made him broths of game and wild herbs, and frumenty
spiced with ginger, and, to quench his thirst, a gruel of barley
mixed with her own sloeberry cordial. . . .  Also Tobias came
again from Oseney, and, having given thanks for a son restored,
read to him the Colloquies of the great Erasmus, as well as the
Scriptures, and gave him the news of Oxford. . . .  It was now
long past St Martin's day, but the good saint's summer still held,
and presently Peter was carried to a chair and looked out on blue
skies and smoke-brown coverts, and sniffed the sweet wild odours
of the winter woods.

"God has sent you this sickness, my son," said Tobias, "for His own
purpose.  Deus nobis haec otia fecit.  You have had peace to make
your soul before the hour of trial comes.  First came that night at
Minster Lovell which was a purging of your heart, and then the
needful purging of your body, and last these days of quiet
reflection.  The ways of the Lord are altogether wise."

For a little, while his strength crept back to him, Peter lay in a
happy peace.  He felt himself purged indeed, a chamber clean and
swept for a new life to fill. . . .  But presently, as his vigour
renewed itself, the peace became cloudy.  He remembered dimly Simon
Rede's last words, but very clearly he was conscious of his
challenge.  Sabine's figure returned to haunt his memory.  He would
lie for hours dreaming of her, sometimes happy, sometimes vaguely
unquiet, now and then in the midnight hours uncommonly ill at ease.
While he was tied by the leg in Little Greece, what had become of
the girl--what was Simon Rede doing?  He had forgotten his greater
task.  For him Avelard was only Sabine's bower and Lord Avelard
only her guardian.

But little by little his old life rebuilt itself in his mind.  What
was a-foot in the world beyond the oak shaws?  One day John Naps
arrived, and he listened to his talk with Darking, who had come the
night before from Oxford.

"There is word from Avelard," said the latter; "my lord here is
bidden hold himself in readiness for a sudden call.  I had a
message in Stowood."

The whipjack nodded.

"There is a mighty to-do among the great folk," he cried.
"Flatsole is in Bernwood, fresh from the north, and he says there
is a fire alight in Yorkshire that the King's men cannot put out,
and a running to and fro of dukes and earls and King's messengers
like the pairing of partridges in February."

"There is a kindling in the west, too," said Darking.  "The priests
are broidering a banner with the Five Wounds, and Neville is gone
to Wales.  The hour is near when he of Avelard must stir himself,
and that means work for our young lord.  King Harry, who has been
looking east and north, is beginning to throw a glance westward.  I
had news in Oxford yesterday.  Crummle, they say, is more anxious
about Severn than Trent, and is turning his pig's face this way.
That spells danger.  Is my lord safe here from prying eyes?"

The whipjack spat solemnly.  It was his favourite gesture of
contempt.

"As safe as if he were in Avelard with all the armed west around
him.  Since the hour he fell sick, my posts and pickets have been
on every road.  'Twould be harder for one unbidden to enter Little
Greece than to kill and cart a buck in Windsor Forest under the
castle walls, and any Peeping Tom would soon be an acorn on the
highest oak. . . .  But if there be war coming, I fear it may get
foul weather.  I like not this false summertide which stretches
towards Yule.  The sky curdles too much of an evening, and the wild
geese are flighting in from the sea."

"What do you fear?" Darking asked, for the whipjack was famous for
his weather lore.

"Snow," was the answer.  "Wind, maybe, but I think snow.  There
will be deep snow by Andrewmas."



But the feast of St Edmund the Martyr came, and still the weather
held, and on St Catherine's day the sky was still clear, though the
wind was shifting by slow degrees against the sun to the north.  By
now Peter was on his feet, and able to walk a mile or two with
comfort, right down through the alleys amid the thorn scrub to
where Naps's sentries kept watch.  Indeed, he could have walked
farther had not Mother Sweetbread commanded moderation, for he felt
his limbs as vigorous as ever, and had that springing sense of a
new life which falls only to youth recovering from a fever.

On the night after the festival of Catherine, Darking came to
Little Greece--in a great hurry, for he was in the saddle and not
a-foot.

"How goes it, my lord?" he asked.  "Are your limbs your own once
more?  Can you back a horse for a matter of twenty miles?"

"I am strong enough to stride that distance in four hours," said
Peter.

"Well and good.  The word for you is mount and ride.  You must be
in Avelard by to-morrow's noon."

So there was a furbishing up of Peter's raiment, and the horse he
had brought from Avelard was fetched from its stable in the forest,
where it had been bestowed after the loosing of the gospeller at
the Holt.  And next morning he set out with Darking, who conveyed
him only a little way, since he had business of his own on Cherwell
side.  The sky was still bright, though the air stung when they
left the Evenlode vale for the wolds of Stow.  It was wintertime
clear enough, for there were no larks rising on the hills or
swooping plovers--only big flocks of skimming grey fieldfares, and
strings of honking geese passing south, and solemn congregations of
bustards, and in the wet places clouds of squattering wildfowl.
But the grass was still green, and, though the trees were leafless,
the bushes were so bright with fruit that they seemed to make a
second summer.

"Heaven has sent a breathing space to the world as well as to me,"
thought Peter.  "I wonder what it portends.  Maybe a wild
Christmas."

That morning's ride was to dwell in his memory like a benediction,
for it seemed that from his sickness he had won a new youth.  Every
sight and sound and scent charmed his recovered senses, and his
thoughts had again the zest and the short horizons of the boy.  He
schooled his spirits to temperance.  He reminded himself that no
more for him was the foolish dream of worldly glory.  He was a
soldier vowed to a selfless cause.  But he found a substitute for
drums and trumpets in this very abnegation.  He recalled the many
who had lost the world to gain it, and found exhilaration in the
thought of a high dramatic refusal.  The verse of Boethius ran in
his head--


     "Ite nunc fortes ubi celsa magni
      Ducit exempli via."


He sung it aloud to the empty wolds:


     "Go forth, ye brave, on the high road
      Where honour calls to honour's wars;
      Strip from your back the craven load;
      Go spurn the earth and win the stars."


In his new mood he wove for himself delicious dreams of a world
where the philosopher would be the king, and Christ and Plato would
sit at the same table, and the Psalmist and Virgil would join their
voices in the celestial Marriage-song.

But the mood could not last, and before he had come to the last
edge of Cotswold and looked down on Severn, he had different
fancies.  Down in the valley was Sabine, in an hour he would be
under the same roof, in an hour he would see her eyes. . . .  He
was no longer the seer and the dreamer, but the common lover, with
a horizon bounded by his mistress's face.  The verses which now
filled his head had no taint of sanctity, but were the snatches
of wandering goliards, to whom women and wine were the sum of
life. . . .  He would make for her songs of his own--her eyes
should be hymned as Catullus had hymned the burning eyes of Lesbia;
he would make her famous among men as Peter Abelard had made the
Abbess of the Paraclete, so that, like Eloise, men would speak
of her beauty long after it was dust.

Arrived at Avelard, he was taken straight to my lord's chamber.
Lord Avelard wore a heavy furred robe, for his blood was thin, and
a fire of logs made the place like an oven to one fresh from the
sharp out-of-doors.  The old man kissed Peter on both cheeks.

"You have been ill, my son?  Only stern business kept me from your
bedside, but I had constant advices, and you were in good hands.
My faith! but sickness has made a hero of you.  You look older and
sager and more resolute, if still a trifle over-lean.  Sit, my son,
for you must husband your strength. . . .  The moment is very near.
The Welshman is most deeply entangled in the north, and from what I
hear both heart and guile are failing him.  Our plans are on the
edge of completion, and the word has gone forth that on St Lucy's
day our folk begin to draw together.  After that we move swift.
You shall eat your Christmas dinner in Oxford, and, if God please,
you shall sit in London ere Candlemas."

The waxen face had now more colour in it, and the approach of the
hour of action seemed to have put fresh life into his blood, for he
moved briskly, and fetched from a side table a mass of charts and
papers.

"Now for your own part.  In the next week you will visit some of
the centres of our rising and show yourself to those who will
follow you.  'Faith, they will think you St George himself, if you
are properly habited, for sickness has made you like a young
archangel. . . .  Meantime there are these parchments for you to
put your hand to.  They are, in a manner of speaking, the pay-rolls
of your army, only you pay not with coined gold but with
assurances.  Your followers will spend much substance in your
cause, and doubtless much blood.  If you win, it is right that they
should be recompensed by some increase to their estate."

The parchments were many, and they made a most comprehensive pay-
roll.  To his horror Peter saw that they related mainly to Church
lands.  There were one or two royal manors to be apportioned, but
most were the property of the abbeys and priories of the Thames and
Severn vales.  The lists made very free with the estates of the
greater houses--Gloucester and Tewkesbury and Malmesbury and
Evesham--and bore somewhat less hard upon the smaller foundations.
Eynsham and Bicester and Hailes and Winchcombe were left with a
larger proportion than Pershore.  His own Oseney was to be
comprehensively despoiled and all her rich lands about Bibury were
to be taken from her.  The abbeys themselves were to remain,
apparently, but they were to remain with less than a tithe of their
old wealth.  It was a spoliation more drastic than Crummle's.

Peter read on with a darkening face.  Even the revelation here
given of the strength of those who followed him woke no response in
his heart.  He was shocked to the bone that he, the champion of the
Church, should be her chief despoiler. . . .  To each piece of land
was attached the name of the new owner.  The great lords had the
lion's share--Avelard himself, and Exeter, and Rutland, and
Neville--even Northumberland.  But there was good provision for the
lesser gentry, and the names of Sudeley and Boteler and Tracey and
Lacey and Noel bulked large. . . .  Even Fettiplace, his late
pursuer, was there.  Also the wool merchants of the Calais staple,
who were doubly valuable, since they could contribute good money,
as well as stalwart prentices.  Not one of them seemed to be
absent--Drury, Midwinter, Cely, Bartholomew, Grevel, Hicks, Marner,
Tame, Sylvester, Whittington--representing every stone town from
Stroud to Witney, from Fairford on Thames to Stratford on Avon.

Peter conned the documents with an angry heart, and took so long
over it that Lord Avelard tried to turn the leaves faster.

"You are mistaken in me, my lord," he said at length.  "May God
forgive me if I put my hand to any such parchment!  Are we the
devil's scriveners to hack and whittle at God's inheritance and
break down the carved work of the sanctuary?"

The waxen face did not change, or the steely regard of the pale
eyes.

"Patience, my son.  There is no purpose of malevolence against Holy
Church.  But her possessions have grown somewhat cumbersome for her
handling.  The wiser abbots and bishops are of the same mind, and
the people of England are set on the freeing of the religious
lands.  Think you that otherwise the Welshman could have done what
he has done?  Crummle would have had his throat slit in the first
week of his visitations if England had not approved the purpose,
though condemning its executors."

"Maybe you speak truth, and the abbeys need pruning.  I know well
that some of them fester like cesspools.  But that pruning must be
done with a single eye to the glory of God and the comfort of His
people.  My lord, your plan is common banditry.  You would plunder
God to enrich the proud, and that were a deed accursed of Heaven."

Peter's wrath had given him assurance, and he faced the elder man
with a firm chin and a glowing eye.

"These same proud," Lord Avelard said quietly, "are the men who
will fight for you and set you in a high place.  Hear reason, my
son.  An army must be paid, and where is your war chest?  You have
not a groat which you can call your own.  I and some few others are
willing to risk our substance in your cause, which is also the
cause of England.  But for the others--the rank and file--they will
venture only if they see their profit. . . .  Consider the
interests of Holy Church herself.  The Welshman will wholly root
her out of England and give her possessions to those who are
sharers in his iniquity.  That is the avowed purpose of Crummle and
his kind, and it is they who control the King.  Is it not better to
stablish her securely, even if she herself have to pay in part for
that security?  Consider, my son.  We dwell in a fallible world
where great deeds can only be compassed by reckoning with the
foibles of mankind."

"Nevertheless," said Peter stubbornly, "I will not set my hand to
these parchments.  There must be some purging of the Church for the
Church's sake, but it cannot be done in such fashion.  I will not
be privy to giving what is dedicated to God and His poor to those
who have abundance.  Let us make a hazard, my lord, and if we win,
then is the time to effect a decent and orderly reformation.  There
be Church lands which have been ill guided and may well be
entrusted to better hands.  There be royal manors to repay my army.
There be . . ."

It was Lord Avelard's turn to flush, and his voice was no longer
quiet, but full of a cold passion.

"A murrain on all clerks!" he cried.  "You have the accursed taint
in your blood, got I know not how--'tis not the strong wine of
Bohun.  I had thought Solomon Darking would have put more wisdom
into your skull.  Duke Edward and Duke Harry would have burned
every monkish rookery in the land if it would have furthered one
ell their march to the throne.  You are a priest, it seems, and no
soldier, and who will strike a blow for a peevish priestling, even
though he have Buckingham's blood?"

Then he seemed to put a check on his temper, and his voice
softened.

"Forgive me, son.  I am an old man, and do not love to have my
plans questioned. . . .  We will let these parchments sleep for the
moment.  Maybe, when you have seen something of those who follow
you, you will come to another mind.  Trust me, I am no less devout
a son of the Church than you, though I was not bred in a cloister.
I am too near the grave to do aught to imperil my salvation."



In the afternoon came Dickon to Avelard, having been delayed at
Little Greece till his new suit arrived from the Witney tailor.
With some weeks of good feeding behind him he looked a different
child from the starved urchin at the Holt, and in his servant's
livery of sober brown he cut a personable figure.  When Peter went
to his chamber to change his clothes before supper, he found Dickon
in waiting, handling curiously the rich garments of silk and
taffeta and velvet.

"We are in a lord's palace," said the boy, "and you yourself are
now a lord.  With what softness the great ones clothe themselves!"
And he laid a satin doublet against his hard cheek.

Peter had not yet cast eye on Sabine.  She did not appear at
dinner, and all afternoon he had ranged idly through the park,
hoping to catch a glimpse of her gown or hear the feet of her
horse.  That evening the northern sky had banked up ominously with
clouds, and the wind had settled fairly into that quarter--a steady
wind blowing through leagues of ice.  So Peter had been fain to
seek the hearth of the great hall, and let his cheeks grow hot in
the glow of it, while he reflected upon the events of the morning.
Once more he was lapped in the luxury of Avelard, and it moved him
little; for certain boyish weaknesses seemed to have been burned
out in his recent fever.  He was no longer thrilled by dainty fare
and fine raiment, as he had been a month before.  Now he was
conscious of a stronger purpose in his heart, of more masterful
blood in his veins, of that power to command which was his
birthright.  To-day he was doubly Bohun.  Also he realised that he
had that first of a leader's gifts, a fine carelessness of self, so
that if need be he could stand alone.  He was prepared to fling
soul and body into the arena, to be exalted or trampled under as
God ordained. . . .  And then he was forced to confess to himself
that this boasted self-sufficiency was a lie.  He did not stand
alone; there was one in this very house who could tumble him from
his pinnacle by a glance of her eye.

At supper Lord Avelard kept his room, but Sabine appeared.  The
meal was served in the Great Chamber, as on the first occasion, and
when the food was set on the table the servants withdrew.  This
time the girl had discarded her black robes for a wonderful gown of
silver tissue, and her jewels were not sapphires but stones that
darted crimson fire.  She gave him both hands at her entrance, but
not her cheek.  Tonight she seemed not kinswoman or friend, but
possible mistress, certain queen.  Her pale beauty had authority in
it, and her eyes a possessive pride.

"Have you brought your lute?" he asked.  "Once you ravished the
soul out of me with your singing."

She laughed and looked at him from under drooped eyelids.

"To-night we take counsel, my lord.  The matter is too grave for
music."

At first they spoke little.  The girl's eyes smiled on him, but not
with common friendliness.  She seemed to be appraising him, to be
striving to read something in a face which his recent fever had
made keener and finer, for there were little puckers of thought on
her brow.  Also--or so it seemed to him--there was a new respect in
her air, and with it a certain hesitation.  Once or twice she
appeared to be nerving herself for words which she found it hard to
utter.  There was between them a thin invisible veil of ice.

It was Peter who broke it.

"Has Simon Rede been here in the past month?" he asked abruptly.

"He came three weeks since," she answered, "a week after you left
Avelard."  There was no sign of discomposure in her face.

"He came to pay court to you?"

She laughed.

"Maybe.  We were sweethearts as children, but that is long ago.
Does my lord do me the honour to be jealous?"

"I would be glad to learn that he got a flat denial."

She shrugged her white shoulders.  "There was no need.  Master
Simon's love-making did not stretch thus far.  I am the ward of my
lord Avelard, who has something to say in the disposal of my hand,
and he does not look kindly on Master Rede."

"But you yourself?"

"I am a woman grown and a woman must think of many things.  I am no
green girl to be led captive by a plumed bonnet and a long sword
and a soldier's airs.  What has Master Simon to offer but the
mouldering walls of Boarstall, or more likely a wet bed in the
forest, for he is ever at odds with those in power.  We women, who
would be wives, love peace and surety."  There was a curious sudden
hardness in face and voice.

"Yet I have heard that a woman will risk all for love."

"Ay, for true love."  Her eyes did not melt.  "When true love rides
the road, some women will sell their shift and follow him.  But I
do not love Master Simon, though I have a tenderness for an old
playmate."

She paused.  There was honesty, a kind of boyish frankness, in her
tone.

"I do not think I was born for such love.  I have never felt those
raptures, which youth calls passion and eld green-sickness.  Maybe
'tis a sore lack, maybe good fortune, but so we Beauforests are
made.  We are good wives to those we choose, for we are loyal
comrades and can play high and bold like a man.  There burns in us
a fierce ambition, and it is no idle fancy, for we have the power
in us to deal with high matters and the courage to use that power.
Make no mistake, my lord.  We are no common housewives to tremble
at a husband's nod, and bear a child once a year, and see to his
cordials and pasties."

The veil of ice between them had gone and so had the rosy mist of
sex.  Peter felt that a human soul confronted him, a soul fierce
and candid, earthy and gallant, and no mere lovely body shrouded in
silks and jewels.

"You were meant for a queen," he said, and there was reverence in
his voice.

"Maybe.  Assuredly I was not meant for a squire's lady."

In that instant of intimate revelation Peter's love blazed to its
height, and yet at the back of his head he realised its
hopelessness.  Here was one more starkly contrary than Lord
Avelard.

"I would make you a queen," he said, and he lingered over the
words, for he knew that he was nearing an irrevocable choice.

She rose and curtseyed, gravely, without coquetry.

"I am honoured, my lord," she said.

"I love you, Sabine.  It is true love with me, for I live with your
face in my heart--I cannot see the light for you--I cannot pray for
the thought of you--I desire you more than my salvation."

"Than your salvation?" she echoed.  "Then you are indeed a lover
and no clerk."

For one moment it seemed as if his ardour awoke in her a like
response.  Her face grew gentler, her eyes softened.  Peter
realised that her arms were waiting for him. . . .  And yet he did
not move.  The word "salvation" held him.  Was he honest with her,
as she had been with him?

She saw his hesitation, and attributed it to the true motive, for
her voice was cool again.

"I am willing to be a queen . . . I am willing to risk all
hazards by your side, and if you fall to fall with you like a
true wife. . . .  But I must be certain that that is indeed your
purpose, my lord.  I will not link my fortunes to one who is
half-hearted, for in this cause it must be venture all."

He did not answer, for he was in the throes of a great temptation.
Never had she seemed more desirable.  This was not the shimmering
girl with some of the airs of a light-in-love, who had first
enchained his heart, but a woman with greatness in her, a true
queen, a comrade to ride the fords with were they agreed about the
road.  His longing was less to have her in his arms than to see the
light of confidence and affection in those clear eyes. . . .  But
were they not poles apart?  How could he, who had set common
ambition behind him, keep step with one whose heart was set so
firmly on earthly magnificence?

"I will venture all," he said.  But as the words left his mouth he
knew that he lied.

She knew it also.

"Your clerkly scruples?" she asked.  "My uncle has told me of them.
You would lead an army and yet refuse to provide its reward.  That
is mere folly, my lord.  This is no perfect world, and he who
believes it such is doomed to fail."

"I will venture my life--my hope--my peace--but not my chance of
Heaven," he said, and his voice in his own ears sounded small and
far away.  He realised miserably that he had crossed the stream and
that there was no returning.

Her quick mind saw that here was finality.  She laughed bitterly.

"What kind of gage are these?  Life, hope, peace!  A common soldier
will risk as much. . . .  It is as I thought.  You are a clerk to
the bone, and had better get you back to your cell. . . .  Nay, I
do not blame you.  You have been honest with me, as I with you.
But you are not the one to upset the Welshman.  A strong man will
risk soul as well as body, and look to make his ultimate peace with
a God who understands our frailties, since He ordained them."

She rang the silver bell to summon the servants.

"I will never be your queen, my lord," was her last word, "for you
will never be a king."



Peter went to his chamber with a chill at his heart.  He felt that
in the last hour the youthfulness of the morning had fallen from
him and that he had grown very old.  The room was warm and
perfumed, but its comfort deepened his chill.  He flung open the
lattice and stared into the night.

Snow was coming.  He smelt it, and saw it stored in heavy clouds
under the fitful moon.  An owl hooted by the wall, and from the
valley came the sound of wild swans travelling with the wind.
There was a light far off burning in some hollow of the woods. . . .
He drew in his head, and the cold at his heart was lightened.
The splendour of Avelard was not for him, but he had still a share
in the wild elemental world.



CHAPTER XII

OF THE VISION IN THE SNOW


Next day they were in the saddle soon after dawn, Lord Avelard
muffled in three cloaks and wearing an extra surcoat.  The snow had
not begun to fall, but the world lay under the spell of its coming.
The sky was leaden grey and, though there was no frost, the earth
seemed to be bound in a rigor like an ague; nothing stirred, not a
leaf on the tree or a bird in the bush; the very streams seemed to
hush their flow in a palsy of expectancy.  Even on Peter's young
blood the cold smote like a blow.

The old man said not a word of their talk of yesterday.  He seemed
to cherish no resentment, and, so far as the discomfort of the
weather permitted, to be in a cheerful humour.

"I am taking you to Neville," he told Peter.  "My lord of
Abergaveny is the greatest man on the Marches and can horse five
thousand spears, besides what he can bring from his Welsh dales.
The man is sick--has long been sick--but his spirit burns the more
fiercely in his frail body, and he is also a skilled soldier.  What
he lacks in bodily strength will be supplied by his brethren Sir
Thomas and Sir Edward. . . .  My lord is your near kin, for he
married your sister by blood, the Lady Mary, now dead."

"Why is he one of us?" Peter asked.  "He stands high at court."

A laugh like a frog's croak came from the old man.

"He has some matter of private grievance against the Welshman.
Likewise he would increase his estates.  He is the richest man in
the west country, for he heired the broad Beauchamp lands, but he
would leave his son still vaster possessions.  Speak him fair, my
son, for he has a temper spoiled by much dealing with slippery
Welsh."  And he shot at Peter a glance of many meanings.

"Bethink you, my lord, while there is still time," said Peter, for
in the night watches he had been pondering his position.  "Am I the
man for your purpose?  Would not my lord of Exeter better serve
it?"

"May the mercy of God forbid!" Lord Avelard cried.  "The Nevilles
would be posting to London to lay their swords at the King's feet.
The name of Courtenay is not the name of Bohun, and has no spell to
summon England."

They found the chief of the Nevilles in his house of Marchington by
the Severn.  He was of the old school, wearing the clothes of
another age, and eschewing the shaven fashion of the Court, for he
had a forked grey beard like the tushes of a boar.  His massive
figure had grown bulky, his legs tottered, the colour of his face
was that of his hair, but he had the old habit of going always
armed, and supported indoors a weight of body armour that might
have been at Agincourt.  The house had not been changed since the
time of the Edwards, and was a rough draughty place, very different
from the comfort of Avelard.  There was a pale woman flitting in
the background, his latest wife, who had once been his mistress,
but she did not come near the strangers, and the party of three sat
in the chilly hall on bare stools, as if they had met at a leaguer.

Neville looked at Peter long and searchingly.

"Ned's son, by God!" he exclaimed.  "I would know that nick in the
upper lip out of ten thousand.  You have kept him well hidden, or
some spy of Henry's would have unearthed him, and he would have
tested Henry's mercies. . . .  Hark ye, lad, you are my brother,
child though you be, for in your sister, now with God, I had as
good a wife as a man of my habits deserves.  You are abbey-bred and
no soldier?  So much the better, say I, for you will leave the
business of war to such as understand it.  Half Henry's bungling
has come from his belief that he is a new Csar. . . ."

To Peter's surprise this man, whom, according to report, greed
spurred to action in spite of age and sickness, spoke no word of
those ill-omened parchments at Avelard.  He was new back from
Wales, and had much to say of the levies due from thence; they
would march on a certain day, so as to be at the meeting-point in
Cotswold by St Lucy's eve.  His brother, Sir Thomas, would lead
them; he was even now busy on Usk and Wye.  All Gwent and Powysland
would march, and many of the new-settled English would wear
saffron.  There was still good fighting stuff in the dales--bowmen
like those of the old wars and squires like Sir Davy Gam.  The
grandson of old Rhys ap Thomas was with them, him who had put
Harry's father on the throne--he had seen at Dynevor the great
stirrups used at Bosworth--and as the grandsire had set up the
Tudor so the grandson would help to pull him down. . . .  Then he
outlined the plan of campaign, and Peter listened with some stir
in his heart.  They would march swiftly on Oxford, which would
at once be surrendered, for they had friends within.  It was
altogether needful for their security to have a docile Oxford in
their rear, for the city was the key of the route between Thames
and Severn. . . .  But they would not tarry there, though it might
be necessary to hang a few rogues for the general comfort--some
of Crummle's dogs--Dr John London and others. . . .  After that
they would not take the valley road to London by way of Windsor;
but would move on the capital in two bodies, one going by the
backside of Chiltern and coming down from the north, the other
keeping the Berkshire and Surrey downs and attacking from the
south.

"We must have hard ground for our march," said the old campaigner,
"for at this season the valleys are swamps. . . .  Also by this
device we achieve two mighty ends.  Our northern force cuts in
between London and the King's armies in Lincoln and York, which by
all tales are already in some straits, and it will hinder Henry,
too, from drawing support from Suffolk and Norfolk.  Our southern
force will sever London from the King's friends in Kent and on the
sea-coast.  We shall build a dyke on each side of him, and the only
open country will be to the west, which is the road of our own
folk."

There was immense vigour in the speech and eyes of the old man, but
the strength of his body soon ebbed, and he had to be laid every
now and then on a leathern settle till his breath came back to him.
At the end of one of these bouts Peter found the sufferer's eyes
fixed on him.

"The new brother you have brought me is to my liking, my lord.  He
is as handsome a babe as you will see in a year of Sundays.  Have
you found him a wife?"

"It is proposed," said Lord Avelard gravely, "that if our venture
succeed, he shall marry the King's daughter, the Lady Mary."

The old man chuckled.

"Policy, policy!  A wise step, doubtless, for the commons have a
weakness for the lady and her sad mother.  Also, if she has the
Tudor in one half of her, she has the high blood of Emperors in the
other.  But, by the rood of Asseline, she hath an ugly face and the
tint of Cheshire whey. . . .  Yet cheer up, brother.  'Tis no bad
thing to have a plain wife, for it whets a man's zest for other and
fairer women.  I, who speak, have proved it."

As they rode homeward in the late afternoon Peter's thoughts were
busy.  He believed that he read Lord Avelard's purpose--to allow
the matter of the parchments to sleep, but by this very silence to
let Peter commit himself unconsciously, so that, in the event of
victory, he should find over him that stiffest of compulsions, the
will of a victorious army.  He had accompanied him to Marchington
to prevent undue candour on his part towards Neville, though, as it
had fallen out, Neville's thoughts had been on another bent.  But
why this tale of the daughter of Catherine, who was devout among
the devout?

"You would marry me to the Queen's daughter?" he said to his
companion after a long spell of silence.

"Ay," was the answer, and there was a dry bitterness in the tone.
"You are unworthy of beauty, so we fall back on piety.  We must
reap what vantage we can out of your monkish tastes."



The other journeys Peter made alone, for in them it seemed that
Lord Avelard scented no danger.  Some were to the houses of strong
squires, who received him as Buckingham's son and would have kissed
his stirrups.  At Stanway the family priest, a man like an ancient
prophet, blessed him solemnly, and old Sir John Tracey and his five
sons knelt as at a sacrament.  At Burwell he found a lord so bitter
against the King that he asked for no reward except the hope of
seeing the Tudor green and white in the mire.  At Abbots-lease he
was met by a hundred men of those deep pastures, all girt for war,
and the banner of the Five Wounds was consecrated and exalted, and
in the burr of Gloucestershire he heard the old recruiting song of
the Crusaders,


     "O man, have pity upon God."


As he travelled the roads, he realised that Lord Avelard knew but
little of one side of the movement he controlled.  The great lords
might rise for worldly profit or private vengeance, but here in the
west, in outland places and among plain men, there was smouldering
the same passion which in Lincoln and the Yorkshire dales was now
bursting into flame.  They were ready to fight, not for the abbeys,
maybe, or even for the Church, but for what they deemed their
souls' salvation.  In the churchyard of Ashton-under-Bredon he had
listened to the parson chanting to a pale and weeping crowd of
armed peasants the tremendous prophecies of Zephaniah, and had felt
in his own heart the solemn exaltation of a crusader.

"Juxta est dies Domini magni," the hoarse voice had risen and
fallen like a wandering wind, "dies tribulationis et angusti . . .
dies tenebrarum et caliginis . . . dies tub et clangoris super
civitates munitas et super angulos excelsos."

For certain these were dies tenebrarum, for the snow still tarried,
though its shadow darkened.  On his journeys Peter was accompanied
by six of the Avelard men-at-arms, and by Dickon, mounted on a grey
palfrey, and wearing the black and gold Avelard liveries.  The hill
country lay in a gloom, which was not a fog, for distances could be
perceived, but everything was drained of colour and frozen into a
tenebrous monotony.  Daily the sky seemed to sink nearer the earth.
The first utter silence had gone.  Now, though there was no wind,
the trees and grasses shook and shivered eerily as if some tremor
had passed through the ground.  It was weather to lie heavy on a
man's spirits, for not only was the cold enough to freeze the
marrow, but there seemed to be in the air a dull foreboding.  The
Avelard varlets never whistled or sang; there was no merriment at
the wayside taverns; the horses, well fed on grain and therefore
likely to be fractious in the cold air, now plodded like oxen; the
sheep had been brought in from the wolds to wattled shelters, where
they huddled shivering with scared eyes.

One afternoon on the road between Avelard and Colne Peter saw an
encampment by the wayside--half a dozen shelters of boughs and
straw around a great fire which burned cheerfully in the brume.
Tending it was a man with a vast fat face and a paunch like a
promontory, in whom he recognised Timothy Penny-farthing, him whom
they called True Timothy, the master of the palliards.  Peter bade
his men ride on with Dickon, and turned aside to the blaze.

It was as if he had trod on a wasps' nest.  Timothy, unperturbed,
continued to feed the fire, but from the beehive shelters appeared
a swarm of foul faces and verminous rags, and the glitter of many
knives.

Peter sat his horse and waited, till Timothy turned his face
towards him, which was not till he had adjusted properly an iron
kettle.

"How far is it to the skirts of Wychwood?" he asked.

"As far as to Peter's Gate," came the answer, delivered cavalierly,
almost insolently.

"Alack," said Peter, "I . . . shall . . . not . . . be . . .
there . . . in . . . time."

The words wrought a miracle.  Every foul head disappeared into its
burrow, and Timothy's flitch of a face assumed an expression of
gravity and respect.  He came forward from the fire, and bent his
forehead till it touched Peter's left stirrup.  Then he led him a
little way apart.

"You have the Word, master.  Have you also the message?  Solomon
Darking told us that the hour for it was nigh."

"Nigh, but not yet.  My command is that you and all wandering men
be ready against the feast of St Lucy."

"Your command, my lord?  Then are you he we look for?"

"The same.  The same who with Darking attended your parliament at
Little Greece."

"Yon forest lad!  Soft in the wits, said Darking.  'Twas a good
jape to put upon the Upright Men."  Timothy chuckled.  "Have you
any orders for us palliards?"

"Not yet.  How go things underground in England?"

"We be awake--awake like badgers in April.  When the hour comes,
there will be a fine stirring among our old bones.  The word has
gone out among the Upright Men from the Black Mountain to Ivinghoe
Beacon, and south to the seashore, and north to the Derwent dales.
There be much ado, likewise, among the great folk, but that your
lordship knows better than me. . . .  There is one piece of news I
had but this morning.  They say that the King's grace is disquieted
about the westlands, and may come himself to cast an eye over them.
They say it is his purpose to keep Christmas at Woodstock."

Peter cried out.  "I had heard nothing of that."

The palliard shook his head wisely.  "True it may be, natheless.  I
had it from a sure hand.  'Twill serve our purpose nobly, my lord.
'Tis better if the fox blunder into the hounds than to have to dig
him out of his earth."

"Let the word go out," said Peter, "that any further news of this
be brought to me at Avelard."

Timothy nodded.

"It shall go by Solomon Darking."  Then he sniffed the air.  "There
is but one danger to your cause, my lord.  This devil's weather may
upset the wisest plan of lording and vagabond, for there is no
striving against the evil humour of the skies."

"What do you make of it?"  Peter cast his eye over the darkening
landscape, which seemed void of life as a sepulchre.

"There will be snow," was the answer, "a cruel weight of snow.
Look ye, the hedgehog, when he snuggles down in winter-time, makes
two vents to his cell, one north, one south.  He will stop up
neither except for the sternest need.  Now he hath stopped up the
north vent.  We have seen it in every wood, for we know his ways
and often dig him out for our supper, since a winter hedgehog will
fry like an eel in his own fat.  That means snow such as you and I
have not known, for the thing has not happened in my lifetime,
though I have heard my father tell how he saw it in the black
winter of '87. . . .  I will tell you another thing.  The dotterels
have all gone from High Cotswold.  When they come in flocks it
means good weather, but when they leave it means death to beast and
man."

"Snow might serve our purpose well," said Peter.

"Ay, a modest snow, with a frost to bind it.  That were noble
weather for armed men.  But not mountains of snow which smother the
roads, and above all not melting snow.  Your folk will come from
far places and must ford many streams.  I dread the melting wind
which makes seas of rivers and lakes of valleys.  Robin Hood feared
little above ground, but he feared the thaw-wind."



That night came a message from Darking, who was in south Cotswold
near the Stroud valley, and begged that Peter should go to him to
meet certain doubting squires of those parts.  Lord Avelard
approved.  "They are small folk in that quarter," he said, "and
therefore the more jealous.  'Twere well to confirm their loyalty
by a sight of you."

So early next morning Peter set out--this time unattended, for the
journey was short, and he proposed to return well before the
darkening.

To his surprise Sabine declared that she would accompany him for
part of the road.  She wished to accustom two young eyases to the
hood, and to try the mettle of a new Norway falcon.  So, with a
couple of falconers in attendance, the two rode out of Avelard
towards the scarp of the hills and the open country.  It meant for
Peter some slight deviation from his route, which should have lain
nearer the valley bottom.  The girl was muffled in furs, her horse
had a frieze blanket beneath its saddle, and on her head she wore a
close-fitting bonnet of white ermine.

The weather was changing.  The clouds hung closer to earth than
ever, but it was no longer a still cold.  Something which was less
a wind than an icy shiver seemed to be coming out of the north.
There was a deathly oppression in it, which weighted Peter's
spirits and kept the chattering falconers dumb.  Sabine alone did
not appear to feel it.  Her cheeks glowed, her eyes sparkled within
their ermine cincture.  She looked the one thing alive in a world
of death.

The hawking proved a farce.  For one thing there was no game.  Not
a rabbit stirred from the clumps of furze, or hare from the
bracken; there was nowhere the flutter of a wing or the rustle of a
moving beast.  The hawks, too, behaved oddly.  The eyases clung
dully to their leashes, as if they were mewing, and seemed to have
no wish to get rid of their rufter-hoods.  The splendid Norway
tiercel, when cast free, instead of ringing up the sky, returned to
its perch after a short wavering flight, as if it sought the
protection of man.  There was no chance of serving it by showing a
quarry, for there was no quarry to show.  The cold bit into the
bone, and every now and then came that ominous shudder from the
northern sky.

Even Sabine's youth and health were not proof against the
oppression.

"The world is dead," she said, and there was awe in her light
tones.  "I and my hawks must needs go home, for they cannot hunt in
a desert."

Then something in the muffled sky and the menacing air frightened
her.

"This is no weather to be out in, my lord," she turned to Peter.
"Come home with us, for there is mischief afoot.  I can hear its
hoofs drumming on the hills."  There was anxiety in her eye, almost
kindness.

"I must keep tryst," said Peter.  "But I will be back at Avelard
within four hours, and I think I will forestall the snow."

"At any rate, take one of my men with you," she pled.

He shook his head.  "I thank you for your kindness, mistress.  But
he would only delay me, since I am better mounted.  But do you go
back to the fireside, and have a hot posset ready for my return.  I
am like to be chilly enough."

"A wilful man must have his way," she said, as she swung her horse
round.  "Heaven send the snow tarries.  If it come, take the valley
road home, for these hills will be death."

Peter set spurs to his horse, and as his pace quickened the air cut
his face like a file.  But he did not regard it, for his heart was
hot within him.  Longing for Sabine engulfed him like a flood.  The
sudden kindness in her eyes, her glowing figure, instinct with
youth and life among the drooping hawks and pinched falconers, her
soft voice which was like a fire in the winter cold--these things
made him sick with regret.  Here was a woman who was life
incarnate, and he had renounced her for a scruple.  Here was one
who would be like a lamp in the darkness that awaited him, and he
had rejected that light. . . .  He choked down the thoughts, but
they made a weight on his heart and a confusion in his brain.

He reached the appointed place by noon, and found Darking in the
company of a half-dozen loutish squires who had been passing the
time with dice and strong ale.  It is likely that the sight of
Peter was well fitted to impress them, for he came among them ruddy
from the road, and his preoccupation made his manner high and his
speech peremptory as befitted Buckingham's son.  There was no trace
of the Oseney clerk in the young lord who spoke as one accustomed
to obedience, and gave orders as sharp and clear as a huntsman's
call to his hounds.  Nor was he without graciousness--the
graciousness of one who is ready to give favours since he is too
great to seek them.  He could see Darking's eye on him in the
conclave, and in that eye there was a pleased surprise.

Peter drank a cup with the company, and then called for his horse.
"I must haste me back to Avelard," he told the gaping squires, "for
there are many tasks before me, and the weather threatens."

Darking looked anxious.  "I will accompany my lord," he said.  "I
think the snows will break ere the dark."

The others disputed.  One older man maintained that there would be
no fall for twenty-four hours, and his neighbours agreed with him.
"The heavens have been frozen," he said, "and now they are melting,
but the drip of them will not reach us before to-morrow."

"You will stay here," Peter told Darking, "and complete the
business of which you have told me.  These are not the times to
think about weather."

Darking was still anxious.  "You will take the low road, my lord?
There are woods there which will give shelter if the snow overtakes
you."

Five minutes later, his horse refreshed by a mash of grain and hot
ale, Peter swung out of the manor gates and rode south along the
lower slopes of the hills.  He was back again among the bitter
thoughts of the morning, but their sting was less sharp.  Sabine
was no longer the melting figure that had tortured his fancy on his
outward ride. . . .  He remembered now the hard agate edge of her.
She sought that which he could not give her--the giving of which
would mean the loss for ever of his peace.  That was the naked
fact, and there was no road round it.  And yet, if she were only a
Delilah to tempt him, why did the memory of her so hearten him?
Why did the thought of her seem to brace him to a keener life, a
manlier resolution, if to love her was to lose his soul?

He was in a wood now, one of the patches of native forest which
clad the western slopes of Cotswold.  He knew that the hour was no
more than two o'clock in the afternoon, but already the darkness
seemed to be falling.  The sky, seen through the leafless canopy of
oaks, was the sky of night, though below there was light enough
near the ground to discern the path. . . .

A memory cut like a sunbeam into the entanglements of his thought.
It was the memory of some words of St Augustine.  How did they go?
Nondum amabam et amare amabam; quaerebam quid amarem, amans amare.
The wise Father had known his mood.  Was not this his own case?  "I
did not yet love, but I sought something to love, for I was in love
with love."  And then there flowed in on him other recollections,
the tale of Eros and Psyche, the wandering soul and the wandering
heart brought at last together. . . .  He had been hungering for
something of which Sabine had been only a shadow.

A strange solemn joy took possession of him.  He was being weaned
from the lesser that he might attain the greater.  The sight of
Lovell's bones had shattered one kind of earthly ambition, and now
in the girl he had renounced another.  He felt a great tenderness
warm him so that the cold, which he had felt acutely at the start
of the afternoon's journey, seemed a trivial thing. . . .

He noticed that the snow had begun.  A thin powder was filtering
down through the branches.

The road left the patch of wood for open hill, and there he rode
into a new world.  It was dark with a misty white gloom, for the
air was thick with snow.  The powder had changed to heavy flakes,
but he saw them only on his horse's neck and on his saddle, for
what descended seemed to be a solid thing, as if a cloud had taken
material form and enveloped the earth.  The weight of it pressed
down on him like a blanket, and he noted that the ground seemed to
be rising towards him.  Already his horse's feet were sunk above
the hocks.  "At this pace," he thought, "there will be six feet of
snow in an hour, and I shall assuredly be buried."

Presently the wall did not drop vertically, but seemed to sway
towards him, as if under the compulsion of a secret wind.  The
impact took the breath from him, and his horse stumbled.  He felt
himself encrusted with ice, which filled eyes and mouth and nose,
and sent cold fingers under his garments.  These swaying onrushes
were intermittent, but at the impact of each his horse crouched and
slipped, and he bent his head as if to avoid a blow.  There was as
yet no wind--only a shivering of earth and sky.  "It looks as if I
must find a shelter," he thought--and there was no fear in his
heart, but a comfortable confusion--"for another hour of this will
destroy me."

He was among trees again, but he only knew it by the struggles of
his horse among the lower scrub and the scraping of laden branches
in his face. . . .  And then the shuddering, which had bent the
snowfall against him like a billow, changed to a fury of wind.  He
was in a patch of forest at the foot of a cleeve of the hills, and
the northern blast, from which the slopes had hitherto sheltered
him, swept down the cleeve as through a funnel.  The trees bent on
him and shook off avalanches.  He felt himself smothered, stifled,
his wits dazed by the ceaseless lashing of boughs and the steady
buffets of the snow.  His horse was in desperate case, for the
track had long been lost, and the two floundered among dead trunks
and holes, with no purpose except to escape, though it were only
for a moment, that torturing blast.

He tried to think, to plan.  Progress was impossible--was there no
chance of a shelter? . . .  But this wood seemed to be swept to its
roots, for the turmoil in the air was matched by a like turmoil on
the ground, where the snow was being swirled by the wind into
fantastic heaps and hollows.  His head was confused, but his heart
was calm.  "This looks like death," he thought.  "This beast of
mine will soon go down, and we shall both lie cold in a drift."

What time he parted company with his horse he did not know.  The
struggle for mere breath was so cruel that he was scarcely
conscious of the rest of his body.  But somewhere in a drift the
animal slipped and did not rise, and Peter must have been thrown,
and gone forward on foot, under the impulse which demanded movement
to escape from torment.  At any rate he found himself engulfed to
the middle in whirling snow, every step a task for Hercules. . . .
He had a pain in his left shoulder, where some branch had struck
him.  Of this he was dimly conscious, and he was conscious too of a
great weakness.  It would have been despair if he had had any fear;
but fear there was none, so it was only weakness--a creeping
lassitude which bade him drop down and sleep.  But as there was no
shelter anywhere he could not sleep, because of the sting of the
gale, so he kept moving like a marionette whose limbs are jerked by
some alien power.  "If I once lie down, I shall never rise," he
told himself, with conviction but without panic.  It did not seem
to matter greatly--if only this blizzard would stop scourging him.

He stumbled into an aisle of the forest where, by some freak of the
wind, the ground had been swept almost bare of snow.  Here his
limbs moved more freely, and this freedom brought a momentary
clearness to his brain. . . .  He knew that he was very near the
end of his strength; if he dropped here on the bare ground he would
freeze to death, if in the drifts he would soon be buried.  His
spirit seemed to hover above him, careless and incurious, watching
the antics of his feeble body.  The misery now was less acute, for
his senses were numbing.  It occurred to him that this was an
occasion for prayer--occurred merely as a notion of the mind,
without any tremor of the heart.  The prayer which came to his lips
was that invocation to the Mother of God which had been his
favourite in childhood:


     "Imperatrix supernorum,
      Superatrix infernorum."


                               *****

Suddenly there came a great peace in the world.  The inferno of the
gale seemed to be stilled, and the darkness to lighten . . .
something lifted from his brain and his eyes opened.  He saw that
he was in a forest aisle like a cave in an ice-wall, and before him
a light was glowing.  And in that light was a figure. . . .

Once a Florentine, who had come to Oxford to study a codex in Duke
Humphry's library, had told him of the great statues of the Greeks,
destroyed these thousand years by barbarian hands.  The Athene of
the Parthenon, he said, had been no colourless pale marble, but had
had a face of ivory, and eyes of flaming jewels, and delicate
tresses of wrought gold.  Peter had dreamed of this marvel, and now
in this icy place it stood before him. . . .  It was a woman's
figure, a woman with a celestial face, helmed and panoplied with
gold, her garments shining with other colours than those of earth.
In her face was a great peace and a great gentleness. . . .  He had
one half-moment of clarity.  "Am I dead?" he asked, "and in
Paradise?"  He told himself that that could not be, for he was
conscious of an aching left shoulder, and the blessed do not suffer
pain.

Then his soul lost its frozen calm, and life of a kind returned to
the channels of his heart.  For suddenly it seemed to him that what
he saw was no statue, but a living presence.  The gold and jewels
dimmed and shone again in a milder light, the face melted to a
human softness, and in the unearthly radiance that surrounded her
he saw that the draperies about her breast were that heavenly blue
which it is given to one alone to wear. . . .  He knew that he was
looking upon the Mother of God.

He stood, or lay, or knelt--he was beyond consciousness of the
body--and gazed upward with wondering rapture.  He had heard it
said that the Blessed Trinity ruled in turn, and that the reign of
the Father and of the Son had passed, and that now was the reign of
the Holy Spirit.  But, since men must have their special worship,
his had always been for the Virgin, who stood between man and the
harshness of eternal justice.  She was Woman, Mother and Queen
alike, who loved beauty and simple things and did not greatly
relish the cold cloisters of piety.  She was divine, but like
Prometheus she had brought fire to men. . . .  Her face was grave,
for she had known infinite sorrow, and it was proud, since she
carried the keys of Heaven; but it had tenderness and humour, too,
for she had been human and loved humanity.  She was stronger than
the greatest warriors, and wiser than the wisest, the woman
enthroned to whom all men must bow in the end.  She was the hope of
the world, for she made even mortality divine; she was the Power
above the Law, who brought mercy into justice and tenderness into
the sublimities of Son and Father.  She was the protectress of man
against fate, his one way of escape from the punishment of soul and
body. . . .

As he gaped, it seemed to him that in that face he saw every dream
of his childhood and youth--the dim heights of devotion to which in
Oseney Great Church he had mounted on waves of music--the glory of
the fields in May--the joy of young blood--the vision of shimmering
nymphs and slim goddesses out of old poets--the solemn rapture of
the philosophers.  Sabine, too, was in her, for she was very woman--
Sabine's witchery and Mother Sweetbread's tenderness; queen she
was, but peasant too--peasant and gipsy.  To those immortal eyes
the little conventions of mankind were folly, but even to folly
they were kind. . . .

As his senses slipped from him, he thought clearly for one moment,
"I have seen the Queen of Heaven.  Now I know that I shall not die,
but live."



It took True Timothy and his palliards, who were encamped in the
wood, a good two hours to bring life back to Peter, though they
wrought hard with strong hands and rough cordials.

"'Twas lucky that the grew-bitch went hunting," said Timothy,
shivering under his mountain of rags, for fat chills fast.  "Else
there had been a stiff lording in Batt's Wood and a new-comer at
Peter's gate."



CHAPTER XIII

THE UNLOOSING OF THE WATERS


Peter lay two days abed at Avelard, while the snow muffled the
land, made plains of villages, and built new mountains on the
levels.  Recovering from a great fatigue is in early youth a
pleasant thing.  Weakness, after a man has slept his fill, passes
into a delicious languor, hourly the blood runs more strongly in
the veins, hunger revives, the scents and sounds of a recovered
life come with a virgin freshness. . . .  Peter lay in a delectable
dream, while Sabine brought his meals--first possets of ewes' milk
and white claret, then eggs beaten up with cordials, till his
restored strength demanded solider fare.  He looked at her without
embarrassment--nay, with a kind of cool affection.  She was part of
the beatific vision he had seen, but part only: now he had gotten a
divine discontent and had his mind on the stars.

He rose on the third day, a whole man in body and a new man in
spirit.  He had come suddenly to maturity, and all the hesitations
and doubts of his youth had dropped from him like an old cloak.  He
felt himself in the mood for command.  He could now bend men to his
will, for his purpose was a clear flame.  No hazard was too great,
for he had lost fear.  The word of the Israelitish prophet rang in
his ears:  "Who art thou that thou shouldest be afraid of a man
that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as
grass?"

When on the third day he met Lord Avelard he found that the awe in
which he had always held him had gone.  This was an old man he
looked on, an old man near the end of his days, tramping wearily in
the world's mire.  Such an one could not mould the fates of the
land; it was very necessary that he himself should be up and doing.
Peter felt his youth and vigour surge within him like springtide.

"You are like Phoebus new-risen," said the old man, and there was
that in his eye which wondered.  This man that stood before him was
not the stripling he had known.

"I feel within me the strength of ten," Peter replied.  "In four
days, my lord, it will be St Lucy's feast.  I must be stirring.
What news of the King?"

"Darking came here yesterday.  The Welshman will pass Christmas at
Woodstock.  He leaves Windsor to-morrow, and will travel by Reading
and Watlington and Hasely.  That is his accustomed road, but
hitherto he has made his progresses in the height of summer, or in
September when the buck are fat.  What is his purpose, think you?
By the rules of common wisdom he should sit snug in Windsor, or, if
he move, go north to the Yorkshire dales, where the trouble waxes
daily.  'Tis said he has pardoned the chief rebels there, but his
clemency has not abated the discontent."

"He must have news which makes him fear the west more than the
north."

Lord Avelard nodded.

"Doubtless.  And that is the doing of Crummle and his vagabond
commissaries.  They have been into every abbey on Thames and
Severn, and though our plans are well guarded we could not hope
that some rumours of them would not escape.  The Welshman wishes to
learn our condition for himself and, if need be, to strike the
first blow.  I think that purpose will miscarry."

"What force does he bring to Woodstock?"

"No more than a hundred mounted men of my lord Shrewsbury's. . . .
Elsewhere things go happily for us.  As I told you, Henry has broke
with the Emperor and is now hotly abetting the French King.
Therefore the Emperor is with us, and he is sending money--his
legate Reginald Pole, him that is Clarence's grandson, is even now
awaiting a ship on the Flanders coast.  Also James of Scotland is
moving on the northern marches, and his holiness of Durham will
find it hard to stay him.  There is good news, too, of my lord of
Exeter.  It seems that the Cornishmen would make him king, but my
lord's heart fails him for such a flight.  All he seeks is the
Welshman's downfall, and at the word from us he will march on
Bristol."

"But what of the King at Woodstock?  He may be at Avelard gate
while we are busy with our muster."

Lord Avelard smiled.  "That is not the way of the King's grace.  He
will sit snug in Woodstock and send out intelligencers, and it will
be odds against those intelligencers ever returning.  Besides, the
snow will hamper him.  You cannot ride fast on muffled roads."

Then the two fell to the study of papers and plans.  What had
hitherto been to Peter a half-understood game which he was content
to leave to others had now become a passionate absorption on which
his mind worked with precision and speed.  He asked a hundred
questions; he pressed for exact answers; he made computations of
his own, and questioned some of the details of Neville's plan.
Lord Avelard opened his eyes.  "These last days you have become a
soldier, my son," he said.  "No doubt the gift was in your blood,
but what has brought it to birth?  Whence got you the light?"

"As Paul got it on the road to Damascus," said Peter and turned
again to the papers.

"I must go abroad," he said at last.  "There are loose nails which
need a hammer to drive them home, and the time grows scant.  There
will be many of the commons that cry out for the Five Wounds and
the Holy Blood of Hailes, while the watchword of the lords will be
God and the Swan.  I must be the one to blend the two into a single
army."

"Then God prosper you, for you will find it no mean labour.  There
is much wild stuff about in this west of ours.  There is a mad
Carmelite, who claims that his order descends from Elijah and that
he is Elijah reincarnate, sent by God to hew down the groves of
Baal--by which groves he signifies the King's Court and Council.
He and his like will need a stout spur to break to harness."

"I must be that spur," said Peter.

Lord Avelard looked at him curiously.

"There are ill tidings from Marchington," he said.  "It seems that
my lord Abergaveny is mortal sick and like to die.  He has been
frail these last months, and has ridden his body too hard.  He was
to be our leader in the field, for he has more skill of war than
Norfolk and Suffolk and Shrewsbury joined together.  His brother,
Sir Thomas, is in Wales, bringing in the hill levies.  If my lord
should die, the other brother, Sir Edward, must take his place."

"Nay," said Peter, "there can be but one commander, and I am he.
I, and no other, am Bohun. . . .  This afternoon I ride to
Marchington."

A smile, mingled of humorous surprise, respect and kindliness,
broke over the waxen face.

"I commend your spirit, my son.  You have assuredly seen a great
light. . . .  But you cannot yet ride to Marchington.  The snow has
ceased falling, but it lies twelve feet deep in every hollow, and
Marchington is in the river meadows.  You must wait for friendlier
weather.  I think the change is nigh, for the wind is shifting.
What we want is a binding frost which will last till the new year,
to set a crust on the snow and make easy travelling.  For, as you
well know, our people have far to come."

But that afternoon the wind moved not to the east as some had
foretold, but against the sun into the west.  Out in the drifts of
the park, which had been hard enough for a man to walk on, Peter
noted the thaw beginning before the dark fell.  In his bed that
night he found his blankets too heavy and the room airless, and
when he opened the lattice a mild wind fanned his face.  At sunrise
he saw a strange sight.  A black thundercloud swamped the sky, from
which the lightning flashed, and the waning moon in that strange
radiance showed red as blood.

Then, in one unbroken and relentless deluge, came the rain.

Never in the memory of the oldest man had the fountains of heaven
been thus unloosed.  It fell as the snow had fallen--as if the
clouds were bags of water which drooped near the ground and then
discharged themselves in an even torrent.  Under the red dawn the
earth had been one vast white counterpane, running into hills and
ridges, but otherwise unfeatured.  By midday it was already
piebald.  Forests were showing sodden crests, the scarp of Cotswold
had resumed its normal shape, every lane was a rushing river where
nothing mortal could live.  The silence of the snowbound world was
exchanged for a devil's kitchen of sound--the unending beat of the
falling rain, the rumour of cascading waters, the sudden soft crush
which told that a slope had melted into mud or that a tall tree had
slipped down to join the chaos in the valley.

In such weather no man durst tempt the roads.  With bitten lips
Peter sat in his chamber, watching the grey mists droop over
Severn.  In two days the hour of destiny would strike, and how
could men muster in a dissolving world? . . .  Again and again he
essayed the out-of-doors, only to be driven back by the deluge.  He
had a horse saddled, but the beast could not progress a hundred
yards on what had once been dry Cotswold slopes but were now a
slippery glacis of mud. . . .  What would the rivers be like in
another day and night?  The air was too thick to give him any
prospect, but he could hear Severn--miles away--roaring like an
ocean.  And what of Usk and Wye and Teme and Clun, which the
Marchmen must cross?  What of Avon which guarded Warwickshire?
What of the little rivers which barred the road to Oxford?  What,
above all, of the northern streams which lay in the path of
Westmoreland and Cumberland and the Stanleys?

It rained for seventy-three hours, till the eve of St Lucy, just
before the darkening.  There was not a speck of snow left except
some dirty streaks in the lee of walls and ditches.  Every inch of
soil was sodden a yard deep, and when the sky cleared towards
sunset Severn was seen to be the better part of a mile wide, a
turbid lagoon like an arm of the sea.



At dawn on St Lucy's day Peter rode to Marchington.  The air was as
mild as June, the sun shone through a watery mist, and everywhere
rose pale exhalations from the infinity of floods.  Often he had to
swim his horse across meres which had once been Cotswold meads,
strange waters indeed, for instead of clumps of rushes to stud them
they had the tops of thorn trees.  Marchington moat was a swirling
torrent, and Peter had to leave his horse on the near side, and
make a perilous passage of the drawbridge on foot.

He found death within.  The old lord had given up the ghost two
days before, and now lay in grim state in the hall under a splendid
mortcloth till such time as he could be moved to the family
sepulchre.  The pale wife flitted in the background like a shade.
Beside the dead stood an angry man whose lantern jaws and drooping
nose proclaimed his kinship.

"Here is the confusion of Hell," the man cried.  "Brother George is
a corpse and brother Thomas is in Wales and Noah's flood roars
between us.  The new lord--my nephew and yours, young sir--is with
his cousins in Kent.  The house of Neville is most plaguily
scattered at this hour when it should be bound tight together, and
they tell me that Henry is in Woodstock waiting to pounce like a
crow on our broken meats.  God's wounds, but the Devil has come to
his own these days!"

"There will be no crossing Bran or Towey or Usk or Wye for a
sennight," Sir Edward went on, "and that only if the rain holds
off, and a man might as well hope to swim the Narrow Seas as to
ford Severn.  And there is still rain to come. . . .  So says my
armourer, and he can smell it a week off in the sky."

It was long before Peter could divert him from his passionate
maledictions, uttered often in a strange tongue, for he had lived
much with the mountain folk.

"Our spearhead is the Welsh," he ended, "who can march thirty miles
in a day and then fight like wild-cats; and where in God's name are
the Welsh?  Sitting by smoky fires on the sodden ground watching
the rivers roar to the sea.  Sorry am I for him that comes within
a mile of brother Thomas, for his temper will be like a flaming
oven. . . .  Ay, they could march a circuit by the river heads, but
'twould take them a month to reach us, and by that time all England
would be agog.  Our blow was to be secret and swift, and now 'twill
be as slow as the stumbling of a woman in labour. . . .  'Tis no
better up north.  If Severn is swollen, so likewise will be Avon,
and Avon, flowing through the marshlands, will not decline till
Easter.  And what of Shropshire and Cheshire and Lancashire and
Westmoreland?  We are islanded here on a knuckle of Cotswold and
cut off from all England.  The King has got a better ally in this
devil's weather than a thousand Norfolks.  'Tis your family blight,
my lord.  Duke Harry, your grandsire, in Richard's day perished
because of the same accursed floods."

In the end Sir Edward's passion spent itself, and he spoke soberly.

"My counsel is to let our levy dissolve, even as the hillsides have
melted in the rain.  The weather, which has frustrated it, will
also conceal it.  For a month this west country will be a secret
land, with none coming or going, and Henry at Woodstock may guess
as he likes, but he will have no proof to offer Council.  I will
contrive to get word to brother Thomas and to the northern lords.
Let my lord Avelard make haste to Woodstock to forestall gossip,
and invite his liege lord to a merry-making at Avelard. . . .  The
Cotswold men, you say?  Nay, they are too few, and without the
Welsh behind them they will not stir.  Sudely and Boteler and Noel
are shrewd folk, and the wool-staplers are shrewder.  Here and
there you may get a mad squire or a mad priest to run his head into
the noose, but not the solid men. . . .  As for you, my lord, my
counsel is that you get you back to Avelard, and lie as close as
the fox till the King goes eastward again.  You may thank the
mercies of God that you have not yet shown yourself in the light of
day."

Peter argued and pled, but the man was stubborn.  He had his nephew
to think of, whose guardian he now was, and he would not fling away
the Neville and Beauchamp lands on any wild hazard.

From Marchington Peter rode north to the squires that lived on the
slopes looking toward Avon.  From the Traceys he got some comfort;
that stout house would mount for God and the Swan though not a
Welshman crossed Severn.  But the Traceys were alone in their
careless valour; elsewhere he found only long faces and heads
cautiously shaken.  From one spur he got a prospect which confirmed
his worst fears.  The vale of Evesham was a sea from which the tops
of trees and church towers rose like foundered ships.  With Avon
and Severn thus swollen the road from the north was securely
barred.

On his way back to Avelard he fell in with a white friar, the very
Carmelite who claimed to be Elijah's successor.  The man sat beside
a sheepfold, sodden and travel-worn, muttering prayers.  By some
strange divination he seemed to recognise Peter--or perhaps took
him for some local leader--for he seized his bridle, and poured
forth a torrent of ravings, mingled with texts from the Apocalypse.

"Fear not, my son," he cried.  "The word of God is with me, His
prophet, to bid you go up against the evil city--the city which is
spiritually called Sodom and Babylon, where also our Lord was
crucified.  The windows of Heaven have been opened, but not in your
despite, for the waters will cumber the evil ones, but for you they
will be cleft apart as the Red Sea at the command of Moses.  I say
unto you that a handful will put to flight ten thousand, and three
banded in God's name will become a multitude."

The man was mad, but there was method in his madness, for he
preached what to Peter seemed good strategy.  Let them go up at
once against the city--whether Oxford or London was not clear--for
every delay would enable the ungodly to assemble, whereas, if taken
by surprise, they would be shepherdless sheep.  The wild figure in
that lonely hollow of the hills, rugged as a tree against the
twilit sky, affected him strangely.  He dismounted, and knelt to
receive the Carmelite's blessing.  And, as he cantered through the
soaked Avelard meadows, he felt his resolution grow more desperate.
If the odds were weighted against him so much the more work for
God's hand. . . .  Besides, were the odds really increased?  What
crippled them and shore their levy of its strength would likewise
cripple and lull their enemies.

At Avelard he found Darking.  He had come from the east, and
reported mighty floods in the Oxford rivers.  Nevertheless, they
could be passed by men who knew the ways of them. . . .  The King
had reached Woodstock.  He had with him an escort of Shrewsbury's
men, but he had also called for levies from the local lords,
avowedly for the Yorkshire campaign, where the rising of peasants
and gentry might at any moment be increased by the advent of the
King of Scots. . . .  Meanwhile he was hunting in the great park,
so far as the weather allowed, since the open winter had kept the
deer in season. . . .  Crummle had been with him, but had now
returned to London.  He had a posse of secretaries, but none of the
great lords of the Council. . . .  And then he added a piece of
news which made Lord Avelard frown.  Sir Gabriel Messynger was with
him, specially summoned out of Kent.

It was plain that Lord Avelard was in deep perplexity.  He was of a
stouter heart than Sir Edward Neville, or maybe had more to gain
and lose.  He was not ready to give up an enterprise which had been
so long the chief preoccupation of his brain.  On the other hand,
he had none of the simple passion of the Traceys, and had no mind
to go crusading unless there was a reasonable chance of victory.
He laughed to scorn the Neville advice that he should go forthwith
to Woodstock and seek the King's favour.  "I shall bide here," he
said.  "The next move is for the Welshman to make.  He knows
nothing of what we have done, and will know nothing, unless he clap
all the west country in prison and put it to the rack.  Our secret
is confined to true men."

"What of Sir Gabriel?" Peter asked.

Lord Avelard replied with a laugh in which to Peter's ear there was
a trace of disquiet.

"Sir Gabriel is the deepest involved of any.  He was our go-between
to the northern lords, and has twice followed Neville into Wales.
There is nothing new in his going to Court.  He was bred there as a
youth, whence the touch of the popinjay in his manners."

"We cannot sit idle," said Peter.  "Either we must do as Sir Edward
advises, send word to Wales and the north, and call off all
preparations.  Or we must strike now, trusting to win such vantage
that, when the floods abate and our army arrives, we shall be able
to use it to deadly purpose."

Darking nodded, as if in agreement, but Lord Avelard flung up his
hand impatiently.

"How in God's name can we strike?  We have nothing at our command
but our Cotswold neighbours, and you have seen their mood to-day.
We might take Oxford by a bold stroke, but we should be scattered
long before we were twenty miles on the London road."

"Assuredly," said Peter.  "My mind was not on London, for it is
certain that we must revise our plan."

"Then where?  Oxford is useless, except as a step.  Windsor is
seventy miles off. . . ."

"It has come nearer these last days.  I think Windsor is now in
Woodstock park."

The old man stared and Darking smiled.

"See, my lord," Peter went on.  He had risen from his chair and
stood in the glow of the hearth, tall and straight, tense as a
strung bow.  His face had lost all the softness of the boy's, and
was set in hard lines.

"See, my lord.  I am Bohun, and it is right that I run the chief
hazard.  The King is at Woodstock by God's grace, and has but a
small force to guard him.  What of the Oxford squires?"  He turned
to Darking.

"Sir Ferdinando Fettiplace with twenty men rode to Woodstock this
morning, but he was sent back to Swinbrook to wait further
commands.  With the waters out the muster will be slow."

"That is well.  The King has but the Shrewsbury men around him and
the park rangers.  Give me a hundred spears, and, so be they are
true folk, I will engage to bring the King's grace captive to
Avelard. . . .  Then, when our own men muster, we shall confront a
leaderless enemy.  We have the chance to seize on the very keep and
citadel of the foe, and there are enough stout fellows in Cotswold
for the work. . . .  If the venture succeed, then we are three
parts of the road to the freeing of England.  If it fail, some
honest lads will go to Paradise, among them a nameless clerk of
Oseney."

The old man gazed at the speaker, and into his face came a sudden
flush which told of something deeply stirred in his heart.

"'Fore God," he cried, "you are true Bohun!  True Bohun and true
Percy, for old Hotspur has come to life in you.  God go with you,
my son.  There is a madness that is better than wisdom."



CHAPTER XIV

HOW PETER STROVE WITH POWERS AND PRINCIPALITIES


St Thomas's eve was quiet and very mild.  There had been no winds
to abate the flood-water and dry the sodden meadows, so the valleys
were still lagoons and every rivulet an encroaching mere.  The
rendezvous was in the distant hollows of Wychwood, and thither the
little bands from the western Cotswold moved under cover of night.

Peter, with Dickon and a dozen picked Avelard men, took the road by
Stow, where the wolds made easy travelling.  Word had come that the
bridge at Charlbury could be passed, the only crossing of Evenlode,
and such a route would take them over Windrush near its source.
All were to move slowly and secretly, keeping to cover by day, and
making the next stage in the darkness.  There were to be no
liveries or badges among them, but each man as drab as a deer-
stealer.

At cockcrow, when they stopped for meat on Naunton downs, the
Carmelite came out of the shadows, his white gown showing in the
half-light like a monstrous owl.  He knelt and mumbled Peter's
hand, and then his wild eyes scanned his following, and he cried
out like a man in pain:

"Where is the trampling of the horsemen?" he screamed, "the mighty
array that should sweep the hosts of Midian into the deep ocean?  I
see but a handful of country folk!  Where is your army, my lord?
Remember, you go up against the great city of Babel, and her towers
are iron and her battlements of hewn stone."

The man was not easy to soothe.

"The others will come in good time, father," Peter told him.  "We
are only like the scouts sent out by Joshua to spy the land.  Get
you back to your cell, for you can help best by your prayers.  We
travel secretly and your exhortations may do us a mischief."

In the end he flitted off, his arms waving and his voice falling
and rising in what seemed now a chant and now a moan; but Peter
noted with disquiet that the road he took was not west but east.

At Slaughter, where the little river was ill to ford, there was a
mad woman in the hamlet who found their camping place in the woods.
She seemed to divine their purpose, for she cried around them like
a lost soul.  It seemed that she was come to warn, and the Avelard
men's faces blanched at the sight of her.

"Back to your homes, my darlings," she cried.  "I see blood in
Evenlode, and blood in Glyme, and blood in Cherwell, which all the
floods will not wash away.  That road there are pretty lads hanging
on every tree.  Back to your sweethearts, for there are no honest
maids where you be going."

Over Peter's shoulder she flung a ragged wreath of holly and ivy,
such as are made for the Christmas pleasantries.

"May your lordship's grace be decked with no harsher crown!" she
cried, and then fled babbling into the covert.

It was clear that strange rumours had gone abroad in the
countryside, for, stealthy as was their journey, they seemed to be
expected.  If in the twilight they skirted a village street, the
doors were shut, but there were curious eyes at the windows.  The
children had been forewarned; they stared with open mouths, but
spoke no word, and did not run away.  The Avelard men, who had been
advised of the deep secrecy of the journey, were perturbed by this
atmosphere of expectation, and spoke aside among themselves.  Peter
scarcely noticed it.  His thoughts had flung ahead, out of this
sheepwalk country to the glades of Woodstock, where somewhere a
ruddy man was breathing his horse and looking doubtfully towards
the west.

At Chadlington in the early hours of the night Darking met them.

"Evenlode runs like a mill-leat," he said, "but the causeway holds.
I can guide you across, my lord.  Others are before you, and I have
left those who will lead them to their appointed places.  Pity you
have drawn your folk from High Cotswold, where there is nought but
thorns a man's height.  Our work will be in a forest, and these
Tracey lads have never seen the tall trees and are easily mazed
among them."

Darking brought news of the King.  "I have passed the word among
the Upright Men," he said, "and there are many quick eyes in the
Woodstock coverts.  See, my lord, yon spark of light in the valley.
That is Little Greece, where old John Naps now sits at the receipt
of custom.  He will be eyes and brain to us. . . .  King Harry is
snug at Woodstock with my lord Shrewsbury's men to guard him.  He
hunts daily, but only in the park, for the floods have narrowed his
venue.  Glyme is a young ocean, and Evenlode below Wilcote fills
the vale to the brim.  I doubt if we have seen the end of this
overflow.  The snow-cap on High Cotswold is still melting with the
mild air, as your lordship has seen this day, and that will prevent
the streams abating.  Nay, they may rise higher yet, for in certain
valleys lakes have formed through the damming of trees and sliding
earth, and any hour the dams may break and send down a new deluge.
It is fickle weather for our enterprise, and we be terribly at the
mercy of God.

"What keeps the King in keeps us out," he went on.  "There is
nothing to be done inside the pales of Woodstock, where every
furlong has its verderer.  We are like a troop sitting round a
fortalice which it cannot enter. . . .  Heaven send the weather let
Harry go forth.  That is what he longs for, since the hunting in
the park is a child's game to the hunting in the forest.  'Tis the
great yeld hinds of Wychwood that he seeks.  Pray for a cold wind
and a drying wind, so long as it do not freeze."

Darking guided them skilfully across the Charlbury bridge.  A
causeway of hewn stone led up to it at either end, but this was
hidden in the acres of eddying water.  A man who did not know the
road would have slipped into the swirl, but Darking kept them on
the causeway, where the stream was not beyond the horses' withers.
Presently they were on the arch of the bridge, and then on the
farther causeway, where the eddies were gentle, and then on the
hard ground of the forest slopes.  By midnight they were encamped
in a dingle of dead bracken, hidden as securely as if they had lain
in the Welsh hills.

There were five such encampments within the forest bounds, and by
the next morning all the men had arrived--a hundred picked
spearmen, some of them old soldiers of the French wars, all of them
hard and trusty and silent.  For the present their task was to lie
hidden, and they were safe enough from prying eyes, for the King
had appointed no new keeper of Wychwood in the place of the dead
Norris, and every ranger and verderer was Darking's man.  Also
there was an outer guard of the vagabonds under the orders of John
Naps at Little Greece.

Peter inspected the five companies and approved, but Darking shook
his head.  "They are lithe fellows, but they belong to the bare
hills.  Stout arms, no doubt, in a mellay, and good horsemen in the
open, but I cannot tell how they will shape in our forest work.
They are a thought too heavy-footed for that secret business.  God
send our chance comes in the open."

It was a blue day, mild and sunny, with but a breath of wind, and
that soft from the south.

"We are for Woodstock park, my lord," said Darking.  "You and I
alone, and on foot, for we go as spies.  Follow my lightest word,
for your life may hang on it.  And shed most of your garments.  The
air is mild and there is swimming before us."

In shirt and hose and deerskin shoes they made for the old bridge
below Finstock, which a week before had been swept down to Thames.
Here Evenlode ran for ordinary in a narrow stream which spread into
a broad mill-pond.  Now it was all one waste of brown torrent.
Darking led the way to the end of the broken pier of the bridge.
"The current will bear us down to the slack water beyond the
hazels.  Trust your body to it, and swim but a stroke or two,
enough to keep your head up.  Then, when I give the word, strike
hard for the other shore.  The rub is to get out of the stream once
it has laid hold of you."

So Peter found it.  The torrent swept him down easily and
pleasantly, till he was near the submerged hazel clump.  Then
Darking struck off left handed, and it was no easy task to get rid
of the entangling current, which would have carried him into a
maelstrom of broken water.  It plucked at his shoulders, and
gripped his feet with unseen hands.  But, breathless and battered,
in five minutes they were shaking themselves among the rushes of
the farther bank.

"Let us stretch a leg," said Darking, "or we will chill, and maybe
be late for the fair.  The King's grace on a day like this is early
abroad."

They were now within the pale of Woodstock, but they had four miles
to go before they reached the wilderness of green glades and
coppices which was the favourite hunting-ground.  An hour later
Darking had his ear to the ground, and then stood like a dog at
gaze.  "I can hear horses," he said, "maybe a mile distant.  I
could hear them better if the earth were less full of rain.  Also
the hounds are out.  I judge they are in Combe Bottom.  If they
unharbour a deer there, with what there is of wind it will come our
way.  Let us harbour ourselves, my lord.  No, not on the ground,
for that might give our scent and turn the deer or lure the hounds.
This oak will be screen enough."

He caught a spreading limb of the tree and swung himself into a
crutch.  Peter followed, and found that he had a long vista down an
aisle of rough grass.  Now he could hear the hounds giving tongue
in some thicket, but that was the only sound. . . .  He might have
been listening to mongrels hunting alone in a covert, for there
were no horns, or human cries, or the jingle of bridles.

Presently the hounds seemed to come nearer.  A cloud of pigeons
rose from the opposite trees, and a young buck, a two-year-old at
the most, stuck out his head, sniffed the air, and proceeded to
amble up the glade.  He may have caught a whiff of their wind, for
he turned back to covert.

Then the world woke to life.  A big old hind, barren by her grey
muzzle and narrow flanks, broke from the wood, and behind her the
covert was suddenly filled with a babel of noise.  The first hounds
streamed out, fifty yards behind; and two sweating beaters in blue
smocks, who had been stationed there to turn the hind to the open
glades, stumbled after them and promptly flung themselves on the
ground.  In a second they were up again, for a horn was blown
behind them.

From an alley in the opposite woods the huntsmen appeared,
debouching into the broader aisle.  There were five of them--three
in livery, with badges in their hats and horns at their saddle
bows; one young man with a doublet of crimson velvet, a plumed cap
and a monstrous jewel; the fifth a big man who rode first and waved
his hand and shouted hoarsely.  Peter, from his crutch in the oak,
craned his head through the leafless boughs and watched intently.
For he knew that he was looking upon the King.

He was plainly dressed, with trunk hose of brown leather and a
green doublet with a jewel at his throat.  A heavy silver-handled
hunting-knife hung at his belt.  His horse was a big-boned Fleming
with a ewe-neck, and he handled it masterfully; for all his weight
his seat was exquisitely balanced and the big hands were light on
his beast's mouth.  The face was vast and red as a new ham, a sheer
mountain of a face, for it was as broad as it was long, and the
small features seemed to give it a profile like an egg.  The mouth
was comically small, and the voice that came from it was modest out
of all proportion to the great body.  He swept like a whirlwind up
the glade, one hand pawing the air, screaming like a jay.  In every
line of him was excitement, an excitement nave and childish, but
in his very abandonment there was a careless power.

Peter's eyes narrowed as he watched the broad back above the flat
rump of the Fleming lessen in the distance, till the men behind
blocked the view.  He had seen his King--his rival--his quarry.
Many a picture had he formed of Henry, but none like this.  He had
looked for gross appetites, cruel jaws, lowering brows, eyes hot
with the lust of power.  In all his portraits the man had been
elderly.  But what he had now seen was more like an overgrown boy.
There was a preposterous youthfulness in this ageing creature,
whinnying like a puppy with the ardour of the game; there was
something mirthful in his great, glowing, fleshy face. . . .  There
was more.  One who, with his kingdom afire in the east and north
and smouldering in the west, could fling his whole heart like a
child into his play, had greatness in him.  There was about him an
insolent security.  What he desired, whether it were deer or gold
or kingdoms, he desired so fiercely that he was likely to get it.
Peter felt as if some effluence of power had struck him, like a
wind in his face.

"What think you of his grace?" Darking asked, as they stole back
towards Evenlode.

"I think that he will not easily go down, and that if he falls much
will fall with him."

Darking looked up into the sky.

"The wind freshens, and it has moved back to the south-east--a good
wind for the forest.  To-morrow belike the King will hunt in
Wychwood, and kill a yeld hind.  There is a great she-devil
harbouring in Finstock brake."



Darking's forecast was true.  Next morning saw a dawn of lemon and
gold, and a sharper tang in the air, while, instead of the spring
zephyr which had blown for two days, there was a small, bitter
easterly breeze.  Peter was abroad at the first light, placing his
men.  If the King crossed Evenlode and entered the forest it would
be by the bridge of Charlbury, for the best harbourage for deer lay
to the west of Leafield in the thick coverts above Shipton.  He
would have an escort, since he was outside the Woodstock pales, but
it was certain that, if a strong quarry were unharboured, he would
soon leave that escort behind him.  With the wind in its present
quarter, the deer would run towards Ramsden and Whiteoak Green,
where the ground was broken and the vistas short.  There, at
strategic points, his men would lie hidden, while in the
undergrowth would lurk some of Naps's scouts to pass the word to
the posts.  Peter and Darking had planned every detail like the
ordering of a battle, and had their alternatives in case any item
miscarried.  "Send the wind holds," said Darking.  "The King will
not stay abed to-day, and if the slow-hounds are once out in
Shipton Barren, his grace in an hour's time will be among the
Ramsden oaks."

The King was late.  Word came by a lad of Flatsole's, who had swum
Evenlode and stood dripping like a water-rat, that he was on the
road for Charlbury, with five huntsmen and two companion lords, and
a score of men-at-arms mounted on beasts that would soon founder in
the heavy bracken of the forest.  But it was noon before Naps sent
a message that the cavalcade was passing the Charlbury causeway.
Peter, on an Avelard bay, whose strain of Welsh blood made him
light and sure-footed as a mountain goat, rode west on the high
ground to prospect, while Darking kept ward in the eastern forest.

From the Leafield crest he looked down on Shipton Barren, and soon
his keen eyes detected the whereabouts of the hunt.  The King was
an epicure that day, for no chance beast was to his liking.  Peter
saw deer break cover unregarded, and once the hounds were flogged
off a trail on which they had entered.  By and by the horns sounded
a rally, and there came the wild notes which meant that the chase
had begun.  Peter swung his horse round, ready to follow east at a
higher level, for it was certain that any deer would at first keep
to the riverside ground.

But to his amazement the hunt went otherwise.  He got a glimpse of
the first hounds with a verderer riding furiously on their flanks,
and then, well behind them, a knot of men.  They were going
westward, upstream--westward or south-westward, for, as he looked,
he saw them swing towards Fulbrook Gap. . . .  Then he saw the
reason.  The wind had changed, the sting had gone out of it, and it
had moved to west of south, and was now blowing softly down
Windrush.

He watched in deep perplexity the hunt wheel towards the high
ridges, where the forest opened up into downs, and rose to the
Hallows Hill.  Beyond that the trees began again, the deep woodland
country above Barrington.  A yeld hind would need to be the
stoutest of her breed to make those distant coverts.  More likely
she would soon be pulled down in the open, and then the huntsmen
would return to draw another of the Wychwood harbours. . . .  There
was that famous beast in Finstock brake.

Naps's men were fewer at this end, but he found a prigger lad
cutting himself a switch from a hazel.  Him he sent back hot-foot
to Darking to report what had happened.  It was now afternoon, and
there were but two hours left of daylight.  If the King was
benighted, and he could get up his men in time, all might yet be
well.

Peter set spurs to his horse, and galloped for the Taynton wolds.
The land lay spread out like a map beneath him, pale as the country
of a dream, with far down on his left the smoke of Burford town
making a haze in the hollow. . . .  Soon he had come to a point
which gave him a long view.  That yeld hind must be a marvel, for
she was still going strongly, having puzzled the hounds in the
Fulbrook coppice.  She was not bound for Hallows Hill, but had
turned downward to where the Windrush floods drowsed in the valley.
That would mean the end of her.  She would never face the water,
and if she kept down the left bank she could be brought to bay
among the Burford garths.  Could she but cross the stream, then
indeed she might find sanctuary in the dense thickets above the
little valley of Leach.

He had lost sight of the hunters, but presently the hounds came
into view, running strongly at gaze.  The hind was making for
Windrush.  Peter was now on a tiny promontory, and had the valley
clear beneath him.  The river at this point was less of a barrier,
for the floods were dammed by fallen timber at Barrington.  It
might be passed. . . .

It was passed.  He saw the head of the swimming deer, and then
after an interval the dark beads which meant the hounds.  Where
were the huntsmen?  The hounds had outrun them, and they were now
stranded on the Taynton downs.  He heard far off the thin but
furious notes of the horn.  They would return the way they came,
and they had far to go, and the dusk would presently fall.  The
fates were kind to him, if only Darking moved his men west in time.

He had turned his horse to gallop back the road he had come, when
over his shoulder he took one last look at the Windrush vale.  What
he saw made his heart stop. . . .  The deer and the hounds were now
beyond the river, but all the hunters had not been left behind.
One was still following.  He was even now crossing, his horse
swimming strongly.  The light was too dim to see clear, but some
instinct gave him certainty.  That man was the King.

Peter went down the hill like one possessed.  He had no plan or
purpose except to keep touch with this lone horseman.  There was a
furious ardour in him, and awe too.  It seemed that the stage was
being set otherwise than he had expected, set for a meeting such as
he had not dreamed of.  Somewhere in that dim land beyond the
waters the two of them were destined to come face to face.

He crossed Windrush without trouble, for the dam at Barrington had
so shrunken the floods that the stream was little more than its
turbid winter flow.  But once on the far bank he was at a loss.
The light was growing bad, and there was no sign of hounds or
hunter.  They had not pulled down the quarry, for in that still air
he would have heard the savage rumour of the kill. . . .  He looked
behind him.  Dusk had crept down the Taynton slopes, and there was
no sign there of following hunters.  Even the angry horns had
ceased to sound.

He rode a little way up-hill into the coverts, and then halted.
Presently the King would find himself benighted, and would give up
the chase.  He had hunted in Wychwood often, and must know
something of the lie of the land.  He would make his way
downstream, and cross at the Burford bridge, which was intact.
Again Peter clapped spurs to his horse.  He must watch the southern
approaches to the crossing, from Westwell, and by the track from
Lechlade.

He took his stand on a piece of high ground, from which he could
see in the dusk a light or two beginning to twinkle in the Burford
hollow. . . .  But he did not wait long, for far on his right he
seemed to hear the baying of hounds.  They were still hunting, and
his ear told him that they were running east by Shilton.  The King
would still be following, for rumour said that he never left the
chase so long as there was hope of a kill. . . .  Again, he spurred
his horse.  In half an hour at the most the dark would have fallen
thick.  Then the King would give up.  He would cross Windrush at
Minster Lovell, and take the quickest road to Woodstock.  If the
Burford bridge still stood, so would that of Minster Lovell, which
was sound Roman work. . . .

In an agony of uncertainty he resolved that the only chance was to
risk all on the likeliest happening.  His horse was still fresh,
and he covered the four miles of ground in little time. . . .  The
bridge was whole.  The shell of Lovell's castle rose black among
the trees, and Windrush lay eerie and dim in its wide lagoon.  He
noted that the isle in the lagoon, which held one of the castle
dovecots, was but little diminished in size.  The dam at Barrington
was doing its work well.

He dismounted, and tied up his horse to a stump on the slopes of
the south bank.  If Henry came this way, he would let him cross the
bridge, and then follow him up the Leafield road, where his own men
were as thick as owls in the night.  God had wrought a miracle for
him, for his enemy was being guided relentlessly into his net.
Peter set his teeth hard to curb his impatience.  If he only
came! . . .  But he must come, unless he wanted to lie wet and
cold in the Shilton woods.

Come he did.  A weary horse, lame in the off foreleg, stumbled down
the track.  On it sat a bulky man, who leaned back to ease his
beast in the descent, and whose great hunting boots stuck out from
its sides like the yards of a ship.  The man had lost his bonnet,
and even in the dark Peter could recognise the round head, baldish
at the top, the vast square face and the bull shoulders.  It was
beyond question the King.

Had he been less intent on the sight he would not have missed a
sound like a grumbling thunderstorm which seemed to fill the valley
and grew every moment in volume.  The horse heard it, for it jibbed
at the entrance to the bridge.  The place was high-backed and
narrow over which two men could not ride abreast, and which the
wool-staplers' pack animals could not cross. . . .  The rider dug
deep with his spurs, but the horse again refused.  Then with a
groan of weariness he rolled out of the saddle and attempted to
lead it.

Still it refused.  He was in front of it and dragging it by the
bridle--he stood on the keystone, while the beast was still
plunging on the bank. . . .  Then came a sound which broke in even
on Peter's preoccupation.  It was like a gale in a high wood, or a
mighty snowslip on a mountain, with a rumbling undercurrent of
thunder.  Something huge and dark reared itself high above the
stone arch, and the next second Peter was struggling in the side
eddies of a monstrous wave.

He had been able to swim like a moorhen from childhood, and he had
no trouble in shaking off the clutch of the stream.  As he dashed
the water from his eyes he knew what had happened.  The dam at
Barrington had burst, and Windrush, half a mile wide, was driving a
furrow through the land--Windrush no more a lagoon but a rending
ploughshare.

The King!  Was this God's way of working His purpose?  Was that
mountain of royal flesh now drowning in the dark wastes of water?
The bridge had been swept clean--the very horse was gone--nay, the
bridge itself must have been broken, for only a swirl in the
dimness marked where a fragment of pier still stood, submerged
under three feet of flood. . . .

Peter strained his eyes into the gloom.  The coming of the water
seemed to have lightened the darkness a little, for he could see
the black loom of Lovell's castle on the far shore, and,
downstream, the top of the island dovecot. . . .  There was no
sound now except the steady lift and gurgle of the tide; the
crested wave with its thunder was now far away down the valley.
Only the even swish and swirl, with close at hand the murmur of
little sucking eddies.

And then in the stillness came a cry.  It seemed to come from the
island, which was fifty yards below the bridge. . . .  It sounded
again, a choked cry as from something in panic or pain.  Peter knew
that it could come from one throat only--of him who some minutes
before had ridden down the hill.  He had been plucked from the
bridge like a straw and borne down, and was now by some miracle
washed up like flotsam on the island shore.  He was not drowning,
for no drowning man could have sent out so strong a cry, but he
must be in instant peril of death.

Peter was in the water before he knew, striking transversely across
the floods so as to make the island.  He did not stop to consider
his purpose, for that oldest instinct was uppermost which of itself
quickens a man's limbs to save another's life.

He swam strongly and cunningly, and forced his way to midstream.
Then he let himself drift and listened.  Again came the cry--now
very near, and it was a cry of desperation.  The man was clinging
to something which he could not hold. . . .  Peter's long arms in
an overhand stroke devoured the waters, and his speed was thrice
the speed of the stream. . . .  Again a cry, but this time with a
choke in it.  Peter butted into a tangle of driftwood among the
island rushes.  Where in God's name was the King?

Clearly he had lost his hold.  Peter stood up in the shallows and
shouted.  Was that an answer from the dark eddy now sweeping
towards the northern bank of Windrush?  There seemed to be a sound
there which was not the stream.  Again he launched himself on the
flood, and as his breast caught the current he heard again a cry.
This time it was the strangled gasp of a drowning man.

In ten strokes he had overtaken him.  The man could only swim
feebly, and every second he dipped under the rough tide.  A very
little longer and he would dip for ever.

Peter raised his head and shouted lustily.  The man heard him, for
he made several feeble, hurried strokes.  Then Peter was on him,
and his hand was under his chin.

"Get your breath," Peter spluttered, for he had swallowed much
water in making haste.  "I will support you."

Then:  "We must get out of the stream.  Hold by my girdle and I
will tow you."

It was a harder business than the crossing of Evenlode the morning
before.  Happily the main weight of the flood was on the other side
of the island, and the stream between the island and the castle ran
with less power.  But the man was as weighty as a tree-trunk, and
his clutch on Peter's belt was like shackles of lead.  The muscles
of shoulder and thigh were cracking, before the deadly plucking of
the current eased off and they came into slack water.  Then the
other, who had manfully striven to obey his rescuer's orders,
promptly let go and sank.  Peter clutched him by some part of his
garments and waded ashore.

He pulled the water-logged body through the selvedge of drift to
what had been the quay of the castle.  The man was in a swoon, but
as Peter rolled him over his senses returned, and he was very sick.

Presently he sat up, coughing.

"God's name!" he gasped, "that was a rough journey.  I am beholden
to you, friend, whoever you be.  You will not be the worse for this
night's work.  I am woundily cold and empty, save for flood water.
Likewise my wits are somewhat dazed, and I know not where I have
been washen up.  Get me to bed and supper, and I will repay you
well."

The man, bone-weary, dripping and chilled to the marrow, still kept
a kind of dignity.  He tried to rise, and sat down again with a
groan.

"A murrain on my leg," he moaned.  "'Twas already sore with the
day's work, and now it has failed me utterly.  I cannot put foot to
ground, and my horse is drowned long ago.  Can you find a way to
move me, sirrah, for if I bide here I will freeze and starve?"

Then Peter spoke.

"Your grace must make the best of it.  This is the ruin of Minster
Lovell, and there will be no leaving it before the morrow.  Supper
I cannot give you, but I can find you a rough lodging.  Kings have
slept before in these towers."

"You know me?" came the sharp question.

"I recognise the King's grace," said Peter.

"Majesty, man, majesty," came the correction.  "That is the new
word I have commended."

"The King's majesty," Peter assented.

"I have often slept hard and supped bare.  Had I but a dry shirt
and a cushion for my cursed leg I would be content.  But tell me,
sir, does aught inhabit that shell?  I had heard that it had been
long tenantless."

"Nought but owls and bats and the twittering ghosts of old
Lovells."

The other shivered.

"Like enough.  What then can Lovell's castle offer me?"

"A shelter for your head.  With luck I may also get you fire and
food and dry raiment.  But you must be guided by me, since I have
plucked you from the water."

"I know not who you be, but you seem a good Christian.  Give me
your shoulder, lad, and I will make shift to hobble."

Leaving a trail of puddles behind them, they made their way through
the blocked postern, called the Water-gate, into the west court,
which, since there was no moon, was a trough of ink.  They groped
among the broken flags to the northern corner under the dovecot,
where was the shaft which led to Lovell's prison.

Suddenly almost under their feet a spark of light flew up, followed
by the crackling of twigs.  In the glow Peter saw the bent back and
elf locks of Madge of Shipton.

"What do you here, mother?" he asked.

She peered at him.

"Your errands, my lord.  Since you will not seek your treasure
yourself your well-wishers must seek for you.  I was casting the
runes of the burning ash-cross, for this was in old days a holy
e'en."

Peter's intention had been to leave Henry and to borrow from Mother
Sweetbread on the hill above the means of supper and bed.  Now fate
had sent him a helper.

"You will first do me a different service, mother," he said.  "Go
to Gammer Sweetbread, and bid her bring clothing and food for two
starving men.  You and she can bear it down the hill.  We will
await you here by your fire.  Bring a lantern, too, and a tinder
box."

The old woman rose to her feet.  "You are white, my lord, and there
are strange things writ in your face.  I do your errand, for you
are like two kelpies from the river, and will have ague in your
bones in another hour."

There was a small heap of kindlings, with which Peter fed the fire.

"Get yourself warm, sire," he said, "and presently you will be
better served."

Henry hunched himself close to the blaze.

"She called you lord," he said.  "Who may you be, lad?"

"'Twas an idle word," said Peter; "my name is not worthy of your
grace's hearing.  I am a common man out of the forest."

"You are uncommon strong.  Not ten men in this nation could have
dragged my bulk from that stream.  Ugh, the majesty of England came
near to being food for eels!  A cold ending at which my belly
turns.  You have put Harry of England deep in your debt, young
sir."

The man was clearly in deep discomfort.  Seen in the firelight his
face was mottled and streaked, a strong shuddering would take him,
and he moved his leg continually as if in pain.  Yet there was a
rude fortitude in his air.  His small, sharp, watchful eyes showed
a spirit that would not bow to weariness.

He toasted his steaming body, and for an hour he only spoke twice.

"I have fifty lackeys within two miles," he groaned, "and not one
lubber at hand.  That is God's jest with royalty."

The second time he said, "I may ride a bushel or two lighter for
this.  They say cold water lessens weight!"  And the strange man
laughed.

By and by the two women came out of the darkness, with a bobbing
lantern.  They had brought blankets, and two deerskin cloaks lined
with fustian, and a basket of broken meats.  There was a flagon,
too, of Mother Sweetbread's sloeberry cordial.  They looked
curiously at the great figure crouched by the fire as they laid
down their burdens, and Peter followed them back into the shadows.

Madge of Shipton plucked at his arm.

"The half-drowned one will bring you fortune," she whispered.  "I
read it in your pale face and the sign on your brow when you
wrinkled it.  But beware--beware!  The burnt cross of ash has
called spirits out of the deeps, and there is a strife among the
Powers.  All night on your behalf I will say the paternoster of the
Brethren."  The clutch of her fingers on his arm was like the
clutch of an eyas on the falconer's fist.

Mother Sweetbread said:  "You will get the ague, son Peter.  Come
back with me, and I will bed you both, and roast the fever from
your veins."

Peter put an arm round the old woman's neck.  "I will get no ague,
mother of mine.  But hearken to me, for a kingdom hangs on it.  Get
a message to Darking, who is somewhere in the Ramsden bracken.  The
forest is full of Naps's folk, and any one of them will carry the
word.  Say to Darking that I am in Lovell's castle with him he wots
of, and that my men must meet me here an hour before dawn.  Say,
too, that there is no bridge left on Windrush, and that we must
home by the road we came."

The woman nodded.

"Your message will be carried, my son, though I should have to
bunch my skirts and stir my own old bones.  Solomon shall have it
ere midnight."



The King grumbled.

"I am no fox to kennel in a hole.  Whence came those women?  Have
they no dwelling near where I may bed me?"

"A mile and more of rough ground distant.  And miserable cabins at
that, with a plague of rats and the stars shining through the
thatch.  You will be better in Lovell's cell."

"Let me lie by the fire."

"It is already dying and there is no more fuel.  There will be
frost ere morning and you will get a chill at the heart."

"But I will stick in that hole, and you who have dragged me from
water may have no power to drag me from earth."

"The place is wide enough.  Two months back I made the passage with
a brother of Oseney."

"A holy man has entered it!  That gives a flavour of grace to as
graceless a spot as ever my eyes beheld.  It looks like some
werewolf's lair. . . .  But lead on, sir.  Maybe you are right, and
I shall be warmer if I have some yards of stone and earth for
blanket."

Peter led the way down the slimy steps and over the prostrate outer
door.  The first part of the passage was narrow, and in bending the
King had some trouble with his leg.  When he jarred it on a knuckle
of stone he would bellow with pain, and Peter, turning the lantern,
saw the great face flushed and furious.  Then the roof rose, and
Peter's arm could give him support.  At the subsidence it was hard
to get the King through, and Peter had to clear away much rubble.
Then came the sound of falling water.

"Have we escaped one flood to drown in another?" the King asked
tartly.

The corridor broadened, and at last came the iron-bound door.  It
had been left unlocked on the last visit, and a pull set it
creaking on its hinges.  The little chamber smelt dry and fresh,
and it had the chill neither of the water-logged outer air nor of
the mildewed passage.

Peter set the lantern on the floor and dropped his burden.

"Behold your majesty's lodging for the night," he said, while Henry
sat himself heavily in the chair which had once been Lovell's.

Peter flung the rotting bedclothes from the pallet, and laid on it
Mother Sweetbread's blankets.  He helped the King to strip off his
soaked doublet and hose--a task of delicacy owing to the ulcer on
his leg, and wrapped his great body in one of the deerskin cloaks.

"Get you among the blankets, sire," he said, "and I will serve your
supper."

He fed him with Mother Sweetbread's provender, and he gave him to
drink of Mother Sweetbread's sloeberry cordial.  The King made an
ample meal and the strong liquor warmed his blood.  "Ha!" he cried,
"I begin to thaw, and the ice has gone from my belly.  This is a
rough inn, but the entertainment might be worse.  Give me another
cup, and I will compose myself to sleep.  What mountain is above
me?"

"Lovell's castle," said Peter.  "The abode of the last lord of that
house."

The King cried out and crossed himself.

"It has an ill name," he murmured.  "You say you came here with a
brother of Oseney?  Did the holy man lustrate this chamber, for
wherever Lovell trod Sathanas walked in his tracks?"

"Set your mind at ease, sire.  It was lustrated by prayer and
tears, and the bones of Lovell were laid in hallowed earth."

But the King was not at ease.  Some notion had arisen to vex him.
He watched Peter strip off his clothes, wrap himself in the other
cloak and make a bed beside the door.

"Oseney," he muttered, "what have I heard of a brother of Oseney?"
and he raised himself on his elbow, and stared at his companion.

Peter, ever since he had dragged the King ashore, had had a mind
empty of thought.  He saw the clear hand of God, and let himself
follow blindly as it guided. . . .  There could be no failure now,
for events had turned miraculously in his favour.  Before dawn
Darking and his men would be at Minster Lovell, and by noon the
King would be safe at Avelard.  The household at Woodstock would be
hunting high and low for its lord and master, but here in this
dungeon of Lovell's he was hidden more securely than if he were in
the heart of Wales with all Neville's pickets to guard him. . . .
He had not troubled to think of Henry.  The man with his gross body
and his ulcerated leg was no more to him than a derelict log
plucked from the water.

"Compose yourself to sleep, sire," he said; "on the morrow I can
promise you better fare and a softer bed."

He was himself very weary, but before he lay down he raised the
lantern to see to the candle within.  Then he set it and the
tinder-box on the floor beside him, blew out the light, and turned
to sleep.

But in the moment when his face had been clear in the lantern's
glow, Henry had seen in it something which made his cheek, now
ruddy with the cordial, grow mottled and pale again.  "By God, it
is he," he whispered.  "The Oseney clerk!  He is Buckingham's get,
for he has the Bohun lip. . . ."  There was no drowsiness now for
the King.



Peter slept lightly, as was his custom, for one trained in the
Oseney services, which broke the night into short stages, was not
likely to be a sluggard.  He was awakened to sudden consciousness
by the sound of a creaking pallet.  The King was restless; nay, the
King was rising.

He lay and listened.  He heard Henry fumbling among his discarded
clothes, and the clink of something hard--metal or stone.  Then he
heard the stealthy movements of the heavy body, which seemed to be
coming towards him.  He had that consciousness of imminence which
comes neither from touch, nor sight, nor hearing, but from some
subtler sense.  He slipped from under his blanket, and rolled very
softly a few feet to his left.

The King was approaching the bed.  He was close on it, leaning
above it. . . .  And then there was a rapid movement, the sound of
an arm descending, a sudden jar of metal driven through woollen on
to stone.

Peter's brain worked fast.  The King had recognised him, had hoped
to rid himself of a rival by the speediest way.  Had he been
sleeping heavily where he had laid himself down, the King's
hunting-knife would now be in his heart.

Wrath plucked him to his feet and hurled him on his enemy.  He felt
the kneeling King topple over under his impact, and found himself
grappling with something as soft and unresisting as a bolster.  He
wrested the knife from his grasp and sent it spinning into a
corner.  His hands found the thick throat, but there was no need to
choke it, for the man was without strength. . . .  Instead he felt
along the floor for the tinder-box and relit the lantern.

The King sprawled on his side, almost black in the face, his lips
contorted with pain, while one hand groped at his leg.  Peter
dragged him back to his pallet, and set the lantern on the chair.
In the struggle the deerskin had half fallen from Henry, and
revealed his misshapen limbs and huge paunch and unwholesome
elderly flesh.  Peter looked down on him with a shiver of disgust.
Then he filled a cup of cordial and put it to his lips, which
greedily drained it.  The King lay panting for a little while,
while the darkness passed from his face, leaving it mottled and
pale again.  The pain in his leg seemed to have gone, for he opened
his eyes, and they were bright and wary with fear.

"That was a foolish enterprise, sire," said Peter.  "We two are
alone here in this cell.  One is old and one is young, one is sick
and one is hale.  If two such contend there can be but the one
issue. . . .  He whom you would have slain has a few hours back
saved you from death. . . .  I would remind you likewise that
murder is a deed on which Heaven frowns."

The King had recovered his bodily ease, and with it his wits.  He
lay with the blanket drawn up to his chin, and his little eyes as
sharp as a bird's.  There was still panic in them, but also
cunning.

"Peccavi," he said.  "'Twas a sudden tempting of the Devil.  May
God and His saints have mercy on me!  I ask your forgiveness, young
sir--I, the King of England, abase myself before you."

"You would have slain me.  Why?"

"A sudden madness.  I feared you. . . .  I took you for one who was
plotting my hurt."

"Whom do I favour?  I, a nameless man of the forest!  What enemy of
your majesty's have I the ill fortune to recall?"

"None that lives," said the King, "but one that died long ago."

"Even so.  It seems I bear on my face the proof of my begetting.
Your majesty is right.  I am the son of Edward of Buckingham."

The King's face did not change, but his lips moved.

"You have come into the west to seek me.  I, too, sought you, and
God has prepared a meeting.  I deserve some favour at your
majesty's hands for this night's work.  First, I saved you from the
floods, and second, when your majesty would have knifed me, I
forbore to strike back."

There was a new light in Henry's eyes.  His panic was now under
command, and he was back in a world which he understood.

"You talk reason, my lord.  I bear no ill will to your house--I
have ever admitted its splendour.  Your father stood in my way, and
I had to thrust him aside, but I have no malice towards his son.
You speak truth--I am most deeply beholden to you for what has
befallen this night. . . .  I will make you the second man in the
kingdom.  The lands and dukedom of Buckingham shall be yours again,
and you shall ride by the King's bridle and sit high in his
Council."

Henry's eye was alert and watchful, but his smile was that grave
and kindly smile that had often beguiled men's hearts.

Peter lifted his hand.

"Let me tell you of this cell where we now lie," he said.  "Hither
after Stoke battle came one who had been the second man in the
kingdom, who had ridden by the King's bridle, and had sat high in
his Council.  He was a fugitive, but in this place he was safe.
Here he could lie till the hunt had passed, and he could get
himself and his wealth abroad.  But only one other knew the secret
of the place, and that other fell sick and died.  So the great lord
Lovell was left to starve like a rat whose hole had been stopped.
Two months back I entered this place, and stumbled over his bones.
I came seeking treasure and I found it."

The King pulled the blanket from his chin.  "'Fore God, I knew it,"
he said.  "'Twas not Neville nor Avelard that paid for this
mischief in the west. . . ."

"You mistake me.  I said I found treasure, but it was not Lovell's
gold.  I found the philosopher's stone, the touch of which
dissolves earth's ambitions.  I no longer seek what Lovell sought."

The King sat up, and as he moved his leg he squealed with pain.

"That is an honest thought," he cried.  "You would go back to Holy
Church?  I commend you, my lord.  I will rejoice to further your
purpose.  You may have the choice of any abbey in this land.  Nay,
you will be bishop as soon as I can make room for you.  I . . ."

"Your majesty misreads me.  I will never be clerk again.  But I
will not rest till there is a new England, for I am a fighter on
God's side.  I would save my soul."

"By the rood so would I!"  The King's face had a serious
bewilderment.  "I am the devoutest man that ever wore ermine.  If I
have broken with the Pope, I will defend the faith better than he.
No heretic shall breathe freely in this land while I sit on the
throne.  I have confuted in argument Luterano and Sacramentary
alike.  My chief study in my closet is holy learning.  Every day I
serve the priest at mass, every Sunday I receive the holy bread,
every Good Friday I creep on my knees to the Cross."

There was a strong passion in the King's voice.  This man, who a
little before had been a murderer in intent, believed devoutly that
he was on the side of virtue.

"You would serve God by putting yourself in God's place?" Peter
said quietly.

The King looked puzzled.

"I am God's vicegerent on earth," he said, "therefore I sit in
God's place.  But the creature abaseth itself before the Creator."

"Is it God's purpose that you burn honest folk for a little
deviation of faith, and likewise send to death those who hold in
trust God's estates because they will not surrender them to your
minions?"

The King's face lit up.  Here was ground with which he was
familiar.

"Distinguo," he cried.  "No man suffers under me save for denying
the catholic faith in which is alone found salvation.  You are a
strange clerk if you contemn that duty.  I am the guardian under
God of my people's hopes of Heaven.  I am determined to make this
realm one in faith as it is one in law.  If I have shouldered his
Holiness of Rome from the headship of Christ's Church in England,
the more need that I perform the task in which his Holiness was
somewhat negligent.  Listen, my lord.  Law is above all men, king
and peasant alike.  Of that law there are two branches, the law of
God and the law of England, and both are in my care.  The first is
based upon God's Word and that inherited practice of God's Church
which, being inspired by the Holy Ghost, is likewise canonical.  I
would make the Scriptures free to all in the vulgar tongue--you may
have heard of my efforts thereto--but I would not permit ignorant
men to interpret them as they please.  The interpretation is laid
down by Holy Church, and he who rebels against it will burn, be he
bishop or noble, clerk or cotter."

There was no fear now in the small bright eyes.  Henry spoke with a
fierce authority, and his broad low brow had set in weighty lines.

"As to the second law, the law of England, I am its most devout and
humble servant.  I have never acted save in obedience to that law.
'Twas that law that shook off the Pope's burden.  'Tis under that
law that I have taken order with certain religious houses.  I have
made it my care that the blessing of law shall be free to all, the
poorest as well as the greatest, and that all shall stand equal
before the royal tribunals.  That law is not my private will, but
the approved judgment of the wisest men.  Maybe I have guided it
into new channels, but the flow is that which came down through six
centuries.  I have sworn before God, that if any man, be he never
so great, outrage that law I will make his head fly for it, and by
God's help I will keep that vow so long as there is breath in my
nostrils."

"Yet you have made an England," said Peter, "which is in some sort
a stye and in some sort a desert."

"In what respect, sir?" the King asked sharply.  "I have given it
peace."

"That peace which is a desert," was the answer.  "Your loans and
benevolences have bled it white.  There is as much suffering as in
the days of the Black Death.  The rich grow richer, and the poor
die by thousands in the ditches."

"Ay," said the King.  "No doubt there is much misery abroad.  But
mark you, young sir, 'tis a shallow philosophy which judges on what
exists but takes no account of what has been prevented. . . .  I
have had to steer a difficult course among the plots of the Emperor
and the French King.  Had I steered less skilfully a new Duke
William might have landed on English earth.  To defeat my enemies
cost money, and that my people have cheerfully paid, for they knew
it was for them that I fought. . . .  For the rest, I say again
that I have given them peace.  But for my strong hand the nobles
would have been at each other's throats, and at mine, as in the old
Wars of the Roses.  I have shed blood, doubtless, but, had I been
weak, every drop of that blood would have been a river.  Quicquid
delirant reges, says the poet, plectuntur Achivi.  By curbing the
madness of the kings I have saved the commons from stripes.  Think
you that is a small thing?  By God, I am the man in all England
best loved by the commonalty."

"I read it otherwise.  What know you of the true commonalty of
England?  Your counsellors are the new men who have risen to power
by the oppression of the poor."

To Peter's surprise the King assented.

"I do not altogether deny that.  Hark you, my lord.  These be
strange and perilous times in which we live.  Men's minds
everywhere and in all things are in a confusion.  Europe is a
whirlpool because of the ambition of kings and the unsettlement of
the Church.  Here in England is the same strife in lesser degree.
Not in things religious only, but in the things of Mammon, for it
would appear that a new world is coming to birth.  It is a hard
world for many, a kind world to a few, but it needs must come as
spring must follow winter.  Everywhere in the land men are
following new trades, and old customs are passing away.  We grow
rich, and in growing rich we doubtless grow hard, but that hardness
is needful in the narrow portals of a new world.  Had I been a
slack-mouthed king, this England of mine would have been booty to
the proud.  Had I summoned to my councils only the ancient nobles,
a promising growth would have been nipped in the bud.  In a time of
unsettlement one thing is needful above all others, and that is a
strong hand and an iron law.  That law I will give to England,
though every shire be in flames against me!"

The man was great.  It was borne in on Peter that this vast being,
wallowing among Mother Sweetbread's homespun blankets, had the
greatness of some elemental force.  He hated him, for he saw the
cunning behind the frank smile, the ruthlessness in the small eyes;
but he could not blind himself to his power.  Power of Mammon,
power of Antichrist, power of the Devil, maybe, but something born
to work mightily in the world.

The King was speaking again.

"I will have no treason in this land," he said, "for it is treason
not against my person--which matters less--but against the realm of
England.  In Europe there is Csar who has empire over men's
bodies, and the Pope who has empire over men's souls.  I have sworn
that I too shall be imperial, and England an empire.  No foreign
Csar or foreign Pope will issue edicts over this English soil.
There will be one rule within these isles, not of Henry or Henry's
son, but of English law.  The Church will acknowledge its headship.
Even now I am bringing my turbulent kinsmen of Wales inside its
pale.  There is not a noble but will be made to bow his stiff neck
to it.  Before I die I hope with God's help to make Scotland my
vassal, so that the writ of England shall run from Thule and the
Ebudes to the Narrow Seas.  Only thus shall my people have peace,
and as a peacemaker I shall be called the child of God."

"It will be a peace without God.  You may preserve men's bodies,
but you will damn their souls."

"Not so.  In time the new wealth which this land is getting will
spread itself so that the poor will benefit.  Some day there will
be an England prosperous and content, and what better soil for the
flourishing of true religion and sound learning?"

Peter shook his head.

"There may be nobleness in your dreams, but in the meantime you are
burdening your soul with evil deeds.  Can piety and graciousness
spring from what is evil?  You are imperilling your salvation in a
proud venture."

The King laughed--a low rumbling laugh, with mirth in it.

"I am willing to run the hazard.  Listen, my lord.  There is an old
tale of a mighty Emperor who died and came to Peter's Gate.  The
devil's advocate had much to say against him--sackings and burnings
and politic lies and politic slayings.  'But,' said the Emperor, 'I
have had a hard task, fighting all my days with desperate men to
put a little decency and order into my world.  It is not fair to
judge me by the canons of the cloister.'  And the Lord God, who
knows how difficult is the labour of government, admitted the plea,
and the Emperor passed into Paradise.  I am content to leave my own
judging to the same wise God."

"You walk in Lovell's path," said Peter.  "Would you had been with
me when I first came to this place, and had seen the end of
Lovell's glory."

"Tush, man, I have made account of that.  All earthly splendour
ends in rottenness.  This body of mine is half-rotten already.  But
the flaming spirit of man outlasts his dust, and till God send for
me I will rule England."

He yawned.

"I am weary and would sleep, for my leg is now at peace.  Take you
that knife into your bed, if it comfort you. . . .  You are an
honest lad, but you are a monk in bone.  Return to Oseney and I
will make you its abbot."



CHAPTER XV

HOW THE SWAN OF BOHUN WENT DOWN


The prigger lad whom Peter found above Shipton Barren duly carried
the message to Darking, and about the time when the former was
crossing Windrush his men had drawn by secret ways towards the
Fulbrook gap.  Some of Naps's scouts were in the river bottom, and
presently to Darking, hidden on the heights, they brought strange
reports.  A hind had crossed the stream with the hounds in full cry
after her, and one man after the hounds.  Darking guessed that this
man might be the King, but he sought confirmation.  It came with
the first hour of twilight, when the royal escort, guided by the
verderers, arrived in hot haste below the Barrington dam.  Their
master had gone out of their ken, and they had the task of finding
him, knowing well that there would be the devil to pay if, when the
heat of the chase was over, he found himself without attendants.
They roamed the north bank of Windrush like hounds at fault, and at
last a party crossed by the Burford bridge to explore the forest on
the south shore.

Darking was in doubt about Peter till he got news from one of
Flatsole's people that he had been seen on the high ground towards
Westwell.  This made his course clear: Peter was following the
hounds and the King.  His order was for every man to cross, but
only half a dozen succeeded.  For at that moment came the bursting
of the Barrington dam, which drowned two of the Avelard troopers,
and put an unfordable width of water between him and the farther
bank.

He had now a new problem.  The King and Peter were, he believed,
somewhere in the thick woods that clothed the ridge between
Windrush and Thames.  A dozen at the most of the King's men had
followed, and the remainder were aimlessly beating the Taynton
slopes.  He learned that every bridge on Windrush had been swept to
the sea, and that the river could not be forded except far up its
valley towards Bourton.  This seemed to make his task simpler.  The
rest of the Woodstock men would doubtless aim at the fords of the
upper valley, but he and his folk would outpace them.  The dozen
who had already crossed--Shrewsbury's men-at-arms--would make slow
going in a land of which they knew nothing.  The King was islanded
for the better part of the night, cut off in a wild place with
Peter on his trail; he himself had men with him who could move fast
and sure in the dark; and behind him were Naps's vagabonds, every
man of them skilled like wild things to thread the woods; it would
be strange if before morning he did not join hands with Peter and
have the King safe.  After that a swift ride for Avelard with not
one flooded stream to compel a circuit.  Things had befallen--or
should befall--as if the fates were their eager allies.

So the word was passed to ride west for the Bourton crossings.
This was an easy task for the men of High Cotswold, who were now in
familiar downland, where they found secrecy an easier matter than
in the tangled woods. . . .  But the last twelve of them saw
something which brought them off their horses and huddled them in
the shelter of a coombe.  A large mounted force came spurring from
Charlbury way.  Word of the King's disappearance must have already
fluttered the Woodstock dovecots.  "Soon," thought Darking, "they
will have the countryside roused and every squireling will be out
to succour majesty.  By that time, if God will, majesty will be
looking down on Severn."

They found a crossing under Rissington, and about the time when
Mother Sweetbread was bearing food and clothing down the hill, had
come by way of Sherborne to the great heath which lined the highway
between Witney and Gloucester, the main road to the west.  They
left it when they saw the Burford lights, and plunged into the
shaggy forest which lay between Shilton and the Windrush, the
landscape which five hours before they had looked at from the other
bank.  It was very dark, but they had guides who knew the ground
like their wives' faces, and could see like wild cats in the gloom.

It was a vain quest.  Twice they ran into oddments of the King's
escort who had crossed before the bursting of the dam--men lost
utterly and wandering blind in the night.  These they could have
easily made prisoner, but they let them stumble past unharmed.  No
clue was to be got from such as to the King's whereabouts. . . .
The hounds must have long ceased to hunt, and were probably now
snuggled together in some dell.  What would the King do when the
dark descended?  Make for Windrush and Woodstock?  But the rise
in the river would prevent his crossing, and what would he do
then?  Maybe sleep cold in the bracken.  Maybe ride for Witney
village. . . .  One of Naps's lads was sent on to Witney to inquire,
and brought word that no man had come out of the forest from the
west since nightfall. . . .  Slowly Darking came to the conclusion
that the King was now in Peter's charge.  Somewhere the two were
together, and he and his men would find them at daybreak.  He
wished that it could have been in the night, for he had hoped to
start for Avelard before dawn, since the daylight would bring half
the countryside seeking the King. . . .  He took up his
headquarters on the track between Asthall and Brize Norton, and
sent out pickets who all night fruitlessly searched the coverts.
There was not a man of Darking's that night in the original
rendezvous in the Ramsden brakes, except a lame horseboy who had
been brought to cook for the Stanway troop.



Mother Sweetbread bundled up her petticoats and bestirred her old
legs to some purpose.  The vagabond folk, who for a week had filled
the forest around her cottage like woodcock in the first frost, had
now mysteriously gone.  She tried all their familiar haunts, she
gave the beggars' call in her cracked old voice, but there was no
answer.  Then on her own feet she set out for Ramsden.  The forest
at that part lacked tall trees, and was mostly scrub oak, thorn and
holly, but there was a track she knew of.  She knew also, she
thought, the very dingle where she would find Darking.

But she found that she had presumed on her strength.  It was very
dark and the lantern burned badly, so that she often tripped over
the roots of trees.  A badger had made its earth on the little-used
path, and in it she wrenched her ankle.  Long before she was at the
moorish tract which dipped to Ramsden brakes, her legs and breath
had begun to fail her.  On the hilltop she sank on the ground in
despair.  She could never herself reach Darking, and the underworld
of the forest, lately so populous, had become a desert.

A man was coming up the track.  She cowered into the dead bracken
and shuttered her light till he came close, and she saw from his
garments that he was a friar.  A white friar, for, when she lifted
the lantern, his robe fluttered in its glare like the wings of a
moth.  Her hope revived.  Here was a holy man, and holy men
everywhere were on Peter's side.

The Carmelite was speaking to himself like one in a frenzy, and it
was not till she cried out that he halted and looked towards her.
His eyes blinked in the light like those of a great bird, and she
saw that they were hollow and wild.

"Father," she cried, "I ask your mercy.  I have an errand to do,
and my strength fails me.  Know you one Solomon Darking?"

"Who speaks that name?" he boomed.  "Solomon Darking is busy on
God's tasks.  Who would stay him by carnal errands?"

The old woman was comforted.  Here was one who was privy to the
business.

"It is of these tasks I speak.  I have a message to him from him
whom he calls master."

"Mean you the young lord whom God has sent to deliver His people?"

"Even so.  This night there is high work afoot, and he we know of
has a word which must be gotten straightway to Darking's ears.
Darking is somewhere in Ramsden brakes, but I cannot stir my feet
another yard.  Have pity, father, and be my messenger."

The Carmelite mused.

"I have but now passed through Ramsden brakes," he said, "and I saw
no sign of man or horse.  They were there four hours back, two-
score stalwart lads from my own nook of Cotswold, but now the fires
are cold ashes.  Yet I will find Solomon Darking, though I should
have to borrow the wings of a bird.  Speak on, sister.  What is the
message?"

"He whom we wot of would have Darking know that he is now in
Lovell's castle, and with him is one whose name he did not speak,
but of whom Darking is well aware.  Darking is bidden bring his men
to the place an hour before dawn.  My lord said also that I was to
tell him that they must hence by the road they came, since there
was no bridge left on Windrush."

The Carmelite sunk his head on his breast and shut his eyes.  When
he raised it these eyes were glowing.

"That is the great news, mother," he crooned; "Minster Lovell!  A
fitting place for God's revenge upon evil!  Who think you is he
that is with my lord?  None other than Antichrist, the man of
blood.  God has wonderfully guided His frail people.  I have wept
and fasted and prayed against this day, and in my folly I
despaired, because I saw no great array, as I had dreamed, trooping
from the west.  But God follows His own secret ways, and those ways
are not as ours.  If we have gotten the Antichrist, we have gotten
what is better than Oxford town or London city."

With upraised hand he blessed the old woman, and then turned and
fluttered back the road he had come.

His zeal was his undoing.  There was no one in Ramsden brakes nor
yet in Finstock.  He tried to plan, but his sick and fevered brain
was incapable of thought.  Instead he prayed, and it seemed to him
that God answered his prayer, and made him take the road to
Shipton.  "The good Darking," he told himself, "will have gone
there to greet the further levies from the west."

Till long after midnight he wandered between Leafield and Shipton
Barren, running often in the exuberance of his purpose, and leaving
rags of his white clothing on the briers as sheep leave tufts of
wool on the downland thorns.  But he found no Darking, nor any of
Darking's men.  Sometimes he flung himself on his knees and poured
out a torrent of prayers; he waded through marshes and scrambled
among marl-pits, and always his lips were working and he was
communing with his mad heart.

An hour before dawn, as the skies in the east lightened, he had a
sudden assurance.  "Presently I will find him," he said, "for God
tells me so."  And he fell to crooning the message which Mother
Sweetbread had given him.

He was above the track from Charlbury to Burford, and he saw men--a
dozen and more--riding fast up from Evenlode.  The Carmelite was
now at the very limit of his strength, but the sight roused some
wild remnant of power.  He could not see clearly, but he saw enough
to know that these men did not wear royal liveries, nor were they
Shrewsbury's squat midlanders.  Beyond doubt they were Darking's
folk--for that he had God's assurance.

He ran down the slope and stayed the cavalcade with uplifted hand.
One who seemed to lead turned aside to him.

"I have a word for Solomon Darking," he cried.

"Ay.  What word for Solomon?" asked the leader.

"He must go forthwith with all his men to Minster Lovell.  Haste
you, for you should have been there even now.  It is not an hour
till daybreak."

"And what is toward at Minster Lovell?" came the question.

"The young lord is there . . . and that other whom ye seek."

The man turned to his followers.

"Fortune is with us," he cried.  "This is the mad friar who has
come out of the west, and he is deep in rebellion.  I do not know
what his ravings mean, but there is something at Minster Lovell to
be looked into.  Forward, lads.  Then turn to the left up the hill
by the old gallows."



When Peter woke the King was still asleep.  He could not be certain
of the time, for in that deep cell those tides of air ceased to
work which made a clock in his brain, but he believed that it must
be close on dawn.  Mother Sweetbread could not have failed him.
Darking and his men would be without in the west court, with the
hoar frost on their bridles, beating their breasts against the
cold.

The King slept with his mouth open, his breath coming stertorously
from his great chest.  What a man!  He slept carelessly beside one
whom a few hours back he had tried to murder, one whom he knew to
be the leader of a plot against his throne.  There was the
arrogance of greatness here.  The man was a king beyond doubt, for
power was the one lust of his life.  He was the embodied new
England, an England that had forsaken God.  Peter repeated the
phrase like a password.  It was a sedative to his doubts.  This man
was against God, and God himself, not mortal man, would overthrow
him.

He almost pitied him.  In a little he would be bumping westward
with a hundred stout fellows to guard him.  And then, while he lay
tight at Avelard or maybe in some fortalice of Wales, the vast
delayed army would be mustering, hampered no longer by the floods--
mustering from north and west and south, to sweep east upon
leaderless forces and defenceless cities and courtiers that lacked
their master.

A grunt and a succession of volcanic sneezes told him that the King
was awake.  He lit the lantern.

Henry was at his most vigorous in the morning.  He rubbed his eyes,
propped himself on one arm, and called for a draught.  Peter gave
him the last cup of Mother Sweetbread's cordial.

Recollection slowly flooded back on the King.  He frowned and
narrowed his eyes.

"What is the order of the day, monk?" he asked.

"I will escort you to breakfast and a more comfortable lodging."

For an instant suspicion and fear like an animal's woke in the
small eyes.  Then he laid some restraint on himself.

"You will guide me to Woodstock," he said.  "Then you will be
rewarded for your good deeds and . . ."

"Punished for my ill ones."  Peter smiled.  "Get you ready, sire,
and we will taste what weather the morning has brought us."

Henry, with many groans occasioned by his leg, got himself into
trunks, hose and doublet, still damp and wrinkled.  He followed
Peter's lantern down the corridor, grumbling at the stiffness of
his limbs.  The man to Peter's admiration seemed to have no fear,
and to be concerned only with his discomforts.

The open greeted them with a mild frost, which lay white on all the
west court, save one little strip which the sun had warmed.  The
place, to Peter's surprise, was empty and still.  He had looked at
least for Darking at the tunnel's mouth.  "Solomon is with the
others," he told himself.  "I will find him at the Water-gate."

He gave Henry a hand as he limped over the broken flags of the
court, and squeezed through the choked postern.  They came into the
little space of flat ground which bordered the river.  Windrush had
shrunk since the night before, and the jagged piers of the broken
bridge stood out of the water, but, though the current was less
strong, it was still some furlongs wide.

He saw men and horses.  But where was Darking?  He looked again.
The men wore livery--red and white, it seemed.  These were the
Howard tinctures. . . .  He was seen, and a cry was raised.  A man,
who sat his horse stiffly like a sentinel, turned and moved towards
him.

The man shouted and was answered by a cry from the King.

"To me!" Henry cried, his voice hoarse with the morning chill.
"Treason!  Treason!  I am the King.  To me, all honest English!"

The men, a score at least, moved like a flock of rooks scared from
stubble, those who had dismounted scrambling into their saddles.
The sun caught their faces and Peter knew them for enemies.  He
turned and ran east down the river bank, under the great southern
keep of the castle.

His first impulse was to swim the river--that impulse which comes
upon all fugitives to put the greatest immediate barrier between
them and pursuit.  But he remembered that Darking and his men must
be in the Ramsden coverts, and that with them lay his only safety.
Had he followed his first instinct he would have been wise, for
Darking and every man of High Cotswold were at the moment beyond
the river, searching the thickets fruitlessly for traces of Peter
and the King.

Instead, by a path between the castle wall and the floods, so
narrow that no horse could pass, he turned the eastern buttress and
came out on what had once been Lovell's chase, a broad hillside
dotted with thorn and furze.  On the crest was the dark loom of
Wychwood's skirts; once there he would be ill to follow.  His
pursuers could not know the place, and would take time to pass the
ruined closes and granges of Minster Lovell, so as to reach the
chase from the west.  He was right in his guess; for he was nearly
at the top of the slope, keeping always the scrub between him and
any man looking up from the valley, before he saw horsemen emerge
into the open.

He had no fear of capture.  How could Norfolk's men hope to take
him in a land of which they knew naught, and which he had conned
since childhood.  But it was not of himself that he thought.  God's
plan, aforetime so miraculous in his eyes, had miscarried.  The
King was back among his friends.  He was no longer lost and
derelict and alone, but must now be plucked from the heart of a
troop.  Peter's confidence flagged. . . .  And meantime where were
his folk?  Had Mother Sweetbread failed in her errand?  Or had
Darking been overpowered somewhere in the night and his troop
scattered? . . .  Peter grew sick with apprehension.

He had learned from Darking all the calls of the vagabond folk--the
dull whistle of the palliards, the broken whinny of the priggers,
the owl's hoot of the rufflers, the snipe's bleat of the whipjacks.
He tried each in turn, but there was no reply.  Yesterday this
forest had been alive with secret dwellers, but now it seemed as
lifeless as a tomb.  The birds that answered him were not breeched
fowls, but pigeons that broke with a crash from the high tree-tops,
and owls lumbering in the low coverts, and the soft swish of
zigzagging woodcock.  Where in Heaven's name were the vagabonds?
What had become of John Naps's scouts?  Where, above all, was
Darking?

But if there was no sign of his friends, there was proof of the
presence of others.  As he crossed the forest road from Charlbury
to Witney he saw that it was puddled with fresh hoof marks.  A body
of mounted men had passed here not an hour before, and the horses
had been heavy lowland beasts, not the light mounts of his own
people. . . .  And then he had a sharp surprise.  There were men in
the forest, riding like prickers to unharbour deer.  From a nook in
the scrub he noticed several pass, men with a purpose, men looking
for something other than buck, for they were not hunt servants.
All wore livery or badges, and on one he recognised the Talbot
colours.  The enemy had taken the offensive.  He was no longer the
pursuer, but the pursued.

At last he was in the Ramsden dingles, and there he found only cold
ashes.  Anxiety for Darking had now fevered his thoughts.  Had he
and all his folk been driven out of the forest?  Somehow,
somewhere, there had been a great rallying of the King's men.  He
strove to think clearly.  Darking in the night watches must have
been disturbed, and prevented from receiving Mother Sweetbread's
message, or, if the message had found him, from reaching Minster
Lovell.  It must have been a strong force that dispossessed him,
but dispossessed he must have been--he and all John Naps's crew.
The forest was now full of the King's folk.  Whither had Darking
gone?  There was only one way--west by the high downs to their own
country.  Some violent compulsion had made Darking leave without a
word of guidance to him; doubtless he trusted to his wits and
woodcraft to make the right deduction and follow. . . .

And then came a ray of light in the darkness.  In a deep hollow
stood a verderer's hut, which had been the stable of the horse
Peter had ridden from Avelard, what time he left it behind after
the loosing of the gospeller.  There it had remained during the
weeks of his fever at Little Greece.  He had left it fourteen hours
back tied to a stump on the far side of Windrush.  Now he was
greeted with a whinny, and found the bay ranging in its stall,
sniffing after stray grain and chaff in the corners.  It had broken
its tether and swum Windrush, for its flanks and belly were wet.
There was some hay in the rack on the rafters from which he fed it.
The stirrup irons and bridle were dark with frost.

His hopes rose.  Here was a means by which he could overtake
Darking.  This was his first business, for the whole plan must be
re-ordered.  The King was alive to his peril, but that peril might
still be turned into doom.  Whatever reinforcements he had got at
Woodstock--and, since the forest was alive with men, these
reinforcements must have been ample--they could be overmatched by
the levies from the west.  War had been declared, and there could
be no turning back.  Never had Peter felt such a heat of
resolution.  Every nerve of mind and body was constrained into one
conscious purpose.  He had seen his enemy and had understood both
his power and his maleficence.  His soul seemed now to be drawn to
a fine edge of burning light.

They were beating the eastern forest for him; the troops at Minster
Lovell, with Henry behind them, would follow hard on his tracks
from the south; north lay Woodstock; his only course was westward.
He summoned all his remembered lore to his aid.  He knew a secret
track which would bring him by Leafield to the open land above
Shipton Barren.  Once there, it would be strange if he could not
ride fast by Taynton and Barrington and be past Northleach by
midday.  His enemies were not likely to have anything in the way of
horseflesh that could vie with his bay for speed.  He dug in his
spurs, and galloped for the high woods of the Leafield crest. . . .

About the same moment Darking, who after two hours of daylight had
realised that the King and Peter were not south of Windrush, had
issued orders to troops and vagabonds alike to get back to the
north bank.  Every mile Peter moved was separating him farther from
his friends. . . .

In an hour he was looking down on the road from Charlbury to
Burford, at almost the point where, in the early dawn, the
Carmelite had met the horsemen.  A small army was encamped there--
not less than a thousand men, and a chain of posts north and south
along the highway barred all access to the Taynton downs.

Peter crouched and reflected.  If he tried to pass by he would be
seen.  He might break through at a gap in the posts, but he would
certainly be pursued.  Was there hope of escape?  His hawk eyes
scanned the picketed horses, and he saw that they were of a
different breed from the heavy beasts now lumbering behind him in
the forest.  They looked like southerners--Norfolk's men, maybe,
from his Sussex lands.  Had he any chance of outdistancing such in
open country?

If his soul was on fire, his brain was cool.  Calmly he calculated
his chances.  They were quartering the forest behind him, and if he
went back that way he would have to discard his horse and take to
crawling in thickets.  He might escape discovery, but there was no
hope there, with Darking spurring somewhere on the road to the
west.  Besides, he would presently starve.  He thought of
sheltering with Mother Sweetbread, but only to discard the notion.
Whatever befell him, he could not involve her in his danger.  But
indeed the forest was useless now.  The campaign had moved to a
different country.  It was the west, High Cotswold, that mattered,
the place where Darking had gone. . . .

At that moment John Naps's men were filtering back into Wychwood.
Darking and half his force had fetched a circuit, crossed Windrush
below Witney, and were even now approaching the Ramsden brakes.
One company of the King's men had been surprised by them, disarmed,
and dismounted, and were now, mostly with broken heads, sitting in
Finstock meadow. . . .

All quarters seemed shut to Peter but the north.  An idea came to
him.  What about the road he had ridden three days back?  Charlbury
bridge was indeed on the direct track from Woodstock, but for that
reason it would be the less closely guarded.  The bold road might
be the wise road. . . .  He moved farther north on the crest.  The
pickets only occupied the higher ground, and did not extend to the
meadows by Evenlode.  He could not see the bridge nor the causeway,
but he could see the track winding down to within half a mile of
it, and it was empty.

His mind was made up.  He would cross at Charlbury, where he was
not looked for, and take the high road by Stow to the west.  He had
worn no sword the day before, for he had not looked for fighting,
and had feared lest any weapon might obstruct his passage in the
thickets.  But a weapon he needed now.  With his knife he cut and
trimmed a great cudgel from an ash tree, and made it sing round his
head.  "If there is a sentinel on Charlbury bridge he will get a
cracked skull," he thought.  He felt strangely exalted.  An issue
would yet be found out of his perplexities.

Very carefully he made his way, leading his horse, round the butt
of the hill till Charlbury bridge came in view.  Evenlode had ebbed
and the current no longer swirled over the two causeways; it barely
lipped them.  There was nobody at the near end of the bridge.  The
far end he could not see, for the high central arch blocked it.
There was a hovel or two there, he knew, but the little town lay
well to the right on the hill.  He could see the smoke going up
straight from its chimneys in the windless morning.

He came to the edge of the forest, beyond which some furlongs of
meadowland separated him from the bridge.  Less than a mile lay
between him and safety, but he knew that that mile held the crisis
of his life.  He had the exaltation but also the anxiety of a great
purpose.  He knelt and prayed to the Virgin, her of whom he had had
a vision in the snowy wood, but he had no answering comfort.  "The
Blessed Ones have left me to face this business alone," he told
himself.  "Well, here's for fortune!"

He mounted his horse and rode towards the bridge with his great
cudgel carried at the rest, as a man might ride the lists at a
tourney.  Not a soul was visible in the wide landscape.

There was a little rise of ground before he reached the first
causeway, and there his eye could just surmount the high bridge
back.  Something he saw beyond, and that something was like the
summit of a pleached hedge.  He knew it for the tips of spears.
There were men stationed on the other side.

His eyes dimmed and then cleared, and out of his heart went all
carefulness.  That awoke in him which had sent his forbears rending
the Scottish footmen and driving through the mellay at Poictiers.
He felt light-hearted and unconquerable.  His great stick was like
a straw in his hands.  He had in him the power to subdue thousands.
He was singing to himself, singing small and low, and the words
were Sabine's song.

The spurs were in the bay's flanks, and in a mad gallop he was on
the causeway. . . .  Summer is come with love to town. . . .  The
light lip of the tide flew around him in spray. . . .  Sweet
mistress, why so pale O? . . .  With a bound he was on the bridge's
keystone. . . .  The deer draw to the dale O!  He saw below him a
blur of men . . . and spear-points.  Their faces seemed strangely
white.  They blocked the path, most of them dismounted, and they
stared--stared with blank eyes.  Could such feeble folk stay him?
He saw one man on a horse with a blue surcoat over mail, and he saw
him draw his sword.  Down the steep descent from the arch to the
far causeway he thundered, and men gave way for him and two fell
sprawling.  The horseman took his cudgel on his sword arm and
promptly rolled from his horse.

Peter was not humming now, for the fury of an older England was on
him.  For the last time men heard a cry once more terrible than
trumpets--the cry of "God and the Swan." . . .  They divided and
some ran, for the ash stick was breaking their heads and snapping
their spear-shafts.

But there was a stout man at the back, one Jonas Turph, the
Swinbrook armourer, and he bore a great hammer.  Likewise he had a
steel cap under his felt bonnet.  On his head the ash stick
shivered into a dozen pieces, and the hard skull beneath took no
scaith.  Peter was almost through--in three strides more he would
be beyond the causeway with the road open for the west.  But the
armourer, shaking his head like a dog coming out of water, swung
his hammer.  It struck the bay's rump, there was the squeal of a
beast in pain, and down it came with a palsied back. . . .  A great
hand plucked at Peter's neck from behind, and in an instant he was
on the ground with a press of men atop of him.



Sir Ferdinando Fettiplace, nursing a broken arm, looked at the
trussed and half-senseless figure with a wry face.

"Curse on the madcap," he said.  "'Twill be a month of Sundays ere
I can sup broth again.  This day will be worth a capful of gold to
you, Jonas Turph, for beyond doubt 'tis the lad the King's grace is
seeking.  Well-grown, they said, and comely, and habited in russet
and green.  By the Blood of Hailes, but he is ripe for hanging, for
with such abroad there can be no peace in England.  He came down on
us like the lightnings of God."



CHAPTER XVI

HOW PETER RETURNED TO THE GREENWOOD


He was brought next morning before the King.  Henry sat in the
banqueting-house at Woodstock, with every window open, for the day
was mild and he heated quickly.  The guards were no longer
Shrewsbury's hundred spears, for Norfolk had sent a thousand men
under Surrey his son, and Sir John Denton had brought his Epping
riders, and half the squires of east Oxfordshire and Berkshire had
hastened each with his mounted lackeys to honour the King.  The
park was like a tented field in the foreign wars.

Peter had been well enough treated by the Fettiplace men.  They
had forborne to question him, and one, who knew something of
leechcraft, had tended his bruises.  That morning he had been
heavily manacled and handed over by them to the royal guards, after
listening to a stammering speech of loyalty from Sir Ferdinando and
Henry's gracious reply--Sir Ferdinando whose name had been on the
Avelard muster-roll.  Peter did not grumble.  He hoped that no
thick-witted country lording would suffer in his cause, since that
cause was now doomed and destroyed. . . .  Darking would know of
his capture, and, he trusted, would lead his men safely back to
High Cotswold.  Avelard would hear of it, and Neville, and all the
rest, and the levies would melt like snow in an April sun.  Only he
himself would suffer, which was just, since he was Bohun and might
have been king.

He was in a strange mood, equable, almost happy.  A load of care
seemed to have fallen from him.  He had no longer to think of
others, only of himself, and that was a light task. . . .  For him
there was but the one fate.  The great mill of destiny with which
he had conversed two nights before, would grind him small.  A
miracle, and he might have overthrown it, but that miracle had
miscarried.  God had other purposes.  It was His celestial will
that the Beast should rule a little longer in England. . . .  But
he would not see that rule, for he would be under the sod.  "Only
the dead are beautiful and free"--why should fear vex any man, when
so easy a gate gave upon a land where fears were at rest?

He looked curiously at the tall guards on each side of his settle,
at the mob of Woodstock townsmen who thronged the doors in lively
terror of the yeoman of the hall with his silver wand, at the dust-
motes dancing in the sunlight which slanted through the windows, at
the King in his crimson chair at the table on the dais, and the
councillors about him.  He saw Sir John Denton, and Chartley, and a
red-faced ecclesiastic whom he knew for Dr John London of Oxford.
One other, too, a stout man in a furred black gown, with a large
pale face, a host of chins, a low voice, and steady ruminant eyes--
a familiar face, it seemed.  He asked one of the guards, and was
told "the lord Crummle."

Henry was in a high humour.  He had had an adventure out of which
he had come with credit and safety.  He felt confirmed in his self-
confidence and in the approbation of God.  That morning he had
served at High Mass, and the odour of the black ropy incense which
he loved still clung to him.  He had eaten for breakfast the best
part of a pasty of quails, and a great dish of buttered kidneys.
The glow of conscious holiness and good feeding was in his veins.

He had many despatches to read, which he passed among his lords.
Then he looked round the hall and saw Peter.

"Ha!" he said.  "'Tis the mad monk.  Bring the man forward that my
lords may see him.  This is he that threatened the majesty of
England, and held it in durance for a winter's night.  But for your
timely appearance, Sir John, it might be now lying in a ditch with
a slit throat.  Mark the fellow--he has thews like Goliath and the
eye of a wrestler.  Dangerous stuff to be abbey-bred!"

The lords looked at Peter incuriously.  Battered and pale, his
clothes torn and soiled, he looked a common vagabond, of whom the
land had many.  He had fallen in with the King, when lost a-
hunting, and had threatened him.  For that he must swing, but it
did not concern them.  The King's story might or might not be true--
he was a ripe liar on occasion--but it mattered little whether
there was one unfrocked priest the less in the world.  Only Crummle
looked at him sharply.  The guards would have led Peter away, but
Crummle motioned to them to withdraw to the side of the hall.

"Will your majesty see the other?" he asked, and Henry, who was
telling the young Howard of a new falcon, nodded.

Peter was in the dusk now, out of the way of the sunbeams.  He saw
the crowd cleared at the doorway, and a tall man enter with a rope
at his wrists.  His face had a great gash on the left cheek, from
which blood still oozed.  He held his head stiffly, and Peter saw
for the first time since Little Greece the high bold countenance of
Simon Rede.

Henry knitted his brows.

"This is the Luterano," he said.  "A pest on the fellow for a
crack-brain!  Once he promised well, you say?"  And he turned to
Crummle.

"He carried letters, your majesty, for the Council to the Court of
Denmark," said Crummle in his soft even voice.

"And now he must needs abet the traitors who would have England
godless, and blaspheme the holy mysteries."  Henry, with the
incense of the mass still in his nostrils, grew hot.  He consulted
a paper.  "He assisted the escape of one of the most pernicious of
the foul brood called gospellers, deforced the servants of King and
Church, and, when taken at last, broke sundry honest skulls and was
heady in his impenitence.  He has uttered blasphemies, says this
indictment, too shocking to reiterate to godly ears, and he has
altogether refused to confess his sins. . . .  Hark you, sirrah!"
Henry's face was mottled with passion.  "I will have no heretics in
England, be they gentle or simple.  You are born, they tell me, of
an honourable house, and have served with credit in the wars.  The
more shame to you for your errors!  I have said it, and I say it
now, that I will root out of the land every seed of false doctrine,
till this England be the very apple of God's eye for its sweet and
united faith."

"What is your majesty's will concerning him?" Crummle asked.  He
seemed to be about to put forward some plea on the prisoner's
behalf.  But the King's face was stern.

"He will go to the court of my lord Bishop of Lincoln.  He will be
given the chance to acknowledge his errors and to recant them.  If
he continue obdurate, he shall burn, by God, burn as if he were a
common blasphemer from the kennels."

Henry signed to Sir John Denton, his temporary marshal.  "I would
be alone with my Vicar-General.  Have the rabble cleared from the
door, and do you, my dear lord, wait on me again in an hour's
space. . . .  No.  Remove the Luterano, but leave the monk.  I may
have a word to speak to him."

The hall was emptied, and the great door shut on the curious
Woodstock townsmen.  Henry sat in his crimson chair, with the
portly Crummle beside him, and he signed to Peter to come out of
the gloom.  "Get you to the door," he told the guards, "and wait
till you be summoned.  The fellow is safe, for he has a load of
iron on his wrists."

It was a different Henry.  The complacency, the jollity, the sudden
passion had all gone out of face and voice.  He looked infinitely
wary, and cunning, and wise.  He smiled upon Crummle, who smiled
also, craftily.

"It is he," said the King, "he we were told of.  Nay, man, there is
no need of proof to one who has seen Edward Stafford.  Every inch
of him is Buckingham's get."

The fat man looked Peter over slowly, shrewdly, not unkindly.

"He is a child," he said.

"No child, by God!" said Henry, "but one with more wits than any
six Bohuns since William Conqueror.  My lord, this realm has
escaped a great peril.  We know something of what is afoot in the
west.  But for the blessed weather, sent by God's own providence,
all Severn might have been on us.  This stripling was their hope,
and without him they are scattered sheep.  How great were Heaven's
mercies usward!  First the floods, and then this lad in some wild
folly stumbles upon me, and puts his neck into the noose."

"I have heard your majesty's tale," said Crummle.  "'Twas a most
happy deliverance."

"Well may you say so.  Our troubles thin, my lord, and the sky
clears.  The east is quiet again.  Aske in the north sues for
mercy, and the mischief in the west dies still-born."

"What fate have you decreed for him?" Crummle asked.

"He will hang comfortably and quietly," said Henry, purring like a
great cat.  "No new Lambert Simnel tales--only a nameless monk who
dabbles in hedge-treason and dangles for it.  I purpose to send him
into Berkshire with Sir Miles Flambard to hang at Reading.  He is
condemned of English law under the sanction given to a commander in
the field, such as at this moment am I.  The name in the death
record is that which he bore at Oseney--Peter Pentecost."

"Your majesty has gone deep into the matter," said Crummle.  "That
is a name none of my intelligencers told to me."

Henry smiled and whispered something in the other's ear, and Peter
thought that he caught the word "Messynger."

"You are confident that the danger is overpast?" Crummle asked.

"As I hope for salvation.  I have sent one post to Avelard and
another to Marchington.  There will be a hasty spurring of horses
eastward to make peace with a merciful King, nor will the
suppliants be repelled."  Again Henry smiled, and again he spoke
low in the other's ear, and this time there was no doubt that
Messynger was among the words he uttered.

"Leave me now, friend Thomas," he said.  "I would have one word
alone with this youth before he is sent to the judgment of an
offended God."

Crummle arose and moved slowly from the hall, limping heavily, for
he had a fit of the gout.  The guards were back at the door out of
earshot.  Peter and the King were as secluded as they had been in
Lovell's castle.

Henry was grinning.  Peter's eyes dazzled, and the winter sunlight
seemed to darken.  It was dusk now, and in it the great red face
glowed like a moon.

"You are he that would have ruled England?"  The words came with a
rich gusto of contempt.  "Man, you had me at your mercy.  You could
have squeezed my life out with these strong hands of yours, and
Henry would have been as lost to the world as the rotting bones of
Lovell.  What brain-sick whimsy made you dream that you were the
metal of which kings are wrought?"

The glowing face mesmerised Peter.  It was like that moon of blood
which he had seen at Avelard when the thundercloud broke at dawn.

"I offered you an abbacy--with the reversion of a bishopric," the
voice went on.  "You heeded me not, which was wise, for a promise
wrung under durance is no promise.  But that was due to no wit of
yours, but to your pride of dreams.  'Faith, you will presently
have peace to dream--the dream from which there is no awaking.  In
the space of twenty-four hours you will be carrion.  You will learn
what is the penalty of sinning against Henry of England."

The countenance was no longer a moon, but that of a great cat
tormenting its prey.  It seemed that the cat was disappointed, for
the brows knitted in anger.  There was no answering shadow of fear
in Peter's face, for to him the whole scene was like some crazy
mumming-play.  His eyes regarded the King as incuriously as if he
were a guizard at Hallowmas.  What they saw was the blanket of the
dark rolling over all England, not this angry glow in the heart of
it.

"I am merciful," said the voice.  "You saved my life in the
floods for your own purpose and out of no love for my person.
Nevertheless, for that I will make return.  There will be no
blazoning abroad of the treason of Buckingham's son.  You will die
decently in the name you bore as a monk, and you and your race will
be forgotten utterly. . . .  Nay, nay--there will be no cherishing
in the west of a tender memory.  Avelard and Neville and the rest
will be on their knees to make their peace with me, and will be
glad to banish the very thought of you.  You and your proud stock
will have vanished out of the world like the flood waters which are
now draining to the sea.  In a little men will not know how to
spell the forgotten names of Stafford and Bohun."

At last Peter spoke.

"I am content," he said.  "I perish with the older England.  I
welcome oblivion."

Henry's lips puckered, but the smile was rather of bewilderment
than mirth.

"You are for certain a madman or a fool," he cried, "and the land
is well rid of you.  Carry your whimsies to the worms."  He rang
his silver bell, and Crummle limped from a side door to the dais.
He cast one sharp glance at Peter, and he too smiled, but the smile
had comprehension in it.  He was more familiar than the King with
men who sat loose to earthly fears.



Sir Miles Flambard, a knight of the shire who had a small place in
Crummle's retinue, was a heavy anxious man with no love for his
mission.  He started the instant dinner was over, for he had a mind
to sleep at Wallingford, and he wanted to pass Stowood before the
twilight.  He had twenty-five armed men with him, Sussex choughs
from Norfolk's band--none too many, he held, to guard two desperate
men on a journey through broken country.  The prisoners were tied
leg to leg with loose ropes, so that their beasts were constrained
to keep together; each had his hands manacled and fastened loosely
to the saddle-bow, and his feet joined by a cord under his horse's
belly; while, for greater security, a light chain ran from the
waist of each to the waist of an adjacent guard.  The cavalcade
clattered into Woodstock market-place half an hour after noon.

Simon Rede still held his head high--it would never willingly droop
except in death.  He looked ill and weary, and the blood oozed from
his cheek.

"It seems that our fates are bound together," he said, as his knee
rubbed against Peter's when they jogged across the cobbles.  There
was kindness in his voice and eyes.

"Nunc ex diverso sedem veniemus in unam," was Peter's answer.

"'Twill be a long cold home, I fear.  I have not your philosophy,"
and Simon looked sideways at the other.  "Please God, I will have
another stroke for freedom before the faggots.  But for these
cursed bonds we might have a chance, for you and I are a match for
a dozen choughs.  Would God but send fog or snow instead of this
sunshine."

At the market-cross, where the inn stood, there was a crowd which
delayed the party.  A little group of riders was dismounting in the
inner courtyard.  Most were servants, but two were gentlefolk--a
young man in a rose-coloured cloak and a woman wearing a bonnet of
white ermine.  There was no mistaking the red hair of Sir Gabriel
Messynger, and the bonnet had ridden by Peter's side on the eve of
the great snowstorm.

A strangled cry told that Simon Rede had recognised the pair.

"The popinjay has won," he groaned.  "God's curse on all women!"

"Do not curse her.  She has found a fitting mate," said Peter
gently.  "May Heaven be kind to her."

After that there was little speech between them.  At last Simon's
proud head had sunk, and Peter was far away in a world of fancies.

"Islip bridge stands," Simon muttered.  "We must go by Gosford and
the bridge, and the skirts of Shotover.  Had I known betimes, I
could have had twenty stout lads waiting in the Shotover glades."

As they left the Oxford road for the track across the Campsfield
downs the cavalcade had to pass through a narrow stone postern.  A
beggar, hideously scarred and heavily bandaged, sat by the gate
crying for alms--an abraham apparently, for his eyes rolled and his
lips frothed like a madman's.  He was on his feet as the prisoners
made the passage, and, since it was narrow and they had to move
sidelong, there was a minute's delay.  He clawed at Peter's arm,
and for a second Peter looked into his eyes, and saw something
there which was not frenzy.  That something momentarily shook him
out of his absorption.

"How far to the skirts of Wychwood?" he whispered.

"As far as to Peter's Gate," came the answer.

"Alack . . . I . . . shall . . . not . . . be . . . there . . .
in . . . time."  The words were jolted from him by a sudden jib
of his horse, and the pauses between them fell naturally.  He cast
a look behind, but the abraham seemed to have sunk into the ground.

After that he was back in his dreams. . . .  He had no fear of
death and no shrinking from it, but indeed the thought of it was
scarcely in his mind.  Nor did he dwell on the gross figure behind
him at Woodstock, whose mastery of the land was confirmed by his
own fall.  Scarcely even on Bohun--the proud name which would never
again rally England.  All these things seemed to have faded into a
very dim past, to be only the echoes of what befell long ago. . . .
His heart was filled with a different memory, the vision of her who
had appeared to him in his hour of peril in the snowy forest and
had promised him everlasting life.

He felt rapt above all the sorrows of earth.  Six months ago he had
been eating out his heart in vain ambitions; now he had ridden the
full range of them and found the mountain-top beyond.  He almost
laughed aloud to think of the callow child who had once dreamed of
glory.  He had had glory within his grasp, and had brought it as an
offering to the feet of her whose glory was beyond sun, moon and
stars.  The blanket of the dark covered the earth, but it made only
the brighter that heavenly radiance which burned for him and made a
path of light to immortality. . . .  Peter in his exaltation seemed
to be lifted out of the body. . . .  He had no cognisance of
Simon's grim face by his side, or the jostling horses and the thick
Sussex speech, or the wild birds calling over Campsfield.  His
thoughts had become music, and he made that hymn to the Queen of
Heaven which is still to be read in the books.  It is in Latin,
with echoes of Adam of Saint-Victor, but with something of the
human longing of the songs which Aucassin sang to Nicolette in the
forest.  For his Queen walked in spring meadows and had flowers in
her hair.

At the Gosford crossing there was delay.  The fisherman, who lived
near-by and was the guide to the ford, could not be found, and the
Sussex man who attempted to lead the way floundered into deep water
and had to be dragged out by the hair.  The better part of an hour
was spent in crossing, while Sir Miles's maledictions rumbled like
a thunderstorm.  Beyond the river the floods filled the meadows,
and the road was not easy.  A loutish boy appeared and offered
himself as guide, but he was little good at the job, and the party
were several times bogged to the girths.  It seemed as if the boy
sought to catch Peter's eye, and as he fled, after the flat of Sir
Miles's sword had descended on his back, he made the priggers'
sign.

At Islip also there was a hitch.  Two ox-carts had jammed in the
narrow bridge, and had to be removed with a grinding of broken
timber.  Vagabondage was abroad that day.  There was a troop of
crowders in the little town, and as many cozeners and dommerers as
if it had been an abbey-gate, and a knot of dark men at the bridge-
end who had the air of rufflers and whose long knives were plain
beneath their shirts.

Simon was roused from his moodiness.  "What means this muster of
rogues?" he asked.



But Peter did not hear him.  They had begun to ascend the long
slopes of Wood Eaton, and something in the aspect and scent of the
place brought him back to earth.  It was already almost dusk, and a
light haze filled the hollows.  The air was balmy like spring, and
one planet shone bright in the eastern sky.  There was a faint
music of bells--from Islip church behind them, from the famous Wood
Eaton Flageolets, and a distant murmur from the Oxford towers.  He
remembered that it was the eve of Nol.  Even now in Oseney Great
Church the brethren would be at vespers.

But he did not think of Oseney, and the sound in his ear was not
the chanting of choirs, or the smell in his nostrils the odour of
incense.  He was feeling in every nerve, in that midwinter
twilight, the tumult of the coming spring.  This was the place he
had loved best, and where he had spent so many summer hours; it was
the sanctuary of his youth, that part of earth with which his very
soul was interfused.  The opal haze, rising out of the moist
ground, cloaked its winter bareness; beneath it the flowers were
already springing; was that a clump of early primroses by the
hazels? . . .  Might there not be a world of light under the
blanket of the dark?

Once again, as in the snowy forest, he seemed to be granted a
revelation.  He had been promised life, but he had thought it meant
a life beyond the grave, and all day his thoughts had been on
Paradise.  Now they were back in the terrestrial world, and he was
aware that the Queen of Heaven was walking these familiar fields.
In the dark he saw the gleam of her robes, blue as a speedwell.
What was her message for him?  Was some miracle preparing?  His
heart leaped in a sudden hope.

There was another marvel.  The air had become jubilant with birds.
It was a mid-winter dusk when no feathered things should have been
heard except owls and homing crows.  But the thickets seemed to be
loud with song.  There were skylarks soaring to heaven, and
woodlarks uttering their quiet sweet notes, and blackbirds with
their pipes and cymbals.  And, surely, from the hazels came the
throb of the nightingale.

Dimly he heard Simon's excited whisper.  "The thickets are full of
folk. . . .  There is something afoot.  A malison on these bonds!"
He felt him straining at his foot shackles, and their horses
jostled.

Sir Miles Flambard was violently out of temper.  No hope now of
making Wallingford that night--the best they could do was
Dorchester, or maybe the hedge tavern at Horspath.  And here they
were in Stowood and twilight was upon them.  He was afraid of the
common road up the defile--there was too good a chance of an ambush
between those steep shaggy banks.  So he gave the order for a flank
turn, and, leaving the chase of Wood Eaton on the right, to take
the spur which would bring them to the cleared ground of Elsfield.
That at least was open country, save for one or two coppices.  He
bade his troopers close in on the prisoners, and himself rode in
front.

As they topped the Wood Eaton crest the moon rose and gave Sir
Miles a prospect.  The land looked open and safe and his spirits
lightened.  In two hours they would be snug in Dorchester.  The
scrub was empty except for cowering birds. . . .  The Sussex men
were not woodlanders, and could not discern that faint rustle in
the bracken which was not due to any animal, or that pad in the
hollow below which could come only from bare human feet.  Simon had
forest-tuned ears and knew it, and to Peter every sound told an
authentic tale.

A miracle was preparing.  He knew that he would not die, and with
this knowledge came the passionate desire to live--not in bliss,
but in the lowly world under the dark blanket to which his Queen
seemed to beckon him.  He heard her promise whispered in the still
air--"And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest,
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways."

They dipped from the Wood Eaton slope to the green hollow, where
was the spring mentioned in that Oseney parchment which had first
given him the clue to the Painted Floor.  Now he knew the place for
which the miracle had been ordained. . . .  He spoke low to Simon.

"You see that coppice on the hill before us.  Be ready there, for
something will happen."

"The undergrowth is like a coney-warren for folk."  Simon spoke
through clenched teeth.  "In God's name who are they?  We are
trussed like dressed woodcock. . . .  Had I but one free hand!"

"Have no fear!  I have the promise.  Be still and wait on God."

The horses squelched through a marshland, and then with much
heaving and lurching were on the hard ground of the forest slopes.
They jingled up the glade where the spring bubbled, splashing
sometimes in the little runnel which it fed.  The haze on this
higher ground had gone, and in the moonlight the coppice with its
tall trees stood up like a mound of ebony.  "Imperatrix
supernorum"--Peter whispered his prayer which was also a chant of
triumph:


     "Cli regina per quam medicina
      Datur grotis, gratia devotis,
      Gaudium mstis, mundo lux clestis,
      Spesque salutis."


They were in the deep brake at the wood's edge when a low thin
whistle cleft the air, clear as a bird's call and no louder.  Sir
Miles did not hear it, and was conscious of no danger till a long
arm plucked him from his horse.

Out of the bracken under their feet men rose, as stealthily as a
fog oozes from wet soil.  There was a movement by Peter's left
foot, and he felt the shackle cut which bound his feet below his
horse's belly and which attached his leg to Simon's.  The trooper
on his right had moved away so that the rope between them was taut,
and it parted with a twang that set him free but for his gyved
hands.

Suddenly there was a wild confusion.  He saw Simon bring down his
manacles with a crash on the head of the rider on his left.  The
glade seemed to be full of rearing horses, and thick Sussex oaths.
He saw men on the ground struggling and the flash of knives. . . .
There was a dark beetle-browed face near him, and he knew it for
Catti the Welshman. . . .  He felt himself pulled from his saddle
and hands clutching his throat, hands which suddenly relaxed.
Somewhere in the mellay a horse kicked him, and for a second or two
his senses swam. . . .  Then a great peace came over him.  Hands
not unkindly were dragging him, for his cramped legs tottered.  He
was out of the glade among trees.  A man was beside him, speaking
in a soft crooning voice, a man with a shrunken face and deep-set
eyes and wild black hair.  The man was giving him water out of his
cap, and staunching with a rag the blood from the scalp-wound made
by the horse's hoof.

But Peter saw the figure by his side dimly, for his eyes were on
the scene before him.  He lay above the Painted Floor, in the very
spot where he had been used to make his seat on holidays.  The
world seemed to have grown very quiet.  The moon shone on the
Floor, washing the tiles with silver, so that the place looked like
a summer sea.  And over its waters moved the presence that he had
invoked, proud and tender and grave.  She wore no crown, and there
was no gold on her breast, only the robes of celestial blue.  "I
have given you life," she seemed to say, and when he stretched out
longing arms towards her she smiled like a mother.



Catti was cleaning his knife, and fingering now and then a new gash
on his forehead.

"We must be in the deeps of Bernwood ere morning," he said.  "It
appears that our new king is to rule not in England but in the
greenwood."

Pierce the Piper was whittling at a boxwood flute.

"I have found another of my trade," he said.  "My lord here is one
that dreams dreams and sees visions."



EPILOGUE


In the pleasant shire of Kent the manor of Roodhurst has long lost
its rustic peace.  The old house disappeared in the reign of Anne,
and the park this twenty years has been carved into suburban roads
and gardens.  But the ancient flint-built church still stands, and
on the left of the altar are the Messynger tombs.  There, on a
plinth of black marble, my lord lies carved in alabaster, with his
robes curiously coloured and a gilded Garter jewel at his breast.
For Sir Gabriel became a great man and the master of broad lands
over all south England.  Henry made him the Lord Messynger of
Roodhurst, and under Mary he won an earl's coronet and an ample
fortune.  Nor did Elizabeth degrade him.  He trimmed his faith
opportunely, and died in full possession of the wealth he had won
and in the sunshine of his Queen's favour.

On the shelf beneath him is the figure of his countess, less
resplendent, but with a gilt coif above her marble face.  On the
entablature, among the heraldic scutcheons, may be read in lapidary
Latin how Sabina, Comitessa de Roodhurst, died in the odour of
sanctity in the year after her lord, hasting to rejoin him in
Heaven.  The inscription tells of her wifely merits, her pieties,
her meekness, her assured hope of salvation.  It enumerates her
children, one son who continued the name, and no less than seven
daughters, who found fitting husbands, so that, though the title
died out soon after the Restoration, the blood of Messynger and
Beauforest is still perpetuated in high places.

The name of the Countess Sabine flashes now and then into the
national story--in state papers, in court memoirs, in the
dedicatory addresses of many poets.  But more is to be gathered
from the local histories.  She was a great lady in Kent, a figure
like Anne Clifford in the North.  Her beauty is extolled; her hair
was unstreaked with grey till her death, and her figure, owing
perhaps to her passion for horsemanship, remained to the end that
of a slim nymph and not of a mother of children.  She was the best
of wives, and there is a tale of how, in her husband's interest,
she won by her arts the grace of a queen who did not love her own
sex.  Her virtues were eminent and high-handed; she ruled her
lord's estates with far-sighted skill, generous to those who obeyed
her, but adamant to opposition, loved by some, feared by many,
deeply respected by all.  In her rural domain she was a lesser
Gloriana, and men spoke of her as they spoke of Elizabeth, with
pride and awe and a remote affection.  In very truth, says her
epitaph, a virtuous woman, a true mother in Israel, whose price was
above rubies.



Sir Ralph Bonamy dwelt peacefully in Wood Eaton until his death at
a ripe age in the same year as King Henry, keeping open house,
breakfasting magnificently on beef and ale, hunting in Stowood, and
fowling on Otmoor, and training such falcons as were not to be
matched in England.  To his house came Brother Tobias, when the
community of Oseney was scattered, and there he spent his declining
years as the family chaplain.  Tobias became a silent old man, who
stirred little from his chamber, where he was busy with a Latin
version of Euripides in the manner of Seneca--a work which has not
survived.  Sometimes, seated among his books, he would receive in
conference uncouth men out of the woods, and on a winter's night by
the hall fire he and Sir Ralph would speak of dangerous things.
They agreed that the blanket of the dark had fallen on England, and
that long before it lifted they would be both in Paradise.
Sometimes they spoke of the Lady Messynger, and Brother Tobias
would propound a fancy.  He would tell how, in Euripides' play, the
true Helen was carried to Egypt, and how it was only a phantom
Helen that went to Troy with Paris and brought on Greeks and
Trojans unnumbered ills.  So it was, he said, with the Lady Sabine.
There was a true woman of that name, who was beloved by two noble
youths, but where that woman was gone, said he, was known only to
God.  What survived was but a phantom, a hollow thing with much
beauty and more cunning, who was mated to another hollow thing, and
shone resplendently in a hollow world.  The real Sabine was no
doubt laid up in Heaven.  And then he would laugh, and remind
himself that such fancies might be Platonism but were not
orthodoxy.

Tobias was dead and Sir Ralph was dead before Simon Rede returned
to England.  He had sailed with Breton captains to the coasts of
the New World, and had been much engaged in the early religious
wars of France.  He returned in the eighth year of Elizabeth to a
moiety of his estate--a man far older than his age.  To Court he
never went, nor did he find a wife, but lived solitary in the
Boarstall tower, dying at last of a fever in his sixtieth year.
The manor went to a great-nephew, who pulled down the old walls and
built that noble house which Sir William Campion in the Civil Wars
defended for King Charles.



You will find a note of Simon and of Sir Ralph in the local
histories, but not of Peter.  After that Christmas Eve on the
Painted Floor he disappears clean out of any record.  Avelard and
Neville papers reveal nothing, for there was no more talk of
trouble in the west.  He went down into a world of which there has
never been a chronicle, the heaths and forests of old England.  But
somewhere in Bernwood or Savernake or Charnwood or Sherwood he may
have found a home, or on the wild Welsh marches, or north among the
heather of the dales.  Or he may have been a wanderer, taking for
his domicile the whole of the dim country whose border is the edge
of the highroad and the rim of the tillage and the last stone walls
of the garths.  The blanket of the dark might lift for England, but
no light will ever reveal those ancient recesses.

Yet I cherish the belief that of Peter we have one faint record.  I
present it, such as it is, in the words of a letter from my friend,
the rector of a Northants parish, who desires to be unnamed, but
who is very learned in the antiquities of that wide forest country,
which is now a thing of patches, but which once flowed over half
the midlands:


"There died here last week," he writes, "an old man, the last of
his name, one Obadiah Bunn.  He was an extraordinary old fellow, a
real forester--not a gipsy, but an adept in all gipsy lore.  I am
sorry he has gone, for I learned a lot from him, and I am sorry
that the family is extinct, for it interested me enormously.  The
Boons, Boones, Bunns--the spelling varies--seem to have been in
this neighbourhood for at least three hundred years.  According to
local tradition, they have always been of the same type--the men
tall and well-made, the women (there was rarely more than one in
any Bunn family) remarkably handsome.  They were a queer folk,
silent and self-contained, and keeping very much to themselves--
odd-tempered at times--decent on the whole, for they never produced
a drunkard--wonderful horse-breakers and horse-copers and dog-
trainers and poachers--relics of an earlier England.  They had not
the gipsy colouring, being mostly fair, and nothing annoyed them
more than to be taken for gipsies.  One feature which local gossip
says characterised the whole strain was a slight cleft in the upper
lip, which, combined with their fine carriage, gave them an odd air
of masterfulness.  They were great wanderers, for only one or two
of the men in each generation remained at home, the others
emigrating or joining the army.  I believe I can put up a good
case for the view that Daniel Boone, the American hunter and
frontiersman, came of their stock.

"You remember Chief Justice Crewe's famous question:  'Where is
Bohun? where is Mowbray? where is Mortimer?' . . .  Gone in name,
but not perhaps in blood.  Somewhere those high strains are in the
commonalty of England, for it is the commonalty that endures.  Can
I answer one part of the question?  Will you think me fantastic if
I look on those stiff dwellers in our forest bounds, those men and
women with the curl of the lip and the quiet eyes, as the heirs of
Bohun?  If so, old Obadiah Bunn was the last of a proud race."



THE END




This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia