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The Armourer's Prentices

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Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

The Armourers' Prentices

By Charlotte M. Yonge________________________________________________________________This is a story about two young orphans from Hampshire, who travel toLondon in search of relatives. On the way they rescue a prominent Cityof London figure after he has been attacked by highwaymen, and in thisway they become attached to his household in the City. The date is theearly years of Henry the Eighth, when the religious world of England issimmering not only with the new views on religion, but also with theproblems of the King and his Divorces. We meet great figures like DeanColet, famous even to this very day for his charitable foundations,Thomas More, and other great figures of the pre-Reformation years.

It is a very lively story that rings true at every turn, and is worthwhile reading for those who would like a further understanding of thelate Tudor Court, and the customs in the City, prevailing at the time ofthe Reformation.________________________________________________________________THE ARMOURERS' PRENTICES




"Give me the poor allottery my father left me by testament, with that Iwill go buy me fortunes."

"Get you with him, you old dog."

_As You Like It_.

The officials of the New Forest have ever since the days of theConqueror enjoyed some of the pleasantest dwellings that southernEngland can boast.

The home of the Birkenholt family was not one of the least delightful.It stood at the foot of a rising ground, on which grew a grove ofmagnificent beeches, their large silvery boles rising majestically likecolumns into a lofty vaulting of branches, covered above with tendergreen foliage. Here and there the shade beneath was broken by thegilding of a ray of sunshine on a lower twig, or on a white trunk, butthe floor of the vast arcades was almost entirely of the russet brown ofthe fallen leaves, save where a fern or holly bush made a spot of green.At the foot of the slope lay a stretch of pasture ground, some partscovered by "lady-smocks, all silver white," with the course of thelittle stream through the midst indicated by a perfect golden river ofshining kingcups interspersed with ferns. Beyond lay tracts of brownheath and brilliant gorse and broom, which stretched for miles and milesalong the flats, while the dry ground was covered with holly brake, andhere and there woods of oak and beech made a sea of verdure, purpling inthe distance.

Cultivation was not attempted, but hardy little ponies, cows, goats,sheep, and pigs were feeding, and picking their way about in the marshymead below, and a small garden of pot-herbs, inclosed by a strong fenceof timber, lay on the sunny side of a spacious rambling forest lodge,only one story high, built of solid timber and roofed with shingle. Itwas not without strong pretensions to beauty, as well as topicturesqueness, for the posts of the door, the architecture of the deepporch, the frames of the latticed windows, and the verge boards were allrichly carved in grotesque devices. Over the door was the royal shield,between a pair of magnificent antlers, the spoils of a deer reported tohave been slain by King Edward the Fourth, as was denoted by the"glorious sun of York" carved beneath the shield.

In the background among the trees were ranges of stables and kennels,and on the grass-plat in front of the windows was a row of beehives. Atame doe lay on the little green sward, not far from a large rough deer-hound, both close friends who could be trusted at large. There was amournful dispirited look about the hound, evidently an aged animal, forthe once black muzzle was touched with grey, and there was a film overone of the keen beautiful eyes, which opened eagerly as he pricked hisears and lifted his head at the rattle of the door latch. Then, as twoboys came out, he rose, and with a slowly waving tail, and a wistfulappealing air, came and laid his head against one of the pair who hadappeared in the pont. They were lads of fourteen and fifteen, clad insuits of new mourning, with the short belted doublet, puffed hose, smallruffs and little round caps of early Tudor times. They had dark eyesand hair, and honest open faces, the younger ruddy and sunburnt, theelder thinner and more intellectual--and they were so much the same sizethat the advantage of age was always supposed to be on the side ofStephen, though he was really the junior by nearly a year. Both weresad and grave, and the eyes and cheeks of Stephen showed traces ofrecent floods of tears, though there was more settled dejection on thecountenance of his brother.

"Ay, Spring," said the lad, "'tis winter with thee now. A poor oldrogue! Did the new housewife talk of a halter because he showed histeeth when her ill-nurtured brat wanted to ride on him? Nay, oldSpring, thou shalt share thy master's fortunes, changed though they be.Oh, father! father! didst thou guess how it would be with thy boys!"And throwing himself on the grass, he hid his face against the dog andsobbed.

"Come, Stephen, Stephen; 'tis time to play the man! What are we to doout in the world if you weep and wail?"

"She might have let us stay for the month's mind," was heard fromStephen.

"Ay, and though we might be more glad to go, we might carry bittererthoughts along with us. Better be done with it at once, say I."

"There would still be the Forest! And I saw the moorhen sitting yestereve! And the wild ducklings are out on the pool, and the woods are fullof song. Oh! Ambrose! I never knew how hard it is to part--"

"Nay, now, Steve, where be all your plots for bravery? You always meantto seek your fortune--not bide here like an acorn for ever."

"I never thought to be thrust forth the very day of our poor father'sburial, by a shrewish town-bred vixen, and a base narrow-souled--"

"Hist! hist!" said the more prudent Ambrose.

"Let him hear who will! He cannot do worse for us than he has done!All the Forest will cry shame on him for a mean-hearted skinflint toturn his brothers from their home, ere their father and his, be cold inhis grave," cried Stephen, clenching the grass with his hands, in hispassionate sense of wrong.

"That's womanish," said Ambrose.

"Who'll be the woman when the time comes for drawing cold steel?" criedStephen, sitting up.

At that moment there came through the porch a man, a few years overthirty, likewise in mourning, with a paler, sharper countenance than thebrothers, and an uncomfortable pleading expression of self-justification.

"How now, lads!" he said, "what means this? You have taken the mattertoo hastily. There was no thought that ye should part till you had somepurpose in view. Nay, we should be fain for Ambrose to bide on here, sohe would leave his portion for me to deal with, and teach little Willhis primer and accidence. You are a quiet lad, Ambrose, and can ruleyour tongue better than Stephen."

"Thanks, brother John," said Ambrose, somewhat sarcastically, "but whereStephen goes I go."

"I would--I would have found Stephen a place among the prickers orrangers, if--" hesitated John. "In sooth, I would yet do it, if hewould make it up with the housewife."

"My father looked higher for his son than a pricker's office," returnedAmbrose.

"That do I wot," said John, "and therefore, 'tis for his own good that Iwould send him forth. His godfather, our uncle Birkenholt, he willassuredly provide for him, and set him forth--"

The door of the house was opened, and a shrewish voice cried, "MrBirkenholt--here, husband! You are wanted. Here's little Kate cryingto have yonder smooth pouch to stroke, and I cannot reach it for her."

"Father set store by that otter-skin pouch, for poor Prince Arthur slewthe otter," cried Stephen. "Surely, John, you'll not let the babes makea toy of that?"

John made a helpless gesture, and at a renewed call, went indoors.

"You are right, Ambrose," said Stephen, "this is no place for us. Whyshould we tarry any longer to see everything moiled and set at nought

?I have couched in the forest before, and 'tis summer time."

"Nay," said Ambrose, "we must make up our fardels and have our money inour pouches before we can depart. We must tarry the night, and callJohn to his reckoning, and so might we set forth early enough in themorning to lie at Winchester that night and take counsel with our uncleBirkenholt."

"I would not stop short at Winchester," said Stephen. "London for me,where uncle Randall will find us preferment!"

"And what wilt do for Spring!"

"Take him with me, of course!" exclaimed Stephen. "What! would I leavehim to be kicked and pinched by Will, and hanged belike by MistressMaud?"

"I doubt me whether the poor old hound will brook the journey."

"Then I'll carry him!"

Ambrose looked at the big dog as if he thought it would be a seriousundertaking, but he had known and loved Spring as his brother's propertyever since his memory began, and he scarcely felt that they could beseparable for weal or woe.

The verdurers of the New Forest were of gentle blood, and their officewas well-nigh hereditary. The Birkenholts had held it for manygenerations, and the reversion passed as a matter of course to theeldest son of the late holder, who had newly been laid in the burial-ground of Beaulieu Abbey. John Birkenholt, whose mother had been ofknightly lineage, had resented his father's second marriage with thedaughter of a yeoman on the verge of the Forest, suspected of a strainof gipsy blood, and had lived little at home, becoming a sort of agentat Southampton for business connected with the timber which was yearlycut in the Forest to supply material for the shipping. He had weddedthe daughter of a person engaged in law business at Southampton, and hadonly been an occasional visitor at home, ever after the death of hisstepmother. She had left these two boys, unwelcome appendages in hissight. They had obtained a certain amount of education at BeaulieuAbbey, where a school was kept, and where Ambrose daily studied, thoughfor the last few months Stephen had assisted his father in his forestduties.

Death had come suddenly to break up the household in the early spring of1515, and John Birkenholt had returned as if to a patrimony, bringinghis wife and children with him. The funeral ceremonies had beenconducted at Beaulieu Abbey on the extensive scale of the sixteenthcentury, the requiem, the feast, and the dole, all taking place there,leaving the Forest lodge in its ordinary quiet.

It had always been understood that on their father's death the twoyounger sons must make their own way in the world; but he had hoped tolive until they were a little older, when he might himself have startedthem in life, or expressed his wishes respecting them to their elderbrother. As it was, however, there was no commendation of them, nothingbut a strip of parchment, drawn up by one of the monks of Beaulieu,leaving each of them twenty crowns, with a few small jewels andproperties left by their own mother, while everything else went to theirbrother.

There might have been some jealousy excited by the estimation in whichStephen's efficiency--boy as he was--was evidently held by the plain-spoken underlings of the verdurer; and this added to MistressBirkenholt's dislike to the presence of her husband's half-brothers,whom she regarded as interlopers without a right to exist. Matters werebrought to a climax by old Spring's resentment at being roughly teasedby her spoilt children. He had done nothing worse than growl and showhis teeth, but the town-bred dame had taken alarm, and half in terror,half in spite, had insisted on his instant execution, since he was tooold to be valuable. Stephen, who loved the dog only less than he lovedhis brother Ambrose, had come to high words with her; and the end of thealtercation had been that she had declared that she would suffer nogreat lubbers of the half-blood to devour her children's inheritance,and teach them ill manners, and that go they must, and that instantly.John had muttered a little about "not so fast, dame," and "for veryshame," but she had turned on him, and rated him with a violence thatdemonstrated who was ruler in the house, and took away all dispositionto tarry long under the new dynasty.

The boys possessed two uncles, one on each side of the house. Theirfather's elder brother had been a man-at-arms, having preferred astirring life to the Forest, and had fought in the last surges of theWars of the Roses. Having become disabled and infirm, he had takenadvantage of a corrody, or right of maintenance, as being of kin to abenefactor of Hyde Abbey at Winchester, to which Birkenholt somegenerations back had presented a few roods of land, in right of which,one descendant at a time might be maintained in the Abbey. Intelligenceof his brother's death had been sent to Richard Birkenholt, but answerhad been returned that he was too evil-disposed with the gout to attendthe burial.

The other uncle, Harry Randall, had disappeared from the country under acloud connected with the king's deer, leaving behind him the reputationof a careless, thriftless, jovial fellow, the best company in all theForest, and capable of doing every one a work save his own.

The two brothers, who were about seven and six years old at the time ofhis flight, had a lively recollection of his charms as a playmate, andof their mother's grief for him, and refusal to believe any ill of herHal. Rumours had come of his attainment to vague and unknown greatnessat court, under the patronage of the Lord Archbishop of York, which theVerdurer laughed to scorn, though his wife gave credit to them. Giftshad come from time to time, passed through a succession of servants andofficials of the king, such as a coral and silver rosary, a jewelledbodkin, an agate carved with Saint Catherine, an ivory pouncet box witha pierced gold coin as the lid; but no letter with them, as indeed HalRandall had never been induced to learn to read or write. MasterBirkenholt looked doubtfully at the tokens and hoped Hal had comehonestly by them; but his wife had thoroughly imbued her sons with thebelief that Uncle Hal was shining in his proper sphere, where he wasbetter appreciated than at home. Thus their one plan was to go toLondon to find Uncle Hal, who was sure to put Stephen on the road tofortune, and enable Ambrose to become a great scholar, his favouriteambition.

His gifts would, as Ambrose observed, serve them as tokens, and with thepurpose of claiming them, they re-entered the hall, a long low room,with a handsome open roof, and walls tapestried with dressed skins,interspersed with antlers, hung with weapons of the chase. At one endof the hall was a small polished barrel, always replenished with beer,at the other a hearth with a wood fire constantly burning, and there wasa table running the whole length of the room; at one end of this waslaid a cloth, with a few trenchers on it, and horn cups, surrounding abarley loaf and a cheese, this meagre irregular supper being consideredas a sufficient supplement to the funeral baked meats which had aboundedat Beaulieu. John Birkenholt sat at the table with a trencher and hornbefore him, uneasily using his knife to crumble, rather than cut, hisbread. His wife, a thin, pale, shrewish-looking woman, was warming herchild's feet at the fire, before putting him to bed, and an old womansat spinning and nodding on a settle at a little distance.

"Brother," said Stephen, "we have thought on what you said. We will putour stuff together, and if you will count us out our portions, we willbe afoot by sunrise to-morrow."

"Nay, nay, lad, I said not there was such haste; did I, mistresshousewife?"--(she snorted); "only that thou art a well-grown lustyfellow, and 'tis time thou wentest forth. For thee, Ambrose, thouwottest I made thee a fair offer of bed and board."

"That is," called out the wife, "if thou wilt make a fair scholar oflittle Will. 'Tis a mighty good offer. There are not many who wouldlet their child be taught by a mere stripling like thee!"

"Nay," said Ambrose, who could not bring himself to thank her, "I gowith Stephen, mistress; I would in end my scholarship ere I teach."

"As you please," said Mistress Maud, shrugging her shoulders, "onlynever say that a fair offer was not made to you."

"And," said Stephen, "so please you, brother John, hand us over ourportions, and the jewels as bequeathed to us, and we will be gone."

"Portions, quotha?" returned John. "Boy, they be not due to you tillyou be come to years of discretion."

The brothers looked at one a

nother, and Stephen said, "Nay, now,brother, I know not how that may be, but I do know that you cannot driveus from our father's house without maintenance, and detain what belongsto us."

And Ambrose muttered something about "my Lord of Beaulieu."

"Look you, now," said John, "did I ever speak of driving you from homewithout maintenance? Hath not Ambrose had his choice of staying here,and Stephen of waiting till some office be found for him? As forputting forty crowns into the hands of striplings like you, it were merethrowing it to the robbers."

"That being so," said Ambrose turning to Stephen, "we will to Beaulieu,and see what counsel my lord will give us."

"Yea, do, like the vipers ye are, and embroil us with my Lord ofBeaulieu," cried Maud from the fire.

"See," said John, in his more caressing fashion, "it is not well tocarry family tales to strangers, and--and--"

He was disconcerted by a laugh from the old nurse, "Ho! JohnBirkenholt, thou wast ever a lad of smooth tongue, but an thou, or madamhere, think that thy brothers can be put forth from thy father's doorwithout their due before the good man be cold in his grave, and theForest not ring with it, thou art mightily out in thy reckoning!"

"Peace, thou old hag; what matter is't of thine?" began Mistress Maud,but again came the harsh laugh.

"Matter of mine! Why, whose matter should it be but mine, that havenursed all three of the lads, ay, and their father before them, besidesfour more that lie in the graveyard at Beaulieu? Rest their sweetsouls! And I tell thee, Master John, an thou do not righteously bythese thy brothers, thou mayst back to thy parchments at Southampton,for not a man or beast in the Forest will give thee good-day."

They all felt the old woman's authority. She was able and spirited inher homely way, and more mistress of the house than Mrs Birkenholtherself; and such were the terms of domestic service, that there was noperil of losing her place. Even Maud knew that to turn her out was animpossibility, and that she must be accepted like the loneliness, damp,and other evils of Forest life. John had been under her dominion, andproceeded to persuade her. "Good now, Nurse Joan, what have I deniedthese rash striplings that my father would have granted them? Wouldstthou have them carry all their portion in their hands, to be cozened ofit at the first alehouse, or robbed on the next heath?"

"I would have thee do a brother's honest part, John Birkenholt. Aloving part I say not. Thou wert always like a very popple forhardness, and smoothness, ay, and slipperiness. Heigh ho! But what isright by the lads, thou _shalt_ do."

John cowered under her eye as he had done at six years old, andfaltered, "I only seek to do them right, nurse."

Nurse Joan uttered an emphatic grunt, but Mistress Maud broke in, "Theyare not to hang about here in idleness, eating my poor child'ssubstance, and teaching him ill manners."

"We would not stay here if you paid us for it," returned Stephen.

"And whither would you go?" asked John.

"To Winchester first, to seek counsel with our uncle Birkenholt. Thento London, where uncle Randall will help us to our fortunes."

"Gipsy Hal! He is more like to help you to a halter," sneered John,_sotto voce_, and Joan herself observed, "Their uncle at Winchester willshow them better than to run after that there go-by-chance."

However, as no one wished to keep the youths, and they were equallydetermined to go, an accommodation was come to at last. John wasinduced to give them three crowns apiece and to yield them up the fivesmall trinkets specified, though not without some murmurs from his wife.It was no doubt safer to leave the rest of the money in his hands thanto carry it with them, and he undertook that it should be forthcoming,if needed for any fit purpose, such as the purchase of an office, anapprentice's fee, or an outfit as a squire. It was a vague promise thatcost him nothing just then, and thus could be readily made, and John'sgreat desire was to get them away so that he could aver that they hadgone by their own free will, without any hardship, for he had seenenough at his father's obsequies to show him that the love and sympathyof all the scanty dwellers in the Forest was with them.

Nurse Joan had fought their battles, but with the sore heart of one whowas parting with her darlings never to see them again. She bade themdoff their suits of mourning that she might make up their fardels, asthey would travel in their Lincoln-green suits. To take these sherepaired to the little rough shed-like chamber where the two brotherslay for the last time on their pallet bed, awake, and watching for her,with Spring at their feet. The poor old woman stood over them, as overthe motherless nurslings whom she had tended, and she should probablynever see more, but she was a woman of shrewd sense, and perceived that"with the new madam in the hall" it was better that they should be gonebefore worse ensued.

She advised leaving their valuables sealed up in the hands of my LordAbbot, but they were averse to this--for they said their uncle Randall,who had not seen them since they were little children, would not knowthem without some pledge.

She shook her head. "The less you deal with Hal Randall the better,"she said. "Come now, lads, be advised and go no farther thanWinchester, where Master Ambrose may get all the book-learning he isever craving for, and you, Master Stevie, may prentice yourself to somegood trade."

"Prentice!" cried Stephen, scornfully.

"Ay, ay. As good blood as thine has been prenticed," returned Joan."Better so than be a cut-throat sword-and-buckler fellow, ever slayingsome one else or getting thyself slain--a terror to all peaceful folk.But thine uncle will see to that--a steady-minded lad always was he--wasMaster Dick."

Consoling herself with this hope, the old woman rolled up their newsuits with some linen into two neat knapsacks; sighing over the thoughtthat unaccustomed fingers would deal with the shirts she had spun,bleached, and sewn. But she had confidence in "Master Dick," andconcluded that to send his nephews to him at Winchester gave a farbetter chance of their being cared for, than letting them be floutedinto ill-doing by their grudging brother and his wife.





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