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The Armourer's Prentices


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CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

THE KNIGHT OF THE BADGER.

"I am a gentleman of a company." Shakespeare.

Giles Headley's accident must have amounted to concussion of the brain,for though he was able to return to the Dragon in a couple of days, andthe cut over his eye was healing fast, he was weak and shaken, and didnot for several weeks recover his usual health.

The noise and heat of the smithy were distressing to him, and there wasno choice but to let him lie on settles, sun himself on the steps, andattempt no work.

It had tamed him a good deal. Smallbones said the letting out ofmalapert blood was wholesome, and others thought him still under aspell; but he seemed to have parted with much of his arrogance, eitherbecause he had not spirits for self-assertion, or because something ofthe grand eastern courtesy of Abenali had impressed him. Forintercourse with the Morisco had by no means ceased. Giles went, aslong as the injury required it, to have the hurt dressed, and loiteredin the Inner Ward a long time every day, often securing some smalldainty for Aldonza--an apple, a honey cake, a bit of marchpane, a driedplum, or a comfit. One day he took her a couple of oranges. To hissurprise, as he entered, Abenali looked up with a strange light in hiseyes, and exclaimed, "My son! thy scent is to my nostrils as the courtof my fathouse!" Then, as he beheld the orange, he clasped his hands,took it in them, and held it to his breast, pouring out a chant in anunknown tongue, while the tears flowed down his cheeks.

"Father, father!" Aldonza cried, terrified, while Giles marvelledwhether the orange worked on him like a spell. But he perceived theiramazement, and spoke again in English, "I thank thee, my son! Thou hastborne me back for a moment to the fountain in my father's house, whereye grow, ye trees of the unfading leaf, the spotless blossom, and goldenfruit! Ah Ronda! Ronda! Land of the sunshine, the deep blue sky, andsnow-topped hills! Land where are the graves of my father and mother!How pines and sickens the heart of the exile for thee! O happy they whodied beneath the sword or flame, for they knew not the lonely home-longing of the exile. Ah! ye golden fruits! One fragrant breath ofthee is as a waft of the joys of my youth! Are ye foretastes of thefruits of Paradise, the true home to which I may yet come, though I maynever, never see the towers and hills of Ronda more?"

Giles knew not what to make of this outburst. He kept it to himself astoo strange to be told. The heads of the family were willing that heshould carry these trifles to the young child of the man who wouldaccept no reward for his hospitality. Indeed, Master Headley spent muchconsideration on how to recompense the care bestowed on his kinsman.

Giles suggested that Master Michael had just finished the most beautifulsword blade he had ever seen, and had not yet got a purchaser for it; itwas far superior to the sword Tibble had just completed for my Lord ofSurrey. Thereat the whole court broke into an outcry; that any workmanshould be supposed to turn out any kind of work surpassing Steelman'swas rank heresy, and Master Headley bluntly told Giles that he knew notwhat he was talking of! He might perhaps purchase the blade by way ofcourtesy and return of kindness, but--good English workmanship for him!

However, Giles was allowed to go and ask the price of the blade, andbring it to be looked at. When he returned to the court he found, infront of the building where finished suits were kept for display, atall, thin, wiry, elderly man, deeply bronzed, and with a scar on hisbrow. Master Headley and Tibble were both in attendance, Tib measuringthe stranger, and Stephen, who was standing at a respectful distance,gave Giles the information that this was the famous Captain of Free-lances, Sir John Fulford, who had fought in all the wars in Italy, andwas going to fight in them again, but wanted a suit of "our harness."

The information was hardly needed, for Sir John, in a voice loud enoughto lead his men to the battle-field, and with all manner of strongasseverations in all sorts of languages, was explaining the dints andblows that had befallen the mail he had had from Master Headley eighteenyears ago, when he was but a squire; how his helmet had endured toughblows, and saved his head at Novara, but had been crushed like an eggshell by a stone from the walls at Barletta, which had nearly been hisown destruction: and how that which he at present wore (beautifullychased and in a classical form) was taken from a dead Italian Count onthe field of Ravenna, but always sat amiss on him; and how he had brokenhis good sword upon one of the rascally Swiss only a couple of monthsago at Marignano. Having likewise disabled his right arm, and beingwell off through the payment of some ransoms, he had come home partly tolook after his family, and partly to provide himself with a full suit ofEnglish harness, his present suit being a patchwork of relics ofnumerous battle-fields. Only one thing he desired, a true Spanishsword, not only Toledo or Bilboa in name, but nature. He had seenexecution done by the weapons of the soldiers of the Great Captain, andbeen witness to the endurance of their metal, and this made him demandwhether Master Headley could provide him with the like.

Giles took the moment for stepping forward and putting Abenali's workinto the master's hand. The Condottiere was in raptures. He pronouncedit as perfect a weapon as Gouzalo de Cordova himself could possess;showed off its temper and his own dexterity by piercing and cutting upan old cuirass, and invited the bystanders to let him put it to furtherproof by letting him slice through an apple placed on the open palm ofthe hand.

Giles's friendship could not carry him so far as to make the venture;Kit Smallbones observed that he had a wife and children, and could notafford to risk his good right hand on a wandering soldier's bravado;Edmund was heard saying, "Nay, nay, Steve, don't be such a fool," butStephen was declaring he would not have the fellow say that English ladshunt back from what rogues of France and Italy would dare.

"No danger for him who winceth not," said the knight.

Master Headley, a very peaceful citizen in his composition in spite ofhis trade, was much inclined to forbid Stephen from the experiment, buthe refrained, ashamed and unwilling to daunt a high spirit; and half thehousehold, eager for the excitement, rushed to the kitchen in quest ofapples, and brought out all the women to behold, and add a clamour ofremonstrance.

Sir John, however, insisted that they should all be ordered back again."Not that the noise and clamour of women folk makes any odds to me,"said the grim old warrior, "I've seen too many towns taken for that, butit might make the lad queasy, and cost him a thumb or so."

Of course this renewed the dismay and excitement, and both Tibble andhis master entreated Stephen to give up the undertaking if he felt theleast misgiving as to his own steadiness, arguing that they should notthink him any more a craven than they did Kit Smallbones or EdmundBurgess. But Stephen's mind was made up, his spirit was high, and hewas resolved to go through with it.

He held out his open hand, a rosy-checked apple was carefully laid onit. The sword flashed through the air--divided in half the apple whichremained on Stephen's palm. There was a sharp shriek from a window,drowned in the acclamations of the whole court, while the Captain pattedStephen on the shoulder, exclaiming, "Well done, my lad. There's themaking of a tall fellow in thee! If ever thou art weary of makingweapons and wouldst use them instead, seek out John Fulford, of theBadger troop, and thou shalt have a welcome. Our name is the Badger,because there's no troop like us for digging out mines beneath thewalls."

A few months ago such an invitation would have been bliss to Stephen.Now he was bound in all honour and duty to his master, and could onlythank the knight of the Badger, and cast a regretful eye at him, as hedrank a cup of wine, and flung a bag of gold and silver, supplemented bya heavy chain, to Master Headley, who prudently declined working forFree Companions, unless he were paid beforehand; and, at the knight'srequest, took charge of a sufficient amount to pay his fare back againto the Continent. Then mounting a tall, lean, bony horse, the knightsaid he should call for his armour on returning from Somerset, and rodeoff, while Stephen found himself exalted as a hero in the eyes of hiscompanions for an act common enough at feats of arms among moderncavalry, but quite new to the

London flat-caps. The only sufferer waslittle Dennet, who had burst into an agony of crying at the sight,needed that Stephen should spread out both hands before her, and showher the divided apple, before she would believe that his thumb was inits right place, and at night screamed out in her sleep that the ill-favoured man was cutting off Stephen's hands.

The sword was left behind by Sir John in order that it might be fittedwith a scabbard and belt worthy of it; and on examination, MasterHeadley and Tibble both confessed that they could produce nothing equalto it in workmanship, though Kit looked with contempt at the slightweapon of deep blue steel, with lines meandering on it like a wateredsilk, and the upper part inlaid with gold wire in exquisite arabesquepatterns. He called it a mere toy, and muttered something aboutsorcery, and men who had been in foreign parts not thinking honestweight of English steel good enough for them.

Master Headley would not trust one of the boys with the good silvercoins that had been paid as the price of the sword--French crowns andMilanese ducats, with a few Venetian gold bezants--but he bade them goas guards to Tibble, for it was always a perilous thing to carry a sumof money through the London streets. Tibble was not an unwillingmessenger. He knew Master Michael to be somewhat of his own way ofthinking, and he was a naturally large-minded man who could appreciateskill higher than his own without jealousy. Indeed, he and his masterheld a private consultation on the mode of establishing a connectionwith Michael and profiting by his ability.

To have lodged him at the Dragon court and made him part of theestablishment might have seemed the most obvious way, but the doggedEnglish hatred and contempt of foreigners would have rendered thisimpossible, even if Abenali himself would have consented to give up hiscomparative seclusion and live in a crowd and turmoil.

But he was thankful to receive and execute orders from Master Headley,since so certain a connection would secure Aldonza from privation suchas the child had sometimes had to endure in the winter; when, though theabstemious Eastern nature needed little food, there was great sufferingfrom cold and lack of fuel. And Tibble moreover asked questions andbegged for instructions in some of the secrets of the art. It was aneffort to such a prime artificer as Steelman to ask instruction from anyman, especially a foreigner, but Tibble had a nature of no common order,and set perfection far above class prejudice; and moreover, he feltAbenali to be one of those men who had their inner eyes devotedly fixedon the truth, though little knowing where the quest would lead them.

On his side Abenali underwent a struggle. "Woe is me!" he said."Wottest thou, my son, that the secrets of the sword of light andswiftness are the heritage that Abdallah Ben Ali brought from Damascusin the hundred and fifty-third year of the flight of him whom once Itermed the prophet; nor have they departed from our house, but have beenhanded on from father to son. And shall they be used in the wars of thestranger and the Christian?"

"I feared it might be thus," said Tibble.

"And yet," went on the old man, as if not hearing him, "wherefore shouldI guard the secret any longer? My sons? Where are they? They brookednot the scorn and hatred of the Castillian which poisoned to them thenew faith. They cast in their lot with their own people, and that theirbones may lie bleaching on the mountains is the best lot that can havebefallen the children of my youth and hope. The house of Miguel Abenaliis desolate and childless, save for the little maiden who sits by myhearth in the land of my exile! Why should I guard it longer for himwho may wed her, and whom I may never behold? The will of Heaven bedone! Young man, if I bestow this knowledge on thee, wilt thou swear tobe as a father to my daughter, and to care for her as thine own?"

It was a good while since Tibble had been called a young man, and as helistened to the flowing Eastern periods in their foreign enunciation, hewas for a moment afraid that the price of the secret was that he shouldbecome the old Moor's son-in-law! His seared and scarred youth hadprecluded marriage, and he entertained the low opinion of women frequentin men of superior intellect among the uneducated. Besides, thepossibilities of giving umbrage to Church authorities were dawning onhim, and he was not willing to form any domestic ties, so that in everyway such a proposition would have been unwelcome to him. But he had noobjection to pledge himself to fatherly guardianship of the pretty childin case of a need that might never arise. So he gave the promise, andbecame a pupil of Abenali, visiting Warwick Inner Ward with his master'sconsent whenever he could be snared, while the workmanship at the Dragonbegan to profit thereby.

The jealousy of the Eagle was proportionately increased. AldermanItillyeo, the head of the Eagle, was friendly enough to Mr Headley, butit was undeniable that they were the rival armourers of London, dividingthe favours of the Court equally between them, and the bitterness of theemulation increased the lower it went in the establishment. Theprentices especially could hardly meet without gibes and sneers, ifnothing worse, and Stephen's exploit had a peculiar flavour because itwas averred that no one at the Eagle would have done the like.

But it was not till the Sunday that Ambrose chanced to hear of the feat,at which he turned quite pale, but he was prouder of it than any oneelse, and although he rejoiced that he had not seen it performed, he didnot fail to boast of it at home, though Perronel began by declaring thatshe did not care for the mad pranks of roistering prentices; butpresently she paused, as she stirred her grandfather's evening posset,and said, "What saidst thou was the strange soldier's name?"

"Fulford--Sir John Fulford," said Ambrose. "What? I thought not of it,is not that Gaffer's name?"

"Fulford, yea! Mayhap--" and Perronel sat down and gave an odd sort oflaugh of agitation--"mayhap 'tis mine own father."

"Shouldst thou know him, good aunt?" cried Ambrose, much excited.

"Scarce," she said. "I was not seven years old when he went to thewars--if so be he lived through the battle--and he recked little of me,being but a maid. I feared him greatly and so did my mother. 'Twashappier with only Gaffer! Where saidst thou he was gone?"

Ambrose could not tell, but he undertook to bring Stephen to answer allqueries on the subject. His replies that the Captain was gone in questof his family to Somersetshire settled the matter, since there had beenold Martin Fulford's abode, and there John Fulford had parted with hiswife and father. They did not, however, tell the old man of thepossibility of his son's being at home, he had little memory, and waseasily thrown into a state of agitation; besides, it was a doubtfulmatter how the Condottiere would feel as to the present fortunes of thefamily. Stephen was to look out for his return in quest of his suit ofarmour, inform him of his father's being alive, and show him the way tothe little house by the Temple Gardens; but Perronel gave the strictestinjunctions that her husband's profession should not be explained. Itwould be quite enough to say that he was of the Lord Cardinal'shousehold.

Stephen watched, but the armour was finished and Christmas passed bybefore anything was seen of the Captain. At last, however, he diddescend on the Dragon court, looking so dilapidated that Mr Headleyrejoiced in the having received payment beforehand. He was loudervoiced and fuller of strange oaths than ever, and in the utmost haste,for he had heard tidings that, "there was to be a lusty game between theEmperor and the Italians, and he must have his share."

Stephen made his way up to speak to him, and was received with, "Ha, mygallant lad! Art weary of hammer and anvil? Wouldst be a brave Badger,slip thine indentures, and hear helm and lance ring in good earnest?"

"Not so, sir," said Stephen, "but I have been bidden to ask if thou hastfound thy father?"

"What's that to thee, stripling? When thou hast cut thy wisdom teeth,thou'lt know old fathers be not so easy found. 'Twas a wild goosechase, and I wot not what moved me to run after it. I met jollycomrades enough, bumpkins that could drink with an honest soldier whenthey saw him, but not one that ever heard the name of Fulford."

"Sir," said Stephen, "I know an old man named Fulford. His grand-daughter is my uncle's wife, and they dwell by the Temple."

&nb

sp; The intelligence seemed more startling and less gratifying than Stephenhad expected. Sir John demanded whether they were poor, and declaredthat he had better have heard of them when his purse was fuller. He hadsupposed that his wife had given him up and found a fresh mate, and whenhe heard of her death, he made an exclamation which might be pity, buthad in it something of relief. He showed more interest about his oldfather; but as to his daughter, if she had been a lad now, a' might havebeen a stout comrade by this time, ready to do the Badger credit. Yea,his poor Kate was a good lass, but she was only a Flemish woman andhadn't the sense to rear aught but a whining little wench, who was of nogood except to turn fools' heads, and she was wedded and past all thatby this time.

Stephen explained that she was wedded to one of the Lord Cardinal'smeine.

"Ho!" said the Condottiere, pausing, "be that the butcher's boy that ispouring out his gold to buy scarlet hats, if not the three crowns. 'Tisno bad household wherein to have a footing. Saidst thou I should findmy wench and the old Gaffer there?"

Stephen had to explain, somewhat to the disappointment of the Captain,who had, as it appeared, in the company of three or four moreadventurous spirits like himself, taken a passage in a vessel lying offGravesend, and had only turned aside to take up his new armour and hisdeposit of passage-money. He demurred a little, he had little time tospare, and though, of course, he could take boat at the Temple Stairs,and drop down the river, he observed that it would have been a verydifferent thing to go home to the old man when he first came back with apouch full of ransoms and plunder, whereas now he had barely enough tocarry him to the place of meeting with his Badgers. And there was thewench too--he had fairly forgotten her name. Women were like she wolvesfor greed when they had a brood of whelps.

Stephen satisfied him that there was no danger on that score, and heardhim muttering, that it was no harm to secure a safe harbour in case aman hadn't the luck to be knocked on the head ere he grew too old totrail a pike. And he would fain see the old man.

So permission was asked for Stephen to show the way to Master Randall's,and granted somewhat reluctantly, Master Headley saying, "I'll have theeback within an hour, Stephen Birkenholt, and look thou dost not let thybrain be set afire with this fellow's windy talk of battles and sieges,and deeds only fit for pagans and wolves."

"Ay!" said Tibble, perhaps with a memory of the old fable, "better bethe trusty mastiff than the wolf."

And like the wolf twitting the mastiff with his chain, the soldier wasno sooner outside the door of the Dragon court before he began toexpress his wonder how a lad of mettle could put up with a flat cap, ablue gown, and the being at the beck and call of a greasy burgher, whena bold, handsome young knave like him might have the world before himand his stout pike.

Stephen was flattered, but scarcely tempted. The hard selfishness andwant of affection of the Condottiere shocked him, while he looked about,hoping some of his acquaintance would see him in company with this tallfigure clanking in shining armour, and with a knightly helmet and giltspurs. The armour, new and brilliant, concealed the worn and shabbyleathern dress beneath, and gave the tall, spare figure a greaterbreadth, diminishing the look of a hungry wolf which Sir John Fulford'saspect suggested. However, as he passed some of the wealthier stalls,where the apprentices, seeing the martial figure, shouted, "What d'yelack, sir knight?" and offered silk and velvet robes and mantles, gaysword knots, or even rich chains, under all the clamour, Stephen heardhim swearing by Saint George what a place this would be for a sack, ifhis Badgers were behind him.

"If that poor craven of a Warbeck had had a spark of valour in him,"quoth he, as he passed a stall gay with bright tankards and flagons, "wewould have rattled some of that shining gear about the lazy citizens'ears! He, jolly King Edward's son! I'll never give faith to it! Toturn his back when there was such a booty to be had for the plundering."

"He might not have found it so easy. Our trainbands are sturdy enough,"said Stephen, whose _esprit de corps_ was this time on the Londoners'side, but the knight of the Badger snapped his fingers, and said, "Somuch for your burgher trainbands! All they be good for with their showof fight is to give honest landsknechts a good reason to fall on to theplunder, if so be one is hampered by a squeamish prince. But grammercyto Saint George, there be not many of that sort after they be oncefleshed!"

Perhaps a year ago, when fresh from the Forest, Stephen might have beenmore captivated by the notion of adventure and conquest. Now that hehad his place in the community and looked on a civic position withwholesome ambition, Fulford's longings for havoc in these peacefulstreets made his blood run cold. He was glad when they reached theirdestination, and he saw Perronel with bare arms, taking in some linencuffs and bands from a line across to the opposite wall. He could onlycall out, "Good naunt, here he be!"

Perronel turned round, the colour rising in her cheeks, with anobeisance, but trembling a good deal. "How now, wench? Thou art growna buxom dame. Thou makst an old man of me," said the soldier with alaugh. "Where's my father? I have not the turning of a cup to stay,for I'm come home poor as a cat in a plundered town, and am off to thewars again; but hearing that the old man was nigh at hand, I came thisway to see him, and let thee know thou art a knight's daughter. Thouart indifferent comely, girl, what's thy name? but not the peer of thymother when I wooed her as one of the bonny lasses of Bruges."

He gave a kind of embrace, while she gave a kind of gasp of "Welcome,sir," and glanced somewhat reproachfully at Stephen for not having givenher more warning. The cause of her dismay was plain as the Captain,giving her no time to precede him, strode into the little chamber, whereHal Randall, without his false beard or hair, and in his parti-colouredhose, was seated by the cupboard-like bed, assisting old Martin Fulfordto take his mid-day meal.

"Be this thine husband, girl? Ha! ha! He's more like a jolly friarcome in to make thee merry when the good man is out!" exclaimed thevisitor, laughing loudly at his own rude jest; but heeding little eitherHal's appearance or his reply, as he caught the old man's bewilderedeyes, and heard his efforts to utter his name.

For eighteen years had altered John Fulford less than either his fatheror his daughter, and old Martin recognised him instantly, and held outthe only arm he could use, while the knight, softened, touched, andreally feeling more natural affection than Stephen had given him creditfor, dropped on his knee, breaking into indistinct mutterings with roughbut hearty greetings, regretting that he had not found his fathersooner, when his pouch was full, lamenting the change in him, declaringthat he must hurry away now, but promising to come back with sacks ofItalian ducats to provide for the old man.

Those who could interpret the imperfect utterance, now further choked bytears and agitation, knew that there was a medley of broken rejoicings,blessings, and weepings, in the midst of which the soldier, glad perhapsto end a scene where he became increasingly awkward and embarrassed,started up, hastily kissed the old man on each of his withered cheeks,gave another kiss to his daughter, threw her two Venetian ducats,bidding her spend them for the old man, and he would bring a pouchfulmore next time, and striding to the door, bade Stephen call a boat totake him down to Gravesend.

Randall, who had in the meantime donned his sober black gown in theinner chamber, together with a dark hood, accompanied his newly foundfather-in-law down the river, and Stephen would fain have gone too, butfor the injunction to return within the hour.

Perronel had hurried back to her grandfather's side to endeavour tocompose him after the shock of gladness. But it had been too much forhis enfeebled powers. Another stroke came on before the day was over,and in two or three days more old Martin Fulford was laid to rest, andhis son's ducats were expended on masses for his soul's welfare.





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