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HOW THE BAILIFF OF SOUTHAMPTON SLEW THE TWO MASTERLESS MEN.
THE road along which he travelled was scarce as populous as most other
roads in the kingdom, and far less so than those which lie between the larger
towns. Yet from time to time
Alleyne met other wayfarers, and more than once was overtaken by strings of pack
mules and horsemen journeying in the same direction as himself.
Once a begging friar came limping along in a brown habit, imploring in a
most dolorous voice to give him a single groat to buy bread wherewith to save
himself from impending death. Alleyne
passed him swiftly by, for he had learned from the monks to have no love for the
wandering friars, and, besides, there was a great half-gnawed mutton bone
sticking out of his pouch to prove him a liar.
Swiftly as he went, however, he could not escape the curse of the four
blessed evangelists which the mendicant howled behind him.
So dreadful are his execrations that the frightened lad thrust his
fingers into his ear-holes, and ran until the fellow was but a brown smirch upon
the yellow road.
Further on, at the edge of the woodland, he came upon a chapman and his
wife, who sat upon a fallen tree. He
had put his pack down as a table, and the two of them were devouring a great
pasty, and washing it down with some drink from a stone jar.
The chapman broke a rough jest as he passed, and the woman called shrilly
to Alleyne to come and join them, on which the man, turning suddenly from mirth
to wrath, began to belabor her with his cudgel.
Alleyne hastened on, lest he make more mischief, and his heart was heavy
as lead within him. Look where he
would, he seemed to see nothing but injustice and violence and the hardness of
man to man.
But even as he brooded sadly over it and pined for the sweet peace of the
Abbey, he came on an open space dotted with holly bushes, where was the
strangest sight that he had yet chanced upon.
Near to the pathway lay a long clump of greenery, and from behind this
there stuck straight up into the air four human legs clad in parti-colored
hosen, yellow and black. Strangest of all was when a brisk tune struck suddenly up and
the four legs began to kick and twitter in time to the music.
Walking on tiptoe round the bushes, he stood in amazement to see two men
bounding about on their heads, while they played, the one a viol and the other a
pipe, as merrily and as truly as though they were seated in a choir.
Alleyne crossed himself as he gazed at this unnatural sight, and could
scarce hold his ground with a steady face, when the two dancers, catching sight
of him, came bouncing in his direction. A
spear's length from him, they each threw a somersault into the air, and came
down upon their feet with smirking faces and their hands over their hearts.
"A guerdon--a guerdon, my knight of the staring eyes!" cried
"A gift, my prince!" shouted the other.
"Any trifle will serve-- a purse of gold, or even a jewelled
Alleyne thought of what he had read of demoniac possession --the jumpings,
the twitchings, the wild talk. It
was in his mind to repeat over the exorcism proper to such attacks; but the two
burst out a-laughing at his scared face, and turning on to their heads once
more, clapped their heels in derision.
"Hast never seen tumblers before?" asked the elder, a black-
browed, swarthy man, as brown and supple as a hazel twig.
"Why shrink from us, then, as though we were the spawn of the Evil
"Why shrink, my honey-bird? Why
so afeard, my sweet cinnamon?" exclaimed the other, a loose-jointed lanky
youth with a dancing, roguish eye.
"Truly, sirs, it is a new sight to me," the clerk answered.
"When I saw your four legs above the bush I could scarce credit my own
eyes. Why is it that you do this
"A dry question to answer," cried the younger, coming back on
to his feet. "A most husky
question, my fair bird! But how? A
flask, a flask!--by all that is wonderful!"
He shot out his hand as he spoke, and plucking Alleyne's bottle out of
his scrip, he deftly knocked the neck off, and poured the half of it down his
throat. The rest he handed to his
comrade, who drank the wine, and then, to the clerk's increasing amazement, made
a show of swallowing the bottle, with such skill that Alleyne seemed to see it
vanish down his throat. A moment
later, however, he flung it over his head, and caught it bottom downwards upon
the calf of his left leg.
"We thank you for the wine, kind sir," said he, "and for
the ready courtesy wherewith you offered it.
Touching your question, we may tell you that we are strollers and
jugglers, who, having performed with much applause at Winchester fair, are now
on our way to the great Michaelmas market at Ringwood.
As our art is a very fine and delicate one, however, we cannot let a day
go by without exercising ourselves in it, to which end we choose some quiet and
sheltered spot where we may break our journey.
Here you find us; and we cannot wonder that you, who are new to tumbling,
should be astounded, since many great barons, earls, marshals and knight, who
have wandered as far as the Holy Land, are of one mind in saying that they have
never seen a more noble or gracious performance. if you will be pleased to sit
upon that stump, we will now continue our exercise."
Alleyne sat down willingly as directed with two great bundles on either
side of him which contained the strollers' dresses-- doublets of flame-colored
silk and girdles of leather, spangled with brass and tin.
The jugglers were on their heads once more, bounding about with rigid
necks, playing the while in perfect time and tune.
It chanced that out of one of the bundles there stuck the end of what the
clerk saw to be a cittern, so drawing it forth, he tuned it up and twanged a
harmony to the merry lilt which the dancers played.
On that they dropped their own instruments, and putting their hands to
the ground they hopped about faster and faster, ever shouting to him to play
more briskly, until at last for very weariness all three had to stop.
"Well played, sweet poppet!" cried the younger.
"Hast a rare touch on the strings."
"How knew you the tune?" asked the other.
"I knew it not. I did
but follow the notes I heard."
Both opened their eyes at this, and stared at Alleyne with as much
amazement as he had shown at them.
"You have a fine trick of ear then," said one.
"We have long wished to meet such a man.
Wilt join us and jog on to Ringwood? Thy duties shall be light, and thou
shalt have two-pence a day and meat for supper every night."
"With as much beer as you can put away," said the other
"and a flask of Gascon wine on Sabbaths."
"Nay, it may not be. I
have other work to do. I have
tarried with you over long," quoth Alleyne, and resolutely set forth upon
his journey once more. They ran
behind him some little way, offering him first fourpence and then sixpence a
day, but he only smiled and shook his head, until at last they fell away from
him. Looking back, he saw that the smaller had mounted on the younger's
shoulders, and that they stood so, some ten feet high, waving their adieus to
him. He waved back to them, and then hastened on, the lighter of
heart for having fallen in with these strange men of pleasure.
Alleyne had gone no great distance for all the many small passages that
had befallen him. Yet to him, used
as he was to a life of such quiet that the failure of a brewing or the altering
of an anthem had seemed to be of the deepest import, the quick changing play of
the lights and shadows of life was strangely startling and interesting.
A gulf seemed to divide this brisk uncertain existence from the old
steady round of work and of prayer which he had left behind him. The few hours that had passed since he saw the Abbey tower
stretched out in his memory until they outgrew whole months of the stagnant life
of the cloister. As he walked and
munched the soft bread from his scrip, it seemed strange to him to feel that it
was still warm from the ovens of Beaulieu.
When he passed Penerley, where were three cottages and a barn, he reached
the edge of the tree country, and found the great barren heath of Blackdown
stretching in front of him, all pink with heather and bronzed with the fading
ferns. On the left the woods were
still thick, but the road edged away from them and wound over the open.
The sun lay low in the west upon a purple cloud, whence it threw a mild,
chastening light over the wild moorland and glittered on the fringe of forest
turning the withered leaves into flakes of dead gold, the brighter for the black
depths behind them. To the seeing
eye decay is as fair as growth, and death as life.
The thought stole into Alleyne's heart as he looked upon the autumnal
country side and marvelled at its beauty. He
had little time to dwell upon it however, for there were still six good miles
between him and the nearest inn. He
sat down by the roadside to partake of his bread and cheese, and then with a
lighter scrip he hastened upon his way.
There appeared to be more wayfarers on the down than in the forest.
First he passed two Dominicans in their long black dresses, who swept by
him with downcast looks and pattering lips, without so much as a glance at him.
Then there came a gray friar, or minorite, with a good paunch upon him,
walking slowly and looking about him with the air of a man who was at peace with
himself and with all men. He
stopped Alleyne to ask him whether it was not true that there was a hostel
somewhere in those parts which was especially famous for the stewing of eels.
The clerk having made answer that he had heard the eels of Sowley well
spoken of, the friar sucked in his lips and hurried forward. Close at his heels
came three laborers walking abreast, with spade and mattock over their
shoulders. They sang some rude
chorus right tunefully as they walked, but their English was so coarse and rough
that to the ears of a cloister-bred man it sounded like a foreign and barbarous
tongue. One of them carried a young
bittern which they had caught upon the moor, and they offered it to Alleyne for
a silver groat. Very glad he was to
get safely past them, for, with their bristling red beards and their fierce blue
eyes, they were uneasy men to bargain with upon a lonely moor.
Yet it is not always the burliest and the wildest who are the most to be
dreaded. The workers looked
hungrily at him, and then jogged onwards upon their way in slow, lumbering Saxon
style. A worse man to deal with was
a wooden-legged cripple who came hobbling down the path, so weak and so old to
all appearance that a child need not stand in fear of him.
Yet when Alleyne had passed him, of a sudden, out of pure devilment, he
screamed out a curse at him, and sent a jagged flint stone hurtling past his
ear. So horrid was the causeless rage of the crooked creature,
that the clerk came over a cold thrill, and took to his heels until he was out
of shot from stone or word. It
seemed to him that in this country of England there was no protection for a man
save that which lay in the strength of his own arm and the speed of his own
foot. In the cloisters he had heard
vague talk of the law--the mighty law which was higher than prelate or baron,
yet no sign could he see of it. What
was the benefit of a law written fair upon parchment, he wondered, if there were
no officers to enforce it. As it
tell out, however, he had that very evening, ere the sun had set, a chance of
seeing how stern was the grip of the English law when it did happen to seize the
A mile or so out upon the moor the road takes a very sudden dip into a
hollow, with a peat-colored stream running swiftly down the centre of it.
To the right of this stood, and stands to this day, an ancient barrow, or
burying mound, covered deeply in a bristle of heather and bracken.
Alleyne was plodding down the slope upon one side, when he saw an old
dame coming towards him upon the other, limping with weariness and leaning
heavily upon a stick. When she
reached the edge of the stream she stood helpless, looking to right and to left
for some ford. Where the path ran
down a great stone had been fixed in the centre of the brook, but it was too far
from the bank for her aged and uncertain feet.
Twice she thrust forward at it, and twice she drew back, until at last,
giving up in despair, she sat herself down by the brink and wrung her hands
wearily. There she still sat when
Alleyne reached the crossing.
"Come, mother," quoth he, "it is not so very perilous a
"Alas! good youth," she answered, "I have a humor in the
eyes, and though I can see that there is a stone there I can by no means be sure
as to where it lies."
"That is easily amended," said he cheerily, and picking her
lightly up, for she was much worn with time, he passed across with her.
He could not but observe, however, that as he placed her down her knees
seemed to fail her, and she could scarcely prop herself up with her staff.
"You are weak, mother," said he.
"Hast journeyed far, I wot."
"From Wiltshire, friend," said she, in a quavering voice;
"three days have I been on the road. I
go to my son, who is one of the King's regarders at Brockenhurst.
He has ever said that he would care for me in mine old age."
"And rightly too, mother, since you cared for him in his youth. But
when have you broken fast?"
"At Lyndenhurst; but alas! my money is at an end, and I could but
get a dish of bran-porridge from the nunnery.
Yet I trust that I may be able to reach Brockenhurst to-night, where I
may have all that heart can desire; for oh! sir, but my son is a fine man, with
a kindly heart of his own, and it is as good as food to me to think that he
should have a doublet of Lincoln green to his back and be the King's own paid
"It is a long road yet to Brockenhurst," said Alleyne;
"but here is such bread and cheese as I have left, and here, too, is a
penny which may help you to supper. May
God be with you!"
"May God be with you, young man!" she cried.
"May He make your heart as glad as you have made mine!"
She turned away, still mumbling blessings, and Alleyne saw her short
figure and her long shadow stumbling slowly up the slope.
He was moving away himself, when his eyes lit upon a strange sight, and
one which sent a tingling through his skin.
Out of the tangled scrub on the old overgrown barrow two human faces were
looking out at him; the sinking sun glimmered full upon them, showing up every
line and feature. The one was an
oldish man with a thin beard, a crooked nose, and a broad red smudge from a
birth-mark over his temple; the other was a negro, a thing rarely met in England
at that day, and rarer still in the quiet southland parts.
Alleyne had read of such folk, but had never seen one before, and could
scarce take his eyes from the fellow's broad pouting lip and shining teeth.
Even as he gazed, however, the two came writhing out from among the
heather, and came down towards him with such a guilty, slinking carriage, that
the clerk felt that there was no good in them, and hastened onwards upon his
He had not gained the crown of the slope, when he heard a sudden scuffle
behind him and a feeble voice bleating for help.
Looking round, there was the old dame down upon the roadway, with her red
whimple flying on the breeze, while the two rogues, black and white, stooped
over her, wresting away from her the penny and such other poor trifles as were
worth the taking. At the sight of
her thin limbs struggling in weak resistance, such a glow of fierce anger passed
over Alleyne as set his head in a whirl. Dropping his scrip, he bounded over the
stream once more, and made for the two villains, with his staff whirled over his
shoulder and his gray eyes blazing with fury.
The robbers, however, were not disposed to leave their victim until they
had worked their wicked will upon her. The
black man, with the woman's crimson scarf tied round his swarthy head, stood
forward in the centre of the path, with a long dull-colored knife in his hand,
while the other, waving a ragged cudgel, cursed at Alleyne and dared him to come
on. His blood was fairly aflame, however, and he needed no such
challenge. Dashing at the black
man, he smote at him with such good will that the other let his knife tinkle
into the roadway, and hopped howling to a safer distance. The second rogue, however, made of sterner stuff, rushed in
upon the clerk, and clipped him round the waist with a grip like a bear,
shouting the while to his comrade to come round and stab him in the back.
At this the negro took heart of grace, and picking up his dagger again he
came stealing with prowling step and murderous eye, while the two swayed
backwards and forwards, staggering this way and that.
In the very midst of the scuffle, however, whilst Alleyne braced himself
to feel the cold blade between his shoulders, there came a sudden scurry of
hoofs, and the black man yelled with terror and ran for his life through the
heather. The man with the birth-mark, too, struggled to break away,
and Alleyne heard his teeth chatter and felt his limbs grow limp to his hand.
At this sign of coming aid the clerk held on the tighter, and at last was
able to pin his man down and glanced behind him to see where all the noise was
Down the slanting road there was riding a big, burly man, clad in a tunic
of purple velvet and driving a great black horse as hard as it could gallop.
He leaned well over its neck as he rode, and made a heaving with his
shoulders at every bound as though he were lifting the steed instead of it
carrying him. In the rapid glance
Alleyne saw that he had white doeskin gloves, a curling white feather in his
flat velvet cap, and a broad gold, embroidered baldric across his bosom.
Behind him rode six others, two and two, clad in sober brown jerkins,
with the long yellow staves of their bows thrusting out from behind their right
shoulders. Down the hill they thundered, over the brook and up to the
scene of the contest.
"Here is one!" said the leader, springing down from his reeking
horse, and seizing the white rogue by the edge of his jerkin. "This is one
of them. I know him by that devil's
touch upon his brow. Where are your
cords, Peterkin? So! --bind him
hand and foot. His last hour has
come. And you, young man, who may
"I am a clerk, sir, travelling from Beaulieu."
"A clerk!" cried the other.
"Art from Oxenford or from Cambridge?
Hast thou a letter from the chancellor of thy college giving thee a
permit to beg? Let me see thy
letter." He had a stern,
square face, with bushy side whiskers and a very questioning eye.
"I am from Beaulieu Abbey, and I have no need to beg," said
Alleyne, who was all of a tremble now that the ruffle was over.
"The better for thee," the other answered.
"Dost know who I am?"
"No, sir, I do not."
"I am the law!"--nodding his head solemnly.
"I am the law of England and the mouthpiece of his most gracious and
royal majesty, Edward the Third."
Alleyne louted low to the King's representative.
"Truly you came in good time, honored sir," said he.
"A moment later and they would have slain me."
"But there should be another one," cried the man in the purple
coat. "There should be a black
man. A shipman with St. Anthony's
fire, and a black man who had served him as cook--those are the pair that we are
in chase of."
"The black man fled over to that side," said Alleyne, pointing
towards the barrow.
"He could not have gone far, sir bailiff," cried one of the
archers, unslinging his bow. "He
is in hiding somewhere, for he knew well, black paynim as he is, that our
horses' four legs could outstrip his two."
"Then we shall have him," said the other.
"It shall never be said, whilst I am bailiff of Southampton, that
any waster, riever, draw-latch or murtherer came scathless away from me and my
posse. Leave that rogue lying.
Now stretch out in line, my merry ones, with arrow on string, and I shall
show you such sport as only the King can give. You on the left, Howett, and Thomas of Redbridge upon the
right. So! Beat high and low among the heather, and a pot of wine to the
As it chanced, however, the searchers had not far to seek.
The negro had burrowed down into his hiding-place upon the barrow, where
he might have lain snug enough, had it not been for the red gear upon his head.
As he raised himself to look over the bracken at his enemies, the staring
color caught the eye of the bailiff, who broke into a long screeching whoop and
spurred forward sword in hand. Seeing
himself discovered, the man rushed out from his hiding-place, and bounded at the
top of his speed down the line of archers, keeping a good hundred paces to the
front of them. The two who were on
either side of Alleyne bent their bows as calmly as though they were shooting at
the popinjay at the village fair.
"Seven yards windage, Hal," said one, whose hair was streaked
"Five," replied the other, letting loose his string.
Alleyne gave a gulp in his throat, for the yellow streak seemed to pass
through the man; but he still ran forward.
"Seven, you jack-fool," growled the first speaker, and his bow
twanged like a harp-string. The
black man sprang high up into the air, and shot out both his arms and his legs,
coming down all a-sprawl among the heather.
"Right under the blade bone!" quoth the archer, sauntering
forward for his arrow.
"The old hound is the best when all is said," quoth the bailiff
of Southampton, as they made back for the roadway.
"That means a quart of the best Malmsey in Southampton this very
night, Matthew Atwood. Art sure
that he is dead?"
"Dead as Pontius Pilate, worshipful sir."
"It is well. Now, as to the other knave.
There are trees and to spare over yonder, but we have scarce leisure to
make for them. Draw thy sword, Thomas of Redbridge, and hew me his head from his
"A boon, gracious sir, a boon!" cried the condemned man.
What then?" asked the bailiff.
"I will confess to my crime. It
was indeed I and the black cook, both from the ship 'La Rose de Gloire,' of
Southampton, who did set upon the Flanders merchant and rob him of his spicery
and his mercery, for which, as we well know, you hold a warrant against
"There is little merit in this confession," quoth the bailiff
sternly. "Thou hast done evil
within my bailiwick, and must die."
"But, sir," urged Alleyne, who was white to the lips at these
bloody doings, "he hath not yet come to trial."
"Young clerk," said the bailiff, "you speak of that of
which you know nothing. It is true that he hath not come to trial, but the trial hath
come to him. He hath fled the law
and is beyond its pale. Touch not
that which is no concern of thine. But
what is this boon, rogue, which you would crave?"
"I have in my shoe, most worshipful sir, a strip of wood which
belonged once to the bark wherein the blessed Paul was dashed up against the
island of Melita. I bought it for
two rose nobles from a shipman who came from the Levant.
The boon I crave is that you will place it in my hands and let me die
still grasping it. In this manner,
not only shall my own eternal salvation be secured, but thine also, for I shall
never cease to intercede for thee."
At the command of the bailiff they plucked off the fellow's shoe, and
there sure enough at the side of the instep, wrapped in a piece of fine sendall,
lay a long, dark splinter of wood. The
archers doffed caps at the sight of it, and the bailiff crossed himself devoutly
as he handed it to the robber.
"If it should chance," he said, "that through the
surpassing merits of the blessed Paul your sin-stained soul should gain a way
into paradise, I trust that you will not forget that intercession which you have
promised. Bear in mind too, that it
is Herward the bailiff for whom you pray, and not Herward the sheriff, who is my
uncle's son. Now, Thomas, I pray you dispatch, for we have a long ride
before us and sun has already set."
Alleyne gazed upon the scene--the portly velvet-clad official the knot of
hard-faced archers with their hands to the bridles of their horses, the thief
with his arms trussed back and his doublet turned down upon his shoulders.
By the side of the track the old dame was standing, fastening her red
whimple once more round her head. Even
as he looked one of the archers drew his sword with a sharp whirr of steel and
stept up to the lost man. The clerk hurried away in horror; but, ere he had gone
many paces, he heard a sudden, sullen thump, with a choking, whistling sound at
the end of it. A minute later the
bailiff and four of his men rode past him on their journey back to Southampton,
the other two having been chosen as grave-diggers. As they passed Alleyne saw
that one of the men was wiping his sword-blade upon the mane of his horse.
A deadly sickness came over him at the sight, and sitting down by the
wayside he burst out weeping, with his nerves all in a jangle.
It was a terrible world thought he, and it was hard to know which were
the most to be dreaded, the knaves or the men of the law.
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