One Snowy Night, by Emily Sarah Holt.
The story of the following pages is one of the least known yet saddest episodes in English history—the first persecution of Christians by Christians in this land. When Boniface went forth from England to evangelise Germany, he was received with welcome, and regarded as a saint: when Gerhardt came from Germany to restore the pure Gospel to England, he was cast out of the vineyard and slain.
The spirit of her who is drunk with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus is the same now that it was then. She does not ask if a man agree with the Word of God, but whether he agree with her. "When the Church has spoken"—this has been said by exalted ecclesiastical lips quite recently—"we cannot appeal to Scripture against her!"
But we Protestants can—we must—we will. The Church is not God, but man. The Bible is not the word of man, but the Word of God (One Thessalonians, two, verse 13; Ephesians, six, verse 17): therefore it must be paramount and unerring. Let us hold fast this our profession, not being moved away from the hope of the Gospel, nor entangled again with the yoke of bondage, but stablished in the faith, grounded and settled. "For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end."
SAINT MAUDLIN'S WELL.
"For men must work, and women must weep, And the sooner 'tis over, the sooner to sleep."
Reverend Charles Kingsley.
It was not a cross voice that called, but it sounded like a very tired one. The voice which answered was much more fresh and cheerful.
"Is Romund come in yet?"
"Nor Haimet either?"
"I have not seen him, Mother."
"Oh dear, those boys! They are never in the way when they are wanted."
The speaker came forward and showed herself. She was a woman of some forty years or more, looking older than she was, and evidently very weary. She wore a plain untrimmed skirt of dark woollen stuff, short to the ankles, a long linen apron, and a blue hood over her head and shoulders. Resting her worn hands on the half-door, she looked drearily up and down the street, as if in languid hope of catching a glimpse of the boys who should have been there, and were not.
"Well, there's no help for it!" she said at last, "Flemild, child, you must go for the water to-night."
"I? O Mother!" The girl's tone was one of manifest reluctance.
"It can't be helped, child. Take Derette with you, and be back as quick as you can, before the dusk comes on. The lads should have been here to spare you, but they only think of their own pleasure. I don't know what the world's coming to, for my part."
"Father Dolfin says it's going to be burnt up," said a third voice—that of a child—from the interior of the house.
"Time it was!" replied the mother bluntly. "There's nought but trouble and sorrow in it—leastwise I've never seen much else. It's just work, work, work, from morning to night, and often no rest to speak of from night to morning. You get up tireder than you went to bed, and you may just hold your tongue for all that any body cares, as the saints know. Well, well!—Come, make haste, child, or there'll be a crowd round Saint Martin's Well." [Note 1.]
"O Mother! mayn't I go to Plato's Well?"
"What, and carry your budget four times as far? Nonsense, Flemild!"
"But, Mother, please hear me a minute! It's a quiet enough way, when you are once past the Bayly, and I can step into the lodge and see if Cousin Stephen be at home. If he be, he'll go with me, I know."
"You may go your own way," said the mother, not quite pleasantly. "Young folks are that headstrong! I can't look for my children to be better than other folks'. If they are as good, it's as much as one need expect in this world."
Flemild had been busily tying on a red hood while her mother spoke, and signing to her little sister to do the same. Then the elder girl took from a corner, where it hung on a hook, a budget or pail of boiled leather, a material then much used for many household vessels now made of wood or metal: and the girls went out into the narrow street.
The street was called Kepeharme Lane, and the city was Oxford. This lane ran, in old diction, from the Little Bayly to Fish Street—in modern language, from New Inn Hall Street to Saint Aldate's, slightly south of what is now Queen Street, and was then known as the Great Bayly. The girls turned their backs on Saint Aldate's, and went westwards, taking the way towards the Castle, which in 1159 was not a ruined fortress, but an aristocratic mansion, wherein the great De Veres held almost royal state.
"Why don't you like Saint Martin's Well, Flemild?" demanded the child, with childish curiosity.
"Oh, for lots of reasons," answered her sister evasively.
"Tell me one or two."
"Well, there is always a crowd there towards evening. Then, very often, there are ragamuffins on Penniless Bench [Note 2] that one does not want to come too near. Then—don't you see, we have to pass the Jewry?"
"What would they do to us?" asked the child.
"Don't talk about it!" returned her sister, with a shudder. "Don't you know, Derette, the Jews are very, very wicked people? Hasn't Mother told you so many a time? Never you go near them—now, mind!"
"Are they worse than we are?"
Flemild's conscience pricked her a little as she replied, "Of course they are. Don't you know they crucified our Lord?"
"What, these Jews?" asked Derette with open eyes. "Old Aaron, and Benefei at the corner, and Jurnet the fletcher, and—O Flemild, not, surely not Countess and Regina? They look so nice and kind, I'm sure they never could do any thing like that!"
"No, child, not these people, of course. Why, it was hundreds and hundreds of years ago. But these are just as bad—every one of them. They would do it again if they had the chance."
"Countess wouldn't, I know," persisted the little one. "Why, Flemild, only last week, she caught pussy for me, and gave her to me, and she smiled so prettily. I liked her. If Mother hadn't said I must never speak to any of them, I'd have had a chat with her; but of course I couldn't, then, so I only smiled back again, and nodded for 'thank you.'"
"Derette!" There was genuine terror in the tone of the elder sister. "Don't you know those people are all wicked witches? Regular black witches, in league with the Devil. There isn't one of them would not cast a spell on you as soon as look at you."
"What would it do to me?" inquired the startled child.
"What wouldn't it do? you had better ask. Make you into a horrid black snake, or a pig, or something you would not like to be, I can tell you."
"I shouldn't quite like to be a black snake," said Derette, after a minute's pause for reflection. "But I don't think I should much mind being a pig. Little, tiny pigs are rather pretty things; and when they lie and grunt, they look very comfortable."
"Silly child!—you'd have no soul to be saved!"
"Shouldn't I? But, Flemild, I don't quite see—if I were the pig— would that be me or the pig?"
"Hi, there! Where are you going?"
Flemild was not very sorry to be saved the solution of Derette's difficult problem. She turned to the youth of some fifteen years, who had hailed her from the corner of Castle Street.
"Where you should have gone instead, Haimet—with the budget for water. Do go with me now."
"Where on earth are you going—to Osney?"
"No, stupid boy: to Plato's Well."
"I'm not going there. I don't mind Saint Maudlin's, if you like."
"We are out of the way to Saint Maudlin's, or else I shouldn't have minded—"
"No, my lady, I rather think you wouldn't have minded the chance of a dance in Horsemonger Street. However, I'm not going to Plato's Well. If you go with me, you go to Saint Maudlin's; and if you don't, you may find your way back by yourselves, that's all."
And laying his hands on the budget, Haimet transferred it from his sister's keeping to his own.
Plato's Well stood in Stockwell Street, on the further side of the Castle, and on the south of Gloucester Hall, now Worcester College. Fortified by her brother's presence, Flemild turned after him, and they went up Castle Street, and along North Bayly Street into Bedford Lane, now the northern part of New Inn Hall Street. When they reached the North Gate, they had to wait to go out, for it was just then blocked by a drove of cattle, each of which had to pay the municipal tax of a halfpenny, and they were followed by a cart of sea-fish, which paid fourpence. The gate being clear, they passed through it, Flemild casting rather longing looks down Horsemonger Street (the modern Broad Street), where a bevy of young girls were dancing, while their elders sat at their doors and looked on; but she did not attempt to join them. A little further, just past the Church of Saint Mary Magdalen, they came to a small gothic building over a well. Here, for this was Saint Maudlin's Well, Haimet drew the water, and they set forth on the return journey.
"Want to go after those damsels?" inquired the youth, with a nod in the direction of the dancers, as they passed the end of the street.
"N-o," said Flemild. "Mother bade me haste back. Beside, they won't be out many minutes longer. It isn't worth while."
"Like a woman," retorted Haimet with a satirical grin; "the real reason always comes last."
"What do you know about it?" answered his sister, not ill-humouredly, as they paused again at the North Gate. "O Haimet, what are those?"
A small company of about thirty—men, women, and a few children—were coming slowly down Horsemonger Street. They were attired in rough short tunics, warm sheepskin cloaks, heavy boots which had seen hard service, and felt hats or woollen hoods. Each man carried a long staff, and all looked as though they were ending a wearisome journey. Their faces had a foreign aspect, and most of the men wore beards,—not a very common sight in England at that date, especially with the upper classes. And these men were no serfs, as was shown by the respectability of their appearance, and the absence of the brazen neck-collar which marked the slave.
The man who walked first of the little company, and had a look of intelligence and power, addressed himself to the porter at the gate in excellent French—almost too excellent for comprehension. For though French was at that date the Court tongue in England, as now in Belgium, it was Norman French, scarcely intelligible to a Parisian, and still less so to a Provencal. The porter understood only the general scope of the query—that the speaker wished to know if he and his companions might find lodging in the city.
"Go in," said he bluntly. "As to lodgings, the saints know where you will get them. There are dog-holes somewhere, I dare say."
The leader turned, and said a few words to his friends in an unknown tongue, when they at once followed him through the gate. As he passed close by the girls, they noticed that a book hung down from his girdle— a very rare sight to their eyes. While they were watching the foreigners defile past them, the leader stopped and turned to Haimet, who was a little in advance of his sisters.
"My master," he said, "would you for the love of God tell us strangers where we can find lodging? We seek any honest shelter, and ask no delicate fare. We would offend no man, and would gladly help with any household work."
Haimet hesitated, and gnawed his under lip in doubtful fashion. Flemild pressed forward.
"Master," she said, "if in truth you are content with plain fare and lodging, I think my mother would be willing to give room to one or two of the women among you, if they would pay her by aid in household work: and methinks our next neighbour would maybe do as much. Thinkest thou not so, Haimet?—Will you follow us and see?"
"Most gladly, maiden," was the answer.
"My word, Flemild, you are in for it!" whispered Haimet. "Mother will be right grateful to you for bringing a whole army of strangers upon her, who may be witches for all you know."
"Mother will be glad enough of a woman's arms to help her, and let her rest her own," replied Flemild decidedly; "and I am sure they look quite respectable."
"Well, look out for storms!" said Haimet.
Flemild, who had acted on an impulse of compassionate interest, was herself a little doubtful how her action would be received at home, though she did not choose to confess it. They passed down North Gate Street (now the Corn-market), and crossing High Street, went a few yards further before they readied their own street. On their right hand stood the cooks' shops, and afterwards the vintners', while all along on their left ran the dreaded Jewry, which reached from High Street to what is now the chief entrance of Christ Church. The fletchers' and cutlers' stalls stood along this side of the street. Eastwards the Jewry stretched to Oriel Street, and on the south came very near the Cathedral Church of Saint Frideswide. The (now destroyed) Church of Saint Edward stood in the midst of it.
As our friends turned into their own street, they passed a girl of some seventeen years of age—a very handsome girl, with raven hair and dark brilliant eyes.
She smiled at Derette as she passed, and the child returned the silent salutation, taking care to turn her head so that her sister should not see her. A moment later they came to their own door, over which hung a panel painted with a doubtful object, which charity might accept as the walnut tree for which it was intended. Just as this point was reached, their mother came to the door, carrying a tin basin, from which she threw some dirty water where every body then threw it, into the gutter.
"Saint Benedict be merciful to us!" she cried, nearly dropping the basin. "What on earth is all this ado? And the children here in the midst of it! Holy Virgin, help us! There is nothing but trouble for a poor woman in this world. And me as good as a widow, and worse, too. Haimet! Flemild! whatever are you about?"
"Mother," said Flemild in politic wise, "I have brought you some help. These good women here seek lodging for the night—any decent kind will serve them—and they offer to pay for it in work. It will be such a rest for you, Mother, if you will take in one or two; and don't you think Franna would do the same, and old Turguia be glad of the chance?"
Isel stood with the basin in her hand, and a look half vexed, half amused, upon her face.
"Well! what is to be will be," she said at last. "I suppose you've arranged it all. It'll be grand rest to have every thing smashed in the house. Come in, friends, as many of you as like. Those that can't find straw to lie on can sit on a budget. Blessed saints, the shiftlessness of girls!"
And with a tone of voice which seemed to be the deeper depth below despair itself, Isel led the way into the house.
Derette had fallen a little back, entranced by a sight which always attracted her. She loved any thing that she could pet, whether a baby or a kitten; and had once, to the horror of her mother's housekeeping soul, been discovered offering friendly advances to a whole family of mice. In the arms of the woman who immediately followed the leader, lay what seemed to Derette's eyes a particularly fascinating baby. She now edged her way to her mother's side, with an imploring whisper of "There's a baby, Mother!"
"There's three, child. I counted them," was the grim reply.
"But, Mother, there's one particular baby—"
"Then you'd better go and fetch it, before you lose it," said Isel in the same tone.
Derette, who took the suggestion literally, ran out, and with many smiles and encouraging nods, led in the baby and its mother, with a young girl of about eighteen years, who came after them, and seemed to belong to them.
"I suppose I shall have to go with you, at any rate through this street," said Haimet, returning after he had set down the bucket. "Our folks here won't understand much of that lingo of yours. Come along."
The tone was less rough than the words—it usually was with Haimet,—and the little company followed him down the street, very ready to accept the least attempt at kindness.
Isel and Flemild were somewhat dismayed to discover that their chosen guests could not understand a word they said, and were quite as unintelligible to them. Derette's mute offer to hold the baby was quickly comprehended; and when Isel, taking the woman and girl up the ladder, showed them a heap of clean straw, on which two thick rough rugs lay folded, they quite understood that their sleeping-place for the night was to be there. Isel led the way down again, placed a bowl of apples before the girl, laid a knife beside it, and beginning to pare one of the apples, soon made known to her what she required. In a similar manner she seated the woman in the chimney-corner, and put into her hands a petticoat which she was making for Derette. Both the strangers smiled and nodded, and went to work with a will, while Isel set on some of the fresh water just brought, and began to prepare supper.
"Well, this is a queer fix as ever I saw!" muttered Isel, as she cleaned her fish ready for boiling. "It's true enough what my grandmother used to say—you never know, when you first open your eyes of a morning, what they'll light on afore you shut them at night. If one could talk to these outlandish folks, there'd be more sense in it. Flemild, I wonder if they've come across your father."
"O Mother, couldn't we ask them?"
"How, child? If I say, 'Have you seen aught of an Englishman called Manning Brown?' as like as not they'll think I'm saying, 'Come and eat this pie.'"
Flemild laughed. "That first man talks," she said.
"Ay, and he's gone with the lot. Just my luck!—always was. My father was sure to be killed in the wars, and my husband was safe to take it into his head to go and fight the Saracens, instead of stopping at home like a decent fellow to help his wife and bring up his children the way they should go. Well!—it can't be helped, I suppose."
"Why did Father go to fight the Saracens?" demanded Derette, looking up from the baby.
"Don't you know, Derette? It is to rescue our Lord's sepulchre," said Flemild.
"Does He want it?" replied Derette.
Flemild did not know how to answer. "It is a holy place, and ought not to be left in the hands of wicked people."
"Are Saracens wicked people?"
"Yes, of course—as bad as Jews. They are a sort of Jews, I believe; at any rate, they worship idols, and weave wicked spells." [Note 3.]
"Is all the world full of wicked people?"
"Pretty nigh, child!" said her mother, with a sigh. "The saints know that well enough."
"I wonder if the saints do know," answered Derette meditatively, rocking the baby in her arms. "I should have thought they'd come and mend things, if they did. Why don't they, Mother?"
"Bless you, child! The saints know their own business best. Come here and watch this pan whilst I make the sauce."
The supper was ready, and was just about to be dished up, when Haimet entered, accompanied by the leader of the foreigners, to the evident delight of the guests.
"Only just in time," murmured Isel. "However, it is as well you've brought somebody to speak to. Where's all the rest of them folks?"
"Got them all housed at last," said Haimet, flinging his hat into a corner. "Most in the town granary, but several down this street. Old Turguia took two women, and Franna a man and wife: and what think you?— if old Benefei did not come forth and offer to take in some."
"Did they go with him?"
"As easy in their minds, so far as looks went, as if it had been my Lord himself. Didn't seem to care half a straw."
"Sweet Saint Frideswide! I do hope they aren't witches themselves," whispered Isel in some perturbation.
To open one's house for the reception of passing strangers was not an unusual thing in that day; but the danger of befriending—and yet more of offending—those who were in league with the Evil One, was an ever-present fear to the minds of men and women in the twelfth century.
The leader overheard the whisper.
"Good friends," he said, addressing Isel, "suffer me to set your minds at rest with a word of explanation. We are strangers, mostly of Teutonic race, that have come over to this land on a mission of good and mercy. Indeed we are not witches, Jews, Saracens, nor any evil thing: only poor harmless peasants that will work for our bread and molest no man, if we may be suffered to abide in your good country for this purpose. This is my wife—" he laid his hand on the shoulder of the baby's mother—"her name is Agnes, and she will soon learn your tongue. This is my young sister, whose name is Ermine; and my infant son is called Rudolph. Mine own name is Gerhardt, at your service. I am a weaver by trade, and shall be pleased to exercise my craft in your behalf, thus to return the kindness you have shown us."
"Well, I want some new clothes ill enough, the saints know," said Isel in answer; "and if you behave decent, and work well, and that, I don't say as I might be altogether sorry for having taken you in. It's right, I suppose, to help folks in trouble—though it's little enough help I ever get that way, saints knows!—and I hope them that's above 'll bear it in mind when things come to be reckoned up like."
That was Isel's religion. It is the practical religion of a sadly large number of people in this professedly Christian land.
Agnes turned and spoke a few words in a low voice to her husband, who smiled in answer.
"My wife wishes me to thank you," he said, "in her name and that of my sister, for your goodness in taking us strangers so generously into your home. She says that she can work hard, and will gladly do so, if, until she can speak your tongue, you will call her attention, and do for a moment what you wish her to do. Ermine says the same."
"Well, that's fair-spoken enough, I can't deny," responded Isel; "and I'm not like to say I shan't be glad of a rest. There's nought but hard work in this world, without it's hard words: and which is the uglier of them I can't say. It'll be done one of these days, I reckon."
"And then, friend?" asked Gerhardt quietly.
"Well, if you know the answer to that, you know more than I do," said Isel, dishing up her salt fish. "Dear saints, where ever is that boy Romund? Draw up the form, Haimet, and let us have our supper. Say grace, boy."
Haimet obeyed, by the short and easy process of making a large cross over the table, and muttering a few unintelligible words, which should have been a Latin formula. The first surprise received from the foreign guests came now. Instead of sitting down to supper, the trio knelt and prayed in silence for some minutes, ere they rose and joined their hosts at the table. Then Gerhardt spoke aloud.
"God, who blessed the five barley loaves and the two fishes before His disciples in the wilderness, bless this table and that which is set on it, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
"Oh, you do say your prayers!" remarked Isel in a tone of satisfaction, as the guests began their supper. "But I confess I'd sooner say mine while the fish isn't getting cold."
"We do, indeed," answered Gerhardt gravely.
"Oh, by the way, tell me if you've ever come across an English traveller called Manning Brown? My husband took the cross, getting on for three years now, and I've never heard another word about him since. Thought you might have chanced on him somewhere or other."
"Whither went he, and which way did he take?"
"Bless you, I don't know! He went to foreign parts: and foreign parts are all one to me."
Gerhardt looked rather amused.
"We come from Almayne," he said; "some of us in past years dwelt in Provence, Toulouse, and Gascony."
"Don't tell me!" said Isel, holding up her hands. "It's all so much gibberish. Have you met with my man?—that's all I want to know."
"I have not," replied Gerhardt. "I will ask my friends, and see if any of them have done so."
Supper over, a second surprise followed. Again Gerhardt offered his special blessing—"God, who has given us bodily food, grant us His spiritual life; and may God be with us, and we always with Him!" Then they once more knelt and silently prayed. Gerhardt drew his wife and sister into a corner of the house, and opening his book, read a short portion, after which they engaged in low-toned conversation.
Derette, with the baby in her arms, had drawn near the group. She was not at all bashful.
"I wish I could understand you," she said. "What are you talking about?"
Gerhardt lifted his cap before answering.
"About our blessed Lord Christ, my maiden," he said.
Derette nodded, with an air of satisfaction at the wide extent of her knowledge. "I know. He's holy Mary's Son."
"Ay, and He is our Saviour," added Flemild.
"Is He thy Saviour, little one?" asked Gerhardt.
"I don't know what you mean," was the answer.
"O Derette! you know well enough that our Lord is called the Saviour!" corrected her sister in rather a shocked tone.
"I know that, but I don't know what it means," persisted the child sturdily.
"Come, be quiet!" said her mother. "I never did see such a child for wanting to get to the bottom of things.—Well, Romund! Folks that want supper should come in time for it. All's done and put by now."
"I have had my supper at the Lodge," responded a tall young man of twenty-two, who had just entered. "Who are those people?"
His mother gave the required explanation. Romund looked rather doubtfully at the guests. Gerhardt, seeing that this was the master of the house, at least under present circumstances, rose, and respectfully raising his cap, apologised for their presence.
"What can you do?" inquired Romund shortly.
"My trade is weaving," replied Gerhardt, "but I can stack wood or cut it, put up shelves, milk cows, or attend to a garden. I shall be glad to do any thing in my power."
"You may nail up the vine over the back door," said Romund, "and I dare say my mother can find you some shelves and hooks to put up. The women can cook and sew. You may stay for a few days, at any rate."
Gerhardt expressed his thanks, and Romund, disappearing outside the back door, returned with some pieces of wood and tools, which he laid down on the form. He was trying to carve a wooden box with a pattern of oak leaves, but he had not progressed far, and his attempts were not of the first order. Haimet noticed Gerhardt's interested glance cast on his brother's work.
"Is that any thing in your line?" he asked with a smile.
"I have done a little in that way," replied Gerhardt modestly. "May I examine it?" he asked of Romund.
The young carver nodded, and Gerhardt took up the box.
"This is an easy pattern," he said.
"Easy, do you call it?" replied Romund. "It is the hardest I have done yet. Those little round inside bits are so difficult to manage."
"May I try?" asked Gerhardt.
It was not very willingly that Romund gave permission, for he almost expected the spoiling of his work: but the carving-tool had not made more than a few cuts in the German's fingers, before Romund saw that his guest was a master in the art. The work so laborious and difficult to him seemed to do itself when Gerhardt took hold of it.
"Why, you are a first-class hand at it!" he cried.
Gerhardt smiled. "I have done the like before, in my own country," he said.
"Will you teach me your way of working?" asked Romund eagerly. "I never had any body to teach me. I should be as glad as could be to learn of one that really knew."
"Gladly," said Gerhardt. "It will give me pleasure to do any thing for the friends who have been so kind to me."
"Derette, it is your bedtime," came from the other corner—not by any means to Derette's gratification. "Give the baby to its mother, and be off."
Very unwillingly Derette obeyed: but Gerhardt, looking up, requested Isel's permission for his wife and sister to retire with the child. They had had a long journey that day, and were quite worn out. Isel readily assented, and Derette with great satisfaction saw them accompany her up the ladder.
The houses of the common people at that time were extremely poor. This family were small gentlefolks after a fashion, and looked down upon the tradesmen by whom they were surrounded as greatly their inferiors: yet they dwelt in two rooms, one above the other, with a ladder as the only means of communication. Their best bed, on which Isel and Flemild slept, was a rough wooden box filled with straw, on the top of which were a bed and a mattress, covered by coarse quilts and a rug of rabbit-skin. Derette and the boys lay on sacks filled with chaff, with woollen rugs over them.
The baby was already asleep, and Agnes laid it gently on one of the woollen rugs, while she and Ermine, to Derette's amazement, knelt and prayed for some time. Derette herself took scarcely five minutes to her prayers. Why should she require more, when her notion of prayer was not to make request for what she wanted to One who could give it to her, but to gabble over one Creed, six Paternosters, and the doxology, with as much rapidity as she could persuade her lips to utter the words? Then, in another five minutes, after a few rapid motions, Derette drew the woollen rug over her, and very quickly knew nothing more, for that night at least.
The city of Oxford, as then inhabited, was considerably smaller than it is now. The walls ran, roughly speaking, on the north, from the Castle to Holywell Street, on the east a little lower than the end of Merton Street, thence on the south to the other side of the Castle. Beyond the walls the houses extended northwards somewhat further than to Beaumont Street, and southwards about half-way to Friar Bacon's Tower. The oldest church in the city is Saint Peter's in the East, which was originally built in the reign of Alfred; the University sermons used to be delivered in the stone pulpit of this church.
There was a royal palace in Oxford, built by Henry First, who styled it le Beau Mont; it stood in Stockwell Street, nearly on the site of the present workhouse. It had not been visited by royalty since 1157, when a baby was born in it, destined to become a mighty man of valour, and to be known to all ages as King Richard Coeur-de-Lion. In 1317 King Edward Second bestowed it on the White Friars, and all that now remains of it is a small portion of the wall built into the workhouse.
The really great man of the city was the Earl of Oxford, at that time Aubrey de Vere, the first holder of the title. He had been married to a lady who was a near relative of King Stephen, but his second and present Countess, though of good family, came from a lower grade.
Modern ideas of a castle are often inaccurate. It was not always a single fortified mansion, but consisted quite as frequently of an embattled wall surrounding several houses, and usually including a church. The Castle of Oxford was of the latter type, the Church of Saint George being on its western side. The keep of a castle was occupied by the garrison, though it generally contained two or three special chambers for the use of the owner, should necessity oblige him and his family to take refuge there in a last extremity. The entrance was dexterously contrived, particularly when the fortress consisted of a single house, to present as much difficulty as possible to a besieger. It was always at some height in the wall, and was reached by a winding, or rather rambling, stairway leading from the drawbridge, and often running round a considerable part of the wall. One or more gates in the course of this stair could be closed at pleasure. A large and imposing portal admitted the visitor to a small tower occupied by the guards, through which the real entrance was approached. This stood in the thickness of the outer wall, and was protected by another pair of gates and a portcullis, just inside which was the porter's lodge. On the ground-floor the soldiers were lodged; on the midmost were the state and family apartments, while the uppermost accommodated the household servants and attendants. A special tower was usually reserved for the ladies of the family, and was often accompanied by a tiny garden. In the partition wall a well was dug, which could be reached on every floor; and below the vestibule was a dungeon. The great banqueting-hall was the general sitting-room to which every one in the castle had access; and here it was common for family, servants, and guard to take together their two principal meals—dinner at nine a.m., supper at four or five o'clock. The only distinction observed was that the board and trestles for the family and guests were set up on the dais, for the household and garrison below. The tables were arranged in the form of a horse-shoe, the diners sitting on the outer or larger side, while the servants waited on the inner. The ladies had, beside this, their own private sitting-room, always attached to the bedchamber, and known as the "bower," to which strangers were rarely admitted. Here they sat and sang, gossiped, and worked their endless embroidery. The days were scarcely yet over when English needlework bore the palm in Europe and even in the East, while the first illuminators were the monks of Ireland. Ladies were the spinners, weavers, surgeons, and readers of the day; they were great at interpreting dreams, and dearly loved flowers. The gentlemen looked upon reading as an occupation quite as effeminate as sewing, war and hunting being the two main employments of the lords of creation, and gambling the chief amusement. Priests and monks were the exceptions to this rule, until Henry First introduced a taste for somewhat more liberal education. Even more respectful to letters was his grandson Henry Second, who had a fancy for resembling his grandfather in every thing; yet he allowed the education of his sons to be thoroughly neglected.
The popular idea that the University of Oxford is older than King Alfred is scarcely borne out by modern research. That there was some kind of school there in Alfred's day is certain: but nothing like a university arose before the time of Henry First, and the impetus which founded it came from outside. A Frenchman with a Scotch education, and a Jewish Rabbi, are the two men to whom more than any others must be traced the existence of the University of Oxford.
Theodore d'Etampes, a secular priest, and apparently a chaplain of Queen Margaret of Scotland, arrived at Oxford about the year 1116, where he taught classes of scholars from sixty to a hundred in number. But every thing which we call science came there with the Jews, who settled under the shadow of Saint Frideswide shortly after the Conquest. Hebrew, astronomy, astrology, geometry, and mathematics, were taught by them, at their hostels of Lombard Hall, Moses Hall, and Jacob Hall; while law, theology, and the "humanities," engaged the attention of the Christian lecturers. Cardinal Pullus, Robert de Cricklade, and the Lombard jurist Vacario, each in his turn made Oxford famous, until King Stephen closed the mouth of "the Master" of civil law, and burned at once the law-books and the Jews. Henry Second revived and protected the schools, in the churchyard outside the west door of Saint Mary's Church; the scriveners, binders, illuminators, and parchmenters, occupying Schools Street, which ran thence towards the city wall.
The special glory of Oxford, at that time, was not the University, but the shrine of Saint Frideswide. This had existed from the eighth century, when the royal maiden whom it celebrated, after declining to fulfil a contract of matrimony which her father had made for her (as she was much too holy to be married), had added insult to injury by miraculously inflicting blindness on her disappointed lover when he attempted to pursue her. She had, however, the grace to restore his sight on due apologies being made. Becoming Prioress of the convent which she founded, she died therein on October 14th, 740, which day was afterwards held as a gaudy day. Possibly because her indignant lover was a king, it was held ominous for any monarch to enter the Chapel of Saint Frideswide in her convent church. King John, who was as superstitious on some points as he was profane on others, never dared to pass the threshold.
His father, being gifted with more common sense, was present at the translation of the saint in 1180. The bones of Saint Frideswide still sleep in Christ Church; but at the Reformation they were purposely mingled with those of Katherine Vermilia, wife of Peter Martyr, and on the grave where the two were interred was carved the inscription, "Here lieth Religion with Superstition." Of course the object of this was to prevent any further worship of the relics, as it would be impossible to discern the bones of the saint from those of the heretic. It is not improbable that both were good women according to their light; but the saint was assuredly far the less enlightened. To common sense, apart from tradition and sentiment, it is difficult to understand why a certain group of persons, who lived in an age when education was very limited, superstition and prejudice very rife, spirituality almost dormant, and a taste for childish follies and useless hair-splitting the commonest things in literature, should be singled out for special reverence as "saints," or under the honourable name of "the Fathers," be deemed higher authorities in respect to the interpretation of Holy Writ than the far more intelligent and often far more spiritual writers of later date. If this curious hero-worship were confined to the generation immediately following the Apostles, it would be a little more intelligible; as such men might possibly have derived some of their ideas from apostolic oral teaching. But to those who know the history of the early ages of Christianity, and are not blinded by prejudice, it is simply amazing that the authority of such men as Basil, Cyprian, and Jerome, should be held to override that of the spiritual giants of the Puritan era, and of those who have deeply and reverently studied Scripture in our own times. To appeal to the views held by such men as decisive of the burning questions of the day, is like referring matters of grave import to the judgment of little children, instead of consulting men of ripe experience. We know what followed a similar blunder on the part of King Rehoboam. Yet how often is it repeated! It would seem that not only is "no prophet accepted in his own country," but also in his own day.
Note 1. Saint Martin's Well stood in the junction of the "four-ways" from which Carfax takes its name.
Note 2. Penniless Bench, which ran along the east end of Carfax Church, was the original of all "penniless benches." It was not always occupied by idle vagrants, for sometimes the scholars of the University used to congregate there, as well as the Corporation of the city.
Note 3. All Christians believed this at that date.
VALIANT FOR THE FAITH.
"As labourers in Thy vineyard, Send us out, Christ, to be, Content to bear the burden Of weariness for Thee.
"We ask no other wages When Thou shalt call us Home, But to have shared the travail Which makes Thy kingdom come."
It is popularly supposed that surnames only came into existence with the reign of King John. This is not quite an accurate assertion. They existed from the Conquest, but were chiefly personal, and apart from the great feudal families, only began at that date to consolidate and crystallise into hereditary names. So far as common people were concerned, in the reign of Henry the Second, a man's surname was usually restricted to himself. He was named either from one of his parents, as John William-son, or John Fitz-mildred; from his habitation, as John by the Brook; from his calling, as John the Tanner; from some peculiarity in his costume, as John Whitehood,—in his person, as John Fairhair,—in his mind, as John Lovegood,—in his tastes, as John Milk-sop,—or in his habits, as John Drinkdregs. If he removed from one place to another, he was likely to change his name, and to become known, say at Winchester, as John de Nottingham; or if his father were a priest who was a well-known person, he would not improbably be styled John Fiz-al-Prester. [Note 1.] It will readily be seen that the majority of these names were not likely to descend to a second generation. The son of John William-son would be Henry John-son, or Henry Alice-son; he might or might not retain the personal name, or the trade-name; but the place-name he probably would inherit. This explains the reason why so large a majority of our modern surnames are place-names, whether in respect of a town, as Nottingham, Debenham, Brentwood: or of a country locality, as Brook, Lane, Hill, etcetera. Now and then a series of Johns in regular descent would fix the name of Johnson on the family; or the son and grandson pursuing the same calling as the father, would turn the line into Tanners. All surnames have arisen in such a manner.
Our friends in Kepeharme Lane knew nothing of surnames otherwise than personal, apart from the great territorial families of Norman immigration, who brought their place-names with them. Manning Brown was so termed from his complexion; his elder son, not being specially remarkable, was known merely as Romund Fitz-Manning; but the younger, in his boyhood of a somewhat impetuous temper, had conferred on him the epithet of Haimet Escorceueille, or Burntown. The elder brother of Manning was dubbed Gilbert Cuntrevent, or Against-the-Wind; and his two sons, of whom one was the head porter, and another a watchman, at the Castle, were called Osbert le Porter and Stephen Esueillechien, or Watchdog,—the last term evidently a rendering of English into dog-French. Our forefathers were apt hands at giving nicknames. Their epithets were always direct and graphic, sometimes highly satirical, some very unpleasant, and some very picturesque. Isel, who was recognised as a woman of a complaining spirit, was commonly spoken of as Isel the Sweet; while her next neighbour, who lorded it over a very meek husband, received the pungent appellation of Franna Gillemichel. [Note 2.]
The day after the arrival of the Germans, the porter's wife came down to see her kindred.
"What, you've got some of those queer folks here?" she said in a loud whisper to Isel, though Gerhardt was not present, and his wife and sister could not understand a word she spoke.
"Ay, they seem decentish folks," was the reply, as Isel washed her eel-like lampreys for a pie—the fish which had, according to tradition, proved the death of Henry the First.
"Oh, do they so? You mind what you are after. Osbert says he makes no account of them. He believes they're Jews, if not worse."
"Couldn't be worse," said Isel sententiously. "Nothing of the sort, Anania. They say their prayers oftener than we do."
"Ay, but what to? Just tell me that. Old Turguia has some in her house, and she says they take never a bit of notice of our Lady nor Saint Helen, that she has upstairs and down; they just kneel down and fall a-praying anywhere. What sort of work do you call that?"
"I don't know as I wish to call it anything in particular, without you're very anxious," replied Isel.
"But I am anxious about it, Aunt. These folks are in your house, and if they are witches and such like, it's you and the girls who will suffer."
"Well, do you think it's much matter?" asked Isel, putting aside the lampreys, and taking up a bushel basket of Kentish pearmains. "If our Lady could hear me in one corner, I reckon she could hear me in another."
"But to turn their backs on them!" remonstrated Anania.
"Well, I turn mine on her, when I'm at work, many a time of a day."
"Work—ay. But not when you're at prayer, I suppose?"
"Oh, it'll be all right at last, I hope," said Isel a little uneasily.
"Hope's poor fare, Aunt. But I tell you, these folks are after no good. Why, only think! five of them got taken in by those rascals of Jews— three in Benefei's house, and two at Jurnet's. They'd never have taken them in, depend on it, if they hadn't known they weren't so much better than they should be."
Agnes and Ermine understood none of these words, though they saw readily enough that the looks Anania cast upon them were not friendly. But Derette spoke up for her friends.
"They're much better than you, Cousin Anania!" said that downright young woman.
"Keep a civil tongue in your head," replied Anania sharply.
"I'd rather have a true one," was the child's answer; "and I'm not sure they always go together."
"Osbert says," pursued Anania, ignoring Derette, "that he expects there'll be a stir when my Lord comes to hear of them. Much if they don't get turned out, bag and baggage. Serve 'em right, too!"
"They haven't got any bags," said literal Derette. "I don't think they've any of them any clothes but what they wear. Only Gerard's got a book."
"A book! What is it about?" cried Anania. "Is he a priest?—surely not!"
Only a priest or monk, in her eyes, could have any business with a book.
"Oh no, he's no priest; he's a weaver."
"Then what on earth is he doing with a book? You get hold of it, Aunt! I'll warrant you it's some sort of wickedness—safe to be! Black spells to turn you all into ugly toads, or some such naughty stuff—take my word for it!"
"I'd rather not, Cousin Anania, for you haven't seen it, so your word isn't much good," said Derette calmly.
"It's not like to do us much good when we do see it," observed Isel, "because it will be in their own language, no doubt."
"But if it's a witch-book, it's like to have horoscopes and all manner of things in it!" said Anania, returning to the charge.
"Then it is not, for I have seen it," said Flemild. "It is in a foreign language; but all in it beside words is only red lines ruled round the pages."
"He read me a piece out of it," added Derette; "and it was a pretty story about our Lady, and how she carried our Lord away when He was a baby, that the wicked King should not get hold of Him. It wasn't bad at all, Cousin Anania. You are bad, to say such things when you don't know they are true."
"Hush, child!" said her mother.
"I'll hush," responded Derette, marching off to Agnes and the baby: "but it's true, for all that."
"That girl wants teaching manners," commented Anania. "I really think it my duty, Aunt, to tell you that nearly every body that knows you is talking of that child's forward manners and want of respect for her betters. You don't hear such remarks made, but I do. She will be insufferable if the thing is not stopped."
"Oh, well, stop it, then!" said Isel wearily, "only leave me in peace. I'm just that tired!—"
"I beg your pardon, Aunt! Derette is not my child. I have no right to correct her. If I had—"
Anania left it to be understood that the consequences would not be to her little cousin's taste.
"She'll get along well enough, I dare say. I haven't time to bother with her," said Isel.
"She will just be a bye-word in the whole town, Aunt. You don't know how people talk. I've heard it said that you are too idle to take any pains with the child."
"Idle?—me!" cried poor Isel. "I'm up long before you, and I don't get a wink of sleep till the whole town's been snoring for an hour or more: and every minute of the time as full as it can be crammed. I'll tell you what, Anania, I don't believe you know what work means. If you'd just change with me for a week, you'd have an idea or two more in your head at the end of it."
"I see, Aunt, you are vexed at what I told you," replied Anania in a tone of superior virtue. "I am thankful to say I have not my house in the mess yours is, and my children are decently behaved. I thought it only kind to let you know the remarks that are being made: but of course, if you prefer to be left ignorant, I don't need to stay. Good morrow! Pray don't disturb yourself, Flemild—I can let myself out, as you are all so busy. You'll be sorry some day you did not take advice. But I never obtrude my advice; if people don't want it, I shall not trouble them with it. It's a pity, that's all."
"Oh deary, deary!" cried poor Isel, as Anania sailed away with her head held rather higher than usual. "Why ever did she come to plague me, when I've got my hands as full already!—And what on earth does she mean, calling me names, and Derette too? The child's good enough—only a bit thoughtless, as children always are. I do wonder why folks can't let a body alone!"
For three days the Germans rested peacefully in their new quarters. At the end of that time, Gerhardt called on all his little company, and desired them to meet him early on the following morning on a piece of vacant ground, a few miles from the city. They met as agreed, eighteen men and eleven women, of all ages, from young Conrad whose moustache was little more than down, to old Berthold who carried the weight of threescore and fifteen years.
"My friends," said Gerhardt, "let us speak to our God, before we say anything to each other."
All knelt, and Gerhardt poured forth a fervent prayer that God would be with them and aid them in the work which they had undertaken; that He would supply them with bread to eat, and raiment to put on; that He would keep the door of their lips, that they should speak neither guile, discourtesy, nor error, yet open their mouths that with all boldness they might preach His Word; that none of them might be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, nor seek to hide the offence of the cross for the sake of pleasing men. A whole-hearted Amen was the response from the group around him.
They rose, and Gerhardt repeated by heart three Psalms—the fifteenth, the forty-sixth, and the ninetieth—not in Latin, but in sonorous German, many of his compatriots taking up the words and repeating them with him, in a style which made it plain that they were very familiar. Then Gerhardt spoke.
"I will but shortly remind you, my friends," he said, "of the reason for which we are here. Hundreds of years ago, it pleased God to send to us Germans a good English pastor, who name was Winfrid, when we were poor heathens, serving stocks and stones. He came with intent to deliver us from that gloomy bondage, and to convert us to the faith of Christ. God so blessed his efforts that as their consequence, Germany is Christian at this day; and he, leaving his English name of Winfrid, the Peace-Conqueror (though a truer name he could never have had), is known among us as Boniface, the doer of good deeds. Since his day, four hundred years have passed, and the Church of Christ throughout the world has woefully departed from the pure faith. We are come out, like the Apostles, a little company,—like them, poor and unlearned,—but rich in the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord; we are come to tread in their steps, to do the work they did, and to call the world back to the pure truth of the earliest days of Christendom. And we come here, because it is here that our first duty is due. We come to give back to England the precious jewel of the true faith which she gave to us four hundred years ago. Let every one of us clearly understand for what we are to be ready. We tread in our Master's steps, and our Master was not flattered and complimented by the world. He came bringing salvation, and the world would none of it, nor of Him. So, if we find the world hates us, let us be neither surprised nor afraid, but remember that it hated Him, and that as He was, so are we in this world. Let us be prepared to go with Him, if need be, both into prison and to death. If we suffer with Him, we shall reign. Brethren, if we seek to reign, we must make account first to suffer."
"We are ready!" cried at least a dozen voices.
"Will ye who are foremost now, be the foremost in that day?" asked Gerhardt, looking round upon them with a rather compassionate smile. "God grant it may be so! Now, my friends, I must further remind you— not that ye know it not, but that ye may bear its importance in mind— that beyond those beliefs common to all Christians, our faith confesses three great doctrines which ye must teach.
"First, that Holy Scripture alone containeth all things necessary to salvation; and nothing is to be taught as an article of faith but what God has revealed.
"Secondly, the Church of God consists of all who hear and understand the Word of God. All the saved were elect of God before the foundation of the world; all who are justified by Christ go into life eternal. Therefore it follows that there is no Purgatory, and all masses are damnable, especially those for the dead. And whosoever upholds free will—namely, man's capacity to turn to God as and when he will—denies predestination and the grace of God. Man is by nature utterly depraved; and all the evil that he doth proceeds from his own depravity.
"Thirdly, we acknowledge one God and one Mediator—the Lord Jesus Christ; and reject the invocation of saints or angels. We own two Sacraments—baptism and the Supper of the Lord; but all Church observances not ordained by Christ and the Apostles, we reject as idle superstitions and vain traditions of men. [Note 3.]
"This is our faith. Brethren, do ye all stand banded together in this faith?"
Up went every right arm, some quietly, some impetuously.
"Furthermore," continued the leader, "as to conduct. It is incumbent upon us to honour all secular powers, with subjection, obedience, promptitude, and payment of tribute. On the Sabbath, cease ye from all worldly labours, abstain from sin, do good works, and pay your devotions to God. Remember, to pray much is to be fervent in prayer, not to use many words nor much time. Be orderly in all things; in attire, so far as lies in your power, avoid all appearance of either pride or squalor. We enter no trade, that we may be free from falsehood: we live by the labour of our hands, and are content with necessaries, not seeking to amass wealth. Be ye all chaste, temperate, sober, meek: owe no man anything; give no reason for complaint. Avoid taverns and dancing, as occasions of evil. The women among you I charge to be modest in manners and apparel, to keep themselves free from foolish jesting and levity of the world, especially in respect of falsehood and oaths. Keep your maidens, and see that they wander not; beware of suffering them to deck and adorn themselves. 'We serve the Lord Christ.' 'Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong!' Read the Scriptures, serve God in humility, be poor in spirit. Remember that Antichrist is all that opposeth Christ. 'Love not the world, neither the things of the world.' 'Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,' and bear in mind that ye are sent forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, as under-shepherds to seek for His strayed sheep. Beware that ye glorify not yourselves, but Him.
"Berthold, Arnulph, and Guelph, ye tarry in this city with me, going forth to preach in the surrounding villages, as the Lord shall grant us opportunity. Heinrich, Otho, Conrad, and Magnus, ye go northward to evangelise in like manner. Friedrich, Dietbold, Sighard, and Leopold, ye to the south; Albrecht, Johann, and Hermann, ye to the east; Wilhelm, Philipp, and Ludwig, ye to the west. Every man shall take with him wife and children that hath them. The elder women among us—Cunegonde, Helena, Luitgarde, Elisabeth, and Margarethe—I especially exhort to instruct the young women, as the Apostle bids, and to evangelise in such manner as women may, by modest and quiet talking with other women. Once in the year let us meet here, to compare experiences, resolve difficulties, and to comfort and edify one another in our work. And now I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace. Go ye forth, strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might, always abounding in the work of the Lord, teaching all to observe whatsoever He has commanded. For lo! He is with us always, even unto the end of the world."
Another fervent prayer followed the address. Then each of the little company came up in turn to Gerhardt, who laid his hand upon the head of every one, blessing them in the name of the Lord. As each thus took leave, he set out in the direction which he had been bidden to take, eight accompanied by their wives, and three by children. Then Gerhardt, with Agnes and Ermine, turned back into the town; Berthold, with his wife Luitgarde, and his daughter Adelheid, followed; while Arnulph and Guelph, who were young unmarried men, went off to begin their preaching tour in the villages.
The day afterwards, the priest of Saint Aldate's rapped at the door of the Walnut Tree. It was opened by Flemild, who made a low reverence when she saw him. With hand uplifted in blessing, and—"Christ save all here!"—he walked into the house, where Isel received him with an equally respectful courtesy.
"So I hear, my daughter, you have friends come to see you?"
"Well, they aren't friends exactly," said Isel: "leastwise not yet. May be, in time—hope they will."
"Whence come they, then, if they be strangers?"
"Well," replied Isel, who generally began her sentences with that convenient adverb, "to tell truth, Father, it beats me to say. They've come over-sea, from foreign parts; but I can't get them outlandish names round my tongue."
"Do they speak French or English?"
"One of 'em speaks French, after a fashion, but it's a queer fashion. As to English, I haven't tried 'em."
The Reverend Dolfin (he had no surname) considered the question.
"They are Christians, of course?"
"That they are, Father, and good too. Why, they say their prayers several times a day."
The priest did not think that item of evidence so satisfactory as Isel did. But he had not come with any intention of ferreting out doubtful characters or suspicious facts. He was no ardent heretic-hunter, but a quiet, peaceable man, as inoffensive as a priest could be.
"Decent and well-behaved?" he asked.
"As quiet and sensible as any living creature in this street," Isel assured him. "The women are good workers, and none of them's a talker, and that's no small blessing!"
"Truly, thou art right there, my daughter," said the priest, who, knowing nothing about women, was under the impression that they rarely did any thing but talk, and perform a little desultory housework in the intervals between the paragraphs. "So far, good. I trust they will continue equally well-behaved, and will give no scandal to their neighbours."
"I'll go surety for that," answered Isel rather warmly; "more than I will for their neighbours giving them none. Father, I'd give a silver penny you'd take my niece Anania in hand; she'll be the death of me if she goes on. Do give her a good talking-to, and I'll thank you all the days of my life!"
"With what does she go on?" asked the priest, resting both hands on his silver-headed staff.
"Words!" groaned poor Isel. "And they bain't pretty words, Father—not by no manner of means. She's for ever and the day after interfering with every mortal thing one does. And her own house is just right-down slatternly, and her children are coming up any how. If she'd just spend the time a-scouring as she spends a-chattering, her house 'd be the cleanest place in Oxfordshire. But as for the poor children, I'm that sorry! Whatever they do, or don't do, they get a slap for it; and then she turns round on me because I don't treat mine the same. Why, there's nothing spoils children's tempers like everlasting scolding and slapping of 'em. I declare I don't know which to be sorriest for, them that never gets no bringing up at all, or them that's slapped from morning to night."
"Does her husband allow all that?"
"Bless you, Father, he's that easy a man, if she slapped him, he'd only laugh and give it back. It's true, when he's right put out he'll take the whip to her; but he'll stand a deal first that he'd better not. Biggest worry I have, she is!"
"Be thankful, my daughter, if thy biggest worry be outside thine own door."
"That I would, Father, if I could keep her outside, but she's always a-coming in."
The priest laughed.
"I will speak to my brother Vincent about her," he said. "You know the Castle is not in my parish."
"Well, I pray you, Father, do tell Father Vincent to give it her strong. She's one o' them that won't do with it weak. It'll just run off her like water on a duck's back. Father, do you think my poor man 'll ever come back?"
The priest grew grave when asked that question.
"I cannot tell, my daughter. Bethink thee, that if he fall in that holy conflict, he is assured of Heaven. How long is it since his departing?"
"It's two years good, Father—going in three: and I'm glad enough he should be sure of Heaven, but saving your presence, I want him here on earth. It's hard work for a lone woman to bring up four children, never name boys, that's as rampageous as young colts, and about as easy to catch. And the younger and sillier they are, the surer they are to think they know better than their own mother."
"That is a standing grievance, daughter," said the priest with a smile, as he rose to take leave. "Well, I am glad to hear so good a report of these strangers. So long as they conduct themselves well, and come to church, and give no offence to any, there can be no harm in your giving them hospitality. But remember that if they give any occasion of scandal, your duty will be to let me know, that I may deal with them. The saints keep you!"
No occasion of scandal required that duty from Isel. Every now and then Gerhardt absented himself—for what purpose she did not know; but he left Agnes and Ermine behind, and they never told the object of his journeys. At home he lived quietly enough, generally following his trade of weaving, but always ready to do any thing required by his hostess. Isel came to congratulate herself highly on the presence of her quiet, kindly, helpful guests. In a house where the whole upper floor formed a single bedchamber, divided only by curtains stretched across, and the whole ground-floor was parlour and kitchen in one, a few inmates more or less, so long as they were pleasant and peaceable, were of small moment. Outwardly, the Germans conducted themselves in no way pointedly different from their English hosts. They indulged in rather longer prayers, but this only increased the respect in which they were held. They went to church like other people; and if they omitted the usual reverences paid to the images, they did it so unobtrusively that it struck and shocked no one.
The Roman Church, in 1160, was yet far from filling the measure of her iniquity. The mass was in Latin, but transubstantiation was only a "pious opinion;" there were invocation of saints and worship of images, prayers for the dead, and holy water; but dispensations and indulgences were uninvented, the Inquisition was unknown, numbers of the clergy were married men, and that organ of tyranny and sin, termed auricular confession, had not yet been set up to grind the consciences and torment the hearts of those who sought to please God according to the light they enjoyed. Without that, it was far harder to persecute; for how could a man be indicted for the belief in his heart, if he chose to keep the door of his lips?
The winter passed quietly away, and Isel was—for her—well pleased with her new departure. The priest, having once satisfied himself that the foreign visitors were nominal Christians, and gave no scandal to their neighbours, ceased to trouble himself about them. Anania continued to make disagreeable remarks at times, but gradually even she became more callous on the question, and nobody else ever said any thing.
"I do wonder if Father Vincent have given her a word or two," said Isel. "She hasn't took much of it, if he have. If she isn't at me for one thing, she's at me for another. If it were to please the saints to make Osbert the Lord King's door-keeper, so as he'd go and live at London or Windsor, I shouldn't wonder if I could get over it!"
"Ah, 'the tongue can no man tame,'" observed Gerhardt with a smile.
"I don't so much object to tongues when they've been in salt," said Isel. "It's fresh I don't like 'em, and with a live temper behind of 'em. They don't agree with me then."
"It is the live temper behind, or rather the evil heart, which is the thing to blame. 'Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts,' which grow into evil words and deeds. Set the heart right, and the tongue will soon follow."
"I reckon that's a bit above either you or me," replied Isel with a sigh.
"A man's thoughts are his own," interposed Haimet rather warmly. "Nobody has a right to curb them."
"No man can curb them," said Gerhardt, "unless the thinker put a curb on himself. He that can rule his own thoughts is king of himself: he that never attempts it is 'a reed driven with the wind and tossed.'"
"Oh, there you fly too high for me," said Haimet. "If my acts and words are inoffensive, I have a right to my thoughts."
"Has any man a right to evil thoughts?" asked Gerhardt.
"What, you are one of those precise folks who make conscience of their thoughts? I call that all stuff and nonsense," replied Haimet, throwing down the hammer he was using.
"If I make no conscience of my thoughts, of what am I to make conscience?" was the answer. "Thought is the seed, act the flower. If you do not wish for the flower, the surest way is not to sow the seed. Sow it, and the flower will blossom, whether you will or no."
"That sort of thing may suit you," said Haimet rather in an irritated tone. "I could never get along, if I had to be always measuring my thoughts with an ell-wand in that fashion."
"Do you prefer the consequences?" asked Gerhardt.
"Rather awkward ones, sometimes. Thoughts of hatred, for instance, may issue in murder, and that may lead to your own death. If the thoughts had been curbed in the first instance, the miserable results would have been spared to all the sufferers. And 'no man liveth to himself': it is very seldom that you can bring suffering on one person only. It is almost sure to run over to two or three more. And as the troubles of every one of them will run over to another two or three, like circles in the water, the sorrow keeps ever widening, so that the consequences of one small act or word for evil are incalculable. It takes God to reckon them."
"Eh, don't you, now!" said Isel with a shudder. "Makes me go all creepy like, that does. I shouldn't dare to do a thing all the days of my life, if I looked at every thing that way."
"Friend," said Gerhardt gravely, "these things are. It does not destroy them to look away from them. It is not given to us to choose whether we will act, but only how we will act. In some manner, for good or for ill, act we must."
"I declare I won't listen to you, Gerard. I'm going creepy-crawly this minute. Oh deary me! you do make things look just awful."
"Rubbish!" said Haimet, driving a nail into the wall with unnecessary vehemence.
"It is the saying of a wise man, friends," remarked Gerhardt, "that 'he that contemneth small things shall fall by little and little.' And with equal wisdom he saith again, 'Be not confident in a plain way.'" [Note 5.]
"But it is all nonsense to say 'we must act,'" resumed Haimet. "We need not act in any way unless we choose. How am I acting if I sit here and do nothing?"
"Unless you are resting after work is done, you are setting an example of idleness or indecision. Not to do, is sometimes to do in a most effectual way. Not to hinder the doing of evil, when it lies in your power, is equivalent to doing it."
Haimet stared at Gerhardt for a moment.
"What a wicked lot of folks you would make us out to be!"
"So we are," said Gerhardt with a quiet smile.
"Oh, I see!—that's how you come by your queer notions of every man's heart being bad. Well, you are consistent, I must admit."
"I come by that notion, because I have seen into my own. I think I have most thoroughly realised my own folly by noting in how many cases, if I were endued with the power of God, I should not do what He does: and in like manner, I most realise my own wickedness by seeing the frequent instances wherein my will raises itself up in opposition to the will of God."
"But how is it, then, that I never see such things in myself?"
"Your eyes are shut, for one thing. Moreover, you set up your own will as the standard to be followed, without seeking to ascertain the will of God. Therefore you do not see the opposition between them."
"Oh, I don't consider myself a saint or an angel. I have done foolish things, of course, and I dare say, some things that were not exactly right. We are all sinners, I suppose, and I am much like other people. But taking one thing with another, I think I am a very decent fellow. I can't worry over my 'depravity,' as you do. I am not depraved. I know several men much worse than I am in every way."
"Is that the ell-wand by which God will measure you? He will not hold you up against those men, but against the burning snow-white light of His own holiness. What will you look like then?"
"Is that the way you are going to be measured, too?"
"I thank God, no. Christ our Lord will be measured for me, and He has fulfilled the whole Law."
"And why not for me?" said Haimet fiercely. "Am I not a baptised Christian, just as much as you?"
"Friend, you will not be asked in that day whether you were a baptised Christian, but whether you were a believing Christian. Sins that are laid on Christ are gone—they exist no longer. But sins that are not so destroyed have to be borne by the sinner himself."
"Well, I call that cowardice," said Haimet, drawing a red herring across the track, "to want to burden somebody else with your sins. Why not have the manliness to bear them yourself?"
"If you are so manly," answered Gerhardt with another of his quiet smiles, "will you oblige me, Haimet, by taking up the Castle, and setting it down on Presthey?"
"What are you talking about now? How could I?"
"Much more easily than you could atone for one sin. What do you call a man who proposes to do the impossible?"
"And what would you call the bondman whose master had generously paid his debt, and who refused to accept that generosity, but insisted on working it out himself, though the debt was more than he could discharge by the work of a thousand years?"
"Call him what you like," said Haimet, not wishing to go too deeply into the question.
"I will leave you to choose the correct epithet," said Gerhardt, and went on with his carving in silence.
The carving was beginning to bring in what Isel called "a pretty penny." Gerhardt's skill soon became known, and the Countess of Oxford employed him to make coffers, and once sent for him to the Castle to carve wreaths on a set of oak panels. He took the work as it came, and in the intervals, or on the summer evenings, he preached on the village greens in the neighbourhood. His audiences were often small, but his doctrines spread quietly and beneath the surface. Not one came forward to join him openly, but many went away with thoughts that they had never had before. Looked on from the outside, Gerhardt's work seemed of no value, and blessed with no success. Yet it is possible that its inward progress was not little. There may have been silent souls that lived saintly lives in that long past century, who owed their first awakening or their gradual edification to some word of his; it may be that the sturdy resistance of England to Papal aggression in the subsequent century had received its impetus from his unseen hand. Who shall say that he achieved nothing? The world wrote "unsuccessful" upon his work: did God write "blessed"? One thing at least I think he must have written—"Thou hast been faithful in a few things." And while the measure of faithfulness is not that of success, it is that of the ultimate reward, in that Land where many that were first shall be last, and the last first. "They that are with" the Conqueror in the last great battle, are not the successful upon earth, but the "called and chosen and faithful."
"If any man serve Me, let him follow Me,"—and what work ever had less the appearance of success than that which seemed to close on Calvary?
Note 1. "William, son of the fat priest," occurs on the Pipe Roll for 1176, Unless "Grossus" is to be taken as a Christian name.
Note 2. Servant or slave of Michael. The Scottish gillie comes from the same root.
Note 3. These are the tenets of the ancient Waldensian Church, with which, so far as they are known, those of the German mission agreed. (They are exactly those of the Church of England, set forth in her Sixth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Seventeenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth, Twenty-Second, Twenty-Fifth, and Thirty-First Articles of Religion.) She accepted two of our three Creeds, excluding the Nicene.
Note 4. Ecclesiasticus nineteen 1, and thirty-two 21. The Waldensian Church regarded the Apocrypha as the Church of England does—not as inspired Scripture, but as a good book to be read "for example of life and instruction of manners."
THE JEWISH MAIDEN'S VOW.
"To thine own self be true! And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."
"There's the Mayor sent orders for the streets to be swept clean, and all the mud carted out of the way. You'd best sweep afore your own door, and then maybe you'll have less rate to pay, Aunt Isel."
It was Stephen the Watchdog who looked in over the half-door to give this piece of information.
"What's that for?" asked Isel, stopping in the work of mopping the brick floor.
"The Lady Queen comes through on her way to Woodstock."
"To-day?" said Flemild and Derette together.
"Or to-morrow. A running footman came in an hour ago, to say she was at Abingdon, and bid my Lord hold himself in readiness to meet her at the East Gate. The vintners have had orders to send in two tuns of Gascon and Poitou wine; and Henry the Mason tells me a new cellar and chimney were made last week in the Queen's chamber at Woodstock. Geoffrey the Sumpter was in town yesterday, buying budgets, coffers, and bottles. So if you girls want to see her, you had better make haste and get your work done, and tidy yourselves up, and be at the East Gate by noon or soon after."
"Get their work done! Don't you know better than that, Stephen? A woman's work never is done. It's you lazy loons of men that stop working and take your pleasure when night comes. Work done, indeed!"
"But, Isel, I will finish de work for you. Go you and take your pleasure to see de Queen, meine friend. You have not much de pleasure."
"You're a good soul, Agnes, and it was a fine day for me when I took you in last winter. But as for pleasure, it and me parted company a smart little while ago. Nay, let the maids go; I'll tarry at home. You can go if you will.—Stephen! are you bound elsewhere, or can you come and look after the girls?"
"I can't, Aunt Isel; I'm on duty in the Bayly in half an hour, and when I shall be free again you must ask my Lord or Master Mayor."
"Never mind: the boys are safe to be there. Catch them missing a show! Now, Flemild, child, drop that washing; and leave the gavache [Note 1], Ermine, and get yourselves ready. It's only once in three or four years at most that you're like to see such a sight. Make haste, girls."
There was little need to tell the girls to make haste. Flemild hastily wrung out the apron she was washing, and pinned it on the line; Ermine drew the thread from her needle—the entire household owned but one of those useful and costly articles—and put it carefully away; while Derette tumbled up the ladder at imminent risk to her limbs, to fling back the lid of the great coffer at the bed-foot, and institute a search, which left every thing in wild confusion, for her sister's best kerchief and her own. Just as the trio were ready to start, Gerhardt came in.
"Saint Frideswide be our aid! wherever are them boys?" demanded Isel of nobody in particular.
"One on the top of the East Gate," said Gerhardt, "and the other playing at quarter-staff in Pary's Mead."
Pary's Mead lay between Holywell Church and the East Gate, on the north of the present Magdalen College.
"Lack-a-daisy! but however are the girls to get down to the gate? I daren't let 'em go by themselves."
The girls looked blank: and two big tears filled Derette's eyes, ready to fall.
"If all you need is an escort, friend, here am I," said Gerhardt; "but why should the girls go alone? I would fain take you and Agnes too."
"Take Agnes and welcome," said Isel with a sigh; "but I'm too old, I reckon, and poor company at best."
A little friendly altercation followed, ended by Gerhardt's decided assertion that Agnes should not go without her hostess.
"But who's to see to Baby?" said Derette dolefully.
"We will lock up the house, and leave Baby with old Turguia," suggested Isel.
"Nay, she tramped off to see the show an hour ago."
"Never mind! I'll stop with Baby," said Derette with heroic self-abnegation.
"Indeed you shall not," said Ermine.
A second war of amiability seemed likely to follow, when a voice said at the door—
"Do you all want to go out? I am not going to the show. Will you trust me with the child?"
Isel turned and stared in amazement at the questioner.
"I would not hurt it," pleaded the Jewish maiden in a tremulous voice. "Do trust me! I know you reckon us bad people; but indeed we are not so black as you think us. My baby brother died last summer; and my aims are so cold and empty since. Let me have a little child in them once more!"
"But—you will want to see the show," responded Isel, rather as an excuse to decline the offered help than for any more considerate reason.
"No—I do not care for the show. I care far more for the child. I have stood at the corner and watched you with him, so often, and have longed so to touch him, if it might be but with one finger. Won't you let me?"
Agnes was looking from the girl to Gerhardt, as if she knew not what to do.
"Will you keep him from harm, and bring him back as soon as we return, if you take him?" asked Gerhardt. "Remember, the God in whom we both believe hears and records your words."
"Let Him do so to me and more also," answered Countess solemnly, "if I bring not the child to you unhurt."
Gerhardt lifted little Rudolph from his mother's arms and placed him in those of the dark-eyed maiden.
"The Lord watch over thee and him!" he said.
"Amen!" And as Countess carried away the baby close pressed to her bosom, they saw her stoop down and kiss it almost passionately.
"Holy Virgin! what have you done, Gerard?" cried Isel in horror. "Don't you know there is poison in a Jew's breath? They'll as sure cast a spell upon that baby as my name's Isel."
"No, I don't," said Gerhardt a little drily. "I only know that some men say so. I have placed my child in the hands of the Lord; and He, not I, has laid it in that maiden's. It may be that this little kindness is a link in the chain of Providence, whereby He designs to bring her soul to Him. Who am I, if so, that I should put my boy or myself athwart His purpose?"
"Well, you're mighty pious, I know," said Isel. "Seems to me you should have been a monk, by rights. However, what's done is done. Let's be going, for there's no time to waste."
They went a little way down Fish Street, passing the Jewish synagogue, which stood about where the northernmost tower of Christ Church is now, turned to the left along Civil School Lane—at the south end of Tom Quad, coming out about Canterbury Gate—pursued their way along Saint John Baptist Street, now Merton Street, and turning again to the left where it ended, skirted the wall till they reached the East Gate. Here a heterogeneous crowd was assembled, about the gate, and on the top were perched a number of adventurous youths, among whom Haimet was descried.
"Anything coming?" Gerhardt called to him.
"Yes, a drove of pigs," Haimet shouted back.
The pigs came grunting in, to be sarcastically greeted by the crowd, who immediately styled the old sow and her progeny by the illustrious names of Queen Eleonore and the royal children. Her Majesty was not very popular, the rather since she lived but little in England, and was known greatly to prefer her native province of Aquitaine. Still, a show was always a show, and the British public is rarely indifferent to it.
The pigs having grunted themselves up Cat Street—running from the east end of Saint Mary's to Broad Street—a further half-hour of waiting ensued, beguiled by rough joking on the part of the crowd. Then Haimet called down to his friends—
"Here comes Prester John, in his robes of estate!"
The next minute, a running footman in the royal livery—red and gold— bearing a long wand decorated at the top with coloured ribbons, sped in at the gate, and up High Street on his way to the Castle. In ten minutes more, a stir was perceptible at the west end of High Street, and down to the gate, on richly caparisoned horses, came the Earl and Countess of Oxford, followed by a brilliant crowd of splendidly-dressed officials. It was evident that the Queen must be close at hand.
All eyes were now fixed on the London Road, up which the royal cavalcade was quickly seen approaching. First marched a division of the guard of honour, followed by the officials of the household, on horseback; then came the Queen in her char, followed by another bearing her ladies. The remainder of the guard brought up the rear.
The char was not much better than a handsomely-painted cart. It had no springs, and travelling in it must have been a trying process. But the horses bore superb silken housings, and the very bits were gilt. [Note 2.] Ten strong men in the royal livery walked, five on each side of the char; and their office, which was to keep it upright in the miry tracks—roads they were not—was by no means a sinecure.
The royal lady, seated on a Gothic chair which made the permanent seat of the char, being fixed to it, was one of the most remarkable women who have ever reigned in England. If a passage of Scripture illustrative of the life and character were to be selected to append to the statue of each of our kings and queens, there would be little difficulty in the choice to be made for Eleonore of Aquitaine. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." She sowed the wind, and she reaped the whirlwind. A youth of the wildest giddiness was succeeded by a middle life of suffering and hardship, and both ended in an old age of desolation.
But when Eleonore rode in that spring noon-day at the East Gate of Oxford, the reaping-time was not yet. The headstrong giddiness was a little toned down, but the terrible retribution had not begun.
The Queen's contemporaries are eloquent as to her wondrous loveliness and her marvellous accomplishments. "Beauty possessed both her mind and body," says one writer who lived in the days of her grandson, while another expatiates on her "clairs et verds yeux," and a third on her "exquisite mouth, and the most splendid eyes in the world." Her Majesty was attired with equal stateliness and simplicity, for that was not an era of superb or extravagant dress. A close gown with tight sleeves was surmounted by a pelisse, the sleeves of which were very wide and full, and the fur trimming showed the high rank of the wearer. A long white veil came over her head, and fell around her, kept in its place by a jewelled fillet. The gemmed collar of gold at the neck, and the thick leather gloves (with no partitions for the fingers) heavily embroidered on the back, were also indicative of regal rank.
The Queen's char stopped just within the gate, so that our friends had an excellent view of her. She greeted the Earl and Countess of Oxford with a genial grace, which she well knew how to assume; gave her hand to be kissed to a small selection of the highest officials, and then the char passed on, and the sight was over.
Isel and her friends turned homewards, not waiting for the after portion of the entertainment. There was to be a bull-baiting in the afternoon on Presthey—Christ Church Meadow—and a magnificent bonfire at night in Gloucester Meadows—Jericho; but these enjoyments they left to the boys. There would be plenty of women, however, at the bull-baiting; as many as at a Spanish corrida. The idea of its being a cruel pastime, or even of cruelty being at all objectionable or demoralising, with very few exceptions, had not then dawned on the minds of men.
They returned by the meadows outside the city, entering at the South Gate. As they came up Fish Street, they could see Countess on a low seat at her father's door, with little Rudolph on her knee, both parties looking very well content with their position. On their reaching the corner, she rose and came to meet them.
"Here is the baby," she said, smiling rather sadly. "See, I have not done him any harm! And it has done me good. You will let me have him again some day?—some time when you all want to go out, and it will be a convenience to you. Farewell, my pretty bird!"
And she held out the boy to Agnes. Little Rudolph had shown signs of pleasure at the sight of his mother; but it soon appeared that he was not pleased by any means at the prospect of parting with his new friend. Countess had kept him well amused, and he had no inclination to see an abrupt end put to his amusement. He struggled and at last screamed his disapprobation, until it became necessary for Gerhardt to interfere, and show the young gentleman decidedly that he must not always expect to have his own way.
"I t'ank you"—Agnes began to say, in her best English, which was still imperfect, though Ermine spoke it fluently now. But Countess stopped her, rather to her surprise, by a few hurried words in her own tongue.
"Do not thank me," she said, with a flash of the black eyes. "It is I who should thank you."
And running quickly across Fish Street, the Jewish maiden disappeared inside her father's door.
All European nations at that date disliked and despised the hapless sons of Israel: but the little company to whom Gerhardt and Agnes belonged were perhaps a shade less averse to them than others. They were to some extent companions in misfortune, being themselves equally despised and detested by many; and they were much too familiar with the Word of God not to recognise that His blessing still rested on the seed of Abraham His friend, hidden "for a little moment" by a cloud, but one day to burst into a refulgence of heavenly sunlight. When, therefore, Flemild asked Ermine, as they were laying aside their out-door garb—"Don't you hate those horrid creatures?" it was not surprising that Ermine paused before replying.
"Don't you?" repeated Flemild.
"No," said Ermine, "I do not think I do."
"Don't you?" echoed Flemild for the third time, and with emphasis. "Why, Ermine, they crucified our Lord."
"So did you and I, Flemild; and He bids us love one another."
Flemild stood struck with astonishment, her kerchief half off her head.
"I crucified our Lord!" she exclaimed. "Ermine, what can you mean?"
"Sin crucified Him," said Ermine quietly; "your sins and mine, was it not? If He died not for our sins, we shall have to bear them ourselves. And did He not die for Countess too?"
"I thought He died for those who are in holy Church; and Countess is a wicked heathen Jew."
"Yes, for holy Church, which means those whom God has chosen out of the world. How can you know that Countess is not some day to be a member of holy Church?"
"Ermine, they are regular wicked people!"
"We are all wicked people, till God renews us by His Holy Spirit."
"I'm not!" cried Flemild indignantly; "and I don't believe you are either."
"Ah, Flemild, that is because you are blind. Sin has darkened our eyes; we cannot see ourselves."
"Ermine, do you mean to say that you see me a wicked creature like a Jew?"
"By nature, I am as blind as you, Flemild."
"'By nature'! What do you mean? Do you see me so?"
"Flemild, dear friend, what if God sees it?"
Ermine had spoken very softly and tenderly, but Flemild was not in a mood to appreciate the tenderness.
"Well!" she said in a hard tone. "If we are so dreadfully wicked, I wonder you like to associate with us."
"But if I am equally wicked?" suggested Ermine with a smile.
"I wonder how you can hold such an opinion of yourself. I should not like to think myself so bad. I could not bear it."
Flemild entertained the curious opinion—it is astonishing how many people unwittingly hold it—that a fact becomes annihilated by a man shutting his eyes to it. Ermine regarded her with a look of slight amusement.