Percy F. (Percy Francis) Westerman.

The Winning of the Golden Spurs online

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Produced by R.G.P.M. van Giesen







At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh





IT was early morning on the 5th day of August, 1303, the Royal City
of Winchester. The sun had not yet risen, but a cold grey light
filtered in through a narrow window and dimly illumined a small,
scantily-furnished room overlooking the city walls.

Seated on a rough wooden stool, his face buried in his hands, was a
young fellow of about twenty years of age. His body swayed with
uncontrollable grief, and, though dry-eyed, deep sobs of mingled
remorse and despair showed the anguish that rent his body and
distracted his mind.

In a corner of the room a torch, burnt low in its iron socket, threw
a yellow light that was fast being overmastered by the growing dawn,
yet the glimmer was sufficient to play upon the naked blade of a
sword, the steel of which was discoloured towards its point by a
dull, rust-coloured stain.

Suddenly the sound of a heavy footstep was heard on the stairs. The
youth started to his feet and gazed wildly around, as if seeking a
place of concealment or some means of escape. He was tall, well
formed, and, in spite of his haggard looks, comely of face, and his
clothes, though rent and covered with chalk and dust, showed that he
was of no mean position.

Realising the impossibility of hiding himself, he stood erect and
alert, awaiting the arrival of what he took to be his fate; but,
instead of a thundering summons of the officers of the law, there
came a gentle rap, and the door was slowly pushed ajar.

"Hist! Art there, Master Revyngton? 'Tis I, Nicholas Hobbes!"

"Enter, Nicholas! Certes I thought 'twas the watch."

The new arrival was a man some few years older than the fugitive. He
was clad in a rough leather suit, frayed at elbows and knees, and to
which shavings and feathers still clung - a silent witness to his
trade of fletcher.

"'Tis a sorry pass, Master Revyngton. How came it about?"

"Ay, that I will say right willingly; but first tell me - how knowest
thou that I am here?"

"Easily said! Dick Ford told me that thou wert a fugitive in his
house, and asked me to use my scatterbrain wits to find a way to
smuggle thee out of the city. That being so, 'twere best I saw thee,
and to that purpose I am here. But, again, how came it to pass?"

"Faith! I can scarce say. 'Twas in the meads, yestereven. Young
Stephen Scarsdale and Reginald, his brother, were on this side of the
stream, I on the nether bank, with Wulf, my favourite hound. 'Ho
there!' cried Stephen. 'What meanst thou by trespassing on the ground
of my Lord Bishop?' 'I do not trespass,' I replied. 'The Mead hath
ever been free to the men of this city, and no one hath yet said me
nay.' 'I'll warrant thou art after my Lord Bishop's trout. By the
rood, I'll send a bolt through the head of thy lurcher.' 'Thy aim
must be more sure than when I beat thee at the butts,' I replied,
little thinking but that he spoke in jest, but in answer he levelled
his crossbow, and ere I was aware of it poor Wulf was lying
transfixed on the ground."

"Then I was seized by a thousand devils, and sprang across the narrow
plank bridge to hurl the slayer of my hound into the river, but
Stephen, whipping out his blade, bade me do likewise. In less time
than it takes to tell our swords crossed, though, mark ye, I meant
not to harm him; yet, like a fool, he ran in upon my blade, and 'twas
all over in an instant."

"And then?"

"The younger Scarsdale, who is a worthy gentleman compared with his
witless brother, tried to stop me as I fled. There was no help for
it, so he, too, went down, though I trow he is not much hurt. Hast
heard aught of Stephen?"

"Naught save that he is as dead as a door-nail. But, Master
Revyngton, 'tis, as I said, a sorry pass. What wilt thou do?"

"Do? Give myself into the hands of the law. What else wouldst thou
have me do?"

"Anything but that. Consider! Thou art young and full of life. Why
shouldst thou grace a halter if it can be avoided, for, mark well,
the Scarsdales are a powerful family, and moreover Stephen was of the
Bishop's household. How thinkst thou to make good thy case before thy
peers when the weight of title and position is set against thee? Be
sober, young master, and think on't."

"Ay, 'tis hard to die thus."

"No need to die at all - at any rate, just yet. Flee the country.
France or the States of the Rhine ever offer an attraction for a
roving blade, and peradventure in a few years the affair will have
blown over."

"But how can I escape?"

"There thou hast me. Where is Dick Ford?"

"Gone to gather tidings. He will be here anon."

Both men relapsed into silence, staring moodily at the narrow window,
through which could be seen the battlements of the city gilded by the
rising sun, while ever and again came the sweet strains of a lark as
it soared heavenwards from the dew-sodden meadows without the walls.

Again came the sound of footsteps, and Dick Ford, the bowyer,
entered. He was a short, red-complexioned man, with a cheerful
countenance, as if nothing could upset his good nature, though at
times his looks belied him, and the worthy citizens of Winchester oft
had cause to remember his tongue when it ran riot. Like the fletcher,
his appearance betrayed him, for the sharp wittle that hung from his
girdle, the daubs of beeswax, and the faint reek of varnish marked
his calling as a maker of the famous English longbows.

"A pretty hornet's nest thou hast raised, Master Revyngton," he
exclaimed, shaking his head. "Yesternight the city crier called thee
at the marketcross, and on the Soke Bridge. The Bishop's Court hath
claimed thee, and in default of thy appearance thou wilt be declared
outlaw. Furthermore, the gates are doubly guarded, and men are even
now in ambush on the road to the sanctuary at St. Cross if so be thou
seekest refuge therein. By the saintly Swithun, I trow thou art the
most sought-for man in Winton."

"He hath made up his mind, Dick," exclaimed Hobbes. "Better an outlaw
with a heavy conscience than a corpse with none at all."

"Ay, let me but get once clear of the city and I'll reck not what I

"Bravely spoken, Master Revyngton! And now, how canst thou make good
thine escape? Thou canst count on us to a surety, for 'twould ill
requite thy father's kindness to us in times past if we let thee fall
into the hands of the Bishop's men. Where is thine arrow-wain, Dick?"

"Below, in the barn."

"And laden?"

"Nay, but it soon could be. Wherefore?"

"Place Master Revyngton in the cart and cover him with arrows. 'Tis
the day thou journeyest to Bishopstoke and Botley. He would then be
well on his way to the abbey at Netley."

"Steady, Dick, steady! Should the guard at Kingsgate search the wain
my neck is as good as if fitted with a halter. Yet I'll take the
risk; but see to it, young master, if the plan goeth amiss, thou'lt
bear me witness that I wot not of thy presence?"

"Ay, good Nicholas. But if they question thee and search the cart I
must make a bid for freedom, so stand in the way, and I'll warrant
I'll knock thee down just to give colour to the deceit."

"But strike not too hard, Master Revyngton, neither on the face, for
I am in no mind to go home to my good wife with my nose awry or mine
eyes closed up. A gentle tap, I pray thee - like this - and I'll
warrant I'll fall as surely as if I were smitten with the club of the
Southampton giant Ascupart."

"After all's said and done," remarked the fletcher, "there may be no
need to smite thee, Nick, for 'tis unlikely that they will search thy
cart. But the day groweth apace. If it is to be done, the sooner the
better, say I."

"Then make a good meal, Master Revyngton," said Hobbes, setting a
loaf of brown bread, some cheese, and a jack of ale, "for if not
thou'lt feel the want of it ere long. Now set to like a good
trencherman, though, being but plain men, our fare is likewise plain.
Thou knowest the road?"

"Passably well, save the latter part."

"Then keep close, but not on it if perchance thou art pursued, for it
is to Southampton that they'll think thou art bound. Take the by-road
to Botley, whence the abbey lies but a league or so away."

While the fletcher and the bowyer were giving advice the younger man
did justice to the food; then, at a sign from Ford, his companion
stole softly down the rough ladder that did duty as a staircase, and
peered cautiously up and down the street. Another moment, and the
three men had darted across the narrow road to a small barn, the
mutual property of several of the inhabitants of that quarter, and
shortly afterwards a rough cart, laden with bundles of
newly-feathered arrows, was jolting over the rough stones towards
Kingsgate, Nicholas Hobbes leading the sorry nag and whistling a
lively air as well as the anticipation of being floored would permit.

"Thou art early abroad, Nick," quoth one of the guards, as he made
ready to throw open the heavy door. "There's naught but arrows in thy
wain, I take it?"

"What meanest thou?"

"Why, hast heard naught of the slaying of Master Scarsdale, that tall
youth belonging to the Bishop's household? Surely thou hast him in

"Ay, I knew him; is he dead?"

"Where hath been thine eyes and thine ears since yesternoon?"

"I have but small time for gossip, Tom, above all towards the end of
the week, when my stock hath to be renewed. But I'll hear the story
anon, for time is precious."

The heavy gate swung slowly open, the fletcher called to his horse,
and the cart with its living burden moved towards the open country
and safety.

"Hold!" cried a hoarse voice. "Tom, thou arrant rascal, wouldst let
the cart through unsearched What were thine orders from the captain
of the gate?"

And, to the fletcher's terror, a burly man-at-arms came down a flight
of steps at the side of the gate, and advanced towards him.

The first soldier sullenly strolled over to the back of the cart,
but, suddenly recovering himself, Nicholas Hobbes backed his horse,
causing the man to be pinned between the wheel and the stonework of
the arch. There was a sudden scattering of the arrows, an indistinct
mass hurtling through the air, and the fletcher found himself, as he
had foretold, lying prone in the dust. When he sat up the soldiers
were calling wildly to the rest of the guard, while a fleeing figure,
already growing small in the distance, showed that the fugitive
Revyngton was well on his way to freedom.

With the din of the soldiers' shouts still ringing in his ears,
Revyngton ran steadily onwards with a long, steady swing, his elbows
pressed against his sides, and breathing easily, for he was no mean

Away in front rose the gaunt outline of St. Catherine's Hill, with
the square tower of the Hospital of St. Cross, which sanctuary he
knew was denied him, slightly to the right. Between ran the
swift-flowing river Itchen, and the fugitive realised that he would
have to run the gauntlet of the watchers before the sanctuary ere he
could reach the ford where the river swept the base of the hill. His
way lay through the meadows where, but a few hours ago, he had
wandered in blissful, though then unappreciated, freedom, and
shudderingly, and with averted face, he raced past the scene of the
fatal encounter. Fortunately his local knowledge prevented him from
crossing the narrow plank bridge that led solely to a marshy meadow
enclosed by two arms of the river, so, keeping close to the shadow of
the pollard willows, he held steadily on his way, the babbling of the
river as it flowed with sparkling eddies in the bright sunshine
sounding like soothing music to the hunted man.

Just as he reached the ford his movements were observed by a party of
the officers of the law who had been keeping a toilsome vigil around
the outer wall of St. Cross, and a crossbow bolt, shot at a high
angle, boomed through the air and buried itself less than twenty
yards from him.

There was a general scene of confusion, some of the men running after
him afoot, others rushing off to where their horses stood tethered in
a clump of trees.

It being the hot season, the river was but ankle deep at the ford,
and, refreshed by the coldness of the water, Revyngton hastened his
pace up the long, dusty road towards the hamlet of Twyford. As he ran
he could not resist the inclination to look back, and from the
elevated position of the highway he could see the whole of the
distance betwixt him and the cathedral city.

To his satisfaction he saw that he was more than holding his own with
those who pursued afoot, and even now they were giving up the pursuit
and the horsemen of the party had not yet started, but away along the
city road a number of dark, swiftly-moving objects showed that a
troop of mounted soldiers and retainers of the episcopal authorities
were rapidly covering the distance between them and their quarry.

The sun, though the morning was yet young, smote down upon him with
relentless strength, and there was not the faintest zephyr to cool
his heated frame, yet onwards he sped, though the strain of the
pursuit was gradually yet surely telling upon him.

Through the almost deserted village of Twyford he ran, one or two of
the earlier risers looking with open-mouthed astonishment at the
fugitive, while a little way further a black-robed monk gazed
amazedly at the approaching man, till, fearing violence, he gathered
up his ragged gown and fled across a field at the roadside, his
sandals clattering as he ran.

At length, worn out by his exertions, Revyngton reached a spot where
a road branched off to his left, while between it and the highway he
was following lay a large pond, surrounded by trees and fringed with
clusters of reeds. Here he threw himself down on the spongy turf,
thrust his head and arms in the limpid water, and lay panting on the
grass, oblivious of his danger, till the regular thud of horses'
hoofs roused his jaded energies.

Quickly he looked around, and to his joy he perceived the gnarled
trunk of a tree that had fallen into a horizontal position over the
pond, its branches form ing a dark, shady shelter. Silently and
swiftly as an eel he plunged into the water, and a few powerful
strokes brought him to the friendly refuge. Secure from observation,
he drew himself upon a branch and waited the arrival of the horsemen.

In a cloud of dust they appeared - five bronzed men-at-arms, with
long, straight swords strapped against their thighs; four lay
servants of the Bishop, with hard-set mouths and scowling faces that
ill-matched their calling as members of an ecclesiastical house; and
three of the city watch, more lightly armed than their companions,
carrying crossbows across their backs. Revyngton realised that scant
mercy could be expected at their hands.

At a word from their leader the party halted, there was a hurried
consultation, and two of the men trotted their horses to the edge of
the pond, while the rest resumed their headlong pursuit.

Then Revyngton felt that he stared death in the face, for less than
five paces from him were the two soldiers, sitting motionless on
their steeds and staring fixedly at the spot where he lay concealed,
their reflections being clearly mirrored in the still water. To the
fugitive it seemed as if his leafy bower were rent asunder, and that
he lay exposed to his pursuers in utter helplessness; but at length,
to his great relief, one of the men spoke.

"Why this fool's errand for the sake of a hot-blooded youth? Faith, I
am not averse to earning the five marks reward, yet 'tis a useless
quest. Far rather would I be in a snug inn, for my throat is as dry
as a friar's sermon."

"There's drink for thee," replied the other, indicating the pond with
a nod of his steel-capped head.

"Water!" exclaimed the first with an oath; "I like it not, neither
inside nor out, to be plain-spoken. Art game to return to Twyford,
where the ale is of the best?"

"Give them time to get out of hearing, thou dolt. Why doth the
sheriff keep bloodhounds and use them not, eh, Giles?"

"'Twould have been the better way. But now, comrade, let's away!"

Revyngton waited till the sound of their horses' hoofs had died away,
then, swimming softly back to the bank, he emerged and resumed his

Now the dangers were doubled, for not only had his pursuers placed
themselves between him and his refuge, but he knew not but that every
bush or hedge concealed a foe. Thus he was compelled to forsake the
high road and follow it at some distance away, keeping as close as
possible to the shelter of the coppices and dells that formed the
chief features of the district.

As he neared the village of Fair Oak he struck the highway between
Bishopstoke and the Bishop's hunting lodge at Waltham, and for a long
time he lay hidden in the bracken ere the road was free from the
seemingly endless cavalcade of huntsmen that journeyed towards the
famous Waltham Chase, while hucksters from Southampton and Romsey,
intent on doing a good business, were hurrying in the same direction.

At length the opportunity came, and the fugitive darted across the
road and gained the fields beyond. Here the nature of the country
changed, the ground offering less shelter, but away to the south rose
the dark, fir-clad hills that lay close to his goal.

He had now left the Botley road well on his left, and he could
perceive the haze of smoke that marked the hollow where the village
lay. His clothes were long dried, and the heat was well-nigh
unbearable, so, overcoming his fears, he turned aside to a cottage,
the thatched roof of which rose amid a thicket. Here he found that
another by-road or lane crossed his path, but there was no sign of
any one passing; the cottage itself looked deserted.

As the fugitive approached a dog barked, and there was a sound of
some one moving about in an outhouse, and to the tortured man the
sight of several pails of milk was irresistible. The yelping of the
cur brought a woman to the door of the shed, a strong-limbed,
coarse-featured creature, with a face lined with innumerable wrinkles
and a back bent with years of toil in the fields.

"What lack ye?" she demanded sourly.

"Am I on the right road for the abbey at Netley?"

"Yea. Turn to thy left hand at the cross roads."

"Also, I prithee, give me a draught of milk."

"Begone, for a worthless clown! Begone, I say, or the dog shall fly
at thee," she shrieked, wild with fury; but Revyngton heeded her not,
and seizing a small earthenware pitcher, drained its contents, then
turning on his heel, he resumed his fearsome journey.

"Haste, Tom, run up to the village and get help!" shouted the woman.
"'Tis a gadabout churl, or a riever, or worse," and as the fugitive
ran he heard the farm-servant making off towards Botley, while the
woman unloosed the dog.

Ere Revyngton had gone a bowshot from the cottage the cur was barking
and yelping at his heels, showing its teeth, but fearing to close,
till at length it drew off, leaving the man to wonder at the
churlishness of the hard-faced woman compared with the reception of
wayfarers on his father's manor in Devon, where meat and drink were
ever at the disposal of even the most humble stranger.

At the brow of the hill he saw the tower of the abbey amid the trees
a mile or more away, with the beautiful expanse of Southampton Water
as a fitting background to the peaceful scene. Yet the fugitive had
neither time nor inclination to appreciate the natural surroundings;
to him the abbey meant rest and safety, and with renewed hope he sped
towards the monastic buildings.

Weary and footsore he reached the outer door, his senses reeling with
the effects of his exertions. Seeing his plight the porter gave him
wine, and sent a lay brother to summon the abbot.

As the venerable head of the establishment appeared, Revyngton raised
himself with an effort and knelt before him.

"Thy blessing, father."

"_Benedicite_, my son; what wouldst thou?"

"Sanctuary, father."

The abbot shook his head sorrowfully.

"'Tis not permitted, my son; such blessed privileges belong only to
our parent abbey at Beaulieu and to the Hospital of St. Cross. I
trow there is no other within the jurisdiction of the Lord Bishop of
Winchester. What crime bast thou committed?"

"I slew a man in anger, and even now my pursuers are hard at my

The abbot turned to a lay brother.

"Tell Brother Balthazar to repair to the tower and to quickly bring
me word if any soldiers appear." Then to the fugitive he added,
"Confess thy sin and seek God's pardon; then perchance the means of
thy earthly salvation may be vouchsafed to thee. Follow me, my son."

To the venerable abbot Revyngton told the whole of the circumstances
of the case; then, having eased his soul, the abbot took care to
relieve his body, causing food and drink to be set before him, while
a brother washed his cut and travel-worn feet.

"Thou must make for the Abbey of the Blessed Mary at Beaulieu, where
thou shalt find sanctuary. Knowest thou the way?"

"Nay, father," replied the man, sad at heart at the prospect of
another journey at the peril of his life.

"Then listen, my son. Two of the brethren will take thee across the
arm of the sea that thou canst see yonder. Thence it is but an hour's
sharp travel across the heath to the abbey, the path being well worn
by reason of many of the brethren who travel thereby. There are three
ways from the spot where thou wilt land the one on the left hand
goeth towards Fawley and the town of Lepe, the one on the right to
the village of Hythe, but the way thou must take goeth neither right
nor left, but leads towards the sun just before the hour of
vespers - - Ah! What is thy message, my son?"

The last question was addressed to a novice, who, panting
breathlessly, was standing in the doorway with folded arms and bent
head, awaiting the abbot's pleasure.

"Horsemen, father; a score or more have appeared on the hill and are
making towards the abbey."

"Then summon Brother Angelique and Brother Petrox. Hasten, for 'tis
no season for leisure."

Quickly the two brethren - tall, gaunt, yet sinewy men, with faces and
arms tanned a deep red by reason of their calling as boatmen of the
abbey - answered the behest, and with the reverence due to their
superior awaited his commands.

"Take this man across and put him fairly on his way to our parent
abbey. Tarry not on thy journey, for the matter is urgent."

"Is it thy wish, father, to land him at Ashlett or Cadland?" asked
one of the monks.

"At Cadland, should the tide prove aright. Now, my son," he added to
the refugee, "take mine earnest blessing and go, and may the blessed
Saints Mary and Edward, the patrons of our abbey, be with thee."

There was little time to lose, for already the horsemen were within
two bow-shots of the abbey, and with a loud clatter of sandals the
two monks led the way, Revyngton following closely at their heels,
the brethren of the abbey speeding him on his way with prayers and
cries of encouragement.

At the end of a little causeway a boat, broadbeamed and lofty of head
and stem, rode on the little wavelets. With a sign Brother Petrox
motioned the fugitive to step aboard, then unfastening the rope that
held the craft to the quay, he followed Brother Angelique and pushed

Both monks rolled the sleeves of their gowns above their elbows,

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Online LibraryPercy F. (Percy Francis) WestermanThe Winning of the Golden Spurs → online text (page 1 of 17)