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- A March on London - 6/56 -


having done so much, he may well do more, and it may be that in time he may himself speak to you and tell you that he has changed his mind on the matter."

"Perhaps it would be best so, dame, and I have good hope that it will be as you say. I care not much for the Court, where Lancaster and Gloucester overshadow the king. Still, a man can play his part there; though I would not that he should attach himself to Lancaster's faction or to Gloucester's, for both are ambitious, and it will be a struggle between them for supremacy. If he goes he shall go as a king's man. Richard, as he grows up, will resent the tutelage in which he is held, but will not be able to shake it off, and he will need men he can rely upon--prudent and good advisers, the nearer to his own age the better, and it may well be that Albert would be like to gain rank and honour more quickly in this way than by doughty deeds in the field. It is good that each man should stick to his last. As for me, I would rather delve as a peasant than mix in the intrigues of a Court. But there must be courtiers as well as fighters, and I say not aught against them.

"The boy with his quiet voice, and his habit of going about making little more noise than a cat, is far better suited for such a life than I with my rough speech and fiery temper. For his manner he has also much to thank young Ormskirk. Edgar caught it from his father, who, though a strange man according to my thinking, is yet a singularly courteous gentleman, and Albert has taken it from his friend. Well, wife, I shall put this down as one of my fortunate days, for never have I heard better news than that which Albert gave me this afternoon."

When Edgar returned home he told his father what had taken place.

"I thought that Sir Ralph would be mightily pleased some day when he heard that his son had been so zealously working here with you, and I too was glad to see it. I am altogether without influence to push your fortunes. Learning I can give you, but I scarce know a man at Court, for while I lived at Highgate I seldom went abroad, and save for a visit now and then from some scholar anxious to consult me, scarce a being entered my house. Therefore, beyond relating to you such matters of history as it were well for you to know, and by telling you of the deeds of Caesar and other great commanders, I could do naught for you."

"You have done a great deal for me, father. You have taught me more of military matters, and of the history of this country, and of France and Italy, than can be known to most people, and will assuredly be of much advantage to me in the future."

"That may be so, Edgar, but the great thing is to make the first start, and here I could in no way aid you. I have often wondered how this matter could be brought about, and now you have obtained a powerful friend; for although Sir Ralph De Courcy is but a simple knight, with no great heritage, his wife is a daughter of Lord Talbot, and he himself is one of the most valiant of the nobles and knights who fought so stoutly in France and Spain, and as such is known to, and respected by, all those who bore a part in those wars. He therefore can do for you the service that of all others is the most necessary.

"The king himself is well aware that he was one of the knights in whom the Black Prince, his father, had the fullest confidence, and to whom he owed his life more than once in the thick of a _mle_. Thus, then, when the time comes, he will be able to secure for you a post in the following of some brave leader. I would rather that it were so than in the household of any great noble, who would assuredly take one side or other in the factions of the Court. You are too young for this as yet, being too old to be a page, too young for an esquire, and must therefore wait until you are old enough to enter service either as an esquire or as one of the retinue of a military leader."

"I would rather be an esquire and ride to battle to win my spurs. I should not care to become a knight simply because I was the owner of so many acres of land, but should wish to be knighted for service in the field."

"So would I also, Edgar. My holding here is large enough to entitle me to the rank of knight did I choose to take it up, but indeed it would be with me as it is with many others, an empty title. Holding land enough for a knight's fee, I should of course be bound to send so many men into the field were I called upon to do so, and should send you as my substitute if the call should not come until you are two or three years older; but in this way you would be less likely to gain opportunities for winning honour than if you formed part of the following of some well-known knight. Were a call to come you could go with few better than Sir Ralph, who would be sure to be in the thick of it. But if it comes not ere long, he may think himself too old to take the field, and his contingent would doubtless be led by some knight as his substitute."

"I think not, father, that Sir Ralph is likely to regard himself as lying on the shelf for some time to come; he is still a very strong man, and he would chafe like a caged eagle were there blows to be struck in France, and he unable to share in them."

Four days later a man who had been down to the town returned with a budget of news. Edgar happened to be at the door when he rode past.

"What is the news, Master Clement?" he said, for he saw that the man looked excited and alarmed.

"There be bad news, young master, mighty bad news. Thou knowest how in Essex men have refused to pay the poll-tax, but there has been naught of that on this side of the river as yet, though there is sore grumbling, seeing that the tax-collectors are not content with drawing the tax from those of proper age, but often demand payments for boys and girls, who, as they might see, are still under fourteen. It happened so to-day at Dartford. One of the tax-collectors went to the house of Wat the Tyler. His wife had the money for his tax and hers, but the man insolently demanded tax for the daughter, who is but a girl of twelve; and when her mother protested that the child was two years short of the age, he offered so gross an insult to the girl that she and her mother screamed out. A neighbour ran with the news to Wat, who was at his work on the roof of a house near, and he, being full of wrath thereat, ran hastily home, and entering smote the man so heavily on the head with a hammer he carried, that he killed him on the spot.

"The collectors' knaves would have seized Wat, but the neighbours ran in and drove them from the town with blows. The whole place is in a ferment. Many have arms in their hands, and are declaring that they will submit no more to the exactions, and will fight rather than pay, for that their lives are of little value to them if they are to be ground to the earth by these leeches. The Fleming traders in the town have hidden away, for in their present humour the mob might well fall upon them and kill them."

It was against the Flemings indeed that the feelings of the country people ran highest. This tax was not, as usual, collected by the royal officers, but by men hired by the Flemish traders settled in England. The proceeds of it had been bestowed upon several young nobles, intimates of the king. These had borrowed money from the Flemings on the security of the tax; the amount that it was likely to produce had been considerably overrated, and the result was that the Flemings, finding that they would be heavy losers by the transaction, ordered their collectors to gather in as much as possible. These obeyed the instructions, rendering by their conduct the exaction of the poll-tax even more unpopular than it would have been had it been collected by the royal officers, who would have been content with the sum that could be legally demanded.

"This is serious news," Edgar said, gravely, "and I fear that much trouble may come of it. Doubtless the tax-collector misbehaved himself grossly, but his employers will take no heed of that, and will lay complaints before the king of the slaying of one of their servants and of the assault upon others by a mob of Dartford, so that erelong we shall be having a troop of men-at-arms sent hither to punish the town."

"Ay, young master, but not being of Dartford I should not care so much for that; but there are hot spirits elsewhere, and there are many who would be like to take up arms as well as the men at Dartford, and to resist all attacks; then the trouble would spread, and there is no saying how far it may grow."

"True enough, Clement; well, we may hope that when men's minds become calmer the people of Dartford will think it best to offer to pay a fine in order to escape bloodshed."

"It may be so," the man said, shaking his head, "though I doubt it. There has been too much preaching of sedition. I say not that the people have not many and real grievances, but the way to right them is not by the taking up of arms, but by petition to the crown and parliament."

He rode on, and Edgar, going in to his father, told him what he had heard from Clement.

"'Tis what I feared," Mr. Ormskirk said. "The English are a patient race, and not given, as are those of foreign nations, to sudden bursts of rage. So long as the taxation was legal they would pay, however hardly it pressed them, but when it comes to demanding money for children under the age, and to insulting them, it is pushing matters too far, and I fear with you, Edgar, that the trouble will spread. I am sorry for these people, for however loudly they may talk and however valiant they may be, they can assuredly offer but a weak resistance to a strong body of men-at-arms, and they will but make their case worse by taking up arms.

"History shows that mobs are seldom able to maintain a struggle against authority. Just at first success may attend them, but as soon as those who govern recover from their first surprise they are not long before they put down the movement. I am sorry, not only for the men themselves, but for others who, like myself, altogether disapprove of any rising. Just at first the mob may obey its leaders and act with moderation; but they are like wild beasts--the sight of blood maddens them--and if this rising should become a serious one, you will see that there will be burnings and ravagings. Heads will be smitten off, and after slaying those they consider the chief culprits, they will turn against all in a better condition than themselves.

"The last time Sir Ralph De Courcy was over here he told me that the priest they called Jack Straw and many others were, he heard, not only preaching sedition against the government, but the seizure of the goods of the wealthy, the confiscation of the estates of the monasteries, and the division of the wealth of the rich. A nice programme, and just the one that would be acceptable to men without a penny in their pockets. Sir Ralph said that he would give much if he, with half a dozen men-at-arms, could light upon a meeting of these people, when he would give them a lesson that would silence their saucy tongues for a long time to come. I told him I was glad that he had not the opportunity, for that methought it would do more harm than good. 'You won't think so,' he said, 'when there is a mob of these rascals thundering at your door, and resolved to make a bonfire of your precious manuscripts and to throw you into the midst of it.' 'I have no doubt,' I replied, 'that at such a time I should welcome the news of the arrival of you and the men-at-arms, but I have no store of goods that would attract their cupidity.' 'No,' the knight said, 'but you know that among the common people you are accounted a magician, because you are wiser than they are.'

"'I know that,' I replied; 'it is the same in all countries. The credulous mob think that a scholar, although he may spend his life in trying to make a discovery that will be of inestimable value to them, is a magician and


A March on London - 6/56

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