Charlotte M. Yonge. The Armourer's Prentices
Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England
The Armourers' Prentices
By Charlotte M. Yonge
This is a story about two young orphans from Hampshire, who travel to London in search of relatives. On the way they rescue a prominent City of London figure after he has been attacked by highwaymen, and in this way they become attached to his household in the City. The date is the early years of Henry the Eighth, when the religious world of England is simmering not only with the new views on religion, but also with the problems of the King and his Divorces. We meet great figures like Dean Colet, famous even to this very day for his charitable foundations, Thomas More, and other great figures of the pre-Reformation years.
It is a very lively story that rings true at every turn, and is worth while reading for those who would like a further understanding of the late Tudor Court, and the customs in the City, prevailing at the time of the Reformation.
THE ARMOURERS' PRENTICES
BY CHARLOTTE M. YONGE
CHAPTER ONE. THE VERDURER'S LODGE.
'Give me the poor allottery my father left me by testament, with that I will go buy me fortunes.'
'Get you with him, you old dog.'
The officials of the New Forest have ever since the days of the Conqueror enjoyed some of the pleasantest dwellings that southern England can boast.
The home of the Birkenholt family was not one of the least delightful. It stood at the foot of a rising ground, on which grew a grove of magnificent beeches, their large silvery boles rising majestically like columns into a lofty vaulting of branches, covered above with tender green foliage. Here and there the shade beneath was broken by the gilding of a ray of sunshine on a lower twig, or on a white trunk, but the floor of the vast arcades was almost entirely of the russet brown of the fallen leaves, save where a fern or holly bush made a spot of green. At the foot of the slope lay a stretch of pasture ground, some parts covered by 'lady-smocks, all silver white,' with the course of the little stream through the midst indicated by a perfect golden river of shining kingcups interspersed with ferns. Beyond lay tracts of brown heath and brilliant gorse and broom, which stretched for miles and miles along the flats, while the dry ground was covered with holly brake, and here and there woods of oak and beech made a sea of verdure, purpling in the distance.
Cultivation was not attempted, but hardy little ponies, cows, goats, sheep, and pigs were feeding, and picking their way about in the marshy mead below, and a small garden of pot-herbs, inclosed by a strong fence of timber, lay on the sunny side of a spacious rambling forest lodge, only one story high, built of solid timber and roofed with shingle. It was not without strong pretensions to beauty, as well as to picturesqueness, for the posts of the door, the architecture of the deep porch, the frames of the latticed windows, and the verge boards were all richly carved in grotesque devices. Over the door was the royal shield, between a pair of magnificent antlers, the spoils of a deer reported to have been slain by King Edward the Fourth, as was denoted by the 'glorious sun of York' carved beneath the shield.
In the background among the trees were ranges of stables and kennels, and on the grass-plat in front of the windows was a row of beehives. A tame doe lay on the little green sward, not far from a large rough deer- hound, both close friends who could be trusted at large. There was a mournful dispirited look about the hound, evidently an aged animal, for the once black muzzle was touched with grey, and there was a film over one of the keen beautiful eyes, which opened eagerly as he pricked his ears and lifted his head at the rattle of the door latch. Then, as two boys came out, he rose, and with a slowly waving tail, and a wistful appealing air, came and laid his head against one of the pair who had appeared in the pont. They were lads of fourteen and fifteen, clad in suits of new mourning, with the short belted doublet, puffed hose, small ruffs and little round caps of early Tudor times. They had dark eyes and hair, and honest open faces, the younger ruddy and sunburnt, the elder thinner and more intellectual-and they were so much the same size that the advantage of age was always supposed to be on the side of Stephen, though he was really the junior by nearly a year. Both were sad and grave, and the eyes and cheeks of Stephen showed traces of recent floods of tears, though there was more settled dejection on the countenance of his brother.
'Ay, Spring,' said the lad, ''tis winter with thee now. A poor old rogue! Did the new housewife talk of a halter because he showed his teeth when her ill-nurtured brat wanted to ride on him? Nay, old Spring, thou shalt share thy master's fortunes, changed though they be. Oh, father! father! didst thou guess how it would be with thy boys!' And throwing himself on the grass, he hid his face against the dog and sobbed.
'Come, Stephen, Stephen; 'tis time to play the man! What are we to do out in the world if you weep and wail?'
'She might have let us stay for the month's mind,' was heard from Stephen.
'Ay, and though we might be more glad to go, we might carry bitterer thoughts along with us. Better be done with it at once, say I.'
'There would still be the Forest! And I saw the moorhen sitting yester eve! And the wild ducklings are out on the pool, and the woods are full of song. Oh! Ambrose! I never knew how hard it is to part-'
'Nay, now, Steve, where be all your plots for bravery? You always meant to seek your fortune-not bide here like an acorn for ever.'
'I never thought to be thrust forth the very day of our poor father's burial, by a shrewish town-bred vixen, and a base narrow-souled-'
'Hist! hist!' said the more prudent Ambrose.
'Let him hear who will! He cannot do worse for us than he has done! All the Forest will cry shame on him for a mean-hearted skinflint to turn his brothers from their home, ere their father and his, be cold in his grave,' cried Stephen, clenching the grass with his hands, in his passionate sense of wrong.
'That's womanish,' said Ambrose.
'Who'll be the woman when the time comes for drawing cold steel?' cried Stephen, sitting up.
At that moment there came through the porch a man, a few years over thirty, likewise in mourning, with a paler, sharper countenance than the brothers, and an uncomfortable pleading expression of self-justification.
'How now, lads!' he said, 'what means this? You have taken the matter too hastily. There was no thought that ye should part till you had some purpose in view. Nay, we should be fain for Ambrose to bide on here, so he would leave his portion for me to deal with, and teach little Will his primer and accidence. You are a quiet lad, Ambrose, and can rule your tongue better than Stephen.'
'Thanks, brother John,' said Ambrose, somewhat sarcastically, 'but where Stephen goes I go.'
'I would-I would have found Stephen a place among the prickers or rangers, if-' hesitated John. 'In sooth, I would yet do it, if he would make it up with the housewife.'
'My father looked higher for his son than a pricker's office,' returned Ambrose.
'That do I wot,' said John, 'and therefore, 'tis for his own good that I would send him forth. His godfather, our uncle Birkenholt, he will assuredly provide for him, and set him forth-'
The door of the house was opened, and a shrewish voice cried, 'Mr Birkenholt-here, husband! You are wanted. Here's little Kate crying to have yonder smooth pouch to stroke, and I cannot reach it for her.'
'Father set store by that otter-skin pouch, for poor Prince Arthur slew the otter,' cried Stephen. 'Surely, John, you'll not let the babes make a toy of that?'
John made a helpless gesture, and at a renewed call, went indoors.
'You are right, Ambrose,' said Stephen, 'this is no place for us. Why should we tarry any longer to see everything moiled and set at nought? I have couched in the forest before, and 'tis summer time.'
'Nay,' said Ambrose, 'we must make up our fardels and have our money in our pouches before we can depart. We must tarry the night, and call John to his reckoning, and so might we set forth early enough in the morning to lie at Winchester that night and take counsel with our uncle Birkenholt.'