Abbildungen der Seite

was indeed, to him, of singularly small importance under whom he served, so long as he parted not company with the one man whose fortunes he had chosen to follow. The armourer, who by this time had nearly rendered an account of the second stoup, was voluble in congratulation and approval; perchance his satisfaction was in no wise lessened by reflection on the custom that the morrow would bring him. But John Brakespeare was no late roysterer, and had a character to keep up both at home and abroad; so, when the flagon was finished, he rose to go, resisting manfully all temptation of another. Ralph went out with him, for his head felt heated-not with wine, of which he had been sparing, but with excitement of diverse kinds—and he longed for a draught of fresh air, free of fume of food or wood-smoke.

Beside the great gates of the archway leading into the courtyard, which were now closed, the inn had another door opening into the street, beyond which a heavy porch projected some three yards. Against the outer angle of this Ralph leant and watched the burly armourer as he strode away, planting each solid footfall with a studied deliberation, as though bent on dissembling even to himself a certain unsteadiness of gait.

It was a black boisterous night, with dreary glimpses of a watery moon through the rifts in the tossing cloudrack; and every gust brought closer the chillness that foreruns heavy rain; but there the youth lingered, loath to return to the heat and bustle of the guestchamber, and not sorry for a while to be left to his own musings. His right hand was thrust into the breast of his doublet, whilst the other hung listlessly at his side. Suddenly he started, for on that left hand there came first the faintest pressure, then it was lifted gently till two soft lips were laid on the palm: glancing downwards in his wonder, his eyes looked full into those of the tymbestere, gleaming out of the shadow where she knelt.

With the liking that most men feel for any helpless creature whom they have defended not unsuccessfully, there mingled in Ralph's breast a great pity; for the fingers that clasped his own were deathly cold; and the threadbare mantle cast over flimsy finery was a miserable fence against the biting March wind.

"What dost thou here, thou foolish child?" he said, in feigned anger. "Of a surety thou hast not with thee the poor old man, thy grandsire? Yet, if he guessed thee to be abroad alone, he would fall in sorer trouble than anon, when his face was such a sorry sight."

She laughed a low, sad laugh: even in that dim light he could see the big drops in her eyes.

แ "Oftentimes have we two lain afield in wilder weather than this. Nathless, to-night we have better hap, and my grandsire is well bestowed with some charitable folk who have given us lodging not a furlong hence: by this time he sleeps sound. Messire, I guessed—I know not why-that ye would come forth ere betaking yourself to your chamber. Had it been otherwise, I had tarried here till forth on the morrow, rather than that ye should estcem the tymbestere ingrate or thankless."

ye came

"Tush," he broke in-" make not coil about naught. Others there would have done as much :-I but spoke first, being something quick of temper."

She shook her head meekly, as she let his hand go, and rose to her feet.


"Nay, mock me not: those decent citizens and traders might have murmured 'twas pity and shame;' and, had utter violence been wrought, some might have cried, 'harow,' and 'help;' but never a one, as well ye wot, would have thwarted yon fair-faced devil, to have saved a tymbestere from scath. And, beau sire, much I marvel that ye should have perilled life and limb for one whom ye could but

deem a light-o'-love."

"Nay, by Saint Giles "-he answered, in some haste-"thou wrongest both thyself and me: I did thee in my thought no such dishonour. Moreover, the honest fellow who quitted me but now, spoke both of thee and thy grandsire when first ye entered, and avouched ye leal and true."

A quick, joyful light dawned on her face.

"Ay! and did he so? May God requite him of his charity. I have not been so glad of heart since Father Clement shrived me a year agone-a pious priest and a kindly, albeit Saint Augustine's abbot called him Lollard, and, had he not fled, would have put him in ward. I ever comfort me with his latest words, when I am most sorrowful and weary. 'Go in peace, my daughter; and may He who bade the blessed Magdalen be of good courage, help thee in thy hard battle! So thou bide honest, chaste, and duteous—and care not thou for the world's scorn. When ye all shall come to the judgment, perchance it shall fare with thee better, than with some who now would shrink from touch of thy garment. Moreover, neither by night nor morning omit thine orisons; for to these will the Mother of God herself hearken not less heedfully than if thou wert wimpled nun.' Messire, wot ye why I trespass thus on your patience. It is because, when once I have learned thy name, it shall never be forgotten when I kneel down to

pray. Vouchsafe this last grace, and let me depart: it is not meet that I tarry in thy company after mine errand is done."

More moved than he cared to show, Ralph told her what she required. After murmuring the words over to herself softly twice or


"A brave soldierly name "-she said. "Heaven send it luck and renown. Beau sire, though one day you bear on your helm the sleeve of some high-born damoiselle or dame, ye need not scruple to avouch that you first showed prowess in the bucklering of a poor glee-maiden."

While she spoke, Ralph had drawn a broad gold piece from his gipsire, and would have forced it upon her.

"Take this at least "—he began, but broke off suddenly with the quick delicacy which was part of his nature, seeing that she shrank back evidently pained-"Nay, thou silly child, I meant it not as guerdon or alms, but rather as a token of this our meeting. Other have I none to give: thou need'st not barter it except at sore need.” Her small fingers closed round it eagerly enough now. "So may

all the saints have you in their keeping"--she said, almost in a whisper; and stooping down, laid her lips upon his hand once Before their print had vanished, she had flitted away like an elf into the darkness.


After lingering there yet awhile, as if in thought, Ralph went back into the guest-hall, which was now emptying fast; and soon betook himself to the chamber which, as was the custom, he shared with some half-score other travellers: he slept not so soundly as he was wont; and more than once started from slumber, half persuaded that he felt on his hand the pressure of soft fingers, and of softer lips. Nay, some months elapsed ere such phantasms ceased to mingle with rougher visions of feast and war.

Two years later, when the plague, which laid England desolate, was beginning to abate its fury, those that carried the common bier found under a hovel on the banks of Thames the corpses of the minstrel and the glee-maiden. Both were thin and worn by privation; and it was plain they must have suffered almost of famine before the pestilence did its work: wherefore the grave-diggers marvelled the more to find hung round the girl's neck, and hidden under her bodice, a broad piece of gold. It helped to make them merry that night, after their hideous fashion; and, whilst they caroused, they passed many a foul jest on the love-token of the mad tymbestere.



I AM not going to write a treatise on this deservedly-popular game. I confess that I am not in a position to do so. I have played it much and often; I have hurried my shaving in order to have time for a turn at it before breakfast; I have scamped my breakfast in order to extend the interval between that meal and luncheon to the extremest possible limits. My eagerness to return to the fascinating sport has reduced my luncheon to a shadow, and my dinner to a dream. From the early morning to the fading twilight of evening, I have been incessantly at it, and on one memorable occasion I played far into the night by the aid of bed-room candles. Still, as I said before, I am not in a position to write scientifically on the game. I have never played it scientifically, and I don't believe I know half the rules of the game. I don't care to know them; I am happier as I am. The real charm of the sport is not referable, I believe, to a conscientious adherence to accepted principles. In point of fact, I don't find that any known rules treat of the most indispensable essentials of the game. When I come across a code that provides

Firstly. That the sun shall always shine during the game.
Secondly. That the grass shall never be damp.

Thirdly. That only young ladies of fascinating exterior be permitted to play.

Fourthly. That the grass has its hair cut every morning.

Fifthly. That strawberries and cream, or other cooling fruits proper to the season, be provided for the players; and

Lastly. That no young lady who disfigures her ankles with Hessian boots with tassels, be suffered on any pretence whatever to join a croquet party.

When, I say, I come across a code that provides for these emergencies, I will devote myself conscientiously to a study of its contents.

No, I leave it to scientific pens to treat of the game of croquet as it is played by ladies and gentlemen. My present intention is to treat croquet from a totally new point of view. I propose to treat of the players from the point of view of the hoops, balls, and mallets.

It cannot

A ball or a mallet has an eventful and exciting career. be a matter of total indifference to a well-made gentlemanly implement of either class, whether, on the box being opened for the day's play,

he is to fall into the hands of a pretty sparkling maiden, or a fat, clumsy, hot, man-mountain; whether he is to be gently pressed by a glittering and dainty bottine, or be scrunched beneath the broad solid sole of a ponderous shooting-boot. These considerations must, I think, give rise to an unhealthy excitement which cannot but tell injuriously on the constitution of the implement.

Croquet possesses innumerable recommendations. It is an outdoor game, and differs from leap-frog, in being one of the very few in which both sexes can join with propriety. It is allied to many pleasant associations-a fine day, a smooth lawn, pretty boots, bewildering petticoats, and agreeable interludes. Moreover, "croquet" is a pretty word, and there is a great deal in this consideration. "Squails" may be a very good game-I know nothing about it—but the name is quite enough to keep me off. Now there is a coquettish crispness about the word "croquet" which would go far to compensate for any radical defect in the game itself. It involves a pretty pursing of the lips, a delicate twirl of the tongue, and an opportunity of suggesting a good French accent-considerations which are to me irresistible.

The true croquet player devotes herself and her "make-up" to the game. There is no redundancy about her costume, there is no absurdity in the nature of long dresses to be detected about her, there are no

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

bonnet-strings to get into her way, there are no cloaks or baggy sleeves to impede her movements: everything is trim, taut, and shipshape-cleared, I may say, for action. The amateur, the mere smat

« ZurückWeiter »