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A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

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A KING'S LESSON 



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"a dream of JOHN BALL 'J/uX-Uu^ 



AND A KING'S LESSON 
BY WILLIAM MORRIS 



LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO. 

39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON 
NEW YORK 6- BOMBAY 

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THE NEW YORK 

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ASTOR, LENOX AND 

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First printed in the ** Commontveal^'* 1886—7. 

First edition in book form ^ 'with frontispiece^ 1888. 

Often reprinted tuithout frontispiece, 

Kelmscott Press edition, 1892. 

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CONTENTS 

CrrAPTER I page 

THE MEN OF KENT , i 

CHAPTER II 

THE MAN FROM ESSEX 13 

CHAPTER III 

^ THEY MEET AT THE CROSS 24 

CHAPTER IV 

THE VOICE OF JOHN BALL 31 

CHAPTER V 

THEY HEAR TIDINGS OF BATTLE AND MAKE 
fift THEM READY .49 



y^ CHAPTER VI 

^ THE BATTLE AT THE TOWNSHIP'S END ... 6a 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER VII p^c. 

MORE WORDS AT THE CROSS 82 

CHAPTER VIII 

SUPPER AT WILL GREEN'S 90 

CHAPTER IX 

BETWIXT THE LIVING AND THE DEAD ... 99 

CHAPTER X 

THOSE TWO TALK OF THE DAYS TO COME . .111 

CHAPTER XI 

HARD IT IS FOR THE OLD WORLD TO SEE THE 

NEW Ill 

CHAPTER XII 

ILL WOULD CHANGE BE AT WHILES WERE IT NOT 

FOR THE CHANGE BEYOND THE CHANGE . 133 

A KING'S LESSON 155 



via 



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1 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 



CHAPTER I 

THE MEN OF KENT 

C OMETIMES I am rewarded for fretting my- 
^ self so much about present matters by a quite 
unasked-for pleasant dream. I mean when I am 
asleep. This dream is as it were a present of an 
architectural peep-show. I see some beautiful 
and noble building new made, as it were for the 
occasion, as clearly as if I were awake ; not vague- 
ly or absurdly, as often happens in dreams, but 
with all the detail clear and reasonable. Some 
Elizabethan house with its scrap of earlier four- 
teenth-century building, and its later degrada- 
tions of Queen Anne and Silly Billy and Victoria, 
marring but not destroying it, in an old village 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

once a clearing amid the sandy woodlands of 
Sussex. Or an old and unusually curious church, 
much churchwarden ed, and beside it a frag- 
ment of fifteenth-century domestic architecture 
amongst the not unpicturesque lath and plaster 
of an Essex farm, and looking natural enough 
among the sleepy elms and the meditative hens 
scratching about in the litter of the farmyard, 
whose trodden yellow straw comes up to the very 
jambs of the richly carved Norman doorway of 
the church. Or sometimes *tis a splendid col- 
legiate church, untouched by restoring parson 
and architect, standing amid an island of shapely 
trees and flower-beset cottages of thatched grey 
stone and cob, amidst the narrow stretch of bright 
green water-meadows that wind between the 
sweeping Wiltshire Downs, so well beloved of 
William Cobbett. Or some new-seen and yet 
familiar cluster of houses in a grey village of the 
upper Thames overtopped by the delicate tracery 
of a fourteenth-century church ; or even some- 
times the very buildings of the past untouched 
by the degradation of the sordid utilitarianism 

2 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

that cares not and knows not of beauty and his- 
tory : as once, when I was journeying (in a dream 
of the night) down the well-remembered reaches 
of the Thames betwixt Streatley and Walling- 
ford, where the foot-hills of the White Horse fall 
back from the broad stream, I came upon a clear- 
seen mediaeval town standing up with roof and 
tower and spire within its walls, grey and ancient, 
but untouched from the days of its builders of 
old. All this I have seen in the dreams of the 
night clearer than I can force myself to see them 
in dreams of the day. So that it would have been 
nothing new to me the other night to fall into 
an architectural dream if that were all, and yet I 
have to tell of things strange and new that befell 
me after I had fallen asleep. I had begun my 
sojourn in the Land of Nod by a very confused 
attempt to conclude that it was all right for me 
to have an engagement to lecture at Manchester 
and Mitcham Fair Green at half-past eleven at 
night on one and the same Sunday, and that I 
could manage pretty well. And then I had gone 
on to try to make the best of addressing a large 

3 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

open-air audience in the costume I was really then 
wearing— to wit, my night-shirt, reinforced for 
the dream occasion by a pair of braceless trou- 
sers. The consciousness of this fact so bothered 
me, that the earnest faces of my audience — ^who 
would not notice it, but were clearly preparing 
terrible anti-Socialist posers for me — began to 
fade away and my dream grew thin, and I awoke 
(as I thought) to find myself lying on a strip of 
wayside waste by an oak copse just outside a 
country village. 

I got up and rubbed my eyes and looked about 
me, and the landscape seemed unfamiliar to me, 
though it was, as to the lie of the land, an ordi- 
nary English low-country, swelling into rising 
ground here and there. The road was narrow, 
and I was convinced that it was a piece of Roman 
road from its straightness. Copses were scattered 
over the country, and there were signs of two or 
three villages and hamlets in sight besides the 
one near me, between which and me there was 
some orchard-land, where the early apples were 
beginning to redden on the trees. Also, just on 

4 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the other side of the road and the ditch which ran 
along it, was a small close of about a quarter of an 
acre, neatly hedged with quick, which was nearly 
full of white poppies, and, as far as I could see for 
the hedge, had also a good few rose-bushes of the 
bright-red nearly single kind, which I had heard 
are the ones from which rose-water used to be 
distilled. Otherwise the land was quiteunhedged, 
but all under tillage of various kinds, mostly in 
small strips. From the other side of a copse not 
far off rose a tall spire white and brand-new, but 
at once bold in outline and unaffectedly graceful 
and also distinctly English in character. This, 
together with the unhedged tillage and a certain 
unwonted trimness and handiness about the en- 
closures of the garden and orchards, puzzled me 
for a minute or two, as I did not understand, new 
as the spire was, how it could have been designed 
by a modern architect ; and I was of course used 
to the hedged tillage and tumble-down bankrupt- 
looking surroundings of our modern agriculture. 
So that the garden-like neatness and trimness of 
everything surprised me. But after a minute or 

5 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

two that surprise left me entirely ; and if what I 
saw and heard afterwards seems strange to you, 
remember that it did not seem strange to me at 
the time, except where now and again I shall tell 
you of it. Also, once for all, if I were to give 
you the very words of those who spoke to me you 
would scarcely understand them, although their 
language was English too, and at the time I could 
understand them at once. 

Well, as I stretched myself and turned my face 
toward the village, I heard horse-hoofs on the 
road, and presently a man and horse showed on 
the other end of the stretch of road and drew 
near at a swinging trot with plenty of clash of 
metal. The man soon came up to me, but paid 
me no more heed than throwing me a nod. He 
was clad in armour of mingled steel and leather, 
a sword girt to his side, and over his shoulder 
a long-handled bill-hook. His armour was fan- 
tastic in form and well wrought ; but by this time 
I was quite used to the strangeness of him, and 
merely muttered to myself, ' He is coming to 
summon the squire to the leet ' ; so I turned to- 

6 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

ward the village in good earnest. Nor, again, was 
I surprised at my own garments, although I might 
well have been from their unwontedness. I was 
dressed in a black cloth gown reaching to my 
ankles, neatly embroidered about the collar and 
cufFs, with wide sleeves gathered in at the wrists; 
a hood with a sort of bag hanging down from it 
was on my head, a broad red leather girdle round 
my waist, on one side of which hung a pouch 
embroidered very prettily and a case made of 
hard leather chased with a hunting scene, which I 
knew to be a pen and ink case; on the other side 
a small sheath-knife, only an arm in case of dire 
necessity. 

Well, I came into the village, where I did not 
see (nor by this time expected to see) a single 
modem building, although many of them were 
nearly new, notably the church, which was large, 
and quite ravished my heart with its extreme 
beauty, elegance, and fitness. The chancel of 
this was so new that the dust of the stone still 
lay white on the midsummer grass beneath the 
carvings of the windows. The houses were al- 

7 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

most all built of oak frame-work filled with 
cob or plaster well whitewashed ; though some 
had their lower stories of rubble-stone, with 
their windows and doors of well-moulded free- 
stone. There was much curious and inventive 
carving about most of them ; and though some 
were old and much worn, there was the same 
look of deftness and trimness, and even beauty, 
about every detail in them which I noticed before 
in the field-work. They were all roofed with 
oak shingles, mostly grown as grey as stone ; but 
one was so newly built that its roof was yet pale 
and yellow. This was a corner house, and the 
corner post of it had a carved niche wherein stood 
a gaily painted figure holding an anchor — St. 
Clement to wit, as the dweller in the house was 
a blacksmith. Half a stone's throw from the 
east end of the churchyard wall was a tall cross 
of stone, new like the church, the head beauti- 
fully carved with a crucifix amidst leafage. It 
stood on a set of wide stone steps, octagonal in 
shape, where three roads from other villages met 
and formed a wide open space on which a thou- 

8 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

sand people or more could stand together with 
no great crowding. 

AH this I saw, and also that there was a good- 
ish many people about, women and children, and 
a few old men at the doors, many of them some- 
what gaily clad, and that men were coming into 
the village street by the other end to that by 
which I had entered, by twos and threes, most 
of them carrying what I could see were bows in 
cases of linen yellow with wax or oil ; they had 
quivers at their backs, and most of them a short 
sword by their left side, and a pouch and knife 
on the right ; they were mostly dressed in red 
or brightish green or blue cloth jerkins, with a 
hood on the head generally of another colour. 
As they came nearer I saw that the cloth of their 
garments was somewhat coarse, but stout and 
serviceable. I knew, somehow, that they had 
been shooting at the butts, and, indeed, I could 
still hear a noise of men thereabout, and even 
now and again when the wind set from that quar- 
ter the twang of the bowstring and the plump 
of the shaft in the target. 

9 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

I leaned against the churchyard wall and 
watched these men, some of whom went straight 
into their houses and some loitered about still ; 
they were rough-looking fellows, tall and stout, 
very black some of them, and some red-haired, 
but most had hair burnt by the sun into the 
colour of tow ; and, indeed, they were all burned 
and tanned and freckled variously. Their arms 
and buckles and belts and the finishings and hems 
of their garments were all what we should now 
call beautiful, rough as the men were ; nor in 
their speech was any of that drawling snarl or 
thick vulgarity which one is used to hear from 
labourers in civilisation; not that they talked like 
gentlemen either, but full and round and bold, 
and they were merry and good-tempered enough; 
I could see that, though I felt shy and timid 
amongst them. 

One of them strode up to me across the road, 
a man some six feet high, with a short black 
beard and black eyes and berry-brown skin, with 
a huge bow in his hand bare of the case, a knife, 
a pouch, and a short hatchet, all clattering toge- 
ther at his girdle. jq 



A DREAM *feF JOHN BALL 

* Well, friend,' said he, * thou lookest partly 
mazed ; what tongue hast thou in thine head ? ' 

* A tongue that can tell rhymes/ said I. 

* So I thought,' said he. * Thirstest thou 
any ? ' 

* Yea, and hunger,' said L 

And therewith my hand went into my purse, 
and came out again with but a few small and 
thin silver coins with a cross stamped on each, 
and three pellets in each corner of the cross. 
The man grinned. 

* Aha ! ' said he, * is it so ? Never heed it, 
mate. It shall be a song for a supper this fair 
Sunday evening. But first, whose man art thou ?' 

* No one's man,' said I, reddening angrily ; * I 
am my own master.' 

He grinned again. 

* Nay, that's not the custom of England, as 
one time belike it will be. Methinks thou 
comest from heaven down, and hast had a high 
place there too.' 

He seemed to hesitate a moment, and then 
leant forward and whispered in my ear : * John 

II 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the Miller^ that ground small^ small ^ small ^ and 
stopped and winked at me, and from between 
my lips without my mind forming any meaning 
came the words, ' The king^s son of heaven shall 
pay for all.* 

He let his bow fall on to his shoulder, caught 
my right hand in his and gave it a great grip, 
while his left hand fell among the gear at his 
belt, and I could see that he half drew his knife. 

* Well, brother,* said he, * stand not here 
hungry in the highway when there is flesh and 
bread in the ** Rose " yonder. Come on.' 

And with that he drew me along toward what 
was clearly a tavern door, outside which men 
were sitting on a couple of benches and drink- 
ing meditatively from curiously shaped earthen 
pots glazed green and yellow, some with quaint 
devices on them. 



12 



CHAPTER II 

THE MAN FROM ESSEX 

T ENTERED the door and started at first 
-^ with my old astonishment, with which I had\ 
woke up, so strange and beautiful did this in- ^ 
tenor seem to me, though it was but a pothouse 
parlour. A quaintly carved side-board held 
an array of bright pewter pots and dishes and 
wooden and earthen bowls; a stout oak table 
went up and down the room, &nd a carved oak 
chair stood by the chimney-corner, now filled 
by a very old man dim-eyed and white-bearded. 
That, except the rough stools and benches on 
which the company sat, was all the furniture. 
The walls were panelled roughly enough with 
oak boards to about six feet from the floor, 
and about three feet of plaster above that was 
wrought in a pattern of a rose stem running all 

13 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

round the room, freely and roughly done, but 
with (as it seemed to my unused eyes) wonder- 
ful skill and spirit. On the hood of the great 
chimney a huge rose was wrought in the plas- 
ter and brightly painted in its proper colours. 
There were a dozen or more of the men I had 
seen coming along the street sitting there, some 
eating and all drinking ; their cased bows leaned 
against the wall, their quivers hung on pegs in 
the panelling, and in a corner of the room I saw 
half-a-dozen bill-hooks that looked made more 
for war than for hedge-shearing, with ashen 
handles some seven foot long. Three or four 
children were running about among the legs of 
the men, heeding them mighty little in their 
bold play, and the men seemed little troubled 
by it, although they were talking earnestly and 
seriously too. A well-made comely girl leaned 
up against the chimney close to the gaffer's chair, 
and seemed to be in waiting on the company : 
she was clad in a close-fitting gown of bright 
blue cloth, with a broad silver girdle, daintily 
wrought, round her loins, a rose wreath was on 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

her head and her hair hung down unbound ; the 
gafFer grumbled a few words to her from time 
to time, so that I judged he was her grandfather. 
The men all looked up as we came into the 
room, my mate leading me by the hand, and he 
called out in his rough, good-tempered voice, 

* Here, my masters, I bring you tidings and a 
tale ; give it meat and drink that it may be strong 
and sweet.' 

* Whence are thy tidings, Will Green ? ' said 
one. 

My mate grinned again with the pleasure of 
making his joke once more in a bigger company: 

* It seemeth from heaven, since this good old lad 
hath no master,' said he. 

* The more fool he to come here,' said a thin 
man with a grizzled beard, amidst the laughter 
that followed, * unless he had the choice given 
him between hell and England.' 

* Nay,* said I, * I come not from heaven, but 
from Essex.' 

As I said the word a great shout sprang from 
all mouths at once, as clear and sudden as a shot 

15 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

from a gun. For I must tell you that I knew 
somehow, but I know not how, that the men of 
Essex were gathering to rise against the poll- 
groat bailifFs and the lords that would turn them 
all into villeins again, as their grandfathers had 
been. And the people was weak and the lords 
were poor ; for many a mother's son had fallen 
in the war in France in the old king's time, and 
the Black Death had slain a many ; so that the 
lords had bethought them : * We are growing 
poorer, and these upland-bred villeins are grow- 
ing richer, and the guilds of craft are waxing in 
the towns, and soon what will there be left for 
us who cannot weave and will not dig ? Good 
it were if we fell on all who are not guildsmen 
or men of free land, if we fell on soccage tenants 
and others, and brought both the law and the 
strong hand on them, and made them all villeins 
in deed as they are now in name ; for now these 
rascals make more than their bellies need of 
bread, and their backs of homespun, and the 
overplus they keep to themselves ; and we are 
more worthy of it than they. So let us get the 

i6 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

collar on their necks again, and make their day's 
work longer and their bever-time shorter, as the 
good statute of the old king bade. And good it 
were if the Holy Church were to look to it (and 
the Lollards might help herein) that all these 
naughty and wearisome holidays were done away 
with ; or that it should be unlawful for any man 
below the degree of a squire to keep the holy 
days of the church, except in the heart and the 
spirit only, and let the body labour meanwhile ; 
for does not the Apostle say, ' If a man work not, 
neither should he eat'? And if such things were 
done, and such an estate of noble rich men and 
worthy poor men upholden for ever, then would 
it be good times in England, and life were worth 
the living.' 

All this were the lords at work on, and such 
talk I knew was common not only among the 
lords themselves, but also among their sergeants 
and very serving-men. But the people would 
not abide it ; therefore, as I said, in Essex they 
were on the point of rising, and word had gone 
how that at St. Albans they were wellnigh at 

17 B 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

blows with the Lord Abbot's soldiers; that north 
away at Norwich John Litster was wiping the 
woad from his arms, as who would have to stain 
them red again, but not with grain or madder ; 
and that the valiant tiler of Dartford had smitten 
a poll-groat bailifF to death with his lath-rending 
axe for mishandling a young maid, his daughter; 
and that the men of Kent were on the move. 

Now, knowing all this I was not astonished 
that they shouted at the thought of their fellows 
the men of Essex, but rather that they said little 
more about it ; only Will Green saying quietly, 
* Well, the tidings shall be told when our fellow- 
ship is greater; fall-to now on the meat, brother, 
that we may the sooner have thy tale.* As he 
spoke the blue-clad damsel bestirred herself and 
brought me a clean trencher — that is, a square 
piece of thin oak board scraped clean — and a 
pewter pot of liquor. So without more ado, and 
as one used to it, I drew my knife out of my 
girdle and cut myself what I would of the flesh 
and bread on the table. But Will Green mocked 
at me as I cut, and said, * Certes, brother, thou 

i8 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

hast not been a lord's carver, though but for thy 
word thou mightest have been his reader. Hast 
thou seen Oxford, scholar ? * 

A vision of grey-roofed houses and a long 
winding street and the sound of many bells came 
over me at that word as I nodded * Yes ' to him, 
my mouth full of salt pork and rye-bread ; and 
then I lifted my pot and we made the clattering 
mugs kiss and I drank, and the fire of the good 
Kentish mead ran through my veins and deep- 
ened my dream of things past, present, and to 
come, as I said : * Now hearken a tale, since ye 
will have it so. For last autumn I was in Suffolk 
at the good town of Dunwich, and thither came 
the keels from Iceland, and on them were some 
men of Iceland, and many a tale they had on their 
tongues; and with these men I foregathered, 
for I am in sooth a gatherer of tales, and this 
that is now at my tongue's end is one of them.' 

So such a tale I told them, long familiar to me; 
but as I told it the words seemed to quicken 
and grow, so that I knew not the sound of my 
own voice, and they ran almost into rhyme and 

19 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

measure as I told it ; and when I had done 
there was silence awhile, till one man spake, but 
not loudly : 

* Yea, in that land was the summer short and 
the winter long ; but men lived both summer 
and winter ; and if the trees grew ill and the 
corn throve not, yet did the plant called man 
thrive and do well. God send us such men even 
here.' 

* Nay,' said another, ' such men have been and 
will be, and belike are not far from this samedoor 
even now.' 

' Yea,' said a third, ' hearken a stave of Robin 
Hood ; maybe that shall hasten the coming of 
one I wot of.' And he fell to singing in a clear 
voice, for he was a young man, and to a sweet 
wild melody, one of those ballads which in an 
incomplete and degraded form you have read 
perhaps. My heart rose high as I heard him, 
for it was concerning the struggle against tyr- 
rany for the freedom of life, how that the wild 
wood and the heath, despite of wind and weather, 
were better for a free man than the court and 

20 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the cheaping-town ; of the taking from the rich 
to give to the poor ; of the life of a man doing 
his own will and not the will of another man 
commanding him for the commandment's sake. 
The men all listened eagerly, and at whiles took 
up as a refrain a couplet at the end of a stanza 
with their strong and rough, but not unmusical 
voices. As they sang, a picture of the wild-woods 
passed by me, as they were indeed, no park-like 
dainty glades and lawns, but rough and tangled 
thicket and bare waste and heath, solemn under 
the morning sun, and dreary with the rising of 
the evening wind and the drift of the night-long 
rain. 

When he had done, another began in some- 
thing of the same strain, but singing more of a 
song than a story ballad ; and thus much I re- 
member of it : 

The Sheriff' is made a mighty lordy 

Of goodly gold he hath enowj 
And many a sergeant girt with sword ; 
But forth will we and bend the bow. 
We shall bend the bow on the lily lea 
Betwixt the thorn and the oaken tree, 

21 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

JVith stone and lime is the Burg wall buUt^ 
And pit and prison are stark and strongs 
And many a true man there is spilty 

And many a right man doomed by wrong. 
So forth shall we and bend the bow 
And the hin^s writ never the road shall know. 

Now yeomen walk ye warily ^ 

And heed ye the houses where ye go^ 
For as fair and as fine as they may be^ 
Lest behind your heels the door clap to* 
Fare forth with the bow to the lily lea 
Betwixt the thorn and the oaken tree. 

Now bills and bows I and out a^gate I 

And turn about on the lUy lea ! 
And though their company be great 
The grey^goose nving shall set us free. 
Now bent is the bow in the green abode 
And the king*s writ knoweth not the road. 

So over the mead and over the hithcy 

And away to the wild'wood wend we forth $ 
There dwell we yeomen bold and blithe 

Where the Sheriff* s word is nought of worth. 
Bent is the bow on the lily lea 
Betwixt the thorn and the oaken tree. 

But here the song dropped suddenly, and one 
of the men held up his hand as who would say, 
Hist ! Then through the open window came 

22 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the sound of another song, gradually swelling as 
though sung by men on the march. This time 
the melody was a piece of the plain-song of the 
church, familiar enough to me to bring back to 
my mind the great arches of some cathedral in 
France and the canons singing in the choir. 

All leapt up and hurried to take their bows 
from wall and corner ; and some had bucklers 
withal, circles of leather, boiled and then mould- 
ed into shape and hardened : these were some 
two hand-breadths across, with iron or brass bos- 
ses in the centre. Will Green went to the cor- 
ner where the bills leaned against the wall and 
handed them round to the first comers as far as 
they would go, and out we all went gravely and 
quietly into the village street and the fair sun- 
light of the calm afternoon, now beginning to 
turn towards evening. None had said anything 
since we first heard the new-come singing, save 
that as we went out of the door the ballad-singer 
clapped me on the shoulder and said : 

* Was it not sooth that I said, brother, that 
Robin Hood should bring us John Ball ? ' 

23 



CHAPTER III 

THEY MEET AT THE CROSS 

THE Street was pretty full of men by then 
we were out in it, and all faces turned 
toward the cross. The song still grew nearer 
and louder, and even as we looked we saw it 
turning the corner through the hedges of the 
orchards and closes, a good clump of men, more 
armed, as it would seem, then our villagers, as 
the low sun flashed back from many points of 
bright iron and steel. The words of the song 
could now be heard, and amidst them I could 
pick out Will Green's late challenge to me and 
my answer ; but as I was bending all my mind 
to disentangle more words from the music, 
suddenly from the new white tower behind us 
clashed out the church bells, harsh and hurried 
at first, but presently falling into measured chime; 

24. 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

and at the first sound of them a great shout went 
up from us and was echoed by the new-comers, 
* John Ball hath rung our bell ! ' Then we 
pressed on, and presently we were all mingled 
together at the cross. 

Will Green had good-naturedly thrust and 
pulled me forward, so that I found myself stand- 
ing on the lowest step of the cross, his seventy- 
two inches of man on one side of me. He 
chuckled while I panted, and said : 

* There's for thee a good hearing and seeing 
stead, old lad. Thou art tall across thy belly 
and not otherwise, and thy wind, belike, is none 
of the best, and but for me thou wouldst have 
been amidst the thickest of the throng, and have 
heard words muffled by Kentish bellies and seen 
little but swinky woollen elbows and greasy plates 
and jacks. Look no more on the ground, as 
though thou sawest a hare, but let thine eyes and 
thine ears be busy to gather tidings to bear back 
to Essex — or heaven ! ' 

I grinned good-fellowship at him but said 
nothing, for in truth my eyes and ears were as 

25 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

busy as he would have them to be. A buzz of 
general talk went up from the throng amidst the 
regular cadence of the bells, which now seemed 
far away and as it were that they were not 
swayed by hands, but were living creatures mak- 
ing that noise of their own wills. 

I looked around and saw that the new-com- 
ers mingled with us must have been a regular 
armed band ; all had bucklers slung at their 
backs, few lacked a sword at the side. Some 
had bows, some * staves ' — that is, bills, pole- 
axes, or pikes. Moreover, unlike our villagers, 
they had defensive arms. Most had steel-caps on 
their heads, and some had body armour, gener- 
ally a * jack,' or coat into which pieces of iron 
or horn were quilted ; some had also steel or 
steel-and-leather arm or thigh pieces. There 
were a few mounted men among them, their 
horses being big-boned hammer-headed beasts, 
that looked as if they had been taken from 
plough or waggon, but their riders were well 
armed with steel armour on their heads, legs, 
and arms. Amongst the horsemen I noted the 

26 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

man that had ridden past me when I first awoke ; 
but he seemed to be a prisoner, as he had a 
woollen hood on his head instead of his helmet, 
and carried neither bill, sword, nor dagger. He 
seemed by no means ill-at-ease, however, but was 
laughing and talking with the men who stood 
near him. 

Above the heads of the crowd, and now slowly 
working towards the cross, was a banner on a 
high-raised cross-pole, a picture of a man and 
woman half-clad in skins of beasts seen against 
a back-ground of green trees, the man holding 
a spade and the woman a distaff and spindle 
rudely done enough, but yet with a certain spirit 
and much meaning ; and underneath this symbol 
of the earlv world and man's first contest with 
nature were the written words : 

* IVlfen Adam delved and Eve span^ 
Who was then the gentleman ? ' 

The banner came on and through the crowd, 
which at last opened where we stood for its pas- 
sage, and the banner-bearer turned and faced 

27 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the throng and stood on the first step of the cross 
beside me. 

A man followed him, clad in a long dark- 
brown gown of coarse woollen, girt with a cord, 
to which hung a ' pair of beads ' (or rosary, as 
we should call it to-day) and a book in a bag. 
The man was tall and big-boned, a ring of dark 
hair surrounded his priest's tonsure ; his nose 
was big but clear cut and with wide nostrils ; his 
shaven face showed a longish upper lip and a big 
but blunt chin ; his mouth was big and the lips 
closed firmly ; a face not very noteworthy but 
for his grey eyes well opened and wide apart, at 
whiles lighting up his whole face with a kindly 
smile, at whiles set and stern, at whiles resting 
in that look as if they were gazing at something 
a long way off, which is the wont of the eyes of 
the poet or enthusiast. 

He went slowly up the steps of the cross and 
stood at the top with one hand laid on the shaft, 
and shout upon shout broke forth from the 
throng. When the shouting died away into a 
silence of the human voices, the bells were still 

28 



f 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

quietly chiming with that far-away voice of theirs, 
and the long-winged dusky swifts, by no means 
scared by the concourse, swung round about the 
cross with their wild squeals ; and the man stood 
still for a little, eyeing the throng, or rather 
looking first at one and then another man in it, 
as though he were trying to think what such an 
one was thinking of, or what he were fit for. 
Sometimes he caught the eye of one or other, 
and then that kindly smile spread over his face, 
but faded off it into the sternness and sadness of 
a man who has heavy and great thoughts hang- 
ing about him. 

But when John Ball first mounted the steps 
of the cross a lad at some one's bidding had run 
oflF to stop the ringers, and so presently the voice 
of the bells fell dead, leaving on men's minds 
that sense of blankness or even disappointment 
which is always caused by the sudden stopping of 
a sound one has got used to and found pleasant. 
But a great expectation had fallen by now on all 
that throng, and no word was spoken even in a 
whisper, and all men's hearts and eyes were fixed 

29 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

upon the dark figure standing straight up now 
by the tall white shaft of the cross, his hands 
stretched out before him, one palm laid upon 
the other. And for me, as I made ready to 
hearken, I felt a joy in my soul that I had never 
yet felt. 



30 



CHAPTER IV 

THE VOICE OF JOHN BALL 

SO now I heard John Ball ; how he lifted up 
his voice and said : 

* Ho, all ye good people ! I am a priest of 
God, and in my day's work it cometh that I 
should tell you what ye should do, and what ye 
should forbear doing, and to that end I am come 
hither : yet first, if I myself have wronged any 
man here, let him say wherein my wrongdoing 
lieth, that I may ask his pardon and his pity.' 

A great hum of good-will ran through the 
crowd as he spoke ; then he smiled as in a kind 
of pride, and again he spoke : 

' Wherefore did ye take me out of the arch- 
bishop's prison but three days agone, when ye 
lighted the archbishop's house for the candle of 
Canterbury, but that I might speak to you and 

31 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

pray you : therefore I will not keep silence, 
whether I have done ill, or whether I have done 
well. And herein, good fellows and my very 
brethren, I would have you to follow me ; and if 
there be such here, as I know full well there be 
some, and may be a good many, who have been 
robbers of their neighbours (" And who is my 
neighbour ? " quoth the rich man), or lechers, 
or despiteful haters, or talebearers, or fawners on 
rich men for the hurt of the poor (and that is the 
worst of all) — Ah, my poor brethren who have 
gone astray, I say not to you, go home and repent 
lest you mar our great deeds, but rather come 
afield and there repent. Many a day have ye 
been fools, but hearken unto me and I shall make 
you wise above the wisdom of the earth ;^ and if 
ye die in your wisdom, as God wot ye well may, 
since the fields ye wend to bear swords for daisies, 
and spears for bents, then shall ye be, though 
men call you dead, a part and parcel of the living 
wisdom of all things, very stones of the pillars 
that uphold the joyful earth. 

* Forsooth, ye have heard it said that ye shall 

32 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

do well in this world that in the world to come 
ye may live happily for ever ; do ye well then, 
and have yoiir reward both on earth and in hea- 
ven ; for I say to you that earth and heaven are 
not two but one ; and this one is that which 
ye know, and are each one of you a part of, to 
wit, the Holy Church, and in each one of you 
dwelleth the life of the Church, unless ye slay it. 
Forsooth, brethren, will ye murder the Church 
any one of you, and go forth a wandering man 
and lonely, even as Cain did who slew his brother? 
Ah, my brothers, what an evil doom is this, to 
be an outcast from the Church, to have none to 
love you and to speak with you, to be without 
fellowship! Forsooth, brothers, fellowship is 
heaven, and lack of fellowship is hell : fellowship 
is life, and lack of fellowship is death : and the 
deeds that ye do upon the earth, it is for fellow- 
ship's sake that ye do them, and the life that is 
in it, that shall live on and on for ever, and each 
one of' you part of it, while many a man's life 
upon the earth from the earth shall wane, 
* Therefore, I bid you not dwell in hell but in 

33 c 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

heaven, or while ye must, upon earth, which is a 
part of heaven, and forsooth no foul part. 

* Forsooth, he that waketh in hell and feeleth 
his heart fail him, shall have memory of the 
merry days of earth, and how that when his heart 
failed him there, he cried on his fellow, were it 
his wife or his son or his brother or his gossip 
or his brother sworn in arms, and how that his 
fellow heard him and came and they mourned 
together under the sun, till again they laughed 
together and were but half sorry between them. 
This shall he think on in hell, and cry on his 
fellow to help him, and shall find that therein 
is no help because there is no fellowship, but 
every man for himself. Therefore, I tell you 
that the proud, despiteous rich man, though he 
knoweth it not, is in hell already, because he 
hath no fellow ; and he that hath so hardy a 
heart that in sorrow he thinketh of fellowship, 
his sorrow is soon but a story of sorrow — z, little 
change in the life that knows not ill.* 

He left off for a little ; and indeed for some 
time his voice had fallen, but it was so clear 

34 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

and the summer evening so soft and still, and 
the silence of the folk so complete, that every 
word told. His eyes fell down to the crowd as 
he stopped speaking, since for some little while 
they had been looking far away into the blue dis- 
tance of summer ; and the kind eyes of the man 
had a curious sight before him in that crowd, for 
amongst them were many who by this time were 
not dry-eyed, and some wept outright in spite of 
their black beards, while all had that look as if 
they were ashamed of themselves, and did not 
want others to see how deeply they were moved, 
after the fashion of their race when they are 
strongly stirred. I looked at Will Green beside 
me : his right hand clutched his bow so tight, 
that the knuckles whitened; he was staring 
straight before him, and the tears were running 
out of his eyes and down his big nose as though 
without his will, for his face was stolid and un- 
moved all the time, till he caught my eye, and 
then he screwed up the strangest face, of scowl- 
ing brow, weeping eyes, and smiling mouth, while 
he dealt me a sounding thump in the ribs with 

35 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

his left elbow, which, though it would have 
knocked me down but for the crowd, I took 
as an esquire does the accolade which makes a 
knight of him. 

But while I pondered all these things, and how 
men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that 
they fought for comes about in spite of their de- 
feat, and when it comes turns out not to be what 
they meant, and other men have to fight for 
what they meant under another name — while 
I pondered all this, John Ball began to speak 
again in the same soft and clear voice with which 
he had left off. 

*Good fellows, it was your fellowship and 
your kindness that took me out of the arch- 
bishop's prison three days agone, though God 
wot ye had nought to gain by it save outlawry 
and the gallows ; yet lacked I not your fellow- 
ship before ye drew near me in the body, and 
when between me and Canterbury street was yet 
a strong wall, and the turnkeys and sergeants 
and bailiffs. 

* For hearken, my friends and helpers ; many 

36 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

days ago, when April was yet young, I lay there, 
and the heart that I had strung up to bear all 
things because of the fellowship of men and the 
blessed saints and the angels and those that are, 
and those that are to be, this heart, that I had 
strung up like a strong bow, fell into feebleness, 
so that I lay there a-longing for the green fields 
and the white-thorn bushes and the lark sing- 
ing over the corn, and the talk of good fellows 
round the ale-house bench, and the babble of the 
little children, and the team on the road and 
the beasts afield, and all the life of earth ; and I 
alone all the while, near my foes and afar from 
my friends, mocked and flouted and starved with 
cold and hunger; and so weak was my heart 
that though I longed for all these things yet I 
saw them not, nor knew them but as names ; 
and I longed so sore to be gone that I chided 
myself that I had once done well ; and I said to 
myself : 

* Forsooth, hadst thou kept thy tongue be- 
tween thy teeth thou mightest have been some- 
thing, if it had been but a parson of a town, 

37 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

and comfortable to many a poor man ; and then 
mightest thou have clad here and there the 
naked back, and filled the empty belly, and hol- 
pen many, and men would have spoken well of 
thee, and of thyself thou hadst thought well ; 
and all this hast thou lost for lack of a word 
here and there to some great man, and a little 
winking of the eyes amidst murder and wrong 
and unruth ; and now thou art nought and help- 
less, and the hemp for thee is sown and grown 
and heckled and spun, and lo there, the rope for 
thy gallows-tree ! — all for nought, for nought. 

*Forsooth, my friends, thus I thought and sor- 
rowed in my feebleness that I had not been a 
traitor to the Fellowship of the Church, for e en 
so evil was my foolish imagination. 

* Yet, forsooth, as I fell a pondering over all 
the comfort and help that I might have been 
and that I might have had, if I had been but a 
little of a trembling cur to creep and crawl before 
abbot and bishop and baron and bailiff, came the 
thought over me of the evil of the world where- 
with I, John Ball, the rascal hedge-priest, had 

38 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

fought and striven in the Fellowship of the 
saints in heaven and poor men upon earth. 

* Yea, forsooth, once again I saw as of old, the 
great treading down the little, and the strong 
beating down the weak, and cruel men fearing 
not, and kind men daring not, and wise men 
caring not ; and the saints in heaven forbearing 
and yet bidding me not to forbear ; forsooth, I 
knew once more that he who doeth well in fel- 
lowship, and because of fellowship, shall not fail 
though he seem to fail to-day, but in days here- 
after shall he and his work yet be alive, and men 
be holpen by them to strive again and yet again ; 
and yet indeed even that was little, since, for- 
sooth, to strive was my pleasure and my life. 

* So I became a man once more, and I rose up 
to my feet and went up and down my prison 
what I could for my hopples, and into my mouth 
came words of good cheer, even such as we to- 
day have sung, and stoutly I sang them, even as 
we now have sung them ; and then did I rest 
me, and once more thought of those pleasant 
fields where I would be, and all the life of man 

39 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

and beast about them, and I said to myself that 
I should see them once more before I died, if 
but once it were. 

* Forsooth, this was strange, that whereas before 
I longed for them and yet saw them not, now that 
my longing was slaked my vision was cleared, and 
I saw them as though the prison walls opened 
to me and I was out of Canterbury street and 
amidst the green meadows of April ; and there- 
withal along with me folk that I have known 
and who are dead, and folk that are living ; yea, 
and all those of the Fellowship on earth and in 
heaven ; yea, and all that are here this day. Over- 
long were the tale to tell of them, and of the 
time that is gone. 

* So thenceforward I wore through the days 
with no such faint heart, until one day the prison 
opened verily and in the daylight, and there were 
ye, my fellows, in the door — your faces glad, 
your hearts light with hope, and your hands heavy 
with wrath; then I saw and understood what 
was to do. Now, therefore, do ye understand 
it!' 

40 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

His voice was changed, and grew louder than 
loud now, as he cast his hands abroad towards 
that company with those last words of his ; and 
I could feel that all shame and fear was falling 
from those men, and that mere fiery manhood 
was shining through their wonted English shame- 
fast stubbornness, and that they were moved 
indeed and saw the road before them. Yet no 
man spoke, rather the silence of the menfolk 
deepened, as the sun's rays grew more level and 
more golden, and the swifts wheeled about shril- 
ler and louder than before. 

Then again John Ball spoke and said, *In good 
sooth, I deem ye wot no worse than I do what 
is to do — and first that somewhat we shall do — 
since it is for him that is lonely or in prison to 
dream of fellowship, but for him that is of a 
fellowship to do and not to dream. 

* And next, ye know who is the foeman, and 
that is the proud man, the oppressor, who scorn- 
eth fellowship, and himself is a world to himself 
and needeth no helper nor helpeth any, but, 
heeding no law, layeth law on other men because 

41 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

he is rich ; and surely every one that is rich is 
such an one, nor may be other. 

* Forsooth, in the belly of every rich man 
dwelleth a devil of hell, and when the man would 
give his goods to the poor, the devil within him 
gainsayeth it, and saith, " Wilt thou then be of 
the poor, and suffer cold and hunger and mock- 
ing as they suffer, then give thou thy goods to 
them, and keep them not." And when he would 
be compassionate, again saith the devil to him, 
" If thou heed these losels and turn on them a 
face like to their faces, and deem of them as 
men, then shall they scorn thee, and evil shall 
come of it, and even one day they shall fall on 
thee to slay thee when they have learned that 
thou art but as they be." 

* Ah, woe worth the while ! too oft he sayeth 
sooth, as the wont of the devil is, that lies may 
be born of the barren truth ; and sooth it is 
that the poor deemeth the rich to be other than 
he, and meet to be his master, as though, for- 
sooth, the poor were come of Adam, and the 
rich of him that made Adam, that is God ; and 

42 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

thus the poor man oppresseth the poor man, 
because he feareth the oppressor. Nought such 
are ye, my brethren ; or else why are ye gathered 
here in harness to bid all bear witness of you 
that ye are the sons of one man and one mother, 
begotten of the earth ? * 

As he said the words there came a stir among 
the weapons of the throng, and they pressed 
closer round the cross, yet withheld the shout as 
yet which seemed gathering in their bosoms. 

And again he said : 

* Forsooth, too many rich men there are in 
this realm ; and yet if there were but one, there 
would be one too many, for all should be his 
thralls. Hearken, then, ye men of Kent. For 
overlong belike have I held you with words ; but 
the love of you constrained me, and the joy that a 
man hath to babble to his friends and his fellows 
whom he hath not seen for a long season. 

* Now, hearken, I bid you : To the rich men 
that eat up a realm there cometh a time when 
they whom they eat up, that is the poor, seem 
poorer than of wont, and their complaint goeth 

43 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

up louder to the heavens ; yet it is no riddle to 
say that oft at such times the fellowship of the 
poor is waxing stronger, else would no man have 
heard his cry. Also at such times is the rich 
man become fearful, and so waxeth in cruelty, 
and of that cruelty do people misdeem that it 
is power and might waxing. Forsooth, ye are 
stronger than your fathers, because ye are more 
grieved than they, and ye should have been less 
grieved than they had ye been horses and swine ; 
and then, forsooth, would ye have been stronger to ' 
bear ; but ye, ye are not strong to bear, but to do. , 

' And wot ye why we are come to you this fair 
eve of holiday ? and wot ye why I have been 
telling of fellowship to you ? Yea, forsooth, I 
deem ye wot well, that it is for this cause, that 
ye might bethink you of your fellowship with 
the men of Essex.' 

His last word let loose the shout that had 
been long on all men's lips, and great and fierce 
it was as it rang shattering through the quiet up- 
land village. But John Ball held up his hand, 
and the shout was one and no more. 

44 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

Then he spoke again : 

* Men of Kent, I wot well that ye are not so 
hard bested as those of other shires, by the token 
of the day when behind the screen of leafy 
boughs ye met Duke William with bill and bow 
as he wended Londonward from that woeful 
field of Senlac ; but I have told of fellowship, 
and ye have hearkened and understood what the 
Holy Church is, whereby ye know that ye are 
fellows of the saints in heaven and the poor men 
of Essex ; and as one day the saints shall call 
you to the heavenly feast, so now do the poor 
men call you to the battle. 

* Men of Kent, ye dwell fairly here, and your 
houses are framed of stout oak beams, and your 
own lands ye till ; unless some accursed lawyer 
with his false lying sheep-skin and forged custom 
of the Devil's Manor hath stolen it from you ; 
but in Essex slaves they be and villeins, and 
worse they shall be, and the lords swear that ere 
a year be over ox and horse shall go free in 
Essex, and man and woman shall draw the team 
and the plough ; and north away in the east 

45 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

countries dwell men in poor halls of wattled 
reeds and mud, and the north-east wind from 
off the fen whistles through them ; and poor 
they be to the letter ; and there him whom the 
lord spareth, the bailiff squeezeth, and him whom 
the bailiff forgetteth, the Easterling Chapman 
sheareth ; yet be these stout men and valiant, 
and your very brethren. 

* And yet if there be any man here so base as 
to think that a small matter, let him look to it 
that if these necks abide under the yoke, Kent 
shall sweat for it ere it be long ; and ye shall lose 
acre and close and woodland, and be servants 
in your own houses, and your sons shall be the 
lords' lads, and your daughters their lemans, and 
ye shall buy a bold word with many stripes, and 
an honest deed with a leap from the gallows-tree. 

* Bethink ye, too, that ye have no longer to 
deal with Duke William, who, if he were a thief 
and a cruel lord, was yet a prudent man and a 
wise warrior; but cruel are these, and head- 
strong, yea, thieves and fools in one — and ye 
shall lay their heads in the dust.' 

46 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

A shout would have arisen again, but his 
eager voice rising higher yet, restrained it as he 
said: 

*And how shall it be then when these are 
gone ? What else shall ye lack when ye lack 
masters ? Ye shall not lack for the fields ye have 
tilled, nor the houses ye have built, nor the cloth 
ye have woven ; all these shall be yours, and 
whatso ye will of all that the earth beareth ; then 
shall no man mow the deep grass for another, 
while his own kine lack cow-meat ; and he that 
soweth shall reap, and the reaper shall eat in 
fellowship the harvest that in fellowship he hath 
won ; and he that buildeth a house shall dwell 
in it with those that he biddeth of his free will ; 
and the tithe barn shall garner the wheat for all 
men to eat of when the seasons are untoward, 
and the rain-drift hideth the sheaves in August ; 
and all shall be without money and without price. 
Faithfully and merrily then shall all men keep 
the holidays of the Church in peace of body and 
joy of heart. And man shall help man, and the 
saints in heaven shall be glad, because men no 

47 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

more fear each other ; and the churl shall be 
ashamed, and shall hide his churlishness till it 
be gone, and he be no more a churl ; and fellow- 
ship shall be established in heaven and on the 
earth.' 



48 



CHAPTER V 

THEY HEAR TIDINGS OF BATTLE AND 
MAKE THEM READY 

HE left ofF as one who had yet something 
else to say; and, indeed, I thought he 
would give us some word as to the trysting-place, 
and whither the army was to go from it ; be- 
cause it was now clear to me that this gathering 
was but a band of an army. But much happened 
before John Ball spoke again from the cross, and 
it was on this wise. 

When there was silence after the last shout 
that the crowd had raised a while ago, I thought 
I heard a thin sharp noise far away, somewhat 
to the north of the cross, which I took rather for 
the sound of a trumpet or horn, than for the 
voice of a man or any beast. Will Green also 
seemed to have heard it, for he turned his head 

49 D 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

sharply and then back again, and looked keenly 
into the crowd as though seeking to catch some 
one's eye. There was a very tall man standing 
by the prisoner on the horse near the outskirts 
of the crowd, and holding his bridle. This man, 
who was well-armed, I saw look up and say 
something to the prisoner, who stooped down 
and seemed to whisper him in turn. The tall 
man nodded his head and the prisoner got off 
his horse, which was a cleaner-limbed, better* 
built beast than the others belonging to the 
band, and the tall man quietly led him a little 
way from the crowd, mounted him, and rode ofF 
northward at a smart pace. 

Will Green looked on sharply at all this, and 
when the man rode ofF, smiled as one who is 
content, and deems that all is going well, and 
settled himself down again to listen to the 
priest. 

But now when John Ball had ceased speaking, 
and after another shout, and a hum of excited 
pleasure and hope that followed it, there was 
silence again, and as the priest addressed himself 

50 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

to speaking once more, he paused and turned 
his head towards the wind, as if he heard some- 
thing, which certainly I heard, and belike every 
one in the throng, though it was not over-loud, 
far as sounds carry in clear quiet evenings. It 
was the thump-a-thump of a horse drawing near 
at a hand-gallop along the grassy upland road ; 
and I knew well it was the tall man coming back 
with tidings, the purport of which I could well 
guess. 

I looked up at Will Green's face. He was 
smiling as one pleased, and said softly as he 
nodded to me, * Yea, shall we see the grey-goose 
fly this eve ? ' 

But John Ball said in a great voice from the 
cross, * Hear ye the tidings on the way, fellows ! 
Hold ye together and look to your gear; yet 
hurry not, for no great matter shall this be. I 
wot well there is little force between Canterbury 
and Kingston, for the lords are looking north of 
Thames toward Wat Tyler and his men. Yet 
well it is, well it is ! ' 

The crowd opened and spread out a little, and 

51 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the men moved about in it, some tightening a 
girdle, some getting their side arms more within 
reach of their right hands, and those who had 
bows stringing them. 

Will Green set hand and foot to the great 
shapely piece of polished red yew, with its shining 
horn tips, which he carried, and bent it with no 
seeming effort ; then he reached out his hand 
over his shoulder and drew out a long arrow, 
smooth, white, beautifully balanced, with a 
barbed iron head at one end, a horn nock and 
three strong goose feathers at the other. He 
held it loosely between the finger and thumb 
of his right hand, and there he stood with a 
thoughtful look on his face, and in his hands 
one of the most terrible weapons which a strong 
man has ever carried, the English long-bow and 
cloth-yard shaft. 

But all this while the sound of the horse's 
hoofs was growing nearer, and presently from the 
corner of the road amidst the orchards broke out 
our long friend, his face red in the sun near sink- 
ing now. He waved his right hand as he came 

52 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

in sight of us, and sang out, * Bills and bows ! 
bills and bows ! ' and the whole throng turned 
towards him and raised a great shout. 

He reined up at the edge of the throng, and 
spoke in a loud voice, so that all might hear 
him : 

* Fellows, these are the tidings ; even while our 
priest was speaking we heard a horn blow far 
off; so I bade the sergeant we have taken, and 
who is now our fellow-in-arms, to tell me where 
away it was that there would be folk a-^ather- 
ing, and what they were ; and he did me to wit 
that mayhappen Sir John Newton was stirring 
from Rochester Castle ; or, maybe, it was the 
sheriff and Rafe Hopton with him ; so I rode 
off what I might towards Hartlip, and I rode 
warily, and that was well, for as I came through 
a little wood between Hartlip and Guildstead, I 
saw beyond it a gleam of steel, and lo in the field 
there a company, and a pennon of Rafe Hop- 
ton's arms, and that is blue and thereon three 
silver fish : and a pennon of the sherifFs arms, 
and that is a green tree ; and withal another pen- 

53 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

non of three red kine, and whose they be I know 
not.^ 

* There tied I my horse in the middle of the 
wood, and myself I crept along the dyke to see 
more and to hear somewhat ; and no talk I heard 
to tell of save at whiles a big knight talking to 
five or six others, and saying somewhat, wherein 
came the words London and Nicholas Bramber, 
and King Richard ; but I saw that of men-at- 
arms and sergeants there might be a hundred, 
and of bows not many, but of those outland ar- 
balests maybe a fifty ; and so, what with one and 
another of servants and tipstaves and lads, some 
three hundred, well armed, and the men-at-arms 
of the best. Forsooth, my masters, there had I 
been but a minute, ere the big knight broke ofF 
his talk, and cried out to the music to blow up, 
"And let us go look on these villeins," said he ; 
and withal the men began to gather in a due and 
ordered company, and their faces turned hither- 
ward ; forsooth, I got to my horse, and led him 

* Probably one of the Calveriys, a Cheshire femiiy, one of 
whom was a noted captain in the French wars. 

54 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

out of the wood on the other side, and so to 
saddle and away along the green roads ; neither 
was I seen or chased. So look ye to it, my mas- 
ters, for these men will be coming to speak with 
us ; nor is there need for haste, but rather for 
good speed ; for in some twenty or thirty minutes 
will be more tidings to hand/ 

By this time one of our best-armed men had 
got through the throng and was standing on the 
cross beside John Ball. When the long man had 
done, there was confused noise of talk for a 
while, and the throng spread itself out more and 
more, but not in a disorderly manner ; the bow- 
men drawing together toward the outside, and 
the billmen forming behind them. Will Green 
was still standing beside me and had hold of my 
arm, as though he knew both where he and I 
were to go. 

* Fellows,' quoth the captain from the cross, 
' belike this stour shall not live to be older than 
the day, if ye get not into a plump together for 
their arbalestiers to shoot bolts into, and their 
men-at-arms to thrust spears into. Get you to 

55 



1 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the edge of the crofts and spread out there six 
feet between man and man, and shoot, ye bow- 
men, from the hedges, and ye with the staves 
keep your heads below the level of the hedges, 
or else for all they be thick a bolt may win its 
way in/ 

He grinned as he said this, and there was 
laughter enough in the throng to have done 
honour to a better joke. 

Then he sung out, * Hob Wright, Rafe Wood, 
John Pargetter, and thou Will Green, bestir ye 
and marshal the bow-shot ; and thou Nicholas 
Woodyer shall be under me Jack Straw in or- 
dering of the staves. Gregory Tailor and John 
Clerk, fair and fine are ye clad in the arms of the 
Canterbury bailiff^ ; ye shall shine from afar ; 
go ye with the banner into the highway, and the 
bows on either side shall ward you ; yet jump,, 
lads, and over the hedge with you when the bolts 
begin to fly your way ! Take heed, good fel- 
lows all, that our business is to bestride the high- 
way, and not let them get in on our flank the 
while ; so half to the right, half to the left of 

56 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the highway. Shoot straight and strong, and 
waste no breath with noise ; let the loose of the 
bow-string cry for you ! and look you ! think it 
no loss of manhood to cover your bodies with 
tree and bush ; for one of us who know is worth 
a hundred of those proud fools. To it, lads, and 
let them see what the grey goose bears between 
his wings ! Abide us here, brother John Ball, 
and pray for us if thou wilt ; but for me, if God 
will not do for Jack Straw what Jack Straw 
would do for God were he in like case, I can see 
no help for it.' 

* Yea, forsooth,' said the priest, * here will I 
abide you my fellows if ye come back ; or if ye 
come not back, here will 1 abide the foe. De- 
part, and the blessing of the Fellowship be with 
you.' 

Down then leapt Jack Straw from the cross, 
and the whole throng set off without noise or 
hurry, soberly and steadily in outward seeming. 
Will Green led me by the hand as if I were a 
boy, yet nothing he said, being forsooth intent 
on his charge. We were some four hundred 

57 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

men in all ; but I said to myself that without 
some advantage of the ground we were lost 
men before the men-at-arms that long Gregory 
Tailor had told us of ; for I had not seen as yet 
the yard-long shaft at its work. 

We and somewhat more than half of our band 
turned into the orchards on the left of the road, 
through which the level rays of the low sun 
shone brightly. The others took up their posi- 
tion on the right side of it. We kept pretty 
near to the road till we had got through all the 
closes save the last, where we were brought up 
by a hedge and a dyke, beyond which lay a wide- 
open nearly treeless space, not of tillage, as at 
the other side of the place, but of pasture, the 
common grazing ground of the township. A 
little stream wound about through the ground, 
with a few willows here and there ; there was 
only a thread of water in it in this hot summer 
tide, but its course could easily be traced by the 
deep blue-green of the rushes that grew plen- 
teously in the bed. Geese were lazily wander- 
ing about and near this brook, and a herd of 

S8 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

cows, accompanied by the town bull, were feed- 
ing on quietly, their heads all turned one way ; 
while half a dozen calves marched close together 
side by side like a plump of soldiers, their tails 
swinging in a kind of measure to keep off the 
flies, of which there was great plenty. Three or 
four lads and girls were sauntering about, heed- 
ing or not heeding the cattle. They looked up 
toward us as we crowded into the last close, 
and slowly loitered off toward the village. No- 
thing looked like battle; yet battle sounded 
in the air ; for now we heard the beat of the 
horse-hoofs of the men-at-arms coming on to- 
wards us like the rolling of distant thunder, 
and growing louder and louder every minute ; 
we were none too soon in turning to face them. 
Jack Straw was on our side of the road, and with 
a few gestures and a word or two he got his men 
into their places. Six archers lined the hedge 
along the road where the banner of Adam and 
Eve, rising above the grey leaves of the apple- 
trees, challenged the new-comers; and of the 
billmen also he kept a good few ready to guard 

59 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the road in case the enemy should try to rush 
it with the horsemen. The road, not being a 
Roman one, was, you must remember, little like 
the firm smooth country roads that you are used 
to ; it was a mere track between the hedges and 
fields, partly grass grown, and cut up by the deep- 
sunk ruts hardened by the drought of summer. 
There was a stalk of fagot and small wood on 
the other side, and our men threw themselves 
upon it and set to work to stake the road across 
for a rough defence against the horsemen. 

What befell more on the road itself I had 
not much time to note, for our bowmen spread 
themselves out along the hedge that looked in- 
to the pasture-field, leaving some six feet be- 
tween man and man ; the rest of the billmen 
went along with the bowmen, and halted in 
clumps of some half-dozen along their line, hold- 
ing themselves ready to help the bowmen if the 
enemy should run up under their shafts, or to 
run on to lengthen the line in case they should 
try to break in on our flank. The hedge in 
front of us was of quick. It had been strongly 

60 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

plashed in the past February, and was stifF and 
stout. It stood on a low bank ; moreover, the 
level of the orchard was some thirty inches higher 
than that of the field, and the ditch some two 
foot deeper than the face of the field. The field 
went winding round to beyond the church, mak- 
ing a quarter of a circle about the village, and 
at the western end of it were the butts whence 
the folk were coming from shooting when I first 
came into the village street. 

Altogether, to me who knew nothing of war 
the place seemed defensible enough. I have said 
that the road down which Long Gregory came 
with his tidings went north; and that was its 
general direction ; but its first reach was nearly 
east, so that the low sun was not in the eyes of 
any of us, and where Will Green took his stand, 
and I with him, it was nearly at our backs. 



6i 



CHAPTER VI 

THE BATTLE AT THE TOWNSHIP's END 

/^UR men had got into their places leisurely 
^^ and coolly enough, and with no lack of 
jesting and laughter. As we went along the 
hedge by the road, the leaders tore off leafy twigs 
from the low oak bushes therein, and set them for 
a rallying sign in their hats and headpieces, and 
two or three of them had horns for blowing. 

Will Green, when he got into his place, which 
was some thirty yards from where Jack Straw 
and the billmen stood in the corner of the two 
hedges, the road hedge and the hedge between 
the close and field, looked to right and left of 
him a moment, then turned to the man on the 
left and said : 

'Look you, mate, when you hear our horns 
blow ask no more questions, but shoot straight 

62 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

and strong at whatso cometh towards us, till ye 
hear more tidings from Jack Straw or from me. 
Pass that word onward.* 

Then he looked at me and said : 

*Now, lad from Essex, thou hadst best sit 
down out of the way at once : forsooth I wot 
not why I brought thee hither. Wilt thou not 
back to the cross, for thou art little of a fighting- 
man ? * 

* Nay,' said I, * I would see the play. What 
shall come of it ? * 

* Little,* said he; *we shall slay a horse or 
twain maybe. I will tell thee, since thou hast 
not seen a fight belike, as I have seen some, 
that these men-at-arms cannot run fast either to 
the play or from it, if they be a-foot ; and if 
they come on a horseback, what shall hinder me 
to put a shaft into the poor beast ? But down 
with thee on the daisies, for some shot there will 
be first.* 

As he spoke he was pulling off his belts and 
other gear, and his coat, which done, he laid his 
quiver on the ground, girt him again, did his 

63 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

axe and buckler on to his girdle, and hung up 
his other attire on the nearest tree behind us. 
Then he opened his quiver and took out of it 
some two dozen of arrows, which he stuck in the 
ground beside him ready to his hand. Most of 
the bowmen within sight were doing the like. 

As I glanced toward the houses I saw three or 
four bright figures moving through the orchards, 
and presently noted that they were women, all 
clad more or less like the girl in the Rose, ex- 
cept that two of them wore white coifs on their 
heads. Their errand there was clear, for each 
carried a bundle of arrows under her arm. 

One of them came straight up to Will Green, 
and I could see at once that she was his daughter. 
She was tall and strongly made, with black hair 
like her father, somewhat comely, though no 
great beauty ; but as they met, her eyes smiled 
even more than her mouth, and made her face 
look very sweet and kind, and the smile was 
answered back in a way so quaintly like to her 
father's face, that I too smiled for goodwill and 
pleasure. 

64 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

* Well, well, lass,' said he, *dost thou think that 
here is Crecy field toward, that ye bring all this 
artillery ? Turn back, my girl, and set the pot 
on the fire ; for that shall we need when we come 
home, I and this ballad-maker here.* 

* Nay,* she said, nodding kindly at me, 'if this 
is to be no Crecy, then may I stop to see, as well 
as the ballad-maker, since he hath neither sword 
nor staff?* 

* Sweetling,* he said, * get thee home in haste. 
This play is but little, yet mightst thou be hurt 
in it ; and trust me the time may come, sweet- 
heart, when even thou and such as thou shalt 
hold a sword or a staff. Ere the moon throws 
a shadow we shall be back.* 

She turned away lingering, not without tears 
on her face, laid the sheaf of arrows at the foot 
of the tree, and hastened off through the orchard. 
I was going to say something, when Will Green 
held up his hand as who would bid us hearken. 
The noise of the horse-hoofs, after growing near- 
er and nearer, had ceased suddenly, and a con- 
fused murmur of voices had taken the place of it, 

65 £ 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

* Get thee down, and take cover, old lad,' said 
Will Green ; ' the dance will soon begin, and ye 
shall hear the music presently.* 

Sure enough as I slipped down by the hedge 
close to which I had been standing, I heard the 
harsh twang of the bowstrings, one, two, three, 
almost together, from the road, and even the 
whew of the shafts, though that was drowned in 
a moment by a confused but loud and threaten- 
ing shout from the other side, and again the 
bowstrings clanged, and this time a far-ofF clash 
of arms followed, and therewithal that cry of 
a strong man that comes without his will, and 
is so different from his wonted voice, that one 
has a guess thereby of the change that death 
is. Then for a while was almost silence ; nor 
did our horns blow up, though some half-dozen 
of the bill-men had leapt into the road when 
the bows first shot. But presently came a great 
blare of trumpets and horns from the other side, 
and therewith as it were a river of steel and 
bright coats poured into the field before us, and 
still their horns blew as they spread out toward 

66 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the left of our line ; the cattle in the pasture- 
field, heretofore feeding quietly, seemed fright- 
ened silly by the sudden noise, and ran about 
tail in air and lowing loudly ; the old bull with 
his head a little lowered, and his stubborn legs 
planted firmly, growling threateningly; while 
the geese about the brook waddled away gob- 
bling and squeaking; all which seemed so strange 
to us along with the threat of sudden death that 
rang out from the bright array over against us, 
that we laughed outright, the most of us, and 
Will Green put down his head in mockery of the 
bull and grunted like him, whereat we laughed 
yet more. He turned round to me as he nocked 
his arrow, and said : 

* I would they were just fifty paces nigher, 
and they move not. Ho ! Jack Straw, shall we 
shoot ? * 

For the latter-named was nigh us now ; he 
shook his head and said nothing as he stood 
looking at the enemy's line. 

' Fear not but they are the right folk, Jack,* 
quoth Will Green. 

67 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

* Yea, yea/ said he, * but abide awhile ; they 
could make nought of the highway, and two of 
their sergeants had a message from the grey- 
goose feather. Abide, for they have not crossed 
the road to our right hand, and belike have not 
seen our fellows on the other side, who are now 
for a bushment to them.* 

I looked hard at the man. He was a tall, wiry, 
and broad-shouldered fellow, clad in a hand- 
some armour of bright steel that certainly had 
not been made for a yeoman, but over it he had 
a common linen smock-frock or gabardine, like 
our field workmen wear now or used to wear, 
and in his helmet he carried instead of a feather 
a wisp of wheaten straw. He bore a heavy axe 
in his hand besides the sword he was girt with, 
and round his neck hung a great horn for blow- 
ing. I should say that I knew that there were at 
least three * Jack Straws ' among the fellowship 
of the discontented, one of whom was over in 
Essex. 

As we waited there, every bowman with his 
shaft nocked on the string, there was a move- 

68 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

ment in the line opposite, and presently came 
from it a little knot of three men, the middle 
one on horseback, the other two armed with 
long-handled glaives ; all three well muffled up 
in armour. As they came nearer I could see that 
the horseman had a tabard over his armour, gaily 
embroidered with a green tree on a gold ground, 
and in his hand a trumpet. 

* They are come to summon us. Wilt thou 
that he speak, Jack ? ' said Will Green. 

*Nay,' said the other; *yet shall he have 
warning first. Shoot when my horn blows ! * 

And therewith he came up to the hedge, 
climbed over, slowly because of his armour, and 
stood some dozen yards out in the field. The 
man on horseback put his trumpet to his mouth 
and blew a long blast, and then took a scroll 
into his hand and made as if he were going to 
read; but Jack Straw lifted up his voice and 
cried out : 

* Do it not, or thou art but dead ! We will 
have no accursed lawyers and their sheep-skins 
here ! Go back to those that sent thee * 

69 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

But the man broke in in a loud harsh voice : 

* Ho ! YE People ! what will ye gathering in 
arms ? * 

Then cried Jack Straw : 

' Sir Fool, hold your peace till ye have heard 
me, or else we shoot at once. Go back to those 
that sent thee, and tell them that we free men 
of Kent are on the way to London to speak with 
King Richard, and to tell him that which he 
wots not ; to wit, that there is a certain sort of 
fools and traitors to the realm who would put 
collars on our necks and make beasts of us, and 
that it is his right and his devoir to do as he 
swore when he was crowned and anointed at 
Westminster on the Stone of Doom, and gain- 
say these thieves and traitors ; and if he be too 
weak, then shall we help him ; and if he will not 
be king, then shall we have one who will be, and 
that is the King's Son of Heaven. Now, there- 
fore, if any withstand us on our lawful errand 
as we go to speak with our own king and lord^ 
let him look to it. Bear back this word to them 
that sent thee. But for thee, hearken, thou 

70 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

bastard of an inky sheep-skin ! get thee gone and 
tarry not ; three times shall I lift up my hand, 
and the third time look to thyself, for then shalt 
thou hear the loose of our bowstrings, and after 
that nought else till thou hearest the devil bid- 
ding the welcome to hell ! ' 

Our fellows shouted, but the summoner began 
again, yet in a quavering voice : 

* Ho ! YE People ! what will ye gathering 
in arms ? Wot ye not that ye are doing or shall 
do great harm, loss, and hurt to the king's 
lieges ' 

He stopped ; Jack Straw's hand was lowered 
for the second time. He looked to his men 
right and left, and then turned rein and turned 
tail, and scuttled back to the main body at his 
swiftest. Huge laughter rattled out all along 
our line as Jack Straw climbed back into the 
orchard grinning also. 

Then we noted more movement in the ene- 
my's line. They were spreading the archers and 
arbalestiers to our left, and the men-at-arms and 
others also spread somewhat under the three 

71 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

pennons of which Long Gregory had told us, 
and which were plain enough to us in the clear 
evening. Presently the moving line faced us, 
and the archers set off at a smart pace toward 
us, the men-at-arms holding back a little behind 
them. I knew now that they had been within 
bow-shot all along, but our men were loth to 
shoot before their first shots would tell, like 
those half-dozen in the road when, as they told 
me afterwards, a plump of their men-at-arms had 
made a show of falling on. 

But now as soon as those men began to move 
on us directly in face. Jack Straw put his horn 
to his lips and blew a loud rough blast that was 
echoed by five or six others along the orchard 
hedge. Every man had his shaft nocked on the 
string ; I watched them, and Will Green speci- 
ally ; he and his bow and its string seemed all 
of a piece, so easily by seeming did he draw the 
nock of the arrow to his ear. A moment, as he 
took his aim, and then — O then did I understand 
the meaning of the awe with which the ancient 
poet speaks of the loose of the god Apollo's bow ; 

72 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

for terrible indeed was the mingled sound of the 
twanging bowstring and the whirring shaft so 
close to me. 

I was now on my knees right in front of 
Will and saw all clearly ; the arbalestiers (for no 
long-bow men were over against our stead) had 
all of them bright headpieces, and stout body- 
armour of boiled leather with metal studs, and 
as they came towards us, I could see over their 
shoulders great wooden shields hanging at their 
backs. Further to our left their long-bow men 
had shot almost as soon as ours, and I heard or 
seemed to hear the rush of the arrows through 
the apple-boughs and a man's cry therewith ; but 
with us the long-bow had been before the cross- 
bow ; one of the arbalestiers fell outright, his 
great shield clattering down on him, and moved 
no more ; while three others w^ere hit and were 
crawling to the rear. The rest had shouldered 
their bows and were aiming, but I thought un- 
steadily; and before the triggers were drawn 
again Will Green had nocked and loosed, and not 
a few others of our folk ; then came the wooden 

73 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

hail of the bolts rattling through the boughs, 
but all overhead and no one hit. 

The next time Will Green nocked his arrow 
he drew with a great shout, which all our fellows 
took up; for the arbalestiers instead of turn- 
ing about in their places covered by their great 
shields and winding up their cross-bows for a se- 
cond shot, as is the custom of such soldiers, ran 
huddling together toward their men-at-arms, our 
arrows driving thump-thump into their shields 
as they ran : I saw four lying on the field dead 
or sore wounded. 

But our archers shouted again, and kept on 
each plucking the arrows from the ground, and 
nocking and loosing swiftly but deliberately at 
the line before them ; indeed now was the time 
for these terrible bowmen, for as Will Green 
told me afterwards they always reckoned to kill 
through cloth or leather at five hundred yards, 
and they had let the cross-bow men come nearly 
within three hundred, and these were now all 
mingled and muddled up with the men-at-arms 
at scant five hundred yards' distance ; and belike, 

74 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

too, the latter were not treating them too well, 
but seemed to be belabouring them with their 
spear-staves in their anger at the poorness of 
the play ; so that as Will Green said it was like 
shooting at hay-ricks. 

All this you must understand lasted but a few 
minutes, and when our men had been shooting 
quite coolly, like good workmen at peaceful 
work, for a few minutes more, the enemy's line 
seemed to clear somewhat ; the pennon with the 
three red kine showed in front and three men 
armed from head to foot in gleaming steel, ex- 
cept for their short coats bright with heraldry, 
were with it. One of them (and he bore the 
three kine on his coat) turned round and gave 
some word of command, and an angry shout 
went up from them, and they came on steadily 
towards us, the man with the red kine on his coat 
leading them, a great naked sword in his hand : 
you must note that they were all on foot ; but 
as they drew nearer I saw their horses led by 
grooms and pages coming on slowly behind them. 

Sooth said Will Green that the men-at-arms 

75 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

run not fast either to or fro the fray ; they came 
on no faster than a hasty walk, their arms clash- 
ing about them and the twang of the bows and 
whistle of the arrows never failing all the while, 
but going on like the push of the westerly gale, 
as from time to time the men-at-arms shouted, 
* Ha ! ha ! out ! out ! Kentish thieves ! * 

But when they began to fall on, Jack Straw 
shouted out, * Bills to the field ! bills to the 
field ! ' 

Then all our bill-men ran up and leapt over 
the hedge into the meadow and stood stoutly 
along the ditch under our bows. Jack Straw in the 
forefront handling his great axe. Then he cast it 
into his left hand, caught up his horn and winded 
it loudly. The men-at-arms drew near steadily, 
some fell under the arrow-storm, but not a many; 
for though the target was big, it was hard, since 
not even the cloth-yard shaft could pierce well- 
wrought armour of plate, and there was much ar- 
mour among them. Withal the arbalestiers were 
shooting again, but high and at a venture, so they 
did us no hurt. 

76 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

But as these soldiers made wise by the French 
war were now drawing near, and our bowmen 
were casting down their bows and drawing their 
short swords, or handling their axes, as did Will 
Green, muttering, * Now must Hob Wright's gear 
end this play ' — while this was a-doing, lo, on a 
sudden a flight of arrows from our right on the 
flank of the sergeants' array, which stayed them 
somewhat; not because it slew many men, but be- 
cause they began to bethink them that their foes 
were many and all around them ; then the road- 
hedge on the right seemed alive with armed men, 
for whatever could hold sword or staffs amongst 
us was there ; every bowman also leapt our or- 
chard-hedge sword or axe in hand, and with a 
great shout, bill-men, archers, and all, ran in on 
them ; half-armed, yea, and half-naked some of 
them ; strong and stout and lithe and light with- 
al, the wrath of battle and the hope of better 
times lifting up their hearts till nothing could 
withstand them. So was all mingled together, 
and for a minute or two was a confused clamour 
over which rose a clatter like the riveting of iron 

77 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

plates, or the noise of the street of coppersmiths 
at Florence ; then the throng burst open and the 
steel-clad sergeants and squires and knights ran 
huddling and shuffling towards their horses ; but 
some cast down their weapons and threw up their 
hands and cried for peace and ransom ; and some 
stood and fought desperately, and slew some till 
they were hammered down by many strokes, and 
of these were the bailiflfe and tipstaves, and the 
lawyers and their men, who could not run and 
hoped for no mercy. 

I looked as on a picture and wondered, and 
my mind was at strain to remember something 
forgotten, which yet had left its mark on it. I 
heard the noise of the horse-hoofs of the fleeing 
men-at-arms (the archers and arbalestiers had 
scattered before the last minutes of the play), I 
heard the confused sound of laughter and rejoic- 
ing down in the meadow, and close by me the 
evening wind lifting the lighter twigs of the trees, 
and far away the many noises of the quiet coun- 
try, till light and sound both began to fade from 
me and I saw and heard nothing. 

78 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

I leapt up to my feet presently and there was 
Will Green before me as I had first seen him in 
the street with coat and hood and the gear at his 
girdle and his unstrung bow in his hand ; his face 
smiling and kind again, but maybe a thought 
sad. 

* Well/ quoth I, * what is the tale for the bal- 
lad-maker ? ' 

'As Jack Straw said it would be,' said he,* " the 
end of the day and the end of the fray ; '" and 
he pointed to the brave show of the sky over the 
sunken sun ; * the knights fled and the sheriflF 
dead : two of the lawyer kind slain afield, and 
one hanged : and cruel was he to make them 
cruel : and three bailiffs knocked on the head — 
stout men, and so witless, that none found their 
brains in their skulls ; and five arbalestiers and 
one archer slain, and a score and a half of others, 
mostly men come back from the French wars, 
men of the Companions there, knowing no other 
craft than fighting for gold ; and this is the end 
they are paid for. Well, brother, saving the 
lawyers who belike had no souls, but only parch- 

79 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

ment deeds and libels of the same, God rest their 
souls ! ' 

He fell a-musing ; but I said, ' And of our 
Fellowship were any slain ? ' 

*Two good men of the township,' he said, 
* Hob Horner and Antony Webber, were slain 
outright. Hob with a shaft and Antony in the 
hand-play, and John Pargetter hurt very sore on 
the shoulder with a glaive ; and five more men 
of the Fellowship slain in the hand-play, and 
some few hurt, but not sorely. * And as to those 
slain, if God give their souls rest it is well ; for 
little rest they had on the earth belike ; but for 
me, I desire rest no more.' 

I looked at him and our eyes met with no little 
love ; and I wondered to see how wrath and grief 
within him were contending with the kindness 
of the man, and how clear the tokens of it were 
in his face. 

* Come now, old lad,' said he, * for I deem that 
John Ball and Jack Straw have a word to say to 
us at the cross yet, since these men broke off the 
telling of the tale ; there shall we know what we 

80 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

are to take in hand to-morrow. And afterwards 
thou shalt eat and drink in my house this once, 
if never again/ 

So we went through the orchard closes again ; 
and others were about and anigh us, all turned 
towards the cross as we went over the dewy grass, 
whereon the moon was just beginning to throw 
shadows. 



8i 



CHAPTER VII 

MORE WORDS AT THE CROSS 

I GOT into my old place again on the steps of 
the cross, Will Green beside me, and above 
me John Ball and Jack Straw again. The moon 
was half-way up the heavens now, and the short 
summer night had begun, calm and fragrant, 
with just so much noise outside our quiet circle 
as made one feel the world alive and happy. 

We waited silently until we had heard John 
Ball and the story of what was to do; and 
presently he began to speak : 

'Good people, it is begun, but not ended. 
Which of you is hardy enough to wend the road 
to London to-morrow ? ' 

' All ! All ! ' they shouted. 

* Yea,' said he, * even so I deemed of you. 
Yet forsooth hearken ! London is a great and 

82 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

grievous city; and mayhappen when ye come 
thither it shall seem to you over-great to deal 
with, when ye remember the little townships and 
the cots ye came from. 

* Moreover, when ye dwell here in Kent ye 
think forsooth of your brethren in Essex or Suf- 
folk, and there belike an end. But from Lon- 
don ye may have an inkling of all the world, and 
over-burdensome maybe shall that seem to you, 
a few and a feeble people. 

* Nevertheless I say to you, remember the 
Fellowship, in the hope of which ye have this 
day conquered ; and when ye come to London 
be wise and wary; and that is as much as to 
say, be bold and hardy ; for in these days are ye 
building a house which shall not be overthrown, 
and the world shall not be too great or too little 
to hold it : for indeed it shall be the world itself, 
set free from evil-doers for fntnds to dwell in.' 

He ceased awhile, but they hearkened still, 
as if something more was coming. Then he 
said : 

'To-morrow we shall take the road for Roches- 

83 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

ter ; and most like it were well to see what Sir 
John Newton in the castle may say to us : for 
the man is no ill man, and hath a tongue well- 
shapen for words ; and it were well that we had 
him out of the castle and away with us, and that 
we put a word in his mouth to say to the King. 
And wot ye well, good fellows, that by then we 
come to Rochester we shall be a goodly com- 
pany, and ere we come to Blackheath a very 
great company; and at London Bridge who shall 
stay our host ? 

' Therefore there is nought that can undo us 
except our own selves and our hearkening to 
soft words from those who would slay us. They 
shall bid us go home and abide peacefully with 
our wives and children while they, the lords and 
councillors and lawyers, imagine counsel and 
remedy for us ; and even so shall our own folly 
bid us ; and if we hearken thereto we are undone 
indeed ; for they shall fall upon our peace with 
war, and our wives and children they shall take 
from us, and some of us they shall hang, and 
some they shall scourge, and the others shall be 

84 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

their yoke-beasts — ^yea, and worse, for they shall 
lack meat more. 

* To fools hearken not, whether they be your- 
selves or your foemen, for either shall lead you 
astray. 

* With the lords parley not, for ye know al- 
ready what they would say to you, and that is, 
" Churl, let me bridle thee and saddle thee, and 
eat thy livelihood that thou winnest, and call 
thee hard names because I eat thee up ; and for 
thee, speak not and do not, save as I bid thee." 

' All that is the end of their parleying. 

' Therefore be ye bold, and again bold, and 
thrice bold! Grip the bow, handle the staff, 
draw the sword, and set on in the name of the 
Fellowship ! ' 

He ended amid loud shouts ; but straightway 
answering shouts were heard, and a great noise 
of the winding of horns, and I misdoubted a new 
onslaught ; and some of those in the throng be- 
gan to string their bows and handle their bills ; 
but Will Green pulled me by the sleeve and said : 

* Friends are these by the winding of their 

85 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

horns; thou art quit for this night, old lad.' 
And then Jack Straw cried out from the cross : 
* Fair and softly, my masters ! These be men 
of our Fellowship, and are for your guests this 
night; they are from the bents this side of 
Medway, and are with us here' because of the 
pilgrimage road, and that is the best in these 
parts, and so the shortest to Rochester. And 
doubt ye nothing of our being taken unawares 
this night; for I have bidden and sent out 
watchers of the ways, and neither a man's son 
nor a mare's son may come in on us without 
espial. Now make we our friends welcome. 
Forsooth, I looked for them an hour later ; and 
had they come an hour earlier yet, some heads 
would now lie on the cold grass which shall lie 
on a feather bed to-night. But let be, since all 
is well ! 

* Now get we home to our houses, and eat 
and drink and slumber this night, if never once 
again, amid the multitude of friends and fellows; 
and yet soberly and without riot, since so much 
work is to hand. Moreover the priest saith, bear 

86 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

ye the dead men, both friends and foes, into the 
chancel of the church, and there this night he 
will wake them : but after to-morrow let the dead 
abide to bury their dead ! ' 

Therewith he leapt down from the cross, and 
Will and I bestirred ourselves and mingled with 
the new-comers. They were some three hundred 
strong, clad and armed in all ways like the 
people of our township, except some half-dozen 
whose armour shone cold like ice under the 
moonbeams. Will Green soon had a dozen of 
them by the sleeve to come home with him to 
board and bed, and then I lost him for some 
minutes, and turning about saw John Ball stand- 
ing behind me, looking pensively on all the stir 
and merry humours of the joyous uplanders. 

* Brother from Essex,' said he, * shall I see 
thee again to-night ? I were fain of speech with 
thee ; for thou seemest like one that has seen 
more than most.' 

* Yea,' said I, * if ye come to Will Green's 
house, for thither am I bidden.' 

* Thither shall I come,' said he, smiling 

87 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

kindly, ' or no man I know in field. Lo you, 
Will Green looking for something, and that is 
me. But in his house will be song and the talk 
of many friends ; and forsooth I have words in 
me that crave to come out in a quiet place where 
they may have each one his own answer. If 
thou art not afraid of dead men who were alive 
and wicked this morning, come thou to the 
church when supper is done, and there we may 
talk all we will.' 

Will Green was standing beside us before he 
had done, with his hand laid on the priest's 
shoulder, waiting till he had spoken out ; and 
as I nodded Yea to John Ball he said : 

* Now, master priest, thou hast spoken enough 
this two or three hours, and this my new brother 
must tell and talk in my house ; and there my 
maid will hear his wisdom which lay still under 
the hedge e'en now when the bolts were abroad. 
So come ye, and ye good fellows, come ! ' 

So we turned away together into the little 
street. But while John Ball had been speaking 
to me I felt strangely, as though I had more 

88 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

things to say than the words I knew could make 
clear : as if I wanted to get from other people a 
new set of words. Moreover, as we passed up 
the street again I was once again smitten with the 
great beauty of the scene ; the houses, the church 
with its new chancel and tower, snow-white in 
the moonbeams now ; the dresses and arms of 
the people, men and women (for the latter were 
now mixed up with the men) ; their grave so- 
norous language, and the quaint and measured 
forms of speech, were again become a wonder to 
me and affected me almost to tears. 



89 



CHAPTER VIII 

SUPPER AT WILL GREEN's 

T WALKED along with the others musing as 
-■^ if I did not belong to them, till we came 
to Will Green's house. He was one of the 
wealthier of the yeomen, and his house was one 
of those I told you of, the lower story of which 
was built of stone. It had not been built long, 
and was very trim and neat. The fit of wonder 
had worn off me again by then I reached it, or 
perhaps I should give you a closer description 
of it, for it was a handsome yeoman's dwelling 
of that day, which is as much as saying it was 
very beautiful. The house on the other side of 
it, the last house in the village, was old or even 
ancient ; all built of stone, and except for a 
newer piece built on to it — a hall, it seemed — 
had round arches, some of them handsomely 

90 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

carved. I knew that this was the parson's house ; 
but he was another sort of priest than John Ball, 
and what for fear, what for hatred, had gone 
back to his monastery with the two other chant- 
rey priests who dwelt in that house; so that 
the men of the township, and more especially 
the women, were thinking gladly how John Ball 
should say mass in their new chancel on the 
morrow. 

Will Green's daughter was waiting for him at 
the door and gave him a close and eager hug, and 
had a kiss to spare for each of us withal : a strong 
girl she was, as I have said, and sweet and whole- 
some also. She made merry with her father ; yet 
it was easy to see that her heart was in her mouth 
all along. There was a younger girl some twelve 
summers old, and a lad of ten, who were easily 
to be known for his children ; an old woman 
also, who had her livelihood there, and helped 
the household ; and moreover three long young 
men, who came into the house after we had sat 
down, to whom Will nodded kindly. They were 
brisk lads and smart, but had been afield after 

91 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the beasts that evening, and had not seen the 
fray. 

The room we came into was indeed the house, 
for there was nothing but it on the ground floor, 
but a stair in the corner went up to the chamber 
or loft above. It was much like the room at the 
Rose, but bigger ; the cupboard better wrought, 
and with more vessels on it, and handsomer. Also 
the walls, instead of being panelled, were hung 
with a coarse loosely-woven stuff of green wor- 
sted with birds and trees woven into it. There 
were flowers in plenty stuck about the room, 
mostly of the yellow blossoming flag or flower- 
de-luce, of which I had seen plenty in all the 
ditches, but in the window near the door was a 
pot full of those same white poppies I had seen 
when I first woke up ; and the table was all set 
forth with meat and drink, a big salt-cellar of 
pewter in the middle, covered with a white cloth. 

We sat down, the priest blessed the meat in the 
name of the Trinity, and we crossed ourselves 
and fell to. The victual was plentiful of broth 
and flesh-meat, and bread and cherries, so we ate 

92 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

and drank, and talked lightly together when we 
were full. 

Yet was not the feast so gay as might have 
been. Will Green had me to sit next to him, and 
on the other side sat John Ball ; but the priest 
had grown somewhat distraught, and sat as one 
thinking of somewhat that was like to escape 
his thought. Will Green looked at his daughter 
from time to time, and whiles his eyes glanced 
round the fair chamber as one who loved it, and 
his kind face grew sad, yet never sullen. When 
the herdsmen came into the hall they fell straight- 
way to asking questions concerning those of the 
Fellowship who had been slain in the fray, and 
of their wives and children ; so that for a while 
thereafter no man cared to jest, for they were a 
neighbourly and kind folk, and were sorry both 
for the dead, and also for the living that should 
suffer from that day's work. 

So then we sat silent awhile. The unseen moon 
was bright over the roof of the house, so that 
outside all was gleaming bright save the black 
shadows, though the moon came not into the 

93 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

room, and the white wall of the tower was the 
whitest and the brightest thing we could see. 

Wide open were the windows, and the scents 
of the fragrant night floated in upon us, and the 
sounds of the men at their meat or making merry 
about the township ; and whiles we heard the 
gibber of an owl from the trees westward of the 
church, and the sharp cry of a blackbird made 
fearful by the prowling stoat, or the far-ofF low- 
ing of a cow from the upland pastures ; or the 
hoofs of a horse trotting on the pilgrimage road 
(and one of our watchers would that be). 

Thus we sat awhile, and once again came that 
feeling over me of wonder and pleasure at the 
strange and beautiful sights, mingled with the 
sights and sounds and scents beautiful indeed, yet 
not strange, but rather long familiar to me. 

But now Will Green started in his seat where 
he sat with his daughter hanging over his chair, 
her hand amidst his thick black curls, and she 
weeping softly I thought ; and his rough strong 
voice broke the silence. 

* Why, lads and neighbours, what ails us ? If 

94 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the knights who fled from us this eve were to 
creep back hither and look in at the window, they 
would deem that they had slain us after all, and 
that we were but the ghosts of the men who 
fought them. Yet, forsooth, fair it is at whiles to 
sit with friends and let the summer night speak 
for us and tell us its tales. But now, sweetling, 
fetch the mazer and the wine.* 

* Forsooth,' said John Ball, * if ye laugh not 
over-much now, ye shall laugh the more on the 
morrow of to-morrow, as ye draw nearer to the 
play of point and edge.* 

* That is sooth,* said one of the upland guests. 
* So it was seen in France when we fought there ; 
and the eve of fight was sober and the morn was 
merry.* 

* Yea,* said another, * but there, forsooth, it 
was for nothing ye fought ; and to-morrow it 
shall be for a fair reward.' 

* It was for life we fought,' said the first. 

* Yea,' said the second, * for life ; and leave to 
go home and find the lawyers at their fell game. 
Ho, Will Green, call a health over the cup ! ' 

95 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

For now Will Green had a bowl of wine in his 
hand. He stood up and said: ' Here, now, I call 
a health to the wrights of Kent who be turning 
our plough-shares into swords and our pruning- 
hooks into spears ! Drink around, my masters ! ' 

Then he drank, and his daughter filled the 
bowl brimming again and he passed it to me. 
As I took it I saw that it was of light polished 
wood curiously speckled, with a band of silver 
round it, on which was cut the legend, 'In the 
name of the Trinity fill the cup and drink to me^ 
And before I drank, it came upon me to say, 
* To-morrow, and the fair days afterwards ! ' 

Then I drank a great draught of the strong 
red wine, and passed it on ; and every man said 
something over it, as *The road to London 
Bridge ! * * Hob Carter and his mate ! * and so 
on, till last of all John Ball drank, saying : 

*Ten years hence, and the freedom of the 
Fellowship ! * Then he said to Will Green : *Now, 
Will, must I needs depart to go and wake the 
dead, both friend and foe in the church yonder ; 
and whoso of you will be shriven let him come 

96 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

to me thither in the morn, nor spare for as little 
after sunrise as it may be. And this our friend 
and brother from over the water of Thames, he 
hath will to talk with me and I with him ; so 
now will I take him by the hand : and so God 
keep you, fellows ! ' 

I rose to meet him as he came round the head 
of the table, and took his hand. Will Green 
turned round to me and said : 

* Thou wilt come back again timely, old lad ; 
for betimes on the morrow must we rise if we 
shall dine at Rochester.' 

I stammered as I yea-said him ; for John Ball 
was looking strangely at me with a half-smile, 
and my heart beat anxiously and fearfully : but 
we went quietly to the door and so out into the 
bright moonlight. 

I lingered a little when we had passed the 
threshold, and looked back at the yellow-lighted 
window and the shapes of the men that I saw 
therein with a grief and longing that I could not 
give myself a reason for, since I was to come 
back so soon. John Ball did not press me to 

97 G 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

move forward, but held up his hand as If to bid 
me hearken. The folk and guests there had 
already shaken themselves down since our depar- 
ture, and were gotten to be reasonably merry it 
seemed; for one of the guests, he who had spoken 
of France before, had fallen to singing a ballad 
of the war to a wild and melancholy tune. I 
remember the first rhymes of it, which I heard 
as I turned away my head and we moved on 
toward the church : 

< On a fair field of France 
We fought on a morning 
So lovely as it lieth 
jilong by the water. 
There was many a lord there 
Mowed mm in the medley^ 
^ Midst the banners of the barons 
And bold men of the knighthood^ 
And spearmen and sergeants 
And shooters of the shaft. 



98 



CHAPTER IX 

BETWIXT THE LIVING AND THE DEAD 

WE entered the church through the south 
porch under a round-arched door carved 
very richly, and with a sculpture over the door- 
way and under the arch, which, as far as I could 
see by the moonlight, figured St. Michael and 
the Dragon. As I came into the rich gloom of 
the nave I noticed for the first time that I had 
one of those white poppies in my hand ; I must 
have taken it out of the pot by the window as 
I passed out of Will Green's house. 

The nave was not very large, but it looked 
spacious too ; it was somewhat old, but well- 
built and handsome ; the roof of curved wooden 
rafters with great tie-beams going from wall to 
wall. There was no light in it but that of the 
moon streaming through the windows, which 

99 



^\^^^'^v 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

were by no means large, and were glazed with 
white fretwork, with here and there a little figure 
in very deep rich colours. Two larger windows 
near the east end of each aisle had just been 
made so that the church grew lighter toward the 
east, and I could see all the work on the great 
screen between the nave and chancel which glit- 
tered bright in new paint and gilding : a candle 
glimmered in the loft above it, before the huge 
rood that filled up the whole space between the 
loft and the chancel-arch. There was an altar at 
the east end of each aisle, the one on the south 
^de standing against the outside wall, the one 
on the north against a traceried gaily-painted 
screen, for that aisle ran on along the chancel. 
There were a few oak benches near this second 
altar, seemingly just made, and well carved and 
moulded ; otherwise the floor of the nave, which 
was paved with a quaint pavement of glazed tiles 
like the crocks I had seen outside as to ware, was 
quite clear, and the shafts of the arches rose out of 
it white and beautiful under the moon as though 
out of a sea, dark but with gleams struck over it. 

lOO 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

The priest let me linger and look round, when 
he had crossed himself and given me the holy 
water; and then I saw that the walls were figured 
all over with stories, a huge St. Christopher with 
his black beard looking like Will Green, being 
close to the porch by which we entered, and 
above the chancel arch the Doom of the Last 
Day, in which the painter had not spared either 
kings or bishops, and in which a lawyer with his 
blue coif was one of the chief figures in the group 
which the Devil was hauling oifF to hell. 

* Yea,* said John Ball, * 'tis a goodly church 
and fair as you may see *twixt Canterbury and 
London as for its kind ; and yet do I misdoubt 
me where those who are dead arc housed, and 
where those shall house them after they are 
dead, who built this house for God to dwell in. 
God grant they be cleansed at last; forsooth one 
of them who is now alive is a foul swine and a 
cruel wolf. Art thou all so sure, scholar, that all 
such have souls ? and if it be so, was it well done 
of God to make them ? I speak to thee thus, 
for I think thou art no delator ; and if thou be, 

lOI 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

why should I heed it, since I think not to come 
back from this journey.' 

I looked at him and, as it were, had some ado 
to answer him; but I said at last, 'Friend, I 
never saw a soul, save in the body ; I cannot 
teli; 

He crossed himself and said, * Yet do I intend 
that ere many days are gone by my soul shall be 
in bliss among the fellowship of the saints, and 
merry shall it be, even before my body rises from 
the dead ; for wisely I have wrought in the world, 
and I wot well of friends that are long ago gone 
from the world, as St. Martin, and St. Francis, 
and St. Thomas of Canterbury, who shall speak 
well of me to the heavenly Fellowship, and I 
shall in no wise lose my reward.* 

I looked shyly at him as he spoke ; his face 
looked sweet and calm and happy, and I would 
have said no word to grieve him; and yet belike 
my eyes looked wonder on him : he seemed to 
note it and his face grew puzzled. * How deem- 
est thou of these things ? ' said he : ' why do men 
die else, if it be otherwise than this ? ' 

1 02 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

I smiled : * Why then do they live ? * said I. 

Even in the white moonlight I saw his face 
flush, and he cried out in a great voice, * To do 
great deeds or to repent them that they ever 
were born.* 

* Yea,' said I, * they live to live because the 
world liveth.' He stretched out his hand to me 
and grasped mine, but said no more ; and went 
on till we came to the door in the rood-screen ; 
then he turned to me with his hand on the ring- 
latch, and said, *Hast thou seen many dead 
men ? ' 

* Nay, but few,' said I. 

* And I a many,' said he ; * but come now and 
look on these, our friends first and then our foes, 
so that ye may not look to see them while we sit 
and talk of the days that are to be on the earth 
before the Day of Doom cometh.' 

So he opened the door, and we went into the 
chancel ; a light burned on the high altar be- 
fore the host, and looked red and strange in the 
moonlight that came through the wide traceried 
windows unstained by the pictures and beflower- 

103 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

ings of the glazing ; there were new stalls for 
the priests and vicars where we entered, carved 
more abundantly and beautifully than any of the 
woodwork I had yet seen, and everywhere was 
rich and fair colour and delicate and dainty form. 
Our dead lay just before the high altar on low 
biers, their faces all covered with linen cloths, 
for some of them had been sore smitten and 
hacked in the fray. We went up to them and 
John Ball took the cloth from the face of one ; 
he had been shot to the heart with a shaft and 
his face was calm and smooth. He had been a 
young man fair and comely, with hair flaxen al- 
most to whiteness ; he lay there in his clothes as 
he had fallen, the hands crossed over his breast 
and holding a rush cross. His bow lay on one 
side of him, his quiver of shafts and his sword 
on the other. 

John Ball spake to me while he held the cor- 
ner of the sheet : * What sayest thou, scholar ? 
feelest thou sorrow of heart when thou lookest 
on this, either for the man himself, or for thy- 
self and the time when thou shalt be as he is? ' 

104 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

I said, *Nay, I feel no sorrow for this; for the 
man is not here : this is an empty house, and the 
master has gone from it. Forsooth, this to me 
is but as a waxen image of a man ; nay, not even 
that, for if it were an image, it would be an image 
of the man as he was when he was alive. But 
here is no life nor semblance of life, and I am 
not moved by it ; nay, I am more moved by the 
man's clothes and war^ear — there is more life 
in them than in him.' 

* Thou say est sooth,' s^d he ; * but sorrowest 
thou not for thine own death when thou lookest 
on him ? ' 

I said, * And how can I sorrow for that which 
I cannot so much as think of? Bethink thee 
that while I am alive I cannot think that I shall 
die, or believe in death at all, although I know 
well that I shall die — I can but think of myself 
as living in some new way.' 

Again he looked on me as if puzzled ; then 
his face cleared as he said, * Yea, forsooth, and 
that is what the Church meaneth by death, and 
even that I look for ; and that hereafter I shall 

105 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

see all the deeds that I have done in the body, 
and what they really were, and what shall come 
of them ; and ever shall I be a member of the 
Church, and that is the Fellowship ; then, even 
as now.' 

I sighed as he spoke ; then I said, * Yea, some- 
what in this fashion have most of men thought, 
since no man that is can conceive of not being ; 
and I mind me that in those stories of the old 
Danes, their common word for a man dying is 
to say, " He changed his life." ' 

* And so deemest thou ? * 

I shook my head and said nothing. 

* What hast thou to say hereon.?' said he, * for 
there seemeth something betwixt us twain as it 
were a wall that parteth us.' 

* This,' said I, * that though I die and end, yet 
mankind yet liveth, therefore I end not, since 
I am a man ; and even so thou deemest, good 
friend ; or at the least even so thou doest, since 
now thou art ready to die in grief and torment 
rather than be unfaithful to the Fellowship, yea 
rather than fail to work thine utmost for it ; 

io6 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

whereas, as thou thyself saidst at the cross, with 
a few words spoken and a little huddling-up of 
the truth, with a few pennies paid, and a few 
masses sung, thou mightest have had a good 
place on this earth and in that heaven. And as 
thou doest, so now doth many a poor man un- 
named and unknown, and shall do while the 
world lasteth : and they that do less than this, 
fail because of fear, and are ashamed of their 
cowardice, and make many tales to themselves 
to deceive themselves, lest they should grow too 
much ashamed to live. And trust me if this 
were not so, the world would not live, but would 
die, smothered by its own stink. Is the wall 
betwixt us gone, friend ? ' 

He smiled as he looked at me, kindly, but 
sadly and shamefast, and shook his head. 

Then in a while he said, * Now ye have seen 
the images of those who were our friends, come 
and see the images of those who were once our 
foes.' 

So he led the way through the side screen into 
the chancel aisle, and there on the pavement lay 

107 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the bodies of the foemen, their weapons taken 
from them and they stripped of their armour, 
but not otherwise of their clothes, and their 
faces mostly, but not all, covered. At the east 
end of the aisle was another altar, covered with 
a rich cloth beautifully figured, and on the wall 
over it was a deal of tabernacle work, in the mid- 
most niche of it an image painted and gilt of a 
gay knight on horseback, cutting his own cloak 
in two with his sword to give a cantle of it to a 
half-naked beggar. 

* Knowest thou any of these men ? ' said I. 
He said, * Some I should know, could I see 

their faces ; but let them be.' 

* Were they evil men ? ' said I. 

* Yea,' he said, * some two or three. But I 
will not tell thee of them ; let St. Martin, whose 
house this is, tell their story if he will. As for 
the rest they were hapless fools, or else men who 
must earn their bread somehow, and were driven 
to this bad way of earning it ; God rest their 
souls! I will be no tale-bearer, not even to 
God.' 

io8 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

So we stood musing a little while, I gazing 
not on the dead men, but on the strange pictures 
on the wall, which were richer and deeper col- 
oured than those in the nave ; till at last John 
Ball turned to me and l^d his hand on my 
shoulder. I started and said, *Yea, brother; 
now must I get me back to Will Green's house, 
as I promised to do so timely.' 

* Not yet, brother,' said he ; * I have still much 
to say to thee, and the night is yet young. Go 
we and sit in the stalls of the vicars, and let us 
ask and answer on matters concerning the fash- 
ion of this world of menfolk, and of this land 
wherein we dweill ; for once more I deem of thee 
that thou hast seen things which I have not seen, 
and could not have seeni' With that word he 
led me back into the chancel, and we sat down 
side by side in the stalls at the west end of it, 
facing the high altar and the great east window. 
By this time the chancel was getting dimmer as 
the moon wound round the heavens ; but yet was 
there a twilight of the moon, so that I could still 
see the things about me for all the brightness of 

109 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the window that faced us; and this moon twilight 
would last, I knew, until the short summer night 
should wane, and the twilight of the dawn begin 
to show us the colours of all things about us. 

So we sat, and I gathered my thoughts to hear 
what he would say, and I myself was trying to 
think what I should ask of him ; for I thought of 
him as he of me, that he had seen things which 
I could not have seen. 



no 



CHAPTER X 

THOSE TWO TALK OF THE DAYS TO COME 

BROTHER,' said John Ball, * how deemest 
thou of our adventure ? I do not ask thee 
if thou thinkest we are right to play the play like 
men, but whether playing like men we shall fail 
like men/ 

* Why dost thou ask me ? ' said I ; * how much 
further than beyond this church can I see ? ' 

* Far further,' quoth he, * for I wot that thou 
art a scholar and hast read books ; and withal, 
in some way that I cannot name, thou knowest 
more than we ; as though with thee the world had 
lived longer than with us. Hide not, therefore, 
what thou hast in thine heart, for I think after 
this night I shall see thee no more, until we meet 
in the heavenly Fellowship.' 

* Friend,' I said, * ask me what thou wilt ; or 

III 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

rather ask thou the years to come to tell thee 
some little of their tale ; and yet methinks thoa 
thyself mayest have some deeming thereof.' 

He raised himself on the elbow of the stall and 
looked me full in the face, and said to me : * Is it 
so after all that thou art no man in the flesh, but 
art sent to me by the Master of the Fellowship, 
and the King's Son of Heaven, to tell me what 
shall be ? If that be so tell me straight out, since 
I had some deeming hereof before ; whereas thy 
speech is like ours and yet unlike, and thy face 
hath something in it which is not after the fash- 
ion of our day. And yet take heed, if thou art 
such an one, I fear thee not, nay, nor him that 
sent thee ; nor for thy bidding, nor for his, will 
I turn back from London Bridge but will press 
on, for I do what is meet and right.' 

* Nay,' said I, *did I not tell thee e*en now that 
I knew life but not death ? I am not dead ; and 
as to who hath sent me, I say not that I am come 
by my own will ; for I know not ; yet also I know 
not the will that hath sent me hither. And this 
I say to thee, moreover, that if I know more than 

112 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

thou, I do far less; therefore thou art my captain 
and I thy minstrel.' 

He sighed as one from whom a weight had 
been lifted, and said : * Well, then, since thou art 
alive on the earth and a man like myself, tell me 
how deemest thou of our adventure : shall we 
come to London, and how shall we fare there ? ' 

Said I, *What shall hinder you to come to 
London, and to fare there as ye will ? For be 
sure that the Fellowship in Essex shall not fail 
you ; nor shall the Londoners who hate the king's 
uncles withstand you ; nor hath the Court any 
great force to meet you in the field ; ye shall cast 
fear and trembling into their hearts.' 

* Even so, I thought,' said he; *but afterwards 
what shall betide ? ' 

Said I, * It grieves my heart to say that which I 
think. Yet hearken ; many a man's son shall die 
who is now alive and happy, and if the soldiers 
be slain, and of them most not on the field, but 
by the lawyers, how shall the captains escape ? 
Surely thou goest to thy death.' 

He smiled very sweetly, yet proudly, as he 

113 H 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

said : * Yea, the road is long, but the end cometh 
at last. Friend, many a day have I been dying ; 
for my sister, with whom I have played and been 
merry in the autumn tide about the edges of the 
stubble-fields; and we gathered the nuts and 
bramble -berries there, and started thence the 
missel -thrush, and wondered at his voice and 
thought him big ; and the sparrow-hawk wheeled 
and turned over the hedges and the weasel ran 
across the path, and the sound of the sheep-bells 
came to us from the downs as we sat happy on 
the grass ; and she is dead and gone from the 
earth, for she pined from famine after the years 
of the great sickness ; and my brother was slain 
in the French wars, and none thanked him for 
dying save he that stripped him of his gear ; and 
my unwedded wife with whom I dwelt in love 
after I had taken the tonsure, and all men said 
she was good and fair, and true she was and 
lovely; she also is dead and gone from the earth; 
and why should I abide save for the deeds of the 
flesh which must be done ? Truly, friend, this 
is but an old tale that men must die ; and I will 

114 



A DREAM OF JOHN BA^L 

tell thee another, to wit, that they live : and I 
live now and shall live. Tell me then what shall 
befall; 

Somehow I could not heed him as a living 
man as much as I had done, and the voice that 
came from me seemed less of me as I answered : 

* These men are strong and valiant as any that 
have been or shall be, and good fellows also and 
kindly ; but they are simple, and see no great 
way before their own noses. The victory shall 
they have and shall not know what to do with 
it; they shall fight and overcome, because of their 
lack of knowledge, and because of their lack of 
knowledge shall they be cozened and betrayed 
when their captains are slain, and all shall come 
to nought by seeming ; and the king's uncles 
shall prevail, that both they and the king may 
come to the shame that is appointed for them. 
And yet when the lords have vanquished, and all 
England lieth under them again, yet shall their 
victory be fruitless ; for the free men that hold 
unfree lands shall they not bring under the collar 
again, and villeinage shall slip from their hands, 

115 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

till there be, and not long after ye are dead, but 
few unfree men in England ; so that your lives 
and your deaths both shall bear fruit/ 

* Said I not/ quoth John Ball, * that thou wert 
a sending from other times ? Good is thy mes- 
sage, for the land shall be free Tell on now/ 

He spoke eagerly, and I went on somewhat 
sadly : * The times shall better, though the king 
and lords shall worsen, the Gilds of Craft shall 
wax and become mightier ; more recourse shall 
there be of foreign merchants. There shall be 
plenty in the land and not famine. Where a 
man now earneth two pennies he shall earn 
three/ 

* Yea,* said he, * then shall those that labour 
become strong and stronger, and so soon shall 
it come about that all men shall work and none 
make to work, and so shall none be robbed, and 
at last shall all men labour and live and be happy, 
and have the goods of the earth without money 
and without price.' 

* Yea,' said I, * that shall indeed come to pass, 
but not yet for a while, and belike a long while/ 

ii6 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

And I sat for long without speaking, and the 
church grew darker as the moon waned yet more. 

Then I said : * Bethink thee that these men 
shall yet have masters over them, who have at 
hand many a law and custom for the behoof of 
masters, and being masters can make yet more 
laws in the same behoof ; and they shall suffer 
poor people to thrive just so long as their thriv- 
ing shall profit the mastership and no longer; 
and so shall it be in those days I tell of; for 
there shall be king and lords and knights and 
squires still, with servants to do their bidding, 
and make honest men afraid ; and all these will 
make nothing and eat much as aforetime, and 
the more that is made in the land the more shall 
they crave.' 

* Yea,' said he, * that wot I well, that these arc 
of the kin of the daughters of the horse-leech ; 
but how shall they slake their greed, seeing that 
as thou sayest villeinage shall be gone ? Belike 
their men shall pay them quit-rents and do them 
service, as free men may, but all this according 
to law and not beyond it ; so that though the 

117 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALI^ 

workers shall be richer than they now be, the 
lords shall be no richer, and so all shall be on 
the road to being free and equal/ 

Said I, * Look you, friend ; aforetime the lords, 
for the most part, held the land and all that 
was on it, and the men that were on it worked 
for them as their horses worked, and after they 
were fed and housed all was the lords' ; but in 
the time to come the lords shall see their men 
thriving on the land and shall say once more, 
"These men have more than they need, why have 
we not the surplus since we are their lords ? '' 
Moreover, in those days shall betide much chaf- 
fering for wares between man and man, and 
country and country ; and the lords shall note 
that if there were less corn and less men on 
their lands there would be more sheep, that is 
to say more wool for chaffer, and that thereof 
they should have abundantly more than afore- 
time ; since all the land they own, and it pays 
them quit-rent or service, save here and there a 
croft or a close of a yeoman ; and all this might 
grow wool for them to sell to the Easterlings. 

ii8 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

Then shall England see a new thing, for whereas 
hitherto men have lived on the land and by it, 
the land shall no longer need them, but many 
sheep and a few shepherds shall make wool 
grow to be sold for money to the Easterlings, 
and that money shall the lords pouch : for, look 
you, they shall set the lawyers a-work and the 
strong hand moreover, and the land they shall 
take to themselves and their sheep ; and except 
for these lords of land few shall be the free 
men that shall hold a rood of land whom the 
word of their lord may not turn adrift straight- 
way.' 

* How mean you ? ' said John Ball : * shall all 
men be villeins again ? ' 

*Nay,' said I, * there shall be no villeins in 
England.' 

* Surely then,' said he, * it shall be worse, and 
all men save a few shall be thralls to be bought 
and sold at the cross.' 

* Good friend,' said I, * it shall not be so ; all 
men shall be free even as ye would have it ; yet, 
as I say, few indeed shall have so much land as 

119 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

they can stand upon save by buying such a grace 
of their masters.' 

* And now,' said he, * I wot not what thou say- 
est. I know a thrall, and he is his master's every 
hour, and never his own ; and a villein I know, 
and whiles he is his own and whiles his lord's ; 
and I know a free man, and he is his own always ; 
but how shall he be his own if he have nought 
whereby to make his livelihood ? Or shall he be 
a thief and take from others ? Then is he an 
outlaw. Wonderful is this thou tellest of a free 
man with nought whereby to live ! ' 

* Yet so shall it be,' said I, * and by such free 
men shall all wares be made.' 

* Nay, that cannot be; thou art talking riddles,' 
said he ; * for how shall a wood-wright make a 
chest without the wood and the tools ? ' 

Said I, * He must needs buy leave to labour of 
them that own all things except himself and such 
as himself.' 

* Yea, but wherewith shall he buy it ? * said 
John Ball. * What hath he except himself? ' 

* With himself then shall he buy it,' quoth I, 

1 20 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

* with his body and the power of labour that licth 
therein ; with the price of his labour shall he buy 
leave to labour.' 

* Riddles again ! ' said he ; * how can he sell his 
labour for aught else but his daily bread ? He 
must win by his labour meat and drink and cloth- 
ing and housing ! Can he sell his labour twice 
over ? ' 

* Not so,' said I, * but this shall he do belike ; 
he shall sell himself, that is the labour that is in 
him, to the master that suffers him to work, and 
that master shall give to him from out of the 
wares he maketh enough to keep him alive, and 
to beget children and nourish them till they be 
old enough to be sold like himself, and the resi- 
due shall the rich man keep to himself/ 

John Ball laughed aloud, and said : * Well, I 
perceive we are not yet out of the land of riddles. 
The man may well do what thou sayest and live, 
but he may not do it and live a free man.'. 

* Thou sayest sooth,' said I. 



121 



CHAPTER XI 

HARD IT IS FOR THE OLD WORLD TO SEE 

THE NEW 

"LTE held his peace awhile, and then he said : 
-*- ^ * But no man selleth himself and his chil- 
dren into thraldom uncompelled ; nor is any fool 
so great a fool as willingly to take the name of 
freeman and the life of a thrall as payment for 
the very life of a freeman. Now would I ask thee 
somewhat else ; and I am the readier to do so 
since I perceive that thou art a wondrous seer ; 
for surely no man could of his own wit have ima- 
gined a tale of such follies as thou hast told me. 
Now well I wot that men having once shaken 
themselves clear of the burden of villeinage, as 
thou sayest we shall do (and I bless thee for the 
word), shall never bow down to this worser tyr- 
anny without sore strife in the world ; and surely 

122 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

so sore shall it be, before our valiant sons give 
way, that maids and little lads shall take the 
sword and the spear, and in many a field men's 
blood and not water shall turn the grist-mills of 
England. But when all this is over, and the tyr- 
anny is established, because there are but few 
men in the land after the great war, how shall it 
be with you then ? Will there not be many 
soldiers and sergeants and few workers ? Surely 
in every parish ye shall have the constables to 
see that the men work ; and they shall be saying 
every day, " Such an one, hast thou yet sold thy- 
self for this day or this week or this year ? Go to 
now, and get thy bargain done, or it shall be the 
worse for thee." And wheresoever work is going 
on there shall be constables again, and those that 
labour shall labour under the whip like the Heb- 
rews in the land of Egypt. And every man that 
may, will steal as a dog snatches at a bone ; and 
there again shall ye need more soldiers and more 
constables till the land is eaten up by them ; nor 
shall the lords and the masters even be able to 
bear the burden of it ; nor will their gains be so 

123 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

great, since that which each man may do in a day 
is not right great when all is said.' 

* Friend,' said I, * from thine own valiancy and 
high heart thou speakest, when thou sayest that 
they who fall under this tyranny shall fight to the 
death against it. Wars indeed there shall be in 
the world, great and grievous, and yet few on this 
score ; rather shall men fight as they have been 
fighting in France at the bidding of some lord of 
the manor, or some king, or at last at the bid- 
ding of some usurer and forestaller of the mar- 
ket. Valiant men, forsooth, shall arise in the 
beginning of these evil times, but though they 
shall die as ye shall, yet shall not their deaths be 
fruitful as yours shall be ; because ye, forsooth, 
are fighting against villeinage which is waning, 
but they shall fight against usury which is waxing. 
And, moreover, I have been telling thee how it 
shall be when the measure of the time is full ; 
and we, looking at these things from afar, can 
see them as they are indeed ; but they who live 
at the beginning of those times and amidst them, 
shall not know what is doing around them ; they 

124 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

shall indeed feel the plague and yet not know 
the remedy ; by little and by little they shall 
fall from their better livelihood, and weak and 
helpless shall they grow, and have no might to 
withstand the evil of this tyranny; and then 
again when the times mend somewhat and they 
have but a little more ease, then shall it be to 
them like the kingdom of heaven, and they shall 
have no will to withstand any tyranny, but shall 
think themselves happy that they be pinched 
somewhat less. Also whereas thou sayest that 
there shall be for ever constables and sergeants 
going to and fro to drive men to work, and that 
they will not work save under the lash, thou art 
wrong and it shall not be so ; for there shall ever 
be more workers than the masters may set to 
work, so that men shall strive eagerly for leave 
to work ; and when one says, I will sell my hours 
at such and such a price, then another will say, 
and I for so much less ; so that never shall the 
lords lack slaves willing to work, but often the 
slaves shall lack lords to buy them.' 

* Thou tellest marvels indeed,' said he ; ' but 

125 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

how then ? if all the churls work not, shall there 
not be famine and lack of wares ? ' 

* Famine enough/ said I, * yet not from lack 
of wares ; it shall be clean contrary. What wilt 
thou say when I tell thee that in the latter days 
there shall be such traffic and such speedy travel 
across the seas that most wares shall be good 
cheap, and bread of all things the cheapest ? ' 

Quoth he : 4 should say that then there would 
be better livelihoodfor men, for in times of plenty 
it is well; for then men eat that which their own 
hands have harvested, and need not to spend of 
their substance in buying of others. Truly, it is 
well for honest men, but not so well for fore- 
stallers and regraters ; ^ but who heeds what be- 
falls such foul swine, who filch the money from 

^ Forestaller, one who buys up goods when they are cheap^ 
and so raises the price for his own benefit ; forestalls the due 
and real demand. Regrater, one who both buys and sells in 
the same market, or within five miles thereof ; buys, say a 
ton of cheese at lo a.m. and sells it at 5 p.m. a penny a pound 
dearer without moving from his chair. The word < monopo- 
list ' will cover both species of thief. 

126 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

people's purses, and do not one hair's turn of 
work to help them ? ' 

* Yea, friend,' I said, * but in those latter days 
all power shall be in the hands of these foul 
swine, and they shall be the rulers of all ; there- 
fore, hearken, for I tell thee that times of plenty 
shall in those days be the times of famine, and 
all shall pray for the prices of wares to rise, so 
that the forestallers and regraters may thrive, and 
that some of their well-doing may overflow on 
to those on whom they live.' 

* I am weary of thy riddles,' he said. * Yet at 
least I hope that there may be fewer and fewer 
folk in the land ; as may well be, if life is then 
so foul and wretched.' 

* Alas, poor man ! ' I said ; ' nor mayst thou 
imagine how foul and wretched it may be for 
many of the folk ; and yet I tell thee that men 
shall increase and multiply, till where there is 
one man in the land now, there shall be twenty 
in those days — yea, in some places ten times 
twenty.' 

* I have but little heart to ask thee more ques- 

127 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

tions/ said he ; * and when thou answerest, thy 
words are plain, but the things they tell of I may 
scarce understand. But tell me this : in those 
days will men deem that so it must be for ever, 
as great men even now tell us of our ills, or will 
they think of some remedy ? * 

I looked about me. There was but a glimmer 
of light in the church now, but what there was, 
was no longer the strange light of the moon, but 
the first coming of the kindly day. 

* Yea,' said John Ball, * 'tis the twilight of the 
dawn. God and St. Christopher send us a good 
day!' 

* John Ball,' said I, ' I have told thee that thy 
death will bring about that which thy life has 
striven for : thinkest thou that the thing which 
thou strivest for is worth the labour ? or dost 
thou believe in the tale I have told thee of the 
days to come ? ' 

He said : ' I tell thee once again that I trust 
thee for a seer ; because no man could make up 
such a tale as thou ; the things which thou tellest 
are too wonderful for a minstrel, the tale too 

128 



I 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

grievous. And whereas thou askest as to whether 
I count my labour lost, I say nay ; if so be that 
in those latter times (and worser than ours they 
will be) men shall yet seek a remedy : therefore 
again I ask thee, is it so that they shall ? ' 

' Yea,' said I, ' and their remedy shall be the 
same as thine, although the days be different : for 
if the folk be enthralled, what remedy save that 
they be set free ? and if they have tried many 
roads towards freedom, and found that they led 
nowhither, then shall they try yet another. Yet 
in the days to come they shall be slothful to 
try it, because their masters shall be so much 
mightier than thine, that they shall not need to 
show the high hand, and until the days get to 
their evilest, men shall be cozened into thinking 
that it is of their own free will that they must 
needs buy leave to labour by pawning their 
labour that is to be. Moreover, your lords and 
masters seem very mighty to you, each one of 
them, and so they are, but they are few ; and 
the masters of the days to come shall not each 
one of them seem very mighty to the men of 

, 129 I 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

those days, but they shall be very many, and they 
shall be of one intent in these matters without 
knowing it ; like as one sees the oars of a galley 
when the rowers are hidden, that rise and fall as 
it were with one will.' 

' And yet,' he said, ' shall it not be the same 
with those that these men devour? shall not they 
also have one will ? ' 

* Friend,' I said, ' they shall have the will to 
live, as the wretchedest thing living has : there- 
fore shall they sell themselves that they may 
live, as I told thee ; and their hard need shall be 
their lord's easy livelihood, and because of it he 
shall sleep without fear, since their need com- 
pelleth them not to loiter by the way to lament 
with friend or brother that they are pinched in 
their servitude, or to devise means for ending it. 
And yet indeed thou sayest it : they also shall 
have one will if they but knew it; but for a long 
while they shall have but a glimmer of know- 
ledge of it : yet doubt it not that in the end 
they shall come to know it clearly, and then shall 
they bring about the remedy ; and in those days 

130 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

shall it be seen that thou hast not wrought for 
nothing, because thou hast seen beforehand what 
the remedy should be, even as those of later days 
have seen it.' 

We both sat silent a little while. The twi- 
light was gaining on the night, though slowly. 
I looked at the poppy which I still held in 
my hand, and bethought me of Will Green, and 
said : 

' Lo, how the light is spreading : now must I 
get me back to Will Green s house as I promised.' 

' Go, then,' said he, ' if thou wilt. Yet me- 
seems before long he shall come to us ; and then 
mayst thou sleep among the trees on the green 
grass till the sun is high, for the host shall not 
be on foot very early ; and sweet it is to sleep 
in shadow by the sun in the full morning when 
one has been awake and troubled through the 
night-tide.' 

' Yet I will go now,' said I ; ' I bid thee good- 
night, or rather good-morrow.' 

Therewith I half rose up ; but as I did so the 
will to depart left me as though I had never had 

131 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

it, and I sat down again, and heard the voice of 
John Ball, at first as one speaking from far away, 
but little by little growing nearer and more fa- 
miliar to me, and as if once more it were com- 
ing from the man himself whom I had got to 
know. 



132 



CHAPTER XII 

ILL WOULD CHANGE BE AT WHILES WERE 
IT NOT FOR THE CHANGE BEYOND THE 
CHANGE 

HE said : * Many strange things hast thou 
told me that I could not understand ; yea, 
some my wit so failed to compass, that I cannot 
so much as ask thee questions concerning them; 
but of some matters would I ask thee, and I 
must hasten, for in very sooth the night is worn 
old and grey. Whereas thou sayest that in the 
days to come, when there shall be no labouring 
men who are not thralls after their new fash- 
ion, their lords shall be many and very many, it 
seemeth to me that these same lords, if they be 
many, shall hardly be rich, or but very few of 
them, since they must verily feed and clothe and 
house their thralls, so that that which they take 

133 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

from them, since it will have to be dealt out 
amongst many, will not be enough to make many 
rich ; since out of one man ye may get but one 
man's work ; and pinch him never so sorely, still 
as aforesaid ye may not pinch him so sorely as 
not to feed him. Therefore, though the eyes of 
my mind may see a few lords and many slaves, 
yet can they not see many lords as well as many 
slaves ; and if the slaves be many and the lords 
few, then some day shall the slaves make an end 
of that mastery by the force of their bodies. 
How then shall thy mastership of the latter days 
endure?' 

' John Ball,' said I, ' mastership hath many 
shifts whereby it striveth to keep itself alive in 
the world. And now hear a marvel : whereas thou 
sayest these two times that out of one man ye 
may get but one man's work, in days to come one 
man shall do the work of a hundred men — yea, 
of a thousand or more : and this is the shift of 
mastership that shall make many masters and 
many rich men.' 

John Ball laughed. ' Great is my harvest of 

134 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

riddles to-night,' said he ; ' for even if a man 
sleep not, and eat and drink while he is a-work- 
ing, ye shall but make two men, or three at the 
most, out of him.' 

Said I : * Sawest thou ever a weaver at his 
loom ? ' 

' Yea,' said he, * many a time.' 

He was silent a little, and then said : ' Yet I 
marvelled not at it ; but now I marvel, because 
I know what thou wouldst say. Time was when 
the shuttle was thrust in and out of all the thou- 
sand threads of the warp, and it was long to do ; 
but now the spring-staves go up and down as the 
man's feet move, and this and that leaf of the 
warp cometh forward and the shuttle goeth in 
one shot through all the thousand warps. Yea, 
so it is that this multiplieth a man many times. 
But look you, he is so multiplied already ; and 
so hath he been, meseemeth, for many hundred 
years.' 

' Yea,' said I, * but what hitherto needed the 
masters to multiply him more ? For many hun- 
dred years the workman was a thrall bought and 

^3S 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

sold at the cross ; and for other hundreds of years 
he hath been a villein — that is, a working-beast 
and a part of the stock of the manor on which he 
liveth ; but then thou and the like of thee shall 
free him, and then is mastership put to its shifts ; 
for what should avail the mastery then, when the 
master no longer owneth the man by law as his 
chattel, nor any longer by law owneth him as 
stock of his land, if the master hath not that 
which he on whom he liveth may not lack and 
live withal, and cannot have without selling him- 
self?' 

He said nothing, but I saw his brow knitted 
and his lips pressed together as though in anger ; 
and again I said : 

' Thou hast seen the weaver at his loom : think 
how it should be if he sit no longer before the 
web and cast the shuttle and draw home the sley, 
but if the shed open of itself and the shuttle of 
itself speed through it as swift as the eye can fol- 
low, and the sley come home of itself; and the 
weaver standing by and whistling The Hunfs Up ! 
the while, or looking to half-a-dozen looms and 

136 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

bidding them what to do. And as with the wea- 
ver so with the potter, and the smith, and every 
worker in metals, and all other crafts, that it 
shall be for them looking on and tending, as with 
the man that sitteth in the cart while the horse 
draws. Yea, at last so shall it be even with those 
who are mere husbandmen ; and no longer shall 
the reaper fare afield in the morning with his 
hook over his shoulder, and smite and bind and 
smite again till the sun is down and the moon is 
up ; but he shall draw a thing made by men into 
the field with one or two horses, and shall say the 
word and the horses shall go up and down, and 
the thing shall reap and gather and bind, and do 
the work of many men. Imagine all this in thy 
mind if thou canst, at least as ye may imagine a 
tale of enchantment told by a minstrel, and then 
tell me what shouldst thou deem that the life of 
men would be amidst all this, men such as these 
men of the township here, or the men of the Can- 
terbury gilds.' 

*Yea,' said he; *but before I tell thee my 
thoughts of thy tale of wonder, I would ask thee 

137 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

this : In those days when men work so easily, 
surely they shall make more wares than they can 
use in one country-side, or one good town, where- 
as in another, where things have not gone as well, 
they shall have less than they need ; and even so 
it is with us now, and thereof cometh scarcity 
and famine ; and if people may not come at each 
other's goods, it availeth the whole land little 
that one country-side hath more than enough 
while another hath less ; for the goods shall a- 
bide there in the storehouses of the rich place till 
they perish. So if that be so in the days of wonder 
ye tell of (and I see npt how it can be otherwise), 
then shall men be but little holpen by making all 
their wares so easily and with so little labour.' 

I smiled again and said : ' Yea, but it shall not 
be so ; not only shall men be multiplied a hun- 
dred and a thousand fold, but the distance of one 
place from another shall be as nothing ; so that 
the wares which lie ready for market in Durham 
in the evening may be in London on the morrow 
morning ; and the men of Wales may eat corn of 
Essex and the men of Essex wear wool of Wales; 

138 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

so that, so far as the flitting of goods to market 
goes, all the land shall be as one parish. Nay, 
what say I ? Not as to this land only shall it be 
so, but even the Indies, and far countries of which 
thou knowest not, shall be, so to say, at every 
man's door, and wares which now ye account pre- 
cious and dear-bought, shall then be common 
things bought and sold for little price at every 
huckster's stall. Say then, John, shall not those 
days be merry, and plentiful of ease and content- 
ment for all men ? ' 

* Brother,' said he, * meseemeth some doleful 
mockery liethunderthese joyful tidings of thine; 
since thou hast already partly told me to my sad 
bewilderment what the life of man shall be in 
those days. Yet will I now for a little set all that 
aside to consider thy strange tale as of a minstrel 
from over sea, even as thou biddest me. There- 
fore I say, that if men still abide men as I have 
known them, and unless these folk of England 
change as the land changeth — and forsooth of 
the men, for good and for evil, I can think no 
other than I think now, or behold them other 

139 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

than I have known them and loved them — I say 
if the men be still men, what will happen except 
that there should be all plenty in the land, and 
not one poor man therein, unless of his own free 
will he choose to lack and be poor, as a man in 
religion or such like ; for there would then be 
such abundance of all good things, that, as greedy 
as the lords might be, there would be enough to 
satisfy their greed and yet leave good living for 
all who laboured with their hands ; so that these 
should labour far less than now, and they would 
have time to learn knowledge, so that there 
should soon be no learned or unlearned, for all 
should be learned ; and they would have time 
also to learn how to order the matters of the 
parish and the hundred, and of the parliament 
of the realm, so that the king should take no 
more than his own ; and to order the rule of the 
realm, so that all men, rich and unrich, should 
have part therein ; and so by undoing of evil 
laws and making of good ones, that fashion would 
come to an end whereof thou speakest, that rich 
men make laws for their own behoof; for they 

140 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

should no longer be able to do thus when all had 
part in making the laws ; whereby it would soon 
come about that there would be no men rich and 
tyrannous, but all should have enough and to 
spare of the increase of the earth and the work 
of their own hands. Yea surely, brother, if ever 
it cometh about that men shall be able to make 
things, and not men, work for their superfluities, 
and that the length of travel from one place to 
another be made of no account, and all the world 
be a market for all the world, then all shall live 
in health and wealth ; and envy and grudging 
shall perish. For then shall we have conquered 
the earth and it shall be enough ; and then shall 
the kingdom of heaven be come down to the 
earth in very deed. Why lookest thou so sad and 
sorry ? what sayest thou ? ' 

I said : * Hast thou forgotten already what I 
told thee, that in those latter days a man who 
hath nought save his own body (and such men 
shall be far the most of men) must needs pawn 
his labour for leave to labour ? Can such a man 
be wealthy.? Hast thou not called him a thrall ? ' 

141 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

' Yea,' he said ; ' but how could I deem that 
such 'things could be when those days should be 
come wherein men could make things work for 
them ? ' 

' Poor man ! * said I. * Learn that in those very 
days, when it shall be with the making of things 
as with the carter in the cart, that there he sitteth 
and shaketh the reins and the horse draweth and 
the cart goeth ; in those days, I tell thee, many 
men shall be as poor and wretched always, year by 
year, as they are with thee when there is famine 
in the land ; nor shall any have plenty and surety 
of livelihood save those that shall sit by and look 
on while others labour ; and these, I tell thee, 
shall be a many, so that they shall see to the 
making of all laws, and in their hands shall be 
all power, and the labourers shall think that they 
cannot do without these men that live by rob- 
bing them, and shall praise them and wellnigh 
pray to them as ye pray to the saints, and the 
best worshipped man in the land shall be he who 
by forestalling and regrating hath gotten to him 
the most money/ 

142 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

' Yea,' said he, ' and shall they who see them- 
selves robbed worship the robber ? Then indeed 
shall men be changed from what they are now, 
and they shall be sluggards, dolts, and cowards 
beyond all the earth hath yet borne. Such are 
not the men I have known in my life-days, and 
that now I love in my death.' 

* Nay,' I said, * but the robbery shall they not 
see ; for have I not told thee that they shall hold 
themselves to be free men ? And for why ? I 
will tell thee : but first tell me how it fares with 
men now ; may the labouring man become a 
lord ? ' 

He said : 'The thing hath been seen that churls 
have risen from the dortoir of the monastery to 
the abbot's chair and the bishop's throne ; yet 
not often ; and whiles hath a bold sergeant be- 
come a wise captain, and they have made him 
squire and knight; and yet but very seldom. 
And now I suppose thou wilt tell me that the 
Church will open her arms wider to this poor 
people, and that many through her shall rise into 
lordship. But what availeth that ? Nought were 

143 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

it to me if the Abbot of St. Alban's with his 
golden mitre sitting guarded by his knights and 
sergeants, or the Prior of Merton with his hawks 
and his hounds, had once been poor men, if they 
were now tyrants of poor men ; nor would it 
better the matter if there were ten times as many 
Houses of Religion in the land as now are, and 
each with a churl's son for abbot or prior over 

it; 

I smiled and said : * Comfort thyself ; for in 
those days shall there be neither abbey nor priory 
in the land, nor monks nor friars, nor any reli- 
gious.' (He started as I spoke.) ' But thou hast 
told me that hardly in these days may a poor man 
rise to be a lord : now I tell thee that in the days 
to come poor men shall be able to become lords 
and masters and do-nothings ; and oft will it be 
seen that they shall do so ; and it shall be even 
for that cause that their eyes shall be blinded to 
the robbing of themselves by others, because they 
shall hope in their souls that they may each live 
to rob others : and this shall be the very safe- 
guard of all rule and law in those days.' 

144 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

* Now am I sorrier than thou hast yet made 
me/ said he ; * for when once this is established, 
how then can it be changed ? Strong shall be the 
tyranny of the latter days. And now meseems, 
if thou sayest sooth, this time of the conquest 
of the earth shall not bring heaven down to the 
earth, as erst I deemed it would, but rather that 
it shall bring hell up on to the earth. Woe's 
me, brother, for thy sad and weary foretelling ! 
And yet saidst thou that the men of those days 
would seek a remedy. Canst thou yet tell me, 
brother, what that remedy shall be, lest the sun 
rise upon mc made hopeless by thy tale of what 
is to be ? And, lo you, soon shall she rise upon 
the earth.' 

In truth the dawn was widening now, and the 
colours coming into the pictures on wall and in 
window ; and as well as I could see through the 
varied glazing of these last (and one window be- 
fore me had as yet nothing but white glass in it), 
the ruddy glow, which had but so little a while 
quite died out in the west, was now beginning to 
gather in the east — the new day was beginning. 

145 K 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

I looked at the poppy that I still carried in my 
hand, and it seemed to me to have withered and 
dwindled. I felt anxious to speak to my com- 
panion and tell him much, and withal I felt that 
I must hasten, or for some reason or other I 
should be too late ; so I spoke at last loud and 
hurriedly : 

* John Ball, be of good cheer ; for once more 
thou knowest, as I know, that the Fellowship of 
Men shall endure, however many tribulations it 
may have to wear through. Look you, a while 
ago was the light bright about us ; but it was be- 
cause of the moon, and the night was deep not- 
withstanding, and when the moonlight waned 
and died and there was but a little glimmer in 
place of the bright light, yet was the world glad 
because all things knew that the glimmer was of 
day and not of night. Lo you, an image of the 
times to betide the hope of the Fellowship of 
Men. Yet forsooth, it may well be that this 
bright day of summer which is now dawning 
upon us is no image of the beginning of the day 
that shall be ; but rather shall that day-dawn be 

146 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

cold and grey and surly ; and yet by its light shall 
men see things as they verily are, and no longer 
enchanted by the gleam of the moon and the gla- 
mour of the dream tide. By such grey light shall 
wise men and valiant souls see the remedy, and 
deal with it, a real thing that may be touched and 
handled, and no glory of the heavens to be wor- 
shipped from afar off. And what shall it be, as 
I told thee before, save that men shall be deter- 
mined to be free ; yea, free as thou wouldst have 
them, when thine hope rises the highest, and thou 
art thinking not of the king's uncles, and poll- 
groat bailiffe, and the villeinage of Essex, but of 
the end of all, when men shall have the fruits of 
the earth and the fruits of their toil thereon, with- 
out money and without price. The time shall 
come, John Ball, when that dream of thine that 
this shall one day be, shall be a thing that men 
shall talk of soberly, and as a thing soon to come 
about, as even with thee they talk of the villeins 
becoming tenants paying their lord quit-rent ; 
therefore, hast thou done well to hope it ; and, if 
thou heedest this also, as I suppose thou heedest 

147 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

it little, thy name shall abide by the hope in 
those days to come, and thou shalt not be for- 
gotten.' 

I heard his voice come out of the twilight, 
scarcely seeing him, though now the light was 
growing fast, as he said : 

* Brother, thou givest me heart again ; yet since 
now I wot well that thou art a sending from far- 
off times and far-off things ; tell thou, if thou 
mayest, to a man who is going to his death how 
this shall come about.' 

' Only this may I tell thee,' said I ; * to thee, 
when thou didst try to conceive of them, the 
ways of the days to come seemed follies scarce 
to be thought of ; yet shall they come to be fa- 
miliar things, and an order by which every man 
liveth, ill as he liveth, so that men shall deem 
of them, that thus it hath been since the be- 
ginning of the world, and that thus it shall be 
while the world endureth ; and in this wise so 
shall they be thought of a long while ; and the 
complaint of the poor the rich man shall heed, 
even as much and no more as he who lieth in 

148 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

pleasure under the lime-trees in the summer 
heedeth the murmur of his toiling bees. Yet 
in time shall this also grow old, and doubt shall 
creep in, because men shall scarce be able to live 
by that order, and the complaint of the poor 
shall be hearkened, no longer as a tale not ut- 
terly grievous, but as a threat of ruin, and a fear. 
Then shall those things, which to thee seem fol- 
lies, and to the men between thee and me mere 
wisdom and the bond of stability, seem follies 
once again ; yet, whereas men have so long lived 
by them, they shall cling to them yet from blind- 
ness and from fear ; and those that see, and that 
have thus much conquered fear that they are 
furthering the real time that cometh and not the 
dream that faileth, these men shall the blind and 
the fearful mock and missay, and torment and 
murder; and great and grievous shall be the 
strife in those days, and many the failures of the 
wise, and too oft sore shall be the despair of the 
valiant; and back-sliding, and doubt, and contest 
between friends and fellows lacking time in the 
hubbub to understand each other, shall grieve 

149 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

many hearts and hinder the Host of the Fellow- 
ship : yet shall all bring about the end, till thy 
deeming of folly and ours shall be one, and thy 
hope and our hope; and then — the Day will have 
come.' 

Once more I heard the voice of John Ball : 
' Now, brother, I say farewell ; for now verily 
hath the Day of the Earth come, and thou and 
I are lonely of each other again ; thou hast been 
a dream to me as I to thee, and sorry and glad 
have we made each other, as tales of old time and 
the longing of times to come shall ever make 
men to be. I go to life and to death, and leave 
thee ; and scarce do I know whether to wish thee 
some dream of the days beyond thine to tell what 
shall be, as thou hast told me, for I know not 
if that shall help or hinder thee ; but since we 
have been kind and very friends, I will not leave 
thee without a wish of good-will, so at least I 
wish thee what thou thyself wishest for thyself, 
and that is hopeful strife and blameless peace, 
which is to say in one word, life. Farewell, 
friend.' 

150 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

For some little time, although I had known 
that the daylight was growing and what was 
around me, I had scarce seen the things I had 
before noted so keenly ; but now in a flash I saw 
all — the east crimson with sunrise through the 
white window on my right hand ; the richly- 
carved stalls and gilded screen work, the pictures 
on the walls, the loveliness of the faultless colour 
of the mosaic window lights, the altar and the red 
light over it looking strange in the daylight, and 
the biers with the hidden dead men upon them 
that lay before the high altar. A great pain filled 
my heart at the sight of all that beauty, and 
withal I heard quick steps coming up the paved 
church-path to the porch, and the loud whistle 
of a sweet old tune therewith ; then the foot- 
steps stopped at the door; I heard the latch 
rattle, and knew that Will Green's hand was on 
the ring of it. 

Then I strove to rise up, but fell back again ; 
a white light, empty of all sights, broke upon 
me for a moment, and lo ! behold, I was lying in 
my familiar bed, the south-westerly gale rattling 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

the Venetian blinds and making their hold-fasts 
squeak. 

I got up presently, and going to the window 
looked out on the winter morning; the river was 
before me broad between outer bank and bank, 
but it was nearly dead ebb, and there Was a wide 
space of mud on each side of the hurrying stream, 
driven on the faster as it seemed by the push of 
the south-west wind. On the other side of the 
water the few willow-trees left us by the Thames 
Conservancy looked doubtfully alive against the 
bleak sky and the row of wretched-looking blue- 
slated houses, although, by the way, the latter 
were the backs of a sort of street of ' villas ' and 
not a slum ; the road in front of the house was 
sooty and muddy at once, and in the air was 
that sense of dirty discomfort which one is never 
quit of in London. The morning was harsh too, 
and though the wind was from the south-west 
it was as cold as a north wind ; and yet amidst 
it all, I thought of the corner of the next bight 
of the river which I could not quite see from 
where I was, but over which one can see clear 

152 



A DREAM OF JOHN BALL 

of houses and into Richmond Park, looking like 
the open country ; and dirty as the river was, 
and harsh as was the January wind, they seemed 
to woo me toward the country side, where away 
from the miseries of the * Great Wen * I might 
of my own will carry on a day-dream of the 
friends I had made in the dream of the night and 
against my will. 

But as I turned away shivering and down- 
hearted, on a sudden came the frightful noise of 
the ' hooters,* one after the other, that call the 
workmen to the factories, this one the after- 
breakfast one, more by token. So I grinned 
surlily, and dressed and got ready for my day's 
*work' as I call it, but which many a man be- 
sides John Ruskin (though not many in his posi- 
tion) would call ' play.' 



153 



A KING'S LESSON 



A KING'S LESSON 

TT is told of Matthias Corvinus, king of Hun- 
gary — the Alfred the Great of his time and 
people — that he once heard (once only ?) that 
some (only some^ my lad ?) of his peasants were 
over-worked and under-fed . So he sent for his 
Council, and bade come thereto also some of the 
mayors of the good towns, and some of the lords 
of land and their bailiffs, and asked them of the 
truth thereof ; and in diverse ways they all told 
one and the same tale, how the peasant carles 
were stout and well able to work and had enough 
and to spare of meat and drink, seeing that they 
were but churls ; and how if they worked not at 
the least as hard as they did, it would be ill for 
them and ill for their lords ; for that the more 
the churl hath the more he asketh ; and that 
when he knoweth wealth, he knoweth the lack of 

157 



A KING'S LESSON 

it also, as it fared with our first parents in the 
Garden of God. The King sat and said but little 
while they spake, but he misdoubted them that 
they were liars. So the Council brake up with 
nothing done ; but the King took the matter to 
heart, being, as kings go, a just man, besides be- 
ing more valiant than they mostly were, even in 
the old feudal time. So within two or three 
days, says the tale, he called together such lords 
and councillors as he deemed fittest, and bade 
busk them for a ride ; and when they were ready 
he and they set out, over rough and smooth, 
decked out in all the glory of attire which was 
the wont of those days. Thus they rode till they 
came to some village or thorpe of the peasant 
folk, and through it to the vineyards where men 
were working on the sunny southern slopes that 
went up from the river : my tale does not say 
whether that wereTheiss,orDonau,orwhat river. 
Well, I judge it was late spring or early summer, 
and the vines but just beginning to show their 
grapes ; for the vintage is late in those lands, and 
some of the grapes are not gathered till the first 

158 



A KING'S LESSON 

frosts have touched them, whereby the wine made 
from them is the stronger and sweeter. Anyhow 
there were the peasants, men and women, boys 
and young maidens, toiling and swinking ; some 
hoeing between the vine-rows, some bearing bas- 
kets of dung up the steep slopes, some in one 
way, some in another, labouring for the fruit they 
should never eat, and the wine they should never 
drink. Thereto turned the King and got off his 
horse and began to climb up the stony ridges of 
the vineyard, and his lords in like manner fol- 
lowed him, wondering in their hearts what was 
toward ; but to the one who was following next 
after him he turned about and said with a smile, 
' Yea, lords, this is a new game we are playing 
to-day, and a new knowledge will come from it.' 
And the lord smiled, but somewhat sourly. 

As for the peasants, great was their fear of 
those gay and golden lords. I judge that they did 
not know the King, since it was little likely that 
any one of them had seen his face; and they knew 
of him but as the Great Father, the mighty war- 
rior who kept the Turk from harrying their 



A KING'S LESSON 

thorpe. Though, forsooth, little matter was it 
to any man there whether Turk or Magyar was 
their over-lord, since to one master or another 
they had to pay the due tale of labouring days 
in the year, and hard was the livelihood that they 
earned for themselves on the days when they 
worked for themselves and their wives and chil- 
dren. 

Well, belike they knew not the King ; but 
amidst those rich lords they saw and knew their 
own lord, and of him they were sore afraid. But 
nought it availed them to flee away from those 
strong men and strong horses — they who had 
been toiling from before the rising of the sun, 
and now it wanted little more than an hour of 
noon : besides, with the King and lords was a 
guard of crossbowmen, who were left the other 
side of the vineyard wall, — keen-eyed Italians of 
the mountains, straight shooters of the bolt. So 
the poor folk fled not ; nay they made as if all 
this were none of their business, and went on with 
their work. For indeed each man said to him- 
self, ' If I be the one that is not slain, to-morrow 

1 60 



A KING'S LESSON 

I shall lack bread if I do not work my hardest 
to-day ; and maybe I shall be headman if some 
of these be slain and I live.' 

Now comes the King amongst them and says : 
' Good fellows, which of you is the headman ? ' 

Spake a man, sturdy and sunburnt, well on in 
years and grizzled : ' I am the headman, lord.' 

' Give me thy hoe, then,' says the King ; ' for 
now shall I order this matter myself, since these 
lords desire a new game, and are fain to work 
under me at vine-dressing. But do thou stand 
by me and set me right if I order them wrong : 
but the rest of you go play ! ' 

The carle knew not what to think, and let the 
King stand with his hand stretched out, while he 
looked askance at his own lord and baron, who 
wagged his head at him grimly as one who says, 
' Do it, dog ! ' 

Then the carle lets the hoe come into the 
King's hand ; and the King falls to, and orders 
his lords for vine-dressing, to each his due share 
of the work : and whiles the carle said yea and 
whiles nay to his ordering. And then ye should 

i6i L 



A KING'S LESSON 

have seen velvet cloaks cast ofF, and mantles of 
fine Flenush scarlet go to the dusty earth ; as the 
lords and knights busked them to the work. 

So they buckled to ; and to most of them it 
seemed good game to play at vine-dressing. But 
one there was who, when his scarlet cloak was off, 
stood up in a doublet of glorious Persian web of 
gold and silk, such as men make not now, worth 
a hundred florins the Bremen ell. Unto him the 
King with no smile on his face gave the job of to- 
ing and froing up and down the hill with the big- 
gest and the frailest dung-basket that there was ; 
and thereat the silken lord screwed up a grin, 
that was sport to see, and all the lords laughed ; 
and as he turned away he said, yet so that none 
heard him, * Do I serve this son's son of a whore 
that he should bid me carry dung ? ' For you 
must know that the King's father, John Hunyad, 
one of the great warriors of the world, the Ham- 
mer of the Turks, was not gotten in wedlock, 
though he were a king's son. 

Well, they sped the work bravely for a while, 
and loud was the laughter as the hoes smote the 

162 



A KING'S LESSON 

earth and the flint stones tinkled and the cloud 
of dust rose up ; the brocaded dung-bearer went 
up and down, cursing and swearing by the White 
God and the Black ; and one would say to another, 
' See ye how gentle blood outgoes churls' blood, 
even when the gentle does the churls' work : these 
lazy loons smote but one stroke to our three.' 
But the King, who worked no worse than any, 
laughed not at all ; and meanwhile the poor folk 
stood by, not daring to speak a word one to the 
other ; for they were still sore afraid, not now of 
being slain on the spot, but this rather was in their 
hearts : * These great and strong lords and knights 
have come to see what work a man may do with- 
out dying: if we are to have yet more days added 
to our year's tale of lords* labour, then are we 
lost without remedy.' And their hearts sank 
within them. 

So sped the work ; and the sun rose yet higher 
in the heavens, and it was noon and more. And 
now there was no more laughter among those 
toiling lords, and the strokes of the hoe and mat- 
tock came far slower, while the dung-bearer sat 

163 



A KING'S LESSON 

down at the bottom of the hill and looked out on 
the river; but the King yet worked on doggedly, 
so for shame the other lords yet kept at it. Till 
at last the next man to the King let his hoe drop 
with a clatter, and swore a great oath. Now he 
was a strong black-bearded man in the prime of 
life, a valiant captain of that famous Black Band 
that had so often rent the Turkish array ; and 
the King loved him for his sturdy valour ; so he 
says to him, ' Is aught wrong, Captain ? ' 

* Nay, lord,' says he, ' ask the headman carle 
yonder what ails us.* 

* Headman,' says the King, *what ails these 
strong knights.? Have I ordered them wrongly?' 

' Nay, but shirking ails them, lord,' says he, 
*for they are weary ; and no wonder, for they have 
been playing hard, and are of gentle blood.' 

* Is that so, lords,' says the King, * that ye are 
weary already ? ' 

Then the rest hung their heads and said 
nought, all save that captain of war ; and he said, 
being a bold man and no liar : ' King, I see what 
thou wouldst be at ; thou hast brought us here 

164 



A KING'S LESSON 

to preach us a sermon from that Plato of thine ; 
and to say sooth, so that I may swink no more, 
and go eat my dinner, now preach thy worst ! 
Nay, if thou wilt be priest I will be thy deacon. 
Wilt thou that I ask this labouring carle a thing 
or two ? ' 

' Yea,' said the King. And there came, as it 
were, a cloud of thought over his face. 

Then the captain straddled his legs and looked 
big, and said to the carle: *Good fellow, how long 
have we been working here ? ' 

* Two hours or thereabout, judging by the sun 
above us,' says he. 

' And how much of thy work have we done in 
that while ? ' says the captain, and winks his eye 
at him withal. 

* Lord,' says the carle, grinning a little despite 
himself, * be not wroth with my word. In the 
first half-hour ye did five -and -forty minutes' 
work of ours, and in the next half-hour scant a 
thirty minutes' work, and the third half-hour a 
fifteen minutes' work, and in the fourth half- 
hour two minutes' work.' The grin now had 

165 



A KING'S LESSON 

faded from his face, but a gleam came into his 
eyes as he said : ' And now, as I suppose, your 
day's work is done, and ye will go to your dinner, 
and eat the sweet and drink the strong ; and we 
shall eat a little rye-bread, and then be working 
here till after the sun has set and the moon has 
begun to cast shadows. Now for you, I wot not 
how ye shall sleep nor where, nor what white 
body ye shall hold in your arms while the night 
flits and the stars shine; but for us, while the 
stars yet shine, shall we be at it again, and bethink 
ye for what ! I know not what game and play ye 
shall be devising for to-morrow as ye ride back 
home ; but for us when we come back here to- 
morrow, it shall be as if there had been no yester- 
day and nothing done therein, and that work of 
that to-day shall be nought to us also, for we 
shall win no respite from our toil thereby, and 
the morrow of to-morrow will all be to begin 
again once more, and so on and on till no to- 
morrow abideth us. Therefore, if ye are think- 
ing to lay some new tax or tale upon us, think 
twice of it, for we may not bear it. And all this 

l66 



A KINQ'S LESSON 

I say with the less fear, because I perceive this 
man here beside me, in the black velvet jerkin 
and the gold chain on his neck, is the King ; nor 
do I think he will slay me for my word since he 
hath so many a Turk before him and his mighty 
sword ! ' 

Then said the captain : ' Shall I smite the man, 
O king? or hath he preached thy sermon for 
thee ? ' 

' Smite not, for he hath preached it,' said the 
King. ' Hearken to the carle's sermon, lords and 
councillors of mine ! Yet when another hath 
spoken our thought, other thoughts are born 
therefrom, and now have I another sermon to 
preach ; but I will refrain me as now. Let us 
down and to our dinner.* 

So they went, the King and his gentles, and 
sat down by the river under the rustle of the 
poplars, and they ate and drank and were merry. 
And the King hsidc bear up the broken meats to 
the vine-dressers, and a good draught of the arch- 
er's wine, and to the headman he gave a broad 
gold piece, and to each man three silver pennies. 

167 



A KING'S LESSON 

But when the poor folk had all that under their 
hands, it was to them as though the kingdom of 
heaven had come down to earth. 

In the cool of the evening home rode the King 
and his lords. The King was distraught and si- 
lent; but at last the captain, who rode beside him, 
said to him : ' Preach me now thine after-sermon, 

king ! ' 

'I think thou knowest it already,* said the king, 
' else hadst thou not spoken in such wise to the 
carle ; but tell me what is thy craft and the craft 
of all these, whereby ye live, as the potter by 
making pots, and so forth ? ' 

Said the captain : ' As the potter lives by mak- 
ing pots, so we live by robbing the poor.' 

Again said the King : ' And my trade ? ' 

Said he, ' Thy trade is to be a king of such 
thieves, yet no worser than the rest.' 

The king laughed. 

' Bear that in mind,' said he, ' and then shall 

1 tell thee my thought while yonder carle spake. 
* Carle,' I thought, ' were I thou or such as thou, 
then would I take in my hand a sword or a spear, 

i68 



A KING'S LESSON 

or were it only a hedge-stake, and bid others do 
the like, and forth would we go ; and since we 
would be so many, and with nought to lose save 
a miserable life, we would do battle and prevail, 
and make an end of the craft of kings and of 
lords and of usurers, and there should be but one 
craft in the world, to wit, to work merrily for 
ourselves and to live merrily thereby.* 

Said the captain : * This then is thy sermon. 
Who will heed it if thou preach it ? * 

Said the King : * They who will take the mad 
king and put him in a king's madhouse, there- 
fore do I forbear to preach it. Yet it shall be 
preached.' 

* And not heeded,' said the captain, * save by 
those who head and hang the setters forth of 
new things that are good for the world. Our 
trade is safe for many and many a generation.' 

And therewith they came to the King's palace, 
and they ate and drank and slept, and the world 
went on its ways. 



M 



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