The Saracen's Head

English artist and writer, OSBERT LANCASTER came down from Oxford in the early thirties and studied at the Slade School. Later he became the art critic of the Observer and a cartoonist for the Daily Express, and so embarked on the writing and drawing which have earned him a delightful reputation on the other side. During the war he lived in Greece for eighteen months in a semiofficial capacity, and the notes and sketches which he made at that time have recently appeared in his new book, Classical Landscape with Figures. Now, in a wholly different vein, he devotes himself to the adventures of William de Littlehampton, the reluctant Crusadera chronicle which the Atlantic is happy to publish in three installments.

by OSBERT LANCASTER

l

ONCE upon a time, in the reign of King Richard Coeur de Lion to be precise, there lived in Sussex a certain landowner known as William de Littlehampton. He was exceedingly rich, the lord of five manors with the rights of socage, corkage, and drainage between Chanctonbury Ring and Bognor-supra-Mare, and in addition he enjoyed the rare privilege of fishing for sturgeon in the river Arun. (In fact there are no sturgeon in the river Arun but this was nevertheless regarded as a veryrare distinction.)

His principal residence was the castle of Courantsdair, a large, prominently situated building completely equipped with drawbridge, moat, bailey, keep, posterns, dungeons, and all the usual twelfthcentury fittings, and enjoying a magnificent view of the South Downs and the English Channel. Though immensely strong it was already over a hundred years old, and unfortunately even by twelth-century standards was considered more than a little uncomfortable. The fire smoked without stopping, the wind whistled round the great hall through a dozen cracks, and none of the window shutters fitted properly — which was all the more noticeable as none of the windows had any glass.

William, who every year from the beginning of November to the end of May had a constant succession of colds, coughs, bronchitises, and influenzas, was fully aware of these defects and had made several attempts to make his home a little more up to date, but he had never yet succeeded in overcoming the resistance of his mother, a remarkably tough old lady of sixty-eight. Whenever he suggested putting a screen across the entrance to the kitchen or hanging some arras on the walls of his bedroom, his mother promptly reminded him that his dear father had never had any such sissy fittings in his day, and what was good enough for old Sir Dagobert should certainly be quite good enough for his son. William invariably agreed, apologized deeply, and tried hard to suppress his sneezes for the rest of the evening in case his mother should think he was playing for sympathy.

Sir Dagobert de Littlehampton, who had died as the result of a most unfortunate accident very shortly after the birth of William, his only son, had been renowned throughout Christendom for his bravery, powers of endurance, exceptional strength, and outstanding skill in all manly sports and exercises. At the age of six he was taken on his first wild boar hunt and, his horse having the ill-luck to catch its foot in a rabbit hole, was thrown heavily. Just at that moment the boar, of quite extraordinary size and ferocity, turned round in his tracks and, bellowing horribly, made straight for the prostrate lad. Without a moment’s hesitation and with complete presence of mind, little Dagobert drew out his pocketknife and just as the infuriated beast, which was straddling its prey, was lowering its head to rip the fearless child with its vast tusks, he plunged it into the boar’s stomach, which with one decisive gesture he slit from end to end.

The news of this exploit came to the ears of the King, who chanced to be passing through the neighborhood at the time. As a token of his admiration, he granted Dagobert the right to bear as his crest a severed boar’s head proper, which was why this device was embroidered on the great standard which ever flapped above the keep of Courantsdair. The skull of the animal, complete with tusks and tastefully mounted, hung on the wall of the great hall, where it had frequently given William the fright of his life as he came upon it unexpectedly in the dim torchlight on a winter’s evening.

By the time Sir Dagobert had reached the age of his son at the opening of our story — twenty years and two months—his fame had spread far and wide. Five times Junior Tilting Champion of the Southern Counties (winning the cup outright in 1138), winner of the All-England Archery Competition on two separate occasions, and runner-up in the finals of the Mercian Battle-axe Contest in the following year, he had already taken part in two pitched battles, five forays, eleven skirmishes, and three sieges. In addition he had killed two knights in single combat and unhorsed several more. Of the men-at-arms, archers, and common foot soldiers that he had dispatched he had already long since lost count. But with all these triumphs, which increased as the years passed by, his joy remained incomplete for he had no son and heir. Year after year his wife, a woman of like temper to himself, gave birth to a strapping girl until, at long last, in his sixtieth year his only son was welcomed into the world by eleven sisters. (Six more had died of colds, croop, or bronchitis during the various hard winters.)

Unfortunately Sir Dagobert did not long survive hearing the good news — he never saw little William at all — as just at this time he met his death as the result of the most exceptional ill-luck at the siege of an obscure town near Limoges. It so happened that in the view of the King of England, who was besieging the place, the hour had come to make a final assault and so bring to an end an operation which had already gone on far too long, and, in order to ensure the success of this attack, various siege engines of the latest design and enormous power had been brought up. Now Sir Dagobert disapproved on principle of all such newfangled devices, considering them ungentlemanly and, in so far as they were not completely useless, likely to discourage a healthy enthusiasm for hand-to-hand fighting and cold steel. The skilled engineers who operated these fearsome and complicated machines he habitually referred to as “those ruddy plumbers.”

Now it so chanced that on the first morning that a gigantic catapult had been set up Sir Dagobert passed by in the company of some other like-minded warriors to whom he was expressing his customary contempt for long-range weapons in general and catapults in particular, when in order to emphasize his distaste he delivered a scornful kick with his mailed foot at a small lever projecting from the framework of the machine. Unfortunately the mechanism was already wound up and the projection was in fact the lever which set the whole thing in motion. The next second the gallant old knight, the pride of Christendom, was hurtling through the air in a wide arc in the general direction of the besieged town. It was some minutes after he had made a dramatic landing head first into the principal square that he realized exactly what had happened; and when at last the full ridiculousness of his mishap became apparent, he was so furious that he burst a blood vessel and died on the spot. However, as in life so in death, success crowned his every exploit, for the townspeople were fully convinced that his unexpected arrival was but the first indication of a large-scale airborne attack and promptly threw open their gates and surrendered.

The King, when he heard the news, gave Sir Dagobert a full military funeral and shipped his body back to England at the taxpayers’ expense. The fine old warrior was deeply and sincerely mourned by his disconsolate widow, eleven daughters, and numerous friends and relations, and was buried in the village church beneath a magnificent monument which exists to this day. If you ever chance to visit it, pause and reflect for a moment on the virtues and character of the deceased and, bearing in mind his untimely end, remember that it seldom pays to be scornful of Science.

2

IN the years that followed, the Dame de Littlehampton had devoted herself to the upbringing and education of her only son with the fond intent that he should grow to resemble his beloved father as closely as possible and in every way. With this purpose in view she subjected little William from his earliest years to the strictest discipline. The best instructors in such manly pursuits as wrestling, singlestick, boxing, archery, and above all tilting, were engaged regardless of expense; three times a week in all weathers the little lad was made to follow the boar hounds, stag hounds, fox hounds or basset hounds according to the season; and no matter how cold the day, even in blackest January, he was forced to swim once round the moat before breakfast.

Sad to relate, this carefully designed and regularly practiced regime had proved a sad failure, for the older William grew, the less he resembled his famous parent. Even at a tender age the likeness had never been very marked, for so far was William from overcoming wild boars when he was six that he was still mortally afraid of the domestic cat at the age of ten, and the sole result of his regular appearance in the hunting field had only been to instill into him just sufficient knowledge and skill to enable him on most occasions to keep as far away front the dangerous quarry as possible.

But of all the fields in which William failed to emulate his father, in none were his shortcomings so noticeable as in the tiltyard. In this useful and, indeed, in his station in life, essential accomplishment, he made no progress whatever. Finding it sufficiently difficult to retain his seat on a horse at all, he proved quite incapable of aiming his lance at a target at the same time. All was well so long as the horse was proceeding at walking pace — even when it started to trot he retained some control over his weapon — but the moment it broke into a canter all was lost. And so, William de Littlehampton had grown up, despite the careful instruction of innumerable riding masters, the glorious example of his revered parent, the reproaches and sound wallopings of his disappointed mother, and the mockery of his contemporaries, quite unable to keep a straight lance.

One fine autumn evening shortly after William had reached his twentieth birthday he was sitting with his mother after dinner in an alcove in the great hall. The Dame had just firmly announced that she had long been wanting a serious talk with her only son and, as they were now quite alone, she proposed to take the opportunity. (The great hall at this hour was completely deserted save for the presence of William’s seven unmarried sisters, his cousins Leofric and Gertrude, half a dozen varlets clearing away the dinner, two men-at-arms sharpening battle-axes in a corner, a wandering minstrel tuning his harp, and about a dozen wolfhounds doing nothing in particular.)

“William,” she said, raising her naturally powerful voice in order to be heard above the customary hush, “you have now reached an age when it is essential that you should without delay accomplish some notable feat of arms in order to gain your position as a knight and bring honor to our house. If indeed,” she added in a nasty tone of voice, “you have not already passed it. I will not waste time by once more pointing out to you how gravely you have disappointed my fondest hopes, or remarking how thankful I am that your poor father did not live to witness the inglorious career of his only son. I will only say that while we have done our best to conceal from the outside world the graver faults in your character, public opinion now demands that you should vindicate your claim to be the son of the great Sir Dagobert. Moreover, may I point out that even if you are dead to all sense of shame and unmoved by any other decent feelings, you cannot possibly expect to marry your cousin Gertrude until you have made some small effort to win for yourself a reputation?”

In point of fact William had not the slightest desire to marry his cousin Gertrude, a bad-tempered girl with a face like a boot, but as both she and his mother had long ago decided that the match was a highly suitable one, he knew better than to attempt to protest.

3

How long the Dame would have continued to lecture her unfortunate son will never be known, for just as she was about to resume her list of his personal failings, the sound of a long blast upon the horn which hung on a post opposite the drawbridge fell upon their ears. It was a late hour for visitors and instantly there arose within the hall a great bustle and shouting of orders and hurrying to and fro. At last word came from the gatehouse that a solitary monk sought admittance; whereupon the Dame gave orders that, provided the sentry was sure the visitor was really alone, the drawbridge should be lowered.

A few moments later there strode into the hall none other than Abbot Slapjack, a robust and hearty clergyman who had been the dear friend of the late Sir Dagobert and had long been held in high esteem by the Dame. From his unusual air of self-importance, greater even than his habitual smugness, it was at once obvious that he was the bearer of important news, and as soon as the usual greetings had been exchanged, he took up a commanding position in front of the brazier and, rubbing his hands, launched into an account of his recent travels.

He had, it appeared, been visiting another monastery of his order in Canterbury and on his way home to his own abbey, some half-dozen miles from the castle, had passed through Rye. There he had noticed alongside the quay a large vessel which, upon inquiry, he discovered was due to sail in two days’ time for the Holy Land.

“As soon as I heard its destination,”he boomed, “I made all speed to tell you the great news and did not draw rein until I reached your gates. What a chance! How I envy you, dear boy!” he added, slapping William on the back.

Poor William was quite at a loss to know exactly where his good fortune lay or why this information should be thought so exciting. He did not remain long in ignorance. His mother, after barely a second’s pause, suddenly clapped her hands and exclaimed with an enthusiasm fully equal to the Abbot’s: —

“Of course, the Crusade! Why,” she continued, “we were only discussing this very moment what could be found for William to do. This is exactly the thing. William, my son, what an opportunity!”

“Aha!” said the Abbot. “I thought you would be pleased. ’Pon my word, if I were only twenty years younger I’d have gone straight off myself. This young rascal here” — slapping William again harder than ever — “has all the luck. However, there’s no time to lose. The Master has consented to delay his sailing for forty-eight hours, but not a moment longer, so you will all have to set to and start packing right away.”

Poor William’s heart sank. He knew very little about the Holy Land or about Crusades, but enough to be sure he was quite unsuited to such an enterprise. He would have first to cross the sea, which would certainly make him ill, and then there would be a great deal of hard riding, and it would undoubtedly be more important than ever to keep a straight lance. What little he had heard of the Saracens had been most unfavorable and there would probably be a lot of snakes, scorpions, and possibly dragons. The only thing which gave him any pleasure was the fact that he understood the Holy Land to be very hot, and after nineteen winters in Castle Courantsdair he felt he could stand a lot of heat.

However, he did not long have leisure for such gloomy brooding, as the Dame, acting with her usual promptitude on the Abbot’s last words, had soon turned the whole castle into a hive of unaccustomed industry.

“Send me the Seneschal, the Head Groom, the Armorer, the Farrier, the Fletcher, and the Wardrobe Mistress, she roared; and as soon as these officials were lined up nervously before her chair she started issuing her orders.

“Seneschal,” she said, “select at once two trusty men-at-arms to accompany your master on the Crusade, a personal servant and a groom. You, Master of the Horse, pick out the best charger in the stables, two good war horses, and half a dozen pack animals; the Farrier here will see that they are all properly shod and will get ready a sufficient supply of extra horseshoes to last six months. Armorer, it will be your task carefully to examine your master’s chain mail, patch all holes, and clean off any rust. Select and sharpen three swords, six lances, and a battle-axe; pick out the best helmet in the armory and polish it well; and look to the shields, touching up the paint work on the crest where necessary. Having done that, you will get ready complete equipment for two men-at-arms. Meanwhile the Fletcher will prepare six gross of the best arrows, taking care to see that all the heads are properly pointed and that the moth has not got at the feathers.”

Having dismissed the parade, the Dame then turned her attention to her seven daughters giggling with excitement in the corner.

“Now, girls,” she roared, “stop all that tomfoolery and get out your needles and go at once to the sewing room. The Wardrobe Mistress will provide a set of white surcoats on which it will be your proud privilege to sew the red cross of the Crusader. See to it that the stitches are small and you get the crosses on straight.”

“Well, well, that’s capital,” said Abbot Slapjack. “There’s only one thing you have forgotten, dear lady.”

“What’s that?” asked the Dame.

“Our gallant Crusader here will need a page and I think I know who will want to volunteer.”

“Why of course — little Leofric.”

William groaned inwardly. Although of a kindly nature, if there was one person whom he could not stand at any price it was his cousin Leofric. This repulsive youth was a noisy, snub-nosed, redheaded conceited lad some three years younger than himself, for whom his natural dislike had been much increased by the attitude of his family. For from his earliest years Leofric had been good at all the things at which poor William had been noticeably bad, and throughout their youth his excellence had invariably been made a matter of bitter reproach to the latter.

“Look at little Leofric,” the Dame would say, “he doesn’t cry when he falls off his rocking horse,” or, “Leofric is much younger than you are and see how good at singlestick he is,” or, “Leofric doesn’t make a fuss about bathing just because there’s a little pack ice in the moat.”

Inevitably, as time went on, Leofric made less and less effort to conceal his contempt for his cousin, and nowadays seldom missed an opportunity of humiliating him. Indeed he sometimes went further and played horrid tricks on William, such as slipping a thistle beneath the saddle of his horse, tying up a wild boar in his bedroom, or lending him a joke lance which bent double when he was taking part in a tournament.

It was therefore not surprising that the very last person William wanted to accompany him on the Crusade was Leofric. Nevertheless he clearly saw there was no way of preventing it. Leofric himself was delighted with the idea, and the Abbot and the Dame were both clearly of the opinion that William ought to consider himself very lucky that so splendid a youth should have consented to go with him as a mere page.

But even worse was to follow.

“I say, Aunt,” said Leofric, “of course we shall be taking Charlemagne, shan’t we?”

Now Charlemagne was a large wolfhound with a fiendish temper, incredibly disobedient and horrible to look at. William, who was not very fond of dogs at any time, simply loathed him; but in vain did he protest that Charlemagne would never stand the heat, or would get stung by a viper, or catch rabies,

and that it would really be most unkind to take him. All such objections were swept aside by Leofric and it was generally decided that Charlemagne must certainly go too.

4

IT WAS long past his usual bedtime when William got to his room that night. And even after he had lain down and blown out the rushlight he did not get to sleep. Through the open window came sounds of intense activity in the bailey below — hammers ringing on anvils, grooms shouting to men-at-arms, horses being shod, dogs barking, and drivers and servants running to and fro. Then, just as he was dropping off, in came the Dame to give him a dose — “ just,” as she said, “to be on the safe side.” And when finally he did get to sleep it seemed that he had barely closed his eyes before a hearty hammering at the door announced that dawn had broken and he must soon be off.

As soon as the family had finished a light breakfast of pickled pork, brisket of beef, soused herrings, bread, cheese, and a hogshead of ale, William was ceremoniously dressed. Leofric, as his page, assisted him into his suit of chain mail, taking good care to pinch him and tweak him as much as he could during the process; his sisters slipped over his head a white surcoat chastely emblazoned with the red cross of a Crusader; and finally his mother girded round his waist Sir Dagobert’s favorite sword, the very one the hero had been wearing at the time of his tragic death, accompanying the gesture with a little speech in which she exhorted him always to be worthy of his dear papa and the honored name he bore, and ended up by telling him how lucky he should consider himself to be going on so delightful an expedition.

This done, William took leave of his mother, his sisters, and his cousin Gertrude, went out into the courtyard and, Leofric holding his bridle, mounted his gray mare, Lillian. (Luckily, the head groom was an old friend and had thwarted an attempt of Leofric’s to substitute for the trustworthy Lillian a spirited charger of his own choosing.)

Once safely in the saddle Leofric handed him his lance; Abbot Slapjack, who had insisted on accompanying him to Rye (largely, William suspected, in order to see that he did not contrive to miss the boat), heaved himself onto his horse; the men-atarms drew up alongside; the sentries all saluted; the gatehouse keeper flung open the great gates; the gatehouse keeper’s wife burst into tears; the gatehouse keeper’s children yelled and waved; the gatehouse keeper’s dog nearly broke his chain from overexcitement; and, having acknowledged the waves of his mother and his cousin Gertrude from the battlements by raising his lance (his sisters had all been locked in their rooms by their mother, who thought this final scene likely to prove too emotional for their refined temperaments), William rode off across the drawbridge and over the Downs, followed by a long string of pack animals and preceded by Charlemagne barking furiously.

“’Pon my word you are in luck,” said Abbot Slapjack. “I have never seen a finer ship in my life.”

William, who was standing beside him on the quay at Rye, did not really agree, but knew better than to say so. To him the good ship St. Caradoc seemed pitifully small, markedly uncomfortable, and probably unseaworthy.

The Master was a bluff old sea dog, smelling strongly of fish, who had already taken a great fancy to Leofric. But he was also rather a snob and took much pleasure in the Littlehampton banner with the severed boar’s head proper which was proudly flapping over the stern; this made him very polite to William. Everywhere he went he was accompanied by a one-eyed cockatoo which perched on his shoulder, and the ship’s cat. This last was a ferocious-looking animal who would be unlikely, William rightly considered, to get on very well with Charlemagne.

At last the moment of departure arrived. The two men-at-arms, Wolfram and Tungsten, were already aboard: all the luggage had been safely stowed away in the hold; and Lillian was tied up uncomfortably somewhere amidships. (All the other horses had had to be sold because there was no room for them on board, and would have to be replaced on arrival.)

“Well, my boy,” said Abbot Slapjack for the twentieth time, “how I wish 1 were in your shoes. l)o you know, 1 have still a very good mind to come along too.”

“Oh no, please,” said William hastily, “whatever would the Abbey do without you.J”

“Ah, well, anno Domini, anno Domini,” replied the Abbot in a self-pitying voice and wiped away a tear on the sleeve of his robe.

“God bless you,” he continued. “God bless you, dear boy. How I wish—” But he got no further for at that moment Leofric, who had been in a frenzy of impatience to get started, dragged William up the gangplank. Then, with a great deal of shouting, “What ho!” and “Ahoy there!” and “Avast ye!” the great sail was hoisted, the anchor was weighed, the rowers thrust out their oars, and they were away.

5

OVER all the grisly details of that terrible voyage we will not linger. It will be sufficient if I tell you that William felt very queer long before the figure of the Abbot waving good-bye on the quay had passed out of sight, and had already been seasick twice before they were fairly in mid-channel. Charlemagne and the ship’s cat had their first major difference of opinion before the ship had rounded the point, and by the time they were off the mouth of the Aran, William was far too ill even to accompany Leofric, who was feeling fine, up onto the poop to catch a last sight of the towers of Courantsdair just visible on the far ridge of the Downs.

According to the Master it was a quite singularly fortunate voyage, taking only five weeks from Rye to the Pillars of Hercules (as in his old-world way he called the Straits of Gibraltar), but for William it seemed more like five years of continuous tempest. His only comfort lay in the reflection that Charlemagne was enjoying it even less than he was. Whenever the unfortunate hound felt well enough to rampage round the deck he was set on at once by the ship’s cat, who was always able to escape, when pursued, by leaping up the rigging; and whenever he was dropping off into a quiet doze he was immediately woken up by a stream of insults from the cockatoo. Leofric, I need hardly tell you, enjoyed every moment and was forever climbing up to the crow’s-nest or taking a hand at the oars.

Once the St. Caradoc had passed through the Straits and was in the Mediterranean the weather improved; the sun came out; the sea was comparalively calm and William began to feel just a little more cheerful. But not for long.

Hitherto, the principal dangers which threatened them had been from the elements, but now an even more terrible peril arose. These waters were at that time infested by hordes of the most savage and ferocious corsairs and pirates, whose appalling and bloodthirsty exploits the Master was never tired of recounting. Every time the lookout man in the crow’s-nest called out, “Sail to starboard!” (or “Sail to port!” as the case might be) all the crew rushed for their bows and arrows, the decks were cleared for action, and William and the two men-atarms had to put on all their armor and stand to in the poop. In point of fact, much to Leofric’s disappointment, in every case the ship either sheered off over the horizon or turned out, on closer view, to be a friendly merchantman as terrified of the St. Caradoc as the St. Caradoc was of her; but nevertheless the nervous strain proved very trying for William — the more so as Leofric was not above giving a false alarm just to see his cousin fall out of his hammock.

After they had been in the Mediterranean about a week, however, there occurred an incident which did do a little towards cheering up William. As they had not touched at any port since leaving the Bay of Biscay it had become necessary to take on some water, and as all the neighboring harbors were in the hands of the Infidel they were forced to look out for some barren stretch of coast as far removed as possible from any habitation.

At last one morning the lookout announced that he had seen a likely-looking place, a small group of palm trees in the midst of a completely deserted strip of shore, where they might safely land and it seemed probable that fresh water was to be found. Accordingly they drew towards the shore with a mariner perched astride the carved bird’s head on the prow, dropping a plumb line at intervals. When at length he decided the ship could safely go no farther, all took off their breeches, slid down the oars, and waded ashore.

Once more to feel the immobile earth beneath the feet was in itself a great pleasure to William, but in addition the long stretch of sandy beach, the palm trees and the numerous cacti, which for him were a complete novelty, all combined to make the outing peculiarly delightful.

There was, indeed, only one circumstance that in any way tended to mar his pleasure, and that was the behavior of Charlemagne. Hardly less pleased than his master to find himself on terra firma, the excitable creature raced madly up and down the beach, poking his nose into every patch of shrub and chasing all the sea birds in sight, and William correctly foresaw considerable difficulty in persuading his notoriously disobedient hound to return to the ship when the time came.

After all too short a stay sufficient water had been found and taken aboard to last the ship’s company until their next port of call, and the Master, who was anxious not to remain longer than was necessary in these dangerous parts, gave the signal to return to ship. Obediently William started to retrace his steps, first whistling, then calling, and finally chasing Charlemagne, who had paid no attention at all to the summons. All in vain; the maddening animal no sooner heard his master’s voice than he bolted as fast as he could in the opposite direction and poor William, who was always desperately anxious not to make trouble and had fully intended to be among the most prompt in obeying the Master’s call, was soon miserable with embarrassment and annoyance, and had almost reconciled himself to leaving Charlemagne behind (which in fact only his kindheartedness and understandable fear of what Leofric would say had prevented his doing straightaway), when a terrifying thing happened.

Charlemagne, clearly visible, though as far from that section of the beach opposite the ship as he could get, was nosing round a clump of shrubs and cactus and paying no heed to his master’s appeals. Suddenly there was a terrible roar, the bushes parted, and there leaped out an enormous Numidian lion! Charlemagne gave one terrified squeak, leaped about six feet in the air, turning round as he did so (no easy stunt), and bolted towards the ship as fast as he could. But not fast enough. The lion’s first leap landed just short of the wretched animal himself, but not of his tail, which with one snap of its powerful jaws it severed at the roots.

At the first roar William, together with all those of the crew who still remained ashore, had made all haste they could to regain the ship, and had the lion not stopped first to taste and then, almost immediately, to spit out his tail, Charlemagne’s chances of survival would have been slim indeed. As it was, this momentary pause gave him just sufficient start and he was able, in one final bound, to leap from the water’s edge onto the gunwale of the ship, leaving the Numidian lion gnashing his teeth on the sands below.

Although Charlemagne’s beauty, such as it was, was forever spoiled, the adventure had not been without advantage to his character. From now on he came racing to heel at the first whistle, and if ever he showed any signs of lingering or in any way getting out of hand, William had only to say in a meaning tone of voice, “There’s a good dog, and would he wag his tail then!” to reduce him to a state of unquestioning and shamefaced obedience.

The rest of the voyage was relatively uneventful. The sea continued calm; they soon passed out of the waters where corsairs were particularly to be feared, and Charlemagne no longer had the heart to quarrel with the ship’s cat and even learned to bear with exemplary patience the appalling behavior of the cockatoo, who made a practice, whenever he appeared, of imitating a lion’s roar or calling out such remarks as “Where’s your tail, cocky, or “Any old lion, any old lion?”

6

IN DUE course they came in sight of Cyprus, where they understood the King of England, together with his army, to be still encamped, and William’s gloom at the prospect of meeting his comrades-in-arms returned in full force. However, on arrival they discovered that the English contingent had left some days earlier and was already in the Holy Land. William, although careful to express a lively disappointment in conversation with the Master and Leofric, was so much relieved that he was able really to enjoy the two days they spent in port, which he employed in viewing the principal sights of Limassol and buying some suitable mementos to take back to his mother, Gertrude, and his eleven sisters. However, this respite was but short and the St. Caradoc was soon once more at sea.

One morning five days later William was awakened by the joyful cry of Leofric, who in his enthusiasm had spent almost the whole time after leaving Cyprus aloft in the crow’s-nest, announcing that they were in sight of the Holy Land.

As they drew near the shore they could clearly distinguish a large encampment which, judging from the sounds of dogs barking, snatches of tuneless song, and hearty but rather coarse jokes, which floated across the water, they concluded to shelter the English Army.

In order that there might be no mistake, however, it was decided that Leofric should go ashore to make inquiries while William superintended the collection of the baggage on deck.

After about half an hour Leofric returned in high spirits. It was indeed the English Army, or a part of it, and they were most fortunate in the time of their arrival, for tomorrow at dawn the whole force was to strike camp and march down the coast to join the main body, which, under the command of the King himself, had gone ahead to lay siege to Acre. Leofric had already, so he joyfully declared, met many old friends and there was now nothing to prevent their going ashore right away. William, who knew some of Leofric’s old friends, tried to conceal his alarm and look properly pleased; and having taken a touching farewell of the Master (unnecessarily touching, William thought, remembering the high price they had had to pay for their fare), the whole party waded ashore and set out at once for the camp.

On arrival at the guardhouse, Leofric, who appeared to have acquired an extraordinary amount of information in the short time he had spent ashore, gave the password and led William at once to the tent of the commanding officer. The Baron of Barking-West was a formidable old warrior with a complexion which was nearer puce than crimson, and very prominent light blue eyes. He had been, it seemed, a companion-in-arms of the late Sir Dagobert de Littlehampton and extended what appeared to be a cordial welcome to his son. Nevertheless William felt that only good breeding prevented his giving expression to a pained incredulity that his old friend could ever have sired so poor a fish as stood before him at this moment. Having been told that he was to be on parade at dawn tomorrow, at which hour the whole force was moving off on its three-day march to join the King, William was dismissed by the Baron, who instructed an orderly to conduct him to the mess.

When William entered the large tent which served as the Knights’ mess, dinner was shortly to begin although not all the company were at table. In particular two knights were still standing up at the end farthest removed from the door as though awaiting his arrival.

Sir Simon de Gatwick ("Gaiters" to his numerous friends) and Sir Willibald de Wandsworth had been known to William since childhood through innumerable, and usually painful, encounters in the hunting field and at tournaments. The first was a celebrated and highly popular sportsman of fine physique and proven courage. The second, hardly less esteemed, was celebrated for miles round his large estates on the North Downs for his ready wit, unconquerable cheerfulness, and extraordinary talent for elaborate practical jokes. William, while admiring the energy of the one and the humor of the other, felt nothing approaching friendship for either.

No sooner was he fairly inside the tent when a roar of welcome greeted him.

“Well, well, look who’s here!” bawled Sir Simon.

“’Pon my soul if it isn’t little Willy Littlehampton,” echoed Sir Willibald.

“Whoever would have thought of seeing him here!” in chorus.

Smiling nervously William advanced with hand politely outstretched, but unfortunately when he was halfway across the tent, all too conscious that, all eyes were upon him, he was so unlucky as to trip over his sword (or rather Sir Dagobert’s, and three sizes too large) and fall flat on his face. After a. second’s ghastly silence a great shout of laughter went up on all sides and poor William, blushing crimson, was picked up by Sir Willibald and brushed down just in time to take his place at table before the entry of the Baron.

But, alas, his humiliations were not yet at an end. Whether through nervousness, or because of the hearty slaps on the back with which he had been welcomed by Sir Simon, before ever he had had a mouthful to eat or drink, William developed the most fearful hiccups. In vain did he try to conceal his plight and avoid all conversation. The Baron, considering it his duty to make the son of his old friend feel at home on his first night, insisted on asking him a string of what he hoped were reassuring questions. How was his dear mother? Did he leave all his pretty sisters in good health? What sort of harvest had they had in Sussex this year? To all these William did his best to reply.

“ Very well — hic — thank you. It has been a - hic — good year for oats, but —hic — the barley has— hie, hie — been too long in— Ooop.”

His plight was now obvious to all and a wave of titters went round the tent. Sir Willibald de Wandsworth, however, in contrast to the rest of the company, seemed genuinely concerned, and insisted that the only cure was to drink a mugful of water straight down while holding the nose. He ordered his own page to fetch a mug and, when it was brought, most kindly held William’s nose for him while he drank, insisting that there must be no heeltaps. Gratefully William threw back his head and swallowed hard.

The next moment he thought his end had come. His eyes bulged from their sockets; his mouth, throat, and stomach seemed all suddenly to have hurst into flame, and he was spluttering and gasping for breath like a drowning man. When at last he regained sufficient composure to notice what was happening around him, the whole of the company, including even the Baron, was in fits of laughter and Sir Willibald, who had filled the mug not with water but a colorless local drink called Arak, of incredible potency and fierceness, was being congratulated on all sides.

To what further indignities poor William might have been subjected, had not the Baron intervened, we shall never know. But in fact for the rest of the meal he was left in peace, and so exhausted was he that not even an apple-pie bed which, he discovered on returning to his tent, had been made for him, nor even the couple of desert foxes which someone thoughtfully let loose under his tent flap round about midnight, prevented him from enjoying a profound sleep.

(To be continued)