Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
By the armorer's tower the fire burned bright
In the long black shadows of coming night.
Quoth Franklin to Tomkyn, "Twenty to one
We shall both be gone ere to-morrow's sun—
Shoot a round for the love o' the game!"
By Ascalon towers the sun blazed red
Where one stood living and twenty were dead,—
Quoth Roger to Raimond, "We be but few,
Yet keener the triumph when steel rings true—
Break a lance for the Faith and the Name!"
By London Tower the watch-fires glowed
On the troops that marched by the Roman Road.
Quoth Drake to Howard, "Armadas be tall,
Yet the proudest oak in a gale may fall,—
Take a chance for Belphoebe's fame!"
They live in Valhalla who fought for their land
With dauntless heart and ungrudging hand,
They went to the task with a laugh and a jest,—
Peace to their souls, wherever they rest!
And we of their blood, wherever we go,
By the Carib Seas or the Greenland floe,
With heart unwearied and hand unstayed,
Must win or lose by the law they made,—
Strike hard-for the love o' the game!"
DICKON AT THE FORGE
HOW A SUSSEX SMITH FOUND THE WORLD COME TO HIM IN THE WEALD
HE smithy was very small compared with a modern
foundry. It was not large even for a country black-
smith's shop, the cottage close by was hardly bigger;
yet that forge made iron-work which went all over
England. It was on one of the Sussex roads leading into
Lewes. Often a knight would stop to have something done
to his own armor or his horse's gear, for the war-horse also
wore armor,—on head and breast at least. Some of the work
of old Adam Smith had gone as far as Jerusalem. Dickon felt
occasionally that if he were a spear-head or a dagger, he would
stand more chance of seeing the world than he did as the son
of his father.
Adam was secretly proud of the lad who at thirteen could
do nearly as much as he himself could. That was saying more
than a little, for Adam Smith had the knack of making every
blow count by putting it in exactly the right place. A man
who can do that will double his strength.
Dickon had inherited the knack, but he had something else
besides, of which his father knew nothing. He never did a
piece of work that he did not try to make it look right. He
 could see that when the bar that latched a gate was of a
certain length, not too small or too large, it pleased both eye and
hand. He did not consider the hinges on the door better
looking for being made into an elaborate pattern, unless the
pattern was a good one. In short, Dickon had what is known as
a sense of beauty. Some have it and some have not. Those
who have can invent beautiful patterns, while those who have
not can only copy,—and they do not always copy accurately.
It may seem strange to speak of beauty in the iron-work of
a little country smithy, but nothing is more beautiful in its
way than good iron-work. There are gates, hinges, locks, keys
and other furnishings which are so well designed that one is
never weary of studying them. Armor has been made
beautiful in its time; so have swords, halberds, daggers, fire-baskets,
Because iron is so simple, and there is no chance of getting
an effect by using color or gilding, the task of making it beautiful
is unlike that of painting a picture. The beauty of iron-work
is the line, the curve, the proportion. If these are wrong
one sees it at once; and the same is true when the work is
right. Most of the work of Adam Smith, while strong and
well wrought, was only by accident good to look at. Dickon
was not allowed to do anything that his father did not oversee,
and Adam Smith saw to it that no job left his shop which was
not well done. Dickon had found out, little by little, that
when a thing is strong enough for its use, with no unnecessary
clumsiness, and the handles, catches and rivetings are where
they ought to be for strength and convenience, it usually looks
very well. That is to say, beautiful iron-work is useful and
 Dickon was hammering away, one golden autumn morning,
on the latch for a gate. The cattle had broken into the Fore
Acre again, and Adam, who had to go to Lewes on business,
told Dickon to make that latch and do it properly, so that it
would keep the gate shut. Old Wat had gone into the forest
for some wood, for the great belt of woodland called the
Weald was all around, and the oak from it served for fuel.
Dickon had never seen a coal fire in his life. Forges like this
were scattered all through the Weald, and what with the iron-
workers and the ship-builders, and the people who wainscoted
their houses with good Sussex oak, there is no Weald left
nowadays. That part of the country keeps its name, and there
are groves of oak here and there, but that is all.
Dickon could see from the door the acorns dropping from
the great oak that sheltered the smithy and was so huge that
a man could not circle it with his arms. He began to wonder
if he could put some sort of ornamental work on that latch.
No one could have looked less like an artist than the big,
muscular youth in his leathern apron, with his rough tow-head
and square-chinned face; but inside his brain was a thought
working itself out. He took an oak twig and laid it in this
position and that, on the iron.
It is not very easy to work out a design in iron. The iron
must be heated, and beaten or bent into shape while it is soft.
There is no making a sketch and taking your time with the
brushes. Dickon thought he would see if he could draw a
pattern. He took a bit of coal and a wooden tile fallen from
the roof, and began to combine the lines of the gate-latch with
those of the twig. He had not copied iron utensils and other
patterns without knowing how to draw the lines of an oak
 leaf, but he found that somehow or other the leaf, as an
ornament to the latch, did not look right. The cluster of acorns
was better, but even that did not fit. Dickon's feeling, though
he did not think it out, was that iron is strong, and an oak
tree is one of the strongest of trees, and therefore the oak was
suitable to decorate Sussex iron. He changed the lines,
rubbing out one and then another, until he had got a set of curves
and little nubbly knot-like ornaments which were not exactly
like the oak twig, but suited the lines of the latch. The leaf-like
side-pieces covered the parts of the latch where the fingers
and thumb would rest in opening the gate, and the projecting
handle might be made into something suggesting an acorn-cluster.
He nodded thoughtfully.
"That's rather good," said a voice over his shoulder.
"Where did you learn to draw?"
Dickon jumped; he had been so busy that he had not heard
the sound of a horse's hoofs on the turf. The stranger who
stood there, bridle over arm, was a rather slender man, five or
six years older than Dickon, with deep-set hazel eyes, fair
hair, and muddy boots that looked as if he had come a long
"Nobody never taught me," said Dickon soberly. "I was
trying to find out how to do it."
"You found out then. It is good-don't touch it. Is it for
that gate-latch? Go on and finish the job; I won't hinder
you. I'm a Sussex man, but I never came through the Weald
this way. I lost my road, and they told me this would take
me to Lewes. The nag and I shall both be the better for an
Dickon blew up the fire and went to work, with strong,
 deft strokes. He was not a shy lad, particularly when he was
doing what he could do well. He was used to working with
people watching him. Not seldom they were making themselves
disagreeable because the work was not done more
quickly, but iron cannot be hurried. If a smith does not mean
to spoil the temper of his work, he must keep his own temper
well in hand.
The young man led his horse into the shade, and came to
watch Dickon. As the leaf-curves began to stand out and the
nubs of the acorn-cluster took shape he seemed more and more
interested. Once he began to ask a question, but stopped
himself, as if he knew that when a man has his whole mind on a
task he cannot spare any part of it for talk. Dickon almost
forgot that he was there. He was intent upon putting exactly
the right hollows and veins in the leaf, and giving exactly the
right twist to the handle.
At last it was done. Dickon straightened his back and
looked at it, as the sunlight wavered upon it through the
branches. The stranger clapped him on the shoulder.
"It is better than the sketch," he cried heartily. "It is good
indeed. I have been in London, lad, in the Low Countries and
in France, and I never saw a sweeter bit of work. How didst
know the true line for that handle?"
'IT IS BETTER THAN THE SKETCH,' HE CRIED HEARTILY
"That's to make it open properly," Dickon explained, "fits
the hand, like."
The other nodded approvingly. "I see. I learned that
same lesson in my pottery. 'Wilfrid,' my old master used to
tell me, 'never thee make too small an ear to thy jugs if thou
lik'st the maids to love 'ee.' There's a knack, you see, in
making a handle with a good grip to it, that will neither spill the
 milk nor hinder pouring. My wife she helped me there. She
loves good work as well as I do."
Adam Smith, coming up the Lewes road next day, could not
think what had happened when he saw Dickon in eager talk
with a stranger. The boy had never been given to words. He
was more taken aback when Master Wilfrid told him that his
son had the making of a rare workman. He answered gruffly,
stroking his big beard
"Aye, the lad's well enow. Latch done, Dickon? Go and
fit it to yon gate."
Wilfrid had come back to England full of new ideas, and
ambitious above all for the honor of English craftsmen.
When he found this youth working out, without any model at
all, a thing so good as the oak-leaved gate-latch, he was surer
than ever that the land he loved could raise her own smiths.
It was his ambition to make his own house beautiful within
and without, as were some of the merchants' houses he had
seen in cities. He further astonished the old smith by telling
him that if Dickon would put some time on work along his
own lines, he would pay him double or treble what he would
earn at common labor.
"You see," explained the potter, as he showed the design
he had drafted for a carved oaken chest, "there's much to be
thought of in iron-work. You have to make it strong as well
as handsome, and what's more, nine times out of ten you have
to fit it to the work of some other man. It'd never do for the
hinges and handles on this coffer to spoil the looks o' the
carving, and that's to be done in London, d' ye see? Belike
I'll have you make those first, Dickon, and let Quentin suit
his pattern to yours. He can."
 "How does he make his design?" queried Dickon. "Work
it out as he goes along—like iron-work?"
"Not always," Wilfrid answered. "He's got a many
patterns drawn out on parchment besides what he carries in his
head. But they're only for show—to give an idea of the
style. When he gets the size and shape and the wood he's to
use settled, he changes the pattern according to his own judgment.
If a wood-carver doesn't know his trade the design can
be made by an artist, and all he need do is to follow it. But
that's not my idea of good work. Unless you've made such a
thing yourself you don't know how the lines are going to look.
I'd never try to make a design for a fire-dog, and I doubt
you'd make a poor job at shaping an earthen bowl. Then, if
you want to suit yourself and your customer, you'll be
changing your pattern with every job. The work ought to grow—like a plant."
"I know," Dickon commented. "You make an iron pot for
a woman, and another for her neighbor, and ten to one the
second must be a bit bigger or narrower or somehow different.
You've got to go by your eye."
"They say," Wilfrid went on musingly, "that there's like
to be mechanical ways to help the work—turn it out quicker—do
the planing and gouging with some kind of engine and finish
by hand. It seemed to me that would take the life out o' the
carving. I said so to Quentin, and he laughed. He said a man
could use any tool to advantage if he had the head, but without
thought you couldn't make a shovel go right. I reckon
Adam Smith nodded. "Half the smiths don't know the way
to use a hammer," he said, "and well-nigh all the rest don't
 know what they're making. You stick to the old forge a while
yet, lad. There's a bit to learn afore you'll be master o' the
"Your father's right," Master Wilfrid admitted. "You'll
not waste your time by learning all that he can teach you. As
I was saying to you yesterday, you've been doing good plain
work and learned judgment. You know how to bend a rod
so that it'll be strong, and that will make it look strong. And
I'll warrant when you come to make a grille for a pair of iron
gates you'll know where to put your cross-bars."
For all that, Master Wilfrid did not mean to lose sight of
Dickon. He knew how much a youth could learn by talking
with men of other crafts, and he intended that Dickon should
have his chance. He himself had lost no opportunity, while
on his travels, of becoming acquainted with men who were
doing good work in England, and now and then one of these
men would turn off the main road to see him at his pottery or
his home. When the time came to forge a pair of iron gates
to the parish church, he saw to it that Dickon got the refusal
of the work. With his favorite tools and his father's gruff
"God speed ye, lad!" Dickon rode forth to his first work for
himself, and it was done to the satisfaction of every one.
"I knew that Sussex brains could handle that job," Wilfrid
exulted, as they looked at the finished task. In days when
churches and cathedrals were open all day long, it was
desirable to have some sort of open-work railing to keep stray beasts
out of the chancel. In a more splendid building this railing
might have been of silver, but the homely farmer-folk thought
the iron of the Weald was good enough for them.
Up along the grassy track past the south door of the church
 rode a company of travelers, middle-class folk by their dress.
As they came abreast of the gate the foremost called out, "Ho,
Wilfrid, is there any tavern hereabouts? We be lost sheep
in the wilderness. The Abbey guest-house is already full and
they will not take us in."
"Faith, it's good to see thee here, Robert Edrupt," the
potter answered. "I could house three or four of you, but it's
harvest time, that's a fact. No, there's no tavern in the village.
You see, most of the folk that travel this way go to the Abbey
for a lodging."
"We'll stick together, I reckon," answered Edrupt, "if you
can give us some kind o' shelter, and the makings of a meal.
A barn would serve."
"I'll do better than that," Wilfrid assured them. "I'll take
ye to Cold Harbor. It's part of a Roman house that we
uncovered near the pottery. The walls were used in the old
farmer's time for a granary. It's weather-proof, and there's
a stone hearth, and Dickon here will help swing a crane for
the kettles. We've plenty stores if there's a cook among ye."
"We can make shift," laughed Edrupt. "I'll come to the
house to-morrow and gossip a bit. Quentin here has your
carved coffer for ye."
"And here's the lad that made the hinges and the handles,"
Wilfrid added, with a hand on the big youth's shoulder.
"Sithee here, Dickon, you show them their way to their lodg-
ing, and I'll e'en ride home and tell Edwitha to spare some
pots and kettles for the cooking."
Thus Dickon was shoved all in a moment, in the edge of an
autumn evening, into the company of merchants and
craftsmen such as he had never met. The North-countryman, Alan
 of York, was a glazier; David Saumond, a Scotch stone-
mason coming up from Canterbury to do some work for an
Abbey; Guy of Limoges was a goldsmith; Crispin Eyre, a
shoemaker of London; there were two or three merchants,
some weavers newly arrived from overseas, various servants
and horse-boys, and two peddlers of dark foreign aspect. The
talk was mostly in a mixture of French and English, but
Dickon understood this better than he could speak it, and
several of the men were as English as himself. In the merry
company at supper he saw what Wilfrid had meant when he
said that hand-skill without head-wisdom was walking blindfold,
and work done alone was limping labor. It was the
England of the guilds breaking bread by that fire.