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Boys of the Ages by  Laura Woolsey Lord Scales

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HUGH AND THE QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN

THE ENGLISH POET-ADVENTURER

[139] In the quiet of twilight Lady Eleanor was walking in her park among the fast-darkening shadows of the great oaks and beeches. She loved the woods. At this hour they were full of mystery and story. And as she came upon a carpet of soft moss or saw a hollow formed by the gnarled roots of an old oak, she would say to herself,—even if her little boy Mortimer was not with her—"There's where the elves dance, there they keep house." Tonight as she came to a specially dark dell hidden away among the trees and bushes, she heard a little song. It was thin and faint and sweet, very like what an elf's song should be. But soon she caught words repeated over and over in singsong fashion.

O Fairie Queen, come dance for me,

Thy secret fast I'll hold,

Over hill, over dale,

over park, over pale,

Come on the moonbeam's gold.

Then suddenly there was a rude crashing through the branches, the song stopped, and the sound of blows [140] was mingled with oaths spoken in the well-known voice of her head keeper. "Wicks!" she cried. "Stop! What is it? Come here!"

Wicks, a big, burly fellow, came out of the bushes holding by the neck of his smock a little boy, ten years old,—the age of her own Mortimer. The child blinked and swallowed hard, for he had had a bad beating, but he did not whimper nor shed a tear.

"What is the matter, Wicks?" Lady Eleanor demanded. "How came he here? Who is he?"

"Please, m'lady, 'tis yon lad from the tavern,—the little jackanapes. 'Tis the second time he'm come. I catched sight o' he once before."

"You mean Prettyman's boy,—Prettyman of the 'Golden Hind'?"

"No'm, he'm nobody's boy. But Martin leaves him bide there. And to think o' he coming here to steal."

Lady Eleanor interrupted, turning to the boy, "Tell me how you came here."

"Please, your ladyship," he answered soberly, and his eyes looked straight into hers, "through the iron rods of the gate. They sit so wide apart."

A smile peeped from Lady Eleanors's eyes. "You are a tiny bit of a lad, aren't you? My Mortimer's age, I take it, but much smaller. Tell me, why did you climb through?"

At that he lowered his eyes and was silent. Wicks answered for him.


[Illustration]

THE PARK OF AN ENGLISH HOME

[142] "They'm all the same, please, m'lady. 'Tis the rabbits."

Lady Eleanor shook her head. "No, Wicks. Go. Leave him with me."

Wicks reluctantly let go his hold, and she put a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder. Again he looked straight into her eyes. "What is your name?" she asked.

"Hugh, please, your lady, Hugh of the 'Golden Hind.' "

"Was it you whom I heard singing?" He flushed for answer, and she went on gently. "Now tell me why you came into my park?"

"It's the fairies, please, your lady."

"Oh, and so you find fairies in my park and sing to them?"

"Not—not yet. But this is their kind of place. I hoped they would be here. And so I made the song to call them."

"And that is all you came for?" He nodded. "Well, do you know," she admitted softly, "this is something I have always wondered about myself. And so you may come here as often as you like on one condition,—that is, if you ever do see fairies you will come and tell me. Will you?"

Hugh looked into her smiling eyes, and overcome with shyness and pleasure murmured his thanks.

He went back to the tavern, to his so-called home, with a big new happiness in his heart. He thought it was because he could go to find the fairies without [143] any fear of the cruel Wicks, but it was also because he had found a friend who understood. His life at the tavern was always very interesting, but it was lonely. He was really nobody's child. No one knew who his father or mother was, though people supposed his father was a sailor gone away with Hawkins out across the seas to the New World, for it was just at that time that a basket with a baby boy in it, labeled Hugh, had been left on the tavern steps, and Goody Prettyman had taken him in, and had let him stay there ever since. He was useful, and no trouble to anyone. He sat for hours in the taproom listening to the sailor's talk. For the "Golden Hind" was near the wharves where ships came in at Plymouth. Wonderful times of excitement those were, when the little ships sailed out through the sunset into the Great Unknown, and more exciting still when they came back, each one with tales more marvelous than the last of the New World they had seen. They told of Spanish ships deep-laden with gold and silver, captured for the glory of England and good Queen Bess; of dark-skinned people with strange ways, who feasted on golden grain and roots taken from the earth; of shores piled up with pearls like pebbles, and with the very sands of gold.

Of course Hugh was going to sea himself as soon as he was old enough. Meanwhile, he climbed daily to the headland and watched the ships come and go on their voyages of mystery. The best of them all was [144] naturally the Golden Hind, Captain Drake. No one had done such wonders as Drake of Plymouth. And now he was gone,—Hugh had seen him sail away,—out into a new ocean, the Pacific, where no Englishman had ever been. Word had come that he was lost, but Hugh and Plymouth knew better and waited for his return.


[Illustration]

SHIPS

This is a British warship of the time of Queen Elizabeth


So, thanks to the coming and going of the ships and the talk of the sailors, the days were never dull for Hugh. Though it was a coarse, rough life, somehow the coarseness left no mark upon him, for his mind [145] was too much taken up with wondering about magic and mystery and high adventure. And it was while waiting for the day of his own big adventure when he should be old enough to put out to sea, that he had made a little adventure for himself by stealing through the dusk and dangers of the great park to watch for the fairies.

Now his hopes of success, quickened by Lady Eleanor's interest, were very strong, and he kept nightly watch. And one morning as Lady Eleanor and Mortimer came down the steps of the great house, they were met by an excited boy. "I've come to tell you," he cried,—then at the sight of Mortimer hesitated and stopped, but Lady Eleanor held out a welcoming hand. "It's Hugh, Mortimer," she said. "What is it, Hugh?"

"Please, please, your lady," he stammered, "I've seen them!"

"What, no! The fairies?"

"I came last night in the dark," he said, "and very soon they began to dance. Oh, but it was pretty, and I guess I must have watched all night, for now it's morning."

Lady Eleanor smiled, but Mortimer spoke in big-boy fashion. "Fairies! Pooh! Who believes in them? There's no such thing."

But his mother interposed, even before she saw Hugh's crestfallen look.

"How do you know there are not? Who would have believed there were oceans and lands and people [146] in the West if Frobisher and our own Drake hadn't gone and found them and told us about them?"

"Yes," Hugh affirmed, "and stranger things than fairies happen there."

"What?" Mortimer challenged him.

"Why, why, seashores made of gold, and men who pour smoke out of their mouths but don't burn up, and a fountain where you drink and you'll be made young forever."

"Who told you?" demanded Mortimer.

"Why, all the sailors. Everyone tells about them."

Mortimer's only response was an indirect one. "I say, mother, why can't he stay and play with me?"

Lady Eleanor looked a moment into Hugh's honest face. "He may, whenever he will. Should you like to, Hugh?"

After that the boys were constantly together. The park was an enchanted place to Hugh, and Hugh's strange acquaintances and information were full of interest to Mortimer. One day he begged Hugh to take him to the wharves to hear the sailors talk, and Hugh gladly did so. They found Simms, and old friend of Hugh's, a veteran of many voyages and a former seaman of Drake's, now too stiff and too old to navigate.

"Tell him about it," begged Hugh, as master of ceremonies. "He's never properly heard about things, only what I tell him."

"Eh? Bless my soul!" said the old sea dog. "And what kind of story do you like best, young master?"

[147] "Oh, about gold and catching the Spanish ships."

"Yes, but tell him, too, about the new ocean," Hugh interrupted, "and Drake's climbing up in the tree to see it, you know. Always there's something more out beyond, isn't there? New oceans and new worlds always on ahead?"


[Illustration]

BOYHOOD OF RALEIGH, BY MILLAIS

"Sure, that's the spirit," said Simms. " 'Twon't be long before you'm at it, eh, Hugh? They'm as has things always beckoning 'em, they'm the ones who goes. But, if it's gold, you want, my master,"—he turned to Mortimer, "then listen"; and he told yarn after [148] yarn of the Spanish Main, of Panama and its mule-trains loaded with gold, and of Drake capturing great shiploads all for the glory of England. "I want to go and do it with him," said Mortimer.

"Aye, marry, 'tis in the air, these days," the old salt said. "Every mother's son wants to be roving, each for his own good reason. Some for the sake of the gold, and Hugh here to find the place of the sunset and what's at the end of the world, eh, Hugh?"


[Illustration]

AN ELIZABETHAN HOUSE

The shape of the house is in the form of a letter E in honor of the queen


That was Mortimer's only visit to the wharves, for much to Hugh's surprise Lady Eleanor did not approve. She had plans of her own to keep the boys at home. Hugh was to come and share Mortimer's daily lessons. Here was great news for Hugh, who had never [149] been taught a word, though he was ten years old. He worked hard now, and soon could read and write, and was rapidly catching up with Mortimer. They were happy days for him. He loved the big manor house, so different from the tavern. On the floors, instead of rushes strewn about, usually dirty, there were rugs of soft tints, and on the walls bright-colored pictures woven of wool,—"wall-clothing," Lady Eleanor called [150] them, and instead of the thick mica panes of the tavern the windows were of glass, through which one could see to the beautiful park outside. And sometimes Lady Eleanor sat at the clavichord making music and singing. This was home,—an English home in the days of Queen Bess, with beauty and comfort and clean, sweet living.


[Illustration]

A PANELED ROOM

Such beautifully carved walls might have been found in a room of a house of Elizabeth's time. (Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)


The best place of all was a richly paneled room where they sat while Lady Eleanor read to them. The wood of the walls was carved in pictures; the faces of gnomes and fairies and knights looked at them while Lady Eleanor read and reread the old stories of Arthur and his Round Table. These were the boys' favorites, and after she had read to them about King Arthur rowing across the lake to catch the fateful sword Excalibur from the waves, or of Arthur receiving the vows of his knights who rose pale and dazed with awe when they had taken their oath

Of utter hardihood, utter gentleness,

And, loving, utter faithfulness in love,

And uttermost obedience to the King,

they went out to play them, just as Hugh had seen the companies of actors who came to the tavern play their old stories. Mortimer was always King Arthur: that somehow seemed natural to both boys. And Hugh, now as Sir Launcelot, now as Sir Bors, now as Sir Gareth, who won his knighthood by serving as a kitchen-boy (and Hugh liked that story well), knelt [151] and was knighted and started out on his quest to honor his fair lady. His fair lady was always like Lady Eleanor with thick golden hair and gentle eyes.

The best story of all, and the one he asked Lady Eleanor to read over and over again, was the story of Sir Galahad and the Holy Grail,—the quest of the Holy Cup from which our Lord drank at his last supper, and which, before it vanished from the earth, was seen only by those whose lives were pure. He used to curl up in one of the big wooden chairs in the paneled room and picture every scene as Lady Eleanor read the story.

Sir Galahad came to Arthur's court, the youngest of the Knights, dressed in white armor, though where he came from or who he was no one knew; yet he was so fair that when King Arthur knighted him, he said, "God make thee good as thou art beautiful." At the Round Table there was a seat called the Siege Perilous, for the magician Merlin had said that on it "no man could sit but he should lose himself." So it had been left vacant, but when Galahad came he sat in it, saying "If I lose myself, I save myself." Then there had followed thunder and a beam of light, and in the midst of the beam shone the Holy Grail, and Galahad heard a voice calling, "O Galahad, and O Galahad, follow me." At once Sir Galahad and Sir Percival and others of the knights took the oath to go to find the Holy Grail; but of all those who set out, only Sir Galahad and Sir Percival really saw it. Sir Percival, [152] because he was not always true to his vows and because, lacking real modesty, he prided himself on the deeds he did, saw it only in the distance and then only with the help of Sir Galahad. But to Sir Galahad it was given to complete the quest of the Grail. For he went out and fought and overcame evil men and did great deeds, never thinking of his own worth and bravery, and when he met Sir Percival, he bade him follow him. Together they came to a steep and perilous hill; this they climbed, only to reach on the other side a black swamp, and there Sir Percival stayed; but Galahad crossed over it on bridge after bridge, each one of which burned behind him, until he came to a shore and took a boat and sailed away far out on an unknown sea. Percival saw him go, but could not follow. And soon the Holy Grail, red as any rose, floated over his head in a bright cloud, while far away, like a pearl in its beauty, shone a heavenly city with all its spires and gateways. This was the goal, and to this Sir Galahad sailed away never to come back. But Percival returned to Arthur's court and told what he had seen. Then all knew that Sir Galahad, because he best of all had kept his vow to "Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King," had alone of them all accomplished his quest of the Holy Grail.

When Mortimer and Hugh began to act out this story, as they had the others, both wanted to play Sir Galahad, Hugh because he too was a knight from no one knew where, and Mortimer, because he always took [153] the leading part. It was Hugh who yielded, remembering that for lack of humility Sir Percival had lost the Holy Grail. Yet he was always a little jealous, when Mortimer, acting his part, stepped into his imaginary boat and sailed away to the dream-city. For to take boat and go away was what he was always longing to do. And so, when Lady Eleanor asked, "Why do you both like this story so much?" Mortimer answered, "Because Sir Galahad won his prize," but Hugh said, "Because he sails away in his boat out into the unknown sea and finds it all come true. And I'm sure it was just the same way I have seen it when I climb up onto the headland and watch the boats when they go out at sunset into the gold. Do you suppose the real gold they find is half as nice as sailing into that?" And he and Lady Eleanor both doubted it.

One day Hugh was on "the Hoe," his favorite headland, when he saw far out a sail, and the longer he looked the more surely he made up his mind that it was the Golden Hind. It must be Drake home again after all the long years. He ran into the village, crying to the people to come and see. And true it was; the Golden Hind was limping into port after its three years' journey around the world. There was excitement enough in Plymouth then. Not only was the ship loaded with gold and pearls and diamonds and emeralds, but their own Drake was back, having beaten the Spanish ships in every port and having carried the name of England upon every sea. Drake had [154] "plowed a furrow round the world," they said, and all kinds of revelry were planned in Plymouth to honor her favorite son.

Hugh took a share in the celebration, according to his own fashion. When, in the midst of shouting throngs, Drake passed up the street, a boy darted out from the crowd, put a paper into his hand and disappeared. It was a verse in his honor, proclaiming him a knight like the knights of old, who had gone out on adventures for his queen, and it closed with a prayer that some day great Drake of the Golden Hind  would let Hugh of the "Golden Hind" go with him as his squire. The verse pleased and amused Drake, and he made inquiries about the boy, but before he could see Hugh he had to sail away to London to the queen. And there he was really [155] made a knight, for Queen Bess touched him with her royal staff and called him "Sir Francis." Drake, well pleased, declared that Hugh was a prophet and did not forget the boy. But he was seldom on land, and Hugh went on his quiet way growing up and learning his lessons until he and Mortimer were seventeen.


[Illustration]

SIR FRANCIS DRAKE

Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


The time was come then when Hugh might carry out his ambition and go to sea. Of course, more than ever, he wanted to go with Drake, for no one else could rival him for daring and adventure or in service of the queen. But Hugh, who was nobody's boy, knew that he would have to be content to ship on some little trading boat until he had proved himself. Mortimer was not going with him. Though he begged hard for the chance, his mother insisted that he should go to Eton to continue the education of a gentleman. Both boys were unhappy at the parting; Hugh was sorry to give up his books, though he longed for the sea, and Mortimer was openly rebellious.

May Day came. Hugh with the other villagers had been watching a band of Morris dancers and had himself been dancing around the Maypole when a sudden summons sent him hurrying to Lady Eleanor. He found her in distress. Mortimer had disappeared and had left no word for his mother. Hugh went at once and searched the wharves and all the departing ships, but without result, for no mariner was foolish enough to carry off the son of the manor house. Mortimer was not to be found. The only clue Hugh could get was [156] that someone thought he had seen him among the company of the Morris dancers, who had started to dance their way to London.

"I will go after them," Hugh promised Lady Eleanor. "Never fear! I shall find him. I will do nothing else until I find him."

"Bless you, dear Hugh," Lady Eleanor thanked him with affection. "I have no one whom I can trust like you. Take anything you need, and God reward you for what you are doing."

Hugh traveled from village to village, now finding that the Morris dancers had been there and gone, now finding no clue to their whereabouts. He rode his horse as fast as possible, refreshed by the beauty of the green meadows and blossoming hedgerows, and occasionally another traveler joined him at some village, but Hugh outrode them all. One day his road was blocked. There was no passing. Crowds were everywhere,—hucksters with carts, companies of actors, wagonloads of goods, great lords in splendid dress on prancing horses, heralds and outriders shouting orders. Everywhere was confusion. Hugh could not get right of way to pass. He could not combat Queen Bess herself. For all this tumult and gay life meant that the queen was at hand. She was coming to visit one of her lords in his castle close by, and great fêtes and pageants were already beginning in her honor. The crowds were everywhere lined up by the roads hoping to catch a sight of it all, and though horsemen shouted and pushed them [157] back, the people pressed in ever closer. For the queen was coming! The word went flashing down the lines, as men in plumes and gorgeous armor came by, reining in their prancing, spirited horses. Then, from the midst of the crowd, a little hunchback boy leaned far out to see, lost his balance and fell, pushed out into the highway. A horseman was almost on him. He shouted out oaths but never even slackened his speed. The hunchback was almost caught under the horse's hoofs. Women screamed, but Hugh, who was close by, sprang out, caught back the little fellow and saved him. But he himself was kicked in the head.


[Illustration]

QUEEN ELIZABETH

Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


He knew nothing more until he found himself in a beautiful room, and whether he was alive or dead, he could not say. A young man entered, as [158] handsome as any knight of his early dreams, but his greeting was not dreamlike. "Ho, the lad's awake!" he cried. "I told them it was not easy killing such as you! Art well again?" This, he learned was his rescuer, Sir Hubert, who had brought him to where he was lying now, in the very castle of the lord who was entertaining the queen. The queen! The thought sent Hugh jumping from his bed. The queen! If he could see her! But then he remembered his promise to Lady Eleanor. "Alas, I cannot wait. Show me the road," he said sadly, "for I must not stay even to pay my thanks."

"Tut, tut!" said Sir Hubert. "Business of more importance than the queen's? And how can you go? Your horse is strayed, lost in the crowd, and you but off a sick bed!"

When he heard Hugh's errand, however, he was ready to help him. He promised that in two days' time he would mount him on one of his own horses and take him by the most direct route to London.

So Hugh stayed, and saw the queen, more resplendent in her pride and all her gold and pearls,—the very jewels Drake had brought her—than any earthly being he had ever imagined. He understood why all the poets made verses in her honor, and why at every gate or doorway that she passed some one sang her praises. His own mind was rhyming her with sun and moon and all the stars of heaven. There were sights, too, to see as wonderful as those he used to [159] dream of: banquets and plays, pageants of gods and goddesses in stately companies, a mock tournament between knights in armor, and even fairies dancing on the green. Those, however, were not half as lovely as the memories of his childhood.

Yet he was glad when at last he was on his way to London. London itself took his breath away. It was so big, so crowded with people, so splendid with fine houses, finer even than the manor house. And there was so much noise, with carts jolting over the newly paved roads, and street venders crying their wares. How could he ever expect to find Mortimer in such a place? Sir Hubert gave him a home for as long as he would stay and helped him in every way possible, but it was the wharves that drew Hugh. He felt sure that Mortimer meant to go to sea, here where no skipper would know him; so he spent all his days at the docks. He boarded every outgoing ship, for fear that Mortimer might be in hiding somewhere. But the days and weeks went slipping by without result. It was dreary, disappointing work. To fight for one's lady is much more interesting than to suffer loneliness and to do nothing but wait, yet the thought of Lady Eleanor held him fast.

One evening he stayed later than usual. Something seemed to hold him. It was cold, the fog was thick, and it was difficult to see two yards before one's face,—a night for some bad thing to happen. Soon he heard scuffling and swearing, common enough sounds [160] at the docks, where the ruffians of the city were apt to gather. But he stepped nearer, and saw that the victim this time was a young fellow better dressed than most haunters of the wharves. Something about him made Hugh start. His hat was pulled low over his face and he was muffled in his cape, but it was Mortimer. There could be no doubt of it. Hugh sprang forward, and with the advantage of surprise, struck down one and then another of the ruffians. Mortimer, too, seeing help at hand, recovered his fighting spirit, and thrust at them. But they were two against four, and it was likely to go hard with Hugh and Mortimer. At that moment, however, a broad, commanding figure swung into their midst, ordered the bandits off, and told the boys to follow him. They followed into a ship lying close by, and into a cabin, and there by the light of a candle Hugh recognized their preserver. It was as he suspected—Sir Francis Drake. "Now what is this to-do?" he demanded. "And who are you two, loitering at this hour about the docks?"

"My name is Mortimer," Mortimer spoke boldly, "and I am waiting for Sir Francis Drake."

"Humph!" the captain grunted, and turned to Hugh. "And you?"

"I am Hugh,—Hugh of the 'Golden Hind,' men call me,—and I was seeking my friend for whose safety I feared."

"Hugh of the 'Golden Hind'! Where have I heard that name before?" Sir Francis spoke half to himself. [161] "Ah, Plymouth,—the day we came into port. You're the boy, are you, who sprang out of the road?"

"Yes, Sir Francis," Hugh spoke the name softly.

"Humph!" the great man grunted again, but this time with good humor. "And you write verse, don't you? I remember."

"Sometimes, sir."

"Pretty good one, too. Still wanting to go to sea? Want to go and write verses to the mermaids, eh?"

"Indeed, sir, yes, I want to go."

"And no one to say you no, if I recollect aright. Eh?"

"No one, sir,—oh, except, sir, I have first a promise to keep, and then,—then, oh, I want to go, sir."

"Meet me at Plymouth, then, in a month and a day. And mind you be ready. We set sail from there, God willing, for the Indies in a month and a day."

"Oh, sir!" Hugh could not express himself for amazement and for joy.

But Mortimer, who had been completely mystified, was just coming to understand. "Oh, Sir Francis," he put in, "take me, too!"

The captain shook his head. "You're another sort of waterfowl, young sir, I take it. A friend of yours?" he turned to Hugh. "From Plymouth, too?" Hugh nodded. "Mortimer, son of the late Sir Mortimer of Kestor Park, I'll wager. So?" he questioned Hugh again, and again Hugh nodded, though Mortimer looked black.

[162] "Humph." Sir Francis grunted. "Sent me letters about you, they did. Afraid I'd kidnap you, were they? Marry, I still can see the nose before my face and know a runaway when I see him. Go home, young sir, and when your mother says the word, there's time enough for you to think about the sea."


[Illustration]

MAP OF THE NEW WORLD

This map of the early sixteenth century, from a book called the "Strasburg Ptolemy." shows the West Indies, the point of Florida, and a little of the coast of North America, as well as a good deal of Brazil, marked "Terra Incognita," the Unknown Land. (Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)


[163] That was enough to send Mortimer straight to Plymouth with Hugh, to beg Lady Eleanor to change her will. But it was of no use; she insisted that he go to college first, and then, when he was twenty-one, he could choose for himself. But Hugh was ready. He had brought Mortimer safely home and kept his word. And at the end of a month and a day, followed by Mortimer's envy and Lady Eleanor's blessing, he took ship with Drake, outward bound in the service of England and the queen. The New World would soon lie before him,—the New World, still the Unknown and Mysterious, a land of fabulous treasure, ready to reward each newcomer, whether he sought riches for pocket or mind. Out to the Unknown Hugh sailed, a poet-adventurer launched on his Sea of Gold. In childhood he had dared everything to find the fairies and sing to them, and as a boy he had in dreams followed after Sir Galahad and the Holy Grail, and now in the same spirit and with the same hopes he was going out to seek the New World. One more knight was embarking on his quest,—on the Great Adventure of the Unknown.


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