| Our Little Norman Cousin of Long Ago|
|by Evaleen Stein|
|A story of Normandy in the time of William the Conqueror, giving a vivid picture of manners and customs through the eyes of two boys of the court. Describes castle life, dress, amusements, training for knighthood, and other aspects of feudal life. Also relates stories of William's early days, as well as tales of his Northmen forefathers, Duke Robert the Magnificent, Little Duke Richard, and Rolf the Ganger. Ages 8-10 |
THE CASTLE OF NOIREAT
 Meantime the cooks and scullions had all hurried back to their
work, and as dinner was nearly ready Count Bertram
invited the heralds into the castle; to be sure it was
only eleven o'clock, but that was the usual hour for
the midday meal.
The Count and Lady Gisla both looked very handsome as
they led the way up a flight of steps to the door of
the great square tower of stone, called the keep, which
was the main part of the castle. Count Bertram was
dressed in a tunic of dark crimson and over his black
hose narrow strips of green cloth were criss-crossed up
to his knees where they were tied in knots with fringed
ends; his pointed leather shoes were dark crimson and
so was his cap and the short mantle fastened over one
shoulder with a silver clasp. Lady Gisla wore a gown
of violet-colored cloth with close bodice and flaring
 and her long skirt was caught up in front by a silken
girdle from which hung a number of silver keys; on her
head was a pointed cap, and a square of lace fastened
to its peak partly covered her hair which fell over her
shoulders in loose flowing locks.
Within the keep was one huge room called the hall.
Heavy stone pillars upheld the floor of an upper story,
and high up in the thick walls were long, narrow
windows; there was no glass in these for glass was
scarce and imperfect then; but sometimes in winter,
when it was very cold, the windows were filled in with
pieces of waxed linen instead. At either end of the
room was a great fireplace; one was for warmth in
winter time, while at the other the castle cooking went
on the year around, for there was no other kitchen.
And as there were no chimneys either, the smoke from
the blazing logs, over which the cooks were busy with
dinner, curled up into the hall and found its way out
through the windows as best it could, which, of course,
wasn't very well.
On the castle walls were no pictures, but here and
there hung large pieces of cloth so skillfully
embroidered that they looked almost like
pic-  tures, and here and there were fastened the antlers of a stag
or a bow and sheaf of arrows. Rushes were strewn over
the stone floor which was raised a little at one side
of the room and called the dais. Here serving-men were
placing long boards over some wooden trestles, this
making a table for the lord and lady. Others were
arranging a similar but much longer one down the length
of the hall. There were no cloths on either of these
tables, for nobody had any; and as for forks, folks
expected their fingers to answer. Count Bertram and
Lady Gisla had some silver dishes and glass cups; but
on the long table for the household between each two
persons was set an oblong wooden dish called a
trencher, and this must do for a plate for both; their
cups were pewter or else part of a cow's horn hollowed
out and set in metal.
When all had taken their places on the benches that
served for seats the long table was quite filled, for
there were many people in the household. Besides the
serving-folk, and the pages and squires and other
attendants of gentle birth, often some wandering knight
or minstrel or pilgrim or herald added to the company.
Sever of the pages and squires, however, did
 not sit down with the others but stood on the dais
ready to wait upon Count Bertram and Lady Gisla, for
one of the first things taught to them was obedience
Of the pages, Alan and Henri, who were inseparable
friends, were favorites of the Count, while of the
squires he preferred to be served by a youth names
Hugh, who had been at Noireat a number of years and was
now almost ready for knighthood. These three now
busied themselves to attend their master, while others
of their number served Lady Gisla and the little girls
who sat beside her.
Henri had already been to the well in the courtyard and
filled a sliver pitcher and now he brought also a
silver basin, and after Count Bertram was seated at the
table he poured the water over his hands into the basin
and then presented him a small linen towel on which to
Meantime, Alan had gone to the kitchen end of the great
hall. Here the cooks were busy at the big smoky
fireplace dishing up food cooked in the copper kettles
and saucepans which they pulled to the hearth from the
glowing coals. On a long spit in front of the fire
were pieces of
 roasted meant, and on either side tired little dogs
were lying hungrily sniffing the food they dared not
touch till their own turn came.
Each dog had a little chain fastened around his body,
one end of the chain being hooked to the spit, and for
almost an hour they had been obliged to walk back and
forth, thus turning the spit and keeping the meat from
burning. For that was the way dogs had to help cook in
"How are you, Bowser? How are you, Towser?" (perhaps
those were not their real names, but never mind) said
Alan, as he gently poked with his foot, first one and
then the other of the dogs as he waited for the cook to
place some meat on the silver platter he had brought.
Henri, too, now came to the kitchen fireplace, and
"There is a dish of pigeons for you to bring," said
Alan as he went off with his platter.
When he set it before Count Bertram, "Where is the
carving knife?" asked Hugh, who was standing by ready
to carve the meat, which was one of the duties of a
"Oh, dear!" cried Alan, flushing, "I never can remember
that knife!" And off he
hur-  ried to the kitchen so fast that he nearly ran into Henri
and his pigeons. When the knife was brought, High,
holding the meat firmly with a wooden skewer, carefully
carved it, the two boys watching intently as he did it.
"That's right," said Count Bertram, "see how he does
it, lads! Hugh will soon be a knight and go away, and
then, by and by, I will expect my new squires, Alan and
Henri, to do my carving,"
When the meat was served the boys brought dishes of
beans, cabbage, turnips and other vegetables, but no
potatoes, for the very good reason that none grew in
Normandy as yet. Along with these they brought also
the cake and custard and sweet things, which people
then ate any time they pleased during the meal instead
of keeping them for dessert as we would.
BROUGHT DISHES OF BEANS, CABBAGE, TURNIPS AND OTHER VEGETABLES.
When Count Bertram had risen from his seat, the two
pages went to the long table in the center of the hall
where they found places side by side with a wooden
trencher between them.
When everybody had finished eating, very likely a
number of bones had been flung under the table; and it
is quite possible, too, that some of the brown dogs had
crept up from the kitchen
 hearth or the courtyard, and lying on the rumpled-up
rushes munched and gnawed to their hearts' content.
For people in those days were not such particular
housekeepers as we are.
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