| 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 MYSTERY OF THE RIVERS"
 As Alan and Henri stood on either side of Count Bertram,
ready to wait upon him as he was eating his breakfast,
"Lad," he said, "isn't this the day for your lessons
with Father Herluin?"
"Yes, sir count," answered Alan, as both boys drew a
long face at the prospect.
"Never mind!" said Count Bertram, laughing
good-humoredly. "Pay attention and learn what he tells
you, and when you are through come to the falcon mew
and I will give you a lesson more to your liking."
The boys' faces brightened at this, and when the count
had finished they joined the other children and trooped
off quite briskly to school in the little chapel which
was part of the castle and of which Father Herluin was
priest. Noble families had to provide religious
services in their own homes as they generally lived too
 far away from any church; and the good priest was also,
two or three times a week, school-master to the castle
When his pupils had seated themselves in the chapel,
Father Herluin first gave them a lesson on church
matters. Then, taking from ashelf the written and
painted prayer-book, which was the castle library, he
taught them a little reading. Next came a little less
arithmetic and still less of geography; this last
studied from a ridiculous map made by hand and showing
a very queer world with the strange animals and
monsters which map-makers then put in whenever they
were in doubt about places. And they were in doubt
about many, for everybody thought the earth flat
instead of round, and had very little idea of the true
shapes of lands and seas.
Sometimes the children learned a trifle about the stars
or plants or whatever else Father Herluin happened to
know; but it was not much like the lessons boys and
girls must learn now.
After two hours the school was over for the day; and as
there were no school-books nor paper nor pencils, of
course there was no studying between times.
Blanchette and Marie went back to learn
 some household matters from Lady Gisla, and the boys
raced off to the falcon mew.
Falcons were used n hunting; and however little a boy
of that time could read or write, one thing he was
taught thoroughly, and that was to be an accomplished
huntsman, as this was the favorite sport of those of
There were two kinds of hunting; that called "the
mystery of the woods" consisted in chasing wild
animals, such as deer or boars, through the forest; and
this was much like the sport of to-day except that no
one had guns then and when the dogs had finally run the
poor animal to earth it was usually killed by the
master of the hunt, who carried a spear or knife for
But "mystery of the rivers," was quite a different
affair as it was the chasing of birds through the sky;
and, for this, falcons, very strong and swift-winged
birds of the hawk family, were especially trained.
This kind of hunting was called "the mystery of the
rivers" because the herons and other birds which the
falcons were taught to attack made their nests on the
banks of rivers. Every noble youth must know how to
train and care for
 the falcons, and as he must learn also dozens of
special works to use in speaking of the birds and their
every movement it took really quite a long time to
master the art of falconry, or hawking, as it was often
"Well, lads," said Count Bertram, who was already in
the mew,—the room where the falcons were kept,—"I
hope you are a great deal wiser than when I saw you
"Yes, sir count," said Henri, "we learned ever so much
this morning." And then he quickly added, "Have you
seen my falcon, sir" I am agraid she is not well, she
seems so mopy."
"Which is yours, Henri?" asked Count Bertram, looking
at the dozen or more hawklike birds perched about the
room. "Oh, that one over there with her head down?" he
added. "I don't think there is anything the matter
with her. Just try her with the lure."
Henri took a silver whistle from a shelf nearby and
fastened a bit of meat to it beneath a bunch of gay
feathers dangling from one end. "Wait a minute," said
the count, "till Alan loosens her jesses!" And Alan
hastened to unfasten from the perch the little leather
thongs attached to her legs.
 Henri then blew the whistle and the bird, raising its
head, immediately spread its wings and in an instant
had lighted on his wrist and was trying to get the bit
of meat, while all the other falcons strained at their
jesses and tried to reach him, too.
The whistle, or lure, was this made attractive with
feathers and meat while the birds were being trained to
come when they heard it blown; for it was by the lure
that the huntsman drew the falcon back to him when a
hunt was over.
As Henri's bird flew toward him there was a pretty
tinkling sound; and, indeed, every time any of the
falcons moved about on their perches there was a
musical sound,, for every one of them had a tiny bell,
like a little sleigh-bell, strapped around each of his
legs just above the toes; and these bells and the
leather jesses they always wore. Several of them wore
another very odd thing, a little hood made of cloth or
leather and covering the whole head, beak, eyes, and
all. These hoods were put on the fiercer birds to make
them tamer and protect their trainer from their beaks;
also, when they were taken out to hunt all wore hoods
so that nothing might
dis-  tract their attention till time to begin the chase, when the
head covering was plucked off.
"Whose bird is that with the red hood?" asked Count
Bertram, as he noticed one of the smaller and younger
birds restlessly moving on its perch and trying to
shake off its hay head covering.
"Oh, that is Marie's, sir count," answered Alan, "she
is very proud of that hood, and Blanchette is making a
green one for hers!"
For the girls, too, had their pet falcons, and ladies
often followed the sport with the men.
"Well, lads," again asked the count, "do you know your
lesson in the falconry language: What do I mean when I
say the falcon's 'arms'?"
"His legs, sir" answered Henri.
"And his 'sails'?" continued the count.
"His wings, sir," said Alan.
"What are his 'beams'?" again asked the count, "and
what is he doing when he 'mantles,' or 'jouks,' or
"His 'beams,' " answered the boys in chorus, "are the
long feathers of his wings, and he 'mantles' when he
stretches back one wing,
 when he sleeps he 'jouks,' and when he flutters to
escape we must say he 'bates.' "
"Very good," said the count, smiling; and then after
questioning the lads a little further, he said: "Now
you may feed the birds; but don't give them much, as we
will fly some of them this afternoon and they must
still be hungry enough to be interested in the quarry."
For so was called the bird or hare or whatever prey the
falcon went in chase of.
Alan at once went to the castle kitchen where he got
some pieces of beef and mutton which he placed on a
bunch of feathers from the breast of a heron, one of
the birds the falcons were taught to pursue. When all
was ready Henri and the other pages began to shout at
the tops of their voices, and going into the courtyard
called about them a number of the count's hunting dogs,
which they soon had yelping and bow-wowing at the tops
of their voices also. This was done so the falcons
might become so used to it that when they were taken
out to hunt they would attack a real heron and not be
disturbed or frightened by the shouting and barking
that was sure to go on around them.
The count looked on approvingly, and after
 a few more directions, he said, "After dinner I am
going out with Hugh and one or two of my squires for a
little sport, and you boys may come along."
The lads' eyes danced, and just as soon as dinner was
over they hurried back to the mew to bring the count
As the little party rode out the castle gate on Count
Bertram's right fist perched the falcon, the jesses on
its legs caught in a small hook in the back of his
heavy glove and a brown hood over its head. Hugh and
one of the other squires carried falcons, also, but
Alan and Henri being only pages must content themselves
with watching the others and learning all they could.
They rode down the cliff road and through the meadows
till they came to a little river, fringed by willow and
Presently, "Look!" cried Alan to Henri, in a low voice,
as up from a cluster of willows a blue heron rose in
At the same moment Count Bertram, who was riding in
front, quickly plucking the hood from his falcon's
head, with a shrill cry, "Haw! Haw! Ho now!" loosed it
for pursuit. "Haw! Haw! Ho now!" shouted Hugh and
 the other squires; for this was one of the cries by
which the falcons were taught to speed to the attack.
But Count Bertram's bird needed no urging as up, up it
soared, mounting the air in great spiral curves.
Meantime, the poor heron, seeing its pursuer, was
trying its best to fly away.
As the little party of huntsmen dashed along
breathlessly watching the two birds, up, up, still
higher soared the falcon, till for an instant it
poised, a dark speck in the blue sky, while beneath it
the blue heron fled on frightened wings. Then, like
lightening, the falcon swooped down, hurling its
powerful body full upon the heron, striking it with
such force that it dropped to earth stunned by the
blow. In another moment the falcon was upon it, and
the jingle of little bells told only too plainly how
claws and beak were doing their deadly work.
"Bravo!" cried Count Bertram. "What think you, Hugh?
Was not that a pretty flight?"
"Yes, sir count," answered Hugh with enthusiasm, "the
falcon went like an arrow to the mark!"
 After Count Bertram had flown his bird a few more times
the two squires took turns with theirs. Later on, as
the afternoon waned, each of the huntsmen took the
little silver lure, which dangled from his wrist, and
whistled his falcon back, and the three birds were
again hooded and each fastened securely to the glove of
When the party returned to the castle, Count Bertram
handed his falcon to Alan to be placed in the mew; and
as the boy carefully received it the count looked
critically to see that he held his elbow crooked at
just the right angle, and that his fist was doubled up
in precisely the correct way to carry the bird; for all
these matters were considered as important to be
learned as any lesson in manners.
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