| 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 |
ON THE WAY TO DIVES
 It was late in August, and on almost every road in
Normandy one might have seen soldiers making their way
to the sea-coast town of Dives to join the forces of
Duke William for the invasion of Britain.
At the castle of Noireat all was ready for Count
Bertram's going. Several days before, a number of
knights, who were his vassals, had come with their
followers to go with him, and the castle had been
overflowing with people. At last, when the morning came
to start, there was a great running to and fro; squires
and pages bustled about harnessing the horses, putting
on their rosettes and plumes, and then they helped
their masters buckle on
their armor and spurs. Count Bertram's had been freshly
polished, and Lady Gisla had made for him a new banner
of blue silk on which was worked a red
dragon like that painted on his shield.
As the little party said good-by, "Oh, father," cried
Blanchette, clinging to him with tearful eyes, "don't
get hurt! Promise you will come back safe and sound!"
And Count Bertram patted her head and kissing her and
Lady Gisla declared that he would come home just as
soon as they had helped Duke William conquer Britain.
Then all mounted their horses, Count Bertram and Hugh
and the other knights riding in front, and after them
the squires, who carried such baggage as was needful,
while last of all came Alan and Henri, who were to go
along as far as Dives, ready always to wait upon the
others or do errands at their bidding.
Master Herve, with trembling hands, opened the castle
gate, and off they rode, their armor gleaming and their
banners fluttering in the summer sunlight.
As the old man watched them go he shook his head sadly,
and "Well, well," he muttered to himself, "old Herve
has seen the day when he didn't have to stay behind and
sit on his bench from morning till night! Many's the
 followed Count Bertram's father to the
field!" And he blinked his eyes hard as he shut the
As for Lady Gisla and the little girls, they climbed to
the top of the very highest tower in the castle and
there they watched the party of riders as they wound
down the cliff and out upon the road, gazing until they
could see no more.
Meantime Count Bertram and the others rode along on
their way to the town of Falaise where they were to
pass the night. Alan and Henri, who had never been far
from home, looked about with bright eyes. Here and
there by the wayside were the little huts of peasant
folks who had to plow and sow the fields and do all the
hard work to raise food for their overlords, but who
never could own any land themselves or even move away
from the wretched places where they lived. The huts
were rudely built of clay or wood, and in their
doorways little children in bare feet and coarse
homespun dresses stood staring at the party riding by.
fields their brothers, a little older, were working
with bent backs beside their fathers, and inside the
huts their sisters were helping the mothers weave the
coarse cloth for the family clothes, or
 else were
stirring the pots of cabbage soup which was the most
any of them had to eat.
"Dear me!" said Alan, "I'm glad I don't have to live
like those people!"
"Yes," agreed Henri, "it must be terribly dreary. I
guess Father Herluin is right when he says we ought to
be glad to learn our lessons and know something, for if
we were peasant children we wouldn't have a chance to
find out anything! And they have to work all the time
just as hard as they can, and never have nice things to
eat or wear or any fun like we do, poor things!"
"Look at those washer-women!" said Alan, glancing with
a smile toward a group of women kneeling at he bank of
a little stream they were about to cross. "When Count
Bertram and the others came along to ford the water the
women stated so hard at them that some of the washing
is floating off!"
And, sure enough, bobbing up and down with the current,
sailed some pieces of linen from the pile of clothes
which the women were washing in the stream, pounding
them with stones and sousing them up and down just as
they do to this day in Normandy.
 When the two boys looked back after crossing the ford,
the women were wading out with long sticks and pulling
back the runaway garments.
Sometimes they passed orchards of apples and pears, and
"Oh!" cried Alan, as he sniffed the ripe fruit which
the peasants were gathering, "don't it smell good! I
wouldn't so much mind being one of those peasants!"
"Yes, you would!" answered Henri, "for you wouldn't
dare eat all the apples and pears you wanted! You would
have to make most of them into cider for your
Now and then, perched on some steep hill, the towers of
a tall castle would rise against the sky; and perhaps
at the foot of the hill would nestle a little village
with gray houses like the village of Noireat.
At mid-day they all stopped in a grassy woodland and
rested the horses and ate some of the food they carried
They rode all afternoon, the road growing steeper and
more broken till, toward sunset, it wound down into a
picturesque ravine. On either side rose huge rocky
crags, and "Look!" cried Henri, gazing up at a lordly
 crowned one of these. "I wonder what place
"That is Falaise castle," said one of the squires, who
was riding just ahead of Henri and heard his question.
The lad looked with eager interest at the great strong
walls and lofty tower looming black against the sunset
sky. "Falaise!" he repeated. "Why, then it must be
where Duke William was born, and where he rode so fast
that night his fool, Goelet, woke him up and warned him
"To be sure," said the squire, smiling at Henri's
eagerness, "it's the very place. I know this part of
the country, for some of my kinsmen live near here.
That castle has belonged to the dukes of Normandy for I
don't know how many years, but ever and ever so long.
And down in the ravine is the town of Falaise; we'll
come to it presently. The dukes have always been fond
of Falaise, and often come there, though of course they
have to live most of the time in the city Rouen where
their palace is."
As the lads listened they were all the while riding
along, and soon they came to the old town which, as the
squire had said, lay for the
 most part in the ravine.
There was a strong wall around it, and when they
entered the gate they found themselves in a narrow,
crooked street with houses close together on either
side. Most of them were built of wood with great
timbers showing on the outside, and all had peaked
roofs and many gables. Here and there were dark little
shops where cloth weavers and leather and metal workers
displayed their wares. Everything, of course, was made
by hand, for there were no machines for doing things in
Farther along the crooked street they passed the market
house, which was open at all sides, only a heavy timber
roof upheld by square wooden pillars. Within were many
stalls where people sold meat and vegetables, cheese
and apples and cider, for Normandy has always been a
great place for apples.
As they rode past "I hope they have bought plenty here
for the inn where we are to stay tonight," said Henri,
"for I am dreadfully hungry!"
"So am I!" replied Alan, for the all day's ride had
sharpened their appetites. In a few minutes they came
to the inn, a good-sized
 wooden house built around a
courtyard, which they entered through a broad gateway,
and soon the landlord was greeting them all, and his
servants were leading the knights' horses to stalls
while the squires and pages took care of their own.
When they went in for supper the count and his friends
were served in a room by themselves, while the others
took their luck at the long table spread in the main
part of the inn. The air was thick with smoke from a
great fireplace where meat was roasting on a spit and
the landlord's wife and her maids were making omelettes
in long-handled frying pans.
Alan and Henri looked curiously at the other travelers
around them as they took their places with a wooden
trencher between them. Presently a boy near their own
age brought them some meat.
"How do you do?" said Alan, who always liked to make
friends with people.
The boy, who had a bright pleasant face, with a
friendly look replied to Alan's greeting and then went
off to serve some one else. But after supper he came
over to the bench where the two pages were sitting, and
began to talk to them
 and to ask them where they came
from. When they had answered his questions, they began
to ask some themselves.
"What is you name?" Have you always lived in Falaise?"
inquired Alan. "And what do the boys and girls in town
do? Do you go hunting, or to tournaments, or learn to
ride or fight? Though I don't quite see how you can in
"My name is Gilles," answered the boy, "and I have
always lived here. This is my father's inn, and I help
with the work. I can do lots of things, too! I run
errands and help wait on the table and I can take care
of the horses, and most anything!" he added with an air
"But what do you do for amusement?! Persisted Alan.
"Oh," said Gilles, "we play games, ball and hide and
seek, and spin tops and sometimes a puppet show comes
to town and we go to that."
"Yes," said Henri, "we do those things at home. I
wonder if your puppet shows are like the ones that come
to our castle? Last winter a fine one came! The man had
a box fixed up like a little stage and a lot of little
dolls dressed like
 different people, and he moved them
around with his fingers and pretended to talk for
"Yes," put in Alan, "and a couple of them were dressed
like knights on horseback and had a regular fight!"
"I saw that one!" said Gilles, with a wise air. "And
ever so many others come to Falaise."
"Did you ever go to a tournament?" asked Henri.
"No," answered Gilles vaguely, "I don't know what that
is. But I've been lots of times to the Guibray fair!"
he added, his eyes brightening.
It was now the other boys' turn to ask, "What is the
"Oh," said Gilles, "it's a big fair the Duke William
stated in Guibray, a little place up on the hill close
to Falaise. There is a fine church there and a shrine
with a Madonna that works miracles, and such hundreds
and hundreds of pilgrims go there to pray that Duke
William thought it would be a fine thing for the
Guibray folks to have a fair; so he gave them
permission to have one every summer in August, because
that's when most of the pilgrims come. It's too
 bad you
didn't get here sooner, for it's been over only about
"What do they do there?" asked Alan.
"Well," answered Gilles, "they have swings, and games,
and mistrels and jugglers, and shooting with bows and
arrows, and then there are all kinds of things to buy,
and more horses and cows than you ever saw!" finished
the boy, with round eyes.
Alan and Henri looked rather envious as they heard of
the wonders of the Gulbray fair. And, Strangely enough,
though thus started nearly a
thousand years ago, to this day it is still held every
August, just as Gilles described it.
As the boys were talking, a little girl went through
the room carrying a doll and a gray kitten. "Is that
your sister?" asked Henri of Gilles.
"Yes," answered the lad, "and I have another older one
and two brothers."
"What does your sister do? Does she help around the
house, too?" asked Henri, for the boys were inquisitive
and interested in what kind of lives were led by the
boys and girls in town.
"Yes," answered Gilles, "and she is learning to spin
and weave, and my older sister can
 make omelettes and
roast meat as well as mother. She don't like to very
well, though; she wants to learn to embroider and make
things to hang on the wall like some of the rich people
in town have. You just ought to see the grand houses
some of the rich folks here have! They have chairs that
are carved, and wonderful worked cloth hanging on the
walls, and some have tiles on their floors, and two of
them have kind of holes built in the wall by the
fireplace for the smoke to go out! I think they are
called chimneys; Duke William's castle has one of
Alan and Henri looked rather blank as they heard of the
holes for smoke, which seemed to them quite a fine
idea; though we would have laughed at the chimneys
Gilles told of, which were really very poor affairs and
led the smoke, such of it as went into them, out at the
side, not the top of the house.
The two pages, however, said nothing about having none
at Noireat, and Alan declared with a lordly air, "Well,
I guess Count Bertram has a chair all carved with
dragons, and Lady Gisla can embroider tapestries as
good as anybody!"
"Where do you go to church?" asked Gilles.
 "Why, in the chapel of the castle," answered Henri.
"Well," said Gilles, determined to find something
better than castle had, "I don't believe it's so big as
the church of Saint Gervaise here in Falaise! And our
church has glass in the windows!"
Here the boys' talk was interrupted by the loud ringing
of a bell.
"What's that?" asked Alan.
"That's the bell of Saint Gervaise church now!" said
Gilles. "It's ringing for curfew!"
"What is curfew?" asked Henri.
"Why," said Gilles in surprise, "don't you know what
curfew is? I thought everybody knew that! We
have to cover up our fire with ashes and put out our
candles when that bell rings. Duke William ordered it,
and father says it's to make people careful that their
houses don't burn down at night when everybody's
asleep, and that it's to make folks go to bed early,
too, and keep out of mischief."
"Well, I guess it's meant more for you town people,"
said Alan. "There are more of you to get into mischief!
And your wooden houses would burn down quicker than
 too." But Gilles had already run to help
his father heap ashes over the glowing logs still
smoldering in the fireplace, and all the travelers in
the room began to find places on the floor or benches
where they might pass the night. Alan and Henri and the
squires of Count Bertram's party stretched themselves
out wherever they could, and soon everybody was asleep.
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