T HE farmer's life is a very varied one, as any one who ever lived on a farm is aware. In some seasons the work is so pressing that the people hardly stop to eat or sleep. At other times Nature herself takes a hand, and the farmer has a chance to mend walls, make and repair harness, clear woodland and do some hedging and ditching while the land is getting ready for the next harvest. This at any rate was the way in medieval England, and the latter part of August between haying and harvest was a holiday time.
Barty Appleby like Saint Bartholomew's Day, the twenty-fourth of August, best of all the holidays of the year. It was the feast of his name-saint, when a cake was baked especially for him. Yule-tide was a merry season, but to have a holiday of one's very own was even pleasanter.
On the day that he was twelve years old Barty was to have a treat which all the boys envied him. He was to go to Bartlemy Fair at Smithfield by London. David Saumond, the stone-mason who had built their orchard-wall, was going beyond London to Canterbury to work at the cathedral. Farmer Appleby had a sister living in London, whom he had not seen for many years, and by this and by that he decided to go with David as far as London Bridge.
The Fairs held on one and another holiday during the year were great markets for Old England. Nearly all of them were called after some Saint. It might be because the saint was a patron of the guild or industry which made the fair prosperous; Saint Blaize was the patron of the wool-combers, Saint Eloy of the goldsmiths, and so on. It was often simply a means of making known the date. People might not know when the twenty-ninth of September came, if they could not read; but they were very likely to know how long it was to Saint Michael's Day, or Michaelmas, because the quarter's rent was due at that time. June 24, the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, was Midsummer Quarter Day, and in every month there were several saints' days which one or another person in any neighborhood had good cause for remembering.
St. Bartholomew's Fair at London was one of the greatest of all, and its name came about in an interesting way. Barty knew the story by heart. The founder was Rahere, the jester of Henry I. While on piligrimage to Rome he had fallen ill in a little town outside the city, and being near death had prayed to Saint Bartholomew, who was said to have been a physician, for help. The saint, so the legend goes, appeared to him in a vision and told him to found a church and a hospital. He was to have no misgiving, but go forward with the work and the way would be made clear. Coming back to England he told the story to the King, who gave him land in a waste marshy place called Smoothfield, outside London, where the wall turned inward in a great angle. He got the foundations laid by gathering beggars, children and half-witted wanderers about him and making a jest of the hard work. The fields were like the kind of place where a circus-tent is pitched now. Horses and cattle were brought there to market, as it was convenient both to the roads outside and the gates of the city. The church walls rose little by little, as the King and others became interested in the work, and in course of time Rahere gathered a company of Augustines there and became prior of the monastery. The hospital built and tended by these monks was the first in London. In 1133 Rahere persuaded the King to give him a charter for a three days' Fair of Saint Bartholomew in the last week of August, and tradition says that he used sometimes to go out and entertain the crowds with jests and songs. Rahere's Norman arches are still to be seen in Saint Bartholomew's Church in London, close by the street that is called Cloth Fair.
The Fair grew and prospered, for it had everything in its favor. It came at a time of year when traveling was good, it was near the horse-market, which every farmer would want to visit, it was near London on the other hand, so that merchants English and foreign could come out to sell their goods, and it had close by the church and the hospital, which received tolls, or a percentage as it would be called to-day, on the profits.
Barty had heard of the Fair ever since he could remember, for almost every year some one in the neighborhood went. Very early in the morning the little party set forth, and Barty kissed his mother and the younger ones good-by, feeling very important. He rode behind David, and two serving men came with them to take care of the horses and luggage. Farmer Appleby was taking two fine young horses to market, and some apples and other oddments to his sister Olive.
They trotted along the narrow lane at a brisk pace and presently reached the high road. After that there was much to see. All sorts of folk were wending to the Fair.
The fairs, all over England, were the goal of foreign traders and small merchants of every kind, who could not afford to set up shop in town. In many cases the tolls of the Fair went to the King, to some Abbey, or to one of the Guilds. The law frequently obliged the merchants in the neighboring town or city to close their shops while the Fair lasted. The townsfolk made holiday, or profited from the more substantial customers who came early and stayed late with friends.
Barty heard his father and David discussing these and other laws as they rode. For David, as a stranger in the country, all such matters were of interest, although a member of the Masons' Guild could travel almost anywhere in the days of constant building. No stranger might remain in London more than one night. The first night he stayed in any man's house he might be regarded as a stranger, but if he stayed a second night, he was considered the guest of the householder, and after that he was held to be a member of the household, for whom his host was responsible. Wandering tradesmen would have had a hard time of it without the Fairs. On a pinch, a traveling merchant who sold goods at a fair could sleep in his booth or in the open air.
The law did not affect the Appleby party. Barty's Aunt Olive was married to Swan Petersen, a whitesmith or worker in tin, and she lived outside the wall, close to the church of Saint Clement of the Danes. When they reached London they would lodge under her roof.
They stayed at an inn the first night on the road, and slept on the floor wrapped in their good woolen cloaks, for the place was crowded. During the hour after supper Barty, perched on a barrel in the court-yard, saw jongleurs and dancers, with bells on head and neck and heels, capering in the flare of the torches. He heard a minstrel sing a long ballad telling the story of Havelok the Dane, which his mother had told him. His father and David gave each a penny to these entertainers, and Barty felt as content as any boy would, on the way to London with money in his pocket for fairings.
Toward the end of the next day the crowd was so dense that they had to ride at a snail's pace in dust and turmoil, and Barty grew so tired that he nearly tumbled off. David, with a chuckle, lifted the boy around in front of him, and when they reached London after the closing of the gates, and turned to the right toward the little village founded by the Danes, they had to shake Barty awake at Swan Petersen's door.
Aunt Olive, a trim, fresh-faced, flaxen-haired woman, laughed heartily as the sleepy boy stumbled in.
"How late you are, brother!" she said. "And this is David Saumond, by whom you sent a message last year. Well, it is good to see you. And how are they all at home?"
Barty was awake next morning almost as soon as the pigeons were, and peering out of the window he saw David, already out and surveying the street. The boy tumbled into his clothes and down the stairs, and went with David to look about while Farmer Appleby and his sister told the news and unpacked the good things from the country.
The Fleet River was crowded with ships of the lesser sort, and the Thames itself was more than twice as broad as it is to-day. Barty wanted to see London Bridge at once, but that was some distance away, and so was London Tower. The tangle of little lanes around the Convent Garden was full of braying donkeys, bawling drivers, cackling poultry and confusion. In Fair-time there was a general briskening of all trade for miles around. At Charing village David hailed a boatman, and all among the swans and other water-fowl, the barges and sailing craft, they went down to London Bridge.
Barty had asked any number of questions about this bridge when David returned from London the previous year, but as often happens, the picture he had formed in his mind was not at all like the real thing. It was a wooden bridge, but the beginnings of stone piers could be seen.
"They've put Peter de Colechurch at that job," said David. "He has a vision of a brig o' stanes, and swears it shall come true."
"Do you think it will?" asked Barty soberly. The vast river as he looked to right and left seemed a mighty creature for one man to yoke.
"Not in his time, happen, but some day it will," David answered as they shot under the middle arch. "And yon's the Tower!"
Barty felt as if he had seen enough for the day already as he gazed up at the great square keep among the lesser buildings, jutting out into the river as if to challenge all comers. However, there was never a boy who could not go on sight-seeing forever. By the time they had returned to Fleet Street he had tucked away the Tower and London Bridge in his mind and was ready for the Fair.
The Fair was a city of booths, of tents, of sheds and of awnings. Bunyan described the like in Vanity Fair. Cloth-sellers from Cambrai, Paris, Ypres, Arras and other towns where weavers dwelt, had a street to themselves, and so did the jewelers. The jewelry was made more for show than worth, and there were gay cords for lacing bodices or shoes, and necklaces that were called "tawdrey chains" from the fair of St. Etheldreda or Saint Audrey, where they were first sold. There were glass beads and perfume-bottles from Venice; there were linens of Damietta, brocaded stuff from Damascus, veils and scarfs from Moussoul—or so they were said to be. Shoes of Cordovan leather were there also, spices, and sweetmeats, herbs and cakes.
Old-fashioned people call machine-sawed wooden borders on porches "gingerbread work." The gingerbread sold by old Goody Raby looked very much like them. She had gingerbread horses, and men, and peacocks, and monkeys, gingerbread churches and gingerbread castles, gingerbread kings and queens and saints and dragons and elephants, although the elephant looked rather queer. They were made of a spicy yellow-brown dough rolled into thin sheets, cut into shpaes, baked hard and then gilded here and there. The king's crown, the peacock's head and neck, the castle on the elephant's back, were gilded. Barty bought a horse for himself and a small menagerie of animals for the younger children at home.
A boy not much older than himself was selling perfume in a tiny corner. It struck Barty that here might be something that his mother might like, and he pulled at Aunt Olive's sleeve and asked her what she thought. She agreed with him, and they spent some pleasant minutes choosing little balls of perfumed wax, which could be carried in a box or bag, or laid away in chests. There was something wholesome and refreshing about the scent, and Barty could not make up his mind what flower it was like. The boy said that several kinds were used in the making of each perfume, and that he had helped in the work. He said that his name was "Vanni", which Barty thought a very queer one, but this name, it appeared, was the same as John in his country. Barty himself would be called there Bartolomeo.
Vanni seemed to be known to many of the people at the fair. A tall, brown young fellow with a demure dark-eyed girl on his arm stopped and asked him how trade was, and so did a young man in foreign dress who spoke to him in his own language. This young man was presently addressed as "Matteo," by a gayly clad troubadour, and Barty, with a jump, recognized the young man who had been with the King when he came to look at their dyke. One of the reasons why almost everybody came to Bartlemy Fair was that almost everybody did. It was a place where people who seldom crossed each other's path were likely to meet.
"Has Vanni caught anything yet?" the troubadour asked in that language which Barty did not know.
"Not yet," the other answered, "but he will. Set a weasel to catch a rat." And the two laughed and parted.
But it was Barty who really caught the rat they were talking about. A man with a performing bear had stopped just there and a crowd had gathered about him. Barty had seen that bear the night before, and he could not see over the heads of the men, in any case. A stout elderly merchant trying to make his way through the narrow lanes, fumed and fretted and became wedged in. Barty saw a thin, shabby-faced fellow duck under a big drover's arm, cut a long slit in the stout man's purse that hung at his belt and slip through the crowd. Just then some one raised a cry that the bear was loose, and everything was confusion. Barty's wit and boldness blocked the thief's game. He tripped the man up with David's staff, and with a flying jump, landed on his shoulders. It was a risky thing to do, for the man had a knife and could use it, but Barty was the best wrestler in his village, and a minute later David had nabbed the rascal and recovered the plunder.
"Thank ye, my lad, thank ye," said the merchant, and hurried away. The boy Vanni swept all his goods into a basket and after one look at the thief was off like a shot. Presently up came two or three men in the livery of the King's officers.
Meanwhile Farmer Appleby and his sister came up, having seen the affair from a little distance.
"My faith," said Aunt Olive indignantly, "he might have spared a penny or two for your trouble. That was Gamelyn Bouverel, one of the richest goldsmiths in Chepe."
"I don't care," laughed Barty, "it was good sport."
But that was not to be the end of it. They were on their way to the roast-pig booth where cooked meat could be had hot from the fire, when a young Londoner came toward them.
"You are the lad who saved my uncle's purse for him," he said in a relieved tone. "I thought I had lost you in the crowd. Here is a fairing for you," and he slipped a silver groat into Barty's hand.
"Now, that is more like a Christian," observed Aunt Olive. But Barty was meditating about something, and he was rather silent all through dinner. Besides the hot roast, they bought bread, and Barty had his new "Bartlemy knife" with which to cut his slice of the roast. A costard-monger sold them apples, and the seeds were carefully saved for planting at home. Then they must all see a show, and they crowded into a tent and saw a play acted by wooden marionettes in a toy theater, like a Punch and Judy. In the Cloth Fair the farmer bought fine Flemish cloth for the mother, dyed a beautiful blue, and red cloth for a cloak for Hilda. While Aunt Olive was helping to choose this Barty slipped across the way and looked for Vanni. He had heard Vanni tell the men that the thief's name was Conrad Waibling. Rascals were a new thing in Barty's experience. There was nobody in the village at home who would deliberately hem in a man by a crowd and then rob him. Barty was sure that the man with the performing bear was in it as well.
"Vanni," he said, "you know that thief that they caught?"
"Do you think that the man with the dancing bear was a friend of his?"
"I know he was," said Vanni grimly. "He escaped."
Barty hesitated. "What do you think they will do to the one that they caught?"
"He will be punished," answered Vanni coolly. "He is a poisoner. He has sold poisoned spices—for pay. I think he failed, and did not poison anybody, so that he has had to get his living where he could. He is finished now—ended—no more."
Barty felt rather cold. Vanni was so matter-of-fact about it. The Italian boy saw the look on his face.
"There is nothing," he added, "so bad as betraying your salt—you understand—to live in a man's house and kill him secretly—to give him food which is death. There are places where no man can trust his neighbor. You do not know what they are like. Your father is his own man."
Barty felt that he had seen a great deal in the world since he left the farm in the Danelaw. He was glad to go with his father and Aunt Olive and David into the stately quiet church. The Prior of the monastery—Rahere had long been dead—was a famous preacher, Aunt Olive said, and often preached sermons in rhyme. They went through the long airy quiet rooms of the hospital where the monks were tending sick men, or helping them out into the sun. As they came out, past the box for offerings, and each gave something, Barty left there his silver groat.
"I'd rather Saint Bartlemy had it," he said.