Our Little Frankish Cousin of Long Ago  by Evaleen Stein

The Palace School

T HE next morning rather early, as usual, Rainolf and the other boys tumbled out of their beds in the wing of the palace where they slept, and as soon as they were dressed they ran out into the courtyard and began jumping over each other, for all the world like leap-frog! So that must have been it. By and by, "I'm hungry!" cried Aymon.

"So am I!" said Rainolf. "Let's find something to eat!"

And they all trooped off to the great palace kitchen where the cooks gave them some bread and cold meat and cheese, which they stood around and ate wherever they were not too much in the way. For breakfast was not made much of by anybody, nor set out except for the more important people of the palace. And it was never much like our breakfasts. There was always a great deal of meat for food, and for drink there was mead and wine. It had not occurred to people in those days that it might be agreeable to eat different kinds of things at different meals. And, besides, even if they had thought of it, they couldn't make their breakfasts very different from their dinners, because none of the Franks had ever heard of such things as rolled oats or puffed rice or coffee or griddle-cakes and maple syrup, poor things!

Nevertheless, when the boys had finished munching down their meat and bread they began, just as you do, to think about school.

"Rainolf!" said Aymon, "if you spell the rest of us down again to-day or get more good marks in grammar, I'll fight you!" But as he laughed good-naturedly as he made this threat, Rainolf laughed too. "Never mind," he answered, "maybe you won't have to! I think to-day's lesson will be a good deal harder than yesterday."

By this time they all decided that they had better be starting: so they made their way, not to the old town of Aachen, but across the courtyard to another part of the palace. Entering a handsome doorway and passing through a long corridor they came to a large room with a ceiling supported by many pillars and a floor of beautiful mosaics which the king had brought from Italy along with the rich tapestries which hung on the walls. At one side of the room was a raised platform, or dais, on which stood two throne-like chairs; while down the length of the floor below were a number of carved wooden benches.

When Rainolf and the rest of the pages entered they found a group of other boys and a few little girls already there. These were mostly children of the common soldiers and humbler folks about the palace. And, besides these, were quite a number of grown people, too, many of them noble ladies and gentlemen. The latter were dressed in linen tunics with sword-belts, and leg wrappings cross-gartered in bright colors, and all had long mustaches and shaven chins and hair nearly reaching their shoulders. The ladies wore silken tunics edged with embroidery, and trailing skirts, and on their heads embroidered scarfs arranged in folds covering their hair and with the long ends hanging down or else wrapped closely about their white throats.

Presently there was a hush, and everybody stood back and bowed very low as a group of people was seen coming toward the open door. Look sharp now, for here comes Charlemagne!

Rainolf fairly held his breath and stared with all his eyes as the stately figure drew near; for he had been in the palace only a short time and had seen but little of the King whose many affairs of state and various wars kept him often away from Aachen. Rainolf had heard so much of the great deeds of Charlemagne, how six Kings called themselves his vassals, and how his fame was known and talked of all the way from Bagdad to Britain, that to the boy he seemed quite like the hero of some wonder tale,—as indeed he was!

As now the great King entered the schoolroom he smiled pleasantly at the people there, and as he crossed over to take his place in one of the throne-like chairs on the dais, one might see that he was about fifty-five years old, and though not ten feet tall he was very near a good seven, and bore himself with royal dignity.

Circling his noble dome-like head was a gold and jeweled crown and beneath it hung rather long locks of iron gray hair, while over his breast flowed a long gray beard. His large blue eyes were bright and sparkling and his face wore a kindly but determined expression.

His dress was very simple; for the King loved the old Frankish costume of his people and only on very grand occasions would he consent to wear the splendid jeweled robes which belonged to his station. On this day he wore, as usual, a plain tunic of white linen with a silken hem of blue and girt with a sword-belt of interlaced gold and silver from which hung a sword with hilt and scabbard of the same precious metals. A square sea-blue mantle was fastened over one shoulder with a golden clasp and on his feet were leather shoes laced with gold cords over white leg-wrappings cross-gartered well above the knees with narrow bands of purple silk.

Beside Charlemagne, on the other tall chair, sat his Queen Luitgarde, while several of the princesses, his daughters, took their places near by; his sons would have been there, too, but they happened to be off fighting in a distant part of the kingdom. The noble ladies and gentlemen seated themselves on the benches nearest the dais, while Malagis perched on its edge looking very wise. Last of all, the palace pages and other children sat down on the farther benches.

Presently a young man entered, and, bowing before Charlemagne, laid on his knees a large parchment book.

"That's Master Einhard, the King's scribe. I guess you haven't seen him before; he's been sick since you came," whispered Aymon to Rainolf, as the young man seated himself on the edge of the dais near Malagis and took from the bosom of his tunic a tablet of parchment and a goose-quill pen ready to write down anything the King might wish.

"The King thinks a great deal of him," went on Aymon, "and he does of Master Alcuin, too. Look, there he comes now!"

Every one looked toward the tall man entering the room. He wore a monk's hood and robe, and in the cord that bound the latter at the waist were stuck some goose-quill pens and the hollow tip of a cow's horn filled with ink. This monk, who was the teacher, bowed respectfully to the King and Queen, took his place in the middle of the floor and school began.

Now if you think that the great Charlemagne and Queen Luitgarde and all the other ladies and gentlemen had come simply to visit this palace school, you are very much mistaken! No, indeed! They were all there to study just as hard as Rainolf and Aymon and all the other boys and girls.

For you must know that before the time of Charlemagne the Frankish people had no schools, and most of them knew just about as little of books and such things as reading, writing, and arithmetic and spelling and geography as they could possibly get along with; and that was very little indeed. But the wise King had done his best to change all this. All through the country there were many monasteries, and in these he had established schools so that the monks (who were about the only people then who could read or write) might teach the children of both rich and poor. And even in his own palace Charlemagne had for nearly twenty years kept up a school taught by the best scholars in the world, and in it he himself and the princes and princesses and many other grown folks of his household were not ashamed to sit with the children and study as hard as any of you boys and girls do now. But Sh! for, as I told you, the school had begun.

Everybody was still as a mouse; only Charlemagne spoke. "Master Alcuin," he said, "I would have you explain some points of grammar which I do not understand," and he looked with a perplexed air at the parchment book on his knees.

The monk stepped to the King's side and in a low tone cleared up the passage which puzzled him. Soon Charlemagne closed the book and said again, "Master Alcuin, pray tell us something of the courses of the stars at this season."

For Charlemagne was always deeply interested in the sky and used often to watch the stars for hours at night from the top of one of the highest palace towers.

Master Alcuin, as he was bidden, gave a little talk on astronomy; then going to an oaken table near by and taking a number of little books, almost like primers, written by hand on parchment, he gave them to the children to study.

"Aymon," whispered Rainolf softly to his friend who sat next to him, "did you say Master Alcuin made these books himself?"

"Yes," whispered Aymon, "he wrote them all out for us to use in the school."

The books were not so easy to learn from, either, even if they were primers; for all were in Latin. That was because the Frankish people had been fighting so long trying to make a nation of themselves that they had neither time nor learning to write books in their own language, which was still unfinished, and nobody was quite sure about its spelling or grammar. But the Greek and Latin people had been wise and civilized long before, while the Franks were still wild barbarians, and had written many wonderful books which had been carefully copied by monks and handed down in writing as there were no printing presses yet. It was from some of these that Master Alcuin had written the Latin books for the palace school.

As the children were puzzling over their lessons, presently he began asking them questions. And then Malagis, as he sometimes did when no one was looking, darted from his seat on the dais and hovered about slyly poking with his ivory wand any boy or girl who looked sleepy or wasn't paying attention; for a jester always did pretty much as he pleased and nobody dared complain.

I have no idea just what Master Alcuin's questions were about, but very likely it was grammar and spelling and arithmetic. At any rate, Rainolf was able to give more right answers than anybody else, and Aymon, sitting beside him, began to nudge him warningly. But Rainolf only nudged back and went on answering as many more as he could; for he had always been anxious to learn, and before coming to Aachen had studied hard at a little monastery school near his home castle.

While the boys and girls were having their lesson the grown folks were all busy with their own books. But soon the King, who was always interested in how things went on in his school, noticed Rainolf and quietly listened as the boy, with bright eyes and eager face, modestly answered Master Alcuin's questions. And after a while, when the school was dismissed for the day, before Charlemagne passed out he looked toward the boys' bench and beckoned to Rainolf.

Rainolf was so surprised and abashed that he blushed and stared and stood as if rooted to the spot.

"Go on, booby!" whispered Aymon anxiously, giving him a hurried push.

At this Rainolf suddenly plunged forward, and gathering his wits together managed to bow respectfully as he stood before the King, though he was trembling with excitement and his knees fairly knocked together.

"Lad," said the King, smiling at his embarrassment, "I liked the way you answered Master Alcuin's questions. I wish all my subjects would try as hard to learn something!" And the great King sighed; for above all things he longed to civilize his people and teach them the world's best knowledge. Then, suddenly extending his hand to the boy; "Child," he said, "you shall be one of my own pages. You remind me of Master Einhard when he was a boy in this same school. Where did you come from?"


You shall be one of my pages.

"Sir," said Rainolf faintly, at last finding his tongue, "my home is Castle Aubri, on the Meuse river. My father was Count Gerard. He was killed in your last war with the Saxons. Mother sent me here a week ago so I might go to the palace school."

"That was right," said Charlemagne. "You have brave blood in your veins, boy. I remember your father well; he was a gallant soldier and a loyal subject. When we go to the banquet hall come up and stand near me. You shall be my cup-bearer instead of Charloun, who is a stupid lad." And the king left the room with Master Alcuin and the others.