Gateway to the Classics: In the Days of the Guild by Louise Lamprey
In the Days of the Guild by  Louise Lamprey


Richard's Silver Penny

How Richard Sold a Web of Russet and Made the Best of a Bad Bargain

R ICHARD was going to market. He was rather a small boy to be going on that errand, especially as he carried on his shoulder a bundle nearly as big as he was. But his mother, with whom he lived in a little whitewashed timber-and-plaster hut at the edge of the common, was too ill to go, and the Cloth Fair was not likely to wait until she was well again.

The boy could hardly remember his father. Sebastian Garland was a sailor, and had gone away so long ago that there was little hope that he would ever come back. Ever since Richard could remember they had lived as they did now, mainly by his mother's weaving. They had a few sheep which were pastured on the common, and one of the neighbors helped them with the washing and shearing. The wool had to be combed and sorted and washed in long and tedious ways before it was ready to spin, and before it was woven it was dyed in colors that Dame Garland made from plants she found in the woods and fields. She had been a Highland Scotch girl, and could weave tyrtaine, as the people in the towns called the plaids. None of the English people knew anything about the different tartans that belonged to the Scottish clans, but a woman who could weave those could make woolen cloth of a very pretty variety of patterns. She worked as a dyer, too, when she could find any one who would pay for the work, and sometimes she did weaving for a farm-wife who had more than her maids could do.

Richard knew every step of the work, from sheep-fleece to loom, and wherever a boy could help, he had been useful. He had gone to get elder bark, which, with iron filings, would dye black; he had seen oak bark used to dye yellow, and he knew that madder root was used for red, and woad for blue. His mother could not afford to buy turmeric, indigo, kermes, and other dyestuffs brought from far countries or grown in gardens. She had to depend on whatever could be got for nothing. The bright rich colors which dyers used in dyeing wool for the London market were not for her. Yellow, brown, some kinds of green, black, gray and dull red she could make of common plants, mosses and the bark of trees. The more costly dyestuffs were made from plants which did not grow wild in England, or from minerals.

Richard was thinking about all this as he trudged along the lane, and thinking also that it would be much easier for them to get a living if it were not for the rules of the Weavers' Guild. This association was one of the most important of the English guilds of the twelfth century, and had a charter, or protecting permit, from the King, which gave them special rights and privileges. He had also established the Cloth Fair at Smithfield in London, the greatest of all the cloth-markets that were so called. If any man did the guild "any unright or dis-ease" there was a fine of ten pounds, which would mean then more than fifty dollars to-day. Later he protected the weavers still further by ordaining that the Portgrave should burn any cloth which had Spanish wool mixed with the English, and the weavers themselves allowed no work by candle-light. This helped to keep up the standard of the weaving, and to prevent dishonest dealers from lowering the price by selling inferior cloth. As early as 1100 Thomas Cole, the rich clothworker of Reading, whose wains crowded the highway to London, had secured a charter from Henry I., this King's grandfather, and the measure of the King's own arm had been taken for the standard ell-measure throughout the kingdom.

Richard knew all this, because, having no one else to talk to, his mother had talked much with him; and the laws of Scotland and England differed in so many ways that she had had to find out exactly what she might and might not do. In some of the towns the weavers' guilds had made a rule that no one within ten miles who did not belong to the guild or did not own sheep should make dyed cloth. This was profitable to the weavers in the association, but it was rather hard on those who were outside, and not every one was allowed to belong. The English weavers were especially jealous of foreigners, and some of their rules had been made to discourage Flemish and Florentine workmen and traders from getting a foothold in the market.

Richard had been born in England, and when he was old enough to earn a living, he intended to repay his mother for all her hard and lonely work for him. As an apprentice to the craft he could grow up in it and belong to the Weavers' Guild himself some day, but he thought that if there were any way to manage it he would rather be a trader. He felt rather excited now as he hurried to reach the village before the bell should ring for the opening of the market.

King's Barton was not a very big town, but on market days it seemed very busy. There was an irregular square in the middle of the town, with a cross of stone in the center, and the ringing of the bell gave notice for the opening and closing of the market. It was not always the same sort of market. Once a week the farmers brought in their cattle and sheep. On another day poultry was sold. In the season, there were corn markets and grass markets, for the crops of wheat and hay; and in every English town, markets were held at certain times for whatever was produced in the neighborhood. Everybody knew when these days came, and merchants from the larger cities came then to buy or sell—on other days they would have found the place half asleep. In so small a town there was not trade enough to support a shop for the sale of clothing, jewelry and foreign wares; but a traveling merchant could do very well on market days.

When Richard came into the square the bell had just begun to ring, and the booths were already set up and occupied. His mother had told him to look for Master Elsing, a man to whom she had sometimes sold her cloth, but he was not there. In his stall was a new man. There was some trade between London and the Hanse, or German cities, and sometimes they sent men into the country to buy at the fairs and markets and keep an eye on trade. Master Elsing had been one of these, and he had always given a fair price. The new man smiled at the boy with his big roll of cloth, and said, "What have you there, my fine lad?"

Richard told him. The man looked rather doubtful. "Let me see it, " he said.

The cloth was a soft, thick rough web with a long furry nap. If it was made into a cloak the person who wore it could have the nap sheared off when it was shabby, and wear it again and shear it again until it was threadbare. A man who did this work was called a shearman or sherman. The strange merchant pursed his lips and fingered the cloth. "Common stuff," he said, "I doubt me the dyes will not be fast color, and it will have to be finished at my cost. There is no profit for me in it, but I should like to help you—I like manly boys. What do you want for it?"

Richard named the price his mother had told him to ask. There was an empty feeling inside him, for he knew that unless they sold the cloth they only had threepence to buy anything whatever to eat, and it would be a long time to next market day. The merchant laughed. "You will never make a trader if you do not learn the worth of things, my boy," he said good-naturedly. "The cloth is worth more than that. I will give you sixpence over, just by way of a lesson."

Richard hesitated. He had never heard of such a thing as anybody offering more for a thing than was asked, and he looked incredulously at the handful of silver and copper that the merchant held out. "You had better take it and go home," the man added. "Think how surprised your mother will be! You can tell her that she has a fine young son—Conrad Waibling said so."

Richard still hesitated, and Waibling withdrew the money. "You may ask any one in the market," he said impatiently, "and if you get a better price than mine I say no more."

"Thank you," said Richard soberly, "I will come back if I get no other offer."

He took his cloth to the oldest of the merchants and asked him if he would better Waibling's price, but the man shook his head. "More than it is worth," he said. "Nobody will give you that, my boy." And from two others he got the same reply. He went back to Waibling finally, left the cloth and took his price.

He had never seen a silver penny before. It had a cross on one side and the King's head on the other, as the common pennies did; it was rather tarnished, but he rubbed it on his jacket to brighten it. He thought he would like to have it bright and shining when he showed it to his mother. All the time that he was sitting on a bank by the roadside, a little way out of the town, eating his bread and cheese, he was polishing the silver penny. A young man who rode by just then, with a black-eyed young woman behind him, reined in his horse and looked down with some amusement. "What art doing, lad?" he asked.

"It's my silver penny," said Richard. "I wanted it to be fine and bonny to show mother."

"Ha!" said the young man. "Let's see." Richard held up the penny. "Who gave you that, my boy?"

"Master Waibling the cloth-merchant," said Richard, and he told the story of the bargain.

The young man looked grave. "Barbara," he said to the girl, "art anxious to get home? Because I have business with this same Waibling, and I want to find him before he leaves the town."

The girl smiled demurely. "That's like thee, Robert," she said. "Ever since I married thee,—and long before, it's been the same. I won't hinder thee. Leave me at Mary Lavender's and I'll have a look about her garden."

The two rode off at a brisk pace, and Richard saw them halt at a gate not far away, and while the girl went in the man mounted his horse again and came back. "Jump thee up behind me, young chap," he ordered, "and we'll see to this. The silver penny is not good. He probably got it in some trade and passed it off on the first person who would take it. Look at this one."

Edrupt held up a silver penny from his own purse.

"I didn't know," said Richard slowly. "I thought all pennies were alike."

"They're not—but until the new law was passed they were well-nigh anything you please. You see, this penny he gave you is an old one. Before the new law some time, when the King needed money very badly,—in Stephen's time maybe—they mixed the silver with lead to make it go further. That's why it would not shine. And look at this." He took out another coin. "This is true metal, but it has been clipped. Some thief took a bag full of them probably, clipped each one as much as he dared, passed off the coins for good money, and melted down the parings of silver to sell. Next time you take a silver penny see that it is pure bright silver and quite round."

By this time they were in the market-place. Edrupt dismounted, and gave Richard the bridle to hold; then he went up to Waibling's stall, but the merchant was not there.

"He told me to mind it for him," said the man in the next booth. "He went out but now and said he would be back in a moment."

But the cloth-merchant did not come back. The web of cloth he had bought from Richard was on the counter, and that was the only important piece of goods he had bought. Quite a little crowd gathered about by the time they had waited awhile. Richard wondered what it all meant. Presently Edrupt came back, laughing.

"He has left town," he said to Richard. "He must have seen me before I met you. I have had dealings with him before, and he knew what I would do if I caught him here. Well, he has left you your cloth and the price of the stuff, less one bad penny. Will you sell the cloth to me? I am a wool-merchant, not a cloth-merchant, but I can use a cloak made of good homespun."

Richard looked up at his new friend with a face so bright with gratitude and relief that the young merchant laughed again. "What are you going to do with the penny?" he asked the boy, curiously.

"I'd like to throw it in the river," said Richard in sudden wrath. "Then it would cheat no more poor folk."

"They say that if you drop a coin in a stream it is a sign you will return," said Edrupt, still laughing, "and we want neither Waibling nor his money here again. Suppose we nail it up by the market-cross for a warning to others? How would that be?"

This was the beginning of a curious collection of coins that might be seen, some years later, nailed to a post in the market of King's Barton. There were also the names of those who had passed them, and in time, some dishonest goods also were fastened up there for all to see. When Richard saw the coin in its new place he gave a sigh of relief.

"I'll be going home now," he said. "Mother's alone, and she will be wanting me."

"Ride with me so far as Dame Lavender's," said the wool-merchant good-naturedly. "What's thy name, by the way?"

"Richard Garland. Father was a sailor, and his name was Sebastian," said the boy soberly. "Mother won't let me say he is drowned, but I'm afraid he is."

"Sebastian Garland," repeated Edrupt thoughtfully. "And so thy mother makes her living weaving wool, does she?"

"Aye," answered Richard. "She's frae Dunfermline last, but she was born in the Highlands."

"My wife's grandmother was Scotch," said Edrupt absently. He was trying to remember where he had heard the name Sebastian Garland. He set Richard down after asking him where he lived, and took his own way home with Barbara, his wife of a year. He told Barbara that the town was well rid of a rascal, but she knew by his silence thereafter that he was thinking out a plan.

"Some day," he spoke out that evening, "there'll be a law in the land to punish these dusty-footed knaves. They go from market to market cheating poor folk, and we have no hold on them because we cannot leave our work. But about this lad Richard Garland, Barbara, I've been a-thinking. What if we let him and his mother live in the little cottage beyond the sheepfold? The boy could help in tending the sheep. If they've had sheep o' their own they'll know how to make 'emselves useful, I dare say. And then, when these foreign fleeces come into the market, the dame could have dyes and so on, and we should see what kind o' cloth they make."

This was the first change in the fortunes of Richard Garland and his mother. A little more than a year later Sebastian Garland, now captain of Master Gay's ship, the Rose-in-June, of London, came into port and met Robert Edrupt. On inquiry Edrupt learned that the captain had lost his wife and son many years before in a town which had been swept by the plague. When he heard of the Highland-born woman living in the Longley cottage, he journeyed post-hast to find her, and discovered that she was indeed his wife, and Richard his son. By the time that Richard was old enough to become a trader, a court known as the Court of Pied-poudre or Dusty Feet had been established by the King at every fair. Its purpose was to prevent peddlers and wandering merchants from cheating the folk. The common people got the name "Pie-powder Court", but that made it none the less powerful. King Henry also appointed itinerant justices—traveling judges—to go about from place to place and judge according to the King's law, with the aid of the sheriffs of the neighborhood who knew the customs of the people. The general instructions of these courts were that when the case was between a rich man and a poor man, the judges were to favor the poor man until and unless there was a reason to do otherwise. The Norman barons, coming from a country in which they had been used to be petty kings each in his own estate, did not like this much, but little the King cared for that. Merchants like young Richard Garland found it most convenient to have one law throughout the land for all honest men. Remembering his own hard boyhood, Richard never failed to be both just and generous to a boy.

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