Child Christopher - Chapter 25
XXV. NOW THEY ALL COME TO THE TOFTS
Next morning, while the day was yet young, they rode together, all of them, the nighest way to the Tofts, for they knew the wood right well. Again they slept one night under the bare heavens, and, rising betimes on the morrow, came out under the Tofts some four hours after high noon, on as fair and calm a day of early summer as ever was seen.
They rode up straight to the door of the great hall, and found but few folk about, and those mostly women and children; Jack was ridden abroad, they said, but they looked to see him back to supper, him and his sons, for he was no great way gone.
Meantime, when they got off their horses, the women and children thronged round about them; and the children especially about Christopher, whom they loved much. The maidens, also, would not have him pass into the hall unkissed, though presently, after their faces had felt his lips, they fell a-staring and wondering at Goldilind, and when Christopher took her by the hand and gave her welcome to the House of the Tofts, and they saw that she was his, they grew to be somewhat afraid, or it might be shy, both of her and of him.
Anyhow, folk came up to them in the hall, and made much of them, and took them unto chambers and washed their feet, and crowned them with flowers, and brought them into the hall again, and up on to the dais, and gave them to eat and drink. Thither came to them also the Lady Margaret, Jack's wedded wife, and made them the most cheer that she might; and unto her did Christopher tell his story as unto his very mother; and what there was in the house, both of carle and of quean, gathered round about to hearken, and Christopher nothing loth. And Goldilind's heart warmed toward that folk, and in sooth they were a goodly people to look on, and frank and happy, and of good will, and could well of courtesy, though it were not of the courts.
Wore the bright day, and it drew toward sunset, and now the carles came straight into the hall by twos and threes, till there were a many within its walls. But to each one of these knots as they entered, someone, carle or quean, spake a word or two, and straightway the new-comers went up to the dais and greeted Christopher pleasantly, and made obeisance to Goldilind.
At last was the hall, so quiet erst, grown busy as a beehive, and amidst the throng thereof came in the serving-folk, women and men, and set the endlong boards up (for the high-table was a standing one of oak, right thick and strong); and then they fell to bringing in the service, all but what the fire was dealing with in the kitchen. And whiles this was a-doing, the sun was sinking fast, and it was dusk in the hall by then it was done, though without the sky was fair and golden, and about the edges of the thicket were the nightingales singing loud and sweet, but within was the turmoil of many voices, whereof few heeded if their words were loud or soft.
Amidst all this, from close to the hall, rang out the sound of many horns winding a woodland tune. None was afeard or astonied, because all knew it for the horns of Jack of the Tofts; but they stilled their chattering talk somewhat, and abided his coming; and even therewith came the sound of many feet and the clash of weapons, and men poured in, and there was the gleam of steel, as folk fell back to the right and left, and gave room to the new-comers. Then a loud, clear, and cheery voice cried out from amidst of them: "Light in the hall, men and maids! Candles, candles! Let see who is here before us!"
Straightway then was there running hither and thither and light sprang up over all the hall, and there could folk see Jack of the Tofts, and a score and a half of his best, every man of them armed with shield and helm and byrny, with green coats over their armour, and wreaths of young oak about their basnets; there they stood amidst of the hall, and every man with his naked sword in his fist. Jack stood before his folk clad in like wise with them, save that his head was bare but for an oak wreath. Men looked on a while and said nought, while Jack looked proudly and keenly over the hall, and at last his eye caught Christopher's, but he made the youngling no semblance of greeting. Christopher's heart fell, and he misdoubted if something were not wrong; but he spake softly to one who stood by him, and said: "Is aught amiss, Will Ashcroft? this is not the wont here."
Said the other: "Not in thy time; but for the last seven days it hath been the wont, and then off weapons and to supper peaceably.