Six Hundred Years ago—What things were like.
The afternoon service was over in Lincoln Cathedral, and the congregation were slowly filing out of the great west door. But that afternoon service was six hundred years ago, and both the Cathedral and the congregation would look very strange to us if we saw them now. Those days were well called the Dark Ages, and how dark they were we can scarcely realise in the present day. Let us fancy ourselves coming out of that west door, and try to picture what we should have seen there, six hundred years ago.
The Cathedral itself is hardly to be known. It is crowded with painted images and embroidered banners, and filled with the smoke and scent of burning incense. The clergy are habited, not in white surplices or in black gowns, but in large stiff cloaks—copes they are called—of scarlet silk, heavy with gold embroidery. The Bishop, who is in the pulpit, wears a cope of white, thick with masses of gold, and on his head is a white and gold mitre. How unlike that upper chamber, where the disciples gathered together after the crucifixion of their Master! Is it better or worse, do you ask? Well, I think if the Master were to come in, it would be easier to see Him in the quiet upper chamber, where there was nothing else to see, than in the perfumed and decorated Cathedral where there was so much else!
But now let us look at the congregation as they pass out. Are they all women? for all alike seem to wear long skirts and thick hoods: there are neither trousers, nor hats, nor bonnets. No, there is a fair sprinkling of men; but men and women dressed more alike then than they do now. You will see, if you look, that some of these long skirts are open in front, and you may catch a glimpse of a beard here and there under the hood. This is a poor woman who comes now: she wears a serge dress which has cost her about three-halfpence a yard, and a threadbare hood for which she may have given sixpence.
Are things so cheap, then? No, just the other way about; money is so dear. The wages of a mason or a bricklayer are about sixpence a week; haymakers have the same; reapers get from a shilling to half-a-crown, and mowers one and ninepence. The gentlemen who wait on the King himself only receive a shilling a day.
Here comes one of them, in a long green robe of shining silky stuff, which is called samite; round his neck is a curiously cut collar of dark red cloth, and in his hand he carries a white hood. Men do not confine themselves to the quiet, sober colours that we are accustomed to see; they are smarter than the ladies themselves. This knight, as he passes out, throws his gown back, before mounting his horse, and you see his yellow hose striped with black—trousers and stockings all in a piece, as it were—with low black shoes, and gilt spurs.
But who follows him?—this superbly dressed woman in rich blue glistening samite, with a black and gold hood, under which we see her hair bound with a golden fillet, and a necklace of costly pearls clasped round her throat—for it is a warm day, and she has not tied her hood. She must be somebody of consequence, for a smart gentleman leads her by the hand, and one with a long staff walks in front, to keep the people from pressing too close on her. She is indeed somebody of consequence—the Countess of Lincoln herself, by birth an Italian Princess; and she is so grand, and so rich, and so beautiful and stately—and I am sorry to add, so proud—that people call her the Queen of Lincoln. She has not far to go home—only through the archway, and past Saint Michael’s Church and the Bull Gate, and then the great portcullis of the grim old Castle lifts its head to receive its lady, and she disappears from our sight.
Do you notice that carpets are spread along the streets for her?—not carpets like ours, but the only sort they have, which are a kind of rough matting. And indeed she needs them, if those purple velvet shoes of hers are not to be quite ruined by the time she reaches home. For there are no pavements, and the streets are almost ankle-deep in mud, and worse than mud. Dead cats, rotten vegetables, animal refuse, and every kind of abominable thing that you could see or think of, all lie about in heaps, in these narrow, narrow streets, where the sun can hardly get down to the ground, and two people might sometimes shake hands from opposite windows in the upper stories, for they come farther out than the lower ones. Everybody throws all his rubbish into the street; all his slops, all his ashes, all his everything of which he wants to get rid. The smells are something dreadful, as soon as you come out of the perfumed churches. It is pleasanter to have the churches perfumed, undoubtedly; but it would be a good deal healthier if they kept the streets clean.
Quietly following the grand young Countess, at a respectful distance, come two women who are evidently mother and daughter. Their dress shows that they are not absolutely poor, but it tells at least as plainly that they are not at all rich. Just as they reach the west door, a little girl of ten comes quickly after them, dressed just like themselves, a woman in miniature.
“Why, Avice, where hast thou been?” says the elder of the two women.
“I was coming, Grandmother,” explains little Avice, “and Father Thomas called me, and bade me tell you that the holy Bishop would come to see you this afternoon, and sup his four-hours with you.”
Four-hours, taken as its name shows at four o’clock, was the meal which answered to our tea. Bishops do not often drink tea with women of this class, but this was a peculiar Bishop, and the woman to whom he sent this message was his own foster-sister.
“Truly, and I shall be glad to see him,” says the Grandmother; and on they go out of the west door.
The carpets which were spread for the Countess have been rolled away, and our three humble friends pick their steps as best they may among the dirt-heaps, occasionally slipping into a puddle—I am afraid Avice now and then walks into it deliberately for the fun of the splash!—and following the road taken by the Countess as far as the Bull Gate, they then turn to the left, leaving the frowning Castle on their right, and begin to descend the steep slope well named Steephill.
They have not gone many yards when two people overtake them—a man and a woman. The man stops to speak: the woman marches on with her arms folded and her head in the air, as if they were invisible.
“Good morrow, Dan,” says the old lady.
“Good morrow, Mother,” answers Dan.
“What’s the matter with Filomena?”
“A touch of the old complaint, that’s all,” answers Dan drily. “We’d a few words o’ th’ road a-coming—leastwise she had, for she got it pretty much to herself—and for th’ next twelve hours or so she’ll not be able to see anybody under a squire.”
“Is she often like that, Dan?”
“Well, it doesn’t come more days than seven i’ th’ week.”
“Why, you don’t mean to say it’s so every day?” said Agnes, the younger woman of our trio.
Dan shook his head. “Happen there’s an odd un now and then as gets let off,” said he. “But I must after her, or there’ll be more hot water. And it comes to table boilin’, I can tell you. Good morrow!”
Dan runs rather heavily after his incensed spouse, and our friends continue to pick their way down Steephill. For rather more than half the way they go, and when just past the Church of Saint Lawrence, they turn into a narrow street on the left, and in a few yards more they are at home.
Home is one of the smallest houses you ever saw. It has only two rooms, one above the other; but they are a fair size, being about twenty-five feet by