Ralph smiled, and said stammering:
“Father, did the world try them, and find them wanting perchance?”
Then he reddened, and said: “Are ye verily all such as this in this House? Who then is it who hath made so fair a lordship, and so goodly a governance for so many people? Know ye not at all of the world’s ways!”
“Fair sir,” said the monk sternly, “they that work for us work for the Lord and all his servants.”
“Yea,” said Ralph, “so it is; and will the Lord be content with the service of him whom the devil hath cast out because he hath found him a dastard?”
The monk frowned, yet smiled somewhat withal, and said: “Sir, thou art young, but thy wits are over old for me; but there are they in this House who may answer thee featly; men who have read the books of the wise men of the heathen, and the doctors of Holy Church, and are even now making books for the scribes to copy.” Then his voice softened, and he said: “Dear lord, we should be right fain of thee here, but since thou must needs go, go with my blessing, and double blessing shalt thou have when thou comest back to us.” Then Ralph remembered his promise to the shepherds and took a gold crown from his pouch, and said: “Father, I pray thee say a mass for the shepherd downsmen; and this is for the offering.”
The monk praised the gift and the bidding, and kissed Ralph, who clomb into his saddle; and the brother hospitalier brought him his wallet with good meat and drink therein for the way. Then Ralph shook his rein, and rode out of the abbey-gate, smiling at the lay-brethren and the men-at-arms who hung about there.
But he sighed for pleasure when he found himself in the street again, and looked on the shops of the chapmen and the booths of the petty craftsmen, as shoe-smiths and glovers, and tinsmiths and coppersmiths, and horners and the like; and the folk that he met as he rode toward the southern gate seemed to him merry and in good case, and goodly to look on. And he thought it pleasant to gaze on the damsels in the street, who were fair and well clad: and there were a many of them about his way now, especially as he drew nigh the gate before the streets branched off: for folk were coming in from the countryside with victual and other wares for the town and the Abbey; and surely as he looked on some of the maidens he deemed that Hall-song of Upmeads a good one.
The Maiden of Bourton Abbas
So went he through the gate, and many, both of men and maids gazed at him, for he was fair to look on, but none meddled with him.
There was a goodly fauburg outside the gate, and therein were fair houses, not a few, with gardens and orchards about them; and when these were past he rode through very excellent meadows lying along the water, which he crossed thrice, once by a goodly stone bridge and twice by fords; for the road was straight, and the river wound about much.