Arthur Conan Doyle – “The White Company” (1891)

The White Company is a historical adventure by Arthur Conan Doyle set during the Hundred Years’ War. The story is set in England, France, and Spain, in the years 1366 and 1367, against the background of the campaign of Edward, the Black Prince to restore Peter of Castile to the throne of the Kingdom of Castile. The climax of the book occurs before the Battle of Nájera. Doyle became inspired to write the novel after attending a lecture on the Middle Ages in 1889. After extensive research, The White Company was published in serialized form in 1891 in Cornhill Magazine. Additionally, the book is considered a companion to Doyle’s later work Sir Nigel, which explores the early campaigns of Sir Nigel Loring and Samkin Aylward.

The novel is relatively unknown today, though it was very popular up through the Second World War. In fact, Doyle himself regarded this and his other historical novels more highly than the Sherlock Holmes adventures for which he is mainly remembered. (Wikipedia)

The rude plank door was ajar, but as Alleyne approached it there came from within such a gust of rough laughter and clatter of tongues that he stood irresolute upon the threshold. Summoning courage, however, and reflecting that it was a public dwelling, in which he had as much right as any other man, he pushed it open and stepped into the common room.

Though it was an autumn evening and somewhat warm, a huge fire of heaped billets of wood crackled and sparkled in a broad, open grate, some of the smoke escaping up a rude chimney, but the greater part rolling out into the room, so that the air was thick with it, and a man coming from without could scarce catch his breath. On this fire a great cauldron bubbled and simmered, giving forth a rich and promising smell. Seated round it were a dozen or so folk, of all ages and conditions, who set up such a shout as Alleyne entered that he stood peering at them through the smoke, uncertain what this riotous greeting might portend.

“A rouse! A rouse!” cried one rough looking fellow in a tattered jerkin. “One more round of mead or ale and the score to the last comer.”

“‘Tis the law of the ‘Pied Merlin,'” shouted another. “Ho there, Dame Eliza! Here is fresh custom come to the house, and not a drain for the company.”

“I will take your orders, gentles; I will assuredly take your orders,” the landlady answered, bustling in with her hands full of leathern drinking-cups. “What is it that you drink, then? Beer for the lads of the forest, mead for the gleeman, strong waters for the tinker, and wine for the rest. It is an old custom of the house, young sir. It has been the use at the ‘Pied Merlin’ this many a year back that the company should drink to the health of the last comer. Is it your pleasure to humor it?”

“Why, good dame,” said Alleyne, “I would not offend the customs of your house, but it is only sooth when I say that my purse is a thin one. As far as two pence will go, however, I shall be right glad to do my part.”

“Plainly said and bravely spoken, my suckling friar,” roared a deep voice, and a heavy hand fell upon Alleyne’s shoulder. Looking up, he saw beside him his former cloister companion the renegade monk, Hordle John.

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About Ian

"The less we know of someone, the greater their merits." (Oscar Wilde)
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