HOW HEREWARD LOST SWORD BRAIN-BITER.
"On account of which," says the chronicler, "many troubles came to Hereward: because Torfrida was most wise, and of great counsel in need. For afterwards, as he himself confessed, things went not so well with him as they did in her time."
And the first thing that went ill was this. He was riding through the Bruneswald, and behind him Geri, Wenoch, and Matelgar, these three. And there met him in an open glade a knight, the biggest man he had ever seen, on the biggest horse, and five knights behind him. He was an Englishman, and not a Frenchman, by his dress; and Hereward spoke courteously enough to him. But who he was, and what his business was in the Bruneswald, Hereward thought that he had a right to ask.
"Tell me who thou art, who askest, before I tell thee who I am who am asked, riding here on common land," quoth the knight, surlily enough.
"I am Hereward, without whose leave no man has ridden the Bruneswald for many a day."
"And I am Letwold the Englishman, who rides whither he will in merry England, without care for any Frenchman upon earth."
"Frenchman? Why callest thou me Frenchman, man? I am Hereward."
"Then thou art, if tales be true, as French as Ivo Taillebois. I hear that thou hast left thy true lady, like a fool and a churl, and goest to London, or Winchester, or the nether pit,—I care not which,—to make thy peace with the Mamzer."
The man was a surly brute: but what he said was so true, that Hereward's wrath arose. He had promised Torfrida many a time, never to quarrel with an Englishman, but to endure all things. Now, out of very spite to Torfrida's counsel, because it was Torfrida's, and he had promised to obey it, he took up the quarrel.
"If I am a fool and a churl, thou art a greater fool, to provoke thine own death; and a greater—"
"Spare your breath," said the big man, "and let me try Hereward, as I have many another."
Whereon they dropped their lance-points, and rode at each other like two mad bulls. And, by the contagion of folly common in the middle age, at each other rode Hereward's three knights and Letwold's five. The two leaders found themselves both rolling on the ground; jumped up, drew their swords, and hewed away at each other. Geri unhorsed his man at the first charge, and left him stunned. Then he turned on another, and did the same by him. Wenoch and Matelgar each upset their man. The fifth of Letwold's knights threw up his lance-point, not liking his new company. Geri and the other two rode in on the two chiefs, who were fighting hard, each under shield.
"Stand back!" roared Hereward, "and give the knight fair play! When did any one of us want a man to help him? Kill or die single, has been our rule, and shall be."
They threw up their lance-points, and stood round to see that great fight. Letwold's knight rode in among them, and stood likewise; and friend and foe looked on, as they might at a pair of game-cocks.
Hereward had, to his own surprise and that of his fellows, met his match. The sparks flew, the iron clanged; but so heavy were the stranger's strokes, that Hereward reeled again and again. So sure was the guard of his shield, that Hereward could not wound him, hit where he would. At last he dealt a furious blow on the stranger's head.
"If that does not bring your master down!" quoth Geri. "By—, Brain-biter is gone!"
It was too true. Sword Brain-biter's end was come. The Ogre's magic blade had snapt off short by the handle.
"Your master is a true Englishman, by the hardness of his brains," quoth Wenoch, as the stranger, reeling for a moment, lifted up his head, and stared at Hereward in the face, doubtful what to do.
"Will you yield, or fight on?" cried he.
"Yield?" shouted Hereward, rushing upon him, as a mastiff might on a lion, and striking at his helm, though shorter than him by a head and shoulders, such swift and terrible blows with the broken hilt, as staggered the tall stranger.
"What are you at, forgetting what you have at your side?" roared Geri.
Hereward sprang back. He had, as was his custom, a second sword on his right thigh.
"I forget everything now," said he to himself angrily.
And that was too true. But he drew the second sword, and sprang at his man once more.
The stranger tried, according to the chronicler, who probably had it from one of the three by-standers, a blow which has cost many a brave man his life. He struck right down on Hereward's head. Hereward raised his shield, warding the stroke, and threw in that coup de jarret, which there is no guarding, after the downright blow has been given. The stranger dropped upon his wounded knee.
"Yield," cried Hereward in his turn.
"That is not my fashion." And the stranger fought on, upon his stumps, like Witherington in Chevy Chase.
Hereward, mad with the sight of blood, struck at him four or five times. The stranger's shield was so quick that he could not hit him, even on his knee. He held his hand, and drew back, looking at his new rival.
"What the murrain are we two fighting about?" said he at last.
"I know not; neither care," said the other, with a grim chuckle. "But if any man will fight me, him I fight, ever since I had beard to my chin."
"Thou art the best man that ever I faced."
"That is like enough."
"What wilt thou take, if I give thee thy life?"
"My way on which I was going. For I turn back for no man alive on land."
"Then thou hast not had enough of me?"
"Not by another hour."
"Thou must be born of fiend, and not of man."
"Very like. It is a wise son knows his own father."
Hereward burst out laughing.
"Would to heaven I had had thee for my man this three years since."
"Perhaps I would not have been thy man."
"Because I have been my own man ever since I was born, and am well content with myself for my master."
"Shall I bind up thy leg?" asked Hereward, having no more to say, and not wishing to kill the man.
"No. It will grow again, like a crab's claw."
"Thou art a fiend." And Hereward turned away, sulky, and half afraid.
"Very like. No man knows what a devil he is, till he tries."
"What dost mean?" and Hereward turned angrily back.
"Fiends we are all, till God's grace comes."
"Little grace has come to thee yet, by thy ungracious tongue."
"Rough to men, may be gracious to women."
"What hast thou to do with women'?" asked Hereward, fiercely.
"I have a wife, and I love her."
"Thou art not like to get back to her to-day."
"I fear not, with this paltry scratch. I had looked for a cut from thee, would have saved me all fighting henceforth."
"What dost mean?" asked Hereward, with an oath.
"That my wife is in heaven, and I would needs follow her."
Hereward got on his horse, and rode away. Never could he find out who that Sir Letwold was, or how he came into the Bruneswald. All he knew was, that he never had had such a fight since he wore beard; and that he had lost sword Brainbiter: from which his evil conscience augured that his luck had turned, and that he should lose many things beside.
HOW HEREWARD CAME IN TO THE KING.
After these things Hereward summoned all his men, and set before them the hopelessness of any further resistance, and the promises of amnesty, lands, and honors which William had offered him, and persuaded them—and indeed he had good arguments enough and to spare—that they should go and make their peace with the King.
They were so accustomed to look up to his determination, that when it gave way theirs gave way likewise. They were so accustomed to trust his wisdom, that most of them yielded at once to his arguments. That the band should break up, all agreed. A few of the more suspicious, or more desperate, said that they could never trust the Norman; that Hereward himself had warned them again and again of his treachery. That he was now going to do himself what he had laughed at Gospatrick and the rest for doing; what had brought ruin on Edwin and Morcar; what he had again and again prophesied would bring ruin on Waltheof himself ere all was over.
But Hereward was deaf to their arguments. He had said as little to them as he could about Alftruda, for very shame; but he was utterly besotted on her. For her sake, he had determined to run his head blindly into the very snare of which he had warned others. And he had seared—so he fancied—his conscience. It was Torfrida's fault now, not his. If she left him,—if she herself freed him of her own will,—why, he was free, and there was no more to be said about it.
And Hereward (says the chronicler) took Gwenoch, Geri, and Matelgar, and rode south to the King.
Where were the two young Siwards? It is not said. Probably they, and a few desperadoes, followed the fashion of so many English in those sad days,—when, as sings the Norse scald,
"Cold heart and bloody hand Now rule English land,"—
and took ship for Constantinople, and enlisted in the Varanger guard, and died full of years and honors, leaving fair-haired children behind them, to become Varangers in their turn.
Be that as it may, Hereward rode south. But when he had gotten a long way upon the road, a fancy (says the chronicler) came over him. He was not going in pomp and glory enough. It seemed mean for the once great Hereward to sneak into Winchester with three knights. Perhaps it seemed not over safe for the once great Hereward to travel with only three knights. So he went back all the way to camp, and took (says the chronicler) "forty most famous knights, all big and tall of stature, and splendid,—if from nothing else, from their looks and their harness alone."
So Hereward and those forty knights rode down from Peterborough, along the Roman road. For the Roman roads were then, and for centuries after, the only roads in this land; and our forefathers looked on them as the work of gods and giants, and called them after the names of their old gods and heroes,—Irmen Street, Watling Street, and so forth.
And then, like true Englishmen, our own forefathers showed their respect for the said divine works, not by copying them, but by picking them to pieces to pave every man his own court-yard. Be it so. The neglect of new roads, the destruction of the old ones, was a natural evil consequence of local self-government. A cheap price, perhaps, after all, to pay for that power of local self-government which has kept England free unto this day.
Be that as it may, down the Roman road Hereward went; past Alconbury Hill, of the old posting days; past Wimpole Park, then deep forest; past Hatfield, then deep forest likewise; and so to St. Alban's. And there they lodged in the minster; for the monks thereof were good English, and sang masses daily for King Harold's soul. And the next day they went south, by ways which are not so clear.
Just outside St. Alban's—Verulamium of the Romans (the ruins whereof were believed to be full of ghosts, demons, and magic treasures)—they turned, at St. Stephen's, to the left, off the Roman road to London; and by another Roman road struck into the vast forest which ringed London round from northeast to southwest. Following the upper waters of the Colne, which ran through the woods on their left, they came to Watford, and then turned probably to Rickmansworth. No longer on the Roman paved ways, they followed horse-tracks, between the forest and the rich marsh-meadows of the Colne, as far as Denham, and then struck into a Roman road again at the north end of Langley Park. From thence, over heathy commons,—for that western part of Buckinghamshire, its soil being light and some gravel, was little cultivated then, and hardly all cultivated now,—they held on straight by Langley town into the Vale of Thames.
Little they dreamed, as they rode down by Ditton Green, off the heathy commons, past the poor, scattered farms, on to the vast rushy meadows, while upon them was the dull weight of disappointment, shame, all but despair; their race enslaved, their country a prey to strangers, and all its future, like their own, a lurid blank,—little they dreamed of what that vale would be within eight hundred years,—the eye of England, and it may be of the world; a spot which owns more wealth and peace, more art and civilization, more beauty and more virtue, it may be, than any of God's gardens which make fair this earth. Windsor, on its crowned steep, was to them but a new hunting palace of the old miracle-monger Edward, who had just ruined England. Runnymede, a mile below them down the broad stream, was but a horse-fen fringed with water-lilies, where the men of Wessex had met of old to counsel, and to bring the country to this pass. And as they crossed, by ford or ferry-boat, the shallows of old Windsor, whither they had been tending all along, and struck into the moorlands of Wessex itself, they were as men going into an unknown wilderness: behind them ruin, and before them unknown danger.
On through Windsor Forest, Edward the Saint's old hunting-ground; its bottoms choked with beech and oak, and birch and alder scrub; its upper lands vast flats of level heath; along the great trackway which runs along the lower side of Chobham Camp, some quarter of a mile broad, every rut and trackway as fresh at this day as when the ancient Briton, finding that his neighbor's essedum—chariot, or rather cart—had worn the ruts too deep, struck out a fresh wandering line for himself across the dreary heath.
Over the Blackwater by Sandhurst, and along the flats of Hartford Bridge, where the old furze-grown ruts show the track-way to this day. Down into the clayland forests of the Andredsweald, and up out of them again at Basing, on to the clean crisp chalk turf; to strike at Popham Lane the Roman road from Silchester, and hold it over the high downs, till they saw far below them the royal city of Winchester.
Itchen, silver as they looked on her from above, but when they came down to her, so clear that none could see where water ended and where air began, hurried through the city in many a stream. Beyond it rose the "White Camp,"' the "Venta Belgarum," the circular earthwork of white chalk on the high down. Within the city rose the ancient minster church, built by Ethelwold,—ancient even then,—where slept the ancient kings; Kennulf, Egbert, and Ethelwulf the Saxons; and by them the Danes, Canute the Great, and Hardicanute his son, and Norman Emma his wife, and Ethelred's before him; and the great Earl Godwin, who seemed to Hereward to have died, not twenty, but two hundred years ago;—and it may be an old Saxon hall upon the little isle whither Edgar had bidden bring the heads of all the wolves in Wessex, where afterwards the bishops built Wolvesey Palace. But nearer to them, on the down which sloped up to the west, stood an uglier thing, which they saw with curses deep and loud,—the keep of the new Norman castle by the west gate.
Hereward halted his knights upon the down outside the northern gate. Then he rode forward himself. The gate was open wide; but he did not care to go in.
So he rode into the gateway, and smote upon that gate with his lance-but. But the porter saw the knights upon the down, and was afraid to come out; for he feared treason.
Then Hereward smote a second time; but the porter did not come out.
Then he took the lance by the shaft, and smote a third time. And he smote so hard, that the lance-but flew to flinders against Winchester Gate.
And at that started out two knights, who had come down from the castle, seeing the meinie on the down, and asked,—
"Who art thou who knockest here so bold?"
"Who I am any man can see by those splinters, if he knows what men are left in England this day."
The knights looked at the broken wood, and then at each other. Who could the man be who could beat an ash stave to flinders at a single blow?
"You are young, and do not know me; and no shame to you. Go and tell William the King, that Hereward is come to put his hands between the King's, and be the King's man henceforth."
"You are Hereward?" asked one, half awed, half disbelieving at Hereward's short stature.
"You are—I know not who. Pick up those splinters, and take them to King William; and say, 'The man who broke that lance against the gate is here to make his peace with thee,' and he will know who I am."
And so cowed were these two knights with Hereward's royal voice, and royal eye, and royal strength, that they went simply, and did what he bade them.
And when King William saw the splinters, he was as joyful as man could be, and said,—
"Send him to me, and tell him, Bright shines the sun to me that lights Hereward into Winchester."
"But, Lord King, he has with him a meinie of full forty knights."
"So much the better. I shall have the more valiant Englishmen to help my valiant French."
So Hereward rode round, outside the walls, to William's new entrenched palace, outside the west gate, by the castle.
And then Hereward went in, and knelt before the Norman, and put his hands between William's hands, and swore to be his man.
"I have kept my word," said he, "which I sent to thee at Rouen seven years agone. Thou art King of all England; and I am the last man to say so."
"And since thou hast said it, I am King indeed. Come with me, and dine; and to-morrow I will see thy knights."
And William walked out of the hall leaning on Hereward's shoulder, at which all the Normans gnashed their teeth with envy.
"And for my knights, Lord King? Thine and mine will mix, for a while yet, like oil and water; and I fear lest there be murder done between them."
So the knights were bestowed in a "vill" near by; "and the next day the venerable king himself went forth to see those knights, and caused them to stand, and march before him, both with arms, and without. With whom being much delighted, he praised them, congratulating them on their beauty and stature, and saying that they must all be knights of fame in war." After which Hereward sent them all home except two; and waited till he should marry Alftruda, and get back his heritage.
"And when that happens," said William, "why should we not have two weddings, beausire, as well as one? I hear that you have in Crowland a fair daughter, and marriageable."
"And I have found a husband for her suitable to her years, and who may conduce to your peace and serenity."
Hereward bit his lip. To refuse was impossible in those days. But—
"I trust that your Grace has found a knight of higher lineage than him, whom, after so many honors, you honored with the hand of my niece."
William laughed. It was not his interest to quarrel with Hereward. "Aha! Ivo, the wood-cutter's son. I ask your pardon for that, Sir Hereward. Had you been my man then, as you are now, it might have been different."
"If a king ask my pardon, I can only ask his in return."
"You must be friends with Taillebois. He is a brave knight, and a wise warrior."
"None ever doubted that."
"And to cover any little blots in his escutcheon, I have made him an earl, as I may make you some day."
"Your Majesty, like a true king, knows how to reward. Who is this knight whom you have chosen for my lass?"
"Sir Hugh of Evermue, a neighbor of yours, and a man of blood and breeding."
"I know him, and his lineage; and it is very well. I humbly thank your Majesty."
"Can I be the same man?" said Hereward to himself, bitterly.
And he was not the same man. He was besotted on Alftruda, and humbled himself accordingly.
HOW TORFRIDA CONFESSED THAT SHE HAD BEEN INSPIRED BY THE DEVIL.
After a few days, there came down a priest to Crowland, and talked with Torfrida, in Archbishop Lanfranc's name.
Whether Lanfranc sent him, or merely (as is probable) Alftruda, he could not have come in a more fit name. Torfrida knew (with all the world) how Lanfranc had arranged William the Norman's uncanonical marriage, with the Pope, by help of Archdeacon Hildebrand (afterwards Pope himself); and had changed his mind deftly to William's side when he saw that William might be useful to Holy Church, and could enslave, if duly managed, not only the nation of England to himself, but the clergy of England to Rome. All this Torfrida, and the world, knew. And therefore she answered:—
"Lanfranc? I can hardly credit you: for I hear that he is a good man, though hard. But he has settled a queen's marriage suit; so he may very well settle mine."
After which they talked together; and she answered him, the priest said, so wisely and well, that he never had met with a woman of so clear a brain, or of so stout a heart.
At last, being puzzled to get that which he wanted, he touched on the matter of her marriage with Hereward.
She wished it, he said, dissolved. She wished herself to enter religion.
Archbishop Lanfranc would be most happy to sanction so holy a desire, but there were objections. She was a married woman; and her husband had not given his consent.
"Let him give it, then."
There were still objections. He had nothing to bring against her, which could justify the dissolution of the holy bond: unless—"
"Unless I bring some myself?"
"There have been rumors—I say not how true—of magic and sorcery!—"
Torfrida leaped up from her seat, and laughed such a laugh, that the priest said in after years, it rung through his head as if it had arisen out of the pit of the lost.
"So that is what you want, Churchman! Then you shall have it. Bring me pen and ink. I need not to confess to you. You shall read my confession when it is done. I am a better scribe, mind you, than any clerk between here and Paris."
She seized the pen and ink, and wrote; not fiercely, as the priest expected, but slowly and carefully. Then she gave it the priest to read.
"Will that do, Churchman? Will that free my soul, and that of your French Archbishop?"
And the priest read to himself.
How Torfrida of St. Omer, born at Aries in Provence, confest that from her youth up she had been given to the practice of diabolic arts, and had at divers times and places used the same, both alone and with Richilda, late Countess of Hainault. How, wickedly, wantonly, and instinct with a malignant spirit, she had compassed, by charms and spells, to win the love of Hereward. How she had ever since kept in bondage him, and others whom she had not loved with the same carnal love, but only desired to make them useful to her own desire of power and glory, by the same magical arts; for which she now humbly begged pardon of Holy Church, and of all Christian folk; and, penetrated with compunction, desired only that she might retire into the convent of Crowland. She asserted the marriage which she had so unlawfully compassed to be null and void; and prayed to be released therefrom, as a burden to her conscience and soul, that she might spend the rest of her life in penitence for her many enormous sins. She submitted herself to the judgment of Holy Church, only begging that this her free confession might be counted in her favor and that she might hot be put to death, as she deserved, nor sent into perpetual imprisonment; because her mother-in-law according to the flesh, the Countess Godiva, being old and infirm, had daily need of her; and she wished to serve her menially as long as she lived. After which, she put herself utterly upon the judgment of the Church. And meanwhile, she desired and prayed that she might be allowed to remain at large in the said monastery of Crowland, not leaving the precincts thereof, without special leave given by the Abbot and prioress in one case between her and them reserved; to wear garments of hair-cloth; to fast all the year on bread and water; and to be disciplined with rods or otherwise, at such times as the prioress should command, and to such degree as her body, softened with carnal luxury, could reasonably endure. And beyond—that, being dead to the world, God might have mercy on her soul.
And she meant what she said. The madness of remorse and disappointment, so common in the wild middle age, had come over her; and with it the twin madness of self-torture.
The priest read, and trembled; not for Torfrida: but for himself, lest she should enchant him after all.
"She must have been an awful sinner," said he to the monks when he got safe out of the room; "comparable only to the witch of Endor, or the woman Jezebel, of whom St. John writes in the Revelations."
"I do not know how you Frenchmen measure folks, when you see them; but to our mind she is,—for goodness, humility, and patience comparable only to an angel of God," said Abbot Ulfketyl.
"You Englishmen will have to change your minds on many points, if you mean to stay here."
"We shall not change them, and we shall stay here," quoth the Abbot.
"How? You will not get Sweyn and his Danes to help you a second time."
"No, we shall all die, and give you your wills, and you will not have the heart to cast our bones into the fens?"
"Not unless you intend to work miracles, and set up for saints, like your Alphege Edmund."
"Heaven forbid that we should compare ourselves with them! Only let us alone till we die."
"If you let us alone, and do not turn traitor meanwhile."
Abbot Ulfketyl bit his lip, and kept down the rising fiend.
"And now," said the priest, "deliver me over Torfrida the younger, daughter of Hereward and this woman, that I may take her to the King, who has found a fit husband for her."
"You will hardly get her."
"Not get her?"
"Not without her mother's consent. The lass cares for naught but her."
"Pish! that sorceress? Send for the girl."
Abbot Ulfketyl, forced in his own abbey, great and august lord though he was, to obey any upstart of a Norman priest who came backed by the King and Lanfranc, sent for the lass.
The young outlaw came in,—hawk on fist, and its hood off, for it was a pet,—short, sturdy, upright, brown-haired, blue-eyed, ill-dressed, with hard hands and sun-burnt face, but with the hawk-eye of her father and her mother, and the hawks among which she was bred. She looked the priest over from head to foot, till he was abashed.
"A Frenchman!" said she, and she said no more.
The priest looked at her eyes, and then at the hawk's eyes. They were disagreeably like each other. He told his errand as courteously as he could, for he was not a bad-hearted man for a Norman priest.
The lass laughed him to scorn. The King's commands? She never saw a king in the greenwood, and cared for none. There was no king in England now, since Sweyn Ulfsson sailed back to Denmark. Who was this Norman William, to sell a free English lass like a colt or a cow? The priest might go back to the slaves of Wessex, and command them if he could; but in the fens, men were free, and lasses too.
The priest was piously shocked and indignant; and began to argue.
She played with her hawk, instead of listening, and then was marching out of the room.
"Your mother," said he, "is a sorceress."
"You are a knave, or set on by knaves. You lie, and you know you lie." And she turned away again.
"She has confessed it."
"You have driven her mad between you, till she will confess anything. I presume you threatened to burn her, as some of you did awhile back." And the young lady made use of words equally strong and true.
The priest was not accustomed to the direct language of the greenwood, and indignant on his own account, threatened, and finally offered to use, force. Whereon there looked up into his face such a demon (so he said) as he never had seen or dreamed of, and said:
"If you lay a finger on me, I will brittle you like any deer." And therewith pulled out a saying-knife, about half as long again as the said priest's hand, being very sharp, so he deposed, down the whole length of one edge, and likewise down his little finger's length of the other.
Not being versed in the terms of English venery, he asked Abbot Ulfketyl what brittling of a deer might mean; and being informed that it was that operation on the carcass of a stag which his countrymen called eventrer, and Highland gillies now "gralloching," he subsided, and thought it best to go and consult the young lady's mother.
She, to his astonishment, submitted at once and utterly. The King, and he whom she had called her husband, were very gracious. It was all well. She would have preferred, and the Lady Godiva too, after their experience of the world and the flesh, to have devoted her daughter to Heaven in the minster there. But she was unworthy. Who was she, to train a bride for Him who died on Cross? She accepted this as part of her penance, with thankfulness and humility. She had heard that Sir Hugh of Evermue was a gentleman of ancient birth and good prowess, and she thanked the King for his choice. Let the priest tell her daughter that she commanded her to go with him to Winchester. She did not wish to see her. She was stained with many crimes, and unworthy to approach a pure maiden. Besides, it would only cause misery and tears. She was trying to die to the world and to the flesh; and she did not wish to reawaken their power within her. Yes. It was very well. Let the lass go with him."
"Thou art indeed a true penitent," said the priest, his human heart softening him.
"Thou art very much mistaken," said she, and turned away.
The girl, when she heard her mother's command, wept, shrieked, and went. At least she was going to her father. And from wholesome fear of that same saying-knife, the priest left her in peace all the way to Winchester.
After which, Abbot Ulfketyl went into his lodgings, and burst, like a noble old nobleman as he was, into bitter tears of rage and shame.
But Torfrida's eyes were as dry as her own sackcloth.
The priest took the letter back to Winchester, and showed it—it may be to Archbishop Lanfranc. But what he said, this chronicler would not dare to say. For he was a very wise man, and a very stanch and strong pillar of the Holy Roman Church. Meanwhile, he was man enough not to require that anything should be added to Torfrida's penance; and that was enough to prove him a man in those days,—at least for a churchman,—as it proved Archbishop or St. Ailred to be, a few years after, in the case of the nun of Watton, to be read in Gale's "Scriptores Anglicaniae." Then he showed the letter to Alftruda.
And she laughed one of her laughs, and said, "I have her at last!"
Then, as it befell, he was forced to shew the letter to Queen Matilda; and she wept over it human tears, such as she, the noble heart, had been forced to keep many a time before, and said, "The poor soul!—You, Alftruda, woman! does Hereward know of this?"
"No, madam," said Alftruda, not adding that she had taken good care that he should not know.
"It is the best thing which I have heard of him. I should tell him, were it not that I must not meddle with my lord's plans. God grant him a good delivery, as they say of the poor souls in jail. Well, madam, you have your will at last. God give you grace thereof, for you have not given Him much chance as yet."
"Your majesty will honor us by coming to the wedding?" asked Alftruda, utterly unabashed.
Matilda the good looked at her with a face of such calm, childlike astonishment, that Alftruda dropped her "fairy neck" at last, and slunk out of the presence like a beaten cur.
William went to the wedding; and swore horrible oaths that they were the handsomest pair he had ever seen. And so Hereward married Alftruda. How Holy Church settled the matter is not said. But that Hereward married Alftruda, under these very circumstances, may be considered a "historic fact," being vouched for by Gaimar, and by the Peterborough Chronicler. And doubtless Holy Church contrived that it should happen without sin, if it conduced to her own interest.
And little Torfrida—then, it seems, some sixteen years of age—was married to Hugh of Evermue. She wept and struggled as she was dragged into the church.
"But I do not want to be married. I want to go back to my mother."
"The diabolic instinct may have descended to her," said the priests, "and attracts her to the sorceress. We had best sprinkle her with holy water."
So they sprinkled her with holy water, and used exorcisms. Indeed, the case being an important one, the personages of rank, they brought out from their treasures the apron of a certain virgin saint, and put it round her neck, in hopes of driving out the hereditary fiend.
"If I am led with a halter, I must needs go," said she, with one of her mother's own flashes of wit, and went. "But Lady Alftruda," whispered she, half-way up the church, "I never loved him."
"Behave yourself before the King, or I will whip you till the blood runs."
And so she would, and no one would have wondered in those days.
"I will murder you if you do. But I never even saw him."
"Little fool! And what are you going through, but what I went through before you?"
"You to say that?" gnashed the girl, as another spark of her mother's came out. "And you gaining what—"
"What I waited for for fifteen years," said Alftruda, coolly. "If you have courage and cunning, like me, to wait for fifteen years, you too may have your will likewise."
The pure child shuddered, and was married to Hugh of Evermue, who is not said to have kicked her; and was, according to them of Crowland, a good friend to their monastery, and therefore, doubtless, a good man. Once, says wicked report, he offered to strike her, as was the fashion in those chivalrous days. Whereon she turned upon him like a tigress, and bidding him remember that she was the daughter of Hereward and Torfrida, gave him such a beating that he, not wishing to draw sword upon her, surrendered at discretion; and they lived all their lives afterwards as happily as most other married people in those times.
HOW HEREWARD BEGAN TO GET HIS SOUL'S PRICE.
And now behold Hereward at home again, fat with the wages of sin, and not knowing that they are death.
He is once more "Dominus de Brunune cum Marisco," (Lord of Bourne with the fen), "with all returns and liberties and all other things adjacent to the same vill which are now held as a barony from the Lord King of England." He has a fair young wife, and with her farms and manors, even richer than his own. He is still young, hearty, wise by experience, high in the king's favor, and deservedly so.
Why should he not begin life again?
Why not? Unless it be true that the wages of sin are, not a new life, but death.
And yet he has his troubles. Hardly a Norman knight or baron round but has a blood-feud against him, for a kinsman slain. Sir Aswart, Thorold the abbot's man, was not likely to forgive him for turning him out of the three Mainthorpe manors, which he had comfortably held for two years past, and sending him back to lounge in the abbot's hall at Peterborough, without a yard of land he could call his own. Sir Ascelin was not likely to forgive him for marrying Alftruda, whom he had intended to marry himself. Ivo Taillebois was not likely to forgive him for existing within a hundred miles of Spalding, any more than the wolf would forgive the lamb for fouling the water below him. Beside, had he (Ivo) not married Hereward's niece? and what more grievous offence could Hereward commit, than to be her uncle, reminding Ivo of his own low birth by his nobility, and too likely to take Lucia's part, whenever it should please Ivo to beat or kick her? Only "Gilbert of Ghent," the pious and illustrious earl, sent messages of congratulation and friendship to Hereward, it being his custom to sail with the wind, and worship the rising sun—till it should decline again.
But more: hardly one of the Normans round, but, in the conceit of their skin-deep yesterday's civilization, look on Hereward as a barbarian Englishman, who has his throat tattooed, and wears a short coat, and prefers—the churl—to talk English in his own hall, though he can talk as good French as they when he is with them, beside three or four barbarian tongues if he has need.
But more still: if they are not likely to bestow their love on Hereward, Hereward is not likely to win love from them of his own will. He is peevish, and wrathful, often insolent and quarrelsome; and small blame to him. The Normans are invaders and tyrants, who have no business there, and should not be there, if he had his way. And they and he can no more amalgamate than fire and water. Moreover, he is a very great man, or has been such once, and he thinks himself one still. He has been accustomed to command men, whole armies; and he will no more treat these Normans as his equals, than they will treat him as such. His own son-in-law, Hugh of Evermue, has to take hard words,—thoroughly well deserved, it may be; but all the more unpleasant for that reason.
The truth was, that Hereward's heart was gnawed with shame and remorse; and therefore he fancied, and not without reason, that all men pointed at him the finger of scorn.
He had done a bad, base, accursed deed. And he knew it. Once in his life—for his other sins were but the sins of his age—the Father of men seems (if the chroniclers say truth) to have put before this splendid barbarian good and evil, saying, Choose! And he knew that the evil was evil, and chose it nevertheless.
Eight hundred years after, a still greater genius and general had the same choice—as far as human cases of conscience can be alike—put before him. And he chose as Hereward chose.
But as with Napoleon and Josephine, so it was with Hereward and Torfrida. Neither throve after.
It was not punished by miracle. What sin is? It worked out its own punishment; that which it merited, deserved, or earned, by its own labor. No man could commit such a sin without shaking his whole character to the root. Hereward tried to persuade himself that his was not shaken; that he was the same Hereward as ever. But he could not deceive himself long. His conscience was evil. He was discontented with all mankind, and with himself most of all. He tried to be good,—as good as he chose to be. If he had done wrong in one thing, he might make up for it in others; but he could not.
All his higher instincts fell from him one by one. He did not like to think of good and noble things; he dared not think of them. He felt, not at first, but as the months rolled on, that he was a changed man; that God had left him. His old bad habits began to return to him. Gradually he sank back into the very vices from which Torfrida had raised him sixteen years before, He took to drinking again, to dull the malady of thought; he excused himself to himself; he wished to forget his defeats, his disappointment, the ruin of his country, the splendid past which lay behind him like a dream. True: but he wished to forget likewise Torfrida fasting and weeping in Crowland. He could not bear the sight of Crowland tower on the far green horizon, the sound of Crowland bells booming over the flat on the south-wind. He never rode down into the fens; he never went to see his daughter at Deeping, because Crowland lay that way. He went up into the old Bruneswald, hunted all day long through the glades where he and his merry men had done their doughty deeds, and came home in the evening to get drunk.
Then he lost his sleep. He sent down to Crowland, to Leofric the priest, that he might come to him, and sing his sagas of the old heroes, that he might get rest. But Leofric sent back for answer that he would not come.
That night Alftruda heard him by her side in the still hours, weeping silently to himself. She caressed him: but he gave no heed to her.
"I believe," said she bitterly at last, "that you love Torfrida still better than you do me."
And Hereward answered, like Mahomet in like case, "That do I, by heaven. She believed in me when no one else in the world did."
And the vain, hard Alftruda answered angrily; and there was many a fierce quarrel between them after that.
With his love of drinking, his love of boasting came back. Because he could do no more great deeds—or rather had not the spirit left in him to do more—he must needs, like a worn-out old man, babble of the great deeds which he had done; insult and defy his Norman neighbors; often talk what might be easily caricatured into treason against King William himself.
There were great excuses for his follies, as there are for those of every beaten man; but Hereward was spent. He had lived his life, and had no more life which he could live; for every man, it would seem, brings into the world with him a certain capacity, a certain amount of vital force, in body and in soul; and when that is used up, the man must sink down into some sort of second childhood, and end, like Hereward, very much where he began; unless the grace of God shall lift him up above the capacity of the mere flesh, into a life literally new, ever-renewing, ever-expanding, and eternal.
But the grace of God had gone away from Hereward, as it goes away from all men who are unfaithful to their wives.
It was very pitiable. Let no man judge him. Life, to most, is very hard work. There are those who endure to the end, and are saved; there are those, again, who do not endure: upon whose souls may God have mercy.
So Hereward soon became as intolerable to his Norman neighbors as they were intolerable to him.
Whereon, according to the simple fashion of those primitive times, they sought about for some one who would pick a quarrel with Hereward, and slay him in fair fight. But an Archibald Bell-the-Cat was not to be found on every hedge.
But it befell that Oger the Breton, he who had Morcar's lands round Bourne, came up to see after his lands, and to visit his friend and fellow-robber, Ivo Taillebois.
Ivo thought the hot-headed Breton, who had already insulted Hereward with impunity at Winchester, the fittest man for his purpose; and asked him, over his cups, whether he had settled with that English ruffian about the Docton land?
Now, King William had judged that Hereward and Oger should hold that land between them, as he and Toli had done. But when "two dogs," as Ivo said, "have hold of the same bone, it is hard if they cannot get a snap at each other's noses."
Oger agreed to that opinion; and riding into Bourne, made inquisition into the doings at Docton. And—scandalous injustice!—he found that an old woman had sent six hens to Hereward, whereof she should have kept three for him.
So he sent to demand formally of Hereward those three hens; and was unpleasantly disappointed when Hereward, instead of offering to fight him, sent him them in an hour, and a lusty young cock into the bargain, with this message,—That he hoped they might increase and multiply; for it was a shame of an honest Englishman if he did not help a poor Breton churl to eat roast fowls for the first time in his life, after feeding on nothing better than furze-toppings, like his own ponies.
To which Oger, who, like a true Breton, believed himself descended from King Arthur, Sir Tristram, and half the knights of the Round Table, replied that his blood was to that of Hereward as wine to peat-water; and that Bretons used furze-toppings only to scourge the backs of insolent barbarians.
To which Hereward replied, that there were gnats enough pestering him in the fens already, and that one more was of no consequence.
Wherefrom the Breton judged, as at Winchester, that Hereward had no lust to fight.
The next day he met Hereward going out to hunt, and was confirmed in his opinion when Hereward lifted his cap to him most courteously, saying that he was not aware before that his neighbor was a gentleman of such high blood.
"Blood? Better at least than thine, thou bare-legged Saxon, who has dared to call me churl. So you must needs have your throat cut? I took you for a wiser man."
"Many have taken me for that which I am not. If you will harness yourself, I will do the same; and we will ride up into the Bruneswald, and settle this matter in peace."
"Three men on each side to see fair play," said the Breton.
And up into the Bruneswald they rode; and fought long without advantage on either side.
Hereward was not the man which he had been. His nerve was gone, as well as his conscience; and all the dash and fury of his old onslaughts gone therewith.
He grew tired of the fight, not in body, but in mind; and more than once drew back.
"Let us stop this child's play," said he, according to the chronicler; "what need have we to fight here all day about nothing?"
Whereat the Breton fancied him already more than half-beaten, and attacked more furiously than ever. He would be the first man on earth who ever had had the better of the great outlaw. He would win himself eternal glory, as the champion of all England.
But he had mistaken his man, and his indomitable English pluck. "It was Hereward's fashion, in fight and war," says the chronicler, "always to ply the man most at the last." And so found the Breton; for Hereward suddenly lost patience, and rushing on him with one of his old shouts, hewed at him again and again, as if his arm would never tire.
Oger gave back, would he or not. In a few moments his sword-arm dropt to his side, cut half through.
"Have you had enough, Sir Tristram the younger?" quoth Hereward, wiping his sword, and walking moodily away.
Oger went out of Bourne with his arm in a sling, and took counsel with Ivo Taillebois. Whereon they two mounted, and rode to Lincoln, and took counsel with Gilbert of Ghent.
The fruit of which was this. That a fortnight after Gilbert rode into Bourne with a great meinie, full a hundred strong, and with him the sheriff and the king's writ, and arrested Hereward on a charge of speaking evil of the king, breaking his peace, compassing the death of his faithful lieges, and various other wicked, traitorous, and diabolical acts.
Hereward was minded at first to fight and die. But Gilbert, who—to do him justice—wished no harm to his ancient squire, reasoned with him. Why should he destroy not only himself, but perhaps his people likewise? Why should he throw away his last chance? The king was not so angry as he seemed; and if Hereward would but be reasonable, the matter might be arranged. As it was, he was not to be put to strong prison. He was to be in the custody of Robert of Herepol, Chatelain of Bedford, who, Hereward knew, was a reasonable and courteous man. The king had asked him, Gilbert, to take charge of Hereward.
"And what said you?"
"That I had rather have in my pocket the seven devils that came out of St. Mary Magdalene; and that I would not have thee within ten miles of Lincoln town, to be Earl of all the Danelagh. So I begged him to send thee to Sir Robert, just because I knew him to be a mild and gracious man."
A year before, Hereward would have scorned the proposal; and probably, by one of his famous stratagems, escaped there and then out of the midst of all Gilbert's men. But his spirit was broken; indeed, so was the spirit of every Englishman; and he mounted his horse sullenly, and rode alongside of Gilbert, unarmed for the first time for many a year.
"You had better have taken me," said Sir Ascelin aside to the weeping Alftruda.
"I? helpless wretch that I am! What shall I do for my own safety, now he is gone?"
"Let me come and provide for it."
"Out! wretch! traitor!" cried she.
"There is nothing very traitorous in succoring distressed ladies," said Ascelin. "If I can be of the least service to Alftruda the peerless, let her but send, and I fly to do her bidding."
So they rode off.
Hereward went through Cambridge and Potton like a man stunned, and spoke never a word. He could not even think, till he heard the key turned on him in a room—not a small or doleful one—in Bedford keep, and found an iron shackle on his leg, fastened to the stone bench on which he sat.
Robert of Herepol had meant to leave his prisoner loose. But there were those in Gilbert's train who told him, and with truth, that if he did so, no man's life would be safe. That to brain the jailer with his own keys, and then twist out of his bowels a line wherewith to let himself down from the top of the castle, would be not only easy, but amusing, to the famous "Wake."
So Robert consented to fetter him so far, but no further; and begged his pardon again and again as he did it, pleading the painful necessities of his office.
But Hereward heard him not. He sat in stupefied despair. A great black cloud had covered all heaven and earth, and entered into his brain through every sense, till his mind, as he said afterwards, was like hell, with the fire gone out.
A jailer came in, he knew not how long after, bringing a good meal, and wine. He came cautiously toward the prisoner, and when still beyond the length of his chain, set the food down, and thrust it toward him with a stick, lest Hereward should leap on him and wring his neck.
But Hereward never even saw him or the food. He sat there all day, all night, and nearly all the next day, and hardly moved hand or foot. The jailer told Sir Robert in the evening that he thought the man was mad, and would die.
So good Sir Robert went up to him, and spoke kindly and hopefully. But all Hereward answered was, that he was very well. That he wanted nothing. That he had always heard well of Sir Robert. That he should like to get a little sleep: but that sleep would not come.
The next day Sir Robert came again early, and found him sitting in the same place.
"He was very well," he said. "How could he be otherwise? He was just where he ought to be. A man could not be better than in his right place."
Whereon Sir Robert gave him up for mad.
Then he bethought of sending him a harp, knowing the fame of Hereward's music and singing. "And when he saw the harp," the jailer said, "he wept; but bade take the thing away. And so sat still where he was."
In this state of dull despair he remained for many weeks. At last he woke up.
There passed through and by Bedford large bodies of troops, going as it were to and from battle. The clank of arms stirred Hereward's heart as of old, and he sent to Sir Robert to ask what was toward.
Sir Robert, "the venerable man," came to him joyfully and at once, glad to speak to an illustrious captive, whom he looked on as an injured man; and told him news enough.
Taillebois's warning about Ralph Guader and Waltheof had not been needless. Ralph, as the most influential of the Bretons, was on no good terms with the Normans, save with one, and that one of the most powerful,—Fitz-Osbern, Earl of Hereford. His sister Ralph was to have married; but William, for reasons unknown, forbade the match. The two great earls celebrated the wedding in spite of William, and asked Waltheof as a guest. And at Exning, between the fen and Newmarket Heath,—
"Was that bride-ale Which was man's bale."
For there was matured the plot which Ivo and others had long seen brewing. William had made himself hateful to all men by his cruelties and tyrannies; and indeed his government was growing more unrighteous day by day. Let them drive him out of England, and part the land between them. Two should be dukes, the third king paramount.
"Waltheof, I presume, plotted drunk, and repented sober, when too late. The wittol! He should have been a monk."
"Repented he has, if ever he was guilty. For he fled to Archbishop Lanfranc, and confessed to him so much, that Lanfranc declares him innocent, and has sent him on to William in Normandy."
"O kind priest! true priest! To send his sheep into the wolf's mouth."
"You forget, dear sire, that William is our king."
"I can hardly forget that, with this pretty ring upon my ankle. But after my experience of how he has kept faith with me, what can I expect for Waltheof the wittol, save that which I have foretold many a time?"
"As for you, dear sire, the king has been misinformed concerning you. I have sent messengers to reason with him again and again; but as long as Taillebois, Warrenne, and Robert Malet had his ear, of what use were my poor words?"
"And what said they?"
"That there would be no peace in England if you were loose."
"They lied. I am no boy, like Waltheof. I know when the game is played out. And it is played out now. The Frenchman is master, and I know it well. Were I loose to-morrow, and as great a fool as Waltheof, what could I do, with, it may be, some forty knights and a hundred men-at-arms, against all William's armies? But how goes on this fool's rebellion? If I had been loose I might have helped to crush it in the bud."
"And you would have done that against Waltheof?"
"Why not against him? He is but bringing more misery on England. Tell that to William. Tell him that if he sets me free, I will be the first to attack Waltheof, or whom he will. There are no English left to fight against," said he, bitterly, "for Waltheof is none now."
"He shall know your words when he returns to England."
"What, is he abroad, and all this evil going on?"
"In Normandy. But the English have risen for the King in Herefordshire, and beaten Earl Roger; and Odo of Bayeux and Bishop Mowbray are on their way to Cambridge, where they hope to give a good account of Earl Ralph; and that the English may help them there."
"And they shall! They hate Ralph Guader as much as I do. Can you send a message for me?"
"To Bourne in the Bruneswald; and say to Hereward's men, wherever they are, Let them rise and arm, if they love Hereward, and down to Cambridge, to be the foremost at Bishop Odo's side against Ralph Guader, or Waltheof himself. Send! send! O that I were free!"
"Would to Heaven thou wert free, my gallant sir!" said the good man.
From that day Hereward woke up somewhat. He was still a broken man, querulous, peevish; but the hope of freedom and the hope of battle woke him up. If he could but get to his men! But his melancholy returned. His men—some of them at least—went down to Odo at Cambridge, and did good service. Guader was utterly routed, and escaped to Norwich, and thence to Brittany,—his home. The bishops punished their prisoners, the rebel Normans, with horrible mutilations.
"The wolves are beginning to eat each other," said Hereward to himself. But it was a sickening thought to him, that his men had been fighting and he not at their head.
After a while there came to Bedford Castle two witty knaves. One was a cook, who "came to buy milk," says the chronicler; the other seemingly a gleeman. They told stories, jested, harped, sang, drank, and pleased much the garrison and Sir Robert, who let them hang about the place.
They asked next, whether it were true that the famous Hereward was there? If so, might a man have a look at him?
The jailer said that many men might have gone to see him, so easy was Sir Robert to him. But he would have no man; and none dare enter save Sir Robert and he, for fear of their lives. But he would ask him of Herepol.
The good knight of Herepol said, "Let the rogues go in; they may amuse the poor man."
So they went in, and as soon as they went, he knew them. One was Martin Lightfoot, the other Leofric the Unlucky.
"Who sent you?" asked he surlily, turning his face away.
"We know but one she, and she is at Crowland."
"She sent you? and wherefore?"
"That we might sing to you, and make you merry."
Hereward answered them with a terrible word, and turned his face to the wall, groaning, and then bade them sternly to go.
So they went, for the time.
The jailer told this to Sir Robert, who saw all, being a kind-hearted man.
"From his poor first wife, eh? Well, there can be no harm in that. Nor if they came from this Lady Alftruda either, for that matter; let them go in and out when they will."
"But they may be spies and traitors."
"Then we can but hang them."
Robert of Herepol, it would appear from the chronicle, did not much care whether they were spies or not.
So the men went to and fro, and often sat with Hereward. But he forbade them sternly to mention Torfrida's name.
Alftruda sent to him meanwhile, again and again, messages of passionate love and sorrow, and he listened to them as sullenly as he did to his two servants, and sent no answer back. And so sat more weary months, in the very prison, it may be in the very room, in which John Bunyan sat nigh six hundred years after: but in a very different frame of mind.
One day Sir Robert was going up the stairs with another knight, and met the two coming down. He was talking to that knight earnestly, indignantly: and somehow, as he passed Leofric and Martin he thought fit to raise his voice, as if in a great wrath.
"Shame to all honor and chivalry! good saints in heaven, what a thing is human fortune! That this man, who had once a gallant army at his back, should be at this moment going like a sheep to the slaughter, to Buckingham Castle, at the mercy of his worst enemy, Ivo Taillebois, of all men in the world. If there were a dozen knights left of all those whom he used to heap with wealth and honor, worthy the name of knights, they would catch us between here and Stratford, and make a free man of their lord."
So spake—or words to that effect, according to the Latin chronicler, who must have got them from Leofric himself—the good knight of Herepol.
"Hillo, knaves!" said he, seeing the two, "are you here eavesdropping? out of the castle this instant, on your lives."
Which hint those two witty knaves took on the spot.
A few days after, Hereward was travelling toward Buckingham, chained upon a horse, with Sir Robert and his men, and a goodly company of knights belonging to Ivo. Ivo, as the story runs, seems to have arranged with Ralph Pagnel at Buckingham to put him into the keeping of a creature of his own. And how easy it was to put out a man's eyes, or starve him to death, in a Norman keep, none knew better than Hereward.
But he was past fear or sorrow. A dull heavy cloud of despair had settled down upon his soul. Black with sin, his heart could not pray. He had hardened himself against all heaven and earth, and thought, when he thought at all, only of his wrongs: but never of his sins.
They passed through a forest, seemingly somewhere near what is Newport Pagnel, named after Ralph, his would-be jailer.
Suddenly from the trees dashed out a body of knights, and at their head the white-bear banner, in Ranald of Ramsey's hand.
"Halt!" shouted Sir Robert; "we are past the half-way stone. Earl Ivo's and Earl Ralph's men are answerable now for the prisoner."
"Treason!" shouted Ivo's men, and one would have struck Hereward through with his lance; but Winter was too quick for him, and bore him from his saddle; and then dragged Hereward out of the fight.
The Normans, surprised while their helmets were hanging at their saddles, and their arms not ready for battle, were scattered at once. But they returned to the attack, confident in their own numbers.
They were over confident. Hereward's fetters were knocked off; and he was horsed and armed, and, mad with freedom and battle, fighting like himself once more.
Only as he rode to and fro, thrusting and hewing, he shouted to his men to spare Sir Robert, and all his meinie, crying that he was the savior of his life; and when the fight was over, and all Ivo's and Ralph's men who were not slain had ridden for their lives into Stratford, he shook hands with that venerable knight, giving him innumerable thanks and courtesies for his honorable keeping; and begged him to speak well of him to the king.
And so these two parted in peace, and Hereward was a free man.
HOW EARL WALTHEOF WAS MADE A SAINT.
A few months after, there sat in Abbot Thorold's lodgings in Peterborough a select company of Normans, talking over affairs of state after their supper.
"Well, earls and gentlemen," said the Abbot, as he sipped his wine, "the cause of our good king, which is happily the cause of Holy Church, goes well, I think. We have much to be thankful for when we review the events of the past year. We have finished the rebels; Roger de Breteuil is safe in prison, Ralph Guader unsafe in Brittany, and Waltheof more than unsafe in—the place to which traitors descend. We have not a manor left which is not in loyal Norman hands; we have not an English monk left who has not been scourged and starved into holy obedience; not an English saint for whom any man cares a jot, since Guerin de Lire preached down St. Adhelm, the admirable primate disposed of St. Alphege's martyrdom, and some other wise man—I am ashamed to say that I forget who—proved that St. Edmund of Suffolk was merely a barbarian knight, who was killed fighting with Danes only a little more heathen than himself. We have had great labors and great sufferings since we landed in this barbarous isle upon our holy errand ten years since; but, under the shadow of the gonfalon of St. Peter, we have conquered, and may sing 'Dominus illuminatio mea' with humble and thankful hearts."
"I don't know that," said Ascelin, "my Lord Uncle; I shall never sing 'Dominus Illuminatio' till I see your coffers illuminated once more by those thirty thousand marks."
"Or I," said Oger le Breton, "till I see myself safe in that bit of land which Hereward holds wrongfully of me in Locton."
"Or I," said Ivo Taillebois, "till I see Hereward's head on Bourne gable, where he stuck up those Norman's heads seven years ago. But what the Lord Abbot means by saying that we have done with English saints I do not see, for the villains of Crowland have just made a new one for themselves."
"A new one?"
"I tell you truth and fact; I will tell you all, Lord Abbot; and you shall judge whether it is not enough to drive an honest man mad to see such things going on under his nose. Men say of me that I am rough, and swear and blaspheme. I put it to you, Lord Abbot, if Job would not have cursed if he had been Lord of Spalding? You know that the king let these Crowland monks have Waltheof's body?"
"Yes, I thought it an unwise act of grace. It would have been wiser to leave him, as he desired, out on the down, in ground unconsecrate."
"Of course, of course; for what has happened?"
"That old traitor, Ulfketyl, and his monks bring the body to Crowland, and bury it as if it had been the Pope's. In a week they begin to spread their lies,—that Waltheof was innocent; that Archbishop Lanfranc himself said so."
"That was the only act of human weakness which I have ever known the venerable prelate commit," said Thorold.
"That these Normans at Winchester were so in the traitor's favor, that the king had to have him out and cut off his head in the gray of the morning, ere folks were up and about; that the fellow was so holy that he past all his time in prison in weeping and praying, and said over the whole Psalter every day, because his mother had taught it him,—I wish she had taught him to be an honest man;—and that when his head was on the block he said all the Paternoster, as far as 'Lead us not into temptation,' and then off went his head; whereon, his head being off, finished the prayer with—you know best what comes next, Abbot?"
"Deliver us from evil, Amen! What a manifest lie! The traitor was not permitted, it is plain, to ask for that which could never be granted to him; but his soul, unworthy to be delivered from evil, entered instead into evil, and howls forever in the pit."
"But all the rest may be true," said Oger; "and yet that be no reason why these monks should say it."
"So I told them, and threatened them too; for, not content with making him a martyr, they are making him a saint."
"Impious! Who can do that, save the Holy Father?" said Thorold.
"You had best get your bishop to look to them, then, for they are carrying blind beggars and mad girls by the dozen to be cured at the man's tomb, that is all. Their fellows in the cell at Spalding went about to take a girl that had fits off one of my manors, to cure her; but that I stopped with a good horse-whip."
"And gave the monks a piece of my mind, and drove them clean out of their cell home to Crowland."
What a piece of Ivo's mind on this occasion might be, let Ingulf describe.
"Against our monastery and all the people of Crowland he was, by the instigation of the Devil, raised to such an extreme pitch of fury, that he would follow their animals in the marshes with his dogs, drive them to a great distance down in the lakes, mutilate some in the tails, others in the ears, while often, by breaking the backs and legs of the beasts of burden, he rendered them utterly useless. Against our cell also (at Spalding) and our brethren, his neighbors, the prior and monks, who dwelt all day within his presence, he rages with tyrannical and frantic fury, lamed their oxen and horses, daily impounded their sheep and poultry, striking down, killing, and slaying their swine and pigs; while at the same time the servants of the prior were oppressed in the Earl's court with insupportable exactions, were often assaulted in the highways with swords and staves, and sometimes killed."
"Well," went on the injured Earl, "this Hereward gets news of me,—and news too, I don't know whence, but true enough it is,—that I had sworn to drive Ulfketyl out of Crowland by writ from king and bishop, and lock him up as a minister at the other end of England."
"You will do but right. I will send a knight off to the king this day, telling him all, and begging him to send us up a trusty Norman as abbot of Crowland, that we may have one more gentleman in the land fit for our company."
"You must kill Hereward first. For, as I was going to say, he sent word to me 'that the monks of Crowland were as the apple of his eye, and Abbot Ulfketyl to him as more than a father; and that if I dared to lay a finger on them or their property, he would cut my head off.'"
"He has promised to cut my head off likewise," said Ascelin. "Earl, knights, and gentlemen, do you not think it wiser that we should lay our wits together once and for all, and cut off his."
"But who will catch the Wake sleeping?" said Ivo, laughing.
"That will I. I have my plans, and my intelligencers."
And so those wicked men took counsel together to slay Hereward.
HOW HEREWARD GOT THE BEST OF HIS SOUL'S PRICE.
In those days a messenger came riding post to Bourne. The Countess Judith wished to visit the tomb of her late husband, Earl Waltheof; and asked hospitality on her road of Hereward and Alftruda.
Of course she would come with a great train, and the trouble and expense would be great. But the hospitality of those days, when money was scarce, and wine scarcer still, was unbounded, and a matter of course; and Alftruda was overjoyed. No doubt, Judith was the most unpopular person in England at that moment; called by all a traitress and a fiend. But she was an old acquaintance of Alftruda's; she was the king's niece; she was immensely rich, not only in manors of her own, but in manors, as Domesday-book testifies, about Lincolnshire and the counties round, which had belonged to her murdered husband,—which she had too probably received as the price of her treason. So Alftruda looked to her visit as to an honor which would enable her to hold her head high among the proud Norman dames, who despised her as the wife of an Englishman.
Hereward looked on the visit in a different light. He called Judith ugly names, not undeserved; and vowed that if she entered his house by the front door he would go out at the back. "Torfrida prophesied," he said, "that she would betray her husband, and she had done it."
"Torfrida prophesied? Did she prophesy that I should betray you likewise?" asked Alftruda, in a tone of bitter scorn.
"No, you handsome fiend: will you do it?"
"Yes; I am a handsome fiend, am I not?" and she bridled up her magnificent beauty, and stood over him as a snake stands over a mouse.
"Yes; you are handsome,—beautiful: I adore you."
"And yet you will not do what I wish?"
"What you wish? What would I not do for you? what have I not done for you?"
"Then receive Judith. And now, go hunting, and bring me in game. I want deer, roe, fowls; anything and everything from the greatest to the smallest. Go and hunt."
And Hereward trembled, and went.
There are flowers whose scent is so luscious that silly children will plunge their heads among them, drinking in their odor, to the exclusion of all fresh air. On a sudden sometimes comes a revulsion of the nerves. The sweet odor changes in a moment to a horrible one; and the child cannot bear for years after the scent which has once disgusted it by over-sweetness.
And so had it happened to Hereward. He did not love Alftruda now: he loathed, hated, dreaded her. And yet he could not take his eyes for a moment off her beauty. He watched every movement of her hand, to press it, obey it. He would have preferred instead of hunting, simply to sit and watch her go about the house at her work. He was spell-bound to a thing which he regarded with horror.
But he was told to go and hunt; and he went, with all his men, and sent home large supplies for the larder. And as he hunted, the free, fresh air of the forest comforted him, the free forest life came back to him, and he longed to be an outlaw once more, and hunt on forever. He would not go back yet, at least to face that Judith. So he sent back the greater part of his men with a story. He was ill; he was laid up at a farm-house far away in the forest, and begged the countess to excuse his absence. He had sent fresh supplies of game, and a goodly company of his men, knights and housecarles, who would escort her royally to Crowland.
Judith cared little for his absence; he was but an English barbarian. Alftruda was half glad to have him out of the way, lest his now sullen and uncertain temper should break out; and bowed herself to the earth before Judith, who patronized her to her heart's content, and offered her slyly insolent condolences on being married to a barbarian. She herself could sympathize,—who more?
Alftruda might have answered with scorn that she was an Adeliza, and of better English blood than Judith's Norman blood; but she had her ends to gain, and gained them.
For Judith was pleased to be so delighted with her that she kissed her lovingly, and said with much emotion that she required a friend who would support her through her coming trial; and who better than one who herself had suffered so much? Would she accompany her to Crowland?
Alftruda was overjoyed, and away they went.
And to Crowland they came; and to the tomb in the minster, whereof men said already that the sacred corpse within worked miracles of healing.
And Judith, habited in widow's weeds, approached the tomb, and laid on it, as a peace-offering to the manes of the dead, a splendid pall of silk and gold.
A fierce blast came howling off the fen, screeched through the minster towers, swept along the dark aisles; and then, so say the chroniclers, caught up the pall from off the tomb, and hurled it far away into a corner.
"A miracle!" cried all the monks at once; and honestly enough, like true Englishmen as they were.
"The Holy heart refuses the gift, Countess," said old Ulfketyl in a voice of awe.
Judith covered her face with her hands, and turned away trembling, and walked out, while all looked upon her as a thing accursed.
Of her subsequent life, her folly, her wantonness, her disgrace, her poverty, her wanderings, her wretched death, let others tell.
But these Normans believed that the curse of Heaven was upon her from that day. And the best of them believed likewise that Waltheof's murder was the reason that William, her uncle, prospered no more in life.
"Ah, saucy sir," said Alftruda to Ulfketyl, as she went out, "there is one waiting at Peterborough now who will teach thee manners,—Ingulf of Fontenelle, Abbot, in thy room."
"Does Hereward know that?" asked Ulfketyl, looking keenly at her.
"What is that to thee?" said she, fiercely, and flung out of the minster. But Hereward did not know. There were many things abroad of which she told him nothing.
They went back and were landed at Deeping town, and making their way along the King Street, or old Roman road, to Bourne. Thereon a man met them, running. They had best stay where they were. The Frenchmen were out, and there was fighting up in Bourne.
Alftruda's knights wanted to push on, to see after the Bourne folk; Judith's knights wanted to push on to help the French; and the two parties were ready to fight each other. There was a great tumult. The ladies had much ado to still it.
Alftruda said that it might be but a countryman's rumor; that, at least, it was shame to quarrel with their guests. At last it was agreed that two knights should gallop on into Bourne, and bring back news.
But those knights never came back. So the whole body moved on Bourne, and there they found out the news for themselves.
Hereward had gone home as soon as they had departed, and sat down to eat and drink. His manner was sad and strange. He drank much at the midday meal, and then lay down to sleep, setting guards as usual.
After a while he leapt up with a shriek and a shudder.
They ran to him, asking whether he was ill.
"Ill? No. Yes. Ill at heart. I have had a dream,—an ugly dream. I thought that all the men I ever slew on earth came to me with their wounds all gaping, and cried at me, 'Our luck then, thy luck now.' Chaplain! is there not a verse somewhere,—Uncle Brand said it to me on his deathbed,—'Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed'?"
"Surely the master is fey," whispered Gwenoch in fear to the chaplain. "Answer him out of Scripture."
"Text? None such that I know of," quoth Priest Ailward, a graceless fellow who had taken Leofric's place. "If that were the law, it would be but few honest men that would die in their beds. Let us drink, and drive girls' fancies out of our heads."
So they drank again; and Hereward fell asleep once more.
"It is thy turn to watch, Priest," said Gwenoch to Ailward. "So keep the door well, for I am worn out with hunting," and so fell asleep.
Ailward shuffled into his harness, and went to the door. The wine was heady; the sun was hot. In a few minutes he was asleep likewise.
Hereward slept, who can tell how long? But at last there was a bustle, a heavy fall; and waking with a start, he sprang up. He saw Ailward lying dead across the gate, and above him a crowd of fierce faces, some of which he knew too well. He saw Ivo Taillebois; he saw Oger; he saw his fellow-Breton, Sir Raoul de Dol; he saw Sir Ascelin; he saw Sir Aswa, Thorold's man; he saw Sir Hugh of Evermue, his own son-in-law; and with them he saw, or seemed to see, the Ogre of Cornwall, and O'Brodar of Ivark, and Dirk Hammerhand of Walcheren, and many another old foe long underground; and in his ear rang the text,—"Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." And Hereward knew that his end was come.
There was no time to put on mail or helmet. He saw the old sword and shield hang on a perch, and tore them down. As he girded the sword on Winter sprang to his side.
"I have three lances,—two for me and one for you, and we can hold the door against twenty."
"Till they fire the house over our heads. Shall Hereward die like a wolf in a cave? Forward, all Hereward's men!"
And he rushed out upon his fate. No man followed him, save Winter. The rest, disperst, unarmed, were running hither and thither helplessly.
"Brothers in arms, and brothers in Valhalla!" shouted Winter as he rushed after him.
A knight was running to and fro in the Court, shouting Hereward's name. "Where is the villain? Wake! We have caught thee asleep at last."
"I am out," quoth Hereward, as the man almost stumbled against him; "and this is in."
And through shield, hauberk, and body, as says Gaima, went Hereward's javelin, while all drew back, confounded for the moment at that mighty stroke.
"Felons!" shouted Hereward, "your king has given me his truce; and do you dare break my house, and kill my folk? Is that your Norman law? And is this your Norman honor?—To take a man unawares over his meat? Come on, traitors all, and get what you can of a naked man; [Footnote: i. e. without armor.] you will buy it dear—Guard my back, Winter!"
And he ran right at the press of knights; and the fight began.
"He gored them like a wood-wild boar, As long as that lance might endure,"
"And when that lance did break in hand, Full fell enough he smote with brand."
And as he hewed on silently, with grinding teeth and hard, glittering eyes, of whom did he think? Of Alftruda?
Not so. But of that pale ghost, with great black hollow eyes, who sat in Crowland, with thin bare feet, and sackcloth on her tender limbs, watching, praying, longing, loving, uncomplaining. That ghost had been for many a month the background of all his thoughts and dreams. It was so clear before his mind's eye now, that, unawares to himself, he shouted "Torfrida!" as he struck, and struck the harder at the sound of his old battle-cry.
And now he is all wounded and be-bled; and Winter, who has fought back to back with him, has fallen on his face; and Hereward stands alone, turning from side to side, as he sweeps his sword right and left till the forest rings with the blows, but staggering as he turns. Within a ring of eleven corpses he stands. Who will go in and make the twelfth?
A knight rushes in, to fall headlong down, cloven through the helm: but Hereward's blade snaps short, and he hurls it away as his foes rush in with a shout of joy. He tears his shield from his left arm, and with it, says Gaimar, brains two more.
But the end is come. Taillebois and Evermue are behind him now; four lances are through his back, and bear him down to his knees.
"Cut off his head, Breton!" shouted Ivo. Raoul de Dol rushed forward, sword in hand. At that cry Hereward lifted up his dying head. One stroke more ere it was all done forever.
And with a shout of "Torfrida!" which made the Bruneswald ring, he hurled the shield full in the Breton's face, and fell forward dead.
The knights drew their lances from that terrible corpse slowly and with caution, as men who have felled a bear, yet dare not step within reach of the seemingly lifeless paw.
"The dog died hard," said Ivo. "Lucky for us that Sir Ascelin had news of his knights being gone to Crowland. If he had had them to back him, we had not done this deed to-day."
"I will make sure," said Ascelin, as he struck off the once fair and golden head.
"Ho, Breton," cried Ivo, "the villain is dead. Get up, man, and see for yourself. What ails him?"
But when they lifted up Raoul de Dol his brains were running down his face; and all men stood astonished at that last mighty stroke.
"That blow," said Ascelin, "will be sung hereafter by minstrel and maiden as the last blow of the last Englishman. Knights, we have slain a better knight than ourselves. If there had been three more such men in this realm, they would have driven us and King William back again into the sea."
So said Ascelin; those words of his, too, were sung by many a jongleur, Norman as well as English, in the times that were to come.
"Likely enough," said Ivo; "but that is the more reason why we should set that head of his up over the hall-door, as a warning to these English churls that their last man is dead, and their last stake thrown and lost."
So perished "the last of the English."
It was the third day. The Normans were drinking in the hall of Bourne, casting lots among themselves who should espouse the fair Alftruda, who sat weeping within over the headless corpse; when in the afternoon a servant came in, and told them how a barge full of monks had come to the shore, and that they seemed to be monks from Crowland. Ivo Taillebois bade drive them back again into the barge with whips. But Hugh of Evermue spoke up.
"I am lord and master in Bourne this day, and if Ivo have a quarrel against St. Guthlac, I have none. This Ingulf of Fontenelle, the new abbot who has come thither since old Ulfketyl was sent to prison, is a loyal man, and a friend of King William's, and my friend he shall be till he behaves himself as my foe. Let them come up in peace."
Taillebois growled and cursed: but the monks came up, and into the hall; and at their head Ingulf himself, to receive whom all men rose, save Taillebois.
"I come," said Ingulf, in most courtly French, "noble knights, to ask a boon and in the name of the Most Merciful, on behalf of a noble and unhappy lady. Let it be enough to have avenged yourself on the living. Gentlemen and Christians war not against the dead."
"No, no, Master Abbot!" shouted Taillebois; "Waltheof is enough to keep Crowland in miracles for the present. You shall not make a martyr of another Saxon churl. He wants the barbarian's body, knights, and you will be fools if you let him have it."
"Churl? barbarian?" said a haughty voice; and a nun stepped forward who had stood just behind Ingulf. She was clothed entirely in black. Her bare feet were bleeding from the stones; her hand, as she lifted it, was as thin as a skeleton's.
She threw back her veil, and showed to the knights what had been once the famous beauty of Torfrida.
But the beauty was long past away. Her hair was white as snow; her cheeks were fallen in. Her hawk-like features were all sharp and hard. Only in their hollow sockets burned still the great black eyes, so fiercely that all men turned uneasily from her gaze.
"Churl? barbarian?" she said, slowly and quietly, but with an intensity which was more terrible than rage. "Who gives such names to one who was as much better born and better bred than those who now sit here, as he was braver and more terrible than they? The base wood-cutter's son? The upstart who would have been honored had he taken service as yon dead man's groom?"
"Talk to me so, and my stirrup leathers shall make acquaintance with your sides," said Taillebois.
"Keep them for your wife. Churl? Barbarian? There is not a man within this hall who is not a barbarian compared with him. Which of you touched the harp like him? Which of you, like him, could move all hearts with song? Which of you knows all tongues from Lapland to Provence? Which of you has been the joy of ladies' bowers, the counsellor of earls and heroes, the rival of a mighty king? Which of you will compare yourself with him,—whom you dared not even strike, you and your robber crew, fairly in front, but, skulked round him till he fell pecked to death by you, as Lapland Skratlings peck to death the bear. Ten years ago he swept this hall of such as you, and hung their heads upon yon gable outside; and were he alive but one five minutes again, this hall would be right cleanly swept again! Give me his body,—or bear forever the name of cowards, and Torfrida's curse."
And she fixed her terrible eyes first on one, and then on another, calling them by name.
"Ivo Taillebois,—basest of all—"
"Take the witch's accursed eyes off me!" and he covered his face with his hands. "I shall be overlooked,—planet struck. Hew the witch down! Take her away!"
"Hugh of Evermue,—the dead man's daughter is yours, and the dead man's lands. Are not these remembrances enough of him? Are you so fond of his memory that you need his corpse likewise?"
"Give it her! Give it her!" said he, hanging down his head like a rated cur.
"Ascelin of Lincoln, once Ascelin of Ghent,—there was a time when you would have done—what would you not?—for one glance of Torfrida's eyes.—Stay. Do not deceive yourself, fair sir, Torfrida means to ask no favor of you, or of living man. But she commands you. Do the thing she bids, or with one glance of her eye she sends you childless to your grave."
"Madam! Lady Torfrida! What is there I would not do for you? What have I done now, save avenge your great wrong?"
Torfrida made no answer, but fixed steadily on him eyes which widened every moment.
"But, madam,"—and he turned shrinking from the fancied spell,—"what would you have? The—the corpse? It is in the keeping of—of another lady."
"So?" said Torfrida, quietly. "Leave her to me"; and she swept past them all, and flung open the bower door at their backs, discovering Alftruda sitting by the dead.
The ruffians were so utterly appalled, not only by the false powers of magic, but by veritable powers of majesty and eloquence, that they let her do what she would.
"Out!" cried she, using a short and terrible epithet. "Out, siren, with fairy's face and tail of fiend, and leave the husband with his wife!"
Alftruda looked up, shrieked; and then, with the sudden passion of a weak nature, drew a little knife, and sprang up.
Ivo made a coarse jest. The Abbot sprang in: "For the sake of all holy things, let there be no more murder here!"
Torfrida smiled, and fixed her snake's eye upon her wretched rival.
"Out! woman, and choose thee a new husband among these French gallants, ere I blast thee from head to foot with the leprosy of Naaman the Syrian."
Alftruda shuddered, and fled shrieking into an inner room.
"Now, knights, give me—that which hangs outside."
Ascelin hurried out, glad to escape. In a minute he returned.
The head was already taken down. A tall lay brother, the moment he had seen it, had climbed the gable, snatched it away, and now sat in a corner of the yard, holding it on his knees, talking to it, chiding it, as if it had been alive. When men had offered to take it, he had drawn a battle-axe from under his frock, and threatened to brain all comers. And the monks had warned off Ascelin, saying that the man was mad, and had Berserk fits of superhuman strength and rage.
"He will give it me!" said Torfrida, and went out.
"Look at that gable, foolish head," said the madman. "Ten years agone, you and I took down from thence another head. O foolish head, to get yourself at last up into that same place! Why would you not be ruled by her, you foolish golden head?"
"Martin!" said Torfrida.
"Take it and comb it, mistress, as you used to do. Comb out the golden locks again, fit to shine across the battle-field. She has let them get all tangled into elf-knots, that lazy slut within."
Torfrida took it from his hands, dry-eyed, and went in.
Then the monks silently took up the bier, and all went forth, and down the hill toward the fen. They laid the corpse within the barge, and slowly rowed away.
And on by Porsad and by Asendyke, By winding reaches on, and shining meres Between gray reed-ronds and green alder-beds, A dirge of monks and wail of women rose In vain to Heaven for the last Englishman; Then died far off within the boundless mist, And left the Norman master of the land.
So Torfrida took the corpse home to Crowland, and buried it in the choir, near the blessed martyr St. Waltheof; after which she did not die, but lived on many years, [Footnote: If Ingulf can be trusted, Torfrida died about A. D. 1085.] spending all day in nursing and feeding the Countess Godiva, and lying all night on Hereward's tomb, and praying that he might find grace and mercy in that day.
And at last Godiva died; and they took her away and buried her with great pomp in her own minster church of Coventry.
And after that Torfrida died likewise; because she had nothing left for which to live. And they laid her in Hereward's grave, and their dust is mingled to this day.
And Leofric the priest lived on to a good old age, and above all things he remembered the deeds and the sins of his master, and wrote them in a book, and this is what remains thereof.
But when Martin Lightfoot died, no man has said; for no man in those days took account of such poor churls and running serving-men.
And Hereward's comrades were all scattered abroad, some maimed, some blinded, some with tongues cut out, to beg by the wayside, or crawl into convents, and then die; while their sisters and daughters, ladies born and bred, were the slaves of grooms and scullions from beyond the sea.
And so, as sang Thorkel Skallason,—
"Cold heart and bloody hand Now rule English land." [Footnote: Laing's Heimskringla.]
And after that things waxed even worse and worse, for sixty years and more; all through the reigns of the two Williams, and of Henry Beauclerc, and of Stephen; till men saw visions and portents, and thought that the foul fiend was broken loose on earth. And they whispered oftener and oftener that the soul of Hereward haunted the Bruneswald, where he loved to hunt the dun deer and the roe. And in the Bruneswald, when Henry of Poitou was made abbot, [Footnote: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A. D. 1127.] men saw—let no man think lightly of the marvel which we are about to relate, for it was well known all over the country—upon the Sunday, when men sing, "Exsurge quare, O Domine," many hunters hunting, black, and tall, and loathly, and their hounds were black and ugly with wide eyes, and they rode on black horses and black bucks. And they saw them in the very deer-park of the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods to Stamford; and the monks heard the blasts of the horns which they blew in the night. Men of truth kept watch upon them, and said that there might be well about twenty or thirty horn-blowers. This was seen and heard all that Lent until Easter, and the Norman monks of Peterborough said how it was Hereward, doomed to wander forever with Apollyon and all his crew, because he had stolen the riches of the Golden Borough: but the poor folk knew better, and said that the mighty outlaw was rejoicing in the chase, blowing his horn for Englishmen to rise against the French; and therefore it was that he was seen first on "Arise, O Lord" Sunday.
But they were so sore trodden down that they could never rise; for the French [Footnote: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A. D. 1137.] had filled the land full of castles. They greatly oppressed the wretched people by making them work at these castles; and when the castles were finished, they filled them with devils and evil men. They took those whom they suspected of having any goods, both men and women, and they put them in prison for their gold and silver, and tortured them with pains unspeakable, for never were any martyrs tormented as these were. They hung some by their feet, and smoked them with foul smoke; some by the thumbs, or by the head, and put burning things on their feet. They put a knotted string round their heads, and twisted it till it went into the brain. They put them in dungeons wherein were adders, and snakes, and toads, and thus wore them out. Some they put into a crucet-house,—that is, into a chest that was short and narrow, and they put sharp stones therein, and crushed the man so that they broke all his bones. There were hateful and grim things called Sachenteges in many of the castles, which two or three men had enough to do to carry. This Sachentege was made thus: It was fastened to a beam, having a sharp iron to go round a man's throat and neck, so that he might no ways sit, nor lie, nor sleep, but he must bear all the iron. Many thousands they wore out with hunger.... They were continually levying a tax from the towns, which they called truserie, and when the wretched townsfolk had no more to give, then burnt they all the towns, so that well mightest thou walk a whole day's journey or ever thou shouldest see a man settled in a town, or its lands tilled....
"Then was corn dear, and flesh, and cheese, and butter, for there was none in the land. Wretched men starved with hunger. Some lived on alms who had been once rich. Some fled the country. Never was there more misery, and never heathens acted worse than these."
For now the sons of the Church's darlings, of the Crusaders whom the Pope had sent, beneath a gonfalon blessed by him, to destroy the liberties of England, turned, by a just retribution, upon that very Norman clergy who had abetted all their iniquities in the name of Rome. "They spared neither church nor churchyard, but took all that was valuable therein, and then burned the church and all together. Neither did they spare the lands of bishops, nor of abbots, nor of priests; but they robbed the monks and clergy, and every man plundered his neighbor as much as he could. If two or three men came riding to a town, all the townsfolk fled before them, and thought that they were robbers. The bishops and clergy were forever cursing them; but this to them was nothing, for they were all accursed and forsworn and reprobate. The earth bare no corn: you might as well have tilled the sea, for all the land was ruined by such deeds, and it was said openly that Christ and his saints slept."
And so was avenged the blood of Harold and his brothers, of Edwin and Morcar, of Waltheof and Hereward.
And those who had the spirit of Hereward in them fled to the merry greenwood, and became bold outlaws, with Robin Hood, Scarlet, and John, Adam Bell, and Clym of the Cleugh, and William of Cloudeslee; and watched with sullen joy the Norman robbers tearing in pieces each other, and the Church who had blest their crime.
And they talked and sung of Hereward, and all his doughty deeds, over the hearth in lone farm-houses, or in the outlaw's lodge beneath the hollins green; and all the burden of their song was, "Ah that Hereward were alive again!" for they knew not that Hereward was alive forevermore; that only his husk and shell lay mouldering there in Crowland choir; that above them, and around them, and in them, destined to raise them out of that bitter bondage, and mould them into a great nation, and the parents of still greater nations in lands as yet unknown, brooded the immortal spirit of Hereward, now purged from all earthly dross, even the spirit of Freedom, which can never die.
HOW DEEPING FEN WAS DRAINED.
Ill war and disorder, ruin and death, cannot last forever. They are by their own nature exceptional and suicidal, and spend themselves with what they feed on. And then the true laws of God's universe, peace and order, usefulness and life, will reassert themselves, as they have been waiting all along to do, hid in God's presence from the strife of men.
And even so it was with Bourne.
Nearly eighty years after, in the year of Grace 1155, there might have been seen sitting, side by side and hand in hand, upon a sunny bench on the Bruneswald slope, in the low December sun, an old knight and an old lady, the master and mistress of Bourne.
Much had changed since Hereward's days. The house below had been raised a whole story. There were fresh herbs and flowers in the garden, unknown at the time of the Conquest. But the great change was in the fen, especially away toward Deeping on the southern horizon.
Where had been lonely meres, foul watercourses, stagnant slime, there were now great dikes, rich and fair corn and grass lands, rows of pure white cottages. The newly-drained land swarmed with stocks of new breeds: horses and sheep from Flanders, cattle from Normandy; for Richard de Rulos was the first—as far as history tells—of that noble class of agricultural squires, who are England's blessing and England's pride.