"And what will become of the poor English in the mean time?"
"They have brought it on themselves," said Hereward, bitterly. "Instead of giving the crown to the man who should have had it,—to Sweyn of Denmark,—they let Godwin put it on the head of a drivelling monk; and as they sowed, so will they reap."
But Hereward's own soul was black within him. To see these mighty events passing as it were within reach of his hand, and he unable to take his share in them,—for what share could he take? That of Tosti Godwinsson against his own nephews? That of Harold Godwinsson, the usurper? That of the tanner's grandson against any man? Ah that he had been in England! Ah that he had been where he might have been,—where he ought to have been but for his own folly,—high in power in his native land,—perhaps a great earl; perhaps commander of all the armies of the Danelagh. And bitterly he cursed his youthful sins as he rode to and fro almost daily to the port of Calais, asking for news, and getting often only too much.
For now came news that the Norsemen had landed in Humber: that Edwin and Morcar were beaten at York; that Hardraade and Tosti were masters of the North.
And with that, news that, by the virtue of the relics of St. Valeri, which had been brought out of their shrine to frighten the demons of the storm, and by the intercession of the blessed St. Michael, patron of Normandy, the winds had changed, and William's whole armament had crossed the Channel, landed upon an undefended shore, and fortified themselves at Pevensey and Hastings.
And then followed a fortnight of silence and torturing suspense.
Hereward could hardly eat, drink, sleep, or speak. He answered Torfrida's consolations curtly and angrily, till she betook herself to silent caresses, as to a sick animal. But she loved him all the better for his sullenness; for it showed that his English heart was wakening again, sound and strong.
At last news came. He was down, as usual, at the port. A ship had just come in from the northward. A man just landed stood on the beach gesticulating, and calling in an unknown tongue to the bystanders, who laughed at him, and seemed inclined to misuse him.
Hereward galloped down the beach.
"Out of the way, villains! Why man, you are a Norseman!"
"Norseman am I, Earl, Thord Gunlaugsson is my name, and news I bring for the Countess Judith (as the French call her) that shall turn her golden hair to snow,—yea, and all fair lasses' hair from Lindesness to Loffoden!"
"Is the Earl dead?"
"And Harold Sigurdsson!"
Hereward sat silent, appalled. For Tosti he cared not. But Harold Sigurdsson, Harold Hardraade, Harold the Viking, Harold the Varanger, Harold the Lionslayer, Harold of Constantinople, the bravest among champions, the wisest among kings, the cunningest among minstrels, the darling of the Vikings of the North; the one man whom Hereward had taken for his pattern and his ideal, the one man under whose banner he would have been proud to fight—the earth seemed empty, if Harold Hardraade were gone.
"Thord Gunlaugsson," cried he, at last, "or whatever be thy name, if thou hast lied to me, I will draw thee with wild horses."
"Would God that I did lie! I saw him fall with an arrow through his throat. Then Jarl Tosti took the Land-ravager and held it up till he died. Then Eystein Orre took it, coming up hot from the ships. And then he died likewise. Then they all died. We would take no quarter. We threw off our mail, and fought baresark, till all were dead together." [Footnote: For the details of this battle, see Skorro Sturleson, or the admirable description in Bulwer's "Harold."]
"How camest thou, then, hither?"
"Styrkar the marshal escaped in the night, and I with him, and a few more. And Styrkar bade me bring the news to Flanders, to the Countess, while he took it to Olaf Haroldsson, who lay off in the ships."
"And thou shalt take it. Martin! get this man a horse. A horse, ye villains, and a good one, on your lives!"
"And Tosti is dead?"
"Dead like a hero. Harold offered him quarter,—offered him his earldom, they say: even in the midst of battle; but he would not take it. He said he was the Sigurdsson's man now, and true man he would be!"
"Harold offered him?—what art babbling about? Who fought you?"
"Harold Godwinsson, the king."
"At Stanford Brigg, by York Town."
"Harold Godwinsson slew Harold Sigurdsson? After this wolves may eat lions!"
"The Godwinsson is a gallant fighter, and a wise general, or I had not been here now."
"Get on thy horse, man!" said he, scornfully and impatiently, "and gallop, if thou canst."
"I have ridden many a mile in Ireland, Earl, and have not forgotten my seat."
"Thou hast, hast thou?" said Martin; "thou art Thord Gunlaugsson of Waterford."
"That am I. How knowest thou me, man?"
"I am of Waterford. Thou hadst a slave lass once, I think; Mew: they called her Mew, her skin it was so white."
"What's that to thee?" asked Thord, turning on him savagely.
"Why, I meant no harm. I saw her at Waterford when I was a boy, and thought her a fair lass enough, that is all."
And Martin dropped into the rear. By this time they were at the gates of St. Omer.
As they rode side by side, Hereward got more details of the fight.
"I knew it would fall out so. I foretold it!" said Thord. "I had a dream. I saw us come to English land, and fight; and I saw the banners floating. And before the English army was a great witchwife, and rode upon a wolf, and he had a corpse in his bloody jaws. And when he had eaten one up, she threw him another, till he had swallowed all."
"Did she throw him thine?" asked Martin, who ran holding by the stirrup.
"That did she, and eaten I saw myself. Yet here I am alive."
"Then thy dreams were naught."
"I do not know that. The wolf may have me yet."
"I fear thou art fey." [Footnote: Prophesying his own death.]
"What the devil is it to thee if I be?"
"Naught. But be comforted. I am a necromancer; and this I know by my art, that the weapon that will slay thee was never forged in Flanders here."
"There was another man had a dream," said Thord, turning from Martin angrily. "He was standing in the king's ship, and he saw a great witchwife with a fork and a trough stand on the island. And he saw a fowl on every ship's stem, a raven, or else an eagle, and he heard the witchwife sing an evil song."
By this time they were in St. Omer.
Hereward rode straight to the Countess Judith's house. He never had entered it yet, and was likely to be attacked if he entered it now. But when the door was opened, he thrust in with so earnest and sad a face that the servants let him pass, but not without growling and motions as of getting their weapons.
"I come in peace, my men, I come in peace: this is no time for brawls. Where is the steward, or one of the Countess's ladies? Tell her, madam, that Hereward waits her commands, and entreats her, in the name of St. Mary and all Saints, to vouchsafe him one word in private."
The lady hurried into the bower. The next moment Judith hurried out into the hall, her fair face blanched, her fair eyes wide with terror.
Hereward fell on his knee.
"What is this? It must be bad news if you bring it."
"Madam, the grave covers all feuds. Earl Tosti was a very valiant hero; and would to God that we had been friends!"
She did not hear the end of the sentence, but fell back with a shriek into the women's arms.
Hereward told them all that they needed to know of that fratricidal strife; and then to Thord Gunlaugsson,—
"Have you any token that this is true? Mind what I warned you, if you lied!"
"This have I, Earl and ladies," and he drew from his bosom a reliquary. "Ulf the marshal took this off his neck, and bade me give it to none but his lady. Therefore, with your pardon, Sir Earl, I did not tell you that I had it, not knowing whether you were an honest man."
"Thou hast done well, and an honest man thou shall find me. Come home, and I will feed thee at my own table; for I have been a sea-rover and a Viking myself."
They left the reliquary with the ladies, and went.
"See to this good man, Martin."
"That will I, as the apple of my eye."
And Hereward went into Torfrida's room.
"I have news, news!"
"So have I."
"Harold Hardraade is slain, and Tosti too!"
"Harold Godwinsson slew them by York."
"Brother has slain brother? O God that died on cross!" murmured Torfrida, "when will men look to thee, and have mercy on their own souls? But, Hereward, I have news,—news more terrible by far. It came an hour ago. I have been dreading your coming back."
"Say on. If Harold Hardraade is dead, no worse can happen."
"But Harold Godwinsson is dead!"
"Dead! Who next? William of Normandy? The world seems coming to an end, as the monks say it will soon." [Footnote: There was a general rumor abroad that the end of the world was at hand, that the "one thousand years" of prophecy had expired.]
"A great battle has been fought at a place they call Heathfield."
"Close by Hastings? Close to the landing-place? Harold must have flown thither back from York. What a captain the man is, after all."
"Was. He is dead, and all the Godwinssons, and England lost."
If Torfrida had feared the effect of her news, her heart was lightened at once as Hereward answered haughtily,—
"England lost? Sussex is not England, nor Wessex either, any more than Harold was king thereof. England lost? Let the tanner try to cross the Watling street, and he will find out that he has another stamp of Englishmen to deal with."
"Hereward, Hereward, do not be unjust to the dead. Men say—the Normans say—that they fought like heroes."
"I never doubted that; but it makes me mad—as it does all Eastern and Northern men—to hear these Wessex churls and Godwinssons calling themselves all England."
Torfrida shook her head. To her, as to most foreigners, Wessex and the southeast counties were England; the most civilized; the most Norman; the seat of royalty; having all the prestige of law, and order, and wealth. And she was shrewd enough to see, that as it was the part of England which had most sympathy with Norman civilization, it was the very part where the Norman could most easily gain and keep his hold. The event proved that Torfrida was right: but all she said was, "It is dangerously near to France, at least."
"It is that. I would sooner see 100,000 French north of the Humber, than 10,000 in Kent and Sussex, where he can hurry over supplies and men every week. It is the starting-point for him, if he means to conquer England piecemeal."
"And he does."
"And he shall not!" and Hereward started up, and walked to and fro. "If all the Godwinssons be dead, there are Leofricssons left, I trust, and Siward's kin, and the Gospatricks in Northumbria. Ah? Where were my nephews in the battle? Not killed too, I trust?"
"They were not in the battle."
"Not with their new brother-in-law? Much he has gained by throwing away the Swan-neck, like a base hound as he was, and marrying my pretty niece. But where were they?"
"No man knows clearly. They followed him down as far as London, and then lingered about the city, meaning no man can tell what: but we shall hear—and I fear hear too much—before a week is over."
"Heavens! this is madness, indeed. This is the way to be eaten up one by one! Neither to do the thing, nor leave it alone. If I had been there! If I had been there—"
"You would have saved England, my hero!" and Torfrida believed her own words.
"I don't say that. Besides, I say that England is not lost. But there were but two things to do: either to have sent to William at once, and offered him the crown, if he would but guarantee the Danish laws and liberties to all north of the Watling street; and if he would, fall on the Godwinssons themselves, by fair means or foul, and send their heads to William."
"Or have marched down after him, with every man they could muster, and thrown themselves on the Frenchman's flank in the battle; or between him and the sea, cutting him off from France; or—O that I had but been there, what things could I have done! And now these two wretched boys have fooled away their only chance—"
"Some say that they hoped for the crown themselves.
"Which?—not both? Vain babies!" And Hereward laughed bitterly. "I suppose one will murder the other next, in order to make himself the stronger by being the sole rival to the tanner. The midden cock, sole rival to the eagle! Boy Waltheof will set up his claim next, I presume, as Siward's son; and then Gospatrick, as Ethelred Evil-Counsel's great-grandson; and so forth, and so forth, till they all eat each other up, and the tanner's grandson eats the last. What care I? Tell me about the battle, my lady, if you know aught. That is more to my way than their statecraft."
And Torfrida told him all she knew of the great fight on Heathfield Down—which men call Senlac—and the Battle of Hastings. And as she told it in her wild, eloquent fashion, Hereward's face reddened, and his eyes kindled. And when she told of the last struggle round the Dragon [Footnote: I have dared to differ from the excellent authorities who say that the standard was that of "A Fighting Man"; because the Bayeux Tapestry represents the last struggle as in front of a Dragon standard, which must be—as is to be expected—the old standard of Wessex, the standard of English Royalty. That Harold had also a "Fighting Man" standard, and that it was sent by William to the Pope, there is no reason to doubt. But if the Bayeux Tapestry be correct, the fury of the fight for the standard would be explained. It would be a fight for the very symbol of King Edward's dynasty.] standard; of Harold's mighty figure in the front of all, hewing with his great double-headed axe, and then rolling in gore and agony, an arrow in his eye; of the last rally of the men of Kent; of Gurth, the last defender of the standard, falling by William's sword, the standard hurled to the ground, and the Popish Gonfanon planted in its place,—then Hereward's eyes, for the first and last time for many a year, were flushed with noble tears; and springing up he cried: "Honor to the Godwinssons! Honor to the Southern men! Honor to all true English hearts! Why was I not there to go with them to Valhalla?"
Torfrida caught him round the neck. "Because you are here, my hero, to free your country from her tyrants, and win yourself immortal fame."
"Fool that I am, I verily believe I am crying."
"Those tears," said she, as she kissed them away, "are more precious to Torfrida than the spoils of a hundred fights, for they tell me that Hereward still loves his country, still honors virtue, even in a foe."
And thus Torfrida—whether from woman's sentiment of pity, or from a woman's instinctive abhorrence of villany and wrong,—had become there and then an Englishwoman of the English, as she proved by strange deeds and sufferings for many a year.
"Where is that Norseman, Martin?" asked Hereward that night ere he went to bed, "I want to hear more of poor Hardraade."
"You can't speak to him now, master. He is sound asleep this two hours; and warm enough, I will warrant."
"In the great green bed with blue curtains, just above the kitchen."
"What nonsense is this?"
"The bed where you and I shall lie some day; and the kitchen which we shall be sent down to, to turn our own spits, unless we mend our manners mightily."
Hereward looked at the man. Madness glared in his eyes, unmistakably.
"You have killed him!"
"And buried him, cheating the priests."
"Villain!" cried Hereward, seizing him.
"Take your hands off my throat, master. He was only my father."
Hereward stood shocked and puzzled. After all, the man was "No-man's-man," and would not be missed; and Martin Lightfoot, letting alone his madness, was as a third hand and foot to him all day long.
So all he said was, "I hope you have buried him well and safely?"
"You may walk your bloodhound over his grave, to-morrow, without finding him."
And where he lay, Hereward never knew. But from that night Martin got a trick of stroking and patting his little axe, and talking to it as if it had been alive.
HOW EARL GODWIN'S WIDOW CAME TO ST. OMER.
It would be vain to attempt even a sketch of the reports which came to Flanders from England during the next two years, or of the conversation which ensued thereon between Baldwin and his courtiers, or Hereward and Torfrida. Two reports out of three were doubtless false, and two conversations out of three founded on those false reports.
It is best, therefore, to interrupt the thread of the story, by some small sketch of the state of England after the battle of Hastings; that so we may, at least, guess at the tenor of Hereward and Torfrida's counsels.
William had, as yet, conquered little more than the South of England: hardly, indeed, all that; for Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and the neighboring parts, which had belonged to Sweyn, Harold's brother, were still insecure; and the noble old city of Exeter, confident in her Roman walls, did not yield till two years after, in A.D. 1068.
North of his conquered territory, Mercia stretched almost across England, from Chester to the Wash, governed by Edwin and Morcar, the two fair grandsons of Leofric, the great earl, and sons of Alfgar. Edwin called himself Earl of Mercia, and held the Danish burghs. On the extreme northwest, the Roman city of Chester was his; while on the extreme southeast (as Domesday book testifies), Morcar held large lands round Bourne, and throughout the south of Lincolnshire, besides calling himself the Earl of Northumbria. The young men seemed the darlings of the half-Danish northmen. Chester, Coventry, Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, Stamford, a chain of fortified towns stretching across England, were at their command; Blethyn, Prince of North Wales, was their nephew.
Northumbria, likewise, was not yet in William's hands. Indeed, it was in no man's hands, since the free Danes, north of the Humber, had expelled Tosti, Harold's brother, putting Morcar in his place, and helped that brother to slay him at Stanford Brigg. Morcar, instead of residing in his earldom of Northumbria, had made one Oswulf his deputy; but he had rivals enough. There was Gospatrick, claiming through his grandfather, Uchtred, and strong in the protection of his cousin Malcolm, King of Scotland; there was young Waltheof, "the forest thief," who had been born to Siward Biorn in his old age, just after the battle of Dunsinane; a fine and gallant young man, destined to a swift and sad end.
William sent to the Northumbrians one Copsi, a Thane of mark and worth, as his procurator, to expel Oswulf. Oswulf and the land-folk answered by killing Copsi, and doing, every man, that which was right in his own eyes.
William determined to propitiate the young earls. Perhaps he intended to govern the centre and north of England through them, as feudal vassals, and hoped, meanwhile, to pay his Norman conquerors sufficiently out of the forfeited lands of Harold, and those who had fought by his side at Hastings. It was not his policy to make himself, much less to call himself, the Conqueror of England. He claimed to be its legitimate sovereign, deriving from his cousin, Edward the Confessor; and whosoever would acknowledge him as such had neither right nor cause to fear. Therefore he sent for the young earls. He courted Waltheof, and more, really loved him. He promised Edwin his daughter in marriage. Some say it was Constance, afterwards married to Alan Fergant of Brittany; but it may, also, have been the beautiful Adelaide, who, none knew why, early gave up the world, and died in a convent. Be that as it may, the two young people saw each, and loved each other at Rouen, whither William took Waltheof, Edwin, and his brother; as honored guests in name, in reality as hostages, likewise.
With the same rational and prudent policy, William respected the fallen royal families, both of Harold and of Edward; at least, he warred not against women; and the wealth and influence of the great English ladies was enormous. Edith, sister of Harold, and widow of the Confessor, lived in wealth and honor at Winchester. Gyda, Harold's mother, retained Exeter and her land. Aldytha, [Footnote: See her history, told as none other can tell it, in Bulwer's "Harold."] or Elfgiva, sister of Edwin and Morcar, niece of Hereward, and widow, first of Griffin of Wales, and then of Harold, lived rich and safe in Chester. Godiva, the Countess, owned, so antiquarians say, manors from Cheshire to Lincolnshire, which would be now yearly worth the income of a great duke. Agatha, the Hungarian, widow of Edmund the outlaw, dwelt at Romsey, in Hampshire, under William's care. Her son, Edward Etheling, the rightful heir of England, was treated by William not only with courtesy, but with affection; and allowed to rebel, when he did rebel, with impunity. For the descendant of Rollo, the heathen Viking, had become a civilized, chivalrous, Christian knight. His mighty forefather would have split the Etheling's skull with his own axe. A Frank king would have shaved the young man's head, and immersed him in a monastery. An eastern sultan would have thrust out his eyes, or strangled him at once. But William, however cruel, however unscrupulous, had a knightly heart, and somewhat of a Christian conscience; and his conduct to his only lawful rival is a noble trait amid many sins.
So far all went well, till William went back to France; to be likened, not as his ancestors, to the gods of Valhalla, or the barbarous and destroying Viking of mythic ages, but to Caesar, Pompey, Vespasian, and the civilized and civilizing heroes of classic Rome.
But while he sat at the Easter feast at Fecamp, displaying to Franks, Flemings, and Bretons, as well as to his own Normans, the treasures of Edward's palace at Westminster, and "more English wealth than could be found in the whole estate of Gaul"; while he sat there in his glory, with his young dupes, Edwin, Morcar, and Waltheof by his side, having sent Harold's banner in triumph to the Pope, as a token that he had conquered the Church as well as the nation of England; and having founded abbeys as thank-offerings to Him who had seemed to prosper him in his great crime: at that very hour the handwriting was on the wall, unseen by man; and he and his policy and his race were weighed in the balance, and found wanting.
For now broke out in England that wrong-doing, which endured as long as she was a mere appanage and foreign farm of Norman kings, whose hearts and homes were across the seas in France. Fitz-Osbern, and Odo the warrior-prelate, William's half-brother, had been left as his regents in England. Little do they seem to have cared for William's promise to the English people that they were to be ruled still by the laws of Edward the Confessor, and that where a grant of land was made to a Norman, he was to hold it as the Englishman had done before him, with no heavier burdens on himself, but with no heavier burdens on the poor folk who tilled the land for him. Oppression began, lawlessness, and violence; men were ill-treated on the highways; and women—what was worse—in their own homes; and the regents abetted the ill-doers. "It seems," says a most impartial historian, [Footnote: The late Sir F. Palgrave.] "as if the Normans, released from all authority, all restraint, all fear of retaliation, determined to reduce the English nation to servitude, and drive them to despair."
In the latter attempt they succeeded but too soon; in the former, they succeeded at last: but they paid dearly for their success.
Hot young Englishmen began to emigrate. Some went to the court of Constantinople, to join the Varanger guard, and have their chance of a Polotaswarf like Harold Hardraade. Some went to Scotland to Malcolm Canmore, and brooded over return and revenge. But Harold's sons went to their father's cousin; to Sweyn—Swend—Sweno Ulfsson, and called on him to come and reconquer England in the name of his uncle Canute the Great; and many an Englishman went with them.
These things Gospatrick watched, as earl (so far as he could make any one obey him in the utter subversion of all order) of the lands between Forth and Tyne. And he determined to flee, ere evil befell him, to his cousin Malcolm Canmore, taking with him Marlesweyn of Lincolnshire, who had fought, it is said, by Harold's side at Hastings, and young Waltheof of York. But, moreover, having a head, and being indeed, as his final success showed, a man of ability and courage, he determined on a stroke of policy, which had incalculable after-effects on the history of Scotland. He persuaded Agatha the Hungarian, Margaret and Christina her daughters, and Edgar the Etheling himself, to flee with him to Scotland. How he contrived to send them messages to Romsey, far south in Hampshire; how they contrived to escape to the Humber, and thence up to the Forth; this is a romance in itself, of which the chroniclers have left hardly a hint. But the thing was done; and at St. Margaret's Hope, as tradition tells, the Scottish king met, and claimed as his unwilling bride, that fair and holy maiden who was destined to soften his fierce passions, to civilize and purify his people, and to become—if all had their just dues—the true patron saint of Scotland.
Malcolm Canmore promised a mighty army; Sweyn, a mighty fleet. And meanwhile, Eustace of Boulogne, the Confessor's brother-in-law, himself a Norman, rebelled at the head of the down-trodden men of Kent; and the Welshmen were harrying Herefordshire with fire and sword, in revenge for Norman ravages.
But as yet the storm did not burst. William returned, and with him something like order. He conquered Exeter; he destroyed churches and towns to make his New Forest. He brought over his Queen Matilda with pomp and great glory; and with her, the Bayeux tapestry which she had wrought with her own hands; and meanwhile Sweyn Ulfsson was too busy threatening Olaf Haroldsson, the new king of Norway, to sail for England; and the sons of King Harold of England had to seek help from the Irish Danes, and, ravaging the country round Bristol, be beaten off by the valiant burghers with heavy loss.
So the storm did not burst; and need not have burst, it may be, at all, had William kept his plighted word. But he would not give his fair daughter to Edwin. His Norman nobles, doubtless, looked upon such an alliance as debasing to a civilized lady. In their eyes, the Englishman was a barbarian; and though the Norman might well marry the Englishwoman, if she had beauty or wealth, it was a dangerous precedent to allow the Englishman to marry the Norman woman, and that woman a princess. Beside, there were those who coveted Edwin's broad lands; Roger de Montgomery, who already (it is probable) held part of them as Earl of Shrewsbury, had no wish to see Edwin the son-in-law of his sovereign. Be the cause what it may, William faltered, and refused; and Edwin and Morcar left the Court of Westminster in wrath. Waltheof followed them, having discovered—what he was weak enough continually to forget again—the treachery of the Norman. The young earls went off, one midlandward, one northward. The people saw their wrongs in those of their earls, and the rebellion burst forth at once, the Welsh under Blethyn, and the Cumbrians under Malcolm and Donaldbain, giving their help in the struggle.
It was the year 1069. A more evil year for England than even the year of Hastings.
The rebellion was crushed in a few months. The great general marched steadily north, taking the boroughs one by one, storming, massacring young and old, burning, sometimes, whole towns, and leaving, as he went on, a new portent, a Norman donjon—till then all but unseen in England—as a place of safety for his garrisons. At Oxford (sacked horribly, and all but destroyed), at Warwick (destroyed utterly), at Nottingham, at Stafford, at Shrewsbury, at Cambridge, on the huge barrow which overhangs the fen; and at York itself, which had opened its gates, trembling, to the great Norman strategist; at each doomed free borough rose a castle, with its tall square tower within, its bailey around, and all the appliances of that ancient Roman science of fortification, of which the Danes, as well as the Saxons, knew nothing. Their struggle had only helped to tighten their bonds; and what wonder? There was among them neither unity nor plan nor governing mind and will. Hereward's words had come true. The only man, save Gospatrick, who had a head in England, was Harold Godwinsson: and he lay in Waltham Abbey, while the monks sang masses for his soul.
Edwin, Morcar, and Waltheof trembled before a genius superior to their own,—a genius, indeed, which had not its equal then in Christendom. They came in and begged grace of the king. They got it. But Edwin's earldom was forfeited, and he and his brother became, from thenceforth, desperate men.
Malcolm of Scotland trembled likewise, and asked for peace. The clans, it is said, rejoiced thereat, having no wish for a war which could buy them neither spoil nor land. Malcolm sent ambassadors to William, and took that oath of fealty to the "Basileus of Britain," which more than one Scottish king and kinglet had taken before,—with the secret proviso (which, during the Middle Ages, seems to have been thoroughly understood in such cases by both parties), that he should be William's man just as long as William could compel him to be so, and no longer.
Then came cruel and unjust confiscations. Ednoth the standard-bearer had fallen at Bristol, fighting for William against the Haroldssons, yet all his lands were given away to Normans. Edwin and Morcar's lands were parted likewise; and—to specify cases which bear especially on the history of Hereward—Oger the Briton got many of Morcar's manors round Bourne, and Gilbert of Ghent many belonging to Marlesweyn about Lincoln city. And so did that valiant and crafty knight find his legs once more on other men's ground, and reappears in monkish story as "the most devout and pious earl, Gilbert of Ghent."
What followed, Hereward heard not from flying rumors; but from one who had seen and known and judged of all. [Footnote: For Gyda's coming to St. Omer that year, see Ordericus Vitalis.]
For one day, about this time, Hereward was riding out of the gate of St. Omer, when the porter appealed to him. Begging for admittance were some twenty women, and a clerk or two; and they must needs see the chatelain. The chatelain was away. What should he do?
Hereward looked at the party, and saw, to his surprise, that they were Englishwomen, and two of them women of rank, to judge from the rich materials of their travel-stained and tattered garments. The ladies rode on sorry country garrons, plainly hired from the peasants who drove them. The rest of the women had walked; and weary and footsore enough they were.
"You are surely Englishwomen?" asked he of the foremost, as he lifted his cap.
The lady bowed assent, beneath a heavy veil.
"Then you are my guests. Let them pass in." And Hereward threw himself off his horse, and took the lady's bridle.
"Stay," she said, with an accent half Wessex, half Danish. "I seek the Countess Judith, if it will please you to tell me where she lives."
"The Countess Judith, lady, lives no longer in St. Omer. Since her husband's death, she lives with her mother at Bruges."
The lady made a gesture of disappointment.
"It were best for you, therefore, to accept my hospitality, till such time as I can send you and your ladies on to Bruges."
"I must first know who it is who offers me hospitality?"
This was said so proudly, that Hereward answered proudly enough in return,—
"I am Hereward Leofricsson, whom his foes call Hereward the outlaw, and his friends Hereward the master of knights."
She started, and threw her veil hack, looking intently at him. He, for his part, gave but one glance, and then cried,—
"Mother of Heaven! You are the great Countess!"
"Yes, I was that woman once, if all be not a dream. I am now I know not what, seeking hospitality—if I can believe my eyes and ears—of Godiva's son."
"And from Godiva's son you shall have it, as though you were Godiva's self. God so deal with my mother, madam, as I will deal with you."
"His father's wit, and his mother's beauty!" said the great Countess, looking upon him. "Too, too like my own lost Harold!"
"Not so, my lady. I am a dwarf compared to him." And Hereward led the garron on by the bridle, keeping his cap in hand, while all wondered who the dame could be, before whom Hereward the champion would so abase himself.
"Leofric's son does me too much honor. He has forgotten, in his chivalry, that I am Godwin's widow."
"I have not forgotten that you are Sprakaleg's daughter, and niece of Canute, king of kings. Neither have I forgotten that you are an English lady, in times in which all English folk are one, and all old English feuds are wiped away."
"In English blood. Ah! if these last words of yours were true, as you, perhaps, might make them true, England might be saved even yet."
"If there were one man in it, who cared for aught but himself."
Hereward was silent and thoughtful.
He had sent Martin back to his house, to tell Torfrida to prepare bath and food; for the Countess Gyda, with all her train, was coming to be her guest. And when they entered the court, Torfrida stood ready.
"Is this your lady?" asked Gyda, as Hereward lifted her from her horse.
"I am his lady, and your servant," said Torfrida, bowing.
"Child! child! Bow not to me. Talk not of servants to a wretched slave, who only longs to crawl into some hole and die, forgetting all she was and all she had."
And the great Countess reeled with weariness and woe, and fell upon Torfrida's neck.
A tall veiled lady next her helped to support her; and between them they almost carried her through the hall, and into Torfrida's best guest-chamber.
And there they gave her wine, and comforted her, and let her weep awhile in peace.
The second lady had unveiled herself, displaying a beauty which was still brilliant, in spite of sorrow, hunger, the stains of travel, and more than forty years of life.
"She must be Gunhilda," guessed Torfrida to herself, and not amiss.
She offered Gyda a bath, which she accepted eagerly, like a true Dane.
"I have not washed for weeks. Not since we sat starving on the Flat-Holme there, in the Severn sea. I have become as foul as my own fortunes: and why not? It is all of a piece. Why should not beggars beg unwashed?"
But when Torfrida offered Gunhilda the bath she declined.
"I have done, lady, with such carnal vanities. What use in cleansing that body which is itself unclean, and whitening the outside of this sepulchre? If I can but cleanse my soul fit for my heavenly Bridegroom, the body may become—as it must at last—food for worms."
"She will needs enter religion, poor child," said Gyda; "and what wonder?"
"I have chosen the better part, and it shall not be taken from me."
"Taken! taken! Hark to her! She means to mock me, the proud nun, with that same 'taken.'"
"God forbid, mother!"
"Then why say taken, to me from whom all is taken?—husband, sons, wealth, land, renown, power,—power which I loved, wretch that I was, as well as husband and as sons? Ah God! the girl is right. Better to rot in the convent, than writhe in the world. Better never to have had, than to have had and lost."
"Amen!" said Gunhilda. "'Blessed are the barren, and they that never gave suck,' saith the Lord."
"No! Not so!" cried Torfrida. "Better, Countess, to have had and lost, than never to have had at all. The glutton was right, swine as he was, when he said that not even Heaven could take from him the dinners he had eaten. How much more we, if we say, not even Heaven can take from us the love wherewith we have loved. Will not our souls be richer thereby, through all eternity?"
"In Purgatory?" asked Gunhilda.
"In Purgatory, or where else you will. I love my love; and though my love prove false, he has been true; though he trample me under foot, he has held me in his bosom; though he kill me, he has lived for me. What I have had will still be mine, when that which I have shall fail me."
"And you would buy short joy with lasting woe?"
"That would I, like a brave man's child. I say,—the present is mine, and I will enjoy it, as greedily as a child. Let the morrow take thought for the things of itself.—Countess, your bath is ready."
Nineteen years after, when the great conqueror lay, tossing with agony and remorse, upon his dying bed, haunted by the ghosts of his victims, the clerks of St. Saviour's in Bruges city were putting up a leaden tablet (which remains, they say, unto this very day) to the memory of one whose gentle soul had gently passed away. "Charitable to the poor, kind and agreeable to her attendants, courteous to strangers, and only severe to herself," Gunhilda had lingered on in a world of war and crime; and had gone, it may be, to meet Torfrida beyond the grave, and there finish their doubtful argument.
The Countess was served with food in Torfrida's chamber. Hereward and his wife refused to sit, and waited on her standing.
"I wish to show these saucy Flemings," said he, "that an English princess is a princess still in the eyes of one more nobly born than any of them."
But after she had eaten, she made Torfrida sit before her on the bed, and Hereward likewise; and began to talk; eagerly, as one who had not unburdened her mind for many weeks; and eloquently too, as became Sprakaleg's daughter and Godwin's wife.
She told them how she had fled from the storm of Exeter, with a troop of women, who dreaded the brutalities of the Normans. [Footnote: To do William justice, he would not allow his men to enter the city while they were blood-hot; and so prevented, as far as he could, the excesses which Gyda had feared.] How they had wandered up through Devon, found fishers' boats at Watchet in Somersetshire, and gone off to the little desert island of the Flat-Holme, in hopes of there meeting with the Irish fleet, which her sons, Edmund and Godwin, were bringing against the West of England. How the fleet had never come, and they had starved for many days; and how she had bribed a passing merchantman to take her and her wretched train to the land of Baldwin the Debonnaire, who might have pity on her for the sake of his daughter Judith, and Tosti her husband who died in his sins.
And at his name, her tears began to flow afresh; fallen in his overweening pride,—like Sweyn, like Harold, like herself—
"The time was, when I would not weep. If I could, I would not. For a year, lady, after Senlac, I sat like a stone. I hardened my heart like a wall of brass, against God and man. Then, there upon the Flat-Holme, feeding on shell-fish, listening to the wail of the sea-fowl, looking outside the wan water for the sails which never came, my heart broke down in a moment. And I heard a voice crying, 'There is no help in man, go thou to God.' And I answered, That were a beggar's trick, to go to God in need, when I went not to him in plenty. No. Without God I planned, and without Him I must fail. Without Him I went into the battle, and without Him I must bide the brunt. And at best, Can He give me back my sons? And I hardened my heart again like a stone, and shed no tear till I saw your fair face this day."
"And now!" she said, turning sharply on Hereward, "what do you do here? Do you not know that your nephews' lands are parted between grooms from Angers and scullions from Normandy?"
"So much the worse for both them and the grooms."
"You forget, lady, that I am an outlaw."
"But do you not know that your mother's lands are seized likewise?"
"She will take refuge with her grandsons, who are, as I hear, again on good terms with their new master, showing thereby a most laudable and Christian spirit of forgiveness."
"On good terms? Do you not know, then, that they are fighting again, outlaws, and desperate at the Frenchman's treachery? Do you not know that they have been driven out of York, after defending the city street by street, house by house? Do you not know that there is not an old man or a child in arms left in York; and that your nephews, and the few fighting men who were left, went down the Humber in boats, and north to Scotland, to Gospatrick and Waltheof? Do you not know that your mother is left alone—at Bourne, or God knows where—to endure at the hands of Norman ruffians what thousands more endure?"
Hereward made no answer, but played with his dagger.
"And do you not know that England is ready to burst into a blaze, if there be one man wise enough to put the live coal into the right place? That Sweyn Ulffson, his kinsman, or Osbern, his brother, will surely land there within the year with a mighty host? And that if there be one man in England of wit enough, and knowledge enough of war, to lead the armies of England, the Frenchman may be driven into the sea—Is there any here who understands English?"
"None but ourselves."
"And Canute's nephew sit on Canute's throne?"
Hereward still played with his dagger.
"Not the sons of Harold, then?" asked he, after a while.
"Never! I promise you that—I, Countess Gyda, their grandmother."
"Why promise me, of all men, O great lady?"
"Because—I will tell you after. But this I say, my curse on the grandson of mine who shall try to seize that fatal crown, which cost the life of my fairest, my noblest, my wisest, my bravest!"
Hereward bowed his head, as if consenting to the praise of Harold. But he knew who spoke; and he was thinking within himself: "Her curse may be on him who shall seize, and yet not on him to whom it is given."
"All that they, young and unskilful lads, have a right to ask is, their father's earldoms and their father's lands. Edwin and Morcar would keep their earldoms as of right. It is a pity that there is no lady of the house of Godwin, whom we could honor by offering her to one of your nephews, in return for their nobleness in giving Aldytha to my Harold. But this foolish girl here refuses to wed—"
"And is past forty," thought Hereward to himself.
"However, some plan to join the families more closely together might be thought of. One of the young earls might marry Judith here. [Footnote: Tosti's widow, daughter of Baldwin of Flanders] Waltheof would have Northumbria, in right of his father, and ought to be well content,—for although she is somewhat older than he, she is peerlessly beautiful,—to marry your niece Aldytha." [Footnote: Harold's widow.]
"Gospatrick," she said, with a half-sneer, "will be as sure, as he is able, to get something worth having for himself out of any medley. Let him have Scotch Northumbria, if he claim it. He is a Dane, and our work will be to make a Danish England once and forever."
"But what of Sweyn's gallant holders and housecarles, who are to help to do this mighty deed?"
"Senlac left gaps enough among the noblemen of the South, which they can fill up, in the place of the French scum who now riot over Wessex. And if that should not suffice, what higher honor for me, or for my daughter the Queen-Dowager, than to devote our lands to the heroes who have won them back for us?"
Hereward hoped inwardly that Gyda would be as good as her word; for her greedy grasp had gathered to itself, before the Battle of Hastings, no less than six-and-thirty thousand acres of good English soil.
"I have always heard," said he, bowing, "that if the Lady Gyda had been born a man, England would have had another all-seeing and all-daring statesman, and Earl Godwin a rival, instead of a helpmate. Now I believe what I have heard."
But Torfrida looked sadly at the Countess. There was something pitiable in the sight of a woman ruined, bereaved, seemingly hopeless, portioning out the very land from which she was a fugitive; unable to restrain the passion for intrigue, which had been the toil and the bane of her sad and splendid life.
"And now," she went on, "surely some kind saint brought me, even on my first landing, to you of all living men."
"Doubtless the blessed St. Bertin, beneath whose shadow we repose here in peace," said Hereward, somewhat dryly.
"I will go barefoot to his altar to-morrow, and offer my last jewel," said Gunhilda.
"You," said Gyda, without noticing her daughter, "are, above all men, the man who is needed." And she began praising Hereward's valor, his fame, his eloquence, his skill as a general and engineer; and when he suggested, smiling, that he was an exile and an outlaw, she insisted that he was all the fitter from that very fact. He had no enemies among the nobles. He had been mixed up in none of the civil wars and blood feuds of the last fifteen years. He was known only as that which he was, the ablest captain of his day,—the only man who could cope with William, the only man whom all parties in England would alike obey.
And so, with flattery as well as with truth, she persuaded, if not Hereward, at least Torfrida, that he was the man destined to free England once more; and that an earldom—anything which he chose to ask—would be the sure reward of his assistance.
"Torfrida," said Hereward that night, "kiss me well; for you will not kiss me again for a while."
"I am going to England to-morrow."
"Alone. I and Martin to spy out the land; and a dozen or so of housecarles to take care of the ship in harbor."
"But you have promised to fight the Viscount of Pinkney."
"I will be back again in time for him. Not a word,—I must go to England, or go mad."
"But Countess Gyda? Who will squire her to Bruges?"
"You, and the rest of my men. You must tell her all. She has a woman's heart, and will understand. And tell Baldwin I shall be back within the month, if I am alive on land or water."
"Hereward, Hereward, the French will kill you!"
"Not while I have your armor on. Peace, little fool! Are you actually afraid for Hereward at last?"
"O heavens! when am I not afraid for you!" and she cried herself to sleep upon his bosom. But she knew that it was the right, and knightly, and Christian thing to do.
Two days after, a long ship ran out of Calais, and sailed away north and east.
HOW HEREWARD CLEARED BOURNE OF FRENCHMEN.
It may have been well, a week after, that Hereward rode from the direction of Boston, with Martin running at his heels.
As Hereward rode along the summer wold the summer sun sank low, till just before it went down he came to an island of small enclosed fields, high banks, elm-trees, and a farm inside; one of those most ancient holdings of the South and East Counts, still to be distinguished, by their huge banks and dikes full of hedgerow timber, from the more modern corn-lands outside, which were in Hereward's time mostly common pasture-lands.
"This should be Azerdun," said he; "and there inside, as I live, stands Azer getting in his crops. But who has he with him?"
With the old man were some half-dozen men of his own rank; some helping the serfs with might and main; one or two standing on the top of the banks, as if on the lookout; but all armed cap-a-pie.
"His friends are helping him to get them in," quoth Martin, "for fear of the rascally Normans. A pleasant and peaceable country we have come back to."
"And a very strong fortress are they holding," said Hereward, "against either Norman horsemen or Norman arrows. How to dislodge those six fellows without six times their number, I do not see. It is well to recollect that."
And so he did; and turned to use again and again, in after years, the strategetic capabilities of an old-fashioned English farm.
Hereward spurred his horse up to the nearest gate, and was instantly confronted by a little fair-haired man, as broad as he was tall, who heaved up a long "twybill," or double axe, and bade him, across the gate, go to a certain place.
"Little Winter, little Winter, my chuck, my darling, my mad fellow, my brother-in-arms, my brother in robbery and murder, are you grown so honest in your old age that you will not know Hereward the wolfs-head?"
"Hereward!" shrieked the doughty little man. "I took you for an accursed Norman in those outlandish clothes;" and lifting up no little voice, he shouted,—
"Hereward is back, and Martin Lightfoot at his heels!"
The gate was thrown open, and Hereward all but pulled off his horse. He was clapped on the back, turned round and round, admired from head to foot, shouted at by old companions of his boyhood, naughty young housecarles of his old troop, now settled down into honest thriving yeomen, hard working and hard fighting, who had heard again and again, with pride, of his doughty doings over sea. There was Winter, and Gwenoch, and Gery, Hereward's cousin,—ancestor, it may be, of the ancient and honorable house of that name, and of those parts; and Duti and Outi, the two valiant twins; and Ulfard the White, and others, some of whose names, and those of their sons, still stand in Domesday-book.
"And what," asked Hereward, after the first congratulations were over, "of my mother? What of the folk at Bourne?"
All looked each at the other, and were silent.
"You are too late, young lord," said Azer.
"The Norman"—Azer called him what most men called him then—"has given it to a man of Gilbert of Ghent's,—his butler, groom, cook, for aught I know."
"To Gilbert's man? And my mother?"
"God help your mother, and your young brother, too. We only know that three days ago some five-and-twenty French marched into the place."
"And you did not stop them?"
"Young sir, who are we to stop an army? We have enough to keep our own. Gilbert, let alone the villain Ivo of Spalding, can send a hundred men down on us in four-and-twenty hours."
"Then I," said Hereward in a voice of thunder, "will find the way to send two hundred down on him"; and turning his horse from the gate, he rode away furiously towards Bourne.
He turned back as suddenly, and galloped into the field.
"Lads! old comrades! will you stand by me if I need you? Will you follow Hereward, as hundreds have followed him already, if he will only go before?"
"We will, we will."
"I shall be back ere morning. What you have to do, I will tell you then."
"Stop and eat, but for a quarter of an hour."
Then Hereward swore a great oath, by oak and ash and thorn, that he would neither eat bread nor drink water while there was a Norman left in Bourne.
"A little ale, then, if no water," said Azer.
Hereward laughed, and rode away,
"You will not go single-handed against all those ruffians," shouted the old man after him. "Saddle, lads, and go with him, some of you, for very shame's sake."
But when they galloped after Hereward, he sent them back. He did not know yet, he said, what he would do. Better that they should gather their forces, and see what men they could afford him, in case of open battle. And he rode swiftly on.
When he came within the lands of Bourne it was dark.
"So much the better," thought Hereward. "I have no wish to see the old place till I have somewhat cleaned it out."
He rode slowly into the long street between the overhanging gables. At the upper end he could see the high garden walls of his mother's house, and rising over them the great hall, its narrow windows all ablaze with light. With a bitter growl he rode on, trying to recollect a house where he could safely lodge. Martin pointed one out.
"Old Viking Surturbrand, the housecarle, did live there, and maybe lives there still."
"We will try." And Martin knocked at the door.
The wicket was opened, but not the door; and through the wicket window a surly voice asked who was there.
"Who lives here?"
"Perry, son of Surturbrand. Who art thou who askest?"
"An honest gentleman and his servant, looking for a night's lodging."
"This is no place for honest folk."
"As for that, we don't wish to be more honest than you would have us; but lodging we will pay for, freely and well."
"We want none of your money"; and the wicket was shut.
Martin pulled out his axe, and drove the panel in.
"What are you doing? We shall rouse the town," said Hereward.
"Let be; these are no French, but honest English, and like one all the better for a little horse-play."
"What didst do that for?" asked the surly voice again. "Were it not for those rascal Frenchmen up above, I would come out and split thy skull for thee."
"If there be Frenchmen up above," said Martin, in a voice of feigned terror, "take us in for the love of the Virgin and all the saints, or murdered we shall be ere morning light."
"You have no call to stay in the town, man, unless you like."
Hereward rode close to the wicket, and said in a low voice, "I am a nobleman of Flanders, good sir, and a sworn foe to all French. My horse is weary, and cannot make a step forward; and if you be a Christian man, you will take me in and let me go off safe ere morning light."
"From Flanders?" And the man turned and seemed to consult those within. At length the door was slowly opened, and Perry appeared, his double axe over his shoulder.
"If you be from Flanders, come in for mercy; but be quick, ere those Frenchmen get wind of you."
Hereward went in. Five or six men were standing round the long table, upon which they had just laid down their double axes and javelins. More than one countenance Hereward recognized at once. Over the peat-fire in the chimney-corner sat a very old man, his hands upon his knees, as he warmed his bare feet at the embers. He started up at the noise, and Hereward saw at once that it was old Surturbrand, and that he was blind.
"Who is it? Is Hereward come?" asked he, with the dull, dreamy voice of age.
"Not Hereward, father," said some one, "but a knight from Flanders."
The old man dropped his head upon his breast again with a querulous whine, while Hereward's heart beat high at hearing his own name. At all events he was among friends; and approaching the table he unbuckled his sword and laid it down among the other weapons. "At least," said he, "I shall have no need of thee as long as I am here among honest men."
"What shall I do with my master's horse?" asked Martin. "He can't stand in the street to be stolen by drunken French horseboys."
"Bring him in at the front door, and out at the back," said Perry. "Fine times these, when a man dare not open his own yard-gate."
"You seem to be all besieged here," said Hereward. "How is this?"
"Besieged we are," said the man; and then, partly to turn the subject off, "Will it please you to eat, noble sir?"
Hereward ate and drank: while his hosts eyed him, not without some lingering suspicion, but still with admiration and some respect. His splendid armor and weapons, as well as the golden locks which fell far below his shoulders, and conveniently hid a face which he did not wish yet to have recognized, showed him to be a man of the highest rank; while the palm of his small hand, as hard and bony as any woodman's, proclaimed him to be no novice of a fighting man. The strong Flemish accent which both he and Martin Lightfoot had assumed prevented the honest Englishmen from piercing his disguise. They watched him, while he in turn watched them, struck by their uneasy looks and sullen silence.
"We are a dull company," said he after a while, courteously enough. "We used to be told in Flanders that there were none such stout drinkers and none such jolly singers as you gallant men of the Danelagh here."
"Dull times make dull company," said one, "and no offence to you, Sir Knight."
"Are you such a stranger," asked Perry, "that you do not know what has happened in this town during the last three days?"
"No good, I will warrant, if you have Frenchmen in it."
"Why was not Hereward here?" wailed the old man in the corner. "It never would have happened if he had been in the town."
"What?" asked Hereward, trying to command himself.
"What has happened," said Perry, "makes a free Englishman's blood boil to tell of. Here, Sir Knight, three days ago, comes in this Frenchman with some twenty ruffians of his own, and more of one Taillebois's, too, to see him safe; says that this new king, this base-born Frenchman, has given away all Earl Morcar's lands, and that Bourne is his; kills a man or two; upsets the women; gets drunk, ruffles, and roisters; breaks into my lady's bower, calling her to give up her keys, and when she gives them, will have all her jewels too. She faces them like a brave Princess, and two of the hounds lay hold of her, and say that she shall ride through Bourne as she rode through Coventry. The boy Godwin—he that was the great Earl's godson, our last hope, the last of our house—draws sword on them; and he, a boy of sixteen summers, kills them both out of hand. The rest set on him, cut his head off, and there it sticks on the gable spike of the hall to this hour. And do you ask, after that, why free Englishmen are dull company?"
"And our turn will come next," growled somebody. "The turn will go all round; no man's life or land, wife or daughters, will be safe soon for these accursed Frenchmen, unless, as the old man says, Hereward comes back."
Once again the old man wailed out of the chimney-corner: "Why did they ever send Hereward away? I warned the good Earl, I warned my good lady, many a time, to let him sow his wild oats and be done with them; or they might need him some day when they could not find him! He was a lad! He was a lad!" and again he whined, and sank into silence.
Hereward heard all this dry-eyed, hardening his heart into a great resolve. "This is a dark story," said he calmly, "and it would behoove me as a gentleman to succor this distressed lady, did I but know how. Tell me what I can do now, and I will do it."
"Your health!" cried one. "You speak like a true knight."
"And he looks the man to keep his word, I'll warrant him," spoke another.
"He does," said Perry, shaking his head; "but if anything could have been done, sir, be sure we would have done it: but all our armed men are scattered up and down the country, each taking care, as is natural, of his own cattle and his own women. There are not ten men-at-arms in Bourne this night; and, what is worse, sir, as you know, who seem to have known war as well as me, there is no man to lead them."
Here Hereward was on the point of saying, "And what if I led you?"—On the point too of discovering himself: but he stopped short.
Was it fair to involve this little knot of gallant fellows in what might be a hopeless struggle, and have all Bourne burned over their heads ere morning by the ruffian Frenchmen? No; his mother's quarrel was his own private quarrel. He would go alone and see the strength of the enemy; and after that, may be, he would raise the country on them: or—and half a dozen plans suggested themselves to his crafty brain as he sat brooding and scheming: then, as always, utterly self-confident.
He was startled by a burst of noise outside,—music, laughter, and shouts.
"There," said Perry, bitterly, "are those Frenchmen, dancing and singing in the hall with my Lord Godwin's head above them!" And curses bitter and deep went round the room. They sat sullen and silent it may be for an hour or more; only moving when, at some fresh outbreak of revelry, the old man started from his doze and asked if that was Hereward coming.
"And who is this Hereward of whom you speak?" said Hereward at last.
"We thought you might know him, Sir Knight, if you come from Flanders, as you say you do," said three or four voices in a surprised and surly tone.
"Certainly I know such a man, if he be Hereward the wolf's-head, Hereward the outlaw, as they call him. And a good soldier he is, though he be not yet made a knight; and married, too, to a rich and fair lady. I served under this Hereward a few months ago in the Friesland War, and know no man whom I would sooner follow."
"Nor I neither," chimed in Martin Lightfoot from the other end of the table.
"Nor we," cried all the men-at-arms at once, each vying with the other in extravagant stories of their hero's prowess, and in asking the knight of Flanders whether they were true or not.
To avoid offending them, Hereward was forced to confess to a great many deeds which he had never done: but he was right glad to find that his fame had reached his native place, and that he could count on the men if he needed them.
"But who is this Hereward," said he, "that he should have to do with your town here?"
Half a dozen voices at once told him his own story.
"I always heard," said he, dryly, "that that gentleman was of some very noble kin; and I will surely tell him all that has befallen here as soon as I return to Flanders."
At last they grew sleepy, and the men went out and brought in bundles of sweet rush, and spread them against the wall, and prepared to lie down, each his weapon by his side. And when they were lain down, Hereward beckoned to him Perry and Martin Lightfoot, and went out into the back yard, under the pretence of seeing to his horse.
"Perry Surturbrandsson," said he, "you seem to be an honest man, as we in foreign parts hold all the Danelagh to be. Now it is fixed in my mind to go up, and my servant, to your hall, and see what those French upstarts are about. Will you trust me to go, without my fleeing back here if I am found out, or in any way bringing you to harm by mixing you up in my private matters? And will you, if I do not come back, keep for your own the horse which is in your stable, and give moreover this purse and this ring to your lady, if you can find means to see her face to face; and say thus to her,—that he that sent that purse and ring may be found, if he be alive, at St. Omer, or with Baldwin, Count of Flanders; and that if he be dead, as he is like enough to be, his trade being naught but war, she will still find at St. Omer a home and wealth and friends, till these evil times be overpast?"
As Hereward had spoken with some slight emotion, he had dropped unawares his assumed Flemish accent, and had spoken in broad burly Lincolnshire; and therefore it was that Perry, who had been staring at him by the moonlight all the while, said, when he was done, tremblingly,—
"Either you are Hereward, or you are his fetch. You speak like Hereward, you look like Hereward. Just what Hereward would be now, you are. You are my lord, and you cannot deny it."
"Perry, if you know me, speak of me to no living soul, save to your lady my mother; and let me and my serving-man go free out of your yard-gate. If I ask you before morning to open it again to me, you will know that there is not a Frenchman left in the Hall of Bourne."
Perry threw his arms around him, and embraced him silently.
"Get me only," said Hereward, "some long woman's gear and black mantle, if you can, to cover this bright armor of mine."
Perry went off in silence as one stunned,—brought the mantle, and let them out of the yard-gate. In ten minutes more, the two slipping in by well-known paths, stood under the gable of the great hall. Not a soul was stirring outside. The serfs were all cowering in their huts like so many rabbits in their burrows, listening in fear to the revelry of their new tyrants. The night was dark: but not so dark but that Hereward could see between him and the sky his brother's long locks floating in the breeze.
"That I must have down, at least," said he, in a low voice.
"Then here is wherewithal," said Martin Lightfoot, as he stumbled over something. "The drunken villains have left the ladder in the yard."
Hereward got up the ladder, took down the head and wrapped it in the cloak, and ere he did so kissed the cold forehead. How he had hated that boy! Well, at least he had never wilfully harmed him,—or the boy him either, for that matter. And now he had died like a man, killing his foe. He was of the true old blood after all. And Hereward felt that he would have given all that he had, save his wife or his sword-hand, to have that boy alive again, to pet him, and train him, and teach him to fight at his side.
Then he slipped round to one of the narrow unshuttered windows and looked in. The hall was in a wasteful blaze of light,—a whole month's candles burning in one night. The table was covered with all his father's choicest plate; the wine was running waste upon the floor; the men were lolling at the table in every stage of drunkenness; the loose women, camp-followers, and such like, almost as drunk as their masters; and at the table head, most drunk of all, sat, in Earl Leofric's seat, the new Lord of Bourne.
Hereward could scarce believe his eyes. He was none other than Gilbert of Ghent's stout Flemish cook, whom he had seen many a time in Scotland. Hereward turned from the window in disgust; but looked again as he heard words which roused his anger still more.
For in the open space nearest the door stood a gleeman, a dancing, harping, foul-mouthed fellow, who was showing off ape's tricks, jesting against the English, and shuffling about in mockeries of English dancing. At some particularly coarse jest of his, the new Lord of Bourne burst into a roar of admiration.
"Ask what thou wilt, fellow, and thou shalt have it. Thou wilt find me a better master to thee than ever was Morcar, the English barbarian."
The scoundrel, say the old chroniclers, made a request concerning Hereward's family which cannot be printed here.
Hereward ground his teeth. "If thou livest till morning light," said he, "I will not."
The last brutality awoke some better feeling in one of the girls,—a large coarse Fleming, who sat by the new lord's side. "Fine words," said she, scornfully enough, "for the sweepings of Norman and Flemish kennels. You forget that you left one of this very Leofric's sons behind in Flanders, who would besom all out if he was here before the morning's dawn."
"Hereward?" cried the cook, striking her down with a drunken blow; "the scoundrel who stole the money which the Frisians sent to Count Baldwin, and gave it to his own troops? We are safe enough from him at all events; he dare not show his face on this side the Alps, for fear of the gallows."
Hereward had heard enough. He slipped down from the window to Martin, and led him round the house.
"Now then, down with the ladder quick, and dash in the door. I go in; stay thou outside. If any man passes me, see that he pass not thee."
Martin chuckled a ghostly laugh as he helped the ladder down. In another moment the door was burst in, and Hereward stood upon the threshold. He gave one war-shout,—his own terrible name,—and then rushed forward. As he passed the gleeman, he gave him one stroke across the loins; the wretch fell shrieking.
And then began a murder, grim and great. They fought with ale-cups, with knives, with benches: but, drunken and unarmed, they were hewn down like sheep. Fourteen Normans, says the chronicler, were in the hall when Hereward burst in. When the sun rose there were fourteen heads upon the gable. Escape had been impossible. Martin had laid the ladder across the door; and the few who escaped the master's terrible sword, stumbled over it, to be brained by the man's not less terrible axe.
Then Hereward took up his brother's head, and went in to his mother.
The women in the bower opened to him. They had seen all that passed from the gallery above, which, as usual, hidden by a curtain, enabled the women to watch unseen what passed in the hall below.
The Lady Godiva sat crouched together, all but alone,—for her bower-maidens had fled or been carried off long since,—upon a low stool beside a long dark thing covered with a pall. So utterly crushed was she, that she did not even lift up her head as Hereward entered.
He placed his ghastly burden reverently beneath the pall, and then went and knelt before his mother.
For a while neither spoke a word. Then the Lady Godiva suddenly drew back her hood, and dropping on her knees, threw her arms round Hereward's neck, and wept till she could weep no more.
"Blessed strong arms," sobbed she at last, "around me! To feel something left in the world to protect me; something left in the world which loves me."
"You forgive me, mother?"
"You forgive me? It was I, I who was in fault,—I, who should have cherished you, my strongest, my bravest, my noblest,—now my all."
"No, it was all my fault; and on my head is all this misery. If I had been here, as I ought to have been, all this might have never happened."
"You would only have been murdered too. No: thank God you were away; or God would have taken you with the rest. His arm is bared against me, and His face turned away from me. All in vain, in vain! Vain to have washed my hands in innocency, and worshipped Him night and day. Vain to have builded minsters in his honor, and heaped the shrines of his saints with gold. Vain to have fed the hungry, and clothed the naked, and washed the feet of His poor, that I might atone for my own sins, and the sins of my house. This is His answer. He has taken me up, and dashed me down: and naught is left but, like Job, to abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes—of I know not what."
"God has not deserted you. See, He has sent you me!" said Hereward, wondering to find himself, of all men on earth, preaching consolation.
"Yes, I have you! Hold me. Love me. Let me feel that one thing loves me upon earth. I want love; I must have it: and if God, and His mother, and all the saints, refuse their love, I must turn to the creature, and ask it to love me, but for a day."
"For ever, mother."
"You will not leave me?"
"If I do, I come back, to finish what I have begun."
"More blood? O God! Hereward, not that! Let us return good for evil. Let us take up our crosses. Let us humble ourselves under God's hand, and flee into some convent, and there die praying for our country and our kin."
"Men must work, while women pray. I will take you to a minster,—to Peterborough."
"No, not to Peterborough!"
"But my Uncle Brand is abbot there, they tell me, now this four years; and that rogue Herluin, prior in his place."
"He is dying,—dying of a broken heart, like me. And the Frenchman has given his abbey to one Thorold, the tyrant of Malmesbury,—a Frenchman like himself. No, take me where I shall never see a French face. Take me to Crowland—and him with me—where I shall see naught but English faces, and hear English chants, and die a free Englishwoman under St. Guthlac's wings."
"Ah!" said Hereward, bitterly, "St. Guthlac is a right Englishman, and will have some sort of fellow-feeling for us; while St. Peter, of course, is somewhat too fond of Rome and those Italian monks. Well,—blood is thicker than water; so I hardly blame the blessed Apostle."
"Do not talk so, Hereward."
"Much the saints have done for us, mother, that we are to be so very respectful to their high mightinesses. I fear, if this Frenchman goes on with his plan of thrusting his monks into our abbeys, I shall have to do more even for St. Guthlac than ever he did for me. Do not say more, mother. This night has made Hereward a new man. Now, prepare"—and she knew what he meant—"and gather all your treasures; and we will start for Crowland to-morrow afternoon."
HOW HEREWARD WAS MADE A KNIGHT AFTER THE FASHION OF THE ENGLISH.
A wild night was that in Bourne. All the folk, free and unfree, man and woman, out on the streets, asking the meaning of those terrible shrieks, followed by a more terrible silence.
At last Hereward strode down from the hall, his drawn sword in his hand.
"Silence, good folks, and hearken to me, once for all. There is not a Frenchman left alive in Bourne. If you be the men I take you for, there shall not be one left alive between Wash and Humber. Silence, again!" as a fierce cry of rage and joy arose, and men rushed forward to take him by the hand, women to embrace him. "This is no time for compliments, good folks, but for quick wit and quick blows. For the law we fight, if we do fight; and by the law we must work, fight or not. Where is the lawman of the town?"
"I was lawman last night, to see such law done as there is left," said Perry. "But you are lawman now. Do as you will. We will obey you."
"You shall be our lawman," shouted many voices.
"I! Who am I? Out-of-law, and a wolf's-head."
"We will put you back into your law,—we will give you your lands in full husting."
"Never mind a husting on my behalf. Let us have a husting, if we have one, for a better end than that. Now, men of Bourne, I have put the coal in the bush. Dare you blow the fire till the forest is aflame from south to north? I have fought a dozen of Frenchmen. Dare you fight Taillebois and Gilbert of Ghent, with William, Duke of Normandy, at their back? Or will you take me, here as I stand, and give me up to them as an outlaw and a robber, to feed the crows outside the gates of Lincoln? Do it, if you will. It will be the wiser plan, my friends. Give me up to be judged and hanged, and so purge yourselves of the villanous murder of Gilbert's cook,—your late lord and master."
"Lord and master! We are free men!" shouted the holders, or yeomen gentlemen. "We hold our lands from God and the sun."
"You are our lord!" shouted the socmen, or tenants. "Who but you? We will follow, If you will lead!"
"Hereward is come home!" cried a feeble voice behind. "Let me come to him. Let me feel him."
And through the crowd, supported by two ladies, tottered the mighty form of Surturbrand, the blind Viking.
"Hereward is come!" cried he, as he folded his master's son in his arms. "Hoi! he is wet with blood! Hoi! he smells of blood! Hoi! the ravens will grow fat now, for Hereward is come home!"
Some would have led the old man away; but he thrust them off fiercely.
"Hoi! come wolf! Hoi! come kite! Hoi! come erne from off the fen! You followed us, and we fed you well, when Swend Forkbeard brought us over the sea. Follow us now, and we will feed you better still, with the mongrel Frenchers who scoff at the tongue of their forefathers, and would rob their nearest kinsman of land and lass. Hoi! Swend's men! Hoi! Canute's men! Vikings' sons, sea-cocks' sons, Berserkers' sons all! Split up the war-arrow, and send it round, and the curse of Odin on every man that will not pass it on! A war-king to-morrow, and Hildur's game next day, that the old Surturbrand may fall like a freeholder, axe in hand, and not die like a cow, in the straw which the Frenchman has spared him."
All men were silent, as the old Viking's voice, cracked and feeble when he began, gathered strength from rage, till it rang through the still night-air like a trumpet-blast.
The silence was broken by a long wild cry from the forest, which made the women start, and catch their children closer to them. It was the howl of a wolf.
"Hark to the witch's horse! Hark to the son of Fenris, how he calls for meat! Are ye your fathers' sons, ye men of Bourne? They never let the gray beast call in vain."
Hereward saw his opportunity and seized it. There were those in the crowd, he well knew, as there must needs be in all crowds, who wished themselves well out of the business; who shrank from the thought of facing the Norman barons, much more the Norman king; who were ready enough, had the tide of feeling begun to ebb, of blaming Hereward for rashness, even though they might not have gone so far as to give him up to the Normans; who would have advised some sort of compromise, pacifying half-measure, or other weak plan for escaping present danger, by delivering themselves over to future destruction. But three out of four there were good men and true. The savage chant of the old barbarian might have startled them somewhat, for they were tolerably orthodox Christian folk. But there was sense as well as spirit in its savageness; and they growled applause, as he ceased. But Hereward heard, and cried,—
"The Viking is right! So speaks the spirit of our fathers, and we must show ourselves their true sons. Send round the war-arrow, and death to the man who does not pass it on! Better die bravely together than falter and part company, to be hunted down one by one by men who will never forgive us as long as we have an acre of land for them to seize. Perry, son of Surturbrand, you are the lawman. Put it to the vote!"
"Send round the war-arrow!" shouted Perry himself; and if there was a man or two who shrank from the proposal they found it prudent to shout as loudly as did the rest.
Ere the morning light, the war-arrow was split into four splinters, and carried out to the four airts, through all Kesteven. If the splinter were put into the house-father's hand, he must send it on at once to the next freeman's house. If he were away, it was stuck into his house-door, or into his great chair by the fireside, and woe to him if, on his return, he sent it not on likewise. All through Kesteven went that night the arrow-splinters, and with them the whisper, "Hereward is come again!" And before midday there were fifty well-armed men in the old camping-field outside the town, and Hereward haranguing them in words of fire.
A chill came over them, nevertheless, when he told them that he must return at once to Flanders.
"But it must be," he said. He had promised his good lord and sovereign, Baldwin of Flanders, and his word of honor he must keep. Two visits he must pay, ere he went; and then to sea. But within the year, if he were alive on ground, he would return, and with him ships and men, it might be with Sweyn and all the power of Denmark. Only let them hold their own till the Danes should come, and all would be well. And whenever he came back, he would set a light to three farms that stood upon a hill, whence they could be seen far and wide over the Bruneswold and over all the fen; and then all men might know for sure that Hereward was come again.
"And nine-and-forty of them," says the chronicler, "he chose to guard Bourne," seemingly the lands which had been his nephew Morcar's, till he should come back and take them for himself. Godiva's lands, of Witham, Toft and Mainthorpe, Gery his cousin should hold till his return, and send what he could off them to his mother at Crowland.
Then they went down to the water and took barge, and laid the corpse therein; and Godiva and Hereward sat at the dead lad's head; and Winter steered the boat, and Gwenoch took the stroke-oar.
And they rowed away for Crowland, by many a mere and many an ea; through narrow reaches of clear brown glassy water; between the dark-green alders; between the pale-green reeds; where the coot clanked, and the bittern boomed, and the sedge-bird, not content with its own sweet song, mocked the song of all the birds around; and then out into the broad lagoons, where hung motionless, high overhead, hawk beyond hawk, buzzard beyond buzzard, kite beyond kite, as far as eye could see. Into the air, as they rowed on, whirred up the great skeins of wild fowl innumerable, with a cry as of all the bells of Crowland, or all the hounds of Bruneswold; and clear above all the noise sounded the wild whistle of the curlews, and the trumpet-note of the great white swan. Out of the reeds, like an arrow, shot the peregrine, singled one luckless mallard from the flock, caught him up, struck him stone dead with one blow of his terrible heel, and swept his prey with him into the reeds again.
"Death! death! death!" said Lady Godiva, as the feathers fluttered down into the boat and rested on the dead boy's pall. "War among man and beast, war on earth, war in air, war in the water beneath," as a great pike rolled at his bait, sending a shoal of white fish flying along the surface. "And war, says holy writ, in heaven above. O Thou who didst die to destroy death, when will it all be over?"
And thus they glided on from stream to stream, until they came to the sacred isle of "the inheritance of the Lord, the soil of St. Mary and St. Bartholomew; the most holy sanctuary of St. Guthlac and his monks; the minster most free from worldly servitude; the special almshouse of the most illustrious kings; the sole place of refuge for any one in all tribulations; the perpetual abode of the saints; the possession of religious men, especially set apart by the Common Council of the kingdom; by reason of the frequent miracles of the most holy Confessor, an ever fruitful mother of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi; and, by reason of the privileges granted by the kings, a city of grace and safety to all who repent."
As they drew near, they passed every minute some fisher's log canoe, in which worked with net or line the criminal who had saved his life by fleeing to St. Guthlac, and becoming his man henceforth; the slave who had fled from his master's cruelty; and here and there in those evil days, the master who had fled from the cruelty of Normans, who would have done to him as he had done to others. But all old grudges were put away there. They had sought the peace of St. Guthlac; and therefore they must keep his peace, and get their living from the fish of the five rivers, within the bounds whereof was peace, as of their own quiet streams; for the Abbot and St. Guthlac were the only lords thereof, and neither summoner nor sheriff of the king, nor armed force of knight or earl, could enter there.
At last they came to Crowland minster,—a vast range of high-peaked buildings, founded on piles of oak and hazel driven into the fen,—itself built almost entirely of timber from the Bruneswold; barns, granaries, stables, workshops, stranger's hall,—fit for the boundless hospitality of Crowland,—infirmary, refectory, dormitory, library, abbot's lodgings, cloisters; and above, the great minster towering up, a steep pile, half wood, half stone, with narrow round-headed windows and leaden roofs; and above all the great wooden tower, from which, on high days, chimed out the melody of the seven famous bells, which had not their like in English land. Guthlac, Bartholomew, and Bettelm were the names of the biggest, Turketul and Tatwin of the middle, and Pega and Bega of the smallest. So says Ingulf, who saw them a few years after pouring down on his own head in streams of melted metal. Outside the minster walls were the cottages of the corodiers, or laboring folk; and beyond them again the natural park of grass, dotted with mighty oaks and ashes; and, beyond all those, cornlands of inexhaustible fertility, broken up by the good Abbot Egelric some hundred years before, from which, in times of dearth, the monks of Crowland fed the people of all the neighboring fens.
They went into the great court-yard. All men were quiet, yet all men were busy. Baking and brewing, carpentering and tailoring in the workshops, reading and writing in the cloister, praying and singing in the church, and teaching the children in the school-house. Only the ancient sempects—some near upon a hundred and fifty years old—wandered where they would, or basked against a sunny wall, like autumn flies, with each a young monk to guide him, and listen to his tattle of old days. For, said the laws of Turketul the good, "Nothing disagreeable about the affairs of the monastery shall be mentioned in their presence. No person shall presume in any way to offend them; but with the greatest peace and tranquillity they shall await their end."
So, while the world outside raged, and fought, and conquered, and plundered, they within the holy isle kept up some sort of order, and justice, and usefulness, and love to God and man. And about the yards, among the feet of the monks, hopped the sacred ravens, descendants of those who brought back the gloves at St. Guthlac's bidding; and overhead, under all the eaves, built the sacred swallows, the descendants of those who sat and sang upon St. Guthlac's shoulders; and when men marvelled thereat, he, the holy man, replied: "Know that they who live the holy life draw nearer to the birds of the air, even as they do to the angels in heaven."
And Lady Godiva called for old Abbot Ulfketyl, the good and brave, and fell upon his neck, and told him all her tale; and Ulfketyl wept upon her neck, for they were old and faithful friends.
And they passed into the dark, cool church, where in the crypt under the high altar lay the thumb of St. Bartholomew, which old Abbot Turketul used to carry about, that he might cross himself with it in times of danger, tempest, and lightning; and some of the hair of St. Mary, Queen of Heaven, in a box of gold; and a bone of St. Leodegar of Aquitaine; and some few remains, too, of the holy bodies of St. Guthlac; and of St. Bettelm, his servant; and St. Tatwin, who steered him to Crowland; and St. Egbert, his confessor; and St. Cissa the anchorite; and of the most holy virgin St. Etheldreda; and many more. But little of them remained since Sigtryg and Bagsac's heathen Danes had heaped them pellmell on the floor, and burned the church over them and the bodies of the slaughtered monks.
The plunder which was taken from Crowland on that evil day lay, and lies still, with the plunder of Peterborough and many a minster more, at the bottom of the Nene, at Huntingdon Bridge. But it had been more than replaced by the piety of the Danish kings and nobles; and above the twelve white bearskins which lay at the twelve altars blazed, in the light of many a wax candle, gold and jewels inferior only to those of Peterborough and Coventry.