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The Rival Heirs being the Third and Last Chronicle of Aescendune by A. D. Crake

Part 3 out of 6

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Only one Norman yet lived, and he was wounded--it was Pierre.

The young Breton lay on the ground, grievously wounded in several
places, yet not mortally--and fully conscious--when he heard an
eager voice inquire in a tone of authority:

"What is the meaning of all this? How did they cross the morass?
Are many of our people hurt?"

He looked up; the voice startled him. Well it might--it was to him
a voice from the grave.

There, in the doorway, living and well, strong and well-liking, in
the glare of torchlight, stood his former companion, Wilfred of

Their eyes met, and they gazed fixedly, yes, and proudly, upon each
other; but the glance of Wilfred softened first. He saw before him
the only one of his former companions who had ever given him a
friendly word, whom misapprehension alone had estranged from him,
which he (Wilfred) had refused to remove.

"We meet again, Pierre de Morlaix."

"Thou art not dead, then. How didst thou escape? Who burnt the

"Art thou so demented as to ask me? Dost thou think English torches
fired an English house of God? Times are changed now, and thou
seest me surrounded by the vassals of my father's house, who own no
lord but their natural chieftain. But where is Etienne? We have
watched your party all day, and know that the young tyrant was
their leader. Is he amongst the dead?"

"Look for thyself."

No. Etienne was not amongst the dead. How, then, had he escaped?

"Search the premises--search the woods--stop the paths across the
morass--men and dogs, all of you. Better all the rest had escaped:
he shall never, never live to be lord of Aescendune."

And Wilfred vanished to give orders out of doors.

An hour had passed away; the dead had been removed, the English to
be decently buried--for there was an old church built by Elfwyn of
Aescendune, during the Danish wars {xi}, and around it lay the
graves of those who had died in troublous times; there English
priests were still found to serve at the altar; Norman tyranny did
not spare the English Church any more than the English nobility.

But the Norman dead were simply carried to a quagmire of bottomless
depth which absorbed the bodies, and furnished a convenient though
dreadful grave.

And in this division of the slain, young Eadwin, pierced with four
wounds, was found; and the arrows, yet remaining, showed at once
that he had not fallen in fair strife.

The search for Etienne, still unsuccessful, was being eagerly
pursued, when Wilfred returned, bent on questioning Pierre, and
beheld the dead body of Eadwin.

He was deeply moved, for he had loved the poor lad, his foster
brother, well, and could not easily restrain his emotion, but so
soon as he was master of himself, the desire for vengeance
superseded softer emotions, and he ordered the wounded Pierre to be
brought before him.

He had no difficulty in learning the truth. Pierre, now upon his
mettle, somewhat sorrowfully said that as the young thrall would
not answer his lord when bidden, Etienne had endeavoured to compel

"Thou hadst, then, no part in it?"

"I gave the coup de grace."

"Then thou hast sealed thine own fate: it is folly to extend mercy
to those who never show it."

"I have not asked it of thee--of the associate of murderers and

The sun rose clear and bright after that eventful night--the storm
was over--its rising beams fell upon a company of archers drawn up
in the English encampment--upon a young warrior doomed to die, who
stood bravely before them. The gray-haired priest who had prepared
him for death--the only favour shown him--bade him a last farewell;
the bows twanged, and the same arrows which had transfixed the
flesh of Eadwin pierced the heart of Pierre de Morlaix.


We owe our readers some apology for having so long trifled with
their patience concerning the fate of Wilfred, and we trust they
are somewhat anxious to hear how he escaped the flames on that
fatal night when the monastery was burnt.

When good Father Alphege heard that the boy had returned under
captivity, for whose safety he was so anxious, he sent at once
another messenger to the good Bishop Geoffrey, imploring his aid
for the orphan.

But the monastery was already watched and neither letter nor
messenger was ever heard of again.

Imagine the good Father's astonishment when the following night he
received Wilfred safe and sound from the hands of Hugo, to do

"Wilfred, my dear boy, tell me all. What has become of the letter I
entrusted you with?"

"It was taken from me in my sleep. Write another; oh father, let me
start again at once!"

"The roads are all beset, my dear child, as I have heard today. I
have already sent a messenger, but tremble for his safety."

"What can I do to avenge my mother--my dear mother?"

"Wait, my child, only for a little while; God is too just to let
such crime remain unpunished."

"Why was not his arm outstretched to save? Oh, my father, I shall
become an infidel if this villain escapes unpunished!"

"Only wait; one day is with Him as a thousand years."

"But I shall not live a thousand years; I must see the day myself."

"Nay, dear child, thou art not thyself; this is wicked. Go into the
church and pray for the grace of patience."

"I cannot pray--I must act."

"Go and pray, my son. Come to me again in half an hour; I have
inquiries to make which touch thy safety. I would fain know why the
baron sent thee here, since he knoweth all; it would seem the last
thing he would be likely to do."

The good prior soon found by personal observation that the
monastery was watched, and had been so since Wilfred entered it,
and saw at once that did he start again the lad would never reach
his journey's end, and that suspicion would be thrown upon him and
his brethren.

He did not hesitate long; he had no doubt that Wilfred's life was
somehow threatened, and resolved to secure his safety. He sent for
a certain brother Kenelm, a monk in priestly orders, who had long
been entrusted with a delicate duty.

"How are our poor brethren in the woods, my brother?"

"They are faring well; there is no lack of venison, and their corn
crops are ripening for harvest. The land, thou knowest, hath been
cultivated for many years."

"It is providential that the Normans have never discovered that
little Zoar, which may remain unknown until their tyranny be
overpast; for surely God will not quite forget this poor people,
sinners although we have all been."

"The morass grows wider and deeper every year; the course of the
brooks which form it has been quite choked, and their waters but
tend to increase the desolation around."

"Couldst thou find thy way there this very night?"

"Surely, if there were need."

"There is great need. The young thane, Wilfred, is in danger--there
is some plot against his life. What it is I know not, but our poor
house has been watched ever since he has been here. Come to the
window and look; I have blown out the light; now look--dost thou
not see a man under the shade of the beech, near the entrance

"Verily I do, father."

"And now come with me (leading him along a passage); look through
this window."

"Yes, there is another. Why do they watch?"

"That the young Wilfred may not escape; they think we shall send
him off again, as they know I did before."

"How do they know, father?"

"They have read my letter to the bishop."

"Then why have they sent him here? I am quite bewildered."

"That he may be sent again, entrapped, or slain, and failing that,
I know not what they will do. But we will outwit them; thou shalt
take him this very night to his poor thralls who dwell in the
swamp. They will rejoice to see him, and will live or die for him,
as seemeth best."

"But since we are watched, how shall we escape?"

"By the river. It is very dark: thou must unmoor the boat and float
down the stream for a full mile, without noise of oars, then enter
the forest and place the precious boy in safety."

"It shall be done, father."

"And quickly. Here he comes--supper, and then thou must say thy
compline on the river: thou wilt go while all the rest are in the
chapel, and mayst join us in spirit."

The good prior then went to the church, through the great cloister.
The poor lad he loved was praying and weeping.

"Wilfred," said the prior, "dost thou feel better now? Hast thou
poured out thy soul before thy Heavenly Father?"

"Better? yes, a little better now, father."

"Come with me to the refectory."

They left the church.

"Now eat a good meal."

"I cannot eat--it chokes me, father."

"Thou must, my dear son; it is a duty, for thou must travel far

"Thank God."

"But it is not to Oxford, my son; thou wouldst not outlive the
night. It is that very journey they want thee to essay."


"That they may slay thee by the way."

"I may have my father's sword, which hangs over his tomb, may I

"Silly boy, what could one do against a score? Nay, thou must go
and hide for the present in the forest--thou rememberest 'Elfwyn's

"Where my great grandfather hid from the Danes? Yes, many a time
have I gone there to shoot wild fowl, while my poor father was

"And thou knowest the buildings in the midst of the firm ground?"


"Thou hast never told thy Norman companions about them?"

"Never! they one and all think the morass a mere desert, a
continuous swamp."

"So much the better, my dear son, for more than half the poor folk
who have deserted the village are there, and Father Kenelm will
take thee to them, for he knoweth the way, ministering to them
weekly as he does."

"But why may I not stay here?"

"I dare not keep thee, dear child; I fear some plot against thy
life; nay, the morass is the only safe place for thee till we can
communicate with the bishop, who has once befriended thee and may
do so again."

"Oh father, let it not be long!"

"That is in God's hands; abide patiently and wait thou on the Lord,
and He shall make thy path plain. Now eat; I will not say one word
more till thou art full."

Poor Wilfred did his best, and ate the last meal he was ever to eat
under that fated roof. The good fathers never suspected the real
design of their remorseless enemy.

The supper over, beneath those beams which were soon to fall
blazing upon their fated inmates, the lad bid a last farewell to
the good prior, to whom he had transferred the affection he once
felt for his dear parents. He fell on his shoulder, he wept,
embraced, and parted. The good prior wept, too. They never met

"Take care of the precious lad, Father Kenelm; remember thou hast
the hope of Aescendune with thee."

They entered the little "punt" very quietly. The night was warm,
but fortunately obscure. They unmoored, and dropped down the stream
in perfect silence, listening to the bell as it tolled for

At length they reached the place the prior had indicated. They left
the boat, and entered the forest in safety, utterly undiscovered--here,
only Father Kenelm's accurate knowledge of the place could have availed
them in the darkness.

In three hours they had traversed ten woodland miles, and drew near
the quagmires. The path became fearfully intricate, and Wilfred was
startled by the marsh fires, while Father Kenelm began to pray for
the poor souls--he somehow supposed them to be, or to represent,
poor silly wandering souls--the while the night owl sang a dismal
chorus to his ditty. They followed a devious winding road--in and
out--with much care, the father holding Wilfred's hand all the
time, until they emerged and found themselves ascending between two
steep banks. It was a narrow valley, through which a brook poured
its waters into the desolation beneath.

At the summit they stopped and rested for a few minutes. It was
not, as may be imagined, very high; but beneath lay the whole
extent of the Dismal Swamp. It was after midnight.

"What can that brightness in the sky portend, my child? There must
be some dreadful fire; and, alas! it looks as if in the
neighbourhood of Aescendune!"

"I hope it is the castle."

The poor monk was very much alarmed; he feared it might be the
monastery, and the reader knows he was right.

Now the heavens were lit up with intense brightness, now it faded
again. It was long before they left the summit and the view of the
reddened sky.

"May it not be the northern lights?"

"Nay, my son, it is south of us, and they never look quite like
this. I fear me mischief is abroad, and shall not be happy till I
get me home again tomorrow."

Poor Father Kenelm, the woods were now his sole home.

At length, as the brightness disappeared, they continued along the
brook, until they reached a wide extent of flat meadow ground
traversed by the stream, separated by low hills from the morass.

In the centre of the valley, if such it may be called, the brook
divided, enclosing about an acre of ground, ere its streams met
again, hurrying down to the morass. Deep and rapid as it was, its
course had been but short; a copious spring burst from the ground
not half a mile above, whence streams issuing different ways helped
to form the slimy waste which girt in this little island of firm

There, in the ground enclosed by the divided stream, was the home
once inhabited by the ancestors of our young hero. The monk knocked
loudly at the door--no watch was kept--the marsh was their

The dogs began to bark, and one or two which were loose came up,
half disposed to make war upon the travellers, but they soon
recognised the monk. Lights were seen, the doors opened, two or
three sunburnt faces appeared in the doorway.

"Sexwulf, I bring you a guest; look at him--dost thou know him?"

"It is our young lord!"

Late though it was, the whole household was soon in uproar--the
welcome was grand--and it was all the good father could do to
prevent their arousing the whole village, to hear the joyful news
that their young lord--rescued from Norman tyranny, which had even
threatened his life--was there, relying on their protection, and
that they, esteemed by the world as outlaws, were his chosen
guardians. They felt indeed, now, that they were not outlaws, but
patriots fighting against successful tyrants--the foes of their
country; even as the brave Hereward (so they had heard) was
fighting in the Camp of Refuge, amongst the fens of East Anglia.

And for Wilfred, the representative of a house which had ruled them
for centuries, the son of their lamented lord, who had died so
bravely at Senlac, they would one and all, if necessary, lay down
their lives.

On the morrow, at eventide, Father Kenelm returned from Aescendune,
horror struck, and brought the news of the burning of the abbey and
the lamentable fate of his brethren.

There was not an Englishman whose heart was not moved with
indignation and pity, nor one who failed to lay the burden of the
deed where our readers have long since, we doubt not, laid it--on
the head of Hugo.

Hence those terrible reprisals our pages have recorded--hence no
mercy was shown to the merciless; and the war between the baron and
his revolted dependants became one of extermination.

Every day brought accessions to their number; they were in
communication with similar centres of disaffection in all parts of
the midlands; and they confidently hoped for the day when the
Normans should be expelled, and England be England again.

So Wilfred regarded his banishment in the forest as a temporary one
at the best, and no longer looked for the aid of Normans, lay or
ecclesiastical, to avenge his mother's wrongs and his own; he would
vindicate them by the strong hand.

He was now eighteen years of age, practised in all manly sports and
warlike exercises, braced by daily use to support fatigue in mind
and body, and every day rendered him more qualified to be the
leader of his own people in the desperate warfare which lay between
them and their rights.

He shared their hardships, fared as they did, exposed himself as
far as they would permit him to every peril, and was modest enough
(unlike his Norman rival) to be guided by the advice of his elders,
the wisest of his late father's retainers.

One fault--and one the youthful reader will, we fear, look very
lightly upon--was gaining upon him--a deep and deadly hatred to
everything Norman. It was even rumoured that, like Hannibal of old,
he had vowed an undying hostility to the foes of his country and
his house; if so, our pages will show how he kept his word.

In this feeling Father Kenelm, who now ministered wholly to the
spiritual necessities of the dwellers in the Dismal Swamp, strove
feebly to restrain him; but Wilfred was rapidly outgrowing all
restraint, and perhaps the good father, who after all was human,
and the sole survivor of a happy and united brotherhood, did not
feel very deeply shocked by the hatred manifested to the destroyers
of his brethren.

Yet he pleaded for Pierre de Morlaix on the eventful night recorded
in our last chapter; but the cruel death of Eadwin at the hands of
the invaders rendered his prayers useless. The whole feeling of the
little community was with Wilfred in the matter; besides, they
wanted no prisoners, and dared not set one free to disclose the
secret of their refuge.

But we must resume the thread of our story, for our readers are
doubtless profoundly interested in the fate of Etienne, the rival
heir, and we must apologise for having kept them so long in


The unhappy youth, whose recklessness and folly had led to the
entire destruction of the troop confided to his care, was now their
sole survivor.

In that hour, when all was lost, at the close of the deadly
struggle in the house, he had crawled through the door, ere the
lights were rekindled which had been extinguished in the frenzy of
the conflict, and sought refuge in flight: not so much, it must be
owned, because he feared death (although youth naturally clings to
life), as because he longed to live for vengeance, and to carry the
secret of the "Dismal Swamp" to Aescendune.

He was bleeding, bruised, scarcely able to move without pain--all
his energy seemed exhausted in the supreme effort which had saved
him, at least for the time; but it was again very dark, thick
clouds charged with snow once more obscured the moon, and the cover
of the trees was before him, which he sought, determined rather to
perish in the morass than to become the sport of his triumphant

He had gained the desired shelter, and had paused to rest himself
and consider what to do next, when he felt something living come
into contact with his legs. He started, as well he might under the
circumstances, when he saw to his great relief that it was one of
the dogs which had accompanied his party throughout the day, and
hope sprang up in his breast. The hound might perhaps lead him back
through the morass.

At that moment, the arrival of Wilfred with a large body of fresh
enemies took place, and Etienne was yet within hearing when his
rival stood in the doorway and cried aloud:

"Etienne, son of Hugo, has been here and escaped; hunt him down,
men and dogs; he can hardly have passed the morass; we must not let
him live to become a murderer like his father."

The voice sounded like a summons from the dead. Etienne turned
pale; then the blood coursed rapidly through his veins, as he saw
by the light of the moon, which emerged just then from a cloud, his
hated rival, standing in front of the farmhouse--alive, and for the
time victorious.

Now all was clear. Wilfred was the cause of the calamities which
had fallen upon them, and the leader of the outlaws; and Etienne,
who, to do him justice, never suspected the true author of the
crime, doubted not that his rival had fired the monastery to
conceal his flight.

He felt an intense desire that he might grapple with his young foe
in the death struggle. Willingly would he have accepted such a
decision between their rival claims; but he was alone, wounded,
exhausted, a faithful dog his sole friend. He felt that the day of
vengeance must be postponed.

He spoke to the poor hound, and succeeded in making it comprehend
that he wanted "to go home." With that canine sagacity which
approaches very near to reason, the dog at once sought for the path
by which they had entered the morass, found it, and ran forward
eagerly. Etienne entered it, trembling with hope, when the dog
stopped, growled, and came back to its lord. The steps of many feet
were heard approaching.

"The place swarms with foes," muttered the hunter, who had become
in his turn the hunted.

A crash in the bush behind, and a huge English mastiff rushed upon
Etienne. His Norman sleuth hound threw himself upon the assailant
of his master, and a terrific struggle ensued. Etienne did not dare
wait to see its conclusion or help his canine protector, for the
noise of the conflict was drawing all the English there; but he
struggled back to the open, and ran along the inner edge of the
wood, hoping to find another track through the morass.

Suddenly he stumbled upon a swift little stream flowing down a bank
into the desert of slime. He felt at once that it must rise from
the chain of hills behind, and that by following it he might get
out of the swamp; it was all too like a mountain current to have
its origin in the level, and he determined to follow it.

Besides, if he walked up the stream, he would baffle the English
dogs, for water leaves no scent; in short, collecting all his
energies, he strode rapidly up the brook.

But his strength was not equal to a sustained effort; the
excitement of the night had been too much for him; and after he had
traversed about a mile, he sat down to rest on the bank, and fell
into a dead faint.

The first beams of the rising sun had illuminated the horizon, the
very time at which poor Pierre was led forth to die, when an aged
Englishwoman, coming down to draw water at the spring, espied the
fainting youth.

She advanced to his side, and seemed moved by compassion as she
gazed upon the wounded, bloodstained form.

"How young he is, poor lad. Ought I to help him? Yes, it must be
right to do so. How the cry of hounds and men comes up the glen!"

"Wake up, wake up!" she cried, and sprinkled water upon his face.

He rose up as if from a deep sleep.

"Mother, what is it?"

"Come with me; I will give thee shelter."

His senses returned sufficiently for him both to comprehend her
meaning and his own danger, and he followed mechanically. Just
above, the waters of the stream, dammed up for the moment, had
formed a little pond, surrounded by trees, save on one side, where
was a little garden of herbs, and in its centre, close by the
stream, stood a humble cot.

It was built of timber; posts had been driven at intervals into the
ground, willow twigs had been woven in and out, the interstices
filled with the clay which was abundant at the edge of the
pond--and so a weather-proof structure had been built. There was no
chimney, only a hole in the roof for the smoke to escape, above the
place for the fire.

Within, the floor was strewn with rushes; there was a table, two or
three rough chairs made of willow, a few household implements.

At one extremity a curtain, made of skins of wolf or deer, was
drawn across the room, beyond which was a couch, a kind of box
filled with rushes and leaves, over which lay a blanket and
coverlets, of a softer material than one would have expected to
find in a peasant's hut of the period.

Many other little articles seemed to have been destined for a
prouder dwelling; but all besides betokened decent poverty. All was
clean, and there could be little danger of hunger in the
settlement, while the woods were full of game, and their little
fields were fruitful with corn.

Into this abode the old dame led her guest.

"Thou art Norman," she said.

"I am the son of the lord of Aescendune. If thou canst aid me to
escape my foes, thou shalt name thy own reward."

"Not all the gold thou hast would tempt me to aid thee; but the
love of One who died for us both forbids me to give thee up to
death. Thou art too young, poor youth, to be answerable for thy
father's sins."

A proud speech was on his lips, but prudence prevailed, and the
worthy cub of the old wolf determined to wear sheep's clothing till
his claws were grown again.

"The saints reward thee," he said, "since no other reward thou wilt

He could say no more, but staggered into her hut, his strength
quite gone.

Nearer and nearer drew the cry of hounds and men.

"Save me if thou canst," he said.

She took him behind the curtain, made him lie down on the couch,
which was her own, and covered him completely over with a coverlet.
Then she charged him to lie quiet, whatever happened, and shut the
door of her hut.

By and by it burst open, and Wilfred stood in the doorway.

"Mother, hast thou seen any one pass this way? The Normans have
been in the hamlet: we have slain all but one, and he, the worst of
all, has escaped us."

"Canst thou not spare even one poor life?"

"Nay, it is Etienne, son of the old fiend Hugo; besides, once safe
off, he would betray our secret before we are ready for action."

"I cannot help thee in thy chase; thou knowest how I hate and
shrink from bloodshed, as did thy sainted mother."

"Yes, but they did not shrink from poisoning her--they whom she
would not have harmed to save her own life."

"God will avenge--leave all to Him."

"Nay, mother, we waste time; if thou hast not seen him, we go."

"Hast thou seen my Eadwin? He is generally here with the lark?"

Wilfred's face changed; he stammered out some evasive reply, and
dashed out to join the men and hounds, who were quite at fault;
they had lost the scent far below, where Etienne entered the brook,
and were diligently investigating, one by one, all the tracks that
led from the morass.

Etienne had heard all, and his heart smote him. From the language
used, the words he had heard, he felt that this old woman must be
the foster mother of his rival, and, if so, the mother of that very
Eadwin he had so cruelly put to death the previous night; he quite
understood Wilfred's evasive reply.

His heart smote him, and he repented of this cruelty, at least: he
dreaded the moment when his preserver must learn the truth. Would
she then give him up?

What, too, did Wilfred mean by his allusion to poison? Had he any
grounds for such suspicion? Poison was not an unknown agent amongst
the Normans. The great Duke himself had been suspected (doubtless
wrongfully) of removing Conan of Brittany by its means.

But fatigue overcame him, and he slept. And during that sleep
symptoms of fever began to show themselves. He began to talk in his
dreams--"There goes a fire--avoid it, it is an evil spirit--shoot
arrows at it. Make it tell the secret--now we shall know about the
swamp. Here is a fiend throttling me--oh, its awful eyes, they
blaze like two marsh fires. No, tie him to the wall; he shall tell
the truth or die. What are you giving me to drink?--it is blood,
blood. You have poisoned me--I burn, burn--my veins are full of
boiling lead--my heart a boiling cauldron. See, there are the marsh
fiends--they are carrying away Louis and Pierre--their tails are as
whips--ah, an arrow through each of their arms will stop them.
Where is my armour?--a hunting dress won't stop their darts, or
save one from their claws. Oh, father, help me--save me from the

In this incoherent way he talked for hours, and the old dame
shuddered as he confused the real tragedy of the previous night
with imaginary terrors. Oh, how awful were his ravings to her, when
at last she learned the truth. Yet in those very ravings he showed
that remorse was at his heart.

She wept as she sat by his bed--wept over the son he had slain. The
details of that tragedy were, however, studiously concealed from
her by Wilfred's sedulous care; yet she knew Etienne had been the
leader of the hostile troop, in conflict with whom she supposed her
Eadwin to have fallen in fair open fight; for she was led to
understand he had been slain in the terrific struggle in the house.

"The only son of his mother, and she was a widow."

Father Kenelm came and read to her the story of the widow's son at
Nain, from King Alfred's Anglo-Saxon version of the Gospels. Not
even to him did she confide the secret, or tell who was separated
from the good priest only by a curtain--an instinct told her it was
right to tend and save--she would trust nothing else.

But in spite of this resolution the good father discovered it all;
for while he read the sweet story of old, he heard a cry in Norman

"Keep off the fiend--the hobgoblin--he has got burning
arrows--snakes! snakes! there are snakes in the bed!"

"What means this, good mother?"

"Oh, thou wilt not betray him."

"Hast thou a fugitive there? Methinks I know the voice. Can it be
the son of the wicked baron?"

"He is not answerable for his father's sin; oh, do not betray
him--he is mad with fever."

"Dost thou mean to release him, should he get well? Methinks it
were better that he should die."

"With all his sins upon his head? May the saints forbid."

"At least were he but absolved after due contrition, and thou
knowest that thou hast little cause to love him."

"His death cannot give me back my boy," and she wept once more.

"Nay, it cannot; but if thou dost save him, it shall be under a
solemn pledge never to betray the place of our retreat. I will
myself swear him upon the Holy Gospels. But woe to him should our
young lord Wilfred discover him; I verily believe he would die the
death of St. Edmund {xiii}."

"Canst thou not teach poor Wilfred mercy--thou art his pastor and

"He grows fiercer daily, and chafes at all restraint. Remember what
he has suffered."

"The greater the merit, could he but forgive. You will keep my
secret, father?"

"I will: let me see him."

Father Kenelm went behind the curtain and watched the sufferer.
Etienne glared at him with lacklustre eyes, but knew him not, and
continued his inarticulate ravings. His forgiving nurse moistened
his lips from time to time with water, and by him was a decoction
of cooling herbs, with which she assuaged his parching thirst.

"Thou art a true follower of Him who prayed for His murderers,"
said Father Kenelm. "The Man of Sorrows comfort thee."


Rarely had a spring occurred so dry as that of 1069. With the
beginning of March dry winds set in from the east, no rain fell,
and the watercourses shrank to summer proportions.

All that winter Hugo de Malville had mourned in hopeless grief the
loss of his boy--his only child; but at length grief deepened into
one bitter thirst--a thirst for revenge.

That the Dismal Swamp protected the objects of his hatred from his
sword he felt well assured; and had the frost been keen enough to
render the marshes penetrable, he would have risked all in a
desperate attempt to root out the vermin, as he called the poor
natives, from the woods.

But frost alternated with thaw, and snow with rain, and no attempt
was likely to be attended with success; so he waited and added
compound interest to his thirst for vengeance.

At length set in the dry and fierce winds of which we have spoken,
and he felt secure of his prey at last; so preparations were at
once made for a grand battle in the marshes.

The keen winds continued, and the scouts reported that the swamp
was drier than they had ever seen it before. At length April
arrived, and with its earliest days--days of bright sunshine--it
was decided to delay no longer, but to explore the marshes with the
whole force of the barony, strengthened by recruits from the
castles of the neighbouring Norman nobles who willingly lent their
aid, and hastened to share the sport dearest of all to the Norman

But one thing was necessary to secure success--a guide, and how to
procure one was the riddle which puzzled Hugo, both by day and

No Norman could help them; but might not some Englishmen serve, not
as willing tools, but under the compulsion of force and the dread
of torture?

There were no English in the domains of the baron; all had fled
into the forest who were yet alive. There were, it is true, native
woodmen in other parts of the wilderness; but they were not vassals
of Hugo, and one and all had repeatedly disclaimed knowledge of
that part of the forest which was to be explored.

In his perplexity Hugo offered great rewards to anyone who would
discover any of the former people of Aescendune and bring them
before him.

Leaving Hugo and his friends to concert their murderous plans, we
must invite the reader to accompany us once more to freedom's home,
the Dismal Swamp.

A council was being held at this selfsame time, which materially
assisted the schemes of the baron, although not greatly to his
ultimate gratification.

It was held around the fire in the same farmhouse in which poor
Eadwin had met his death, and which had now become the headquarters
of the outlaws whom Norman tyranny had made.

Wilfred, young although he was, presided--for was he not the
representative of the ancient lords of Aescendune, and those
gathered around him the descendants of the men whom his fathers had
often led to victory?

On his right sat Haga, the oldest retainer of his house, a man who
at the beginning of the century had actually fought with Alfgar
against the Danes; on his left, Boom, the ancient forester of the
Aescendune woods--as moderns would say, "the head keeper."

And there were Sexwulf and Ulf, Tosti and Elfwold, Ernulph and
Ordgar, Oslac and Osgood, Wulfsy and Ringulph, Frithgist and
Wulfgar--men whose names sounded rough and uncouth in Norman ears,
but were familiar enough to the natives.

The whole party having assembled, Wilfred, as a consequence of his
rank, spoke first and opened the debate.

"We have all come together tonight, Englishmen and friends, to
consider what we shall do in a very grave crisis--the gravest which
has yet occurred since we fled to this refuge from the Norman
tyrant Hugo--whom may the saints confound. The thrall, Oslac,
imperilling his life for our sake, has been to Aescendune, and
brings us back certain information that there is a great gathering
of men and horse to explore the swamp, for they guess shrewdly that
we are hidden here, and they know now who burnt their farms and
slew their men in the woods--thus making them afraid, the cowards,
to venture therein save in large parties.

"But since the old bear has lost his cub, his thirst for vengeance
incites him to stake all upon one grand attempt to penetrate our
fastnesses, and the dryness of the season seems to him to make it

"Our pools and sloughs are never quite dry--they are bottomless,"
said Beorn, "and you might stow away the castle of Aescendune in
some of them, and 'twould sink out of sight."

"But it is our object to foil his good intentions towards us:
sooner or later we must fight him, and why not now? Haga, my
father, thou art the oldest and wisest here present; speak, and we
will be guided by thy counsel."

"Let the Norman come," said the sage solemnly; "he shall perish in
his pride."

"In what manner shall he die?"

"By the death meet for the sacrilegious destroyer of the priory--by
fire--it is God's will, revealed to me in visions of the night."

"Fire? how?" cried several; then one common idea seemed to strike
them all.

"The reeds. Once entangled in the marshes, we might fire them all

"But how shall we get him to enter the marshes where the dry rushes
are thickest?"

"There is a bed of rushes and weeds half a mile across, around the
heron's pool, and it is now so dry just there, that it would bear
the accursed foe, horses, and armour, could they be enticed to
follow the path which traverses it."

"Who shall entice them and prevail?" said Beorn.

"Will any of our men risk their own lives and volunteer as guides
to the Normans? They are seeking guides everywhere."

There was a dead silence. At length a man arose--Ordgar, son of

"I will take my life in my hand to deliver my people from the
tyranny of this Norman wolf."

"God bless thee, my son," said his aged sire; "thou art the light
of mine eyes, but I can risk thee in thy country's cause and the
cause of the House of Aescendune."

"It is a holy cause," said Father Kenelm, who was present: "God's
arm is bared for vengeance--the blood of my martyred brethren cries
aloud from beneath the altar."

"And thou wilt say a mass for us?"

"It is my duty, since I may not fight with carnal weapons."

"But, Ordgar, how dost thou propose to act?"

"They are scouring the woods daily, in search of some of us poor
English, whom they may force by torture to be their guides. I will
throw myself in their way."

"They will not harm thee, my son; they are too eager for a guide
who knows the paths through the swamp."

"But thou must not appear too willing," said Beorn.

"Trust me for that; I will not promise to serve them till I have at
least seen their torture chamber."

"Ordgar, thou dost indeed show a spirit worthy of an Englishman;
and while such live, I shall never despair of my country," said the
youthful chieftain. "Should God restore me to the halls of my
fathers, none shall be more honoured of his lord than thou; and
shouldest thou fall, fear not but that English bards will be found
to sing thy praises."

A few days later Hugo was scouring the forest like a wolf in search
of his prey. His men-at-arms were scattered through the woods,
seeking for tracks of men. Huge dogs attended them, who were
encouraged to explore every thicket.

They were near the Dismal Swamp.

All at once a dog gave the peculiar whine which indicated that he
had found scent, and immediately afterwards started forward, his
nose to the ground, followed by two or three others.

The men-at-arms followed, and Hugo amongst his retainers.

Suddenly they broke into open view of the chase--a man was seen
running before them for his life.

The dogs gave tongue and followed him so swiftly that it was with
difficulty he could escape their fangs by climbing a tree.

It was a poor refuge--dogs and Normans were speedily at the foot.

"Come down, fellow," said Hugo, sternly, "unless thou desirest to
be brought down by an arrow."

"Mercy, mercy," cried the fugitive.

"What dost thou fear? If thou art a true man no harm shall befall
thee. We are not robbers."

The Englishman, for such he was, descended, and was at once secured
and bound to prevent his escape.

"Now, fellow," said Hugo, "who art thou? Whose vassal art thou?"

"My name is Ordgar, son of Haga."

"Haga, formerly a thrall of my estate?"

"The same."

"Where is thy accursed sire?"

"I cannot betray my father."

"This is the very man we want!" said Hugo; "bring him along. The
torture will soon help him to find a tongue. Surely the saints have
heard our prayers and given him to us."

A quaint idea of sanctity, that of Hugo.

They dragged the intended victim forward through the woods. Once or
twice he appeared to make desperate efforts to escape, but we need
not say made them in vain.

We must shift the scene to the torture chamber.

Imagine a long dark room, below the level of the ground, underneath
the keep; stone flags below, a vaulted ceiling above; dimly lighted
by torches fixed in sconces in the wall; a curtain covering a
recess; in front, a chair for Hugo and a table for a scribe, with
ink horn and parchment.

Around the table were gathered Hugo himself, his guests Raoul de
Broc, Tustain de Wylmcote, Ralph de Bearleigh, his seneschal,
chamberlain, and other confidential officers of his household, and
four strong brawny men-at-arms--sufficient to manage the prisoner
with ease.

Ordgar, son of Haga, stood alone at the foot of the table, before
all this hostile array.

"Villain," said Hugo (the name only imported serf), "thy name?"

"I have told thee, Ordgar, son of Haga."

"Thou art a vassal of Aescendune?"

"I was."

"And art: my rights over thee cease not."

"I do not acknowledge thee as my lord."

"Thou mayst think better of it anon. Now thou wilt please answer my

"Scribe, take down his replies."

"He will not fill much parchment."

"We shall see.

"Where hast thou been hiding from thy lawful master?"

"I have not been hiding from my lawful lord."

"Fool, dost thou bandy words with me? Answer."

"In the woods, then."

"What woods?"

"The forests around thee."

"Dost thou know the Dismal Swamp?"


"Hast thou been hiding there?"


"How many of thy comrades are in hiding at that place?"

"I may not tell thee."

"Behold. Tormentor, remove the curtain."

The curtain was drawn back, and revealed a strange assortment of
those implements by which man, worse than the beast of the field,
has sinned against his fellow. There were the rack, the brazier
with its red-hot pincers, the thumbscrew, and, in short,
instruments--happily unknown now--in the greatest variety; all
intended to wring the truth from crime, or worse, the self-condemning
falsehood from the lips of helpless innocence {xiv}.

"Wilt thou answer?"

"I will not betray the innocent."

"Seize him, tormentors."

'Twas said and done, and after a short and furious struggle, the
victim was laid on the rack.


The tormentors, clad in leathern jerkins, hideous with masks to
hide their brutal faces, turned the handles which worked pulleys
and drew the victim's limbs out of joint.

"Hold--enough--I will confess."

"Release him."

"What dost thou ask me?"

"How many are there in the Dismal Swamp?"

"Maybe a hundred."

"Thou art trifling with me; I see we must put thee on the rack

"Nay, thou wouldst force me to deceive thee; there cannot be many

"Who is their leader?"

"Haga, son of Ernulph."

"Thy father?"

The victim seemed resolved to say no more.

"Place him on the rack again."

But the fortitude of the captive did not seem equal to the last
supreme trial.

"Hold!" he cried, "I will confess all."

He owned that his father Haga was the leader of the outlaws, and
being interrogated eagerly by the baron about Etienne, stated that
the latter was detained as a prisoner in the Swamp, in case they
should need a hostage.

"God be thanked!" said Hugo.

He could yet take that holy name on his murderous lips, and sooth
to say he did feel gratitude.

The next step was to persuade Ordgar to guide the Normans through
the Dismal Swamp to the English settlement. A fresh application of
the torture seemed needed to secure this desirable end, but the
victim yielded when the pain was about to be renewed--yielded to
the weakness of his own flesh, combined with a promise from the
baron that his father should not only be spared, but restored to
the little farm he had, formerly occupied at Aescendune, under the
last English thane.

In short, the bargain was concluded, and Ordgar, son of Haga,
became the promised guide of the foes of his country.


Day after day Etienne de Malville tossed upon the couch in the hut
of the woman whom he had so cruelly bereaved, struggling against
the throes of fever. In his ravings he was prone to dwell upon all
the scenes of horror he had recently passed through, and yet some
Providence, intervening, kept from his lips the one revelation
which might have endangered his safety--that he was himself the
murderer of the son of his preserver.

Sometimes Father Kenelm visited the hut, and although in his heart
he deeply regretted that Etienne had not shared the fate of his
companions, yet he was too much a Christian to frustrate the good
deed of poor old Hilda, by revealing the secret of his existence.

At length, some weeks after the commencement of his illness, after
days of parching thirst and delirious dreams, Etienne woke one
morning, conscious, and gazed dreamily about him.

The crisis had passed; he was no longer in danger from the fever,
and his senses were clear of the terrible and shadowy impressions
which had hung about him like a gigantic nightmare.

"Where am I? Who are you?"

"He is conscious, father," said the old woman. "What does he say?"
for Etienne spoke in Norman French.

"Thou hast been in great danger, my son, and this good woman hath
saved thee and sheltered thee from thy foes."

"Thanks, good mother."

There was a tone of deep feeling in his voice as he said these
words--"but what has passed? I have a confused remembrance of
hunting and being hunted, in a midnight forest, and of a deadly
combat in a dark chamber, from which I seemed to wake to find
myself here."

"Thy destiny has, indeed, been nearly accomplished, and that thou
art the survivor of the party with which thou didst invade the
Dismal Swamp is owing to this widow woman," said the good father in
the patient's own tongue.

Etienne fell back on his pillow and seemed trying to unravel the
tangled thoughts which perplexed him. Once more the dame came and
brought him a cooling drink. He drank it, thanked her, and fell
back with a sigh.

Yes, it all came to him now, as clear as the strong daylight--and
with it came remorse. He had cruelly slain young Eadwin, and the
mother of the murdered lad--for he knew her--had rescued him from
what his conscience told him would have been a deserved fate, at
least at the hands of the English.

There are crises in all men's lives--and this was one in the life
of Etienne--when they choose good or evil.

And from that time, new impressions had power over him. He lay in
deep remorse, knowing that he still owed his life to the
forbearance, and more than forbearance, with which he had been

"If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for
in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head."

Etienne now felt these coals of fire.

He was not all pride and cruelty. His education had made him what
he was, and probably, under the same circumstances, with such a
father and the training of a Norman castle, many of my young
readers who have detested his arrogance would have been like him,
more or less.

"Their lot forbids, nor circumscribes alone,
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confines."

But now the generosity which lay hidden deep in his heart was
awakened; the holy teachings which, in his childhood he had heard
at his mother's knee--a mother who, had she lived, might have
influenced his whole conduct--came back to him. There were many
pious mothers, after all, in Normandy. Pity they had not better

"Forgive us our trespasses."

The daily ministrations of the poor childless widow, whom he had
made childless, were a noble commentary on these words.

"Mother," he said, one day, "forgive me--I have much to be
forgiven--I cannot tell thee all."

"Nay, thou needst not; thou art forgiven for the love of Him who
has forgiven us all."

For a long time yet he lingered a prisoner on his couch; for fever
had so weakened him that he could hardly support his own weight.

But at length convalescence set in, and his strength returned; but
he could only take exercise--which was now necessary to his
complete recovery--when Father Kenelm was at hand to act as a
scout, and warn him to retire in the case of the approach of any
Englishman; for although he had adopted the English dress, yet his
complexion and manner would have betrayed him to any observer close
at hand.

At length came the day of deliverance.

It was a day in early April. The east winds of March had dried the
earth, the sun had now some power, and the trees were bursting into
leaf in every direction. It was one of those first days of early
summer, which are so delicious from their rarity, and seem to
render this earth a paradise for the time being.

The convalescent was out of doors, inhaling the sweet breeze, in
the immediate proximity of the hut, when the good father appeared.

"My son," he said, "dost thou feel strong enough to travel?"

"I do, indeed, father," said the youth, his heart bounding with
delight; "but may I go, and without any ransom?"

"Surely; we have not preserved thy life from love of filthy lucre."

"I feel that father, in my very heart; but hast thou no pledge to
demand? Dost thou trust all to my gratitude?"

"Thou wilt never fight against the poor fugitives here, my son?"

"Nor betray the path to their retreat" added Etienne.

"That is already known," said the father.

"Known! then war is at hand."

"It is, and I would remove thee, lest harm should befall thee. Thou
wilt travel hence with me at once."

"Before we start I would fain be shriven by thee, for I have
grievously sinned, and to whom can I more fitly make my shrift? so
that he who has ministered to the body may in turn minister to the

"There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth," said the
good monk, greatly moved, "and right gladly will I discharge mine
office towards thee."

The hour had come for Etienne to depart. He had bidden farewell to
the faithful Hilda. His last words were--"Thou hast lost one son,
mother, but found another; if Etienne de Malville lives, thou shalt
be recompensed one day."

The two pedestrians left the hut and, keeping close along the
border of the marsh, under the shadow of the trees, came at last to
the little isthmus which joined the firm ground within the marsh,
to a chain of woody hills.

The ground was so covered with vegetation and undergrowth that it
was difficult to advance, save by one narrow path; but Etienne saw
at once that in this direction the settlement could be assaulted at
any time of the year with every chance of success.

The monk must have been aware also that he was betraying the secret
of this approach to a Norman; but strangely enough, he did not seem
to trouble about it at this juncture.

"Father," said Etienne, "I would fain ask thee one question before
we part."

"Speak on, my son."

"I would fain know, father, what murderous hand gave thy abbey to
the flames--a deed abhorred by all good men, whether Normans or

"Thou dost not know then?"

"Surely not, father."

"I may not tell thee whom all suspect; it is better for thy peace
of mind that it should remain a mystery till God solve the riddle."

"Thou mayst not tell how Wilfred escaped either," added Etienne,
who in his heart thought that the outlaws had fired the place and
released him from his imposed penance.

"On all these points my lips are sealed. Perhaps in God's own time
thou wilt learn the truth."

"Then I may not act as a mediator between my father and his
fugitive vassals?"

"Not under present circumstances. There is a dark mystery, which
God in His mercy hides from thee."

They had now gained a slight elevation, and could see the tops of
the trees below them for miles, including a portion of the swamp.

"Father, how full the woods are of smoke: look, it is rolling in
great billows over the tree tops. Surely the woods are on fire."

"I have heard that in foreign countries the woods are so dry in
summer that they burn easily, and that people caught in the forests
have great difficulty in saving their lives; but it is not so here,
the reeds and flags of the marshes alone are on fire."

"Methinks I hear the shouts of men who strive for mastery," and as
he spoke, the fire of the warrior kindled in his eyes.

"Thou mayst not join them if such be the case; thou wilt keep thy
promise, my son."

"Yes," said the tamed tiger cub, with a sigh; "yet I would fain
know what my father is doing. Let us go on."

Two more hours of forest travelling carried them far from the sound
of the conflict and they gained the outskirts of the forest.
Entering some nicely cultivated meadows, they came in sight of a
small Norman priory, which Etienne had visited in earlier days,
when out on woodland expeditions; for it was miles from Aescendune,
and the way lay through the forest.

"Farewell my son, I must leave thee here. They are thy countrymen
in yonder cell, and will gladly entertain thee."

"Thy blessing, my father."

"It is thine, my son. Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with
thy God, and He will bless thee."

Etienne sat on the trunk of a fallen tree, for he was very tired,
and watched the departing figure of Father Kenelm. His eyes were
dim, for he felt very much touched, for the time at least.

But he was now restored to life and liberty, and no bird in the
sky, no deer on the mountain, felt more blithe and happy than he
soon began to feel.

There is an old adage about the Evil One. It is said he became sick
and wanted to be a monk, but when he became well--well--Was this
the case with Etienne?

Time will show: for the present we leave him blowing the horn
suspended at the gate of St. Ouen's priory.


"Raro antecedentem scelestum
Deseruit pede Poena claudo."

It was midday, and the sun was pouring the full power of his
noontide beams on the wilderness of reeds and flags which
overspread the southern side of the Dismal Swamp, reposing on the
treacherous surface of bog, quagmire, and quicksand.

Signs of life there were none, save when the bittern rose from its
nest, amidst the long reeds or sedgy grass, or the moor fowl flew
over the surface of the inky water, which here and there collected
into pools. The feeble hum of insects filled the air, but all else
was peace and solitude.

Save that there was a sign of life on the farther side of the
Swamp--a solitary figure half concealed by bushes, stood watching
on a promontory of firm land, looking anxiously--from his slight
elevation over the surface of the fen.

He was an aged man, who had seen some ninety summers; his long
beard descended below the girdle which confined his brown tunic at
the waist. It was Haga, the father of Ordgar.

"My eyes are not what they were, and I see no sign as yet. Ah, here
comes little Siward!"

A boy of some twelve years approached him very silently, as if some
serious business was about to be transacted, of such nature as to
subdue boyish loquacity.

"Come hither, Siward, my grandchild, and lend me thine eyes and
ears, for mine are now dulled by age. Dost thou hear aught?"

"I hear the bittern boom, and the woodpecker tap, but that is all."

"Sit down by my side, and watch with me; the time is at hand."

"Will my father be with them?"

"He will, my child."

"And he will come home safely to us, when all is over?"

"That is as God wills, dear child; his life belongs to his country.
Thou mayst pray for him," he added, as he saw tears rise to the
eyes of the boy.

"I do," said the child.

They sat awhile in perfect silence, when at last the boy appeared
to listen intently.

"Grandfather," he said, "I hear the sound of many feet."

"Art quite sure?"

"Yes, and now I see men advancing from the shade of yonder thicket
of beech."

"And I see them too; go and warn Tosti, Sexwulf, Ulf and Frithgift,
and be sure that thou keepest out of the fen thyself."

"Only thou wilt bring father back home with thee?"

"By God's help, my child."

At this moment a numerous and warlike band of Normans emerged from
the woods, in full view, and paused on the edge of the Swamp.

"Now they come forth to their doom. The Lord hath delivered them
into our hands," said Haga.

Foremost amongst them the old man recognised his son Ordgar; his
arms were bound, and a cord attached to the thongs which confined
them, held by a man-at-arms.

We will transport ourselves to the other side of the Swamp.

Hugo sat there on his steed, in the full panoply of warlike pride,
throbbing with the desire of vengeance, and with the hope of
recovering his son--whom he was destined never to see again; for
justice, although her pace may seem tardy, seldom fails to overtake
evildoers, even in this world; and he who, as men thought, had
slain others by fire, was destined to perish by the same avenging

But no shadow of coming events was there to disturb his equanimity;
all seemed to promise the gratification of his fondest wishes, and
he was in the highest spirits.

And now he bade them bring Ordgar forward, and the guide--his feet
free, but his arms bound--stood before him.

"Thou hast said that thou knowest the road through the Swamp?"

"I do."

"Lead on, then, and beware of treachery; for if there be any doubt,
even a doubt, of thy faith, thou diest."

"Fear not; my faith is pledged--it shall be kept."

Pledged, yes: but to whom?

The Normans failed to see the "double entendre" of this reply.
Their claim was but the omnipotence of torture.

The thrall led the way to a spot where the earth bore marks of
footsteps; here it was evident men had recently entered the maze
which stretched before them.

Hugo pressed forward and took the cord himself.

"Now," he said, "Normans, follow me. Lead on, thrall; remember thy
farm at Aescendune, and thy forfeit life."

Onward, infatuated as the Egyptians when they passed between the
suspended walls of the Red Sea, the band followed their leader into
the maze; the path was narrow, the reeds were tall, and soon they
towered above the heads of the rash invaders.

High bulrushes, tall flags; thick, sedgy vegetation beneath; the
ground, firm enough below at first, soon became quaking and felt
strangely elastic under their feet. The marsh was here of great
width, and shortly they had advanced a considerable distance from
firm ground, and were in the midst of the Swamp.

And here the path became more and more difficult. Sometimes only
one could pass at once; nor could they see distinctly where they
were going. The sun, too, which might have guided them as to the
direction of their march, was temporarily clouded.

"Dog," said Hugo to the captive guide, "if thou misleadest us thou
shalt die."

"A man can die but once."

"Thou art a bold villain," said the baron, raising his sword.

"Slay me, and who will guide thee through the marsh?"

"True; do thy duty and fear nought."

"I will do my duty."

All this passed while they were slowly advancing, and the strange
part of it was this, that they did not seem to get to the end of
their toil. Little did they suspect that they were wandering in a
path which knew no end, save the bottom of the quagmire.

And now the marks of the feet, which had hitherto appeared plain
before Hugo as he rode, were seen no more; nor could the baron tell
the precise spot when they faded from sight; they had become
fainter and fainter, and then had vanished.

"Dog, where are the footmarks? thou art wandering from the road."

"We shall soon find them again."

"Are we nearly over the Swamp?"

"Thou wilt see firm land soon."

The baron grasped the cord tightly.

Onward they wandered, and still naught but rushes and flags, sedges
and dried reeds, met their gaze, until a promontory of firm
ground--a rock of deep red sandstone--rose from the mire, above
their heads--distant, it might be, a bow shot.

The baron uttered a sigh of relief, when his horse stumbled; the
poor brute strove to recover his footing, and sank deeper into the
treacherous quicksand. Over went the Baron, over his horse's head.

Ordgar snatched at the cord; it escaped Hugo's grasp; the guide was
amidst the reeds, and in one moment he had made his escape; the
reeds parted, waved again, higher than the head of the fugitive,
and the baron saw him no more; only a mocking laugh arose to
augment the rage of the baffled tyrant.

But that rage was speedily changed to terror, for, as the baron
rose, his feet sank beneath him, and he felt as if some unseen hand
had grasped them in the tenacity of the quicksand, just as a faint
cloud of smoke rolled by overhead.

Meanwhile the men in the rear were pressing on, and the foremost
advanced to help their leader and his struggling steed; but all who
did so were soon in the mire in like fashion, sinking deeper with
each struggle.

Oh, how awful that sucking, clasping feeling beneath the surface of
the earth, that gradual sinking out of sight--a process lasting
perhaps for hours. But hours were not given to Baron Hugo; for at
this moment the awful cry of "Fire!" "Fire!" was heard on all
sides, and a loud mocking shout of laughter from hundreds of unseen
enemies, now safe on the firm ground beyond the Swamp, was the

A cloud of thick smoke rolled over the reeds, and cries of distress
and anguish arose yet more loudly.

"Death to the incendiary! let him who burnt the monks of St.
Wilfred die by fire himself as is meet!"

The latter cry arose from the borders of the Swamp, hidden from
sight by thick eddying billows of smoke.

A flashing sheet of flame, then another--clouds of thick smoke
rolling above--the crackling of flame, devouring the dry
herbage--stifling heat, yet more unendurable each moment--suffocation
impending as the air became thicker and denser.

Held by the quicksand, and sinking deeper and deeper--only raised
above the ground from the middle of the body; so Hugo awaited his
just fate--and felt it just.

"Oh for an hour to repent! oh for a priest! My sins have found me

A sudden gust of wind opened a passage through the smoke, and
revealed in the lurid light of the flames--Wilfred of Aescendune!

For a moment the baron thought himself dead, and at the judgment
seat; then as he saw his supposed victim standing in safety, afar
off on the high rock, and pointing out the scene, with awe yet
exultation on his youthful face, he grasped, as in a moment, the
whole secret of the forces which had been arrayed against him, and
tasted an agony bitterer than that of death.

"All is lost," he cried.

His courage now gave way; he proffered fabulous rewards to any who
would save him; but none could help; nay, all were in like
distress. His brain reeled--the flames approached--nearer--nearer.

It was an awful scene. The marsh was a raging furnace. The exulting
cries of the English mingled with the groans of their suffering
foes. Pity there was none--the remembrance of the burnt priory had
extinguished that sweet virtue.

Ah! who shall tell of the terrible hatred, the thirst of blood,
which war--begotten of man's fellest passions--had created in the
hearts of the oppressed? Who would not pray for peace on earth,
good will towards men {xv}?


The castle and village of Aescendune lay in deep silence all
through this eventful day; it was in early spring, and the air was
balmy, the sun bright, the birds sang their sweetest songs, the
hedgerows and trees put forth their fresh green buds, and all
nature seemed instinct with life.

Only a few gray-headed servitors were left to guard the precincts
of the castle, for no attack was apprehended from the marauders of
the forest, as the Normans styled the English; and every one who
could bear arms had left to swell the final triumph of Hugo.

Noontide came, and found the little band, of some score aged men,
intent upon their midday meal. This accomplished, they reclined in
various easy positions, around the battlements, or on the
greensward without, while some had even penetrated into the forest
in their eagerness to hear the first news of the extermination of
the English, which none doubted was close at hand.

Towards the evening, one of them, who lay reclining on a mossy bank
beneath a spreading beech, on a slight eminence, observed a great
smoke rising above the tree tops in the distance.

"Doubtless," thought he, "they are smoking the vermin out, or
burning the houses and barns--of which we have heard--within the
circle of the Deadly Swamp."

But as the smoke increased more and more, a certain vague feeling
of anxiety gained possession of him, and he longed for more
accurate means of observation.

"Would I were not so old!

"Oh, young Tristam," he cried, as he observed a Norman boy, son of
one of the men-at-arms--a lad of about twelve years of age--"come

"What does all that smoke mean?" cried the lad; "are they burning
the encampment of the rebels, or has the forest caught fire? it is
dry enough."

"No doubt they are burning the huts of those rebels and outlaws in
the Swamp; but, Tristam, thou art young; canst thou not run over
through the woods? The hill, whereon the pine lately struck by
lightning stands, will command a distant view of the Swamp; then
return, and tell me all."

The boy started like a greyhound, and ran through the woods with

"A fine stripling, that; the saints grant his arms may turn out as
good as his legs," growled out old Raoul; and so he waited with
such patience as he could command.

An hour passed, and the old man was dozing, when the boy returned.

"Wake up, old man," he said, "I bring news."

"News--what news? Are they all burnt--slain--captives?"

"I know not; only the Dismal Swamp is a mass of flame, and all the
reeds and flags are burning merrily; 'tis such a bonfire!"

"I believe the lad would clap his hands at a bonfire, if his own
grandmother were burning therein as a witch. How dost thou know
whether this is for us or against us?"

"How can I tell?" said the lad, more seriously.

"Perchance our people had not all crossed, and the English fired it
to secure their own safety. But how could they have foreseen our

His anxiety was not of long duration, for an object was seen
emerging from the shadow of the woods, and making by the base of
the little hill towards Aescendune.

"What cheer?" cried the old man, "hither!"

And as he spoke the stranger turned his head, hearing the familiar
sounds, and ascended the hill slowly, and with pain.

He presented a dismal object; his hair and beard had been scorched
in some intense fire, and his clothes blackened and burnt.

The two Normans, old man and boy, stood up aghast.

"What! is it thou, Owen of Bayeux?"

"I was that man a few hours agone. I doubt what I am now."

"What hast thou suffered, then? Where are the baron and his men?"

"Burnt in the Dismal Swamp?"


"Yes, burnt; I speak good French do I not?"

"Owen, Owen," cried the old Raoul, "do not mistake thy friends for
foes! tell us what dreadful event has happened, to disturb thy

"Would it were but disturbed! Oh that I should have lived to see
this day!"

"Tell us," cried young Tristam, "tell us, Owen."

"A fate was on us, as on the Egyptians of old; only they perished
by water, we by fire."

"But how?"

"Ordgar the guide, whom we thought we had secured so opportunely,
led us into the marshes and left us therein; and while we were
there, the English fired the reeds and bulrushes on all sides."

"And the baron?"

"He and all have perished; I only have escaped to tell thee. Where
are the rest who were left behind?"

"Here they are," cried Tristam, as a group of old warriors

"Come, Roger, Jocelyn, Jolliffe--come hear the news," cried the
boy. "Oh, come and hear them; can they be true? All burnt? all

The horror-struck Normans soon learnt the fatal truth from Owen of
Bayeux, and all their stoical fortitude was shaken.

"I was one of the last on the track, and saved only by a mere
chance, or the grace of St. Owen, my patron. I had dropped my
quiver of arrows, and had gone back a few steps to fetch it; they
brought me to the edge of the reedy marsh, and I was just
returning, having found the quiver, when I heard a cry, followed by
echoes as from a chain of sentinels all round the marsh--'Fire the
reeds!' I ran back to the main land, climbed a tree which stood
handy, and saw the marsh burst into fire in a hundred spots. It was
lighted all round, while our men were in the midst. A chain of
enemies surrounded it. I did my best to warn our lord or to die
with him. I penetrated the marsh a little distance, when the flames
beat me back--man can't fight fire."

"Let us go to the castle, take what we can carry, and fly," said
Raoul; "they will be here soon, if they have destroyed our men; and
there will be no safety nearer than Warwick for us."

"Can we abandon our post?" asked one.

"Not till we are sure all is lost," said another.

"Tristam, thou must remain here and watch, and warn us if any

"But how long shall I stay?" sobbed the alarmed boy.

"Nay, he is too young," cried the fugitive from the marsh;
"besides, it is needless. I know they are all coming upon us--they
are thousands strong instead of hundreds, as that liar, the guide,
stated. We must fly ourselves, for the time, and bid the monks, the
women, and children to fly also."

"Shall we burn the castle, lest it fall into their hands as a

"Nay, that were to give up all; we shall return thither again, and
that soon; leave it open for them. The Norman lion will prove more
than a match for the English wolf in the long run."

"Onward, then--home--home."

And the dispirited men returned to the castle.

It was manifestly useless to attempt to defend the place; all that
could be done was to save their lives, and such "portable property"
as could be removed on the instant.

So the old men only returned to warn their astonished comrades, and
then gathering such household goods as they most valued, they
loaded the horses and oxen which remained, and journeyed to bear
the news to Warwick.

But before they went, Tristam was sent to warn the prior and his
confreres at the priory of St. Denys that danger was at hand.

"I care not," said that valiant prior of the Church Militant,
"though as many Englishmen were in the woods as leaves on the
trees; they shall be excommunicated if they interfere with us; our
weapons are not carnal."

So the Norman Prior and his monks shut their gates and remained,
while through the forest road the men-at-arms escorted all the
women and children of the village, the interlopers who had taken
the place of the banished English, towards the town of Warwick, and
its famous castle, where Henry de Beauchamp had recently been
appointed governor by the Conqueror, the first Norman Earl of
Warwick, and the ancestor of a famous line of warriors. We have
already met his countess at Aescendune, on the occasion of the
dedication of the new priory.

The Normans had all left the castle and village before sunset,
leaving the gates open and the drawbridge down, as they expressly
said that the English might be under no temptation to devastate a
place which must soon be in their hands again.

The castle lay empty and deserted for an hour or two; the cattle,
too many to be removed, began to low and bleat because they missed
their customary attention; only in the Priory of St. Denys did
things go on as usual; there the bells rang out for vespers and
compline, and the foreign brethren went on their way as if the
events of the day had no importance for them.

It was already nightfall, when the forests gave up hundreds of
armed men from their dark shade, who poured down like a torrent
upon Aescendune, and directed their course towards the castle,
where they were somewhat astonished to find the drawbridge down,
the gates open.

At first they paused as if they feared treachery, but Wilfred
stepped forward and stood in the gateway.

Turning round he addressed the multitude.

"Men of Aescendune, bear me witness that, in the name of my fathers
and ancestors, I, their heir, take possession of mine inheritance."

A loud burst of cheers greeted these words, and the English,
following their young lord into the castle, found it utterly

No words can describe the glee with which they paraded the
battlements, and flung out the ancient banner of the house of
Aescendune to the winds, from the summit of the keep, after which
they penetrated chamber after chamber, with almost childish
curiosity, so new was the idea of such a building to their

But it was with sensations of chilling horror that they explored
its dungeons beneath the very foundations of the towers. Some were
cells for solitary confinement, of the shape of a tomb and not much
larger, the stone doors of which shut with a gloomy solemn
sound--the knell of hope to the captive.

And then they came to the torture chamber, of which they had
already heard from Ordgar, son of Haga, and saw the seat of
judgment, so often occupied by him who had now passed to his dread
account; they beheld the rack, the brazier, the thumbscrew, and

"I am sick," said the English heir; "take away these accursed
things; burn what will burn, and throw the rest in the river;
should our grandchildren find them, they may well ask what they
were made for."

Meanwhile the monks at the new priory were calmly awaiting their
fate with a courage worthy of a better cause. They heard the joyful
shouts of the English as they took possession of the castle,
without flinching; they rang their bells loudly and defiantly, for
the compline service at the third hour of the night (9 P.M.) This
last act of audacity was too much; the natives surrounded the new
priory, beat at its doors, rang the bell at the gate, blew their
horns, and made a noise which baffles description, while they
proceeded to batter down the gates.

But not until the service was concluded, when the gate only hung by
one hinge, did the prior appear.

"Who are ye," he cried, "who molest the house of God, and those who
serve Him within?"

"A pious fox"--"a holy fox"--"smoke them out"--"set the place on
fire"--"let them taste the fate which befell better men on this

"In whose name," said the undismayed prior, "do ye summon me?"

"In the name of the descendant of him who first founded this
priory--of Wilfred, thane of Aescendune."

"Ye mock us; he is dead."

"Nay, he lives," said a voice, and our youthful hero appeared on
the scene, and addressed the astonished monk.

"Prior, go forth from the house thou and thy brethren have usurped,
and make way for the true owners. By my side stands the sole
survivor of the brethren whom Hugo de Malville slaughtered, Father
Kenelm, a Benedictine like thyself. Admit him; he will tell thee

"Since it may be no better, he shall come in. If I open the gates
for him, ye will not take advantage?"

"Stand back," cried Wilfred, "let the holy monk enter alone."

And, shortly after, Father Kenelm stood in the chapter house, and
explained all to the astonished Norman brethren. He told the story
of the destruction of their predecessors, and pointed out the
danger of resisting the now triumphant English, who felt themselves
the avengers of their slaughtered ministers and friends, the former
monks of St. Wilfred.

"It is well," said the other; "we will go forth; thou speakest with
justice, as brother to brother, and whatever befall thy companions,
this shall be counted in thy favour if I have a tongue to speak."

So the Norman prior and his monks took their way unharmed to the
nearest house of their order.

It was night and dark clouds of smoke rolled heavenward, blotting
out the fair stars from sight. Silence dread and awful reigned over
the Dismal Swamp, the scene of strife and suffering; the very
beasts fled the spot, nor could the birds of night linger in the
heated air.

But at Aescendune all was tumult and joy. The English had advanced
against an undefended stronghold, and Wilfred was at last, as his
fathers had been, Lord of Aescendune.

There was a banquet that night in the castle hall. In the old days
of Roman triumphs, a man was placed behind the seat of the
conquering general as he sat in the intoxication of success, and
amidst the adulation of the multitude ever and anon whispered--
"Memento to moriturum."

So also there was an unseen attendant behind the chair of Wilfred.
In vain he strove to drive it away; the future would thrust itself
upon him.

He had slaked his vengeance to the uttermost and had no remorse: he
had avenged father, mother--the spiritual guides of his youth;
still he had once heard, even from them--"Vengeance is mine: I will
repay saith the Lord."

"Sing, bards," he cried out; "has no minstrel a new strain?"

They exerted themselves to the utmost; and Wilfred, determined to
rise to the occasion, threw off his sadness, ceased to speculate as
to the chances of the insurrection {xvi}; that night, at least,
he would give to joy--he would encourage his people who loved him
so faithfully by rejoicing with them.

So the song and the banquet lasted until the midnight hour, and the
castle of Hugo echoed the old forgotten songs of the glories of
Anglo-Saxon England.


Upon the banks of the Isis, about eight miles above its junction
with the Tame, stood the ancient town of Abingdon, which had grown
up around the famous monastic foundation of Ina, King of Wessex

The river divides, at this point, into three branches, encircling
two islands {xviii}; partly on the southern bank, and partly on
the nearest of these islands, stood the mighty Abbey, one of the
largest and most renowned of the Benedictine houses of England.

And on the other island the Conqueror himself had built a country
seat whither he often retired, as convenient headquarters, whence
to enjoy the pleasures of the chase in the vale of White Horse,
famous in the annals of the Anglo-Saxon race for Alfred's great
victory over the Danes.

Few, alas, of the old English inhabitants lingered in the town,
save as bondsmen; few of the old English brethren, save as drudges.

For had they not alike incurred the wrath of the victor? Had not
the chief vassals of the abbey led their men forth to fight under
the hapless Harold?--nevermore, alas! to return--and had not the
monks blessed their banner and sanctified their patriotic zeal?

And since, on the one hand, William claimed to be the lawful
sovereign, and, on the other, the Pope had blessed the invaders, it
was clear that the Godrics and Thurkills who had committed their

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