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

Part 4 out of 6

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cause to God before the wonder-working black cross of St. Mary's
Altar, were but rebels, and that the monks who had blessed them
were schismatics.

Hence the Normans in their hour of victory had cleared out laymen
and monks alike, root and branch, and the French tongue had
superseded the good old Anglo-Saxon dialect in the district.

It was a fine May evening, and the country was lovely in the
foliage of early summer.

A boat was descending the Isis, rowed by six stout rowers; it was
evidently from Oxenford, for the men bore the badges of Robert
D'Oyly, the Norman lord of that city, who had just built the tower
which yet stands, gray and old, beside the mound raised on Isis
banks by Ethelfleda, lady of Mercia, daughter of the great Alfred,
and sister of Edward the Elder.

In the stern of the boat sat Etienne de Malville.

He had journeyed first to Warwick, where he met the fugitives from
Aescendune, and heard their story; burning with revenge, he had
sought the aid of Henry de Beauchamp, the Norman governor of the
city; but that worthy, seeing the whole countryside in rebellion,
bade Etienne repair to the king for further aid, while he himself
shut his gates, provisioned his castle, and promised to hold out
against the whole force of the Midlands, until the royal banner
came to scatter the rebels, like chaff before the winds.

Then Etienne repaired to Oxenford, where he was the guest of the
new governor, Robert D'Oyly, for the night, who sent him on by boat
to meet the king at Abingdon, whither William was daily expected to
arrive to keep Ascensiontide, for he was still observant of such

The servitors, seeing a boat arrive thus manned, were sensible at
once it must contain a traveller or pilgrim of some importance--
probably the latter; for, as we have already hinted, they had a
wonder-working relic, in the shape of a cross, said to have been
given to the abbey by the Empress Helena, and to contain a fragment
of the true cross itself.

True, it had failed to prosper the poor English, who knelt before
it, ere they went to die at Senlac; but of course that was because
the Pope was against them, and had suspended the flow of spiritual

At least, so said the Normans, and they extolled the Black Cross as
much as their predecessors.

"Pax vobiscum, domine," said the chamberlain, who happened to be at
the quay; "thou art come, doubtless, to bewail thy sins before the
cross of St. Mary's Abbey?"

"When my leisure permits, reverendissime pater; at present I seek
an immediate audience of the abbot, for whom I bear sad news."

"He is riding to meet the king. Listen, dost thou not hear the
trumpets?--that blast tells of their return together."

"Wilt thou grant me a chamber, that I may don meet apparel for the

"It is my duty; but of thy grace--tell me whom I entertain."

"The Lord of Aescendune, and patron of your branch house there."

The chamberlain bowed low, and turned to lead his guest within the
precincts. The rowers cried "largesse," and the young noble threw
them a handful of coin.

Soon Etienne was alone in a comfortable cell, and was attiring his
person, a duty a Norman seldom neglected; nor did he despise the
luxury of a bath, to the scorn of the un-laving natives. The Norman
was the gentleman of the period, alike in etiquette, attire, and

And likewise, some of the most beautiful of the animal creation are
the fiercest carnivora.

The abbot had put off his riding attire; he had clothed his feet in
dainty slippers instead of sandals, and had thrown a soft robe
around his monastic garb--contrasting strongly with the stern
attire prescribed by St. Benedict, and he was about to descend to
the hall, when the chamberlain in person told him of the arrival of

"Bid him share our poor meal; we will hear no bad news till we have
broken our fast; they sit ill on an empty stomach."

The chamberlain retired.

And there at the guest table in the refectory sat Etienne, and
marvelled to see how well the ascetics fared. Yet there was
refinement in their dishes; and there was little or no excess; they
drank the light wines of France, not the heavier ale and mead of
their predecessors.

The Latin grace said, they fell to. The joints of meat were passed
round, the game, the fish, and each used his fingers in the place
of forks, and then washed them in the finger glasses, which had
some purpose then to serve, ere they waved them in the air, and
then wiped them on delicate napkins.

The meal over, the abbot retired to his chamber, a pleasant room,
overlooking the river, and there he took his seat in a cosy chair
near the Gothic window, and sent for the visitor.

Etienne appeared; bent with the grace of youth, kissed the abbot's
hand, and then standing before him, with all due modesty, waited to
be addressed.

Such etiquette was exacted of those who had not yet won their

The abbot gave him a short benediction, a brief "Dens te custodiat
fili," and quickly added, "I am told thou hast news for me of our
little patrimony at Aescendune."

"The wolves have ravaged it, father; our own pious brethren are
ejected; English swine root in its precincts."

The abbot coloured.

"Who has dared to do this impiety?" he thundered.

"The English rebels and outlaws, who have long lain hidden in the
woods, led by the son of the rebel lord who fell at Senlac."

"The brethren--are they safe?"

"They are on their journey hither; the saints have protected
them--no thanks to the English."

"And how dared the stripling thou namest to do such deeds; where
was thy father, the Baron?"

"He was foully slain in an ambush:" and Etienne, who strove to keep
cool, could not restrain a strange quivering of the lips.

"Come, tell me all, my son; God comfort thee."

Etienne began his tale, and the reader will easily guess that
Wilfred's character fared very badly at his hands--that without any
wilful falsehood, of which indeed this proud young Norman was
incapable, so distorted a version of the facts known to our readers
was presented, that the abbot shuddered at the daring bloodthirstiness
and impiety of one so young as this English lad.

"It is enough--thou shalt have audience with the king at once. I
can obtain it for thee; God's justice shall not ever sleep, and
William is His chosen instrument. Hark!"

The compline bell began to ring.

"William attends the service tonight. I will crave an audience for
thee; meanwhile, compose thy thoughts for God's holy house. Come,
my son, this is the way to the chapel."

If the reader has visited the old colleges in Oxford or Cambridge,
he will easily conceive a fair idea of the general appearance of
the abbey of Abingdon.

There were the same quadrangles (vulgarly called "quads"), the same
cloisters, open to the air, but sheltered from sun and rain; which
find their fairest modern example, perhaps, in Magdalene College,
Oxen. The cells of the monks resembled in size and position the
rooms of the undergraduates at the olden colleges, although they
were far less luxuriously furnished.

Nor was the element of learning wanting. The Benedictines were
indeed the scholars of Europe, and some hundred boys were educated,
free of cost, at Abingdon--the cloisters in summer serving as their
classrooms. And let me tell my schoolboy readers, the fare and the
discipline were alike very hard.

But the chapel in great abbeys--like the one we are writing
about--resembled a cathedral rather than a college chapel. And he
who has the general plan of a cathedral in his mind can easily
imagine the abbey church of St. Mary's at Abingdon.

The choir was devoted to the monks alone; the nave and aisles
apportioned to the laity; the side chapels contained altars
dedicated to special saints, and occasional services.

Such was the building into which Etienne de Malville entered, not
without religious awe, as the pealing organ--then recently
introduced by the Normans--rolled its volume of sound through the
vaulted aisles.

The monks were all in the choir, which was lighted by torches and
tapers. In the nave a few laity of the town were scattered--here a
knight or soldier, there a mechanic.

Suddenly, as Etienne took his place, the tread of many armed heels
broke the silence, and penetrated up the aisle.

The sound ceased; those who caused it were already in their chosen
places, and the monks had begun the Psalms, when Etienne heard a
peculiarly stern and deep voice near at hand taking up the sacred
words of Israel's royal singer, with which the worshipper seemed

Then, for the first time, he perceived that the Conqueror--the
mightiest of earth's warriors--was he from whom the voice
proceeded, kneeling without state in the midst of his subjects,
lords and vassals, to join in the late evening service of the
church {xix}.


The mighty Conqueror of England was the central figure of the age
in which he lived--the greatest soldier of an age of soldiers, and
not less statesman than warrior.

Born to a life of warfare, the Conquest had been but the
culminating point of a career spent in the tented field--but on
that one event he staked his all.

For had he been vanquished at Senlac there was no hope of flight;
the English commanded the sea, while his suzerain of France, ever
on the watch to regain those Norman dominions which Rollo had won,
would have taken instant advantage of the loss of its military
leaders to re-annex Normandy to the French crown, and must have

Had William fallen in England the Norman name and glory would have
perished at Hastings.

Doubtless, he felt how great was the stake he had placed at the
hazard of the die, and having won it, he used it as his own.

Yet he was not all of stone. The Anglo-Saxon chronicler says of
him--"He was mild to those good men who loved God, although stern
beyond measure to those who resisted his will."

Hence the power which men like Lanfranc or Anselm had over him; and
it must be added that his life was exemplary as a private
individual, his honour unsullied, his purity unstained.

Stern was the race of which he was the head and the ruling spirit.
Well does the old chronicler, Henry of Huntingdon, say:

"God had chosen the Normans to humble the English nation, because
He perceived that they were more fierce than any other people."

And we modern English must remember that we are the descendants of
old English and Normans combined. They came to "high mettle" the
blood of our race, and when the conquerors and the conquered were
moulded into one people, the result was the Englishmen who won
Crecy and Agincourt against overwhelming odds, whose very name was
a terror to continental soldiery, as Froissart abundantly

Grieve as we may over the tyranny and wrong of the Conquest,
England would never have been so great without it as she afterwards

Etienne knelt in the abbey chapel until the last worshippers had
gone out, when a hand was laid upon his shoulder, and a gentle
voice said:

"The King awaits thee, my son, in the abbot's audience chamber."

In spite of his boldness, Etienne felt a strange tremor as he
passed through the cloisters and approached the dreaded monarch.

But he himself belonged to the same stern race, and when the
folding doors opened, and he saw the King seated in the abbot's
chair, he had perfectly recovered his composure. With winning grace
he bent the knee before his liege, and gazed into that face whose
frown was death.

But it was not frowning now; the expression was almost paternal,
for the Conqueror loved a gallant youth.

"Rise up, my son," he said; "the holy father here tells me you bear
stirring news."

"My liege, he hath spoken rightly. I have to tell of rebellion and
sacrilege; our English vassals have risen against us, and my brave
father has fallen by their hands; our castle is in their holding,
and they have driven the brethren of St. Benedict homeless from
their monastery."

"And who has dared this deed?"

"Wilfred, son of the rebel who fell at Senlac."

"Wilfred of Aescendune! I remember the stripling when he sought his
father's corpse on the battlefield, but had heard that he had lost
his life in the fire which consumed the monastery."

"Nay, sire, he had fled to the rebels, and we doubt not now that he
and the outlaws, with whom he found a home, fired the monastery,
themselves, to cover his flight."

"Tell me, then, what could have driven him to so violent a course,
and tell me truly; for some cause there must have been."

It must be remembered that, at this period, William had not given
up all hope of reconciling the English to his rule.

"I know no cause, sire, save--"

"Save what?" said he sternly, for Etienne hesitated.

"My liege, the lad, whom your royal will made the heir to the lands
my father had won by his services on the field of battle, never
lost his sympathy with the rebel rout around, or all had perhaps
been well; he struck me in defence of a churl whom I found stealing
game, and I challenged him to fight."

"And did he shirk the contest? I should not have thought it of

"He ran away, sire, and was brought back; was sent to the monastery
by my father for a time of penance as a punishment; the same night
the building was burnt by the outlaws, as we have every reason to
think by his connivance, since he joined them and became their
head, while we all thought him dead."

"And how didst thou learn he yet lived?"

"By his actions; the outlaws under his command burnt our farms,
slew our men in the woods, and not our common men only, whose loss
might better be borne, but they murdered a noble youth, my fellow
page, entrusted to my father's care, Louis de Marmontier; and
finally, by the help of a false guide, they entrapped my father and
his retainers into a marsh, which they set on fire, and all

Etienne spoke these words with deep emotion, but still firmly and

"Fear not, my son, thy father's death shall be avenged, or my sword
has lost its power. Weep not for the dead--women weep, men avenge
wrongs on the wrongdoer; but tell me, art thou certain of these
facts? didst thou or any one else see this Wilfred at the head of
the outlaws?"

"My liege, I saw him myself; I penetrated their fastnesses in the
forest, and but narrowly escaped with life."

"And saw Wilfred of Aescendune?"

"Distinctly, my liege, almost face to face, in command of the

"And then, what happened after the death of thy father?"

"They issued from the woods, seized the castle--the few defenders
left had fled to Warwick--and then summoned the whole neighbourhood
to arms. The bale fires were blazing on every hill. The Count of
Warwick bid me tell you, my liege, that he will hold his castle
till aid arrives, but that he is powerless to check the wave of
insurrection which is spreading over the country far and wide."

"It is well; our banner shall be unfurled and these English shall
feel the lion's wrath, which they have provoked. Tomorrow is
Ascension Day--the truce of God--on Friday we march. Meanwhile I
commend thee to the abbot's hospitality; he will bring thee to the
banquet tomorrow after the High Mass. Remember, a true warrior
should be as devout in church as fearless in the field."

Etienne left the presence, assured that the death of his father
would be speedily avenged, and slept more soundly that night than
he had since the fatal fire in the marshes. He loved his father,
and it must be remembered that he knew not that father's crimes.
Not for one moment did he suspect that he had been concerned in the
burning of the monastery, nor did he dream that there had been
aught in the death of the Lady of Aescendune save the hand of

The one absorbing passion of his life at this moment was hatred of
his successful rival--not so much as his rival, but as the murderer
of his father.

All the Norman inhabitants of the neighbourhood crowded the abbey
church on the morrow, and were present at the Mass of the day; the
poor English were there in small numbers; they could not worship
devoutly in company with their oppressors, but frequented little
village sanctuaries, too poverty stricken to invite Norman
cupidity, where, on that very account, the poor clerics of English
race might still minister to their scattered flocks, and preach to
them in the language Alfred had dignified by his writings, but
which the Normans compared to the "grunting of swine."

And the service in the church over, how grand was the company which
met in the banqueting hall of the palace on the island!

The Conqueror sat at the head of the board; on his right hand the
Count d'Harcourt, head of an old Norman family, which still
retained many traces of its Danish descent, and was as little
French-like as Normans of that date could be; De le Pole,
progenitor of a fated house, well-known in English history; De la
Vere, the ancestor of future Earls of Oxford; Arundel, who
bequeathed his name to a town on the Sussex coast, where his
descendants yet flourish; Clyfford, unknowing of the fate which
awaited his descendants in days of roseate hue; FitzMaurice, a name
to become renowned in Irish story; Gascoyne, ancestor of a judge
whose daring justice should immortalise his name; Hastings, whose
descendant fell the victim of the Boar of Gloucester in later days;
Maltravers, whose name was destined to be defiled at Berkeley
Castle in Plantagenet times; Peverel, a name now familiar through
the magic pen of Scott; Talbot, whose progeny, in times when the
Normans' children had become the English of the English, burnt the
ill-fated "Maid" at Rouen {xx}.

There was a bishop present who blessed the meats, but Etienne could
have spared the presence of Geoffrey of Coutances, whom he knew as
the friend of Wilfred, and the author of many inconvenient (and, as
Etienne thought, impertinent) inquiries about that young
unfortunate, after the burning of the old priory.

Who shall describe the splendour of that feast? We will not attempt
it, nor will we try to analyse the feelings of the country youth so
suddenly introduced into so brilliant an assembly.

But amidst the intoxication of the scene his mind continually
wandered to the sombre forests, the blackened marsh, the Dismal
Swamp, and his desolated home; and he would almost have given his
very soul to stand face to face, foot to foot, with his youthful
rival, sword in hand, with none to interfere between them, and so
to end the long suspense.

While some such dream was floating before his imagination, and its
details were painted vivid as life upon the retina of the mind, a
quiet voice, but one not without some authority, whispered in his

"My son, I would fain ask thee of a youth in whom I am somewhat
interested, and who is, I am told, yet alive, risen, as it were,
from the dead--Wilfred of Aescendune."

Etienne's face would have made a fine study for a painter, as he
encountered the gaze of Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances.

The bishop drew the youth gently into a deep embrasure, where a
curtain before the opening veiled a window seat, for the feast was
now over, and the guests were mingling in general conversation.

"Father," said Etienne "am I, whom he has made an orphan, a fit

"My son," said Geoffrey, "I respect an orphan's feelings, yet in
justice to the lad whom, as thou sayest, I once befriended, I must
ask a few questions. He appeared to me naturally affectionate and
ingenuous--one who would love those who treated him well, but who
would grievously resent scorn and contempt; tell me honestly, didst
thou receive him as a brother, as thou wert bound to do,
considering the alliance between thy father and his mother, or
didst thou regard him simply as thy rival?"

Etienne hesitated.

"My son, thou cravest knighthood; the true knight is bound to speak
the truth."

"I own, father, that I felt him my rival."

"And never thought of him as a brother?"


"Then, naturally, this led to injurious words and contemptuous

"I cannot deny it; nor do I now regret it, knowing what he is."

"Perchance, my son, thou hast had much to do with making him what
he is. One more thing: of course Wilfred would naturally sympathise
with the old retainers of his father. Tell me, didst thou ever
ill-use them in his sight?"

"I may have done so sometimes. But, my lord, you, who at the head
of an army, recently sanctioned the mutilation of the rebels in

"My child, peace and war are different things, and in the latter,
men are compelled to do that, from which in days of peace they
would shrink, only that timely severity may prevent further
bloodshed, and so save many Christian lives. But I am speaking of
what thou didst to thine own father's vassals in time of
peace--didst thou ill-treat them before thy English brother?"

"I may have been sharp sometimes, and used the ashen twig freely."

"Only the ashen twig? My son, tell me all the story about the
'young poaching churl' who was the cause of such deadly enmity
between you."

Etienne told it with reluctance.

"Pray was the lad in any manner dear to Wilfred?"

"He was his foster brother," said Etienne, covering his face as
conscience smote him, for he remembered the death of Eadwin, and
the way in which the mother of the murdered boy had returned good
for evil.

"Then, my son, thou canst not acquit thyself of blame."

"But even if I were in fault so far, father, the terrible events
which have occurred since do not lie at my door--the burning of the
monastery, the death of my poor father."

"Only so far as this, that all might have been prevented hadst thou
received Wilfred as a brother, for thou didst drive him to the
woods--according to thine own account. But depend upon it, there is
more behind. A brave youth like Wilfred would not have fled simply
for fear of the combat, nor would one who loved his own people, as
your story proves, have connived at the burning of an English
monastery--monks and all. Nay, my son, the mystery is not solved
yet; in God's own time it will be, and depend upon it, there will
be much to forgive on both sides. Think of this when thou repeatest
thy paternoster tonight; for the present we will close this


A fortnight only had passed since the scenes described in our last
chapter, and we must again take our readers to Aescendune.

It was the hour of the evening meal in the castle hall where so
lately Hugo sat in his pride, and in his place sat his youthful
rival, Wilfred.

Scarcely of age, the vicissitudes of his life had made a man of him
before his time, and a stranger would have credited him with many
more years than he really possessed. His face was bronzed with the
sun, and his features had assumed all the appearance of early
manhood, while there was a gravity in his expression befitting a
born leader of men, such as his warlike grandfather, Alfgar, had
been in the old Danish wars sixty years earlier.

The accustomed features of an English feast, as distinct from a
Norman banquet, have been dwelt upon too often in these Chronicles
to need recapitulation here, and we shall only beg our readers to
suppose the eating over, the wine and mead handed round, and the
business of the evening begun.

The hall was crowded; all the ancient vassals of the house of
Aescendune, who yet survived, were present, and many new faces. By
the side of Wilfred sat a distinguished guest, an East Anglian, to
whom all present paid much attention.

The occasion was one of much gravity; only that evening messengers
had arrived, bringing the serious announcement that William the
mighty Conqueror, with a force said to be numerous as the leaves of
the trees, was at hand, and the gathering had been assembled to
discuss the measures expedient in the common danger.

There was deep silence; the summer twilight alone illumined the
grave faces of the English guests and vassals of Aescendune, as
Wilfred arose to address them.

"Englishmen and brethren," he began, "we have not invited you all
to share our evening meal on an occasion of idle ceremony--many of
you have heard the news I have to tell, and more will anticipate
them. The usurper, the bloodstained oppressor of our race is at
hand; he rests this night at Warwick, with a force far exceeding
any that we can gather to meet him; their lances might uphold the
skies, their arrows darken the heavens. All the robber barons of
note are there; the butcher priest Ode, who smote with the mace at
Hastings, because he might not shed blood, the fierce Lord of
Oxford, the half Danish Harcourt, Arundel, Talbot, Maltravers,
Peveril, Morton--all swell the train which has advanced to the
destruction of our faint hope of liberty in the Midlands, our trust
that at least old Mercia may defy the despoiler."

"Let us die, then, like brave men," was the cry of many, "since we
cannot live as freemen."

"And shed our blood in vain, leaving the victory to the oppressors!
Nay, we must live for another Senlac, which shall reverse the doom
of the former. Leofric of Deeping, our guest from East Anglia, will
tell you of one who yet defies Norman tyranny, with whom we may
unite, under whose banner victory may yet bless the old flag of

Leofric rose, amidst cheers and demonstrations of applause,
somewhat tempered by the gravity of the occasion; nay, a few
faint-hearted churls said, "Let us hear what he has to propose
before we cheer him."

"Has the name of Hereward, Lord of Brunn, yet reached your ears?"

A general shout of approbation replied, "Yes!"

"He it was who, while yet but a stripling, stirred up the people of
Dover to drive the proud Eustace out of their town, in good King
Edward's time, when he slew with his own hands a French knight. He
fought by the side of our Harold when he tamed Griffith, the
wildcat of Wales. He was in Flanders, to our great loss, when the
Normans invaded England, and there he heard, with grief, of the
death of our Harold and the slaughter at Senlac. Now, hearing that
many brave men yet defy the tyrant in the Isle of Ely, protected by
its bogs and marshes, he has accepted the invitation of the Abbot
Thurstan, and has hastened to return home and place himself at
their head. Three years have passed since Hastings, and yet England
is unconquered; the Normans concentrate their force against Ely in
vain; Crowland, Spalding, and many other places are recovered, and
the Danes promise their assistance to deliver those who were their
brethren under Canute from Norman tyranny.

"Therefore, in the name of the Lord of Brunn and the Abbot Thurstan
of Ely, I invite you to repair thither, to take part in the great
struggle so nobly begun for the deliverance of England from the
hateful yoke."

There was a dead silence, broken at last by a voice:

"But might we not first strike a blow for our own poor homes?"

"That blow shall be struck in time, and in time not far off; but
now it would be a waste, and a sinful waste of English blood, just
when every man is wanted. What can ye do against ten thousand
Normans, out here in the open country? or what good can ye hope to
do in the woods? Nay, come to the Camp of Refuge, the last retreat
of England's noblest sons; there is the noble Archbishop Stigand,
the faithful English prelate, who dared to defy the Conqueror to
his face; there the Bishops of Lincoln, Winchester, Durham, and
Lindisfarne, whose fair palaces are usurped by Norman intruders;
there the patriotic Abbots of Glastonbury and St. Albans; there
nobles, thanes--all who yet dare to hope for England's salvation;
and thence shall the tide of victory return after the ebb, and
sweep the Bastard and his Norman dogs into the sea. England shall
be England again, yea, to the latest generations."

Cheer upon cheer arose from the company; it was evident that the
envoy had gained his point. Wilfred now stood up.

"There are but two courses open to us, men of Aescendune--to return
to our haunts in the woods, to be hunted out in the next dry season
like vermin; the other, to repair to the Camp of Refuge. I, for
one, have decided; I will no longer hide in the Dismal Swamp like a
brock--I will accept the invitation of Abbot Thurstan, and live or
die by the side of the brave Hereward."

"And I," "and I," "and I."

"We cannot all go," said Wilfred; "some must remain to escort our
women and children to the woods, and to defend them there, if need
be, till the tide of victory, of which our guest has told us,
reaches these parts. This task befits the oldest men amongst us;
but let each man make his choice this evening, for by midnight all
should be settled, and we who go should be on our way to the east."

"And are we to leave Aescendune to the foe?"

"Nay, this accursed monument of Norman tyranny, this castle shall
fall, the flames shall consume it this night, and we will give
every house, barn, and stable to the flames also. The Normans shall
find poor lodgings for man and beast when they come tomorrow.
Etienne, son of the murderer Hugo, shall enter upon a desolate
heritage, and feed his horses with cinders.

"Haga, oldest retainer of our house, wilt thou take the command of
those who remain? let them be thy children."

"I accept the charge," said the old man, and bowed his head.

"Now, who will remain with him in the woods, and who will go with
me? Let those who would ride to the Camp of Refuge hold up their
hands on high."

"Ulf, Sexwulf, Tosti, Wulfgar, Ordgar,"--and so Wilfred went on
counting all the younger and more impetuous spirits on his side,
his heart swelling with pardonable pride, as he thought he should
not go alone, or as a mere fugitive, to the help of the patriotic

But the aged men hung their heads; most of them had kindred--some a
wife, some children, and even amongst the younger there were those
whose love to an aged parent kept them back; the ties of family
were ever strong in the English heart.

So there were, after all, only about a hundred gallant youths, who
elected to make the dangerous ride across the heart of England,
Norman infested, with their young chieftain.

"A hundred such men will be a welcome addition to our numbers; few
thanes have joined us more worthily attended," said Leofric.

The meeting now broke up.

Great was the confusion in the village that night, and sad the
partings between friends and kinsfolk. All the beasts of burden
were put in requisition; only a hundred of the choicest steeds
reserved for the brave band who were to accompany their beloved
lord to the Camp.

By midnight these steeds were laden, and all was ready for the

Then a dozen stern men bore brands of fire through the village, and
soon every house burst into flames.

It was sad to see their homes burning; it seemed almost a crime to
apply the torch; but each man thought it better far, than to leave
them for Normans to dwell in.

And soon a brighter blaze startled the neighbourhood--the castle
cast its broad banner of flame to the heavens, and thick clouds of
smoke blotted out the stars. Then the priory, the short-lived
priory, followed the lead of the castle, and the valley was light
as in broad day, while the river seemed to run with blood as it
reflected the blaze.

And by the light two parties left the village in opposite
directions--the last farewells were spoken. Into the woods--gloomy
and desolate, dimly lighted up by the glare, which filled the
heavens, along the river, glowing as it reflected the blaze--into
the woods the two different parties took their way.

The one was led by Wilfred, and Leofric as guide, the other by
Haga. And so the forest swallowed them up, and Aescendune knew them
no more.

The fire burnt on, but none were there to heed it; tower and
rampart came crashing down into the red ruins, but a few affrighted
birds were the only living witnesses of the doom of the proud
building, which Hugo had erected as the badge of the slavery of his
English vassals.

Crash! crash! and the answer came from the priory; down fell the
castle towers, down fell the priory bell turrets. Norman count and
Norman monk were alike homeless.

The morning sun rose brightly upon the devastation, the birds
resumed their matin songs, for it was a lovely morning in June; but
as yet no human footfall broke the oppressive silence.

It was the early hour of summer sunrise, and the distant sound of a
convent bell varied the monotony of the scene, as it called the
faithful to prayer. A sudden sound, as of many riders riding
briskly, and a band of lances--the avant garde of a mighty
army--drew rein at the verge of the yawning and smoking furnace
which had been the castle. There they paused abruptly, and one who
seemed almost overwhelmed by surprise and disappointment, gazed as
if stupefied upon the wreck of his fortunes.

It was Etienne of Aescendune cum Malville.

As we have seen, the conflagration was yet at its heights when
Wilfred of Aescendune and his hundred men left the scene, and took
their road to the east, along the reddened waters of the river.

It was not without the deepest sorrow, that the English heir thus
abandoned his inheritance, but necessity left no choice; it was
plain that the force arrayed against him rendered resistance
hopeless, and it was far better to go where his sword was likely to
be of use in the struggle for freedom than to hide in the woods, as
he said, "like a brock, until the dogs hunt it out."

And he had hope, too, that when it was discovered that he and his
bravest men had fled eastward, pursuit would be attracted in that
direction, and the poor fugitives in the woods left unmolested, at
least for the present.

As they rode rapidly and silently along, they saw in the distance,
with what bitter feelings may be imagined, the Norman castle of
Warwick, where at that moment the Conqueror himself was reposing,
and where the Norman heir was perhaps counting the hours, until
daylight should arouse him to go and seize upon his inheritance.
Onward they rode, conducted with the greatest skill and success by
their guide from the Camp of Refuge, Leofric of Deeping, who
entertained them by the way, when circumstances permitted, by many
a story about Hereward and his merry men, each one of whom he said
was a match for three Normans, while Hereward would not turn his
back upon seven at once.

When the east grew red with the coming light they were traversing
an immense tract of wild forest land, bright with the gorse, then
in flower, and tenanted only by myriads of rabbits; here they came
upon a grassy dell, with plenty of good grazing for their horses,
and a clear stream running through the bottom.

"We shall scarce find a better place than this to rest," said their
guide; "I know the spot well. When a boy my grandfather lived in
that ruined farmhouse which you can see peeping through the trees;
I remember I was just tall enough to look over yon wall."

"Is it in English hands now?" said Wilfred, anxiously.

"It is desolate--waste--ruined. The Normans butchered the inmates
long since, God knows why, save that they gave shelter to some
proscribed fugitives, who were being hunted like wild beasts. They
were not my own kinsfolk; by God's blessing my grandparents died
while Edward was yet alive. I often feel grateful that they did not
live to see these evil days."

They hobbled the horses, and took their own repast by the side of
the stream. Each man had brought rations for two days with him, and
there was no lack.

Then, after carefully setting sentinels in each direction, they
slept under the shade of the trees. The moss was a delicious couch,
the day was warm, and the murmur of the little stream, united to
the hum of the insects, lulled them to sleep.

It was not till after midday that Wilfred awoke. He found Leofric
already on foot, stretching himself after his nap.

"I am going to look at the old place," said he; "it stimulates my
feeling of hatred to the Normans. Will you come with me and see
their work?"

They crossed two or three fields lying fallow--indeed, no hand of
man had been busy there for more than a year; soon they came upon
the blackened ruins of a house, of which, however, some portions
had escaped the general conflagration; upon which Leofric observed:

"This was the work of Ivo Taille-Bois {xxi}, a Norman
woodcutter, whom the duke has manufactured into a noble, and set to
tyrannise over free-born Englishmen. Like a fiend he ever loves to
do evil, and when there is neither man, woman, nor child to
destroy, he will lame cattle, drive them into the water, break
their backs, or otherwise destroy them."

"But does not William ever administer justice, according to the
oath he swore at his coronation?"

"Not when the case is Englishman against Norman; then these
foreigners stick together like the scales on the dragon's back, one
overlapping the other. But we must waste no more time; it is just
possible, although unlikely, owing to the unfrequented route we
have taken, that your old enemy may be upon our track, with five
hundred Norman horse to back him."

They rejoined their comrades, and all were soon again in the
saddle--horses and men alike refreshed by the halt; with great
knowledge of the country their guide led them by unfrequented
routes towards the fenny country; in the distance they beheld the
newly rising castles, and heard from time to time an occasional
trumpet; more frequently they passed ruined villages, burnt houses
and farms, and saw on every side the evidence of the ferocity of
their conquerors.

Nightfall came and still they continued their route; Leofric
enlivening the way with many a tale of the exploits of the great
hero, whom he looked upon with confidence as the future deliverer
of England.

At length they left the woods and entered, just as the east was
brightening, into the level plains and marshes of East Anglia, and
here for the first time had reason to think they were pursued.

Looking back towards the deep shades of the woods they had left,
they caught sight of a dark moving mass, which seemed pursuing
them; but even as they looked its movements became uncertain, and
appeared to halt.

"The cowards fear to pursue us farther; they have a wholesome dread
of Hereward and his merry men, and we may embark in peace: we are
near an old manor house belonging to our great captain, and there
we may leave the horses in safety, satisfied no Norman will get
them--such is the terror of his name; then we will all take boat
for Ely."

The morning, the second of their journey, was already breaking
across a vast expanse of water and fenland, and the dawn was
empurpling the skies and making the waters glow like burnished
metal; so beautiful was the scene that it seemed a happy omen to
our tired wanderers.

The face of the country was level as the sea itself; no hillock
varied the monotony of the surface; but here and there some sail
glistened in the glowing light; and afar off Leofric pointed out
the towers of Ely Abbey, white and distinct in the rays of the
rising sun, which, just then, rose grandly out of the waters.

They left their horses at the manor house, which was garrisoned by
Hereward's retainers, and broke their fast, gladdened by an
enthusiastic reception; hope was not yet dead here.

Afterwards, they all embarked in large flat-bottomed boats, which
were sluggishly impelled, by oar and sail, towards the distant
towers of Ely.

The sweet fresh breeze, the cheerful warmth of the sun, soothed our
travellers, wearied with their long night ride; the monotonous
splash of the oars assisted to lull them into sleep, oblivious of
past fatigue. Wilfred awoke to find himself approaching the wharf
of Ely.

And here our narrative must perforce leave him for the space of two
years, sharing the fortunes of the famous Hereward, until the fall
of the last refuge of English liberty: the events of those two
years are matters of history {xxii}.


Two years had passed away since his last visit, and Geoffrey,
Bishop of Coutances, was again a visitor in England, this time the
guest of the new primate of the conquered country, Archbishop
Lanfranc, a native of Pavia, and formerly abbot of the famed
monastery of Bec in Normandy, to whom the king had been greatly
indebted for his services as negotiator with the Court of Rome,
while the conquest was in deliberation.

He was a man of deep learning and great personal piety, yet not
without some of the faults of the race, under whose auspices he had
come to England. Still, in spite of his deep prejudices, he was
often, as we shall see in these pages, the protector of the
oppressed English.

Lanfranc was seated with his episcopal brother in the embrasure of
a deep window, looking out upon the cathedral close of Canterbury.

"It was sad, indeed, my brother," said the archbishop. "I scarcely
have known a sadder day than that of my installation. The cathedral
which thou seest slowly rising from its ruins yonder, had been
destroyed by fire, with all its ornaments, charters, and title
deeds. One would think that the heathen Danes had once more
overspread the land, instead of our own Christian countrymen."

"And yet we two are answerable to some extent for this conquest.
Without thee it had never been; thou didst gain the sanction of the
Pope and then preach it as a crusade. I followed the army to
Hastings, absolved the troops, and blessed its banners on the day
of the great victory."

"Heaven grant we may not have done wrong; but the sheep are
scattered abroad, as when a wolf entereth the fold."

"Thou mayest yet be the means of reconciling the conquerors and the
conquered--the Church is their natural mediator."

"God helping me, I will do justice between them; but the task is a
heavy one--it is hard, nay, terrible, to stand against the will of
this Conqueror."

"For this cause, perhaps, thou, who fearest not the face of man,
art chosen of Heaven."

A low knock at the door interrupted them.

"Enter," cried Lanfranc; and a monk of the Benedictine order, who
discharged the duty of chamberlain, appeared.

"A brother of our order craves an audience."

It must be remembered that Lanfranc was the abbot of a Benedictine
monastery ere he was called to Canterbury {xxiii}.

"Is he English or Norman? Hath he told thee his errand?"

"English. He hath travelled far, and says that his errand is one of
life or death."

"Let him enter," said the primate.

A man in a faded Benedictine habit, evidently spent with travel,
appeared at the door. His beard was of long growth, his hair was
uncombed, and his whole appearance that of a man who had passed
through perils of no small difficulty and danger.

Lanfranc gazed fixedly at him, and seemed to strive to read his
character in his face.

"Pax tibi, frater; I perceive thou art of our order. At what
monastery hast thou made thy profession?"

"At the priory of St. Wilfred, Aescendune," said Father Kenelm, for
it was he, as he bent the knee to the primate.

"A pious and learned home, doubtless, but its fame has not reached
my ears."

"But it has mine," said Geoffrey, who started and listened with
great attention.

"It was founded and enriched by Offa, thane of that domain, in the
year of grace 940, and burnt in the second year of our misery, now
three years agone. In its place stood for a short time the priory
of St. Denys."

"Thou mayest well say 'stood,'" interrupted Geoffrey, "for I hear
that it has also been destroyed by fire."

"By fire also?" said the astonished Lanfranc.

"It is a sad and tragical story," replied Geoffrey, "and it would
weary you and sadden me to relate it now. Bloodshed and all the
horrors of midnight rapine and warfare are mingled in it, and there
is a deep mystery yet unsolved. Tell me, my brother, wert thou an
inmate of St. Wilfred's priory when it was so mysteriously

"I was."

"And how didst thou escape?"

"Our prior, the sainted Elphege, despatched me to some of our poor
flock, who had taken refuge in the woods, that I might commit one
deeply loved to their care."

"His name?"

"Wilfred of Aescendune. It is on his behalf that I have sought his
grace the new archbishop, led by his reputation for charity and
justice, but hardly expecting to meet any one here who knew the
story of our misfortunes and wrongs."

"Thou wilt wonder less, perhaps, if thou lookest at me a little
more closely. Dost thou not remember Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances,
who married Winifred of Aescendune to Hugo de Malville?"

"I do, indeed; and marvel, my lord," said he, "that I recognised
thee not at once; I bear a letter for thee written by hands long
since ashes--by our good Prior Elphege, the night before the
monastery was burned."

"Tell me, my brother," said Geoffrey, as he took the letter, "dost
thou know who burnt the monastery?"

"I do."

"Who, then? All the world names the youth thou didst save."

"Who would accuse the lamb of devouring the wolf? Hugo, sometime
baron of Aescendune, did the accursed deed."

"Canst thou prove it?"

"When thou hast read the letter, I have yet another document for
thee. I had brought both here to submit to my lord of Canterbury."

It was startling to watch Geoffrey as he read the parchment, the
very hairs of his head seemed to erect themselves, and his colour
changed from pale to red, from red to pale again.

"My brother," said Lanfranc, "what dost thou read which so
disturbeth thee?"

"Read it thyself," said he, giving the letter which he had finished
to the primate. "It purports to be the copy of a letter addressed
to me three years ago, when I was at Oxenford, but which never
reached me. Oh, what a story of damnable guilt! Tell me, man, where
didst thou obtain this?"

"I saw the original written by him, whose name it bears at the
foot, and at his request took this copy, which he has attested by
his name, for I was the chief calligrapher of the house of St.
Wilfred. It was his last act and deed on earth: within a few hours
he perished in the flames which consumed our poor dwelling."

Here Father Kenelm, not without emotion, handed a second parchment
to Geoffrey.

"And this?" said he of Coutances, interrogatively.

"Is the confession of a dying Norman, which he has attested by his
mark, for he could not write his name. I heard his last confession,
when, to remove the stain of guilt from the innocent, he made me
write this statement, and signed it as best he could."

"How didst thou get hold of this, brother?" said the Bishop of
Coutances, feeling himself, to use the expression of the writer,
"sick with horror."

"Thou hast heard, my lord, of the destruction of Baron Hugo in the
Dismal Swamp?"

"Surely; I was at Abingdon when his son Etienne brought the news."

"Only one who entered that swamp, so far as I know, escaped. Half
burnt, he dragged himself out, on our side, from the awful
conflagration, and hid himself till eventide in the woods,
suffering greatly.

"That day I had guided young Etienne de Malville from his
concealment in our midst, to liberty and safety, and as I returned
I heard the groans of a man in severe pain, but which seemed a long
distance away, borne on the night winds which swept the forest.
Guided by the sound, I found Guy, son of Roger, and tended him as I
had tended the son of the wicked baron. He lingered a few days, and
then died of his injuries, leaving me this confession, as his last
act and deed, with full liberty to divulge it when a fitting day
should arrive."

"But why hast thou not done so before?"

"Because it was not needed; nor could I leave my refuge in the
woods, where I had my own little flock to attend to, the few poor
sheep saved from the Norman wolf. Pardon me, for ye are Normans."

"We are Benedictines," said Lanfranc, reprovingly; "English or
Normans, the children of our father Benedict are brethren, even as
there is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, in Christ."

"But why hast thou now come?" said Geoffrey.

"Hast thou not heard that the Camp of Refuge has fallen?"

"And what then?"

"Wilfred of Aescendune was a refugee therein."

"And is he taken?"

"He was sent, together with Egelwin, Bishop of Durham, as prisoner
to Abingdon, and will be brought to trial, when William arrives
there next week, and, unless thou savest him, will undoubtedly die
the death."

"He shall not die," said Geoffrey, "if we can save him. William
must acquit him if he hear all."

"Acquit him, yes," said Lanfranc, "of sacrilege and parricide; but
not, I fear, of the guilt of rebellion against his lawful king

"At least, if he must die, let him die freed from the supposed
guilt of such awful sacrilege, and let men know to what kind of
father King William committed the innocent English lad."

"Most certainly: if we cannot save him from the consequences of his
rash appeal to the sword, we will yet save him from the cord, or
worse, the stake, which might be thought the not inappropriate
penalty of the destruction of two successive houses of God by

"The stake! it is too horrible to think of!" said the monk; "thank
God I have not sought thee in vain. Forgive me, my lord, but the
lad is very dear to me."

"Nor is my own interest much less keen in him," said Geoffrey. "I
first met him at Senlac, where he sought his father's corpse amidst
the slain, and since that time have watched his tragic career not
without grief."

"But one question remains," spake Lanfranc. "The documents will be
disputed: how shall we prove them genuine?"

"There is much internal evidence; but may not some of the witnesses
of the crimes be living? For instance, the Jew, Abraham of Toledo,
he who sold the poisons to Hugo?" said Geoffrey.

"He shall be sought for," replied Lanfranc. "Meanwhile, Father
Kenelm, thou art my guest, and I must at once commend you to the
chamberlain, who will supply all your wants. You need food and

Bowing humbly--his heart full of gratitude--the good old
Benedictine followed the chamberlain, who appeared at the summons
of the primate, to more comfortable lodgings and better fare than
he had known for years.


On the morrow of Michaelmas, in the year of grace 1071, an imposing
group of warriors and ecclesiastics was gathered in the chapter
house of the ancient Abbey of Abingdon.

The chamber in question was of rectangular form, but terminated at
the eastern end in an apse, where, beneath a column with radiating
arches, was the throne of the Lord Abbot.

A stone seat encompassed the other three sides of the building,
cushions interposing, however, between the person and the bare
stone beneath, as was meet.

The walls were arcaded, so as to form stalls, and in the arcades
were pictures of the Saints of the order, in glowing colours--St.
Benedict occupying the place of honour. Nor was St. Dunstan, the
most noted of English Benedictines, unrepresented.

A light burned perpetually in the midst of this chamber, framed so
as to image a tongue of fire, emblem of Him, whose inspiration was
sought at the gatherings of the chapter for deliberation.

Here novices were admitted and monastic punishment administered,
while penitential chambers adjoined, to which offenders were taken
after sentence had been delivered.

It was just after the chapter mass, and the fourth hour of the day.

William sat in the abbot's chair; on his right band Lanfranc
himself--for the Benedictine order was deeply interested in the
investigation about to be made. The abbot and all the elder
brethren were present, and sat on the right or northern side of the
building. Next the abbot sat Geoffrey of Coutances; amidst the
brethren was Father Kenelm.

But on the other side sat William's principal nobles and courtiers,
to whom reference has been made in former chapters--De la Pole,
Arundel, Clyfford, Fitz-Maurice, Hastings, Maltravers, Peverill,
Talbot, Harcourt, and many others--some of then grey-headed--in

Odo of Bayeux and Fitz-Osborne were there likewise, as also Robert
of Mortain and Pevensey.

A large coffer, called "the trunk," not unlike the box in which
prisoners appear in modern courts of justice, stood in the midst;
and therein, pale with illness and worn by mental distress, yet
still undaunted in the spirit, stood Wilfred of Aescendune.

Poor Wilfred! he needed all his courage, for he stood almost alone,
a mere youth, amidst many enemies. At the most there were but three
hearts present which beat with any sympathy for him.

Lanfranc had, however, possessed the king with certain general
facts, which disposed William to give the accused a patient
hearing, and when his "starkness" was not roused, William could be

And so Wilfred, his face pale, his lips compressed, his hands
clasped upon the desk before him, gazed into the face of this awful
Conqueror, whose frown so few dared to meet--the very incarnation
of brute force and mental daring combined.

On his head was the crown of England, which he wore only on state
occasions, four times yearly as a rule, at certain great festivals.
One of these had just been held at Abingdon, and on this occasion,
as we see, he again assumed it. The sceptre was borne beneath by a
page who stood by his side.

William's voice first broke the silence--a stern, deep voice.

"Wilfred of Aescendune, we have chosen to hear thy defence in
person--if thou hast any defence becoming thee to make and us to

"Of what am I accused?" said the prisoner.

It was noticed that he omitted the royal title.

"Of rebellion, parricide, and sacrilege."

"I admit that I have fought against the invaders of my country, and
am nowise ashamed of it," said the brave youth, in a tone which,
without being defiant, was yet manly; "but I deny, as base and
wicked lies, the other charges made against me."

"Thou ownest thy rebellion?"

"I own that I have fought against thy people and thee; but I have
never sworn allegiance. Thou art not my rightful sovereign, and
hence I do not acknowledge the guilt of rebellion."

There was a general murmur of indignation, which William repressed.

"Peace, my lords; peace, churchmen. We are not moved by a boy's
rhetoric. The facts lie on the surface, and we need not enquire
whether one is truly a rebel who was taken red-handed in the
so-called 'Camp of Refuge;' nor do we deign to discuss those
rights, which Christendom acknowledges, with our subjects. The
question is this: Does the youth simply merit the lighter doom of a
rebel, or the far heavier one of a parricide and a sacrilegious

"Parricide!" exclaimed the indignant prisoner. "My father, more
fortunate than I, died fighting against thee at Senlac."

"Hugo of Aescendune and Malville was nevertheless thy father by
adoption; and by the law of civilised nations, carried with that
adoption the rights and prerogatives of a sire. But we waste time.
Herald, summon the accuser."

"Etienne de Malville et Aescendune, enter!" cried the herald of the

And Etienne appeared, dressed in sable mourning, and bowed before
the throne. He was pale, too, if that sallow colour, which
olive-like complexions like his assume when wrought upon, can be
called pale. He cast upon Wilfred one glance of intense hatred, and
then, looking down respectfully, awaited the words of the

"Etienne de Malville, dost thou appear as the accuser of this

"I do."

"Take thine oath, then, upon the Holy Gospels, only to speak the
truth; my Lord Archbishop will administer it."

Lanfranc administered the oath, much as it is done in courts of
justice nowadays, but with peculiar solemnity of manner.

Etienne repeated the words very solemnly and distinctly. No one
doubted, or could doubt, his sincerity.

"Of what crimes dost thou accuse the prisoner?"

"Parricide, in that he hath compassed the death of his adoptive
father; sacrilege, in that he burnt the priory of St. Wilfred with
all the monks therein, and later the Priory of St. Denys, from
which the inmates had happily escaped, and in support of this
accusation I am ready to wager my body in the lists, if the King so

"We do not risk thy safety against one who is already proved guilty
of rebellion, and who is not of knightly rank like thyself."

(Etienne had duly received knighthood after the taking of the Camp
of Refuge.)

"This is a question of evidence. State thy case."

Etienne spake clearly and well; and as he told the story of the
destruction of the priory of St. Wilfred, of the subsequent
appearance of our hero in the woods at the head of the outlaws, and
the later conflagrations, there were few who did not think that he
had proved his case, so far as it admitted of proof.

"We will now hear thy story of the destruction of the priory, and
the manner in which thou didst escape from it," said the Conqueror
to Wilfred.

Wilfred spoke good Norman French, thanks to his early education, in
company with Etienne and the other pages, after the Conquest. So he
began his story lucidly, but not without some emotion, which he
strove in vain to suppress.

"Normans," he said, "I would not defend myself against this foul
charge to save my forfeit life, nor could I hope to save it. Ye
have met like wolves to judge a stag, and since ye have taken from
me all that makes life dear, I refuse not to die; only I would die
with honour, and hence I strive, speaking but the words of truth,
to remove the stain which my enemy there" (he turned and pointed at
Etienne) "has cast upon my honour, for I am of a house that has
never known shame, and would not disgrace it in my person.

"I submitted to the father ye Normans gave me, and bore all the
wrongs he and his heaped upon me, until the day when I discovered
in that father" (he pronounced the word with the deepest scorn)
"the murderer of my own mother."

A general burst of incredulity, followed by an indignant and
scornful denial from Etienne.

"Silence," said a stern voice, "this is not a hostelry; the
prisoner has the right of speech and the ear of the judge; only,
Englishman, be careful what thou sayest."

"I repeat the simple fact, my lord" (this was the only title
Wilfred would give the King); "the baron, whom ye are pleased
sportively to call my father, poisoned my own mother."

"Poisoned! poisoned! My liege, can this be endured?"

"Hear him to the end, and then, if he have spoken without proof, it
will be time to pronounce his aggravated sentence. SILENCE!"

Wilfred continued, and told the whole story as our readers know it,
until his arrival at the Dismal Swamp. He described all that had
passed so clearly that his foes became interested in spite of
themselves, and listened. He did not charge Hugo with the burning
of the priory, for he had no evidence to sustain the charge, being
only aware that such was at hand to be produced by others; as he
had learnt from Father Kenelm, who had been granted admittance to
his cell.

At length he finished in these words:

"And now I have told you all the truth, and if ye will not believe
me, but prefer to think I betrayed those to death I loved so
dearly, I cannot help myself; but if there be a God, and a judgment
day--as ye all profess to believe--I appeal to that God and that
day, knowing that my innocence will then be made clear. That I
fought with them who slew the baron I freely admit, and hold myself
justified, as ye must, if ye believe my story; but I myself
protected the monks of your kindred, albeit they had taken the
places of better men than themselves, and not one was harmed; and
when we fled, we burnt castle, priory, and village, without
distinction, that they might not shelter an enemy. This, too, I
hold to be lawful in war.

"I know that Englishmen find scant justice at Norman hands, and
that ye will slay me as a rebel. Do so, and I will thank you; only
defile not the memory--slay not the reputation as well as the body.
If the house of Aescendune, which was planted in this land when ye
Normans were but pagan Danes, is to perish, let it at least go
unsullied to its grave. I have spoken."

There was strong sensation. His speech had produced some reaction
in his favour.

"It is, as we said before, a question of evidence," said the King.
"Is any forthcoming on one side or the other? for as yet neither
party has really shown who burnt the priory and the monks therein.
We have only assumptions, and they are not facts."

Lanfranc looked at the King, as if asking permission to speak. The
King bent his head, and the Archbishop began, addressing Etienne:

"Amongst the followers of thy father, was there a warrior named
Guy, son of Roger, born at Malville?"

"There was."

"Didst thou know him well?"


"What became of him?"

"He was lost when my father perished--faithful, doubtless, to the

"Didst thou ever see his mark as a witness to any charter, or the

"I did; instead of making a cross, he preferred to draw a bow."

"Wouldst thou recognise it, then?"

"I should, indeed."

"Then," said the Archbishop, holding a parchment folded up so as to
conceal all but the name and the mark of a bow beside it, "dost
thou know this mark?"

"I do; it is the mark of Guy, the son of Roger."

"Do ye all," said Lanfranc, turning round, "hear his affirmation?"

"We do--"

"Then hear what the paper contains."

I, Guy, son of Roger, born at Malville, being a dying man, and
about to meet my God, do make this, my last confession, for the
safety of my poor soul.

In the summer of the year 1068, in the mouth of June, I, with
twenty other men, who have, so far as I know, perished by firs in
the Dismal Swamp, was summoned to wait upon the Baron of Aescendune
in a private chamber. He told us that the honour of his house
depended upon us, and asked us whether we were willing to stand by
him in his necessity. He had selected us well. We were born on his
Norman estates, and trained up from childhood to do his will, and
that of the devil. We all promised to do whatever he should ask,
and to keep the matter a secret.

Then he told us that we were to burn the Priory of St. Wilfred at
midnight, and to allow none to escape.

This we did, we took possession silently of every exit, piled up
wood and straw, set it on fire on every side at once, and
transfixed all those who tried to break out with arrows or lances,
and hurled them back into the flames.

Long has my soul been sick with horror that I slew these holy men,
and now that all who were my companions in this deed have perished
by God's just judgment--burnt alive even as they burned--I, willing
to save my soul from the everlasting flame, do make this my
penitent confession, praying God to have mercy upon my soul.

Given in the Dismal Swamp, in the month of June, 1068.


A dead silence followed the reading of the dying confession of Guy,
son of Roger.

The mighty Conqueror looked around, as if he would read men's

Etienne de Malville was flushed, and seemed ready to sink into the
earth for shame, as though he himself were responsible for the
guilt of his father.

Wilfred of Aescendune, on the other hand, looked like one whose
innocence was vindicated; there was an expression of joy on his
face--joy, however, so tempered by other feelings, that it could
not be called exultation.

"It is a forgery--a vile and shameful forgery," cried Etienne.

"Thou didst thyself recognise the mark," said the king sternly. "We
pardon thine excitement, but do not forget the presence of thine

"Can I sit thus tamely, and hear my dead father accused of the
vilest crimes?"

"Justice shall be done his memory--justice, neither more nor less,"
said the Conqueror sternly.

"I claim, then, my privilege to meet the accuser in knightly

"The accuser is dead. Wilt thou go to purgatory to meet him? for we
trust his penitence has saved him from going farther and faring
worse. Keep silence, and do not further interrupt the course of
justice. We can pity thee, believing thee to be incapable of such
deeds thyself."

Then, turning to the court:

"Is there any other evidence, verbal or written, bearing upon this

"There is, my liege," said Bishop Geoffrey.

"What is it?"

"A letter addressed to me by the murdered prior of St. Wilfred's
Priory, who perished in the flames on the fatal night of which we
have heard so much."

"Its date?"

"The night in Ascensiontide, three years agone, in which the
prisoner left his stepfather's protection and made a vain attempt
to reach me at Oxenford, striving to bear the missive of which this
is a copy."

"And the original?"

"Fell into the possession of the late baron, his stepfather, after
Eustace, Count of Blois, had borne the lad back again by force."

"Hast thou satisfied thyself of the authenticity of the copy?"

"I have; it was attested by Prior Elphege himself, in the presence
of the Benedictine from whom I received it."

"Then read the letter."

And amidst breathless attention, Geoffrey read:

Elphege, prior of the house of St. Wilfred at Aescendune, to the
noble prelate Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, now resident at
Oxenford, sendeth greeting.

It will not have escaped thy remembrance, most holy father in God,
that on the fatal field of Senlac--fatal, that is, to my
countrymen, for I am not ashamed to call myself an Englishman--thou
didst favourably notice a youth, who sought and found his father's
dead body, by name Wilfred, son of Edmund of Aescendune.

Nor wilt thou forget that thou didst intercede for the boy that he
might retain his ancestral possessions, which boon thou didst only
obtain at the cost of his widowed mother's marriage with Hugo, Lord
of Malville, outre mer.

It was then settled that the two boys, Etienne de Melville and
Wilfred of Aescendune, thereby thrown together, should each inherit
the lands and honours of their respective sires; but that, should
the latter die, the united estates should fall to Etienne de
Malville, did he still survive.

In this arrangement, we naturally saw danger to our own precious
charge--for our spiritual child he was--Wilfred of Aescendune.

His mother died the year after the Conquest, and passed, as we
thought, happily from a world of sin and sorrow.

The boy, at first disconsolate with grief, recovered his health and
spirits after awhile, and if allowed to live, might assuredly grow
to man's estate, and perpetuate his ancient line.

If allowed, I say, for we have just received evidence that the
mother was poisoned, and we tremble with horror lest the boy should
share her fate.

This evidence is in the form of a dying confession, which, at the
request of the poor penitent, we have written with pen and ink.

When thou hast read it, for the love of God and of His saints,
especially of our father Benedict, stretch forth thine hand and
protect the unhappy bearer, the youthful lord of Aescendune.

We commend him with all confidence to thy care.

Given at St. Wilfred's priory, in the octave of Ascension, 1068.

"Hear ye the confession enclosed," said Geoffrey.

It is five years since I fled the face of my lord, Edmund of
Aescendune, for I had slain his red deer, and sold them for filthy
lucre, and I feared to meet his face; so I fled to the great city,
even London, where I was like to starve, till a Jew, who saw my
distress, took pity on me, and gave me shelter.

His name was Abraham of Toledo, and he was mighty in magic arts,
and in compounding of deadly drugs to slay, or medicines to keep
alive. He made me his servant, and I, albeit a Christian man, soon
learned to do the bidding of the devil at his command.

One day there came a Norman noble, and bought of my master a
liquid, which would cause those who drank but one drop, daily, to
die of deadly decline within the year. I heard the bargain made as
I was compounding some drugs within a recess of my master's
chamber. No sooner was the man gone than Abraham descended the
stairs, calling for me. I managed to reach him without raising his
suspicions, when he bade me follow the retreating stranger, not yet
out of sight in the gloom, and learn his name. I did so; it was
Hugo de Malville, the new lord of Aescendune.

I knew of his marriage, and felt sure whom he wanted to destroy;
but I dared not show myself at home. At length an incurable disease
seized me, and I determined to unburden my conscience, and dragged
myself here, only to learn that the sweet lady of Aescendune had
died within the year, with all the symptoms of rapid decline, and
upon my sod I charge Hugo de Malville with the murder.

Given in the infirmary of the house of St. Wilfred, in the month of
May, 1068.

This dying confession was made in our hearing this day.

Elphege, Prior.

Ceadda, Sub-Prior,

Tuesday in Oct., Asc., in the year of grace, 1068.

After a moment's silence, Odo of Bayeux, the Conqueror's half
brother, and a hateful oppressor of the poor English, rose up:

"This letter does not afford any absolute proof of the guilt of our
departed brother in arms, Hugo of Aescendune. He may have bought
the liquid; there is no proof he administered it--people die of
decline daily."

"May I produce and question a witness before the court," said
Geoffrey, "in the absence of the prisoner?"

"Certainly," replied William.

A signal was given to an expectant usher of the court. Wilfred was
led out, and in a few moments two wardens entered in charge of
another prisoner.

He was tall and haggard; a long beard descended to his waist. His
peculiar nose--the most marked characteristic of his race, long and
beak-shaped, yet not exactly aquiline--marked the Jew. He looked
anxiously around.

"Thou art Abraham of Toledo?"

The Hebrew bowed submissively.

"A compounder of poisons?"

"Say rather of medicines, lord; for the making of one is the
rule--of the other, the exception."

"Thou dost not deny the accusation, which places thy life at the
mercy of the court?"

"I will own all, and throw myself on its mercy, trusting that the
relief I have oft afforded in bodily anguish, maybe allowed to
atone, in its measure, for any aid my fears may have driven me to
lend to crime."

"It is thine only chance, Jew, to tell the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth."

"I am at your lordship's disposal."

"Didst thou ever deal with Hugo, sometime lord of Malville. and
afterwards of Aescendune?"

"Once only."

"On what occasion?"

"He sought a medicine."

"A medicine?" said Geoffrey, sternly; "thou triflest."

"Nay!--a poison, I would have said."

"Of what specific nature?"

"To produce the symptoms of decline--the patient would sink and

"What was the appearance of the poison?"

"Dropped in water it diffused at first a sapphire hue, but after
exposure to the air the hue of the ruby succeeded."

"Didst thou know the purpose for which he bought the drug?"

"My lord, I did not, nor do I know now; my humble occupations do
not lead me amongst the mighty of the land, save when they seek my
humble shop."

"Still thine offence, Jew," said the stern voice of the Conqueror,
"is a damnable one, and lendest itself readily to the purposes of

"Let the unbeliever be removed in custody.

"My lord of Canterbury, he is a heretic--perchance a sorcerer; let
the Church see to him."

And so the poor Jew was removed to his dungeon.

"And now with your favour," said Geoffrey, "I would ask a few
questions of the prisoner, in your presence."

"The permission is given," said William.

Wilfred was again conducted before the court.

"Thou hast dared to brand thy late stepfather as the poisoner of
thy mother; wilt thou state any cause or justification thou mayest
have, over and above that indicated by the letter and confession we
have read?"

"I did not dream of such guilt before I heard that confession,
months after the death of my mother."

"Hadst thou ever seen medicine administered to her?"

"Frequently, by the baron her second husband himself. He called it
the elixir of life, and stated he had obtained it at a high price,
from a noted Jewish physician."

"What was its colour?"

"A drop only was let fall into water, which it tinged with a
greenish hue, as of a sapphire."

"Didst thou mark any peculiarity?"

"On one occasion, when, owing to very sudden sickness, the medicine
was not taken, my sister and I marked with surprise, that the
medicine thus diluted had changed to a crimson colour."

General sensation. Etienne hid his face in his mantle; the
churchman and nobles conferred together. William spoke:

"Thou hast thy lesson perfect, boy. Didst thou ever see this Jew

"Never; or he had not lived to tell thee."

"Then there is no possible collusion between the witnesses--I
appeal to thee, my lord of Coutances?"

"None; I will answer for it as a bishop. It was a providential
thought, which led me to interrogate the Jew respecting the
appearance of the medicine, and one utterly unpremeditated."

"Remove the prisoner," said the king.

While Wilfred was absent, William conferred with his lords
spiritual and temporal. This was no court wherein the popular
element found place; the whole issue of the trial lay with the
mighty chieftain--the rest were but his consultees.

We will not record the deliberations, only their result.

After half an hour had passed--a time of dread suspense to the
prisoner--Wilfred was again summoned to the bar.

William addressed him:

"We have duly considered thy case, Wilfred of Aescendune, and fully
acquit thee of the guilt of sacrilege, while we also admit that
there were causes, which might go far to justify thy rebellion
against thy stepfather, and to mitigate the guilt of armed
resistance to thy king.

"We are not met to judge thy stepfather; he has been called to a
higher and an unerring tribunal, and there we leave him, satisfied
that the Judge of all the earth will do right.

"For thee--the guilt of rebellion and of bearing arms against thy
king for three whole years has to be expiated; but if thou art
willing to take the oath of allegiance on the spot, and bind
thyself to discharge the duties of a subject to his king, we will
consider thy case favourably, and perchance restore thee, under
certain conditions, to thy ancestral possessions. Speak, what
sayest thou--dost thou hesitate?"

Every eye was fixed on the prisoner.

He stood there, firm as a rock, and looked bravely into that face
whose frown so few could bear.

"My lord of Normandy," he said, "by birth I owe thee no allegiance,
and I cannot acknowledge that thy masterful and bloody conquest of
an unoffending people has given thee any right to demand it. I
cannot betray the cause for which my father bled and died, or ally
myself to my mother's murderers. You have acquitted me of deeper
guilt. I can now die for my country without shame."

The Conqueror heard him patiently to the end.

"Thou knowest, then, thine inevitable fate?"

"I accept it. Ye have robbed me of all which made life worth

"Thou must die, then: but we spare thee torture or mutilation.
Prepare to meet the headsman within the castle yard, at the third
sun-rising after this day--

"and, my lord of Coutances, since you have taken so much interest
in this young English rebel, we charge thee with the welfare of his

And the court broke up.


"It is the crime and not the scaffold makes
The headsman's death a shame."

Wilfred sat alone in an upper chamber of the donjon tower the
Conqueror had erected at Oxford, hard by the mound thrown up by
Ethelfleda, lady of the Mercians and daughter of Alfred. For
thither the king had caused him to be removed, unwilling to stain
the holy precincts of Abingdon with a deed of blood, and confiding
fully in Robert d'Oyly, the governor of his new castle.

The passage up the river had occupied two full hours, under the
care of trusty and able rowers; for the stream was swift in those
days, before locks checked its course, as we have stated elsewhere.

Under the woods of Newenham, past the old Anglo-Saxon churches of
Sandford and Iffley, up the right-hand channel of the stream just
below the city, and so to the landing place beneath the old tower

William had given orders to treat our Wilfred with all possible
consideration, and to allow him every indulgence, which did not
militate against his safe keeping, for he admired, even while he
felt it necessary to slay. So he was not thrust into a dungeon, but
confined in an upper chamber, where a grated window, at a great
height, afforded him a fair view of that world he was about to
leave for ever.

"Ah! if I were but in those woods," sighed the prisoner to himself,
"I would give these Normans some trouble to catch me again; but the
poor bird can only beat himself against the cruel bars of his

He counted the hours. It was the evening of his condemnation; two
whole days, followed by a feverish night, and then when that next
sun arose--

Strange thoughts began to arise--what sort of axe would they
use?--who would be there?--would they bind his eyes?--would he have
to kneel on the stones?--what kind of block would they use?

Little trifling details like these forced themselves upon him, even
as an artist represents each humble detail in a finished picture.

Did he repent that he had refused life and Aescendune? No, he hated
the Normans with too profound a hatred.

Was he prepared to die? We are sorry to record that he shook off
every thought of the future. God had delivered the English into the
hands of the Normans--his father and mother had been good religious
people, and what had they got by it? If there was a God, why were
such cruelties allowed to exist unavenged? He and His saints must
be asleep. Such were the wicked thoughts which arose, as we grieve
to record, in poor Wilfred's mind.

But now heavy steps were heard ascending the stairs, and soon
Lanfranc, conducted by the Norman governor, entered the cell.

Against him Wilfred could not, in reason, feel the enmity he bore
to all others of Norman race; it was owing to his exertions, and to
those of Geoffrey of Coutances, that he was about to die as a
patriot, and not as a sacrilegious incendiary.

It was the object of this worthy prelate to save the soul, where he
had failed to save the body, and to direct the thoughts of the
condemned one to Him, who Himself hung like a criminal between
earth and heaven, that He might save all who would put their trust
in Him.

The great obstacle in Wilfred's mind was his inability to forgive.
This his visitor soon perceived, and by the example of those dying
words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," he
gently impressed upon the penitent the duty of forgiving those who
had wronged him--however deeply.

"But how can I forgive the murderers of my mother?"

"Thou believest that mother is in Paradise?"

"Indeed I do."

"Dost thou not wish to be with her at last?"

"As the hart desireth the water brooks."

"Then ask thyself what she would have thee do. Canst thou hope for
the pardon of thine own grievous sins, unless thou dost first
forgive all who have offended thee?"

"I will try. See me again tomorrow, father."

"I will do so: I remain at St. Frideswide's for--a day or two."

Wilfred understood the hesitation.

A different scene transpired simultaneously in the dungeons below,
which, with their accustomed ruthless policy, the Normans had
hollowed out of the soil.

The Jew, Abraham of Toledo, was resting uneasily, full of
fears--which experience too well justified--as to his personal
safety in this den of lions, when he also heard steps, this time
descending the stairs, and Geoffrey of Coutances was ushered in.

"Leave the cell," said the bishop to the gaoler, "but remain in the
passage. Close the door; I would speak with this penitent, as I
trust he will prove, in private."

"Never fear, your holiness," said the gaoler with somewhat undue
familiarity; "I care little for a Jew's patter, and this fellow
will need a long shrift before they make a roast of him--for that,
I suppose, will be the end of it."

The door slammed.

It was a miserable cell, composed of rough stones, lately put
together, oozing with the moisture from the damp soil around, for
the river was close by and the dungeon beneath its level.

"Art thou prepared to meet thy fitting end?"

"What crime have I committed to deserve death?"

"Thou hast knowingly and wilfully abetted, not one but many
poisoners, and the stake is the fitting doom for thee and them."

"Oh! not the stake, God of Abraham. If ye must slay, at least spare
the agonising flames; but what mercy can we hope for, we faithful
children of Abraham, from Nazarenes?"

"What price art thou willing to pay for thy forfeit life, if thy
sentence is commuted to exile from this land?"

"Price? Canst thou mean it? I will fill thy chambers with gold."

"I seek it not--albeit," added the worthy bishop, "some were fitly
bestowed on the poor--but that thou, whose former crime hast
brought a worthy youth to the block, shouldst undo the mischief as
far as thou art able."

"But what can I do? who would heed me?"

"Dost thou not know of a drug, which shall throw the drinker
thereof into a trance, so like death that all shall believe him

"I do indeed."

"And art thou sure of thy power to revive the sleeper from this
seeming death, after the lapse of days--after men have committed
him as a corpse to the tomb?"

"I can do so with facility if I have the necessary drugs; but I am
stripped of all. Were I in London--"

"Hast thou no brethren in Oxenford?"

"Yea, verily, I remember Zacharias the Jew, who lives hard by the
river, in the parish of St. Ebba."

"Canst thou trust him with thy life?"

"He is a brother."

"Ye are better brothers than many Christians. I will send him to
thee, and he shall supply thee with the necessary medicaments. If
the experiment succeed, and absolute secrecy be observed, I will
cause thy sentence to be commuted to banishment, with the
forfeiture of some portion of thine ill-gotten goods; otherwise
there remaineth but the stake."

And Geoffrey of Coutances departed.

An hour later, Zacharias of St. Ebba's parish entered; the two

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