Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling

PUCK OF POOK’S HILL RUDYARD KIPLING CONTENTS Weland’s Sword Puck’s Song A Tree Song Young Men at the Manor Sir Richard’s Song The Knights of the Joyous Venture Harp Song of the Dane Women Thorkild’s Song Old Men at Pevensey The Runes on Weland’s Sword A Centurion of the Thirtieth ‘Cities and Thrones and Powers’
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  • 1906
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Weland’s Sword
Puck’s Song
A Tree Song
Young Men at the Manor
Sir Richard’s Song
The Knights of the Joyous Venture
Harp Song of the Dane Women
Thorkild’s Song
Old Men at Pevensey
The Runes on Weland’s Sword
A Centurion of the Thirtieth
‘Cities and Thrones and Powers’
A British-Roman Song
On the Great Wall
A Song to Mithras
The Winged Hats
A Pict Song
Hal o’ the Draft
‘Prophets have honour all over the Earth’ A Smugglers’ Song
‘Dymchurch Flit’
The Bee Boy’s Song
A Three-Part Song
The Treasure and the Law
Song of the Fifth River
The Children’s Song


Puck’s Song

See you the dimpled track that runs,
All hollow through the wheat?
O that was where they hauled the guns That smote King Philip’s fleet!

See you our little mill that clacks,
So busy by the brook?
She has ground her corn and paid her tax Ever since Domesday Book.

See you our stilly woods of oak,
And the dread ditch beside?
O that was where the Saxons broke,
On the day that Harold died!

See you the windy levels spread
About the gates of Rye?
O that was where the Northmen fled, When Alfred’s ships came by!

See you our pastures wide and lone,
Where the red oxen browse?
O there was a City thronged and known, Ere London boasted a house!

And see you, after rain, the trace
Of mound and ditch and wall?
O that was a Legion’s camping-place, When Caesar sailed from Gaul!

And see you marks that show and fade, Like shadows on the Downs?
O they are the lines the Flint Men made, To guard their wondrous towns!

Trackway and Camp and City lost,
Salt Marsh where now is corn;
Old Wars, old Peace, old Arts that cease, And so was England born!

She is not any common Earth,
Water or Wood or Air,
But Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye,
Where you and I will fare.

The children were at the Theatre, acting to Three Cows as much as they could remember of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Their father had made them a small play out of the big Shakespeare one, and they had rehearsed it with him and with their mother till they could say it by heart. They began when Nick Bottom the weaver comes out of the bushes with a donkey’s head on his shoulders, and finds Titania, Queen of the Fairies, asleep. Then they skipped to the part where Bottom asks three little fairies to scratch his head and bring him honey, and they ended where he falls asleep in Titania’s arms. Dan was Puck and Nick Bottom, as well as all three Fairies. He wore a pointy- cloth cap for Puck, and a paper donkey’s head out of a Christmas cracker – but it tore if you were not careful – for Bottom. Una was Titania, with a wreath of columbines and a foxglove wand.

The Theatre lay in a meadow called the Long Slip. A little mill-stream, carrying water to a mill two or three fields away, bent round one corner of it, and in the middle of the bend lay a large old Fairy Ring of darkened grass, which was the stage. The millstream banks, overgrown with willow, hazel, and guelder-rose, made convenient places to wait in till your turn came; and a grown-up who had seen it said that Shakespeare himself could not have imagined a more suitable setting for his play. They were not, of course, allowed to act on Midsummer Night itself, but they went down after tea on Midsummer Eve, when the shadows were growing, and they took their supper – hard-boiled eggs, Bath Oliver biscuits, and salt in an envelope – with them. Three Cows had been milked and were grazing steadily with a tearing noise that one could hear all down the meadow; and the noise of the Mill at work sounded like bare feet running on hard ground. A cuckoo sat on a gate-post singing his broken June tune, ‘cuckoo-cuck’, while a busy kingfisher crossed from the mill-stream, to the brook which ran on the other side of the meadow. Everything else was a sort of thick, sleepy stillness smelling of meadow-sweet and dry grass.

Their play went beautifully. Dan remembered all his parts – Puck, Bottom, and the three Fairies – and Una never forgot a word of Titania – not even the difficult piece where she tells the Fairies how to feed Bottom with ‘apricocks, green figs, and dewberries’, and all the lines end in ‘ies’. They were both so pleased that they acted it three times over from beginning to end before they sat down in the unthistly centre of the Ring to eat eggs and Bath Olivers. This was when they heard a whistle among the alders on the bank, and they jumped.

The bushes parted. In the very spot where Dan had stood as Puck they saw a small, brown, broad- shouldered, pointy-eared person with a snub nose, slanting blue eyes, and a grin that ran right across his freckled face. He shaded his forehead as though he were watching Quince, Snout, Bottom, and the others rehearsing Pyramus and Thisbe, and, in a voice as deep as Three Cows asking to be milked, he began:

‘What hempen homespuns have we swaggering here, So near the cradle of the fairy Queen?’

He stopped, hollowed one hand round his ear, and, with a wicked twinkle in his eye, went on:

‘What, a play toward? I’ll be an auditor; An actor, too, perhaps, if I see cause.’

The children looked and gasped. The small thing – he was no taller than Dan’s shoulder – stepped quietly into the Ring.

‘I’m rather out of practice,’ said he; ‘but that’s the way my part ought to be played.’

Still the children stared at him – from his dark-blue cap, like a big columbine flower, to his bare, hairy feet. At last he laughed.

‘Please don’t look like that. It isn’t my fault. What else could you expect?’ he said.

‘We didn’t expect any one,’ Dan answered slowly. ‘This is our field.’

‘Is it?’ said their visitor, sitting down. ‘Then what on Human Earth made you act Midsummer Night’s Dream three times over, on Midsummer Eve, in the middle of a Ring, and under – right under one of my oldest hills in Old England? Pook’s Hill – Puck’s Hill – Puck’s Hill – Pook’s Hill! It’s as plain as the nose on my face.’

He pointed to the bare, fern-covered slope of Pook’s Hill that runs up from the far side of the mill-stream to a dark wood. Beyond that wood the ground rises and rises for five hundred feet, till at last you climb out on the bare top of Beacon Hill, to look over the Pevensey Levels and the Channel and half the naked South Downs.

‘By Oak, Ash, and Thorn!’ he cried, still laughing. ‘If this had happened a few hundred years ago you’d have had all the People of the Hills out like bees in June!’

‘We didn’t know it was wrong,’ said Dan.

‘Wrong!’ The little fellow shook with laughter. ‘Indeed, it isn’t wrong. You’ve done something that Kings and Knights and Scholars in old days would have given their crowns and spurs and books to find out. If Merlin himself had helped you, you couldn’t have managed better! You’ve broken the Hills – you’ve broken the Hills! It hasn’t happened in a thousand years.’

‘We – we didn’t mean to,’ said Una.

‘Of course you didn’t! That’s just why you did it. Unluckily the Hills are empty now, and all the People of the Hills are gone. I’m the only one left. I’m Puck, the oldest Old Thing in England, very much at your service if – if you care to have anything to do with me. If you don’t, of course you’ve only to say so, and I’ll go.’

He looked at the children, and the children looked at him for quite half a minute. His eyes did not twinkle any more. They were very kind, and there was the beginning of a good smile on his lips.

Una put out her hand. ‘Don’t go,’ she said. ‘We like you.’ ‘Have a Bath Oliver,’ said Dan, and he passed over the squashy envelope with the eggs.

‘By Oak, Ash and Thorn,’ cried Puck, taking off his blue cap, ‘I like you too. Sprinkle a plenty salt on the biscuit, Dan, and I’ll eat it with you. That’ll show you the sort of person I am. Some of us’ – he went on, with his mouth full – ‘couldn’t abide Salt, or Horse-shoes over a door, or Mountain-ash berries, or Running Water, or Cold Iron, or the sound of Church Bells. But I’m Puck!’

He brushed the crumbs carefully from his doublet and shook hands.

‘We always said, Dan and I,’ Una stammered, ‘that if it ever happened we’d know ex-actly what to do; but – but now it seems all different somehow.’

‘She means meeting a fairy,’said Dan. ‘I never believed in ’em – not after I was six, anyhow.’

‘I did,’ said Una. ‘At least, I sort of half believed till we learned “Farewell, Rewards”. Do you know “Farewell, Rewards and Fairies”?’

‘Do you mean this?’ said Puck. He threw his big head back and began at the second line:

‘Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies
Do fare as well as they;
And though they sweep their hearths no less

(‘Join in, Una!’)

Than maids were wont to do,
Yet who of late for cleanliness
Finds sixpence in her shoe?’

The echoes flapped all along the flat meadow. ‘Of course I know it,’ he said.

‘And then there’s the verse about the rings,’ said Dan. ‘When I was little it always made me feel unhappy in my inside.’

“‘Witness those rings and roundelays”, do you mean?’ boomed Puck, with a voice like a great church organ.

‘Of theirs which yet remain,
Were footed in Queen Mary’s days On many a grassy plain,
But since of late Elizabeth,
And, later, James came in,
Are never seen on any heath
As when the time hath been.

‘It’s some time since I heard that sung, but there’s no good beating about the bush: it’s true. The People of the Hills have all left. I saw them come into Old England and I saw them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, goblins, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heath- people, hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people, little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes, and the rest – gone, all gone! I came into England with Oak, Ash and Thorn, and when Oak, Ash and Thorn are gone I shall go too.’

Dan looked round the meadow – at Una’s Oak by the lower gate; at the line of ash trees that overhang Otter Pool where the millstream spills over when the Mill does not need it, and at the gnarled old white-thorn where Three Cows scratched their necks.

‘It’s all right,’ he said; and added, ‘I’m planting a lot of acorns this autumn too.’

‘Then aren’t you most awfully old?’ said Una.

‘Not old – fairly long-lived, as folk say hereabouts. Let me see – my friends used to set my dish of cream for me o’ nights when Stonehenge was new. Yes, before the Flint Men made the Dewpond under Chanctonbury Ring.’ Una clasped her hands, cried ‘Oh!’ and nodded her head.

‘She’s thought a plan,’ Dan explained. ‘She always does like that when she thinks a plan.’

‘I was thinking – suppose we saved some of our porridge and put it in the attic for you? They’d notice if we left it in the nursery.’

‘Schoolroom,’ said Dan quickly, and Una flushed, because they had made a solemn treaty that summer not to call the schoolroom the nursery any more.

‘Bless your heart o’ gold!’ said Puck. ‘You’ll make a fine considering wench some market-day. I really don’t want you to put out a bowl for me; but if ever I need a bite, be sure I’ll tell you.’

He stretched himself at length on the dry grass, and the children stretched out beside him, their bare legs waving happily in the air. They felt they could not be afraid of him any more than of their particular friend old Hobden the hedger. He did not bother them with grown-up questions, or laugh at the donkey’s head, but lay and smiled to himself in the most sensible way. ‘Have you a knife on you?’ he said at last.

Dan handed over his big one-bladed outdoor knife, and Puck began to carve out a piece of turf from the centre of the Ring.

‘What’s that for – Magic?’ said Una, as he pressed up the square of chocolate loam that cut like so much cheese.

‘One of my little magics,’ he answered, and cut another. ‘You see, I can’t let you into the Hills because the People of the Hills have gone; but if you care to take seisin from me, I may be able to show you something out of the common here on Human Earth. You certainly deserve it.’

‘What’s taking seisin?’ said Dan, cautiously.

‘It’s an old custom the people had when they bought and sold land. They used to cut out a clod and hand it over to the buyer, and you weren’t lawfully seised of your land – it didn’t really belong to you – till the other fellow had actually given you a piece of it -‘like this.’ He held out the turves.

‘But it’s our own meadow,’ said Dan, drawing back. ‘Are you going to magic it away?’

Puck laughed. ‘I know it’s your meadow, but there’s a great deal more in it than you or your father ever guessed. Try!’

He turned his eyes on Una.

‘I’ll do it,’ she said. Dan followed her example at once.

‘Now are you two lawfully seised and possessed of all Old England,’ began Puck, in a sing-song voice. ‘By right of Oak, Ash, and Thorn are you free to come and go and look and know where I shall show or best you please. You shall see What you shall see and you shall hear What you shall hear, though It shall have happened three thousand year; and you shall know neither Doubt nor Fear. Fast! Hold fast all I give you.’

The children shut their eyes, but nothing happened.

‘Well?’ said Una, disappointedly opening them. ‘I thought there would be dragons.’

“‘Though It shall have happened three thousand year,”‘ said Puck, and counted on his fingers. ‘No; I’m afraid there were no dragons three thousand years ago.’

‘But there hasn’t happened anything at all,’ said Dan. ‘Wait awhile,’ said Puck. ‘You don’t grow an oak in a year – and Old England’s older than twenty oaks. Let’s sit down again and think. I can do that for a century at a time.’

‘Ah, but you’re a fairy,’ said Dan.

‘Have you ever heard me say that word yet?’ said Puck quickly.

‘No. You talk about “the People of the Hills”, but you never say “fairies”,’ said Una. ‘I was wondering at that. Don’t you like it?’

‘How would you like to be called “mortal” or “human being” all the time?’ said Puck; ‘or “son of Adam” or “daughter of Eve”?’

‘I shouldn’t like it at all,’ said Dan. ‘That’s how the Djinns and Afrits talk in the Arabian Nights.’

‘And that’s how I feel about saying – that word that I don’t say. Besides, what you call them are made-up things the People of the Hills have never heard of – little buzzflies with butterfly wings and gauze petticoats, and shiny stars in their hair, and a wand like a schoolteacher’s cane for punishing bad boys and rewarding good ones. I know ’em!’

‘We don’t mean that sort,’said Dan. ‘We hate ’em too.’

‘Exactly,’ said Puck. ‘Can you wonder that the People of the Hills don’t care to be confused with that painty- winged, wand-waving, sugar-and-shake-your-head set of impostors? Butterfly wings, indeed! I’ve seen Sir Huon and a troop of his people setting off from Tintagel Castle for Hy-Brasil in the teeth of a sou’-westerly gale, with the spray flying all over the Castle, and the Horses of the Hills wild with fright. Out they’d go in a lull, screaming like gulls, and back they’d be driven five good miles inland before they could come head to wind again. Butterfly-wings! It was Magic – Magic as black as Merlin could make it, and the whole sea was green fire and white foam with singing mermaids in it. And the Horses of the Hills picked their way from one wave to another by the lightning flashes! That was how it was in the old days!’

‘Splendid,’ said Dan, but Una shuddered.

‘I’m glad they’re gone, then; but what made the People of the Hills go away?’ Una asked.

‘Different things. I’ll tell you one of them some day – the thing that made the biggest flit of any,’ said Puck. ‘But they didn’t all flit at once. They dropped off, one by one, through the centuries. Most of them were foreigners who couldn’t stand our climate. They flitted early.’

‘How early?’ said Dan.

‘A couple of thousand years or more. The fact is they began as Gods. The Phoenicians brought some over when they came to buy tin; and the Gauls, and the Jutes, and the Danes, and the Frisians, and the Angles brought more when they landed. They were always landing in those days, or being driven back to their ships, and they always brought their Gods with them. England is a bad country for Gods. Now, I began as I mean to go on. A bowl of porridge, a dish of milk, and a little quiet fun with the country folk in the lanes was enough for me then, as it is now. I belong here, you see, and I have been mixed up with people all my days. But most of the others insisted on being Gods, and having temples, and altars, and priests, and sacrifices of their own.’

‘People burned in wicker baskets?’ said Dan. ‘Like Miss Blake tells us about?’

‘All sorts of sacrifices,’ said Puck. ‘If it wasn’t men, it was horses, or cattle, or pigs, or metheglin – that’s a sticky, sweet sort of beer. I never liked it. They were a stiff-necked, extravagant set of idols, the Old Things. But what was the result? Men don’t like being sacrificed at the best of times; they don’t even like sacrificing their farm- horses. After a while, men simply left the Old Things alone, and the roofs of their temples fell in, and the Old Things had to scuttle out and pick up a living as they could. Some of them took to hanging about trees, and hiding in graves and groaning o’ nights. If they groaned loud enough and long enough they might frighten a poor countryman into sacrificing a hen, or leaving a pound of butter for them. I remember one Goddess called Belisama. She became a common wet water-spirit somewhere in Lancashire. And there were hundreds of other friends of mine. First they were Gods. Then they were People of the Hills, and then they flitted to other places because they couldn’t get on with the English for one reason or another. There was only one Old Thing, I remember, who honestly worked for his living after he came down in the world. He was called Weland, and he was a smith to some Gods. I’ve forgotten their names, but he used to make them swords and spears. I think he claimed kin with Thor of the Scandinavians.’

‘Heroes of Asgard Thor?’ said Una. She had been reading the book.

‘Perhaps,’ answered Puck. ‘None the less, when bad times came, he didn’t beg or steal. He worked; and I was lucky enough to be able to do him a good turn.’

‘Tell us about it,’ said Dan. ‘I think I like hearing of Old Things.’

They rearranged themselves comfortably, each chewing a grass stem. Puck propped himself on one strong arm and went on:

‘Let’s think! I met Weland first on a November afternoon in a sleet storm, on Pevensey Level.’

‘Pevensey? Over the hill, you mean?’ Dan pointed south.

‘Yes; but it was all marsh in those days, right up to Horsebridge and Hydeneye. I was on Beacon Hill – they called it Brunanburgh then – when I saw the pale flame that burning thatch makes, and I went down to look. Some pirates – I think they must have been Peor’s men – were burning a village on the Levels, and Weland’s image – a big, black wooden thing with amber beads round his neck – lay in the bows of a black thirty-two-oar galley that they had just beached. Bitter cold it was! There were icicles hanging from her deck and the oars were glazed over with ice, and there was ice on Weland’s lips. When he saw me he began a long chant in his own tongue, telling me how he was going to rule England, and how I should smell the smoke of his altars from Lincolnshire to the Isle of Wight. I didn’t care! I’d seen too many Gods charging into Old England to be upset about it. I let him sing himself out while his men were burning the village, and then I said (I don’t know what put it into my head), “Smith of the Gods,” I said, “the time comes when I shall meet you plying your trade for hire by the wayside.”‘

‘What did Weland say?’ said Una. ‘Was he angry?’

‘He called me names and rolled his eyes, and I went away to wake up the people inland. But the pirates conquered the country, and for centuries Weland was a most important God. He had temples everywhere – from Lincolnshire to the Isle of Wight, as he said – and his sacrifices were simply scandalous. To do him justice, he preferred horses to men; but men or horses, I knew that presently he’d have to come down in the world – like the other Old Things. I gave him lots of time – I gave him about a thousand years – and at the end of ’em I went into one of his temples near Andover to see how he prospered. There was his altar, and there was his image, and there were his priests, and there were the congregation, and everybody seemed quite happy, except Weland and the priests. In the old days the congregation were unhappy until the priests had chosen their sacrifices; and so would you have been. When the service began a priest rushed out, dragged a man up to the altar, pretended to hit him on the head with a little gilt axe, and the man fell down and pretended to die. Then everybody shouted: “A sacrifice to Weland! A sacrifice to Weland!”‘

‘And the man wasn’t really dead?’ said Una.

‘Not a bit. All as much pretence as a dolls’ tea-party. Then they brought out a splendid white horse, and the priest cut some hair from its mane and tail and burned it on the altar, shouting, “A sacrifice!” That counted the same as if a man and a horse had been killed. I saw poor Weland’s face through the smoke, and I couldn’t help laughing. He looked so disgusted and so hungry, and all he had to satisfy himself was a horrid smell of burning hair. Just a dolls’ tea-party!

‘I judged it better not to say anything then (‘twouldn’t have been fair), and the next time I came to Andover, a few hundred years later, Weland and his temple were gone, and there was a Christian bishop in a church there. None of the People of the Hills could tell me anything about him, and I supposed that he had left England.’ Puck turned, lay on his other elbow, and thought for a long time.

‘Let’s see,’ he said at last. ‘It must have been some few years later – a year or two before the Conquest, I think – that I came back to Pook’s Hill here, and one evening I heard old Hobden talking about Weland’s Ford.’

‘If you mean old Hobden the hedger, he’s only seventy-two. He told me so himself,’ said Dan. ‘He’s a intimate friend of ours.’

‘You’re quite right,’ Puck replied. ‘I meant old Hobden’s ninth great-grandfather. He was a free man and burned charcoal hereabouts. I’ve known the family, father and son, so long that I get confused sometimes. Hob of the Dene was my Hobden’s name, and he lived at the Forge cottage. Of course, I pricked up my ears when I heard Weland mentioned, and I scuttled through the woods to the Ford just beyond Bog Wood yonder.’ He jerked his head westward, where the valley narrows between wooded hills and steep hop-fields.

‘Why, that’s Willingford Bridge,’ said Una. ‘We go there for walks often. There’s a kingfisher there.’

‘It was Weland’s Ford then, dearie. A road led down to it from the Beacon on the top of the hill – a shocking bad road it was – and all the hillside was thick, thick oak- forest, with deer in it. There was no trace of Weland, but presently I saw a fat old farmer riding down from the Beacon under the greenwood tree. His horse had cast a shoe in the clay, and when he came to the Ford he dismounted, took a penny out of his purse, laid it on a stone, tied the old horse to an oak, and called out: “Smith, Smith, here is work for you!” Then he sat down and went to sleep. You can imagine how I felt when I saw a white-bearded, bent old blacksmith in a leather apron creep out from behind the oak and begin to shoe the horse. It was Weland himself. I was so astonished that I jumped out and said: “What on Human Earth are you doing here, Weland?”‘

‘Poor Weland!’ sighed Una.

‘He pushed the long hair back from his forehead (he didn’t recognize me at first). Then he said: “You ought to know. You foretold it, Old Thing. I’m shoeing horses for hire. I’m not even Weland now,” he said. “They call me Wayland-Smith.”‘

‘Poor chap!’ said Dan. ‘What did you say?’

‘What could I say? He looked up, with the horse’s foot on his lap, and he said, smiling, “I remember the time when I wouldn’t have accepted this old bag of bones as a sacrifice, and now I’m glad enough to shoe him for a penny.”

“‘Isn’t there any way for you to get back to Valhalla, or wherever you come from?” I said.

“‘I’m afraid not, ” he said, rasping away at the hoof. He had a wonderful touch with horses. The old beast was whinnying on his shoulder. “You may remember that I was not a gentle God in my Day and my Time and my Power. I shall never be released till some human being truly wishes me well.”

“‘Surely,” said I, “the farmer can’t do less than that. You’re shoeing the horse all round for him.”

“‘Yes,” said he, “and my nails will hold a shoe from one full moon to the next. But farmers and Weald clay,” said he, “are both uncommon cold and sour.”

‘Would you believe it, that when that farmer woke and found his horse shod he rode away without one word of thanks? I was so angry that I wheeled his horse right round and walked him back three miles to the Beacon, just to teach the old sinner politeness.’

‘Were you invisible?’ said Una. Puck nodded, gravely.

‘The Beacon was always laid in those days ready to light, in case the French landed at Pevensey; and I walked the horse about and about it that lee-long summer night. The farmer thought he was bewitched – well, he was, of course – and began to pray and shout. I didn’t care! I was as good a Christian as he any fair-day in the County, and about four o’clock in the morning a young novice came along from the monastery that used to stand on the top of Beacon Hill.’

‘What’s a novice?’ said Dan.

‘It really means a man who is beginning to be a monk, but in those days people sent their sons to a monastery just the same as a school. This young fellow had been to a monastery in France for a few months every year, and he was finishing his studies in the monastery close to his home here. Hugh was his name, and he had got up to go fishing hereabouts. His people owned all this valley. Hugh heard the farmer shouting, and asked him what in the world he meant. The old man spun him a wonderful tale about fairies and goblins and witches; and I know he hadn’t seen a thing except rabbits and red deer all that night. (The People of the Hills are like otters – they don’t show except when they choose.) But the novice wasn’t a fool. He looked down at the horse’s feet, and saw the new shoes fastened as only Weland knew how to fasten ’em. (Weland had a way of turning down the nails that folks called the Smith’s Clinch.)

“‘H’m!” said the novice. “Where did you get your horse shod?”

‘The farmer wouldn’t tell him at first, because the priests never liked their people to have any dealings with the Old Things. At last he confessed that the Smith had done it. “What did you pay him?” said the novice. “Penny,” said the farmer, very sulkily. “That’s less than a Christian would have charged,” said the novice. “I hope you threw a ‘thank you’ into the bargain.” “No,” said the farmer; “Wayland-Smith’s a heathen.” “Heathen or no heathen,” said the novice, “you took his help, and where you get help there you must give thanks.” “What?” said the farmer – he was in a furious temper because I was walking the old horse in circles all this time – “What, you young jackanapes?” said he. “Then by your reasoning I ought to say ‘Thank you’ to Satan if he helped me?” “Don’t roll about up there splitting reasons with me,” said the novice. “Come back to the Ford and thank the Smith, or you’ll be sorry.”

‘Back the farmer had to go. I led the horse, though no one saw me, and the novice walked beside us, his gown swishing through the shiny dew and his fishing-rod across his shoulders, spear-wise. When we reached the Ford again – it was five o’clock and misty still under the oaks – the farmer simply wouldn’t say “Thank you.” He said he’d tell the Abbot that the novice wanted him to worship heathen Gods. Then Hugh the novice lost his temper. He just cried, “Out!” put his arm under the farmer’s fat leg, and heaved him from his saddle on to the turf, and before he could rise he caught him by the back of the neck and shook him like a rat till the farmer growled, “Thank you, Wayland-Smith.”‘

‘Did Weland see all this?’ said Dan.

‘Oh yes, and he shouted his old war-cry when the farmer thudded on to the ground. He was delighted. Then the novice turned to the oak tree and said, “Ho, Smith of the Gods! I am ashamed of this rude farmer; but for all you have done in kindness and charity to him and to others of our people, I thank you and wish you well.” Then he picked up his fishing-rod – it looked more like a tall spear than ever – and tramped off down your valley.’

‘And what did poor Weland do?’ said Una.

‘He laughed and he cried with joy, because he had been released at last, and could go away. But he was an honest Old Thing. He had worked for his living and he paid his debts before he left. “I shall give that novice a gift,” said Weland. “A gift that shall do him good the wide world over and Old England after him. Blow up my fire, Old Thing, while I get the iron for my last task.” Then he made a sword – a dark-grey, wavy-lined sword – and I blew the fire while he hammered. By Oak, Ash and Thorn, I tell you, Weland was a Smith of the Gods! He cooled that sword in running water twice, and the third time he cooled it in the evening dew, and he laid it out in the moonlight and said Runes (that’s charms) over it, and he carved Runes of Prophecy on the blade. “Old Thing,” he said to me, wiping his forehead, “this is the best blade that Weland ever made. Even the user will never know how good it is. Come to the monastery.”

‘We went to the dormitory where the monks slept, we saw the novice fast asleep in his cot, and Weland put the sword into his hand, and I remember the young fellow gripped it in his sleep. Then Weland strode as far as he dared into the Chapel and threw down all his shoeing- tools – his hammers and pincers and rasps – to show that he had done with them for ever. It sounded like suits of armour falling, and the sleepy monks ran in, for they thought the monastery had been attacked by the French. The novice came first of all, waving his new sword and shouting Saxon battle-cries. When they saw the shoeing- tools they were very bewildered, till the novice asked leave to speak, and told what he had done to the farmer, and what he had said to Wayland-Smith, and how, though the dormitory light was burning, he had found the wonderful Rune-carved sword in his cot.

‘The Abbot shook his head at first, and then he laughed and said to the novice: “Son Hugh, it needed no sign from a heathen God to show me that you will never be a monk. Take your sword, and keep your sword, and go with your sword, and be as gentle as you are strong and courteous. We will hang up the Smith’s tools before the Altar,” he said, “because, whatever the Smith of the Gods may have been, in the old days, we know that he worked honestly for his living and made gifts to Mother Church.” Then they went to bed again, all except the novice, and he sat up in the garth playing with his sword. Then Weland said to me by the stables: “Farewell, Old Thing; you had the right of it. You saw me come to England, and you see me go. Farewell!”

‘With that he strode down the hill to the corner of the Great Woods – Woods Corner, you call it now – to the very place where he had first landed – and I heard him moving through the thickets towards Horsebridge for a little, and then he was gone. That was how it happened. I saw it.’

Both children drew a long breath.

‘But what happened to Hugh the novice?’ said Una.

‘And the sword?’ said Dan.

Puck looked down the meadow that lay all quiet and cool in the shadow of Pook’s Hill. A corncrake jarred in a hay-field near by, and the small trouts of the brook began to jump. A big white moth flew unsteadily from the alders and flapped round the children’s heads, and the least little haze of water-mist rose from the brook. ‘Do you really want to know?’ Puck said.

‘We do,’ cried the children. ‘Awfully!’

‘Very good. I promised you that you shall see What you shall see, and you shall hear What you shall hear, though It shall have happened three thousand year; but just now it seems to me that, unless you go back to the house, people will be looking for you. I’ll walk with you as far as the gate.’

‘Will you be here when we come again?’ they asked.

‘Surely, sure-ly,’ said Puck. ‘I’ve been here some time already. One minute first, please.’

He gave them each three leaves – one of Oak, one of Ash and one of Thorn.

‘Bite these,’ said he. ‘Otherwise you might be talking at home of what you’ve seen and heard, and – if I know human beings – they’d send for the doctor. Bite!’

They bit hard, and found themselves walking side by side to the lower gate. Their father was leaning over it.

‘And how did your play go?’ he asked.

‘Oh, splendidly,’ said Dan. ‘Only afterwards, I think, we went to sleep. it was very hot and quiet. Don’t you remember, Una?’

Una shook her head and said nothing.

‘I see,’ said her father.

‘Late – late in the evening Kilmeny came home, For Kilmeny had been she could not tell where, And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare.

But why are you chewing leaves at your time of life, daughter? For fun?’

‘No. It was for something, but I can’t exactly remember,’ said Una.

And neither of them could till –

A Tree Song

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak and Ash and Thorn.
Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs (All of a Midsummer morn)!
Surely we sing no little thing,
In Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Oak of the Clay lived many a day,
Or ever Aeneas began;
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home, When Brut was an outlaw man;
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town (From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak and Ash and Thorn!
Yew that is old in churchyard mould, He breedeth a mighty bow;
Alder for shoes do wise men choose, And beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled, And your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need, To Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He will take no wrong when he lieth along ‘Neath Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight, Or he would call it a sin;
But – we have been out in the woods all night, A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth – Good news for cattle and corn –
Now is the Sun come up from the South, With Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs (All of a Midsummer morn)!
England shall bide till Judgement Tide, By Oak and Ash and Thorn!


They were fishing, a few days later, in the bed of the brook that for centuries had cut deep into the soft valley soil. The trees closing overhead made long tunnels through which the sunshine worked in blobs and patches. Down in the tunnels were bars of sand and gravel, old roots and trunks covered with moss or painted red by the irony water; foxgloves growing lean and pale towards the light; clumps of fern and thirsty shy flowers who could not live away from moisture and shade. In the pools you could see the wave thrown up by the trouts as they charged hither and yon, and the pools were joined to each other – except in flood-time, when all was one brown rush – by sheets of thin broken water that poured themselves chuckling round the darkness of the next bend.

This was one of the children’s most secret hunting- grounds, and their particular friend, old Hobden the hedger, had shown them how to use it. Except for the click of a rod hitting a low willow, or a switch and tussle among the young ash leaves as a line hung up for the minute, nobody in the hot pasture could have guessed what game was going on among the trouts below the banks.

‘We’ve got half a dozen,’ said Dan, after a warm, wet hour. ‘I vote we go up to Stone Bay and try Long Pool.’

Una nodded – most of her talk was by nods – and they crept from the gloom of the tunnels towards the tiny weir that turns the brook into the mill-stream. Here the banks are low and bare, and the glare of the afternoon sun on the Long Pool below the weir makes your eyes ache.

When they were in the open they nearly fell down with astonishment. A huge grey horse, whose tail-hairs crinkled the glassy water, was drinking in the pool, and the ripples about his muzzle flashed like melted gold. On his back sat an old, white-haired man dressed in a loose glimmery gown of chain-mail. He was bare-headed, and a nut-shaped iron helmet hung at his saddle-bow. His reins were of red leather five or six inches deep, scalloped at the edges, and his high padded saddle with its red girths was held fore and aft by a red leather breastband and crupper.

‘Look!’ said Una, as though Dan were not staring his very eyes out. ‘It’s like the picture in your room – “Sir Isumbras at the Ford”.’

The rider turned towards them, and his thin, long face was just as sweet and gentle as that of the knight who carries the children in that picture.

‘They should be here now, Sir Richard,’ said Puck’s deep voice among the willow-herb.

‘They are here,’ the knight said, and he smiled at Dan with the string of trouts in his hand. ‘There seems no great change in boys since mine fished this water.’

‘If your horse has drunk, we shall be more at ease in the Ring,’ said Puck; and he nodded to the children as though he had never magicked away their memories a week before.

The great horse turned and hoisted himself into the pasture with a kick and a scramble that tore the clods down rattling.

‘Your pardon!’ said Sir Richard to Dan. ‘When these lands were mine, I never loved that mounted men should cross the brook except by the paved ford. But my Swallow here was thirsty, and I wished to meet you.’

‘We’re very glad you’ve come, sir,’said Dan.’It doesn’t matter in the least about the banks.’

He trotted across the pasture on the sword side of the mighty horse, and it was a mighty iron-handled sword that swung from Sir Richard’s belt. Una walked behind with Puck. She remembered everything now.

‘I’m sorry about the Leaves,’ he said, ‘but it would never have done if you had gone home and told, would it?’

‘I s’pose not,’ Una answered. ‘But you said that all the fair – People of the Hills had left England.’

‘So they have; but I told you that you should come and go and look and know, didn’t I? The knight isn’t a fairy. He’s Sir Richard Dalyngridge, a very old friend of mine. He came over with William the Conqueror, and he wants to see you particularly.’

‘What for?’ said Una.

‘On account of your great wisdom and learning,’ Puck replied, without a twinkle.

‘Us?’ said Una. ‘Why, I don’t know my Nine Times – not to say it dodging, and Dan makes the most awful mess of fractions. He can’t mean us!’

‘Una!’ Dan called back. ‘Sir Richard says he is going to tell what happened to Weland’s sword. He’s got it. Isn’t it splendid?’

‘Nay – nay,’ said Sir Richard, dismounting as they reached the Ring, in the bend of the mill-stream bank. ‘It is you that must tell me, for I hear the youngest child in our England today is as wise as our wisest clerk.’ He slipped the bit out of Swallow’s mouth, dropped the ruby-red reins over his head, and the wise horse moved off to graze.

Sir Richard (they noticed he limped a little) unslung his great sword.

‘That’s it,’ Dan whispered to Una.

‘This is the sword that Brother Hugh had from Wayland-Smith,’ Sir Richard said. ‘Once he gave it me, but I would not take it; but at the last it became mine after such a fight as never christened man fought. See!’ He half drew it from its sheath and turned it before them. On either side just below the handle, where the Runic letters shivered as though they were alive, were two deep gouges in the dull, deadly steel. ‘Now, what Thing made those?’ said he. ‘I know not, but you, perhaps, can say.’

‘Tell them all the tale, Sir Richard,’ said Puck. ‘It concerns their land somewhat.’

‘Yes, from the very beginning,’ Una pleaded, for the knight’s good face and the smile on it more than ever reminded her of ‘Sir Isumbras at the Ford’.

They settled down to listen, Sir Richard bare-headed to the sunshine, dandling the sword in both hands, while the grey horse cropped outside the Ring, and the helmet on the saddle-bow clinged softly each time he jerked his head.

‘From the beginning, then,’ Sir Richard said, ‘since it concerns your land, I will tell the tale. When our Duke came out of Normandy to take his England, great knights (have ye heard?) came and strove hard to serve the Duke, because he promised them lands here, and small knights followed the great ones. My folk in Normandy were poor; but a great knight, Engerrard of the Eagle – Engenulf De Aquila – who was kin to my father, followed the Earl of Mortain, who followed William the Duke, and I followed De Aquila. Yes, with thirty men-at-arms out of my father’s house and a new sword, I set out to conquer England three days after I was made knight. I did not then know that England would conquer me. We went up to Santlache with the rest – a very great host of us.’

‘Does that mean the Battle of Hastings – Ten Sixty-Six?’ Una whispered, and Puck nodded, so as not to interrupt.

‘At Santlache, over the hill yonder’- he pointed south- eastward towards Fairlight – ‘we found Harold’s men. We fought. At the day’s end they ran. My men went with De Aquila’s to chase and plunder, and in that chase Engerrard of the Eagle was slain, and his son Gilbert took his banner and his men forward. This I did not know till after, for Swallow here was cut in the flank, so I stayed to wash the wound at a brook by a thorn. There a single Saxon cried out to me in French, and we fought together. I should have known his voice, but we fought together. For a long time neither had any advantage, till by pure ill-fortune his foot slipped and his sword flew from his hand. Now I had but newly been made knight, and wished, above all, to be courteous and fameworthy, so I forbore to strike and bade him get his sword again. “A plague on my sword,” said he. “It has lost me my first fight. You have spared my life. Take my sword.” He held it out to me, but as I stretched my hand the sword groaned like a stricken man, and I leaped back crying, “Sorcery!”‘

(The children looked at the sword as though it might speak again.)

‘Suddenly a clump of Saxons ran out upon me and, seeing a Norman alone, would have killed me, but my Saxon cried out that I was his prisoner, and beat them off. Thus, see you, he saved my life. He put me on my horse and led me through the woods ten long miles to this valley.’

‘To here, d’you mean?’ said Una.

‘To this very valley. We came in by the Lower Ford under the King’s Hill yonder’ – he pointed eastward where the valley widens.

‘And was that Saxon Hugh the novice?’ Dan asked.

‘Yes, and more than that. He had been for three years at the monastery at Bec by Rouen, where’ – Sir Richard chuckled – ‘the Abbot Herluin would not suffer me to remain.’

‘Why wouldn’t he?’ said Dan.

‘Because I rode my horse into the refectory, when the scholars were at meat, to show the Saxon boys we Normans were not afraid of an Abbot. It was that very Saxon Hugh tempted me to do it, and we had not met since that day. I thought I knew his voice even inside my helmet, and, for all that our Lords fought, we each rejoiced we had not slain the other. He walked by my side, and he told me how a heathen God, as he believed, had given him his sword, but he said he had never heard it sing before. I remember I warned him to beware of sorcery and quick enchantments.’ Sir Richard smiled to himself. ‘I was very young – very young! ‘When we came to his house here we had almost forgotten that we had been at blows. It was near midnight, and the Great Hall was full of men and women waiting news. There I first saw his sister, the Lady Aelueva, of whom he had spoken to us in France. She cried out fiercely at me, and would have had me hanged in that hour, but her brother said that I had spared his life – he said not how he saved mine from the Saxons – and that our Duke had won the day; and even while they wrangled over my poor body, of a sudden he fell down in a swoon from his wounds.

“‘This is thy fault,” said the Lady Aelueva to me, and she kneeled above him and called for wine and cloths.

“‘If I had known,” I answered, “he should have ridden and I walked. But he set me on my horse; he made no complaint; he walked beside me and spoke merrily throughout. I pray I have done him no harm.”

“‘Thou hast need to pray,” she said, catching up her underlip. “If he dies, thou shalt hang.”

‘They bore off Hugh to his chamber; but three tall men of the house bound me and set me under the beam of the Great Hall with a rope round my neck. The end of the rope they flung over the beam, and they sat them down by the fire to wait word whether Hugh lived or died. They cracked nuts with their knife-hilts the while.’

‘And how did you feel?’ said Dan.

‘Very weary; but I did heartily pray for my schoolmate Hugh his health. About noon I heard horses in the valley, and the three men loosed my ropes and fled out, and De Aquila’s men rode up. Gilbert de Aquila came with them, for it was his boast that, like his father, he forgot no man that served him. He was little, like his father, but terrible, with a nose like an eagle’s nose and yellow eyes like an eagle. He rode tall warhorses – roans, which he bred himself – and he could never abide to be helped into the saddle. He saw the rope hanging from the beam and laughed, and his men laughed, for I was too stiff to rise.

“‘This is poor entertainment for a Norman knight,” he said, “but, such as it is, let us be grateful. Show me, boy, to whom thou owest most, and we will pay them out of hand.”‘

‘What did he mean? To kill ’em?’ said Dan.

‘Assuredly. But I looked at the Lady Aelueva where she stood among her maids, and her brother beside her. De Aquila’s men had driven them all into the Great Hall.’

‘Was she pretty?’ said Una.

‘In all my long life I have never seen woman fit to strew rushes before my Lady Aelueva,’ the knight replied, quite simply and quietly. ‘As I looked at her I thought I might save her and her house by a jest.

“‘Seeing that I came somewhat hastily and without warning,” said I to De Aquila, “I have no fault to find with the courtesy that these Saxons have shown me.” But my voice shook. It is – it was not good to jest with that little man.

‘All were silent awhile, till De Aquila laughed. “Look, men – a miracle,” said he. “The fight is scarce sped, my father is not yet buried, and here we find our youngest knight already set down in his Manor, while his Saxons – ye can see it in their fat faces – have paid him homage and service! By the Saints,” he said, rubbing his nose, “I never thought England would be so easy won! Surely I can do no less than give the lad what he has taken. This Manor shall be thine, boy,” he said, “till I come again, or till thou art slain. Now, mount, men, and ride. We follow our Duke into Kent to make him King of England.”

‘He drew me with him to the door while they brought his horse – a lean roan, taller than my Swallow here, but not so well girthed.

“‘Hark to me,” he said, fretting with his great war- gloves. “I have given thee this Manor, which is a Saxon hornets’ nest, and I think thou wilt be slain in a month – as my father was slain. Yet if thou canst keep the roof on the hall, the thatch on the barn, and the plough in the furrow till I come back, thou shalt hold the Manor from me; for the Duke has promised our Earl Mortain all the lands by Pevensey, and Mortain will give me of them what he would have given my father. God knows if thou or I shall live till England is won; but remember, boy, that here and now fighting is foolishness and” – he reached for the reins – “craft and cunning is all.”

“‘Alas, I have no cunning,” said I.

“‘Not yet,” said he, hopping abroad, foot in stirrup, and poking his horse in the belly with his toe. “Not yet, but I think thou hast a good teacher. Farewell! Hold the Manor and live. Lose the Manor and hang,” he said, and spurred out, his shield-straps squeaking behind him.

‘So, children, here was I, little more than a boy, and Santlache fight not two days old, left alone with my thirty men-at-arms, in a land I knew not, among a people whose tongue I could not speak, to hold down the land which I had taken from them.’

‘And that was here at home?’ said Una.

‘Yes, here. See! From the Upper Ford, Weland’s Ford, to the Lower Ford, by the Belle Allee, west and east it ran half a league. From the Beacon of Brunanburgh behind us here, south and north it ran a full league – and all the woods were full of broken men from Santlache, Saxon thieves, Norman plunderers, robbers, and deer-stealers. A hornets’ nest indeed!

‘When De Aquila had gone, Hugh would have thanked me for saving their lives; but the Lady Aelueva said that I had done it only for the sake of receiving the Manor.

“‘How could I know that De Aquila would give it me?” I said. “If I had told him I had spent my night in your halter he would have burned the place twice over by now.”

“‘If any man had put my neck in a rope,” she said, “I would have seen his house burned thrice over before I would have made terms.”

“‘But it was a woman,” I said; and I laughed, and she wept and said that I mocked her in her captivity.

“‘Lady,” said I, “there is no captive in this valley except one, and he is not a Saxon.”

‘At this she cried that I was a Norman thief, who came with false, sweet words, having intended from the first to turn her out in the fields to beg her bread. Into the fields! She had never seen the face of war!

‘I was angry, and answered, “This much at least I can disprove, for I swear” – and on my sword-hilt I swore it in that place – “I swear I will never set foot in the Great Hall till the Lady Aelueva herself shall summon me there.”

‘She went away, saying nothing, and I walked out, and Hugh limped after me, whistling dolorously (that is a custom of the English), and we came upon the three Saxons that had bound me. They were now bound by my men-at-arms, and behind them stood some fifty stark and sullen churls of the House and the Manor, waiting to see what should fall. We heard De Aquila’s trumpets blow thin through the woods Kentward.

“‘Shall we hang these?” said my men.

“‘Then my churls will fight,” said Hugh, beneath his breath; but I bade him ask the three what mercy they hoped for.
“‘None,” said they all. “She bade us hang thee if our master died. And we would have hanged thee. There is no more to it.”

‘As I stood doubting, a woman ran down from the oak wood above the King’s Hill yonder, and cried out that some Normans were driving off the swine there.

“‘Norman or Saxon,” said I, “we must beat them back, or they will rob us every day. Out at them with any arms ye have!” So I loosed those three carles and we ran together, my men-at-arms and the Saxons with bills and axes which they had hidden in the thatch of their huts, and Hugh led them. Half-way up the King’s Hill we found a false fellow from Picardy – a sutler that sold wine in the Duke’s camp – with a dead knight’s shield on his arm, a stolen horse under him, and some ten or twelve wastrels at his tail, all cutting and slashing at the pigs. We beat them off, and saved our pork. One hundred and seventy pigs we saved in that great battle.’ Sir Richard laughed.

‘That, then, was our first work together, and I bade Hugh tell his folk that so would I deal with any man, knight or churl, Norman or Saxon, who stole as much as one egg from our valley. Said he to me, riding home: “Thou hast gone far to conquer England this evening.” I answered: “England must be thine and mine, then. Help me, Hugh, to deal aright with these people. Make them to know that if they slay me De Aquila will surely send to slay them, and he will put a worse man in my place.”

“That may well be true,” said he, and gave me his hand. “Better the devil we know than the devil we know not, till we can pack you Normans home.” And so, too, said his Saxons; and they laughed as we drove the pigs downhill. But I think some of them, even then, began not to hate me.’

‘I like Brother Hugh,’ said Una, softly.

‘Beyond question he was the most perfect, courteous, valiant, tender, and wise knight that ever drew breath,’ said Sir Richard, caressing the sword. ‘He hung up his sword – this sword – on the wall of the Great Hall, because he said it was fairly mine, and never he took it down till De Aquila returned, as I shall presently show. For three months his men and mine guarded the valley, till all robbers and nightwalkers learned there was nothing to get from us save hard tack and a hanging. Side by side we fought against all who came – thrice a week sometimes we fought – against thieves and landless knights looking for good manors. Then we were in some peace, and I made shift by Hugh’s help to govern the valley – for all this valley of yours was my Manor – as a knight should. I kept the roof on the hall and the thatch on the barn, but … the English are a bold people. His Saxons would laugh and jest with Hugh, and Hugh with them, and – this was marvellous to me – if even the meanest of them said that such and such a thing was the Custom of the Manor, then straightway would Hugh and such old men of the Manor as might be near forsake everything else to debate the matter – I have seen them stop the Mill with the corn half ground – and if the custom or usage were proven to be as it was said, why, that was the end of it, even though it were flat against Hugh, his wish and command. Wonderful!’

‘Aye,’ said Puck, breaking in for the first time. ‘The Custom of Old England was here before your Norman knights came, and it outlasted them, though they fought against it cruel.’
‘Not I,’ said Sir Richard. ‘I let the Saxons go their stubborn way, but when my own men-at-arms, Normans not six months in England, stood up and told me what was the custom of the country, then I was angry. Ah, good days! Ah, wonderful people! And I loved them all.’ The knight lifted his arms as though he would hug the whole dear valley, and Swallow, hearing the chink of his chain-mail, looked up and whinnied softly.

‘At last,’ he went on, ‘after a year of striving and contriving and some little driving, De Aquila came to the valley, alone and without warning. I saw him first at the Lower Ford, with a swineherd’s brat on his saddle-bow.

“‘There is no need for thee to give any account of thy stewardship,” said he. “I have it all from the child here.” And he told me how the young thing had stopped his tall horse at the Ford, by waving of a branch, and crying that the way was barred. “And if one bold, bare babe be enough to guard the Ford in these days, thou hast done well,” said he, and puffed and wiped his head.

‘He pinched the child’s cheek, and looked at our cattle in the flat by the river.

“‘Both fat,” said he, rubbing his nose. “This is craft and cunning such as I love. What did I tell thee when I rode away, boy?”

“‘Hold the Manor or hang,” said I. I had never forgotten it.

“‘True. And thou hast held.” He clambered from his saddle and with his sword’s point cut out a turf from the bank and gave it me where I kneeled.’
Dan looked at Una, and Una looked at Dan. ‘That’s seisin,’ said Puck, in a whisper.

“‘Now thou art lawfully seised of the Manor, Sir Richard,” said he -’twas the first time he ever called me that – “thou and thy heirs for ever. This must serve till the King’s clerks write out thy title on a parchment. England is all ours – if we can hold it.”

“‘What service shall I pay?” I asked, and I remember I was proud beyond words.

“‘Knight’s fee, boy, knight’s fee!” said he, hopping round his horse on one foot. (Have I said he was little, and could not endure to be helped to his saddle?) “Six mounted men or twelve archers thou shalt send me whenever I call for them, and – where got you that corn?” said he, for it was near harvest, and our corn stood well. “I have never seen such bright straw. Send me three bags of the same seed yearly, and furthermore, in memory of our last meeting – with the rope round thy neck – entertain me and my men for two days of each year in the Great Hall of thy Manor.”

“‘Alas!” said I, “then my Manor is already forfeit. I am under vow not to enter the Great Hall.” And I told him what I had sworn to the Lady Aelueva.’

‘And hadn’t you ever been into the house since?’ said Una.

‘Never,’ Sir Richard answered, smiling. ‘I had made me a little hut of wood up the hill, and there I did justice and slept … De Aquila wheeled aside, and his shield shook on his back. “No matter, boy,” said he. “I will remit the homage for a year.”‘

‘He meant Sir Richard needn’t give him dinner there the first year,’ Puck explained.

‘De Aquila stayed with me in the hut, and Hugh, who could read and write and cast accounts, showed him the Roll of the Manor, in which were written all the names of our fields and men, and he asked a thousand questions touching the land, the timber, the grazing, the mill, and the fish-ponds, and the worth of every man in the valley. But never he named the Lady Aelueva’s name, nor went he near the Great Hall. By night he drank with us in the hut. Yes, he sat on the straw like an eagle ruffled in her feathers, his yellow eyes rolling above the cup, and he pounced in his talk like an eagle, swooping from one thing to another, but always binding fast. Yes; he would lie still awhile, and then rustle in the straw, and speak sometimes as though he were King William himself, and anon he would speak in parables and tales, and if at once we saw not his meaning he would yerk us in the ribs with his scabbarded sword.

“‘Look you, boys,” said he, “I am born out of my due time. Five hundred years ago I would have made all England such an England as neither Dane, Saxon, nor Norman should have conquered. Five hundred years hence I should have been such a counsellor to Kings as the world hath never dreamed of. ‘Tis all here,” said he, tapping his big head, “but it hath no play in this black age. Now Hugh here is a better man than thou art, Richard.” He had made his voice harsh and croaking, like a raven’s.

“‘Truth,” said I. “But for Hugh, his help and patience and long-suffering, I could never have kept the Manor.”

“‘Nor thy life either,” said De Aquila. “Hugh has saved thee not once, but a hundred times. Be still, Hugh!” he said. “Dost thou know, Richard, why Hugh slept, and why he still sleeps, among thy Norman men- at-arms?”

“‘To be near me,” said I, for I thought this was truth.

“‘Fool!” said De Aquila. “It is because his Saxons have begged him to rise against thee, and to sweep every Norman out of the valley. No matter how I know. It is truth. Therefore Hugh hath made himself an hostage for thy life, well knowing that if any harm befell thee from his Saxons thy Normans would slay him without remedy. And this his Saxons know. Is it true, Hugh?”

“‘In some sort,” said Hugh shamefacedly; “at least, it was true half a year ago. My Saxons would not harm Richard now. I think they know him – but I judged it best to make sure.”

‘Look, children, what that man had done – and I had never guessed it! Night after night had he lain down among my men-at-arms, knowing that if one Saxon had lifted knife against me, his life would have answered for mine.

“‘Yes,” said De Aquila. “And he is a swordless man.” He pointed to Hugh’s belt, for Hugh had put away his sword – did I tell you? – the day after it flew from his hand at Santlache. He carried only the short knife and the long-bow. “Swordless and landless art thou, Hugh; and they call thee kin to Earl Godwin.” (Hugh was indeed of Godwin’s blood.) “The Manor that was thine is given to this boy and to his children for ever. Sit up and beg, for he can turn thee out like a dog, Hugh.”

‘Hugh said nothing, but I heard his teeth grind, and I bade De Aquila, my own overlord, hold his peace, or I would stuff his words down his throat. Then De Aquila laughed till the tears ran down his face.

“‘I warned the King,” said he, “what would come of giving England to us Norman thieves. Here art thou, Richard, less than two days confirmed in thy Manor, and already thou hast risen against thy overlord. What shall we do to him, Sir Hugh?”

“‘I am a swordless man,” said Hugh. “Do not jest with me,” and he laid his head on his knees and groaned.

“‘The greater fool thou,” said De Aquila, and all his voice changed; “for I have given thee the Manor of Dallington up the hill this half-hour since,” and he yerked at Hugh with his scabbard across the straw.

“‘To me?” said Hugh. “I am a Saxon, and, except that I love Richard here, I have not sworn fealty to any Norman.”

“‘In God’s good time, which because of my sins I shall not live to see, there will be neither Saxon nor Norman in England,” said De Aquila. “If I know men, thou art more faithful unsworn than a score of Normans I could name. Take Dallington, and join Sir Richard to fight me tomorrow, if it please thee!”

“‘Nay,” said Hugh. “I am no child. Where I take a gift, there I render service”; and he put his hands between De Aquila’s, and swore to be faithful, and, as I remember, I kissed him, and De Aquila kissed us both.

‘We sat afterwards outside the hut while the sun rose, and De Aquila marked our churls going to their work in the fields, and talked of holy things, and how we should govern our Manors in time to come, and of hunting and of horse-breeding, and of the King’s wisdom and unwisdom; for he spoke to us as though we were in all sorts now his brothers. Anon a churl stole up to me – he was one of the three I had not hanged a year ago – and he bellowed – which is the Saxon for whispering – that the Lady Aelueva would speak to me at the Great House. She walked abroad daily in the Manor, and it was her custom to send me word whither she went, that I might set an archer or two behind and in front to guard her. Very often I myself lay up in the woods and watched on her also.

‘I went swiftly, and as I passed the great door it opened from within, and there stood my Lady Aelueva, and she said to me: “Sir Richard, will it please you enter your Great Hall?” Then she wept, but we were alone.’

The knight was silent for a long time, his face turned across the valley, smiling.
‘Oh, well done!’ said Una, and clapped her hands very softly. ‘She was sorry, and she said so.’

‘Aye, she was sorry, and she said so,’ said Sir Richard, coming back with a little start. ‘Very soon – but he said it was two full hours later – De Aquila rode to the door, with his shield new scoured (Hugh had cleansed it), and demanded entertainment, and called me a false knight, that would starve his overlord to death. Then Hugh cried out that no man should work in the valley that day, and our Saxons blew horns, and set about feasting and drinking, and running of races, and dancing and singing; and De Aquila climbed upon a horse-block and spoke to them in what he swore was good Saxon, but no man understood it. At night we feasted in the Great Hall, and when the harpers and the singers were gone we four sat late at the high table. As I remember, it was a warm night with a full moon, and De Aquila bade Hugh take down his sword from the wall again, for the honour of the Manor of Dallington, and Hugh took it gladly enough. Dust lay on the hilt, for I saw him blow it off.

‘She and I sat talking a little apart, and at first we thought the harpers had come back, for the Great Hall was filled with a rushing noise of music. De Aquila leaped up; but there was only the moonlight fretty on the floor.

“‘Hearken!” said Hugh. “It is my sword,” and as he belted it on the music ceased.

“‘Over Gods, forbid that I should ever belt blade like that,” said De Aquila. “What does it foretell?”

“‘The Gods that made it may know. Last time it spoke was at Hastings, when I lost all my lands. Belike it sings now that I have new lands and am a man again,” said Hugh.

‘He loosed the blade a little and drove it back happily into the sheath, and the sword answered him low and crooningly, as – as a woman would speak to a man, her head on his shoulder.

‘Now that was the second time in all my life I heard this Sword sing.’ …

‘Look!’ said Una. ‘There’s Mother coming down the Long Slip. What will she say to Sir Richard? She can’t help seeing him.’

‘And Puck can’t magic us this time,’ said Dan.

‘Are you sure?’ said Puck; and he leaned forward and whispered to Sir Richard, who, smiling, bowed his head. ‘But what befell the sword and my brother Hugh I will tell on another time,’ said he, rising. ‘Ohe, Swallow!’ The great horse cantered up from the far end of the meadow, close to Mother.

They heard Mother say: ‘Children, Gleason’s old horse has broken into the meadow again. Where did he get through?’ (*49)

‘Just below Stone Bay,’ said Dan. ‘He tore down simple flobs of the bank! We noticed it just now. And we’ve caught no end of fish. We’ve been at it all the afternoon.’ And they honestly believed that they had. They never noticed the Oak, Ash and Thorn leaves that Puck had slyly thrown into their laps.

Sir Richard’s Song

I followed my Duke ere I was a lover, To take from England fief and fee;
But now this game is the other way over – But now England hath taken me!

I had my horse, my shield and banner, And a boy’s heart, so whole and free;
But now I sing in another manner –
But now England hath taken me!

As for my Father in his tower,
Asking news of my ship at sea;
He will remember his own hour –
Tell him England hath taken me!

As for my Mother in her bower,
That rules my Father so cunningly;
She will remember a maiden’s power – Tell her England hath taken me!

As for my Brother in Rouen city,
A nimble and naughty page is he;
But he will come to suffer and pity – Tell him England hath taken me!

As for my little Sister waiting
In the pleasant orchards of Normandie; Tell her youth is the time of mating –
Tell her England hath taken me!

As for my Comrades in camp and highway, That lift their eyebrows scornfully;
Tell them their way is not my way – Tell them England hath taken me!

Kings and Princes and Barons famed,
Knights and Captains in your degree; Hear me a little before I am blamed –
Seeing England hath taken me!

Howso great man’s strength be reckoned, There are two things he cannot flee;
Love is the first, and Death is the second – And Love, in England, hath taken me!


Harp Song of the Dane Women

What is a woman that you forsake her, And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?

She has no house to lay a guest in –
But one chill bed for all to rest in, That the pale suns and the stray bergs nest in.

She has no strong white arms to fold you, But the ten-times-fingering weed to hold you Bound on the rocks where the tide has rolled you.

Yet, when the signs of summer thicken, And the ice breaks, and the birch-buds quicken, Yearly you turn from our side, and sicken –

Sicken again for the shouts and the slaughters, – And steal away to the lapping waters,
And look at your ship in her winter quarters.

You forget our mirth, and talk at the tables, The kine in the shed and the horse in the stables – To pitch her sides and go over her cables!

Then you drive out where the storm-clouds swallow: And the sound of your oar-blades falling hollow Is all we have left through the months to follow.

Ah, what is a Woman that you forsake her, And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?

It was too hot to run about in the open, so Dan asked their friend, old Hobden, to take their own dinghy from the pond and put her on the brook at the bottom of the garden. Her painted name was the Daisy, but for exploring expeditions she was the Golden Hind or the Long Serpent, or some such suitable name. Dan hiked and howked with a boat-hook (the brook was too narrow for sculls), and Una punted with a piece of hop-pole. When they came to a very shallow place (the Golden Hind drew quite three inches of water) they disembarked and scuffled her over the gravel by her tow-rope, and when they reached the overgrown banks beyond the garden they pulled themselves upstream by the low branches.

That day they intended to discover the North Cape like ‘Othere, the old sea-captain’, in the book of verses which Una had brought with her; but on account of the heat they changed it to a voyage up the Amazon and the sources of the Nile. Even on the shaded water the air was hot and heavy with drowsy scents, while outside, through breaks in the trees, the sunshine burned the pasture like fire. The kingfisher was asleep on his watching- branch, and the blackbirds scarcely took the trouble to dive into the next bush. Dragonflies wheeling and clashing were the only things at work, except the moorhens and a big Red Admiral, who flapped down out of the sunshine for a drink.

When they reached Otter Pool the Golden Hind grounded comfortably on a shallow, and they lay beneath a roof of close green, watching the water trickle over the flood-gates down the mossy brick chute from the mill-stream to the brook. A big trout – the children knew him well – rolled head and shoulders at some fly that sailed round the bend, while, once in just so often, the brook rose a fraction of an inch against all the wet pebbles, and they watched the slow draw and shiver of a breath of air through the tree-tops. Then the little voices of the slipping water began again.

‘It’s like the shadows talking, isn’t it?’ said Una. She had given up trying to read. Dan lay over the bows, trailing his hands in the current. They heard feet on the gravel-bar that runs half across the pool and saw Sir Richard Dalyngridge standing over them.

‘Was yours a dangerous voyage?’ he asked, smiling.

‘She bumped a lot, sir,’ said Dan. ‘There’s hardly any water this summer.’

‘Ah, the brook was deeper and wider when my children played at Danish pirates. Are you pirate-folk?’

‘Oh no. We gave up being pirates years ago,’explained Una. ‘We’re nearly always explorers now. Sailing round the world, you know.’

‘Round?’ said Sir Richard. He sat him in the comfortable crotch of an old ash-root on the bank. ‘How can it be round?’

‘Wasn’t it in your books?’ Dan suggested. He had been doing geography at his last lesson.

‘I can neither write nor read,’ he replied. ‘Canst thou read, child?’

‘Yes,’ said Dan, ‘barring the very long words.’

‘Wonderful! Read to me, that I may hear for myself.’

Dan flushed, but opened the book and began – gabbling a little – at ‘The Discoverer of the North Cape.’

‘Othere, the old sea-captain,
Who dwelt in Helgoland,
To King Alfred, the lover of truth, Brought a snow-white walrus-tooth,
Which he held in his brown right hand.’

‘But – but – this I know! This is an old song! This I have heard sung! This is a miracle,’ Sir Richard interrupted. ‘Nay, do not stop!’ He leaned forward, and the shadows of the leaves slipped and slid upon his chain-mail.

“‘I ploughed the land with horses, But my heart was ill at ease,
For the old seafaring men
Came to me now and then
With their sagas of the seas.”‘

His hand fell on the hilt of the great sword. ‘This is truth,’ he cried, ‘for so did it happen to me,’ and he beat time delightedly to the tramp of verse after verse.

“‘And now the land,” said Othere,
“Bent southward suddenly,
And I followed the curving shore, And ever southward bore
Into a nameless sea.”‘

‘A nameless sea!’ he repeated. ‘So did I – so did Hugh and I.’

‘Where did you go? Tell us,’ said Una.

‘Wait. Let me hear all first.’ So Dan read to the poem’s very end.

‘Good,’ said the knight. ‘That is Othere’s tale – even so I have heard the men in the Dane ships sing it. Not those same valiant words, but something like to them.’

‘Have you ever explored North?’ Dan shut the book.

‘Nay. My venture was South. Farther South than any man has fared, Hugh and I went down with Witta and his heathen.’ He jerked the tall sword forward, and leaned on it with both hands; but his eyes looked long past them.

‘I thought you always lived here,’ said Una, timidly.

‘Yes; while my Lady Aelueva lived. But she died. She died. Then, my eldest son being a man, I asked De Aquila’s leave that he should hold the Manor while I went on some journey or pilgrimage – to forget. De Aquila, whom the Second William had made Warden of Pevensey in Earl Mortain’s place, was very old then, but still he rode his tall, roan horses, and in the saddle he looked like a little white falcon. When Hugh, at Dallington, over yonder, heard what I did, he sent for my second son, whom being unmarried he had ever looked upon as his own child, and, by De Aquila’s leave, gave him the Manor of Dallington to hold till he should return. Then Hugh came with me.’

‘When did this happen?’ said Dan.

‘That I can answer to the very day, for as we rode with De Aquila by Pevensey – have I said that he was Lord of Pevensey and of the Honour of the Eagle? – to the Bordeaux ship that fetched him his wines yearly out of France, a Marsh man ran to us crying that he had seen a great black goat which bore on his back the body of the King, and that the goat had spoken to him. On that same day Red William our King, the Conqueror’s son, died of a secret arrow while he hunted in a forest. “This is a cross matter,” said De Aquila, “to meet on the threshold of a journey. If Red William be dead I may have to fight for my lands. Wait a little.”

‘My Lady being dead, I cared nothing for signs and omens, nor Hugh either. We took that wine-ship to go to Bordeaux; but the wind failed while we were yet in sight of Pevensey, a thick mist hid us, and we drifted with the tide along the cliffs to the west. Our company was, for the most part, merchants returning to France, and we were laden with wool and there were three couple of tall hunting-dogs chained to the rail. Their master was a knight of Artois. His name I never learned, but his shield bore gold pieces on a red ground, and he limped, much as I do, from a wound which he had got in his youth at Mantes siege. He served the Duke of Burgundy against the Moors in Spain, and was returning to that war with his dogs. He sang us strange Moorish songs that first night, and half persuaded us to go with him. I was on pilgrimage to forget – which is what no pilgrimage brings. I think I would have gone, but …

‘Look you how the life and fortune of man changes! Towards morning a Dane ship, rowing silently, struck against us in the mist, and while we rolled hither and yon Hugh, leaning over the rail, fell outboard. I leaped after him, and we two tumbled aboard the Dane, and were caught and bound ere we could rise. Our own ship was swallowed up in the mist. I judge the Knight of the Gold Pieces muzzled his dogs with his cloak, lest they should give tongue and betray the merchants, for I heard their baying suddenly stop.

‘We lay bound among the benches till morning, when the Danes dragged us to the high deck by the steering- place, and their captain – Witta, he was called – turned us over with his foot. Bracelets of gold from elbow to armpit he wore, and his red hair was long as a woman’s, and came down in plaited locks on his shoulder. He was stout, with bowed legs and long arms. He spoiled us of all we had, but when he laid hand on Hugh’s sword and saw the runes on the blade hastily he thrust it back. Yet his covetousness overcame him and he tried again and again, and the third time the Sword sang loud and angrily, so that the rowers leaned on their oars to listen. Here they all spoke together, screaming like gulls, and a Yellow Man, such as I have never seen, came to the high deck and cut our bonds. He was yellow – not from sickness, but by nature – yellow as honey, and his eyes stood endwise in his head.’

‘How do you mean?’ said Una, her chin on her hand.

‘Thus,’ said Sir Richard. He put a finger to the corner of each eye, and pushed it up till his eyes narrowed to slits.

‘Why, you look just like a Chinaman!’ cried Dan. ‘Was the man a Chinaman?’

‘I know not what that may be. Witta had found him half dead among ice on the shores of Muscovy. We thought he was a devil. He crawled before us and brought food in a silver dish which these sea-wolves had robbed from some rich abbey, and Witta with his own hands gave us wine. He spoke a little in French, a little in South Saxon, and much in the Northman’s tongue. We asked him to set us ashore, promising to pay him better ransom than he would get price if he sold us to the Moors – as once befell a knight of my acquaintance sailing from Flushing.

“‘Not by my father Guthrum’s head,” said he. “The Gods sent ye into my ship for a luck-offering.”

‘At this I quaked, for I knew it was still the Danes’ custom to sacrifice captives to their Gods for fair weather.

“‘A plague on thy four long bones!” said Hugh. “What profit canst thou make of poor old pilgrims that can neither work nor fight?”

“‘Gods forbid I should fight against thee, poor Pilgrim with the Singing Sword,” said he. “Come with us and be poor no more. Thy teeth are far apart, which is a sure sign thou wilt travel and grow rich.”

“‘What if we will not come?” said Hugh. “‘Swim to England or France,” said Witta. “We are midway between the two. Unless ye choose to drown yourselves no hair of your head will be harmed here aboard. We think ye bring us luck, and I myself know the runes on that Sword are good.” He turned and bade them hoist sail.

‘Hereafter all made way for us as we walked about the ship, and the ship was full of wonders.’

‘What was she like?’ said Dan.

‘Long, low, and narrow, bearing one mast with a red sail, and rowed by fifteen oars a side,’ the knight answered. ‘At her bows was a deck under which men might lie, and at her stern another shut off by a painted door from the rowers’ benches. Here Hugh and I slept, with Witta and the Yellow Man, upon tapestries as soft as wool. I remember’ – he laughed to himself -‘when first we entered there a loud voice cried, “Out swords! Out swords! Kill, kill!” Seeing us start Witta laughed, and showed us it was but a great-beaked grey bird with a red tail. He sat her on his shoulder, and she called for bread and wine hoarsely, and prayed him to kiss her. Yet she was no more than a silly bird. But – ye knew this?’ He looked at their smiling faces.

‘We weren’t laughing at you,’ said Una. ‘That must have been a parrot. It’s just what Pollies do.’

‘So we learned later. But here is another marvel. The Yellow Man, whose name was Kitai, had with him a brown box. In the box was a blue bowl with red marks upon the rim, and within the bowl, hanging from a fine thread, was a piece of iron no thicker than that grass stem, and as long, maybe, as my spur, but straight. In this iron, said Witta, abode an Evil Spirit which Kitai, the Yellow Man, had brought by Art Magic out of his own country that lay three years’ journey southward. The Evil Spirit strove day and night to return to his country, and therefore, look you, the iron needle pointed continually to the South.’