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

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Being the Third and Last Chronicle of Aescendune;
by Rev. A. D. Crake.































This little volume, now presented to the indulgence of the reader,
is the third of a series intended to illustrate the history and
manners of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers, whom a great historian very
appropriately names "The Old English:" it does not claim the merit
of deep research, only of an earnest endeavour to be true to the
facts, and in harmony with the tone, of the eventful period of "The
Norman Conquest."

The origin of these tales has been mentioned in the prefaces to the
earlier volumes, but may be briefly repeated for those who have not
seen the former "Chronicles." The writer was for many years the
chaplain of a large school, and it was his desire to make the
leisure hours of Sunday bright and happy, in the absence of the
sports and pastimes of weekdays.

The expedient which best solved the difficulty was the narration of
original tales, embodying the most striking incidents in the
history of the Church and of the nation, or descriptive of the
lives of our Christian forefathers under circumstances of
difficulty and trial.

One series of these tales, of which the first was Aemilius, a tale
of the Decian and Valerian persecutions, was based on the history
of the Early Church; the second series, on early English history,
and entitled "The Chronicles of Aescendune."

The first of these Chronicles described the days of St. Dunstan,
and illustrated the story of Edwy and Elgiva; the second, the later
Danish invasions, and the struggle between the Ironside and Canute;
the third is in the hands of the reader.

The leading events in each tale are historical, and the writer has
striven most earnestly not to tamper with the facts of history; he
has but attempted to place his youthful readers, to the best of his
power, in the midst of the exciting scenes of earlier days--to make
the young of the Victorian era live in the days when the Danes
harried the shires of Old England, or the Anglo-Saxon power and
glory collapsed, for the time, under the iron grasp of the Norman

Sad and terrible were those latter days to the English of every
degree, and although we cannot doubt that the England of the
present day is greatly the better for the admixture of Norman
blood, nor forget that the modern English are the descendants of
victor and vanquished alike,--yet our sympathy must be with our
Anglo-Saxon forefathers, in their crushing humiliation and bondage.

The forcible words of Thierry, in summing up the results of the
Conquest, may well be brought before the reader. He tells us that
we must not imagine a change of government, or the triumph of one
competitor over the other, but the intrusion of a whole people into
the bosom of another people, broken up by the invaders, the
scattered community being only admitted into the new social order
as personal property--"ad cripti glebae," to quote the very
language of the ancient acts; so that many, even of princely
descent, sank into the ranks of peasants and artificers--nay, of
thralls and bondsmen--compelled to till the land they once owned.

We must imagine, he adds, two nations on the surface of the same
country: the Normans, rich and free from taxes; the English (for
the term Saxon is an anachronism), poor, dependent, and oppressed
with burdens; the one living in vast mansions or embattled castles,
the other in thatched cabins or half-ruined huts; the one people
idle, happy, doing nought but fight or hunt, the other, men of
sorrow and toil--labourers and mechanics; on the one side, luxury
and insolence; on the other, misery and envy,--not the envy of the
poor at the sight of the riches of others, but of the despoiled in
presence of the spoilers.

These countries touched each other in every point, and yet were
more distinct than if the sea rolled between them. Each had its
language: in the abbeys and castles they only spoke French; in the
huts and cabins, the old English.

No words can describe the insolence and disdain of the conquerors,
which is feebly pictured in the Etienne de Malville of the present
tale. The very name of which the descendants of these Normans grew
proud, and which they adorned by their deeds on many a field of
battle--the English name--was used as a term of the utmost
contempt. "Do you think me an Englishman?" was the inquiry of
outraged pride.

Not only Normans, but Frenchmen, Bretons--nay, Continentals of all
nations, flocked into England as into an uninhabited country, slew
and took possession.

"Ignoble grooms," says an old chronicler, "did as they pleased with
the best and noblest, and left them nought to wish for but death.
These licentious knaves were amazed at themselves; they went mad
with pride and astonishment, at beholding themselves so
powerful--at having servants richer than their own fathers had been
{i}." Whatever they willed they deemed permissible to do; they
shed blood at random, tore the bread from the very mouths of the
famished people, and took everything--money, goods, lands {ii}.
Such was the fate which befell the once happy Anglo-Saxons.

And it was not till after a hundred and forty years of slavery,
that the separation of England from Normandy, in the days of the
cowardly and cruel King John, and the signing of Magna Carta, gave
any real relief to the oppressed; while it was later still, not
till after the days of Simon de Montfort, when resistance to new
foreigners had welded Norman and English into one, that the severed
races became really united, as Englishmen alike. Then the greatest
of the Plantagenets, Edward the First, the pupil of the man he slew
at Evesham, was proud to call himself an Englishman--the first
truly English king since the days of the hapless Harold; and one of
whom, in spite of the misrepresentations of Scottish historians and
novelists, English boys may be justly proud: his noble legislation
was the foundation of that modern English jurisprudence, in which
all are alike in the eyes of the law.

Not long after came the terrible "hundred years war," wherein
Englishmen, led by the descendants of their Norman and French
conquerors, retaliated upon Normandy and France the woes they had
themselves endured. Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt avenged
Hastings; the siege of Rouen under Henry the Fifth was a strange
Nemesis. During that century the state of France was almost as sad
as that of England during the earlier period; it was but a field
for English youth to learn the arts of warfare at the expense of
the wretched inhabitants.

But these events, sad or glorious, as the reader, according to his
age, may consider them, were long subsequent to the date of our
tale; they may, however, well be before the mind of the youthful
student as he sighs over the woes of the Conquest.

Two remarks which the writer has made in the prefaces to the former
Chronicles he will venture to repeat, as essential to the subject
in each case.

He has not, as is so common with authors who treat of this period,
clothed the words of his speakers in an antique phraseology. He
feels sure that men and boys spoke a language as free and easy in
the times in question as our compatriots do now. We cannot present
the Anglo-Saxon or Norman French they really used, and to load the
work with words culled from Chaucer would be simply an anachronism;
hence he has freely translated the speech of his characters into
the modern vernacular.

Secondly, he always calls the Anglo-Saxons as they called
themselves, "English;" the idea prevalent some time since, and
which even finds its place in the matchless story of Ivanhoe, or in
that striking novelette by Charles Mackay, "The Camp of Refuge,"
that they called themselves or were called "Saxons," is now utterly
exploded among historians. It is true the Welsh, the Picts, and
Scots called them by that designation, and do still; {iii} but
they had but one name for themselves, as the pages of the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle make manifest--"Englishmen." Nor did their
Norman conquerors affect to call them by any other title, although
in their mouths the honoured appellation was, as we have said, but
a term of reproach {iv}.

The author has chosen his two heroes, Wilfred and Etienne, if
heroes they can be called, as types of the English and Norman youth
of the period, alike in their merits and in their vices. The
effects of adversity on the one, and of success and dominant pride
on the other--happily finally subdued in each case beneath the
Cross on Calvary--form the chief attempt at "character painting" in
the tale.

It is not without a feeling of regret that he sends forth from his
hands the last of these "Chronicles," and bids farewell to the real
and imaginary characters who have seemed to form a part of his
world, almost as if he could grasp their hands or look into their

They are interwoven, too, with many treasured remembrances of past
days, of the listening crowd of boys, now scattered through the
world, and lost to the sight of the narrator, but who once by their
eager interest encouraged the speaker, and at whose request the
earliest of these tales was written. Happy indeed would he be,
could he hope the written page would arouse the same interest,
which the spoken narrative undoubtedly created, or the tales had
never been published.

And now the writer must leave his tale to speak for itself, only
taking this opportunity of assuring old friends, whose remembrances
of a vanished past may be quickened by the story, how dear the
memory of those days is to him; and to show this, however feebly,
he begs leave to dedicate this tale to those who first heard it, on
successive Sunday evenings, in the old schoolroom of All Saints'
School, Bloxham.

A. D. C.


It was the evening of Thursday, the fifth of October, in year of
grace one thousand and sixty and six.

The setting sun was slowly sinking towards a dense bank of clouds,
but as yet he gladdened the woods and hills around the old hall of
Aescendune with his departing light.

The watchman on the tower gazed upon a fair scene outspread before
him; at his feet rolled the river, broad and deep, spanned by a
rude wooden bridge; behind him rose the hills, crowned with forest;
on his right hand lay the lowly habitations of the tenantry, the
farmhouses of the churls, the yet humbler dwellings of the thralls
or tillers of the soil; the barns and stables were filled with the
produce of a goodly harvest; the meadows full of sheep and oxen--a
scene of rich pastoral beauty.

On his left hand a road led to the northeast, following at first
the upward course of the river, until it left the stream and
penetrated into the thick woodland.

Just as the orb of day was descending into the dense bank of cloud
afore mentioned, the watchman marked the sheen of spear and lance,
gilded by the departing rays, where the road left the forest.
Immediately he blew the huge curved horn which he carried at his
belt; and at the blast the inhabitants of the castle and village
poured forth; loud shouts of joy rent the air--the deeper
exclamations of the aged, the glad huzzas of children--and all
hastened along the road to greet the coming warriors.

For well they knew that a glorious victory had gladdened the arms
of old England; that at Stamford Bridge the proud Danes and
Norwegians had sustained a crushing defeat, and been driven to seek
refuge in their ships, and that these warriors, now approaching,
were their own sons, husbands, or fathers, who had gone forth with
Edmund, Thane of Aescendune, to fight under the royal banner of
Harold, the hero king.

Who shall describe the meeting, the glad embraces, the
half-delirious joy with which those home-bred soldiers were
welcomed? No hirelings they, who fought for mere glory, or lust of
gold, but husbands, fathers of families--men who had left the
ploughshare and pruning hook to fight for hearth and altar.

"Home again"--home, saved from the fire and sword of the Northman,
of whom tradition told so many dread stories--stories well known at
Aescendune, where a young son of the then thane fifty years agone
had died a martyr's death, pierced through and through by arrows,
shot slowly to death because he would not save himself by denying
his Lord {v}.

At that dismal period the whole district had been devastated with
fire and sword, and there were old men amongst the crowd who well
remembered the destruction of the former hall and village by the
ferocious Danes. And now God had heard their litanies: "From the
fury of the Northmen, good Lord deliver us," and had averted the
scourge through the stout battle-axes and valiant swords of these
warrior peasants and their noble leaders, such as Edmund, son of

Amidst all this joy the Lady Winifred of Aescendune stood upon the
steps of the great hall to receive her lord, fair as the lily, a
true Englishwoman, a loving wife and tender mother.

And by her, one on each side, stood her two children, Wilfred and
Edith. He was an English boy of the primitive type, with his brown
hair, his sunburnt yet handsome features, the fruit of country air
and woodland exercise; she, the daughter, a timid, retiring girl,
her best type the lily, the image of her mother.

And now the noble rider, the thane and father, descended from his
war steed, and threw himself into the arms of the faithful partner
of his joys and sorrows, who awaited his embrace; there was a
moment of almost reverential silence as he pressed her to his manly
breast, and then arose a cry which made the welkin ring:

"Long life to Edmund and Winifred of Aescendune!"

The bonfires blazed and illuminated the night; the bells (there
were three at S. Wilfred's priory hard by) rang with somewhat
dissonant clamour; strains of music, which would seem very rough
now, greeted the ears; but none the less hearty was the joy.

"The comet--what do you say of the comet now?" said one.

"That it boded ill to the Northmen," was the reply of his

They referred to that baleful visitor, the comet of 1066, which had
turned night into day with its lurid and ghastly light, so that the
very waves of the sea seemed molten in its beams, while the beasts
of the field howled as if they scented the coming banquet of flesh
afar off. Well might they stand aghast who gazed upon this awful
portent, which had seemed to set the southern heavens on fire.

The banquet was spread in the great hall, and the returned warriors
supped with their lord ere they retired to gladden their own
families. Little was said till the desire for eating and drinking
was appeased. But the minstrels sang many a song of the glories of
the English race, particularly of the thanes of Aescendune, and of
the best and noblest warrior amongst them--Alfgar, the companion of
the Ironside, the father of the present earl, who had been borne to
his grave full of years and honour amidst the tears of his people,
in the very last year of the Confessor.

But when the boards were removed, the thanks rendered to the God
who had given all, the huge fire replenished, the wine and mead
handed round, then Edmund the Thane rose amidst the expectant
silence of his retainers.

"The health of Harold, our noble king, elected to that post by the
suffrages of all true Englishmen! Nobler title no king on earth may

It was drunk with acclamation.

"The memory of our brethren who went forth with us from Aescendune,
and have left their bones at Stamford Bridge. Weep not for them,
they have fallen in no unjust war, but for hearth and altar, for
their country and their God; and this I swear, that while I rule at
Aescendune, their souls shall never lack a mass at St. Wilfred's
altar, nor their widows and orphans food and shelter."

This toast was drunk in solemn silence, and Edmund continued:

"Our toils are not yet over; we have one more battle to fight, and
that may serve to free us from further need of fighting for the
rest of our lives. William the Norman landed with sixty thousand
men in Sussex, as many of you already know, while we were in
Northumbria, or I trow he had never landed at all. The day after
tomorrow we don our harness again to meet this new foe, but it will
be child's play compared with that which is past. Shall we, who
have conquered the awful Harold Hardrada, the victor of a hundred
fights, fear these puny Frenchmen? They have come in a large fleet;
a fishing boat will be too roomy to take them back; their bones
will whiten and enrich the fields of Sussex for generations."

"The day after tomorrow!--start again the day after tomorrow, oh,
my lord!" said a gentle, pleading voice.

"It must be so, my love; but why doubt that the God who has already
given us such an earnest of victory will protect us still, and
preserve us to each other?"

All the charm of the banquet was gone to the devoted wife, but
young Wilfred pressed to his father's side.

"Thou wilt take me this time, father."

"Why, my boy, thou art barely fifteen, not old enough or strong
enough yet to cope with men."

"But these Normans are hardly men."

"I fear me too much for thy tender age."

"Oh, father, let me go."

"Nay, thy mother needs thy care."

"But I must begin some day, and what day better than this? I can
fight by thy side."

"There is really little danger, my wife," he said, in reply to the
pleading looks of the mother; "I would not take him to meet the
Danes, but there is less danger in these dainty Frenchmen. The
grandson of Alfgar should be encouraged, not restrained, when he
seeks to play the man, even as we repress not, but stimulate the
first feeble attempts of the young falcon to strike its prey."

The Lady Winifred said no more at the time, for the duties of a
host demanded her lord's care. The moon was high in the heavens ere
the last song was sung, the last tale told, and the guests
dismissed with these parting words:

"And now, my merry men all, your own homes claim your presence. One
day ye may safely give to rest; the day after tomorrow we march
again; for Harold will complete his levies on the 10th, and we must
not be behind. Goodnight! Saints and angels guard your well-deserved

The brief period of rest passed rapidly away, and the last night
came--the last before departure for the fatal field of Senlac. Oh,
how little did the Englishmen who left their homes with such
confidence dream of the fatal collapse of their fame and glory
which awaited them! They fell into the fatal error of underestimating
their foe. Had it been otherwise, a host had assembled which had crushed
the foreign invader; whereas there were few thanes in the midlands, and
scarce any in the northern shires, who thought it worth while to follow
Harold to Sussex.

So there were many who cried, "We have defended the northern shores
and beaten the Danes; let the men of Sussex take their turn with
these puny Frenchmen; we will turn out fast enough if they be

Alas! it was too late to "turn out" when the only Englishman whose
genius equalled that of William lay dead on the fatal field, and
there was no king in Israel.

Amidst the general confidence begotten of the victory at Stamford
Bridge there were some upon whom the dread shadow of the future had
fallen, and who realised the crisis; foremost amongst these was the
patriot king himself. He knew the foe, and was perhaps the only man
in the country who did; he knew that civilisation had only
sharpened the genius of the descendants of Rollo, without abating
one jot of their prowess; that they were more terrible now than
when they ravaged Normandy, two centuries earlier.

Yet he flinched not from the struggle.

And amidst all the confidence of her dependants, some such shadow
seemed to have fallen on the Lady Winifred. An unaccountable
presentiment of evil weighed upon her spirits. She could not leave
her husband one moment while he was yet spared to her; ever and
anon she was surprised into tender words of endearment, foreign to
the general tenor of her daily life, which partook of the reserve
of an unemotional age.

She begged hard that Wilfred might remain at home, but only
prevailed so far as to obtain a promise that he should not actually
enter the battle, and with this she was forced to rest content, to
the great delight of the boy.

That last night--how brief it seemed! How frequent the repetition
of the same loving words! How fervent the aspiration for the day of
their happy reunion, the danger over!--how chilling the
unexpressed, unspoken doubt, whether it would ever take place! Yet
it seemed folly to doubt, after Stamford Bridge.

The supper, ordinarily, in those times, the social meal of the day,
was comparatively a silent one. The very tones of the harp seemed
modulated in a minor key, contrasting strongly with the jubilant
notes of the previous night; and at an early hour, the husband and
wife retired to their bower, to sit long in the narrow embrasure of
the window, looking out on the familiar moonlit scene, her head on
his breast, ere they retired to rest.

"Dear heart, thou seemest dull tonight, and yet thou wert not so
when we parted for the last fight. Thou didst thy best then to
cheer thy lord."

"I know not why it is, but a chill foreboding seems to distress my
spirits now, my Edmund; it must be mere weakness, but I feel as if
I should never sit by thy dear side again."

"We are in God's hands, my dear one, and must trust all to Him. I
go forth at the call of duty, and thou couldst not bid me to stay
at home that men may call me 'niddering.'"

"Nay, nay, my lord, forgive thy wife's weakness; but why take
Wilfred too?"

"He will be in no danger; he shall tarry with old Guthlac by the
stuff. There will be many present like him, and whatever may chance
to me or others, there can be no danger to them, for victory must
follow our Harold. Hadst thou seen him at the Bridge thou couldst
not doubt; he is the Ironside alive again, and as great as a
general as a warrior.

"And now, dearest, a faint heart is faithlessness to God; let us
commit ourselves in prayer to Him, and sleep together in peace."

The eastern sky was aglow with the coming dawn when they arose.
Soon all was bustle in the precincts, the neighing of horses, the
clatter of arms; then came the hasty meal, the long lingering
farewell; and the husband and father rode away with his faithful
retainers; his boy, full of spirits, by his side, waving his plumed
cap to mother and sister as they watched the retiring band until
lost in the distance.

They retired, the Lady Winifred and her daughter Edith, to the
summit of the solitary tower, which arose over the entrance gate of
the hall; there, with eyes fast filling with tears, they watched
the departing band as it entered into the forest, then gorgeous
with all the tints of autumn, the golden tints of the ash and elm,
the reddish-brown of the beech--all combining to make a picture,
exceeding even the tender hues of spring in beauty.

But all this loveliness was the beauty of decay, the prelude to the
fall of the leaf; the forests were but arrayed in their richest
garb for the coming death of winter.

Into these forests, prophetic in their hues of decay, glided the
brilliant train of Edmund, the last English lord of Aescendune.

Farewell, noble hearts! Happier far ye who go forth to die for your
country than they who shall live to witness her captivity.


It was the evening of Saturday, the 14th of October, in the year of
grace 1066.

All was over; the standard--the royal standard of Harold--had gone
down in blood, and England's sun had set for generations on the
fatal field of Senlac or Hastings.

The orb of day had gone down gloomily; had it but gone down one
hour earlier, all might yet have been well; it but lingered to
behold the foe in possession of the hill where the last gallant
Englishmen died with Harold, not one who fought around the standard
surviving their king.

The wind had arisen, and was howling in fitful gusts across the
ensanguined plain of the dead; dark night gathered over the gloomy
slopes, conquered at such lavish waste of human life--dark, but not
silent; for in every direction arose the moans of the wounded and

On the fatal hill, where the harvest of death had been thickest,
the Conqueror had caused his ducal pavilion to be reared, just
where Harold's standard had stood, and where the ruined altar of
Battle Abbey stands now. They had cleared away the bodies to make
room for the tent, but the ground was sodden with the blood of both
Englishman and Norman.

The sounds of revelry issued from beneath those gorgeous hangings,
and mocked the plaintive cries of the sufferers around.

"O Earth, Earth, such are thy rulers!" exclaimed a solemn voice.
"To gratify one man's ambition, this scene disfigures thy surface,
and mocks the image of God in man."

So spake a good monk, Norman although he was, who had followed
Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, into England as his chaplain,
selected because he could speak the English tongue--that warrior
prelate, who in conjunction with Odo of Bayeux blessed the
Conqueror's banners, and ministered in things sacred to the "pious"

He wandered, this good brother, from one dying sinner to another,
absolving the penitent, and ministering to the parched lips of many
a sufferer. His own long brown garment was stiff at the extremities
with gore, but he heeded it not.

And at last, when he came to a heap of slain just where the Normans
had first hewn their way through the English entrenchments, after
the sham retreat had drawn away so many of their defenders, he was
attracted by the sound of convulsive weeping.

There, kneeling beside the body of an English warrior, he saw a boy
of some fourteen years, sobbing as if his young heart would break,
while he addressed the slain one with many a plaintive cry.

"Father, wake; speak but once more to me; thou canst not be dead.
Oh my father, only once more speak to thy son."

"Alas! my poor boy, he will speak no more until the earth gives up
her dead, and refuses to cover her slain; but we will comfort his
soul with masses and prayers. How didst thou come hither, my poor

"I followed him to the battle, and he bade me tarry by the stuff;
but when all was lost Guthlac ran away, and I came hither to die
with him if need should be. Oh my father, would God I had died for

"Father, good father, what clamour is this?" said a deep voice,
"some English lad mourning a sire?"

"Even so, my Lord of Blois. The poor child mourns his father."

"There be many mourners now. William Malet, with a lady whom Harold
loved, and two good monks of Waltham, have just found the body of
the perjured usurper. The face was so mangled, that no man might
know him, but she recognised him by a mark on his body. So they
have carried it away by the duke's command to bury it by the shore
which he strove so vainly to guard."

"Oh may I but bear his body home to my poor mother," moaned the

"We will ask the Conqueror to grant thy petition, poor mourner,"
said the sympathising monk.

"William will not refuse his prayer, father, if thy superior, the
Bishop of Coutances, urges it; he is all-powerful just now," said
Eustace of Blois. "The poor boy shall plead himself. Come, my lad,
to the pavilion; there shalt thou ask for and obtain the poor boon
thou cravest."

The unhappy Wilfred--for our readers have of course recognised the
young heir of Aescendune--repressed his sobs, strove to wipe away
his tears, as if he felt them unmanly, and followed his conductors,
the knight and the monk, towards the ducal tent.

There William, attended by all his chief officers--by Odo of Bayeux
and Geoffrey of Coutances, by Hugh de Bigod and Robert de Mortain,
and some few others of his mightiest nobles, was taking the evening
meal, served by a few young pages, themselves the sons of nobles or
knights, who learnt the duties of chivalry by beginning at the
lowest grade, if to wait on the Conqueror could be so considered.

Speaking to the sentinel, the good chaplain was allowed to enter,
and whisper low in the ear of the bishop.

"I can refuse thee nought after thy good service," said the courtly
prelate. "Thou say'st the poor boy has a boon to crave--the body of
his sire, and begs through me--I will out, and speak to him."

"Thy name, my son?" said Geoffrey to Wilfred.

"Wilfred, son of the Thane of Aescendune, in Mercia."

"Hast thou been in the battle?"

"Only since all was over, or I had died by his side."

"The saints have preserved thee for better things than to die in a
cause accursed by the Church. Nay, my son, I blame thee not, thou
art too young to know better."

And truly the boy's face and manner, winning though suffused with
tears, might have softened a harder heart than beat beneath the
rochet of the Bishop of Coutances, warrior prelate though he was.

So, without any further delay, he led the boy into the presence of
the mighty Conqueror.

"Who is this stripling? an English lad, my lord of Coutances?"

"He has come to beg permission to carry away the body of his sire.
Bend thy knee, my lad, and salute thy future king."

"Nay, thy present one; coronation will but put the seal on
accomplished facts," said Eustace.

But young though Wilfred was, he had his father's spirit in him,
and spoke in broken sentences.

"My lord," he said, "I cannot own thee as my king. My father would
not have me abjure all he taught me before his body is yet cold. I
but ask thee as a kind enemy, who wars not with the dead, to give
me leave to remove him from this fatal spot--to take him home. Thou
wilt not deny an English lad this poor boon, mighty duke as thou

William understood English well, and was touched by the boyish
spirit of the address, by the absence of fear.

"Thou dost not fear me then?" he said.

"He who lies dead on yon field for his country's sake taught me to
despise fear."

"Thou art verily a bold youth, and were there many like thee,
England might yet be hard to win. A noble father must have begotten
so brave a son."

Then turning to his guests:

"But I hope yet," he added, "to win the hearts of such as he. They
loved Canute, although he conquered them. Am I less a foreigner
than he? and may not I win their love as he did?"

"Begin then thy reign with an act of clemency, my royal son," said
the bishop.

"I do; the lad shall have the protection he needs, and the
assistance of our people, so far as our power yet extends."

The tears started once more into Wilfred's eyes.

"I thank thee, my Lord Duke, for my dead father's sake, and for my
living mother, and will pray the saints to forgive thee the
bloodshed of this day."

It was a curious ending to his speech, especially as the bloodshed
was supposed to be on account of the saints, over whose bones the
ill-fated Harold had taken his famous oath; but William had respect
for courage and outspoken truthfulness, and more than once promoted
men to high office in Church or State, who had withstood him in the

He only added, "When we meet again, my son, thou mayst judge thy
king differently."

Wilfred left the ducal tent; the authority of Count Eustace
speedily procured the assistance of some Norman camp followers, and
the body was reverently removed from the heap of slain, and placed
upon a litter. Wilfred slept in the tent of Eustace, and in the
morning commenced his homeward journey, with the funeral cortege.

It is unnecessary to enter further into the details of that most
sad journey. Suffice it to say that he was able to transfer the
precious burden from Norman to English hands, and that he arrived
home in safety, whither Guthlac had preceded him, with the tidings
that all save himself had perished alike.

Therefore the return of Wilfred was like that of one dead and alive
again, lost and found; and the poor widow felt she had yet
something besides her daughter Edith to live for.

The immediate effects of the conquest were not felt for some few
weeks in the central parts of Mercia, and nought interfered with
the solemn function customary at funerals in those ages.

The second morning after the return of Wilfred was fixed for the
burial of the deceased thane, in the priory church which his father
had built in the place of an earlier structure burnt by the Danes
in 1006.

It was a noble pile for those early days, built chiefly of stone,
which was fast superseding wood as a material for churches,
dedicated to St. Wilfred. The lofty roof, the long choir beyond the
transept, gave magnificence to the fabric, which was surrounded
without by the cloisters of the priory, of which it was the central

In the south transept--for it was a cruciform church--was a chapel
dedicated especially to St. Cuthbert, where the ashes of the
deceased thane's forefathers reposed in peace beneath the pavement.
There lay Ella of Aescendune, murdered by a Dane named Ragnar; his
two sons, Elfric, who died young, and Alfred, who succeeded to the
inheritance. There, as in a shrine, the martyr Bertric reposed,
who, like St. Edmund, had died by the arrows of the heathen Danes,
there the once warlike Alfgar, the father of our thane, rested in
peace, his lady Ethelgiva by his side {vi}.

The body lay in the great hall, where he had so recently feasted
his retainers after the return from Stamford Bridge. Six large
tapers burned around it, and watchers were there both by day and

There his people crowded to gaze upon the sternly composed features
for the last time; there knelt in prayer his disconsolate widow,
her son and daughter: they scarcely ever left the hallowed remains
until the hour came when, amidst the lamentations of the whole
population, the body of the gallant Edmund was borne to the tomb in
that chapel of St. Cuthbert, where those gallant ancestors whose
story we have told in former chronicles awaited him--"earth to
earth, and dust to dust."

It was a touching procession. The body was borne by the chief
tenants yet living, and surrounded by chanting monks, whose solemn
"Domine refugium nostrum" fell with awful yet consoling effect upon
the ears of the multitude. The churls and thralls, sadly thinned by
the sword, followed behind their lady and her two children, Wilfred
and Edith.

They placed the bier before the high altar while the requiem mass
was sung, six monks kneeling beside it, three on each side, with
lighted tapers. Then the coffin was sprinkled with hallowed water,
perfumed with sweet incense, and borne to its last resting place in
the chapel of St. Cuthbert, where they laid him by the side of his
father, Alfgar the Dane.

"Ego sum resurrectio et vita, dixit Dominus--I am the Resurrection
and the Life, saith the Lord."


It was a feature peculiar to the Norman Conquest, that while its
real injustice and disregard of moral right could hardly be
surpassed in the annals of warfare, the conquerors strove to give
to every act of violence and wrong the technical sanction of law
and the appearance of equity.

This was easily done: first, by assuming that William was the
lawful successor of Edward the Confessor, and that all who had
opposed him were therefore in the position of conquered rebels; and
secondly, since the Pope had excommunicated Harold, and sanctioned
the invasion, by treating all his aiders and abettors as heretics
or schismatics.

Generally these harsh doctrines were pushed to their legitimate
consequences in cruel wrong inflicted upon an innocent people, and
the Anglo-Saxon thanes and nobles who survived the first years of
conquest were reduced to serfdom or beggary; but there were
exceptions. William doubtless intended at first to govern justly,
and strove to unite the two nations--English and Norman; therefore,
when the occasion offered, he bade his knights and barons who
aspired to an English estate marry the widows or daughters of the
dispossessed thanes, and so reconcile the conflicting interests.
Hence the blood of the old Anglo-Saxon lords flows in many a family
proud of its unblemished descent from the horde of pirates and
robbers, whom a century and a half in France had turned into the
polished Normans.

Alas! the varnish was often only skin deep.

"Scratch the Norman, you will find the Dane," said the old
proverb--none the less ruthless and cruel because of the gloss of a
superficial civilisation.

Within a few weeks after the fatal day of Senlac, all resistance on
the part of the disunited English, left without a recognised
leader, became hopeless; and William was crowned on Christmas Day
at Westminster Abbey, which on the previous feast of the Epiphany,
in the same year, as we reckon time, had witnessed the coronation
of his hapless rival. There he swore to be a just ruler to English
and Normans alike, and, doubtless, at the time he was sincere; but
history records how he kept his oath, and the course of our story
will illustrate it.

The lands of all who fought on Harold's side at Hastings were
announced to be forfeited; hence the widow and son of Edmund were
liable to be ejected from their home and possessions at Aescendune.

But the conduct of Wilfred on the night after the battle had won
him friends, and they pleaded for the youngster whose gallant
bearing had made an impression on the mighty Conqueror himself, who
felt a passing interest in the brave boy.

Still he would only interpose to stay the execution of the unjust
law, and to keep off the greedy Norman nobles, who were already
prowling around the fair manor, on one condition: the lady of
Aescendune must marry a Norman knight, recommended by himself; in
which case, the right of succession after the death of his
stepfather should rest with Wilfred, who by that time would
doubtless have become Norman in all but lineage--so thought the

At first poor Lady Winifred utterly refused to consent; but when
the prior of St. Wilfred reminded her that, in that case, she would
lose all power of protecting her tenantry--the widows and orphans
of those who had died around her husband, and that by refusal of
the terms she threw away Wilfred's inheritance, and consigned
herself and children to beggary--then she wavered, and after many a
painful scene gave way, and consented to become the bride of Hugo
de Malville, the earliest applicant for her hand and estate, when
the year of mourning for her lost Edmund should have elapsed.

"I may give my hand," she said, "but can never give my heart."

The good Bishop of Coutances saw that the preliminaries were fairly
arranged, for Hugo de Malville came from his diocese, where, if the
truth be told, he had not borne an exemplary character, and the
bishop would fain have found a better father for the young Wilfred;
only the Conqueror was peremptory, and would brook no interference
with his arrangements.

Therefore, all the good prelate could do was to see that the
marriage contract was fairly drawn up by clerkly hands--that
Wilfred stood next in succession. There was need of this, for Hugo
had a son of the same age, a hopeful youth, named Etienne, the only
being on earth whom he was known to love.

This lad was named next in order of succession to Wilfred, failing
issue from the new marriage.

The morning sun was shining brightly one October day, in the year
of grace 1067, on the old moated manor of Aescendune, on its clear
river and its deep woods, now bright with all the gorgeous tints of

All the good people of that well-known neighbourhood--well-known we
mean to the readers of the former Chronicles--were gathered
together in crowds on the green between the castle and the
venerable priory of St. Wilfred, founded, as related in the first
of these veritable family legends, by Offa of Aescendune.

Many a group of friends and kinsfolk had formed itself, some in
eager but not loud discussion, in which the guttural tones of that
English, so unlike our own, yet its direct progenitor in language,
contrasted sharply with an occasional shout in Norman French from
some marshal of the ceremonies, bent on clearing the course for the
passage of the coming procession.

A deep gloom sat on many a brow--on nearly every aged one; for many
of the youngsters were merry enough.

From the main archway of the old hall issued the bridal
procession--whence the funeral of Edmund had but emerged one year
before: she, surrounded by such friends and neighbours as yet lived
and were permitted to hold their lands up to this time in peace,
while he came from a neighbouring castle, newly erected, where he
had spent the night with great pomp and state, preceded by heralds
with their trumpets, and surrounded by all the knightly robbers who
had been already successful in grasping manors and estates round

The Bishop of Coutances, vested in white stole, received them at
the door of the priory church, attended by the English prior.

"Hugo," said he, "wilt thou receive Winifred, here present, as thy
wedded wife, according to the rites of our Holy Mother the Church?"

"I will," he replied, in firm tones.

"Winifred, wilt thou receive Hugo, here present, as thy wedded
husband, according to the rites of our Holy Mother the Church?"

She faltered, trembled, then said: "I will," but all present must
have marked her hesitation.

The bishop continued:

"I join you in matrimony in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy

Then he sprinkled them both with hallowed water, and afterwards
blessed the ring, praying that she who should wear it might ever be
faithful to her spouse, and that they might live in the peace of
God and in mutual charity.

Hugo placed the ring on her cold, shuddering finger, she trembling
like an aspen leaf; after which the bishop led the way to the high
altar, where the customary mass "pro sponso et sponsa" was said.

Forth they now issued, the heralds first with their trumpets; then
the men-at-arms with all the pomp of Norman array; then the
principal tenants of the estate, looking more like prisoners than
guests; then another troop of Norman men-at-arms; then each on his
own horse, his squire by his side; the neighbouring barons, who had
already built their castles and strengthened themselves in the
land; then, preceded and attended by pages in sumptuous tunics of
linen, fringed and girded with cloth of gold, the happy pair, he on
his war steed, she on her white palfrey--he dark as the raven, she
fair as the lily.

Wilfred and Etienne were walking side by side in the procession,
and it was impossible to help being struck by the contrast in their
appearance--the one supple and lithe in every limb, with dark,
restless eyes, and quick, nervous temperament; the other, the
English boy, with his brown hair, his sunburnt, yet handsome
features--the fruit of country air and exercise--far stouter and
sturdier than his foreign rival.

They were expected, of course, to be very friendly; but any keen
observer would have noted a certain air of distrust which showed
itself from time to time in their glances, in spite of the awkward
advances they made to each other.

How could it be otherwise? Could they forget the deadly feud
between their races? Could they forget that each was a claimant of
the lands of Aescendune--the one by birth, the other by the right
of conquest?

And now the bridal train reached the gates of the Hall amidst the
plaudits of the Normans and the deep silence of the Englishmen--many
of whom would sooner far have seen the fair Winifred in her grave
than the wife of Hugo de Malville.

"What thinkest thou, Sexwulf, of this most outlandish wedding?"

"What can I think, Ulf, but that the good widow has lost her senses
through grief at the death of her lord, the noble Edmund, else
would the dove never mate the black crow."

"Yea, she was pale as death as she entered the church."

"Well she may be; she liketh not the match, only she would save the
estates for her boy's sake."

"Will she be able to save them?"

"So the Conqueror hath promised. Wilfred, our young lord, is to
inherit if he live; and if he die, then that dark young French
lad--a true cub of the old wolf."

"If he live. Well, I would not wager much upon his chance of a long
life in that case."

"Nor I; but we must not say so, if we value our ears, or our necks

Long and loud was the revelry in the castle of Aescendune that
night; as it is written in the old ballad of Imogene:

"The tables groaned with the weight of the feast,
And many and noble were the guests."

But no spectral form sat beside the bride, although there were not
wanting those who half imagined the dead Edmund might appear--roused
even from the grave, to see the seat he had occupied so many years in
honour and worth, filled by this dark-browed Norman stranger.

"Let us drink," said the courtly bishop, "to the health and
happiness of Norman lord and English lady, and may their union be a
type of the union betwixt the two people, who, forgetting that they
met as worthy foes at Senlac, may live as brethren under the
noblest king in Christendom."

The toast was drunk with acclamations; even the English guests
thought they meant it in the delirium of the jovial scene, and
fancied for a moment that Englishman and Norman might yet live in

"Is it not sweet?" said the good prior to one of the English
guests. "It reminds me of the happy time when it is said the wolf
shall lie down with the lamb."

"Methinks the lamb is likely in this case to lie down inside the
wolf, especially if he be a Norman wolf."

But the speaker, whose attendance was compulsory, or he had not
been there, had few sympathisers at the moment.

"Let us hope for the best. Sir Hugo will not, cannot forget the
solemn covenant he has made today, to love and to cherish, till
death part him and his bride."

"I hardly think, good father, that day is far off, judging by her

The wax tapers cast a sweet, soft light over the pale, sad features
of Winifred of Aescendune, daughter of Herstan {vii} of
Clifftown, on the Thames, who had but lately, full of years, gone
to his rest, spared the sad days of the Conquest--days utterly
unanticipated by those who died while Edward the Confessor yet
reigned in peace, ere Harold visited the Norman court and swore
over the holy bones.

She was but fulfilling a sad duty--at least she thought so--as she
played her ill-omened part, sacrificing herself for her boy and her
only daughter Edith. For what was the alternative? Was it not to go
forth as fugitives and vagabonds on the face of the earth--a prey
to every foreign noble--leaving her own dear people of Aescendune
to the wolf, without intercessor or protector.

And thus it came to pass that Winifred of Aescendune married Hugo
de Malville.


In the days of chivalry the first step towards the degree of
knighthood was that of page. Boys of noble birth, about their
twelfth year, were generally transferred from the home of their
childhood to the castle of some gallant baron to learn the customs
of war and peace at his hand, and to acquire habits of good order
and discipline. These lads fared harder by far than modern boys do
at our great schools; they slept on harder couches, rose earlier,
and had less dainty food. They were forced to pay implicit
obedience to their superiors; modesty in demeanour, as becoming
their age, was strictly required before their elders; and they had
to perform many offices which would now be deemed menial.

First they learned how to manage their horses with ease and
dexterity; next how to use the sword, the bow, and the lance. They
had to attend upon their lords in hunting--the rules of which, like
those of mimic war, had to be carefully studied. The various blasts
of the horn, indicating when the hounds were slipped, when the prey
was flying, and when it stood at bay, had to be acquired, as also
the various tracks of the wild animals--the fox, the wolf, the
bear, the wild boar. Nights and days were frequently spent in the
pathless woods, and the face of the country had to be carefully
studied, while pluck and address were acquired by the necessity of
promptitude when the wild beast stood at bay.

And when the deer or hart was slain they had to "brittle," or break
him up, with all precision, and during the banquet they had
frequently to carve the haunch or chine, and to do it with some

All these arts were being acquired at the castle of Aescendune by
Etienne de Malville, Louis de Marmontier, Pierre de Morlaix, and
Wilfred of Aescendune, all of the age of fifteen or sixteen, but
more advanced physically than boys of such years would be now; and,
sooth to say, the boys had a stern preceptor in Hugo de Malville.

They slept in a common dormitory in one of the towers, on beds
resembling boxes, stuffed with straw, with the skins of the wolf or
bear for coverlets. They sprang out when the morning horn blew the
reveille. First they attended the early mass in St. Wilfred's
monastic church, said at daybreak--for the Normans were very exact
in such duties--after which they fenced, rode, or wrestled, and in
mimic war gained an appetite for breakfast.

They ate dried meats, as a rule, with their cakes of bread, and
washed them down with thin wine or mead, much diluted, and then the
forest was generally the rendezvous.

On winter evenings, or when the weather was very bad, the chaplain
was expected to teach them a little reading or writing in Latin or
Norman French--never in English; and this was almost all the
learning they acquired, in the modern sense of the word.

But they knew a hundred things modern boys know nothing at all
about, and every muscle and nerve was braced to be steady and true,
whether for fight or sport. Our young pages could find their way in
the deep woods by observing the moss on the trees, or the sides on
which the oaks or elms threw their branches the most freely; and
when benighted they could sleep with patience on a couch of
withered leaves, and not suffer with a cold in the head the next
day. They feared neither wolf nor bear, nor, for that matter,
anything save disgrace.

The imputation of cowardice, or of any mean vice, such as lying,
was only to be avenged by bloodshed. No gentleman could bear it and
retain his claim to the name. But there were higher duties
inculcated wheresoever the obligations of chivalry were fully
carried out: the duty of succouring the distressed, or redressing
wrong--of devotion to God and His Church, and hatred of the devil
and his works.

Alas! how often one aspect of chivalry alone, and that the worst,
was found to exist; the ideal was too high for fallen nature. Our
youthful readers will be able to judge which aspect was uppermost
at Aescendune under its first Norman lords.

Nought was changed in the outward aspect of the scene, save that a
stern Norman castle, with its dungeons and towers, was rising in
the place of the old hall, doomed to destruction because it was ill
adapted for defensive warfare.

Such defect had hardly been appreciated in the days of the old
English thane, for England had enjoyed half a century of
comparative peace, and her people had begun to build like those who
sat at peace beneath their own "vine and fig tree," ere the Normans
brought the stern realities of war into the unhappy land, or rather
of serfdom, oppression, and slavery, only varied by convulsive
struggles for liberty--always, alas! destined to be made in vain.

The four pages were one day wandering in the outskirts of the
forest, clothed in light hunting dresses--tunics, confined by broad
belts and edged with fur; while leggings protected the feet and
ankles from thorns. They each had hunting spears and bows, which
were borne by young thralls, with sheaves of arrows strung to their
backs, while they held dogs by leashes of leather.

He who bore the air of the leader of the party was tall and dark,
of slender build, but with all those characteristics which denoted
the conquering race; the fearless eye, the haughty air of those
born to command. A second, our readers would have recognised as a
typical English boy; his nut-brown hair and blue eyes contrasted
strongly with the features of his companions, so marked then were
those differences which have long since vanished--vanished, or at
least have become so shared amongst the English people, that none
can say which is of Anglo-Saxon, which of Norman blood, by the cast
of the face.

And this English lad, whose dress in no wise distinguished him from
his companions, was evidently ill at ease amongst them; from time
to time he reddened as Etienne, Pierre, or Louis called the unhappy
thralls "English swine," "young porkers," or the like, and bestowed
upon them far more kicks than coins.

"You forget, Etienne, that I am English."

"Nay, my brother Wilfred, thou wilt not allow me to do that, but of
course in thy case 'noblesse oblige.'"

These last words were uttered with a most evident sneer, and the
other lads laughed aloud; whereupon the English lad reddened, then
his fists clenched, and a looker-on would have expected an
immediate outbreak, when suddenly a change passed over his
features, as if he were making a violent effort at self composure.

"Thou hast dropped an arrow, thou young porker," cried Etienne, the
while he struck a violent blow with his switch across the face and
eyes of one of his attendants; "dost thou think there are so few of
thy fellow swine to shoot, that arrows are useless in these woods!
Ah! look at that sight there, and take timely warning."

The sight in question was a gallows, from which rotted, pendant,
the corpse of an unhappy Englishman, hanged for killing a deer.

"If every oak in Aescendune woods bore such acorns, civilised folk
might soon be happy."

Wilfred uttered a deep malediction, which he could not suppress,
and, leaving the party, disappeared from sight in the woods.

One of the Norman lads looked after him with some little appearance
of sympathy, and when he had gone, said:

"Is it like gentlemen to torment each other thus?"

"Not each other, certainly!"

"He is your brother in a way, the son of your stepmother, the lady
of Aescendune."

"He is in a way, but some brothers would be better out of the way
than in it, besides--why does he not show fight? A Norman would
with half the provocation."

"You could not fight with him," said Louis de Marmontier, who was
the youngest of the pages who were learning "chivalry" at the
castle of Aescendune, in company with Etienne and Wilfred, under
the fostering care of the baron.

"I don't know," said the fierce young Norman, and, breaking off the
conversation, switched savagely at the head of a thistle close at
hand, which he neatly beheaded.

The others quite understood the action and the bitterness with
which he spoke, for they knew that he considered himself defrauded
of the lands of Aescendune by the arrangements Bishop Geoffrey had
effected in favour of Wilfred.

Meanwhile, plunging into a thicket, and crossing a brook, Wilfred
arrived by a shorter route first at the hall, and made his way to
his mother's bower, situated in a portion of the ancient building
not yet destroyed, although doomed to make way for Norman

The lady of Aescendune sat lonely in her bower; her features were
pale, and she seemed all too sad for one so highly born, and so
good a friend to the suffering and the poor; her gaze was like that
of one whose thoughts are far away--perhaps they had strayed into
Paradise in search of him whose loss was daily making earth more
like a desert to her.

Wilfred came and stood beside her, and her hand played with his
flowing hair until she felt that he was sobbing by her side.

"What is the matter, my dear boy?"

"Matter! I cannot bear it any longer. I must break the promise thou
hast forced me to give."

"Break thy promise, Wilfred? What would thy sainted father say, did
he hear thee? And how dost thou know that he does not hear?"

"If he were here he would exact no such promise, I am sure; he
would not at least make me appear as a coward in outlandish eyes,
and cringe before these proud Frenchmen."

Wilfred used the word Frenchmen with the greatest scorn. He knew
that the Normans scorned the name as much as they did the name
Englishmen, of which their descendants lived to be so proud.

What was this promise which bound the poor lad as in a chain of

Not on any account to let himself be drawn into a quarrel with

"Thy father would feel as I do, dear son, were he in our place.
Dost thou not see that we poor English only hold our own by
sufferance, and that any pretext upon which they could seize would
be used ruthlessly against us? Yes, thy death might be the result
of any ill-timed quarrel, and thou mightest leave thy mother alone.
Nay, dear, dear son, at least while thy mother lives."

"Oh, how can I?"

"Bear as a Christian, then, if thou canst not as an Englishman. The
time will not be long that I shall live to implore thee."

"Nay, dear mother, surely thou art not ailing."

"Sick unto death, Wilfred, I fear; nay, but for thee I should say,
I hope; for shall I not then rejoin thy dear father in a land where
war and violence are unknown? But for thy sake, dear son, I would
fain live."

Poor Wilfred was sobbing by her side, overcome by the blank vision
thus opening before him. What would the world be to him, left alone
amidst fierce and hateful foreigners, who had slain his father, and
would willingly slay him?

"Mother, I cannot live without you. If you die--" and he could say
no more, for it shamed his manhood to weep, as he would have said,
"like a girl."

Poor lad, we must excuse him.

"Now, my dear Wilfred, wilt thou not renew thy promise, and pray
God for help to keep it?"

"Yes, by God's help, at least while you live; but dost thou think
thou art so ill, dear mother?--it is but fancy."

"Nay, I feel I am daily, hourly, drawing nearer my end, as if the
lamp of life were burning more and more dimly. Morning after
morning I rise weaker from my bed, and mortal strength seems slowly
and surely forsaking me. But it will be but a short parting; thou
must pray that we may live for ever together. God will grant it for
His dear Son's sake."

And the mother and son knelt down to pray.

It was too true, the English lady of Aescendune was slowly
declining--passing away, drawing nearer daily to the bright land
where her lost Edmund had gone before.

It was a complaint which no one understood, although a Jewish
physician, whom her husband in his anxiety consulted, prescribed a
medicine which he said would ensure her recovery in a few weeks.
This medicine the baron--for to such rank had Hugo de Malville been
raised, on his accession to the lands of Aescendune--this medicine
he would always administer with his own hand. Sometimes Wilfred was
standing by, and noticed that, dropped in water, it diffused at
first a sapphire hue, but that upon exposure to the air, that of
the ruby succeeded.

Oh, those days of anxiety and grief--those days when the loved
patient was so manifestly loosing her hold upon life, although
sometimes there would come a tantalising change for the better, and
bring back hopes never to be realised.

The boyish reader will easily imagine what Wilfred had to bear all
this time from his Norman companions, from whose society there was
no escape--with whom he had to share not only the very few hours
allotted to study, but those of recreation also. Study, indeed,
meant chiefly the use and practice of warlike weapons, the learning
of the technical terms of chivalry, and the acquirement, it may be,
of sufficient letters to spell through a challenge.

So thoroughly was war the Norman instinct, that every occupation of
life was more or less connected with it; and the only recreation
which varied the hours of fencing, jousting, tilting, etc., was the
kindred excitement of the chase, pursued with the greatest avidity
amongst the wooded hills around Aescendune.

Wilfred was not backward either in mimic war or in love of the
chase; but he was growing taciturn and sullen, scarcely ever
speaking, save when spoken to, and even in the latter case he
generally replied with brief and curt words.

Hence it may be easily guessed that he was not popular.

For this he cared little; all his leisure was spent by the bedside
of his dying mother, whom he felt he was so soon about to lose, and
when with her and his sister Edith he felt that home--the home of
his happy childhood--was not yet a mere remembrance of the vanished

But the sad day, so long foreseen, at length arrived.

She was in her chamber, with her son and daughter--the three were
together for the last time on earth. They had been talking of the
happy days when the husband and father was yet alive, before the
fatal day of Senlac. Alone with her children, she felt far more at
peace than usual; it seemed, she said, like the dear old times.

But this evening the presentiment of the coming end seemed strong
upon her, and she spoke to her darling boy of the duties which
would devolve upon him when she was gone, bidding him be obedient
and loyal to his Norman stepfather, that he might have the more
power to protect the poor oppressed people of Aescendune, and to
shield his dear sister from harm in a world of wrong and violence.
She bade him look forward to a better world, where parents and
children, separated by death, would meet together never to part,
and to live as a Christian man should, that he might not lose so
dear a hope. The sun was slowly sinking in the west, amidst
gorgeous clouds, and she gazed into the glowing depths, as if she
saw the gate of Paradise therein.

It was but a few moments, while they yet lingered in conversation,
that her children observed a deadly paleness, a strange gray hue,
come over her face; suddenly she extended her arms, and fell back
upon her couch.

Wilfred ran for help. Even the Norman servants loved their
mistress, and hurried to her chamber; baron, priest, all were
there; she lay as if insensible, but when Father Elphege, the
prior, arrived, and began the litany for the dying, she raised her
head and strove to follow.

That morning she had received the Holy Communion at his hands; and
of the familiar rites prescribed by the Church of those days for
the comfort of the dying, only the last anointing, after the
example of Him, whose body was anointed for His burial, remained,
and with humble faith she received the holy rite.

This done, she made signs for her children to approach; she threw
her arms fondly around them in turn, but could not speak.

The priest bade them all kneel down, and he recommenced the litany
for the dying. Soon he came to the solemn words:

"Per Crucem et Passionem Tuam,
Libera eam Domine {viii}."

She strove to make the holy sign of our redemption, and in making
it, yielded her chaste soul to the hands of her merciful Father and
loving Redeemer. She had gone to rejoin her own true love, and her
poor children were orphans in a world of violence and wrong.

They laid her by the side of Edmund, and the same solemn rites we
have described before were yet once more repeated. There were many,
many true mourners, all the poor English who felt that her
intercession alone had interposed between them and a cruel
lord--and the very foreigners themselves, whom her meekness and
gentle beauty had strangely touched--all mourned the lily of

But her children!--Who shall describe the sense of desolation which
fell upon them as they stood by the open grave?

"Comfort them, O Father of the fatherless," prayed the good prior;
"comfort them and defend them with Thy favourable kindness as with
a shield."


After the last sad rites were paid to the Lady Winifred, a deep
gloom fell upon Wilfred, and his sorrow was so great that it won
respect from his Norman companions, at least for a time.

He was indeed alone, for the baron had sent his sister Edith to a
convent for her better education, as he said, and as Wilfred had
none of his own kith and kin about him, he avoided all company,
save when the routine of each day forced him into the society of
his fellow pages.

Such was the case one fine morning in early spring, a few months
after the loss of his mother.

The four pages were in the tilt yard, where there stood a wooden
figure, called a "quintain," which turned round upon an axis, and
held a wooden sword in one hand and a buckler in the other.

It was the duty of each of the athletes to mount his horse, and
strike the buckler full in the centre with his lance, while riding
by at full speed, under certain penalties, which will soon be

Etienne rode first, and acquitted himself with remarkable
dexterity; after him Wilfred was invited by the maitre d'armes to
make the trial, but he was comparatively unaccustomed to the game.

"Let Pierre or Louis try next," said he.

The two boys, thus called upon, went through the trial fairly,
striking the very centre of the shield, as befitted them. And then
our Wilfred could not refuse to make the attempt. He rode, but his
horse swerved just before meeting the mock warrior; he struck the
shield, therefore, on one side, whereupon the figure wheeled round,
and, striking him with the wooden sword, hurled him from his horse
on to the sward, amidst the laughter of his companions.

He rose, not very much hurt in body, but sadly out of temper, and,
unable to bear the jeers of his companions, and their sarcastic
compliments on his "graceful horsemanship," he left the yard.

He was trying very hard to learn such feats, and yet could not gain
the dexterity for these novel exercises; and, poor boy, he was
quite weary of being laughed at, so he went and wandered pensively
about in the forest.

He had, indeed, to chew the cud of bitter reflection, for his
position was not at all a happy one. Few lads could have more to
bear--cutting sarcasm, biting contempt, not openly or coarsely
expressed, but always implied plainly enough--constant abuse of his
nation, and even of his own immediate ancestors, on whose fair
domains these Norman intruders were fattening.

"Oh! it is too hard to bear," thought the poor lad.

And then he saw the unfortunate thralls of his father, ground down
by the tyranny of these Norman lords and their soldiery, forced to
draw stone and timber, like beasts of burden, for the purpose of
building towers and dungeons for their oppressors, urged on with
the lash if they faltered.

Since the death of their good lady, all this had been, of course,
much worse.

And then, those forest laws, so vilely cruel. Wilfred saw men blind
with one eye, or wanting a hand; and why? Because they had killed a
hare or wounded a deer; for it would have been a hanging matter to
kill the red hart.

Meanwhile he was growing in mind and body; he had now passed his
seventeenth birthday, and was beginning to think himself a man; but
where were the vassals whose leader and chieftain he was born to

The people of Aescendune were diminishing daily--the English people
thereof, we should say, for the places of those who fled their
homes, and went no one knew whither, were filled by Normans,
French, Bretons, or other like "cattle," as Wilfred called them in
his wrath.

Everywhere he heard the same "jabbering" tongue, that Norman
French--French with a Danish accent, and he liked it little enough.
Good old English was becoming rare; the strangers compared it to
the grunting of swine or the lowing of cattle, in their utter scorn
of the aborigines.

Were the descendants of Hengist, Horsa, Ella, Cerdic, Ercenwin,
Ida, Uffa, and Cridda to bear this? and more especially was he,
Wilfred, the grandson of the heroic Alfgar, whose praises as the
companion in arms of the Ironside had been sung by a hundred
minstrels, and told again and again at the winter's fire in the
castle hall--was he to bear this contumely? He could not much

And then that scowling, dark, frowning, old Baron--there was a
world of deadly mischief in his dark eye, which looked like light
twinkling at the bottom of a black well. Once when Etienne was
uttering some polished sarcasm at Wilfred's expense, the English
lad caught the father's look, and there was something in it which
puzzled him for a day or two.

Wilfred knew the baron did not like him, and felt that the hatred
was all the more deadly for never being expressed. He sometimes
thought that his stepfather wished him to quarrel with Etienne, in
the full belief that Norman skill must prevail, in case of a

Single combat. Well, the pages were always talking about it.
Etienne knew a brave knight who took his stand on a bridge, horse
and all complete, and when any one came by of equal rank, this
strange bridge warden had two questions to ask; first:

"Wilt thou acknowledge the Lady Adeliza of Coutances to be the most
peerless beauty in the world?"

Supposing the newcomer not to be in love, and to be willing to
admit the superiority of the fair charmer, then to him the bridge
warden further added:

"Wilt thou admit that I am a better knight than thou--better with
horse, sword, and lance?"

If the newcomer said "Yes," he might pass without further toll; if
not he must fight, yea, even to the death. And this our Norman
pages thought the grandest thing in chivalry.

As yet they had kept from such direct insult as would necessitate
an appeal to sword or lance in Wilfred's case, which, indeed, pages
could not resort to without the permission of their feudal
superiors; but how long would this last?

The promise the poor lad had given to his beloved and lost mother
had made him patient for a time; but his patience had been tried to
the uttermost.

He looked on the woods which had once echoed to his father's horn:
for miles and miles they extended in trackless mazes of underwood,
swamp, and brake; and report already credited them with being the
haunt of outlaws innumerable.

"Where were all the fugitives from Aescendune?" thought our
Wilfred; "did the woods conceal them?"

Well, if so, the day might come when he would be glad to join them.

While he was thus musing, the sun rose high in the heavens, and he
heard the horns summon the hunters--he heard the loud baying of the
hounds, but he heeded not--he loathed society that day, and
satisfying his hunger with a crust of bread, obtained at the hut of
a thrall, he wandered deeper into the forest.

The day was hot, and he grew tired. He lay down at the foot of a
tree, and at length slept.

How long that slumber lasted he knew not, but he dreamt a strange
and gruesome dream. He thought his ancestors--the whole line of
them--passed before him in succession, all going into the depths of
the wood, and that as each spectral form passed it looked at him
with sorrow and pointed into the forest.

At length, in his dream, his father came and stood by him, and
pointed to the woods likewise.

Meanwhile a lurid light was rising in the woods behind him, and a
sense of imminent danger grew on the sleeper when strange outcries
arose from the wood.

He was on the border land, twixt sleeping and waking, and the
outcries were not all imaginary. There was the voice of one who
besought for mercy, and the laughter and scornful tones of those
who refused it; and these, at least, were real, for they awoke the

The cry which aroused young Wilfred from his sleep was uttered in a
tone of distress, which at once appealed to his manhood for aid.

And it was a familiar voice--that of his own foster brother, the
son of his old nurse, with whom, in the innocent days of childhood,
he had sported and romped again and again; for distinctions of rank
were far less regarded amongst the old English than amongst the
Normans--they were "English all."

The poor peasant lad had been so unfortunate as to bring down a
hare with a heavy stick. The animal had risen just before him; the
weapon was ready; the temptation too great. Forgetful of all but
the impulse of the moment, he had flung the stick, and the hare
fell. He was just rushing to seize his prize, when the three Norman
pages came suddenly on the scene.

"Here is a young English lout, killing a hare," shouted Etienne;
"lay hold of him."

And before the astonished Eadwin could fly, the son of his lord
fulfilled his own command, and seized the culprit by the collar.

"How didst thou dare, thou false thief, to kill one of our hares?
Dost thou not know the penalty?"

The unhappy lad stammered out faint excuses, in broken English; "he
had not meant to do it--the thing rose up so suddenly"--and the
like. But in the first place his captors did not understand his
language sufficiently to make out the excuses, neither were they in
the mood to receive any.

"What is the law?" said Etienne; "does it not say that he who slays
a hare shall lose the hand that did the deed; and here is a poacher
taken red handed. Louis, where is thy hunting knife?"

"We need not trouble to take him to the castle; off with his hand,
and let him go."

Their hunting knives, with which they were accustomed to "break up"
the deer, were in their girdles, and, shame to say, the other two
youths at once assented to Etienne's proposal to execute the law

So they dragged their intended victim to a stump, and Etienne
prepared to execute the cruel operation which he had witnessed too
often not to know how to do it.

Poor Eadwin appealed in vain for mercy. They were laughing at his
fright, and indeed there was so little sympathy between Norman lord
and English thrall, that pity found no place to enter into the
relations between them: it was the old Roman and his slave over

But an unexpected deliverer was at hand.

Just as the young "noble" was about to execute the threat; when the
poor wrist was already extended by force on a rude stump; when the
knife was already drawn from its sheath, Wilfred appeared on the
scene, and, in a tone the Norman lads started to hear from him,

"Let him go; touch him if you dare; he is my foster brother; my
thrall, if anybody's."

"Like cleaves to like," said Etienne, sarcastically; "but, my fair
brother, thou wilt hardly interfere with the due course of the

"Law! the law of butchers and worse than butchers--devils. Let him

"Hadst thou not better try to rescue him? Thou hast not yet found
an opportunity to show thy prowess."

Wilfred lost all control, sprang at Etienne, struck him in a
downright English fashion between the eyes, and knocked him down.
The knife fell from his hand, and Wilfred seized it before the
other youths could recover from their astonishment, and flung it
into a pond close at hand.

Etienne rose up.

Now my young readers will probably anticipate a bout at fisticuffs;
but no such vulgar a combat commended itself to the proud young
Norman, even thus suddenly humiliated; neither did he, under these
very trying circumstances, lose his self command.

Yet his hatred was none the less, nor did he cherish a less deadly

"Let the young brute go," said he, as he arose, pointing to Eadwin.
"There is something more important to be settled now than the
question whether the young porker shall retain his cloven hoof or
not. Wilfred, dost thou know thou hast struck a gentleman?"

"I have struck a young butcher."

"Thanks; churls fight with words; knights, and would-be knights,
with swords. Draw, then, and defend thyself; Pierre and Louis will
see fair play."

"Nay," said the other two lads with one voice, "it were a sin and
shame to fight thus, and we should have our knighthood deferred for
years did we permit it. Pages may not fight to the death without
the permission of their liege lord. The baron must give

"Wilfred, dost thou accept my challenge? I honour thy base blood in
making it."

"My ancestors were as noble as thine; nay, they ruled here while
thine were but pirates and cutthroats. I do accept it."

"Let us separate, then; we meet here at daybreak tomorrow."

"But the permission of our lord?"

"I will answer for that," replied his hopeful son.

The party separated: Wilfred took his foster brother, who had not
made the least attempt to escape from the scene, trusting to the
love of his young lord for protection, and no sooner were they
alone than the poor lad overwhelmed his deliverer with thanks, in
which tears were not unmixed, because he knew that a price had yet
to be paid, and that his beloved master was in danger.

"Nay, nay, Eadwin, I shall do very well--if not, there is not much
left to live for now--only you must take care of yourself, or they
may avenge themselves on you; indeed, when the baron hears the
tale, I doubt not that he will send for you, and then I may not be
able to save you--you must fly."

"Not till I know--"

"Yes, this very night--thou knowest the Deadman's Swamp?"


"The Normans could never find thee there, and thou and I have
threaded its recesses a hundred times; go to the hollow tree where
we have slept before now in our hunting days. I will seek thee
tomorrow, if I live. If I do not appear before midday, you had
better seek our people, whom these tyrants have driven to the

"I know where to find them, but you will come; why not fly to the
woods with me now?"

"Honour prevents. And after all, you had better say goodbye at once
to those at home, and be off: perhaps I had better say goodbye for
thee--it will be safest."

A few more parting instructions, and they separated; the young
thrall actually kneeling and kissing his young lord's hand with
that devoted love nought save such obligations could give.

Wilfred was returning to the castle, when he met Pierre, who was
evidently seeking him.

"Wilfred," he said, "I have come to offer you my services for
tomorrow; you will want the offices of a friend."

"Art thou my friend?"

"Yes, since I see thou art not a coward. While I saw thee suffering
insult after insult without ever resenting them, I thought thee
craven, and could not speak thee fair; now thou art as one of us."

"Thou art not like other Normans, then."

"I am not Norman, but Breton, and perhaps we do not love the
Normans over much in Brittany; at least, I can feel for one in thy

"Thanks," was all that Wilfred could stammer out.

These were almost the first kind words he had heard since his
mother's death, save in those stolen moments when he had been alone
amidst his English thralls and churls, and they had been but few.

"Thou art not so skilled in fencing as Etienne; I should advise an
hour or two in the tilt yard, and I can tell thee of some of his
feints, which are not a little dangerous."

"Thanks, I shall not have too much time."

"Dost thou think the baron will give leave?"

"Yes; he hates me in his heart. Were I the better swordsman, he
might not consent."

"I agree with thee--wert thou dead, Etienne would be heir of
Aescendune. At all events, thou wilt go to confession and get thy
soul in order--betake thyself to thy holy gear--men fight none the
worse for a clear conscience. And I would ask the intercession of
St. Michael--men speak well of him in Brittany, and tell how he
fought a combat a outrance with Satan, wherein the latter came off
none the better man."

"I shall see Father Elphege tonight--we are not heathen, we

"Ah! here comes Louis. Well, what news dost thou bring?"

"Good ones. Our lord permits the fight. You should have seen how
stark and stern he looked when he saw his son's eyes. Wilfred, thou
hast a fist like a smith. Wilt thou do as well with the sword?"

"Tomorrow will show."

"Well, it is quite right of thee to fight for thine own serfs; I
would have fought for mine at Marmontier--none should have come
between me and them. And I am glad we did not hurt the poor knave.
Etienne will be a hard lord for thy people, if anything happens to

Oh, how the memory of his mother and her counsels came before the
poor orphan.

Still, how could he help it? He had done rightly, he felt sure; and
he knew that his father would say so were hecums alive.

"And so would my grandfather," thought he, "once the friend of the
Ironside, of whose wondrous exploits he often told me in olden days
around our winter fire. Would his spirit were with me now, and a
little of his skill in arms."

And thus musing, he arrived at the castle and betook himself, with
Pierre, to the tilt yard. Louis went off to seek Etienne, whose
second he was to be.


The night was growing dark when Wilfred approached the priory, with
the intention of seeking Father Elphege, and putting, as Pierre had
said, "his spiritual gear in order."

As we have remarked in other pages, men then attached no notion of
sin to the mere act of fighting--there could not be a duty clearer
to Christians of that strange epoch than to fight with each other
whensoever the exigencies of society demanded--the very institution
of knighthood was bound up with the idea.

So he had no anticipation that the good father would say, "Don't

But when he approached the great door of the priory, with the
venerable figure of the patron saint bending over the archway, a
messenger--a lay brother--issued forth.

It was almost dark, but the man recognised Wilfred.

"Is it thou, Wilfred of Aescendune, in the flesh?"

"I am he."

"Then I am glad to see thee, for thus my limbs are saved the toil
of seeking thee, and my rheumatics make me dread the night air."

"Seeking me?"

"Yes, verily; the good prior desireth thee earnestly, and adjured
me to fetch thee without delay; and lo! Saint Cuthbert hath sent

What could the prior want of him? thought the lad; had he heard of
the quarrel, through young Eadwin, and did he disapprove of it?

At all events, he would be saved the trouble of many words; and he

He passed along the cloister, with its ceiling of carved wood and
its rude wooden crucifix at the end thereof; he looked out at the
little green square of grass, enclosed by the quadrangle, wherein
reposed in peace the monks of former generations. Once the thought
flashed over him, that a similar little grassy hillock might, ere a
few hours were over, be raised above his own earthly remains; but
that did not shake his purpose.

He ascended a spiral staircase and entered the prior's own cell.

"What, Wilfred! and so soon? Sooth to say, my messenger hath sped."

"He met me just outside the gate, father."

"By the blessing of heaven, my son."

"But why hast thou sent for me, and why this haste?"

"A dying man wishes to see thee--nay, do not start! he has a sad
confession to make--one it will harrow thy blood to hear, and he
cannot die in peace without thy forgiveness."

"My forgiveness! How has he injured me? He is a Norman, I suppose?"

"Nay, he belongeth not to the proud race of our oppressors; he is
an old serf of thy house. Dost thou remember Beorn the woodman?"

"Who slew the deer and sold them in secret, and when the deed was
discovered, fled?"

"The same; it is he."

"But what harm hath he done so great that he should come here to
ask forgiveness? 'Twas a small matter; at least, it seems so now."

"My son, that is not the matter he hath to confess."

"What is it, then?"

"Prepare thyself, my dear child; now be composed; you must resign
yourself to God's will."

"Tell me, father, and end this suspense. What is amiss?"

"Nay, he must do that; I wanted to prepare thee; but tis about thy

Wilfred turned pale at once and trembled, for the one passion which
divided his soul with hatred to the Normans was love for the memory
of his parents. What had the man got to say about his mother?

"But this is not constancy and firmness--thou quakest like an aspen

"Tell me, was aught amiss in my mother's death?"

"Didst thou ever suspect it?"

"Yes, but I put the thought away, as though it came from Satan."

"Well, poor child, thou wilt know now, and God help thee to bear it

Trembling and astonished, Wilfred followed the prior into an
adjoining cell, where, propped up by cushions, lay the attenuated
form of a dying man--the death sweat already on his brow, standing
thereon in beads--the limbs rigid as a recent convulsion had left

Any one conversant in the signs which immediately precede death
could have told that he had but a short time to live. The good
monk, who was supporting him and breathing words of Christian hope
into his ears, left him as the prior and Wilfred entered.

The prior took the monk's place, and supported the head of the

"Look," he said, as he raised him upon his arm, "Wilfred of
Aescendune, the son of thy late lord."

The poor wretch groaned--such a deep hollow groan.

"Canst thou forgive me?" he said.

"Forgive thee what?"

"Tell him all, my son, and ease thy burdened mind."

The thrall then spake, in words interrupted by gasps and sighs,
which we must needs omit as we piece his narrative together for the
benefit of our readers.

"It is five years since I fled thy father's face, fearing his
wrath, for I had slain his red deer and sold them for filthy lucre.

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