Part 1 out of 10
Produced by Anne Soulard, Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon,
S.R.Ellison and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE LAST OF THE ENGLISH.
I. HOW HEREWARD WAS OUTLAWED, AND WENT NORTH TO SEEK HIS FORTUNES
II. HOW HEREWARD SLEW THE BEAR
III. HOW HEREWARD SUCCORED A PRINCESS OF CORNWALL
IV. HOW HEREWARD TOOK SERVICE WITH RANALD, KING OF WATERFORD
V. HOW HEREWARD SUCCORED THE PRINCESS OF CORNWALL A SECOND TIME
VI. HOW HEREWARD WAS WRECKED UPON THE FLANDERS SHORE
VII. HOW HEREWARD WENT TO THE WAR AT GUISNES
VIII. HOW A FAIR LADY EXERCISED THE MECHANICAL ART TO WIN HEREWARD'S
IX. HOW HEREWARD WENT TO THE WAR IN SCALDMARILAND
X. HOW HEREWARD WON THE MAGIC ARMOR
XI. HOW THE HOLLANDERS TOOK HEREWARD FOR A MAGICIAN
XII. HOW HEREWARD TURNED BERSERK
XIII. HOW HEREWARD WON MARE SWALLOW
XIV. HOW HEREWARD RODE INTO BRUGES LIKE A BEGGAR-MAN
XV. HOW EARL TOSTI GODWINSSON CAME TO ST. OMER
XVI. HOW HEREWARD WAS ASKED TO SLAY AN OLD COMRADE
XVII. HOW HEREWARD TOOK THE NEWS FROM STANFORD BRIGG AND HASTINGS
XVIII. HOW EARL GODWIN'S WIDOW CAME TO ST. OMER
XIX. HOW HEREWARD CLEARED BOURNE OF FRENCHMEN
XX. HOW HEREWARD WAS MADE A KNIGHT AFTER THE FASHION OF THE ENGLISH
XXI. HOW IVO TAILLEBOIS MARCHED OUT OF SPALDING TOWN
XXII. HOW HEREWARD SAILED FOR ENGLAND ONCE AND FOR ALL
XXIII. HOW HEREWARD GATHERED AN ARMY
XXIV. HOW ARCHBISHOP ALDRED DIED OF SORROW
XXV. HOW HEREWARD FOUND A WISER MAN IN ENGLAND THAN HIMSELF
XXVI. HOW HEREWARD FULFILLED HIS WORDS TO THE PRIOR OF THE GOLDEN
XXVII. HOW THEY HELD A GREAT MEETING IN THE HALL OF ELY
XXVIII. HOW THEY FOUGHT AT ALDRETH
XXIX. HOW SIR DADE BROUGHT NEWS FROM ELY
XXX. HOW HEREWARD PLAYED THE POTTER; AND HOW HE CHEATED THE KING
XXXI. HOW THEY FOUGHT AGAIN AT ALDRETH
XXXII. HOW KING WILLIAM TOOK COUNSEL OF A CHURCHMAN
XXXIII. HOW THE MONKS OF ELY DID AFTER THEIR KIND
XXXIV. HOW HEREWARD WENT TO THE GREENWOOD
XXXV. HOW ABBOT THOROLD WAS PUT TO RANSOM
XXXVI. HOW ALFTRUDA WROTE TO HEREWARD
XXXVII. HOW HEREWARD LOST SWORD BRAIN-BITER
XXXVIII. HOW HEREWARD CAME IN TO THE KING
XXXIX. HOW TORFRIDA CONFESSED THAT SHE HAD BEEN INSPIRED BY THE DEVIL
XL. HOW HEREWARD BEGAN TO GET HIS SOUL'S PRICE
XLI. HOW EARL WALTHEOF WAS MADE A SAINT
XLII. HOW HEREWARD GOT THE BEST OF HIS SOUL'S PRICE
XLIII. HOW DEEPING FEN WAS DRAINED
HEREWARD, THE LAST OF THE ENGLISH.
The heroic deeds of Highlanders, both in these islands and elsewhere, have
been told in verse and prose, and not more often, nor more loudly, than
they deserve. But we must remember, now and then, that there have been
heroes likewise in the lowland and in the fen. Why, however, poets have so
seldom sung of them; why no historian, save Mr. Motley in his "Rise of the
Dutch Republic," has condescended to tell the tale of their doughty deeds,
is a question not difficult to answer.
In the first place, they have been fewer in number. The lowlands of the
world, being the richest spots, have been generally the soonest conquered,
the soonest civilized, and therefore the soonest taken out of the sphere
of romance and wild adventure, into that of order and law, hard work and
common sense, as well as--too often--into the sphere of slavery,
cowardice, luxury, and ignoble greed. The lowland populations, for the
same reasons, have been generally the first to deteriorate, though not on
account of the vices of civilization. The vices of incivilization are far
worse, and far more destructive of human life; and it is just because they
are so, that rude tribes deteriorate physically less than polished
nations. In the savage struggle for life, none but the strongest,
healthiest, cunningest, have a chance of living, prospering, and
propagating their race. In the civilized state, on the contrary, the
weakliest and the silliest, protected by law, religion, and humanity, have
chance likewise, and transmit to their offspring their own weakliness or
silliness. In these islands, for instance, at the time of the Norman
Conquest, the average of man was doubtless superior, both in body and
mind, to the average of man now, simply because the weaklings could not
have lived at all; and the rich and delicate beauty, in which the women of
the Eastern Counties still surpass all other races in these isles, was
doubtless far more common in proportion to the numbers of the population.
Another reason--and one which every Scot will understand--why lowland
heroes "carent vate sacro," is that the lowlands and those who live in
them are wanting in the poetic and romantic elements. There is in the
lowland none of that background of the unknown, fantastic, magical,
terrible, perpetually feeding curiosity and wonder, which still remains in
the Scottish highlands; which, when it disappears from thence, will remain
embalmed forever in the pages of Walter Scott. Against that half-magical
background his heroes stand out in vivid relief; and justly so. It was not
put there by him for stage purposes; it was there as a fact; and the men
of whom he wrote were conscious of it, were moulded by it, were not
ashamed of its influence. Nature among the mountains is too fierce, too
strong, for man. He cannot conquer her, and she awes him. He cannot dig
down the cliffs, or chain the storm-blasts; and his fear of them takes
bodily shape: he begins to people the weird places of the earth with weird
beings, and sees nixes in the dark linns as he fishes by night, dwarfs in
the caves where he digs, half-trembling, morsels of copper and iron for
his weapons, witches and demons on the snow-blast which overwhelms his
herd and his hut, and in the dark clouds which brood on the untrodden
mountain-peak. He lives in fear: and yet, if he be a valiant-hearted man,
his fears do him little harm. They may break out, at times, in
witch-manias, with all their horrible suspicions, and thus breed cruelty,
which is the child of fear; but on the whole they rather produce in man
thoughtfulness, reverence, a sense, confused yet precious, of the
boundless importance of the unseen world. His superstitions develop his
imagination; the moving accidents of a wild life call out in him sympathy
and pathos; and the mountaineer becomes instinctively a poet.
The lowlander, on the other hand, has his own strength, his own "virtues,"
or manfulnesses, in the good old sense of the word: but they are not for
the most part picturesque or even poetical.
He finds out, soon enough for his weal and his bane, that he is stronger
than Nature; and right tyrannously and irreverently he lords it over her,
clearing, delving, diking, building, without fear or shame. He knows of no
natural force greater than himself, save an occasional thunder-storm; and
against that, as he grows more cunning, he insures his crops. Why should
he reverence Nature? Let him use her, and eat. One cannot blame him. Man
was sent into the world (so says the Scripture) to fill and subdue the
earth. But he was sent into the world for other purposes, which the
lowlander is but too apt to forget. With the awe of Nature, the awe of the
unseen dies out in him. Meeting with no visible superior, he is apt to
become not merely unpoetical and irreverent, but somewhat of a sensualist
and an atheist. The sense of the beautiful dies out in him more and more.
He has little or nothing around him to refine or lift up his soul, and
unless he meet with a religion and with a civilization which can deliver
him, he may sink into that dull brutality which is too common among the
lowest classes of the English lowlands, and remain for generations gifted
with the strength and industry of the ox, and with the courage of the
lion, and, alas! with the intellect of the former, and the self-restraint
of the latter.
But there may be a period in the history of a lowland race when they, too,
become historic for a while. There was such a period for the men of the
Eastern Counties; for they proved it by their deeds.
When the men of Wessex, the once conquering race of Britain, fell at
Hastings once and for all, and struck no second blow, then the men of the
Danelagh disdained to yield to the Norman invader. For seven long years
they held their own, not knowing, like true Englishmen, when they were
beaten; and fought on desperate, till there were none left to fight. Their
bones lay white on every island in the fens; their corpses rotted on
gallows beneath every Norman keep; their few survivors crawled into
monasteries, with eyes picked out, or hands and feet cut off, or took to
the wild wood as strong outlaws, like their successors and
representatives, Robin Hood, Scarlet, and John, Adam Bell, and Clym of the
Cleugh, and William of Cloudeslee. But they never really bent their necks
to the Norman yoke; they kept alive in their hearts that proud spirit of
personal independence, which they brought with them from the moors of
Denmark and the dales of Norway; and they kept alive, too, though in
abeyance for a while, those free institutions which were without a doubt
the germs of our British liberty.
They were a changed folk since first they settled in that Danelagh;--since
first in the days of King Beorhtric, "in the year 787, three ships of
Northmen came from Haeretha land, and the King's reeve rode to the place,
and would have driven them up to the King's town, for he knew not what men
they were: but they slew him there and then"; and after the Saxons and
Angles began to find out to their bitter bale what men they were, those
fierce Vikings out of the dark northeast.
But they had long ceased to burn farms, sack convents, torture monks for
gold, and slay every human being they met, in mere Berserker lust of
blood. No Barnakill could now earn his nickname by entreating his
comrades, as they tossed the children on their spear-points, to "Na kill
the barns." Gradually they had settled down on the land, intermarried with
the Angles and Saxons, and colonized all England north and east of Watling
Street (a rough line from London to Chester), and the eastern lowlands of
Scotland likewise. Gradually they had deserted Thor and Odin for "the
White Christ"; had their own priests and bishops, and built their own
minsters. The convents which the fathers had destroyed, the sons, or at
least the grandsons, rebuilt; and often, casting away sword and axe, they
entered them as monks themselves; and Peterborough, Ely, and above all
Crowland, destroyed by them in Alfred's time with a horrible destruction,
had become their holy places, where they decked the altars with gold and
jewels, with silks from the far East, and furs from the far North; and
where, as in sacred fortresses, they, and the liberty of England with
them, made their last unavailing stand.
For a while they had been lords of all England. The Anglo-Saxon race was
wearing out. The men of Wessex, priest-ridden, and enslaved by their own
aristocracy, quailed before the free Norsemen, among whom was not a single
serf. The God-descended line of Cerdic and Alfred was worn out. Vain,
incapable, profligate kings, the tools of such prelates as Odo and
Dunstan, were no match for such wild heroes as Thorkill the tall, or Olaf
Trygvasson, or Swend Forkbeard. The Danes had gradually colonized, not
only their own Danelagh and Northumbria, but great part of Wessex. Vast
sums of Danegelt were yearly sent out of the country to buy off the fresh
invasions which were perpetually threatened. Then Ethelred the Unready,
Ethelred Evil-counsel, advised himself to fulfil his name, and the curse
which Dunstan had pronounced against him at the baptismal font. By his
counsel the men of Wessex rose against the unsuspecting Danes, and on St.
Brice's eve, A. D. 1002, murdered them all with tortures, man, woman, and
child. It may be that they only did to the children as the fathers had
done to them: but the deed was "worse than a crime; it was a mistake." The
Danes of the Danelagh and of Northumbria, their brothers of Denmark and
Norway, the Orkneys and the east coast of Ireland, remained unharmed. A
mighty host of Vikings poured from thence into England the very next year,
under Swend Forkbeard and the great Canute; and after thirteen fearful
campaigns came the great battle of Assingdown in Essex, where "Canute had
the victory; and all the English nation fought against him, and all the
nobility of the English race was there destroyed."
That same year saw the mysterious death of Edmund Ironside, the last man
of Cerdic's race worthy of the name. For the next twenty-five years,
Danish kings ruled from the Forth to the Land's End.
A noble figure he was, that great and wise Canute, the friend of the
famous Godiva, and Leofric, Godiva's husband, and Siward Biorn, the
conqueror of Macbeth; trying to expiate by justice and mercy the dark
deeds of his bloodstained youth; trying (and not in vain) to blend the two
races over which he ruled; rebuilding the churches and monasteries which
his father had destroyed; bringing back in state to Canterbury the body of
Archbishop Elphege--not unjustly called by the Saxons martyr and
saint--whom Tall Thorkill's men had murdered with beef bones and
ox-skulls, because he would not give up to them the money destined for
God's poor; rebuking, as every child has heard, his housecarles' flattery
by setting his chair on the brink of the rising tide; and then laying his
golden crown, in token of humility, on the high altar of Winchester, never
to wear it more. In Winchester lie his bones unto this day, or what of
them the civil wars have left: and by him lie the bones of his son
Hardicanute, in whom, as in his half-brother Harold Harefoot before him,
the Danish power fell to swift decay, by insolence and drink and civil
war; and with the Danish power England fell to pieces likewise.
Canute had divided England into four great earldoms, each ruled, under
him, by a jarl, or earl--a Danish, not a Saxon title.
At his death in 1036, the earldoms of Northumbria and East Anglia--the
more strictly Danish parts--were held by a true Danish hero, Siward Biorn,
alias _Digre_ "the Stout", conqueror of Macbeth, and son of the Fairy
Bear; proving his descent, men said, by his pointed and hairy ears.
Mercia, the great central plateau of England, was held by Earl Leofric,
husband of the famous Lady Godiva.
Wessex, which Canute had at first kept in his own hands, had passed into
those of the famous Earl Godwin, the then ablest man in England. Possessed
of boundless tact and cunning, gifted with an eloquence which seems, from
the accounts remaining of it, to have been rather that of a Greek than an
Englishman; himself of high--perhaps of royal--Sussex blood (for the story
of his low birth seems a mere fable of his French enemies), and married
first to Canute's sister, and then to his niece, he was fitted, alike by
fortunes and by talents, to be the king-maker which he became.
Such a system may have worked well as long as the brain of a hero was
there to overlook it all. But when that brain was turned to dust, the
history of England became, till the Norman Conquest, little more than the
history of the rivalries of the two great houses of Godwin and Leofric.
Leofric had the first success in king-making. He, though bearing a Saxon
name, was the champion of the Danish party and of Canute's son, or reputed
son, Harold Harefoot; and he succeeded, by the help of the "Thanes north
of Thames," and the "lithsmen of London," which city was more than half
Danish in those days, in setting his puppet on the throne. But the blood
of Canute had exhausted itself. Within seven years Harold Harefoot and
Hardicanute, who succeeded him, had died as foully as they lived; and
Godwin's turn had come.
He, though married to a Danish princess, and acknowledging his Danish
connection by the Norse names which were borne by his three most famous
sons, Harold, Sweyn, and Tostig, constituted himself the champion of the
men of Wessex and the house of Cerdic. He had murdered, or at least caused
to be murdered, horribly, Alfred the Etheling, King Ethelred's son and
heir-apparent, when it seemed his interest to support the claims of
Hardicanute against Harefoot. He now found little difficulty in persuading
his victim's younger brother to come to England, and become at once his
king, his son-in-law and his puppet.
Edward the Confessor, if we are to believe the monks whom he pampered, was
naught but virtue and piety, meekness and magnanimity,--a model ruler of
men. Such a model ruler he was, doubtless, as monks would be glad to see
on every throne; because while he rules his subjects, they rule him. No
wonder, therefore, that (according to William of Malmesbury) the happiness
of his times (famed as he was both for miracles and the spirit of
prophecy) "was revealed in a dream to Brithwin, Bishop of Wilton, who made
it public"; who, meditating in King Canute's time on "the near extinction
of the royal race of the English," was "rapt up on high, and saw St. Peter
consecrating Edward king. His chaste life also was pointed out, and the
exact period of his reign (twenty-four years) determined; and, when
inquiring about his posterity, it was answered, 'The kingdom of the
English belongs to God. After you, He will provide a king according to his
pleasure.'" But those who will look at the facts will see in the holy
Confessor's character little but what is pitiable, and in his reign little
but what is tragical.
Civil wars, invasions, outlawry of Godwin and his sons by the Danish
party; then of Alfgar, Leofric's son, by the Saxon party; the outlaws on
either side attacking and plundering the English shores by the help of
Norsemen, Welshmen, Irish, and Danes,--any mercenaries who could be got
together; and then,--"In the same year Bishop Aldred consecrated the
minster at Gloucester to the glory of God and of St. Peter, and then went
to Jerusalem with such splendor as no man had displayed before him"; and
so forth. The sum and substance of what was done in those "happy times"
may be well described in the words of the Anglo-Saxon chronicler for the
year 1058. "This year Alfgar the earl was banished; but he came in again
with violence, through aid of Griffin (the king of North Wales, his
brother-in-law). And this year came a fleet from Norway. It is tedious to
tell how these matters went." These were the normal phenomena of a reign
which seemed, to the eyes of monks, a holy and a happy one; because the
king refused, whether from spite or superstition, to have an heir to the
house of Cerdic, and spent his time between prayer, hunting, the seeing of
fancied visions, the uttering of fancied prophecies, and the performance
of fancied miracles.
But there were excuses for him. An Englishman only in name,--a Norman, not
only of his mother's descent (she was aunt of William the Conqueror), but
by his early education on the Continent,--he loved the Norman better than
the Englishman; Norman knights and clerks filled his court, and often the
high dignities of his provinces, and returned as often as expelled; the
Norman-French language became fashionable; Norman customs and manners the
signs of civilization; and thus all was preparing steadily for the great
catastrophe, by which, within a year of Edward's death, the Norman became
master of the land.
Perhaps it ought to have been so. Perhaps by no other method could
England, and, with England, Scotland, and in due time Ireland, have become
partakers of that classic civilization and learning, the fount whereof,
for good and for evil, was Rome and the Pope of Rome: but the method was
at least wicked; the actors in it tyrannous, brutal, treacherous,
hypocritical; and the conquest of England by William will remain to the
end of time a mighty crime, abetted--one may almost say made possible, as
too many such crimes have been before and since--by the intriguing
ambition of the Pope of Rome.
Against that tyranny the free men of the Danelagh and of Northumbria rose.
If Edward, the descendant of Cerdic, had been little to them, William, the
descendant of Rollo, was still less. That French-speaking knights should
expel them from their homes, French-chanting monks from their convents,
because Edward had promised the crown of England to William, his foreign
cousin, or because Harold Godwinsson of Wessex had sworn on the relics of
all the saints to be William's man, was contrary to their common-sense of
right and reason.
So they rose and fought: too late, it may be, and without unity or
purpose; and they were worsted by an enemy who had both unity and purpose;
whom superstition, greed, and feudal discipline kept together, at least in
England, in one compact body of unscrupulous and terrible confederates.
But theirs was a land worth fighting for,--a good land and large: from
Humber mouth inland to the Trent and merry Sherwood, across to Chester and
the Dee, round by Leicester and the five burghs of the Danes; eastward
again to Huntingdon and Cambridge (then a poor village on the site of an
old Roman town); and then northward again into the wide fens, the land of
the Girvii and the Eormingas, "the children of the peat-bog," where the
great central plateau of England slides into the sea, to form, from the
rain and river washings of eight shires, lowlands of a fertility
inexhaustible, because ever-growing to this day.
They have a beauty of their own, these great fens, even now, when they are
diked and drained, tilled and fenced,--a beauty as of the sea, of
boundless expanse and freedom. Much more had they that beauty eight
hundred years ago, when they were still, for the most part, as God had
made them, or rather was making them even then. The low rolling uplands
were clothed in primeval forest: oak and ash, beech and elm, with here and
there, perhaps, a group of ancient pines, ragged and decayed, and fast
dying out in England even then; though lingering still in the forests of
the Scotch highlands.
Between the forests were open wolds, dotted with white sheep and golden
gorse; rolling plains of rich though ragged turf, whether cleared by the
hand of man or by the wild fires which often swept over the hills. And
between the wood and the wold stood many a Danish "town," with its
clusters of low straggling buildings round the holder's house, stone or
mud below, and wood above; its high dikes round tiny fields; its flocks of
sheep ranging on the wold; its herds of swine in the forest; and below, a
more precious possession still,--its herds of mares and colts, which fed
with the cattle in the rich grass-fen.
For always, from the foot of the wolds, the green flat stretched away,
illimitable, to an horizon where, from the roundness of the earth, the
distant trees and islands were hulled down like ships at sea. The firm
horse-fen lay, bright green, along the foot of the wold; beyond it, the
browner peat, or deep fen; and among it, dark velvet alder beds, long
lines of reed-rond, emerald in spring, and golden under the autumn sun;
shining river-reaches; broad meres dotted with a million fowl, while the
cattle waded along their edges after the rich sedge-grass, or wallowed in
the mire through the hot summer's day. Here and there, too, upon the far
horizon, rose a tall line of ashen trees, marking some island of firm rich
soil. Here and there, too, as at Ramsey and Crowland, the huge ashes had
disappeared before the axes of the monks, and a minster tower rose over
the fen, amid orchards, gardens, cornfields, pastures, with here and there
a tree left standing for shade. "Painted with flowers in the spring," with
"pleasant shores embosomed in still lakes," as the monk-chronicler of
Ramsey has it, those islands seemed to such as the monk terrestrial
Overhead the arch of heaven spread more ample than elsewhere, as over the
open sea; and that vastness gave, and still gives, such "effects" of
cloudland, of sunrise, and sunset, as can be seen nowhere else within
these isles. They might well have been star worshippers, those Girvii, had
their sky been as clear as that of the East: but they were like to have
worshipped the clouds rather than the stars, according to the too
universal law, that mankind worship the powers which do them harm, rather
than the powers which do them good.
And therefore the Danelagh men, who feared not mortal sword, or axe,
feared witches, ghosts, Pucks, Will-o'-the-Wisps, werewolves, spirits of
the wells and of the trees, and all dark, capricious, and harmful beings
whom their fancy conjured up out of the wild, wet, and unwholesome
marshes, or the dark wolf-haunted woods. For that fair land, like all
things on earth, had its darker aspect. The foul exhalations of autumn
called up fever and ague, crippling and enervating, and tempting, almost
compelling, to that wild and desperate drinking which was the
Scandinavian's special sin. Dark and sad were those short autumn days,
when all the distances were shut off, and the air choked with foul brown
fog and drenching rains from off the eastern sea; and pleasant the
bursting forth of the keen north-east wind, with all its whirling
snowstorms. For though it sent men hurrying out into the storm, to drive
the cattle in from the fen, and lift the sheep out of the snow-wreaths,
and now and then never to return, lost in mist and mire, in ice and
snow;--yet all knew that after the snow would come the keen frost and the
bright sun and cloudless blue sky, and the fenman's yearly holiday, when,
work being impossible, all gave themselves up to play, and swarmed upon
the ice on skates and sledges, and ran races, township against township,
or visited old friends full forty miles away; and met everywhere faces as
bright and ruddy as their own, cheered by the keen wine of that dry and
Such was the Fenland; hard, yet cheerful; rearing a race of hard and
cheerful men; showing their power in old times in valiant fighting, and
for many a century since in that valiant industry which has drained and
embanked the land of the Girvii, till it has become a very "Garden of the
Lord." And the Scotsman who may look from the promontory of Peterborough,
the "golden borough" of old time; or from the tower of Crowland, while
Hereward and Torfrida sleep in the ruined nave beneath; or from the
heights of that Isle of Ely which was so long "the camp of refuge" for
English freedom; over the labyrinth of dikes and lodes, the squares of
rich corn and verdure,--will confess that the lowland, as well as the
highland, can at times breed gallant men. [Footnote: The story of Hereward
(often sung by minstrels and old-wives in succeeding generations) may be
found in the "Metrical Chronicle of Geoffrey Gaimar," and in the prose
"Life of Hereward" (paraphrased from that written by Leofric, his house-
priest), and in the valuable fragment "Of the family of Hereward." These
have all three been edited by Mr. T. Wright. The account of Hereward in
Ingulf seems taken, and that carelessly, from the same source as the Latin
prose, "De Gestis Herewardi." A few curious details may be found in Peter
of Blois's continuation of Ingulf; and more, concerning the sack of
Peterborough, in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. I have followed the
contemporary authorities as closely as I could, introducing little but
what was necessary to reconcile discrepancies, or to illustrate the
history, manners, and sentiments of the time.--C. K.]
HOW HEREWARD WAS OUTLAWED, AND WENT NORTH TO SEEK HIS FORTUNES.
Known to all is Lady Godiva, the most beautiful as well as the most
saintly woman of her day; who, "all her life, kept at her own expense
thirteen poor folk wherever she went; who, throughout Lent, watched in the
church at triple matins, namely, one for the Trinity, one for the Cross,
and one for St. Mary; who every day read the Psalter through, and so
persevered in good and holy works to her life's end,"--the "devoted friend
of St. Mary, ever a virgin," who enriched monasteries without
number,--Leominster, Wenlock, Chester, St. Mary's Stow by Lincoln,
Worcester, Evesham; and who, above all, founded the great monastery in
that town of Coventry, which has made her name immortal for another and a
far nobler deed; and enriched it so much "that no monastery in England
possessed such abundance of gold, silver, jewels, and precious stones,"
beside that most precious jewel of all, the arm of St. Augustine, which
not Lady Godiva, but her friend, Archbishop Ethelnoth, presented to
Coventry, "having bought it at Pavia for a hundred talents of silver and a
talent of gold." [Footnote: William of Malmesbury.]
Less known, save to students, is her husband, Leofric the great Earl of
Mercia and Chester, whose bones lie by those of Godiva in that same
minster of Coventry; how "his counsel was as if one had opened the Divine
oracles"; very "wise," says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, "for God and for
the world, which was a blessing to all this nation"; the greatest man,
save his still greater rival, Earl Godwin, in Edward the Confessor's
Less known, again, are the children of that illustrious pair: Algar, or
Alfgar, Earl of Mercia after his father, who died, after a short and
stormy life, leaving two sons, Edwin and Morcar, the fair and hapless
young earls, always spoken of together, as if they had been twins; a
daughter, Aldytha, or Elfgiva, married first (according to some) to
Griffin, King of North Wales, and certainly afterwards to Harold, King of
England; and another, Lucia (as the Normans at least called her), whose
fate was, if possible, more sad than that of her brothers.
Their second son was Hereward, whose history this tale sets forth; their
third and youngest, a boy whose name is unknown.
They had, probably, another daughter beside; married, it may be, to some
son of Leofric's stanch friend old Siward Biorn, the Viking Earl of
Northumberland, and conqueror of Macbeth; and the mother, may be, of the
two young Siwards, the "white" and the "red," who figure in chronicle and
legend as the nephews of Hereward. But this pedigree is little more than a
Be these things as they may, Godiva was the greatest lady in England, save
two: Edith, Harold's sister, the nominal wife of Edward the Confessor; and
Githa, or Gyda, as her own Danes called her, Harold's mother, niece of
Canute the Great. Great was Godiva; and might have been proud enough, had
she been inclined to that pleasant sin. And even then (for there is a
skeleton, they say, in every house) she carried that about her which might
well keep her humble; namely, shame at the misconduct of Hereward, her
Her favorite residence, among the many manors and "villas," or farms which
Leofric possessed, was neither the stately hall at Loughton by
Bridgenorth, nor the statelier castle of Warwick, but the house of Bourne
in South Lincolnshire, between the great woods of the Bruneswald and the
great level of the fens. It may have been her own paternal dowry, and have
come down to her in right of her Danish ancestors, and that great and
"magnificent" Jarl Oslac, from whom she derived her all-but-royal blood.
This is certain, that Leofric, her husband, went in East Anglia by the
name of Leofric, Lord of Bourne; that, as Domesday Book testifies, his son
Alfgar, and his grandson Morcar, held large lands there and thereabout.
Alfgar's name, indeed, still lives in the village of Algar-Kirk; and Lady
Godiva, and Algar after her, enriched with great gifts Crowland, the
island sanctuary, and Peterborough, where Brand, either her brother or
Leofric's, was a monk, and in due time an abbot.
The house of Bourne, as far as it can be reconstructed by imagination, was
altogether unlike one of the tall and gloomy Norman castles which twenty
years later reared their evil donjons over England. It was much more like
a house in a Chinese painting; an irregular group of low buildings, almost
all of one story, stone below and timber above, with high-peaked
roofs,--at least in the more Danish country,--affording a separate room,
or rather house, for each different need of the family. Such a one may be
seen in the illuminations of the century. In the centre of the building is
the hall, with door or doors opening out into the court; and sitting
thereat, at the top of a flight of steps, the lord and lady, dealing
clothes to the naked and bread to the hungry. On one side of the hall is a
chapel; by it a large room or "bower" for the ladies; behind the hall a
round tower, seemingly the strong place of the whole house; on the other
side a kitchen; and stuck on to bower, kitchen, and every other principal
building, lean-to after lean-to, the uses of which it is impossible now to
discover. The house had grown with the wants of the family,--as many good
old English houses have done to this day. Round it would be scattered
barns and stables, in which grooms and herdsmen slept side by side with
their own horses and cattle; and outside all, the "yard," "garth," or
garden-fence, high earth-bank with palisades on top, which formed a strong
defence in time of war. Such was most probably the "villa," "ton," or
"town" of Earl Leofric, the Lord of Bourne, the favorite residence of
Godiva,--once most beautiful, and still most holy, according to the
holiness of those old times.
Now on a day--about the year 1054--while Earl Siward was helping to bring
Birnam wood to Dunsinane, to avenge his murdered brother-in-law, Lady
Godiva sat, not at her hall door, dealing food and clothing to her
thirteen poor folk, but in her bower, with her youngest son, a two-years'
boy, at her knee. She was listening with a face of shame and horror to the
complaint of Herluin, Steward of Peterborough, who had fallen in that
afternoon with Hereward and his crew of "housecarles."
To keep a following of stout housecarles, or men-at-arms, was the pride as
well as the duty of an Anglo-Danish Lord, as it was, till lately, of a
Scoto-Danish Highland Laird. And Hereward, in imitation of his father and
his elder brother, must needs have his following from the time he was but
fifteen years old. All the unruly youths of the neighborhood, sons of free
"holders," who owed some sort of military service to Earl Leofric; Geri,
his cousin; Winter, whom he called his brother-in-arms; the Wulfrics, the
Wulfards, the Azers, and many another wild blade, had banded themselves
round a young nobleman more unruly than themselves. Their names were
already a terror to all decent folk, at wakes and fairs, alehouses and
village sports. They atoned, be it remembered, for their early sins by
making those names in after years a terror to the invaders of their native
land: but as yet their prowess was limited to drunken brawls and
faction-fights; to upsetting old women at their work, levying blackmail
from quiet chapmen on the high road, or bringing back in triumph, sword in
hand and club on shoulder, their leader Hereward from some duel which his
insolence had provoked.
But this time, if the story of the sub-prior was to be believed, Hereward
and his housecarles had taken an ugly stride forward toward the pit. They
had met him riding along, intent upon his psalter, in a lonely path of the
Bruneswald,--"Whereon your son, most gracious lady, bade me stand, saying
that his men were thirsty and he had no money to buy ale withal, and none
so likely to help him thereto as a fat priest,--for so he scandalously
termed me, who, as your ladyship knows, am leaner than the minster
bell-ropes, with fasting Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year,
beside the vigils of the saints, and the former and latter Lents.
"But when he saw who I was, as if inspired by a malignant spirit, he
shouted out my name, and bade his companions throw me to the ground."
"Throw you to the ground?" shuddered the Lady Godiva.
"In much mire, madam. After which he took my palfrey, saying that heaven's
gate was too lowly for men on horseback to get in thereat; and then my
marten's fur gloves and cape which your gracious self bestowed on me,
alleging that the rules of my order allowed only one garment, and no furs
save catskins and such like. And lastly--I tremble while I relate,
thinking not of the loss of my poor money, but the loss of an immortal
soul--took from me a purse with sixteen silver pennies, which I had
collected from our tenants for the use of the monastery, and said,
blasphemously, that I and mine had swindled your ladyship, and therefore
him, your son, out of many a fair manor ere now; and it was but fair that
he should tithe the rents thereof, as he should never get the lands out of
our claws again; with more of the like, which I blush to repeat,--and so
left me to trudge hither in the mire."
"Wretched boy!" said the Lady Godiva, and hid her face in her hands; "and
more wretched I, to have brought such a son into the world!"
The monk had hardly finished his doleful story, when there was a pattering
of heavy feet, a noise of men shouting and laughing outside, and a voice,
above all, calling for the monk by name, which made that good man crouch
behind the curtain of Lady Godiva's bed. The next moment the door of the
bower was thrown violently open, and in walked, or rather reeled, a noble
lad eighteen years old. His face was of extraordinary beauty, save that
the lower jaw was too long and heavy, and that his eyes wore a strange and
almost sinister expression, from the fact that the one of them was gray
and the other blue. He was short, but of immense breadth of chest and
strength of limb; while his delicate hands and feet and long locks of
golden hair marked him of most noble, and even, as he really was, of
ancient royal race. He was dressed in a gaudy costume, resembling on the
whole that of a Highland chieftain. His knees, wrists, and throat were
tattoed in bright blue patterns; and he carried sword and dagger, a gold
ring round his neck, and gold rings on his wrists. He was a lad to have
gladdened the eyes of any mother: but there was no gladness in the Lady
Godiva's eyes as she received him; nor had there been for many a year. She
looked on him with sternness,--with all but horror; and he, his face
flushed with wine, which he had tossed off as he passed through the hall
to steady his nerves for the coming storm, looked at her with smiling
defiance, the result of long estrangement between mother and son.
"Well, my lady," said he, ere she could speak, "I heard that this good
fellow was here, and came home as fast as I could, to see that he told you
as few lies as possible."
"He has told me," said she, "that you have robbed the Church of God."
"Robbed him, it may be, an old hoody crow, against whom I have a grudge of
ten years' standing."
"Wretched, wretched boy! What wickedness next? Know you not, that he who
robs the Church robs God himself?"
"And he who harms God's people," put in the monk from behind the chair,
"harms his Maker."
"His Maker?" said the lad, with concentrated bitterness. "It would be a
gay world, if the Maker thereof were in any way like unto you, who call
yourselves his people. Do you remember who told them to set the peat-stack
on fire under me ten years ago? Ah, ha, Sir Monk, you forget that I have
been behind the screen,--that I have been a monk myself, or should have
been one, if my pious lady mother here had had her will of me, as she may
if she likes of that doll there at her knee. Do you forget why I left
Peterborough Abbey, when Winter and I turned all your priest's books
upside down in the choir, and they would have flogged us,--me, the Earl's
son,--me, the Viking's son,--me, the champion, as I will be yet, and make
all lands ring with the fame of my deeds, as they rung with the fame of my
forefathers, before they became the slaves of monks; and how when Winter
and I got hold of the kitchen spits, and up to the top of the peat-stack,
and held you all at bay there, a whole abbeyful of cowards there, against
two seven years' children? It was you bade set the peat-stack alight under
us, and so bring us down; and would have done it, too, had it not been for
my Uncle Brand, the only man that I care for in this wide world. Do you
think I have not owed you a grudge ever since that day, monk? And do you
think I will not pay it? Do you think I would not have burned Peterborough
minster over your head before now, had it not been for Uncle Brand's sake?
See that I do not do it yet. See that when there is another Prior in
Borough you do not find Hereward the Berserker smoking you out some dark
night, as he would smoke a wasps' nest. And I will, by--"
"Hereward, Hereward!" cried his mother, "godless, god-forgotten boy, what
words are these? Silence, before you burden your soul with an oath which
the devils in hell will accept, and force you to keep!" and she sprung up,
and, seizing his arm, laid her hand upon his mouth.
Hereward looked at her majestic face, once lovely, now careworn, and
trembled for a moment. Had there been any tenderness in it, his history
might have been a very different one; but alas! there was none. Not that
she was in herself untender; but that her great piety (call it not
superstition, for it was then the only form known or possible to pure and
devout souls) was so outraged by this, or even by the slightest insult to
that clergy whose willing slave she had become, that the only method of
reclaiming the sinner had been long forgotten, in genuine horror at his
sin. "Is it not enough," she went on, sternly, "that you should have
become the bully and the ruffian of all the fens?--that Hereward the
leaper, Hereward the wrestler, Hereward the thrower of the hammer--sports,
after all, only fit for the sons of slaves--should be also Hereward the
drunkard, Hereward the common fighter, Hereward the breaker of houses,
Hereward the leader of mobs of boon companions which bring back to us, in
shame and sorrow, the days when our heathen forefathers ravaged this land
with fire and sword? Is it not enough for me that my son should be a
"Whoever called me stabber to you, lies. If I have killed men, or had them
killed, I have done it in fair fight."
But she went on unheeding,--"Is it not enough, that, after having
squandered on your fellows all the money that you could wring from my
bounty, or win at your brutal sports, you should have robbed your own
father, collected his rents behind his back, taken money and goods from
his tenants by threats and blows; but that, after outraging them, you must
add to all this a worse sin likewise,--outraging God, and driving me--me
who have borne with you, me who have concealed all for your sake--to tell
your father that of which the very telling will turn my hair to gray?"
"So you will tell my father?" said Hereward, coolly.
"And if I should not, this monk himself is bound to do so, or his
superior, your Uncle Brand."
"My Uncle Brand will not, and your monk dare not."
"Then I must. I have loved you long and well; but there is one thing which
I must love better than you: and that is, my conscience and my Maker."
"Those are two things, my lady mother, and not one; so you had better not
confound them. As for the latter, do you not think that He who made the
world is well able to defend his own property,--if the lands and houses
and cattle and money which these men wheedle and threaten and forge out of
you and my father are really His property, and not merely their plunder?
As for your conscience, my lady mother, really you have done so many good
deeds in your life, that it might be beneficial to you to do a bad one
once in a way, so as to keep your soul in a wholesome state of humility."
The monk groaned aloud. Lady Godiva groaned; but it was inwardly. There
was silence for a moment. Both were abashed by the lad's utter
"And you will tell my father?" said he again. "He is at the old
miracle-worker's court at Westminster. He will tell the miracle-worker,
and I shall be outlawed."
"And if you be, wretched boy, whom have you to blame but yourself? Can you
expect that the king, sainted even as he is before his death, dare pass
over such an atrocity towards Holy Church?"
"Blame? I shall blame no one. Pass over? I hope he will not pass over it,
I only want an excuse like that for turning kempery-man--knight-errant, as
those Norman puppies call it,--like Regnar Lodbrog, or Frithiof, or Harold
Hardraade; and try what man can do for himself in the world with nothing
to help him in heaven and earth, with neither saint nor angel, friend or
counsellor, to see to him, save his wits and his good sword. So send off
the messenger, good mother mine: and I will promise you I will not have
him ham-strung on the way, as some of my housecarles would do for me if I
but held up my hand; and let the miracle-monger fill up the measure of his
folly, by making an enemy of one more bold fellow in the world."
And he swaggered out of the room.
And when he was gone, the Lady Godiva bowed her head into her lap and wept
long and bitterly. Neither her maidens nor the priest dare speak to her
for nigh an hour; but at the end of that time she lifted up her head, and
settled her face again, till it was like that of a marble saint over a
minster door; and called for ink and paper, and wrote her letter; and then
asked for a trusty messenger who should carry it up to Westminster.
"None so swift or sure," said the house steward, "as Martin Lightfoot."
Lady Godiva shook her head. "I mistrust that man," she said. "He is too
fond of my poor--of the Lord Hereward."
"He is a strange one, my lady, and no one knows whence he came, and, I
sometimes fancy, whither he may go either; but ever since my lord
threatened to hang him for talking with my young master, he has never
spoken to him, nor scarcely, indeed, to living soul. And one thing there
is makes him or any man sure, as long as he is well paid; and that is,
that he cares for nothing in heaven or earth save himself and what he can
So Martin Lightfoot was sent for. He came in straight into the lady's
bedchamber, after the simple fashion of those days. He was a tall, lean,
bony man, as was to be expected from his nickname, with a long hooked
nose, a scanty brown beard, and a high conical head. His only garment was
a shabby gray woollen tunic, which served him both as coat and kilt, and
laced brogues of untanned hide. He might have been any age from twenty to
forty; but his face was disfigured with deep scars and long exposure to
the weather. He dropped on one knee, holding his greasy cap in his hand,
and looked, not at his lady's face, but at her feet, with a stupid and
frightened expression. She knew very little of him, save that her husband
had picked him up upon the road as a wanderer some five years since; and
that he had been employed as a doer of odd jobs and runner of messages,
and that was supposed, from his taciturnity and strangeness, to have
something uncanny about him.
"Martin," said the lady, "they tell me that you are a silent and a prudent
"That am I.
'Tongue speaketh bane,
Though she herself hath nane.'"
"I shall try you: do you know your way to London?"
"To your lord's lodgings in Westminster?"
"How long shall you be going there with this letter?"
"A day and a half."
"When shall you be back hither?"
"On the fourth day."
"And you will go to my lord and deliver this letter safely?"
"Yes, your Majesty."
"Why do you call me Majesty? The King is Majesty."
"You are my Queen."
"What do you mean, man?"
"You can hang me."
"I hang thee, poor soul! Who did I ever hang, or hurt for a moment, if I
could help it?"
"But the Earl may."
"He will neither hang nor hurt thee if thou wilt take this letter safely,
and bring me back the answer safely."
"They will kill me."
"They," said Martin, pointing to the bower maidens,--young ladies of good
family who stood round, chosen for their good looks, after the fashion of
those times, to attend on great ladies. There was a cry of angry and
contemptuous denial, not unmixed with something like laughter, which
showed that Martin had but spoken the truth. Hereward, in spite of all his
sins, was the darling of his mother's bower; and there was not one of the
damsels but would have done anything short of murder to have prevented
Martin carrying the letter.
"Silence, man!" said Lady Godiva, so sternly that Martin saw that he had
gone too far. "How know'st such as thou what is in this letter?"
"Those others will know," said Martin, sullenly, without answering the
"His housecarles outside there."
"He has promised that they shall not touch thee. But how knowest thou what
is in this letter?"
"I will take it," said Martin: he held out his hand, took it and looked at
it, but upside down, and without any attempt to read it.
"His own mother," said he, after a while.
"What is that to thee?" said Lady Godiva, blushing and kindling.
"Nothing: I had no mother. But God has one!"
"What meanest thou, knave? Wilt thou take the letter or no?"
"I will take it." And he again looked at it without rising off his knee.
"His own father, too."
"What is that to thee, I say again?"
"Nothing: I have no father. But God's Son has one!"
"What wilt thou, thou strange man?" asked she, puzzled and
half-frightened; "and how camest thou to know what is in this letter?"
"Who does not know? A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. On the
fourth day from this I will be back."
And Martin rose, and putting the letter solemnly into the purse at his
girdle, shot out of the door with clenched teeth, as a man upon a fixed
purpose which it would lighten his heart to carry out. He ran rapidly
through the large outer hall, past the long oak table, at which Hereward
and his boon companions were drinking and roistering; and as he passed the
young lord he cast on him a look so full of meaning, that though Hereward
knew not what the meaning was, it startled him, and for a moment softened
him. Did this man who had sullenly avoided him for more than two years,
whom he had looked on as a clod or a post in the field beneath his notice,
since he could be of no use to him,--did this man still care for him?
Hereward had reason to know better than most that there was something
strange and uncanny about the man. Did he mean him well? Or had he some
grudge against him, which made him undertake this journey willingly and
out of spite?--possibly with the will to make bad worse. For an instant
Hereward's heart misgave him. He would stop the letter at all risks. "Hold
him!" he cried to his comrades.
But Martin turned to him, laid his finger on his lips, smiled kindly, and
saying "You promised!" caught up a loaf from the table, slipped from among
them like an eel, and darted out of the door, and out of the close. They
followed him to the great gate, and there stopped, some cursing, some
laughing. To give Martin Lightfoot a yard advantage was never to come up
with him again. Some called for bows to bring him down with a parting
shot. But Hereward forbade them; and stood leaning against the gate-post,
watching him trot on like a lean wolf over the lawn, till he was lost in
the great elm-woods which fringed the southern fen.
"Now, lads," said Hereward, "home with you all, and make your peace with
your fathers. In this house you never drink ale again."
They looked at him, surprised.
"You are disbanded, my gallant army. As long as I could cut long thongs
out of other men's hides, I could feed you like earl's sons: but now I
must feed myself; and a dog over his bone wants no company. Outlawed I
shall be before the week is out; and unless you wish to be outlawed too,
you will obey orders, and home."
"We will follow you to the world's end," cried some.
"To the rope's end, lads: that is all you will get in my company. Go home
with you, and those who feel a calling, let them turn monks; and those who
have not, let them learn
'For to plough and to sow,
And to reap and to mow,
And to be a farmer's boy.'
And he went in, and shut the great gates after him, leaving them
To take his advice, and go home, was the simplest thing to be done. A few
of them on their return were soundly thrashed, and deserved it; a few were
hidden by their mothers for a week, in hay-lofts and hen-roosts, till
their father's anger had passed away. But only one turned monk or clerk,
and that was Leofric the Unlucky, godson of the great earl, and
poet-in-ordinary to the band.
The next morning at dawn Hereward mounted his best horse, armed himself
from head to foot, and rode over to Peterborough.
When he came to the abbey-gate, he smote thereon with his lance-but, till
the porter's teeth rattled in his head for fear.
"Let me in!" he shouted. "I am Hereward Leofricsson. I must see my Uncle
"O my most gracious lord!" cried the porter, thrusting his head out of the
wicket, "what is this that you have been doing to our Steward?"
"The tithe of what I will do, unless you open the gate!"
"O my lord!" said the porter, as he opened it, "if our Lady and St. Peter
would but have mercy on your fair face, and convert your soul to the fear
of God and man--"
"She would make me as good an old fool as you. Fetch my uncle, the Prior."
The porter obeyed. The son of Earl Leofric was as a young lion among the
sheep in those parts; and few dare say him nay, certainly not the monks of
Peterborough; moreover, the good porter could not help being strangely
fond of Hereward--as was every one whom he did not insult, rob, or kill.
Out came Brand, a noble elder: more fit, from his eye and gait, to be a
knight than a monk. He looked sadly at Hereward.
"'Dear is bought the honey that is licked off the thorn,' quoth Hending,"
"Hending bought his wisdom by experience, I suppose," said Hereward, "and
so must I. So I am just starting out to see the world, uncle."
"Naughty, naughty boy! If we had thee safe here again for a week, we would
take this hot blood out of thee, and send thee home in thy right mind."
"Bring a rod and whip me, then. Try, and you shall have your chance. Every
one else has had, and this is the end of their labors."
"By the chains of St. Peter," quoth the monk, "that is just what thou
needest. Hoist thee on such another fool's back, truss thee up, and lay it
on lustily, till thou art ashamed. To treat thee as a man is only to make
thee a more heady blown-up ass than thou art already."
"True, most wise uncle. And therefore my still wiser parents are going to
treat me like a man indeed, and send me out into the world to seek my
"They are going to prove how thoroughly they trust me to take care of
myself, by outlawing me. Eh? say I in return. Is not that an honor, and a
proof that I have not shown myself a fool, though I may have a madman?"
"Outlaw you? O my boy, my darling, my pride! Get off your horse, and don't
sit there, hand on hip, like a turbaned Saracen, defying God and man; but
come down and talk reason to me, for the sake of St. Peter and all
Hereward threw himself off his horse, and threw his arms round his uncle's
"Pish! Now, uncle, don't cry, do what you will, lest I cry too. Help me to
be a man while I live, even if I go to the black place when I die."
"It shall not be!" .... and the monk swore by all the relics in
"It must be. It shall be. I like to be outlawed. I want to be outlawed. It
makes one feel like a man. There is not an earl in England, save my
father, who has not been outlawed in his time. My brother Alfgar will be
outlawed before he dies, if he has the spirit of a man in him. It is the
fashion, my uncle, and I must follow it. So hey for the merry greenwood,
and the long ships, and the swan's bath, and all the rest of it. Uncle,
you will lend me fifty silver pennies?"
"I? I would not lend thee one, if I had it, which I have not. And yet, old
fool that I am, I believe I would."
"I would pay thee back honestly. I shall go down to Constantinople to the
Varangers, get my Polotaswarf [Footnote: See "The Heimskringla," Harold
Hardraade's Saga, for the meaning of this word.] out of the Kaiser's
treasure, and pay thee back five to one."
"What does this son of Belial here?" asked an austere voice.
"Ah! Abbot Leofric, my very good lord. I have come to ask hospitality of
you for some three days. By that time I shall be a wolf's head, and out of
the law: and then, if you will give me ten minutes' start, you may put
your bloodhounds on my track, and see which runs fastest, they or I. You
are a gentleman, and a man of honor; so I trust to you to feed my horse
fairly the meanwhile, and not to let your monks poison me."
The Abbot's face relaxed. He tried to look as solemn as he could; but he
ended in bursting into a very great laughter, and swearing likewise.
"The insolence of this lad passes the miracles of all saints. He robs St.
Peter on the highway, breaks into his abbey, insults him to his face, and
then asks him for hospitality; and--"
"And gets it," quoth Hereward.
"What is to be done with him, Brand, my friend? If we turn him out--"
"Which we cannot do," said Brand, looking at the well-mailed and armed
lad, "without calling in half a dozen of our men-at-arms."
"In which case there would be blood shed, and scandal made in the holy
"And nothing gained; for yield he would not till he was killed outright,
which God forbid!"
"Amen. And if he stay here, he may be persuaded to repentance."
"As for that," quoth Hereward (who had remounted his horse from prudential
motives, and set him athwart the gateway, so that there was no chance of
the doors being slammed behind him), "if either of you will lend me
sixteen pence, I will pay it back to you and St. Peter before I die, with
interest enough to satisfy any Jew, on the word of a gentleman and an
The Abbot burst again into a great laughter. "Come in, thou graceless
renegade, and we will see to thee and thy horse; and I will pray to St.
Peter; and I doubt not he will have patience with thee, for he is very
merciful; and after all, thy parents have been exceeding good to us, and
the righteousness of the father, like his sins, is sometimes visited on
Now, why were the two ecclesiastics so uncanonically kind to this wicked
Perhaps because both the old bachelors were wishing from their hearts that
they had just such a son of their own. And beside, Earl Leofric was a very
great man indeed; and the wind might change; for it is an unstable world.
"Only, mind, one thing," said the naughty boy, as he dismounted, and
halloed to a lay-brother to see to his horse,--"don't let me see the face
of that Herluin."
"And why? You have wronged him, and he will forgive you, doubtless, like a
good Christian as he is."
"That is his concern. But if I see him, I cut off his head. And, as Uncle
Brand knows, I always sleep with my sword under my pillow."
"O that such a mother should have borne such a son." groaned the Abbot, as
they went in.
On the fifth day came Martin Lightfoot, and found Hereward in Prior
Brand's private cell.
"Well?" asked Hereward coolly.
"Is he--? Is he--?" stammered Brand, and could not finish his sentence.
Hereward laughed,--a loud, swaggering, hysterical laugh.
"See what it is to be born of just and pious parents. Come, Master
Trot-alone, speak out and tell us all about it. Thy lean wolf's legs have
run to some purpose. Open thy lean wolf's mouth and speak for once, lest I
ease thy legs for the rest of thy life by a cut across the hams. Find thy
lost tongue, I say!"
"Walls have ears, as well as the wild-wood," said Martin.
"We are safe here," said the Prior; "so speak, and tell us the whole
"Well, when the Earl read the letter, he turned red, and pale again, and
then naught but, 'Men, follow me to the King at Westminster.' So we went,
all with our weapons, twenty or more, along the Strand, and up into the
King's new hall; and a grand hall it is, but not easy to get into, for the
crowd of monks and beggars on the stairs, hindering honest folks'
business. And there sat the King on a high settle, with his pink face and
white hair, looking as royal as a bell-wether new washed; and on either
side of him, on the same settle, sat the old fox and the young wolf."
"Godwin and Harold? And where was the Queen?"
"Sitting on a stool at his feet, with her hands together as if she were
praying, and her eyes downcast, as demure as any cat. And so is fulfilled
the story, how the sheep-dog went out to get married, and left the fox,
the wolf, and the cat to guard the flock."
"If thou hast found thy tongue," said Brand, "thou art like enough to lose
it again by slice of knife, talking such ribaldry of dignities. Dost not
know"--and he sank his voice--"that Abbot Leofric is Earl Harold's man,
and that Harold himself made him abbot?"
"I said, walls have ears. It was you who told me that we were safe.
However, I will bridle the unruly one." And he went on. "And your father
walked up the hall, his left hand on his sword-hilt, looking an earl all
over, as he is."
"He is that," said Hereward, in a low voice.
"And he bowed; and the most magnificent, powerful, and virtuous Godwin
would have beckoned him up to sit on the high settle; but he looked
straight at the King, as if there were never a Godwin or a Godwinsson on
earth, and cried as he stood,--
"'Justice, my Lord the King!'
"And at that the King turned pale, and said, 'Who? What? O miserable
world! O last days drawing nearer and nearer! O earth, full of violence
and blood! Who has wronged thee now, most dear and noble Earl?'
"'Justice against my own son.'
"At that the fox looked at the wolf, and the wolf at the fox; and if they
did not smile it was not for want of will, I warrant. But your father went
on, and told all his story; and when he came to your robbing master
monk,--'O apostate!' cries the bell-wether, 'O spawn of Beelzebub!
excommunicate him, with bell, book, and candle. May he be thrust down with
Korah, Balaam, and Iscariot, to the most Stygian pot of the sempiternal
"And at that your father smiled. 'That is bishops' work,' says he; 'and I
want king's work from you, Lord King. Outlaw me this young rebel's sinful
body, as by law you can; and leave his sinful soul to the priests,--or to
God's mercy, which is like to be more than theirs.'
"Then the Queen looked up. 'Your own son, noble Earl? Think of what you
are doing, and one whom all say is so gallant and so fair. O persuade him,
father,--persuade him, Harold my brother,--or, if you cannot persuade him,
persuade the King at least, and save this poor youth from exile.'"
"Puss Velvet-paw knew well enough," said Hereward, in a low voice, "that
the way to harden my father's heart was to set Godwin and Harold on
softening it. They ask my pardon from the King? I would not take it at
their asking, even if my father would."
"There spoke a true Leofricsson," said Brand, in spite of himself.
"'By the--'" (and Martin repeated a certain very solemn oath), "said your
father, 'justice I will have, my Lord King. Who talks to me of my own son?
You put me into my earldom to see justice done and law obeyed; and how
shall I make others keep within bound if I am not to keep in my own flesh
and blood? Here is this land running headlong to ruin, because every
nobleman--ay, every churl who owns a manor, if he dares--must needs arm
and saddle, and levy war on his own behalf, and harry and slay the king's
lieges, if he have not garlic to his roast goose every time he
chooses,'--and there your father did look at Godwin, once and for
all;--'and shall I let my son follow the fashion, and do his best to leave
the land open and weak for Norseman, or Dane, or Frenchman, or whoever
else hopes next to mount the throne of a king who is too holy to leave an
heir behind him?'"
"Ahoi! Martin the silent! Where learnt you so suddenly the trade of
preaching? I thought you kept your wind for your running this two years
past. You would make as good a talker among the Witan as Godwin himself.
You give it us all, word for word, and voice and gesture withal, as if you
were King Edward's French Chancellor."
Martin smiled. "I am like Falada the horse, my lords, who could only speak
to his own true princess. Why I held my tongue of late was only lest they
should cut my head off for talking, as they did poor Falada's."
"Thou art a very crafty knave," said Brand, "and hast had clerk-learning
in thy time, I can see, and made bad use of it. I misdoubt very much that
thou art some runaway monk."
"That am I not, by St. Peter's chains!" said Martin, in an eager,
terrified voice. "Lord Hereward, I came hither as your father's messenger
and servant. You will see me safe out of this abbey, like an honorable
"I will. All I know of him, uncle, is that he used to tell me stories,
when I was a boy, of enchanters, and knights, and dragons, and such like,
and got into trouble for filling my head with such fancies. Now let him
tell his story in peace."
"He shall; but I misdoubt the fellow very much. He talks as if he knew
Latin; and what business has a foot-running slave to do that?"
So Martin went on, somewhat abashed. "'And,' said your father, 'justice I
will have, and leave injustice, and the overlooking of it, to those who
wish to profit thereby.'
"And at that Godwin smiled, and said to the King, 'The Earl is wise, as
usual, and speaks like a very Solomon. Your Majesty must, in spite of your
own tenderness of heart, have these letters of outlawry made out.'
"Then all our men murmured,--and I as loud as any. But old Surturbrand the
housecarle did more; for out he stepped to your father's side, and spoke
right up before the King.
"'Bonny times,' he said, 'I have lived to see, when a lad of Earl Oslac's
blood is sent out of the land, a beggar and a wolf's head, for playing a
boy's trick or two, and upsetting a shaveling priest! We managed such wild
young colts better, we Vikings who conquered the Danelagh. If Canute had
had a son like Hereward--as would to God he had had!--he would have dealt
with him as old Swend Forkbeard (God grant I meet him in Valhalla, in
spite of all priests!) did by Canute himself when he was young, and kicked
and plunged awhile at being first bitted and saddled.'
"'What does the man say?' asked the King, for old Surturbrand was talking
"'He is a housecarle of mine, Lord King, a good man and true; but old age
and rough Danish blood has made him forget that he stands before kings and
"'By ----, Earl!' says Surturbrand, 'I have fought knee to knee beside a
braver king than that there, and nobler earls than ever a one here; and
was never afraid, like a free Dane, to speak my mind to them, by sea or
land. And if the King, with his French ways, does not understand a plain
man's talk, the two earls yonder do right well, and I say,--Deal by this
lad in the good old fashion. Give him half a dozen long ships, and what
crews he can get together, and send him out, as Canute would have done, to
seek his fortune like a Viking; and if he comes home with plenty of
wounds, and plenty of plunder, give him an earldom as he deserves. Do you
ask your Countess, Earl Godwin:--she is of the right Danish blood, God
bless her! though she is your wife,--and see if she does not know how to
bring a naughty lad to his senses.'
"Then Harold the Earl said: 'The old man is right. King, listen to what he
says.' And he told him all, quite eagerly."
"How did you know that? Can you understand French?"
"I am a poor idiot, give me a halfpenny," said Martin, in a doleful voice,
as he threw into his face and whole figure a look of helpless stupidity
and awkwardness, which set them both laughing.
But Hereward checked himself. "And you think he was in earnest?"
"As sure as there are holy crows in Crowland. But it was of no use. Your
father got a parchment, with an outlandish Norman seal hanging to it, and
sent me off with it that same night to give to the lawman. So wolfs head
you are, my lord, and there is no use crying over spilt milk."
"And Harold spoke for me? It will be as well to tell Abbot Leofric that,
in case he be inclined to turn traitor, and refuse to open the gates. Once
outside them, I care not for mortal man."
"My poor boy, there will be many a one whom thou hast wronged only too
ready to lie in wait for thee, now thy life is in every man's hand. If the
outlawry is published, thou hadst best start to-night, and get past
Lincoln before morning."
"I shall stay quietly here, and get a good night's rest; and then ride out
to-morrow morning in the face of the whole shire. No, not a word! You
would not have me sneak away like a coward?"
Brand smiled and shrugged his shoulders: being very much of the same mind.
"At least, go north."
"And why north?"
"You have no quarrel in Northumberland, and the King's writ runs very
slowly there, if at all. Old Siward Digre may stand your friend."
"He? He is a fast friend of my father's."
"What of that? the old Viking will like you none the less for having shown
a touch of his own temper. Go to him, I say, and tell him that I sent
"But he is fighting the Scots beyond the Forth."
"So much the better. There will be good work for you to do. And Gislebert
of Ghent is up there too, I hear, trying to settle himself among the
Scots. He is your mother's kinsman; and as for your being an outlaw, he
wants hard hitters and hard riders, and all is fish that comes to his net.
Find him out, too, and tell him I sent you."
"You are a good old uncle," said Hereward. "Why were you not a soldier?"
Brand laughed somewhat sadly.
"If I had been a soldier, lad, where would you have looked for a friend
this day? No. God has done what was merciful with me and my sins. May he
do the same by thee and thine."
Hereward made an impatient movement. He disliked any word which seemed
likely to soften his own hardness of heart. But he kissed his uncle
lovingly on both cheeks.
"By the by, Martin,--any message from my lady mother?"
"Quite right and pious. I am an enemy to Holy Church and therefore to her.
Good night, uncle."
"Hey?" asked Brand; "where is that footman,--Martin you call him? I must
have another word with him."
But Martin was gone.
"No matter. I shall question him sharply enough to-morrow, I warrant."
And Hereward went out to his lodging; while the good Prior went to his
When Hereward entered his room, Martin started out of the darkness, and
followed him in. Then he shut to the door carefully, and pulled out a bag.
"There was no message from my lady: but there was this."
The bag was full of money.
"Why did you not tell me of this before?"
"Never show money before a monk."
"Villain! would you mistrust my uncle?"
"Any man with a shaven crown. St. Peter is his God and Lord and
conscience; and if he saw but the shine of a penny, for St. Peter he would
"And he shall have it," quoth Hereward; and flung out of the room, and
into his uncle's.
"Uncle, I have money. I am come to pay back what I took from the Steward,
and as much more into the bargain." And he told out eight-and-thirty
"Thank God and all his saints!" cried Brand, weeping abundantly for joy;
for he had acquired, by long devotion, the _donum lachrymarum_,--that
lachrymose and somewhat hysterical temperament common among pious monks,
and held to be a mark of grace.
"Blessed St. Peter, thou art repaid; and thou wilt be merciful!"
Brand believed, in common with all monks then, that Hereward had robbed,
not merely the Abbey of Peterborough, but, what was more, St. Peter
himself; thereby converting into an implacable and internecine foe the
chief of the Apostles, the rock on which was founded the whole Church.
"Now, uncle," said Hereward, "do me one good deed in return. Promise me
that, if you can help it, none of my poor housecarles shall suffer for my
sins. I led them into trouble. I am punished. I have made restitution,--at
least to St. Peter. See that my father and mother, if they be the
Christians they call themselves, forgive and forget all offences except
"I will; so help me all saints and our Lord. O my boy, my boy, thou
shouldst have been a king's thane, and not an outlaw!"
And he hurried off with the news to the Abbot.
When Hereward returned to his room, Martin was gone.
"Farewell, good men of Peterborough," said Hereward, as he leapt into the
saddle next morning. "I had made a vow against you, and came to try you;
to see whether you would force me to fulfil it or not. But you have been
so kind that I have half repented of it; and the evil shall not come in
the days of Abbot Leofric, nor of Brand the Prior, though it may come in
the days of Herluin the Steward, if he live long enough."
"What do you mean, you incarnate fiend, only fit to worship Thor and
Odin?" asked Brand.
"That I would burn Goldenborough, and Herluin the Steward within it, ere I
die. I fear I shall do it; I fear I must do it. Ten years ago come Lammas,
Herluin bade light the peat-stack under me. Do you recollect?"
"And so he did, the hound!" quoth Brand. "I had forgotten that."
"Little Hereward never forgets foe or friend. Ever since, on Lammas night,
--hold still, horse!--I dream of fire and flame, and of Goldenborough in
the glare of it. If it is written in the big book, happen it must; if not,
so much the better for Goldenborough, for it is a pretty place, and honest
Englishmen in it. Only see that there be not too many Frenchmen crept in
when I come back, beside our French friend Herluin; and see, too, that
there be not a peat-stack handy: a word is enough to wise men like you.
"God help thee, thou sinful boy!" said the Abbot.
"Hereward, Hereward! Come back!" cried Brand.
But the boy had spurred his horse through the gateway, and was far down
"Leofric, my friend," said Brand, sadly, "this is my sin, and no man's
else. And heavy penance will I do for it, till that lad returns in peace."
"Mine, Abbot. I persuaded his mother to send him hither to be a monk.
Alas! alas! How long will men try to be wiser than Him who maketh men?"
"I do not understand thee," quoth the Abbot. And no more he did.
It was four o'clock on a May morning, when Hereward set out to see the
world, with good armor on his back, good weapon by his side, good horse
between his knees, and good money in his purse. What could a lad of
eighteen want more, who under the harsh family rule of those times had
known nothing of a father's, and but too little of a mother's, love? He
rode away northward through the Bruneswald, over the higher land of
Lincolnshire, through primeval glades of mighty oak and ash, holly and
thorn, swarming with game, which was as highly preserved then as now,
under Canute's severe forest laws. The yellow roes stood and stared at him
knee-deep in the young fern; the pheasant called his hens out to feed in
the dewy grass; the blackbird and thrush sang out from every bough; the
wood-lark trilled above the high oak-tops, and sank down on them as his
song sank down. And Hereward rode on, rejoicing in it all. It was a fine
world in the Bruneswald. What was it then outside? Not to him, as to us, a
world circular, sailed round, circumscribed, mapped, botanized,
zoologized; a tiny planet about which everybody knows, or thinks they know
everything: but a world infinite, magical, supernatural,--because unknown;
a vast flat plain reaching no one knew whence or where, save that the
mountains stood on the four corners thereof to keep it steady, and the
four winds of heaven blew out of them; and in the centre, which was to him
the Bruneswald, such things as he saw; but beyond, things
unspeakable,--dragons, giants, rocs, orcs, witch-whales, griffins,
chimeras, satyrs, enchanters, Paynims, Saracen Emirs and Sultans, Kaisers
of Constantinople, Kaisers of Ind and of Cathay, and beyond them again of
lands as yet unknown. At the very least he could go to Brittany, to the
forest of Brocheliaunde, where (so all men said) fairies might be seen
bathing in the fountains, and possibly be won and wedded by a bold and
dexterous knight after the fashion of Sir Gruelan. [Footnote: Wace, author
of the "Roman de Rou," went to Brittany a generation later, to see those
same fairies: but had no sport; and sang,--
"Fol i alai, fol m'en revins;
Folie quis, por fol me tins"]
What was there not to be seen and conquered? Where would he go? Where
would he not go? For the spirit of Odin the Goer, the spirit which has
sent his children round the world, was strong within him. He would go to
Ireland, to the Ostmen, or Irish Danes men at Dublin, Waterford, or Cork,
and marry some beautiful Irish Princess with gray eyes, and raven locks,
and saffron smock, and great gold bracelets from her native hills. No; he
would go off to the Orkneys, and join Bruce and Ranald, and the Vikings of
the northern seas, and all the hot blood which had found even Norway too
hot to hold it; and sail through witch-whales and icebergs to Iceland and
Greenland, and the sunny lands which they said lay even beyond, across the
all but unknown ocean. He would go up the Baltic to the Jomsburg Vikings,
and fight against Lett and Esthonian heathen, and pierce inland, perhaps,
through Puleyn and the bison forests, to the land from whence came the
magic swords and the old Persian coins which he had seen so often in the
halls of his forefathers. No; he would go South, to the land of sun and
wine; and see the magicians of Cordova and Seville; and beard Mussulman
hounds worshipping their Mahomets; and perhaps bring home an Emir's
"With more gay gold about her middle,
Than would buy half Northumberlee."
Or he would go up the Straits, and on to Constantinople and the great
Kaiser of the Greeks, and join the Varanger Guard, and perhaps, like
Harold Hardraade in his own days, after being cast to the lion for
carrying off a fair Greek lady, tear out the monster's tongue with his own
hands, and show the Easterns what a Viking's son could do. And as he
dreamed of the infinite world and its infinite wonders, the enchanters he
might meet, the jewels he might find, the adventures be might essay, he
held that he must succeed in all, with hope and wit and a strong arm; and
forgot altogether that, mixed up with the cosmogony of an infinite flat
plain called the Earth, there was joined also the belief in a flat roof
above called Heaven, on which (seen at times in visions through clouds and
stars) sat saints, angels, and archangels, forevermore harping on their
golden harps, and knowing neither vanity nor vexation of spirit, lust nor
pride, murder nor war;--and underneath a floor, the name whereof was Hell;
the mouths whereof (as all men knew) might be seen on Hecla and Aetna and
Stromboli; and the fiends heard within, tormenting, amid fire, and smoke,
and clanking chains, the souls of the eternally lost.
As he rode on slowly though cheerfully, as a man who will not tire his
horse at the beginning of a long day's journey, and knows not where he
shall pass the night, he was aware of a man on foot coming up behind him
at a slow, steady, loping, wolf-like trot, which in spite of its slowness
gained ground on him so fast, that he saw at once that the man could be no
The man came up; and behold, he was none other than Martin Lightfoot.
"What! art thou here?" asked Hereward, suspiciously, and half cross at
seeing any visitor from the old world which he had just cast off. "How
gottest thou out of St. Peter's last night?"
Martin's tongue was hanging out of his mouth like a running hound's, but
he seemed, like a hound, to perspire through his mouth, for he answered
without the least sign of distress, without even pulling in his tongue,--
"Over the wall, the moment the Prior's back was turned. I was not going to
wait till I was chained up in some rat's-hole with a half-hundred of iron
on my leg, and flogged till I confessed that I was what I am not,--a
"And why art here?"
"Because I am going with you."
"Going with me?" said Hereward; "what can I do for thee?"
"I can do for you," said Martin.
"Groom your horse, wash your shirt, clean your weapons, find your inn,
fight your enemies, cheat your friends,--anything and everything. You are
going to see the world. I am going with you."
"Thou canst be my servant? A right slippery one, I expect," said Hereward,
looking down on him with some suspicion.
"Some are not the rogues they seem. I can keep my secrets and yours too."
"Before I can trust thee with my secrets, I shall expect to know some of
thine," said Hereward.
Martin Lightfoot looked up with a cunning smile. "A servant can always
know his master's secrets if he likes. But that is no reason a master
should know his servant's."
"Thou shalt tell me thine, man, or I shall ride off and leave thee."
"Not so easy, my lord. Where that heavy horse can go, Martin Lightfoot can
follow. But I will tell you one secret, which I never told to living man.
I can read and write like any clerk."
"Thou read and write?"
"Ay, good Latin enough, and Irish too, what is more. And now, because I
love you, and because you I will serve, willy nilly, I will tell you all
the secrets I have, as long as my breath lasts, for my tongue is rather
stiff after that long story about the bell-wether. I was born in Ireland,
in Waterford town. My mother was an English slave, one of those that Earl
Godwin's wife--not this one that is now, Gyda, but the old one, King
Canute's sister--used to sell out of England by the score, tied together
with ropes, boys and girls from Bristol town. Her master, my father that
was (I shall know him again), got tired of her, and wanted to give her
away to one of his kernes. She would not have that; so he hung her up hand
and foot, and beat her that she died. There was an abbey hard by, and the
Church laid on him a penance,--all that they dared get out of him,--that
he should give me to the monks, being then a seven-years' boy. Well, I
grew up in that abbey; they taught me my fa fa mi fa: but I liked better
conning of ballads and hearing stories of ghosts and enchanters, such as I
used to tell you. I'll tell you plenty more whenever you're tired. Then
they made me work; and that I never could abide at all. Then they beat me
every day; and that I could abide still less; but always I stuck to my
book, for one thing I saw,--that learning is power, my lord; and that the
reason why the monks are masters of the land is, they are scholars, and
you fighting men are none. Then I fell in love (as young blood will) with
an Irish lass, when I was full seventeen years old; and when they found
out that, they held me down on the floor and beat me till I was wellnigh
dead. They put me in prison for a month; and between bread-and-water and
darkness I went nigh foolish. They let me out, thinking I could do no more
harm to man or lass; and when I found out how profitable folly was,
foolish I remained, at least as foolish as seemed good to me. But one
night I got into the abbey church, stole therefrom that which I have with
me now, and which shall serve you and me in good stead yet,--out and away
aboard a ship among the buscarles, and off into the Norway sea. But after
a voyage or two, so it befell, I was wrecked in the Wash by Botulfston
Deeps, and, begging my way inland, met with your father, and took service
with him, as I have taken service now with you."
"Now, what has made thee take service with me?"
"Because you are you."
"Give me none of your parables and dark sayings, but speak out like a man.
What canst see in me that thou shouldest share an outlaw's fortune with
"I had run away from a monastery, so had you; I hated the monks, so did
you; I liked to tell stories,--since I found good to shut my mouth I tell
them to myself all day long, sometimes all night too. When I found out you
liked to hear them, I loved you all the more. Then they told me not to
speak to you; I held my tongue. I bided my time. I knew you would be
outlawed some day. I knew you would turn Viking and kempery-man, and kill
giants and enchanters, and win yourself honor and glory; and I knew I
should have my share in it. I knew you would need me some day; and you
need me now, and here I am; and if you try to cut me down with your sword,
I will dodge you, and follow you, and dodge you again, till I force you to
let me be your man, for with you I will live and die. And now I can talk
"And with me thou shalt live and die," said Hereward, pulling up his
horse, and frankly holding out his hand to his new friend.
Martin Lightfoot took his hand, kissed it, licked it almost as a dog would
have done. "I am your man," he said, "amen; and true man I will prove to
you, if you will prove true to me." And he dropped quietly back behind
Hereward's horse, as if the business of his life was settled, and his mind
utterly at rest.
"There is one more likeness between us," said Hereward, after a few
minutes' thought. "If I have robbed a church, thou hast robbed one too.
What is this precious spoil which is to serve me and thee in such mighty
Martin drew from inside his shirt and under his waistband a small
battle-axe, and handed it up to Hereward. It was a tool the like of which
in shape Hereward had seldom seen, and never its equal in beauty. The
handle was some fifteen inches long, made of thick strips of black
whalebone, curiously bound with silver, and butted with narwhal ivory.
This handle was evidently the work of some cunning Norseman of old. But
who was the maker of the blade? It was some eight inches long, with a
sharp edge on one side, a sharp crooked pick on the other; of the finest
steel, inlaid with strange characters in gold, the work probably of some
Circassian, Tartar, or Persian; such a battle-axe as Rustum or Zohrab may
have wielded in fight upon the banks of Oxus; one of those magic weapons,
brought, men knew not how, out of the magic East, which were hereditary in
many a Norse family and sung of in many a Norse saga.
"Look at it," said Martin Lightfoot. "There is magic on it. It must bring
us luck. Whoever holds that must kill his man. It will pick a lock of
steel. It will crack a mail corslet as a nut-hatch cracks a nut. It will
hew a lance in two at a single blow. Devils and spirits forged it,--I know
that; Virgilius the Enchanter, perhaps, or Solomon the Great, or
whosoever's name is on it, graven there in letters of gold. Handle it,
feel its balance; but no,--do not handle it too much. There is a devil in
it, who would make you kill me. Whenever I play with it I long to kill a
man. It would be so easy,--so easy. Give it me back, my lord, give it me
back, lest the devil come through the handle into your palm, and possess
Hereward laughed, and gave him back his battle-axe. But he had hardly less
doubt of the magic virtues of such a blade than had Martin himself.
"Magical or not, thou wilt not have to hit a man twice with that, Martin,
my lad. So we two outlaws are both well armed; and having neither wife nor
child, land nor beeves to lose, ought to be a match for any six honest men
who may have a grudge against us, and sound reasons at home for running
And so those two went northward through the green Bruneswald, and
northward again through merry Sherwood, and were not seen in that land
again for many a year.
HOW HEREWARD SLEW THE BEAR.
Of Hereward's doings for the next few months naught is known. He may very
likely have joined Siward in the Scotch war. He may have looked,
wondering, for the first time in his life, upon the bones of the old
world, where they rise at Dunkeld out of the lowlands of the Tay; and have
trembled lest the black crags of Birnam should topple on his head with all
their pines. He may have marched down from that famous leaguer with the
Gospatricks and Dolfins, and the rest of the kindred of Crinan (abthane or
abbot,--let antiquaries decide),--of Dunkeld, and of Duncan, and of
Siward, and of the outraged Sibilla. He may have helped himself to bring
Birnam Wood to Dunsinane, "on the day of the Seven Sleepers," and heard
Siward, when his son Asbiorn's corpse was carried into camp, [Footnote:
Shakespeare makes young Siward his son. He, too, was slain in the battle:
but he was Siward's nephew.] ask only, "Has he all his wounds in front?"
He may have seen old Siward, after Macbeth's defeat (not death, as
Shakespeare relates the story), go back to Northumbria "with such booty as
no man had obtained before,"--a proof, if the fact be fact, that the
Scotch lowlands were not, in the eleventh century, the poor and barbarous
country which some have reported them to have been.
All this is not only possible, but probable enough, the dates considered:
the chroniclers, however, are silent. They only say that Hereward was in
those days beyond Northumberland with Gisebert of Ghent.
Gisebert, Gislebert, Gilbert, Guibert, Goisbricht, of Ghent, who
afterwards owned, by chance of war, many a fair manor about Lincoln city,
was one of those valiant Flemings who settled along the east and northeast
coast of Scotland in the eleventh century. They fought with the Celtic
princes, and then married with their daughters; got to themselves lands
"by the title-deed of the sword"; and so became--the famous "Freskin the
Fleming" especially--the ancestors of the finest aristocracy, both
physically and intellectually, in the world. They had their connections,
moreover, with the Norman court of Rouen, through the Duchess Matilda,
daughter of their old Seigneur, Baldwin, Marquis of Flanders; their
connections, too, with the English Court, through Countess Judith, wife of
Earl Tosti Godwinsson, another daughter of Baldwin's. Their friendship was
sought, their enmity feared, far and wide throughout the north. They seem
to have been civilizers and cultivators and traders,--with the instinct of
true Flemings,--as well as conquerors; they were in those very days
bringing to order and tillage the rich lands of the north-east, from the
Frith of Moray to that of Forth; and forming a rampart for Scotland
against the invasions of Sweyn, Hardraade, and all the wild Vikings of the
Amongst them, in those days, Gilbert of Ghent seems to have been a notable
personage, to judge from the great house which he kept, and the _milites
tyrones,_ or squires in training for the honor of knighthood, who fed at
his table. Where he lived, the chroniclers report not. To them the country
"ultra Northumbriam," beyond the Forth, was as Russia or Cathay, where
"Geographers on pathless downs
Put elephants for want of towns."
As indeed it was to that French map-maker who, as late as the middle of
the eighteenth century (not having been to Aberdeen or Elgin), leaves all
the country north of the Tay a blank, with the inscription: "_Terre
inculte et sauvage, habitee par les Higlanders._"
Wherever Gilbert lived, however, he heard that Hereward was outlawed, and
sent for him, says the story. And there he lived, doubtless happily
enough, fighting Highlanders and hunting deer, so that as yet the pains
and penalties of exile did not press very hardly upon him. The handsome,
petulant, good-humored lad had become in a few weeks the darling of
Gilbert's ladies, and the envy of all his knights and gentlemen. Hereward
the singer, harp-player, dancer, Hereward the rider and hunter, was in all
mouths; but he himself was discontented at having as yet fallen in with no
adventure worthy of a man, and looked curiously and longingly at the
menagerie of wild beasts enclosed in strong wooden cages, which Gilbert
kept in one corner of the great court-yard, not for any scientific
purposes, but to try with them, at Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide, the
mettle of the young gentlemen who were candidates for the honor of
knighthood. But after looking over the bulls and stags, wolves and bears,
Hereward settled it in his mind that there was none worthy of his steel,
save one huge white bear, whom no man had yet dared to face, and whom
Hereward, indeed, had never seen, hidden as he was all day within the old
oven-shaped Pict's house of stone, which had been turned into his den.
There was a mystery about the uncanny brute which charmed Hereward. He was
said to be half-human, perhaps wholly human; to be the son of the Fairy
Bear, near kinsman, if not uncle or cousin, of Siward Digre. He had, like
his fairy father, iron claws; he had human intellect, and understood human
speech, and the arts of war,--at least so all in the place believed, and
not as absurdly as at first sight seems.
For the brown bear, and much more the white, was, among the Northern
nations, in himself a creature magical and superhuman. "He is God's dog,"
whispered the Lapp, and called him "the old man in the fur cloak," afraid
to use his right name, even inside the tent, for fear of his overhearing
and avenging the insult. "He has twelve men's strength, and eleven men's
wit," sang the Norseman, and prided himself accordingly, like a true
Norseman, on outwitting and slaying the enchanted monster.
Terrible was the brown bear: but more terrible "the white sea-deer," as
the Saxons called him; the hound of Hrymir, the whale's bane, the seal's
dread, the rider of the iceberg, the sailor of the floe, who ranged for
his prey under the six months' night, lighted by Surtur's fires, even to
the gates of Muspelheim. To slay him was a feat worthy of Beowulf's self;
and the greatest wonder, perhaps, among all the wealth of Crowland, was
the twelve white bear-skins which lay before the altars, the gift of the
great Canute. How Gilbert had obtained his white bear, and why he kept him
there in durance vile, was a mystery over which men shook their heads.
Again and again Hereward asked his host to let him try his strength
against the monster of the North. Again and again the shrieks of the
ladies, and Gilbert's own pity for the stripling youth, brought a refusal.
But Hereward settled it in his heart, nevertheless, that somehow or other,
when Christmas time came round, he would extract from Gilbert, drunk or
sober, leave to fight that bear; and then either make himself a name, or
die like a man.
Meanwhile Hereward made a friend. Among all the ladies of Gilbert's
household, however kind they were inclined to be to him, he took a fancy
but to one,--and that was to a little girl of eight years old. Alftruda
was her name. He liked to amuse himself with this child, without, as he
fancied, any danger of falling in love; for already his dreams of love
were of the highest and most fantastic; and an Emir's daughter, or a
Princess of Constantinople, were the very lowest game at which he meant to
fly. Alftruda was beautiful, too, exceedingly, and precocious, and, it may
be, vain enough to repay his attentions in good earnest. Moreover she was
English as he was, and royal likewise; a relation of Elfgiva, daughter of
Ethelred, once King of England, who, as all know, married Uchtred, prince
of Northumberland and grandfather of Gospatrick, Earl of Northumberland,
and ancestor of all the Dunbars. Between the English lad then and the
English maiden grew up in a few weeks an innocent friendship, which had
almost become more than friendship, through the intervention of the Fairy
For as Hereward was coming in one afternoon from hunting, hawk on fist,
with Martin Lightfoot trotting behind, crane and heron, duck and hare,
slung over his shoulder, on reaching the court-yard gates he was aware of
screams and shouts within, tumult and terror among man and beast. Hereward
tried to force his horse in at the gate. The beast stopped and turned,
snorting with fear; and no wonder; for in the midst of the court-yard
stood the Fairy Bear; his white mane bristled up till he seemed twice as
big as any of the sober brown bears which Hereward yet had seen: his long
snake neck and cruel visage wreathed about in search of prey. A dead
horse, its back broken by a single blow of the paw, and two or three
writhing dogs, showed that the beast had turned (like too many of his
human kindred) "Berserker." The court-yard was utterly empty: but from the
ladies' bower came shrieks and shouts, not only of women, but of men; and
knocking at the bower door, adding her screams to those inside, was a
little white figure, which Hereward recognized as Alftruda's. They had
barricaded themselves inside, leaving the child out; and now dared not
open the door, as the bear swung and rolled towards it, looking savagely
right and left for a fresh victim.
Hereward leaped from his horse, and, drawing his sword, rushed forward
with a shout which made the bear turn round.
He looked once back at the child; then round again at Hereward: and,
making up his mind to take the largest morsel first, made straight at him
with a growl which there was no mistaking.
He was within two paces; then he rose on his hind legs, a head and
shoulders taller than Hereward, and lifted the iron talons high in air.
Hereward knew that there was but one spot at which to strike; and he
struck true and strong, before the iron paw could fall, right on the
muzzle of the monster.
He heard the dull crash of the steel; he felt the sword jammed tight. He
shut his eyes for an instant, fearing lest, as in dreams, his blow had
come to naught; lest his sword had turned aside, or melted like water in
his hand, and the next moment would find him crushed to earth, blinded and
stunned. Something tugged at his sword. He opened his eyes, and saw the
huge carcass bend, reel, roll slowly over to one side dead, tearing out of
his hand the sword, which was firmly fixed into the skull.
Hereward stood awhile staring at the beast like a man astonished at what
he himself had done. He had had his first adventure, and he had conquered.
He was now a champion in his own right,--a hero of the heroes,--one who
might take rank, if he went on, beside Beowulf, Frotho, Ragnar Lodbrog, or
Harald Hardraade. He had done this deed. What was there after this which
he might not do? And he stood there in the fulness of his pride, defiant
of earth and heaven, while in his heart arose the thought of that old
Viking who cried, in the pride of his godlessness: "I never on earth met
him whom I feared, and why should I fear Him in heaven? If I met Odin, I
would fight with Odin. If Odin were the stronger, he would slay me; if I
were the stronger, I would slay him." And there he stood, staring, and
dreaming over renown to come,--a true pattern of the half-savage hero of
those rough times, capable of all vices except cowardice, and capable,
too, of all virtues save humility.
"Do you not see," said Martin Lightfoot's voice, close by, "that there is
a fair lady trying to thank you, while you are so rude or so proud that
you will not vouchsafe her one look?"
It was true. Little Alftruda had been clinging to him for five minutes
past. He took the child up in his arms and kissed her with pure kisses,
which for a moment softened his hard heart; then, setting her down, he
turned to Martin.
"I have done it, Martin."
"Yes, you have done it; I spied you. What will the old folks at home say
"What care I?"
Martin Lightfoot shook his head, and drew out his knife.
"What is that for?" said Hereward.
"When the master kills the game, the knave can but skin it. We may sleep
warm under this fur in many a cold night by sea and moor."
"Nay," said Hereward, laughing; "when the master kills the game he must
first carry it home. Let us take him and set him up against the bower door
there, to astonish the brave knights inside." And stooping down, he
attempted to lift the huge carcass; but in vain. At last, with Martin's
help, he got it fairly on his shoulders, and the two dragged their burden
to the bower and dashed it against the door, shouting with all their might
to those within to open it.
Windows, it must be remembered, were in those days so few and far between
that the folks inside had remained quite unaware of what was going on
The door was opened cautiously enough; and out looked, to the shame of
knighthood, be it said, two or three knights who had taken shelter in the
bower with the ladies. Whatever they were going to say the ladies
forestalled, for, rushing out across the prostrate bear, they overwhelmed
Hereward with praises, thanks, and, after the straightforward custom of
those days, with substantial kisses.
"You must be knighted at once," cried they. "You have knighted yourself by
that single blow."
"A pity, then," said one of the knights to the others, "that he had not
given that accolade to himself, instead of to the bear."
"Unless some means are found," said another, "of taking down this boy's
conceit, life will soon be not worth having here."
"Either he must take ship," said a third, "and look for adventures
elsewhere, or I must."
Martin Lightfoot heard those words; and knowing that envy and hatred, like
all other vices in those rough-hewn times, were apt to take very startling
and unmistakeable shapes, kept his eye accordingly on those three knights.
"He must be knighted,--he shall be knighted, as soon as Sir Gilbert comes
home," said all the ladies in chorus.
"I should be sorry to think," said Hereward, with the blundering mock
humility of a self-conceited boy, "that I had done anything worthy of such
an honor. I hope to win my spurs by greater feats than these."
A burst of laughter from the knights and gentlemen followed.
"How loud the young bantam crows after his first little scuffle!"
"Hark to him! What will he do next? Eat a dragon? Fly to the moon? Marry
the Sophy of Egypt's daughter?"
This last touched Hereward to the quick, for it was just what he thought
of doing; and his blood, heated enough already, beat quicker, as some one
cried, with the evident intent of picking a quarrel:
"That was meant for us. If the man who killed the bear has not earned
knighthood, what must we be, who have not killed him? You understand his