When consciousness came to my eyes again, everything around me was
altered and strange. The very air I drew in with my faint breaths had a
taste of the unknown about it, an impalpable something that was not
before, speaking of change and novelty. As for surroundings, it was only
dimly that any
fashioned themselves before those dull and sleepy eyes of mine that
hesitated, as they drowsily turned about, whether to pronounce this object
and that true material substance, or still the idle fantasy of dreams.
As time went on certainty developed out of doubt, and found myself
speculating on as strangely furnished a chamber as any one was ever in.
All round the wall hung the implements of many occupations in bunches
and knots. Here the rude tools of husbandry were laid aside, the mattock
and the flail; the woodman's ax and the neatherd's goad, just as though
they had been suspended on the wall by some invisible laborer after a
good day's work. Yonder were a sheaf of arrows and a stout bow
strangely shaped, a hunting-horn, and there again a long withy peeled for
fishing, and a broad rusty iron sword (that truly looked as if it had not
been used for some time) over against a leash for dogs and a herdsman's
cowl, with other strange things festooning the walls of this dim little place.
Among these possessions of some many-minded men were shelves, I
noted, with clay vessels of sorts upon them, and bunches of dried herbs
and roots and apples put by for the winter, and, more curious still, in the
safest niche away in the quietest corner were stored up in many tiers more
than a score of vellums and manuscripts, all neatly rolled and tagged with
colored ribboins, and wound in parchments and embroidered gold and
colored leathers, forming such a library of learning as only the very
studious could possess in those days. Beyond them were flaks and essences
and dried herbs, and ink-horns and sheafs of uncut reeds for writing, with
such other various items as astonished me by their incongruous
complexity and novelty.
All these lay in the shadows most commendable to my weakly eyes. As for
the center of the room, I now began to notice it was a brilliant golden haze,
a nebulous cloud of yellow light, to my enfeebled sense: without form or
meaning, whence emerged constantly a thin metallic hammering, as
though it might be some kindly invisible spirit were forging a golden idea
into a human hope behind that shining veil.
I shut my eyes for a minute or two to rest them, and then looked again.
The haze had now concentrated itself into a circle of light, radiating, as I
perceived, from a lamp hung from the low roof, and under that pale,
modest radiance, seated at a trestle table, was a venerable white-bearded
old man. Never so far, perhaps, in long centuries of intercourse with brave
but licentious peoples had a face like his been before
me. It was restful to look at, a new page in history it seemed, full of a peace
which had hitherto passed all understanding and dignity beyond
description or definition. Before him, on the board, was a brilliant mass of
shining white metal, and, as he eagerly bent over it, absorbed in his work,
his thin and scholarly hands wielding a chisel and a mallet, and obeying the
art that was in his soul, caused the rhythmed hammering I had noticed,
while they forced with loving zeal the bright chips and spiral flakes from
the splendid dazzling crucifix he was shaping
And all behind that lean and kindly anchorite the black shadows flickered
on the walls of his lonely cell, and his little fire of sticks burned dimly on
the open hearth, and the shining dust of his labor sparkled in his grizzly
beard as brightly as the reverent pleasure in his eyes while the symbol
before him took form and shape.
So pleasant was he to look upon, I. could have left him long undisturbed,
but presently a sigh involuntarily escaped me. Thereon, looking up for the
first time from his work, the recluse peered all round him into the recesses,
and, seeing nothing, fell to his task once more. Again I sighed, and then he
arose without emotion or fear, and stared intently into the shadows where
I lay. In vain I essayed to speak- -- my tongue clove to my mouth, and
naught but a husky rattle broke the stillness. At that sound he took down
the lamp and came forward, wonder and astonishment working in his
face; and when, as the light shone on me, with a great effort, my head was
turned to one side, even that placid monk started back and stood
trembling a little by the table.
But he soon mastered his weakness and advanced again, muttering, as he
did so, excitedly to himself, "He was right! He was right!" And when at last
my tongue was loosened, I said:
"Who was right, thou gray-bearded chiseler?"
"Who? Why, Alfred. Alfred, the son of Ethelwulf, the son of Egbert --
Alfred the great Thane of England!"
"One of your British princelings, I suppose," I muttered, huskily. "And
wherein was he so right?"
"He was right, oh, marvelous returner from the dim seas of the past, in
that he prophesied your return! To him you owe this shelter and
"All this may be so, my host;" I replied, beginning to feel more myself
again; "but it matters not. I fought a stubborn fight last night, and I was
carried away by a midnight torrent. If you have sheltered and dried me,
and" -- with a
sudden sinking of my voice -- "if you have protected the little maid I had
with me, then I am grateful to you, Alfred or no Alfred;" and I threw off a
mountain of moldy-seeming rags and coverlets and staggered up.
But that worthy monk was absolutely dumb with astonishment, and as I
tottered to my feet, holding out to him a gaunt, trembling hand, brown
with the dust of ages, and drunkenly reeled across his floor, he edged
away, while the long hair of his silvery head bristled with wonder.
"My son, my son!" he gasped at length, over the shining crucifix, "this is not
so; none of us know the beginning of that sleep you have slept, that night
of yours is of immeasurable antiquity. History has forgotten your very
battles, and your maid, I fear, has long since passed into common,
This was too much, and suddenly, overwhelmed by the tide of hot
Phoenician passion, I shook my fist in his face, and swearing in my bitter
Roman that he lied, that he was a grizzle-bearded villain with a heart as
black as his tongue, I staggered to the door-way, and, pushing wide the
hinges, tottered out on to a grassy promontory just as the primrose flush
of day was breaking over the hill-tops. There, holding on to a post, for my
legs were very weak and frail, and peering into the purple shadows, I lifted
my voice in anger and fear, and shouted in that green loneliness,
"Numidea! Numidea!" then waited with a beating heart until -- thin, sullen ,
derisive -- from the hills across the ravine came back the soulless response:
I could not believe it. I would not think they could not hear, and, stamping
in my impatience, "Electra!" I shouted, "Numidea! 'tis Phra -- Phra the
friendless who calls to you!" then again bent an ear to listen, until, from the
void shadows of the purple hills, through the pale vapors of the morning
mist, there came again in melancholy wise the answer:
"'Tis Phra, Phra the friendless who calls to you!" -- and I dropped my face
into my hands and bent my head and dimly knew then that I was
jettisoned once more on the shore of some unknown and distant time.
It was of no use to grieve; and when the kindly hand of the monk was
placed upon my shoulder I submitted to his will, and was led back to the
cell, and there he gave me to drink of a sweet, thin decoction that greatly
soothed these high-strung nerves.
Then many were the questions that studious man would
have me answer, and busy his wonder and awe at my assertions.
"What emperor rules here now?" I said, lying melancholy on my elbow on
"None, my son. There are no emperors but the sovereign pontiff now --
may St. Peter be his guide!"
"No emperor! Why, old man Honorius held sway in Rome that night I
went to sleep."
"Honorius!" said the monk, incredulously stopping his excited pacings to
stare at me; and he took down a portly tome of history and ran his fingers
over the leaves, until, about mid-way through the volume, they settled on
"Look! look! you marvelous man!" he cried; "all this was history before you
slumbered; and all this, nigh as much again, has been added while you
slept! Five hundred years of solid life! -- a thousand changing seasons has
the germ of existence been dormant in that mighty bulk of yours! Oh! 'tis
past belief, and had you not been my lodger for so long a time, though all
so short in comparison, I would not hear of it. "
"And how has the world spun all this period?" I said, with dense
persistence. "Who is consul now in Gaul? And are all my jolly friends of the
Tenth Legion still quartered where I left them?" -- and I mentioned the
name of the town by which Electra lived.
"I tell thee, youth," the priest replied, quite hotly, "there is no consul, there
are no legions. All your barbarous Romans are long since swept to hell,
and the noble Harold is here anointed King of Saxon England."
"I never heard of him," I said, coldly.
"Perhaps not, but, by the cowl of St. Dunstan! he flourishes nevertheless,"
responded my saintly entertainer.
"And is this Harold of yours successor to the other Thane, Alfred, whom
you describe as taking such a kindly interest in me?"
"Yes; but many generations separate them. It was the great Bretwalda you
have mentioned who, tradition says, once found you inanimate, yet living,
in a fisherman's hut where he sheltered one day from a storm, and, struck
by the marvel and the tale of the poor folk that their ancestors had long
ago dragged you from a swollen river in their nets, and that you
slumbered on without alteration or change from year to year from father
to son, there on your dusty shelf in their peat smoke and broken gear, he
bought and gave you to the holy prelate at the blessed cathedral of
Canterbury, whence you came a few months ago into my hands. All else
there is to
know, my strangely gifted son," the monk went on, "is locked in the
darkness of that long slumber, and such acts of your other life as your
vacant mind may recall."
This seemed a wonderful thing, very briefly told, but it was obviously all
there was to hear, and sufficient after a style. The old man said that, having
a mind for curiosities, and observing me once in danger of being broken
up as rubbish by careless hands, he had claimed me, and brought the
strange living mummy here to his cell "on the hill Senlac, by the narrow
"That, inscrutable one," he added, with a twinkle in his eye, "was only some
months ago, and the mess I made in my hut, in cleaning and wiping you
down, was wonderful. Yonder little stream you hear prattling in the valley
ran dusty for hours with your washings, and your form was one shapeless
bulk of cobwebs and dishonored wrappings. Many a time as I peeled from
you the alternate layers of peat smoke and rags with which generations of
neglect had shrouded that body, did I think to roll you into the valley as
you were, and see what proportions the weather and the crows would
make of it. But better counsels prevailed, and for seven days y on have
been free and daily rubbed with scented oils"'
I thanked him meekly, and hoped I had not been a reluctant patient.
"A more docile never breathed."
"Nor an expensive lodger afterward?"
"Never was there one more frugal, nor one who less criticised his
Then it was the good monk's turn, and his wise and kindly eyes sparkled
with pleasure and astonishment as I told him in gratitude such tales of the
early times -- drew for him such brilliant, fiery pictures on the dark
background of the past -- illumined and vivified his dry histories with the
colors of my awakening memory, and set all the withered puppets of his
chronicles a-dancing in the tinsel and the glitter of their actual lives, until,
over the lintel of his door-way and under the lappets of his roof, there
came the first thin, fine fingers of the morning sunshine, trickling into our
dim arena thronged thus with shadowy imagery, and playing lovingly
about the great silver crucifix that lay thus ablaze under it in the gloom.
Then I slept again for two days and two nights as lightly and happy as a
When I woke I was both hungry and well. Indeed, it was the scent of
breakfast that roused me. But, alas! the meal
was none of mine. The little table had been cleared, and on it, on clean
white napkins, were places for three or four people. There were wooden
platters with steel knives upon them, oaten loaves, groat wooden tankards
of wine and mead, with fish and fowl flesh in abundance. Surely my
entertainer was going to turn out a jolly fellow, now the night's vigils were
over. But as I speculated in my retired couch there fell the beat of marching
men, a clatter of arms outside, and a shouting of many voices in clamorous
welcome, the ringing of stirrup-irons and the champing of bits, and then,
to my infinite astonishment, in stalked as comely a man as I had ever seen,
and leading by the hand a fair, pale, black-haired girl, who looked jaded
and red in her eyes.
"There, my Adeliza," he said, "now dry those lashes of yours and cheer up.
What! A Norman girl like you, and weeping because two hosts stand faced
for battle! What will our Saxon maids say to these shining drops?"
"Oh, Harold!" the girl exclaimed, "it is not conflict I fear, or I would not
have come hither to you, braving your anger; but think of the luckless
chance that brings my father from Normandy in arms against my Saxon
love. Think of my fears, think how I dread that either side should win --
surely grief so complicated should claim pardon for these simple tears."
"Well, well," said he -- whom I, unobserved in the shadows, now
recognized as the English monarch himself -- "if we are bound to die, we
can but do so once, and at least we will breakfast first;" and down he sat,
signing the girl to get herself another stool in rough Saxon manner.
And a very good meal he made of it, putting away the toasted ortolans
and cheese, and waging war with his fingers and dagger upon all the
viands, washing them down with constant mighty droughts from the
wooden flagons, and this all in a jolly, light-hearted way that was very
captivating. :Ever and anon he called to the "churls " outside, who gave a
hasty order to his captains with his mouth full of meat and bread, or put
some dainty morsel into the idle fingers of his damsel, as though
breakfasting was the chief thing in life, and his kingdom were not tottering
to the martial tread of an invader.
but even gallant Harold, the last king of the Saxons, had finished presently,
and then donned his pointed casque and his flowing silken-filigreed cloak;
thrusting his whinger into his jeweled girdle, he threw his round steel
target on his back, then held out both his arms. Whether or not his
love, the reluctant seal of a broken promise, had always loved him, it is not
for me to say, but, woman-like, she loved him at the losing, and flew to
him and was infolded tight into his ample chest, and mixed her raven
tresses with his yellow English hair, and sobbed and clung to him, and
took and gave a hundred kisses, and was so sweet and tearful that my
inmost heart was moved.
When Harold had gone out, and when presently the clatter of arms and
shouting proved he was moving off to the field of eventful battle, Adeliza
the proud bowed her head upon the table, and abandoned herself to so
wild a grief that I was greatly impelled to rise and comfort her. But she
would not be consoled, even by the ministrations of two of her waiting-
maidens, who soon entered the place; and, seeing this, I took an
opportunity, when all three were blending their tears, to slip out into the
There I found my friendly Saxon monk in great tribulation, with a
fragment of vellum in his hand.
"Ah, my son," he said -- "the very man. Look here, the air is heavy with
event. Yonder, under the sheen of the sun, William of Normandy is
encamped with sixty thousand of his cruel adventurers, and there, down
there among the trees, you see the gallant Harold and his straggling array,
sorry and muddy with long marching, on the way to oppose them. But the
king has not half his force with him, nor a fourth as many as he needs.
Take this vellum, and, if you ever put a buskin in speed to the grass, run
now for the credit of England and for the sake of history -- run for that
ridge away there behind us, where you will find the good Earl of Mercia
and several thousand men encamped -- and, if not asleep, most probably
stuffing themselves with food and drink," he added, bitterly, under his
breath. "Give him this, and say Harold will not be persuaded, say that
unless the reserves march at once the fight will be fought without them --
and then I think Dane and Saxon will be chaff before the wind for
retribution Run! my son -- run for the good cause and for Saxon England!"
Without a word I took the vellum and crammed it into my bosom and
spun round on my heels and fled down the hillside, and breasted the dewy
tangles of fern and brambles, and glided through the thickets, and, flying
from ridge to ridge, and leaping and running as though the silver wings of
Mercury were on my heels, in an hour I dashed up the far hillside, and,
panting and exhausted, threw down the missive under the tawny beard of
the great earl himself.
That scion of Saxon royalty was, as the monk had foreseen,
absorbed the first meal of the day, but he was too much of a soldier,
though, like all his race, a desperate good trencherman, to let such a matter
as my errand grow cold, and no sooner had he read the scroll and put me
a shrewd question or two than the order went forth for his detachments to
arm and march at once. But only a captain of many fights knows how slow
reluctant troops can be in such case. Surely, I thought, as I stood by with
crossed arms watching the preparations -- it was none of my business to
help -- surely a nation, though gallant enough, which quits its breakfast
board so tardily, and takes such a perilous time to cross-garter its legs, and
buckle on its blades, and peak its beard, and lay out its baldric so nicely,
when the invader is on foot -- surely such a nation is ripe to the fall. And
these comely English troops were doubly weary this morning, for they
were fresh as one of them told me, from a hard fight in the far north of the
kingdom, where Harold had just overthrown and slain Hardrada, King of
Norway, and the unduteous Tosti, Harold's own brother. Less wonder,
then, I found them travel-stained and weary, no marvel for the once they
were so slow to my fatal invitation
It was noon before the English earl led off the van of his men, and an hour
later before I had seen the last of them out of the camp and followed
reflective in the rear -- a place that never yet sorted with my mood --
wondering, with the happy impartiality of my circumstance, whether it
were best this morning to be invader or invaded.
When we had gone a mile or two through the leafy tangles, a hush fell
upon the troop with which I rode, and then with a shout we burst into a
run, for up from the valley beyond came the unmistakable sound of
conflict and turmoil. We breasted the last ridge, I and two hundred men,
and there, suddenly emerging into the open, was the bloody valley of
Senlac beneath as, and the sunny autumn sea beyond, and at our feet, right
and left, the wail and glitter and dust of nearly finished battle -- Harold had
fought without us, and we saw the quick-coming forfeit he had to pay.
The unhappy Saxons down there on the pleasant grassy undulations and
among the yellow gorse and ling stood to it like warriors of good mettle;
but already the day was lost. The earl and his tardy troops had been
merged into the general catastrophe, and my handful could have been of
naught avail. The English army was broken and formless, galled by the
swarming Norman bowmen the twang of whose strings we could mark
even up here, and fiercely assailed by foot and horsemen. In the center
alone the English stood stubbornly
shoulder to shoulder around the peaked flag, at whose foot Harold himself
was grimly repelling the ceaseless onset of the foeman.
But alas for Harold! alas for the curly-headed son of Ethelwulf, and all the
princes and peers with him!
We saw a mighty mass of foreign cavalry creeping round the shoulder of
the hill, like the shadow of a rain-cloud upon a sunny landscape; we saw
the thousand gonfalons of the spoilers fluttering in the wind; we saw the
glitter on the great throng of northern chivalry that crowded after the
black charger of William of Normandy and the sacred flag -- accursed
ensign -- that Toustain held aloft; we saw their sweeping charge, and then
when it was passed, the battle was gone and done, the Saxon power was a
hundred little groups dying bravely in different corners of the field.
The men with me that luckless afternoon melted away into the woods, and
I turned my steps once more to the little hill above Senlac and my hermit's
There the ill news had been brought by a wounded soldier, and the
women were filling the evening air with cries and weeping. All that night
they wept and wailed, Harold's wife leading them, and when dawning
came nothing would serve but she must go and find her husband's body.
Much the good monk tried to dissuade her, but to no purpose, and,
swathing herself in a man's long cloak, with one fair maiden likewise
disguised, and me for a guide, before there was yet any light in the sky the
brave Norman girl set out.
And sorry was our errand and grim our success. The field of battle was
deserted, save of dead and dying men. on the dark wind of the night went
up to heaven from it a great fitful moan, as all the wounded groaned in
unison to their unseen miseries. Alas! those tender charges of mine had
never seen till now the harvest field of war laid out with its swathes of
dead and dying. Often they hesitated on that gloomy walk and hid their
faces as the fitful clouds drifted over the scene, and the changing light and
shadows seemed to put a struggling ghastly life into the heaps of mangled
corpses. Everywhere, as we threaded the mazes of destruction or stepped
unwitting in the darkness into pools of blood and mire, were dead
warriors in every shape and contortion, lying all asprawl, or piled up one
on top of another, or sleeping pleasantly in dreamless dissolution against
the red sides of stricken horses. And many were the pale, blood-
besmeared faces of princes and chiefs my white-faced ladies turned up to
the starlight, and many were the sodden yellow curls they lifted with icy
from the dead faces of thanes and franklins, until in an hour the Norman
girl, who had gone a little apart from us, suddenly stood still, and then up
to the clear, black vault of heaven there went such a clear, piercing shriek
as hushed even the very midnight sorrows of the battlefield itself.
The king was found!
And Editha the handmaiden, too, made her find presently, for there, over
the dead prince's feet, their left hands still clasping each as when they had
died, were her father and her two stalwart brothers.
Never did silenter courtiers than we six sit at a monarch's feet until the day
should break; and then we who lived covered the comely faces with the
hems of their Saxon tunics, and were away as fast as we could go to the
Norman camp, that the poor princess-girl might beg a trophy of her
We entered the camp without harm, but had to stand by until the
conqueror should leave his tent and enter the rough shelter that had
already been erected for him. Here, while we waited, a young knight,
guessing Editha's sex through her long cloak, roughly pulled down the
kerchief she was holding across her face. Whereupon I struck him so
heavily with my fist that for a minute he reeled back against the horse he
was leading, and then out came his falchion, and out came mine, and we
fell upon each other most heartily.
But before a dozen passes had been made the by-standers separated us
and at the same moment the Normans set up a shout, and the brand-new
English tyrant strode out of his tent, and, encircled by a glittering throng,
entered the open audience-hall. Adeliza dropped her white veil as he sat
himself down, and called to him, and ran to the foot of his chair, and wept
and knelt, so that even the stern son of Robert the Devil was moved, and
took her to him, and stroked her hair, and soothed and called her, in
Norman-French, his pretty daughter, and promised her the first boon she
could think of.
And that boon was the body of Harold Infelix.
Turn back the pages of history, and you will see that she had her wish, and
Waltham Abbey its kingly patron. (Exact historians say it was Harold's
mother who found his body upon the field of battle, and offered William
its weight in gold for it. But our narrator ought to know the truth better
than any of them.)
Meanwhile, a knight led the weeping princess away to her father's tent,
but when I and Editha would have followed, two iron-coated rogues
crossed their halberds in our path.
"Not so fast there, my bulky champion!" called William
the Bastard to me. "What is this I heard about your striking a Norman for
glancing at yonder silly Saxon wench? By St. Denis! your girls will have to
learn to be more lenient. Whence come you? What was your father's
"I hardly know," I said, without thinking.
"Ah! a too common ignorance nowadays!" sneered the conqueror, turning
to his laughing knights.
Whereon wrathfully I replied, "At least, my father never mistook, under
cover of the night, a serving-wench for a princess!"
The shaft took the soldier in a very tender spot, and his naturally sallow
countenance blanched slowly to a hideous yellow as a smile went round
the steel circle of his martial courtiers at my too telling answer. Yet even
then I could not but do his iron will justice for the stern resolution with
which the passion was restrained in that cold and cruel face, and when he
turned and spoke in the ear of his marshal standing near there was no
tremor of anger or compassion in the inflexible voice with which he
ordered me to be taken outside and hanged" to the nearest tree that will
bear him" in ten minutes.
"As for the Saxon wench -- Here, Des Omeux " -- turning to a grim villain in
steel harness at his side -- "this girl has a good fief, they say; she and it are
yours for the asking."
"My mighty liege," said the Norman, dropping on one knee, "never was a
gift more generously given. I will hold the land to your eternal service, and
make the maid free of my tent to-day, and to-morrow we will look up a
priest for the easing of her conscience."
Loudly the assembled soldiers laughed as Des Omeux pounced upon the
shrieking Editha and bore her out of one door, while, in spite of my fierce
struggles to get at him, I was hustled into the open from another.
They dragged me into a green avenue between the huts of the invaders'
camp while they went for a rope to hang me with. And as ~ stood thus
loosely guarded and waiting among them, down the Norman ravisher
came pacing toward us on his war-horse, bound toward his tent, with my
white Saxon flower fast gripped in front of him.
Oh, but he was proud to think himself possessed of a slice of fair English
soil so easily, and to have his courtship made so simple for him, and he
looked this way and that, with an accursed grin upon his face, no more
heeding the tears and struggles of his victim than the falcon cares for the
stricken pigeon's throes. When they came opposite to us Editha saw
me and threw out her hands and shrieked to me, and, when I turned away
my eyes and did not move, surely it seemed as though her heart would
Three more paces the war-horse made, and then, with the spring of a
leopard thirsting for blood, I was alongside of him, another bound and I
was on the crupper behind, and there, quicker than thought, quicker than
the lightning strikes down the pine-tree, I had lifted the Norman's steel
shoulder-plate, and stabbed him with my long keen dagger so fiercely in
the back that the point came out under his mid-rib, and the red blood
spurted to his horse's ears. Quicker, too, than it takes to tell I had gripped
the maiden from the spoiler's dying hands, and, pushing his bloody body
from the saddle, had thrown my own legs over the crescent peak, and
before the gaping scullion soldiers comprehended my bold stroke for
freedom I had turned the horse's head and was thundering through the
camp toward the free green woods beyond.
And we reached them safely; a rascal or two let fly their cross-bows at us
as we flew by, and I heard the bolts hum merrily past my ears, but they
did no harm; and there was mounting and galloping and shouting, but the
mailed Normans were wonderfully slow in their stirrups! I laughed to see
them scrambling and struggling into their seats, two or three men to every
warrior who got safely up, and we soon left them far behind. Down into
the dip we rode, my good horse spurning in his stride the still fresh bodies
of yesterday's fighters, and spinning the empty helmets, and clattering
through all the broken litter of the bitter contest, until we swept up the
inland slopes into the stunted birch and hazels, and then -- turning for a
moment to shake my fist at the nearest of the distant Normans -- I headed
into the leafy shelter, and was speedily free from all chance of pursuit.
Then, and not before, was there time to take a glance at my beautiful prize,
lying so gentle and light upon my breast. Alas! every tint of color had gone
from her fair features, and she lay there in my arms, fainting and pulseless.
I loosened her neck-scarf. "So!" I said, "fair Saxon blossom, this is destiny,
and you and I are henceforth to be joined together by the wondrous links
of fate" -- and, stooping down as we paced through the pleasant green-
and-white flicker of the silent wood, I indorsed the immutable will of
chance with a kiss upon her forehead.
Presently she recovered, and all that day we rode forward through the
endless vistas of the southern woods by bridle tracks and swine paths,
until at nightfall, far from other
shelters, we halted among the rocks and hollows of a little eminence. No
doubt my gentle comrade would have preferred a more peopled
habitation, but there was none in all that mighty wilderness; so she, like a
wise girl, submitted without complaint to that which she could not avoid.
There is naught much to tell you of this evening, but it lives forever in my
memory for one particular which consorted strangely with the thoughts
the flight with and rescue of Editha had aroused. I had found her a roomy
hollow in the rocks, and there had cut with my dagger and made a bed of
rushes, built a fire, and got her some roots to eat, and when darkness fell
we talked for a time by the cheerful blaze.
Without surprise I heard that, though true Saxon in name and face, there
was some British blood in her veins -- a fact, indeed, of which I had been
certain without her assurance. Then she went on to tell, with tearful
pauses, of the home and broad lands of which she was now lady
paramount as well as of the gallant kinsman lying out yonder dead in the
night-dew, and wept and sighed in gentle melancholy, yet without the
wild, inconsolable grief latter times have taught to women, until presently
those tearful blue eyes grew heavier and heavier, and the shapely chin
dropped in grief and weariness upon her white breast, and Editha of
Voewood slept in the hands of the stranger.
Then I went out and looked at the blackness of the night. Over the somber
forest the shadowy pall of the evening was spread, and a thousand stars
gleamed brightly on every hand. Very still and strange was that unbroken
fastness after the red turmoil of yesterday, with nothing disturbing the
silence but the cry of an owl to its mate across the coppices, the tinkle of a
falling streamlet, and now and then the long, hungry howling of a wolf, or,
nearer by, the sharp barking of the foxes. I fed my horse, then went in and
pulled the fire together, and fell a-ruminating, my chin on my hands, upon
a hundred episodes of happiness and fear.
"Oh, strange eternal powers who set the goings and comings of humanity,
what is the meaning of this wild riddle you are reading me?" I said,
presently, aloud to myself. "Oh! Hapi and Amenti, dark goddesses of the
Egyptians -- oh! Atropos, Lachesis, Clotho, fatal sisters whom the Romans
dread -- Mista, Skogula, Zernebock, of these dark Saxon shadows -- why
am I thus chosen for this uncertain immortality, when will this long drama,
this changeful history of my being, end?"
As I muttered thus to myself I glanced at the white girl
sleeping in the ruddy blaze, and saw her chest heave, and then -- strange
to tell, stranger to hear -- with a sound like the whisper of a distant sea her
lids parted, and there came unmistakably the word:
Perhaps she was but dreaming of that amorous Norman's fierce proposals,
and so again I mused.
"Is it possible some unfinished spell of that red high-priestess of the Druids
plays this sport with me? Is it possible Blodwen's abiding affection --
stronger than time and changes -- accompanies me from age to age in
these her sweet embassadors forever crossing my path? Tell me, you
comely sleeper; tell me your embassy, which is it that lasts longest, life or
Slowly again, to my surprise, those lips were parted, and across the silent
cavern came, beyond mistake or question, the word:
At this very echo of my thoughts I stared hard at her who answered so
appropriately, but there could be no doubt Editha was asleep with an
unusually deep and perfect forgetfulness, and when I had assured myself
of this it was only possible for me to suppose those whispered words were
some delusion, the echo of my questioning.
Again I brooded, and then presently looked up, and there -- by Thor and
Odin, 'twas as I write it! -- between me and the bare earth and tangled
rootlets of the cavern side, over against the fitful sparkle of the fire, was a
thin impalpable form that oscillated gently to the draughts creeping along
the floor, and grew taller and taller, and took mortal air and shape, and
rose out of nebulous indistinctness into a fine ethereal substance, and was
clothed and visaged by the concentration of its impalpable material, and
there at last, smiling and gentle, in the flicker of the camp-fire, the gray
shadow of my British princess stood before me!
That man was never brave who has not feared, and then for a moment I
feared, leaping to my feet and staggering back against the wall under the
terrible sweetness of those eyes that burned into my being with a
relentless fire that I could not have shunned if I would, and would not if I
could. For some time I was thus motionless and fascinated, and then the
gentle shadow, who had been regarding me intently, appeared to perceive
the cause of my inthrallment, and, lifting a shapely arm of lavender-
colored essence for a minute, veiled the terrible bewitchment of her face.
Shrewd, observant shadow!
As she did so I was myself again -- my blood welled into mg empty veins,
my heart knocked fiercely at my ribs, and when Blodwen lowered her
hand there seemed to me endless enchantment but nothing dreadful in the
glance of kindly wonder with which her eyes met mine.
Surely it was as strange an encounter as ever there had been -- the little
rocky recess all ruddy and shadowy in the dancing flames; the silent white
Saxon girl there on the heaped-up rushes, her breast heaving like a
summer sea with a long, smooth undulation, and I against the stones, one
hand on my dagger and the other outspread fearful on the wall, scarce
knowing whether I were brave or not, while over against the eddying
smoke -- calm, passive, happy, immutable, was that winsome presence,
shining in our dusky shelter with a tender violet light, such as was never
kindled by mortal means.
When I found voice to speak I poured forth my longings and pent-up spirit
in many a reckless question, but to all of them the princess made no
answer. Then I spread my arms and thought to grasp her, and ever as they
nearly closed upon her she moved backward, now here and now there,
mocking my foolish hope and passing impalpable over the floor, always
gentle and compassionate, until the uselessness of the pursuit at last
dawned upon me, and I stood irresolute.
I little doubt that immaterial immortal would have mustered courage or
strength to speak to me presently, but the sleeping girl sighed heavily at
this moment and seemed so ill at ease that, without a thought, I turned to
look at her. When my eyes sought the opposite side of the fire again the
presence was not half herself: under my very glance she was being
absorbed once more by the dusky air. To let her go like that was all against
my will, and, leaping to those printless feet, "Princess! Wife!" I called, "stay
another moment!" and as I said it I swept my arms round the last vestige
of her airy kirtle, and drew into my bosom an armful of empty air!
She had gone, and not a sign was left--not a palm's-breadth of that lovely
sheen shone against the wall as I arose ashamed from my knee and
noticed Editha was awaking.
"My kind protector," said that damsel, "I have been feeling so strange -- not
dreaming quite, but feeling as though some one were borrowing existence
of me, yet leaving in my body the blood and pulse of life. Now how can
this be? I must surely have been very tired yesterday."
"No doubt you were, fair franklin," I answered. "Yesterday was such a day
as well excuses your weakness. Sleep
again, and when the sun rises in an hour you shall rise with it as fresh as
any of the little birds that already preen themselves." So she slept -- and
presently I too.
All the next day we rode on through endless glades and briery paths
toward Editha's home, and as we went, I afoot and she meekly perched
upon our mighty Norman charger, I wooed her with a brevity which the
times excused, and poured my nimble lover-wit into ears accustomed only
to the sluggish flattery of woodland thanes and princely swineherds. And
first she blushed and would not listen, and then she sighed and switched
the low wet boughs of oak and hazel as we passed along, and then she let
me say my say with downcast, averted eyes, and a sweet reluctance which
told me I might stoutly push the siege.
As we went we picked up now and then a straggling soldier or two from
the fight behind us, and now and then a petty chieftain joined us, until
presently we wound through the brachen toward Voewood a very goodly
Editha had got a palfrey and I my horse again; but as she neared her home
the thought of its desolation weighed heavier and heavier upon her tender
nature. She would not eat and would not speak, and at last took her to
crying, and so cried until we saw, aglint through the oak-stems, a very fair
homestead and ample, with broad lands around, and kine and deer about
it, and all that could make it fair and pleasant. This was her Voewood; and
when the servants came running to meet us (knowing nothing of the fight
or its results, and thinking we were their master and his sons come again)
with waving caps and shouts of pleasure, it was too much for the
overwrought girl. She threw up her white hands, and, with a cry of pain
and grief, slipped fainting from her palfrey before us all.
Then might you have seen a score of saddles featly emptied to the service
of the heiress! Down jumped Offa and Dane, whose unchanged doublet
was still red to his chin with mud and Norman gore. Down jumped Edred
and Egbert, those black-eyed brothers who had left their lands by the
northern sea a month ago to follow Harold's luckless banner; Torquil the
Grim, and Wulfhere of the White Beard. sprung to the ground; and Clywin
the fair Welsh princeling, and his shadow, Idwal ap Cynan, the harper
warrior, vaulted to their feet, spent and battle-weary as they were, with
many another. But, lighter and quicker than any of them, Phra the
Phoenician had leaped to earth, and stood there astride of the senseless
girl, his hand upon his dagger-hilt, and scowling round
that soldier-circle, wrathful to think that any other but he should touch her!
Then he took her up, as if it were a mother with a sleeping babe, and the
serfs uncapped and stood back on either hand, and the grim warriors fell
in behind, and so Editha came home, her loose arms hanging down and
her long bright hair all adrift over the broad shoulders of the strangest,
most many-adventured soldier in that motley band.
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