In the days that followed it seemed the cruse of contentment would never
run dry, and I, foolish I, thought angry destiny had misled me, and that
these green Saxon glades were to witness the final ending of my story.
Vain hope, illusive expectation The hand of fate was even then raised to
In that pleasant harborage, outside the ken of ambition, and beyond the
limits of avarice, surrounded by almost impenetrable mazes of forest land,
life was delightful indeed. The sun shone yellow and big in those early
days upon our oak-crowned hillocks -- sometimes I doubt if it is ever so
warm and ruddy now -- and December storms told mightily in praise of
the great yule fires wherewith we defied the winter cold. In the summer-
time, when the sunny Saxon orchards sheltered
the herds of kine in their flickering shadows, and the great drove of black
swine lay a-basking among the ferns on the distant hangers, we lived
more out-of-doors than in. Editha then would bring out under the oaks the
little ruddy. cheeked Gurth, and set him upon my knee, that I might cut
him reed whistles or bows and arrows, while the flaxen-haired Agitha
played about her mother, turning her pretty prattle to the merry clatter of
the distaff and the wheel.
In the winter the blaze that went leaping and crackling from our hearth-
stone shone golden upon the hair of those little ones as they sat wide-eyed
by me, and saw among the ruddy embers the white horse of Hengist and
the banner of his brother winning these fertile vales for a noble Saxon
realm. Never was there a better Saxon than I! And when I told of Harold,
and softened to those tender ears the story of his dying, the bright drops
of sympathy stood in my small maiden's eyes, while Gurth's flashed
hatred of the false Norman and scorn of foreign tyrants. Under such
circumstances it will readily be understood that I ought to have had little
wish to draw weapons again or bestride the good charger growing so
gross and sleek in his stall all this long peace-time.
And yet the silken meshes of felicity were irksome against all reason, and I
would grow weary of so much good-fortune, finding my pretty deckings
and raiment heavier -- more burdensome wear -- than ever was martial
harness. My fair Saxon wife noticed these moods and strove to mend
them. She would take me out to the hawking, were I never so gloomy,
and then I would envy the wild haggards of the rocks who got their living
from day to day in the free midair, and asked no favor of either gods or
men. Or, perhaps, she would make revelries upon the level green before
her homestead, and thither would come all the fools and peddlers, all the
bear-baiters, somersaulters, and wrestlers of the shire. But I was not to be
pleasured so, and I slew the bear in single combat, and tossed, vindictive,
the somersaulters over the hucksters' stalls, and broke the ribs in the
wrestlers' sides -- till none would play with me, and all the people
murmured. Then, of a night, Editha got the best gleemen in Mercia to sing
to me, and when they sung of peace, and sheep and orchards, or each
praised his leman's moonlike eyes and slender middles, I would not listen.
Nor was it better when they tuned their strings to martial ditties, for that
doubled my malady, since then their rhyming stirred my soul to new
unrest, making worse that which they sought to cure.
I sometimes think it was all this to-do which brought Voewood
under Norman notice. But, perhaps, it was the slow and steady advance of
the invaders' power percolating like a rising tide into all the recesses of the
land which drew us into the fatal circle of the despoilers, and not my
waywardness. Be this as it may, the result was the same.
Over to the northward, a score of miles away, where the great road ran
east, we heard from wandering strollers the Normans were passing daily.
Then, later, there came in the news-budget of a Flemish peddler tidings
that the hungry foreigners had licked up all the fat meadows around the
nearest town, had hung its alderman over the walls, and built a tower and
dungeon (after their wont) in the middle of it. Yes! and these messengers
of ill omen said there were left no men of note or Saxon blood to uphold
the English cause -- there was no proper speech in England but the
Norman -- there was no way of wearing a tunic but the Norman -- nothing
now to swear by but by Our Lady of Tours and Holy St. Bridget -- all
Saxon wives were in danger of kissing -- and all Saxon abbots were
become barefooted monks!
Never was a country turned inside out so soon or quietly; and as I looked
over our wide, fair meadows, and upon my sweet girl and her flaxen little
ones, and thought how already for her I had risked my life, I could not
help wondering how soon I might have to venture it again.
On apace came the outer conquest into our inner peace. Towns and burghs
went down, and the hungry flames of lust and avarice fed upon what they
destroyed. All the vales and hills the swords of Hengist and Horsa had
won, and baptized with foemen's blood, in the mighty names of old
Norsemen and Valhalla, were being christened anew to suit a mincing,
latter tongue. Thane and franklin uncapped them at the road-side to these
steel-bound swarms of ruthless spoilers, and nothing was sacred, neither
deed nor covenant, neither having nor holding, which ran counter to the
wishes of the western scourges of our English weakness.
When I thought of all this I was extraordinarily ill at ease, and, before I
could settle upon how best to meet the danger, it came upon us, and we
were overwhelmed. Briefly, it was thus: About twelve years after the
battle where Harold had died, the Norman leader had, we heard, taken it
into his head to poll us like cattle, to find the sum and total of our fens and
lands, our serfs and orchards, and even of our very selves! Now, few of us
Saxons but felt this was a certain scheme to tax and oppress us even more
severely than the people had been oppressed in the time of St. Dunstan.
Besides this, our
free spirits rose in scorn of being counted and weighed and mulcted by
plebeian emissaries of the usurper, so we murmured loud and long.
And those thanes who complained the bitterest were hanged by the
divisive Normans on their own kitchen beams -- on the very same hooks
where they cured their mighty sides of pork -- while those who complied
but falsely with the assessor's commands were robbed of wife and
heritage, children and lands, and shackled with the brass collar of serfdom,
or turned out to beg their living by the wayside and sue the charity of their
own dependents. Whether we would thus be hanged or outcast, or
whether we would humble us to this hateful need, writing ourselves and
our serfs down in the great "Doom's-day" book, all had to choose.
For my part, after much debating, and for the sake of those who looked to
me, I had determined to do what was required -- and then, if it might be,
to bring all the Saxon gentlemen together -- to raise these English shires
upon the Normans, and with fire and sword revoke our abominable
indenture of thralldom. But, alas, my hasty temper and my inability to
stomach an affront in any guise undid my good resolutions
Well, this mighty book was being compiled far and wide, we heard, in
every shire; there were some men of good standing base enough to
countenance it, and, taking the name of the king's justiciaries, they got
together shorn monks -- shaveling rascals who did the writing and
computing -- with reeves hungry for their masters' woodlands, and many
other lean forsworn villains. This jury of miscreants went round from hall
to hall, from manor to manor, with their scrips and pens and parchment,
until all the land was being gathered into the avaricious Norman's tax-roll.
They cast their greedy eyes at last on sunny, sleepy Voewood, though,
indeed, I had implored every deity, old or new, I could recall, that they
might overlook it; and one day their hireling train of two score pikemen
came ambling down the glades with a fat abbot -- a Norman rascal -- at
their head, and pulled up at our door-way.
"Halloo, there!" says the monk, "whose house is this?"
"Mine," I said, gruffly, with a secret fancy that there would be some heads
broken before the census was completed.
"And who are you?"
"The Master of Voewood."
"Well, you are not over-civil, anyhow, my Saxon churl," said the man of
scrolls and goose-quills.
"Frankly," I answered. "Sir Monk, the smaller civility you look for from me
to-day the less likely you are to be disappointed. Out with that infernal
catechism of yours, and have done, and move your black shadows from
At this the clerk shrugged his shoulders -- no doubt he did not look to be a
very welcome guest -- and coughed and spit, and then unfurled in our free
sunshine a great roll of questions, and forthwith proceeded to expound
them in bastard Latin, smacking of moldy cathedral cells and cloister
"Now, mark me, Sir Voewood, and afterward answer truly in everything.
Here, first, I will read you the declaration of your neighbor, the worthy
thane Sewin, in order that you may see how the matter should go, and
then afterward I will question you yourself," and, taking a parchment from
a junior, he begun "Here is what Sewin told us: 'Rex tend in Dominio
Sohurst; de firma Regis Edwardi fuit. Tune se defendebat pro 17 Hidis; nihil
geldaverunt. Terra est 16 Carucatae; in Dominio sunt 2oe Curacatae, and
24 Villani, and 10 Bordarij cum 20 Carucis. Ibi Eclesia quam Willelmus tenet
de Rege cum dimidia Hida in Elemosina. Silva 40 Porcorum et ipsa est in
parco Regis --'"
But hardly had my friend got so far as this in displaying the domesticity of
Sewin the thane, when there broke a loud uproar from the rear of
Voewood, and the tripping Latin came to a sudden halt as there emerged
in sight a rabble of Saxon peasants and Norman prickers freely exchanging
buffets. In the midst of them was our bailiff, a very stalwart fellow, hauling
along and beating as he came a luckless soldier in the foreign garb just
then so detestable to our eyes.
"Why," I said, "what may all this be about? What has the fellow done, Sven,
that your Saxon cudgel makes such friends with his Norman cape?"
"What? why, the graceless yonker, not content with bursting open the
buttery door and setting all these scullion men at-arms drinking my lady's
ale and rioting among her stores, must needs harry the maidens, scaring
them out of their wits, and putting the whole place in all uproar! As I am
an honest man, there has been more good ale spilled this half hour, more
pottery broken, more linen torn, more roasts upset, more maids set
screaming, than since the Danes last came round this way and pillaged us
from roof to cellar!"'
"Why, you fat Saxon porker!" cried the leader of the troops, pushing to the
front, "what are you good for but for pillage?"
"Drunken serf! And if it were not for the politic heart of yonder king, I and
mine would make you and yours sigh again for your Danish ravishers,
looking back from our mastery to their red fury with sickly longing! Out
on you! Unhand the youth, or, by St. Bridget! there will be a fat carcass for
your crows to peck at!" and he put his hand upon his dagger.
Thereon I stepped between them, and, touching my jeweled belt, said,
"Fair sir, I think the youth has had no less than his deserts, and as for the
Yoewood crows, they like Norman carrion even better than Saxon flesh."
The soldier frowned, as well he might, at my retort, but before we could
draw, as assuredly we would have done, the monk pushed in between us,
and the athelings of the commission, who had orders to carry out their
work with peace and dispatch as long as that were possible, quieted their
unruly rabble, and presently a muttering, surly order was restored
between the glowering crowds.
"Now," said the scribe, propitiatingly, anxious to got through with his task,
"you have heard how amiably Sewin answered. Of you I will ask a
question or two in Saxon since, likely enough, you do not know the
blessed Latin." (By the soul of Hengist, though, I knew it before the stones
of that confessor's ancient monastery were hewn from their native rock!)
"Answer truly, and all shall be well with you. First, then, how much land
But I could not stand it. My spleen was roused against these braggart
bullies, and, throwing discretion to the wind, I burst out, "Just so much as
serves to keep me and mine in summer and winter."
"And how many plows?"
"So many as need to till our corn-lands."
"Rude boar!" said the monk, backing off into the group of his friends, and
frowning from that vantage in his turn. "How many serfs acknowledge
your surly leadership?"
"Just so many," I said, boiling over, "as can work the plows and reap the
corn, and keep the land from greedy foreign clutches. There, put up your
scroll and begone. I will not answer you. I will not say how many pigeons
there are in our dove-cotes, how many fowls roost upon their perches,
how many earthen pots we have, or how many maids to scrub them. Get
you back to the conqueror: tell him I deride and laugh at him for the
second time. Say I have lived a longish life, and I never yet saw the light of
that day when I profited by humility. Say I, the smart stranger who
his ruffian courtier and galloped away with the white maid, Editha of
Voewood -- I, who plucked that flower from the very saddle-bow of his
favorite, and thundered derisive through his first camp there on the
eastern downs -- say, even I will find a way to keep and wear her in scorn
of all that he can do. Out with you -- begone!"
And they went, for I was clearly in no mood to be dallied with, while
behind me the serfs and vassals were now mustering strongly, an angry
array, armed with such weapons as they could snatch up in their haste, and
wanting but a word or look to fall upon the little band of assessors and
slay them us they stood. Thus we won that hour -- and many a long day
had we to regret the victory.
My luck was against me that time. I hoped, so far as there was any hope or
reason in my thoughtless anger, to have had a space to rouse the
neighboring thanes and their vassals upon these our tyrants, and I had
dreamed, so combustible was the country just then, somehow perhaps the
flame would have spread far and wide. I saw that abominable thing,
Rebellion, for once linked hand in hand with her sweet rival, Patriotism; I
saw the red flames of vengeance in the quarrel I had made my own
sweeping through the land and lapping up with its hundred tongues every
evidence of the spoilers! Yes; and even I had fancied that, and there were
no true Saxon princes for our English throne, there was still Editha, my
wife; and if there were no swords left to fence a throne so filled, yet there
was the sword of Phra the Phoenician! Vain fantasy. The faces of the Fates
Those hateful inquisitors had not gone many hours' journey northward,
when, as ill-luck would have it, they fell in with a Norman captain, Godfrey
de Boville, and two hundred men-at-arms, marching to garrison a western
city. To these they told their tale, and, ever ready for pillage and
bloodshed, the band halted, and then turned into the woodlands where we
had our lair.
The sun was low that afternoon when an affrighted herdsman came
running in to me with the news that he knew not how many soldiers were
in the glades beyond. And before he could get his breath or quite tell his
hasty message their prickers came out of the wood -- the gallant Norman
array (whose glitter has since grown dearer to me than the shine of a
mistress's eyes) rode from under our oak-trees; their banners and
bannerets fluttered upon the evening wind; their trumpets brayed until
our very rafters echoed to that warlike sound; the level twilight rays
flashed back from those serried ranks
and the steel panoply of the warriors in as goodly a martial show as ever,
to that day, I had seen.
What need I tell you of the negotiations which followed while this silver
cloud, charged with ruin and cruelty, hung on the dusky velvet side of the
twilight hill above us? What need be said of how I swore between my
teeth at the chance which had brought this swarm hither in a day rather
than in the week I had hoped for, or how my heart burned with
smothered anger and pride when we had to tamely answer their haughty
summons to unconditional surrender?
Yet by one saving clause they did not attack us at once. Only to me was it
clear how utterly impossible was it with a few rugged serfs at my
command to defend even for one single onset that great straggling house
against their overwhelming force. To them our strength was quite
unknown: this and the gathering darkness tempted the Norman to put off
the attack until the daylight came again, and the respite was our saving. It
was not a saving upon which I wish to dwell long, for 'twas no more
glorious than the retreat of a wolf from his hiding-place when the
shepherds fire the brake behind him.
All along the edge of the hill their watch-fires presently twinkled out, and
as Editha and Sven the Strong came to me in gloomy conference upon the
turret we could see the soldiers pass now and again before the blaze, we
could hear their laughter and the snatches of their drinking-song, the
hoarse cry of the wardens, and the champing and whinny of the chargers
picketed under the starlight in lines upon our free Saxon turf. And for Sven
and all his good comrade hinds we knew to-morrow would bring the
riveting of new and heavier collars than any they had worn as yet. For me
and my contumacy, though I feared it not, there could be naught but the
swift absolution of a Norman sword; while for her -- for her, that gentle,
stately lady, to whose pale sweetness my rough, unworthy pen can do no
sort of justice -- there was nameless degradation and half a wandering
The serf suggested with his rugged northern valor we should set light to
the hall, and, with the women and children in our midst, sally out and cut a
way to freedom, and I knew the path he would choose would have been
through the hostile camp. But his lady suggested better. She proposed
both hind and bondsmen should steal away in the darkness. and, since
valor here was hopeless, disperse over the country-side, and there, secure
in their humbleness, await our future returning. We, on the other hand,
would follow them through
the friendly shadows that lay deep and nigh to the house on the
unguarded side, and then turn us to a monastery some few miles away,
where, if we could reach it, in sanctuary and the care of one of the few
remaining Saxon abbots, we might bide our chance, or at least make terms
with our conquerors.
So it was settled, and soon I had all those kind, shaggy villains in the
dining-hall, standing there uncapped upon the rushes in the torch-light,
and listening in melancholy silence to the plan, and then presently, with the
dispatch our situation needed, they were slipping in twos and threes out of
the little rearward portal and slinking off to the thickets.
Presently our turn came, and as I stood gloomy and stern in that noiseless,
empty hall that was wont to be so bright and noisy, fingering my itching
dagger and scowling out of the lattice upon the red gleam in the night air
hanging over the Norman camp-fires, there came the fall of my wife's feet
upon the stairway. In either hand she had a baby, swaddled close up
against the night air, and naught but their bright wonder-brimming eyes
showing as she hugged them tight against her sides. For them, for them
alone, the frown gave way, and I stooped to that escape. We crept away,
and Editha's heart was torn at leaving thus the hall where she had been
born and reared, and when, presently, in the shadows of the crowded
oaks, she found all her slaves and bondsmen in a knot to wish her farewell,
the tears that had been brooding long overflowed unrestrainedly.
Even I, who had dwelt among them but a space on my way from the
further world of history toward the unknown future could not but be
moved by their uncouth love and loyalty There were men there who had
stood in arms with her father when the cruel Danes had ravished these
valleys for a score of miles inland, and some who had grown with her in
the goodly love and faith of thane and servitor as long as she herself had
lived. These rugged fellows wept like children, called me father, hlafod,
"bread-bestower," and pressed upon her in silent sorrow, kissing her hands
and the hem of her robe, and taking the little ones from her arms, and
pressing their rude unshaven faces to their rosebud cheeks until I feared
that Gurth or Agitha might cry out, or some wail from that secret scene of
sorrow would catch the ears of our watchful foemen.
So, as gently as might be, I parted the weeping mistress and her
bondsmen, and set her upon a good horse Sven had stolen from the
paddock, and, springing into the saddle of my own strong charger, gave
my broad jeweled belt to the Saxon that he might divide it among his
comrades, and, taking a
long tough spear from his faithful hand, turned northward with Editha
upon our dangerous journey.
We stole along as quietly as might be for some distance in safety, riding
where the moss was deepest and the shadows thick, and then, just when
we were at the nearest to the Norman camp in the curve we were making
toward the monastery beyond, those ill-conditioned invaders set up their
evening trumpet-call. As the shrill notes came down into the dim starlight
glade, strong, clear, and martial in the evening quiet, they thrilled that
gallant old charger I had borrowed from the camp at Hastings down to his
inmost warlike fiber. He recognized the familiar sound -- mayhap it was
the very trumpet-call which had been fodder and stable to him for years --
and, with ears pricked forward and feet that beat the dewy turf in union to
his pleasure, he whinnied loud and long!
Nothing it availed me to smite my hand upon my breast at this deadly
betrayal, or lay a warning finger upon his brave, unwitting, velvet nozzle.
Luckless, accursed horse, the mischief was done! But yet, I will not abuse
him, for the grass grows green over his strong, sleek limbs, and right well
that night he amended his error. Hardly had his neigh gone into the
stillness when the chargers in the camp answered it, and in a moment the
men-at-arms and squires by the nearest fire were all on foot, and in
another they had espied us and set up a shout that woke the ready camp in
There was small time to think. I clapped my hand upon Editha's bridle rein
and gave my own a shake, and away we went across the chequered
moonlight glade. But so close had we been that a bowstring or two
hummed in the Norman tents, and before we were fairly started I heard
the rustle of the shafts in the leaves overhead. It was more than arrows we
had to dread, and, turning my head for a moment ere we plunged again
into dark vistas of the forest road, there, sure enough, was the pursuit
streaming out after us, and gallant squires and knights tumbling into their
saddles and shouting and cheering as they came galloping and glittering
down behind us -- a very pretty show, but a dangerous one.
By the souls of St. Dunstan and his forty monks! but I could have enjoyed
that midnight ride had it not been for the pale, brave rider at my side, and
the little ones that lay fearfully a-nestling on our saddle-bows. For hours
the swift, keen gallop of our horses swallowed the unseen ground in
tireless rhythm -- all through the night field and coppice and hanger swept
by us as we passed from glade to glade and woodland to
woodland -- now 'twas a lonely forester's hut that shone for a moment in
ghostly whiteness between the tree-sterns with the night-shine on its
lifeless face, and anon we sped through droves of Saxon swine, sleeping
upon the road-way under their oak-trees, round a muffled swineherd. And
the great forest stags stayed the fraying of their antlers against the tree
trunks in the dark coppices as we flew by, and the started wolf yelped and
snarled upon our path as our fleeting shadows o'ertook him; and then,
there, ever behind, low, remorseless, stern, came the murmuring hoof-
beats of our pursuers, now rising and now falling upon the light breath of
the night wind, but ever, as our panting steeds strode shorter and shorter,
coming nearer and nearer, clearer and clearer.
Had this somber race, whereof Death held the stakes, continued so as it
began, straight on end, I do not think we could have got away. But when
we had ridden many an hour, and the heavy streaks of white foam were
marking Editha's horse with dreadful suggestion, and his breath was
corning hot and husky through his wide red nostrils, for a moment or two
the sound of the pursuers stopped. Blessed respite! They had missed the
woodland road -- but for all too short a space. We had hardly made good
four or five hundred yards of advantage, when, terribly near to us,
sounded the call of one of their horsemen, and soon all the others were in
his footsteps again. This one, he who now led the pursuers by, perhaps, a
quarter of a mile, gained on us stride by stride, until I could stand the thud
of his horse-hoofs on the turf behind no more. "Here!" I said, fiercely, to
:Editha, "take Gurth," and put him with his sister in her arms; then, bidding
them ride slowly forward, turned my good charger and paced him slowly
back toward the oncoming knight, with stern anger smoldering in my
There was a smooth, wide bit of grassy road between us in that center
midnight Saxon forest. And never a gleam of light fell upon that ancient
thoroughfare; never the faintest, thin white finger of a star pierced the
black canopy of boughs overhead; it was as black as the kennel of
Cerberus; and as I sat on my panting war-horse I could not see my own
hand stretched out before me -- yet there, in that grim blackness, I met the
Norman lance to lance, and sent his spirit whirling into the outer space.
I let him come within two hundred yards, then suddenly rose in my
stirrups, and shouting Harold's war-cry. Since I did not deign to fall upon
him unawares, "Out! Out! England! England!" awaited his answer. It came
in a moment,
strange and inhuman in the black stillness, "Rou! Ha Rou! Notre Dame!"
and then, muttering between my tight-set teeth that surely that road was
the road to hell for one of us, I bent my head down almost to my horse's
ears, drove the spurs into him, and, gripping my long keen spear,
thundered back upon my unseen Norman. With a shock that startled the
browsing hinds a mile away, we were together. The Norman spear broke
into splinters athwart my body -- but mine, more truly held, struck him
fair and full -- I felt him like a great dead weight upon it, I felt his saddle-
girths burst and fly, and then, as my own strong haft bent like a willow
wand and snapped close by my hand, that midnight rider and his visionary
steed went crashing to the ground. Bitterly I laughed as I turned my horse
northward once more, and from a black cavern mouth on the hill-side an
owl echoed my grim merriment with ghastly glee.
Well, the night was all but done, yet were we not out of the toils. A little
further on, Editha's floundering steed gave out, and, just as we saw the
pale turrets of the monastery shining in the open a mile ahead of us, the
horse rolled over dead upon the grass and bracken.
"Quick, quick!" I said, "daughter of Hardicanute," and the good Saxon-girl
had passed the little ones to the pommel and put her own foot upon my
toe and sprung on to my saddle crupper sooner than it takes to tell. Ah!
and the nearer we came to our goal the closer seemed to be the throb and
beat of the pursuing hoofs behind. And many an anxious time did I turn
my head to watch the rogues closing with us, now ever and anon in sight,
and many a word of encouragement did I whisper to the gallant charger
whose tireless courage was standing us in such good case.
Noble beast! right well had he atoned his mistake that evening, and in a
few minutes more we left the greenwood, and now he swept us over the
abbot's fat meadows, while the white morning mist was lying ghostly in
wreaths and wisps upon the tall wet grass, and then we staggered into the
fosse and spurned the short turf, and so past the chequered cloisters, and
pulled up finally at a low postern door I had espied as we approached the
nearest wall of the noble Saxon monastery. Surely, never was a traveler in
such a hurry to be admitted as I, and I beat upon that iron-studded door
with the knob of my dagger in a way which must have been heard in
every cell of that sacred pile.
"My friend," said a reverend head, which soon appeared
at a little window above, "is this not unseemly haste at such an hour, and
my lord abbot not yet risen to matins?"
"For the love of Heaven, father," I said, "come down and let us in!" for by
this time the Normans were not a bow-shot away, and it still looked as if
we might fall into their hands.
"Why," said the unwotting monk, "no doubt the hospitality of St. Olaf's
walls was never yet refused to weary strangers, but you must go round to
the lodge and rouse the porter there -- truly he sleeps a little heavy, but no
doubt he will admit you eventually."
"Sir Priest," I shouted in my rage and fear, as the good old fellow went
meandering on, "our need is past all nicety of etiquette. Here is Editha of
Voewood, the niece of your holy abbot himself, and yonder are they who
would harry and take her. Come down, come down, or by the holy rood
our blood will forever stain your ungenerous lintel!"
By this time the horsemen were breasting the smooth green glacis that led
up to the monastery walls -- half a dozen of them had outlived that wild
race -- the reins were upon their smoking chargers' necks, their reeking
spurs red and ruddy with their haste, the spattered clay and loam of many
a woodland rivulet chequering their horses to the shoulders, and each
rider as he came shouting and clapping his hands upon the foam-speckled
neck of these panting steeds, that strained with thundering feet to the last
hundred yards of greensward and the prize beyond.
Nearer and nearer they came, and my fair, tall Saxon wife put down her
little ones by the opening: of the door and covered them with her skirt as
she turned her pale, white, tearless face to the primrose flush of the
morning. And I -- with bitterness and despair in my heart unsheathed my
Saxon sword and cast the scabbard fiercely to the ground, and stood out
before them -- my bare and heaving breast a fair target for those
glistening oncoming Norman lances.
And then -- just when that game was all but lost -- there came the sweet
patter of sandaled feet within; bolt by bolt was drawn back; willing hands
were stretched out; the mother and her babies were dragged from the
steps -- even my charger was swallowed by the friendly shelter, and I
myself was pulled back lastly - - the postern slammed to, and, as the great
locks turned again, and the iron bars fell into their stony sockets, we heard
the Norman chargers' hoofs ringing on the flagstones, and the angry
spear-heads rattling on the outer studs of that friendly oaken door.
Thus was the gentle franklin saved; but little did I think in saving her how
long I was to lose her. I had but stabled my noble beast down by the
abbot's own palfrey, and fed and watered him with loving gratitude, and
then had gone to Editha and my own supper (waited on by many a
wondering, kindly one of these corded, russet brothers), when that
strange fate of mine overtook me once again. I know not how it was, but
all on a sudden the world melted away into a shadowy fantasy, my head
sunk upon the supper-board, and there -- between the goodly abbot and
the fair Saxon lady -- I fell into a pleasant, dreamless sleep.
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