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Title: Dead Man's Plack and an Old Thorn
Author: Hudson, W. H. (William Henry), 1841-1922
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: DEAD MAN'S PLACK.]



DEAD MAN'S PLACK

AND

AN OLD THORN

BY W. H. HUDSON

1920
LONDON & TORONTO
J. M. DENT & SONS LTD.
New York: E. P. DUTTON & CO.



CONTENTS


DEAD MAN'S PLACK:

Preamble

Chapter

I.

II.

III.

IV.

V.

VI.

VII.

VIII.

IX.

X.

XI.

XII.


AN OLD THORN:

Chapter

I.

II.

III.


POSTSCRIPT



ILLUSTRATIONS


DEAD MAN'S PLACK

HAWTHORN AND IVY, NEAR THE GREAT RIDGE WOOD



DEAD MAN'S PLACK



PREAMBLE


"The insect tribes of human kind" is a mode of expression we are
familiar with in the poets, moralists and other superior persons, or
beings, who viewing mankind from their own vast elevation see us all
more or less of one size and very, very small. No doubt the comparison
dates back to early, probably Pliocene, times, when some one climbed to
the summit of a very tall cliff, and looking down and seeing his fellows
so diminished in size as to resemble insects, not so gross as beetles
perhaps but rather like emmets, he laughed in the way they laughed then
at the enormous difference between his stature and theirs. Hence the
time-honoured and serviceable metaphor.

Now with me, in this particular instance, it was all the other way
about--from insect to man--seeing that it was when occupied in watching
the small comedies and tragedies of the insect world on its stage that I
stumbled by chance upon a compelling reminder of one of the greatest
tragedies in England's history--greatest, that is to say, in its
consequences. And this is how it happened.

One summer day, prowling in an extensive oak wood, in Hampshire, known
as Harewood Forest, I discovered that it counted among its inhabitants
no fewer than three species of insects of peculiar interest to me, and
from that time I haunted it, going there day after day to spend long
hours in pursuit of my small quarry. Not to kill and preserve their
diminutive corpses in a cabinet, but solely to witness the comedy of
their brilliant little lives. And as I used to take my luncheon in my
pocket I fell into the habit of going to a particular spot, some opening
in the dense wood with a big tree to lean against and give me shade,
where after refreshing myself with food and drink I could smoke my pipe
in solitude and peace. Eventually I came to prefer one spot for my
midday rest in the central part of the wood, where a stone cross,
slender, beautifully proportioned and about eighteen feet high, had been
erected some seventy or eighty years before by the lord of the manor. On
one side of the great stone block on which the cross stood there was an
inscription which told that it was placed there to mark the spot known
from of old as Dead Man's Plack; that, according to tradition, handed
from father to son, it was just here that King Edgar slew his friend and
favourite Earl Athelwold, when hunting in the forest.

I had sat there on many occasions, and had glanced from time to time at
the inscription cut on the stone, once actually reading it, without
having my attention drawn away from the insect world I was living in. It
was not the tradition of the Saxon king nor the beauty of the cross in
that green wilderness which drew me daily to the spot, but its
solitariness and the little open space where I could sit in the shade
and have my rest.

Then something happened. Some friends from town came down to me at the
hamlet I was staying at, and one of the party, the mother of most of
them, was not only older than the rest of us in years, but also in
knowledge and wisdom; and at the same time she was younger than the
youngest of us, since she had the curious mind, the undying interest in
everything on earth--the secret, in fact, of everlasting youth.
Naturally, being of this temperament, she wanted to know what I was
doing and all about what I had seen, even to the minutest detail--the
smallest insect--and in telling her of my days I spoke casually of the
cross placed at a spot called Dead Man's Plack. This at once reminded
her of something she had heard about it before, but long ago, in the
seventies of last century; then presently it all came back to her, and
it proved to me an interesting story.

It chanced that in that far back time she was in correspondence on
certain scientific and literary subjects with a gentleman who was a
native of this part of Hampshire in which we were staying, and that they
got into a discussion about Freeman, the historian, during which he told
her of an incident of his undergraduate days when Freeman was professor
at Oxford. He attended a lecture by that man on the Mythical and
Romantic Elements in Early English History, in which he stated for the
guidance of all who study the past, that they must always bear in mind
the inevitable passion for romance in men, especially the uneducated,
and that when the student comes upon a romantic incident in early
history, even when it accords with the known character of the person it
relates to, he must reject it as false. Then, to rub the lesson in, he
gave an account of the most flagrant of the romantic lies contained in
the history of the Saxon kings. This was the story of King Edgar, and
how his favourite, Earl Athelwold, deceived him as to the reputed beauty
of Elfrida, and how Edgar in revenge slew Athelwold with his own hand
when hunting. Then--to show how false it all was!--Edgar, the chronicles
state, was at Salisbury and rode in one day to Harewood Forest and there
slew Athelwold. Now, said Freeman, as Harewood Forest is in Yorkshire,
Edgar could not have ridden there from Salisbury in one day, nor in two,
nor in three, which was enough to show that the whole story was a
fabrication.

The undergraduate, listening to the lecturer, thought the Professor was
wrong owing to his ignorance of the fact that the Harewood Forest in
which the deed was done was in Hampshire, within a day's ride from
Salisbury, and that local tradition points to the very spot in the
forest where Athelwold was slain. Accordingly he wrote to the Professor
and gave him these facts. His letter was not answered; and the poor
youth felt hurt, as he thought he was doing Professor Freeman a service
by telling him something he didn't know. _He_ didn't know his Professor
Freeman.

This story about Freeman tickled me, because I dislike him, but if any
one were to ask me why I dislike him I should probably have to answer
like a woman: Because I do. Or if stretched on the rack until I could
find or invent a better reason I should perhaps say it was because he
was so infernally cock-sure, so convinced that he and he alone had the
power of distinguishing between the true and false; also that he was so
arbitrary and arrogant and ready to trample on those who doubted his
infallibility.

All this, I confess, would not be much to say against him, seeing that
it is nothing but the ordinary professorial or academic mind, and I
suppose that the only difference between Freeman and the ruck of the
professors was that he was more impulsive or articulate and had a
greater facility in expressing his scorn.

Here I may mention in passing that when this lecture appeared in print
in his _Historical Essays_ he had evidently been put out a little, and
also put on his mettle by that letter from an undergraduate, and had
gone more deeply into the documents relating to the incident, seeing
that he now relied mainly on the discrepancies in half a dozen
chronicles he was able to point out to prove its falsity. His former
main argument now appeared as a "small matter of detail"--a "confusion
of geography" in the different versions of the old historians. But one
tells us, Freeman writes, that Athelwold was killed in the Forest of
Wherwell on his way to York, and then he says: "Now as Wherwell is in
Hampshire, it could not be on the road to York;" and further on he says:
"Now Harewood Forest in Yorkshire is certainly not the same as Wherwell
in Hampshire," and so on, and on, and on, but always careful not to say
that Wherwell Forest and Harewood Forest are two names for one and the
same place, although now the name of Wherwell is confined to the village
on the Test, where it is supposed Athelwold had his castle and lived
with his wife before he was killed, and where Elfrida in her declining
years, when trying to make her peace with God, came and built a Priory
and took the habit herself and there finished her darkened life.

This then was how he juggled with words and documents and chronicles
(his thimble-rigging), making a truth a lie or a lie a truth according
as it suited a froward and prejudicate mind, to quote the expression of
an older and simpler-minded historian--Sir Walter Raleigh.

Finally, to wind up the whole controversy, he says you are to take it as
a positive truth that Edgar married Elfrida, and a positive falsehood
that Edgar killed Athelwold. Why--seeing there is as good authority and
reason for believing the one statement as the other? A foolish question!
Why?--Because I, Professor or Pope Freeman, say so!

The main thing here is the effect the Freeman anecdote had on me, which
was that when I went back to continue my insect-watching and rested at
noon at Dead Man's Plack, the old legend would keep intruding itself on
my mind, until, wishing to have done with it, I said and I swore that it
was true--that the tradition preserved in the neighbourhood, that on
this very spot Athelwold was slain by the king, was better than any
document or history. It was an act which had been witnessed by many
persons, and the memory of it preserved and handed down from father to
son for thirty generations; for it must be borne in mind that the
inhabitants of this district of Andover and the villages on the Test
have never in the last thousand years been exterminated or expelled. And
ten centuries is not so long for an event of so startling a character to
persist in the memory of the people when we consider that such
traditions have come down to us even from prehistoric times and have
proved true. Our archæologists, for example, after long study of the
remains, cannot tell us how long ago--centuries or thousands of years--a
warrior with golden armour was buried under the great cairn at Mold in
Flintshire.

And now the curious part of all this matter comes in. Having taken my
side in the controversy and made my pronouncement, I found that I was
not yet free of it. It remained with me, but in a new way--not as an old
story in old books, but as an event, or series of events, now being
re-enacted before my very eyes. I actually saw and heard it all, from
the very beginning to the dreadful end; and this is what I am now going
to relate. But whether or not I shall in my relation be in close accord
with what history tells us I know not, nor does it matter in the least.
For just as the religious mystic is exempt from the study of theology
and the whole body of religious doctrine, and from all the observances
necessary to those who in fear and trembling are seeking their
salvation, even so those who have been brought to the _Gate of
Remembrance_ are independent of written documents, chronicles and
histories, and of the weary task of separating the false from the true.
They have better sources of information. For I am not so vain as to
imagine for one moment that without such external aid I am able to make
shadows breathe, revive the dead, and know what silent mouths once said.



I


When, sitting at noon in the shade of an oak tree at Dead Man's Plack, I
beheld Edgar, I almost ceased to wonder at the miracle that had happened
in this war-mad, desolated England, where Saxon and Dane, like two
infuriated bull-dogs, were everlastingly at grips, striving to tear each
other's throats out, and deluging the country with blood; how, ceasing
from their strife, they had all at once agreed to live in peace and
unity side by side under the young king; and this seemingly unnatural
state of things endured even to the end of his life, on which account he
was called Edgar the Peaceful.

He was beautiful in person and had infinite charm, and these gifts,
together with his kingly qualities, which have won the admiration of all
men of all ages, endeared him to his people. He was but thirteen when he
came to be king of united England, and small for his age, but even in
these terrible times he was remarkable for his courage, both physical
and moral. Withal he had a subtle mind; indeed, I think he surpassed all
our kings of the past thousand years in combining so many excellent
qualities. His was the wisdom of the serpent combined with the
gentleness--I will not say of the dove, but rather of the cat, our
little tiger on the hearthrug, the most beautiful of four-footed things,
so lithe, so soft, of so affectionate a disposition, yet capable when
suddenly roused to anger of striking with lightning rapidity and rending
the offender's flesh with its cruel, unsheathed claws.

Consider the line he took, even as a boy! He recognised among all those
who surrounded him, in his priestly adviser, the one man of so great a
mind as to be capable of assisting him effectually in ruling so divided,
war-loving and revengeful a people, and he allowed him practically
unlimited power to do as he liked. He went even further by pretending to
fall in with Dunstan's ambitions of purging the Church of the order of
priests or half-priests, or canons, who were in possession of most of
the religious houses in England, and were priests that married wives and
owned lands and had great power. Against this monstrous state of things
Edgar rose up in his simulated wrath and cried out to Archbishop Dunstan
in a speech he delivered to sweep them away and purify the Church and
country from such a scandal!

But Edgar himself had a volcanic heart, and to witness it in full
eruption it was only necessary to convey to him the tidings of some
woman of a rare loveliness; and have her he would, in spite of all laws
human and divine. Thus when inflamed with passion for a beautiful nun he
did not hesitate to smash the gates of a convent to drag her forth and
forcibly make her his mistress. And this too was a dreadful scandal, but
no great pother could be made about it, seeing that Edgar was so
powerful a friend of the Church and of pure religion.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now all the foregoing is contained in the histories, but in what follows
I have for sole light and guide the vision that came to me at Dead Man's
Plack, and have only to add to this introductory note that Edgar at the
early age of twenty-two was a widower, having already had to wife
Ethelfled the Fair, who was famous for her beauty, and who died shortly
after giving birth to a child who lived to figure later in history as
one of England's many Edwards.



II


Now although King Edgar had dearly loved his wife, who was also beloved
by all his people on account of her sweet and gentle disposition as well
as of her exceeding beauty, it was not in his nature to brood long over
such a loss. He had too keen a zest for life and the many interests and
pleasures it had for him ever to become a melancholy man. It was a
delight to him to be king, and to perform all kingly duties and offices.
Also he was happy in his friends, especially in his favourite, the Earl
Athelwold, who was like him in character, a man after his own heart.
They were indeed like brothers, and some of those who surrounded the
king were not too well pleased to witness this close intimacy. Both were
handsome men, witty, of a genial disposition, yet under a light careless
manner brave and ardent, devoted to the pleasure of the chase and all
other pleasures, especially to those bestowed by golden Aphrodite, their
chosen saint, albeit her name did not figure in the Calendar.

Hence it was not strange, when certain reports of the wonderful beauty
of a woman in the West Country were brought to Edgar's ears that his
heart began to burn within him, and that by and by he opened himself to
his friend on the subject. He told Athelwold that he had discovered the
one woman in England fit to be Ethelfled's successor, and that he had
resolved to make her his queen although he had never seen her, since she
and her father had never been to court. That, however, would not deter
him; there was no other woman in the land whose claims were equal to
hers, seeing that she was the only daughter and part heiress of one of
the greatest men in the kingdom, Ongar, Earldoman of Devon and Somerset,
a man of vast possessions and great power. Yet all that was of less
account to him than her fame, her personal worth, since she was reputed
to be the most beautiful woman in the land. It was for her beauty that
he desired her, and being of an exceedingly impatient temper in any case
in which beauty in a woman was concerned, he desired his friend to
proceed at once to Earl Ongar in Devon with an offer of marriage to his
daughter, Elfrida, from the king.

Athelwold laughed at Edgar in this his most solemn and kingly mood, and
with a friend's privilege told him not to be so simple as to buy a pig
in a poke. The lady, he said, had not been to court, consequently she
had not been seen by those best able to judge of her reputed beauty. Her
fame rested wholly on the report of the people of her own country, who
were great as every one knew at blowing their own trumpets. Their red
and green county was England's paradise; their men the bravest and
handsomest and their women the most beautiful in the land. For his part
he believed there were as good men and as fair women in Mercia and East
Anglia as in the West. It would certainly be an awkward business if the
king found himself bound in honour to wed with a person he did not like.
Awkward because of her father's fierce pride and power. A better plan
would be to send some one he could trust not to make a mistake to find
out the truth of the report.

Edgar was pleased at his friend's wise caution, and praised him for his
candour, which was that of a true friend, and as he was the only man he
could thoroughly trust in such a matter he would send him. Accordingly,
Athelwold, still much amused at Edgar's sudden wish to make an offer of
marriage to a woman he had never seen, set out on his journey in great
state with many attendants as befitted his person and his mission, which
was ostensibly to bear greetings and loving messages from the king to
some of his most important subjects in the West Country.

In this way he travelled through Wilts, Somerset and Devon, and in due
time arrived at Earl Ongar's castle on the Exe.



III


Athelwold, who thought highly of himself, had undertaken his mission
with a light heart, but now when his progress in the West had brought
him to the great earldoman's castle it was borne in on him that he had
put himself in a very responsible position. He was here to look at this
woman with cold, critical eyes, which was easy enough; and having looked
at and measured and weighed her, he would make a true report to Edgar;
that too would be easy for him, since all his power and happiness in
life depended on the king's continual favour. But Ongar stood between
him and the woman he had come to see and take stock of with that clear
unbiassed judgment which he could safely rely on. And Ongar was a proud
and stern old man, jealous of his great position, who had not hesitated
to say on Edgar's accession to the kingship, knowing well that his words
would be reported in due time, that he refused to be one of the crowd
who came flocking from all over the land to pay homage to a boy. It thus
came about that neither then nor at any subsequent period had there been
any personal relations between the king and this English subject, who
was prouder than all the Welsh kings who had rushed at Edgar's call to
make their submission.

But now when Ongar had been informed that the king's intimate friend and
confidant was on his way to him with greetings and loving messages from
Edgar, he was flattered, and resolved to receive him in a friendly and
loyal spirit and do him all the honour in his power. For Edgar was no
longer a boy: he was king over all this hitherto turbulent realm, East
and West from sea to sea and from the Land's End to the Tweed, and the
strange enduring peace of the times was a proof of his power.

It thus came to pass that Athelwold's mission was made smooth to him,
and when they met and conversed, the fierce old Earl was so well pleased
with his visitor, that all trace of the sullen hostility he had
cherished towards the court passed away like the shadow of a cloud. And
later, in the banqueting-room, Athelwold came face to face with the
woman he had come to look at with cold, critical eyes, like one who
examines a horse in the interests of a friend who desires to become its
purchaser.

Down to that fatal moment the one desire of his heart was to serve his
friend faithfully in this delicate business. Now, the first sight of
her, the first touch of her hand, wrought a change in him, and all
thought of Edgar and of the purpose of his visit vanished out of his
mind. Even he, one of the great nobles of his time, the accomplished
courtier and life of the court, stood silent like a person spell-bound
before this woman who had been to no court, but had lived always with
that sullen old man in comparative seclusion in a remote province. It
was not only the beautiful dignity and graciousness with which she
received him, with the exquisite beauty in the lines and colour of her
face, and her hair which, if unloosed, would have covered her to the
knees as with a splendid mantle. That hair of a colour comparable only
to that of the sweet gale when that sweet plant is in its golden withy
or catkin stage in the month of May, and is clothed with catkins as with
a foliage of a deep shining red gold, that seems not a colour of earth
but rather one distilled from the sun itself. Nor was it the colour of
her eyes, the deep pure blue of the lungwort, that blue loveliness seen
in no other flower on earth. Rather it was the light from her eyes which
was like lightning that pierced and startled him; for that light, that
expression, was a living spirit looking through his eyes into the depths
of his soul, knowing all its strength and weakness, and in the same
instant resolving to make it her own and have dominion over it.

It was only when he had escaped from the power and magic of her
presence, when alone in his sleeping room, that reflection came to him
and the recollection of Edgar and of his mission. And there was dismay
in the thought. For the woman was his, part and parcel of his heart and
soul and life; for that was what her lightning glance had said to him,
and she could not be given to another. No, not to the king! Had any man,
any friend, ever been placed in so terrible a position? Honour? Loyalty?
To whichever side he inclined he could not escape the crime, the base
betrayal and abandonment! But loyalty to the king would be the greater
crime. Had not Edgar himself broken every law of God and man to gratify
his passion for a woman? Not a woman like this! Never would Edgar look
on her until he, Athelwold, had obeyed her and his own heart and made
her his for ever! And what would come then! He would not consider it--he
would perish rather than yield her to another!

That was how the question came before him, and how it was settled,
during the long sleepless hours when his blood was in a fever and his
brain on fire; but when day dawned and his blood grew cold and his brain
was tired, the image of Edgar betrayed and in a deadly rage became
insistent, and he rose desponding and in dread of the meeting to come.
And no sooner did he meet her than she overcame him as on the previous
day; and so it continued during the whole period of his visit, racked
with passion, drawn now to this side, now to that, and when he was most
resolved to have her then most furiously assaulted by loyalty, by
friendship, by honour, and he was like a stag at bay fighting for his
life against the hounds. And every time he met her--and the passionate
words he dared not speak were like confined fire, burning him up
inwardly--seeing him pale and troubled she would greet him with a smile
and look which told him she knew that he was troubled in heart, that a
great conflict was raging in him, also that it was on her account and
was perhaps because he had already bound himself to some other woman,
some great lady of the land; and now this new passion had come to him.
And her smile and look were like the world-irradiating sun when it
rises, and the black menacing cloud that brooded over his soul would
fade and vanish, and he knew that she had again claimed him and that he
was hers.

So it continued till the very moment of parting, and again as on their
first meeting he stood silent and troubled before her; then in faltering
words told her that the thought of her would travel and be with him;
that in a little while, perhaps in a month or two, he would be rid of a
great matter which had been weighing heavily on his mind, and once free
he could return to Devon, if she would consent to his paying her another
visit.

She replied smilingly with gracious words, with no change from that
exquisite perfect dignity which was always hers; nor tremor in her
speech, but only that understanding look from her eyes, which said: Yes,
you shall come back to me in good time, when you have smoothed the way,
to claim me for your own.



IV


On Athelwold's return the king embraced him warmly, and was quick to
observe a change in him--the thinner, paler face and appearance
generally of one lately recovered from a grievous illness or who had
been troubled in mind. Athelwold explained that it had been a painful
visit to him, due in the first place to the anxiety he experienced of
being placed in so responsible a position, and in the second place the
misery it was to him to be the guest for many days of such a person as
the earldoman, a man of a rough, harsh aspect and manner, who daily made
himself drunk at table, after which he would grow intolerably garrulous
and boastful. Then, when his host had been carried to bed by his
servants, his own wakeful, troubled hours would begin. For at first he
had been struck by the woman's fine, handsome presence, albeit she was
not the peerless beauty she had been reported; but when he had seen her
often and more closely and had conversed with her he had been
disappointed. There was something lacking; she had not the softness, the
charm, desirable in a woman; she had something of her parent's
harshness, and his final judgment was that she was not a suitable person
for the king to marry.

Edgar was a little cast down at first, but quickly recovering his genial
manner, thanked his friend for having served him so well.

For several weeks following the king and the king's favourite were
constantly together; and during that period Athelwold developed a
peculiar sweetness and affection towards Edgar, often recalling to him
their happy boyhood's days in East Anglia, when they were like brothers,
and cemented the close friendship which was to last them for the whole
of their lives. Finally, when it seemed to his watchful, crafty mind
that Edgar had cast the whole subject of his wish to marry Elfrida into
oblivion, and that the time was now ripe for carrying out his own
scheme, he reopened the subject, and said that although the lady was not
a suitable person to be the king's wife it would be good policy on his,
Athelwold's, part, to win her on account of her position as only
daughter and part heiress of Ongar, who had great power and possessions
in the West. But he would not move in the matter without Edgar's
consent.

Edgar, ever ready to do anything to please his friend, freely gave it,
and only asked him to give an assurance that the secret object of his
former visit to Devon would remain inviolate. Accordingly Athelwold took
a solemn oath that it would never be revealed, and Edgar then slapped
him on the back and wished him Godspeed in his wooing.

Very soon after thus smoothing the way, Athelwold returned to Devon, and
was once more in the presence of the woman who had so enchanted him,
with that same meaning smile on her lips and light in her eyes which had
been her good-bye and her greeting, only now it said to him: You have
returned as I knew you would, and I am ready to give myself to you.

From every point of view it was a suitable union, seeing that Athelwold
would inherit power and great possessions from his father, Earldoman of
East Anglia, and before long the marriage took place, and by and by
Athelwold took his wife to Wessex, to the castle he had built for
himself on his estate of Wherwell, on the Test. There they lived
together, and as they had married for love they were happy.

But as the king's intimate friend and the companion of many of his
frequent journeys he could not always bide with her nor be with her for
any great length of time. For Edgar had a restless spirit and was
exceedingly vigilant, and liked to keep a watchful eye on the different
lately hostile nations of Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria, so that
his journeys were frequent and long to these distant parts of his
kingdom. And he also had his naval forces to inspect at frequent
intervals. Thus it came about that he was often absent from her for
weeks and months at a stretch. And so the time went on, and during these
long absences a change would come over Elfrida; the lovely colour, the
enchanting smile, the light of her eyes--the outward sign of an intense
brilliant life--would fade, and with eyes cast down she would pace the
floors or the paths or sit brooding in silence by the hour.

Of all this Athelwold knew nothing, since she made no complaint, and
when he returned to her the light and life and brilliance would be hers
again, and there was no cloud or shadow on his delight. But the cloud
would come back over her when he again went away. Her only relief in her
condition was to sit before a fire or when out of doors to seat herself
on the bank of the stream and watch the current. For although it was
still summer, the month being August, she would have a fire of logs
lighted in a large chamber and sit staring at the flames by the hour,
and sometimes holding her outstretched hands before the flames until
they were hot, she would then press them to her lips. Or when the day
was warm and bright she would be out of doors and spend hours by the
river gazing at the swift crystal current below as if fascinated by the
sight of the running water. It is a marvellously clear water, so that
looking down on it you can see the rounded pebbles in all their various
colours and markings lying at the bottom, and if there should be a trout
lying there facing the current and slowly waving his tail from side to
side, you could count the red spots on his side, so clear is the water.
Even more did the floating water-grass hold her gaze--that bright green
grass that, rooted in the bed of the stream, sends its thin blades to
the surface where they float and wave like green floating hair.
Stooping, she would dip a hand in the stream and watch the bright clear
water running through the fingers of her white hand, then press the hand
to her lips.

Then again when day declined she would quit the stream to sit before the
blazing logs, staring at the flames. What am I doing here? she would
murmur. And what is this my life? When I was at home in Devon I had a
dream of Winchester, of Salisbury, or other great towns further away,
where the men and women who are great in the land meet together, and
where my eyes would perchance sometimes have the happiness to behold the
king himself--my husband's close friend and companion. My waking has
brought a different scene before me; this castle in the wilderness, a
solitude where from an upper window I look upon leagues of forest, a
haunt of wild animals. I see great birds soaring in the sky and listen
to the shrill screams of kite and buzzard; and sometimes when lying
awake on a still night the distant long howl of a wolf. Also, it is
said, there are great stags, and roe-deer, and wild boars, and it is
Athelwold's joy to hunt them and slay them with his spear. A joy too
when he returns from the hunt or from a long absence to play with his
beautiful wife--his caged bird of pretty feathers and a sweet song to
soothe him when he is tired. But of his life at court he tells me
little, and of even that little I doubt the truth. Then he leaves me and
I am alone with his retainers--the crowd of serving men and women and
the armed men to safeguard me. I am alone with my two friends which I
have found, one out of doors, the other in--the river which runs at the
bottom of the ground where I take my walks, and the fire I sit before.
The two friends, companions, and lovers to whom all the secrets of my
soul are confided. I love them, having no other in the world to love,
and here I hold my hands before the flames until it is hot and then kiss
the heat, and by the stream I kiss my wetted hands. And if I were to
remain here until this life became unendurable I should consider as to
which one of these two lovers I should give myself. This one I think is
too ardent in his love--it would be terrible to be wrapped round in his
fiery arms and feel his fiery mouth on mine. I should rather go to the
other one to lie down on his pebbly bed, and give myself to him to hold
me in his cool, shining arms and mix his green hair with my loosened
hair. But my wish is to live and not die. Let me then wait a little
longer; let me watch and listen, and perhaps some day, by and by, from
his own lips, I shall capture the secret of this my caged solitary life.

And the very next day Athelwold, having just returned with the king to
Salisbury, was once more with her; and the brooding cloud had vanished
from her life and countenance; she was once more his passionate bride,
lavishing caresses on him, listening with childish delight to every word
that fell from his lips, and desiring no other life and no greater
happiness than this.



V


It was early September, and the king with some of the nobles who were
with him, after hunting the deer over against Cranbourne, returned at
evening to Salisbury, and after meat with some of his intimates they sat
late drinking wine and fell into a merry, boisterous mood. They spoke of
Athelwold, who was not with them, and indulged in some mocking remarks
about his frequent and prolonged absences from the king's company. Edgar
took it in good part and smilingly replied that it had been reported to
him that the earl was now wedded to a woman with a will. Also he knew
that her father, the great Earldoman of Devon, had been famed for his
tremendous physical strength. It was related of him that he had once
been charged by a furious bull, that he had calmly waited the onset and
had dealt the animal a staggering blow with his fist on its head and had
then taken it up in his arms and hurled it into the river Exe. If, he
concluded, the daughter had inherited something of this power it was not
to be wondered at that she was able to detain her husband at home.

Loud laughter followed this pleasantry of the king's, then one of the
company remarked that not a woman's will, though it might be like steel
of the finest temper, nor her muscular power, would serve to change
Athelwold's nature or keep him from his friend, but only a woman's
exceeding beauty.

Then Edgar, seeing that he had been put upon the defence of his absent
friend, and that all of them were eager to hear his next word, replied
that there was no possession a man was prouder of than that of a
beautiful wife; that it was more to him than his own best qualities, his
greatest actions, or than titles and lands and gold. If Athelwold had
indeed been so happy as to secure the most beautiful woman he would have
been glad to bring her to court to exhibit her to all--friends and foes
alike--for his own satisfaction and glory.

Again they greeted his speech with laughter, and one cried out: Do you
believe it?

Then another, bolder still, exclaimed: It's God's truth that she is the
fairest woman in the land--perhaps no fairer has been in any land since
Helen of Troy. This I can swear to, he added, smiting the board with his
hand, because I have it from one who saw her at her home in Devon before
her marriage. One who is a better judge in such matters than I am or
than any one at this table, not excepting the king, seeing that he is
not only gifted with the serpent's wisdom but with that creature's cold
blood as well.

Edgar heard him frowningly, then ended the discussion by rising, and
silence fell on the company, for all saw that he was offended. But he
was not offended with them, since they knew nothing of his and
Athelwold's secret, and what they thought and felt about his friend was
nothing to him. But these fatal words about Elfrida's beauty had pierced
him with a sudden suspicion of his friend's treachery. And Athelwold was
the man he greatly loved--the companion of all his years since their
boyhood together. Had he betrayed him in this monstrous way--wounding
him in his tenderest part? The very thought that such a thing might be
was like a madness in him. Then he reflected--then he remembered, and
said to himself: Yes, let me follow his teaching in this matter too, as
in the other, and exercise caution and look before I leap. I shall look
and look well and see and judge for myself.

The result was that when his boon companions next met him there was no
shadow of displeasure in him; he was in a peculiarly genial mood, and so
continued. And when his friend returned he embraced him and gently
upbraided him for having kept away for so long a time. He begged him to
remember that he was his one friend and confidant who was more than a
brother to him, and that if wholly deprived of his company he would
regard himself as the loneliest man in the kingdom. Then in a short time
he spoke once more in the same strain, and said he had not yet
sufficiently honoured his friend before the world, and that he proposed
visiting him at his own castle to make the acquaintance of his wife and
spend a day with him hunting the boar in Harewood Forest.

Athelwold, secretly alarmed, made a suitable reply, expressing his
delight at the prospect of receiving the king, and begging him to give
him a couple of days' notice before making his visit, so as to give him
time to make all preparation for his entertainment.

This the king promised, and also said that this would be an informal
visit to a friend, that he would go alone with some of his servants and
huntsmen and ride there one day, hunt the next day and return to
Salisbury on the third day. And a little later, when the day of his
visit was fixed on, Athelwold returned in haste with an anxious mind to
his castle.

Now his hard task and the most painful moment of his life had come.
Alone with Elfrida in her chamber he cast himself down before her, and
with his bowed head resting on her knees, made a clean breast of the
whole damning story of the deceit he had practised towards the king in
order to win her for himself. In anguish and shedding tears he implored
her forgiveness, begging her to think of that irresistible power of love
she had inspired in him, which would have made it worse than death to
see her the wife of another--even of Edgar himself--his friend, the
brother of his soul. Then he went on to speak of Edgar, who was of a
sweet and lovable nature, yet capable of a deadly fury against those who
offended him; and this was an offence he would take more to heart than
any other; he would be implacable if he once thought that he had been
wilfully deceived, and she only could now save them from certain
destruction. For now it seemed to him that Edgar had conceived a
suspicion that the account he had of her was not wholly true, which was
that she was a handsome woman but not surpassingly beautiful as had been
reputed, not graceful, not charming in manner and conversation. She
could save them by justifying his description of her--by using a woman's
art to lessen instead of enhancing her natural beauty, by putting away
her natural charm and power to fascinate all who approached her.

Thus he pleaded, praying for mercy, even as a captive prays to his
conqueror for life, and never once daring to lift his bowed head to look
at her face; while she sat motionless and silent, not a word, not a
sigh, escaping her; and she was like a woman carved in stone, with knees
of stone on which his head rested.

Then, at length, exhausted with his passionate pleading and frightened
at her silence and deadly stillness, he raised his head and looked up at
her face to behold it radiant and smiling. Then, looking down lovingly
into his eyes, she raised her hands to her head, and loosening the great
mass of coiled tresses let them fall over him, covering his head and
shoulders and back as with a splendid mantle of shining red gold. And
he, the awful fear now gone, continued silently gazing up at her,
absorbed in her wonderful loveliness.

Bending down she put her arms round his neck and spoke: Do you not know,
O Athelwold, that I love you alone and could love no other, noble or
king; that without you life would not be life to me? All you have told
me endears you more to me, and all you wish me to do shall be done,
though it may cause your king and friend to think meanly of you for
having given your hand to one so little worthy of you.

She having thus spoken, he was ready to pour forth his gratitude in
burning words, but she would not have it. No more words, she said,
putting her hand on his mouth. Your anxious day is over--your burden
dropped. Rest here on the couch by my side, and let me think on all
there is to plan and do against to-morrow evening.

And so they were silent, and he, reclining on the cushions, watched her
face and saw her smile and wondered what was passing in her mind to
cause that smile. Doubtless it was something to do with the question of
her disguising arts.

What had caused her to smile was a happy memory of the days with
Athelwold before their marriage, when one day he came in to her with a
leather bag in his hand and said: Do you, who are so beautiful yourself,
love all beautiful things? And do you love the beauty of gems? And when
she replied that she loved gems above all beautiful things, he poured
out the contents of his bag in her lap--brilliants, sapphires, rubies,
emeralds, opals, pearls in gold setting, in bracelets, necklets,
pendants, rings and brooches. And when she gloated over this splendid
gift, taking up gem after gem, exclaiming delightedly at its size and
colour and lustre, he told her that he once knew a man who maintained
that it was a mistake for a beautiful woman to wear gems. Why? she
asked, would he have then wholly unadorned? No, he replied, he liked to
see them wearing gold, saying that gold makes the most perfect setting
for a woman's beauty, just as it does for a precious stone, and its
effect is to enhance the beauty it surrounds. But the woman's beauty has
its meeting and central point in the eyes, and the light and soul in
them illumines the whole face. And in the stone nature simulates the
eye, and although without a soul its brilliant light and colour make it
the equal of the eye, and therefore when worn as an ornament it competes
with the eye, and in effect lessens the beauty it is supposed to
enhance. He said that gems should be worn only by women who are not
beautiful, who must rely on something extraneous to attract attention,
since it would be better to a homely woman that men should look at her
to admire a diamond or sapphire than not to look at her at all. She had
laughed and asked him who the man was who had such strange ideas, and he
had replied that he had forgotten his name.

Now, recalling this incident after so long a time, it all at once
flashed into her mind that Edgar was the man he had spoken of; she knew
now because, always secretly watchful, she had noted that he never spoke
of Edgar or heard Edgar spoken of without a slight subtle change in the
expression of his face, also, if he spoke, in the tone of his voice. It
was the change that comes into the face, and into the tone, when one
remembers or speaks of the person most loved in all the world. And she
remembered now that he had that changed expression and tone of voice,
when he had spoken of the man whose name he pretended to have forgotten.

And while she sat thinking of this it grew dark in the room, the light
of the fire having died down. Then presently, in the profound stillness
of the room, she heard the sound of his deep, regular breathing and knew
that he slept, and that it was a sweet sleep after his anxious day.
Going softly to the hearth she moved the yet still glowing logs, until
they sent up a sudden flame and the light fell upon the sleeper's still
face. Turning, she gazed steadily at it--the face of the man who had won
her; but her own face in the firelight was white and still and wore a
strange expression. Now she moved noiselessly to his side and bent down
as if to whisper in his ear, but suddenly drew back again and moved
towards the door, then turning gazed once more at his face and murmured:
No, no, even a word faintly whispered would bring him a dream, and it is
better his sleep should be dreamless. For now he has had his day and it
is finished, and to-morrow is mine.



VI


On the following day Athelwold was occupied with preparations for the
king's reception and for the next day's boar-hunt in the forest. At the
same time he was still somewhat anxious as to his wife's more difficult
part, and from time to time he came to see and consult with her. He then
observed a singular change in her, both in her appearance and conduct.
No longer the radiant, loving Elfrida, her beauty now had been dimmed
and she was unsmiling and her manner towards him repellant. She had
nothing to say to him except that she wished him to leave her alone.
Accordingly he withdrew, feeling a little hurt, and at the same time
admiring her extraordinary skill in disguising her natural loveliness
and charm, but almost fearing that she was making too great a change in
her appearance.

Thus passed the day, and in the late afternoon Edgar duly arrived, and
when he had rested a little, was conducted to the banqueting-room, where
the meeting with Elfrida would take place.

Then Elfrida came, and Athelwold hastened to the entrance to take her
hand and conduct her to the king; then, seeing her, he stood still and
stared in silent astonishment and dismay at the change he saw in her,
for never before had he beheld her so beautiful, so queenly and
magnificent. What did it mean--did she wish to destroy him? Seeing the
state he was in she placed her hand in his, and murmured softly: I know
best. And so, holding her hand, he conducted her to the king, who stood
waiting to receive her. For all she had done that day to please and to
deceive him had now been undone, and everything that had been possible
had been done to enhance her loveliness. She had arrayed herself in a
violet-coloured silk gown with a network of gold thread over the body
and wide sleeves to the elbows, and rope of gold round her waist with
its long ends falling to her knee. The great mass of her coiled hair was
surmounted with a golden comb, and golden pendants dropped from her ears
to her shoulders. Also she wore gold armlets coiled serpent-wise round
her white arms from elbow to wrist. Not a gem--nothing but pale yellow
gold.

Edgar himself was amazed at her loveliness, for never had he seen
anything comparable to it; and when he gazed into her eyes she did not
lower hers, but returned gaze for gaze, and there was that in her eyes
and their strange eloquence which kindled a sudden flame of passion in
his heart, and for a moment it appeared in his countenance. Then,
quickly recovering himself, he greeted her graciously but with his usual
kingly dignity of manner, and for the rest of the time he conversed with
her and Athelwold in such a pleasant and friendly way that his host
began to recover somewhat from his apprehensions. But in his heart Edgar
was saying: And this is the woman that Athelwold, the close friend of
all my days, from boyhood until now, the one man in the world I loved
and trusted, has robbed me of!

And Athelwold at the same time was revolving in his mind the mystery of
Elfrida's action. What did she mean when she whispered to him that she
knew best? And why, when she wished to appear in that magnificent way
before the king, had she worn nothing but gold ornaments--not one of the
splendid gems of which she possessed such a store?

She had remembered something which he had forgotten.

Now when the two friends were left alone together drinking wine,
Athelwold was still troubled in his mind, although his suspicion and
fear were not so acute as at first, and the longer they sat
talking--until the small hours--the more relieved did he feel from
Edgar's manner towards him. Edgar in his cups opened his heart and was
more loving and free in his speech than ever before. He loved Athelwold
as he loved no one else in the world, and to see him great and happy was
his first desire; and he congratulated him from his heart on having
found a wife who was worthy of him and would eventually bring him,
through her father, such great possessions as would make him the chief
nobleman in the land. All happiness and glory to them both; and when a
child was born to them he would be its godfather, and if happily by that
time there was a queen, she should be its godmother.

Then he recalled their happy boyhood's days in East Anglia, that joyful
time when they first hunted and had many a mishap and fell from their
horses when they pursued hare and deer and bustard in the wide open
stretches of sandy country; and in the autumn and winter months when
they were wild-fowling in the great level flooded lands where the geese
and all wild-fowl came in clouds and myriads. And now he laughed and now
his eyes grew moist at the recollection of the irrecoverable glad days.

Little time was left for sleep; yet they were ready early next morning
for the day's great boar-hunt in the forest, and only when the king was
about to mount his horse did Elfrida make her appearance. She came out
to him from the door, not richly dressed now, but in a simple white
linen robe and not an ornament on her except that splendid crown of the
red-gold hair on her head. And her face too was almost colourless now,
and grave and still. She brought wine in a golden cup and gave it to the
king, and he once more fixed his eyes on her and for some moments they
continued silently gazing, each in that fixed gaze seeming to devour the
secrets of the other's soul. Then she wished him a happy hunting, and he
said in reply he hoped it would be the happiest hunting he had ever had.
Then, after drinking the wine, he mounted his horse and rode away. And
she remained standing very still, the cup in her hand, gazing after him
as he rode side by side with Athelwold, until in the distance the trees
hid him from her sight.

Now when they had ridden a distance of three miles or more into the
heart of the forest, they came to a broad drive-like stretch of green
turf, and the king cried: This is just what I have been wishing for!
Come, let us give our horses a good gallop. And when they loosened the
reins, the horses, glad to have a race on such a ground, instantly
sprang forward; but Edgar, keeping a tight rein, was presently left
twenty or thirty yards behind; then, setting spurs to his horse, he
dashed forward, and on coming abreast of his companion, drew his knife
and struck him in the back, dealing the blow with such a concentrated
fury that the knife was buried almost to the hilt. Then violently
wrenching it out, he would have struck again had not the earl, with a
scream of agony, tumbled from his seat. The horse, freed from its rider,
rushed on in a sudden panic, and the king's horse side by side with it.
Edgar, throwing himself back and exerting his whole strength, succeeded
in bringing him to a stop at a distance of fifty or sixty yards, then
turning, came riding back at a furious speed.

Now when Athelwold fell, all those who were riding behind, the earl's
and the king's men to the number of thirty or forty, dashed forward, and
some of them, hurriedly dismounting, gathered about him as he lay
groaning and writhing and pouring out his blood on the ground. But at
the king's approach they drew quickly back to make way for him, and he
came straight on and caused his horse to trample on the fallen man. Then
pointing to him with the knife he still had in his hand, he cried: That
is how I serve a false friend and traitor! Then, wiping the stained
knife-blade on his horse's neck and sheathing it, he shouted: Back to
Salisbury! and setting spurs to his horse, galloped off towards the
Andover road.

His men immediately mounted and followed, leaving the earl's men with
their master. Lifting him up, they placed him on a horse, and with a
mounted man on each side to hold him up, they moved back at a walking
pace towards Wherwell.

Messengers were sent ahead to inform Elfrida of what had happened, and
then, an hour later, yet another messenger to tell that Athelwold, when
half-way home, had breathed his last. Then at last the corpse was
brought to the castle and she met it with tears and lamentations. But
afterwards in her own chamber, when she had dismissed all her
attendants, as she desired to weep alone, her grief changed to joy. O,
glorious Edgar, she said, the time will come when you will know what I
feel now, when at your feet, embracing your knees and kissing the
blessed hand that with one blow has given me life and liberty. One blow
and your revenge was satisfied and you had won me; I know it, I saw it
all in that flame of love and fury in your eyes at our first meeting,
which you permitted me to see, which, if he had seen, he would have
known that he was doomed. O perfect master of dissimulation, all the
more do I love and worship you for dealing with him as he dealt with you
and with me; caressing him with flattering words until the moment came
to strike and slay. And I love you all the more for making your horse
trample on him as he lay bleeding his life out on the ground. And now
you have opened the way with your knife you shall come back or call me
to you when it pleases you, and for the rest of your life it will be a
satisfaction to you to know that you have taken a modest woman as well
as the fairest in the land for wife and queen, and your pride in me will
be my happiness and glory. For men's love is little to me since
Athelwold taught me to think meanly of all men, except you that slew
him. And you shall be free to follow your own mind and be ever strenuous
and vigilant and run after kingly pleasures, pursuing deer and wolf and
beautiful women all over the land. And I shall listen to the tales of
your adventures and conquests with a smile like that of a mother who
sees her child playing seriously with its dolls and toys, talking to and
caressing them. And in return you shall give me my desire, which is
power and splendour; for these I crave, to be first and greatest, to
raise up and cast down, and in all our life I shall be your help and
stay in ruling this realm, so that our names may be linked together and
shine in the annals of England for all time.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Edgar slew Athelwold his age was twenty-two, and before he was a
year older he had married Elfrida, to the rage of that great man and
primate and more than premier, who, under Edgar, virtually ruled
England. And in his rage, and remembering how he had dealt with a
previous boy king, whose beautiful young wife he had hounded to her
dreadful end, he charged Elfrida with having instigated her husband's
murder, and commanded the king to put that woman away. This roused the
man and passionate lover, and the tiger in the man, in Edgar, and the
wise and subtle-minded ecclesiastic quickly recognised that he had set
himself against one of a will more powerful and dangerous than his own.
He remembered that it was Edgar, who, when he had been deprived of his
abbey and driven in disgrace from the land, had recalled and made him so
great, and he knew that the result of a quarrel between them would be a
mighty upheaval in the land and the sweeping away of all his great
reforms. And so, cursing the woman in his heart and secretly vowing
vengeance on her, he was compelled in the interests of the Church to
acquiesce in this fresh crime of the king.



VII


Eight years had passed since the king's marriage with Elfrida, and the
one child born to them was now seven, the darling of his parents,
Ethelred the angelic child, who to the end of his long life would be
praised for one thing only--his personal beauty. But Edward, his
half-brother, now in his thirteenth year, was regarded by her with an
almost equal affection, on account of his beauty and charm, his devotion
to his step-mother, the only mother he had known, and, above all, for
his love of his little half-brother. He was never happy unless he was
with him, acting the part of guide and instructor as well as playfellow.

Edgar had recently completed one of his great works, the building of
Corfe Castle, and now whenever he was in Wessex preferred it as a
residence, since he loved best that part of England with its wide moors
and hunting forests, and its neighbourhood to the sea and to Portland
and Poole water. He had been absent for many weeks on a journey to
Northumbria, and the last tidings of his movements were that he was on
his way to the south, travelling on the Welsh border, and intended
visiting the Abbot of Glastonbury before returning to Dorset. This
religious house was already very great in his day; he had conferred many
benefits on it, and contemplated still others.

It was summer time, a season of great heats, and Elfrida with the two
little princes often went to the coast to spend a whole day in the open
air by the sea. Her favourite spot was at the foot of a vast chalk down
with a slight strip of woodland between its lowest slope and the beach.
She was at this spot one day about noon where the trees were few and
large, growing wide apart, and had settled herself on a pile of cushions
placed at the roots of a big old oak tree, where from her seat she could
look out over the blue expanse of water. But the hamlet and church close
by on her left hand were hidden by the wood, though sounds issuing from
it could be heard occasionally--shouts and bursts of laughter, and at
times the music of a stringed instrument and a voice singing. These
sounds came from her armed guard and other attendants who were speeding
the idle hours of waiting in their own way, in eating and drinking and
in games and dancing. Only two women remained to attend to her wants,
and one armed man to keep watch and guard over the two boys at their
play.

They were not now far off, not above fifty yards, among the big trees;
but for hours past they had been away out of her sight, racing on their
ponies over the great down; then bathing in the sea, Edward teaching his
little brother to swim; then he had given him lessons in tree-climbing,
and now, tired of all these exertions, and for variety's sake, they were
amusing themselves by standing on their heads. Little Ethelred had tried
and failed repeatedly, then at last, with hands and head firmly planted
on the sward, he had succeeded in throwing his legs up and keeping them
in a vertical position for a few seconds, this feat being loudly
applauded by his young instructor.

Elfrida, who had witnessed this display from her seat, burst out
laughing, then said to herself: O how I love these two beautiful boys
almost with an equal love, albeit one is not mine! But Edward must be
ever dear to me because of his sweetness and his love of me and, even
more, his love and tender care of my darling. Yet am I not wholly free
from an anxious thought of the distant future. Ah, no, let me not think
of such a thing! This sweet child of a boy-father and girl-mother--the
frail mother that died in her teens--he can never grow to be a proud,
masterful, ambitious man--never aspire to wear his father's crown!
Edgar's first-born, it is true, but not mine, and he can never be king.
For Edgar and I are one; is it conceivable that he should oppose me in
this--that we that are one in mind and soul shall at the last be divided
and at enmity? Have we not said it an hundred times that we are one? One
in all things except in passion. Yet this very coldness in me in which I
differ from others is my chief strength and glory, and has made our two
lives one life. And when he is tired and satiated with the common beauty
and the common passions of other women he returns to me only to have his
first love kindled afresh, and when in love and pity I give myself to
him and am his bride afresh as when first he had my body in his arms, it
is to him as if one of the immortals had stooped to a mortal, and he
tells me I am the flower of womankind and of the world, that my white
body is a perfect white flower, my hair a shining gold flower, my mouth
a fragrant scarlet flower, and my eyes a sacred blue flower, surpassing
all others in loveliness. And when I have satisfied him, and the tempest
in his blood has abated, then for the rapture he has had I have mine,
when, ashamed at his violence, as if it had been an insult to me, he
covers his face with my hair and sheds tears of love and contrition on
my breasts. O nothing can ever disunite us! Even from the first, before
I ever saw him, when he was coming to me I knew that we were destined to
be one. And he too knew it from the moment of seeing me, and knew that I
knew it; and when he sat at meat with us and looked smilingly at the
friend of his bosom and spoke merrily to him, and resolved at the same
time to take his life, he knew that by so doing he would fulfil my
desire, and as my knowledge of the betrayal was first, so the desire to
shed that abhorred blood was in me first. Nevertheless, I cannot be free
of all anxious thoughts, and fear too of my implacable enemy and
traducer who from a distance watches all my movements, who reads Edgar's
mind even as he would a book, and what he finds there writ by me he
seeks to blot out; and thus does he ever thwart me. But though I cannot
measure my strength against his, it will not always be so, seeing that
he is old and I am young, with Time and Death on my side, who will like
good and faithful servants bring him to the dust, so that my triumph
must come. And when he is no more I shall have time to unbuild the
structure he has raised with lies for stones and my name coupled with
some evil deed cut in every stone. For I look ever to the future, even
to the end to see this Edgar, with the light of life shining so brightly
in him now, a venerable king with silver hair, his passions cool, his
strength failing, leaning more heavily on me; until at last, persuaded
by me, he will step down from the throne and resign his crown to our
son--our Ethelred. And in him and his son after him, and in his son's
sons we shall live still in their blood, and with them rule this kingdom
of Edgar the Peaceful--a realm of everlasting peace.

Thus she mused, until overcome by her swift, crowding thoughts and
passions, love and hate, with memories dreadful or beautiful, of her
past and strivings of her mind to pierce the future, she burst into a
violent storm of tears so that her frame was shaken, and covering her
eyes with her hands she strove to get the better of her agitation lest
her weakness should be witnessed by her attendants. But when this
tempest had left her and she lifted her eyes again, it seemed to her
that the burning tears which had relieved her heart had also washed away
some trouble that had been like a dimness on all visible nature, and
earth and sea and sky were glorified as if the sunlight flooding the
world fell direct from the heavenly throne, and she sat drinking in pure
delight from the sight of it and the soft, warm air she breathed.

Then, to complete her happiness, the silence that reigned around her was
broken by a sweet, musical sound of a little bird that sang from the
tree-top high above her head. This was the redstart, and the tree under
which she sat was its singing-tree, to which it resorted many times a
day to spend half an hour or so repeating its brief song at intervals of
a few seconds--a small song that was like the song of the redbreast,
subdued, refined and spiritualised, as of a spirit that lived within the
tree.

Listening to it in that happy, tender mood which had followed her tears,
she gazed up and tried to catch sight of it, but could see nothing but
the deep-cut, green, translucent, clustering oak leaves showing the blue
of heaven and shining like emeralds in the sunlight. O sweet, blessed
little bird, she said, are you indeed a bird? I think you are a
messenger sent to assure me that all my hopes and dreams of the distant
days to come will be fulfilled. Sing again and again and again; I could
listen for hours to that selfsame song.

But she heard it no more; the bird had flown away. Then, still
listening, she caught a different sound--the loud hoof-beats of horses
being ridden at furious speed towards the hamlet. Listening intently to
that sound she heard, on its arrival at the hamlet, a sudden, great cry
as if all the men gathered there had united their voices in one cry; and
she stood up, and her women came to her, and all together stood silently
gazing in that direction. Then the two boys who had been lying on the
turf not far off came running to them and caught her by the hands, one
on each side, and Edward, looking up at her white, still face, cried,
Mother, what is it you fear? But she answered no word. Then again the
sound of hoofs was heard and they knew the riders were now coming at a
swift gallop to them. And in a few moments they appeared among the
trees, and reining up their horses at a distance of some yards, one
sprang to the ground, and advancing to the queen, made his obeisance,
then told her he had been sent to inform her of Edgar's death. He had
been seized by a sudden violent fever in Gloucestershire, on his way to
Glastonbury, and had died after two days' illness. He had been
unconscious all the time, but more than once he had cried out, On to
Glastonbury! and now in obedience to that command his body was being
conveyed thither for interment at the abbey.



VIII


She had no tears to shed, no word to say, nor was there any sense of
grief at her loss. She had loved him--once upon a time; she had always
admired him for his better qualities; even his excessive pride and
ostentation had been pleasing to her; finally she had been more than
tolerant of his vices or weaknesses, regarding them as matters beneath
her attention. Nevertheless, in their eight years of married life they
had become increasingly repugnant to her stronger and colder nature. He
had degenerated, bodily and mentally, and was not now like that shining
one who had come to her at Wherwell Castle, who had not hesitated to
strike the blow that had set her free. The tidings of his death had all
at once sprung the truth on her mind that the old love was dead, that it
had indeed been long dead, and that she had actually come to despise
him.

But what should she do--what be--without him! She had been his queen,
loved to adoration, and he had been her shield; now she was alone, face
to face with her bitter, powerful enemy. Now it seemed to her that she
had been living in a beautiful peaceful land, a paradise of fruit and
flowers and all delightful things; that in a moment, as by a miracle, it
had turned to a waste of black ashes still hot and smoking from the
desolating flames that had passed over it. But she was not one to give
herself over to despondency so long as there was anything to be done.
Very quickly she roused herself to action, and despatched messengers to
all those powerful friends who shared her hatred of the great
archbishop, and would be glad of the opportunity now offered of wresting
the rule from his hands. Until now he had triumphed because he had had
the king to support him even in his most arbitrary and tyrannical
measures; now was the time to show a bold front, to proclaim her son as
the right successor, and with herself, assisted by chosen councillors to
direct her boy, the power would be in her hands, and once more, as in
King Edwin's day, the great Dunstan, disgraced and denounced, would be
compelled to fly from the country lest a more dreadful punishment should
befall him. Finally, leaving the two little princes at Corfe Castle, she
travelled to Mercia to be with and animate her powerful friends and
fellow-plotters with her presence.

All their plottings and movements were known to Dunstan, and he was too
quick for them. Whilst they, divided among themselves, were debating and
arranging their plans, he had called together all the leading bishops
and councillors of the late king, and they had agreed that Edward must
be proclaimed as the first-born; and although but a boy of thirteen, the
danger to the country would not be so great as it would to give the
succession to a child of seven years. Accordingly Edward was proclaimed
king and removed from Corfe Castle while the queen was still absent in
Mercia.

For a while it looked as if this bold and prompt act on the part of
Dunstan would have led to civil war; but a great majority of the nobles
gave their adhesion to Edward, and Elfrida's friends soon concluded that
they were not strong enough to set her boy up and try to overthrow
Edward, or to divide England again between two boy kings as in Edwin and
Edgar's early years.

She accordingly returned discomfited to Corfe and to her child, now
always crying for his beloved brother who had been taken from him; and
there was not in all England a more miserable woman than Elfrida the
queen. For after this defeat she could hope no more; her power was gone
past recovery--all that had made her life beautiful and glorious was
gone. Now Corfe was like that other castle at Wherwell, where Earl
Athelwold had kept her like a caged bird for his pleasure when he
visited her; only worse, since she was eight years younger then, her
beauty fresher, her heart burning with secret hopes and ambitions, and
the great world where there were towns and a king, and many noble men
and women gathered round him yet to be known. And all these things had
come to her and were now lost--now nothing was left but bitterest
regrets and hatred of all those who had failed her at the last. Hatred
first of all and above all of her great triumphant enemy, and hatred of
the boy king she had loved with a mother's love until now, and cherished
for many years. Hatred too of herself when she recalled the part she had
recently played in Mercia, where she had not disdained to practise all
her fascinating arts on many persons she despised in order to bind them
to her cause, and had thereby given cause to her monkish enemy to charge
her with immodesty. It was with something like hatred too that she
regarded her own child when he would come crying to her, begging her to
take him to his beloved brother; carried away with sudden rage, she
would strike and thrust him violently from her, then order her women to
take him away and keep him out of her sight.

Three years had gone by, during which she had continued living alone at
Corfe, still under a cloud and nursing her bitter revengeful feeling in
her heart, until that fatal afternoon on the eighteenth day of March,
978.

The young king, now in his seventeenth year, had come to these favourite
hunting-grounds of his late father, and was out hunting on that day. He
had lost sight of his companions in a wood or thicket of thorn and
furze, and galloping in search of them he came out from the wood on the
further side; and there before him, not a mile away, was Corfe Castle,
his old beloved home, and the home still of the two beings he loved best
in the world--his step-mother and his little half-brother. And although
he had been sternly warned that they were his secret enemies, that it
would be dangerous to hold any intercourse with them, the sight of the
castle and his craving to look again on their dear faces overcame his
scruples. There would be no harm, no danger to him and no great
disobedience on his part to ride to the gates and see and greet them
without dismounting.

When Elfrida was told that Edward himself was at the gates calling to
her and Ethelred to come out to him she became violently excited, and
cried out that God himself was on her side, and had delivered the boy
into her hands. She ordered her servants to go out and persuade him to
come in to her, to take away his horse as soon as he had dismounted, and
not to allow him to leave the castle. Then, when they returned to say
the king refused to dismount and again begged them to go to him, she
went to the gates, but without the boy, and greeted him joyfully, while
he, glad at the meeting, bent down and embraced her and kissed her face.
But when she refused to send for Ethelred, and urged him persistently to
dismount and come in to see his little brother who was crying for him,
he began to notice the extreme excitement which burned in her eyes and
made her voice tremble, and beginning to fear some design against him,
he refused again more firmly to obey her wish; then she, to gain time,
sent for wine for him to drink before parting from her. And during all
this time while his departure was being delayed, her people, men and
women, had been coming out until, sitting on his horse, he was in the
midst of a crowd, and these too all looked on him with excited faces,
which increased his apprehension, so that when he had drunk the wine he
all at once set spurs to his horse to break away from among them. Then
she, looking at her men, cried out: Is this the way you serve me? And no
sooner had the words fallen from her lips than one man bounded forward,
like a hound on its quarry, and coming abreast of the horse, dealt the
king a blow with his knife in the side. The next moment the horse and
rider were free of the crowd and rushing away over the moor. A cry of
horror had burst from the women gathered there when the blow was struck;
now all were silent, watching with white, scared faces as he rode
swiftly away. Then presently they saw him swerve on his horse, then
fall, with his right foot still remaining caught in the stirrup, and
that the panic-stricken horse was dragging him at furious speed over the
rough moor.

Only then the queen spoke, and in an agitated voice told them to mount
and follow; and charged them that if they overtook the horse and found
that the king had been killed, to bury the body where it would not be
found, so that the manner of his death should not be known.

When the men returned they reported that they had found the dead body of
the king a mile away, where the horse had got free of it, and they had
buried it in a thicket where it would never be discovered.



IX


When Edward in sudden terror set spurs to his horse: when at the same
moment a knife flashed out and the fatal blow was delivered, Elfrida
too, like the other women witnesses in the crowd, had uttered a cry of
horror. But once the deed was accomplished and the assurance received
that the body had been hidden where it would never be found, the feeling
experienced at the spectacle was changed to one of exultation. For now
at last, after three miserable years of brooding on her defeat, she had
unexpectedly triumphed, and it was as if she already had her foot set on
her enemies' necks. For now her boy would be king--happily there was no
other candidate in the field; now her great friends from all over the
land would fly to her aid, and with them for her councillors she would
practically be the ruler during the king's long minority.

Thus she exulted; then, when that first tempest of passionate excitement
had abated, came a revulsion of feeling when the vivid recollections of
that pitiful scene returned and would not be thrust away; when she saw
again the change from affection and delight at beholding her to
suspicion and fear, then terror, come into the face of the boy she had
loved; when she witnessed the dreadful blow and watched him when he
swerved and fell from the saddle and the frightened horse galloped
wildly away dragging him over the rough moor. For now she knew that in
her heart she had never hated him: the animosity had been only on the
surface and was an overflow of her consuming hatred of the primate. She
had always loved the boy, and now that he no longer stood in her way to
power she loved him again. And she had slain him! O no, she was thankful
to think she had not! His death had come about by chance. Her commands
to her people had been that he was not to be allowed to leave the
castle; she had resolved to detain him, to hide and hold him a captive,
to persuade or in some way compel him to abdicate in his brother's
favour. She could not now say just how she had intended to deal with
him, but it was never her intention to murder him. Her commands had been
misunderstood, and she could not be blamed for his death, however much
she was to benefit by it. God would not hold her accountable.

Could she then believe that she was guiltless in God's sight? Alas! on
second thoughts she dared not affirm it. She was guiltless only in the
way that she had been guiltless of Athelwold's murder; had she not
rejoiced at the part she had had in that act? Athelwold had deserved his
fate, and she had never repented that deed, nor had Edgar. She had not
dealt the fatal blow then nor now, but she had wished for Edward's death
even as she had wished for Athelwold's, and it was for her the blow was
struck. It was a difficult and dreadful question. She was not equal to
it. Let it be put off, the pressing question now was, what would man's
judgment be--how would she now stand before the world?

And now the hope came that the secret of the king's disappearance would
never be known; that after a time it would be assumed that he was dead,
and that his death would never be traced to her door.

A vain hope, as she quickly found! There had been too many witnesses of
the deed both of the castle people and those who lived outside the
gates. The news spread fast and far as if carried by winged messengers,
so that it was soon known throughout the kingdom, and everywhere it was
told and believed that the queen herself had dealt the fatal blow.

Not Elfrida nor any one living at that time could have foretold the
effect on the people generally of this deed, described as the foulest
which had been done in Saxon times. There had in fact been a thousand
blacker deeds in the England of that dreadful period, but never one that
touched the heart and imagination of the whole people in the same way.
Furthermore, it came after a long pause, a serene interval of many years
in the everlasting turmoil--the years of the reign of Edgar the
Peaceful, whose early death had up till then been its one great sorrow.
A time too of recovery from a state of insensibility to evil deeds; of
increasing civilisation and the softening of hearts. For Edward was the
child of Edgar and his child-wife, who was beautiful and beloved and
died young; and he had inherited the beauty, charm, and all engaging
qualities of his parents. It is true that these qualities were known at
first-hand only by those who were about him; but from these the feeling
inspired had been communicated to those outside in ever-widening circles
until it was spread over all the land, so that there was no habitation,
from the castle to the hovel, in which the name of Edward was not as
music on man's lips. And we of the present generation can perhaps
understand this better than those of any other in the past centuries,
for having a prince and heir to the English throne of this same name so
great in our annals, one as universally loved as was Edward the Second,
afterwards called the Martyr, in his day.

One result of this general outburst of feeling was that all those who
had been, openly or secretly, in alliance with Elfrida now hastened to
dissociate themselves from her. She was told that by her own rash act in
killing the king before the world she had ruined her own cause for ever.

And Dunstan was not defeated after all. He made haste to proclaim the
son, the boy of ten years, king of England, and at the same time to
denounce the mother as a murderess. Nor did she dare to resist him when
he removed the little prince from Corfe Castle and placed him with some
of his own creatures, with monks for schoolmasters and guardians, whose
first lesson to him would be detestation of his mother. This lesson too
had to be impressed on the public mind; and at once, in obedience to
this command, every preaching monk in every chapel in the land raged
against the queen, the enemy of the archbishop and of religion, the
tigress in human shape, and author of the greatest crime known in the
land since Cerdic's landing. No fortitude could stand against such a
storm of execration. It overwhelmed her. It was, she believed, a
preparation for the dreadful doom about to fall on her. This was her
great enemy's day, and he would no longer be baulked of his revenge. She
remembered that Edwin had died by the assassin's hand, and the awful
fate of his queen Elgitha, whose too beautiful face was branded with hot
irons, and who was hamstrung and left to perish in unimaginable agony.
She was like the hunted roe deer hiding in a close thicket and
listening, trembling, to the hunters shouting and blowing on their horns
and to the baying of their dogs, seeking for her in the wood.

Could she defend herself against them in her castle? She consulted her
guard as to this, with the result that most of the men secretly left
her. There was nothing for her to do but wait in dreadful suspense, and
thereafter she would spend many hours every day in a tower commanding a
wide view of the surrounding level country to watch the road with
anxious eyes. But the feared hunters came not; the sound of the cry for
vengeance grew fainter and fainter until it died into silence. It was at
length borne in on her that she was not to be punished--at all events,
not here and by man. It came as a surprise to every one, herself
included. But it had been remembered that she was Edgar's widow and the
king's mother, and that her power and influence were dead. Never again
would she lift her head in England. Furthermore, Dunstan was growing
old; and albeit his zeal for religion, pure and undefiled as he
understood it, was not abated, the cruel, ruthless instincts and temper,
which had accompanied and made it effective in the great day of conflict
when he was engaged in sweeping from England the sin and scandal of a
married clergy, had by now burnt themselves out. Vengeance is mine,
saith the Lord, I will repay, and he was satisfied to have no more to do
with her. Let the abhorred woman answer to God for her crimes.

But now that all fear of punishment by man was over, this dreadful
thought that she was answerable to God weighed more and more heavily on
her. Nor could she escape by day or night from the persistent image of
the murdered boy. It haunted her like a ghost in every room, and when
she climbed to a tower to look out it was to see his horse rushing madly
away dragging his bleeding body over the moor. Or when she went out to
the gate it was still to find him there, sitting on his horse, his face
lighting up with love and joy at beholding her again; then the
change--the surprise, the fear, the wine-cup, the attempt to break away,
her cry--the unconsidered words she had uttered--and the fatal blow! The
cry that rose from all England calling on God to destroy her! would that
be her torment--would it sound in her ears through all eternity?

Corfe became unendurable to her, and eventually she moved to Bere, in
Dorset, where the lands were her property and she possessed a house of
her own, and there for upwards of a year she resided in the strictest
seclusion.

It then came out and was quickly noised abroad that the king's body had
been discovered long ago--miraculously it was said--in that brake near
Corfe where it had been hidden; that it had been removed to and secretly
buried at Wareham, and it was also said that miracles were occurring at
that spot. This caused a fresh outburst of excitement in the country;
the cry of miracles roused the religious houses all over Wessex, and
there was a clamour for possession of the remains. This was a question
for the heads of the Church to decide, and it was eventually decreed
that the monastery of Shaftesbury, founded by King Alfred, Edward's
great-great-grandfather, should have the body. Shaftesbury then, in
order to advertise so important an acquisition to the world, resolved to
make the removal of the remains the occasion of a great ceremony, a
magnificent procession bearing the sacred remains from Wareham to the
distant little city on the hill, attended by representatives from
religious houses all over the country and by the pious generally.

Elfrida, sitting alone in her house, brooding on her desolation, heard
of all these happenings and doings with increasing excitement; then all
at once resolved to take part herself in the procession. This was
seemingly a strange, almost incredible departure for one of her
indomitable character and so embittered against the primate, even as he
was against her. But her fight with him was now ended; she was defeated,
broken, deprived of everything that she valued in life; it was time to
think about the life to come. Furthermore, it now came to her that this
was not her own thought, but that it had been whispered to her soul by
some compassionate being of a higher order, and it was suggested to her
that here was an opportunity for a first step towards a reconciliation
with God and man. She dared not disregard it. Once more she would appear
before the world, not as the beautiful, magnificent Elfrida, the proud
and powerful woman of other days, but as a humble penitent doing her
bitter penance in public, one of a thousand or ten thousand humble
pilgrims, clad in mean garments, riding only when overcome with fatigue,
and at the last stage of that long twenty-five-mile journey casting off
her shoes to climb the steep stony road on naked, bleeding feet.

This resolution, in which she was strongly supported by the local
priesthood, had a mollifying effect on the people, and something like
compassion began to mingle with their feelings of hatred towards her.
But when it was reported to Dunstan, he fell into a rage, and imagined
or pretended to believe that some sinister design was hidden under it.
She was the same woman, he said, who had instigated the murder of her
first husband by means of a trick of this kind. She must not be allowed
to show her face again. He then despatched a stern and threatening
message forbidding her to take any part in or show herself at the
procession.

This came at the last moment when all her preparations had been made;
but she dared not disobey. The effect was to increase her misery. It was
as if the gates of mercy and deliverance, which had been opened,
miraculously as she believed, had now been once more closed against her;
and it was also as if her enemy had said: I have spared you the branding
with hot irons and slashing of sinews with sharp knives, not out of
compassion, but in order to subject you to a more terrible punishment.

Despair possessed her, which turned to sullen rage when she found that
the feeling of the people around her had again become hostile, owing to
the report that her non-appearance at the procession was due to the
discovery by Dunstan in good time of a secret plot against the State on
her part. Her house at Bere became unendurable to her; she resolved to
quit it, and made choice of Salisbury as her next place of residence. It
was not far to go, and she had a good house there which had not been
used since Edgar's death, but was always kept ready for her occupation.



X


It was about the middle of the afternoon when Elfrida on horseback and
attended by her mounted guard of twenty or more men, followed by a
convoy of carts with her servants and luggage, arrived at Salisbury, and
was surprised and disturbed at the sight of a vast concourse of people
standing without the gates.

It had got abroad that she was coming to Salisbury on that day, and it
was also now known throughout Wessex that she had not been allowed to
attend the procession to Shaftesbury. This had excited the people, and a
large part of the inhabitants of the town and the adjacent hamlets had
congregated to witness her arrival.

On her approach the crowd opened out on either side to make way for her
and her men, and glancing to this side and that she saw that every pair
of eyes in all that vast silent crowd were fixed intently on her face.

Then came a fresh surprise when she found a mounted guard standing with
drawn swords before the gates. The captain of the guard, lifting his
hand, cried out to her to halt, then in a loud voice he informed her he
had been ordered to turn her back from the gates. Was it then to witness
this fresh insult that the people had now been brought together? Anger
and apprehension struggled for mastery in her breast and choked her
utterance when she attempted to speak. She could only turn to her men,
and in instant response to her look they drew their swords and pressed
forward as if about to force their way in. This movement on their part
was greeted with a loud burst of derisive laughter from the town guard.
Then from out of the middle of the crowd of lookers-on came a cry of
Murderess! quickly followed by another shout of Go back, murderess, you
are not wanted here! This was a signal for all the unruly spirits in the
throng--all those whose delight is to trample upon the fallen--and from
all sides there arose a storm of jeers and execrations, and it was as if
she was in the midst of a frantic bellowing herd eager to gore and
trample her to death. And these were the same people that a few short
years ago would rush out from their houses to gaze with pride and
delight at her, their beautiful queen, and applaud her to the echo
whenever she appeared at their gates! Now, better than ever before, she
realised the change of feeling towards her from affectionate loyalty to
abhorrence, and drained to the last bitterest dregs the cup of shame and
humiliation.

With trembling hand she turned her horse round, and bending her ashen
white face low rode slowly out of the crowd, her men close to her on
either side, threatening with their swords those that pressed nearest
and followed in their retreat by shouts and jeers. But when well out of
sight and sound of the people she dismounted and sat down on the turf to
rest and consider what was to be done. By and by a mounted man was seen
coming from Salisbury at a fast gallop. He came with a letter and
message to the queen from an aged nobleman, one she had known in former
years at court. He informed her that he owned a large house at or near
Amesbury which he could not now use on account of his age and
infirmities, which compelled him to remain in Salisbury. This house she
might occupy for as long as she wished to remain in the neighbourhood.
He had received permission from the governor of the town to offer it to
her, and the only condition was that she must not return to Salisbury.

There was thus one friend left to the reviled and outcast queen--this
aged dying man!

Once more she set forth with the messenger as guide, and about set of
sun arrived at the house, which was to be her home for the next two to
three years, in this darkest period of her life. Yet she could not have
found a habitation and surroundings more perfectly suited to her wants
and the mood she was in. The house, which was large enough to
accommodate all her people, was on the west side of the Avon, a quarter
of a mile below Amesbury and two to three hundred yards distant from the
river bank, and was surrounded by enclosed land with gardens and
orchards, the river itself forming the boundary on one side. Here was
the perfect seclusion she desired: here she could spend her hours and
days as she ever loved to do in the open air without sight of any human
countenance excepting those of her own people, since now strange faces
had become hateful to her. Then, again, she loved riding, and just
outside of her gates was the great green expanse of the Downs, where she
could spend hours on horseback without meeting or seeing a human figure
except occasionally a solitary shepherd guarding his flock. So great was
the attraction the Downs had for her she herself marvelled at it. It was
not merely the sense of power and freedom the rider feels on a horse
with the exhilarating effect of swift motion and a wide horizon. Here
she had got out of the old and into a new world better suited to her
changed spirit. For in that world of men and women in which she had
lived until now all nature had become interfused with her own and other
people's lives--passions and hopes and fears and dreams and ambitions.
Now it was as if an obscuring purple mist had been blown away, leaving
the prospect sharp and clear to her sight as it had never appeared
before. A wide prospect, whose grateful silence was only broken by the
cry or song of some wild bird. Great thickets of dwarf thorn tree and
brambles and gorse, aflame with yellow flowers or dark to blackness by
contrast with the pale verdure of the earth. And open reaches of elastic
turf, its green suffused or sprinkled with red or blue or yellow,
according to the kind of flowers proper to the season and place. The
sight, too, of wild creatures: fallow deer, looking yellow in the
distance when seen amid the black gorse; a flock of bustards taking to
flight on her approach would rush away, their spread wings flashing
silver-white in the brilliant sunshine. She was like them on her horse,
borne swiftly as on wings above the earth, but always near it. Then,
casting her eyes up, she would watch the soarers, the buzzards, or
harriers and others, circling up from earth on broad motionless wings,
bird above bird, ever rising and diminishing to fade away at last into
the universal blue. Then, as if aspiring too, she would seek the highest
point on some high down, and sitting on her horse survey the prospect
before her--the sea of rounded hills, hills beyond hills, stretching
away to the dim horizon, and over it all the vast blue dome of heaven.
Sky and earth, with thorny brakes and grass and flowers and wild
creatures, with birds that flew low and others soaring up into
heaven--what was the secret meaning it had for her? She was like one
groping for a key in a dark place. Not a human figure visible, not a
sign of human occupancy on that expanse! Was this then the secret of her
elation? The all-powerful, dreadful God she was at enmity with, whom she
feared and fled from, was not here. He, or his spirit, was where man
inhabited, in cities and other centres of population, where there were
churches and monasteries.

To think this was a veritable relief to her. God was where men
worshipped him, and not here! She hugged the new belief and it made her
bold and defiant. Doubtless, if he is here, she would say, and can read
my thoughts, my horse in his very next gallop will put his foot in a
mole-run, and bring me down and break my neck. Or when yon black cloud
comes over me, if it is a thunder-cloud, the lightning out of it will
strike me dead. If he will but listen to his servant Dunstan this will
surely happen. Was it God or the head shepherd of his sheep, here in
England, who, when I tried to enter the fold, beat me off with his staff
and set his dogs on me so that I was driven away, torn and bleeding, to
hide myself in a solitary place? Would it then be better for me to go
with my cries for mercy to his seat? O no, I could not come to him
there; his doorkeepers would bar the way, and perhaps bring together a
crowd of their people to howl at me--Go away, Murderess, you are not
wanted here!

Now in spite of those moments, or even hours, of elation, during which
her mind would recover its old independence until the sense of freedom
was like an intoxication; when she cried out against God that he was
cruel and unjust in his dealings with his creatures, that he had raised
up and given power to the man who held the rod over her, one who in
God's holy name had committed crimes infinitely greater than hers, and
she refused to submit to him--in spite of it all she could never shake
off the terrible thought that in the end, at God's judgment seat, she
would have to answer for her own dark deeds. She could not be free of
her religion. She was like one who tears a written paper to pieces and
scatters the pieces in anger to see them blown away like snow-flakes on
the wind; who by and by discovers one small fragment clinging to his
garments, and looking at the half a dozen words and half words appearing
on it, adds others from memory or of his own invention. So she with what
was left when she thrust her religion away built for herself a different
one which was yet like the old; and even here in this solitude she was
able to find a house and sacred place for meditation and prayer, in
which she prayed indirectly to the God she was at enmity with. For now
invariably on returning from her ride to her house at Amesbury she would
pay a visit to the Great Stones, the ancient temple of Stonehenge.
Dismounting, she would order her attendants to take her horse away and
wait for her at a distance, so as not to be disturbed by the sound of
their talking. Going in she would seat herself on the central or altar
stone and give a little time to meditation--to the tuning of her mind.
That circle of rough-hewn stones, rough with grey lichen, were the
pillars of her cathedral, with the infinite blue sky for roof, and for
incense the smell of flowers and aromatic herbs, and for music the
far-off faintly heard sounds that came to her from the surrounding
wilderness--the tremulous bleating of sheep and the sudden wild cry of
hawk or stone curlew. Closing her eyes she would summon the familiar
image and vision of the murdered boy, always coming so quickly, so
vividly, that she had brought herself to believe that it was not a mere
creation of her own mind and of remorse, a memory, but that he was
actually there with her. Moving her hand over the rough stone she would
by and by let it rest, pressing it on the stone, and would say, Now I
have your hand in mine, and am looking with my soul's eyes into yours,
listen again to the words I have spoken so many times. You would not be
here if you did not remember me and pity and even love me still. Know
then that I am now alone in the world, that I am hated by the world
because of your bitter death. And there is not now one living being in
the world that I love, for I have ceased to love even my own boy, your
old beloved playmate, seeing that he has long been taken from me and
taught with all others to despise and hate me. And of all those who
inhabit the regions above, in all that innumerable multitude of angels
and saints, and of all who have died on earth and been forgiven, you
alone have any feeling of compassion for me and can intercede for me.
Plead for me--plead for me, O my son; for who is there in heaven or
earth that can plead so powerfully for me that am stained with your
blood!

Then, having finished her prayer, and wiped away all trace of tears and
painful emotions, she would summon her attendants and ride home, in
appearance and bearing still the Elfrida of her great days--the calm,
proud-faced, beautiful woman who was once Edgar's queen.



XI


The time had arrived when Elfrida was deprived of this her one relief
and consolation--her rides on the Downs and the exercise of her religion
at the temple of the Great Stones--when in the second winter of her
residence at Amesbury there fell a greater darkness than that of winter
on England, when the pirate kings of the north began once more to
frequent our shores, and the daily dreadful tale of battles and
massacres and burning of villages and monasteries was heard throughout
the kingdom. These invasions were at first confined to the eastern
counties, but the agitation, with movements of men and outbreaks of
lawlessness, were everywhere in the country, and the queen was warned
that it was no longer safe for her to go out on Salisbury Plain.

The close seclusion in which she had now to live, confined to house and
enclosed land, affected her spirits, and this was her darkest period,
and it was also the turning-point in her life. For I now come to the
strange story of her maid Editha, who, despite her humble position in
the house, and albeit she was but a young girl in years, one, moreover,
of a meek, timid disposition, was yet destined to play an exceedingly
important part in the queen's history.

It happened that by chance or design the queen's maid, who was her
closest attendant, who dressed and undressed her, was suddenly called
away on some urgent matter, and this girl Editha, a stranger to all, was
put in her place. The queen, who was in a moody and irritable state,
presently discovered that the sight and presence of this girl produced a
soothing effect on her darkened mind. She began to notice her when the
maid combed her hair, when sitting with half-closed eyes in profound
dejection she first looked attentively at that face behind her head in
the mirror and marvelled at its fairness, the perfection of its lines
and its delicate colouring, the pale gold hair and strangely serious
grey eyes that were never lifted to meet her own.

What was it in this face, she asked herself, that held her and gave some
rest to her tormented spirit? It reminded her of that crystal stream of
sweet and bitter memories, at Wherwell, on which she used to gaze and in
which she used to dip her hands, then to press the wetted hands to her
lips. It also reminded her of an early morning sky, seen beyond and
above the green dew-wet earth, so infinitely far away, so peaceful with
a peace that was not of this earth.

It was not then merely its beauty that made this face so much to her,
but something greater behind it, some inner grace, the peace of God in
her soul.

One day there came for the queen as a gift from some distant town a
volume of parables and fables for her entertainment. It was beautiful to
the sight, being richly bound in silk and gold embroidery; but on
opening it she soon found that there was little pleasure to be got from
it on account of the difficulty she found in reading the crabbed
handwriting. After spending some minutes in trying to decipher a
paragraph or two she threw the book in disgust on the floor.

The maid picked it up, and after a glance at the first page said it was
easy to her, and she asked if the queen would allow her to read it to
her.

Elfrida, surprised, asked how it came about that her maid was able to
read a difficult script with ease, or was able to read at all; and this
was the first question she had condescended to put to the girl. Editha
replied that she had been taught as a child by a great-uncle, a learned
man; that she had been made to read volumes in a great variety of
scripts to him, until reading had come easy to her, both Saxon and
Latin.

Then, having received permission, she read the first fable aloud, and
Elfrida listening, albeit without interest in the tale itself, found
that the voice increased the girl's attraction for her. From that time
the queen made her read to her every day. She would make her sit a
little distance from her, and reclining on her couch, her head resting
on her hand, she would let her eyes dwell on that sweet saint-like face
until the reading was finished.

One day she read from the same book a tale of a great noble, an
earldoman who was ruler under the king of that part of the country where
his possessions were, whose power was practically unlimited and his word
law. But he was a wise and just man, regardful of the rights of others,
even of the meanest of men, so that he was greatly reverenced and loved
by the people. Nevertheless, he too, like all men in authority, both
good and bad, had his enemies, and the chief of these was a noble of a
proud and froward temper who had quarrelled with him about their
respective rights in certain properties where their lands adjoined.
Again and again it was shown to him that his contention was wrong; the
judgments against him only served to increase his bitterness and
hostility until it seemed that there would never be an end to that
strife. This at length so incensed his powerful overlord that he was
forcibly deprived of his possessions and driven out beggared from his
home. But no punishment, however severe, could change his nature; it
only roused him to greater fury, a more fixed determination to have his
revenge, so that outcast as he was his enmity was still to be feared and
he was a danger to the ruler and the community in general. Then, at
last, the great earl said he would suffer this state of things no
longer, and he ordered his men to go out and seek and take him captive
and bring him up for a final judgment. This was done, and the ruler then
said he would not have him put to death as he was advised to do, so as
to be rid of him once for all, but would inflict a greater punishment on
him. He then made them put heavy irons on his ankles, riveted so that
they should never be removed, and condemned him to slavery and to labour
every day in his fields and pleasure-grounds for the rest of his life.
To see his hated enemy reduced to that condition would, he said, be a
satisfaction to him whenever he walked in his gardens.

These stern commands were obeyed, and when the miserable man refused to
do his task and cried out in a rage that he would rather die, he was
scourged until the blood ran from the wounds made by the lash; and at
last, to escape from this torture, he was compelled to obey, and from
morning to night he laboured on the land, planting and digging and doing
whatever there was to do, always watched by his overseer, his food
thrown to him as to a dog; laughed and jeered at by the meanest of the
servants.

After a certain time, when his body grew hardened so that he could
labour all day without pain, and, being fatigued, sleep all night
without waking, though he had nothing but straw on a stone floor to lie
upon; and when he was no longer mocked or punished or threatened with
the lash, he began to reflect more and more on his condition, and to
think that it would be possible to him to make it more endurable. When
brooding on it, when he repined and cursed, it then seemed to him worse
than death; but when, occupied with his task, he forgot that he was the
slave of his enemy, who had overcome and broken him, then it no longer
seemed so heavy. The sun still shone for him as for others; the earth
was as green, the sky as blue, the flowers as fragrant. This reflection
made his misery less; and by and by it came into his mind that it would
be lessened more and more if he could forget that his master was his
enemy and cruel persecutor, who took delight in the thought of his
sufferings; if he could imagine that he had a different master, a great
and good man who had ever been kind to him and whom his sole desire was
to please. This thought working in his mind began to give him a
satisfaction in his toil, and this change in him was noticed by his
taskmaster, who began to see that he did his work with an understanding
so much above that of his fellows that all those who laboured with him
were influenced by his example, and whatsoever the toil was in which he
had a part the work was better done. From the taskmaster this change
became known to the chief head of all the lands, who thereupon had him
set to other more important tasks, so that at last he was not only a
toiler with pick and spade and pruning knife, but his counsel was sought
in everything that concerned the larger works on the land; in forming
plantations, in the draining of wet grounds and building of houses and
bridges and the making of new roads. And in all these works he acquitted
himself well.

Thus he laboured for years, and it all became known to the ruler, who at
length ordered the man to be brought before him to receive yet another
final judgment. And when he stood before him, hairy, dirty and unkempt,
in his ragged raiment, with toil-hardened hands and heavy irons on his
legs, he first ordered the irons to be removed.

The smiths came with their files and hammers, and with much labour took
them off.

Then the ruler, his powerful old enemy, spoke these words to him: I do
not know what your motives were in doing what you have done in all these
years of your slavery; nor do I ask to be told. It is sufficient for me
to know you have done these things, which are for my benefit and are a
debt which must now be paid. You are henceforth free, and the
possessions you were deprived of shall be restored to you, and as to the
past and all the evil thoughts you had of me and all you did against me,
it is forgiven and from this day will be forgotten. Go now in peace.

When this last word had been spoken by his enemy, all that remained of
the old hatred and bitterness went out of him, and it was as if his soul
as well as his feet had been burdened with heavy irons and that they had
now been removed, and that he was free with a freedom he had never known
before.

When the reading was finished, the queen with eyes cast down remained
for some time immersed in thought; then with a keen glance at the maid's
face she asked for the book, and opening it began slowly turning the
leaves. By and by her face darkened, and in a stern tone of voice she
said: Come here and show me in this book the parable you have just read,
and then you shall also show me two or three other parables you have
read to me on former occasions, which I cannot find.

The maid, pale and trembling, came and dropped on her knees and begged
forgiveness for having recited these three or four tales, which she had
heard or read elsewhere and committed to memory, and had pretended to
read them out of the book.

Then the queen in a sudden rage said: Go from me and let me not see you
again if you do not wish to be stripped and scourged and thrust naked
out of the gates! And you only escape this punishment because the deceit
you have been practising on me is, to my thinking, not of your own
invention, but that of some crafty monk who is making you his
instrument.

Editha, terrified and weeping, hurriedly quitted the room.

By and by, when that sudden tempest of rage had subsided, the
despondence, which had been somewhat lightened by the maid's presence,
came back on her so heavily that it was almost past endurance. She rose
and went to her sleeping-room, and knelt before a table on which stood a
crucifix with an image of the Saviour on it--the emblem of the religion
she had so great a quarrel with. But not to pray. Folding her arms on
the table and dropping her face on them she said: What have I done? And
again and again she repeated: What have I done? Was it indeed a monk who
taught her this deceit, or some higher being who put it in her mind to
whisper a hope to my soul? To show me a way of escape from everlasting
death--to labour in his fields and pleasure-grounds, a wretched slave
with irons on her feet, to be scourged and mocked at, and in this state
to cast out hatred and bitterness from my own soul and all remembrance
of the injuries he had inflicted on me--to teach myself through long
miserable years that this powerful enemy and persecutor is a kind and
loving master? This is the parable, and now my soul tells me it would be
a light punishment when I look at the red stains on these hands, and
when the image of the boy I loved and murdered comes back to me. This
then was the message, and I drove the messenger from me with cruel
threats and insult.

Suddenly she rose, and going hurriedly out, called to her maids to bring
Editha to her. They told her the maid had departed instantly on being
dismissed, and had gone upwards of an hour. Then she ordered them to go
and search for her in all the neighbourhood, at every house, and when
they had found her to bring her back by persuasion or by force.

They returned after a time only to say they had sought for her
everywhere and had failed to find or hear any report of her, but that
some of the mounted men who had gone to look for her on the roads had
not yet returned.

Left alone once more she turned to a window which looked towards
Salisbury, and saw the westering sun hanging low in a sky of broken
clouds over the valley of the Avon and the green downs on either side.
And, still communing with herself, she said: I know that I shall not
endure it long--this great fear of God--I know that it will madden me.
And for the unforgiven who die mad there can be no hope. Only the sight
of my maid's face with God's peace in it could save me from madness. No,
I shall not go mad! I shall take it as a sign that I cannot be forgiven
if the sun goes down without my seeing her again. I shall kill myself
before madness comes and rest oblivious of life and all things, even of
God's wrath, until the dreadful waking.

For some time longer she continued standing motionless, watching the
sun, now sinking behind a dark cloud, then emerging and lighting up the
dim interior of her room and her stone-white, desolate face.

Then once more her servants came back, and with them Editha, who had
been found on the road to Salisbury, half-way there.

Left alone together, the queen took the maid by the hand and led her to
a seat, then fell on her knees before her and clasped her legs and
begged her forgiveness. When the maid replied that she had forgiven her,
and tried to raise her up, she resisted, and cried: No, I cannot rise
from my knees nor loose my hold on you until I have confessed to you and
you have promised to save me. Now I see in you not my maid who combs my
hair and ties my shoe-strings, but one that God loves, whom he exalts
above the queens and nobles of the earth, and while I cling to you he
will not strike. Look into this heart that has hated him, look at its
frightful passions, its blood-guiltiness, and have compassion on me! And
if you, O Editha, should reply to me that it is his will, for he has
said it, that every soul shall save itself, show me the way. How shall I
approach him? Teach me humility!

Thus she pleaded and abased herself. Nevertheless it was a hard task she
imposed upon her helper, seeing that humility, of all virtues, was the
most contrary to her nature. And when she was told that the first step
to be taken was to be reconciled to the church, and to the head of the
church, her chief enemy and persecutor, whose monks, obedient to his
command, had blackened her name in all the land, her soul was in fierce
revolt. Nevertheless she had to submit, seeing that God himself through
his Son when on earth and his Son's disciples had established the
church, and by that door only could any soul approach him. So there was
an end to that conflict, and Elfrida, beaten and broken, although ever
secretly hating the tonsured keepers of her soul, set forth under their
guidance on her weary pilgrimage--the long last years of her bitter
expiation.

Yet there was to be one more conflict between the two women--the
imperious mistress and the humble-minded maid. This was when Editha
announced to the other that the time had now come for her to depart. But
the queen wished to keep her, and tried by all means to do so, by
pleading with her and by threatening to detain her by force. Then
repenting her anger and remembering the great debt of gratitude owing to
the girl, she resolved to reward her generously, to bestow wealth on
her, but in such a form that it would appear to the girl as a beautiful
parting gift from one who had loved her: only afterwards, when they were
far apart, would she discover its real value.

A memory of the past had come to her--of that day, sixteen years ago,
when her lover came to her and using sweet flattering words poured out
from a bag a great quantity of priceless jewels into her lap, and of the
joy she had in the gift. Also how from the day of Athelwold's death she
had kept those treasures put away in the same bag out of her sight. Nor
in all the days of her life with Edgar had she ever worn a gem, though
she had always loved to array herself magnificently, but her ornaments
had been gold only, the work of the best artists in Europe. Now, in
imitation of Athelwold, when his manner of bestowing the jewels had so
charmed her, she would bestow them on the girl.

Accordingly when the moment of separation came and Editha was made to
seat herself, the queen standing over her with the bag in her hand said:
Do you, Editha, love all beautiful things? And when the maid had replied
that she did, the other said: Then take these gems, which are beautiful,
as a parting gift from me. And with that she poured out the mass of
glittering jewels into the girl's lap.

But the maid without touching or even looking at them, and with a cry, I
want no jewels! started to her feet so that they were all scattered upon
the floor.

The queen stared astonished at the face before her with its new look of
pride and excitement, then with rising anger she said: Is my maid too
proud then to accept a gift from me? Does she not know that a single one
of those gems thrown on the floor would be more than a fortune to her?

The girl replied in the same proud way: I am not your maid, and gems are
no more to me than pebbles from the brook!

Then all at once recovering her meek, gentle manner she cried in a voice
that pierced the queen's heart: O, not your maid, only your
fellow-worker in our Master's fields and pleasure-grounds! Before I ever
beheld your face, and since we have been together, my heart has bled for
you, and my daily cry to God has been: Forgive her! Forgive her, for his
sake who died for our sins! And this shall I continue to cry though I
shall see you no more on earth. But we shall meet again. Not, O unhappy
queen, at life's end, but long afterwards--long, long years! long ages!

Dropping on her knees she caught and kissed the queen's hand, shedding
abundant tears on it, then rose and was quickly gone.

Elfrida, left to herself, scarcely recovered from the shock of surprise
at that sudden change in the girl's manner, began to wonder at her own
blindness in not having seen through her disguise from the first. The
revelation had come to her only at the last moment in that proud gesture
and speech when her gift was rejected, not without scorn. A child of
nobles great as any in the land, what had made her do this thing? What
indeed but the heavenly spirit that was in her, the spirit that was in
Christ--the divine passion to save!

Now she began to ponder on those last words the maid had spoken, and the
more she thought of them the greater became her sadness until it was
like the approach of death. O terrible words! Yet it was what she had
feared, even when she had dared to hope for forgiveness. Now she knew
what her life after death was to be since the word had been spoken by
those inspired lips. O dreadful destiny! To dwell alone, to tread alone
that desert desolate, that illimitable waste of burning sand stretching
from star to star through infinite space, where was no rock nor tree to
give her shade, no fountain to quench her fiery thirst! For that was how
she imaged the future life, as a desert to be dwelt in until in the end,
when in God's good time--the time of One to whom a thousand years are as
one day--she would receive the final pardon and be admitted to rest in a
green and shaded place.

Overcome with the agonising thought she sank down on her couch and fell
into a faint. In that state she was found by her women, reclining, still
as death, with eyes closed, the whiteness of death in her face; and
thinking her dead they rushed out terrified, crying aloud and lamenting
that the queen was dead.



XII


She was not dead. She recovered from that swoon, but never from the
deep, unbroken sadness caused by those last words of the maid Editha,
which had overcome and nearly slain her. She now abandoned her
seclusion, but the world she returned to was not the old one. The
thought that every person she met was saying in his or her heart: This
is Elfrida; this is the queen who murdered Edward the Martyr, her
step-son, made that world impossible. The men and women she now
consorted with were the religious and ecclesiastics of all degrees, and
abbots and abbesses. These were the people she loved least, yet now into
their hands she deliberately gave herself; and to those who questioned
her, to her spiritual guides, she revealed all her life and thoughts and
passions, opening her soul to their eyes like a manuscript for them to
read and consider; and when they told her that in God's sight she was
guilty of the murder both of Edward and Athelwold, she replied that they
doubtless knew best what was in God's mind, and whatever they commanded
her to do that should be done, and if in her own mind it was not as they
said this could be taken as a defect in her understanding. For in her
heart she was not changed, and had not yet and never would learn the
bitter lesson of humility. Furthermore, she knew better than they what
life and death had in store for her, since it had been revealed to her
by holier lips than those of any priest. Lips on which had been laid a
coal from the heavenly altar, and what they had foretold would come to
pass--that unearthly pilgrimage and purification--that destiny,
dreadful, ineluctable, that made her soul faint to think of it. Here, on
this earth, it was for her to toil, a slave with heavy irons on her
feet, in her master's fields and pleasure-grounds, and these gowned men
with shaven heads, wearing ropes of beads and crucifixes as emblems of
their authority--these were the taskmasters set over her, and to these,
she, Elfrida, one time queen in England, would bend in submission and
humbly confess her sins, and uncomplainingly take whatever austerities
or other punishments they decreed.

Here, then, at Amesbury itself, she began her works of expiation, and
found that she, too, like the unhappy man in the parable, could
experience some relief and satisfaction in her solitary embittered
existence in the work itself.

Having been told that at this village where she was living a monastery
had existed and had been destroyed in the dreadful wars of two to three
centuries ago, she conceived the idea of founding a new one, a nunnery,
and endowing it richly, and accordingly the Abbey of Amesbury was built
and generously endowed by her.

This religious house became famous in after days, and was resorted to by
the noblest ladies in the land who desired to take the veil, including
princesses and widow queens; and it continued to flourish for centuries,
down to the Dissolution.

This work completed, she returned, after nineteen years, to her old home
at Wherwell. Since she had lost sight of her maid Editha, she had been
possessed with a desire to re-visit that spot, where she had been happy
as a young bride and had repined in solitude and had had her glorious
triumph and stained her soul with crime. She craved for it again,
especially to look once more at the crystal current of the Test in which
she had been accustomed to dip her hands. The grave, saintly face of
Editha had reminded her of that stream; and Editha she might not see.
She could not seek for her, nor speak to her, nor cry to her to come
back to her, since she had said that they would meet no more on earth.

Having become possessed of the castle which she had once regarded as her
prison and cage, she ordered its demolition and used the materials in
building the abbey she founded at that spot, and it was taken for
granted by the Church that this was done in expiation of the part she
had taken in Athelwold's murder. At this spot where the stream became
associated in her mind with the thought of Editha, and was a sacred
stream, she resolved to end her days. But the time of her retirement was
not yet, there was much still waiting for her to do in her master's
fields and pleasure-grounds. For no sooner had the tidings of her work
in founding these monasteries and the lavish use she was making of her
great wealth been spread abroad, than from many religious houses all
over the land the cry was sent to her--the Macedonian cry to St. Paul to
come over and help us.

From the houses founded by Edgar the cry was particularly loud and
insistent. There were forty-seven of them, and had not Edgar died so
soon there would have been fifty, that being the number he had set his
heart on in his fervid zeal for religion. All, alas! were insufficiently
endowed; and it was for Elfrida, as they were careful to point out, to
increase their income from her great wealth, seeing that this would
enable them to associate her name with that of Edgar and keep it in
memory, and this would be good for her soul.

To all such calls she listened, and she performed many and long journeys
to the religious houses all over the country to look closely into their
conditions and needs, and to all she gave freely or in moderation, but
not always without a gesture of scorn. For in her heart of hearts she
was still Elfrida and unchanged, albeit outwardly she had attained to
humility; only once during these years of travel and toil when she was
getting rid of her wealth did she allow her secret bitterness and
hostility to her ecclesiastical guides and advisers to break out.

She was at Worcester, engaged in a conference with the bishop and
several of his clergy; they were sitting at an oak table with some
papers and plans before them, when the news was brought into the room
that Archbishop Dunstan was dead.

They all, except Elfrida, started to their feet with the looks and
exclamations of dismay, as if some frightful calamity had come to pass.
Then dropping to their knees with bowed heads and lifted hands they
prayed for the repose of his soul. They prayed silently, but the silence
was broken by a laugh from the queen. Starting to his feet the bishop
turned on her a severe countenance, and asked why she laughed at that
solemn moment.

She replied that she had laughed unthinkingly, as the linnet sings, from
pure joy of heart at the glad tidings that their holy archbishop had
been translated to paradise. For if he had done so much for England when
burdened with the flesh, how much more would he be able to do now from
the seat or throne to which he would be exalted in heaven in virtue of
the position his blessed mother now occupied in that place.

The bishop, angered at her mocking words, turned his back on her, and
the others, following his example, averted their faces, but not one word
did they utter.

They remembered that Dunstan in former years, when striving to make
himself all powerful in the kingdom, had made free use of a supernatural
machinery; that when he wanted something done and it could not be done
in any other way, he received a command from heaven, brought to him by
some saint or angel, to have it done, and the command had then to be
obeyed. They also remembered that when Dunstan, as he informed them, had
been snatched up into the seventh heaven, he did not on his return to
earth modestly, like St. Paul, that it was not lawful for him to speak
of the things which he had heard and seen, but he proclaimed them to an
astonished world in his loudest trumpet voice. Also, that when, by these
means, he had established his power and influence and knew that he could
trust his own subtle brains to maintain his position, he had dropped the
miracles and visions. And it had come to pass that when the archbishop
had seen fit to leave the supernatural element out of his policy, the
heads of the Church in England were only too pleased to have it so. The
world had gaped with astonishment at these revelations long enough, and
its credulity had come near to the breaking point, on which account the
raking up of these perilous matters by the queen was fiercely resented.

But the queen was not yet satisfied that enough had been said by her.
Now she was in full revolt she must give out once for all the hatred of
her old enemy, which his death had not appeased.

What mean you, Fathers, she cried, by turning your backs on me and
keeping silence? Is it an insult to me you intend or to the memory of
that great and holy man who has just quitted the earth? Will you dare to
say that the reports he brought to us of the marvellous doings he
witnessed in heaven, when he was taken there, were false and the lies
and inventions of Satan, whose servant he was?

More than that she was not allowed to say, for now the bishop in a
mighty rage swung round, and dealt a blow on the table with such fury
that his arm was disabled by it, he shouted at her: Not another word!
Hold your mocking tongue, fiendish woman! Then plucking up his gown with
his left hand for fear of being tripped up by it he rushed out of the
room.

The others, still keeping their faces averted from her, followed at a
more dignified pace; and seeing them depart she cried after them: Go,
Fathers, and tell your bishop that if he had not run away so soon he
would have been rewarded for his insolence by a slap in the face.

This outburst on her part caused no lasting break in her relations with
the Church. It was to her merely an incident in her long day's toil in
her master's fields--a quarrel she had had with an overseer; while he,
on his side, even before he recovered the use of his injured arm,
thought it best for their souls, as well as for the interests of the
Church, to say no more about it. Her great works of expiation were
accordingly continued. But the time at length arrived for her to take
her long-desired rest before facing the unknown dreaded future. She was
not old in years, but remorse and a deep settled melancholy and her
frequent fierce wrestlings with her own rebellious nature as with an
untamed dangerous animal chained to her had made her old. Furthermore,
she had by now well-nigh expended all her possessions and wealth, even
to the gems she had once prized and then thrust away out of sight for
many years, and which her maid Editha had rejected with scorn, saying
they were no more to her than pebbles from the brook.

Once more at Wherwell, she entered the Abbey, and albeit she took the
veil herself she was not under the same strict rule as her sister nuns.
The Abbess herself retired to Winchester and ruled the convent from that
city, while Elfrida had the liberty she desired, to live and do as she
liked in her own rooms and attend prayers and meals only when inclined
to do so. There, as always, since Edward's death, her life was a
solitary one, and in the cold season she would have her fire of logs and
sit before it as in the old days in the castle, brooding ever on her
happy and unhappy past and on the awful future, the years and centuries
of suffering and purification.

It was chiefly this thought of the solitariness of that future state,
that companionless way, centuries long, that daunted her. Here in this
earthly state, darkened as it was, there were yet two souls she could
and constantly did hold communion with--Editha still on earth, though
not with her, and Edward in heaven; but in that dreadful desert to which
she would be banished there would be a great gulf set between her soul
and theirs.

But perhaps there would be others she had known, whose lives had been
interwoven with hers, she would be allowed to commune with in that same
place. Edgar of a certainty would be there, although Glastonbury had
built him a chapel and put him in a silver tomb and had begun to call
him Saint Edgar. Would he find her and seek to have speech with her? It
was anguish to her even to think of such an encounter. She would say, Do
not come to me, for rather would I be alone in this dreadful solitude
for a thousand years than have you, Edgar, for company. For I have not
now one thought or memory of you in my soul that is not bitter. It is
true that I once loved you: even before I saw your face I loved you, and
said in my heart that we two were destined to be one. And my love
increased when we were united, and you gave me my heart's desire--the
power I loved, and glory in the sight of the world. And although in my
heart I laughed at your pretended zeal for a pure religion while you
were gratifying your lower desires and chasing after fair women all over
the land, I admired and gloried in your nobler qualities, your activity
and vigilance in keeping the peace within your borders, and in making
England master of the seas, so that the pirate kings of the North
ventured not to approach our shores. But on your own gross appetites you
would put no restraint, but gave yourself up to wine and gluttony and
made a companion of Death, even in the flower of your age you were
playing with Death, and when you had lived but half your years you rode
away with Death and left me alone; you, Edgar, the mighty hunter and
slayer of wolves, you rode away and left me to the wolves, alone, in a
dark forest. Therefore the guilt of Edward's death is yours more than
mine, though my soul is stained red with his blood, seeing that you left
me to fight alone, and in my madness, not knowing what I did, I stained
myself with this crime.

But what you have done to me is of little moment, seeing that mine is
but one soul of the many thousands that were given into your keeping,
and your crime in wasting your life for the sake of base pleasures was
committed against an entire nation, and not of the living only but also
the great and glorious dead of the race of Cerdic--of the men who have
laboured these many centuries, shedding their blood on a hundred
stricken fields, to build up this kingdom of England; and when their
mighty work was completed it was given into your hands to keep and
guard. And you died and abandoned it; Death, your playmate, has taken
you away, and Edgar's peace is no more. Now your ships are scattered or
sunk in the sea, now the invaders are again on your coasts as in the old
dreadful days, burning and slaying, and want is everywhere and fear is
in all hearts throughout the land. And the king, your son, who inherited
your beautiful face and nought beside except your vices and whatever was
least worthy of a king, he too is now taking his pleasure, even as you
took yours, in a gay bejewelled dress, with some shameless woman at his
side and a wine-cup in his hand. O unhappy mother that I am, that I must
curse the day a son was born to me! O grief immitigable that it was my
deed, my dreadful deed, that raised him to the throne--the throne that
was Alfred's and Edmund's and Athelstan's!

These were the thoughts that were her only company as she sat brooding
before her winter fire, day after day, and winter following winter,
while the years deepened the lines of anguish on her face and whitened
the hair that was once red gold.

But in the summer time she was less unhappy, for then she could spend
the long hours out of doors under the sky in the large shaded gardens of
the convent with the stream for boundary on the lower side. This stream
had now become more to her than in the old days when, languishing in
solitude, she had made it a companion and confidant. For now it had
become associated in her mind with the image of the maid Editha, and
when she sat again at the old spot on the bank gazing on the swift
crystal current, then dipping her hand in it and putting the wetted hand
to her lips, the stream and Editha were one.

Then one day she was missed, and for a long time they sought for her all
through the building and in the grounds without finding her. Then the
seekers heard a loud cry, and saw one of the nuns running towards the
convent door, with her hands pressed to her face as if to shut out some
dreadful sight; and when they called to her she pointed back towards the
stream and ran on to the house. Then all the sisters who were out in the
grounds hurried down to the stream to the spot where Elfrida was
accustomed to sit, and were horrified to see her lying drowned in the
water.

It was a hot, dry summer and the stream was low, and in stooping to dip
her hand in the water she had lost her balance and fallen in, and
although the water was but three feet deep she had in her feebleness
been unable to save herself. She was lying on her back on the clearly
seen bed of many-coloured pebbles, her head pointing downstream, and the
swift fretting current had carried away her hood and pulled out her long
abundant silver-white hair, and the current played with her hair, now
pulling it straight out, then spreading it wide over the surface, mixing
its silvery threads with the hair-like green blades of the floating
water-grass. And the dead face was like marble; but the wide-open eyes
that had never wholly lost their brilliance and the beautiful lungwort
blue colour were like living eyes--living and gazing through the
crystal-clear running water at the group of nuns staring down with
horror-struck faces at her.

Thus ended Elfrida's darkened life; nor did it seem an unfit end; for it
was as if she had fallen into the arms of the maiden who had in her
thoughts become one with the stream--the saintly Editha through whose
sacrifice and intercession she had been saved from death everlasting.



AN OLD THORN


[Illustration: HAWTHORN AND IVY NEAR THE GREAT RIDGE WOOD.]



I


The little village of Ingden lies in a hollow of the South Wiltshire
Downs, the most isolated of the villages in that lonely district. Its
one short street is crossed at right angles in the middle part by the
Salisbury road, and standing just at that point, the church on one hand,
the old inn on the other, you can follow it with the eye for a distance
of nearly three miles. First it goes winding up the low down under which
the village stands, then vanishes over the brow to reappear again a mile
and a half further away as a white band on the vast green slope of the
succeeding down, which rises to a height of over 600 feet. On the summit
it vanishes once more, but those who use it know it for a laborious road
crossing several high ridges before dropping down into the valley road
leading to Salisbury.

When, standing in the village street, your eye travels up that white
band, you can distinctly make out even at that distance a small,
solitary tree standing near the summit--an old thorn with an ivy growing
on it. My walks were often that way, and invariably on coming to that
point I would turn twenty yards aside from the road to spend half an
hour seated on the turf near or under the old tree. These half-hours
were always grateful; and conscious that the tree drew me to it I
questioned myself as to the reason. It was, I told myself, nothing but
mental curiosity: my interest was a purely scientific one. For how comes
it, I asked, that a thorn can grow to a tree and live to a great age in
such a situation, on a vast, naked down, where for many centuries,
perhaps for thousands of years, the herbage has been so closely fed by
sheep as to have the appearance of a carpet, or newly mown lawn? The
seed is carried and scattered everywhere by the birds, but no sooner
does it germinate and send up a shoot than it is eaten down to the
roots; for there is no scent that attracts a sheep more, no flavour it
has greater taste for, than that of any forest seedling springing up
amidst the minute herbaceous plants which carpet the downs. The thorn,
like other organisms, has its own unconscious intelligence and cunning,
by means of which it endeavours to save itself and fulfil its life. It
opens its first tender leaves under the herbage, and at the same time
thrusts up a vertical spine to wound the nibbling mouth; and no sooner
has it got a leaf or two and a spine than it spreads its roots all
round, and from each of them springs a fresh shoot, leaves and
protecting spine, to increase the chances of preservation. In vain! the
cunning animal finds a way to defeat all this strategy, and after the
leaves have been bitten off again and again, the infant plant gives up
the struggle and dies in the ground. Yet we see that from time to time
one survives--one perhaps in a million; but how--whether by a quicker
growth or a harder or more poisonous thorn, an unpalatable leaf, or some
other secret agency--we cannot guess. First as a diminutive scrubby
shrub, with numerous iron-hard stems, with few and small leaves but many
thorns, it keeps its poor flowerless frustrate life for perhaps half a
century or longer, without growing more than a couple of feet high; and
then, as by a miracle, it will spring up until its top shoots are out of
reach of the browsing sheep, and in the end it becomes a tree with
spreading branches and fully developed leaves, and flowers and fruit in
their season.

One day I was visited by an artist from a distance who, when shown the
thorn, pronounced it a fine subject for his pencil, and while he made
his picture we talked about the hawthorn generally as compared with
other trees, and agreed that, except in its blossoming time when it is
merely pretty, it is the most engaging and perhaps the most beautiful of
our native trees. We said that it was the most _individual_ of trees,
that its variety was infinite, for you never find two alike, whether
growing in a forest, in groups, or masses, or alone. We were almost
lyrical in its praises. But the solitary thorn was always best, he said,
and this one was perhaps the best of all he had seen: strange and at the
same time decorative in its form, beautiful too in its appearance of
great age with unimpaired vigour and something more in its
expression--that elusive something which we find in some trees and don't
know how to explain.

Ah, yes, thought I, it was this appeal to the æsthetic faculty which
attracted me from the first, and not, as I had imagined, the mere
curiosity of the naturalist interested mainly and always in the _habits_
of living things, plant or animal.

Certainly the thorn had strangeness. Its appearance as to height was
deceptive; one would have guessed it eighteen feet; measuring it I was
surprised to find it only ten. It has four separate boles, springing
from one root, leaning a little away from each other, the thickest just
a foot in circumference. The branches are few, beginning at about five
feet from the ground, the foliage thin, the leaves throughout the summer
stained with grey, rust-red, and purple colour. Though so small and
exposed to the full fury of every wind that blows over that vast naked
down, it has yet an ivy growing on it--the strangest of the many strange
ivy-plants I have seen. It comes out of the ground as two ivy trunks on
opposite sides of the stoutest bole, but at a height of four feet from
the surface the two join and ascend the tree as one round iron-coloured
and iron-hard stem, which goes curving and winding snakewise among the
branches as if with the object of roping them to save them from being
torn off by the winds. Finally, rising to the top, the long serpent stem
opens out in a flat disc-shaped mass of close-packed branchlets and
twigs densely set with small round leaves, dark dull green and tough as
parchment. One could only suppose that thorn and ivy had been partners
from the beginning of life, and that the union was equally advantageous
to both.

The small ivy disc or platform on top of the tree was a favourite stand
and look-out for the downland birds. I seldom visited the spot without
disturbing some of them, now a little company of missel-thrushes, now a
crowd of starlings, then perhaps a dozen rooks, crowded together,
looking very big and conspicuous on their little platform.

Being curious to find out something about the age of the tree, I
determined to put the question to my old friend Malachi, aged
eighty-nine, who was born and had always lived in the parish and had
known the downs and probably every tree growing on them for miles around
from his earliest years. It was my custom to drop in of an evening and
sit with him, listening to his endless reminiscences of his young days.
That evening I spoke of the thorn, describing its position and
appearance, thinking that perhaps he had forgotten it. How long, I asked
him, had the thorn been there?

He was one of those men, usually of the labouring class, to be met with
in such lonely, out-of-the-world places as the Wiltshire Downs, whose
eyes never look old however many their years may be, and are more like
the eyes of a bird or animal than a human being, for they gaze at you
and through you when you speak without appearing to know what you say.
So it was on this occasion; he looked straight at me with no sign of
understanding, no change in his clear grey eyes, and answered nothing.
But I would not be put off, and when, raising my voice, I repeated the
question, he replied, after another interval of silence, that the thorn
"was never any different." 'Twas just the same, ivy and all, when he
were a small boy. It looked just so old; why, he remembered his old
father saying the same thing--'twas the same when he were a boy, and
'twas the same in his father's time. Then anxious to escape from the
subject he began talking of something else.

It struck me that after all the most interesting thing about the thorn
was its appearance of great age, and this aspect I had now been told had
continued for at least a century, probably for a much longer time. It
produced a reverent feeling in me such as we experience at the sight of
some ancient stone monument. But the tree was alive, and because of its
life the feeling was perhaps stronger than in the case of a granite
cross or cromlech or other memorial of antiquity.

Sitting by the thorn one day it occurred to me that, growing at this
spot close to the road and near the summit of that vast down, numberless
persons travelling to and from Salisbury must have turned aside to rest
on the turf in the shade after that laborious ascent or before beginning
the long descent to the valley below. Travellers of all conditions, on
foot or horseback, in carts and carriages, merchants, bagmen, farmers,
drovers, gipsies, tramps and vagrants of all descriptions, and from time
to time troops of soldiers. Yet never one of them had injured the tree
in any way! I could not remember ever finding a tree growing alone by
the roadside in a lonely place which had not the marks of many old and
new wounds inflicted on its trunk with knives, hatchets, and other
implements. Here not a mark, not a scratch had been made on any one of
its four trunks or on the ivy stem by any thoughtless or mischievous
person, nor had any branch been cut or broken off. Why had they one and
all respected this tree?

It was another subject to talk to Malachi about, and to him I went after
tea and found him with three of his neighbours sitting by the fire and
talking; for though it was summer the old man always had a fire in the
evening.

They welcomed and made room for me, but I had no sooner broached the
subject in my mind than they all fell into silence, then after a brief
interval the three callers began to discuss some little village matter.
I was not going to be put off in that way, and, leaving them out, went
on talking to Malachi about the tree. Presently one by one the three
visitors got up and, remarking that it was time to be going, they took
their departure.

The old man could not escape nor avoid listening, and in the end had to
say something. He said he didn't know nothing about all them tramps and
gipsies and other sorts of men who had sat by the tree; all he knowed
was that the old thorn had been a good thorn to him--first and last. He
remembered once when he was a young man, not yet twenty, he went to do
some work at a village five miles away, and being winter time he left
early, about four o'clock, to walk home over the downs. He had just got
married, and had promised his wife to be home for tea at six o'clock.
But a thick fog came up over the downs, and soon as it got dark he lost
himself. 'Twas the darkest, thickest night he had ever been out in; and
whenever he came against a bank or other obstruction he would get down
on his hands and knees and feel it up and down to get its shape and find
out what it was, for he knew all the marks on his native downs; 'twas
all in vain--nothing could he recognise. In this way he wandered about
for hours, and was in despair of getting home that night, when all at
once there came a sense of relief, a feeling that it was all right, that
something was guiding him.

I remarked that I knew what that meant: he had lost his sense of
direction and had now all at once recovered it; such a thing had often
happened; I once had such an experience myself.

No, it was not that, he returned. He had not gone a dozen steps from the
moment that sense of confidence came to him, before he ran into a tree,
and feeling the trunk with his hands he recognised it as the old thorn
and knew where he was. In a couple of minutes he was on the road, and in
less than an hour, just about midnight, he was safe at home.

No more could I get out of him, at all events on that occasion; nor did
I ever succeed in extracting any further personal experience in spite of
his having let out that the thorn had been a good thorn to him, first
and last. I had, however, heard enough to satisfy me that I had at
length discovered the real secret of the tree's fascination. I recalled
other trees which had similarly affected me, and how, long years ago,
when a good deal of my time was spent on horseback, whenever I found
myself in a certain district I would go miles out of my way just to look
at a solitary old tree growing in a lonely place, and to sit for an hour
to refresh myself, body and soul, in its shade. I had indeed all along
suspected the thorn of being one of this order of mysterious trees; and
from other experiences I had met with, one some years ago in a village
in this same county of Wilts, I had formed the opinion that in many
persons the sense of a strange intelligence and possibility of power in
such trees is not a mere transitory state but an enduring influence
which profoundly affects their whole lives.

Determined to find out something more, I went to other villagers, mostly
women, who are more easily disarmed and made to believe that you too
know and are of the same mind with them, being under the same mysterious
power and spell. In this way, laying many a subtle snare, I succeeded in
eliciting a good deal of information. It was, however, mostly of a kind
which could not profitably be used in any inquiry into the subject; it
simply went to show that the feeling existed and was strong in many of
the villagers. During this inquiry I picked up several anecdotes about a
person who lived in Ingden close upon three generations ago, and was
able to piece them together so as to make a consistent narrative of his
life. This was Johnnie Budd, a farm labourer, who came to his end in
1821, a year or so before my old friend Malachi was born. It is going
very far back, but there were circumstances in his life which made a
deep impression on the mind of that little community, and the story had
lived on through all these years.



II


Johnnie had fallen on hard times when in an exceptionally severe winter
season he with others had been thrown out of employment at the farm
where he worked; then with a wife and three small children to keep he
had in his desperation procured food for them one dark night in an
adjacent field. But alas! one of the little ones playing in the road
with some of her companions, who were all very hungry, let it out that
she wasn't hungry, that for three days she had had as much nice meat as
she wanted to eat! Play over, the hungry little ones flew home to tell
their parents the wonderful news--why didn't they have nice meat like
Tilly Budd, instead of a piece of rye bread without even dripping on it,
when they were so hungry? Much talk followed, and spread from cottage to
cottage until it reached the constable's ears, and he, already informed
of the loss of a wether taken from its fold close by, went straight to
Johnnie and charged him with the offence. Johnnie lost his head, and
dropping on his knees confessed his guilt and begged his old friend
Lampard to have mercy on him and to overlook it for the sake of his wife
and children.

It was his first offence, but when he was taken from the lock-up at the
top of the village street to be conveyed to Salisbury, his friends and
neighbours who had gathered at the spot to witness his removal shook
their heads and doubted that Ingden would ever see him again. The
confession had made the case so simple a one that he had at once been
committed to take his trial at the Salisbury Assizes, and as the time
was near the constable had been ordered to convey the prisoner to the
town himself. Accordingly he engaged old Joe Blaskett, called Daddy in
the village, to take them in his pony cart. Daddy did not want the job,
but was talked or bullied into it, and there he now sat in his cart,
waiting in glum silence for his passengers; a bent old man of eighty,
with a lean, grey, bitter face, in his rusty cloak, his old rabbit-skin
cap drawn down over his ears, his white disorderly beard scattered over
his chest. The constable Lampard was a big, powerful man, with a great
round, good-natured face, but just now he had a strong sense of
responsibility, and to make sure of not losing his prisoner he
handcuffed him before bringing him out and helping him to take his seat
on the bottom of the cart. Then he got up himself to his seat by the
driver's side; the last good-bye was spoken, the weeping wife being
gently led away by her friends, and the cart rattled away down the
street. Turning into the Salisbury road it was soon out of sight over
the near down, but half an hour later it emerged once more into sight
beyond the great dip, and the villagers who had remained standing about
at the same spot watched it crawling like a beetle up the long white
road on the slope of the vast down beyond.

Johnnie was now lying coiled up on his rug, his face hidden between his
arms, abandoned to grief, sobbing aloud. Lampard, sitting athwart the
seat so as to keep an eye on him, burst out at last: "Be a man, Johnnie,
and stop your crying! 'Tis making things no better by taking on like
that. What do you say, Daddy?"

"I say nought," snapped the old man, and for a while they proceeded in
silence except for those heartrending sobs. As they approached the old
thorn tree, near the top of the long slope, Johnnie grew more and more
agitated, his whole frame shaking with his sobbing. Again the constable
rebuked him, telling him that 'twas a shame for a man to go on like
that. Then with an effort he restrained his sobs, and lifting a red,
swollen, tear-stained face he stammered out: "Master Lampard, did I ever
ask 'ee a favour in my life?"

"What be after now?" said the other suspiciously. "Well, no, Johnnie,
not as I remember."

"An' do 'ee think I'll ever come back home again, Master Lampard?"

"Maybe no, maybe yes; 'tis not for me to say."

"But 'ee knows 'tis a hanging matter?"

"'Tis that for sure. But you be a young man with a wife and childer, and
have never done no wrong before--not that I ever heard say. Maybe the
judge'll recommend you to mercy. What do you say, Daddy?"

The old man only made some inarticulate sounds in his beard, without
turning his head.

"But, Master Lampard, suppose I don't swing, they'll send I over the
water and I'll never see the wife and children no more."

"Maybe so; I'm thinking that's how 'twill be."

"Then will 'ee do me a kindness? 'Tis the only one I ever asked 'ee, and
there'll be no chance to ask 'ee another."

"I can't say, Johnnie, not till I know what 'tis you want."

"'Tis only this, Master Lampard. When we git to th' old thorn let me out
o' the cart and let me stand under it one minnit and no more."

"Be you wanting to hang yourself before the trial then?" said the
constable, trying to make a joke of it.

"I couldn't do that," said Johnnie, simply, "seeing my hands be fast and
you'd be standing by."

"No, no, Johnnie, 'tis nought but just foolishness. What do you say,
Daddy?"

The old man turned round with a look of sudden rage in his grey face
which startled Lampard; but he said nothing, he only opened and shut his
mouth two or three times without a sound.

Meanwhile the pony had been going slower and slower for the last thirty
or forty yards, and now when they were abreast of the tree stood still.

"What be stopping for?" cried Lampard. "Get on--get on, or we'll never
get to Salisbury this day."

Then at length old Blaskett found a voice.

"Does thee know what thee's saying, Master Lampard, or be thee a
stranger in this parish?"

"What d'ye mean, Daddy? I be no stranger; I've a-known this parish and
known 'ee these nine years."

"Thee asked why I stopped when 'twas the pony stopped, knowing where
we'd got to. But thee's not born here or thee'd a-known what a hoss
knows. An' since 'ee asks what I says, I say this, 'twill not hurt 'ee
to let Johnnie Budd stand one minute by the tree."

Feeling insulted and puzzled the constable was about to assert his
authority when he was arrested by Johnnie's cry, "Oh, Master Lampard,
'tis my last hope!" and by the sight of the agony of suspense on his
swollen face. After a short hesitation he swung himself out over the
side of the cart, and letting down the tailboard laid rough hands on
Johnnie and half helped, half dragged him out.

They were quickly by the tree, where Johnnie stood silent with downcast
eyes a few moments; then dropping upon his knees leant his face against
the bark, his eyes closed, his lips murmuring.

"Time's up!" cried Lampard presently, and taking him by the collar
pulled him to his feet; in a couple of minutes more they were in the
cart and on their way.

It was grey weather, very cold, with an east wind blowing, but for the
rest of that dreary thirteen-miles journey Johnnie was very quiet and
submissive and shed no more tears.



III


What had been his motive in wishing to stand by the tree? What did he
expect when he said it was his last hope? During the way up the long,
laborious slope, an incident of his early years in connection with the
tree had been in his mind, and had wrought on him until it culminated in
that passionate outburst and his strange request. It was when he was a
boy, not quite ten years old, that, one afternoon in the summer time, he
went with other children to look for wild raspberries on the summit of
the great down. Johnnie, being the eldest, was the leader of the little
band. On the way back from the brambly place where the fruit grew, on
approaching the thorn, they spied a number of rooks sitting on it, and
it came into Johnnie's mind that it would be great fun to play at crows
by sitting on the branches as near the top as they could get. Running
on, with cries that sent the rooks cawing away, they began swarming up
the trunks, but in the midst of their frolic, when they were all
struggling for the best places on the branches, they were startled by a
shout, and looking up to the top of the down, saw a man on horseback
coming towards them at a gallop, shaking a whip in anger as he rode.
Instantly they began scrambling down, falling over each other in their
haste, then, picking themselves up, set off down the slope as fast as
they could run. Johnnie was foremost, while close behind him came Marty,
who was nearly the same age and, though a girl, almost as swift-footed,
but before going fifty yards she struck her foot against an ant-hill and
was thrown violently, face down, on the turf. Johnnie turned at her cry
and flew back to help her up, but the shock of the fall, and her extreme
terror, had deprived her for the moment of all strength, and while he
struggled to raise her, the smaller children, one by one, overtook and
passed them, and in another moment the man was off his horse, standing
over them.

"Do you want a good thrashing?" he said, grasping Johnnie by the collar.

"Oh, sir; please don't hit me!" answered Johnnie; then looking up he was
astonished to see that his captor was not the stern old farmer, the
tenant of the down, he had taken him for, but a stranger and a
strange-looking man, in a dark grey cloak with a red collar. He had a
pointed beard and long black hair and dark eyes that were not evil yet
frightened Johnnie, when he caught them gazing down on him.

"No, I'll not thrash you," said he, "because you stayed to help the
little maiden, but I'll tell you something for your good about the tree
you and your little mates have been climbing, bruising the bark with
your heels and breaking off leaves and twigs. Do you know, boy, that if
you hurt it, it will hurt you? It stands fast here with its roots in the
ground and you--you can go away from it, you think. 'Tis not so;
something will come out of it and follow you wherever you go and hurt
and break you at last. But if you make it a friend and care for it, it
will care for you and give you happiness and deliver you from evil."

Then touching Johnnie's cheeks with his gloved hand he got on his horse
and rode away, and no sooner was he gone than Marty started up, and hand
in hand the two children set off at a run down the long slope.

Johnnie's playtime was nearly over then, for by and by he was taken as
farmer's boy at one of the village farms. When he was nineteen years
old, one Sunday evening, when standing in the road with other young
people of the village, youths and girls, it was powerfully borne on his
mind that his old playmate Marty was not only the prettiest and best
girl in the place, but that she had something which set her apart and
far, far above all other women. For now, after having known her
intimately from his first years, he had suddenly fallen in love with
her, a feeling which caused him to shiver in a kind of ecstasy, yet made
him miserable, since it had purged his sight and made him see, too, how
far apart they were and how hopeless his case. It was true they had been
comrades from childhood, fond of each other, but she had grown and
developed until she had become that most bright and lovely being, while
he had remained the same slow-witted, awkward, almost inarticulate
Johnnie he had always been. This feeling preyed on his poor mind, and
when he joined the evening gathering in the village street he noted
bitterly how contemptuously he was left out of the conversation by the
others, how incapable he was of keeping pace with them in their laughing
talk and banter. And, worst of all, how Marty was the leading spirit,
bandying words and bestowing smiles and pleasantries all round, but
never a word or a smile for him. He could not endure it, and so instead
of smartening himself up after work and going for company to the village
street, he would walk down the secluded lane near the farm to spend the
hour before supper and bedtime sitting on a gate, brooding on his
misery; and if by chance he met Marty in the village he would try to
avoid her, and was silent and uncomfortable in her presence.

After work, one hot summer evening, Johnnie was walking along the road
near the farm in his working clothes, clay-coloured boots, and old dusty
hat, when who should he see but Marty coming towards him, looking very
sweet and fresh in her light-coloured print gown. He looked to this side
and that for some friendly gap or opening in the hedge so as to take
himself out of the road, but there was no way of escape at that spot,
and he had to pass her, and so casting down his eyes he walked on,
wishing he could sink into the earth out of her sight. But she would not
allow him to pass; she put herself directly in his way and spoke.

"What's the matter with 'ee, Johnnie, that 'ee don't want to meet me and
hardly say a word when I speak to 'ee?"

He could not find a word in reply; he stood still, his face crimson, his
eyes on the ground.

"Johnnie, dear, what is it?" she asked, coming closer and putting her
hand on his arm.

Then he looked up, and seeing the sweet compassion in her eyes, he could
no longer keep the secret of his pain from her.

"'Tis 'ee, Marty," he said. "Thee'll never want I--there's others 'ee'll
like better. 'Tisn't for I to say a word about that, I'm thinking, for I
be--just nothing. An'--an'--I be going away from the village, Marty, and
I'll never come back no more."

"Oh, Johnnie, don't 'ee say it! Would 'ee go and break my heart? Don't
'ee know I've always loved 'ee since we were little mites together?"

And thus it came about that Johnnie, most miserable of men, was all at
once made happy beyond his wildest dreams. And he proved himself worthy
of her; from that time there was not a more diligent and sober young
labourer in the village, nor one of a more cheerful disposition, nor
more careful of his personal appearance when, the day's work done, the
young people had their hour of social intercourse and courting. Yet he
was able to put by a portion of his weekly wages of six shillings to buy
sticks, so that when spring came round again he was able to marry and
take Marty to live with him in his own cottage.

One Sunday afternoon, shortly after this happy event, they went out for
a walk on the high down.

"Oh, Johnnie, 'tis a long time since we were here together, not since we
used to come and play and look for cowslips when we were little."

Johnnie laughed with pure joy and said they would just be children and
play again, now they were alone and out of sight of the village; and
when she smiled up at him he rejoiced to think that his union with this
perfect girl was producing a happy effect on his poor brains, making him
as bright and ready with a good reply as any one. And in their happiness
they played at being children just as in the old days they had played at
being grown-ups. Casting themselves down on the green, elastic,
flower-sprinkled turf, they rolled one after the other down the smooth
slopes of the terrace, the old "shepherd's steps," and by and by
Johnnie, coming upon a patch of creeping thyme, rubbed his hands in the
pale purple flowers, then rubbed her face to make it fragrant.

"Oh, 'tis sweet!" she cried. "Did 'ee ever see so many little flowers on
the down?--'tis as if they came out just for us." Then, indicating the
tiny milkwort faintly sprinkling the turf all about them, "Oh, the
little blue darlings! Did 'ee ever see such a dear blue?"

"Oh, aye, a prettier blue nor that," said Johnnie. "'Tis just here,
Marty," and pressing her down he kissed her on the eyelids a dozen
times.

"You silly Johnnie!"

"Be I silly, Marty? but I love the red too," and with that he kissed her
on the mouth. "And, Marty, I do love the red on the breasties too--won't
'ee let me have just one kiss there?"

And she, to please him, opened her dress a little way, but blushingly,
though she was his wife and nobody was there to see, but it seemed
strange to her out of doors with the sun overhead. Oh, 'twas all
delicious! Never was earth so heavenly sweet as on that wide green down,
sprinkled with innumerable little flowers, under the wide blue sky and
the all-illuminating sun that shone into their hearts!

At length, rising to her knees and looking up the green slope, she cried
out: "Oh, Johnnie, there's the old thorn tree! Do 'ee remember when we
played at crows on it and had such a fright? 'Twas the last time we came
here together. Come, let's go to the old tree and see how it looks now."

Johnnie all at once became grave, and said No, he wouldn't go to it for
anything. She was curious and made him tell her the reason. He had never
forgotten that day and the fear that came into his mind on account of
the words the strange man had spoken. She didn't know what the words
were; she had been too frightened to listen, and so he had to tell her.

"Then, 'tis a wishing-tree for sure," Marty exclaimed. When he asked her
what a wishing-tree was, she could only say that her old grandmother,
now dead, had told her. 'Tis a tree that knows us and can do us good and
harm, but will do good only to some; but they must go to it and ask for
its protection, and they must offer it something as well as pray to it.
It must be something bright--a little jewel or coloured bead is best,
and if you haven't got such a thing, a bright-coloured ribbon, or strip
of scarlet cloth or silk thread--which you must tie to one of the twigs.

"But we hurted the tree, Marty, and 'twill do no good to we."

They were both grave now; then a hopeful thought came to her aid. They
had not hurt the tree intentionally; the tree knew that--it knew more
than any human being. They might go and stand side by side under its
branches and ask it to forgive them, and grant them all their desires.
But they must not go empty-handed, they must have some bright thing with
them when making their prayer. Then she had a fresh inspiration. She
would take a lock of her own bright hair, and braid it with some of his,
and tie it with a piece of scarlet thread.

Johnnie was pleased with this idea, and they agreed to take another
Sunday afternoon walk and carry out their plan.

The projected walk was never taken, for by and by Marty's mother fell
ill, and Marty had to be with her, nursing her night and day. And months
went by, and at length, when her mother died, she was not in a fit
condition to go long walks and climb those long, steep slopes. After the
child was born, it was harder than ever to leave the house, and Johnnie,
too, had so much work at the farm that he had little inclination to go
out on Sundays. They ceased to speak of the tree, and their
long-projected pilgrimage was impracticable until they could see better
days. But the wished time never came, for, after the first child, Marty
was never strong. Then a second child came, then a third; and so five
years went by, of toil and suffering and love, and the tree, with all
their hopes and fears and intentions regarding it, was less and less in
their minds, and was all but forgotten. Only Johnnie, when at long
intervals his master sent him to Salisbury with the cart, remembered it
all only too well when, coming to the top of the down, he saw the old
thorn directly before him. Passing it, he would turn his face away not
to see it too closely, or, perhaps, to avoid being recognised by it.
Then came the time of their extreme poverty, when there was no work at
the farm and no one of their own people to help tide them over a season
of scarcity, for the old people were dead or in the workhouse or so poor
as to want help themselves. It was then that, in his misery at the sight
of his ailing anxious wife--the dear Marty of the beautiful vanished
days--and his three little hungry children, that he went out into the
field one dark night to get them food.

The whole sad history was in his mind as they slowly crawled up the
hill, until it came to him that perhaps all their sufferings and this
great disaster had been caused by the tree--by that something from the
tree which had followed him, never resting in its mysterious enmity
until it broke him. Was it too late to repair that terrible mistake? A
gleam of hope shone on his darkened mind, and he made his passionate
appeal to the constable. He had no offering--his hands were powerless
now; but at least he could stand by it and touch it with his body and
face and pray for its forgiveness, and for deliverance from the doom
which threatened him. The constable had compassionately, or from some
secret motive, granted his request; but alas! if in very truth the power
he had come to believe in resided in the tree, he was too late in
seeking it.

The trial was soon over; by pleading guilty Johnnie had made it a very
simple matter for the court. The main thing was to sentence him. By an
unhappy chance the judge was in one of his occasional bad moods; he had
been entertained too well by one of the local magnates on the previous
evening and had sat late, drinking too much wine, with the result that
he had a bad liver, with a mind to match it. He was only too ready to
seize the first opportunity that offered--and poor Johnnie's case was
the first that morning--of exercising the awful power a barbarous law
had put into his hands. When the prisoner's defender declared that this
was a case which called loudly for mercy, the judge interrupted him to
say that he was taking too much upon himself, that he was, in fact,
instructing the judge in his duties, which was a piece of presumption on
his part. The other was quick to make a humble apology and to bring his
perfunctory address to a conclusion. The judge, in addressing the
prisoner, said he had been unable to discover any extenuating
circumstances in the case. The fact that he had a wife and family
dependent on him only added to his turpitude, since it proved that no
consideration could serve to deter him from a criminal act. Furthermore,
in dealing with this case, he must take into account the prevalence of
this particular form of crime; he would venture to say that it had been
encouraged by an extreme leniency in many cases on the part of those
whose sacred duty it was to administer the law of the land. A sterner
and healthier spirit was called for at the present juncture. The time
had come to make an example, and a more suitable case than the one now
before him could not have been found for such a purpose. He would
accordingly hold out no hope of a reprieve, but would counsel prisoner
to make the best use of the short time remaining to him.

Johnnie standing in the dock appeared to the spectators to be in a
half-dazed condition--as dull and spiritless a clodhopper as they had
ever beheld. The judge and barristers, in their wigs and robes and
gowns, were unlike any human beings he had ever looked on. He might have
been transported to some other world, so strange did the whole scene
appear to him. He only knew, or surmised, that all these important
people were occupied in doing him to death, but the process, the meaning
of their fine phrases, he could not follow. He looked at them, his
glazed eyes travelling from face to face, to be fixed finally on the
judge, in a vacant stare; but he scarcely saw them, he was all the time
gazing on, and his mind occupied with, other forms and scenes invisible
to the court. His village, his Marty, his dear little playmate of long
ago, the sweet girl he had won, the wife and mother of his children,
with her white, terrified face, clinging to him and crying in anguish:
"Oh, Johnnie, what will they do to 'ee?" And all the time, with it all,
he saw the vast green slope of the down, with the Salisbury road lying
like a narrow white band across it, and close to it, near the summit,
the solitary old tree.

During the delivery of the sentence, and when he was led from the dock
and conveyed back to the prison, that image or vision was still present.
He sat staring at the wall of his cell as he had stared at the judge,
the fatal tree still before him. Never before had he seen it in that
vivid way in which it appeared to him now, standing alone on the vast
green down, under the wide sky, its four separate boles leaning a little
way from each other, like the middle ribs of an open fan, holding up the
widespread branches, the thin, open foliage, the green leaves stained
with rusty brown and purple; and the ivy, rising like a slender black
serpent of immense length, springing from the roots, winding upwards,
and in and out, among the grey branches, binding them together, and
resting its round, dark cluster of massed leaves on the topmost boughs.
That green disc was the ivy-serpent's flat head and was the head of the
whole tree, and there it had its eyes, which gazed for ever over the
wide downs, watching all living things, cattle and sheep and birds and
men in their comings and goings; and although fast-rooted in the earth,
following them, too, in all their ways, even as it had followed him, to
break him at last.



POSTSCRIPT



I

DEAD MAN'S PLACK


One of my literary friends, who has looked at the Dead Man's Plack in
manuscript, has said by way of criticism that Elfrida's character is
veiled. I am not to blame for that; for have I not already said, by
implication at all events, in the Preamble, that my knowledge of her
comes from outside. Something, or, more likely, _Somebody_, gave me her
history, and it has occurred to me that this same Somebody was no such
obscurity as, let us say, the Monk John of Glastonbury, who told the
excavators just where to look for the buried chapel of Edgar, king and
_saint_. I suspect that my informant was some one who knew more about
Elfrida than any mere looker-on, monk or nun, and gossip-gatherer of her
own distant day; and this suspicion or surmise was suggested by the
following incident:

After haunting Dead Man's Plack, where I had my vision, I rambled in and
about Wherwell on account of its association, and in one of the cottages
in the village I became acquainted with an elderly widow, a woman in
feeble health, but singularly attractive in her person and manner.
Indeed, before making her acquaintance I had been informed by some of
her relations and others in the place that she was not only the best
person to seek information from, but was also the sweetest person in the
village. She was a native born; her family had lived there for
generations, and she was of that best South Hampshire type with an oval
face, olive-brown skin, black eyes and hair, and that soft melancholy
expression in the eyes common in Spanish women and not uncommon in the
dark-skinned Hampshire women. She had been taught at the village school,
and having attracted the attention and interest of the great lady of the
place on account of her intelligence and pleasing manners, she was taken
when quite young as lady's-maid, and in this employment continued for
many years until her marriage to a villager.

One day, conversing with her, I said I had heard that the village was
haunted by the ghost of a woman: was that true?

Yes, it was true, she returned.

Did she _know_ that it was true? Had she actually seen the ghost?

Yes, she had seen it once. One day, when she was lady's-maid, she was in
her bedroom, dressing or doing something, with another maid. The door
was closed, and they were in a merry mood, talking and laughing, when
suddenly they both at the same moment saw a woman with a still, white
face walking through the room. She was in the middle of the room when
they caught sight of her, and they both screamed and covered their faces
with their hands. So great was her terror that she almost fainted; then
in a few moments when they looked the apparition had vanished. As to the
habit she was wearing, neither of them could say afterwards what it was
like: only the white, still face remained fixed in their memory, but the
figure was a dark one, like a dark shadow moving rapidly through the
room.

If Elfrida then, albeit still in purgatory, is able to re-visit this
scene of her early life and the site of that tragedy in the forest, it
does not seem to me altogether improbable that she herself made the
revelation I have written. And if this be so, it would account for the
_veiled_ character conveyed in the narrative. For even after ten
centuries it may well be that all the coverings have not yet been
removed, that although she has been dropping them one by one for ages,
she has not yet come to the end of them. Until the very last covering,
or veil, or mist is removed, it would be impossible for her to be
absolutely sincere, to reveal her inmost soul with all that is most
dreadful in it. But when that time comes, from the very moment of its
coming she would cease automatically to be an exiled and tormented
spirit.

If, then, Elfrida is herself responsible for the narrative, it is only
natural that she does not appear in it quite as black as she has been
painted. For the monkish chronicler was, we know, the Father of Lies,
and so indeed in a measure are all historians and biographers, since
they cannot see into hearts and motives or know all the circumstances of
the case. And in this case they were painting the picture of their hated
enemy and no doubt were not sparing in the use of the black pigment.

To know all is to forgive all, is a good saying, and enables us to see
why even the worst among us can always find it possible to forgive
himself.



II

AN OLD THORN


I was pleased at this opportunity of rescuing this story from a far-back
number of the _English Review_, in which it first appeared, and putting
it in a book. It may be a shock to the reader to be brought down from a
story of a great king and queen of England in the tenth century to the
obscure annals of a yokel and his wife who lived in a Wiltshire village
only a century ago; or even less, since my poor yokel was hanged for
sheep-stealing in 1821. But it is, I think, worth preserving, since it
is the only narrative I know of dealing with that rare and curious
subject, the survival of tree-worship in our own country. That, however,
was not the reason of my being pleased.

It was just when I had finished writing the story of Elfrida that I
happened to see in my morning paper a highly eulogistical paragraph
about one of our long-dead and, I imagine, forgotten worthies. The
occasion of the paragraph doesn't matter. The man eulogised was Mr.
Justice Park--Sir James Allan Park, a highly successful barrister, who
was judge from 1816 to his death in 1838. "As judge, though not eminent,
he was sound, fair and sensible, a little irascible, but highly
esteemed." He was also the author of a religious work. And that is all
the particular Liar who wrote his biography in the D.N.B. can tell us
about him.

It was the newspaper paragraph which reminded me that I had written
about this same judge, giving my estimate of his character in my book,
_A Shepherd's Life_, also that I was _thinking_ about Park, the sound
and fair and sensible judge, when I wrote "An Old Thorn." Here then,
with apologies to the reader for quoting from my own book, I reproduce
what I wrote in 1905.

"From these memories of the old villagers I turn to the newspapers of
the day to make a few citations.

"The law as it was did not distinguish between a case of the kind just
related, of the starving, sorely-tempted Shergold, and that of the
systematic thief: sheep-stealing was a capital offence and the man must
be hanged, unless recommended to mercy, and we know what was meant by
'mercy' in those days. That so barbarous a law existed within memory of
people to be found living in most villages appears almost incredible to
us; but despite the recommendations to 'mercy' usual in a large majority
of cases, the law of that time was not more horrible than the temper of
the men who administered it. There are good and bad among all, and in
all professions, but there is also a black spot in most, possibly all
hearts, which may be developed to almost any extent, to change the
justest, wisest, most moral men into 'human devils.' In reading the old
reports and the expressions used by the judges in their summings-up and
sentences, it is impossible not to believe that the awful power they
possessed, and its constant exercise, had not only produced the
inevitable hardening effect, but had made them cruel in the true sense
of the word. Their pleasure in passing dreadful sentences was very
thinly disguised by certain lofty conventional phrases as to the
necessity of upholding the law, morality, and religion; they were,
indeed, as familiar with the name of the Deity as any ranter in a
conventicle, and the 'enormity of the crime' was an expression as
constantly used in the case of the theft of a loaf of bread, or of an
old coat left hanging on a hedge, by some ill-clad, half-starved wretch,
as in cases of burglary, arson, rape, and murder.

"It is surprising to find how very few the real crimes were in those
days, despite the misery of the people; that nearly all the 'crimes' for
which men were sentenced to the gallows and to transportation for life,
or for long terms, were offences which would now be sufficiently
punished by a few weeks', or even a few days', imprisonment. Thus in
April, 1825, I note that Mr. Justice Park commented on the heavy
appearance of the calendar. It was not so much the number (170) of the
offenders that excited his concern as it was the nature of the crimes
with which they were charged. The worst crime in this instance was
sheep-stealing!

"Again, this same Mr. Justice Park, at the Spring Assizes at Salisbury,
1827, said that though the calendar was a heavy one, he was happy to
find, on looking at the depositions of the principal cases, that they
were not of a very serious character. Nevertheless he passed sentence of
death on twenty-eight persons, among them being one for stealing half a
crown!

"Of the twenty-eight all but three were eventually reprieved, one of the
fated three being a youth of 19, who was charged with stealing a mare
and pleaded guilty in spite of a warning from the judge not to do so.
This irritated the great man who had the power of life and death in his
hand. In passing sentence the judge 'expatiated on the prevalence of the
crime of horse-stealing and the necessity of making an example. The
enormity of Read's crime rendered him a proper example, and he would
therefore hold out no hope of mercy towards him.' As to the plea of
guilty, he remarked that nowadays too many persons pleaded guilty,
deluded with the hope that it would be taken into consideration and they
would escape the severer penalty. He was determined to put a stop to
that sort of thing; if Read had not pleaded guilty no doubt some
extenuating circumstance would have come up during the trial and he
would have saved his life.

"There, if ever, spoke the 'human devil' in a black cap!

"I find another case of a sentence of transportation for life on a youth
of 18, named Edward Baker, for stealing a pocket-handkerchief. Had he
pleaded guilty it might have been worse for him.

"At the Salisbury Spring Assizes, 1830, Mr. Justice Gazalee, addressing
the grand jury, said that none of the crimes appeared to be marked with
circumstances of great moral turpitude. The prisoners numbered 130; he
passed sentences of death on twenty-nine, life transportations on five,
fourteen years on five, seven years on eleven, and various terms of hard
labour on the others." (_A Shepherd's Life_, pp. 241-4.)

Johnnie Budd was done to death before my principal informants, one 89
years old, the other 93, were born; but in their early years they knew
the widow and her three children, and had known them and their children
all their lives; thus the whole story of Johnnie and Marty was familiar
to them. Now, when I thought of Johnnie's case and how he was treated at
the trial, as it was told me by these old people, it struck me as so
like that of the poor young man Read, who was hanged because he pleaded
guilty, that I at once came to the belief that it was Mr. Justice Park
who had tried him. I have accordingly searched the newspapers of that
day, but have failed to find Johnnie's case. I can only suppose that
this particular case was probably considered too unimportant to be
reported at large in the newspapers of 1821. He was just one of a number
convicted and sentenced to capital punishment.

When Johnnie was hanged his poor wife travelled to Salisbury and
succeeded in getting permission to take the body back to the village for
burial. How she in her poverty, with her three little children to keep,
managed it I don't know. Probably some of the other poor villagers who
pitied and perhaps loved her helped her to do it. She did even more: she
had a grave-stone set above him with his name and the dates of his birth
and death cut on it. And there it is now, within a dozen yards of the
church door in the small old churchyard--the smallest village churchyard
known to me; and Johnnie's and Marty's children's children are still
living in the village.


FINIS



       *       *       *       *       *



THE WORKS OF W. H. HUDSON



BIRDS OF LA PLATA

With 22 Coloured Plates by H. Gronvold, specially drawn under
the Author's supervision.

This book contains articles on some 200 birds of La Plata actually known
to the Author, arranged under species, and characterised by that
intimate personal touch which constitutes the chief charm of his
writing. Originally published in 1888 under the title _Argentine
Ornithology_, in collaboration with Philip Lutley Sclater, it has now
been thoroughly revised by Mr. Hudson, who has deleted all except his
own work, and has written a new Introduction of considerable length.

The coloured plates of this new book have been done by Mr. H. Gronvold,
under the most careful supervision of the Author, whose intimate
knowledge of the birds in their life and true environment has helped the
artist to give a vivid and faithful presentment of the different
species.

The illustrations constitute an integral part of the book itself, and
are not mere decorative additions. This book now forms a companion
volume to another work of Mr. Hudson's, _The Naturalist in La Plata_.



A COMPANION VOLUME

THE NATURALIST IN LA PLATA


_The Naturalist in La Plata_ can now be obtained in a new and cheaper
edition than the original, which was first published in 1892. The
letterpress and the drawings in the text by J. Smit have been left as
they were; the only change is in the form of the book and in the
substitution of new plates for the old ones. This book forms a companion
volume to _Birds of La Plata_.



FAR AWAY AND LONG AGO

An Autobiographical Sketch of the Writer's Boyhood

"To read his book is to read another chapter in that enormous book which
is written from time to time by Rousseau and George Sand and Aksakoff
among other people--a book which we can never read enough of; and
therefore we must beg Mr. Hudson not to stop here, but to carry the
story on to the farthest possible limits."--_Times Literary Supplement._

"A low-pitched narrative, but once listened to it is as enthralling as
Mr. Hudson found the voice of the golden plover."--_Athenæum._

"He who does not know the work of W. H. Hudson is missing one of the
finest pleasures of contemporary literature."--_Daily News._

"Regarding the author hitherto primarily as a naturalist we rediscover
him as an acute psychologist.... For many readers the chief interest of
the book will lie in the charming reflective presentment of the thoughts
of a boy's mind."--_Bookman._



BIRDS IN TOWN AND VILLAGE

With 8 Coloured Plates after E. J. Detmold

Head and Tail Pieces by Herbert Cole

"Mr. Hudson loves all birds; they are his work, his recreation, his
life; he writes about them as no one else can: he sees what others
miss."--_Manchester Guardian._

"This book is full of his unsurpassed perception and unique
charm.... Some of his best passages about birds are equally delightful
and vivid sketches of human life."--_Times Literary Supplement._

"Mr. Hudson is more than a naturalist. He is a man of genius who
transmutes lead into gold--the lead of knowledge into the gold of
feeling.... As you hear the music of his prose ... you recapture
the delicious tenderness of childhood with its wistful wonder and
vision.... Mr. Hudson is a nightingale naturalist with a voice that
throbs in waves of magical melody."

--James Douglas in _The Star_.





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