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Title: Harold : the Last of the Saxon Kings — Complete
Author: Lytton, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron, 1803-1873
Language: English
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HAROLD

by Edward Bulwer Lytton



DEDICATORY EPISTLE
TO THE RIGHT HON. C. T. D'EYNCOURT, M.P.

I dedicate to you, my dear friend, a work, principally composed under
your hospitable roof; and to the materials of which your library, rich in
the authorities I most needed, largely contributed.

The idea of founding an historical romance on an event so important and
so national as the Norman Invasion, I had long entertained, and the
chronicles of that time had long been familiar to me.  But it is an old
habit of mine, to linger over the plan and subject of a work, for years,
perhaps, before the work has, in truth, advanced a sentence; "busying
myself," as old Burton saith, "with this playing labour--otiosaque
diligentia ut vitarem torporen feriendi."

The main consideration which long withheld me from the task, was in my
sense of the unfamiliarity of the ordinary reader with the characters,
events, and, so to speak, with the very physiognomy of a period ante
Agamemnona; before the brilliant age of matured chivalry, which has given
to song and romance the deeds of the later knighthood, and the glorious
frenzy of the Crusades.  The Norman Conquest was our Trojan War; an epoch
beyond which our learning seldom induces our imagination to ascend.

In venturing on ground so new to fiction, I saw before me the option of
apparent pedantry, in the obtrusion of such research as might carry the
reader along with the Author, fairly and truly into the real records of
the time; or of throwing aside pretensions to accuracy altogether;--and
so rest contented to turn history into flagrant romance, rather than
pursue my own conception of extracting its natural romance from the
actual history.  Finally, not without some encouragement from you,
(whereof take your due share of blame!) I decided to hazard the attempt,
and to adopt that mode of treatment which, if making larger demand on the
attention of the reader, seemed the more complimentary to his judgment.

The age itself, once duly examined, is full of those elements which
should awaken interest, and appeal to the imagination.  Not untruly has
Sismondi said, that the "Eleventh Century has a right to be considered a
great age.  It was a period of life and of creation; all that there was
of noble, heroic, and vigorous in the Middle Ages commenced at that
epoch." [1]  But to us Englishmen in especial, besides the more animated
interest in that spirit of adventure, enterprise, and improvement, of
which the Norman chivalry was the noblest type, there is an interest more
touching and deep in those last glimpses of the old Saxon monarchy, which
open upon us in the mournful pages of our chroniclers.

I have sought in this work, less to portray mere manners, which modern
researches have rendered familiar to ordinary students in our history,
than to bring forward the great characters, so carelessly dismissed in
the long and loose record of centuries; to show more clearly the motives
and policy of the agents in an event the most memorable in Europe; and to
convey a definite, if general, notion of the human beings, whose brains
schemed, and whose hearts beat, in that realm of shadows which lies
behind the Norman Conquest;

    "Spes hominum caecos, morbos, votumque, labores,
     Et passim toto volitantes aethere curas." [2]

I have thus been faithful to the leading historical incidents in the
grand tragedy of Harold, and as careful as contradictory evidences will
permit, both as to accuracy in the delineation of character, and
correctness in that chronological chain of dates without which there can
be no historical philosophy; that is, no tangible link between the cause
and the effect.  The fictitious part of my narrative is, as in "Rienzi,"
and the "Last of the Barons," confined chiefly to the private life, with
its domain of incident and passion, which is the legitimate appanage of
novelist or poet.  The love story of Harold and Edith is told differently
from the well-known legend, which implies a less pure connection.  But
the whole legend respecting the Edeva faira (Edith the fair) whose name
meets us in the "Domesday" roll, rests upon very slight authority
considering its popular acceptance [3]; and the reasons for my
alterations will be sufficiently obvious in a work intended not only for
general perusal, but which on many accounts, I hope, may be entrusted
fearlessly to the young; while those alterations are in strict accordance
with the spirit of the time, and tend to illustrate one of its most
marked peculiarities.

More apology is perhaps due for the liberal use to which I have applied
the superstitions of the age.  But with the age itself those
superstitions are so interwoven--they meet us so constantly, whether in
the pages of our own chroniclers, or the records of the kindred
Scandinavians--they are so intruded into the very laws, so blended with
the very life, of our Saxon forefathers, that without employing them, in
somewhat of the same credulous spirit with which they were originally
conceived, no vivid impression of the People they influenced can be
conveyed.  Not without truth has an Italian writer remarked, "that he who
would depict philosophically an unphilosophical age, should remember
that, to be familiar with children, one must sometimes think and feel as
a child."

Yet it has not been my main endeavour to make these ghostly agencies
conducive to the ordinary poetical purposes of terror, and if that effect
be at all created by them, it will be, I apprehend, rather subsidiary to
the more historical sources of interest than, in itself, a leading or
popular characteristic of the work.  My object, indeed, in the
introduction of the Danish Vala especially, has been perhaps as much
addressed to the reason as to the fancy, in showing what large, if dim,
remains of the ancient "heathenesse" still kept their ground on the Saxon
soil, contending with and contrasting the monkish superstitions, by which
they were ultimately replaced.  Hilda is not in history; but without the
romantic impersonation of that which Hilda represents, the history of the
time would be imperfectly understood.

In the character of Harold--while I have carefully examined and weighed
the scanty evidences of its distinguishing attributes which are yet
preserved to us--and, in spite of no unnatural partiality, have not
concealed what appear to me its deficiencies, and still less the great
error of the life it illustrates,--I have attempted, somewhat and
slightly, to shadow out the ideal of the pure Saxon character, such as it
was then, with its large qualities undeveloped, but marked already by
patient endurance, love of justice, and freedom--the manly sense of duty
rather than the chivalric sentiment of honour--and that indestructible
element of practical purpose and courageous will, which, defying all
conquest, and steadfast in all peril, was ordained to achieve so vast an
influence over the destinies of the world.

To the Norman Duke, I believe, I have been as lenient as justice will
permit, though it is as impossible to deny his craft as to dispute his
genius; and so far as the scope of my work would allow, I trust that I
have indicated fairly the grand characteristics of his countrymen, more
truly chivalric than their lord.  It has happened, unfortunately for that
illustrious race of men, that they have seemed to us, in England,
represented by the Anglo-Norman kings.  The fierce and plotting William,
the vain and worthless Rufus, the cold-blooded and relentless Henry, are
no adequate representatives of the far nobler Norman vavasours, whom even
the English Chronicler admits to have been "kind masters," and to whom,
in spite of their kings, the after liberties of England were so largely
indebted.  But this work closes on the Field of Hastings; and in that
noble struggle for national independence, the sympathies of every true
son of the land, even if tracing his lineage back to the Norman victor,
must be on the side of the patriot Harold.

In the notes, which I have thought necessary aids to the better
comprehension of these volumes, my only wish has been to convey to the
general reader such illustrative information as may familiarise him more
easily with the subject-matter of the book, or refresh his memory on
incidental details not without a national interest. In the mere
references to authorities I do not pretend to arrogate to a fiction the
proper character of a history; the references are chiefly used either
where wishing pointedly to distinguish from invention what was borrowed
from a chronicle, or when differing from some popular historian to whom
the reader might be likely to refer, it seemed well to state the
authority upon which the difference was founded. [4]

In fact, my main object has been one that compelled me to admit graver
matter than is common in romance, but which I would fain hope may be
saved from the charge of dulness by some national sympathy between author
and reader; my object is attained, and attained only, if, in closing the
last page of this work, the reader shall find that, in spite of the
fictitious materials admitted, he has formed a clearer and more intimate
acquaintance with a time, heroic though remote, and characters which
ought to have a household interest to Englishmen, than the succinct
accounts of the mere historian could possibly afford him.

Thus, my dear D'Eyncourt, under cover of an address to yourself, have I
made to the Public those explanations which authors in general (and I not
the least so) are often overanxious to render.

This task done, my thoughts naturally fly back to the associations I
connected with your name when I placed it at the head of this epistle.
Again I seem to find myself under your friendly roof; again to greet my
provident host entering that gothic chamber in which I had been permitted
to establish my unsocial study, heralding the advent of majestic folios,
and heaping libraries round the unworthy work. Again, pausing from my
labour, I look through that castle casement, and beyond that feudal moat,
over the broad landscapes which, if I err not, took their name from the
proud brother of the Conqueror himself; or when, in those winter nights,
the grim old tapestry waved in the dim recesses, I hear again the Saxon
thegn winding his horn at the turret door, and demanding admittance to
the halls from which the prelate of Bayeux had so unrighteously expelled
him [5]--what marvel, that I lived in the times of which I wrote, Saxon
with the Saxon, Norman with the Norman--that I entered into no gossip
less venerable than that current at the Court of the Confessor, or
startled my fellow-guests (when I deigned to meet them) with the last
news which Harold's spies had brought over from the Camp at St. Valery?
With all those folios, giants of the gone world, rising around me daily,
more and more, higher and higher--Ossa upon Pelion--on chair and table,
hearth and floor; invasive as Normans, indomitable as Saxons, and tall as
the tallest Danes (ruthless host, I behold them still!)--with all those
disburied spectres rampant in the chamber, all the armour rusting in thy
galleries, all those mutilated statues of early English kings (including
St. Edward himself)--niched into thy grey, ivied walls--say in thy
conscience, O host, (if indeed that conscience be not wholly callous!)
shall I ever return to the nineteenth century again?

But far beyond these recent associations of a single winter (for which
heaven assoil thee!) goes the memory of a friendship of many winters, and
proof to the storms of all.  Often have I come for advice to your wisdom,
and sympathy to your heart, bearing back with me, in all such seasons,
new increase to that pleasurable gratitude which is, perhaps, the rarest,
nor the least happy sentiment, that experience leaves to man.  Some
differences, it may be,--whether on those public questions which we see,
every day, alienating friendships that should have been beyond the reach
of laws and kings;--or on the more scholastic controversies which as
keenly interest the minds of educated men,--may at times deny to us the
idem velle, atque idem nolle; but the firma amicitia needs not those
common links; the sunshine does not leave the wave for the slight ripple
which the casual stone brings a moment to the surface.

Accept, in this dedication of a work which has lain so long on my mind,
and been endeared to me from many causes, the token of an affection for
you and yours, strong as the ties of kindred, and lasting as the belief
in truth.                      E. B. L.



PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION.

The author of an able and learned article on MABILLON [6] in the
"Edinburgh Review," has accurately described my aim in this work;
although, with that generous courtesy which characterises the true
scholar, in referring to the labours of a contemporary, he has overrated
my success.  It was indeed my aim "to solve the problem how to produce
the greatest amount of dramatic effect at the least expense of historical
truth"--I borrow the words of the Reviewer, since none other could so
tersely express my design, or so clearly account for the leading
characteristics in its conduct and completion.

There are two ways of employing the materials of History in the service
of Romance: the one consists in lending to ideal personages, and to an
imaginary fable, the additional interest to be derived from historical
groupings: the other, in extracting the main interest of romantic
narrative from History itself.  Those who adopt the former mode are at
liberty to exclude all that does not contribute to theatrical effect or
picturesque composition; their fidelity to the period they select is
towards the manners and costume, not towards the precise order of events,
the moral causes from which the events proceeded, and the physical
agencies by which they were influenced and controlled.  The plan thus
adopted is unquestionably the more popular and attractive, and, being
favoured by the most illustrious writers of historical romance, there is
presumptive reason for supposing it to be also that which is the more
agreeable to the art of fiction.

But he who wishes to avoid the ground pre-occupied by others, and claim
in the world of literature some spot, however humble, which he may
"plough with his own heifer," will seek to establish himself not where
the land is the most fertile, but where it is the least enclosed.  So,
when I first turned my attention to Historical Romance, my main aim was
to avoid as much as possible those fairer portions of the soil that had
been appropriated by the first discoverers.  The great author of Ivanhoe,
and those amongst whom, abroad and at home, his mantle was divided, had
employed History to aid Romance; I contented myself with the humbler task
to employ Romance in the aid of History,--to extract from authentic but
neglected chronicles, and the unfrequented storehouse of Archaeology, the
incidents and details that enliven the dry narrative of facts to which
the general historian is confined,--construct my plot from the actual
events themselves, and place the staple of such interest as I could
create in reciting the struggles, and delineating the characters, of
those who had been the living actors in the real drama.  For the main
materials of the three Historical Romances I have composed, I consulted
the original authorities of the time with a care as scrupulous, as if
intending to write, not a fiction but a history.  And having formed the
best judgment I could of the events and characters of the age, I adhered
faithfully to what, as an Historian, I should have held to be the true
course and true causes of the great political events, and the essential
attributes of the principal agents.  Solely in that inward life which,
not only as apart from the more public and historical, but which, as
almost wholly unknown, becomes the fair domain of the poet, did I claim
the legitimate privileges of fiction, and even here I employed the agency
of the passions only so far as they served to illustrate what I believed
to be the genuine natures of the beings who had actually lived, and to
restore the warmth of the human heart to the images recalled from the
grave.

Thus, even had I the gifts of my most illustrious predecessors, I should
be precluded the use of many of the more brilliant.  I shut myself out
from the wider scope permitted to their fancy, and denied myself the
license to choose or select materials, alter dates, vary causes and
effects according to the convenience of that more imperial fiction which
invents the Probable where it discards the Real.  The mode I have adopted
has perhaps only this merit, that it is my own--mine by discovery and
mine by labour.  And if I can raise not the spirits that obeyed the great
master of romance, nor gain the key to the fairyland that opened to his
spell,--at least I have not rifled the tomb of the wizard to steal my art
from the book that lies clasped on his breast.

In treating of an age with which the general reader is so unfamiliar as
that preceding the Norman Conquest, it is impossible to avoid (especially
in the earlier portions of my tale) those explanations of the very
character of the time which would have been unnecessary if I had only
sought in History the picturesque accompaniments to Romance. I have to do
more than present an amusing picture of national manners--detail the
dress, and describe the banquet.  According to the plan I adopt, I have
to make the reader acquainted with the imperfect fusion of races in Saxon
England, familiarise him with the contests of parties and the ambition of
chiefs, show him the strength and the weakness of a kindly but ignorant
church; of a brave but turbulent aristocracy; of a people partially free,
and naturally energetic, but disunited by successive immigrations, and
having lost much of the proud jealousies of national liberty by
submission to the preceding conquests of the Dane; acquiescent in the
sway of foreign kings, and with that bulwark against invasion which an
hereditary order of aristocracy usually erects, loosened to its very
foundations by the copious admixture of foreign nobles.  I have to
present to the reader, here, the imbecile priestcraft of the illiterate
monk, there, the dark superstition that still consulted the deities of
the North by runes on the elm bark and adjurations of the dead.  And in
contrast to those pictures of a decrepit monarchy and a fated race, I
have to bring forcibly before the reader the vigorous attributes of the
coming conquerors,--the stern will and deep guile of the Norman
chief--the comparative knowledge of the rising Norman Church--the nascent
spirit of chivalry in the Norman vavasours; a spirit destined to
emancipate the very people it contributed to enslave, associated, as it
imperfectly was, with the sense of freedom: disdainful, it is true, of
the villein, but proudly curbing, though into feudal limits, the
domination of the liege.  In a word, I must place fully before the
reader, if I would be faithful to the plan of my work, the political and
moral features of the age, as well as its lighter and livelier
attributes, and so lead him to perceive, when he has closed the book, why
England was conquered, and how England survived the Conquest.

In accomplishing this task, I inevitably incur the objections which the
task itself raises up,--objections to the labour it has cost; to the
information which the labour was undertaken in order to bestow;
objections to passages which seem to interrupt the narrative, but which
in reality prepare for the incidents it embraces, or explain the position
of the persons whose characters it illustrates,--whose fate it involves;
objections to the reference to authorities, where a fact might be
disputed, or mistaken for fiction; objections to the use of Saxon words,
for which no accurate synonyms could be exchanged; objections, in short,
to the colouring, conduct, and composition of the whole work; objections
to all that separate it from the common crowd of Romances, and stamp on
it, for good or for bad, a character peculiarly its own.  Objections of
this kind I cannot remove, though I have carefully weighed them all.  And
with regard to the objection most important to story-teller and novel
reader--viz., the dryness of some of the earlier portions, though I have
thrice gone over those passages, with the stern determination to inflict
summary justice upon every unnecessary line, I must own to my regret that
I have found but little which it was possible to omit without rendering
the after narrative obscure, and without injuring whatever of more
stirring interest the story, as it opens, may afford to the general
reader of Romance.

As to the Saxon words used, an explanation of all those that can be
presumed unintelligible to a person of ordinary education, is given
either in the text or a foot-note.  Such archaisms are much less numerous
than certain critics would fain represent them to be: and they have
rarely indeed been admitted where other words could have been employed
without a glaring anachronism, or a tedious periphrase. Would it indeed
be possible, for instance, to convey a notion of the customs and manners
of our Saxon forefathers without employing words so mixed up with their
daily usages and modes of thinking as "weregeld" and "niddering"?  Would
any words from the modern vocabulary suggest the same idea, or embody the
same meaning?

One critic good-humouredly exclaims, "We have a full attendance of thegns
and cnehts, but we should have liked much better our old friends and
approved good masters thanes and knights."  Nothing could be more
apposite for my justification than the instances here quoted in censure;
nothing could more plainly vindicate the necessity of employing the Saxon
words.  For I should sadly indeed have misled the reader if I had used
the word knight in an age when knights were wholly unknown to the
Anglo-Saxon and cneht no more means what we understand by knight, than a
templar in modern phrase means a man in chain mail vowed to celibacy, and
the redemption of the Holy Sepulchre from the hands of the Mussulman.
While, since thegn and thane are both archaisms, I prefer the former; not
only for the same reason that induces Sir Francis Palgrave to prefer it,
viz., because it is the more etymologically correct; but because we take
from our neighbours the Scotch, not only the word thane, but the sense in
which we apply it; and that sense is not the same that we ought to attach
to the various and complicated notions of nobility which the Anglo-Saxon
comprehended in the title of thegn.  It has been peremptorily said by
more than one writer in periodicals, that I have overrated the erudition
of William, in permitting him to know Latin; nay, to have read the
Comments of Caesar at the age of eight.--Where these gentlemen find the
authorities to confute my statement I know not; all I know is, that in
the statement I have followed the original authorities usually deemed the
best.  And I content myself with referring the disputants to a work not
so difficult to procure as (and certainly more pleasant to read than) the
old Chronicles.  In Miss Strickland's "Lives of the Queens of England,"
(Matilda of Flanders,) the same statement is made, and no doubt upon the
same authorities.

More surprised should I be (if modern criticism had not taught me in all
matter's of assumption the nil admirari), to find it alleged that I have
overstated not only the learning of the Norman duke, but that which
flourished in Normandy under his reign; for I should have thought that
the fact of the learning which sprung up in the most thriving period of
that principality; the rapidity of its growth; the benefits it derived
from Lanfranc; the encouragement it received from William, had been
phenomena too remarkable in the annals of the age, and in the history of
literature, to have met with an incredulity which the most moderate
amount of information would have sufficed to dispel.  Not to refer such
sceptics to graver authorities, historical and ecclesiastical, in order
to justify my representations of that learning which, under William the
Bastard, made the schools of Normandy the popular academies of Europe, a
page or two in a book so accessible as Villemain's "Tableau du Moyen
Age," will perhaps suffice to convince them of the hastiness of their
censure, and the error of their impressions.

It is stated in the Athenaeum, and, I believe, by a writer whose
authority on the merits of opera singers I am far from contesting but of
whose competence to instruct the world in any other department of human
industry or knowledge I am less persuaded, "that I am much mistaken when
I represent not merely the clergy but the young soldiers and courtiers of
the reign of the Confessor, as well acquainted with the literature of
Greece and Rome."

The remark, to say the least of it, is disingenuous.  I have done no such
thing.  This general animadversion is only justified by a reference to
the pedantry of the Norman Mallet de Graville--and it is expressly stated
in the text that Mallet de Graville was originally intended for the
Church, and that it was the peculiarity of his literary information, rare
in a soldier (but for which his earlier studies for the ecclesiastical
calling readily account, at a time when the Norman convent of Bec was
already so famous for the erudition of its teachers, and the number of
its scholars,) that attracted towards him the notice of Lanfranc, and
founded his fortunes.  Pedantry is made one of his characteristics (as it
generally was the characteristic of any man with some pretensions to
scholarship, in the earlier ages;) and if he indulges in a classical
allusion, whether in taunting a courtier or conversing with a "Saxon from
the wealds of Kent," it is no more out of keeping with the pedantry
ascribed to him, than it is unnatural in Dominie Sampson to rail at Meg
Merrilies in Latin, or James the First to examine a young courtier in the
same unfamiliar language.  Nor should the critic in question, when
inviting his readers to condemn me for making Mallet de Graville quote
Horace, have omitted to state that de Graville expressly laments that he
had never read, nor could even procure, a copy of the Roman poet--judging
only of the merits of Horace by an extract in some monkish author, who
was equally likely to have picked up his quotation second-hand.

So, when a reference is made either by Graville, or by any one else in
the romance, to Homeric fables and personages, a critic who had gone
through the ordinary education of an English gentleman would never
thereby have assumed that the person so referring had read the poems of
Homer themselves--he would have known that Homeric fables, or personages,
though not the Homeric poems, were made familiar, by quaint travesties
[7], even to the most illiterate audience of the gothic age.  It was
scarcely more necessary to know Homer then than now, in order to have
heard of Ulysses.  The writer in the Athenaeum is acquainted with Homeric
personages, but who on earth would ever presume to assert that he is
acquainted with Homer?

Some doubt has been thrown upon my accuracy in ascribing to the
Anglo-Saxon the enjoyments of certain luxuries (gold and silver
plate--the use of glass, etc.), which were extremely rare in an age much
more recent.  There is no ground for that doubt; nor is there a single
article of such luxury named in the text, for the mention of which I have
not ample authority.

I have indeed devoted to this work a degree of research which, if unusual
to romance, I cannot consider superfluous when illustrating an age so
remote, and events unparalleled in their influence over the destinies of
England.  Nor am I without the hope, that what the romance-reader at
first regards as a defect, he may ultimately acknowledge as a
merit;--forgiving me that strain on his attention by which alone I could
leave distinct in his memory the action and the actors in that solemn
tragedy which closed on the field of Hastings, over the corpse of the
Last Saxon King.


CONTENTS

BOOK FIRST
The Norman Visitor, the Saxon King, and the Danish Prophetess

BOOK SECOND
Lanfranc the Scholar

BOOK THIRD
The House of Godwin

BOOK FOURTH
The Heathen Altar and the Saxon Church

BOOK FIFTH
Death and Love

BOOK SIXTH
Ambition

BOOK SEVENTH
The Welch King

BOOK EIGHTH
Fate

BOOK NINTH
The Bones of the Dead

BOOK TENTH
The Sacrifice on the Altar

BOOK ELEVENTH
The Norman Schemer, and the Norwegian Sea-king

BOOK TWELFTH
The Battle of Hastings



HAROLD, THE LAST OF THE SAXON KINGS

by Edward Bulwer Lytton



BOOK I.
THE NORMAN VISITOR, THE SAXON KING, AND THE DANISH PROPHETESS.



CHAPTER I.

Merry was the month of May in the year of our Lord 1052.  Few were the
boys, and few the lasses, who overslept themselves on the first of that
buxom month.  Long ere the dawn, the crowds had sought mead and woodland,
to cut poles and wreathe flowers.  Many a mead then lay fair and green
beyond the village of Charing, and behind the isle of Thorney, (amidst
the brakes and briars of which were then rising fast and fair the Hall
and Abbey of Westminster;) many a wood lay dark in the starlight, along
the higher ground that sloped from the dank Strand, with its numerous
canals or dykes;--and on either side of the great road into Kent:--flutes
and horns sounded far and near through the green places, and laughter and
song, and the crash of breaking boughs.

As the dawn came grey up the east, arch and blooming faces bowed down to
bathe in the May dew.  Patient oxen stood dozing by the hedge-rows, all
fragrant with blossoms, till the gay spoilers of the May came forth from
the woods with lusty poles, followed by girls with laps full of flowers,
which they had caught asleep.  The poles were pranked with nosegays, and
a chaplet was hung round the horns of every ox. Then towards daybreak,
the processions streamed back into the city, through all its gates; boys
with their May-gads (peeled willow wands twined with cowslips) going
before; and clear through the lively din of the horns and flutes, and
amidst the moving grove of branches, choral voices, singing some early
Saxon stave, precursor of the later song--

    "We have brought the summer home."

Often in the good old days before the Monk-king reigned, kings and
ealdermen had thus gone forth a-maying; but these merriments, savouring
of heathenesse, that good prince misliked: nevertheless the song was as
blithe, and the boughs were as green, as if king and ealderman had walked
in the train.

On the great Kent road, the fairest meads for the cowslip, and the
greenest woods for the bough, surrounded a large building that once had
belonged to some voluptuous Roman, now all defaced and despoiled; but the
boys and the lasses shunned those demesnes; and even in their mirth, as
they passed homeward along the road, and saw near the ruined walls, and
timbered outbuildings, grey Druid stones (that spoke of an age before
either Saxon or Roman invader) gleaming through the dawn--the song was
hushed--the very youngest crossed themselves; and the elder, in solemn
whispers, suggested the precaution of changing the song into a psalm.
For in that old building dwelt Hilda, of famous and dark repute; Hilda,
who, despite all law and canon, was still believed to practise the dismal
arts of the Wicca and Morthwyrtha (the witch and worshipper of the dead).
But once out of sight of those fearful precincts, the psalm was
forgotten, and again broke, loud, clear, and silvery, the joyous chorus.

So, entering London about sunrise, doors and windows were duly wreathed
with garlands; and every village in the suburbs had its May-pole, which
stood in its place all the year.  On that happy day labour rested; ceorl
and theowe had alike a holiday to dance, and tumble round the May-pole;
and thus, on the first of May--Youth, and Mirth, and Music, "brought the
summer home."

The next day you might still see where the buxom bands had been; you
might track their way by fallen flowers, and green leaves, and the deep
ruts made by oxen (yoked often in teams from twenty to forty, in the
wains that carried home the poles); and fair and frequent throughout the
land, from any eminence, you might behold the hamlet swards still crowned
with the May trees, and air still seemed fragrant with their garlands.

It is on that second day of May, 1052, that my story opens, at the House
of Hilda, the reputed Morthwyrtha.  It stood upon a gentle and verdant
height; and, even through all the barbarous mutilation it had undergone
from barbarian hands, enough was left strikingly to contrast the ordinary
abodes of the Saxon.

The remains of Roman art were indeed still numerous throughout England,
but it happened rarely that the Saxon had chosen his home amidst the
villas of those noble and primal conquerors.  Our first forefathers were
more inclined to destroy than to adapt.

By what chance this building became an exception to the ordinary rule, it
is now impossible to conjecture, but from a very remote period it had
sheltered successive races of Teuton lords.

The changes wrought in the edifice were mournful and grotesque.  What was
now the Hall, had evidently been the atrium; the round shield, with its
pointed boss, the spear, sword, and small curved saex of the early
Teuton, were suspended from the columns on which once had been wreathed
the flowers; in the centre of the floor, where fragments of the old
mosaic still glistened from the hard-pressed paving of clay and lime,
what now was the fire-place had been the impluvium, and the smoke went
sullenly through the aperture in the roof, made of old to receive the
rains of heaven.  Around the Hall were still left the old cubicula or
dormitories, (small, high, and lighted but from the doors,) which now
served for the sleeping-rooms of the humbler guest or the household
servant; while at the farther end of the Hall, the wide space between the
columns, which had once given ample vista from graceful awnings into
tablinum and viridarium, was filled up with rude rubble and Roman bricks,
leaving but a low, round, arched door, that still led into the tablinum.
But that tablinum, formerly the gayest state-room of the Roman lord, was
now filled with various lumber, piles of faggots, and farming utensils.
On either side of this desecrated apartment, stretched, to the right, the
old lararium, stripped of its ancient images of ancestor and god; to the
left, what had been the gynoecium (women's apartment).

One side of the ancient peristyle, which was of vast extent, was now
converted into stabling, sties for swine, and stalls for oxen.  On the
other side was constructed a Christian chapel, made of rough oak planks,
fastened by plates at the top, and with a roof of thatched reeds.  The
columns and wall at the extreme end of the peristyle were a mass of
ruins, through the gigantic rents of which loomed a grassy hillock, its
sides partially covered with clumps of furze.  On this hillock were the
mutilated remains of an ancient Druidical crommel, in the centre of which
(near a funeral mound, or barrow, with the bautastean, or gravestone, of
some early Saxon chief at one end) had been sacrilegiously placed an
altar to Thor, as was apparent both from the shape, from a rude,
half-obliterated, sculptured relief of the god, with his lifted hammer,
and a few Runic letters.  Amidst the temple of the Briton the Saxon had
reared the shrine of his triumphant war-god.

Now still, amidst the ruins of that extreme side of the peristyle which
opened to this hillock were left, first, an ancient Roman fountain, that
now served to water the swine, and next, a small sacellum, or fane to
Bacchus (as relief and frieze, yet spared, betokened): thus the eye, at
one survey, beheld the shrines of four creeds: the Druid, mystical and
symbolical; the Roman, sensual, but humane; the Teutonic, ruthless and
destroying; and, latest riser and surviving all, though as yet with but
little of its gentler influence over the deeds of men, the edifice of the
Faith of Peace.

Across the peristyle, theowes and swineherds passed to and fro:--in the
atrium, men of a higher class, half-armed, were, some drinking, some at
dice, some playing with huge hounds, or caressing the hawks that stood
grave and solemn on their perches.

The lararium was deserted; the gynoecium was still, as in the Roman time,
the favoured apartment of the female portion of the household, and indeed
bore the same name [8], and with the group there assembled we have now to
do.

The appliances of the chamber showed the rank and wealth of the owner. At
that period the domestic luxury of the rich was infinitely greater than
has been generally supposed.  The industry of the women decorated wall
and furniture with needlework and hangings: and as a thegn forfeited his
rank if he lost his lands, so the higher orders of an aristocracy rather
of wealth than birth had, usually, a certain portion of superfluous
riches, which served to flow towards the bazaars of the East and the
nearer markets of Flanders and Saracenic Spain.

In this room the walls were draped with silken hangings richly
embroidered.  The single window was glazed with a dull grey glass [9]. On
a beaufet were ranged horns tipped with silver, and a few vessels of pure
gold.  A small circular table in the centre was supported by symbolical
monsters quaintly carved.  At one side of the wall, on a long settle,
some half-a-dozen handmaids were employed in spinning; remote from them,
and near the window, sat a woman advanced in years, and of a mien and
aspect singularly majestic.  Upon a small tripod before her was a Runic
manuscript, and an inkstand of elegant form, with a silver graphium, or
pen.  At her feet reclined a girl somewhat about the age of sixteen, her
long hair parted across her forehead and falling far down her shoulders.
Her dress was a linen under-tunic, with long sleeves, rising high to the
throat, and without one of the modern artificial restraints of the shape,
the simple belt sufficed to show the slender proportions and delicate
outline of the wearer.  The colour of the dress was of the purest white,
but its hems, or borders, were richly embroidered.  This girl's beauty
was something marvellous. In a land proverbial for fair women, it had
already obtained her the name of "the fair."  In that beauty were
blended, not as yet without a struggle for mastery, the two expressions
seldom united in one countenance, the soft and the noble; indeed in the
whole aspect there was the evidence of some internal struggle; the
intelligence was not yet complete; the soul and heart were not yet
united: and Edith the Christian maid dwelt in the home of Hilda the
heathen prophetess.  The girl's blue eyes, rendered dark by the shade of
their long lashes, were fixed intently upon the stern and troubled
countenance which was bent upon her own, but bent with that abstract gaze
which shows that the soul is absent from the sight.  So sate Hilda, and
so reclined her grandchild Edith.

"Grandam," said the girl in a low voice and after a long pause; and the
sound of her voice so startled the handmaids, that every spindle stopped
for a moment and then plied with renewed activity; "Grandam, what
troubles you--are you not thinking of the great Earl and his fair sons,
now outlawed far over the wide seas?"

As the girl spoke, Hilda started slightly, like one awakened from a
dream; and when Edith had concluded her question, she rose slowly to the
height of a statue, unbowed by her years, and far towering above even the
ordinary standard of men; and turning from the child, her eye fell upon
the row of silent maids, each at her rapid, noiseless, stealthy work.
"Ho!" said she; her cold and haughty eye gleaming as she spoke;
"yesterday they brought home the summer--to-day, ye aid to bring home the
winter.  Weave well--heed well warf and woof; Skulda [10] is amongst ye,
and her pale fingers guide the web!"

The maidens lifted not their eyes, though in every cheek the colour paled
at the words of the mistress.  The spindles revolved, the thread shot,
and again there was silence more freezing than before.

"Askest thou," said Hilda at length, passing to the child, as if the
question so long addressed to her ear had only just reached her mind;
"askest thou if I thought of the Earl and his fair sons?--yea, I heard
the smith welding arms on the anvil, and the hammer of the shipwright
shaping strong ribs for the horses of the sea.  Ere the reaper has bound
his sheaves, Earl Godwin will scare the Normans in the halls of the
Monk-king, as the hawk scares the brood in the dovecot.  Weave well, heed
well warf and woof, nimble maidens--strong be the texture, for biting is
the worm."

"What weave they, then, good grandmother?" asked the girl, with wonder
and awe in her soft mild eyes.

"The winding-sheet of the great!"

Hilda's lips closed, but her eyes, yet brighter than before, gazed upon
space, and her pale hand seemed tracing letters, like runes, in the air.

Then slowly she turned, and looked forth through the dull window. "Give
me my coverchief and my staff," said she quickly.

Every one of the handmaids, blithe for excuse to quit a task which seemed
recently commenced, and was certainly not endeared to them by the
knowledge of its purpose communicated to them by the lady, rose to obey.

Unheeding the hands that vied with each other, Hilda took the hood, and
drew it partially over her brow.  Leaning lightly on a long staff, the
head of which formed a raven, carved from some wood stained black, she
passed into the hall, and thence through the desecrated tablinum, into
the mighty court formed by the shattered peristyle; there she stopped,
mused a moment, and called on Edith.  The girl was soon by her side.

"Come with me.--There is a face you shall see but twice in life;--this
day,"--and Hilda paused, and the rigid and almost colossal beauty of her
countenance softened.

"And when again, my grandmother?"

"Child, put thy warm hand in mine.  So! the vision darkens from me.--when
again, saidst thou, Edith?--alas, I know not."

While thus speaking, Hilda passed slowly by the Roman fountain and the
heathen fane, and ascended the little hillock.  There on the opposite
side of the summit, backed by the Druid crommel and the Teuton altar, she
seated herself deliberately on the sward.

A few daisies, primroses, and cowslips, grew around; these Edith began to
pluck.  Singing, as she wove, a simple song, that, not more by the
dialect than the sentiment, betrayed its origin in the ballad of the
Norse [11], which had, in its more careless composition, a character
quite distinct from the artificial poetry of the Saxons.  The song may be
thus imperfectly rendered:

    "Merrily the throstle sings
       Amid the merry May;
     The throstle signs but to my ear;
       My heart is far away!

     Blithely bloometh mead and bank;
       And blithely buds the tree;
     And hark!--they bring the Summer home;
       It has no home with me!

     They have outlawed him--my Summer!
       An outlaw far away!
     The birds may sing, the flowers may bloom,
       O, give me back my May!"

As she came to the last line, her soft low voice seemed to awaken a
chorus of sprightly horns and trumpets, and certain other wind
instruments peculiar to the music of that day.  The hillock bordered the
high road to London--which then wound through wastes of forest land--and
now emerging from the trees to the left appeared a goodly company.  First
came two riders abreast, each holding a banner.  On the one was depicted
the cross and five martlets, the device of Edward, afterwards surnamed
the Confessor: on the other, a plain broad cross with a deep border round
it, and the streamer shaped into sharp points.

The first was familiar to Edith, who dropped her garland to gaze on the
approaching pageant; the last was strange to her.  She had been
accustomed to see the banner of the great Earl Godwin by the side of the
Saxon king; and she said, almost indignantly,--

"Who dares, sweet grandam, to place banner or pennon where Earl Godwin's
ought to float?"

"Peace," said Hilda, "peace and look."

Immediately behind the standard-bearers came two figures--strangely
dissimilar indeed in mien, in years, in bearing: each bore on his left
wrist a hawk.  The one was mounted on a milk-white palfrey, with housings
inlaid with gold and uncut jewels.  Though not really old--for he was
much on this side of sixty--both his countenance and carriage evinced
age.  His complexion, indeed, was extremely fair, and his cheeks ruddy;
but the visage was long and deeply furrowed, and from beneath a bonnet
not dissimilar to those in use among the Scotch, streamed hair long and
white as snow, mingling with a large and forked beard.  White seemed his
chosen colour.  White was the upper tunic clasped on his shoulder with a
broad ouche or brooch; white the woollen leggings fitted to somewhat
emaciated limbs; and white the mantle, though broidered with a broad hem
of gold and purple.  The fashion of his dress was that which well became
a noble person, but it suited ill the somewhat frail and graceless figure
of the rider. Nevertheless, as Edith saw him, she rose, with an
expression of deep reverence on her countenance, and saying, "it is our
lord the King," advanced some steps down the hillock, and there stood,
her arms folded on her breast, and quite forgetful, in her innocence and
youth, that she had left the house without the cloak and coverchief which
were deemed indispensable to the fitting appearance of maid and matron
when they were seen abroad.

"Fair sir, and brother mine," said the deep voice of the younger rider,
in the Romance or Norman tongue, "I have heard that the small people of
whom my neighbours, the Breton tell us much, abound greatly in this fair
land of yours; and if I were not by the side of one whom no creature
unassoilzed and unbaptised dare approach, by sweet St. Valery I should
say--yonder stands one of those same gentilles fees!"

King Edward's eye followed the direction of his companion's outstretched
hand, and his quiet brow slightly contracted as he beheld the young form
of Edith standing motionless a few yards before him, with the warm May
wind lifting and playing with her long golden locks. He checked his
palfrey, and murmured some Latin words which the knight beside him
recognised as a prayer, and to which, doffing his cap, he added an Amen,
in a tone of such unctuous gravity, that the royal saint rewarded him
with a faint approving smile, and an affectionate "Bene vene,
Piosissime."

Then inclining his palfrey's head towards the knoll, he motioned to the
girl to approach him.  Edith, with a heightened colour, obeyed, and came
to the roadside.  The standard-bearers halted, as did the king and his
comrade--the procession behind halted--thirty knights, two bishops, eight
abbots, all on fiery steeds and in Norman garb--squires and attendants on
foot--a long and pompous retinue--they halted all.  Only a stray hound or
two broke from the rest, and wandered into the forest land with heads
trailing.

"Edith, my child," said Edward, still in Norman-French, for he spoke his
own language with hesitation, and the Romance tongue, which had long been
familiar to the higher classes in England, had, since his accession,
become the only language in use at court, and as such every one of
'Eorl-kind' was supposed to speak it;--"Edith, my child, thou hast not
forgotten my lessons, I trow; thou singest the hymns I gave thee, and
neglectest not to wear the relic round thy neck."

The girl hung her head, and spoke not.

"How comes it, then," continued the King, with a voice to which he in
vain endeavoured to impart an accent of severity, "how comes it, O little
one, that thou, whose thoughts should be lifted already above this carnal
world, and eager for the service of Mary the chaste and blessed, standest
thus hoodless and alone on the waysides, a mark for the eyes of men? go
to, it is naught."

Thus reproved, and in presence of so large and brilliant a company, the
girl's colour went and came, her breast heaved high, but with an effort
beyond her age she checked her tears, and said meekly, "My grandmother,
Hilda, bade me come with her, and I came."

"Hilda!" said the King, backing his palfrey with apparent perturbation,
"but Hilda is not with thee; I see her not."

As he spoke, Hilda rose, and so suddenly did her tall form appear on the
brow of the hill, that it seemed as if she had emerged from the earth.
With a light and rapid stride she gained the side of her grandchild; and
after a slight and haughty reverence, said, "Hilda is here; what wants
Edward the King with his servant Hilda?"

"Nought, nought," said the King, hastily; and something like fear passed
over his placid countenance; "save, indeed," he added, with a reluctant
tone, as that of a man who obeys his conscience against his inclination,
"that I would pray thee to keep this child pure to threshold and altar,
as is meet for one whom our Lady, the Virgin, in due time, will elect to
her service."

"Not so, son of Etheldred, son of Woden, the last descendant of Penda
should live, not to glide a ghost amidst cloisters, but to rock children
for war in their father's shield.  Few men are there yet like the men of
old; and while the foot of the foreigner is on the Saxon soil no branch
of the stem of Woden should be nipped in the leaf."

"Per la resplendar De [12], bold dame," cried the knight by the side of
Edward, while a lurid flush passed over his cheek of bronze; "but thou
art too glib of tongue for a subject, and pratest overmuch of Woden, the
Paynim, for the lips of a Christian matron."

Hilda met the flashing eye of the knight with a brow of lofty scorn, on
which still a certain terror was visible.  "Child," she said, putting her
hand upon Edith's fair locks; "this is the man thou shalt see but twice
in thy life;--look up, and mark well!"

Edith instinctively raised her eyes, and, once fixed upon the knight,
they seemed chained as by a spell.  His vest, of a cramoisay so dark,
that it seemed black beside the snowy garb of the Confessor, was edged by
a deep band of embroidered gold; leaving perfectly bare his firm, full
throat--firm and full as a column of granite,--a short jacket or
manteline of fur, pendant from the shoulders, left developed in all its
breadth a breast, that seemed meet to stay the march of an army; and on
the left arm, curved to support the falcon, the vast muscles rose, round
and gnarled, through the close sleeve.

In height, he was really but little above the stature of many of those
present; nevertheless, so did his port [13], his air, the nobility of his
large proportions, fill the eye, that he seemed to tower immeasurably
above the rest.

His countenance was yet more remarkable than his form; still in the prime
of youth, he seemed at the first glance younger, at the second older,
than he was.  At the first glance younger; for his face was perfectly
shaven, without even the moustache which the Saxon courtier, in imitating
the Norman, still declined to surrender; and the smooth visage and bare
throat sufficed in themselves to give the air of youth to that dominant
and imperious presence.  His small skull-cap left unconcealed his
forehead, shaded with short thick hair, uncurled, but black and glossy as
the wings of a raven.  It was on that forehead that time had set its
trace; it was knit into a frown over the eyebrows; lines deep as furrows
crossed its broad, but not elevated expanse.  That frown spoke of hasty
ire and the habit of stern command; those furrows spoke of deep thought
and plotting scheme; the one betrayed but temper and circumstance; the
other, more noble, spoke of the character and the intellect.  The face
was square, and the regard lion-like; the mouth--small, and even
beautiful in outline--had a sinister expression in its exceeding
firmness; and the jaw--vast, solid, as if bound in iron--showed
obstinate, ruthless, determined will; such a jaw as belongs to the tiger
amongst beasts, and the conqueror amongst men; such as it is seen in the
effigies of Caesar, of Cortes, of Napoleon.

That presence was well calculated to command the admiration of women, not
less than the awe of men.  But no admiration mingled with the terror that
seized the girl as she gazed long and wistful upon the knight.  The
fascination of the serpent on the bird held her mute and frozen.  Never
was that face forgotten; often in after-life it haunted her in the
noon-day, it frowned upon her dreams.

"Fair child," said the knight, fatigued at length by the obstinacy of the
gaze, while that smile peculiar to those who have commanded men relaxed
his brow, and restored the native beauty to his lip, "fair child, learn
not from thy peevish grandam so uncourteous a lesson as hate of the
foreigner.  As thou growest into womanhood, know that Norman knight is
sworn slave to lady fair;" and, doffing his cap, he took from it an uncut
jewel, set in Byzantine filigree work.  "Hold out thy lap, my child; and
when thou nearest the foreigner scoffed, set this bauble in thy locks,
and think kindly of William, Count of the Normans." [14]

He dropped the jewel on the ground as he spoke; for Edith, shrinking and
unsoftened towards him, held no lap to receive it; and Hilda, to whom
Edward had been speaking in a low voice, advanced to the spot and struck
the jewel with her staff under the hoofs of the king's palfrey.

"Son of Emma, the Norman woman, who sent thy youth into exile, trample on
the gifts of thy Norman kinsman.  And if, as men say, thou art of such
gifted holiness that Heaven grants thy hand the power to heal, and thy
voice the power to curse, heal thy country, and curse the stranger!"

She extended her right arm to William as she spoke, and such was the
dignity of her passion, and such its force, that an awe fell upon all.
Then dropping her hood over her face, she slowly turned away, regained
the summit of the knoll, and stood erect beside the altar of the Northern
god, her face invisible through the hood drawn completely over it, and
her form motionless as a statue.

"Ride on," said Edward, crossing himself.

"Now by the bones of St. Valery," said William, after a pause, in which
his dark keen eye noted the gloom upon the King's gentle face, "it moves
much my simple wonder how even presence so saintly can hear without wrath
words so unleal and foul.  Gramercy, an the proudest dame in Normandy
(and I take her to be wife to my stoutest baron, William Fitzosborne) had
spoken thus to me--"

"Thou wouldst have done as I, my brother," interrupted Edward; "prayed to
our Lord to pardon her, and rode on pitying."

William's lip quivered with ire, yet he curbed the reply that sprang to
it, and he looked with affection genuinely more akin to admiration than
scorn, upon his fellow-prince.  For, fierce and relentless as the Duke's
deeds were, his faith was notably sincere; and while this made, indeed,
the prince's chief attraction to the pious Edward, so, on the other hand,
this bowed the Duke in a kind of involuntary and superstitious homage to
the man who sought to square deeds to faith. It is ever the case with
stern and stormy spirits, that the meek ones which contrast them steal
strangely into their affections.  This principle of human nature can
alone account for the enthusiastic devotion which the mild sufferings of
the Saviour awoke in the fiercest exterminators of the North.  In
proportion, often, to the warrior's ferocity, was his love to that Divine
model, at whose sufferings he wept, to whose tomb he wandered barefoot,
and whose example of compassionate forgiveness he would have thought
himself the basest of men to follow!

"Now, by my halidame, I honour and love thee, Edward," cried the Duke,
with a heartiness more frank than was usual to him: "and were I thy
subject, woe to man or woman that wagged tongue to wound thee by a
breath.  But who and what is this same Hilda? one of thy kith and
kin?--surely not less than kingly blood runs so bold?"

"William, bien aime," [15] said the King, "it is true that Hilda, whom
the saints assoil, is of kingly blood, though not of our kingly line. It
is feared," added Edward, in a timid whisper, as he cast a hurried glance
around him, "that this unhappy woman has ever been more addicted to the
rites of her pagan ancestors than to those of Holy Church; and men do say
that she hath thus acquired from fiend or charm secrets devoutly to be
eschewed by the righteous.  Nathless, let us rather hope that her mind is
somewhat distraught with her misfortunes."

The King sighed, and the Duke sighed too, but the Duke's sigh spoke
impatience.  He swept behind him a stern and withering look towards the
proud figure of Hilda, still seen through the glades, and said in a
sinister voice: "Of kingly blood; but this witch of Woden hath no sons or
kinsmen, I trust, who pretend to the throne of the Saxon:"

"She is sibbe to Githa, wife of Godwin," answered the King, "and that is
her most perilous connection; for the banished Earl, as thou knowest, did
not pretend to fill the throne, but he was content with nought less than
governing our people."

The King then proceeded to sketch an outline of the history of Hilda, but
his narrative was so deformed both by his superstitions and prejudices,
and his imperfect information in all the leading events and characters in
his own kingdom, that we will venture to take upon ourselves his task;
and while the train ride on through glade and mead, we will briefly
narrate, from our own special sources of knowledge, the chronicle of
Hilda, the Scandinavian Vala.



CHAPTER II.

A magnificent race of men were those war sons of the old North, whom our
popular histories, so superficial in their accounts of this age, include
in the common name of the "Danes."  They replunged into barbarism the
nations over which they swept; but from that barbarism they reproduced
the noblest elements of civilisation.  Swede, Norwegian, and Dane,
differing in some minor points, when closely examined, had yet one common
character viewed at a distance.  They had the same prodigious energy, the
same passion for freedom, individual and civil, the same splendid errors
in the thirst for fame and the "point of honour;" and above all, as a
main cause of civilisation, they were wonderfully pliant and malleable in
their admixtures with the peoples they overran.  This is their true
distinction from the stubborn Celt, who refuses to mingle, and disdains
to improve.

Frankes, the archbishop, baptised Rolf-ganger [16]: and within a little
more than a century afterwards, the descendants of those terrible
heathens who had spared neither priest nor altar, were the most
redoubtable defenders of the Christian Church; their old language
forgotten (save by a few in the town of Bayeux), their ancestral names
[17] (save among a few of the noblest) changed into French titles, and
little else but the indomitable valour of the Scandinavian remained
unaltered amongst the arts and manners of the Frankish-Norman.

In like manner their kindred tribes, who had poured into Saxon England to
ravage and lay desolate, had no sooner obtained from Alfred the Great
permanent homes, than they became perhaps the most powerful, and in a
short time not the least patriotic, part of the Anglo-Saxon population
[18].  At the time our story opens, these Northmen, under the common name
of Danes, were peaceably settled in no less than fifteen [19] counties in
England; their nobles abounded in towns and cities beyond the boundaries
of those counties which bore the distinct appellation of Danelagh.  They
were numerous in London: in the precincts of which they had their own
burial-place, to the chief municipal court of which they gave their own
appellation--the Hustings [20]. Their power in the national assembly of
the Witan had decided the choice of kings.  Thus, with some differences
of law and dialect, these once turbulent invaders had amalgamated
amicably with the native race [21].  And to this day, the gentry,
traders, and farmers of more than one-third of England, and in those
counties most confessed to be in the van of improvement, descend from
Saxon mothers indeed, but from Viking fathers.  There was in reality
little difference in race between the Norman knight of the time of Henry
I. and the Saxon franklin of Norfolk and York.  Both on the mother's side
would most probably have been Saxon, both on the father's would have
traced to the Scandinavian.

But though this character of adaptability was general, exceptions in some
points were necessarily found, and these were obstinate in proportion to
the adherence to the old pagan faith, or the sincere conversion to
Christianity.  The Norwegian chronicles, and passages in our own history,
show how false and hollow was the assumed Christianity of many of these
fierce Odin-worshippers.  They willingly enough accepted the outward sign
of baptism, but the holy water changed little of the inner man.  Even
Harold, the son of Canute, scarce seventeen years before the date we have
now entered, being unable to obtain from the Archbishop of
Canterbury--who had espoused the cause of his brother Hardicanute--the
consecrating benediction, lived and reigned as one who had abjured
Christianity. [22]

The priests, especially on the Scandinavian continent, were often forced
to compound with their grim converts, by indulgence to certain habits,
such as indiscriminate polygamy.  To eat horse-flesh in honour of Odin,
and to marry wives ad libitum, were the main stipulations of the
neophytes.  And the puzzled monks, often driven to a choice, yielded the
point of the wives, but stood firm on the graver article of the
horse-flesh.

With their new religion, very imperfectly understood, even when genuinely
received, they retained all that host of heathen superstition which knits
itself with the most obstinate instincts in the human breast.  Not many
years before the reign of the Confessor, the laws of the great Canute
against witchcraft and charms, the worship of stones, fountains, runes by
ash and elm, and the incantations that do homage to the dead, were
obviously rather intended to apply to the recent Danish converts, than to
the Anglo-Saxons, already subjugated for centuries, body and soul, to the
domination of the Christian monks.

Hilda, a daughter of the royalty of Denmark, and cousin to Githa (niece
to Canute, whom that king had bestowed in second spousals upon Godwin),
had come over to England with a fierce Jarl, her husband, a year after
Canute's accession to the throne--both converted nominally, both secret
believers in Thor and Odin.

Hilda's husband had fallen in one of the actions in the Northern seas,
between Canute and St. Olave, King of Norway (that saint himself, by the
bye, a most ruthless persecutor of his forefathers' faith, and a most
unqualified assertor of his heathen privilege to extend his domestic
affections beyond the severe pale which should have confined them to a
single wife.  His natural son Magnus then sat on the Danish throne).  The
Jarl died as he had wished to die, the last man on board his ship, with
the soothing conviction that the Valkyrs would bear him to Valhalla.

Hilda was left with an only daughter, whom Canute bestowed on Ethelwolf,
a Saxon Earl of large domains, and tracing his descent from Penda, that
old King of Mercia who refused to be converted, but said so discreetly,
that he had no objection to his neighbours being Christians, if they
would practise that peace and forgiveness which the monks told him were
the elements of the faith.

Ethelwolf fell under the displeasure of Hardicanute, perhaps because he
was more Saxon than Danish; and though that savage king did not dare
openly to arraign him before the Witan, he gave secret orders by which he
was butchered on his own hearthstone, in the arms of his wife, who died
shortly afterwards of grief and terror.  The only orphan of this unhappy
pair, Edith, was thus consigned to the charge of Hilda.

It was a necessary and invaluable characteristic of that "adaptability"
which distinguished the Danes, that they transferred to the land in which
they settled all the love they had borne to that of their ancestors; and
so far as attachment to soil was concerned, Hilda had grown no less in
heart an Englishwoman than if she had been born and reared amidst the
glades and knolls from which the smoke of her hearth rose through the old
Roman compluvium.

But in all else she was a Dane.  Dane in her creed and her habits--Dane
in her intense and brooding imagination--in the poetry that filled her
soul, peopled the air with spectres, and covered the leaves of the trees
with charms.  Living in austere seclusion after the death of her lord, to
whom she had borne a Scandinavian woman's devoted but heroic
love,--sorrowing, indeed, for his death, but rejoicing that he fell
amidst the feast of ravens,--her mind settled more and more year by year,
and day by day, upon those visions of the unknown world, which in every
faith conjure up the companions of solitude and grief.

Witchcraft in the Scandinavian North assumed many forms, and was
connected by many degrees.  There was the old and withered hag, on whom,
in our later mediaeval ages the character was mainly bestowed; there was
the terrific witch-wife, or wolf-witch, who seems wholly apart from human
birth and attributes, like the weird sisters of Macbeth--creatures who
entered the house at night and seized warriors to devour them, who might
be seen gliding over the sea, with the carcase of the wolf dripping blood
from their giant jaws; and there was the more serene, classical, and
awful vala, or sibyl, who, honoured by chiefs and revered by nations,
foretold the future, and advised the deeds of heroes.  Of these last, the
Norse chronicles tell us much.  They were often of rank and wealth, they
were accompanied by trains of handmaids and servants--kings led them
(when their counsel was sought) to the place of honour in the hall, and
their heads were sacred, as those of ministers to the gods.

This last state in the grisly realm of the Wig-laer (wizard-lore) was the
one naturally appertaining to the high rank, and the soul, lofty though
blind and perverted, of the daughter of warrior-kings.  All practice of
the art to which now for long years she had devoted herself, that touched
upon the humble destinies of the vulgar, the child of Odin [23] haughtily
disdained.  Her reveries were upon the fate of kings and kingdoms; she
aspired to save or to rear the dynasties which should rule the races yet
unborn.  In youth proud and ambitious,--common faults with her
countrywomen,--on her entrance into the darker world, she carried with
her the prejudices and passions that she had known in that coloured by
the external sun.

All her human affections were centred in her grandchild Edith, the last
of a race royal on either side.  Her researches into the future had
assured her, that the life and death of this fair child were entwined
with the fates of a king, and the same oracles had intimated a mysterious
and inseparable connection between her own shattered house and the
flourishing one of Earl Godwin, the spouse of her kinswoman Githa: so
that with this great family she was as intimately bound by the links of
superstition as by the ties of blood.  The eldest born of Godwin, Sweyn,
had been at first especially her care and her favourite; and he, of more
poetic temperament than his brothers, had willingly submitted to her
influence.  But of all the brethren, as will be seen hereafter, the
career of Sweyn had been most noxious and ill-omened; and at that moment,
while the rest of the house carried with it into exile the deep and
indignant sympathy of England, no man said of Sweyn, "God bless him!"

But as the second son, Harold, had grown from childhood into youth, Hilda
had singled him out with a preference even more marked than that she had
bestowed upon Sweyn.  The stars and the runes assured her of his future
greatness, and the qualities and talents of the young Earl had, at the
very onset of his career, confirmed the accuracy of their predictions.
Her interest in Harold became the more intense, partly because whenever
she consulted the future for the lot of her grandchild Edith, she
invariably found it associated with the fate of Harold--partly because
all her arts had failed to penetrate beyond a certain point in their
joint destinies, and left her mind agitated and perplexed between hope
and terror.  As yet, however, she had wholly failed in gaining any
ascendancy over the young Earl's vigorous and healthful mind: and though,
before his exile, he came more often than any of Godwin's sons to the old
Roman house, he had smiled with proud incredulity at her vague
prophecies, and rejected all her offers of aid from invisible agencies
with the calm reply--"The brave man wants no charms to encourage him to
his duty, and the good man scorns all warnings that would deter him from
fulfilling it."

Indeed, though Hilda's magic was not of the malevolent kind, and sought
the source of its oracles not in fiends but gods, (at least the gods in
whom she believed,) it was noticeable that all over whom her influence
had prevailed had come to miserable and untimely ends;--not alone her
husband and her son-in-law, (both of whom had been as wax to her
counsel,) but such other chiefs as rank or ambition permitted to appeal
to her lore.  Nevertheless, such was the ascendancy she had gained over
the popular mind, that it would have been dangerous in the highest degree
to put into execution against her the laws condemnatory of witch craft.
In her, all the more powerful Danish families reverenced, and would have
protected, the blood of their ancient kings, and the widow of one of
their most renowned heroes.

Hospitable, liberal, and beneficent to the poor; and an easy mistress
over numerous ceorls, while the vulgar dreaded, they would yet have
defended her.  Proofs of her art it would have been hard to establish;
hosts of compurgators to attest her innocence would have sprung up. Even
if subjected to the ordeal, her gold could easily have bribed the priests
with whom the power of evading its dangers rested.  And with that worldly
wisdom which persons of genius in their wildest chimeras rarely lack, she
had already freed herself from the chance of active persecution from the
Church, by ample donations to all the neighbouring monasteries.

Hilda, in fine, was a woman of sublime desires and extraordinary gifts;
terrible, indeed, but as the passive agent of the Fates she invoked, and
rather commanding for herself a certain troubled admiration and
mysterious pity; no fiend-hag, beyond humanity in malice and in power,
but essentially human, even when aspiring most to the secrets of a god.
Assuming, for the moment, that by the aid of intense imagination, persons
of a peculiar idiosyncrasy of nerves and temperament might attain to such
dim affinities with a world beyond our ordinary senses, as forbid entire
rejection of the magnetism and magic of old times--it was on no foul and
mephitic pool, overhung with the poisonous nightshade, and excluded from
the beams of heaven, but on the living stream on which the star trembled,
and beside whose banks the green herbage waved, that the demon shadows
fell dark and dread.

Thus safe and thus awful, lived Hilda; and under her care, a rose beneath
the funeral cedar, bloomed her grandchild Edith, goddaughter of the Lady
of England.

It was the anxious wish, both of Edward and his virgin wife, pious as
himself, to save this orphan from the contamination of a house more than
suspected of heathen faith, and give to her youth the refuge of the
convent.  But this, without her guardian's consent or her own expressed
will, could not be legally done; and Edith as yet had expressed no desire
to disobey her grandmother, who treated the idea of the convent with
lofty scorn.

This beautiful child grew up under the influence, as it were, of two
contending creeds; all her notions on both were necessarily confused and
vague.  But her heart was so genuinely mild, simple, tender, and
devoted,--there was in her so much of the inborn excellence of the sex,
that in every impulse of that heart struggled for clearer light and for
purer air the unquiet soul.  In manner, in thought, and in person as yet
almost an infant, deep in her heart lay yet one woman's secret, known
scarcely to herself, but which taught her, more powerfully than Hilda's
proud and scoffing tongue, to shudder at the thought of the barren
cloister and the eternal vow.



CHAPTER III.

While King Edward was narrating to the Norman Duke all that he knew, and
all that he knew not, of Hilda's history and secret arts, the road wound
through lands as wild and wold-like as if the metropolis of England lay a
hundred miles distant.  Even to this day patches of such land, in the
neighbourhood of Norwood, may betray what the country was in the old
time:--when a mighty forest, "abounding with wild beasts"--"the bull and
the boar"--skirted the suburbs of London, and afforded pastime to king
and thegn.  For the Norman kings have been maligned by the popular notion
that assigns to them all the odium of the forest laws.  Harsh and severe
were those laws in the reign of the Anglo-Saxon; as harsh and severe,
perhaps, against the ceorl and the poor man, as in the days of Rufus,
though more mild unquestionably to the nobles.  To all beneath the rank
of abbot and thegn, the king's woods were made, even by the mild
Confessor, as sacred as the groves of the Druids: and no less penalty
than that of life was incurred by the lowborn huntsman who violated their
recesses. [24]

Edward's only mundane passion was the chase; and a day rarely passed, but
what after mass he went forth with hawk or hound.  So that, though the
regular season for hawking did not commence till October, he had ever on
his wrist some young falcon to essay, or some old favourite to exercise.
And now, just as William was beginning to grow weary of his good cousin's
prolix recitals, the hounds suddenly gave tongue, and from a sedge-grown
pool by the way-side, with solemn wing and harsh boom, rose a bittern.

"Holy St. Peter!" exclaimed the Saint-king, spurring his palfrey, and
loosing his famous Peregrine falcon [25].  William was not slow in
following that animated example, and the whole company rode at half speed
across the rough forest-land, straining their eyes upon the soaring
quarry, and the large wheels of the falcons.  Riding thus, with his eyes
in the air, Edward was nearly pitched over his palfrey's head, as the
animal stopped suddenly, checked by a high gate, set deep in a half
embattled wall of brick and rubble.  Upon this gate sate, quite unmoved
and apathetic, a tall ceorl, or labourer, while behind it was a gazing
curious group of men of the same rank, clad in those blue tunics of which
our peasant's smock is the successor, and leaning on scythes and flails.
Sour and ominous were the looks they bent upon that Norman cavalcade.
The men were at least as well clad as those of the same condition are
now; and their robust limbs and ruddy cheeks showed no lack of the fare
that supports labour.  Indeed, the working man of that day, if not one of
the absolute theowes or slaves, was, physically speaking, better off,
perhaps, than he has ever since been in England, more especially if he
appertained to some wealthy thegn of pure Saxon lineage, whose very title
of lord came to him in his quality of dispenser of bread [26]; and these
men had been ceorls under Harold, son of Godwin, now banished from the
land.

"Open the gate, open quick, my merry men," said the gentle Edward
(speaking in Saxon, though with a strong foreign accent), after he had
recovered his seat, murmured a benediction, and crossed himself three
times.  The men stirred not.

"No horse tramps the seeds we have sown for Harold the Earl to reap;"
said the ceorl, doggedly, still seated on the gate.  And the group behind
him gave a shout of applause.

Moved more than ever he had been known to be before, Edward spurred his
steed up to the boor, and lifted his hand.  At that signal twenty swords
flashed in the air behind, as the Norman nobles spurred to the place.
Putting back with one hand his fierce attendants, Edward shook the other
at the Saxon.  "Knave, knave," he cried, "I would hurt you, if I could!"

There was something in these words, fated to drift down into history, at
once ludicrous and touching.  The Normans saw them only in the former
light, and turned aside to conceal their laughter; the Saxon felt them in
the latter and truer sense, and stood rebuked.  That great king, whom he
now recognised, with all those drawn swords at his back, could not do him
hurt; that king had not the heart to hurt him. The ceorl sprang from the
gate, and opened it, bending low.

"Ride first, Count William, my cousin," said the King, calmly.

The Saxon ceorl's eyes glared as he heard the Norman's name uttered in
the Norman tongue, but he kept open the gate, and the train passed
through, Edward lingering last. Then said the King, in a low voice,--

"Bold man, thou spokest of Harold the Earl and his harvests; knowest thou
not that his lands have passed from him, and that he is outlawed, and
that his harvests are not for the scythes of his ceorls to reap?"

"May it please you, dread Lord and King," replied the Saxon simply,
"these lands that were Harold the Earl's, are now Clapa's, the
sixhaendman's."

"How is that?" quoth Edward, hastily; "we gave them neither to
sixhaendman nor to Saxon.  All the lands of Harold hereabout were divided
amongst sacred abbots and noble chevaliers--Normans all."

"Fulke the Norman had these fair fields, yon orchards and tynen; Fulke
sold them to Clapa, the Earl's sixhaendman, and what in mancusses and
pence Clapa lacked of the price, we, the ceorls of the Earl, made up from
our own earnings in the Earl's noble service.  And this very day, in
token thereof, have we quaffed the bedden-ale [27]. Wherefore, please God
and our Lady, we hold these lands part and parcel with Clapa; and when
Earl Harold comes again, as come he will, here at least he will have his
own."

Edward, who, despite a singular simplicity of character, which at times
seemed to border on imbecility, was by no means wanting in penetration
when his attention was fairly roused, changed countenance at this proof
of rough and homely affection on the part of these men to his banished
earl and brother-in-law.  He mused a little while in grave thought, and
then said, kindly--

"Well, man, I think not the worse of you for loyal love to your thegn,
but there are those who would do so, and I advise you, brotherlike, that
ears and nose are in peril if thou talkest thus indiscreetly."

"Steel to steel, and hand to hand," said the Saxon, bluntly, touching the
long knife in his leathern belt, "and he who sets gripe on Sexwolf son of
Elfhelm, shall pay his weregeld twice over."

"Forewarned, foolish man, thou are forewarned.  Peace," said the King;
and, shaking his head, he rode on to join the Normans, who now, in a
broad field, where the corn sprang green, and which they seemed to
delight in wantonly trampling, as they curvetted their steeds to and fro,
watched the movements of the bittern and the pursuit of the two falcons.

"A wager, Lord King!" said a prelate, whose strong family likeness to
William proclaimed him to be the Duke's bold and haughty brother, Odo
[28], Bishop of Bayeux;--"a wager.  My steed to your palfrey that the
Duke's falcon first fixes the bittern."

"Holy father," answered Edward, in that slight change of voice which
alone showed his displeasure, "these wagers all savour of heathenesse,
and our canons forbid them to mone [29] and priest. Go to, it is naught."

The bishop, who brooked no rebuke, even from his terrible brother, knit
his brows, and was about to make no gentle rejoinder, when William, whose
profound craft or sagacity was always at watch, lest his followers should
displease the King, interposed, and taking the word out of the prelate's
mouth, said:

"Thou reprovest us well, Sir and King; we Normans are too inclined to
such levities.  And see, your falcon is first in pride of place.  By the
bones of St. Valery, how nobly he towers!  See him cover the
bittern!--see him rest on the wing!--Down he swoops!  Gallant bird!"

"With his heart split in two on the bittern's bill," said the bishop; and
down, rolling one over the other, fell bittern and hawk, while William's
Norway falcon, smaller of size than the King's, descended rapidly, and
hovered over the two.  Both were dead.

"I accept the omen," muttered the gazing Duke; "let the natives destroy
each other!"  He placed his whistle to his lips, and his falcon flew back
to his wrist.

"Now home," said King Edward.



CHAPTER IV.

The royal party entered London by the great bridge which divided
Southwark from the capital; and we must pause to gaze a moment on the
animated scene which the immemorial thoroughfare presented.

The whole suburb before entering Southwark was rich in orchards and
gardens, lying round the detached houses of the wealthier merchants and
citizens.  Approaching the river-side, to the left, the eye might see the
two circular spaces set apart, the one for bear, the other for
bull-baiting.  To the right, upon a green mound of waste, within sight of
the populous bridge, the gleemen were exercising their art.  Here one
dexterous juggler threw three balls and three knives alternately in the
air, catching them one by one as they fell [30].   There, another was
gravely leading a great bear to dance on its hind legs, while his
coadjutor kept time with a sort of flute or flageolet.  The lazy
bystanders, in great concourse, stared and laughed; but the laugh was
hushed at the tramp of the Norman steeds; and the famous Count by the
King's side, as, with a smiling lip, but observant eye, he rode along,
drew all attention from the bear.

On now approaching that bridge which, not many years before, had been the
scene of terrible contest between the invading Danes and Ethelred's ally,
Olave of Norway [31], you might still see, though neglected and already
in decay, the double fortifications that had wisely guarded that vista
into the city.  On both sides of the bridge, which was of wood, were
forts, partly of timber, partly of stone, and breastworks, and by the
forts a little chapel.  The bridge, broad enough to admit two vehicles
abreast [32],  was crowded with passengers, and lively with stalls and
booths.  Here was the favourite spot of the popular ballad-singer [33].
Here, too, might be seen the swarthy Saracen, with wares from Spain and
Afric [34].  Here, the German merchant from the Steel-yard swept along on
his way to his suburban home.  Here, on some holy office, went quick the
muffled monk.  Here, the city gallant paused to laugh with the country
girl, her basket full of May-boughs and cowslips.  In short, all bespoke
that activity, whether in business or pastime, which was destined to
render that city the mart of the world, and which had already knit the
trade of the Anglo-Saxon to the remoter corners of commercial Europe. The
deep dark eye of William dwelt admiringly on the bustling groups, on the
broad river, and the forest of masts which rose by the indented marge
near Belin's gate [35].  And he to whom, whatever his faults, or rather
crimes, to the unfortunate people he not only oppressed but
deceived--London at least may yet be grateful, not only for chartered
franchise [36], but for advancing, in one short vigorous reign, her
commerce and wealth, beyond what centuries of Anglo-Saxon domination,
with its inherent feebleness, had effected, exclaimed aloud:

"By rood and mass, O dear king, thy lot hath fallen on a goodly
heritage."

"Hem!" said Edward, lazily; "thou knowest not how troublesome these
Saxons are.  And while thou speakest, lo, in yon shattered walls, built
first, they say, by Alfred of holy memory, are the evidences of the
Danes.  Bethink thee how often they have sailed up this river. How know I
but what the next year the raven flag may stream over these waters?
Magnus of Denmark hath already claimed my crown as heir to the royalties
of Canute, and" (here Edward hesitated), "Godwin and Harold, whom alone
of my thegns Dane and Northman fear, are far away."

"Miss not them, Edward, my cousin," cried the Duke, in haste.  "Send for
me if danger threat thee.  Ships enow await thy best in my new port of
Cherbourg.  And I tell thee this for thy comfort, that were I king of the
English, and lord of this river, the citizens of London might sleep from
vespers to prime, without fear of the Dane.  Never again should the raven
flag be seen by this bridge!  Never, I swear, by the Splendour Divine."

Not without purpose spoke William thus stoutly; and he turned on the King
those glittering eyes (micantes oculos), which the chroniclers have
praised and noted.  For it was his hope and his aim in this visit, that
his cousin Edward should formally promise him that goodly heritage of
England.  But the King made no rejoinder, and they now neared the end of
the bridge.

"What old ruin looms yonder?" [37] asked William, hiding his
disappointment at Edward's silence; "it seemeth the remains of some
stately keape, which, by its fashion, I should pronounce Roman."

"Ay!" said Edward, "and it is said to have been built by the Romans; and
one of the old Lombard freemasons employed on my new palace of
Westminster, giveth that, and some others in my domain, the name of the
Juillet Tower."

"Those Romans were our masters in all things gallant and wise," said
William; "and I predict that, some day or other, on that site, a King of
England will re-erect palace and tower.  And yon castle towards the
west?"

"Is the Tower Palatine, where our predecessors have lodged, and ourself
sometimes; but the sweet loneliness of Thorney Isle pleaseth me more
now."

Thus talking, they entered London, a rude, dark city, built mainly of
timbered houses; streets narrow and winding; windows rarely glazed, but
protected chiefly by linen blinds; vistas opening, however, at times into
broad spaces, round the various convents, where green trees grew up
behind low palisades.  Tall roods, and holy images, to which we owe the
names of existing thoroughfares (Rood-lane and Lady-lane [38]), where the
ways crossed, attracted the curious and detained the pious.  Spires there
were not then, but blunt, cone-headed turrets, pyramidal, denoting the
Houses of God, rose often from the low, thatched, and reeded roofs.  But
every now and then, a scholar's, if not an ordinary, eye could behold the
relics of Roman splendour, traces of that elder city which now lies
buried under our thoroughfares, and of which, year by year, are dug up
the stately skeletons.

Along the Thames still rose, though much mutilated, the wall of
Constantine [39].  Round the humble and barbarous Church of St. Paul's
(wherein lay the dust of Sebba, that king of the East Saxons who quitted
his throne for the sake of Christ, and of Edward's feeble and luckless
father, Ethelred) might be seen, still gigantic in decay, the ruins of
the vast temple of Diana [40].  Many a church, and many a convent,
pierced their mingled brick and timber work with Roman capital and shaft.
Still by the tower, to which was afterwards given the Saracen name of
Barbican, were the wrecks of the Roman station, where cohorts watched
night and day, in case of fire within or foe without. [41]

In a niche, near the Aldersgate, stood the headless statue of Fortitude,
which monks and pilgrims deemed some unknown saint in the old time, and
halted to honour.  And in the midst of Bishopsgate-street, sate on his
desecrated throne a mangled Jupiter, his eagle at his feet.  Many a
half-converted Dane there lingered, and mistook the Thunderer and the
bird for Odin and his hawk.  By Leod-gate (the People's gate [42]) still
too were seen the arches of one of those mighty aqueducts which the Roman
learned from the Etrurian.  And close by the Still-yard, occupied by "the
Emperor's cheap men" (the German merchants), stood, almost entire, the
Roman temple, extant in the time of Geoffrey of Monmouth.  Without the
walls, the old Roman vineyards [43] still put forth their green leaves
and crude clusters, in the plains of East Smithfield, in the fields of
St. Giles's, and on the site where now stands Hatton Garden.  Still
massere [44] and cheapmen chaffered and bargained, at booth and stall, in
Mart-lane, where the Romans had bartered before them.  With every
encroachment on new soil, within the walls and without, urn, vase,
weapon, human bones, were shovelled out, and lay disregarded amidst heaps
of rubbish.

Not on such evidences of the past civilisation looked the practical eye
of the Norman Count; not on things, but on men, looked he; and as
silently he rode on from street to street, out of those men, stalwart and
tall, busy, active, toiling, the Man-Ruler saw the Civilisation that was
to come.

So, gravely through the small city, and over the bridge that spanned the
little river of the Fleet, rode the train along the Strand; to the left,
smooth sands; to the right, fair pastures below green holts, thinly
studded with houses; over numerous cuts and inlets running into the
river, rode they on.  The hour and the season were those in which youth
enjoyed its holiday, and gay groups resorted to the then [45] fashionable
haunts of the Fountain of Holywell, "streaming forth among glistening
pebbles."

So they gained at length the village of Charing, which Edward had lately
bestowed on his Abbey of Westminster, and which was now filled with
workmen, native and foreign, employed on that edifice and the contiguous
palace.  Here they loitered awhile at the Mews [46] (where the hawks were
kept), passed by the rude palace of stone and rubble, appropriated to the
tributary kings of Scotland [47]--a gift from Edgar to Kenneth--and
finally, reaching the inlet of the river, which, winding round the Isle
of Thorney (now Westminster), separated the rising church, abbey, and
palace of the Saint-king from the main-land, dismounted--and were ferried
across [48] the narrow stream to the broad space round the royal
residence.



CHAPTER V.

The new palace of Edward the Confessor, the palace of Westminster, opened
its gates, to receive the Saxon King and the Norman Duke, remounting on
the margin of the isle, and now riding side by side. And as the Duke
glanced, from brows habitually knit, first over the pile, stately, though
not yet completed, with its long rows of round arched windows, cased by
indented fringes and fraet (or tooth) work, its sweep of solid columns
with circling cloisters, and its ponderous towers of simple grandeur;
then over the groups of courtiers, with close vests, and short mantles,
and beardless cheeks, that filled up the wide space, to gaze in homage on
the renowned guest, his heart swelled within him, and, checking his rein,
he drew near to his brother of Bayeux, and whispered,--

"Is not this already the court of the Norman?  Behold yon nobles and
earls, how they mimic our garb! behold the very stones in yon gate, how
they range themselves, as if carved by the hand of the Norman mason!
Verily and indeed, brother, the shadow of the rising sun rests already on
these halls."

"Had England no people," said the bishop, "England were yours already.
But saw you not, as we rode along, the lowering brows? and heard you not
the angry murmurs?  The villeins are many, and their hate is strong."

"Strong is the roan I bestride," said the Duke; "but a bold rider curbs
it with the steel of the bit, and guides it with the goad of the heel."

And now, as they neared the gate, a band of minstrels in the pay of the
Norman touched their instruments, and woke their song--the household song
of the Norman--the battle hymn of Roland, the Paladin of Charles the
Great.  At the first word of the song, the Norman knights and youths
profusely scattered amongst the Normanised Saxons caught up the lay, and
with sparkling eyes, and choral voices, they welcomed the mighty Duke
into the palace of the last meek successor of Woden.

By the porch of the inner court the Duke flung himself from his saddle,
and held the stirrup for Edward to dismount.  The King placed his hand
gently on his guest's broad shoulder, and, having somewhat slowly reached
the ground, embraced and kissed him in the sight of the gorgeous
assemblage; then led him by the hand towards the fair chamber which was
set apart for the Duke, and so left him to his attendants.

William, lost in thought, suffered himself to be disrobed in silence; but
when Fitzosborne, his favourite confidant and haughtiest baron, who yet
deemed himself but honoured by personal attendance on his chief,
conducted him towards the bath, which adjoined the chamber, he drew back,
and wrapping round him more closely the gown of fur that had been thrown
over his shoulders, he muttered low,--"Nay, if there be on me yet one
speck of English dust, let it rest there!--seizin, Fitzosborne, seizin,
of the English land."  Then, waving his hand, he dismissed all his
attendants except Fitzosborne, and Rolf, Earl of Hereford [49], nephew to
Edward, but French on the father's side, and thoroughly in the Duke's
councils.  Twice the Duke paced the chamber without vouchsafing a word to
either, then paused by the round window that overlooked the Thames.  The
scene was fair; the sun, towards its decline, glittered on numerous small
pleasure-boats, which shot to and fro between Westminster and London or
towards the opposite shores of Lambeth.  His eye sought eagerly, along
the curves of the river, the grey remains of the fabled Tower of Julius,
and the walls, gates, and turrets, that rose by the stream, or above the
dense mass of silent roofs; then it strained hard to descry the tops of
the more distant masts of the infant navy, fostered under Alfred, the
far-seeing, for the future civilisation of wastes unknown, and the empire
of seas untracked.

The Duke breathed hard, and opened and closed the hand which he stretched
forth into space as if to grasp the city he beheld.  "Rolf," said he,
abruptly, "thou knowest, no doubt, the wealth of the London traders, one
and all; for, foi de Gaillaume, my gentil chevalier, thou art a true
Norman, and scentest the smell of gold as a hound the boar!"

Rolf smiled, as if pleased with a compliment which simpler men might have
deemed, at the best, equivocal, and replied:

"It is true, my liege; and gramercy, the air of England sharpens the
scent; for in this villein and motley country, made up of all
races,--Saxon and Fin, Dane and Fleming, Pict and Walloon,--it is not as
with us, where the brave man and the pure descent are held chief in
honour: here, gold and land are, in truth, name and lordship; even their
popular name for their national assembly of the Witan is, 'The Wealthy.'
[50]  He who is but a ceorl to-day, let him be rich, and he may be earl
to-morrow, marry in king's blood, and rule armies under a gonfanon
statelier than a king's; while he whose fathers were ealdermen and
princes, if, by force or by fraud, by waste or by largess, he become
poor, falls at once into contempt, and out of his state,--sinks into a
class they call 'six-hundred men,' in their barbarous tongue, and his
children will probably sink still lower, into ceorls.  Wherefore gold is
the thing here most coveted; and by St. Michael, the sin is infectious."

William listened to the speech with close attention.  "Good," said he,
rubbing slowly the palm of his right hand over the back of the left; "a
land all compact with the power of one race, a race of conquering men, as
our fathers were, whom nought but cowardice or treason can degrade,--such
a land, O Rolf of Hereford, it were hard indeed to subjugate, or decoy,
or tame--"

"So has my lord the Duke found the Bretons; and so also do I find the
Welch upon my marches of Hereford."

"But," continued William, not heeding the interruption, "where wealth is
more than blood and race, chiefs may be bribed or menaced; and the
multitude--by'r Lady, the multitude are the same in all lands, mighty
under valiant and faithful leaders, powerless as sheep without them. But
to my question, my gentle Rolf; this London must be rich?" [51]

"Rich enow," answered Rolf, "to coin into armed men, that should stretch
from Rouen to Flanders on the one hand, and Paris on the other."

"In the veins of Matilda, whom thou wooest for wife," said Fitzosborne,
abruptly, "flows the blood of Charlemagne.  God grant his empire to the
children she shall bear thee!"

The Duke bowed his head, and kissed a relic suspended from his throat.
Farther sign of approval of his counsellor's words he gave not, but after
a pause, he said:

"When I depart, Rolf, thou wendest back to thy marches.  These Welch are
brave and fierce, and shape work enow for thy hands."

"Ay, by my halidame! poor sleep by the side of the beehive you have
stricken down."

"Marry, then," said William, "let the Welch prey on Saxon, Saxon on
Welch; let neither win too easily.  Remember our omens to-day, Welch hawk
and Saxon bittern, and over their corpses, Duke William's Norway falcon!
Now dress we for the complin [52] and the banquet."



BOOK II.
LANFRANC THE SCHOLAR.



CHAPTER I.

Four meals a day, nor those sparing, were not deemed too extravagant an
interpretation of the daily bread for which the Saxon prayed.  Four meals
a day, from earl to ceorl!  "Happy times!" may sigh the descendant of the
last, if he read these pages; partly so they were for the ceorl, but not
in all things, for never sweet is the food, and never gladdening is the
drink, of servitude.  Inebriety, the vice of the warlike nations of the
North, had not, perhaps, been the pre-eminent excess of the earlier
Saxons, while yet the active and fiery Britons, and the subsequent petty
wars between the kings of the Heptarchy, enforced on hardy warriors the
safety of temperance; but the example of the Danes had been fatal.  Those
giants of the sea, like all who pass from great vicissitudes of toil and
repose, from the tempest to the haven, snatched with full hands every
pleasure in their reach.  With much that tended permanently to elevate
the character of the Saxon, they imparted much for a time to degrade it.
The Anglian learned to feast to repletion, and drink to delirium.  But
such were not the vices of the court of the Confessor.  Brought up from
his youth in the cloister-camp of the Normans, what he loved in their
manners was the abstemious sobriety, and the ceremonial religion, which
distinguished those sons of the Scandinavian from all other kindred
tribes.

The Norman position in France, indeed, in much resembled that of the
Spartan in Greece.  He had forced a settlement with scanty numbers in the
midst of a subjugated and sullen population, surrounded by jealous and
formidable foes.  Hence sobriety was a condition of his being, and the
policy of the chief lent a willing ear to the lessons of the preacher.
Like the Spartan, every Norman of pure race was free and noble; and this
consciousness inspired not only that remarkable dignity of mien which
Spartan and Norman alike possessed, but also that fastidious self-respect
which would have revolted from exhibiting a spectacle of debasement to
inferiors.  And, lastly, as the paucity of their original numbers, the
perils that beset, and the good fortune that attended them, served to
render the Spartans the most religious of all the Greeks in their
dependence on the Divine aid; so, perhaps, to the same causes may be
traced the proverbial piety of the ceremonial Normans; they carried into
their new creed something of feudal loyalty to their spiritual
protectors; did homage to the Virgin for the lands that she vouchsafed to
bestow, and recognised in St. Michael the chief who conducted their
armies.

After hearing the complin vespers in the temporary chapel fitted up in
that unfinished abbey of Westminster, which occupied the site of the
temple of Apollo [53], the King and his guests repaired to their evening
meal in the great hall of the palace.  Below the dais were ranged three
long tables for the knights in William's train, and that flower of the
Saxon nobility who, fond, like all youth, of change and imitation,
thronged the court of their Normanised saint, and scorned the rude
patriotism of their fathers.  But hearts truly English were not there.
Yea, many of Godwin's noblest foes sighed for the English-hearted Earl,
banished by Norman guile on behalf of English law.

At the oval table on the dais the guests were select and chosen.  At the
right hand of the King sat William; at the left Odo of Bayeux. Over these
three stretched a canopy of cloth of gold; the chairs on which each sate
were of metal, richly gilded over, and the arms carved in elaborate
arabesques.  At this table too was the King's nephew, the Earl of
Hereford, and, in right of kinsmanship to the Duke, the Norman's beloved
baron and grand seneschal, William Fitzosborne, who, though in Normandy
even he sate not at the Duke's table, was, as related to his lord,
invited by Edward to his own.  No other guests were admitted to this
board, so that, save Edward, all were Norman. The dishes were of gold and
silver, the cups inlaid with jewels. Before each guest was a knife, with
hilt adorned by precious stones, and a napkin fringed with silver.  The
meats were not placed on the table, but served upon small spits, and
between every course a basin of perfumed water was borne round by
high-born pages.  No dame graced the festival; for she who should have
presided--she, matchless for beauty without pride, piety without
asceticism, and learning without pedantry--she, the pale rose of England,
loved daughter of Godwin, and loathed wife of Edward, had shared in the
fall of her kindred, and had been sent by the meek King, or his fierce
counsellors, to an abbey in Hampshire, with the taunt "that it was not
meet that the child and sister should enjoy state and pomp, while the
sire and brethren ate the bread of the stranger in banishment and
disgrace."

But, hungry as were the guests, it was not the custom of that holy court
to fall to without due religious ceremonial.  The rage for psalm-singing
was then at its height in England; psalmody had excluded almost every
other description of vocal music; and it is even said that great
festivals on certain occasions were preluded by no less an effort of
lungs and memory than the entire songs bequeathed to us by King David!
This day, however, Hugoline, Edward's Norman chamberlain, had been
pleased to abridge the length of the prolix grace, and the company were
let off; to Edward's surprise and displeasure, with the curt and unseemly
preparation of only nine psalms and one special hymn in honour of some
obscure saint to whom the day was dedicated.  This performed, the guests
resumed their seats, Edward murmuring an apology to William for the
strange omission of his chamberlain, and saying thrice to himself,
"Naught, naught--very naught."

The mirth languished at the royal table, despite some gay efforts from
Rolf, and some hollow attempts at light-hearted cheerfulness from the
great Duke, whose eyes, wandering down the table, were endeavouring to
distinguish Saxon from Norman, and count how many of the first might
already be reckoned in the train of his friends.  But at the long tables
below, as the feast thickened, and ale, mead, pigment, morat, and wine
circled round, the tongue of the Saxon was loosed, and the Norman knight
lost somewhat of his superb gravity.  It was just as what a Danish poet
called the "sun of the night," (in other words, the fierce warmth of the
wine,) had attained its meridian glow, that some slight disturbance at
the doors of the hall, without which waited a dense crowd of the poor on
whom the fragments of the feast were afterwards to be bestowed, was
followed by the entrance of two strangers, for whom the officers
appointed to marshal the entertainment made room at the foot of one of
the tables.  Both these new-comers were clad with extreme plainness; one
in a dress, though not quite monastic, that of an ecclesiastic of low
degree; the other in a long grey mantle and loose gonna, the train of
which last was tucked into a broad leathern belt, leaving bare the
leggings, which showed limbs of great bulk and sinew, and which were
stained by the dust and mire of travel.  The first mentioned was slight
and small of person; the last was of the height and port of the sons of
Anak.  The countenance of neither could be perceived, for both had let
fall the hood, worn by civilians as by priests out of doors, more than
half way over their faces.

A murmur of great surprise, disdain, and resentment, at the intrusion of
strangers so attired circulated round the neighbourhood in which they had
been placed, checked for a moment by a certain air of respect which the
officer had shown towards both, but especially the taller; but breaking
out with greater vivacity from the faint restraint, as the tall man
unceremoniously stretched across the board, drew towards himself an
immense flagon, which (agreeably to the custom of arranging the feast in
"messes" of four) had been specially appropriated to Ulf the Dane,
Godrith the Saxon, and two young Norman knights akin to the puissant Lord
of Grantmesnil,--and having offered it to his comrade, who shook his
head, drained it with a gusto that seemed to bespeak him at least no
Norman, and wiped his lips boorishly with the sleeve of his huge arm.

"Dainty sir," said one of those Norman knights, William Mallet, of the
house of Mallet de Graville [54], as he moved as far from the gigantic
intruder as the space on the settle would permit, "forgive the
observation that you have damaged my mantle, you have grazed my foot, and
you have drunk my wine.  And vouchsafe, if it so please you, the face of
the man who hath done this triple wrong to William Mallet de Graville."

A kind of laugh--for laugh absolute it was not--rattled under the cowl of
the tall stranger, as he drew it still closer over his face, with a hand
that might have spanned the breast of his interrogator, and he made a
gesture as if he did not understand the question addressed to him.

Therewith the Norman knight, bending with demure courtesy across the
board to Godrith the Saxon, said:

"Pardex [55], but this fair guest and seigneur seemeth to me, noble
Godree (whose name I fear my lips do but rudely enounce) of Saxon line
and language; our Romance tongue he knoweth not.  Pray you, is it the
Saxon custom to enter a king's hall so garbed, and drink a knight's wine
so mutely?"

Godrith, a young Saxon of considerable rank, but one of the most sedulous
of the imitators of the foreign fashions, coloured high at the irony in
the knight's speech, and turning rudely to the huge guest, who was now
causing immense fragments of pasty to vanish under the cavernous cowl, he
said in his native tongue, though with a lisp as if unfamiliar to him--

"If thou beest Saxon, shame us not with thy ceorlish manners; crave
pardon of this Norman thegn, who will doubtless yield it to thee in pity.
Uncover thy face--and--"

Here the Saxon's rebuke was interrupted; for one of the servitors just
then approaching Godrith's side with a spit, elegantly caparisoned with
some score of plump larks, the unmannerly giant stretched out his arm
within an inch of the Saxon's startled nose, and possessed himself of
larks, broche, and all.  He drew off two, which he placed on his friend's
platter, despite all dissuasive gesticulations, and deposited the rest
upon his own.  The young banqueters gazed upon the spectacle in wrath too
full for words.

At last spoke Mallet de Graville, with an envious eye upon the larks--for
though a Norman was not gluttonous, he was epicurean--"Certes, and foi de
chevalier! a man must go into strange parts if he wish to see monsters;
but we are fortunate people," (and he turned to his Norman friend, Aymer,
Quen [56] or Count, D'Evreux,) "that we have discovered Polyphemus
without going so far as Ulysses;" and pointing to the hooded giant, he
quoted, appropriately enough,

    "Monstrum, horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum."

The giant continued to devour his larks, as complacently as the ogre to
whom he was likened might have devoured the Greeks in his cave. But his
fellow intruder seemed agitated by the sound of the Latin; he lifted up
his head suddenly, and showed lips glistening with white even teeth, and
curved into an approving smile, while he said: "Bene, me fili! bene,
lepidissime, poetae verba, in militis ore, non indecora sonant." [57]

The young Norman stared at the speaker, and replied, in the same tone of
grave affectation: "Courteous sir! the approbation of an ecclesiastic so
eminent as I take you to be, from the modesty with which you conceal your
greatness, cannot fail to draw upon me the envy of my English friends;
who are accustomed to swear in verba magistri, only for verba they
learnedly substitute vina."

"You are pleasant, Sire Mallet," said Godrith, reddening; "but I know
well that Latin is only fit for monks and shavelings; and little enow
even they have to boast of."

The Norman's lip curled in disdain.  "Latin!--O, Godree, bien
aime!--Latin is the tongue of Caesars and senators, fortes conquerors and
preux chevaliers.  Knowest thou not that Duke William the dauntless at
eight years old had the Comments of Julius Caesar by heart?--and that it
is his saying, that 'a king without letters is a crowned ass?' [58] When
the king is an ass, asinine are his subjects.  Wherefore go to school,
speak respectfully of thy betters, the monks and shavelings, who with us
are often brave captains and sage councillors,--and learn that a full
head makes a weighty hand."

"Thy name, young knight?" said the ecclesiastic, in Norman French, though
with a slight foreign accent.

"I can give it thee," said the giant, speaking aloud for the first time,
in the same language, and in a rough voice, which a quick ear might have
detected as disguised,--"I can describe to thee name, birth, and quality.
By name, this youth is Guillaume Mallet, sometimes styled De Graville,
because our Norman gentilhommes, forsooth, must always now have a 'de'
tacked to their names; nevertheless he hath no other right to the
seigneurie of Graville, which appertains to the head of his house, than
may be conferred by an old tower on one corner of the demesnes so
designated, with lands that would feed one horse and two villeins--if
they were not in pawn to a Jew for moneys to buy velvet mantelines and a
chain of gold.  By birth, he comes from Mallet [59], a bold Norwegian in
the fleet of Rou the Sea-king; his mother was a Frank woman, from whom he
inherits his best possessions--videlicet, a shrewd wit, and a railing
tongue.  His qualities are abstinence, for he eateth nowhere save at the
cost of another--some Latin, for he was meant for a monk, because he
seemed too slight of frame for a warrior--some courage, for in spite of
his frame he slew three Burgundians with his own hand; and Duke William,
among their foolish acts, spoilt a friar sans tache, by making a knight
sans terre; and for the rest--"

"And for the rest," interrupted the Sire de Graville, turning white with
wrath, but speaking in a low repressed voice, "were it not that Duke
William sate yonder, thou shouldst have six inches of cold steel in thy
huge carcase to digest thy stolen dinner, and silence thy unmannerly
tongue.--"

"For the rest," continued the giant indifferently, and as if he had not
heard the interruption; "for the rest, he only resembles Achilles, in
being impiger iracundus.  Big men can quote Latin as well as little ones,
Messire Mallet the beau clerc!"

Mallet's hand was on his dagger; and his eye dilated like that of the
panther before he springs; but fortunately, at that moment, the deep
sonorous voice of William, accustomed to send its sounds down the ranks
of an army, rolled clear through the assemblage, though pitched little
above its ordinary key:--

"Fair is your feast, and bright your wine, Sir King and brother mine! But
I miss here what king and knight hold as the salt of the feast and the
perfume to the wine: the lay of the minstrel.  Beshrew me, but both Saxon
and Norman are of kindred stock, and love to hear in hall and bower the
deeds of their northern fathers.  Crave I therefore from your gleemen, or
harpers, some song of the olden time!"

A murmur of applause went through the Norman part of the assembly; the
Saxons looked up; and some of the more practised courtiers sighed
wearily, for they knew well what ditties alone were in favour with the
saintly Edward.

The low voice of the King in reply was not heard, but those habituated to
read his countenance in its very faint varieties of expression, might
have seen that it conveyed reproof; and its purport soon became
practically known, when a lugubrious prelude was heard from a quarter of
the hall, in which sate certain ghost-like musicians in white
robes--white as winding-sheets; and forthwith a dolorous and dirgelike
voice chaunted a long and most tedious recital of the miracles and
martyrdom of some early saint.  So monotonous was the chaunt, that its
effect soon became visible in a general drowsiness.  And when Edward, who
alone listened with attentive delight, turned towards the close to gather
sympathising admiration from his distinguished guests, he saw his nephew
yawning as if his jaw were dislocated--the Bishop of Bayeux, with his
well-ringed fingers interlaced and resting on his stomach, fast
asleep--Fitzosborne's half-shaven head balancing to and fro with many an
uneasy start--and, William, wide awake indeed, but with eyes fixed on
vacant space, and his soul far away from the gridiron to which (all other
saints be praised!) the saint of the ballad had at last happily arrived.

"A comforting and salutary recital, Count William," said the King.

The Duke started from his reverie, and bowed his head: then said, rather
abruptly, "Is not yon blazon that of King Alfred?"

"Yea.  Wherefore?"

"Hem!  Matilda of Flanders is in direct descent from Alfred: it is a name
and a line the Saxons yet honour!"

"Surely, yes; Alfred was a great man, and reformed the Psalmster,"
replied Edward.

The dirge ceased, but so benumbing had been its effect, that the torpor
it created did not subside with the cause.  There was a dead and funereal
silence throughout the spacious hall, when suddenly, loudly, mightily, as
the blast of the trumpet upon the hush of the grave, rose a single voice.
All started--all turned--all looked to one direction; and they saw that
the great voice pealed from the farthest end of the hall.  From under his
gown the gigantic stranger had drawn a small three-stringed
instrument--somewhat resembling the modern lute--and thus he sang,--

  THE BALLAD OF ROU. [60]

                          I.

  From Blois to Senlis, wave by wave, roll'd on the Norman flood,
  And Frank on Frank went drifting down the weltering tide of blood;
  There was not left in all the land a castle wall to fire,
  And not a wife but wailed a lord, a child but mourned a sire.
  To Charles the king, the mitred monks, the mailed barons flew,
  While, shaking earth, behind them strode the thunder march of Rou.

                         II.

  "O King," then cried those barons bold, "in vain are mace and mail,
  We fall before the Norman axe, as corn before the hail."
  "And vainly," cried the pious monks, "by Mary's shrine we kneel,
  For prayers, like arrows, glance aside, against the Norman teel."
  The barons groaned, the shavelings wept, while near and nearer drew,
  As death-birds round their scented feast, the raven flags of Rou.

                        III.

  Then said King Charles, "Where thousands fail, what king can stand
      alone,
  The strength of kings is in the men that gather round the throne.
  When war dismays my barons bold, 'tis time for war to cease;
  When Heaven forsakes my pious monks, the will of Heaven is peace.
  Go forth, my monks, with mass and rood the Norman camp unto,
  And to the fold, with shepherd crook, entice this grisly Rou."

                         IV.

  "I'll give him all the ocean coast, from Michael Mount to Eure,
  And Gille, my child, shall be his bride, to bind him fast and sure:
  Let him but kiss the Christian cross, and sheathe the heathen sword,
  And hold the lands I cannot keep, a fief from Charles his lord."
  Forth went the pastors of the Church, the Shepherd's work to do,
  And wrap the golden fleece around the tiger loins of Rou.

                          V.

  Psalm-chanting came the shaven monks, within the camp of dread;
  Amidst his warriors, Norman Rou stood taller by the head.
  Out spoke the Frank Archbishop then, a priest devout and sage,
  "When peace and plenty wait thy word, what need of war and rage?
  Why waste a land as fair as aught beneath the arch of blue,
  Which might be thine to sow and reap?"--Thus saith the King to Rou.

                         VI.

  "'I'll give thee all the ocean coast, from Michael Mount to Eure,
  And Gille, my fairest child, as bride, to bind thee fast and sure;
  If then but kneel to Christ our God, and sheathe thy paynim sword,
  And hold thy land, the Church's son, a fief from Charles thy lord."
  The Norman on his warriors looked--to counsel they withdrew;
  The saints took pity on the Franks, and moved the soul of Rou.

                        VII.

  So back he strode and thus he spoke, to that Archbishop meek:
  "I take the land thy king bestows from Eure to Michael-peak,
  I take the maid, or foul or fair, a bargain with the toast,
  And for thy creed, a sea-king's gods are those that give the most.
  So hie thee back, and tell thy chief to make his proffer true,
  And he shall find a docile son, and ye a saint in Rou."

                       VIII.

  So o'er the border stream of Epte came Rou the Norman, where,
  Begirt with barons, sat the King, enthroned at green St. Clair;
  He placed his hand in Charles's hand,--loud shouted all the throng,
  But tears were in King Charles's eyes--the grip of Rou was strong.
  "Now kiss the foot," the Bishop said, "that homage still is due;"
  Then dark the frown and stern the smile of that grim convert, Rou.

                        IX.

  He takes the foot, as if the foot to slavish lips to bring;
  The Normans scowl; he tilts the throne, and backwards falls the
      King.
  Loud laugh the joyous Norman men--pale stare the Franks aghast;
  And Rou lifts up his head as from the wind springs up the mast;
  "I said I would adore a God, but not a mortal too;
  The foot that fled before a foe let cowards kiss!" said Rou.

No words can express the excitement which this rough minstrelsy--marred
as it is by our poor translation from the Romance-tongue in which it was
chanted--produced amongst the Norman guests; less perhaps, indeed, the
song itself, than the recognition of the minstrel; and as he closed, from
more than a hundred voices came the loud murmur, only subdued from a
shout by the royal presence, "Taillefer, our Norman Taillefer!"

"By our joint saint, Peter, my cousin the King," exclaimed William, after
a frank cordial laugh; "Well I wot, no tongue less free than my warrior
minstrel's could have so shocked our ears.  Excuse his bold theme, for
the sake of his bold heart, I pray thee; and since I know well" (here the
Duke's face grew grave and anxious) "that nought save urgent and weighty
news from my stormy realm could have brought over this rhyming petrel,
permit the officer behind me to lead hither a bird, I fear, of omen as
well as of song."

"Whatever pleases thee, pleases me," said Edward, drily; and he gave the
order to the attendant.  In a few moments, up the space in the hall,
between either table, came the large stride of the famous minstrel,
preceded by the officer and followed by the ecclesiastic. The hoods of
both were now thrown back, and discovered countenances in strange
contrast, but each equally worthy of the attention it provoked.  The face
of the minstrel was open and sunny as the day; and that of the priest,
dark and close as night.  Thick curls of deep auburn (the most common
colour for the locks of the Norman) wreathed in careless disorder round
Taillefer's massive unwrinkled brow.  His eye, of light hazel, was bold
and joyous; mirth, though sarcastic and sly, mantled round his lips.  His
whole presence was at once engaging and heroic.

On the other hand, the priest's cheek was dark and sallow; his features
singularly delicate and refined; his forehead high, but somewhat narrow,
and crossed with lines of thought; his mien composed, modest, but not
without calm self-confidence.  Amongst that assembly of soldiers,
noiseless, self-collected, and conscious of his surpassing power over
swords and mail, moved the SCHOLAR.

William's keen eye rested on the priest with some surprise, not unmixed
with pride and ire; but first addressing Taillefer, who now gained the
foot of the dais, he said, with a familiarity almost fond:

"Now, by're Lady, if thou bringest not ill news, thy gay face, man, is
pleasanter to mine eyes that thy rough song to my ears.  Kneel,
Taillefer, kneel to King Edward, and with more address, rogue, than our
unlucky countryman to King Charles."

But Edward, as ill-liking the form of the giant as the subject of his
lay, said, pushing back his seat as far as he could:

"Nay, nay, we excuse thee, we excuse thee, tall man."  Nevertheless, the
minstrel still knelt, and so, with a look of profound humility, did the
priest.  Then both slowly rose, and at a sign from the Duke, passed to
the other side of the table, standing behind Fitzosborne's chair.

"Clerk," said William, eying deliberately the sallow face of the
ecclesiastic; "I know thee of old; and if the Church have sent me an
envoy, per la resplendar De, it should have sent me at least an abbot."

"Hein, hein!"  said Taillefer, bluntly, "vex not my bon camarade, Count
of the Normans.  Gramercy, thou wilt welcome him, peradventure, better
than me; for the singer tells but of discord, and the sage may restore
the harmony."

"Ha!" said the Duke, and the frown fell so dark over his eyes that the
last seemed only visible by two sparks of fire.  "I guess, my proud
Vavasours are mutinous.  Retire, thou and thy comrade.  Await me in my
chamber.  The feast shall not flag in London because the wind blows a
gale in Rouen."

The two envoys, since so they seemed, bowed in silence and withdrew.

"Nought of ill-tidings, I trust," said Edward, who had not listened to
the whispered communications that had passed between the Duke and his
subjects.  "No schism in thy Church?  The clerk seemed a peaceful man,
and a humble."

"An there were schism in my Church," said the fiery Duke, "my brother of
Bayeux would settle it by arguments as close as the gap between cord and
throttle."

"Ah! thou art, doubtless, well read in the canons, holy Odo!" said the
King, turning to the bishop with more respect than he had yet evinced
towards that gentle prelate.

"Canons, yes, Seigneur, I draw them up myself for my flock conformably
with such interpretations of the Roman Church as suit best with the
Norman realm: and woe to deacon, monk, or abbot, who chooses to
misconstrue them." [61]

The bishop looked so truculent and menacing, while his fancy thus
conjured up the possibility of heretical dissent, that Edward shrank from
him as he had done from Taillefer; and in a few minutes after, on
exchange of signals between himself and the Duke, who, impatient to
escape, was too stately to testify that desire, the retirement of the
royal party broke up the banquet; save, indeed, that a few of the elder
Saxons, and more incorrigible Danes, still steadily kept their seats, and
were finally dislodged from their later settlements on the stone floors,
to find themselves, at dawn, carefully propped in a row against the outer
walls of the palace, with their patient attendants, holding links, and
gazing on their masters with stolid envy, if not of the repose at least
of the drugs that had caused it.



CHAPTER II.

"And now," said William, reclining on a long and narrow couch, with
raised carved work all round it like a box (the approved fashion of a bed
in those days), "now, Sire Taillefer--thy news."

There were then in the Duke's chamber, the Count Fitzosborne, Lord of
Breteuil, surnamed "the Proud Spirit"--who, with great dignity, was
holding before the brazier the ample tunic of linen (called dormitorium
in the Latin of that time, and night-rail in the Saxon tongue) in which
his lord was to robe his formidable limbs for repose [62],--Taillefer,
who stood erect before the Duke as a Roman sentry at his post,--and the
ecclesiastic, a little apart, with arms gathered under his gown, and his
bright dark eyes fixed on the ground.

"High and puissant, my liege," then said Taillefer, gravely, and with a
shade of sympathy on his large face, "my news is such as is best told
briefly: Bunaz, Count d'Eu and descendant of Richard Sanspeur, hath
raised the standard of revolt."

"Go on," said the Duke, clenching his hand.

"Henry, King of the French, is treating with the rebel, and stirring up
mutiny in thy realm, and pretenders to thy throne."

"Ha!" said the Duke, and his lip quivered; "this is not all."

"No, my liege! and the worst is to come.  Thy uncle Mauger, knowing that
thy heart is bent on thy speedy nuptials with the high and noble damsel,
Matilda of Flanders, has broken out again in thine absence--is preaching
against thee in hall and from pulpit.  He declares that such espousals
are incestuous, both as within the forbidden degrees, and inasmuch as
Adele, the lady's mother, was betrothed to thine uncle Richard; and
Mauger menaces excommunication if my liege pursues his suit! [63]  So
troubled is the realm, that I, waiting not for debate in council, and
fearing sinister ambassage if I did so, took ship from thy port of
Cherbourg, and have not flagged rein, and scarce broken bread, till I
could say to the heir of Rolf the Founder--Save thy realm from the men of
mail, and thy bride from the knaves in serge."

"Ho, ho!" cried William; then bursting forth in full wrath, as he sprang
from the couch.  "Hearest thou this, Lord Seneschal?  Seven years, the
probation of the patriarch, have I wooed and waited; and lo, in the
seventh, does a proud priest say to me, 'Wrench the love from thy
heart-strings!'--Excommunicate me--ME--William, the son of Robert the
Devil!  Ha, by God's splendour, Mauger shall live to wish the father
stood, in the foul fiend's true likeness, by his side, rather than brave
the bent brow of the son!"

"Dread my lord," said Fitzosborne, desisting from his employ, and rising
to his feet; "thou knowest that I am thy true friend and leal knight;
thou knowest how I have aided thee in this marriage with the lady of
Flanders, and how gravely I think that what pleases thy fancy will guard
thy realm; but rather than brave the order of the Church, and the ban of
the Pope, I would see thee wed to the poorest virgin in Normandy."

William, who had been pacing the room like an enraged lion in his den,
halted in amaze at this bold speech.

"This from thee, William Fitzosborne!--from thee!  I tell thee, that if
all the priests in Christendom, and all the barons in France, stood
between me and my bride, I would hew my way through the midst.  Foes
invade my realm--let them; princes conspire against me--I smile in scorn;
subjects mutiny--this strong hand can punish, or this large heart can
forgive.  All these are the dangers which he who governs men should
prepare to meet; but man has a right to his love, as the stag to his
hind.  And he who wrongs me here, is foe and traitor to me, not as Norman
Duke but as human being.  Look to it--thou and thy proud barons, look to
it!"

"Proud may thy barons be," said Fitzosborne, reddening, and with a brow
that quailed not before his lord's; "for they are the sons of those who
carved out the realm of the Norman, and owned in Rou but the feudal chief
of free warriors; vassals are not villeins.  And that which we hold our
duty--whether to Church or chief--that, Duke William, thy proud barons
will doubtless do; nor less, believe me, for threats which, braved in
discharge of duty and defence of freedom, we hold as air."

The Duke gazed on his haughty subject with an eye in which a meaner
spirit might have seen its doom.  The veins in his broad temples swelled
like cords, and a light foam gathered round his quivering lips.  But
fiery and fearless as William was, not less was he sagacious and
profound.  In that one man he saw the representative of that superb and
matchless chivalry--that race of races--those men of men, in whom the
brave acknowledge the highest example of valiant deeds, and the free the
manliest assertion of noble thoughts [64], since the day when the last
Athenian covered his head with his mantle, and mutely died: and far from
being the most stubborn against his will, it was to Fitzosborne's
paramount influence with the council, that he had often owed their
submission to his wishes, and their contributions to his wars.  In the
very tempest of his wrath, he felt that the blow belonged to strike on
that bold head would shiver his ducal throne to the dust.  Be felt too,
that awful indeed was that power of the Church which could thus turn
against him the heart of his truest knight: and he began (for with all
his outward frankness his temper was suspicious) to wrong the
great-souled noble by the thought that he might already be won over by
the enemies whom Mauger had arrayed against his nuptials.  Therefore,
with one of those rare and mighty efforts of that dissimulation which
debased his character, but achieved his fortunes, he cleared his brow of
its dark cloud, and said in a low voice, that was not without its pathos:

"Had an angel from heaven forewarned me that William Fitzosborne would
speak thus to his kinsman and brother in arms, in the hour of need and
the agony of passion, I would have disbelieved him.  Let it pass----"

But ere the last word was out of his lips, Fitzosborne had fallen on his
knees before the Duke, and, clasping his hand, exclaimed, while the tears
rolled down his swarthy cheek, "Pardon, pardon, my liege! when thou
speakest thus my heart melts.  What thou willest, that will I!  Church or
Pope, no matter.  Send me to Flanders; I will bring back thy bride."

The slight smile that curved William's lip, showed that he was scarce
worthy of that sublime weakness in his friend.  But he cordially pressed
the hand that grasped his own, and said, "Rise; thus should brother speak
to brother."  Then--for his wrath was only concealed, not stifled, and
yearned for its vent--his eye fell upon the delicate and thoughtful face
of the priest, who had watched this short and stormy conference in
profound silence, despite Taillefer's whispers to him to interrupt the
dispute.  "So, priest," he said, "I remember me that when Mauger before
let loose his rebellious tongue thou didst lend thy pedant learning to
eke out his brainless treason.  Methought that I then banished thee my
realm?"

"Not so, Count and Seigneur," answered the ecclesiastic, with a grave but
arch smile on his lip; "let me remind thee, that to speed me back to my
native land thou didst graciously send me a horse, halting on three legs,
and all lame on the fourth.  Thus mounted, I met thee on my road.  I
saluted thee; so did the beast, for his head well nigh touched the
ground.  Whereon I did ask thee, in a Latin play of words, to give me at
least a quadruped, not a tripod, for my journey. [65] Gracious, even in
ire, and with relenting laugh, was thine answer.  My liege, thy words
implied banishment--thy laughter pardon.  So I stayed."

Despite his wrath, William could scarce repress a smile; but recollecting
himself, he replied, more gravely, "Peace with this levity, priest.
Doubtless thou art the envoy from this scrupulous Mauger, or some other
of my gentle clergy; and thou comest, as doubtless, with soft words and
whining homilies.  It is in vain.  I hold the Church in holy reverence;
the pontiff knows it.  But Matilda of Flanders I have wooed; and Matilda
of Flanders shall sit by my side in the halls of Rouen, or on the deck of
my war-ship, till it anchors on a land worthy to yield a new domain to
the son of the Sea-king."

"In the halls of Rouen--and it may be on the throne of England--shall
Matilda reign by the side of William," said the priest in a clear, low,
and emphatic voice; "and it was to tell my lord the Duke that I repent me
of my first unconsidered obeisance to Mauger as my spiritual superior;
that since then I have myself examined canon and precedent; and though
the letter of the law be against thy spousals, it comes precisely under
the category of those alliances to which the fathers of the Church accord
dispensation:--it is to tell thee this, that I, plain Doctor of Laws and
priest of Pavia, have crossed the seas."

"Ha Rou!--Ha Rou!" cried Taillefer, with his usual bluffness, and
laughing with great glee, "why wouldst thou not listen to me,
monseigneur?"

"If thou deceivest me not," said William, in surprise, "and thou canst
make good thy words, no prelate in Neustria, save Odo of Bayeux, shall
lift his head high as thine."  And here William, deeply versed in the
science of men, bent his eyes keenly upon the unchanging and earnest face
of the speaker.  "Ah," he burst out, as if satisfied with the survey,
"and my mind tells me that thou speakest not thus boldly and calmly
without ground sufficient.  Man, I like thee.  Thy name?  I forget it."

"Lanfranc of Pavia, please you my lord; called some times 'Lanfranc the
Scholar' in thy cloister of Bec.  Nor misdeem me, that I, humble,
unmitred priest, should be thus bold.  In birth I am noble, and my
kindred stand near to the grace of our ghostly pontiff; to the pontiff I
myself am not unknown.  Did I desire honours, in Italy I might seek them;
it is not so.  I crave no guerdon for the service I proffer; none but
this--leisure and books in the Convent of Bec."

"Sit down--nay, sit, man," said William, greatly interested, but still
suspicious.  "One riddle only I ask thee to solve, before I give thee all
my trust, and place my very heart in thy hands.  Why, if thou desirest
not rewards, shouldst thou thus care to serve me--thou, a foreigner?"  A
light, brilliant and calm, shone in the eyes of the scholar, and a blush
spread over his pale cheeks.

"My Lord Prince, I will answer in plain words.  But first permit me to be
the questioner."

The priest turned towards Fitzosborne, who had seated himself on a stool
at William's feet, and, leaning his chin on his hand, listened to the
ecclesiastic, not more with devotion to his calling, than wonder at the
influence one so obscure was irresistibly gaining over his own martial
spirit, and William's iron craft.

"Lovest thou not, William Lord of Breteuil, lovest thou not fame for the
sake of fame?"

"Sur mon ame--yes!" said the Baron.

"And thou, Taillefer the minstrel, lovest thou not song for the sake of
song?"

"For song alone," replied the mighty minstrel.  "More gold in one ringing
rhyme than in all the coffers of Christendom."

"And marvellest thou, reader of men's hearts," said the scholar, turning
once more to William, "that the student loves knowledge for the sake of
knowledge?  Born of high race, poor in purse, and slight of thews,
betimes I found wealth in books, and drew strength from lore.  I heard of
the Count of Rouen and the Normans, as a prince of small domain, with a
measureless spirit, a lover of letters, and a captain in war.  I came to
thy duchy, I noted its subjects and its prince, and the words of
Themistocles rang in my ear: 'I cannot play the lute, but I can make a
small state great.'  I felt an interest in thy strenuous and troubled
career.  I believe that knowledge, to spread amongst the nations, must
first find a nursery in the brain of kings; and I saw in the deed-doer,
the agent of the thinker.  In those espousals, on which with untiring
obstinacy thy heart is set, I might sympathise with thee;
perchance"--(here a melancholy smile flitted over the student's pale
lips), "perchance even as a lover: priest though I be now, and dead to
human love, once I loved, and I know what it is to strive in hope, and to
waste in despair.  But my sympathy, I own, was more given to the prince
than to the lover.  It was natural that I, priest and foreigner, should
obey at first the orders of Mauger, archprelate and spiritual chief, and
the more so as the law was with him; but when I resolved to stay despite
thy sentence which banished me, I resolved to aid thee; for if with
Mauger was the dead law, with thee was the living cause of man.  Duke
William, on thy nuptials with Matilda of Flanders rests thy duchy--rest,
perchance, the mightier sceptres that are yet to come.  Thy title
disputed, thy principality new and unestablished, thou, above all men,
must link thy new race with the ancient line of kings and kaisars.
Matilda is the descendant of Charlemagne and Alfred.  Thy realm is
insecure as long as France undermines it with plots, and threatens it
with arms.  Marry the daughter of Baldwin--and thy wife is the niece of
Henry of France--thine enemy becomes thy kinsman, and must, perforce, be
thine ally. This is not all; it were strange, looking round this
disordered royalty of England--a childless king, who loves thee better
than his own blood; a divided nobility, already adopting the fashions of
the stranger, and accustomed to shift their faith from Saxon to Dane, and
Dane to Saxon; a people that has respect indeed for brave chiefs, but,
seeing new men rise daily from new houses, has no reverence for ancient
lines and hereditary names; with a vast mass of villeins or slaves that
have no interest in the land or its rulers; strange, seeing all this, if
thy day-dreams have not also beheld a Norman sovereign on the throne of
Saxon England.  And thy marriage with the descendant of the best and most
beloved prince that ever ruled these realms, if it does not give thee a
title to the land, may help to conciliate its affections, and to fix thy
posterity in the halls of their mother's kin.  Have I said eno' to prove
why, for the sake of nations, it were wise for the pontiff to stretch the
harsh girths of the law? why I might be enabled to prove to the Court of
Rome the policy of conciliating the love, and strengthening the hands, of
the Norman Count, who may so become the main prop of Christendom?  Yea,
have I said eno' to prove that the humble clerk can look on mundane
matters with the eye of a man who can make small states great?"

William remained speechless--his hot blood thrilled with a half
superstitious awe; so thoroughly had this obscure Lombard divined,
detailed all the intricate meshes of that policy with which he himself
had interwoven his pertinacious affection for the Flemish princess, that
it seemed to him as if he listened to the echo of his own heart, or heard
from a soothsayer the voice of his most secret thoughts.

The priest continued

"Wherefore, thus considering, I said to myself, Now has the time come,
Lanfranc the Lombard, to prove to thee whether thy self-boastings have
been a vain deceit, or whether, in this age of iron and amidst this lust
of gold, thou, the penniless and the feeble, canst make knowledge and wit
of more avail to the destinies of kings than armed men and filled
treasuries.  I believe in that power.  I am ready for the test. Pause,
judge from what the Lord of Breteuil hath said to thee, what will be the
defection of thy lords if the Pope confirm the threatened excommunication
of thine uncle?  Thine armies will rot from thee; thy treasures will be
like dry leaves in thy coffers; the Duke of Bretagne will claim thy duchy
as the legitimate heir of thy forefathers; the Duke of Burgundy will
league with the King of France, and march on thy faithless legions under
the banner of the Church.  The handwriting is on the walls, and thy
sceptre and thy crown will pass away."  William set his teeth firmly, and
breathed hard.

"But send me to Rome, thy delegate, and the thunder of Mauger shall fall
powerless.  Marry Matilda, bring her to thy halls, place her on thy
throne, laugh to scorn the interdict of thy traitor uncle, and rest
assured that the Pope shall send thee his dispensation to thy spousals,
and his benison on thy marriage-bed.  And when this be done, Duke
William, give me not abbacies and prelacies; multiply books, and stablish
schools, and bid thy servant found the royalty of knowledge, as thou
shalt found the sovereignty of war."

The Duke, transported from himself, leaped up and embraced the priest
with his vast arms; he kissed his cheeks, he kissed his forehead, as, in
those days, king kissed king with "the kiss of peace."

"Lanfranc of Pavia," he cried, "whether thou succeed or fail, thou hast
my love and gratitude evermore.  As thou speakest, would I have spoken,
had I been born, framed, and reared as thou.  And, verily, when I hear
thee, I blush for the boasts of my barbarous pride, that no man can wield
my mace, or bend my bow.  Poor is the strength of body--a web of law can
entangle it, and a word from a priest's mouth can palsy.  But thou!--let
me look at thee."

William gazed on the pale face: from head to foot he scanned the
delicate, slender form, and then, turning away, he said to Fitzosborne:

"Thou, whose mailed hand hath fell'd a war-steed, art thou not ashamed of
thyself?  The day is coming, I see it afar, when these slight men shall
set their feet upon our corslets."

He paused as if in thought, again paced the room, and stopped before the
crucifix, and image of the Virgin, which stood in a niche near the
bed-head.

"Right, noble prince," said the priest's low voice, "pause there for a
solution to all enigmas; there view the symbol of all-enduring power;
there, learn its ends below--comprehend the account it must yield above.
To your thoughts and your prayers we leave you."

He took the stalwart arm of Taillefer, as he spoke, and, with a grave
obeisance to Fitzosborne, left the chamber.



CHAPTER III.

The next morning William was long closeted alone with Lanfranc,--that
man, among the most remarkable of his age, of whom it was said, that "to
comprehend the extent of his talents, one must be Herodian in grammar,
Aristotle in dialectics, Cicero in rhetoric, Augustine and Jerome in
Scriptural lore," [66]--and ere the noon the Duke's gallant and princely
train were ordered to be in readiness for return home.

The crowd in the broad space, and the citizens from their boats in the
river, gazed on the knights and steeds of that gorgeous company, already
drawn up and awaiting without the open gates the sound of the trumpets
that should announce the Duke's departure.  Before the hall-door in the
inner court were his own men.  The snow-white steed of Odo; the alezan of
Fitzosborne; and, to the marvel of all, a small palfrey plainly
caparisoned.  What did that palfrey amid those steeds?--the steeds
themselves seemed to chafe at the companionship; the Duke's charger
pricked up his ears and snorted; the Lord of Breteuil's alezan kicked
out, as the poor nag humbly drew near to make acquaintance; and the
prelate's white barb, with red vicious eye, and ears laid down, ran
fiercely at the low-bred intruder, with difficulty reined in by the
squires, who shared the beast's amaze and resentment.

Meanwhile the Duke thoughtfully took his way to Edward's apartments. In
the anteroom were many monks and many knights; but conspicuous amongst
them all was a tall and stately veteran, leaning on a great two-handed
sword, and whose dress and fashion of beard were those of the last
generation, the men who had fought with Canute the Great or Edmund
Ironsides.  So grand was the old man's aspect, and so did he contrast in
appearance the narrow garb and shaven chins of those around, that the
Duke was roused from his reverie at the sight, and marvelling why one,
evidently a chief of high rank, had neither graced the banquet in his
honour, nor been presented to his notice, he turned to the Earl of
Hereford, who approached him with gay salutation, and inquired the name
and title of the bearded man in the loose flowing robe.

"Know you not, in truth?" said the lively Earl, in some wonder.  "In him
you see the great rival of Godwin.  He is the hero of the Danes, as
Godwin is of the Saxons, a true son of Odin, Siward, Earl of the
Northumbrians." [67]

"Norse Dame be my aid,--his fame hath oft filled my ears, and I should
have lost the most welcome sight in merrie England had I not now beheld
him."

Therewith, the Duke approached courteously, and, doffing the cap he had
hitherto retained, he greeted the old hero with those compliments which
the Norman had already learned in the courts of the Frank.

The stout Earl received them coldly, and replying in Danish to William's
Romance-tongue, he said:

"Pardon, Count of the Normans, if these old lips cling to their old
words.  Both of us, methinks, date our lineage from the lands of the
Norse.  Suffer Siward to speak the language the sea-kings spoke.  The old
oak is not to be transplanted, and the old man keeps the ground where his
youth took root."

The Duke, who with some difficulty comprehended the general meaning of
Siward's speech, bit his lip, but replied courteously:

"The youths of all nations may learn from renowned age.  Much doth it
shame me that I cannot commune with thee in the ancestral tongue; but the
angels at least know the language of the Norman Christian, and I pray
them and the saints for a calm end to thy brave career."

"Pray not to angel or saint for Siward son of Beorn," said the old man
hastily; "let me not have a cow's death, but a warrior's; die in my mail
of proof, axe in hand, and helm on head.  And such may be my death, if
Edward the King reads my rede and grants my prayer."

"I have influence with the King," said William; "name thy wish, that I
may back it."

"The fiend forfend," said the grim Earl, "that a foreign prince should
sway England's King, or that thegn and earl should ask other backing than
leal service and just cause.  If Edward be the saint men call him, he
will loose me on the hell-wolf, without other cry than his own
conscience."

The Duke turned inquiringly to Rolf; who, thus appealed to, said:

"Siward urges my uncle to espouse the cause of Malcolm of Cumbria against
the bloody tyrant Macbeth; and but for the disputes with the traitor
Godwin, the King had long since turned his arms to Scotland."

"Call not traitors, young man," said the Earl, in high disdain, "those
who, with all their faults and crimes, have placed thy kinsman on the
throne of Canute."

"Hush, Rolf," said the Duke, observing the fierce young Norman about to
reply hastily.  "But methought, though my knowledge of English troubles
is but scant, that Siward was the sworn foe to Godwin?"

"Foe to him in his power, friend to him in his wrongs," answered Siward.
"And if England needs defenders when I and Godwin are in our shrouds,
there is but one man worthy of the days of old, and his name is Harold,
the outlaw."

William's face changed remarkably, despite all his dissimulation; and,
with a slight inclination of his head, he strode on moody and irritated.

"This Harold! this Harold!" he muttered to himself, "all brave men speak
to me of this Harold!  Even my Norman knights name him with reluctant
reverence, and even his foes do him honour;--verily his shadow is cast
from exile over all the land."

Thus murmuring, he passed the throng with less than his wonted affable
grace, and pushing back the officers who wished to precede him, entered,
without ceremony, Edward's private chamber.

The King was alone, but talking loudly to himself, gesticulating
vehemently, and altogether so changed from his ordinary placid apathy of
mien, that William drew back in alarm and awe.  Often had he heard
indirectly, that of late years Edward was said to see visions, and be
rapt from himself into the world of spirit and shadow; and such, he now
doubted not, was the strange paroxysm of which he was made the witness.
Edward's eyes were fixed on him, but evidently without recognising his
presence; the King's hands were outstretched, and he cried aloud in a
voice of sharp anguish:

"Sanguelac, Sanguelac!--the Lake of Blood!--the waves spread,
the waves redden!  Mother of mercy--where is the ark?--where the
Ararat?--Fly--fly--this way--this--" and he caught convulsive hold of
William's arm.  "No! there the corpses are piled--high and higher--there
the horse of the Apocalypse tramples the dead in their gore."

In great horror, William took the King, now gasping on his breast, in his
arms, and laid him on his bed, beneath its canopy of state, all blazoned
with the martlets and cross of his insignia.  Slowly Edward came to
himself, with heavy sighs; and when at length he sate up and looked
round, it was with evident unconsciousness of what had passed across his
haggard and wandering spirit, for he said, with his usual drowsy
calmness:

"Thanks, Guillaume, bien aime, for rousing me from unseasoned sleep. How
fares it with thee?"

"Nay, how with thee, dear friend and king? thy dreams have been
troubled."

"Not so; I slept so heavily, methinks I could not have dreamed at all.
But thou art clad as for a journey--spur on thy heel, staff in thy hand!"

"Long since, O dear host, I sent Odo to tell thee of the ill news from
Normandy that compelled me to depart."

"I remember--I remember me now," said Edward, passing his pale womanly
fingers over his forehead.  "The heathen rage against thee.  Ah! my poor
brother, a crown is an awful head-gear.  While yet time, why not both
seek some quiet convent, and put away these earthly cares?"

William smiled and shook his head.  "Nay, holy Edward, from all I have
seen of convents, it is a dream to think that the monk's serge hides a
calmer breast than the warrior's mail, or the king's ermine.  Now give me
thy benison, for I go."

He knelt as he spoke, and Edward bent his hands over his head, and
blessed him.  Then, taking from his own neck a collar of zimmes (jewels
and uncut gems), of great price, the King threw it over the broad throat
bent before him, and rising, clapped his hands.  A small door opened,
giving a glimpse of the oratory within, and a monk appeared.

"Father, have my behests been fulfilled?--hath Hugoline, my treasurer,
dispensed the gifts that I spoke of?"

"Verily yes; vault, coffer, and garde-robe--stall and meuse.-are well
nigh drained," answered the monk, with a sour look at the Norman, whose
native avarice gleamed in his dark eyes as he heard the answer.

"Thy train go not hence empty-handed," said Edward fondly.  "Thy father's
halls sheltered the exile, and the exile forgets not the sole pleasure of
a king--the power to requite.  We may never meet again, William,--age
creeps over me, and who will succeed to my thorny throne?"  William
longed to answer,--to tell the hope that consumed him,--to remind his
cousin of the vague promise in their youth, that the Norman Count should
succeed to that "thorny throne:" but the presence of the Saxon monk
repelled him, nor was there in Edward's uneasy look much to allure him
on.

"But peace," continued the King, "be between thine and mine, as between
thee and me!"

"Amen," said the Duke, "and I leave thee at least free from the proud
rebels who so long disturbed thy reign.  This House of Godwin, thou wilt
not again let it tower above thy palace?"

"Nay, the future is with God and his saints;" answered Edward, feebly.
"But Godwin is old--older than I, and bowed by many storms."

"Ay, his sons are more to be dreaded and kept aloof--mostly Harold!"

"Harold,--he was ever obedient, he alone of his kith; truly my soul
mourns for Harold," said the King, sighing.

"The serpent's egg hatches but the serpent.  Keep thy heel on it," said
William, sternly.

"Thou speakest well," said the irresolute prince, who never seemed three
days or three minutes together in the same mind.  "Harold is in
Ireland--there let him rest: better for all."

"For all," said the Duke; "so the saints keep thee, O royal saint!"

He kissed the King's hand, and strode away to the hall where Odo,
Fitzosborne, and the priest Lanfranc awaited him.  And so that day,
halfway towards the fair town of Dover, rode Duke William, and by the
side of his roan barb ambled the priest's palfrey.

Behind came his gallant train, and with tumbrils and sumpter-mules laden
with baggage, and enriched by Edward's gifts; while Welch hawks, and
steeds of great price from the pastures of Surrey and the plains of
Cambridge and York, attested no less acceptably than zimme, and golden
chain, and embroidered robe, the munificence of the grateful King. [68]

As they journeyed on, and the fame of the Duke's coming was sent abroad
by the bodes or messengers, despatched to prepare the towns through which
he was to pass for an arrival sooner than expected, the more highborn
youths of England, especially those of the party counter to that of the
banished Godwin, came round the ways to gaze upon that famous chief, who,
from the age of fifteen, had wielded the most redoubtable sword of
Christendom.  And those youths wore the Norman garb: and in the towns,
Norman counts held his stirrup to dismount, and Norman hosts spread the
fastidious board; and when, at the eve of the next day, William saw the
pennon of one of his own favourite chiefs waving in the van of armed men,
that sallied forth from the towers of Dover (the key of the coast) he
turned to the Lombard, still by his side, and said:

"Is not England part of Normandy already?"

And the Lombard answered:

"The fruit is well nigh ripe, and the first breeze will shake it to thy
feet.  Put not out thy hand too soon.  Let the wind do its work."

And the Duke made reply:

"As thou thinkest, so think I.  And there is but one wind in the halls of
heaven that can waft the fruit to the feet of another."

"And that?" asked the Lombard.

"Is the wind that blows from the shores of Ireland, when it fills the
sails of Harold, son of Godwin."

"Thou fearest that man, and why?" asked the Lombard with interest.

And the Duke answered:

"Because in the breast of Harold beats the heart of England."



BOOK III.
THE HOUSE OF GODWIN.



CHAPTER I.

And all went to the desire of Duke William the Norman.  With one hand he
curbed his proud vassals, and drove back his fierce foes.  With the
other, he led to the altar Matilda, the maid of Flanders; and all
happened as Lanfranc had foretold.  William's most formidable enemy, the
King of France, ceased to conspire against his new kinsman; and the
neighbouring princes said, "The Bastard hath become one of us since he
placed by his side the descendant of Charlemagne."  And Mauger,
Archbishop of Rouen, excommunicated the Duke and his bride, and the ban
fell idle; for Lanfranc sent from Rome the Pope's dispensation and
blessing [69], conditionally only that bride and bridegroom founded each
a church.  And Mauger was summoned before the synod, and accused of
unclerical crimes; and they deposed him from his state, and took from him
abbacies and sees.  And England every day waxed more and more Norman; and
Edward grew more feeble and infirm, and there seemed not a barrier
between the Norman Duke and the English throne, when suddenly the wind
blew in the halls of heaven, and filled the sails of Harold the Earl.

And his ships came to the mouth of the Severn.  And the people of
Somerset and Devon, a mixed and mainly a Celtic race, who bore small love
to the Saxons, drew together against him, and he put them to flight. [70]

Meanwhile, Godwin and his sons Sweyn, Tostig, and Gurth, who had taken
refuge in that very Flanders from which William the Duke had won his
bride,--(for Tostig had wed, previously, the sister of Matilda, the rose
of Flanders; and Count Baldwin had, for his sons-in-law, both Tostig and
William,)--meanwhile, I say, these, not holpen by the Count Baldwin, but
helping themselves, lay at Bruges, ready to join Harold the Earl.  And
Edward, advised of this from the anxious Norman, caused forty ships [71]
to be equipped, and put them under command of Rolf, Earl of Hereford.
The ships lay at Sandwich in wait for Godwin.  But the old Earl got from
them, and landed quietly on the southern coast. And the fort of Hastings
opened to his coming with a shout from its armed men.

All the boatmen, all the mariners, far and near, thronged to him, with
sail and with shield, with sword and with oar.  All Kent (the
foster-mother of the Saxons) sent forth the cry, "Life or death with Earl
Godwin." [72]  Fast over the length and breadth of the land, went the
bodes [73] and riders of the Earl; and hosts, with one voice, answered
the cry of the children of Horsa, "Life or death with Earl Godwin." And
the ships of King Edward, in dismay, turned flag and prow to London, and
the fleet of Harold sailed on.  So the old Earl met his young son on the
deck of a war-ship, that had once borne the Raven of the Dane.

Swelled and gathering sailed the armament of the English men.  Slow up
the Thames it sailed, and on either shore marched tumultuous the swarming
multitudes.  And King Edward sent after more help, but it came up very
late.  So the fleet of the Earl nearly faced the Julliet Keape of London,
and abode at Southwark till the flood-tide came up. When he had mustered
his host, then came the flood tide. [74]



CHAPTER II.

King Edward sate, not on his throne, but on a chair of state, in the
presence-chamber of his palace of Westminster.  His diadem, with the
three zimmes shaped into a triple trefoil [75] on his brow, his sceptre
in his right hand.  His royal robe, tight to the throat, with a broad
band of gold, flowed to his feet; and at the fold gathered round the left
knee, where now the kings of England wear the badge of St. George, was
embroidered a simple cross [76].  In that chamber met the thegns and
proceres of his realm; but not they alone.  No national Witan there
assembled, but a council of war, composed at least one third part of
Normans--counts, knights, prelates, and abbots of high degree.

And King Edward looked a king!  The habitual lethargic meekness had
vanished from his face, and the large crown threw a shadow, like a frown,
over his brow.  His spirit seemed to have risen from the weight it took
from the sluggish blood of his father, Ethelred the Unready, and to have
remounted to the brighter and earlier sources of ancestral heroes.
Worthy in that hour he seemed to boast the blood and wield the sceptre of
Athelstan and Alfred. [77]

Thus spoke the King:

"Right worthy and beloved, my ealdermen, earls, and thegns of England;
noble and familiar, my friends and guests, counts and chevaliers of
Normandy, my mother's land; and you, our spiritual chiefs, above all ties
of birth and country, Christendom your common appanage, and from Heaven
your seignories and fiefs,--hear the words of Edward, the King of England
under grace of the Most High.  The rebels are in our river; open yonder
lattice, and you will see the piled shields glittering from their barks,
and hear the hum of their hosts.  Not a bow has yet been drawn, not a
sword left its sheath; yet on the opposite side of the river are our
fleets of forty sail--along the strand, between our palace and the gates
of London, are arrayed our armies.  And this pause because Godwin the
traitor hath demanded truce and his nuncius waits without.  Are ye
willing that we should hear the message? or would ye rather that we
dismiss the messenger unheard, and pass at once, to rank and to sail, the
war-cry of a Christian king, 'Holy Crosse and our Lady!'"

The King ceased, his left hand grasping firm the leopard head carved on
his throne, and his sceptre untrembling in his lifted hand.

A murmur of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, the war-cry of the Normans, was heard
amongst the stranger-knights of the audience; but haughty and arrogant as
those strangers were, no one presumed to take precedence, in England's
danger, of men English born.

Slowly then rose Alred, Bishop of Winchester, the worthiest prelate in
all the land. [78]

"Kingly son," said the bishop, "evil is the strife between men of the
same blood and lineage, nor justified but by extremes, which have not yet
been made clear to us.  And ill would it sound throughout England were it
said that the King's council gave, perchance, his city of London to sword
and fire, and rent his land in twain, when a word in season might have
disbanded yon armies, and given to your throne a submissive subject,
where now you are menaced by a formidable rebel. Wherefore, I say, admit
the nuncius."

Scarcely had Alred resumed his seat, before Robert the Norman prelate of
Canterbury started up,--a man, it was said, of worldly learning--and
exclaimed:

"To admit the messenger is to approve the treason.  I do beseech the King
to consult only his own royal heart and royal honour.  Reflect--each
moment of delay swells the rebel hosts, strengthens their cause; of each
moment they avail themselves to allure to their side the misguided
citizens.  Delay but proves our own weakness; a king's name is a tower of
strength, but only when fortified by a king's authority. Give the signal
for--war I call it not--no--for chastisement and justice."

"As speaks my brother of Canterbury, speak I," said William, Bishop of
London, another Norman.

But then there rose up a form at whose rising all murmurs were hushed.

Grey and vast, as some image of a gone and mightier age towered over all,
Siward, the son of Beorn, the great Earl of Northumbria.

"We have naught to do with the Normans.  Were they on the river, and our
countrymen, Dane or Saxon, alone in this hall, small doubt of the King's
choice, and niddering were the man who spoke of peace; but when Norman
advises the dwellers of England to go forth and slay each other, no sword
of mine shall be drawn at his hest. Who shall say that Siward of the
Strong Arm, the grandson of the Berserker, ever turned from a foe?  The
foe, son of Ethelred, sits in these halls; I fight thy battles when I say
Nay to the Norman!  Brothers-in-arms of the kindred race and common
tongue, Dane and Saxon long intermingled, proud alike of Canute the
glorious and Alfred the wise, ye will hear the man whom Godwin, our
countryman, sends to us; he at least will speak our tongue, and he knows
our laws.  If the demand he delivers be just, such as a king should
grant, and our Witan should hear, woe to him who refuses; if unjust be
the demand, shame to him who accedes. Warrior sends to warrior,
countryman to countryman; hear we as countrymen, and judge as warriors.
I have said."

The utmost excitement and agitation followed the speech of
Siward,--unanimous applause from the Saxons, even those who in times of
peace were most under the Norman contagion; but no words can paint the
wrath and scorn of the Normans.  They spoke loud and many at a time; the
greatest disorder prevailed.  But the majority being English, there could
be no doubt as to the decision; and Edward, to whom the emergence gave
both a dignity and presence of mind rare to him, resolved to terminate
the dispute at once.  He stretched forth his sceptre, and motioning to
his chamberlain, bade him introduce the nuncius. [79]

A blank disappointment, not unmixed with apprehensive terror, succeeded
the turbulent excitement of the Normans; for well they knew that the
consequences, if not condition, of negotiations, would be their own
downfall and banishment at the least;--happy, it might be, to escape
massacre at the hands of the exasperated multitude.

The door at the end of the room opened, and the nuncius appeared.  He was
a sturdy, broad-shouldered man, of middle age, and in the long loose garb
originally national with the Saxon, though then little in vogue; his
beard thick and fair, his eyes grey and calm--a chief of Kent, where all
the prejudices of his race were strongest, and whose yeomanry claimed in
war the hereditary right to be placed in the front of battle.

He made his manly but deferential salutation to the august council as he
approached; and, pausing midway between the throne and door, he fell on
his knees without thought of shame, for the King to whom he knelt was the
descendant of Woden, and the heir of Hengist.  At a sign and a brief word
from the King, still on his knees, Vebba, the Kentman, spoke.

"To Edward, son of Ethelred, his most gracious king and lord, Godwin, son
of Wolnoth, sends faithful and humble greeting, by Vebba, the thegn-born.
He prays the King to hear him in kindness, and judge of him with mercy.
Not against the King comes he hither with ships and arms; but against
those only who would stand between the King's heart and the subject's:
those who have divided a house against itself, and parted son and father,
man and wife."

At those last words Edward's sceptre trembled in this hand, and his face
grew almost stern.

"Of the King, Godwin but prays with all submiss and earnest prayer, to
reverse the unrighteous outlawry against him and his; to restore him and
his sons their just possessions and well-won honours; and, more than all,
to replace them where they have sought by loving service not unworthily
to stand, in the grace of their born lord and in the van of those who
would uphold the laws and liberties of England.  This done--the ships
sail back to their haven; the thegn seeks his homestead and the ceorl
returns to the plough; for with Godwin are no strangers; and his force is
but the love of his countrymen."

"Hast thou said?" quoth the King.

"I have said."

"Retire, and await our answer."

The Thegn of Kent was then led back into an ante-room, in which, armed
from head to heel in ring-mail, were several Normans whose youth or
station did not admit them into the council, but still of no mean
interest in the discussion, from the lands and possessions they had
already contrived to gripe out of the demesnes of the exiles;--burning
for battle and eager for the word.  Amongst these was Mallet de Graville.

The Norman valour of this young knight was, as we have seen, guided by
Norman intelligence; and he had not disdained, since William's departure,
to study the tongue of the country in which he hoped to exchange his
mortgaged tower on the Seine, for some fair barony on the Humber or the
Thames.

While the rest of his proud countrymen stood aloof, with eyes of silent
scorn, from the homely nuncius, Mallet approached him with courteous
bearing, and said in Saxon:

"May I crave to know the issue of thy message from the reb--that is from
the doughty Earl?"

"I wait to learn it," said Vebba, bluffly.

"They heard thee throughout, then?"

"Throughout."

"Friendly Sir," said the Sire de Graville, seeking to subdue the tone of
irony habitual to him, and acquired, perhaps, from his maternal ancestry,
the Franks.  "Friendly and peace-making Sir, dare I so far venture to
intrude on the secrets of thy mission as to ask if Godwin demands, among
other reasonable items, the head of thy humble servant--not by name
indeed, for my name is as yet unknown to him--but as one of the unhappy
class called Normans?"

"Had Earl Godwin," returned the nuncius, "thought fit to treat for peace
by asking vengeance, he would have chosen another spokesman. The Earl
asks but his own; and thy head is not, I trow, a part of his goods and
chattels."

"That is comforting," said Mallet.  "Marry, I thank thee, Sir Saxon; and
thou speakest like a brave man and an honest.  And if we fall to blows,
as I suspect we shall, I should deem it a favour of our Lady the Virgin
if she send thee across my way.  Next to a fair friend I love a bold
foe."

Vebba smiled, for he liked the sentiment, and the tone and air of the
young knight pleased his rough mind, despite his prejudices against the
stranger.

Encouraged by the smile, Mallet seated himself on the corner of the long
table that skirted the room, and with a debonnair gesture invited Vebba
to do the same; then looking at him gravely, he resumed:

"So frank and courteous thou art, Sir Envoy, that I yet intrude on thee
my ignorant and curious questions."

"Speak out, Norman."

"How comes it, then, that you English so love this Earl Godwin?--Still
more, why think you it right and proper that King Edward should love him
too?  It is a question I have often asked, and to which I am not likely
in these halls to get answer satisfactory.  If I know aught of your
troublous history, this same Earl has changed sides oft eno'; first for
the Saxon, then for Canute the Dane--Canute dies, and your friend takes
up arms for the Saxon again.  He yields to the advice of your Witan, and
sides with Hardicanute and Harold, the Danes--a letter, nathless, is
written as from Emma, the mother to the young Saxon princes, Edward and
Alfred, inviting them over to England, and promising aid; the saints
protect Edward, who continues to say aves in Normandy--Alfred comes over,
Earl Godwin meets him, and, unless belied, does him homage, and swears to
him faith.  Nay, listen yet. This Godwin, whom ye love so, then leads
Alfred and his train into the ville of Guildford, I think ye call
it,--fair quarters enow.  At the dead of the night rush in King Harold's
men, seize prince and follower, six hundred men in all; and next morning,
saving only every tenth man, they are tortured and put to death.  The
prince is born off to London, and shortly afterwards his eyes are torn
out in the Islet of Ely, and he dies of the anguish!  That ye should love
Earl Godwin withal may be strange, but yet possible.  But is it possible,
cher Envoy, for the King to love the man who thus betrayed his brother to
the shambles?"

"All this is a Norman fable," said the Thegn of Kent, with a disturbed
visage; "and Godwin cleared himself on oath of all share in the foul
murder of Alfred."

"The oath, I have heard, was backed," said the knight drily, "by a
present to Hardicanute, who after the death of King Harold resolved to
avenge the black butchery; a present, I say, of a gilt ship, manned by
fourscore warriors with gold-hilted swords, and gilt helms.--But let this
pass."

"Let it pass," echoed Vebba with a sigh.  "Bloody were those times, and
unholy their secrets."

"Yet answer me still, why love you Earl Godwin?  He hath changed sides
from party to party, and in each change won lordships and lands.  He is
ambitious and grasping, ye all allow; for the ballads sung in your
streets liken him to the thorn and the bramble, at which the sheep leaves
his wool.  He is haughty and overbearing.  Tell me, O Saxon, frank Saxon,
why you love Godwin the Earl?  Fain would I know; for, please the saints
(and you and your Earl so permitting), I mean to live and die in this
merrie England; and it would be pleasant to learn that I have but to do
as Earl Godwin, in order to win love from the English."

The stout Vebba looked perplexed; but after stroking his beard
thoughtfully, he answered thus:

"Though of Kent, and therefore in his earldom, I am not one of Godwin's
especial party; for that reason was I chosen his bode.  Those who are
under him doubtless love a chief liberal to give and strong to protect.
The old age of a great leader gathers reverence, as an oak gathers moss.
But to me, and those like me, living peaceful at home, shunning courts,
and tempting not broils, Godwin the man is not dear--it is Godwin the
thing."

"Though I do my best to know your language," said the knight, "ye have
phrases that might puzzle King Solomon.  What meanest thou by 'Godwin the
thing'?"

"That which to us Godwin only seems to uphold.  We love justice; whatever
his offences, Godwin was banished unjustly.  We love our laws; Godwin was
dishonoured by maintaining them.  We love England, and are devoured by
strangers; Godwin's cause is England's, and--stranger, forgive me for not
concluding."

Then examining the young Norman with a look of rough compassion, he laid
his large hand upon the knight's shoulder and whispered:

"Take my advice--and fly."

"Fly!" said De Graville, reddening.  "Is it to fly, think you, that I
have put on my mail, and girded my sword?"

"Vain--vain!  Wasps are fierce, but the swarm is doomed when the straw is
kindled.  I tell you this--fly in time, and you are safe; but let the
King be so misguided as to count on arms, and strive against yon
multitude, and verily before nightfall not one Norman will be found alive
within ten miles of the city.  Look to it, youth!  Perhaps thou hast a
mother--let her not mourn a son!"

Before the Norman could shape into Saxon sufficiently polite and courtly
his profound and indignant disdain of the counsel, his sense of the
impertinence with which his shoulder had been profaned, and his mother's
son had been warned, the nuncius was again summoned into the
presence-chamber.  Nor did he return into the ante-room, but conducted
forthwith from the council--his brief answer received--to the stairs of
the palace, he reached the boat in which he had come, and was rowed back
to the ship that held the Earl and his sons.

Now this was the manoeuvre of Godwin's array.  His vessels having passed
London Bridge, had rested awhile on the banks of the Southward suburb
(Suth-weorde)--since called Southwark--and the King's ships lay to the
north; but the fleet of the Earl's, after a brief halt, veered
majestically round, and coming close to the palace of Westminster,
inclined northward, as if to hem the King's ships.  Meanwhile the land
forces drew up close to the Strand, almost within bow-shot of the King's
troops, that kept the ground inland; thus Vebba saw before him, so near
as scarcely to be distinguished from each other, on the river the rival
fleets, on the shore the rival armaments.

High above all the vessels towered the majestic bark, or aesca, that had
borne Harold from the Irish shores.  Its fashion was that of the ancient
sea-kings, to one of whom it had belonged.  Its curved and mighty prow,
richly gilded, stood out far above the waves: the prow, the head of the
sea-snake; the stern its spire; head and spire alike glittering in the
sun.

The boat drew up to the lofty side of the vessel, a ladder was lowered,
the nuncius ascended lightly and stood on deck.  At the farther end
grouped the sailors, few in number, and at respectful distance from the
Earl and his sons.

Godwin himself was but half armed.  His head was bare, nor had he other
weapon of offence than the gilt battle-axe of the Danes--weapon as much
of office as of war; but his broad breast was covered with the ring mail
of the time.  His stature was lower than that of any of his sons; nor did
his form exhibit greater physical strength than that of a man, well
shaped, robust, and deep of chest, who still preserved in age the pith
and sinew of mature manhood.  Neither, indeed, did legend or fame ascribe
to that eminent personage those romantic achievements, those feats of
purely animal prowess, which distinguished his rival, Siward.  Brave he
was, but brave as a leader; those faculties in which he appears to have
excelled all his contemporaries, were more analogous to the requisites of
success in civilised times, than those which won renown of old.  And
perhaps England was the only country then in Europe which could have
given to those faculties their fitting career.  He possessed essentially
the arts of party; he knew how to deal with vast masses of mankind; he
could carry along with his interests the fervid heart of the multitude;
he had in the highest degree that gift, useless in most other lands--in
all lands where popular assemblies do not exist--the gift of popular
eloquence.  Ages elapsed, after the Norman conquest, ere eloquence again
became a power in England. [80]

But like all men renowned for eloquence, he went with the popular feeling
of his times; he embodied its passions, its prejudices--but also that
keen sense of self-interest, which is the invariable characteristic of a
multitude.  He was the sense of the commonalty carried to its highest
degree.  Whatever the faults, it may be the crimes, of a career
singularly prosperous and splendid, amidst events the darkest and most
terrible,--shining with a steady light across the thunder-clouds,--he was
never accused of cruelty or outrage to the mass of the people.  English,
emphatically, the English deemed him; and this not the less that in his
youth he had sided with Canute, and owed his fortunes to that king; for
so intermixed were Danes and Saxons in England, that the agreement which
had given to Canute one half the kingdom had been received with general
applause; and the earlier severities of that great prince had been so
redeemed in his later years by wisdom and mildness--so, even in the worst
period of his reign, relieved by extraordinary personal affability, and
so lost now in men's memories by pride in his power and fame,--that
Canute had left behind him a beloved and honoured name [81], and Godwin
was the more esteemed as the chosen counsellor of that popular prince.
At his death, Godwin was known to have wished, and even armed, for the
restoration of the Saxon line; and only yielded to the determination of
the Witan, no doubt acted upon by the popular opinion.  Of one dark crime
he was suspected, and, despite his oath to the contrary, and the formal
acquittal of the national council, doubt of his guilt rested then, as it
rests still, upon his name; viz., the perfidious surrender of Alfred,
Edward's murdered brother.

But time had passed over the dismal tragedy; and there was an instinctive
and prophetic feeling throughout the English nation, that with the House
of Godwin was identified the cause of the English people.  Everything in
this man's aspect served to plead in his favour.  His ample brows were
calm with benignity and thought; his large dark blue eyes were serene and
mild, though their expression, when examined, was close and inscrutable.
His mien was singularly noble, but wholly without formality or affected
state; and though haughtiness and arrogance were largely attributed to
him, they could be found only in his deeds, not manner--plain, familiar,
kindly to all men, his heart seemed as open to the service of his
countrymen as his hospitable door to their wants.

Behind him stood the stateliest group of sons that ever filled with pride
a father's eye.  Each strikingly distinguished from the other, all
remarkable for beauty of countenance and strength of frame.

Sweyn, the eldest [82], had the dark hues of his mother the Dane: a wild
and mournful majesty sat upon features aquiline and regular, but wasted
by grief or passion; raven locks, glossy even in neglect, fell half over
eyes hollow in their sockets, but bright, though with troubled fire.
Over his shoulder he bore his mighty axe.  His form, spare, but of
immense power, was sheathed in mail, and he leant on his great pointed
Danish shield.  At his feet sate his young son Haco, a boy with a
countenance preternaturally thoughtful for his years, which were yet
those of childhood.

Next to him stood the most dreaded and ruthless of the sons of
Godwin--he, fated to become to the Saxon what Julian was to the Goth.
With his arms folded on his breast stood Tostig; his face was beautiful
as a Greek's, in all save the forehead, which was low and lowering. Sleek
and trim were his bright chestnut locks; and his arms were damascened
with silver, for he was one who loved the pomp and luxury of war.

Wolnoth, the mother's favourite, seemed yet in the first flower of youth,
but he alone of all the sons had something irresolute and effeminate in
his aspect and bearing; his form, though tall, had not yet come to its
full height and strength; and, as if the weight of mail were unusual to
him, he leant with both hands upon the wood of his long spear.  Leofwine,
who stood next to Wolnoth, contrasted him notably; his sunny locks
wreathed carelessly over a white unclouded brow, and the silken hair on
the upper lip quivered over arch lips, smiling, even in that serious
hour.

At Godwin's right hand, but not immediately near him, stood the last of
the group, Gurth and Harold.  Gurth had passed his arm over the shoulder
of his brother, and, not watching the nuncius while he spoke, watched
only the effect his words produced on the face of Harold.  For Gurth
loved Harold as Jonathan loved David.  And Harold was the only one of the
group not armed; and had a veteran skilled in war been asked who of that
group was born to lead armed men, he would have pointed to the man
unarmed.

"So what says the King?" asked Earl Godwin.

"This; he refuses to restore thee and thy sons, or to hear thee, till
thou hast disbanded thine army, dismissed thy ships, and consented to
clear thyself and thy house before the Witanagemot."

A fierce laugh broke from Tostig; Sweyn's mournful brow grew darker;
Leofwine placed his right hand on his ateghar; Wolnoth rose erect; Gurth
kept his eyes on Harold, and Harold's face was unmoved.

"The King received thee in his council of war," said Godwin,
thoughtfully, "and doubtless the Normans were there.  Who were the
Englishmen most of mark?"

"Siward of Northumbria, thy foe."

"My sons," said the Earl, turning to his children, and breathing loud as
if a load were off his heart; "there will be no need of axe or armour
to-day.  Harold alone was wise," and he pointed to the linen tunic of the
son thus cited.

"What mean you, Sir Father?" said Tostig, imperiously.  "Think you
to----"

"Peace, son, peace;" said Godwin, without asperity, but with conscious
command.  "Return, brave and dear friend," he said to Vebba, "find out
Siward the Earl; tell him that I, Godwin, his foe in the old time, place
honour and life in his hands, and what he counsels that will we do.--Go."

The Kent man nodded, and regained his boat.  Then spoke Harold.

"Father, yonder are the forces of Edward; as yet without leaders, since
the chiefs must still be in the halls of the King.  Some fiery Norman
amongst them may provoke an encounter; and this city of London is not
won, as it behoves us to win it, if one drop of English blood dye the
sword of one English man.  Wherefore, with your leave, I will take boat,
and land.  And unless I have lost in my absence all right here in the
hearts of our countrymen, at the first shout from our troops which
proclaims that Harold, son of Godwin, is on the soil of our fathers, half
yon array of spears and helms pass at once to our side."

"And if not, my vain brother?" said Tostig, gnawing his lip with envy.

"And if not, I will ride alone into the midst of them, and ask what
Englishmen are there who will aim shaft or spear at this breast, never
mailed against England!"

Godwin placed his hand on Harold's head, and the tears came to those
close cold eyes.

"Thou knowest by nature what I have learned by art.  Go, and prosper. Be
it as thou wilt."

"He takes thy post, Sweyn--thou art the elder," said Tostig, to the wild
form by his side.

"There is guilt on my soul, and woe in my heart," answered Sweyn,
moodily.  "Shall Esau lose his birthright, and Cain retain it?"  So
saying, he withdrew, and, reclining against the stern of the vessel,
leant his face upon the edge of his shield.

Harold watched him with deep compassion in his eyes, passed to his side
with a quick step, pressed his hand, and whispered, "Peace to the past, O
my brother!"

The boy Haco, who had noiselessly followed his father, lifted his sombre,
serious looks to Harold as he thus spoke; and when Harold turned away, he
said to Sweyn, timidly, "He, at least, is ever good to thee and to me."

"And thou, when I am no more, shalt cling to him as thy father, Haco,"
answered Sweyn, tenderly smoothing back the child's dark locks.

The boy shivered; and, bending his head, murmured to himself, "When thou
art no more!  No more?  Has the Vala doomed him, too?  Father and son,
both?"

Meanwhile, Harold had entered the boat lowered from the sides of the
aesca to receive him; and Gurth, looking appealingly to his father, and
seeing no sign of dissent, sprang down after the young Earl, and seated
himself by his side.  Godwin followed the boat with musing eyes.

"Small need," said he, aloud, but to himself, "to believe in soothsayers,
or to credit Hilda the saga, when she prophesied, ere we left our shores,
that Harold--" He stopped short, for Tostig's wrathful exclamation broke
on his reverie.

"Father, father!  My blood surges in my ears, and boils in my heart, when
I hear thee name the prophecies of Hilda in favour of thy darling.
Dissension and strife in our house have they wrought already; and if the
feuds between Harold and me have sown grey in thy locks, thank thyself
when, flushed with vain soothsayings for thy favoured Harold, thou
saidst, in the hour of our first childish broil, 'Strive not with Harold;
for his brothers will be his men.'"

"Falsify the prediction," said Godwin, calmly; "wise men may always make
their own future, and seize their own fates.  Prudence, patience, labour,
valour; these are the stars that rule the career of mortals."

Tostig made no answer; for the splash of oars was near, and two ships,
containing the principal chiefs that had joined Godwin's cause, came
alongside the Runic aesca to hear the result of the message sent to the
King.  Tostig sprang to the vessel's side, and exclaimed, "The King, girt
by his false counsellors, will hear us not, and arms must decide between
us."

"Hold, hold! malignant, unhappy boy!" cried Godwin, between his grinded
teeth, as a shout of indignant, yet joyous ferocity broke from the
crowded ships thus hailed.  "The curse of all time be on him who draws
the first native blood in sight of the altars and hearths of London!
Hear me, thou with the vulture's blood-lust, and the peacock's vain joy
in the gaudy plume!  Hear me, Tostig, and tremble. If but by one word
thou widen the breach between me and the King, outlaw thou enterest
England, outlaw shalt thou depart--for earldom and broad lands; choose
the bread of the stranger, and the weregeld of the wolf!"

The young Saxon, haughty as he was, quailed at his father's thrilling
voice, bowed his head, and retreated sullenly.  Godwin sprang on the deck
of the nearest vessel, and all the passions that Tostig had aroused, he
exerted his eloquence to appease.

In the midst of his arguments, there rose from the ranks on the strand,
the shout of "Harold!  Harold the Earl!  Harold and Holy Crosse!"  And
Godwin, turning his eye to the King's ranks, saw them agitated, swayed,
and moving; till suddenly, from the very heart of the hostile array,
came, as by irresistible impulse, the cry, "Harold, our Harold!  All
hail, the good Earl!"

While this chanced without,--within the palace, Edward had quitted the
presence-chamber, and was closeted with Stigand, the bishop.  This
prelate had the more influence with Edward, inasmuch as though Saxon, he
was held to be no enemy to the Normans, and had, indeed, on a former
occasion, been deposed from his bishopric on the charge of too great an
attachment to the Norman queen-mother Emma [83]. Never in his whole life
had Edward been so stubborn as on this occasion.  For here, more than his
realm was concerned, he was threatened in the peace of his household, and
the comfort of his tepid friendships.  With the recall of his powerful
father-in-law, he foresaw the necessary reintrusion of his wife upon the
charm of his chaste solitude.  His favourite Normans would be banished,
he should be surrounded with faces he abhorred.  All the representations
of Stigand fell upon a stern and unyielding spirit, when Siward entered
the King's closet.

"Sir, my King," said the great son of Beorn, "I yielded to your kingly
will in the council, that, before we listened to Godwin, he should
disband his men, and submit to the judgment of the Witan.  The Earl hath
sent to me to say, that he will put honour and life in my keeping, and
abide by my counsel.  And I have answered as became the man who will
never snare a foe, or betray a trust."

"How hast thou answered?" asked the King.

"That he abide by the laws of England; as Dane and Saxon agreed to abide
in the days of Canute; that he and his sons shall make no claim for land
or lordship, but submit all to the Witan."

"Good," said the King; "and the Witan will condemn him now, as it would
have condemned when he shunned to meet it."

"And the Witan now," returned the Earl emphatically, "will be free, and
fair, and just."

"And meanwhile, the troops----"

"Will wait on either side; and if reason fail, then the sword," said
Siward.

"This I will not hear," exclaimed Edward; when the tramp of many feet
thundered along the passage; the door was flung open, and several
captains (Norman as well as Saxon) of the King's troops rushed in, wild,
rude, and tumultuous.

"The troops desert! half the ranks have thrown down their arms at the
very name of Harold!" exclaimed the Earl of Hereford.  "Curses on the
knaves!"

"And the lithsmen of London," cried a Saxon thegn, "are all on his side,
and marching already through the gates."

"Pause yet," whispered Stigand; "and who shall say, this hour to-morrow,
if Edward or Godwin reign on the throne of Alfred?"

His stern heart moved by the distress of his King, and not the less for
the unwonted firmness which Edward displayed, Siward here approached,
knelt, and took the King's hand.

"Siward can give no niddering counsel to his King; to save the blood of
his subjects is never a king's disgrace.  Yield thou to mercy, Godwin to
the law!"

"Oh for the cowl and cell!" exclaimed the Prince, wringing his hands. "Oh
Norman home, why did I leave thee?"  He took the cross from his breast,
contemplated it fixedly, prayed silently but with fervour, and his face
again became tranquil.

"Go," he said, flinging himself on his seat in the exhaustion that
follows passion, "go, Siward, go, Stigand, deal with things mundane as ye
will."

The bishop, satisfied with this reluctant acquiescence, seized Siward by
the arm and withdrew him from the closet.  The captains remained a few
moments behind, the Saxons silently gazing on the King, the Normans
whispering each other, in great doubt and trouble, and darting looks of
the bitterest scorn at their feeble benefactor.  Then, as with one
accord, these last rushed along the corridor, gained the hall where their
countrymen yet assembled, and exclaimed, "A toute bride! Franc
etrier!--All is lost but life!--God for the first man,--knife and cord
for the last!"

Then, as the cry of fire, or as the first crash of an earthquake,
dissolves all union, and reduces all emotion into one thought of
self-saving, the whole conclave, crowding pell-mell on each other,
bustled, jostled, clamoured to the door--happy he who could find horse,
palfrey,--even monk's mule!  This way, that way, fled those lordly
Normans, those martial abbots, those mitred bishops--some singly, some in
pairs; some by tens, and some by scores; but all prudently shunning
association with those chiefs whom they had most courted the day before,
and who, they now knew, would be the main mark for revenge; save only
two, who yet, from that awe of the spiritual power which characterised
the Norman, who was already half monk, half soldier (Crusader and Templar
before Crusades were yet preached, or the Templars yet dreamed of),--even
in that hour of selfish panic rallied round them the prowest chivalry of
their countrymen, viz., the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of
Canterbury.  Both these dignitaries, armed cap-a-pie, and spear in hand,
headed the flight; and good service that day, both as guide and champion,
did Mallet de Graville. He led them in a circuit behind both armies, but
being intercepted by a new body, coming from the pastures of
Hertfordshire to the help of Godwin, he was compelled to take the bold
and desperate resort of entering the city gates.  These were wide open;
whether to admit the Saxon Earls, or vomit forth their allies, the
Londoners.  Through these, up the narrow streets, riding three abreast,
dashed the slaughtering fugitives; worthy in flight of their national
renown, they trampled down every obstacle.  Bodies of men drew up against
them at every angle, with the Saxon cry of "Out--Out!"  "Down with the
outland men!"  Through each, spear pierced, and sword clove, the way. Red
with gore was the spear of the prelate of London; broken to the hilt was
the sword militant in the terrible hand of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
So on thy rode, so on they slaughtered--gained the Eastern Gate, and
passed with but two of their number lost.

The fields once gained, for better precaution they separated.  Some few,
not quite ignorant of the Saxon tongue, doffed their mail, and crept
through forest and fell towards the sea-shore; others retained steed and
arms, but shunned equally the high roads.  The two prelates were among
the last; they gained, in safety, Ness, in Essex, threw themselves into
an open, crazy, fishing-boat, committed themselves to the waves, and,
half drowned and half famished, drifted over the Channel to the French
shores.  Of the rest of the courtly foreigners, some took refuge in the
forts yet held by their countrymen; some lay concealed in creeks and
caves till they could find or steal boats for their passage.  And thus,
in the year of our Lord 1052, occurred the notable dispersion and
ignominious flight of the counts and vavasours of great William the Duke!



CHAPTER III.

The Witana-gemot was assembled in the great hall of Westminster in all
its imperial pomp.

It was on his throne that the King sate now--and it was the sword that
was in his right hand.  Some seated below, and some standing beside, the
throne, were the officers of the Basileus [84] of Britain.  There were to
be seen camararius and pincerna, chamberlain and cupbearer; disc thegn
and hors thegn [85]; the thegn of the dishes, and the thegn of the stud;
with many more, whose state offices may not impossibly have been borrowed
from the ceremonial pomp of the Byzantine court; for Edgar, King of
England, had in the old time styled himself the Heir of Constantine.
Next to these sat the clerks of the chapel, with the King's confessor at
their head.  Officers were they of higher note than their name bespeaks,
and wielders, in the trust of the Great Seal, of a power unknown of old,
and now obnoxious to the Saxon.  For tedious is the suit which lingers
for the king's writ and the king's seal; and from those clerks shall
arise hereafter a thing of torture and of might, which shall grind out
the hearts of men, and be called CHANCERY! [86]

Below the scribes, a space was left on the floor, and farther down sat
the chiefs of the Witan.  Of these, first in order, both from their
spiritual rank and their vast temporal possessions, sat the lords of the
Church; the chairs of the prelates of London and Canterbury were void.
But still goodly was the array of Saxon mitres, with the harsh, hungry,
but intelligent face of Stigand,--Stigand the stout and the covetous; and
the benign but firm features of Alred, true priest and true patriot,
distinguished amidst all.  Around each prelate, as stars round a sun,
were his own special priestly retainers, selected from his diocese.
Farther still down the hall are the great civil lords and viceking
vassals of the "Lord-Paramount."  Vacant the chair of the King of the
Scots, for Siward hath not yet had his wish; Macbeth is in his
fastnesses, or listening to the weird sisters in the wold; and Malcolm is
a fugitive in the halls of the Northumbrian earl.  Vacant the chair of
the hero Gryffyth, son of Llewelyn, the dread of the marches, Prince of
Gwyned, whose arms had subjugated all Cymry.  But there are the lesser
sub-kings of Wales, true to the immemorial schisms amongst themselves,
which destroyed the realm of Ambrosius, and rendered vain the arm of
Arthur.  With their torques of gold, and wild eyes, and hair cut round
ears and brow [87], they stare on the scene.

On the same bench with these sub-kings, distinguished from them by height
of stature, and calm collectedness of mien, no less than by their caps of
maintenance and furred robes, are those props of strong thrones and
terrors of weak--the earls to whom shires and counties fall, as hyde and
carricate to the lesser thegns.  But three of these were then present,
and all three the foes of Godwin,--Siward, Earl of Northumbria; Leofric
of Mercia (that Leofric whose wife Godiva yet lives in ballad and song);
and Rolf, Earl of Hereford and Worcestershire, who, strong in his claim
of "king's blood," left not the court with his Norman friends.  And on
the same benches, though a little apart, are the lesser earls, and that
higher order of thegns, called king's thegns.

Not far from these sat the chosen citizens from the free burgh of London,
already of great weight in the senate [88],--sufficing often to turn its
counsels; all friends were they of the English Earl and his house.  In
the same division of the hall were found the bulk and true popular part
of the meeting--popular indeed--as representing not the people, but the
things the people most prized-valour and wealth; the thegn landowners,
called in the old deeds the "Ministers:" they sate with swords by their
side, all of varying birth, fortune, and connection, whether with king,
earl, or ceorl.  For in the different districts of the old Heptarchy, the
qualification varied; high in East Anglia, low in Wessex; so that what
was wealth in the one shire was poverty in the other.  There sate, half a
yeoman, the Saxon thegn of Berkshire or Dorset, proud of his five hydes
of land; there, half an ealderman, the Danish thegn of Norfolk or Ely,
discontented with his forty; some were there in right of smaller offices
under the crown; some traders, and sons of traders, for having crossed
the high seas three times at their own risk; some could boast the blood
of Offa and Egbert; and some traced but three generations back to
neatherd and ploughman; and some were Saxons and some were Danes: and
some from the western shires were by origin Britons, though little
cognisant of their race.  Farther down still, at the extreme end of the
hall, crowding by the open doors, filling up the space without, were the
ceorls themselves, a vast and not powerless body; in these high courts
(distinct from the shire gemots, or local senates)--never called upon to
vote or to speak or to act, or even to sign names to the doom, but only
to shout "Yea, yea," when the proceres pronounced their sentence. Yet not
powerless were they, but rather to the Witan what public opinion is to
the Witan's successor, our modern parliament: they were opinion!  And
according to their numbers and their sentiments, easily known and boldly
murmured, often and often must that august court of basileus and prelate,
vassal-king and mighty earl, have shaped the council and adjudged the
doom.

And the forms of the meeting had been duly said and done; and the King
had spoken words no doubt wary and peaceful, gracious and exhortatory;
but those words--for his voice that day was weak--travelled not beyond
the small circle of his clerks and his officers; and a murmur buzzed
through the hall, when Earl Godwin stood on the floor with his six sons
at his back; and you might have heard the hum of the gnat that vexed the
smooth cheek of Earl Rolf, or the click of the spider from the web on the
vaulted roof, the moment before Earl Godwin spoke.

"If," said he, with the modest look and downcast eye of practised
eloquence, "If I rejoice once more to breathe the air of England, in
whose service, often perhaps with faulty deeds, but at all times with
honest thoughts, I have, both in war and council, devoted so much of my
life that little now remains--but (should you, my king, and you,
prelates, proceres, and ministers so vouchsafe) to look round and select
that spot of my native soil which shall receive my bones;--if I rejoice
to stand once more in that assembly which has often listened to my voice
when our common country was in peril, who here will blame that joy?  Who
among my foes, if foes now I have, will not respect the old man's
gladness?  Who amongst you, earls and thegns, would not grieve, if his
duty bade him say to the grey-haired exile, 'In this English air you
shall not breathe your last sigh--on this English soil you shall not find
a grave!'  Who amongst you would not grieve to say it?"  (Suddenly he
drew up his head and faced his audience.)  "Who amongst you hath the
courage and the heart to say it?  Yes, I rejoice that I am at last in an
assembly fit to judge my cause, and pronounce my innocence.  For what
offence was I outlawed?  For what offence were I, and the six sons I have
given to my land, to bear the wolf's penalty, and be chased and slain as
the wild beasts?  Hear me, and answer!"

"Eustace, Count of Boulogne, returning to his domains from a visit to our
lord the King, entered the town of Dover in mail and on his war steed;
his train did the same.  Unknowing our laws and customs (for I desire to
press light upon all old grievances, and will impute ill designs to none)
these foreigners invade by force the private dwellings of citizens, and
there select their quarters.  Ye all know that this was the strongest
violation of Saxon right; ye know that the meanest ceorl hath the proverb
on his lip, 'Every man's house is his castle.'  One of the townsmen
acting on this belief,--which I have yet to learn was a false
one,--expelled from his threshold a retainer of the French Earl's.  The
stranger drew his sword and wounded him; blows followed--the stranger
fell by the arm he had provoked.  The news arrives to Earl Eustace; he
and his kinsmen spur to the spot; they murder the Englishman on his
hearth-stone.--"

Here a groan, half-stifled and wrathful, broke from the ceorls at the end
of the hall.  Godwin held up his hand in rebuke of the interruption, and
resumed.

"This deed done, the outlanders rode through the streets with their drawn
swords; they butchered those who came in their way; they trampled even
children under their horses' feet.  The burghers armed. I thank the
Divine Father, who gave me for my countrymen those gallant burghers!
They fought, as we English know how to fight; they slew some nineteen or
score of these mailed intruders; they chased them from the town.  Earl
Eustace fled fast.  Earl Eustace, we know, is a wise man: small rest took
he, little bread broke he, till he pulled rein at the gate of Gloucester,
where my lord the King then held court.  He made his complaint.  My lord
the King, naturally hearing but one side, thought the burghers in the
wrong; and, scandalised that such high persons of his own kith should be
so aggrieved, he sent for me, in whose government the burgh of Dover is,
and bade me chastise, by military execution, those who had attacked the
foreign Count.  I appeal to the great Earls whom I see before me--to you,
illustrious Leofric; to you, renowned Siward--what value would ye set on
your earldoms, if ye had not the heart and the power to see right done to
the dwellers therein?"

"What was the course I proposed?  Instead of martial execution, which
would involve the whole burgh in one sentence, I submitted that the reeve
and gerefas of the burgh should be cited to appear before the King, and
account for the broil.  My lord, though ever most clement and loving to
his good people, either unhappily moved against me, or overswayed by the
foreigners, was counselled to reject this mode of doing justice, which
our laws, as settled under Edgar and Canute, enjoin.  And because I would
not,--and I say in the presence of all, because I, Godwin, son of
Wolnoth, durst not, if I would, have entered the free burgh of Dover with
mail on my back and the doomsman at my right hand, these outlanders
induced my lord the King to summon me to attend in person (as for a sin
of my own) the council of the Witan, convened at Gloucester, then filled
with the foreigners, not, as I humbly opined, to do justice to me and my
folk of Dover, but to secure to this Count of Boulogne a triumph over
English liberties, and sanction his scorn for the value of English
lives."

"I hesitated, and was menaced with outlawry; I armed in self-defence, and
in defence of the laws of England; I armed, that men might not be
murdered on their hearth-stones, nor children trampled under the hoofs of
a stranger's war-steed.  My lord the King gathered his troops round 'the
cross and the martlets.'  Yon noble earls, Siward and Leofric, came to
that standard, as (knowing not then my cause) was their duty to the
Basileus of Britain.  But when they knew my cause, and saw with me the
dwellers of the land, against me the outland aliens, they righteously
interposed.  An armistice was concluded; I agreed to refer all matters to
a Witan held where it is held this day.  My troops were disbanded; but
the foreigners induced my lord not only to retain his own, but to issue
his Herr-bann for the gathering of hosts far and near, even allies beyond
the seas.  When I looked to London for the peaceful Witan, what saw I?
The largest armament that had been collected in this reign--that armament
headed by Norman knights.  Was this the meeting where justice could be
done mine and me? Nevertheless, what was my offer?  That I and my six
sons would attend, provided the usual sureties, agreeable to our laws,
from which only thieves [89] are excluded, were given that we should come
and go life-free and safe.  Twice this offer was made, twice refused; and
so I and my sons were banished.  We went;--we have returned!"

"And in arms," murmured Earl Rolf, son-in-law to that Count Eustace of
Boulogne, whose violence had been temperately and truly narrated. [90]

"And in arms," repeated Godwin: "true; in arms against the foreigners who
had thus poisoned the ear of our gracious King; in arms, Earl Rolf; and
at the first clash of those arms, Franks and foreigners have fled.  We
have no need of arms now.  We are amongst our countrymen, and no
Frenchman interposes between us and the ever gentle; ever generous nature
of our born King."

"Peers and proceres, chiefs of this Witan, perhaps the largest ever yet
assembled in man's memory, it is for you to decide whether I and mine, or
the foreign fugitives, caused the dissensions in these realms; whether
our banishment was just or not; whether in our return we have abused the
power we possessed.  Ministers, on those swords by your sides there is
not one drop of blood!  At all events, in submitting to you our fate, we
submit to our own laws and our own race.  I am here to clear myself, on
my oath, of deed and thought of treason.  There are amongst my peers as
king's thegns, those who will attest the same on my behalf, and prove the
facts I have stated, if they are not sufficiently notorious.  As for my
sons, no crime can be alleged against them, unless it be a crime to have
in their veins that blood which flows in mine--blood which they have
learned from me to shed in defence of that beloved land to which they now
ask to be recalled."

The Earl ceased and receded behind his children, having artfully, by his
very abstinence from the more heated eloquence imputed to him often as a
fault and a wile, produced a powerful effect upon an audience already
prepared for his acquittal.

But now as, from the sons, Sweyn the eldest stepped forth; with a
wandering eye and uncertain foot, there was a movement like a shudder
amongst the large majority of the audience, and a murmur of hate or of
horror.

The young Earl marked the sensation his presence produced, and stopped
short.  His breath came thick; he raised his right hand, but spoke not.
His voice died on his lips; his eyes roved wildly round with a haggard
stare more imploring than defying.  Then rose, in his episcopal stole,
Alred the bishop, and his clear sweet voice trembled as he spoke.

"Comes Sweyn, son of Godwin, here to prove his innocence of treason
against the King?--if so, let him hold his peace; for if the Witan acquit
Godwin, son of Wolnoth, of that charge, the acquittal includes his House.
But in the name of the holy Church here represented by its fathers, will
Sweyn say, and fasten his word by oath, that he is guiltless of treason
to the King of Kings--guiltless of sacrilege that my lips shrink to name?
Alas, that the duty falls on me,--for I loved thee once, and love thy
kindred now.  But I am God's servant before all things"--the prelate
paused, and gathering up new energy, added in unfaltering accents, "I
charge thee here, Sweyn the outlaw, that, moved by the fiend, thou didst
bear off from God's house and violate a daughter of the Church--Algive,
Abbess of Leominster!"

"And I," cried Siward, rising to the full height of his stature, "I, in
the presence of these proceres, whose proudest title is milites or
warriors--I charge Sweyn, son of Godwin, that, not in open field and hand
to hand, but by felony and guile, he wrought the foul and abhorrent
murder of his cousin, Beorn the Earl!"

At these two charges from men so eminent, the effect upon the audience
was startling.  While those not influenced by Godwin raised their eyes,
sparkling with wrath and scorn, upon the wasted, yet still noble face of
the eldest born, even those most zealous on behalf of that popular House
evinced no sympathy for its heir.  Some looked down abashed and
mournful--some regarded the accused with a cold, unpitying gaze.  Only
perhaps among the ceorls, at the end of the hall, might be seen some
compassion on anxious faces; for before those deeds of crime had been
bruited abroad, none among the sons of Godwin more blithe of mien and
bold of hand, more honoured and beloved, than Sweyn the outlaw.  But the
hush that succeeded the charges was appalling in its depth.  Godwin
himself shaded his face with his mantle, and only those close by could
see that his breast heaved and his limbs trembled.  The brothers had
shrunk from the side of the accused, outlawed even amongst his kin--all
save Harold, who, strong in his blameless name and beloved repute,
advanced three strides, amidst the silence, and, standing by his
brother's side, lifted his commanding brow above the seated judges, but
he did not speak.

Then said Sweyn the Earl, strengthened by such solitary companionship in
that hostile assemblage,--"I might answer that for these charges in the
past, for deeds alleged as done eight long years ago, I have the King's
grace, and the inlaw's right; and that in the Witans over which I as earl
presided, no man was twice judged for the same offence. That I hold to be
the law, in the great councils as the small."

"It is! it is!" exclaimed Godwin: his paternal feelings conquering his
prudence and his decorous dignity.  "Hold to it, my son!"

"I hold to it not," resumed the young earl, casting a haughty glance over
the somewhat blank and disappointed faces of his foes, "for my law is
here"--and he smote his heart--"and that condemns me not once alone, but
evermore!  Alred, O holy father, at whose knees I once confessed my every
sin,--I blame thee not that thou first, in the Witan, liftest thy voice
against me, though thou knowest that I loved Algive from youth upward;
she, with her heart yet mine, was given in the last year of Hardicanute,
when might was right, to the Church.  I met her again, flushed with my
victories over the Walloon kings, with power in my hand and passion in my
veins.  Deadly was my sin!--But what asked I? that vows compelled should
be annulled; that the love of my youth might yet be the wife of my
manhood.  Pardon, that I knew not then how eternal are the bonds ye of
the Church have woven round those of whom, if ye fail of saints, ye may
at least make martyrs!"

He paused, and his lip curled, and his eye shot wild fire; for in that
moment his mother's blood was high within him, and he looked and thought,
perhaps, as some heathen Dane, but the flash of the firmer man was
momentary, and humbly smiting his breast, he murmured,--"Avaunt,
Satan!--yea, deadly was my sin!  And the sin was mine alone; Algive, if
stained, was blameless; she escaped--and--and died!"

"The King was wroth; and first to strive against my pardon was Harold my
brother, who now alone in my penitence stands by my side: he strove
manfully and openly; I blamed him not: but Beorn, my cousin, desired my
earldom; and he strove against me, wilily and in secret,--to my face
kind, behind my back despiteful.  I detected his falsehood, and meant to
detain, but not to slay him.  He lay bound in my ship; he reviled and he
taunted me in the hour of my gloom; and when the blood of the sea-kings
flowed in fire through my veins.  And I lifted my axe in ire; and my men
lifted theirs, and so,--and so!--Again I say--Deadly was my sin!  Think
not that I seek now to make less my guilt, as I sought when I deemed that
life was yet long, and power was yet sweet.  Since then I have known
worldly evil, and worldly good,--the storm and the shine of life; I have
swept the seas, a sea-king; I have battled with the Dane in his native
land; I have almost grasped in my right hand, as I grasped in my dreams,
the crown of my kinsman, Canute;--again, I have been a fugitive and an
exile;--again, I have been inlawed, and Earl of all the lands from Isis
to the Wye [91]. And whether in state or in penury,--whether in war or in
peace, I have seen the pale face of the nun betrayed, and the gory wounds
of the murdered man.  Wherefore I come not here to plead for a pardon,
which would console me not, but formally to dissever my kinsmen's cause
from mine, which alone sullies and degrades it;--I come here to say,
that, coveting not your acquittal, fearing not your judgment, I pronounce
mine own doom.  Cap of noble, and axe of warrior, I lay aside for ever;
barefooted, and alone, I go hence to the Holy Sepulchre; there to assoil
my soul, and implore that grace which cannot come from man! Harold, step
forth in the place of Sweyn the first-born!  And ye prelates and peers,
milites and ministers, proceed to adjudge the living!  To you, and to
England, he who now quits you is the dead!"

He gathered his robe of state over his breast as a monk his gown, and
looking neither to right nor to left, passed slowly down the hall,
through the crowd, which made way for him in awe and silence; and it
seemed to the assembly as if a cloud had gone from the face of day.

And Godwin still stood with his face covered by his robe.

And Harold anxiously watched the faces of the assembly, and saw no
relenting.

And Gurth crept to Harold's side.

And the gay Leofwine looked sad.

And the young Wolnoth turned pale and trembled.

And the fierce Tostig played with his golden chain.

And one low sob was heard, and it came from the breast of Alred the meek
accuser,--God's firm but gentle priest.



CHAPTER IV.

This memorable trial ended, as the reader will have forseen, in the
formal renewal of Sweyn's outlawry, and the formal restitution of the
Earl Godwin and his other sons to their lands and honours, with
declarations imputing all the blame of the late dissensions to the
foreign favourites, and sentences of banishment against them, except
only, by way of a bitter mockery, some varlets of low degree, such as
Humphrey Cock's-foot, and Richard son of Scrob. [92]

The return to power of this able and vigorous family was attended with an
instantaneous effect upon the long-relaxed strings of the imperial
government.  Macbeth heard, and trembled in his moors; Gryffyth of Wales
lit the fire-beacon on moel and craig.  Earl Rolf was banished, but
merely as a nominal concession to public opinion; his kinship to Edward
sufficed to restore him soon, not only to England, but to the lordship of
the Marches, and thither was he sent, with adequate force, against the
Welch, who had half-repossessed themselves of the borders they harried.
Saxon prelates and abbots replaced the Norman fugitives; and all were
contented with the revolution, save the King, for the King lost his
Norman friends, and regained his English wife.

In conformity with the usages of the times, hostages of the loyalty and
faith of Godwin were required and conceded.  They were selected from his
own family; and the choice fell on Wolnoth, his son, and Haco, the son of
Sweyn.  As, when nearly all England may be said to have repassed to the
hands of Godwin, it would have been an idle precaution to consign these
hostages to the keeping of Edward, it was settled, after some discussion,
that they should be placed in the Court of the Norman Duke until such
time as the King, satisfied with the good faith of the family, should
authorise their recall:--Fatal hostage, fatal ward and host!

It was some days after this national crisis, and order and peace were
again established in city and land, forest and shire, when, at the
setting of the sun, Hilda stood alone by the altar-stone of Thor.

The orb was sinking red and lurid, amidst long cloud-wracks of vermeil
and purple, and not one human form was seen in the landscape, save that
tall and majestic figure by the Runic shrine and the Druid crommell.  She
was leaning both hands on her wand, or seid-staff, as it was called in
the language of Scandinavian superstition, and bending slightly forward
as in the attitude of listening or expectation.  Long before any form
appeared on the road below she seemed to be aware of coming footsteps,
and probably her habits of life had sharpened her senses; for she smiled,
muttered to herself, "Ere it sets!" and changing her posture, leant her
arm on the altar, and rested her face upon her hand.

At length, two figures came up the road; they neared the hill; they saw
her, and slowly ascended the knoll.  The one was dressed in the serge of
a pilgrim, and his cowl thrown back, showed the face where human beauty
and human power lay ravaged and ruined by human passions. He upon whom
the pilgrim lightly leaned was attired simply, without the brooch or
bracelet common to thegns of high degree, yet his port was that of
majesty, and his brow that of mild command.  A greater contrast could not
be conceived than that between these two men, yet united by a family
likeness.  For the countenance of the last described was, though
sorrowful at that moment, and indeed habitually not without a certain
melancholy, wonderfully imposing from its calm and sweetness.  There, no
devouring passions had left the cloud or ploughed the line; but all the
smooth loveliness of youth took dignity from the conscious resolve of
men.  The long hair, of a fair brown, with a slight tinge of gold, as the
last sunbeams shot through its luxuriance, was parted from the temples,
and fell in large waves half way to the shoulder.  The eyebrows, darker
in hue, arched and finely traced; the straight features, not less manly
than the Norman, but less strongly marked: the cheek, hardy with exercise
and exposure, yet still retaining somewhat of youthful bloom under the
pale bronze of its sunburnt surface: the form tall, not gigantic, and
vigorous rather from perfect proportion and athletic habits than from
breadth and bulk--were all singularly characteristic of the Saxon beauty
in its highest and purest type.  But what chiefly distinguished this
personage, was that peculiar dignity, so simple, so sedate, which no pomp
seems to dazzle, no danger to disturb; and which perhaps arises from a
strong sense of self-dependence, and is connected with self-respect--a
dignity common to the Indian and the Arab, and rare except in that state
of society in which each man is a power in himself.  The Latin tragic
poet touches close upon that sentiment in the fine lines--

    "Rex est qui metuit nihil;
     Hoc regnum sibi quisque dat." [93]

So stood the brothers, Sweyn the outlaw and Harold the Earl, before the
reputed prophetess.  She looked on both with a steady eye, which
gradually softened almost into tenderness, as it finally rested upon the
pilgrim.

"And is it thus," she said at last, "that I see the first-born of Godwin
the fortunate, for whom so often I have tasked the thunder, and watched
the setting sun? for whom my runes have been graven on the bark of the
elm, and the Scin-laeca [94] been called in pale splendour from the
graves of the dead?"

"Hilda," said Sweyn, "not now will I accuse thee of the seeds thou hast
sown: the harvest is gathered and the sickle is broken.  Abjure thy dark
Galdra [95], and turn as I to the sole light in the future, which shines
from the tomb of the Son Divine."

The Prophetess bowed her head and replied:

"Belief cometh as the wind.  Can the tree say to the wind, 'Rest thou on
my boughs,' or Man to Belief, 'Fold thy wings on my heart'?  Go where thy
soul can find comfort, for thy life hath passed from its use on earth.
And when I would read thy fate, the runes are as blanks, and the wave
sleeps unstirred on the fountain.  Go where the Fylgia [96], whom Alfader
gives to each at his birth, leads thee.  Thou didst desire love that
seemed shut from thee, and I predicted that thy love should awake from
the charnel in which the creed that succeeds to the faith of our sires
inters life in its bloom.  And thou didst covet the fame of the Jarl and
the Viking, and I blessed thine axe to thy hand, and wove the sail for
thy masts.  So long as man knows desire, can Hilda have power over his
doom.  But when the heart lies in ashes, I raise but a corpse, that at
the hush of the charm falls again into its grave.  Yet, come to me
nearer, O Sweyn, whose cradle I rocked to the chaunt of my rhyme."

The outlaw turned aside his face, and obeyed.

She sighed as she took his passive hand in her own, and examined the
lines on the palm.  Then, as if by an involuntary impulse of fondness and
pity, she put aside his cowl and kissed his brow.

"Thy skein is spun, and happier than the many who scorn, and the few who
lament thee, thou shalt win where they lose.  The steel shall not smite
thee, the storm shall forbear thee, the goal that thou yearnest for thy
steps shall attain.  Night hallows the ruin,--and peace to the shattered
wrecks of the brave!"

The outlaw heard as if unmoved.  But when he turned to Harold, who
covered his face with his hand; but could not restrain the tears that
flowed through the clasped fingers, a moisture came into his own wild,
bright eyes, and he said, "Now, my brother, farewell, for no farther step
shalt thou wend with me."

Harold started, opened his arms, and the outlaw fell upon his breast.

No sound was heard save a single sob, and so close was breast to breast,
that you could not say from whose heart it came.  Then the outlaw
wrenched himself from the embrace, and murmured, "And Haco--my
son--motherless, fatherless--hostage in the land of the stranger! Thou
wilt remember--thou wilt shield him; thou be to him mother, father in the
days to come!  So may the saints bless thee!"  With these words he sprang
down the hillock.

Harold bounded after him; but Sweyn, halting, said, mournfully, "Is this
thy promise?  Am I so lost that faith should be broken even with thy
father's son?"

At that touching rebuke, Harold paused, and the outlaw passed his way
alone.  As the last glimpse of his figure vanished at the turn of the
road, whence, on the second of May, the Norman Duke and the Saxon King
had emerged side by side, the short twilight closed abruptly, and up from
the far forestland rose the moon.

Harold stood rooted to the spot, and still gazing on the space, when the
Vala laid her hand on his arm.

"Behold, as the moon rises on the troubled gloaming, so rises the fate of
Harold, as yon brief, human shadow, halting between light and darkness,
passes away to night.  Thou art now the first-born of a House that unites
the hopes of the Saxon with the fortunes of the Dane."

"Thinkest thou," said Harold, with a stern composure, "that I can have
joy and triumph in a brother's exile and woe?"

"Not now, and not yet, will the voice of thy true nature be heard; but
the warmth of the sun brings the thunder, and the glory of fortune wakes
the storm of the soul."

"Kinswoman," said Harold, with a slight curl of his lip, "by me at least
have thy prophecies ever passed as the sough of the air; neither in
horror nor with faith do I think of thy incantations and charms; and I
smile alike at the exorcism of the shaveling and the spells of the Saga.
I have asked thee not to bless mine axe, nor weave my sail. No runic
rhyme is on the sword-blade of Harold.  I leave my fortunes to the chance
of mine own cool brain and strong arm.  Vala, between thee and me there
is no bond."

The Prophetess smiled loftily.

"And what thinkest thou, O self-dependent! what thinkest thou is the fate
which thy brain and thine arm shall will?"

"The fate they have won already.  I see no Beyond.  The fate of a man
sworn to guard his country, love justice, and do right."

The moon shone full on the heroic face of the young Earl as he spoke; and
on its surface there seemed nought to belie the noble words.  Yet, the
Prophetess, gazing earnestly on that fair countenance, said, in a
whisper, that, despite a reason singularly sceptical for the age in which
it had been cultured, thrilled to the Saxon's heart, "Under that calm eye
sleeps the soul of thy sire, and beneath that brow, so haught and so
pure, works the genius that crowned the kings of the north in the lineage
of thy mother the Dane."

"Peace!" said Harold, almost fiercely; then, as if ashamed of the
weakness of his momentary irritation, he added, with a faint smile, "Let
us not talk of these matters while my heart is still sad and away from
the thoughts of the world, with my brother the lonely outlaw. Night is on
us, and the ways are yet unsafe; for the king's troops, disbanded in
haste, were made up of many who turn to robbers in peace. Alone, and
unarmed, save my ateghar, I would crave a night's rest under thy roof;
and"--he hesitated, and as light blush came over his cheek--"and I would
fain see if your grandchild is as fair as when I last looked on her blue
eyes, that then wept for Harold ere he went into exile."

"Her tears are not at her command, nor her smiles," said the Vala,
solemnly; "her tears flow from the fount of thy sorrows, and her smiles
are the beams from thy joys.  For know, O Harold! that Edith is thine
earthly Fylgia; thy fate and her fate are as one.  And vainly as man
would escape from his shadow, would soul wrench itself from the soul that
Skulda hath linked to his doom."

Harold made no reply; but his step, habitually slow, grew more quick and
light, and this time his reason found no fault with the oracles of the
Vala.



CHAPTER V.

As Hilda entered the hall, the various idlers accustomed to feed at her
cost were about retiring, some to their homes in the vicinity, some,
appertaining to the household, to the dormitories in the old Roman villa.

It was not the habit of the Saxon noble, as it was of the Norman, to put
hospitality to profit, by regarding his guests in the light of armed
retainers.  Liberal as the Briton, the cheer of the board and the shelter
of the roof were afforded with a hand equally unselfish and
indiscriminate; and the doors of the more wealthy and munificent might be
almost literally said to stand open from morn to eve.

As Harold followed the Vala across the vast atrium, his face was
recognised, and a shout of enthusiastic welcome greeted the popular Earl.
The only voices that did not swell that cry, were those of three monks
from a neighbouring convent, who choose to wink at the supposed practices
of the Morthwyrtha [97], from the affection they bore to her ale and
mead, and the gratitude they felt for her ample gifts to their convent.

"One of the wicked House, brother," whispered the monk.

"Yea; mockers and scorners are Godwin and his lewd sons," answered the
monk.

And all three sighed and scowled, as the door closed on the hostess and
her stately guest.

Two tall and not ungraceful lamps lighted the same chamber in which Hilda
was first presented to the reader.  The handmaids were still at their
spindles, and the white web nimbly shot as the mistress entered. She
paused, and her brow knit, as she eyed the work.

"But three parts done?" she said, "weave fast, and weave strong."

Harold, not heeding the maids or their task, gazed inquiringly round, and
from a nook near the window, Edith sprang forward with a joyous cry, and
a face all glowing with delight--sprang forward, as if to the arms of a
brother; but, within a step or so of that noble guest, she stopped short,
and her eyes fell to the ground.

Harold held his breath in admiring silence.  The child he had loved from
her cradle stood before him as a woman.  Even since we last saw her, in
the interval between the spring and the autumn, the year had ripened the
youth of the maiden, as it had mellowed the fruits of the earth; and her
cheek was rosy with the celestial blush, and her form rounded to the
nameless grace, which say that infancy is no more.

He advanced and took her hand, but for the first time in his life in
their greetings, he neither gave nor received the kiss.

"You are no child now, Edith," said he, involuntarily; "but still set
apart, I pray you, some remains of the old childish love for Harold."

Edith's charming lips smiled softly; she raised her eyes to his, and
their innocent fondness spoke through happy tears.

But few words passed in the short interval between Harold's entrance and
his retirement to the chamber prepared for him in haste.  Hilda herself
led him to a rude ladder which admitted to a room above, evidently added,
by some Saxon lord, to the old Roman pile.  The ladder showed the
precaution of one accustomed to sleep in the midst of peril, for, by a
kind of windlass in the room, it could be drawn up at the inmate's will,
and, so drawn, left below a dark and deep chasm, delving down to the
foundations of the house; nevertheless the room itself had all the luxury
of the time; the bedstead was quaintly carved, and of some rare wood; a
trophy of arms--though very ancient, sedulously polished--hung on the
wall.  There were the small round shield and spear of the earlier Saxon,
with his vizorless helm, and the short curved knife or saex [98], from
which some antiquarians deem that the Saxish men take their renowned
name.

Edith, following Hilda, proffered to the guest, on a salver of gold,
spiced wines and confections; while Hilda, silently and unperceived,
waved her seid-staff over the bed, and rested her pale hand on the
pillow.

"Nay, sweet cousin," said Harold, smiling, "this is not one of the
fashions of old, but rather, methinks, borrowed from the Frankish manners
in the court of King Edward."

"Not so, Harold," answered Hilda, quickly turning; "such was ever the
ceremony due to Saxon king, when he slept in a subject's house, ere our
kinsmen the Danes introduced that unroyal wassail, which left subject and
king unable to hold or to quaff cup, when the board was left for the
bed."

"Thou rebukest, O Hilda, too tauntingly, the pride of Godwin's house,
when thou givest to his homely son the ceremonial of a king.  But, so
served, I envy not kings, fair Edith."

He took the cup, raised it to his lips, and when he placed it on the
small table by his side the women had left the chamber, and he was alone.
He stood for some minutes absorbed in reverie, and his soliloquy ran
somewhat thus:

"Why said the Vala that Edith's fate was inwoven with mine?  And why did
I believe and bless the Vala, when she so said?  Can Edith ever be my
wife?  The monk-king designs her for the cloister--Woe, and well-a-day!
Sweyn, Sweyn, let thy doom forewarn me!  And if I stand up in my place
and say, 'Give age and grief to the cloister--youth and delight to man's
hearth,' what will answer the monks?  'Edith cannot be thy wife, son of
Godwin, for faint and scarce traced though your affinity of blood, ye are
within the banned degrees of the Church.  Edith may be wife to another,
if thou wilt,--barren spouse of the Church or mother of children who lisp
not Harold's name as their father.'  Out on these priests with their
mummeries, and out on their war upon human hearts!"

His fair brow grew stern and fierce as the Norman Duke's in his ire; and
had you seen him at the moment you would have seen the true brother of
Sweyn.  He broke from his thoughts with the strong effort of a man
habituated to self-control, and advanced to the narrow window, opened the
lattice, and looked out.

The moon was in all her splendour.  The long deep shadows of the
breathless forest chequered the silvery whiteness of open sward and
intervening glade.  Ghostly arose on the knoll before him the grey
columns of the mystic Druid,--dark and indistinct the bloody altar of the
Warrior god.  But there his eye was arrested; for whatever is least
distinct and defined in a landscape has the charm that is the strongest;
and, while he gazed, he thought that a pale phosphoric light broke from
the mound with the bautastein, that rose by the Teuton altar.  He
thought, for he was not sure that it was not some cheat of the fancy.
Gazing still, in the centre of that light there appeared to gleam forth,
for one moment, a form of superhuman height. It was the form of a man,
that seemed clad in arms like those on the wall, leaning on a spear,
whose point was lost behind the shafts of the crommell.  And the face
grew in that moment distinct from the light which shimmered around it, a
face large as some early god's, but stamped with unutterable and solemn
woe.  He drew back a step, passed his hand over his eyes, and looked
again.  Light and figure alike had vanished; nought was seen save the
grey columns and dim fane.  The Earl's lip curved in derision of his
weakness.  He closed the lattice, undressed, knelt for a moment or so by
the bedside, and his prayer was brief and simple, nor accompanied with
the crossings and signs customary in his age.  He rose, extinguished the
lamp, and threw himself on the bed.

The moon, thus relieved of the lamp-light, came clear and bright through
the room, shone on the trophied arms, and fell upon Harold's face,
casting its brightness on the pillow on which the Vala had breathed her
charm.  And Harold slept--slept long--his face calm, his breathing
regular: but ere the moon sunk and the dawn rose the features were dark
and troubled, the breath came by gasps, the brow was knit, and the teeth
clenched.



BOOK IV.
THE HEATHEN ALTAR AND THE SAXON CHURCH.



CHAPTER I.

While Harold sleeps, let us here pause to survey for the first time the
greatness of that House to which Sweyn's exile had left him the heir.
The fortunes of Godwin had been those which no man not eminently versed
in the science of his kind can achieve.  Though the fable which some
modern historians of great name have repeated and detailed, as to his
early condition as the son of a cow-herd, is utterly groundless [99], and
he belonged to a house all-powerful at the time of his youth, he was
unquestionably the builder of his own greatness.  That he should rise so
high in the early part of his career was less remarkable than that he
should have so long continued the possessor of a power and state in
reality more than regal.

But, as has been before implied, Godwin's civil capacities were more
prominent than his warlike.  And this it is which invests him with that
peculiar interest which attracts us to those who knit our modern
intelligence with the past. In that dim world before the Norman deluge,
we are startled to recognise the gifts that ordinarily distinguish a man
of peace in a civilised age.

His father, Wolnoth, had been "Childe" [100] of the South Saxons, or
thegn of Sussex, a nephew of Edric Streone, Earl of Mercia, the
unprincipled but able minister of Ethelred, who betrayed his master to
Canute, by whom, according to most authorities, he was righteously,
though not very legally, slain as a reward for the treason.

"I promised," said the Dane king, "to set thy head higher than other
men's, and I keep my word."  The trunkless head was set on the gates of
London.

Wolnoth had quarrelled with his uncle Brightric, Edric's brother, and
before the arrival of Canute, had betaken himself to the piracy of a sea
chief, seduced twenty of the king's ships, plundered the southern coasts,
burnt the royal navy, and then his history disappears from the
chronicles; but immediately afterwards the great Danish army, called
Thurkell's Host, invaded the coast, and kept their chief station on the
Thames.  Their victorious arms soon placed the country almost at their
command.  The traitor Edric joined them with a power of more than 10,000
men; and it is probable enough that the ships of Wolnoth had before this
time melted amicably into the armament of the Danes. If this, which seems
the most likely conjecture, be received, Godwin, then a mere youth, would
naturally have commenced his career in the cause of Canute; and as the
son of a formidable chief of thegn's rank, and even as kinsman to Edric,
who, whatever his crimes, must have retained a party it was wise to
conciliate, Godwin's favour with Canute, whose policy would lead him to
show marked distinction to any able Saxon follower, ceases to be
surprising.

The son of Wolnoth accompanied Canute in his military expedition to the
Scandinavian continent, and here a signal victory, planned by Godwin and
executed solely by himself and the Saxon band under his command, without
aid from Canute's Danes, made the most memorable military exploit of his
life, and confirmed his rising fortunes.

Edric, though he is said to have been low born, had married the sister of
King Ethelred; and as Godwin advanced in fame, Canute did not disdain to
bestow his own sister in marriage on the eloquent favourite, who probably
kept no small portion of the Saxon population to their allegiance.  On
the death of this, his first wife, who bore him but one son [101] (who
died by accident), he found a second spouse in the same royal house; and
the mother of his six living sons and two daughters was the niece of his
king, and sister of Sweyn, who subsequently filled the throne of Denmark.
After the death of Canute, the Saxon's predilections in favour of the
Saxon line became apparent; but it was either his policy or his
principles always to defer to the popular will as expressed in the
national council; and on the preference given by the Witan to Harold the
son of Canute over the heirs of Ethelred, he yielded his own
inclinations.  The great power of the Danes, and the amicable fusion of
their race with the Saxon which had now taken place, are apparent in this
decision; for not only did Earl Leofric, of Mercia, though himself a
Saxon (as well as the Earl of Northumbria, with the thegns north of the
Thames), declare for Harold the Dane, but the citizens of London were of
the same party; and Godwin represented little more than the feeling of
his own principality of Wessex.

From that time, Godwin, however, became identified with the English
cause; and even many who believed him guilty of some share in the murder,
or at least the betrayal, of Alfred [102], Edward's brother, sought
excuses in the disgust with which Godwin had regarded the foreign retinue
that Alfred had brought with him, as if to owe his throne to Norman
swords, rather than to English hearts.  Hardicanute, who succeeded
Harold, whose memory he abhorred, whose corpse he disinterred and flung
into a fen [103], had been chosen by the unanimous council both of
English and Danish thegns; and despite Hardicanute's first vehement
accusations of Godwin, the Earl still remained throughout that reign as
powerful as in the two preceding it. When Hardicanute dropped down dead
at a marriage banquet, it was Godwin who placed Edward upon the throne;
and that great Earl must either have been conscious of his innocence of
the murder of Edward's brother, or assured of his own irresponsible
power, when he said to the prince who knelt at his feet, and, fearful of
the difficulties in his way, implored the Earl to aid his abdication of
the throne and return to Normandy.

"You are the son of Ethelred, grandson of Edgar.  Reign, it is your duty;
better to live in glory than die in exile.  You are of mature years, and
having known sorrow and need, can better feel for your people.  Rely on
me, and there will be none of the difficulties you dread; whom I favour,
England favours."

And shortly afterwards, in the national assembly, Godwin won Edward his
throne.  "Powerful in speech, powerful in bringing over people to what he
desired, some yielded to his words, some to bribes." [104] Verily, Godwin
was a man to have risen as high, had he lived later!

So Edward reigned, and agreeably, it is said, with previous stipulations,
married the daughter of his king-maker.  Beautiful as Edith the Queen was
in mind and in person, Edward apparently loved her not.  She dwelt in his
palace, his wife only in name.

Tostig (as we have seen) had married the daughter of Baldwin, Count of
Flanders, sister to Matilda, wife to the Norman Duke: and thus the House
of Godwin was triply allied to princely lineage--the Danish, the Saxon,
the Flemish.  And Tostig might have said, as in his heart William the
Norman said, "My children shall descend from Charlemagne and Alfred."

Godwin's life, though thus outwardly brilliant, was too incessantly
passed in public affairs and politic schemes to allow the worldly man
much leisure to watch over the nurture and rearing of the bold spirits of
his sons.  Githa his wife, the Dane, a woman with a haughty but noble
spirit, imperfect education, and some of the wild and lawless blood
derived from her race of heathen sea-kings, was more fitted to stir their
ambition and inflame their fancies, than curb their tempers and mould
their hearts.

We have seen the career of Sweyn; but Sweyn was an angel of light
compared to his brother Tostig.  He who can be penitent has ever
something lofty in his original nature; but Tostig was remorseless as the
tiger, as treacherous and as fierce.  With less intellectual capacities
than any of his brothers, he had more personal ambition than all put
together.  A kind of effeminate vanity, not uncommon with daring natures
(for the bravest races and the bravest soldiers are usually the vainest;
the desire to shine is as visible in the fop as in the hero), made him
restless both for command and notoriety.  "May I ever be in the mouths of
men," was his favourite prayer.  Like his maternal ancestry, the Danes,
he curled his long hair, and went as a bridegroom to the feast of the
ravens.

Two only of that house had studied the Humane Letters, which were no
longer disregarded by the princes of the Continent; they were the sweet
sister, the eldest of the family, fading fast in her loveless home, and
Harold.

But Harold's mind,--in which what we call common sense was carried to
genius,--a mind singularly practical and sagacious, like his father's,
cared little for theological learning and priestly legend--for all that
poesy of religion in which the Woman was wafted from the sorrows of
earth.

Godwin himself was no favourite of the Church, and had seen too much of
the abuses of the Saxon priesthood, (perhaps, with few exceptions, the
most corrupt and illiterate in all Europe, which is saying much,) to
instil into his children that reverence for the spiritual authority which
existed abroad; and the enlightenment, which in him was experience in
life, was in Harold, betimes, the result of study and reflection.  The
few books of the classical world then within reach of the student opened
to the young Saxon views of human duties and human responsibilities
utterly distinct from the unmeaning ceremonials and fleshly
mortifications in which even the higher theology of that day placed the
elements of virtue.  He smiled in scorn when some Dane, whose life had
been passed in the alternate drunkenness of wine and of blood, thought he
had opened the gates of heaven by bequeathing lands gained by a robber's
sword, to pamper the lazy sloth of some fifty monks.  If those monks had
presumed to question his own actions, his disdain would have been mixed
with simple wonder that men so besotted in ignorance, and who could not
construe the Latin of the very prayers they pattered, should presume to
be the judges of educated men.  It is possible--for his nature was
earnest--that a pure and enlightened clergy, that even a clergy, though
defective in life, zealous in duty and cultivated in mind,--such a clergy
as Alfred sought to found, and as Lanfranc endeavoured (not without some
success) to teach--would have bowed his strong sense to that grand and
subtle truth which dwells in spiritual authority.  But as it was, he
stood aloof from the rude superstition of his age, and early in life made
himself the arbiter of his own conscience.  Reducing his religion to the
simplest elements of our creed, he found rather in the books of Heathen
authors than in the lives of the saints, his notions of the larger
morality which relates to the citizen and the man.  The love of country;
the sense of justice; fortitude in adverse and temperance in prosperous
fortune, became portions of his very mind.  Unlike his father, he played
no actor's part in those qualities which had won him the popular heart.
He was gentle and affable; above all, he was fair-dealing and just, not
because it was politic to seem, but his nature to be, so.

Nevertheless, Harold's character, beautiful and sublime in many respects
as it was, had its strong leaven of human imperfection in that very
self-dependence which was born of his reason and his pride. In resting so
solely on man's perceptions of the right, he lost one attribute of the
true hero--faith.  We do not mean that word in the religious sense alone,
but in the more comprehensive.  He did not rely on the Celestial
Something pervading all nature, never seen, only felt when duly courted,
stronger and lovelier than what eye could behold and mere reason could
embrace.  Believing, it is true, in God, he lost those fine links that
unite God to man's secret heart, and which are woven alike from the
simplicity of the child and the wisdom of the poet.  To use a modern
illustration, his large mind was a "cupola lighted from below."

His bravery, though inflexible as the fiercest sea-king's, when need
arose for its exercise, was not his prominent characteristic.  He
despised the brute valour of Tostig,--his bravery was a necessary part of
a firm and balanced manhood--the bravery of Hector, not Achilles.
Constitutionally averse to bloodshed, he could seem timid where daring
only gratified a wanton vanity, or aimed at a selfish object.  On the
other hand, if duty demanded daring, no danger could deter, no policy
warp him;--he could seem rash; he could even seem merciless.  In the what
ought to be, he understood a must be.

And it was natural to this peculiar, yet thoroughly English temperament,
to be, in action, rather steadfast and patient than quick and ready.
Placed in perils familiar to him, nothing could exceed his vigour and
address; but if taken unawares, and before his judgment could come to his
aid, he was liable to be surprised into error. Large minds are rarely
quick, unless they have been corrupted into unnatural vigilance by the
necessities of suspicion.  But a nature more thoroughly unsuspecting,
more frank, trustful, and genuinely loyal than that young Earl's, it was
impossible to conceive.  All these attributes considered, we have the key
to much of Harold's character and conduct in the later events of his
fated and tragic life.

But with this temperament, so manly and simple, we are not to suppose
that Harold, while rejecting the superstitions of one class, was so far
beyond his time as to reject those of another.  No son of fortune, no man
placing himself and the world in antagonism, can ever escape from some
belief in the Invisible.  Caesar could ridicule and profane the mystic
rites of Roman mythology, but he must still believe in his fortune, as in
a god.  And Harold, in his very studies, seeing the freest and boldest
minds of antiquity subjected to influences akin to those of his Saxon
forefathers, felt less shame in yielding to them, vain as they might be,
than in monkish impostures so easily detected. Though hitherto he had
rejected all direct appeal to the magic devices of Hilda, the sound of
her dark sayings, heard in childhood, still vibrated on his soul as man.
Belief in omens, in days lucky or unlucky, in the stars, was universal in
every class of the Saxon. Harold had his own fortunate day, the day of
his nativity, the 14th of October.  All enterprises undertaken on that
day had hitherto been successful.  He believed in the virtue of that day,
as Cromwell believed in his 3d of September.  For the rest, we have
described him as he was in that part of his career in which he is now
presented. Whether altered by fate and circumstances, time will show.  As
yet, no selfish ambition leagued with the natural desire of youth and
intellect for their fair share of fame and power.  His patriotism, fed by
the example of Greek and Roman worthies, was genuine, pure, and ardent;
he could have stood in the pass with Leonidas, or leaped into the gulf
with Curtius.



CHAPTER II.

At dawn, Harold woke from uneasy and broken slumbers, and his eyes fell
upon the face of Hilda, large, and fair, and unutterably calm, as the
face of Egyptian sphinx.

"Have thy dreams been prophetic, son of Godwin?" said the Vala.

"Our Lord forfend," replied the Earl, with unusual devoutness.

"Tell them, and let me read the rede; sense dwells in the voices of the
night."

Harold mused, and after a short pause, he said:

"Methinks, Hilda, I can myself explain how those dreams came to haunt
me."

Then raising himself on his elbow, he continued, while he fixed his clear
penetrating eyes upon his hostess:

"Tell me frankly, Hilda, didst thou not cause some light to shine on
yonder knoll, by the mound and stone, within the temple of the Druids?"

But if Harold had suspected himself to be the dupe of some imposture, the
thought vanished when he saw the look of keen interest, even of awe,
which Hilda's face instantly assumed.

"Didst thou see a light, son of Godwin, by the altar of Thor, and over
the bautastein of the mighty dead? a flame, lambent and livid, like
moonbeams collected over snow?"

"So seemed to me the light."

"No human hand ever kindled that flame, which announces the presence of
the Dead," said Hilda, with a tremulous voice; "though seldom,
uncompelled by the seid and the rune, does the spectre itself warn the
eyes of the living."

"What shape, or what shadow of shape, does that spectre assume?"

"It rises in the midst of the flame, pale as the mist on the mountain,
and vast as the giants of old; with the saex, and the spear, and the
shield, of the sons of Woden.--Thou hast seen the Scin-laeca," continued
Hilda, looking full on the face of the Earl.

"If thou deceivest me not," began Harold, doubting still.

"Deceive thee! not to save the crown of the Saxon dare I mock the might
of the dead.  Knowest thou not--or hath thy vain lore stood in place of
the lore of thy fathers--that where a hero of old is buried, his
treasures lie in his grave; that over that grave is at times seen at
night the flame that thou sawest, and the dead in his image of air? Oft
seen in the days that are gone, when the dead and the living had one
faith--were one race; now never marked, but for portent, and prophecy,
and doom:--glory or woe to the eyes that see!  On yon knoll, Aesc (the
first-born of Cerdic, that Father-King of the Saxons,) has his grave
where the mound rises green, and the stone gleams wan by the altar of
Thor.  He smote the Britons in their temple, and he fell smiting.  They
buried him in his arms, and with the treasures his right hand had won.
Fate hangs on the house of Cerdic, or the realm of the Saxon, when Woden
calls the laeca of his son from the grave."

Hilda, much troubled bent her face over her clasped hands, and, rocking
to and fro, muttered some runes unintelligible to the ear of her
listener.  Then she turned to him, commandingly, and said:

"Thy dreams now, indeed, are oracles, more true than living Vala could
charm with the wand and the rune: Unfold them."

Thus adjured, Harold resumed:

"Methought, then, that I was on a broad, level plain, in the noon of day;
all was clear to my eye, and glad to my heart.  I was alone and went on
my way rejoicing.  Suddenly the earth opened under my feet, and I fell
deep, fathom-deep;--deep, as if to that central pit, which our heathen
sires called Niffelheim--the Home of Vapour--the hell of the dead who die
without glory.  Stunned by the fall, I lay long, locked as in a dream in
the midst of a dream.  When I opened my eyes, behold, I was girt round
with dead men's bones; and the bones moved round me, undulating, as the
dry leaves that wirble round in the winds of the winter.  And from midst
of them peered a trunkless skull, and on the skull was a mitre, and from
the yawning jaws a voice came hissing, as a serpent's hiss, 'Harold, the
scorner, thou art ours!' Then, as from the buzz of an army, came voices
multitudinous, 'Thou art ours!'  I sought to rise, and behold my limbs
were bound, and the gyves were fine and frail, as the web of the
gossamer, and they weighed on me like chains of iron.  And I felt an
anguish of soul that no words can speak--an anguish both of horror and
shame; and my manhood seemed to ooze from me, and I was weak as a child
new born. Then suddenly there rushed forth a freezing wind, as from an
air of ice, and the bones from their whirl stood still, and the buzz
ceased, and the mitred skull grinned on me still and voiceless; and
serpents darted their arrowy tongues from the eyeless sockets.  And, lo,
before me stood (O Hilda, I see it now!) the form of the spectre that had
risen from yonder knoll.  With his spear, and saex, and his shield, he
stood before me; and his face, though pale as that of one long dead, was
stern as the face of a warrior in the van of armed men; he stretched his
hand, and he smote his saex on his shield, and the clang sounded hollow;
the gyves broke at the clash--I sprang to my feet, and I stood side by
side with the phantom, dauntless.  Then, suddenly, the mitre on the skull
changed to a helm; and where the skull had grinned, trunkless and
harmless, stood a shape like War, made incarnate;--a Thing above giants,
with its crest to the stars and its form an eclipse between the sun and
the day.  The earth changed to ocean, and the ocean was blood, and the
ocean seemed deep as the seas where the whales sport in the North, but
the surge rose not to the knee of that measureless image.  And the ravens
came round it from all parts of the heaven, and the vultures with the
dead eyes and dull scream.  And all the bones, before scattered and
shapeless, sprung to life and to form, some monks and some warriors; and
there was a hoot, and a hiss, and a roar, and the storm of arms.  And a
broad pennon rose out of the sea of blood, and from the clouds came a
pale hand, and it wrote on the pennon, 'Harold, the Accursed!'  Then said
the stern shape by my side, 'Harold, fearest thou the dead men's bones?'
and its voice was as a trumpet that gives strength to the craven, and I
answering, 'Niddering, indeed, were Harold, to fear the bones of the
dead!'"

"As I spoke, as if hell had burst loose, came a gibber of scorn, and all
vanished at once, save the ocean of blood.  Slowly came from the north,
over the sea, a bird like a raven, save that it was blood-red, like the
ocean; and there came from the south, swimming towards me, a lion.  And I
looked to the spectre; and the pride of war had gone from its face, which
was so sad that methought I forgot raven and lion, and wept to see it.
Then the spectre took me in its vast arms, and its breath froze my veins,
and it kissed my brow and my lips, and said, gently and fondly, as my
mother in some childish sickness, 'Harold, my best beloved, mourn not.
Thou hast all which the sons of Woden dreamed in their dreams of
Valhalla!'  Thus saying, the form receded slowly, slowly, still gazing on
me with its sad eyes.  I stretched forth my hand to detain it, and in my
grasp was a shadowy sceptre.  And, lo! round me, as if from the earth,
sprang up thegns and chiefs, in their armour; and a board was spread, and
a wassail was blithe around me.  So my heart felt cheered and light, and
in my hand was still the sceptre.  And we feasted long and merrily; but
over the feast flapped the wings of the blood-red raven, and over the
blood-red sea beyond, swam the lion, near and near.  And in the heavens
there were two stars, one pale and steadfast, the other rushing and
luminous; and a shadowy hand pointed from the cloud to the pale star, and
a voice said, 'Lo, Harold! the star that shone on thy birth.'  And
another hand pointed to the luminous star, and another voice said, 'Lo,
the star that shone on the birth of the victor.'  Then, lo! the bright
star grew fiercer and larger; and, rolling on with a hissing sound, as
when iron is dipped into water, it rushed over the disc of the mournful
planet, and the whole heavens seemed on fire.  So methought the dream
faded away, and in fading, I heard a full swell of music, as the swell of
an anthem in an aisle; a music like that which but once in my life I
heard; when I stood on the train of Edward, in the halls of Winchester,
the day they crowned him king."

Harold ceased, and the Vala slowly lifted her head from her bosom, and
surveyed him in profound silence, and with a gaze that seemed vacant and
meaningless.

"Why dost thou look on me thus, and why art thou so silent?" asked the
Earl.

"The cloud is on my sight, and the burthen is on my soul, and I cannot
read thy rede," murmured the Vala.  "But morn, the ghost-chaser, that
waketh life, the action, charms into slumber life, the thought.  As the
stars pale at the rising of the sun, so fade the lights of the soul when
the buds revive in the dews, and the lark sings to the day. In thy dream
lies thy future, as the wing of the moth in the web of the changing worm;
but, whether for weal or for woe, thou shalt burst through thy mesh, and
spread thy plumes in the air.  Of myself I know nought.  Await the hour
when Skulda shall pass into the soul of her servant, and thy fate shall
rush from my lips as the rush of the waters from the heart of the cave."

"I am content to abide," said Harold, with his wonted smile, so calm and
so lofty; "but I cannot promise thee that I shall heed thy rede, or obey
thy warning, when my reason hath awoke, as while I speak it awakens, from
the fumes of the fancy and the mists of the night."



CHAPTER III.

Githa, Earl Godwin's wife, sate in her chamber, and her heart was sad. In
the room was one of her sons, the one dearer to her than all, Wolnoth,
her darling.  For the rest of her sons were stalwart and strong of frame,
and in their infancy she had known not a mother's fears.  But Wolnoth had
come into the world before his time, and sharp had been the travail of
the mother, and long between life and death the struggle of the newborn
babe.  And his cradle had been rocked with a trembling knee, and his
pillow been bathed with hot tears.  Frail had been his childhood--a thing
that hung on her care; and now, as the boy grew, blooming and strong,
into youth, the mother felt that she had given life twice to her child.
Therefore was he more dear to her than the rest; and, therefore, as she
gazed upon him now, fair and smiling, and hopeful, she mourned for him
more than for Sweyn, the outcast and criminal, on his pilgrimage of woe,
to the waters of Jordan, and the tomb of our Lord.  For Wolnoth, selected
as the hostage for the faith of his house, was to be sent from her arms
to the Court of William the Norman.  And the youth smiled and was gay,
choosing vestment and mantle, and ateghars of gold, that he might be
flaunting and brave in the halls of knighthood and the beauty,--the
school of the proudest chivalry of the Christian world.  Too young, and
too thoughtless, to share the wise hate of his elders for the manners and
forms of the foreigners, their gaiety and splendour, as his boyhood had
seen them, relieving the gloom of the cloister court, and contrasting the
spleen and the rudeness of the Saxon temperament, had dazzled his fancy
and half Normanised his mind.  A proud and happy boy was he, to go as
hostage for the faith, and representative of the rank, of his mighty
kinsmen; and step into manhood in the eyes of the dames of Rouen.

By Wolnoth's side stood his young sister, Thyra, a mere infant; and her
innocent sympathy with her brother's pleasure in gaud and toy saddened
Githa yet more.

"O my son!" said the troubled mother, "why, of all my children, have they
chosen thee?  Harold is wise against danger, and Tostig is fierce against
foes, and Gurth is too loving to awake hate in the sternest, and from the
mirth of sunny Leofwine sorrow glints aside, as the shaft from the sheen
of a shield.  But thou, thou, O beloved!--cursed be the king that chose
thee, and cruel was the father that forgot the light of the mother's
eyes!"

"Tut, mother the dearest," said Wolnoth, pausing from the contemplation
of a silk robe, all covered with broidered peacocks, which had been sent
him as a gift from his sister the Queen, and wrought with her own fair
hands; for a notable needle-woman, despite her sage lere, was the wife of
the Saint King, as sorrowful women mostly are,--"Tut! the bird must leave
the nest when the wings are fledged.  Harold the eagle, Tostig the kite,
Gurth the ring-dove, and Leofwine the stare.  See, my wings are the
richest of all, mother, and bright is the sun in which thy peacock shall
spread his pranked plumes."

Then, observing that his liveliness provoked no smile from his mother, he
approached and said more seriously:

"Bethink thee, mother mine.  No other choice was left to king or to
father.  Harold, and Tostig, and Leofwine, have their lordships and
offices.  Their posts are fixed, and they stand as the columns of our
house.  And Gurth is so young, and so Saxish and so the shadow of Harold,
that his hate to the Norman is a by-word already among our youths; for
hate is the more marked in a temper of love, as the blue of this border
seems black against the white of the woof.  But I;--the good King knows
that I shall be welcome, for the Norman knights love Wolnoth, and I have
spent hours by the knees of Montgommeri and Grantmesnil, listening to the
feats of Rolf-ganger, and playing with their gold chains of knighthood.
And the stout Count himself shall knight me, and I shall come back with
the spurs of gold which thy ancestors, the brave Kings of Norway and
Daneland, wore ere knighthood was known.  Come, kiss me, my mother, and
come see the brave falcons Harold has sent me:--true Welch!"

Githa rested her face on her son's shoulder, and her tears blinded her.
The door opened gently, and Harold entered; and with the Earl, a pale
dark-haired boy, Haco; the son of Sweyn.

But Githa, absorbed in her darling Wolnoth, scarce saw the grandchild
reared afar from her knees, and hurried at once to Harold.  In his
presence she felt comfort and safety; for Wolnoth leant on her heart, and
her heart leant on Harold.

"O son, son!" she cried, "firmest of hand, surest of faith, and wisest of
brain, in the house of Godwin, tell me that he yonder, he thy young
brother, risks no danger in the halls of the Normans!"

"Not more than in these, mother," answered Harold, soothing her, with
caressing lip and gentle tone.  "Fierce and ruthless, men say, is William
the Duke against foes with their swords in their hands, but debonnair and
mild to the gentle [105], frank host and kind lord.  And these Normans
have a code of their own, more grave than all morals, more binding than
even their fanatic religion.  Thou knowest it well, mother, for it comes
from thy race of the North, and this code of honour, they call it, makes
Wolnoth's head as sacred as the relics of a saint set in zimmes.  Ask
only, my brother, when thou comest in sight of the Norman Duke, ask only
'the kiss of peace,' and, that kiss on thy brow, thou wilt sleep more
safe than if all the banners of England waved over thy couch." [106]

"But how long shall the exile be?" asked Githa, comforted.  Harold's brow
fell.

"Mother, not even to cheer thee will I deceive.  The time of the
hostageship rests with the King and the Duke.  As long as the one affects
fear from the race of Godwin, as long as the other feigns care for such
priests or such knights as were not banished from the realm, being not
courtiers, but scattered wide and far in convent and homestead, so long
will Wolnoth and Haco be guests in the Norman halls."

Githa wrung her hands.

"But comfort, my mother; Wolnoth is young, his eye is keen, and his
spirit prompt and quick.  He will mark these Norman captains, he will
learn their strength and their weakness, their manner of war, and he will
come back, not as Edward the King came, a lover of things un-Saxon, but
able to warn and to guide us against the plots of the camp-court, which
threatens more, year by year, the peace of the world. And he will see
there arts we may worthily borrow: not the cut of a tunic, and the fold
of a gonna, but the arts of men who found states and build nations.
William the Duke is splendid and wise; merchants tell us how crafts
thrive under his iron hand, and war-men say that his forts are
constructed with skill and his battle-schemes planned as the mason plans
key-stone and arch, with weight portioned out to the prop, and the force
of the hand made tenfold by the science of the brain.  So that the boy
will return to us a man round and complete, a teacher of greybeards, and
the sage of his kin; fit for earldom and rule, fit for glory and England.
Grieve not, daughter of the Dane kings, that thy son, the best loved,
hath nobler school and wider field than his brothers."

This appeal touched the proud heart of the niece of Canute the Great, and
she almost forgot the grief of her love in the hope of her ambition.

She dried her tears and smiled upon Wolnoth, and already, in the dreams
of a mother's vanity, saw him great as Godwin in council, and prosperous
as Harold in the field.  Nor, half Norman as he was, did the young man
seem insensible of the manly and elevated patriotism of his brother's
hinted lessons, though he felt they implied reproof.  He came to the
Earl, whose arm was round his mother, and said with a frank heartiness
not usual to a nature somewhat frivolous and irresolute:

"Harold, thy tongue could kindle stones into men, and warm those men into
Saxons.  Thy Wolnoth shall not hang his head with shame when he comes
back to our merrie land with shaven locks and spurs of gold. For if thou
doubtest his race from his look, thou shalt put thy right hand on his
heart, and feel England beat there in every pulse."

"Brave words, and well spoken," cried the Earl, and he placed his hand on
the boy's head as in benison.

Till then, Haco had stood apart, conversing with the infant Thyra, whom
his dark, mournful face awed and yet touched, for she nestled close to
him, and put her little hand in his; but now, inspired no less than his
cousin by Harold's noble speech, he came proudly forward by Wolnoth's
side, and said:

"I, too, am English, and I have the name of Englishman to redeem."

Ere Harold could reply, Githa exclaimed:

"Leave there thy right hand on my child's head, and say, simply: 'By my
troth and my plight, if the Duke detain Wolnoth, son of Githa, against
just plea, and King's assent to his return, I, Harold, will, failing
letter and nuncius, cross the seas, to restore the child to the mother.'"
[107]  Harold hesitated.

A sharp cry of reproach that went to his heart broke from Githa's lips.

"Ah! cold and self-heeding, wilt thou send him to bear a peril from which
thou shrinkest thyself?"

"By my troth and my plight, then," said the Earl, "if, fair time elapsed,
peace in England, without plea of justice, and against my king's fiat,
Duke William of Normandy detain the hostages;--thy son and this dear boy,
more sacred and more dear to me for his father's woes,--I will cross the
seas, to restore the child to the mother, the fatherless to his
fatherland.  So help me, all-seeing One, Amen and Amen!"



CHAPTER IV.

We have seen, in an earlier part of this record, that Harold possessed,
amongst his numerous and more stately possessions, a house, not far from
the old Roman dwelling-place of Hilda.  And in this residence he now
(save when with the King) made his chief abode.  He gave as the reasons
for his selection, the charm it took, in his eyes, from that signal mark
of affection which his ceorls had rendered him, in purchasing the house
and tilling the ground in his absence; and more especially the
convenience of its vicinity to the new palace at Westminster; for, by
Edward's special desire, while the other brothers repaired to their
different domains, Harold remained near his royal person.  To use the
words of the great Norwegian chronicler, "Harold was always with the
Court itself, and nearest to the King in all service."

"The King loved him very much, and kept him as his own son, for he had no
children."'  This attendance on Edward was naturally most close at the
restoration to power of the Earl's family.  For Harold, mild and
conciliating, was, like Alred, a great peacemaker, and Edward had never
cause to complain of him, as he believed he had of the rest of that
haughty house.  But the true spell which made dear to Harold the rude
building of timber, with its doors open all day to his lithsmen, when
with a light heart he escaped from the halls of Westminster, was the fair
face of Edith his neighbour.  The impression which this young girl had
made upon Harold seemed to partake of the strength of a fatality.  For
Harold had loved her before the marvellous beauty of her womanhood began;
and, occupied from his earliest youth in grave and earnest affairs, his
heart had never been frittered away on the mean and frivolous affections
of the idle.  Now, in that comparative leisure of his stormy life, he was
naturally most open to the influence of a charm more potent than all the
glamoury of Hilda.

The autumn sun shone through the golden glades of the forest-land, when
Edith sate alone on the knoll that faced forestland and road, and watched
afar.

And the birds sung cheerily; but that was not the sound for which Edith
listened: and the squirrel darted from tree to tree on the sward beyond;
but not to see the games of the squirrel sat Edith by the grave of the
Teuton.  By-and-by, came the cry of the dogs, and the tall gre-hound
[108] of Wales emerged from the bosky dells.  Then Edith's heart heaved,
and her eyes brightened.  And now, with his hawk on his wrist, and his
spear [109] in his hand, came, through the yellowing boughs, Harold the
Earl.

And well may ye ween, that his heart beat as loud and his eye shone as
bright as Edith's, when he saw who had watched for his footsteps on the
sepulchral knoll; Love, forgetful of the presence of Death;--so has it
ever been, so ever shall it be!  He hastened his stride, and bounded up
the gentle hillock, and his dogs, with a joyous bark, came round the
knees of Edith.  Then Harold shook the bird from his wrist, and it fell,
with its light wing, on the altar-stone of Thor.

"Thou art late, but thou art welcome, Harold my kinsman," said Edith,
simply, as she bent her face over the hounds, whose gaunt heads she
caressed.

"Call me not kinsman," said Harold, shrinking, and with a dark cloud on
his broad brow.

"And why, Harold?"

"Oh, Edith, why?" murmured Harold; and his thought added, "she knows not,
poor child, that in that mockery of kinship the Church sets its ban on
our bridals."

He turned, and chid his dogs fiercely as they gambolled in rough glee
round their fair friend.

The hounds crouched at the feet of Edith; and Edith looked in mild wonder
at the troubled face of the Earl.

"Thine eyes rebuke me, Edith, more than my words the hounds!" said
Harold, gently.  "But there is quick blood in my veins; and the mind must
be calm when it would control the humour.  Calm was my mind, sweet Edith,
in the old time, when thou wert an infant on my knee, and wreathing, with
these rude hands, flower-chains for thy neck like the swan's down, I
said, 'The flowers fade, but the chain lasts when love weaves it.'"

Edith again bent her face over the crouching hounds.  Harold gazed on her
with mournful fondness; and the bird still sung and the squirrel swung
himself again from bough to bough.  Edith spoke first:

"My godmother, thy sister, hath sent for me, Harold, and I am to go to
the Court to-morrow.  Shalt thou be there?"

"Surely," said Harold, in an anxious voice, "surely, I will be there! So
my sister hath sent for thee: wittest thou wherefore?"

Edith grew very pale, and her tone trembled as she answered:

"Well-a-day, yes."

"It is as I feared, then!" exclaimed Harold, in great agitation; "and my
sister, whom these monks have demented, leagues herself with the King
against the law of the wide welkin and the grand religion of the human
heart.  Oh!" continued the Earl, kindling into an enthusiasm, rare to his
even moods, but wrung as much from his broad sense as from his strong
affection, "when I compare the Saxon of our land and day, all enervated
and decrepit by priestly superstition, with his forefathers in the first
Christian era, yielding to the religion they adopted in its simple
truths, but not to that rot of social happiness and free manhood which
this cold and lifeless monarchism--making virtue the absence of human
ties--spreads around--which the great Bede [110], though himself a monk,
vainly but bitterly denounced;--yea, verily, when I see the Saxon already
the theowe of the priest, I shudder to ask how long he will be folk-free
of the tyrant."

He paused, breathed hard, and seizing, almost sternly, the girl's
trembling arm, he resumed between his set teeth: "So they would have thee
be a nun?--Thou wilt not,--thou durst not,--thy heart would perjure thy
vows!"

"Ah, Harold!" answered Edith, moved out of all bashfulness by his emotion
and her own terror of the convent, and answering, if with the love of a
woman, still with all the unconsciousness of a child: "Better, oh better
the grate of the body than that of the heart!--In the grave I could still
live for those I love; behind the Grate, love itself must be dead.  Yes,
thou pitiest me, Harold; thy sister, the Queen, is gentle and kind; I
will fling myself at her feet, and say: 'Youth is fond, and the world is
fair: let me live my youth, and bless God in the world that he saw was
good!'"

"My own, own dear Edith!" exclaimed Harold, overjoyed.  "Say this.  Be
firm: they cannot and they dare not force thee!  The law cannot wrench
thee against thy will from the ward of thy guardian Hilda; and, where the
law is, there Harold at least is strong,--and there at least our kinship,
if my bane, is thy blessing."

"Why, Harold, sayest thou that our kinship is thy bane?  It is so sweet
to me to whisper to myself, 'Harold is of thy kith, though distant; and
it is natural to thee to have pride in his fame, and joy in his
presence!'  Why is that sweetness to me, to thee so bitter?"

"Because," answered Harold, dropping the hand he had clasped, and folding
his arms in deep dejection, "because but for that I should say: 'Edith, I
love thee more than a brother: Edith, be Harold's wife!'  And were I to
say it, and were we to wed, all the priests of the Saxons would lift up
their hands in horror, and curse our nuptials, and I should be the bann'd
of that spectre the Church; and my house would shake to its foundations;
and my father, and my brothers, and the thegns and the proceres, and the
abbots and prelates, whose aid makes our force, would gather round me
with threats and with prayers, that I might put thee aside.  And mighty
as I am now, so mighty once was Sweyn my brother; and outlaw as Sweyn is
now, might Harold be; and outlaw if Harold were, what breast so broad as
his could fill up the gap left in the defence of England?  And the
passions that I curb, as a rider his steed, might break their rein; and,
strong in justice, and child of Nature, I might come, with banner and
mail, against Church, and House, and Fatherland; and the blood of my
countrymen might be poured like water: and, therefore, slave to the lying
thraldom he despises, Harold dares not say to the maid of his love, 'Give
me thy right hand, and be my bride!'"

Edith had listened in bewilderment and despair, her eyes fixed on his,
and her face locked and rigid, as if turned to stone.  But when he had
ceased, and, moving some steps away, turned aside his manly countenance,
that Edith might not perceive its anguish, the noble and sublime spirit
of that sex which ever, when lowliest, most comprehends the lofty, rose
superior both to love and to grief; and rising, she advanced, and placing
her slight hand on his stalwart shoulder, she said, half in pity, half in
reverence: "Never before, O Harold, did I feel so proud of thee: for
Edith could not love thee as she doth, and will till the grave clasp her,
if thou didst not love England more than Edith.  Harold, till this hour I
was a child, and I knew not my own heart: I look now into that heart, and
I see that I am woman. Harold, of the cloister I have now no fear: and
all life does not shrink--no, it enlarges, and it soars into one
desire--to be worthy to pray for thee!"

"Maid, maid!" exclaimed Harold, abruptly, and pale as the dead, "do not
say thou hast no fear of the cloister.  I adjure, I command thee, build
not up between us that dismal everlasting wall.  While thou art free Hope
yet survives--a phantom, haply but Hope still."

"As thou wilt I will," said Edith, humbly: "order my fate so as pleases
thee the best."

Then, not daring to trust herself longer, for she felt the tears rushing
to her eyes, she turned away hastily, and left him alone beside the
altar-stone and the tomb.



CHAPTER V.

The next day, as Harold was entering the palace of Westminster, with
intent to seek the King's lady, his father met him in one of the
corridors, and, taking him gravely by the hand said:

"My son, I have much on my mind regarding thee and our House; come with
me."

"Nay," said the Earl, "by your leave let it be later.  For I have it on
hand to see my sister, ere confessor, or monk, or schoolman, claim her
hours!"

"Not so, Harold," said the Earl, briefly.  "My daughter is now in her
oratory, and we shall have time enow to treat of things mundane ere she
is free to receive thee, and to preach to thee of things ghostly, the
last miracle at St. Alban's, or the last dream of the King, who would be
a great man and a stirring, if as restless when awake as he is in his
sleep.  Come."

Harold, in that filial obedience which belonged, as of course, to his
antique cast of character, made no farther effort to escape, but with a
sigh followed Godwin into one of the contiguous chambers.

"Harold," then said Earl Godwin, after closing the door carefully, "thou
must not let the King keep thee longer in dalliance and idleness: thine
earldom needs thee without delay.  Thou knowest that these East Angles,
as we Saxons still call them, are in truth mostly Danes and Norsemen;
people jealous and fierce, and free, and more akin to the Normans than to
the Saxons.  My whole power in England hath been founded, not less on my
common birth with the freefolk of Wessex--Saxons like myself, and
therefore easy for me, a Saxon, to conciliate and control--than on the
hold I have ever sought to establish, whether by arms or by arts, over
the Danes in the realm.  And I tell and I warn thee, Harold, as the
natural heir of my greatness, that he who cannot command the stout hearts
of the Anglo-Danes, will never maintain the race of Godwin in the post
they have won in the vanguard of Saxon England."

"This I wot well, my father," answered Harold; "and I see with joy, that
while those descendants of heroes and freemen are blended indissolubly
with the meeker Saxon, their freer laws and hardier manners are gradually
supplanting, or rather regenerating, our own."

Godwin smiled approvingly on his son, and then his brow becoming serious,
and the dark pupil of his blue eye dilating, he resumed:

"This is well, my son; and hast thou thought also, that while thou art
loitering in these galleries, amidst the ghosts of men in monk cowls,
Siward is shadowing our House with his glory, and all north the Humber
rings with his name?  Hast thou thought that all Mercia is in the hands
of Leofric our rival, and that Algar his son, who ruled Wessex in my
absence, left there a name so beloved, that had I stayed a year longer,
the cry had been 'Algar', not 'Godwin'?--for so is the multitude ever!
Now aid me, Harold, for my soul is troubled, and I cannot work alone; and
though I say naught to others, my heart received a death-blow when tears
fell from its blood-springs on the brow of Sweyn, my first-born."  The
old man paused, and his lip quivered.

"Thou, thou alone, Harold, noble boy, thou alone didst stand by his side
in the hall; alone, alone, and I blessed thee in that hour over all the
rest of my sons.  Well, well! now to earth again.  Aid me, Harold.  I
open to thee my web: complete the woof when this hand is cold.  The new
tree that stands alone in the plain is soon nipped by the winter; fenced
round with the forest, its youth takes shelter from its fellows [111].
So is it with a house newly founded; it must win strength from the allies
that it sets round its slender stein.  What had been Godwin, son of
Wolnoth, had he not married into the kingly house of great Canute?  It is
this that gives my sons now the right to the loyal love of the Danes.
The throne passed from Canute and his race, and the Saxons again had
their hour; and I gave, as Jephtha gave his daughter, my blooming Edith,
to the cold bed of the Saxon King. Had sons sprung from that union, the
grandson of Godwin, royal alike from Saxon and Dane, would reign on the
throne of the isle.  Fate ordered otherwise, and the spider must weave
web anew.  Thy brother, Tostig, has added more splendour than solid
strength of our line, in his marriage with the daughter of Baldwin the
Count.  The foreigner helps us little in England.  Thou, O Harold, must
bring new props to the House.  I would rather see thee wed to the child
of one of our great rivals than to the daughter of kaisar, or outland
king.  Siward hath no daughter undisposed of.  Algar, son of Leofric,
hath a daughter fair as the fairest; make her thy bride that Algar may
cease to be a foe.  This alliance will render Mercia, in truth, subject
to our principalities, since the stronger must quell the weaker.  It doth
more.  Algar himself has married into the royalty of Wales [112]. Thou
wilt win all those fierce tribes to thy side.  Their forces will gain
thee the marches, now held so feebly under Rolf the Norman, and in case
of brief reverse, or sharp danger, their mountains will give refuge from
all foes.  This day, greeting Algar, he told me he meditated bestowing
his daughter on Gryffyth, the rebel under-King of North Wales.
Therefore," continued the old Earl, with a smile, "thou must speak in
time, and win and woo in the same breath.  No hard task, methinks, for
Harold of the golden tongue."

"Sir, and father," replied the young Earl, whom the long speech addressed
to him had prepared for its close, and whose habitual self-control saved
him from disclosing his emotion, "I thank you duteously, for your care
for my future, and hope to profit by your wisdom.  I will ask the King's
leave to go to my East Anglians, and hold there a folkmuth, administer
justice, redress grievances, and make thegn and ceorl content with
Harold, their Earl.  But vain is peace in the realm, if there is strife
in the house.  And Aldyth, the daughter of Algar, cannot be house-wife to
me."

"Why?"  asked the old Earl, calmly, and surveying his son's face with
those eyes so clear yet so unfathomable.

"Because, though I grant her fair, she pleases not my fancy, nor would
give warmth to my hearth.  Because, as thou knowest well, Algar and I
have ever been opposed, both in camp and in council; and I am not the man
who can sell my love, though I may stifle my anger.  Earl Harold needs no
bride to bring spearmen to his back at his need; and his lordships he
will guard with the shield of a man, not the spindle of a woman."

"Said in spite and in error," replied the old Earl, coolly.  "Small pain
had it given thee to forgive Algar old quarrels, and clasp his hand as a
father-in-law--if thou hadst had for his daughter what the great are
forbidden to regard save as a folly."

"Is love a folly, my father?"

"Surely, yes," said the Earl, with some sadness--"surely, yes, for those
who know that life is made up of business and care, spun out in long
years, nor counted by the joys of an hour.  Surely, yes; thinkest thou
that I loved my first wife, the proud sister of Canute, or that Edith,
thy sister, loved Edward, when he placed the crown on her head?"

"My father, in Edith, my sister, our House has sacrificed enow to selfish
power."

"I grant it, to selfish power," answered the eloquent old man, "but not
enow for England's safety.  Look to it, Harold; thy years, and thy fame,
and thy state, place thee free from my control as a father, but not till
thou sleepest in thy cerements art thou free from that father--thy land!
Ponder it in thine own wise mind--wiser already than that which speaks to
it under the hood of grey hairs.  Ponder it, and ask thyself if thy
power, when I am dead, is not necessary to the weal of England? and if
aught that thy schemes can suggest would so strengthen that power, as to
find in the heart of the kingdom a host of friends like the Mercians;--or
if there could be a trouble and a bar to thy greatness, a wall in thy
path, or a thorn in thy side, like the hate or the jealousy of Algar, the
son of Leofric?"

Thus addressed, Harold's face, before serene and calm, grew overcast; and
he felt the force of his father's words when appealing to his reason--not
to his affections.  The old man saw the advantage he had gained, and
prudently forbore to press it.  Rising, he drew round him his sweeping
gonna lined with furs, and only when he reached the door, he added:

"The old see afar; they stand on the height of experience, as a warder on
the crown of a tower; and I tell thee, Harold, that if thou let slip this
golden occasion, years hence--long and many--thou wilt rue the loss of
the hour.  And that, unless Mercia, as the centre of the kingdom, be
reconciled to thy power, thou wilt stand high indeed--but on the shelf of
a precipice.  And if, as I suspect, thou lovest some other who now clouds
thy perception, and will then check thy ambition, thou wilt break her
heart with thy desertion, or gnaw thine own with regret.  For love dies
in possession--ambition has no fruition, and so lives forever."

"That ambition is not mine, my father," exclaimed Harold, earnestly; "I
have not thy love of power, glorious in thee, even in its extremes. I
have not thy----"

"Seventy years!" interrupted the old man, concluding the sentence. "At
seventy all men who have been great will speak as I do; yet all will have
known love.  Thou not ambitious, Harold?  Thou knowest not thyself, nor
knowest thou yet what ambition is.  That which I see far before me as thy
natural prize, I dare not, or I will not say.  When time sets that prize
within reach of thy spear's point, say then, 'I am not ambitious!'
Ponder and decide."

And Harold pondered long, and decided not as Godwin could have wished.
For he had not the seventy years of his father, and the prize lay yet in
the womb of the mountains; though the dwarf and the gnome were already
fashioning the ore to the shape of a crown.



CHAPTER VI.

While Harold mused over his father's words, Edith, seated on a low stool
beside the Lady of England, listened with earnest but mournful reverence
to her royal namesake.

The Queen's [113] closet opened like the King's on one hand to an
oratory, on the other to a spacious ante-room; the lower part of the
walls was covered with arras, leaving space for a niche that contained an
image of the Virgin.  Near the doorway to the oratory, was the stoupe or
aspersorium for holy-water; and in various cysts and crypts, in either
room, were caskets containing the relics of saints.  The purple light
from the stained glass of a high narrow window, shaped in the Saxon arch,
streamed rich and full over the Queen's bended head like a glory, and
tinged her pale cheek, as with a maiden blush; and she might have
furnished a sweet model for early artist, in his dreams of St. Mary the
Mother, not when, young and blest, she held the divine infant in her
arms, but when sorrow had reached even the immaculate bosom, and the
stone had been rolled over the Holy Sepulchre.  For beautiful the face
still was, and mild beyond all words; but, beyond all words also, sad in
its tender resignation.

And thus said the Queen to her godchild:

"Why dost thou hesitate and turn away?  Thinkest thou, poor child, in
thine ignorance of life, that the world ever can give thee a bliss
greater than the calm of the cloister?  Pause, and ask thyself, young as
thou art, if all the true happiness thou hast known, is not bounded to
hope.  As long as thou hopest, thou art happy."

Edith sighed deeply, and moved her young head in involuntary
acquiescence.

"And what is life to the nun, but hope.  In that hope, she knows not the
present, she lives in the future; she hears ever singing the chorus of
the angels, as St. Dunstan heard them sing at the birth of Edgar [114].
That hope unfolds to her the heiligthum of the future. On earth her body,
in heaven her soul!"

"And her heart, O Lady of England?" cried Edith, with a sharp pang.

The Queen paused a moment, and laid her pale hand kindly on Edith's
bosom.

"Not beating, child, as thine does now, with vain thoughts, and worldly
desires; but calm, calm as mine.  It is in our power," resumed the Queen,
after a second pause, "it is in our power to make the life within us all
soul; so that the heart is not, or is felt not; so that grief and joy
have no power over us; so that we look tranquil on the stormy earth, as
yon image of the Virgin, whom we make our example, looks from the silent
niche.  Listen, my godchild and darling."

"I have known human state, and human debasement.  In these halls I woke
Lady of England, and, ere sunset, my lord banished me, without one mark
of honour, without one word of comfort, to the convent of Wherwell;--my
father, my mother, my kin, all in exile; and my tears falling fast for
them, but not on a husband's bosom."

"Ah then, noble Edith," said the girl, colouring with anger at the
remembered wrong for her Queen, "ah then, surely, at least, thy heart
made itself heard."

"Heard, yea verily," said the Queen, looking up, and pressing her hands;
"heard, but the soul rebuked it.  And the soul said, 'Blessed are they
that mourn;' and I rejoiced at the new trial which brought me nearer to
Him who chastens those He loves."

"But thy banished kin--the valiant, the wise; they who placed thy lord on
the throne?"

"Was it no comfort," answered the Queen simply, "to think that in the
House of God my prayers for them would be more accepted than in the halls
of kings?  Yes, my child, I have known the world's honour, and the
world's disgrace, and I have schooled my heart to be calm in both."

"Ah, thou art above human strength, Queen and Saint," exclaimed Edith;
"and I have heard it said of thee, that as thou art now, thou wert from
thine earliest years [115]; ever the sweet, the calm, the holy--ever less
on earth than in heaven."

Something there was in the Queen's eyes, as she raised them towards Edith
at this burst of enthusiasm, that gave for a moment, to a face otherwise
so dissimilar, the likeness to her father; something, in that large
pupil, of the impenetrable unrevealing depth of a nature close and secret
in self-control.  And a more acute observer than Edith might long have
been perplexed and haunted with that look, wondering if, indeed, under
the divine and spiritual composure, lurked the mystery of human passion.

"My child," said the Queen, with the faintest smile upon her lips, and
drawing Edith towards her, "there are moments when all that breathe the
breath of life feel, or have felt, alike.  In my vain youth I read, I
mused, I pondered, but over worldly lore.  And what men called the
sanctity of virtue, was perhaps but the silence of thought.  Now I have
put aside those early and childish dreams and shadows, remembering them
not, save (here the smile grew more pronounced) to puzzle some poor
schoolboy with the knots and riddles of the sharp grammarian [116].  But
not to speak of my self have I sent for thee. Edith, again and again,
solemnly and sincerely, I pray thee to obey the wish of my lord the King.
And now, while yet in all the bloom of thought, as of youth, while thou
hast no memory save the child's, enter on the Realm of Peace."

"I cannot, I dare not, I cannot--ah, ask me not," said poor Edith,
covering her face with her hands.

Those hands the Queen gently withdrew; and looking steadfastly in the
changeful and half-averted face, she said mournfully, "Is it so, my
godchild? and is thy heart set on the hopes of earth--thy dreams on the
love of man?"

"Nay," answered Edith, equivocating; "but I have promised not to take the
veil."

"Promised to Hilda?"

"Hilda," exclaimed Edith readily, "would never consent to it.  Thou
knowest her strong nature, her distaste to--to----"

"The laws of our holy Church--I do; and for that reason it is, mainly,
that I join with the King in seeking to abstract thee from her influence.
But it is not Hilda that thou hast promised?"

Edith hung her head.

"Is it to woman or to man?"

Before Edith could answer the door from the ante-room opened gently, but
without the usual ceremony, and Harold entered.  His quick quiet eye
embraced both forms, and curbed Edith's young impulse, which made her
start from her seat, and advance joyously towards him as a protector.

"Fair day to thee, my sister," said the Earl, advancing; "and pardon, if
I break thus rudely on thy leisure; for few are the moments when beggar
and Benedictine leave thee free to receive thy brother."

"Dost thou reproach me, Harold?"

"No, Heaven forfend!" replied the Earl, cordially, and with a look at
once of pity and admiration; "for thou art one of the few, in this court
of simulators, sincere and true; and it pleases thee to serve the Divine
Power in thy way, as it pleases me to serve Him in mine."

"Thine, Harold?" said the Queen, shaking her head, but with a look of
some human pride and fondness in her fair face.

"Mine; as I learned it from thee when I was thy pupil, Edith; when to
those studies in which thou didst precede me, thou first didst lure me
from sport and pastime; and from thee I learned to glow over the deeds of
Greek and Roman, and say, 'They lived and died as men; like them may I
live and die!'"

"Oh, true--too true!" said the Queen, with a sigh; "and I am to blame
grievously that I did so pervert to earth a mind that might otherwise
have learned holier examples;--nay, smile not with that haughty lip, my
brother; for believe me--yea, believe me--there is more true valour in
the life of one patient martyr than in the victories of Caesar, or even
the defeat of Brutus."

"It may be so," replied the Earl, "but out of the same oak we carve the
spear and the cross; and those not worthy to hold the one, may yet not
guiltily wield the other.  Each to his path of life--and mine is chosen."
Then, changing his voice, with some abruptness, he said, "But what hast
thou been saying to thy fair godchild, that her cheek is pale, and her
eyelids seem so heavy?  Edith, Edith, my sister, beware how thou shapest
the lot of the martyr without the peace of the saint.  Had Algive the nun
been wedded to Sweyn our brother, Sweyn were not wending, barefooted and
forlorn, to lay the wrecks of desolated life at the Holy Tomb."

"Harold, Harold!" faltered the Queen, much struck with his words.

"But," the Earl continued--and something of the pathos which belongs to
deep emotion vibrated in the eloquent voice, accustomed to command and
persuade--"we strip not the green leaves for our yulehearths--we gather
them up when dry and sere.  Leave youth on the bough--let the bird sing
to it--let it play free in the airs of heaven.  Smoke comes from the
branch which, cut in the sap, is cast upon the fire, and regret from the
heart which is severed from the world while the world is in its May."

The Queen paced slowly, but in evident agitation, to and fro the room,
and her hands clasped convulsively the rosary round her neck; then, after
a pause of thought, she motioned to Edith and, pointing to the oratory,
said with forced composure, "Enter there, and there kneel; commune with
thyself, and be still.  Ask for a sign from above--pray for the grace
within.  Go; I would speak alone with Harold."

Edith crossed her arms on her bosom meekly, and passed into the oratory.
The Queen watched her for a few moments tenderly, as the slight,
child-like form bent before the sacred symbol.  Then she closed the door
gently, and coming with a quick step to Harold, said, in a low but clear
voice, "Dost thou love the maiden?"

"Sister," answered the Earl sadly, "I love her as a man should love
woman--more than my life, but less than the ends life lives for."

"Oh, world, world, world!" cried the Queen, passionately, "not even to
thine own objects art thou true.  O world! O world! thou desirest
happiness below, and at every turn, with every vanity, thou tramplest
happiness under foot!  Yes, yes; they said to me, 'For the sake of our
greatness, thou shalt wed King Edward.'  And I live in the eyes that
loathe me--and--and----"  The Queen, as if conscience-stricken, paused
aghast, kissed devoutly the relic suspended to her rosary, and continued,
with such calmness that it seemed as if two women were blent in one, so
startling was the contrast. "And I have had my reward, but not from the
world!  Even so, Harold the Earl, and Earl's son, thou lovest yon fair
child, and she thee; and ye might be happy, if happiness were earth's
end; but, though high-born, and of fair temporal possessions, she brings
thee not lands broad enough for her dowry, nor troops of kindred to swell
thy lithsmen, and she is not a markstone in thy march to ambition; and so
thou lovest her as man loves woman--'less than the ends life lives for!'"

"Sister," said Harold, "thou speakest as I love to hear thee speak--as my
bright-eyed, rose-lipped sister spoke in the days of old; thou speakest
as a woman with warm heart, and not as the mummy in the stiff cerements
of priestly form; and if thou art with me, and thou wilt give me
countenance, I will marry thy godchild, and save her alike from the dire
superstitions of Hilda, and the grave of the abhorrent convent."

"But my father--my father!" cried the Queen, "who ever bended that soul
of steel?"

"It is not my father I fear; it is thee and thy monks.  Forgettest thou
that Edith and I are within the six banned degrees of the Church?"

"True, most true," said the Queen, with a look of great terror; "I had
forgotten.  Avaunt, the very thought!  Pray--fast--banish it--my poor,
poor brother!" and she kissed his brow.

"So, there fades the woman, and the mummy speaks again!" said Harold,
bitterly.  "Be it so: I bow to my doom.  Well, there may be a time when
Nature on the throne of England shall prevail over Priestcraft; and, in
guerdon for all my services, I will then ask a King who hath blood in his
veins to win me the Pope's pardon and benison.  Leave me that hope, my
sister, and leave thy godchild on the shores of the living world."

The Queen made no answer, and Harold, auguring ill from her silence,
moved on and opened the door of the oratory.  But the image that there
met him, that figure still kneeling, those eyes, so earnest in the tears
that streamed from them fast and unheeded, fixed on the holy rood--awed
his step and checked his voice.  Nor till the girl had risen, did he
break silence; then he said, gently, "My sister will press thee no more,
Edith----"

"I say not that!" exclaimed the Queen.

"Or if she doth, remember thy plighted promise under the wide cope of
blue heaven, the old nor least holy temple of our common Father."

With these words he left the room.



CHAPTER VII.

Harold passed into the Queen's ante-chamber.  Here the attendance was
small and select compared with the crowds which we shall see presently in
the ante-room to the King's closet; for here came chiefly the more
learned ecclesiastics, attracted instinctively by the Queen's own mental
culture, and few indeed were they at that day (perhaps the most
illiterate known in England since the death of Alfred [117]); and here
came not the tribe of impostors, and the relic-venders, whom the
infantine simplicity and lavish waste of the Confessor attracted. Some
four or five priests and monks, some lonely widow, some orphan child,
humble worth, or protected sorrow, made the noiseless levee of the sweet,
sad Queen.

The groups turned, with patient eyes, towards the Earl as he emerged from
that chamber, which it was rare indeed to quit unconsoled, and marvelled
at the flush in his cheek; and the disquiet on his brow; but Harold was
dear to the clients of his sister; for, despite his supposed indifference
to the mere priestly virtues (if virtues we call them) of the decrepit
time, his intellect was respected by yon learned ecclesiastics; and his
character, as the foe of all injustice, and the fosterer of all that were
desolate, was known to yon pale-eyed widow and yon trembling orphan.

In the atmosphere of that quiet assembly, the Earl seemed to recover his
kindly temperament, and he paused to address a friendly or a soothing
word to each; so that when he vanished, the hearts there felt more light;
and the silence hushed before his entrance, was broken by many whispers
in praise of the good Earl.

Descending a staircase without the walls--as even in royal halls the
principal staircases were then--Harold gained a wide court, in which
loitered several house-carles [118] and attendants, whether of the King
or the visitors; and, reaching the entrance of the palace, took his way
towards the King's rooms, which lay near, and round, what is now called
"The Painted Chamber," then used as a bedroom by Edward on state
occasions.

And now he entered the ante-chamber of his royal brother-in-law. Crowded
it was, but rather seemed it the hall of a convent than the ante-room of
a king.  Monks, pilgrims, priests, met his eye in every nook; and not
there did the Earl pause to practise the arts of popular favour.  Passing
erect through the midst, he beckoned forth the officer, in attendance at
the extreme end, who, after an interchange of whispers, ushered him into
the royal presence.  The monks and the priests, gazing towards the door
which had closed on his stately form, said to each other:

"The King's Norman favourites at least honoured the Church."

"That is true," said an abbot; "and an it were not for two things, I
should love the Norman better than the Saxon."

"What are they, my father?" asked an aspiring young monk.

"Inprinis," quoth the abbot, proud of the one Latin word he thought he
knew, but, that, as we see, was an error; "they cannot speak so as to be
understood, and I fear me much they incline to mere carnal learning."

Here there was a sanctified groan:

"Count William himself spoke to me in Latin!" continued the abbot,
raising his eyebrows.

"Did he?--Wonderful!" exclaimed several voices.  "And what did you
answer, holy father?"

"Marry," said the abbot solemnly, "I replied, Inprinis."

"Good!" said the young monk, with a look of profound admiration.

"Whereat the good Count looked puzzled--as I meant him to be:--a heinous
fault, and one intolerant to the clergy, that love of profane tongues!
And the next thing against your Norman is (added the abbot, with a sly
wink), that he is a close man, who loves not his stoup; now, I say, that
a priest never has more hold over a sinner than when he makes the sinner
open his heart to him."

"That's clear!" said a fat priest, with a lubricate and shining nose.

"And how," pursued the abbot triumphantly, "can a sinner open his heavy
heart until you have given him something to lighten it?  Oh, many and
many a wretched man have I comforted spiritually over a flagon of stout
ale; and many a good legacy to the Church hath come out of a friendly
wassail between watchful shepherd and strayed sheep! But what hast thou
there?" resumed the abbot, turning to a man, clad in the lay garb of a
burgess of London, who had just entered the room, followed by a youth,
bearing what seemed a coffer, covered with a fine linen cloth.

"Holy father!" said the burgess, wiping his forehead, "it is a treasure
so great, that I trow Hugoline, the King's treasurer, will scowl at me
for a year to come, for he likes to keep his own grip on the King's
gold."

At this indiscreet observation, the abbot, the monks, and all the
priestly bystanders looked grim and gloomy, for each had his own special
design upon the peace of poor Hugoline, the treasurer, and liked not to
see him the prey of a layman.

"Inprinis!" quoth the abbot, puffing out the word with great scorn;
"thinkest thou, son of Mammon, that our good King sets his pious heart on
gew-gaw, and gems, and such vanities?  Thou shouldst take the goods to
Count Baldwin of Flanders; or Tostig, the proud Earl's proud son."

"Marry!" said the cheapman, with a smile; "my treasure will find small
price with Baldwin the scoffer, and Tostig the vain!  Nor need ye look at
me so sternly, my fathers; but rather vie with each other who shall win
this wonder of wonders for his own convent; know, in a word, that it is
the right thumb of St. Jude, which a worthy man bought at Rome for me,
for 3000 lb. weight of silver; and I ask but 500 lb. over the purchase
for my pains and my fee." [119]

"Humph!" said the abbot.

"Humph!" said the aspiring young monk; the rest gathered wistfully round
the linen cloth.

A fiery exclamation of wrath and disdain was here heard; and all turning,
saw a tall, fierce-looking thegn, who had found his way into that group,
like a hawk in a rookery.

"Dost thou tell me, knave," quoth the thegn, in a dialect that bespoke
him a Dane by origin, with the broad burr still retained in the north;
"Dost thou tell me that the King will waste his gold on such fooleries,
while the fort built by Canute at the flood of the Humber is all fallen
into ruin, without a man in steel jacket to keep watch on the war fleets
of Swede and Norwegian?"

"Worshipful minister," replied the cheapman, with some slight irony in
his tone, "these reverend fathers will tell thee that the thumb of St.
Jude is far better aid against Swede and Norwegian than forts of stone
and jackets of steel; nathless, if thou wantest jackets of steel, I have
some to sell at a fair price, of the last fashion, and helms with long
nose-pieces, as are worn by the Normans."

"The thumb of a withered old saint," cried the Dane, not heeding the last
words, "more defence at the mouth of the Humber than crenellated castles
and mailed men!"

"Surely, naught son," said the abbot, looking shocked, and taking part
with the cheapman.  "Dost thou not remember that, in the pious and famous
council of 1014, it was decreed to put aside all weapons of flesh against
thy heathen countrymen, and depend alone on St. Michael to fight for us?
Thinkest thou that the saint would ever suffer his holy thumb to fall
into the hands of the Gentiles?--never!  Go to, thou art not fit to have
conduct of the King's wars.  Go to, and repent, my son, or the King shall
hear of it."

"Ah, wolf in sheep's clothing!" muttered the Dane, turning on his heel;
"if thy monastery were but built on the other side the Humber!"

The cheapman heard him, and smiled.  While such the scene in the
ante-room, we follow Harold into the King's presence.

On entering, he found there a man in the prime of life, and though richly
clad in embroidered gonna, and with gilt ateghar at his side, still with
the loose robe, the long moustache, and the skin of the throat and right
hand punctured with characters and devices, which proved his adherence to
the fashions of the Saxon [120].  And Harold's eye sparkled, for in this
guest he recognized the father of Aldyth, Earl Algar, son of Leofric.
The two nobles exchanged grave salutations, and each eyed the other
wistfully.

The contrast between the two was striking.  The Danish race were men
generally of larger frame and grander mould than the Saxon [121]; and
though in all else, as to exterior, Harold was eminently Saxon, yet, in
common with his brothers, he took from the mother's side the lofty air
and iron frame of the old kings of the sea.  But Algar, below the middle
height, though well set, was slight in comparison with Harold. His
strength was that which men often take rather from the nerve than the
muscle; a strength that belongs to quick tempers and restless energies.
His light blue eye, singularly vivid and glittering; his quivering lip,
the veins swelling at each emotion on the fair white temples; the long
yellow hair, bright as gold, and resisting, in its easy curls, all
attempts to curb it into the smooth flow most in fashion; the nervous
movements of the gesture; the somewhat sharp and hasty tones of the
voice; all opposed, as much as if the two men were of different races,
the steady, deep eye of Harold, his composed mien, sweet and majestic,
his decorous locks parted on the king-like front, with their large single
curl where they touched the shoulder. Intelligence and will were apparent
in both the men; but the intelligence of one was acute and rapid, that of
the other profound and steadfast; the will of one broke in flashes of
lightning, that of the other was calm as the summer sun at noon.

"Thou art welcome, Harold," said the King, with less than his usual
listlessness, and with a look of relief as the Earl approached him.

"Our good Algar comes to us with a suit well worthy consideration, though
pressed somewhat hotly, and evincing too great a desire for goods
worldly; contrasting in this his most laudable father our well-beloved
Leofric, who spends his substance in endowing monasteries and dispensing
alms; wherefore he shall receive a hundred-fold in the treasure-house
above."

"A good interest, doubtless, my lord the King," said Algar; quickly, "but
one that is not paid to his heirs; and the more need, if my father (whom
I blame not for doing as he lists with his own) gives all he hath to the
monks--the more need, I say, to take care that his son shall be enabled
to follow his example.  As it is, most noble King, I fear me that Algar,
son of Leofric, will have nothing to give.  In brief, Earl Harold,"
continued Algar, turning to his fellow-thegn--"in brief, thus stands the
matter.  When our lord the King was first graciously pleased to consent
to rule in England, the two chiefs who most assured his throne were thy
father and mine: often foes, they laid aside feud and jealousy for the
sake of the Saxon line.  Now, since then, thy father hath strung earldom
to earldom, like links in a coat-mail.  And, save Northumbria and Mercia;
well-nigh all England falls to him and his sons: whereas my father
remains what he was, and my father's son stands landless and penceless.
In thine absence the King was graciously pleased to bestow on me thy
father's earldom; men say that I ruled it well.  Thy father returns, and
though" (here Algar's eyes shot fire, and his hand involuntarily rested
on his ateghar) "I could have held it, methinks, by the strong hand, I
gave it up at my father's prayer and the King's hest, with a free heart.
Now, therefore, I come to my lord, and I ask, 'What lands and what
lordships canst thou spare in broad England to Algar, once Earl of
Wessex, and son to the Leofric whose hand smoothed the way to thy
throne?'  My lord the King is pleased to preach to me contempt of the
world; thou dost not despise the world, Earl of the East Angles,--what
sayest thou to the heir of Leofric?"

"That thy suit is just," answered Harold, calmly, "but urged with small
reverence."

Earl Algar bounded like a stag that the arrow hath startled.

"It becomes thee, who hast backed thy suits with warships and mail, to
talk of reverence, and rebuke one whose fathers reigned over earldoms
[122], when thine were, no doubt, ceorls at the plough.  But for Edric
Streone, the traitor and low-born, what had been Wolnoth, thy grandsire?"

So rude and home an assault in the presence of the King, who, though
personally he loved Harold in his lukewarm way, yet, like all weak men,
was not displeased to see the strong split their strength against each
other, brought the blood into Harold's cheek; but he answered calmly:

"We live in a land, son of Leofric, in which birth, though not
disesteemed, gives of itself no power in council or camp.  We belong to a
land where men are valued for what they are, not for what their dead
ancestors might have been.  So has it been for ages in Saxon England,
where my fathers, through Godwin, as thou sayest, might have been ceorls;
and so, I have heard, it is in the land of the martial Danes, where my
fathers, through Githa, reigned on the thrones of the North."

"Thou dost well," said Algar, gnawing his lip, "to shelter thyself on the
spindle side, but we Saxons of pure descent think little of your kings of
the North, pirates and idolaters, and eaters of horseflesh; but enjoy
what thou hast, and let Algar have his clue."

"It is for the King, not his servant, to answer the prayer of Algar,"
said Harold, withdrawing to the farther end of the room.

Algar's eye followed him, and observing that the King was fast sinking
into one of the fits of religious reverie in which he sought to be
inspired with a decision, whenever his mind was perplexed, he moved with
a light step to Harold, put his band on his shoulder, and whispered:

"We do ill to quarrel with each other--I repent me of hot words--enough.
Thy father is a wise man, and sees far--thy father would have us friends.
Be it so.  Hearken my daughter Aldyth is esteemed not the least fair of
the maidens in England; I will give her to thee as thy wife, and as thy
morgen gift, thou shalt will for me from the King the earldom forfeited
by thy brother Sweyn, now parcelled out amongst sub-earls and
thegns--easy enow to control.  By the shrine of St. Alban, dost thou
hesitate, man?"

"No, not an instant," said Harold, stung to the quick.  "Not, couldst
thou offer me all Mercia as her dower, would I wed the daughter of Algar;
and bend my knee, as a son to a wife's father, to the man who despises my
lineage, while he truckles to my power."

Algar's face grew convulsed with rage; but without saying a word to the
Earl he strode back to Edward, who now with vacant eyes looked up from
the rosary over which he had been bending, and said abruptly:

"My lord the King, I have spoken as I think it becomes a man who knows
his own claims, and believes in the gratitude of princes.  Three days
will I tarry in London for your gracious answer; on the fourth I depart.
May the saints guard your throne, and bring around it its best defence,
the thegn-born satraps whose fathers fought with Alfred and Athelstan.
All went well with merrie England till the hoof of the Dane King broke
the soil, and mushrooms sprung up where the oak-trees fell."

When the son of Leofric had left the chamber, the King rose wearily and
said in Norman French, to which language he always yearningly returned
when with those who could speak it:

"Beau frere and bien aime, in what trifles must a king pass his life!
And, all this while, matters grave and urgent demand me.  Know that
Eadmer, the cheapman, waits without, and hath brought me, dear and good
man, the thumb of St. Jude!  What thought of delight!  And this
unmannerly son of strife, with his jay's voice and wolf's eyes, screaming
at me for earldoms!--oh the folly of man!  Naught, naught, very naught!"

"Sir and King," said Harold; "it ill becomes me to arraign your pious
desires, but these relics are of vast cost; our coasts are ill defended,
and the Dane yet lays claim to your kingdom.  Three thousand pounds of
silver and more does it need to repair even the old wall of London and
Southweorc."

"Three thousand pounds!" cried the King; "thou art mad, Harold!  I have
scarce twice that sum in the treasury; and besides the thumb of St. Jude,
I daily expect the tooth of St. Remigius--the tooth of St. Remigius!"

Harold sighed.  "Vex not yourself, my lord, I will see to the defences of
London.  For, thanks to your grace, my revenues are large, while my wants
are simple.  I seek you now to pray your leave to visit my earldom.  My
lithsmen murmur at my absence, and grievances, many and sore, have arisen
in my exile."

The King stared in terror; and his look was that of a child when about to
be left in the dark.

"Nay, nay; I cannot spare thee, beau frere.  Thou curbest all these stiff
thegns--thou leavest me time for the devout; moreover, thy father, thy
father, I will not be left to thy father!  I love him not!"

"My father," said Harold, mournfully, "returns to his own earldom; and of
all our House you will have but the mild face of your queen by your
side!"

The King's lip writhed at that hinted rebuke, or implied consolation.

"Edith the Queen," he said, after a slight pause, "is pious and good; and
she hath never gainsaid my will, and she hath set before her as a model
the chaste Susannah, as I, unworthy man, from youth upward, have walked
in the pure steps of Joseph [123].  But," added the King, with a touch of
human feeling in his voice, "canst thou not conceive, Harold, thou who
art a warrior, what it would be to see ever before thee the face of thy
deadliest foe--the one against whom all thy struggles of life and death
had turned into memories of hyssop and gall?"

"My sister!" exclaimed Harold, in indignant amaze, "My sister thy
deadliest foe!  She who never once murmured at neglect, disgrace--she
whose youth hath been consumed in prayers for thee and thy realm--my
sister!  O King, I dream?"

"Thou dreamest not, carnal man," said the King, peevishly.  "Dreams are
the gifts of the saints, and are not granted to such as thou! Dost thou
think that, in the prune of my manhood, I could have youth and beauty
forced on my sight, and hear man's law and man's voice say, 'They are
thine, and thine only,' and not feel that war was brought to my hearth,
and a snare set on my bed, and that the fiend had set watch on my soul?
Verily, I tell thee, man of battle, that thou hast known no strife as
awful as mine, and achieved no victory as hard and as holy.  And now,
when my beard is silver, and the Adam of old is expelled at the precincts
of death; now, thinkest thou, that I can be reminded of the strife and
temptation of yore, without bitterness and shame; when days were spent in
fasting, and nights in fierce prayer; and in the face of woman I saw the
devices of Satan?"

Edward coloured as he spoke, and his voice trembled with the accents of
what seemed hate.  Harold gazed on him mutely, and felt that at last he
had won the secret that had ever perplexed him, and that in seeking to be
above the humanity of love, the would-be saint had indeed turned love
into the hues of hate--a thought of anguish, and a memory of pain.

The King recovered himself in a few moments, and said, with some dignity,
"But God and his saints alone should know the secrets of the household.
What I have said was wrung from me.  Bury it in thy heart. Leave me,
then, Harold, sith so it must be.  Put thine earldom in order, attend to
the monasteries and the poor, and return soon.  As for Algar, what sayest
thou?"

"I fear me," answered the large-souled Harold, with a victorious effort
of justice over resentment, "that if you reject his suit you will drive
him into some perilous extremes.  Despite his rash and proud spirit, he
is brave against foes, and beloved by the ceorls, who oft like best the
frank and hasty spirit.  Wherefore some power and lordship it were wise
to give, without dispossessing others, and not more wise than due, for
his father served you well."

"And hath endowed more houses of God than any earl in the kingdom. But
Algar is no Leofric.  We will consider your words and heed them. Bless
you, beau frere! and send in the cheapman.  The thumb of St. Jude!  What
a gift to my new church of St. Peter!  The thumb of St. Jude!  Non nobis
gloria!  Sancta Maria!  The thumb of St. Jude!"



BOOK V.
DEATH AND LOVE.



CHAPTER I.

Harold, without waiting once more to see Edith, nor even taking leave of
his father, repaired to Dunwich [124], the capital of his earldom. In his
absence, the King wholly forgot Algar and his suit; and in the mean while
the only lordships at his disposal, Stigand, the grasping bishop, got
from him without an effort.  In much wrath, Earl Algar, on the fourth
day, assembling all the loose men-at-arms he could find around the
metropolis, and at the head of a numerous disorderly band, took his way
into Wales, with his young daughter Aldyth, to whom the crown of a Welch
king was perhaps some comfort for the loss of the fair Earl; though the
rumour ran that she had long since lost her heart to her father's foe.

Edith, after a long homily from the King, returned to Hilda; nor did her
godmother renew the subject of the convent.  All she said on parting,
was, "Even in youth the silver cord may be loosened, and the golden bowl
may be broken; and rather perhaps in youth than in age, when the heart
has grown hard, wilt thou recall with a sigh my counsels."

Godwin had departed to Wales; all his sons were at their several
lordships; Edward was left alone to his monks and relic-venders.  And so
months passed.

Now it was the custom with the old kings of England to hold state and
wear their crowns thrice a year, at Christmas, at Easter, and at
Whitsuntide; and in those times their nobles came round them, and there
was much feasting and great pomp.

So, in the Easter of the year of our Lord 1053, King Edward kept his
court at Windshore [125], and Earl Godwin and his sons, and many others
of high degree, left their homes to do honour to the King.  And Earl
Godwin came first to his house in London--near the Tower Palatine, in
what is now called the Fleet--and Harold the Earl, and Tostig, and
Leofwine, and Gurth, were to meet him there, and go thence, with the full
state of their sub-thegns, and cnehts, and house-carles, their falcons,
and their hounds, as become men of such rank, to the court of King
Edward.

Earl Godwin sate with his wife, Githa, in a room out of the Hall, which
looked on the Thames,--awaiting Harold, who was expected to arrive ere
nightfall.  Gurth had ridden forth to meet his brother, and Leofwine and
Tostig had gone over to Southwark, to try their band-dogs on the great
bear, which had been brought from the north a few days before, and was
said to have hugged many good hounds to death, and a large train of
thegns and house-carles had gone with them to see the sport; so that the
old Earl and his lady the Dane sate alone.  And there was a cloud upon
Earl Godwin's large forehead, and he sate by the fire, spreading his
hands before it, and looking thoughtfully on the flame, as it broke
through the smoke which burst out into the cover, or hole in the roof.
And in that large house there were no less than three "covers," or rooms,
wherein fires could be lit in the centre of the floor; and the rafters
above were blackened with the smoke; and in those good old days, ere
chimneys, if existing, were much in use, "poses, and rheumatisms, and
catarrhs," were unknown, so wholesome and healthful was the smoke.  Earl
Godwin's favourite hound, old, like himself, lay at his feet, dreaming,
for it whined and was restless.  And the Earl's old hawk, with its
feathers all stiff and sparse, perched on the dossal of the Earl's chair
and the floor was pranked with rushes and sweet herbs--the first of the
spring; and Githa's feet were on her stool, and she leaned her proud face
on the small hand which proved her descent from the Dane, and rocked
herself to and fro, and thought of her son Wolnoth in the court of the
Norman.

"Githa," at last said the Earl, "thou hast been to me a good wife and a
true, and thou hast borne me tall and bold sons, some of whom have caused
us sorrow, and some joy; and in sorrow and in joy we have but drawn
closer to each other.  Yet when we wed thou wert in thy first youth, and
the best part of my years was fled; and thou wert a Dane and I a Saxon;
and thou a king's niece, and now a king's sister, and I but tracing two
descents to thegn's rank."

Moved and marvelling at this touch of sentiment in the calm earl, in whom
indeed such sentiment was rare, Githa roused herself from her musings,
and said, simply and anxiously:

"I fear my lord is not well, that he speaks thus to Githa!"

The Earl smiled faintly.

"Thou art right with thy woman's wit, wife.  And for the last few weeks,
though I said it not to alarm thee, I have had strange noises in my ears,
and a surge, as of blood, to the temples."

"O Godwin! dear spouse," said Githa, tenderly, "and I was blind to the
cause, but wondered why there was some change in thy manner!  But I will
go to Hilda to-morrow; she hath charms against all disease."

"Leave Hilda in peace, to give her charms to the young; age defies Wigh
and Wicca.  Now hearken to me.  I feel that my thread is nigh spent, and,
as Hilda would say, my Fylgia forewarns me that we are about to part.
Silence, I say, and hear me.  I have done proud things in my day; I have
made kings and built thrones, and I stand higher in England than ever
thegn or earl stood before.  I would not, Githa, that the tree of my
house, planted in the storm, and watered with lavish blood, should wither
away."

The old Earl paused, and Githa said, loftily:

"Fear not that thy name will pass from the earth, or thy race from power.
For fame has been wrought by thy hands, and sons have been born to thy
embrace; and the boughs of the tree thou hast planted shall live in the
sunlight when we its roots, O my husband, are buried in the earth."

"Githa," replied the Earl, "thou speakest as the daughter of kings and
the mother of men; but listen to me, for my soul is heavy.  Of these our
sons, or first-born, alas! is a wanderer and outcast--Sweyn, once the
beautiful and brave; and Wolnoth, thy darling, is a guest in the court of
the Norman, our foe.  Of the rest, Gurth is so mild and so calm, that I
predict without fear that he will be warrior of fame, for the mildest in
hall are ever the boldest in field.  But Gurth hath not the deep wit of
these tangled times; and Leofwine is too light, and Tostig too fierce.
So wife mine, of these our six sons, Harold alone, dauntless as Tostig,
mild as Gurth, hath his father's thoughtful brain.  And, if the King
remains as aloof as now from his royal kinsman, Edward the Atheling,
who"--the Earl hesitated and looked round--"who so near to the throne
when I am no more, as Harold, the joy of the ceorls, and the pride of the
thegns?--he whose tongue never falters in the Witan, and whose arm never
yet hath known defeat in the field?"

Githa's heart swelled, and her cheek grew flushed.

"But what I fear the most," resumed the Earl, "is, not the enemy without,
but the jealousy within.  By the side of Harold stands Tostig, rapacious
to grasp, but impotent to hold--able to ruin, strengthless to save."

"Nay, Godwin, my lord, thou wrongest our handsome son."

"Wife, wife," said the Earl, stamping his foot, "hear me and obey me; for
my words on earth may be few, and while thou gainsayest me the blood
mounts to my brain, and my eyes see through a cloud."

"Forgive me, sweet lord," said Githa, humbly.

"Mickle and sore it repents me that in their youth I spared not the time
from my worldly ambition to watch over the hearts of my sons; and thou
wert too proud of the surface without, to look well to the workings
within, and what was once soft to the touch is now hard to the hammer.
In the battle of life the arrows we neglect to pick up, Fate, our foe,
will store in her quiver; we have armed her ourselves with the
shafts--the more need to beware with the shield.  Wherefore, if thou
survivest me, and if, as I forebode, dissension break out between Harold
and Tostig, I charge thee by memory of our love, and reverence for my
grave, to deem wise and just all that Harold deems just and wise.  For
when Godwin is in the dust, his House lives alone in Harold.  Heed me
now, and heed ever.  And so, while the day yet lasts, I will go forth
into the marts and the guilds, and talk with the burgesses, and smile on
their wives, and be, to the last, Godwin the smooth and the strong."

So saying; the old Earl arose, and walked forth with a firm step; and his
old hound sprang up, pricked its ears, and followed him; the blinded
falcon turned its head towards the clapping door, but did not stir from
the dossel.

Then Githa again leant her cheek on her hand, and again rocked herself to
and fro, gazing into the red flame of the fire,--red and fitful through
the blue smoke,--and thought over her lord's words.  It might be the
third part of an hour after Godwin had left the house, when the door
opened, and Githa, expecting the return of her sons, looked up eagerly,
but it was Hilda, who stooped her head under the vault of the door; and
behind Hilda came two of her maidens, bearing a small cyst, or chest. The
Vala motioned to her attendants to lay the cyst at the feet of Githa, and
that done, with lowly salutation they left the room.

The superstitions of the Danes were strong in Githa; and she felt an
indescribable awe when Hilda stood before her, the red light playing on
the Vala's stern marble face, and contrasting robes of funereal black.
But, with all her awe, Githa, who, not educated like her daughter Edith,
had few feminine resources, loved the visits of her mysterious kinswoman.
She loved to live her youth over again in discourse on the wild customs
and dark rites of the Dane; and even her awe itself had the charm which
the ghost tale has to the child;--for the illiterate are ever children.
So, recovering her surprise, and her first pause, she rose to welcome the
Vala, and said:

"Hail, Hilda, and thrice hail!  The day has been warm and the way long;
and, ere thou takest food and wine, let me prepare for thee the bath for
thy form, or the bath for thy feet.  For as sleep to the young, is the
bath to the old."

Hilda shook her head.

"Bringer of sleep am I, and the baths I prepare are in the halls of
Valhalla.  Offer not to the Vala the bath for mortal weariness, and the
wine and the food meet for human guests.  Sit thee down, daughter of the
Dane, and thank thy new gods for the past that hath been thine. Not ours
is the present, and the future escapes from our dreams; but the past is
ours ever, and all eternity cannot revoke a single joy that the moment
hath known."

Then seating herself in Godwin's large chair, she leant over her
seid-staff, and was silent, as if absorbed in her thoughts.

"Githa," she said at last, "where is thy lord?  I came to touch his hands
and to look on his brow."

"He hath gone forth into the mart, and my sons are from home; and Harold
comes hither, ere night, from his earldom."

A faint smile, as of triumph, broke over the lips of the Vala, and then
as suddenly yielded to an expression of great sadness.

"Githa," she said, slowly, "doubtless thou rememberest in thy young days
to have seen or heard of the terrible hell-maid Belsta?"

"Ay, ay," answered Githa shuddering; "I saw her once in gloomy weather,
driving before her herds of dark grey cattle.  Ay, ay; and my father
beheld her ere his death, riding the air on a wolf, with a snake for a
bridle.  Why askest thou?"

"Is it not strange," said Hilda, evading the question, "that Belsta, and
Heidr, and Hulla of old, the wolf-riders, the men-devourers, could win to
the uttermost secrets of galdra, though applied only to purposes the
direst and fellest to man, and that I, though ever in the future,--I,
though tasking the Nornas not to afflict a foe, but to shape the careers
of those I love,--I find, indeed, my predictions fulfilled; but how
often, alas! only in horror and doom!"

"How so, kinswoman, how so?" said Githa, awed yet charmed in the awe, and
drawing her chair nearer to the mournful sorceress.  "Didst thou not
fortell our return in triumph from the unjust outlawry, and, lo, it hath
come to pass? and hast thou not" (here Githa's proud face flushed)
"foretold also that my stately Harold shall wear the diadem of a king?"

"Truly, the first came to pass," said Hilda; "but----" she paused, and
her eye fell on the cyst; then breaking off she continued, speaking to
herself rather than to Githa--"And Harold's dream, what did that portend?
the runes fail me, and the dead give no voice.  And beyond one dim day,
in which his betrothed shall clasp him with the arms of a bride, all is
dark to my vision--dark--dark.  Speak not to me, Githa; for a burthen,
heavy as the stone on a grave, rests on a weary heart!"

A dead silence succeeded, till, pointing with her staff to the fire, the
Vala said, "Lo, where the smoke and the flame contend--the smoke rises in
dark gyres to the air, and escapes, to join the wrack of clouds.  From
the first to the last we trace its birth and its fall; from the heart of
the fire to the descent in the rain, so is it with human reason, which is
not the light but the smoke; it struggles but to darken us; it soars but
to melt in the vapour and dew.  Yet, lo, the flame burns in our hearth
till the fuel fails, and goes at last, none know whither.  But it lives
in the air though we see it not; it lurks in the stone and waits the
flash of the steel; it coils round the dry leaves and sere stalks, and a
touch re-illumines it; it plays in the marsh--it collects in the
heavens--it appals us in the lightning--it gives warmth to the air--life
of our life, and the element of all elements.  O Githa, the flame is the
light of the soul, the element everlasting; and it liveth still, when it
escapes from our view; it burneth in the shapes to which it passes; it
vanishes, but its never extinct."

So saying, the Vala's lips again closed; and again both the women sate
silent by the great fire, as it flared and flickered over the deep lines
and high features of Githa, the Earl's wife, and the calm, unwrinkled,
solemn face of the melancholy Vala.



CHAPTER II.

While these conferences took place in the house of Godwin, Harold, on his
way to London, dismissed his train to precede him to his father's roof,
and, striking across the country, rode fast and alone towards the old
Roman abode of Hilda.  Months had elapsed since he had seen or heard of
Edith.  News at that time, I need not say, was rare and scarce, and
limited to public events, either transmitted by special nuncius or
passing pilgrim, or borne from lip to lip by the talk of the scattered
multitude.  But even in his busy and anxious duties, Harold had in vain
sought to banish from his heart the image of that young girl, whose life
he needed no Vala to predict to him was interwoven with the fibres of his
own.  The obstacles which, while he yielded to, he held unjust and
tyrannical, obstacles allowed by his reluctant reason and his secret
ambition--not sanctified by conscience--only inflamed the deep strength
of the solitary passion his life had known; a passion that, dating from
the very childhood of Edith, had, often unknown to himself, animated his
desire of fame, and mingled with his visions of power.  Nor, though hope
was far and dim, was it extinct.  The legitimate heir of Edward the
Confessor was a prince living in the Court of the Emperor, of fair
repute, and himself wedded; and Edward's health, always precarious,
seemed to forbid any very prolonged existence to the reigning king.
Therefore, he thought that through the successor, whose throne would rest
in safety upon Harold's support, he might easily obtain that dispensation
from the Pope which he knew the present king would never ask--a
dispensation rarely indeed, if ever, accorded to any subject, and which,
therefore, needed all a king's power to back it.

So in that hope, and fearful lest it should be quenched for ever by
Edith's adoption of the veil and the irrevocable vow, with a beating,
disturbed, but joyful heart he rode over field and through forest to the
old Roman house.

He emerged at length to the rear of the villa, and the sun, fast
hastening to its decline, shone full upon the rude columns of the Druid
temple.  And there, as he had seen her before, when he had first spoken
of love and its barriers, he beheld the young maiden.

He sprang from his horse, and leaving the well-trained animal loose to
browse on the waste land, he ascended the knoll.  He stole noiselessly
behind Edith, and his foot stumbled against the grave-stone of the dead
Titan-Saxon of old.  But the apparition, whether real or fancied, and the
dream that had followed, had long passed from his memory, and no
superstition was in the heart springing to the lips, that cried "Edith"
once again.

The girl started, looked round, and fell upon his breast. It was some
moments before she recovered consciousness, and then, withdrawing herself
gently from his arms, she leant for support against the Teuton altar.

She was much changed since Harold had seen her last: her cheek had grown
pale and thin, and her rounded form seemed wasted; and sharp grief, as he
gazed, shot through the soul of Harold.

"Thou hast pined, thou hast suffered," said he, mournfully: "and I, who
would shed my life's blood to take one from thy sorrows, or add to one of
thy joys, have been afar, unable to comfort, perhaps only a cause of thy
woe."

"No, Harold," said Edith, faintly, "never of woe; always of comfort, even
in absence.  I have been ill, and Hilda hath tried rune and charm all in
vain.  But I am better, now that Spring hath come tardily forth, and I
look on the fresh flowers, and hear the song of the birds."

But tears were in the sound of her voice, while she spoke.

"And they have not tormented thee again with the thoughts of the
convent?"

"They? no;--but my soul, yes.  O Harold, release me from my promise; for
the time already hath come that thy sister foretold to me; the silver
cord is loosened, and the golden bowl is broken, and I would fain take
the wings of the dove, and be at peace."

"Is it so?--Is there peace in the home where the thought of Harold
becomes a sin?"

"Not sin then and there, Harold, not sin.  Thy sister hailed the convent
when she thought of prayer for those she loved."

"Prate not to me of my sister!" said Harold, through his set teeth. "It
is but a mockery to talk of prayer for the heart that thou thyself
rendest in twain.  Where is Hilda?  I would see her."

"She hath gone to thy father's house with a gift; and it was to watch for
her return that I sate on the green knoll."

The Earl then drew near and took her hand, and sate by her side, and they
conversed long.  But Harold saw with a fierce pang that Edith's heart was
set upon the convent, and that even in his presence, and despite his
soothing words, she was broken-spirited and despondent. It seemed as if
her youth and life had gone from her, and the day had come in which she
said, "There is no pleasure."

Never had he seen her thus; and, deeply moved as well as keenly stung, he
rose at length to depart; her hand lay passive in his parting clasp, and
a slight shiver went over her frame.

"Farewell, Edith; when I return from Windshore, I shall be at my old home
yonder, and we shall meet again."

Edith's lips murmured inaudibly, and she bent her eyes to the ground.

Slowly Harold regained his steed, and as he rode on, he looked behind and
waved oft his hand.  But Edith sate motionless, her eyes still on the
ground, and he saw not the tears that fell from them fast and burning;
nor heard he the low voice that groaned amidst the heathen ruins, "Mary,
sweet mother, shelter me from my own heart!"

The sun had set before Harold gained the long and spacious abode of his
father.  All around it lay the roofs and huts of the great Earl's special
tradesmen, for even his goldsmith was but his freed ceorl. The house
itself stretched far from the Thames inland, with several low courts
built only of timber, rugged and shapeless, but filled with bold men,
then the great furniture of a noble's halls.

Amidst the shouts of hundreds, eager to hold his stirrup, the Earl
dismounted, passed the swarming hall, and entered the room, in which he
found Hilda and Githa, and Godwin, who had preceded his entry but a few
minutes.

In the beautiful reverence of son to father, which made one of the
loveliest features of the Saxon character [126] (as the frequent want of
it makes the most hateful of the Norman vices), the all-powerful Harold
bowed his knee to the old Earl, who placed his hand on his head in
benediction, and then kissed him on the cheek and brow.

"Thy kiss, too, dear mother," said the younger Earl; and Githa's embrace,
if more cordial than her lord's, was not, perhaps, more fond.

"Greet Hilda, my son," said Godwin, "she hath brought me a gift, and she
hath tarried to place it under thy special care.  Thou alone must heed
the treasure, and open the casket.  But when and where, my kinswoman?"

"On the sixth day after thy coming to the King's hall," answered Hilda,
not returning the smile with which Godwin spoke,--"on the sixth day,
Harold, open the chest, and take out the robe which hath been spun in the
house of Hilda for Godwin the Earl.  And now, Godwin, I have clasped
thine hand, and I have looked on thy brow, and my mission is done, and I
must wend homeward."

"That shalt thou not, Hilda," said the hospitable Earl; "the meanest
wayfarer hath a right to bed and board in this house for a night and a
day, and thou wilt not disgrace us by leaving our threshold, the bread
unbroken, and the couch unpressed.  Old friend, we were young together,
and thy face is welcome to me as the memory of former days."

Hilda shook her head, and one of those rare, and for that reason most
touching, expressions of tenderness of which the calm and rigid character
of her features, when in repose, seemed scarcely susceptible, softened
her eye, and relaxed the firm lines of her lips.

"Son of Wolnoth," said she, gently, "not under thy roof-tree should lodge
the raven of bode.  Bread have I not broken since yestere'en, and sleep
will be far from my eyes to-night.  Fear not, for my people without are
stout and armed, and for the rest there lives not the man whose arm can
have power over Hilda."

She took Harold's hand as she spoke, and leading him forth, whispered in
his ear, "I would have a word with thee ere we part."  Then, reaching the
threshold, she waved her hand thrice over the floor, and muttered in the
Danish tongue a rude verse, which, translated, ran somewhat thus:

    "All free from the knot
       Glide the thread of the skein,
     And rest to the labour,
       And peace to the pain!"

"It is a death-dirge," said Githa, with whitening lips, but she spoke
inly, and neither husband nor son heard her words.

Hilda and Harold passed in silence through the hall, and the Vala's
attendants, with spears and torches, rose from the settles, and went
before to the outer court, where snorted impatiently her black palfrey.

Halting in the midst of the court, she said to Harold, in a low voice:

"At sunset we part--at sunset we shall meet again.  And behold, the star
rises on the sunset; and the star, broader and brighter, shall rise on
the sunset then!  When thy hand draws the robe from the chest, think on
Hilda, and know that at that hour she stands by the grave of the Saxon
warrior, and that from the grave dawns the future.  Farewell to thee!"

Harold longed to speak to her of Edith, but a strange awe at his heart
chained his lips; so he stood silent by the great wooden gates of the
rude house.  The torches flamed round him, and Hilda's face seemed lurid
in the glare.  There he stood musing long after torch and ceorl had
passed away, nor did he wake from his reverie till Gurth, springing from
his panting horse, passed his arm round the Earl's shoulder, and cried:

"How did I miss thee, my brother? and why didst thou forsake thy train?"

"I will tell thee anon.  Gurth, has my father ailed?  There is that in
his face which I like not."

"He hath not complained of misease," said Gurth, startled; "but now thou
speakest of it, his mood hath altered of late, and he hath wandered much
alone, or only with the old hound and the old falcon."

Then Harold turned back, and, his heart was full; and, when he reached
the house, his father was sitting in the hall on his chair of state; and
Githa sate on his right hand, and a little below her sate Tostig and
Leofwine, who had come in from the bear-hunt by the river-gate, and were
talking loud and merrily; and thegns and cnehts sate all around, and
there was wassail as Harold entered.  But the Earl looked only to his
father, and he saw that his eyes were absent from the glee, and that he
was bending his head over the old falcon, which sate on his wrist.



CHAPTER III.

No subject of England, since the race of Cerdic sate on the throne, ever
entered the courtyard of Windshore with such train and such state as Earl
Godwin.--Proud of that first occasion, since his return, to do homage to
him with whose cause that of England against the stranger was bound, all
truly English at heart amongst the thegns of the land swelled his
retinue.  Whether Saxon or Dane, those who alike loved the laws and the
soil, came from north and from south to the peaceful banner of the old
Earl.  But most of these were of the past generation, for the rising race
were still dazzled by the pomp of the Norman; and the fashion of English
manners, and the pride in English deeds, had gone out of date with long
locks and bearded chins.  Nor there were the bishops and abbots and the
lords of the Church,--for dear to them already the fame of the Norman
piety, and they shared the distaste of their holy King to the strong
sense and homely religion of Godwin, who founded no convents, and rode to
war with no relics round his neck.  But they with Godwin were the stout
and the frank and the free, in whom rested the pith and marrow of English
manhood; and they who were against him were the blind and willing and
fated fathers of slaves unborn.

Not then the stately castle we now behold, which is of the masonry of a
prouder race, nor on the same site, but two miles distant on the winding
of the river shore (whence it took its name), a rude building partly of
timber and partly of Roman brick, adjoining a large monastery and
surrounded by a small hamlet, constituted the palace of the saint-king.

So rode the Earl and his four fair sons, all abreast, into the courtyard
of Windshore [127].  Now when King Edward heard the tramp of the steeds
and the hum of the multitudes, as he sate in his closet with his abbots
and priests, all in still contemplation of the thumb of St. Jude, the
King asked:

"What army, in the day of peace, and the time of Easter, enters the gates
of our palace?"

Then an abbot rose and looked out of the narrow window, and said with a
groan:

"Army thou mayst well call it, O King!--and foes to us and to thee head
the legions----"

"Inprinis," quoth our abbot the scholar; "thou speakest, I trow, of the
wicked Earl and his sons."

The King's face changed.  "Come they," said he, "with so large a train?
This smells more of vaunt than of loyalty; naught--very naught."

"Alack!" said one of the conclave, "I fear me that the men of Belial will
work us harm; the heathen are mighty, and----"

"Fear not," said Edward, with benign loftiness, observing that his guests
grew pale, and himself, though often weak to childishness, and morally
wavering and irresolute,--still so far king and gentleman, that he knew
no craven fear of the body.  "Fear not for me, my fathers; humble as I
am, I am strong in the faith of heaven and its angels."

The Churchmen looked at each other, sly yet abashed; it was not precisely
for the King that they feared.

Then spoke Alred, the good prelate and constant peacemaker--fair column
and lone one of the fast-crumbling Saxon Church.  "It is ill in you,
brethren to arraign the truth and good meaning of those who honour your
King; and in these days that lord should ever be the most welcome who
brings to the halls of his king the largest number of hearts, stout and
leal."

"By your leave, brother Alred," said Stigand, who, though from motives of
policy he had aided those who besought the King not to peril his crown by
resisting the return of Godwin, benefited too largely by the abuses of
the Church to be sincerely espoused to the cause of the strong-minded
Earl; "By your leave, brother Alred, to every leal heart is a ravenous
mouth; and the treasures of the King are well-nigh drained in feeding
these hungry and welcomeless visitors.  Durst I counsel my lord I would
pray him, as a matter of policy, to baffle this astute and proud Earl.
He would fain have the King feast in public, that he might daunt him and
the Church with the array of his friends."

"I conceive thee, my father," said Edward, with more quickness than
habitual, and with the cunning, sharp though guileless, that belongs to
minds undeveloped, "I conceive thee; it is good and most politic. This
our orgulous Earl shall not have his triumph, and, so fresh from his
exile, brave his King with the mundane parade of his power.  Our health
is our excuse for our absence from the banquet, and, sooth to say, we
marvel much why Easter should be held a fitting time for feasting and
mirth.  Wherefore, Hugoline, my chamberlain, advise the Earl that to-day
we keep fast till the sunset, when temperately, with eggs, bread, and
fish, we will sustain Adam's nature.  Pray him and his sons to attend
us--they alone be our guests."  And with a sound that seemed a laugh, or
the ghost of a laugh, low and chuckling--for Edward had at moments an
innocent humour which his monkish biographer disdained not to note
[128],--he flung himself back in his chair.  The priests took the cue,
and shook their sides heartily, as Hugoline left the room, not ill
pleased, by the way, to escape an invitation to the eggs, bread, and
fish.

Alred sighed; and said, "For the Earl and his sons, this is honour; but
the other earls, and the thegns, will miss at the banquet him whom they
design but to honour, and----"

"I have said," interrupted Edward, drily, and with a look of fatigue.

"And," observed another Churchman, with malice, "at least the young Earls
will be humbled, for they will not sit with the King and their father, as
they would in the Hall, and must serve my lord with napkin and wine."

"Inprinis," quoth our scholar the abbot, "that will be rare!  I would I
were by to see.  But this Godwin is a man of treachery and wile, and my
lord should beware of the fate of murdered Alfred, his brother!"

The King started, and pressed his hands to his eyes.

"How darest thou, Abbot Fatchere," cried Alred, indignantly; "How darest
thou revive grief without remedy, and slander without proof?"

"Without proof?" echoed Edward, in a hollow voice.  "He who could murder,
could well stoop to forswear!  Without proof before man; but did he try
the ordeals of God?--did his feet pass the ploughshare?--did his hand
grasp the seething iron?  Verily, verily, thou didst wrong to name to me
Alfred my brother!  I shall see his sightless and gore-dropping sockets
in the face of Godwin, this day, at my board."

The King rose in great disorder; and, after pacing the room some moments,
disregardful of the silent and scared looks of his Churchmen, waved his
hand, in sign to them to depart.  All took the hint at once save Alred;
but he, lingering the last, approached the King with dignity in his step
and compassion in his eyes.

"Banish from thy breast, O King and son, thoughts unmeet, and of doubtful
charity!  All that man could know of Godwin's innocence or guilt--the
suspicion of the vulgar--the acquittal of his peers--was known to thee
before thou didst seek his aid for thy throne, and didst take his child
for thy wife.  Too late is it now to suspect; leave thy doubts to the
solemn day, which draws nigh to the old man, thy wife's father!"

"Ha!" said the king, seeming not to heed, or wilfully to misunderstand
the prelate, "Ha! leave him to God;--I will!"

He turned away impatiently; and the prelate reluctantly departed.



CHAPTER IV.

Tostig chafed mightily at the King's message; and, on Harold's attempt to
pacify him, grew so violent that nothing short of the cold stern command
of his father, who carried with him that weight of authority never known
but to those in whom wrath is still and passion noiseless, imposed sullen
peace on his son's rugged nature.  But the taunts heaped by Tostig upon
Harold disquieted the old Earl, and his brow was yet sad with prophetic
care when he entered the royal apartments.  He had been introduced into
the King's presence but a moment before Hugoline led the way to the
chamber of repast, and the greeting between King and Earl had been brief
and formal.

Under the canopy of state were placed but two chairs, for the King and
the Queen's father; and the four sons, Harold, Tostig, Leofwine, and
Gurth, stood behind.  Such was the primitive custom of ancient Teutonic
kings; and the feudal Norman monarchs only enforced, though with more
pomp and more rigour, the ceremonial of the forest patriarchs--youth to
wait on age, and the ministers of the realm on those whom their policy
had made chiefs in council and war.

The Earl's mind, already embittered by the scene with his sons, was
chafed yet more by the King's unloving coldness; for it is natural to
man, however worldly, to feel affection for those he has served, and
Godwin had won Edward his crown; nor, despite his warlike though
bloodless return, could even monk or Norman, in counting up the old
Earl's crimes, say that he had ever failed in personal respect to the
King he had made; nor over-great for subject, as the Earl's power must be
confessed, will historian now be found to say that it had not been well
for Saxon England if Godwin had found more favour with his King, and monk
and Norman less. [129]

So the old Earl's stout heart was stung, and he looked from those deep,
impenetrable eyes, mournfully upon Edward's chilling brow.

And Harold, with whom all household ties were strong, but to whom his
great father was especially dear, watched his face and saw that it was
very flushed.  But the practised courtier sought to rally his spirits,
and to smile and jest.

From smile and jest, the King turned and asked for wine.  Harold,
starting, advanced with the goblet; as he did so, he stumbled with one
foot, but lightly recovered himself with the other; and Tostig laughed
scornfully at Harold's awkwardness.

The old Earl observed both stumble and laugh, and willing to suggest a
lesson to both his sons, said--laughing pleasantly--"Lo, Harold, how the
left foot saves the right!--so one brother, thou seest, helps the other!"
[130]

King Edward looked up suddenly.

"And so, Godwin, also, had my brother Alfred helped me, hadst thou
permitted."

The old Earl, galled to the quick, gazed a moment on the King, and his
cheek was purple, and his eyes seemed bloodshot.

"O Edward!" he exclaimed, "thou speakest to me hardly and unkindly of thy
brother Alfred, and often hast thou thus more than hinted that I caused
his death."

The King made no answer.

"May this crumb of bread choke me," said the Earl, in great emotion, "if
I am guilty of thy brother's blood!" [131]  But scarcely had the bread
touched his lips, when his eyes fixed, the long warning symptoms were
fulfilled.  And he fell to the ground, under the table, sudden and heavy,
smitten by the stroke of apoplexy.

Harold and Gurth sprang forward; they drew their father from the ground.
His face, still deep-red with streaks of purple, rested on Harold's
breast; and the son, kneeling, called in anguish on his father: the ear
was deaf.

Then said the King, rising:

"It is the hand of God: remove him!" and he swept from the room,
exulting.



CHAPTER V.

For five days and five nights did Godwin lie speechless [132].  And
Harold watched over him night and day.  And the leaches [133] would not
bleed him, because the season was against it, in the increase of the moon
and the tides; but they bathed his temples with wheat flour boiled in
milk, according to a prescription which an angel in a dream [134] had
advised to another patient; and they placed a plate of lead on his
breast, marked with five crosses, saying a paternoster over each cross;
together with other medical specifics in great esteem [135].  But,
nevertheless, five days and five nights did Godwin lie speechless; and
the leaches then feared that human skill was in vain.

The effect produced on the court, not more by the Earl's death-stroke
than the circumstances preceding it, was such as defies description. With
Godwin's old comrades in arms it was simple and honest grief; but with
all those under the influence of the priests, the event was regarded as a
direct punishment from Heaven.  The previous words of the King, repeated
by Edward to his monks, circulated from lip to lip, with sundry
exaggerations as it travelled: and the superstition of the day had the
more excuse, inasmuch as the speech of Godwin touched near upon the
defiance of one of the most popular ordeals of the accused,--viz. that
called the "corsned," in which a piece of bread was given to the supposed
criminal; if he swallowed it with ease he was innocent; if it stuck in
his throat, or choked him, nay, if he shook and turned pale, he was
guilty.  Godwin's words had appeared to invite the ordeal, God had heard
and stricken down the presumptuous perjurer!

Unconscious, happily, of these attempts to blacken the name of his dying
father, Harold, towards the grey dawn succeeding the fifth night, thought
that he heard Godwin stir in his bed.  So he put aside the curtain, and
bent over him.  The old Earl's eyes were wide open, and the red colour
had gone from his cheeks, so that he was pale as death.

"How fares it, dear father?" asked Harold.

Godwin smiled fondly, and tried to speak, but his voice died in a
convulsive rattle.  Lifting himself up, however, with an effort, he
pressed tenderly the hand that clasped his own, leant his head on
Harold's breast, and so gave up the ghost.

When Harold was at last aware that the struggle was over, he laid the
grey head gently on the pillow; he closed the eyes, and kissed the lips,
and knelt down and prayed.  Then, seating himself at a little distance,
he covered his face with his mantle.

At this time his brother Gurth, who had chiefly shared watch with
Harold,--for Tostig, foreseeing his father's death, was busy soliciting
thegn and earl to support his own claims to the earldom about to be
vacant; and Leofwine had gone to London on the previous day to summon
Githa who was hourly expected--Gurth, I say, entered the room on tiptoe,
and seeing his brother's attitude, guessed that all was over.  He passed
on to the table, took up the lamp, and looked long on his father's face.
That strange smile of the dead, common alike to innocent and guilty, had
already settled on the serene lips; and that no less strange
transformation from age to youth, when the wrinkles vanish, and the
features come out clear and sharp from the hollows of care and years, had
already begun.  And the old man seemed sleeping in his prime.

So Gurth kissed the dead, as Harold had done before him, and came up and
sate himself by his brother's feet, and rested his head on Harold's knee;
nor would he speak till, appalled by the long silence of the Earl, he
drew away the mantle from his brother's face with a gentle hand, and the
large tears were rolling down Harold's cheeks.

"Be soothed, my brother," said Gurth; "our father has lived for glory,
his age was prosperous, and his years more than those which the Psalmist
allots to man.  Come and look on his face, Harold, its calm will comfort
thee."

Harold obeyed the hand that led him like a child; in passing towards the
bed, his eye fell upon the cyst which Hilda had given to the old Earl,
and a chill shot through his veins.

"Gurth," said he, "is not this the morning of the sixth day in which we
have been at the King's Court?"

"It is the morning of the sixth day."

Then Harold took forth the key which Hilda had given him, and unlocked
the cyst, and there lay the white winding-sheet of the dead, and a
scroll.  Harold took the scroll, and bent over it, reading by the mingled
light of the lamp and the dawn:

"All hail, Harold, heir of Godwin the great, and Githa the king-born!
Thou hast obeyed Hilda, and thou knowest now that Hilda's eyes read the
future, and her lips speak the dark words of truth.  Bow thy heart to the
Vala, and mistrust the wisdom that sees only the things of the daylight.
As the valour of the warrior and the song of the scald, so is the lore of
the prophetess.  It is not of the body, it is soul within soul; it
marshals events and men, like the valour--it moulds the air into
substance, like the song.  Bow thy heart to the Vala. Flowers bloom over
the grave of the dead.  And the young plant soars high, when the king of
the woodland lies low!"



CHAPTER VI.

The sun rose, and the stairs and passages without were filled with the
crowds that pressed to hear news of the Earl's health.  The doors stood
open, and Gurth led in the multitude to look their last on the hero of
council and camp, who had restored with strong hand and wise brain the
race of Cerdic to the Saxon throne.  Harold stood by the bed-head silent,
and tears were shed and sobs were heard.  And many a thegn who had before
half believed in the guilt of Godwin as the murderer of Alfred, whispered
in gasps to his neighbour:

"There is no weregeld for manslaying on the head of him who smiles so in
death on his old comrades in life!"

Last of all lingered Leofric, the great Earl of Mercia; and when the rest
had departed, he took the pale hand, that lay heavy on the coverlid, in
his own, and said:

"Old foe, often stood we in Witan and field against each other; but few
are the friends for whom Leofric would mourn as he mourns for thee.
Peace to thy soul!  Whatever its sins, England should judge thee mildly,
for England beat in each pulse of thy heart, and with thy greatness was
her own!"

Then Harold stole round the bed, and put his arms round Leofric's neck,
and embraced him.  The good old Earl was touched, and he laid his
tremulous hands on Harold's brown locks and blessed him.

"Harold," he said, "thou succeedest to thy father's power: let thy
father's foes be thy friends.  Wake from thy grief, for thy country now
demands thee,--the honour of thy House, and the memory of the dead.  Many
even now plot against thee and thine.  Seek the King, demand as thy right
thy father's earldom, and Leofric will back thy claim in the Witan."

Harold pressed Leofric's hand, and raising it to his lips replied: "Be
our Houses at peace henceforth and for ever."

Tostig's vanity indeed misled him, when he dreamed that any combination
of Godwin's party could meditate supporting his claims against the
popular Harold--nor less did the monks deceive themselves, when they
supposed that, with Godwin's death, the power of his family would fall.

There was more than even the unanimity of the chiefs of the Witan, in
favour of Harold; there was that universal noiseless impression
throughout all England, Danish and Saxon, that Harold was now the sole
man on whom rested the state--which, whenever it so favours one
individual, is irresistible.  Nor was Edward himself hostile to Harold,
whom alone of that House, as we have before said, he esteemed and loved.

Harold was at once named Earl of Wessex; and relinquishing the earldom he
held before, he did not hesitate as to the successor to be recommended in
his place.  Conquering all jealousy and dislike for Algar, he united the
strength of his party in favour of the son of Leofric, and the election
fell upon him.  With all his hot errors, the claims of no other Earl,
whether from his own capacities or his father's services, were so strong;
and his election probably saved the state from a great danger, in the
results of that angry mood and that irritated ambition with which he had
thrown himself into the arms of England's most valiant aggressor,
Gryffyth, King of North Wales.

To outward appearance, by this election, the House of Leofric--uniting in
father and son the two mighty districts of Mercia and the East
Anglians--became more powerful than that of Godwin; for, in that last
House, Harold was now the only possessor of one of the great earldoms,
and Tostig and the other brothers had no other provision beyond the
comparatively insignificant lordships they held before.  But if Harold
had ruled no earldom at all, he had still been immeasurably the first man
in England--so great was the confidence reposed in his valour and wisdom.
He was of that height in himself, that he needed no pedestal to stand on.

The successor of the first great founder of a House succeeds to more than
his predecessor's power, if he but know how to wield and maintain it.
For who makes his way to greatness without raising foes at every step?
and who ever rose to power supreme, without grave cause for blame?  But
Harold stood free from the enmities his father had provoked, and pure
from the stains that slander or repute cast upon his father's name.  The
sun of the yesterday had shone through cloud; the sun of the day rose in
a clear firmament.  Even Tostig recognised the superiority of his
brother; and after a strong struggle between baffled rage and covetous
ambition, yielded to him, as to a father. He felt that all Godwin's House
was centred in Harold alone; and that only from his brother (despite his
own daring valour and despite his alliance with the blood of Charlemagne
and Alfred, through the sister of Matilda, the Norman duchess,) could his
avarice of power be gratified.

"Depart to thy home, my brother," said Earl Harold to Tostig, "and grieve
not that Algar is preferred to thee.  For, even had his claim been less
urgent, ill would it have beseemed us to arrogate the lordships of all
England as our dues.  Rule thy lordship with wisdom: gain the love of thy
lithsmen.  High claims hast thou in our father's name, and moderation now
will but strengthen thee in the season to come.  Trust on Harold
somewhat, on thyself more.  Thou hast but to add temper and judgment to
valour and zeal, to be worthy mate of the first earl in England.  Over my
father's corpse I embraced my father's foe.  Between brother and brother
shall there not be love, as the best bequest of the dead?"

"It shall not be my fault, if there be not," answered Tostig, humbled
though chafed.  And he summoned his men and returned to his domains.



CHAPTER VII.

Fair, broad, and calm set the sun over the western woodlands.  Hilda
stood on the mound, and looked with undazzled eyes on the sinking orb.
Beside her, Edith reclined on the sward, and seemed with idle hand
tracing characters in the air.  The girl had grown paler still, since
Harold last parted from her on the same spot, and the same listless and
despondent apathy stamped her smileless lips and her bended head.

"See, child of my heart," said Hilda, addressing Edith, while she still
gazed on the western luminary, "see, the sun goes down to the far deeps,
where Rana and Aegir [136] watch over the worlds of the sea; but with
morning he comes from the halls of the Asas--the golden gates of the
East--and joy comes in his train.  And yet then thinkest, sad child,
whose years have scarce passed into woman, that the sun, once set, never
comes back to life.  But even while we speak, thy morning draws near, and
the dunness of cloud takes the hues of the rose!"

Edith's hand paused from its vague employment, and fell droopingly on her
knee;--she turned with an unquiet and anxious eye to Hilda, and after
looking some moments wistfully at the Vala, the colour rose to her cheek,
and she said in a voice that had an accent half of anger:

"Hilda, thou art cruel!"

"So is Fate!" answered the Vala.  "But men call not Fate cruel when it
smiles on their desires.  Why callest thou Hilda cruel, when she reads in
the setting sun the runes of thy coming joy!"

"There is no joy for me," returned Edith, plaintively; "and I have that on
my heart," she added, with a sudden and almost fierce change of tone,
"which at last I will dare to speak.  I reproach thee, Hilda, that thou
hast marred all my life, that thou hast duped me with dreams, and left me
alone in despair."

"Speak on," said Hilda, calmly, as a nurse to a froward child.

"Hast thou not told me, from the first dawn of my wondering reason, that
my life and lot were inwoven with--with (the word, mad and daring, must
out)--with those of Harold the peerless?  But for that, which my infancy
took from thy lips as a law, I had never been so vain and so frantic!  I
had never watched each play of his face, and treasured each word from his
lips; I had never made my life but part of his life--all my soul but the
shadow of his sun.  But for that, I had hailed the calm of the
cloister--but for that, I had glided in peace to my grave.  And now--now,
O Hilda--" Edith paused, and that break had more eloquence than any words
she could command.  "And," she resumed quickly, "thou knowest that these
hopes were but dreams--that the law ever stood between him and me--and
that it was guilt to love him."

"I knew the law," answered Hilda, "but the law of fools is to the wise as
the cobweb swung over the brake to the wing of the bird.  Ye are sibbe to
each other, some five times removed; and therefore an old man at Rome
saith that ye ought not to wed.  When the shavelings obey the old man at
home, and put aside their own wives and frillas [137], and abstain from
the wine cup, and the chase, and the brawl, I will stoop to hear of their
laws,--with disrelish it may be, but without scorn. [138]  It is no sin
to love Harold; and no monk and no law shall prevent your union on the
day appointed to bring ye together, form and heart."

"Hilda! Hilda! madden me not with joy," cried Edith, starting up in
rapturous emotion, her young face dyed with blushes, and all her
renovated beauty so celestial that Hilda herself was almost awed, as if
by the vision of Freya, the northern Venus, charmed by a spell from the
halls of Asgard.

"But that day is distant," renewed the Vala.

"What matters! what matters!" cried the pure child of Nature; "I ask but
hope.  Enough,--oh! enough, if we were but wedded on the borders of the
grave!"

"Lo, then," said Hilda, "behold, the sun of thy life dawns again!"

As she spoke, the Vala stretched her arm, and through the intersticed
columns of the fane, Edith saw the large shadow of a man cast over the
still sward.  Presently into the space of the circle came Harold, her
beloved.  His face was pale with grief yet recent; but, perhaps, more
than ever, dignity was in his step and command on his brow, for he felt
that now alone with him rested the might of Saxon England.  And what
royal robe so invests with imperial majesty the form of a man as the
grave sense of power responsible, in an earnest soul?

"Thou comest," said Hilda, "in the hour I predicted; at the setting of
the sun and the rising of the star."

"Vala," said Harold, gloomily, "I will not oppose my sense to thy
prophecies; for who shall judge of that power of which he knows not the
elements? or despise the marvel of which he cannot detect the imposture?
But leave me, I pray thee, to walk in the broad light of the common day.
These hands are made to grapple with things palpable, and these eyes to
measure the forms that front my way.  In my youth, I turned in despair or
disgust from the subtleties of the schoolmen, which split upon hairs the
brains of Lombard and Frank; in my busy and stirring manhood entangle me
not in the meshes which confuse all my reason, and sicken my waking
thoughts into dreams of awe.  Mine be the straight path and the plain
goal!"

The Vala gazed on him with an earnest look, that partook of admiration,
and yet more of gloom; but she spoke not, and Harold resumed:

"Let the dead rest, Hilda,--proud names with glory on earth and shadows
escaped from our ken, submissive to mercy in heaven.  A vast chasm have
my steps overleapt since we met, O Hilda--sweet Edith; a vast chasm, but
a narrow grave."  His voice faltered a moment, and again he renewed,--
"Thou weepest, Edith; ah, how thy tears console me!  Hilda, hear me!  I
love thy grandchild--loved her by irresistible instinct since her blue
eyes first smiled on mine.  I loved her in her childhood, as in her
youth--in the blossom as in the flower.  And thy grandchild loves me.
The laws of the Church proscribe our marriage, and therefore we parted;
but I feel, and thine Edith feels, that the love remains as strong in
absence: no other will be her wedded lord, no other my wedded wife.
Therefore, with heart made soft by sorrow, and, in my father's death,
sole lord of my fate, I return, and say to thee in her presence, 'Suffer
us to hope still!'  The day may come when under some king less enthralled
than Edward by formal Church laws, we may obtain from the Pope absolution
for our nuptials--a day, perhaps, far off; but we are both young, and
love is strong and patient: we can wait."

"O Harold," exclaimed Edith, "we can wait!"

"Have I not told thee, son of Godwin," said the Vala, solemnly, "that
Edith's skein of life was inwoven with thine?  Dost thou deem that my
charms have not explored the destiny of the last of my race?  Know that
it is in the decrees of the fates that ye are to be united, never more to
be divided.  Know that there shall come a day, though I can see not its
morrow, and it lies dim and afar, which shall be the most glorious of thy
life, and on which Edith and fame shall be thine,--the day of thy
nativity, on which hitherto all things have prospered with thee.  In vain
against the stars preach the mone and the priest: what shall be, shall
be.  Wherefore, take hope and joy, O Children of Time! And now, as I join
your hands, I betroth your souls."

Rapture unalloyed and unprophetic, born of love deep and pure, shone in
the eyes of Harold, as he clasped the hand of his promised bride. But an
involuntary and mysterious shudder passed over Edith's frame, and she
leant close, close, for support upon Harold's breast. And, as if by a
vision, there rose distinct in her memory a stern brow, a form of power
and terror--the brow and the form of him who but once again in her waking
life the Prophetess had told her she should behold.  The vision passed
away in the warm clasp of those protecting arms; and looking up into
Harold's face, she there beheld the mighty and deep delight that
transfused itself at once into her own soul.

Then Hilda, placing one hand over their heads, and raising the other
towards heaven, all radiant with bursting stars, said in her deep and
thrilling tones:

"Attest the betrothal of these young hearts, O ye Powers that draw nature
to nature by spells which no galdra can trace, and have wrought in the
secrets of creation no mystery so perfect as love,--Attest it, thou
temple, thou altar!--attest it, O sun and O air!  While the forms are
divided, may the souls cling together--sorrow with sorrow, and joy with
joy.  And when, at length, bride and bridegroom are one,--O stars, may
the trouble with which ye are charged have exhausted its burthen; may no
danger molest, and no malice disturb, but, over the marriage-bed, shine
in peace, O ye stars!"

Up rose the moon.  May's nightingale called its mate from the breathless
boughs; and so Edith and Harold were betrothed by the grave of the son of
Cerdic.  And from the line of Cerdic had come, since Ethelbert, all the
Saxon kings who with sword and with sceptre had reigned over Saxon
England.



BOOK VI.
AMBITION.



CHAPTER I.

There was great rejoicing in England.  King Edward had been induced to
send Alred the prelate [139] to the court of the German Emperor, for his
kinsman and namesake, Edward Atheling, the son of the great Ironsides.
In his childhood, this Prince, with his brother Edmund, had been
committed by Canute to the charge of his vassal, the King of Sweden; and
it has been said (though without sufficient authority), that Canute's
design was, that they should be secretly made away with. The King of
Sweden, however, forwarded the children to the court of Hungary; they
were there honourably reared and received.  Edmund died young, without
issue.  Edward married a daughter of the German Emperor, and during the
commotions in England, and the successive reigns of Harold Harefoot,
Hardicanute, and the Confessor, had remained forgotten in his exile,
until now suddenly recalled to England as the heir presumptive of his
childless namesake.  He arrived with Agatha his wife, one infant son,
Edgar, and two daughters, Margaret and Christina.

Great were the rejoicings.  The vast crowd that had followed the royal
visitors in their procession to the old London palace (not far from St.
Paul's) in which they were lodged, yet swarmed through the streets, when
two thegns who had personally accompanied the Atheling from Dover, and
had just taken leave of him, now emerged from the palace, and with some
difficulty made their way through the crowded streets.

The one in the dress and short hair imitated from the Norman,--was our
old friend Godrith, whom the reader may remember as the rebuker of
Taillefer, and the friend of Mallet de Graville; the other, in a plain
linen Saxon tunic, and the gonna worn on state occasions, to which he
seemed unfamiliar, but with heavy gold bracelets on his arms, long haired
and bearded, was Vebba, the Kentish thegn, who had served as nuncius from
Godwin to Edward.

"Troth and faith!" said Vebba, wiping his brow, "this crowd is enow to
make plain roan stark wode.  I would not live in London for all the gauds
in the goldsmith's shops, or all the treasures in King Edward's vaults.
My tongue is as parched as a hay-field in the weyd-month. [140]  Holy
Mother be blessed!  I see a Cumen-hus [141] open; let us in and refresh
ourselves with a horn of ale."

"Nay, friend," quoth Godrith, with a slight disdain, "such are not the
resorts of men of our rank.  Tarry yet awhile, till we arrive near the
bridge by the river-side; there, indeed, you will find worthy company and
dainty cheer."

"Well, well, I am at your hest, Godrith," said the Kent man, sighing; "my
wife and my sons will be sure to ask me what sights I have seen, and I
may as well know from thee the last tricks and ways of this burly-burly
town."

Godrith, who was master of all the fashions in the reign of our lord King
Edward, smiled graciously, and the two proceeded in silence, only broken
by the sturdy Kent man's exclamations; now of anger when rudely jostled,
now of wonder and delight when, amidst the throng, he caught sight of a
gleeman, with his bear or monkey, who took advantage of some space near
convent garden, or Roman ruin, to exhibit his craft; till they gained a
long low row of booths, most pleasantly situated to the left of this side
London bridge, and which was appropriated to the celebrated cookshops,
that even to the time of Fitzstephen retained their fame and their
fashion.

Between the shops and the river was a space of grass worn brown and bare
by the feet of the customers, with a few clipped trees with vines trained
from one to the other in arcades, under cover of which were set tables
and settles.  The place was thickly crowded, and but for Godrith's
popularity amongst the attendants, they might have found it difficult to
obtain accommodation.  However, a new table was soon brought forth,
placed close by the cool margin of the water, and covered in a trice with
tankards of hippocras, pigment, ale, and some Gascon, as well as British
wines: varieties of the delicious cake-bread for which England was then
renowned; while viands, strange to the honest eye and taste of the
wealthy Kent man, were served on spits.

"What bird is this?" said he, grumbling.

"O enviable man, it is a Phrygian attagen [142] that thou art about to
taste for the first time; and when thou hast recovered that delight, I
commend to thee a Moorish compound, made of eggs and roes of carp from
the old Southweorc stewponds, which the cooks here dress notably."

"Moorish!--Holy Virgin!" cried Vebba, with his mouth full of the Phrygian
attagen, "how came anything Moorish in our Christian island?"

Godrith laughed outright.

"Why, our cook here is Moorish; the best singers in London are Moors.
Look yonder! see those grave comely Saracens!"

"Comely, quotha, burnt and black as a charred pine-pole!" grunted Vebba;
"well, who are they?"

"Wealthy traders; thanks to whom, our pretty maids have risen high in the
market." [143]

"More the shame," said the Kent man; "that selling of English youth to
foreign masters, whether male or female, is a blot on the Saxon name."

"So saith Harold our Earl, and so preach the monks," returned Godrith.
"But thou, my good friend, who art fond of all things that our ancestors
did, and hast sneered more than once at my Norman robe and cropped hair,
thou shouldst not be the one to find fault with what our fathers have
done since the days of Cerdic."

"Hem," said the Kent man, a little perplexed, "certainly old manners are
the best, and I suppose there is some good reason for this practice,
which I, who never trouble myself about matters that concern me not, do
not see."

"Well, Vebba, and how likest thou the Atheling? he is of the old line,"
said Godrith.

Again the Kent man looked perplexed, and had recourse to the ale, which
he preferred to all more delicate liquor, before he replied:

"Why, he speaks English worse than King Edward! and as for his boy Edgar,
the child can scarce speak English at all.  And then their German carles
and cnehts!--An I had known what manner of folk they were, I had not
spent my mancuses in running from my homestead to give them the welcome.
But they told me that Harold the good Earl had made the King send for
them: and whatever the Earl counselled must, I thought, be wise, and to
the weal of sweet England."

"That is true," said Godrith with earnest emphasis, for, with all his
affectation of Norman manners, he was thoroughly English at heart, and
now among the staunchest supporters of Harold, who had become no less the
pattern and pride of the young nobles than the darling of the humbler
population,--"that is true--and Harold showed us his noble English heart
when he so urged the King to his own loss."

As Godrith thus spoke, nay, from the first mention of Harold's name, two
men richly clad, but with their bonnets drawn far over their brows, and
their long gonnas so worn as to hide their forms, who were seated at a
table behind Godrith and had thus escaped his attention, had paused from
their wine-cups, and they now listened with much earnestness to the
conversation that followed.

"How to the Earl's loss?" asked Vebba.

"Why, simple thegn," answered Godrith, "why, suppose that Edward had
refused to acknowledge the Atheling as his heir, suppose the Atheling had
remained in the German court, and our good King died suddenly,--who,
thinkest thou, could succeed to the English throne?"

"Marry, I have never thought of that at all," said the Kent man,
scratching his head.

"No, nor have the English generally; yet whom could we choose but
Harold?"

A sudden start from one of the listeners was checked by the warning
finger of the other; and the Kent man exclaimed:

"Body o' me!  But we have never chosen king (save the Danes) out of the
line of Cerdic.  These be new cranks, with a vengeance; we shall be
choosing German, or Saracen, or Norman next!"

"Out of the line of Cerdic! but that line is gone, root and branch, save
the Atheling, and he thou seest is more German than English. Again I say,
failing the Atheling, whom could we choose but Harold, brother-in-law to
the King: descended through Githa from the royalties of the Norse, the
head of all armies under the Herr-ban, the chief who has never fought
without victory, yet who has always preferred conciliation to
conquest--the first counsellor in the Witan--the first man in the
realm--who but Harold? answer me, staring Vebba?"

"I take in thy words slowly," said the Kent man, shaking his head, "and
after all, it matters little who is king, so he be a good one. Yes, I see
now that the Earl was a just and generous man when he made the King send
for the Atheling.  Drink-hael! long life to them both!"

"Was-hael," answered Godrith, draining his hippocras to Vebba's more
potent ale.  "Long life to them both! may Edward the Atheling reign, but
Harold the Earl rule!  Ah, then, indeed, we may sleep without fear of
fierce Algar and still fiercer Gryffyth the Walloon--who now, it is true,
are stilled for the moment, thanks to Harold--but not more still than the
smooth waters in Gwyned, that lie just above the rush of a torrent."

"So little news hear I," said Vebba, "and in Kent so little are we
plagued with the troubles elsewhere, (for there Harold governs us, and
the hawks come not where the eagles hold eyrie!)--that I will thank thee
to tell me something about our old Earl for a year [144], Algar the
restless, and this Gryffyth the Welch King, so that I may seem a wise man
when I go back to my homestead."

"Why, thou knowest at least that Algar and Harold were ever opposed in
the Witan, and hot words thou hast heard pass between them!"

"Marry, yes!  But Algar was as little match for Earl Harold in speech as
in sword play."

Now again one of the listeners started, (but it was not the same as the
one before,) and muttered an angry exclamation.

"Yet is he a troublesome foe," said Godrith, who did not hear the sound
Vebba had provoked, "and a thorn in the side both of the Earl and of
England; and sorrowful for both England and Earl was it, that Harold
refused to marry Aldyth, as it is said his father, wise Godwin,
counselled and wished."

"Ah! but I have heard scops and harpers sing pretty songs that Harold
loves Edith the Fair, a wondrous proper maiden, they say!"

"It is true; and for the sake of his love, he played ill for his
ambition."

"I like him the better for that," said the honest Kent man: "why does he
not marry the girl at once? she hath broad lands, I know, for they run
from the Sussex shore into Kent."

"But they are cousins five times removed, and the Church forbids the
marriage; nevertheless Harold lives only for Edith; they have exchanged
the true-lofa [145], and it is whispered that Harold hopes the Atheling,
when he comes to be King, will get him the Pope's dispensation.  But to
return to Algar; in a day most unlucky he gave his daughter to Gryffyth,
the most turbulent sub-king the land ever knew, who, it is said, will not
be content till he has won all Wales for himself without homage or
service, and the Marches to boot.  Some letters between him and Earl
Algar, to whom Harold had secured the earldom of the East Angles, were
discovered, and in a Witan at Winchester thou wilt doubtless have heard,
(for thou didst not, I know, leave thy lands to attend it,) that Algar
[146] was outlawed."

"Oh, yes, these are stale tidings; I heard thus much from a palmer--and
then Algar got ships from the Irish, sailed to North Wales, and beat
Rolf, the Norman Earl, at Hereford.  Oh, yes, I heard that, and," added
the Kent man, laughing, "I was not sorry to hear that my old Earl Algar,
since he is a good and true Saxon, beat the cowardly Norman,--more shame
to the King for giving a Norman the ward of the Marches!"

"It was a sore defeat to the King and to England," said Godrith, gravely.
"The great Minster of Hereford built by King Athelstan was burned and
sacked by the Welch; and the crown itself was in danger, when Harold came
up at the head of the Fyrd.  Hard is it to tell the distress and the
marching and the camping, and the travail, and destruction of men, and
also of horses, which the English endured [147] till Harold came; and
then luckily came also the good old Leofric, and Bishop Alred the
peacemaker, and so strife was patched up--Gryffyth swore oaths of faith
to King Edward, and Algar was inlawed; and there for the nonce rests the
matter now.  But well I ween that Gryffyth will never keep troth with the
English, and that no hand less strong than Harold's can keep in check a
spirit as fiery as Algar's:  therefore did I wish that Harold might be
King."

"Well," quoth the honest Kent man, "I hope, nevertheless, that Algar,
will sow his wild oats, and leave the Walloons to grow the hemp for their
own halters; for, though he is not of the height of our Harold, he is a
true Saxon, and we liked him well enow when he ruled us.  And how is our
Earl's brother Tostig esteemed by the Northmen?  It must be hard to
please those who had Siward of the strong arm for their Earl before."

"Why, at first, when (at Siward's death in the wars for young Malcolm)
Harold secured to Tostig the Northumbrian earldom, Tostig went by his
brother's counsel, and ruled well and won favour.  Of late I hear that
the Northmen murmur.  Tostig is a man indeed dour and haughty."

After a few more questions and answers on the news of the day, Vebba rose
and said:

"Thanks for thy good fellowship; it is time for me now to be jogging
homeward.  I left my ceorls and horses on the other side the river, and
must go after them.  And now forgive me my bluntness, fellow-thegn, but
ye young courtiers have plenty of need for your mancuses, and when a
plain countryman like me comes sight-seeing, he ought to stand payment;
wherefore," here he took from his belt a great leathern purse,
"wherefore, as these outlandish birds and heathenish puddings must be
dear fare--"

"How!" said Godrith, reddening, "thinkest thou so meanly of us thegns of
Middlesex as to deem we cannot entertain thus humbly a friend from a
distance?  Ye Kent men I know are rich.  But keep your pennies to buy
stuffs for your wife, my friend."

The Kent man, seeing he had displeased his companion, did not press his
liberal offer,--put up his purse, and suffered Godrith to pay the
reckoning.  Then, as the two thegns shook hands, he said:

"But I should like to have said a kind word or so to Earl Harold--for he
was too busy and too great for me to come across him in the old palace
yonder.  I have a mind to go back and look for him at his own house."

"You will not find him there," said Godrith, "for I know that as soon as
he hath finished his conference with the Atheling, he will leave the
city; and I shall be at his own favourite manse over the water at sunset,
to take orders for repairing the forts and dykes on the Marches.  You can
tarry awhile and meet us; you know his old lodge in the forest land?"

"Nay, I must be back and at home ere night, for all things go wrong when
the master is away.  Yet, indeed, my good wife will scold me for not
having shaken hands with the handsome Earl."

"Thou shalt not come under that sad infliction," said the good-natured
Godrith, who was pleased with the thegn's devotion to Harold, and who,
knowing the great weight which Vebba (homely as he seemed) carried in his
important county, was politically anxious that the Earl should humour so
sturdy a friend,--"Thou shalt not sour thy wife's kiss, man. For look
you, as you ride back you will pass by a large old house, with broken
columns at the back."

"I have marked it well," said the thegn, "when I have gone that way, with
a heap of queer stones, on a little hillock, which they say the witches
or the Britons heaped together."

"The same.  When Harold leaves London, I trow well towards that house
will his road wend; for there lives Edith the swan's-neck, with her awful
grandam the Wicca.  If thou art there a little after noon, depend on it
thou wilt see Harold riding that way."

"Thank thee heartily, friend Godrith," said Vebba, taking his leave, "and
forgive my bluntness if I laughed at thy cropped head, for I see thou art
as good a Saxon as e'er a franklin of Kent--and so the saints keep thee."

Vebba then strode briskly over the bridge; and Godrith, animated by the
wine he had drunk, turned gaily on his heel to look amongst the crowded
tables for some chance friend with whom to while away an hour or so at
the games of hazard then in vogue.

Scarce had he turned, when the two listeners, who, having paid their
reckoning, had moved under shade of one of the arcades, dropped into a
boat which they had summoned to the margin by a noiseless signal, and
were rowed over the water.  They preserved a silence which seemed
thoughtful and gloomy until they reached the opposite shore; then one of
them, pushing back his bonnet, showed the sharp and haughty features of
Algar.

"Well, friend of Gryffyth," said he, with a bitter accent, "thou hearest
that Earl Harold counts so little on the oaths of thy King, that he
intends to fortify the Marches against him; and thou hearest also, that
nought save a life, as fragile as the reed which thy feet are trampling,
stands between the throne of England and the only Englishman who could
ever have humbled my son-in-law to swear oath of service to Edward."

"Shame upon that hour," said the other, whose speech, as well as the gold
collar round his neck, and the peculiar fashion of his hair, betokened
him to be Welch.  "Little did I think that the great son of Llewellyn,
whom our bards had set above Roderic Mawr, would ever have acknowledged
the sovereignty of the Saxon over the hills of Cymry."

"Tut, Meredydd," answered Algar, "thou knowest well that no Cymrian ever
deems himself dishonoured by breaking faith with the Saxon; and we shall
yet see the lions of Gryffyth scaring the sheepfolds of Hereford."

"So be it," said Meredydd, fiercely.  "And Harold shall give to his
Atheling the Saxon land, shorn at least of the Cymrian kingdom."

"Meredydd," said Algar, with a seriousness that seemed almost solemn,
"no Atheling will live to rule these realms!  Thou knowest that I was
one of the first to hail the news of his coming--I hastened to Dover to
meet him.  Methought I saw death writ on his countenance, and I bribed
the German leach who attends him to answer my questions; the Atheling
knows it not, but he bears within him the seeds of a mortal complaint.
Thou wottest well what cause I have to hate Earl Harold; and were I the
only man to oppose his way to the throne, he should not ascend it but
over my corpse.  But when Godrith, his creature, spoke, I felt that he
spoke the truth; and, the Atheling dead, on no head but Harold's can
fall the crown of Edward."

"Ha!" said the Cymrian chief, gloomily; "thinkest thou so indeed?"

"I think it not; I know it.  And for that reason, Meredydd, we must wait
not till he wields against us all the royalty of England.  As yet, while
Edward lives, there is hope.  For the King loves to spend wealth on
relics and priests, and is slow when the mancuses are wanted for fighting
men.  The King too, poor man! is not so ill-pleased at my outbursts as he
would fain have it thought; he thinks, by pitting earl against earl, that
he himself is the stronger [148]. While Edward lives, therefore, Harold's
arm is half crippled; wherefore, Meredydd, ride thou, with good speed,
back to King Gryffyth, and tell him all I have told thee.  Tell him that
our time to strike the blow and renew the war will be amidst the dismay
and confusion that the Atheling's death will occasion.  Tell him, that if
we can entangle Harold himself in the Welch defiles, it will go hard but
what we shall find some arrow or dagger to pierce the heart of the
invader.  And were Harold but slain--who then would be king in England?
The line of Cerdic gone--the House of Godwin lost in Earl Harold, (for
Tostig is hated in his own domain, Leofwine is too light, and Gurth is
too saintly for such ambition)--who then, I say, can be king in England
but Algar, the heir of the great Leofric?  And I, as King of England,
will set all Cymry free, and restore to the realm of Gryffyth the shires
of Hereford and Worcester.  Ride fast, O Meredydd, and heed well all I
have said."

"Dost thou promise and swear, that wert thou king of England, Cymry
should be free from all service?"

"Free as air, free as under Arthur and Uther: I swear it.  And remember
well how Harold addressed the Cymrian chiefs, when he accepted Gryffyth's
oaths of service."

"Remember it--ay," cried Meredydd, his face lighting up with intense ire
and revenge; "the stern Saxon said, 'Heed well, ye chiefs of Cymry, and
thou Gryffyth the King, that if again ye force, by ravage and rapine, by
sacrilege and murther, the majesty of England to enter your borders, duty
must be done: God grant that your Cymrian lion may leave us in peace--if
not, it is mercy to Human life that bids us cut the talons, and draw the
fangs."

"Harold, like all calm and mild men, ever says less than he means,"
returned Algar; "and were Harold king, small pretext would he need for
cutting the talons and drawing the fangs."

"It is well," said Meredydd, with a fierce smile.  "I will now go to my
men who are lodged yonder; and it is better that thou shouldst not be
seen with me."

"Right; so St. David be with you--and forget not a word of my message to
Gryffyth my son-in-law."

"Not a word," returned Meredydd, as with a wave of his hand he moved
towards an hostelry, to which, as kept by one of their own countrymen,
the Welch habitually resorted in the visits to the capital which the
various intrigues and dissensions in their unhappy land made frequent.

The chief's train, which consisted of ten men, all of high birth, were
not drinking in the tavern--for sorry customers to mine host were the
abstemious Welch.  Stretched on the grass under the trees of an orchard
that backed the hostelry, and utterly indifferent to all the rejoicings
that animated the population of Southwark and London, they were listening
to a wild song of the old hero-days from one of their number; and round
them grazed the rough shagged ponies which they had used for their
journey.  Meredydd, approaching, gazed round, and seeing no stranger was
present, raised his hand to hush the song, and then addressed his
countrymen briefly in Welch--briefly, but with a passion that was evident
in his flashing eyes and vehement gestures. The passion was contagious;
they all sprang to their feet with a low but fierce cry, and in a few
moments they had caught and saddled their diminutive palfreys, while one
of the band, who seemed singled out by Meredydd, sallied forth alone from
the orchard, and took his way, on foot, to the bridge.  He did not tarry
there long; at the sight of a single horseman, whom a shout of welcome,
on that swarming thoroughfare, proclaimed to be Earl Harold, the Welchman
turned, and with a fleet foot regained his companions.

Meanwhile Harold, smilingly, returned the greetings he received, cleared
the bridge, passed the suburbs, and soon gained the wild forest land that
lay along the great Kentish road.  He rode somewhat slowly, for he was
evidently in deep thought; and he had arrived about half-way towards
Hilda's house when he heard behind quick pattering sounds, as of small
unshod hoofs: he turned, and saw the Welchmen at the distance of some
fifty yards.  But at that moment there passed, along the road in front,
several persons bustling into London to share in the festivities of the
day.  This seemed to disconcert the Welch in the rear, and, after a few
whispered words, they left the high road and entered the forest land.
Various groups from time to time continued to pass along the
thoroughfare.  But still, ever through the glades, Harold caught glimpses
of the riders; now distant, now near. Sometimes he heard the snort of
their small horses, and saw a fierce eye glaring through the bushes;
then, as at the sight or sound of approaching passengers, the riders
wheeled, and shot off through the brakes.

The Earl's suspicions were aroused; for (though he knew of no enemy to
apprehend, and the extreme severity of the laws against robbers made the
high roads much safer in the latter days of the Saxon domination than
they were for centuries under that of the subsequent dynasty, when Saxon
thegns themselves had turned kings of the greenwood,) the various
insurrections in Edward's reign had necessarily thrown upon society many
turbulent disbanded mercenaries.

Harold was unarmed, save the spear which, even on occasions of state, the
Saxon noble rarely laid aside, and the ateghar in his belt; and, seeing
now that the road had become deserted, he set spurs to his horse, and was
just in sight of the Druid temple, when a javelin whizzed close by his
breast, and another transfixed his horse, which fell head foremost to the
ground.

The Earl gained his feet in an instant, and that haste was needed to save
his life; for while he rose ten swords flashed around him.  The Welchmen
had sprung from their palfreys as Harold's horse fell. Fortunately for
him, only two of the party bore javelins, (a weapon which the Welch
wielded with deadly skill,) and those already wasted, they drew their
short swords, which were probably imitated from the Romans, and rushed
upon him in simultaneous onset.  Versed in all the weapons of the time,
with his right hand seeking by his spear to keep off the rush, with the
ateghar in his left parrying the strokes aimed at him, the brave Earl
transfixed the first assailant, and sore wounded the next; but his tunic
was dyed red with three gashes, and his sole chance of life was in the
power yet left him to force his way through the ring.  Dropping his
spear, shifting his ateghar into the right hand, wrapping round his left
arm his gonna as a shield, he sprang fiercely on the onslaught, and on
the flashing swords.  Pierced to the heart fell one of his foes--dashed
to the earth another--from the hand of a third (dropping his own ateghar)
he wrenched the sword. Loud rose Harold's cry for aid, and swiftly he
strode towards the hillock, turning back, and striking as he turned; and
again fell a foe, and again new blood oozed through his own garb.  At
that moment his cry was echoed by a shriek so sharp and so piercing that
it startled the assailants, it arrested the assault; and, ere the unequal
strife could be resumed, a woman was in the midst of the fray; a woman
stood dauntless between the Earl and his foes.

"Back! Edith.  Oh, God!  Back, back!" cried the Earl, recovering all his
strength in the sole fear which that strife had yet stricken into his
bold heart; and drawing Edith aside with his strong arm, he again
confronted the assailants.

"Die!" cried, in the Cymrian tongue, the fiercest of the foes, whose
sword had already twice drawn the Earl's blood; "Die, that Cymry may be
free!"

Meredydd sprang, with him sprang the survivors of his band; and, by a
sudden movement, Edith had thrown herself on Harold's breast, leaving his
right arm free, but sheltering his form with her own.

At that sight every sword rested still in air.  These Cymrians,
hesitating not at the murder of the man whose death seemed to their false
virtue a sacrifice due to their hopes of freedom, were still the
descendants of Heroes, and the children of noble Song, and their swords
were harmless against a woman.  The same pause which saved the life of
Harold, saved that of Meredydd; for the Cymrian's lifted sword had left
his breast defenceless, and Harold, despite his wrath, and his fears for
Edith, touched by that sudden forbearance, forbore himself the blow.

"Why seek ye my life?" said he.  "Whom in broad England hath Harold
wronged?"

That speech broke the charm, revived the suspense of vengeance.  With a
sudden aim, Meredydd smote at the head which Edith's embrace left
unprotected.  The sword shivered on the steel of that which parried the
stroke, and the next moment, pierced to the heart, Meredydd fell to the
earth, bathed in his gore.  Even as he fell, aid was at hand. The ceorls
in the Roman house had caught the alarm, and were hurrying down the
knoll, with arms snatched in haste, while a loud whoop broke from the
forest land hard by; and a troop of horse, headed by Vebba, rushed
through the bushes and brakes.  Those of the Welch still surviving, no
longer animated by their fiery chief, turned on the instant, and fled
with that wonderful speed of foot which characterised their active race;
calling, as they fled, to their Welch pigmy steeds, which, snorting loud,
and lashing out, came at once to the call.  Seizing the nearest at hand,
the fugitives sprang to selle, while the animals unchosen paused by the
corpses of their former riders, neighing piteously, and shaking their
long manes.  And then, after wheeling round and round the coming
horsemen, with many a plunge, and lash, and savage cry, they darted after
their companions, and disappeared amongst the bushwood.  Some of the
Kentish men gave chase to the fugitives, but in vain; for the nature of
the ground favoured flight.  Vebba, and the rest, now joined by Hilda's
lithsmen, gained the spot where Harold, bleeding fast, yet strove to keep
his footing, and, forgetful of his own wounds, was joyfully assuring
himself of Edith's safety.  Vebba dismounted, and recognising the Earl,
exclaimed:

"Saints in heaven! are we in tine?  You bleed--you faint!--Speak, Lord
Harold.  How fares it?"

"Blood enow yet left here for our merrie England!" said Harold, with a
smile.  But as he spoke, his head drooped, and he was borne senseless
into the house of Hilda.



CHAPTER II.

The Vala met them at the threshold, and testified so little surprise at
the sight of the bleeding and unconscious Earl, that Vebba, who had heard
strange tales of Hilda's unlawful arts, half-suspected that those
wild-looking foes, with their uncanny diminutive horses, were imps
conjured by her to punish a wooer to her grandchild--who had been perhaps
too successful in the wooing.  And fears so reasonable were not a little
increased when Hilda, after leading the way up the steep ladder to the
chamber in which Harold had dreamed his fearful dream, bade them all
depart, and leave the wounded man to her care.

"Not so," said Vebba, bluffly.  "A life like this is not to be left in
the hands of woman, or wicca.  I shall go back to the great town, and
summon the Earl's own leach.  And I beg thee to heed, meanwhile, that
every head in this house shall answer for Harold's."

The great Vala, and highborn Hleafdian, little accustomed to be accosted
thus, turned round abruptly, with so stern an eye and so imperious a
mien, that even the stout Kent man felt abashed.  She pointed to the door
opening on the ladder, and said, briefly:

"Depart!  Thy lord's life hath been saved already, and by woman. Depart!"

"Depart, and fear not for the Earl, brave and true friend in need," said
Edith, looking up from Harold's pale lips, over which she bent; and her
sweet voice so touched the good thegn, that, murmuring a blessing on her
fair face, he turned and departed.

Hilda then proceeded, with a light and skilful hand, to examine the
wounds of her patient.  She opened the tunic, and washed away the blood
from four gaping orifices on the breast and shoulders.  And as she did
so, Edith uttered a faint cry, and falling on her knees, bowed her head
over the drooping hand, and kissed it with stifling emotions, of which
perhaps grateful joy was the strongest; for over the heart of Harold was
punctured, after the fashion of the Saxons, a device--and that device was
the knot of betrothal, and in the centre of the knot was graven the word
"Edith."



CHAPTER III.

Whether, owing to Hilda's runes, or to the merely human arts which
accompanied them, the Earl's recovery was rapid, though the great loss of
blood he had sustained left him awhile weak and exhausted.  But, perhaps,
he blessed the excuse which detained him still in the house of Hilda, and
under the eyes of Edith.

He dismissed the leach sent to him by Vebba, and confided, not without
reason, to the Vala's skill.  And how happily went his hours beneath the
old Roman roof!

It was not without a superstition, more characterised, however, by
tenderness than awe, that Harold learned that Edith had been undefinably
impressed with a foreboding of danger to her betrothed, and all that
morning she had watched his coming from the old legendary hill.  Was it
not in that watch that his good Fylgia had saved his life?  Indeed, there
seemed a strange truth in Hilda's assertions, that in the form of his
betrothed, his tutelary spirit lived and guarded.  For smooth every step,
and bright every day, in his career, since their troth had been plighted.
And gradually the sweet superstition had mingled with human passion to
hallow and refine it. There was a purity and a depth in the love of these
two, which, if not uncommon in women, is most rare in men.

Harold, in sober truth, had learned to look on Edith as on his better
angel; and, calming his strong manly heart in the hour of temptation,
would have recoiled, as a sacrilege, from aught that could have sullied
that image of celestial love.  With a noble and sublime patience, of
which perhaps only a character so thoroughly English in its habits of
self-control and steadfast endurance could have been capable, he saw the
months and the years glide away, and still contented himself with
hope;--hope, the sole godlike joy that belongs to men!

As the opinion of an age influences even those who affect to despise it,
so, perhaps, this holy and unselfish passion was preserved and guarded by
that peculiar veneration for purity which formed the characteristic
fanaticism of the last days of the Anglo-Saxons,--when still, as Aldhelm
had previously sung in Latin less barbarous than perhaps any priest in
the reign of Edward could command:

    "Virginitas castam servans sine crimine carnem
     Caetera virtutem vincit praeconia laudi--
     Spiritus altithroni templum sibi vindicat almus;" [149]

when, amidst a great dissoluteness of manners, alike common to Church and
laity, the opposite virtues were, as is invariable in such epochs of
society, carried by the few purer natures into heroic extremes. "And as
gold, the adorner of the world, springs from the sordid bosom of earth,
so chastity, the image of gold, rose bright and unsullied from the clay
of human desire." [150]

And Edith, though yet in the tenderest flush of beautiful youth, had,
under the influence of that sanctifying and scarce earthly affection,
perfected her full nature as woman.  She had learned so to live in
Harold's life, that--less, it seemed, by study than intuition--a
knowledge graver than that which belonged to her sex and her time, seemed
to fall upon her soul--fall as the sunlight falls on the blossoms,
expanding their petals, and brightening the glory of their hues.

Hitherto, living under the shade of Hilda's dreary creed, Edith, as we
have seen, had been rather Christian by name and instinct than acquainted
with the doctrines of the Gospel, or penetrated by its faith.  But the
soul of Harold lifted her own out of the Valley of the Shadow up to the
Heavenly Hill.  For the character of their love was so pre-eminently
Christian, so, by the circumstances that surrounded it--so by hope and
self-denial, elevated out of the empire, not only of the senses, but even
of that sentiment which springs from them, and which made the sole
refined and poetic element of the heathen's love, that but for
Christianity it would have withered and died.  It required all the
aliment of prayer; it needed that patient endurance which comes from the
soul's consciousness of immortality; it could not have resisted earth,
but from the forts and armies it won from heaven. Thus from Harold might
Edith be said to have taken her very soul.  And with the soul, and
through the soul, woke the mind from the mists of childhood.

In the intense desire to be worthy the love of the foremost man of her
land; to be the companion of his mind, as well as the mistress of his
heart, she had acquired, she knew not how, strange stores of thought, and
intelligence, and pure, gentle wisdom.  In opening to her confidence his
own high aims and projects, he himself was scarcely conscious how often
he confided but to consult--how often and how insensibly she coloured his
reflections and shaped his designs. Whatever was highest and purest,
that, Edith ever, as by instinct, beheld as the wisest.  She grew to him
like a second conscience, diviner than his own.  Each, therefore,
reflected virtue on the other, as planet illumines planet.

All these years of probation then, which might have soured a love less
holy, changed into weariness a love less intense, had only served to wed
them more intimately soul to soul; and in that spotless union what
happiness there was! what rapture in word and glance, and the slight,
restrained caress of innocence, beyond all the transports love only human
can bestow!



CHAPTER IV.

It was a bright still summer noon, when Harold sate with Edith amidst the
columns of the Druid temple, and in the shade which those vast and
mournful relics of a faith departed cast along the sward.  And there,
conversing over the past, and planning the future, they had sate long,
when Hilda approached from the house, and entering the circle, leant her
arm upon the altar of the war-god, and gazing on Harold with a calm
triumph in her aspect, said:

"Did I not smile, son of Godwin, when, with thy short-sighted wisdom,
thou didst think to guard thy land and secure thy love, by urging the
monk-king to send over the seas for the Atheling?  Did I not tell thee,
'Thou dost right, for in obeying thy judgment thou art but the instrument
of fate; and the coming of the Atheling shall speed thee nearer to the
ends of thy life, but not from the Atheling shalt thou take the crown of
thy love, and not by the Atheling shall the throne of Athelstan be
filled'?"

"Alas," said Harold, rising in agitation, "let me not hear of mischance
to that noble prince.  He seemed sick and feeble when I parted from him;
but joy is a great restorer, and the air of the native land gives quick
health to the exile."

"Hark!" said Hilda, "you hear the passing bell for the soul of the son of
Ironsides!"

The mournful knell, as she spoke, came dull from the roofs of the city
afar, borne to their ears by the exceeding stillness of the atmosphere.
Edith crossed herself, and murmured a prayer according to the custom of
the age; then raising her eyes to Harold, she murmured, as she clasped
her hands:

"Be not saddened, Harold; hope still."

"Hope!" repeated Hilda, rising proudly from her recumbent position,
"Hope! in that knell from St. Paul's, dull indeed is thine ear, O Harold,
if thou hearest not the joy-bells that inaugurate a future king!"

The Earl started; his eyes shot fire; his breast heaved.

"Leave us, Edith," said Hilda, in a low voice; and after watching her
grandchild's slow reluctant steps descend the knoll, she turned to
Harold, and leading him towards the gravestone of the Saxon chief, said:

"Rememberest thou the spectre that rose from this mound?--rememberest
thou the dream that followed it?"

"The spectre, or deceit of mine eye, I remember well," answered the Earl;
"the dream, not;--or only in confused and jarring fragments."

"I told thee then, that I could not unriddle the dream by the light of
the moment; and that the dead who slept below never appeared to men, save
for some portent of doom to the house of Cerdic.  The portent is
fulfilled; the Heir of Cerdic is no more.  To whom appeared the great
Scin-laeca, but to him who shall lead a new race of kings to the Saxon
throne!"

Harold breathed hard, and the colour mounted bright and glowing to his
cheek and brow.

"I cannot gainsay thee, Vala.  Unless, despite all conjecture, Edward
should be spared to earth till the Atheling's infant son acquires the age
when bearded men will acknowledge a chief [151], I look round in England
for the coming king, and all England reflects but mine own image."

His head rose erect as he spoke, and already the brow seemed august, as
if circled by the diadem of the Basileus.  "And if it be so," he added,
"I accept that solemn trust, and England shall grow greater in my
greatness."

"The flame breaks at last from the smouldering fuel!" cried the Vala,
"and the hour I so long foretold to thee hath come!"

Harold answered not, for high and kindling emotions deafened him to all
but the voice of a grand ambition, and the awakening joy of a noble
heart.

"And then--and then," he exclaimed, "I shall need no mediator between
nature and monkcraft;--then, O Edith, the life thou hast saved will
indeed be thine!"  He paused, and it was a sign of the change that an
ambition long repressed, but now rushing into the vent legitimately open
to it, had already begun to work in the character hitherto so
self-reliant, when he said in a low voice, "But that dream which hath so
long lain locked, not lost, in my mind; that dream of which I recall only
vague remembrances of danger yet defiance, trouble yet triumph,--canst
thou unriddle it, O Vala, into auguries of success?"

"Harold," answered Hilda, "thou didst hear at the close of thy dream, the
music of the hymns that are chaunted at the crowning of a king,--and a
crowned king shalt thou be; yet fearful foes shall assail thee--foreshown
in the shapes of a lion and raven, that came in menace over the bloodred
sea.  The two stars in the heaven betoken that the day of thy birth was
also the birthday of a foe, whose star is fatal to thine; and they warn
thee against a battle-field, fought on the day when those stars shall
meet.  Farther than this the mystery of thy dream escapes from my
lore;--wouldst thou learn thyself, from the phantom that sent the
dream;--stand by my side at the grave of the Saxon hero, and I will
summon the Scin-laeca to counsel the living. For what to the Vala the
dead may deny, the soul of the brave on the brave may bestow!"

Harold listened with a serious and musing attention which his pride or
his reason had never before accorded to the warnings of Hilda.  But his
sense was not yet fascinated by the voice of the charmer, and he answered
with his wonted smile, so sweet yet so haughty:

"A hand outstretched to a crown should be armed for the foe; and the eye
that would guard the living should not be dimmed by the vapours that
encircle the dead."



CHAPTER V.

But from that date changes, slight, yet noticeable and important, were at
work both in the conduct and character of the great Earl.

Hitherto he had advanced on his career without calculation; and nature,
not policy, had achieved his power.  But henceforth he began thoughtfully
to cement the foundations of his House, to extend the area, to strengthen
the props.  Policy now mingled with the justice that had made him
esteemed, and the generosity that had won him love. Before, though by
temper conciliatory, yet, through honesty, indifferent to the enmities he
provoked, in his adherence to what his conscience approved, he now laid
himself out to propitiate all ancient feuds, soothe all jealousies, and
convert foes into friends.  He opened constant and friendly communication
with his uncle Sweyn, King of Denmark; he availed himself sedulously of
all the influence over the Anglo-Danes which his mother's birth made so
facile.  He strove also, and wisely, to conciliate the animosities which
the Church had cherished against Godwin's house: he concealed his disdain
of the monks and monkridden: he showed himself the Church's patron and
friend; he endowed largely the convents, and especially one at Waltham,
which had fallen into decay, though favourably known for the piety of its
brotherhood.  But if in this he played a part not natural to his
opinions, Harold could not, even in simulation, administer to evil.  The
monasteries he favoured were those distinguished for purity of life, for
benevolence to the poor, for bold denunciation of the excesses of the
great.  He had not, like the Norman, the grand design of creating in the
priesthood a college of learning, a school of arts; such notions were
unfamiliar in homely, unlettered England.  And Harold, though for his
time and his land no mean scholar, would have recoiled from favouring a
learning always made subservient to Rome; always at once haughty and
scheming, and aspiring to complete domination over both the souls of men
and the thrones of kings.  But his aim was, out of the elements he found
in the natural kindliness existing between Saxon priest and Saxon flock,
to rear a modest, virtuous, homely clergy, not above tender sympathy with
an ignorant population.  He selected as examples for his monastery at
Waltham, two low-born humble brothers, Osgood and Ailred; the one known
for the courage with which he had gone through the land, preaching to
abbot and thegn the emancipation of the theowes, as the most meritorious
act the safety of the soul could impose; the other, who, originally a
clerk, had, according to the common custom of the Saxon clergy,
contracted the bonds of marriage, and with some eloquence had vindicated
that custom against the canons of Rome, and refused the offer of large
endowments and thegn's rank to put away his wife.  But on the death of
that spouse he had adopted the cowl, and while still persisting in the
lawfulness of marriage to the unmonastic clerks, had become famous for
denouncing the open concubinage which desecrated the holy office, and
violated the solemn vows, of many a proud prelate and abbot.

To these two men (both of whom refused the abbacy of Waltham) Harold
committed the charge of selecting the new brotherhood established there.
And the monks of Waltham were honoured as saints throughout the
neighbouring district, and cited as examples to all the Church.

But though in themselves the new politic arts of Harold seemed blameless
enough, arts they were, and as such they corrupted the genuine simplicity
of his earlier nature.  He had conceived for the first time an ambition
apart from that of service to his country.  It was no longer only to
serve the land, it was to serve it as its ruler, that animated his heart
and coloured his thoughts.  Expediencies began to dim to his conscience
the healthful loveliness of Truth.  And now, too, gradually, that empire
which Hilda had gained over his brother Sweyn began to sway this man,
heretofore so strong in his sturdy sense.  The future became to him a
dazzling mystery, into which his conjectures plunged themselves more and
more.  He had not yet stood in the Runic circle and invoked the dead; but
the spells were around his heart, and in his own soul had grown up the
familiar demon.

Still Edith reigned alone, if not in his thoughts at least in his
affections; and perhaps it was the hope of conquering all obstacles to
his marriage that mainly induced him to propitiate the Church, through
whose agency the object he sought must be attained; and still that hope
gave the brightest lustre to the distant crown.  But he who admits
Ambition to the companionship of Love, admits a giant that outstrides the
gentler footsteps of its comrade.

Harold's brow lost its benign calm.  He became thoughtful and abstracted.
He consulted Edith less, Hilda more.  Edith seemed to him now not wise
enough to counsel.  The smile of his Fylgia, like the light of the star
upon a stream, lit the surface, but could not pierce to the deep.

Meanwhile, however, the policy of Harold throve and prospered.  He had
already arrived at that height, that the least effort to make power
popular redoubled its extent.  Gradually all voices swelled the chorus in
his praise; gradually men became familiar to the question, "If Edward
dies before Edgar, the grandson of Ironsides, is of age to succeed, where
can we find a king like Harold?"

In the midst of this quiet but deepening sunshine of his fate, there
burst a storm, which seemed destined either to darken his day or to
disperse every cloud from the horizon.  Algar, the only possible rival to
his power--the only opponent no arts could soften--Algar, whose
hereditary name endeared him to the Saxon laity, whose father's most
powerful legacy was the love of the Saxon Church, whose martial and
turbulent spirit had only the more elevated him in the esteem of the
warlike Danes in East Anglia (the earldom in which he had succeeded
Harold), by his father's death, lord of the great principality of
Mercia--availed himself of that new power to break out again into
rebellion.  Again he was outlawed, again he leagued with the fiery
Gryffyth.  All Wales was in revolt; the Marches were invaded and laid
waste.  Rolf, the feeble Earl of Hereford, died at this critical
juncture, and the Normans and hirelings under him mutinied against other
leaders; a fleet of vikings from Norway ravaged the western coasts, and
sailing up the Menai, joined the ships of Gryffyth, and the whole empire
seemed menaced with dissolution, when Edward issued his Herr-bane, and
Harold at the head of the royal armies marched on the foe.

Dread and dangerous were those defiles of Wales; amidst them had been
foiled or slaughtered all the warriors under Rolf the Norman; no Saxon
armies had won laurels in the Cymrian's own mountain home within the
memory of man; nor had any Saxon ships borne the palm from the terrible
vikings of Norway.  Fail, Harold, and farewell the crown!--succeed, and
thou hast on thy side the ultimam rationem regum (the last argument of
kings), the heart of the army over which thou art chief.



CHAPTER VI.

It was one day in the height of summer that two horsemen rode slowly, and
conversing with each other in friendly wise, notwithstanding an evident
difference of rank and of nation, through the lovely country which formed
the Marches of Wales.  The younger of these men was unmistakably a
Norman; his cap only partially covered the head, which was shaven from
the crown to the nape of the neck [152], while in front the hair, closely
cropped, curled short and thick round a haughty but intelligent brow.
His dress fitted close to his shape, and was worn without mantle; his
leggings were curiously crossed in the fashion of a tartan, and on his
heels were spurs of gold.  He was wholly unarmed; but behind him and his
companion, at a little distance, his war-horse, completely caparisoned,
was led by a single squire, mounted on a good Norman steed; while six
Saxon theowes, themselves on foot, conducted three sumpter-mules,
somewhat heavily laden, not only with the armour of the Norman knight,
but panniers containing rich robes, wines, and provender.  At a few paces
farther behind, marched a troop, light-armed, in tough hides, curiously
tanned, with axes swung over their shoulders, and bows in their hands.

The companion of the knight was as evidently a Saxon, as the knight was
unequivocally a Norman.  His square short features, contrasting the oval
visage and aquiline profile of his close-shaven comrade, were half
concealed beneath a bushy beard and immense moustache.  His tunic, also,
was of hide, and, tightened at the waist, fell loose to his knee; while a
kind of cloak, fastened to the right shoulder by a large round button or
brooch, flowed behind and in front, but left both arms free.  His cap
differed in shape from the Norman's, being round and full at the sides,
somewhat in shape like a turban.  His bare, brawny throat was curiously
punctured with sundry devices, and a verse from the Psalms.

His countenance, though without the high and haughty brow, and the acute,
observant eye of his comrade, had a pride and intelligence of its own--a
pride somewhat sullen, and an intelligence somewhat slow.

"My good friend, Sexwolf," quoth the Norman in very tolerable Saxon, "I
pray you not so to misesteem us.  After all, we Normans are of your own
race: our fathers spoke the same language as yours."

"That may be," said the Saxon, bluntly, "and so did the Danes, with
little difference, when they burned our houses and cut our throats."

"Old tales, those," replied the knight, "and I thank thee for the
comparison; for the Danes, thou seest, are now settled amongst ye,
peaceful subjects and quiet men, and in a few generations it will be hard
to guess who comes from Saxon, who from Dane."

"We waste time, talking such matters," returned the Saxon, feeling
himself instinctively no match in argument for his lettered companion;
and seeing, with his native strong sense; that some ulterior object,
though he guessed not what, lay hid in the conciliatory language of his
companion; "nor do I believe, Master Mallet or Gravel--forgive me if I
miss of the right forms to address you--that Norman will ever love Saxon,
or Saxon Norman; so let us cut our words short.  There stands the
convent, at which you would like to rest and refresh yourself."

The Saxon pointed to a low, clumsy building of timber, forlorn and
decayed, close by a rank marsh, over which swarmed gnats, and all foul
animalcules.

Mallet de Graville, for it was he, shrugged his shoulders, and said, with
an air of pity and contempt:

"I would, friend Sexwolf, that thou couldst but see the houses we build
to God and his saints in our Normandy; fabrics of stately stone, on the
fairest sites.  Our Countess Matilda hath a notable taste for the
masonry; and our workmen are the brethren of Lombardy, who know all the
mysteries thereof."

"I pray thee, Dan-Norman," cried the Saxon, "not to put such ideas into
the soft head of King Edward.  We pay enow for the Church, though built
but of timber; saints help us indeed, if it were builded of stone!"

The Norman crossed himself, as if he had heard some signal impiety, and
then said:

"Thou lovest not Mother Church, worthy Sexwolf?"

"I was brought up," replied the sturdy Saxon, "to work and sweat hard,
and I love not the lazy who devour my substance, and say, 'the saints
gave it them.'  Knowest thou not, Master Mallet, that one-third of all
the lands of England is in the hands of the priests?"

"Hem!" said the acute Norman, who, with all his devotion, could stoop to
wring worldly advantage from each admission of his comrade; "then in this
merrie England of thine thou hast still thy grievances and cause of
complaint?"

"Yea indeed, and I trow it," quoth the Saxon, even in that day a
grumbler; "but I take it, the main difference between thee and me is,
that I can say what mislikes me out like a man; and it would fare ill
with thy limbs or thy life if thou wert as frank in the grim land of thy
heretogh."

"Now, Notre Dame stop thy prating," said the Norman, in high disdain,
while his brow frowned and his eye sparkled.  "Strong judge and great
captain as is William the Norman, his barons and knights hold their heads
high in his presence, and not a grievance weighs on the heart that we
give not out with the lip."

"So have I heard," said the Saxon, chuckling; "I have heard, indeed, that
ye thegns, or great men, are free enow, and plainspoken.  But what of the
commons--the sixhaendmen and the ceorls, master Norman? Dare they speak
as we speak of king and of law, of thegn and of captain?"

The Norman wisely curbed the scornful "No, indeed," that rushed to his
lips, and said, all sweet and debonnair: "Each land hath its customs,
dear Sexwolf: and if the Norman were king of England, he would take the
laws as he finds them, and the ceorls would be as safe with William as
Edward."

"The Norman king of England!" cried the Saxon, reddening to the tips of
his great ears, "what dost thou babble of, stranger?  The Norman!--How
could that ever be?"

"Nay, I did but suggest--but suppose such a case," replied the knight,
still smothering his wrath.  "And why thinkest thou the conceit so
outrageous?  Thy King is childless; William is his next of kin, and dear
to him as a brother; and if Edward did leave him the throne--"

"The throne is for no man to leave," almost roared the Saxon. "Thinkest
thou the people of England are like cattle and sheep, and chattels and
theowes, to be left by will, as man fancies?  The King's wish has its
weight, no doubt, but the Witan hath its yea or its nay, and the Witan
and Commons are seldom at issue thereon.  Thy duke King of England!
Marry!  Ha! ha!"

"Brute!" muttered the knight to himself; then adding aloud, with his old
tone of irony (now much habitually subdued by years and discretion), "Why
takest thou so the part of the ceorls? thou a captain, and well-nigh a
thegn!"

"I was born a ceorl, and my father before me," returned Sexwolf, "and I
feel with my class; though my grandson may rank with the thegns, and, for
aught I know, with the earls."

The Sire de Graville involuntarily drew off from the Saxon's side, as if
made suddenly aware that he had grossly demeaned himself in such
unwitting familiarity with a ceorl, and a ceorl's son; and he said, with
a much more careless accent and lofty port than before:

"Good man, thou wert a ceorl, and now thou leadest Earl Harold's men to
the war!  How is this?  I do not quite comprehend it."

"How shouldst thou, poor Norman?" replied the Saxon, compassionately.
"The tale is soon told.  Know that when Harold our Earl was banished, and
his lands taken, we his ceorls helped with his sixhaendman, Clapa, to
purchase his land, nigh by London, and the house wherein thou didst find
me, of a stranger, thy countryman, to whom they were lawlessly given.
And we tilled the land, we tended the herds, and we kept the house till
the Earl came back."

"Ye had moneys then, moneys of your own, ye ceorls!" said the Norman,
avariciously.

"How else could we buy our freedom?  Every ceorl hath some hours to
himself to employ to his profit, and can lay by for his own ends. These
savings we gave up for our Earl, and when the Earl came back, he gave the
sixhaendman hides of land enow to make him a thegn; and he gave the
ceorls who hade holpen Clapa, their freedom and broad shares of his
boc-land, and most of them now hold their own ploughs and feed their own
herds.  But I loved the Earl (having no wife) better than swine and
glebe, and I prayed him to let me serve him in arms.  And so I have
risen, as with us ceorls can rise."

"I am answered," said Mallet de Graville, thoughtfully, and still
somewhat perplexed.  "But these theowes, (they are slaves,) never rise.
It cannot matter to them whether shaven Norman or bearded Saxon sit on
the throne?"

"Thou art right there," answered the Saxon; "it matters as little to them
as it doth to thy thieves and felons, for many of them are felons and
thieves, or the children of such; and most of those who are not, it is
said, are not Saxons, but the barbarous folks whom the Saxons subdued.
No, wretched things, and scarce men, they care nought for the land.
Howbeit, even they are not without hope, for the Church takes their part;
and that, at least, I for one think Church-worthy," added the Saxon with
a softened eye.  "And every abbot is bound to set free three theowes on
his lands, and few who own theowes die without freeing some by their
will; so that the sons of theowes may be thegns, and thegns some of them
are at this day."

"Marvels!" cried the Norman.  "But surely they bear a stain and stigma,
and their fellow-thegns flout them?"

"Not a whit--why so? land is land, money money.  Little, I trow, care we
what a man's father may have been, if the man himself hath his ten hides
or more of good boc-land."

"Ye value land and the moneys," said the Norman, "so do we, but we value
more name and birth."

"Ye are still in your leading-strings, Norman," replied the Saxon, waxing
good-humoured in his contempt.  "We have an old saying and a wise one,
'All come from Adam except Tib the ploughman: but when Tib grows rich all
call him "dear brother."'"

"With such pestilent notions," quoth the Sire de Graville, no longer
keeping temper, "I do not wonder that our fathers of Norway and Daneland
beat ye so easily.  The love for things ancient--creed, lineage, and
name, is better steel against the stranger than your smiths ever welded."

Therewith, and not waiting for Sexwolf's reply, he clapped spurs to his
palfrey, and soon entered the courtyard of the convent.

A monk of the order of St. Benedict, then most in favour [153], ushered
the noble visitor into the cell of the abbot; who, after gazing at him a
moment in wonder and delight, clasped him to his breast and kissed him
heartily on brow and cheek.

"Ah, Guillaume," he exclaimed in the Norman tongue, "this is indeed a
grace for which to sing Jubilate.  Thou canst not guess how welcome is
the face of a countryman in this horrible land of ill-cooking and exile."

"Talking of grace, my dear father, and food," said De Graville, loosening
the cincture of the tight vest which gave him the shape of a wasp--for
even at that early period, small waists were in vogue with the warlike
fops of the French Continent--"talking of grace, the sooner thou say'st
it over some friendly refection, the more will the Latin sound unctuous
and musical.  I have journeyed since daybreak, and am now hungered and
faint."

"Alack, alack!" cried the abbot, plaintively, "thou knowest little, my
son, what hardships we endure in these parts, how larded our larders, and
how nefarious our fare.  The flesh of swine salted--"

"The flesh of Beelzebub," cried Mallet de Graville, aghast. "But comfort
thee, I have stores on my sumpter-mules--poulardes and fishes, and other
not despicable comestibles, and a few flasks of wine, not pressed, laud
the saints! from the vines of this country: wherefore, wilt thou see to
it, and instruct thy cooks how to season the cheer?"

"No cooks have I to trust to," replied the abbot; "of cooking know they
here as much as of Latin; nathless, I will go and do my best with the
stew-pans.  Meanwhile, thou wilt at least have rest and the bath. For the
Saxons, even in their convents, are a clean race, and learned the bath
from the Dane."

"That I have noted," said the knight, "for even at the smallest house at
which I lodged in my way from London, the host hath courteously offered
me the bath, and the hostess linen curious and fragrant; and to say
truth, the poor people are hospitable and kind, despite their uncouth
hate of the foreigner; nor is their meat to be despised, plentiful and
succulent; but pardex, as thou sayest, little helped by the art of
dressing.  Wherefore, my father, I will while the time till the poulardes
be roasted, and the fish broiled or stewed, by the ablutions thou
profferest me.  I shall tarry with thee some hours, for I have much to
learn."

The abbot then led the Sire de Graville by the hand to the cell of honour
and guestship, and having seen that the bath prepared was of warmth
sufficient, for both Norman and Saxon (hardy men as they seem to us from
afar) so shuddered at the touch of cold water, that a bath of natural
temperature (as well as a hard bed) was sometimes imposed as a
penance,--the good father went his way, to examine the sumpter-mules, and
admonish the much suffering and bewildered lay-brother who officiated as
cook,--and who, speaking neither Norman nor Latin, scarce made out one
word in ten of his superior's elaborate exhortations.

Mallet's squire, with a change of raiment, and goodly coffers of soaps,
unguents, and odours, took his way to the knight, for a Norman of birth
was accustomed to much personal attendance, and had all respect for the
body; and it was nearly an hour before, in long gown of fur, reshaven,
dainty, and decked, the Sire de Graville bowed, and sighed, and prayed
before the refection set out in the abbot's cell.

The two Normans, despite the sharp appetite of the layman, ate with great
gravity and decorum, drawing forth the morsels served to them on spits
with silent examination; seldom more than tasting, with looks of patient
dissatisfaction, each of the comestibles; sipping rather than drinking,
nibbling rather than devouring, washing their fingers in rose water with
nice care at the close, and waving them afterwards gracefully in the air,
to allow the moisture somewhat to exhale before they wiped off the
lingering dews with their napkins.  Then they exchanged looks and sighed
in concert, as if recalling the polished manners of Normandy, still
retained in that desolate exile.  And their temperate meal thus
concluded, dishes, wines, and attendants vanished, and their talk
commenced.

"How camest thou in England?" asked the abbot abruptly.

"Sauf your reverence," answered De Graville, "not wholly for reason
different from those that bring thee hither.  When, after the death of
that truculent and orgulous Godwin, King Edward entreated Harold to let
him have back some of his dear Norman favourites, thou, then little
pleased with the plain fare and sharp discipline of the convent of Bec,
didst pray Bishop William of London to accompany such train as Harold,
moved by his poor king's supplication, was pleased to permit. The bishop
consented, and thou wert enabled to change monk's cowl for abbot's mitre.
In a word, ambition brought thee to England, and ambition brings me
hither."

"Hem! and how?  Mayst thou thrive better than I in this swine-sty!"

"You remember," renewed De Graville, "that Lanfranc, the Lombard, was
pleased to take interest in my fortunes, then not the most flourishing,
and after his return from Rome, with the Pope's dispensation for Count
William's marriage with his cousin, he became William's most trusted
adviser.  Both William and Lanfranc were desirous to set an example of
learning to our Latinless nobles, and therefore my scholarship found
grace in their eyes.  In brief since then I have prospered and thriven.
I have fair lands by the Seine, free from clutch of merchant and Jew.  I
have founded a convent, and slain some hundreds of Breton marauders.
Need I say that I am in high favour?  Now it so chanced that a cousin of
mine, Hugo de Magnaville, a brave lance and franc-rider, chanced to
murder his brother in a little domestic affray, and, being of conscience
tender and nice, the deed preyed on him, and he gave his lands to Odo of
Bayeux, and set off to Jerusalem.  There, having prayed at the tomb,"
(the knight crossed himself,) "he felt at once miraculously cheered and
relieved; but, journeying back, mishaps befell him.  He was made slave by
some infidel, to one of whose wives he sought to be gallant, par amours,
and only escaped at last by setting fire to paynim and prison.  Now, by
the aid of the Virgin, he has got back to Rouen, and holds his own land
again in fief from proud Odo, as a knight of the bishop's.  It so
happened that, passing homeward through Lycia, before these misfortunes
befell him, he made friends with a fellow-pilgrim who had just returned,
like himself, from the Sepulchre, but not lightened, like him, of the
load of his crime.  This poor palmer lay broken-hearted and dying in the
hut of an eremite, where my cousin took shelter; and, learning that Hugo
was on his way to Normandy, he made himself known as Sweyn, the once fair
and proud Earl of England, eldest son to old Godwin, and father to Haco,
whom our Count still holds as a hostage.  He besought Hugo to intercede
with the Count for Haco's release and return, if King Edward assented
thereto; and charged my cousin, moreover, with a letter to Harold, his
brother, which Hugo undertook to send over.  By good luck, it so chanced
that, through all his sore trials, cousin Hugo kept safe round his neck a
leaden effigy of the Virgin.  The infidels disdained to rob him of lead,
little dreaming the worth which the sanctity gave to the metal. To the
back of the image Hugo fastened the letter, and so, though somewhat
tattered and damaged, he had it still with him on arriving in Rouen."

"Knowing, then, my grace with the Count, and not, despite absolution and
pilgrimage, much wishing to trust himself in the presence of William, who
thinks gravely of fratricide, he prayed me to deliver the message, and
ask leave to send to England the letter."

"It is a long tale," quoth the abbot.

"Patience, my father!  I am nearly at the end.  Nothing more in season
could chance for my fortunes.  Know that William has been long moody and
anxious as to matters in England.  The secret accounts he receives from
the Bishop of London make him see that Edward's heart is much alienated
from him, especially since the Count has had daughters and sons; for, as
thou knowest, William and Edward both took vows of chastity in youth
[154], and William got absolved from his, while Edward hath kept firm to
the plight.  Not long ere my cousin came back, William had heard that
Edward had acknowledged his kinsman as natural heir to his throne.
Grieved and troubled at this, William had said in my hearing, 'Would that
amidst yon statues of steel, there were some cool head and wise tongue I
could trust with my interests in England! and would that I could devise
fitting plea and excuse for an envoy to Harold the Earl!'  Much had I
mused over these words, and a light-hearted man was Mallet de Graville
when, with Sweyn's letter in hand, he went to Lanfranc the abbot and
said, 'Patron and father! thou knowest that I, almost alone of the Norman
knights, have studied the Saxon language.  And if the Duke wants
messenger and plea, here stands the messenger, and in his hand is the
plea.  Then I told my tale. Lanfranc went at once to Duke William.  By
this time, news of the Atheling's death had arrived, and things looked
more bright to my liege.  Duke William was pleased to summon me
straightway, and give me his instructions.  So over the sea I came alone,
save a single squire, reached London, learned the King and his court were
at Winchester (but with them I had little to do), and that Harold the
Earl was at the head of his forces in Wales against Gryffyth the Lion
King.  The Earl had sent in haste for a picked and chosen band of his own
retainers, on his demesnes near the city.  These I joined, and learning
thy name at the monastery at Gloucester, I stopped here to tell thee my
news and hear thine."

"Dear brother," said the abbot, looking enviously on the knight, "would
that, like thee, instead of entering the Church, I had taken up arms!
Alike once was our lot, well born and penniless.  Ah me!--Thou art now as
the swan on the river, and I as the shell on the rock."

"But," quoth the knight, "though the canons, it is true, forbid monks to
knock people on the head, except in self-preservation, thou knowest well
that, even in Normandy, (which, I take it, is the sacred college of all
priestly lore, on this side the Alps,) those canons are deemed too
rigorous for practice: and, at all events, it is not forbidden thee to
look on the pastime with sword or mace by thy side in case of need.
Wherefore, remembering thee in times past, I little counted on finding
thee--like a slug in thy cell!  No; but with mail on thy back, the canons
clean forgotten, and helping stout Harold to sliver and brain these
turbulent Welchmen."

"Ah me! ah me!  No such good fortune!" sighed the tall abbot. "Little,
despite thy former sojourn in London, and thy lore of their tongue,
knowest thou of these unmannerly Saxons.  Rarely indeed do abbot and
prelate ride to the battle [155]; and were it not for a huge Danish monk,
who took refuge here to escape mutilation for robbery, and who mistakes
the Virgin for a Valkyr, and St. Peter for Thor,--were it not, I say,
that we now and then have a bout at sword-play together, my arm would be
quite out of practice."

"Cheer thee, old friend," said the knight, pityingly, "better times may
come yet.  Meanwhile, now to affairs.  For all I hear strengthens all
William has heard, that Harold the Earl is the first man in England.  Is
it not so?"

"Truly, and without dispute."

"Is he married, or celibate?  For that is a question which even his own
men seem to answer equivocally."

"Why, all the wandering minstrels have songs, I am told by those who
comprehend this poor barbarous tongue, of the beauty of Editha pulchra,
to whom it is said the Earl is betrothed, or it may be worse. But he is
certainly not married, for the dame is akin to him within the degrees of
the Church."

"Hem, not married! that is well; and this Algar, or Elgar, he is not now
with the Welch, I hear."

"No; sore ill at Chester with wounds and much chafing, for he hath sense
to see that his cause is lost.  The Norwegian fleet have been scattered
over the seas by the Earl's ships, like birds in a storm. The rebel
Saxons who joined Gryffyth under Algar have been so beaten, that those
who survive have deserted their chief, and Gryffyth himself is penned up
in his last defiles, and cannot much longer resist the stout foe, who, by
valorous St. Michael, is truly a great captain.  As soon as Gryffyth is
subdued, Algar will be crushed in his retreat, like a bloated spider in
his web; and then England will have rest, unless our liege, as thou
hintest, set her to work again."

The Norman knight mused a few moments, before he said:

"I understand, then, that there is no man in the land who is peer to
Harold:--not, I suppose, Tostig his brother?"

"Not Tostig, surely, whom nought but Harold's repute keeps a day in his
earldom.  But of late--for he is brave and skilful in war--he hath done
much to command the respect, though he cannot win back the love, of his
fierce Northumbrians, for he hath holpen the Earl gallantly in this
invasion of Wales, both by sea and by land.  But Tostig shines only from
his brother's light; and if Gurth were more ambitious, Gurth alone could
be Harold's rival."

The Norman, much satisfied with the information thus gleaned from the
abbot, who, despite his ignorance of the Saxon tongue, was, like all his
countrymen, acute and curious, now rose to depart.  The abbot, detaining
him a few moments, and looking at him wistfully, said, in a low voice:

"What thinkest thou are Count William's chances of England?"

"Good, if he have recourse to stratagem; sure, if he can win Harold."

"Yet, take my word, the English love not the Normans, and will fight
stiffly."

"That I believe.  But if fighting must be, I see that it will be the
fight of a single battle, for there is neither fortress nor mountain to
admit of long warfare.  And look you, my friend, everything here is worn
out!  The royal line is extinct with Edward, save in a child, whom I hear
no man name as a successor; the old nobility are gone, there is no
reverence for old names; the Church is as decrepit in the spirit as thy
lath monastery is decayed in its timbers; the martial spirit of the Saxon
is half rotted away in the subjugation to a clergy, not brave and
learned, but timid and ignorant; the desire for money eats up all
manhood; the people have been accustomed to foreign monarchs under the
Danes; and William, once victor, would have but to promise to retain the
old laws and liberties, to establish himself as firmly as Canute.  The
Anglo-Danes might trouble him somewhat, but rebellion would become a
weapon in the hands of a schemer like William.  He would bristle all the
land with castles and forts, and hold it as a camp.  My poor friend, we
shall live yet to exchange gratulations,--thou prelate of some fair
English see, and I baron of broad English lands."

"I think thou art right," said the tall abbot, cheerily, "and marry, when
the day comes, I will at least fight for the Duke.  Yea--thou art right,"
he continued, looking round the dilapidated walls of the cell; "all here
is worn out, and naught can restore the realm, save the Norman William,
or----"

"Or who?"

"Or the Saxon Harold.  But thou goest to see him--judge for thyself."

"I will do so, and heedfully," said the Sire de Graville; and embracing
his friend he renewed his journey.



CHAPTER VII.

Messire Mallet de Graville possessed in perfection that cunning
astuteness which characterised the Normans, as it did all the old pirate
races of the Baltic; and if, O reader, thou, peradveuture, shouldst ever
in this remote day have dealings with the tall men of Ebor or Yorkshire,
there wilt thou yet find the old Dane-father's wit--it may be to thy
cost--more especially if treating for those animals which the ancestors
ate, and which the sons, without eating, still manage to fatten on.

But though the crafty knight did his best, during his progress from
London into Wales, to extract from Sexwolf all such particulars
respecting Harold and his brethren as he had reasons for wishing to
learn, he found the stubborn sagacity or caution of the Saxon more than a
match for him.  Sexwolf had a dog's instinct in all that related to his
master; and he felt, though he scarce knew why, that the Norman cloaked
some design upon Harold in all the cross-questionings so carelessly
ventured.  And his stiff silence, or bluff replies, when Harold was
mentioned, contrasted much the unreserve of his talk when it turned upon
the general topics of the day, or the peculiarities of Saxon manners.

By degrees, therefore, the knight, chafed and foiled, drew into himself;
and seeing no farther use could be made of the Saxon, suffered his own
national scorn of villein companionship to replace his artificial
urbanity.  He therefore rode alone, and a little in advance of the rest,
noticing with a soldier's eye the characteristics of the country, and
marvelling, while he rejoiced, at the insignificance of the defences
which, even on the Marches, guarded the English country from the Cymrian
ravager [156].  In musings of no very auspicious and friendly nature
towards the land he thus visited, the Norman, on the second day from that
in which he had conversed with the abbot, found himself amongst the
savage defiles of North Wales.

Pausing there in a narrow pass overhung with wild and desolate rocks, the
knight deliberately summoned his squires, clad himself in his ring mail,
and mounted his great destrier.

"Thou dost wrong, Norman," said Sexwolf, "thou fatiguest thyself in
vain--heavy arms here are needless.  I have fought in this country
before: and as for thy steed, thou wilt soon have to forsake it, and
march on foot."

"Know, friend," retorted the knight, "that I come not here to learn the
horn-book of war; and for the rest, know also, that a noble of Normandy
parts with his life ere he forsakes his good steed."

"Ye outlanders and Frenchmen," said Sexwolf, showing the whole of his
teeth through his forest of beard, "love boast and big talk; and, on my
troth, thou mayest have thy belly full of them yet; for we are still in
the track of Harold, and Harold never leaves behind him a foe.  Thou art
as safe here, as if singing psalms in a convent."

"For thy jests, let them pass, courteous sir," said the Norman; "but I
pray thee only not to call me Frenchman [157].  I impute it to thy
ignorance in things comely and martial, and not to thy design to insult
me.  Though my own mother was French, learn that a Norman despises a
Frank only less than he doth a Jew."

"Crave your grace," said the Saxon, "but I thought all ye outlanders were
the same, rib and rib, sibbe and sibbe."

"Thou wilt know better, one of these days.  March on, master Sexwolf."

The pass gradually opened on a wide patch of rugged and herbless waste;
and Sexwolf, riding up to the knight, directed his attention to a stone,
on which was inscribed the words, "Hic victor fuit Haroldus,"--Here
Harold conquered.

"In sight of a stone like that, no Walloon dare come," said the Saxon.

"A simple and classical trophy," remarked the Norman, complacently, "and
saith much.  I am glad to see thy lord knows the Latin."

"I say not that he knows Latin," replied the prudent Saxon; fearing that
that could be no wholesome information on his lord's part, which was of a
kind to give gladness to the Norman--"Ride on while the road lets ye--in
God's name."

On the confines of Caernarvonshire, the troop halted at a small village,
round which had been newly dug a deep military-trench bristling with
palisades, and within its confines might be seen,--some reclined on the
grass, some at dice, some drinking,--many men, whose garbs of tanned
hide, as well as a pennon waving from a little mound in the midst,
bearing the tiger heads of Earl Harold's insignia, showed them to be
Saxons.

"Here we shall learn," said Sexwolf, "what the Earl is about--and here,
at present, ends my journey."

"Are these the Earl's headquarters, then?--no castle, even of wood--no
wall, nought but ditch and palisades?" asked Mallet de Graville in a tone
between surprise and contempt.

"Norman," said Sexwolf, "the castle is there, though you see it not, and
so are the walls.  The castle is Harold's name, which no Walloon will
dare to confront; and the walls are the heaps of the slain which lie in
every valley around."  So saying, he wound his horn, which was speedily
answered, and led the way over a plank which admitted across the trench.

"Not even a drawbridge!" groaned the knight.

Sexwolf exchanged a few words with one who seemed the head of the small
garrison, and then regaining the Norman, said: "The Earl and his men have
advanced into the mountainous regions of Snowdon; and there, it is said,
the blood-lusting Gryffyth is at length driven to bay. Harold hath left
orders that, after as brief a refreshment as may be, I and my men, taking
the guide he hath left for us, join him on foot. There may now be danger:
for though Gryffyth himself may be pinned to his heights, he may have met
some friends in these parts to start up from crag and combe.  The way on
horse is impassable: wherefore, master Norman, as our quarrel is not
thine nor thine our lord, I commend thee to halt here in peace and in
safety, with the sick and the prisoners."

"It is a merry companionship, doubtless," said the Norman; "but one
travels to learn, and I would fain see somewhat of thine uncivil
skirmishings with these men of the mountains; wherefore, as I fear my
poor mules are light of the provender, give me to eat and to drink. And
then shalt thou see, should we come in sight of the enemy, if a Norman's
big words are the sauce of small deeds."

"Well spoken, and better than I reckoned on," said Sexwolf, heartily.

While De Graville, alighting, sauntered about the village, the rest of
the troop exchanged greetings with their countrymen.  It was, even to the
warrior's eye, a mournful scene.  Here and there, heaps of ashes and
ruin-houses riddled and burned--the small, humble church, untouched
indeed by war, but looking desolate and forlorn--with sheep grazing on
large recent mounds thrown over the brave dead, who slept in the
ancestral spot they had defended.

The air was fragrant with spicy smells of the gale or bog myrtle; and the
village lay sequestered in a scene wild indeed and savage, but prodigal
of a stern beauty to which the Norman, poet by race, and scholar by
culture, was not insensible.  Seating himself on a rude stone, apart from
all the warlike and murmuring groups, he looked forth on the dim and vast
mountain peaks, and the rivulet that rushed below, intersecting the
village, and lost amidst copses of mountain ash.  From these more refined
contemplations he was roused by Sexwolf, who, with greater courtesy than
was habitual to him, accompanied the theowes who brought the knight a
repast, consisting of cheese, and small pieces of seethed kid, with a
large horn of very indifferent mead.

"The Earl puts all his men on Welch diet," said the captain,
apologetically.  "For indeed, in this lengthy warfare, nought else is to
be had!"

The knight curiously inspected the cheese, and bent earnestly over the
kid.

"It sufficeth, good Sexwolf," said he, suppressing a natural sigh. "But
instead of this honey-drink, which is more fit for bees than for men, get
me a draught of fresh water: water is your only safe drink before
fighting."

"Thou hast never drank ale, then!" said the Saxon; "but thy foreign
tastes shall be heeded, strange man."

A little after noon, the horns were sounded, and the troop prepared to
depart.  But the Norman observed that they had left behind all their
horses: and his squire, approaching, informed him that Sexwolf had
positively forbidden the knight's steed to be brought forth.

"Was it ever heard before," cried Sire Mallet de Graville, "that a Norman
knight was expected to walk, and to walk against a foe too! Call hither
the villein,--that is, the captain."

But Sexwolf himself here appeared, and to him De Graville addressed his
indignant remonstrance.  The Saxon stood firm, and to each argument
replied simply, "It is the Earl's orders;" and finally wound up with a
bluff--"Go or let alone: stay here with thy horse, or march with us on
thy feet."

"My horse is a gentleman," answered the knight, "and, as such, would be
my more fitting companion.  But as it is, I yield to compulsion--I bid
thee solemnly observe, by compulsion; so that it may never be said of
William Mallet de Graville, that he walked, bon gre, to battle." With
that, he loosened his sword in the sheath, and, still retaining his ring
mail, fitting close as a shirt, strode on with the rest.

A Welch guide, subject to one of the Underkings (who was in allegiance to
England, and animated, as many of those petty chiefs were, with a
vindictive jealousy against the rival tribe of Gryffyth, far more intense
than his dislike of the Saxon), led the way.

The road wound for some time along the course of the river Conway;
Penmaen-mawr loomed before them.  Not a human being came in sight, not a
goat was seen on the distant ridges, not a sheep on the pastures. The
solitude in the glare of the broad August sun was oppressive. Some houses
they passed--if buildings of rough stones, containing but a single room,
can be called houses--but they were deserted. Desolation preceded their
way, for they were on the track of Harold the Victor.  At length, they
passed the cold Conovium, now Caer-hen, lying low near the river.  There
were still (not as we now scarcely discern them, after centuries of
havoc,) the mighty ruins of the Romans,--vast shattered walls, a tower
half demolished, visible remnants of gigantic baths, and, proudly rising
near the present ferry of Tal-y-Cafn, the fortress, almost unmutilated,
of Castell-y-Bryn. On the castle waved the pennon of Harold.  Many large
flat-bottomed boats were moored to the river-side, and the whole place
bristled with spears and javelins.

Much comforted, (for,--though he disdained to murmur, and rather than
forego his mail, would have died therein a martyr,--Mallet de Graville
was mightily wearied by the weight of his steel,) and hoping now to see
Harold himself, the knight sprang forward with a spasmodic effort at
liveliness, and found himself in the midst of a group, among whom he
recognised at a glance his old acquaintance, Godrith.  Doffing his helm
with its long nose-piece, he caught the thegn's hand, and exclaimed:

"Well met, ventre de Guillaume! well met, O Godree the debonnair! Thou
rememberest Mallet de Graville, and in this unseemly guise, on foot, and
with villeins, sweating under the eyes of plebeian Phoebus, thou
beholdest that much-suffering man!"

"Welcome indeed," returned Godrith, with some embarrassment; "but how
camest thou hither, and whom seekest thou?"

"Harold, thy Count, man--and I trust he is here."

"Not so, but not far distant--at a place by the mouth of the river called
Caer Gyffin [158].  Thou shalt take boat, and be there ere the sunset."

"Is a battle at hand?  Yon churl disappointed and tricked me; he promised
me danger, and not a soul have we met."

"Harold's besom sweeps clean," answered Godrith, smiling.  "But thou art
like, perhaps, to be in at the death.  We have driven this Welch lion to
bay at last. He is ours, or grim Famine's.  Look yonder;" and Godrith
pointed to the heights of Penmaen-mawr.  "Even at this distance, you may
yet descry something grey and dim against the sky."

"Deemest thou my eye so ill practised in siege, as not to see towers?
Tall and massive they are, though they seem here as airy as roasts, and
as dwarfish as landmarks."

"On that hill-top, and in those towers, is Gryffyth, the Welch king, with
the last of his force.  He cannot escape us; our ships guard all the
coasts of the shore; our troops, as here, surround every pass. Spies,
night and day, keep watch.  The Welch moels (or beacon-rocks) are manned
by our warders.  And, were the Welch King to descend, signals would blaze
from post to post, and gird him with fire and sword.  From land to land,
from hill to hill, from Hereford to Caerleon, from Caerleon to Milford,
from Milford to Snowdon, through Snowdon to yonder fort, built, they say,
by the fiends or the giants,--through defile and through forest, over
rock, through morass, we have pressed on his heels.  Battle and foray
alike have drawn the blood from his heart; and thou wilt have seen the
drops yet red on the way, where the stone tells that Harold was victor."

"A brave man and true king, then, this Gryffyth," said the Norman, with
some admiration; "but," he added in a colder tone, "I confess, for my own
part, that though I pity the valiant man beaten, I honour the brave man
who wins; and though I have seen but little of this rough land as yet, I
can well judge from what I have seen, that no captain, not of patience
unwearied, and skill most consummate, could conquer a bold enemy in a
country where every rock is a fort."

"So I fear," answered Godrith, "that thy countryman Rolf found; for the
Welch beat him sadly, and the reason was plain.  He insisted on using
horses where no horses could climb, and attiring men in full armour to
fight against men light and nimble as swallows, that skim the earth, then
are lost in clouds.  Harold, more wise, turned our Saxons into Welchmen,
flying as they flew, climbing where they climbed; it has been as a war of
the birds.  And now there rests but the eagle, in his last lonely eyrie."

"Thy battles have improved thy eloquence much, Messire Godree," said the
Norman, condescendingly.  "Nevertheless, I cannot but think a few light
horse----"

"Could scale yon mountain-brow?" said Godrith, laughing, and pointing to
Penmaen-mawr.

The Norman looked and was silent, though he thought to himself, "That
Sexwolf was no such dolt after all!"



BOOK VII.
THE WELCH KING.



CHAPTER I.

The sun had just cast his last beams over the breadth of water into which
Conway, or rather Cyn-wy, "the great river," emerges its winding waves.
Not at that time existed the matchless castle, which is now the monument
of Edward Plantagenet, and the boast of Wales.  But besides all the
beauty the spot took from nature, it had even some claim from ancient
art.  A rude fortress rose above the stream of Gyffin, out of the wrecks
of some greater Roman hold [159], and vast ruins of a former town lay
round it; while opposite the fort, on the huge and ragged promontory of
Gogarth, might still be seen, forlorn and grey, the wrecks of the
imperial city, destroyed ages before by lightning.

All these remains of a power and a pomp that Rome in vain had bequeathed
to the Briton, were full of pathetic and solemn interest, when blent with
the thought, that on yonder steep, the brave prince of a race of heroes,
whose line transcended, by ages, all the other royalties of the North,
awaited, amidst the ruins of man, and in the stronghold which nature yet
gave, the hour of his doom.

But these were not the sentiments of the martial and observant Norman,
with the fresh blood of a new race of conquerors.

"In this land," thought he, "far more even than in that of the Saxon,
there are the ruins of old; and when the present can neither maintain nor
repair the past, its future is subjection or despair."

Agreeably to the peculiar uses of Saxon military skill, which seems to
have placed all strength in dykes and ditches, as being perhaps the
cheapest and readiest outworks, a new trench had been made round the
fort, on two sides, connecting it on the third and fourth with the
streams of Gyffin and the Conway.  But the boat was rowed up to the very
walls, and the Norman, springing to land, was soon ushered into the
presence of the Earl.

Harold was seated before a rude table, and bending over a rough map of
the great mountain of Penmaen; a lamp of iron stood beside the map,
though the air was yet clear.

The Earl rose, as De Graville, entering with the proud but easy grace
habitual to his countrymen, said, in his best Saxon:

"Hail to Earl Harold!  William Mallet de Graville, the Norman, greets
him, and brings him news from beyond the seas."

There was only one seat in that bare room--the seat from which the Earl
had risen.  He placed it with simple courtesy before his visitor, and
leaning, himself, against the table, said, in the Norman tongue, which he
spoke fluently:

"It is no slight thanks that I owe to the Sire de Graville, that he hath
undertaken voyage and journey on my behalf; but before you impart your
news, I pray you to take rest and food."

"Rest will not be unwelcome; and food, if unrestricted to goats' cheese,
and kid-flesh,--luxuries new to my palate,--will not be untempting; but
neither food nor rest can I take, noble Harold, before I excuse myself,
as a foreigner, for thus somewhat infringing your laws by which we are
banished, and acknowledging gratefully the courteous behavior I have met
from thy countrymen notwithstanding."

"Fair Sir," answered Harold, "pardon us if, jealous of our laws, we have
seemed inhospitable to those who would meddle with them.  But the Saxon
is never more pleased than when the foreigner visits him only as the
friend: to the many who settle amongst us for commerce--Fleming, Lombard,
German, and Saracen--we proffer shelter and welcome; to the few who, like
thee, Sir Norman, venture over the seas but to serve us, we give frank
cheer and free hand."

Agreeably surprised at this gracious reception from the son of Godwin,
the Norman pressed the hand extended to him, and then drew forth a small
case, and related accurately, and with feeling, the meeting of his cousin
with Sweyn, and Sweyn's dying charge.

The Earl listened, with eyes bent on the ground, and face turned from the
lamp; and, when Mallet had concluded his recital, Harold said, with an
emotion he struggled in vain to repress:

"I thank you cordially gentle Norman, for kindness kindly rendered!
I--I--"  The voice faltered.  "Sweyn was very dear to me in his sorrows!
We heard that he had died in Lycia, and grieved much and long.  So, after
he had thus spoken to your cousin, he--he----Alas!  O Sweyn, my brother!"

"He died," said the Norman, soothingly; "but shriven and absolved; and my
cousin says, calm and hopeful, as they die ever who have knelt at the
Saviour's tomb!"

Harold bowed his head, and turned the case that held the letter again and
again in his hand, but would not venture to open it.  The knight himself,
touched by a grief so simple and manly, rose with the delicate instinct
that belongs to sympathy, and retired to the door, without which yet
waited the officer who had conducted him.

Harold did not attempt to detain him, but followed him across the
threshold, and briefly commanding the officer to attend to his guest as
to himself, said: "With the morning, Sire de Granville, we shall meet
again; I see that you are one to whom I need not excuse man's natural
emotions."

"A noble presence!" muttered the knight, as he descended the stairs; "but
he hath Norman, at least Norse, blood in his veins on the distaff
side.--Fair Sir!"--(this aloud to the officer)--"any meat save the
kid-flesh, I pray thee; and any drink save the mead!"

"Fear not, guest" said the officer; "for Tostig the Earl hath two ships
in yon bay, and hath sent us supplies that would please Bishop William of
London; for Tostig the Earl is a toothsome man."

"Commend me, then, to Tostig the Earl," said the knight; "he is an earl
after my own heart."



CHAPTER II.

On re-entering the room, Harold drew the large bolt across the door,
opened the case, and took forth the distained and tattered scroll:

"When this comes to thee, Harold, the brother of thy childish days will
sleep in the flesh, and be lost to men's judgment and earth's woe in the
spirit.  I have knelt at the Tomb; but no dove hath come forth from the
cloud,--no stream of grace hath re-baptised the child of wrath!  They
tell me now--monk and priest tell me--that I have atoned all my sins;
that the dread weregeld is paid; that I may enter the world of men with a
spirit free from the load, and a name redeemed from the stain.  Think so,
O brother!--Bid my father (if he still lives, the dear old man!) think
so;--tell Githa to think it; and oh, teach Haco, my son, to hold the
belief as a truth!  Harold, again I commend to thee my son; be to him as
a father!  My death surely releases him as a hostage.  Let him not grow
up in the court of the stranger, in the land of our foes.  Let his feet,
in his youth, climb the green holts of England;--let his eyes, resin dims
them, drink the blue of her skies!  When this shall reach thee, thou in
thy calm, effortless strength, wilt be more great than Godwin our father.
Power came to him with travail and through toil, the geld of craft and of
force.  Power is born to thee as strength to the strong man; it gathers
around thee as thou movest; it is not thine aim, it is thy nature, to be
great.  Shield my child with thy might; lead him forth from the
prison-house by thy serene right hand!  I ask not for lordships and
earldoms, as the appanage of his father; train him not to be rival to
thee:--I ask but for freedom, and English air!  So counting on thee, O
Harold, I turn my face to the wall, and hush my wild heart to peace!"

The scroll dropped noiseless from Harold's hand.

"Thus," said he, mournfully, "hath passed away less a life than a dream!
Yet of Sweyn, in our childhood, was Godwin most proud; who so lovely in
peace, and so terrible in wrath?  My mother taught him the songs of the
Baltic, and Hilda led his steps through the woodland with tales of hero
and scald.  Alone of our House, he had the gift of the Dane in the flow
of fierce song, and for him things lifeless had being.  Stately tree,
from which all the birds of heaven sent their carol; where the falcon
took roost, whence the mavis flew forth in its glee,--how art thou
blasted and seared, bough and core!--smit by the lightning and consumed
by the worm!"

He paused, and, though none were by, he long shaded his brow with his
hand.

"Now," thought he, as he rose and slowly paced the chamber, "now to what
lives yet on earth--his son!  Often hath my mother urged me in behalf of
these hostages; and often have I sent to reclaim them. Smooth and false
pretexts have met my own demand, and even the remonstrance of Edward
himself.  But, surely, now that William hath permitted this Norman to
bring over the letter, he will assent to what it hath become a wrong and
an insult to refuse; and Haco will return to his father's land, and
Wolnoth to his mother's arms."



CHAPTER III.

Messire Mallet de Graville (as becomes a man bred up to arms, and
snatching sleep with quick grasp whenever that blessing be his to
command) no sooner laid his head on the pallet to which he had been
consigned, than his eyes closed, and his senses were deaf even to dreams.
But at the dead of the midnight he was wakened by sounds that might have
roused the Seven Sleepers--shouts, cries, and yells, the blast of horns,
the tramp of feet, and the more distant roar of hurrying multitudes.  He
leaped from his bed, and the whole chamber was filled with a lurid
bloodred air.  His first thought was that the fort was on fire.  But
springing upon the settle along the wall, and looking through the
loophole of the tower, it seemed as if not the fort but the whole land
was one flame, and through the glowing atmosphere he beheld all the
ground, near and far, swarming with men. Hundreds were swimming the
rivulet, clambering up dyke mounds, rushing on the levelled spears of the
defenders, breaking through line and palisade, pouring into the
enclosures; some in half-armour of helm and corselet--others in linen
tunics--many almost naked.  Loud sharp shrieks of "Alleluia!" [160]
blended with those of "Out! out!  Holy crosse!" [161]  He divined at once
that the Welch were storming the Saxon hold.  Short time indeed sufficed
for that active knight to case himself in his mail; and, sword in hand,
he burst through the door, cleared the stairs, and gained the hall below,
which was filled with men arming in haste.

"Where is Harold?" he exclaimed.

"On the trenches already," answered Sexwolf, buckling his corslet of
hide.  "This Welch hell hath broke loose."

"And you are their beacon-fires?  Then the whole land is upon us!"

"Prate less," quoth Sexwolf; "those are the hills now held by the warders
of Harold: our spies gave them notice, and the watch-fires prepared us
ere the fiends came in sight, otherwise we had been lying here limbless
or headless.  Now, men, draw up, and march forth."

"Hold! hold!" cried the pious knight, crossing himself, "is there no
priest here to bless us? first a prayer and a psalm!"

"Prayer and psalm!" cried Sexwolf, astonished, "an thou hadst said ale
and mead, I could have understood thee.--Out! Out!--Holyrood, Holyrood!"

"The godless paynims!" muttered the Norman, borne away with the crowd.

Once in the open space, the scene was terrific.  Brief as had been the
onslaught the carnage was already unspeakable.  By dint of sheer physical
numbers, animated by a valour that seemed as the frenzy of madmen or the
hunger of wolves, hosts of the Britons had crossed trench and stream,
seizing with their hands the points of the spears opposed to them,
bounding over the corpses of their countrymen, and with yells of wild joy
rushing upon the close serried lines drawn up before the fort.  The
stream seemed literally to run gore; pierced by javelins and arrows,
corpses floated and vanished, while numbers, undeterred by the havoc,
leaped into the waves from the opposite banks.  Like bears that surround
the ship of a sea-king beneath the polar meteors, or the midnight sun of
the north, came the savage warriors through that glaring atmosphere.

Amidst all, two forms were pre-eminent: the one, tall and towering, stood
by the trench, and behind a banner, that now drooped round the stave, now
streamed wide and broad, stirred by the rush of men--for the night in
itself was breezeless.  With a vast Danish axe wielded by both hands,
stood this man, confronting hundreds, and at each stroke, rapid as the
levin, fell a foe.  All round him was a wall of his own--the dead.  But
in the centre of the space, leading on a fresh troop of shouting Welchmen
who had forced their way from another part, was a form which seemed
charmed against arrow and spear.  For the defensive arms of this chief
were as slight as if worn but for ornament: a small corselet of gold
covered only the centre of his breast, a gold collar of twisted wires
circled his throat, and a gold bracelet adorned his bare arm, dropping
gore, not his own, from the wrist to the elbow.  He was small and
slight-shaped--below the common standard of men--but he seemed as one
made a giant by the sublime inspiration of war.  He wore no helmet,
merely a golden circlet; and his hair, of deep red (longer than was usual
with the Welch), hung like the mane of a lion over his shoulders, tossing
loose with each stride.  His eyes glared like the tiger's at night, and
he leaped on the spears with a bound.  Lost a moment amidst hostile
ranks, save by the swift glitter of his short sword, he made, amidst all,
a path for himself and his followers, and emerged from the heart of the
steel unscathed and loud-breathing; while, round the line he had broken,
wheeled and closed his wild men, striking, rushing, slaying, slain.

"Pardex, this is war worth the sharing," said the knight.  "And now,
worthy Sexwolf, thou shalt see if the Norman is the vaunter thou deemest
him.  Dieu nous aide!  Notre Dame!--Take the foe in the rear." But
turning round, he perceived that Sexwolf had already led his men towards
the standard, which showed them where stood the Earl, almost alone in his
peril.  The knight, thus left to himself, did not hesitate:--a minute
more, and he was in the midst of the Welch force, headed by the chief
with the golden panoply.  Secure in his ring mail against the light
weapons of the Welch, the sweep of the Norman sword was as the scythe of
Death.  Right and left he smote through the throng which he took in the
flank, and had almost gained the small phalanx of Saxons, that lay firm
in the midst, when the Cymrian Chief's flashing eye was drawn to his new
and strange foe, by the roar and the groan round the Norman's way; and
with the half-naked breast against the shirt of mail, and the short Roman
sword against the long Norman falchion, the Lion King of Wales fronted
the knight.

Unequal as seems the encounter, so quick was the spring of the Briton, so
pliant his arm, and so rapid his weapon, that that good knight (who
rather from skill and valour than brute physical strength, ranked amongst
the prowest of William's band of martial brothers) would willingly have
preferred to see before him Fitzosborne or Montgommeri, all clad in steel
and armed with mace and lance, than parried those dazzling strokes, and
fronted the angry majesty of that helmless brow. Already the strong rings
of his mail had been twice pierced, and his blood trickled fast, while
his great sword had but smitten the air in its sweeps at the foe; when
the Saxon phalanx, taking advantage of the breach in the ring that girt
them, caused by this diversion, and recognising with fierce ire the gold
torque and breastplate of the Welch King, made their desperate charge.
Then for some minutes the pele mele was confused and indistinct--blows
blind and at random--death coming no man knew whence or how; till
discipline and steadfast order (which the Saxons kept, as by mechanism,
through the discord) obstinately prevailed.  The wedge forced its way;
and, though reduced in numbers and sore wounded, the Saxon troop cleared
the ring, and joined the main force drawn up by the fort, and guarded in
the rear by its wall.

Meanwhile Harold, supported by the band under Sexwolf, had succeeded at
length in repelling farther reinforcements of the Welch at the more
accessible part of the trenches; and casting now his practised eye over
the field, he issued orders for some of the men to regain the fort, and
open from the battlements, and from every loophole, the batteries of
stone and javelin, which then (with the Saxons, unskilled in sieges,)
formed the main artillery of forts.  These orders given, he planted
Sexwolf and most of his band to keep watch round the trenches; and
shading his eye with his hand, and looking towards the moon, all waning
and dimmed in the watchfires, he said, calmly, "Now patience fights for
us.  Ere the moon reaches yon hill-top, the troops of Aber and Caer-hen
will be on the slopes of Penmaen, and cut off the retreat of the
Walloons.  Advance my flag to the thick of yon strife."

But as the Earl, with his axe swung over his shoulder, and followed but
by some half-score or more with his banner, strode on where the wild war
was now mainly concentred, just midway between trench and fort, Gryffyth
caught sight both of the banner and the Earl, and left the press at the
very moment when he had gained the greatest advantage; and when indeed,
but for the Norman, who, wounded as he was, and unused to fight on foot,
stood resolute in the van, the Saxons, wearied out by numbers, and
falling fast beneath the javelins, would have fled into their walls, and
so sealed their fate,--for the Welch would have entered at their heels.

But it was the misfortune of the Welch heroes never to learn that war is
a science; and instead of now centering all force on the point most
weakened, the whole field vanished from the fierce eye of the Welch King,
when he saw the banner and form of Harold.

The Earl beheld the coming foe, wheeling round, as the hawk on the
heron;--halted, drew up his few men in a semicircle, with their large
shields as a rampart, and their levelled spears as a palisade; and before
them all, as a tower, stood Harold with his axe.  In a minute more he was
surrounded; and through the rain of javelins that poured upon him, hissed
and glittered the sword of Gryffyth.  But Harold, more practised than the
Sire de Graville in the sword-play of the Welch, and unencumbered by
other defensive armour (save only the helm, which was shaped like the
Norman's,) than his light coat of hide, opposed quickness to quickness,
and suddenly dropping his axe, sprang upon his foe, and clasping him
round with his left arm, with the right hand griped at his throat:

"Yield and quarter!--yield, for thy life, son of Llewellyn!"

Strong was that embrace, and deathlike that gripe; yet, as the snake from
the hand of the dervise--as a ghost from the grasp of the dreamer, the
lithe Cymrian glided away, and the broken torque was all that remained in
the clutch of Harold.

At this moment a mighty yell of despair broke from the Welch near the
fort: stones and javelins rained upon them from the walls, and the fierce
Norman was in the midst, with his sword drinking blood; but not for
javelin, stone, and sword, shrank and shouted the Welchmen.  On the other
side of the trenches were marching against them their own countrymen, the
rival tribes that helped the stranger to rend the land: and far to the
right were seen the spears of the Saxon from Aber, and to the left was
heard the shout of the forces under Godrith from Caer-hen; and they who
had sought the leopard in his lair were now themselves the prey caught in
the toils.  With new heart, as they beheld these reinforcements, the
Saxons pressed on; tumult, and flight, and indiscriminate slaughter,
wrapped the field.  The Welch rushed to the stream and the trenches; and
in the bustle and hurlabaloo, Gryffyth was swept along, as a bull by a
torrent; still facing the foe, now chiding, now smiting his own men, now
rushing alone on the pursuers, and halting their onslaught, he gained,
still unwounded, the stream, paused a moment, laughed loud, and sprang
into the wave.  A hundred javelins hissed into the sullen and bloody
waters.  "Hold!" cried Harold the Earl, lifting his hand on high, "No
dastard dart at the brave!"



CHAPTER IV.

The fugitive Britons, scarce one-tenth of the number that had first
rushed to the attack,--performed their flight with the same Parthian
rapidity that characterised the assault; and escaping both Welch foe and
Saxon, though the former broke ground to pursue them, they gained the
steeps of Penmaen.

There was no further thought of slumber that night within the walls.
While the wounded were tended, and the dead were cleared from the soil,
Harold, with three of his chiefs, and Mallet de Graville, whose feats
rendered it more than ungracious to refuse his request that he might
assist in the council, conferred upon the means of terminating the war
with the next day.  Two of the thegns, their blood hot with strife and
revenge, proposed to scale the mountain with the whole force the
reinforcements had brought them, and put all they found to the sword.

The third, old and prudent, and inured to Welch warfare, thought
otherwise.

"None of us," said he, "know what is the true strength of the place which
ye propose to storm.  Not even one Welchman have we found who hath ever
himself gained the summit, or examined the castle which is said to exist
there." [162]

"Said!" echoed De Graville, who, relieved of his mail, and with his
wounds bandaged, reclined on his furs on the floor.  "Said, noble sir!
Cannot our eyes perceive the towers?"

The old thegn shook his head.  "At a distance, and through mists, stones
loom large, and crags themselves take strange shapes.  It may be castle,
may be rock, may be old roofless temples of heathenesse that we see.  But
to repeat (and, as I am slow, I pray not again to be put out in my
speech)--none of us know what, there, exists of defence, man-made or
Nature-built.  Not even thy Welch spies, son of Godwin, have gained to
the heights.  In the midst lie the scouts of the Welch King, and those on
the top can see the bird fly, the goat climb.  Few of thy spies, indeed,
have ever returned with life; their heads have been left at the foot of
the hill, with the scroll in their lips,--'Dic ad inferos--quid in
superis novisti.'  Tell to the shades below what thou hast seen in the
heights above."

"And the Walloons know Latin!" muttered the knight; "I respect them!"

The slow thegn frowned, stammered, and renewed:

"One thing at least is clear; that the rock is well nigh insurmountable
to those who know not the passes; that strict watch, baffling even Welch
spies, is kept night and day; that the men on the summit are desperate
and fierce; that our own troops are awed and terrified by the belief of
the Welch, that the spot is haunted and the towers fiend-founded.  One
single defeat may lose us two years of victory.  Gryffyth may break from
the eyrie, regain what he hath lost, win back our Welch allies, ever
faithless and hollow.  Wherefore, I say, go on as we have begun.  Beset
all the country round; cut off all supplies, and let the foe rot by
famine--or waste, as he hath done this night, his strength by vain
onslaught and sally."

"Thy counsel is good," said Harold, "but there is yet something to add to
it, which may shorten the strife, and gain the end with less sacrifice of
life.  The defeat of tonight will have humbled the spirits of the Welch;
take them yet in the hour of despair and disaster.  I wish, therefore, to
send to their outposts a nuncius, with these terms: 'Life and pardon to
all who lay down arms and surrender.'"

"What, after such havoc and gore?" cried one of the thegns.

"They defend their own soil," replied the Earl simply: "had not we done
the same?"

"But the rebel Gryffyth?" asked the old thegn, "thou canst not accept him
again as crowned sub-king of Edward?"

"No," said the Earl, "I propose to exempt Gryffyth alone from the pardon,
with promise, natheless, of life if he give himself up as prisoner; and
count, without further condition, on the King's mercy." There was a
prolonged silence.  None spoke against the Earl's proposal, though the
two younger thegns misliked it much.

At last said the elder, "But hast thou thought who will carry this
message?  Fierce and wild are yon blood-dogs; and man must needs shrive
soul and make will, if he will go to their kennel."

"I feel sure that my bode will be safe," answered Harold; "for Gryffyth
has all the pride of a king, and, sparing neither man nor child in the
onslaught, will respect what the Roman taught his sires to respect--envoy
from chief to chief--as a head scatheless and sacred."

"Choose whom thou wilt, Harold," said one of the young thegns, laughing,
"but spare thy friends; and whomsoever thou choosest, pay his widow the
weregeld."

"Fair sirs," then said De Graville, "if ye think that I, though a
stranger, could serve you as nuncius, it would be a pleasure to me to
undertake this mission.  First, because, being curious as concerns forts
and castles, I would fain see if mine eyes have deceived me in taking yon
towers for a hold of great might.  Secondly, because that same wild-cat
of a king must have a court rare to visit.  And the only reflection that
withholds my pressing the offer as a personal suit is, that though I have
some words of the Breton jargon at my tongue's need, I cannot pretend to
be a Tully in Welch; howbeit, since it seems that one, at least, among
them knows something of Latin, I doubt not but what I shall get out my
meaning!"

"Nay, as to that, Sire de Graville," said Harold, who seemed well pleased
with the knight's offer, "there shall be no hindrance or let, as I will
make clear to you; and in spite of what you have just heard, Gryffyth
shall harm you not in limb or in life.  But, kindly and courteous Sir,
will your wounds permit the journey, not long, but steep and laborious,
and only to be made on foot?"

"On foot!" said the knight, a little staggered, "Pardex! well and truly,
I did not count upon that!"

"Enough," said Harold, turning away in evident disappointment, "think of
it no more."

"Nay, by your leave, what I have once said I stand to," returned the
knight; "albeit, you may as well cleave in two one of those respectable
centaurs of which we have read in our youth, as part Norman and horse.  I
will forthwith go to my chamber, and apparel myself becomingly--not
forgetting, in case of the worst, to wear my mail under my robe.
Vouchsafe me but an armourer, just to rivet up the rings through which
scratched so felinely the paw of that well-appelled Griffin."

"I accept your offer frankly," said Harold, "and all shall be prepared
for you, as soon as you yourself will re-seek me here."

The knight rose, and though somewhat stiff and smarting with his wounds,
left the room lightly, summoned his armourer and squire, and having
dressed with all the care and pomp habitual to a Norman, his gold chain
round his neck, and his vest stiff with broidery, he re-entered the
apartment of Harold.  The Earl received him alone, and came up to him
with a cordial face.  "I thank thee more, brave Norman, than I ventured
to say before my thegns, for I tell thee frankly, that my intent and aim
are to save the life of this brave king; and thou canst well understand
that every Saxon amongst us must have his blood warmed by contest, and
his eyes blind with national hate.  You alone, as a stranger, see the
valiant warrior and hunted prince, and as such you can feel for him the
noble pity of manly foes."

"That is true," said De Graville, a little surprised, "though we Normans
are at least as fierce as you Saxons, when we have once tasted blood; and
I own nothing would please me better than to dress that catamaran in
mail, put a spear in its claws, and a horse under its legs, and thus
fight out my disgrace at being so clawed and mauled by its griffes.  And
though I respect a brave knight in distress, I can scarce extend my
compassion to a thing that fights against all rule, martial and kingly."

The Earl smiled gravely.  "It is the mode in which his ancestors rushed
on the spears of Caesar.  Pardon him."

"I pardon him, at your gracious request," quoth the knight, with a grand
air, and waving his hands; "say on."

"You will proceed with a Welch monk--whom, though not of the faction of
Gryffyth, all Welchmen respect--to the mouth of a frightful pass,
skirting the river; the monk will bear aloft the holy rood in signal of
peace.  Arrived at that pass, you will doubtless be stopped.  The monk
here will be spokesman; and ask safe-conduct to Gryffyth to deliver my
message; he will also bear certain tokens, which will no doubt win the
way for you."

"Arrived before Gryffyth, the monk will accost him; mark and heed well
his gestures, since thou wilt know not the Welch tongue he employs. And
when he raises the rood, thou,--in the mean while, having artfully
approached close to Gryffyth,--wilt whisper in Saxon, which he well
understands, and pressing the ring I now give thee into his hand, 'Obey,
by this pledge; thou knowest Harold is true, and thy head is sold by
thine own people.'  If he asks more thou knowest nought."

"So far, this is as should be from chief to chief," said the Norman,
touched, "and thus had Fitzosborne done to his foe.  I thank thee for
this mission, and the more that thou hast not asked me to note the
strength of the bulwark, and number the men that may keep it."

Again Harold smiled.  "Praise me not for this, noble Norman--we plain
Saxons have not your refinements.  If ye are led to the summit, which I
think ye will not be, the monk at least will have eyes to see, and tongue
to relate.  But to thee I confide this much;--I know already, that
Gryffyth's strongholds are not his walls and his towers, but the
superstition of our men, and the despair of his own.  I could win those
heights, as I have won heights as cloudcapt, but with fearful loss of my
own troops, and the massacre of every foe.  Both I would spare, if I
may."

"Yet thou hast not shown such value for life, in the solitudes I passed,"
said the knight bluntly.

Harold turned pale, but said firmly, "Sire de Graville, a stern thing is
duty, and resistless is its voice.  These Welchmen, unless curbed to
their mountains, eat into the strength of England, as the tide gnaws into
a shore.  Merciless were they in their ravages on our borders, and
ghastly and torturing their fell revenge.  But it is one thing to grapple
with a foe fierce and strong, and another to smite when his power is
gone, fang and talon.  And when I see before me the faded king of a great
race, and the last band of doomed heroes, too few and too feeble to make
head against my arms,--when the land is already my own, and the sword is
that of the deathsman, not of the warrior,--verily, Sir Norman, duty
releases its iron tool, and man becomes man again."

"I go," said the Norman, inclining his head low as to his own great Duke,
and turning to the door; yet there he paused, and looking at the ring
which he had placed on his finger, he said, "But one word more, if not
indiscreet--your answer may help argument, if argument be needed.  What
tale lies hid in this token?"

Harold coloured and paused a moment, then answered:

"Simply this.  Gryffyth's wife, the lady Aldyth, a Saxon by birth, fell
into my hands.  We were storming Rhadlan, at the farther end of the isle;
she was there.  We war not against women; I feared the license of my own
soldiers, and I sent the lady to Gryffyth.  Aldyth gave me this ring on
parting; and I bade her tell Gryffyth that whenever, at the hour of his
last peril and sorest need, I sent that ring back to him, he might hold
it the pledge of his life."

"Is this lady, think you, in the stronghold with her lord?"

"I am not sure, but I fear yes," answered Harold.

"Yet one word: And if Gryffyth refuse, despite all warning?"

Harold's eyes drooped.

"If so, he dies; but not by the Saxon sword.  God and our lady speed
you!"



CHAPTER V.

On the height called Pen-y-Dinas (or "Head of the City") forming one of
the summits of Penmaen-mawr, and in the heart of that supposed fortress
which no eye in the Saxon camp had surveyed [163], reclined Gryffyth, the
hunted King.  Nor is it marvellous that at that day there should be
disputes as to the nature and strength of the supposed bulwark, since, in
times the most recent, and among antiquaries the most learned, the
greatest discrepancies exist, not only as to theoretical opinion, but
plain matter of observation, and simple measurement.  The place, however,
I need scarcely say, was not as we see it now, with its foundations of
gigantic ruin, affording ample space for conjecture; yet, even then, a
wreck as of Titans, its date and purpose were lost in remote antiquity.

The central area (in which the Welch King now reclined) formed an oval
barrow of loose stones: whether so left from the origin, or the relics of
some vanished building, was unknown even to bard and diviner. Round this
space were four strong circumvallations of loose stones, with a space
about eighty yards between each; the walls themselves generally about
eight feet wide, but of various height, as the stones had fallen by time
and blast. Along these walls rose numerous and almost countless circular
buildings, which might pass for towers, though only a few had been
recently and rudely roofed in.  To the whole of this quadruple enclosure
there was but one narrow entrance, now left open as if in scorn of
assault; and a winding narrow pass down the mountain, with innumerable
curves, alone led to the single threshold.  Far down the hill, walls
again were visible; and the whole surface of the steep soil, more than
half way in the descent, was heaped with vast loose stones, as if the
bones of a dead city.  But beyond the innermost enclosure of the fort (if
fort, or sacred enclosure, be the correcter name), rose, thick and
frequent, other mementos of the Briton; many cromlechs, already shattered
and shapeless; the ruins of stone houses; and high over all, those
upraised, mighty amber piles, as at Stonehenge, once reared, if our dim
learning be true, in honour to Bel, or Bal-Huan [164], the idol of the
sun.  All, in short, showed that the name of the place, "the Head of the
City," told its tale; all announced that, there, once the Celt had his
home, and the gods of the Druid their worship.  And musing amidst these
skeletons of the past, lay the doomed son of Pen-Dragon.

Beside him a kind of throne had been raised with stones, and over it was
spread a tattered and faded velvet pall.  On this throne sat Aldyth the
Queen; and about the royal pair was still that mockery of a court which
the jealous pride of the Celt king retained amidst all the horrors of
carnage and famine.  Most of the officers indeed (originally in number
twenty-four), whose duties attached them to the king and queen of the
Cymry, were already feeding the crow or the worm.  But still, with gaunt
hawk on his wrist, the penhebogydd (grand falconer) stood at a distance;
still, with beard sweeping his breast, and rod in hand, leant against a
projecting shaft of the wall, the noiseless gosdegwr, whose duty it was
to command silence in the King's hall; and still the penbard bent over
his bruised harp, which once had thrilled, through the fair vaults of
Caerleon and Rhaldan, in high praise of God, and the King, and the Hero
Dead.  In the pomp of gold dish and vessel [165] the board was spread on
the stones for the King and Queen; and on the dish was the last fragment
of black bread, and in the vessel full and clear, the water from the
spring that bubbled up everlastingly through the bones of the dead city.

Beyond this innermost space, round a basin of rock, through which the
stream overflowed as from an artificial conduit, lay the wounded and
exhausted, crawling, turn by turn, to the lips of the basin, and happy
that the thirst of fever saved them from the gnawing desire of food. A
wan and spectral figure glided listlessly to and fro amidst those
mangled, and parched, and dying groups.  This personage, in happier
times, filled the office of physician to the court, and was placed
twelfth in rank amidst the chiefs of the household.  And for cure of the
"three deadly wounds," the cloven skull, or the gaping viscera, or the
broken limb (all three classed alike), large should have been his fee
[166].  But feeless went he now from man to man, with his red ointment
and his muttered charm; and those over whom he shook his lean face and
matted locks, smiled ghastly at that sign that release and death were
near.  Within the enclosures, either lay supine, or stalked restless, the
withered remains of the wild army.  A sheep, and a horse, and a clog,
were yet left them all to share for the day's meal. And the fire of
flickering and crackling brushwood burned bright from a hollow amidst the
loose stones; but the animals were yet unslain, and the dog crept by the
fire, winking at it with dim eyes.

But over the lower part of the wall nearest to the barrow, leant three
men.  The wall there was so broken, that they could gaze over it on that
grotesque yet dismal court; and the eyes of the three men, with a fierce
and wolfish glare, were bent on Gryffyth.

Three princes were they of the great old line; far as Gryffyth they
traced the fabulous honours of their race, to Hu-Gadarn and Prydain, and
each thought it shame that Gryffyth should be lord over him!  Each had
had throne and court of his own; each his "white palace" of peeled willow
wands--poor substitutes, O kings, for the palaces and towers that the
arts of Rome had bequeathed your fathers!  And each had been subjugated
by the son of Llewellyn, when, in his day of might, he re-united under
his sole sway all the multiform principalities of Wales, and regained,
for a moment's splendour, the throne of Roderic the Great.

"Is it," said Owain, in a hollow whisper, "for yon man, whom heaven hath
deserted, who could not keep his very torque from the gripe of the Saxon,
that we are to die on these hills, gnawing the flesh from our bones?
Think ye not the hour is come?"

"The hour will come, when the sheep, and the horse, and the dog are
devoured," replied Modred, "and when the whole force, as one man, will
cry to Gryffyth, 'Thou a king!--give us bread!'"

"It is well," said the third, an old man, leaning on a wand of solid
silver, while the mountain wind, sweeping between the walls, played with
the rags of his robe,--"it is well that the night's sally, less of war
than of hunger, was foiled even of forage and food.  Had the saints been
with Gryffyth, who had dared to keep faith with Tostig the Saxon."

Owain laughed, a laugh hollow and false.

"Art thou Cymrian, and talkest of faith with a Saxon?  Faith with the
spoiler, the ravisher and butcher?  But a Cymrian keeps faith with
revenge; and Gryffyth's trunk should be still crownless and headless,
though Tostig had never proffered the barter of safety and food. Hist!
Gryffyth wakes from the black dream, and his eyes glow from under his
hair."

And indeed at this moment the King raised himself on his elbow, and
looked round with a haggard and fierce despair in his glittering eyes.

"Play to us, Harper; sing some song of the deeds of old!"  The bard
mournfully strove to sweep the harp, but the chords were broken, and the
note came discordant and shrill as the sigh of a wailing fiend.

"O King!" said the bard, "the music hath left the harp."

"Ha!" murmured Gryffyth, "and Hope the earth!  Bard, answer the son of
Llewellyn.  Oft in my halls hast thou sung the praise of the men that
have been.  In the halls of the race to come, will bards yet unborn sweep
their harps to the deeds of thy King?  Shall they tell of the day of
Torques, by Llyn-Afangc, when the princes of Powys fled from his sword as
the clouds from the blast of the wind?  Shall they sing, as the Hirlas
goes round, of his steeds of the sea, when no flag came in sight of his
prows between the dark isle of the Druid [167] and the green pastures of
Huerdan? [168]  Or the towns that he fired, on the lands of the Saxon,
when Rolf and the Nortbmen ran fast from his javelin and spear?  Or say,
Child of Truth, if all that is told of Gryffyth thy King shall be his woe
and his shame?"

The bard swept his hand over his eyes, and answered:

"Bards unborn shall sing of Gryffyth the son of Llewellyn.  But the song
shall not dwell on the pomp of his power, when twenty sub-kings knelt at
his throne, and his beacon was lighted in the holds of the Norman and
Saxon.  Bards shall sing of the hero, who fought every inch of crag and
morass in the front of his men,--and on the heights of Penmaen-mawr, Fame
recovers thy crown!"

"Then I have lived as my fathers in life, and shall live with their glory
in death!" said Gryffyth; "and so the shadow hath passed from my soul."
Then turning round, still propped upon his elbow, he fixed his proud eye
upon Aldyth, and said gravely, "Wife, pale is thy face, and gloomy thy
brow; mournest thou the throne or the man?"

Aldyth cast on her wild lord a look of more terror than compassion, a
look without the grief that is gentle, or the love that reveres; and
answered:

"What matter to thee my thoughts or my sufferings?  The sword or the
famine is the doom thou hast chosen.  Listening to vain dreams from thy
bard, or thine own pride as idle, thou disdainest life for us both: be it
so; let us die!"

A strange blending of fondness and wrath troubled the pride on Gryffyth's
features, uncouth and half savage as they were, but still noble and
kingly.

"And what terror has death, if thou lovest me?" said he.

Aldyth shivered and turned aside.  The unhappy King gazed hard on that
face, which, despite sore trial and recent exposure to rough wind and
weather, still retained the proverbial beauty of the Saxon women--but
beauty without the glow of the heart, as a landscape from which sunlight
has vanished; and as he gazed, at the colour went and came fitfully over
his swarthy cheeks whose hue contrasted the blue of his eye and the red
tawny gold of his shaggy hair.

"Thou wouldst have me," he said at length, "send to Harold thy
countryman; thou wouldst have me, me--rightful lord of all Britain--beg
for mercy, and sue for life.  Ah, traitress, and child of robber-sires,
fair as Rowena art thou, but no Vortimer am I!  Thou turnest in loathing
from the lord whose marriage-gift was a crown; and the sleek form of thy
Saxon Harold rises up through the clouds of the carnage."

All the fierce and dangerous jealousy of man's most human passion--when
man loves and hates in a breath--trembled in the Cymrian's voice, and
fired his troubled eye; for Aldyth's pale cheek blushed like the rose,
but she folded her arms haughtily on her breast, and made no reply.

"No," said Gryffyth, grinding teeth, white [169] and strong as those of a
young hound.  "No, Harold in vain sent me the casket; the jewel was gone.
In vain thy form returned to my side; thy heart was away with thy captor:
and not to save my life (were I so base as to seek it), but to see once
more the face of him to whom this cold hand, in whose veins no pulse
answers my own, had been given, if thy House had consulted its daughter,
wouldst thou have me crouch like a lashed dog at the feet of my foe!  Oh
Shame! shame! shame!  Oh worst perfidy of all!  Oh sharp--sharper than
Saxon sword or serpent's tooth, is--is--"

Tears gushed to those fierce eyes, and the proud King dared not trust to
his voice.

Aldyth rose coldly.  "Slay me if thou wilt--not insult me.  I have said,
'Let us die!'"

With these words, and vouchsafing no look on her lord, she moved away
towards the largest tower or cell, in which the single and rude chamber
it contained had been set apart for her.

Gryffyth's eye followed her, softening gradually as her form receded,
till lost to his sight.  And then that peculiar household love, which in
uncultivated breasts often survives trust and esteem, rushed back on his
rough heart, and weakened it, as woman only can weaken the strong to whom
Death is a thought of scorn.

He signed to his bard, who, during the conference between wife and lord,
had retired to a distance, and said, with a writhing attempt to smile:

"Was there truth, thinkest thou, in the legend, that Guenever was false
to King Arthur?"

"No," answered the bard, divining his lord's thought, "for Guenever
survived not the King, and they were buried side by side in the Vale of
Avallon."

"Thou art wise in the lore of the heart, and love hath been thy study
from youth to grey hairs.  Is it love, is it hate, that prefers death for
the loved one, to the thought of her life as another's?"  A look of the
tenderest compassion passed over the bard's wan face, but vanished in
reverence, as he bowed his head and answered:

"O King, who shall say what note the wind calls from the harp, what
impulse love wakes in the soul--now soft and now stern?  But," he added,
raising his form, and, with a dread calm on his brow, "but the love of a
king brooks no thought of dishonour; and she who hath laid her head on
his breast should sleep in his grave."

"Thou wilt outlive me," said Gryffyth, abruptly.  "This carn be my tomb!"

"And if so," said the bard, "thou shalt sleep not alone.  In this carn
what thou lovest best shall be buried by thy side; the bard shall raise
his song over thy grave, and the bosses of shields shall be placed at
intervals, as rises and falls the sound of song.  Over the grave of two
shall a new mound arise, and we will bid the mound speak to others in the
fair days to come.  But distant yet be the hour when the mighty shall be
laid low! and the tongue of thy bard may yet chant the rush of the lion
from the toils and the spears.  Hope still!"

Gryffyth, for answer, leant on the harper's shoulder, and pointed
silently to the sea, that lay, lake-like at the distance, dark-studded
with the Saxon fleet.  Then turning, his hands stretched over the forms
that, hollow-eyed and ghost-like, flitted between the walls, or lay
dying, but mute, around the waterspring.  His hand then dropped, and
rested on the hilt of his sword.

At this moment there was a sudden commotion at the outer entrance of the
wall; the crowd gathered to one spot, and there was a loud hum of voices.
In a few moments one of the Welch scouts came into the enclosure, and the
chiefs of the royal tribes followed him to the carn on which the King
stood.

"Of what tellest thou?" said Gryffyth, resuming on the instant all the
royalty of his bearing.

"At the mouth of the pass," said the scout, kneeling, "there are a monk
bearing the holy rood, and a chief, unarmed.  And the monk is Evan, the
Cymrian, of Gwentland; and the chief, by his voice, seemeth not to be
Saxon.  The monk bade me give thee these tokens" (and the scout displayed
the broken torque which the King had left in the grasp of Harold,
together with a live falcon belled and blinded), "and bade me say thus to
the King: Harold the Earl greets Gryffyth, son of Llewellyn, and sends
him, in proof of good will, the richest prize he hath ever won from a
foe; and a hawk, from Llandudno;--that bird which chief and equal give to
equal and chief.  And he prays Gryffyth, son of Llewellyn, for the sake
of his realm and his people, to grant hearing to his nuncius."

A murmur broke from the chiefs--a murmur of joy and surprise from all,
save the three conspirators, who interchanged anxious and fiery glances.
Gryffyth's hand had already closed, while he uttered a cry that seemed of
rapture, on the collar of gold; for the loss of that collar had stung
him, perhaps more than the loss of the crown of all Wales.  And his
heart, so generous and large, amidst all its rude passions, was touched
by the speech and the tokens that honoured the fallen outlaw both as foe
and as king.  Yet in his face there was still seen a moody and proud
struggle; he paused before he turned to the chiefs.

"What counsel ye--ye strong in battle, and wise in debate?" said he.

With one voice all, save the Fatal Three, exclaimed: "Hear the monk, O
King!"

"Shall we dissuade?" whispered Modred to the old chief, his accomplice.

"No; for so doing, we shall offend all:--and we must win all."

Then the bard stepped into the ring.  And the ring was hushed, for wise
is ever the counsel of him whose book is the human heart.

"Hear the Saxons," said he, briefly, and with an air of command when
addressing others, which contrasted strongly his tender respect to the
King; "hear the Saxons, but not in these walls.  Let no man from the foe
see our strength or our weakness.  We are still mighty and impregnable,
while our dwelling is in the realm of the Unknown.  Let the King, and his
officers of state, and his chieftains of battle, descend to the pass.
And behind, at the distance, let the spearmen range from cliff to cliff,
as a ladder of steel; so will their numbers seem the greater."

"Thou speakest well," said the King.

Meanwhile the knight and the monk waited below at that terrible pass
[170], which then lay between mountain and river, and over which the
precipices frowned, with a sense of horror and weight.  Looking up, the
knight murmured:

"With those stones and crags to roll down on a marching army, the place
well defies storm and assault; and a hundred on the height would
overmatch thousands below."

He then turned to address a few words, with all the far-famed courtesy of
Norman and Frank, to the Welch guards at the outpost.  They were picked
men; the strongest and best armed and best fed of the group. But they
shook their heads and answered not, gazing at him fiercely, and showing
their white teeth, as dogs at a bear before they are loosened from the
band.

"They understand me not, poor languageless savages!" said Mallet de
Graville, turning to the monk, who stood by with the lifted rood; "speak
to them in their own jargon."

"Nay," said the Welch monk, who, though of a rival tribe from South
Wales, and at the service of Harold, was esteemed throughout the land for
piety and learning, "they will not open mouth till the King's orders come
to receive or dismiss us unheard."

"Dismiss us unheard!" repeated the punctilious Norman; "even this poor
barbarous King can scarcely be so strange to all comely and gentle usage,
as to put such insult on Guillaume Mallet de Graville.  But," added the
knight, colouring, "I forgot that he is not advised of my name and land;
and, indeed, sith thou art to be spokesman, I marvel why Harold should
have prayed my service at all, at the risk of subjecting a Norman knight
to affronts contumelious."

"Peradventure," replied Evan, "peradventure thou hast something to
whisper apart to the King, which, as stranger and warrior, none will
venture to question; but which from me, as countryman and priest, would
excite the jealous suspicions of those around him."

"I conceive thee," said De Graville.  "And see, spears are gleaming down
the path; and per pedes Domini, yon chief with the mantle, and circlet of
gold on his head, is the cat-king that so spitted and scratched in the
melee last night."

"Heed well thy tongue," said Evan, alarmed; "no jests with the leader of
men."

"Knowest thou, good monk, that a facete and most gentil Roman (if the
saintly writer from whom I take the citation reports aright--for, alas! I
know not where myself to purchase, or to steal, one copy of Horatius
Flaccus) hath said 'Dulce est desipere in loco.'  It is sweet to jest,
but not within reach of claws, whether of kaisars or cats."

Therewith the knight drew up his spare but stately figure, and arranging
his robe with grace and dignity, awaited the coming chief.

Down the paths, one by one, came first the chiefs, privileged by birth to
attend the King; and each, as he reached the mouth of the pass, drew on
the upper side, among the stones of the rough ground.  Then a banner,
tattered and torn, with the lion ensign that the Welch princes had
substituted for the old national dragon, which the Saxon of Wessex had
appropriated to themselves [171], preceded the steps of the King. Behind
him came his falconer and bard, and the rest of his scanty household.
The King halted in the pass, a few steps from the Norman knight; and
Mallet de Graville, though accustomed to the majestic mien of Duke
William, and the practised state of the princes of France and Flanders,
felt an involuntary thrill of admiration at the bearing of the great
child of Nature with his foot on his father's soil.

Small and slight as was his stature, worn and ragged his mantle of state,
there was that in the erect mien and steady eye of the Cymrian hero,
which showed one conscious of authority, and potent in will; and the wave
of his hand to the knight was the gesture of a prince on his throne.
Nor, indeed, was that brave and ill-fated chief without some irregular
gleams of mental cultivation, which under happier auspices, might have
centred into steadfast light.  Though the learning which had once existed
in Wales (the last legacy of Rome) had long since expired in broil and
blood, and youths no longer flocked to the colleges of Caerleon, and
priests no longer adorned the casuistical theology of the age, Gryffyth
himself, the son of a wise and famous father [172], had received an
education beyond the average of Saxon kings.  But, intensely national,
his mind had turned from all other literature, to the legends, and songs,
and chronicles of his land; and if he is the best scholar who best
understands his own tongue and its treasures, Gryffyth was the most
erudite prince of his age.

His natural talents, for war especially, were considerable; and judged
fairly--not as mated with an empty treasury, without other army than the
capricious will of his subjects afforded, and amidst his bitterest foes
in the jealous chiefs of his own country, against the disciplined force
and comparative civilisation of the Saxon--but as compared with all the
other princes of Wales, in warfare, to which he was habituated, and in
which chances were even, the fallen son of Llewellyn had been the most
renowned leader that Cymry had known since the death of the great
Roderic.

So there he stood; his attendants ghastly with famine, drawn up on the
unequal ground; above, on the heights, and rising from the stone crags,
long lines of spears artfully placed; and, watching him with deathful
eyes, somewhat in his rear, the Traitor Three.

"Speak, father, or chief," said the Welch King in his native tongue;
"what would Harold the Earl of Gryffyth the King?"

Then the monk took up the word and spoke.

"Health to Gryffyth-ap-Llewellyn, his chiefs and his people!  Thus saith
Harold, King Edward's thegn:  By land all the passes are watched; by sea
all the waves are our own.  Our swords rest in our sheaths; but famine
marches each hour to gride and to slay.  Instead of sure death from the
hunger, take sure life from the foe.  Free pardon to all, chiefs and
people, and safe return to their homes,--save Gryffyth alone.  Let him
come forth, not as victim and outlaw, not with bent form and clasped
hands, but as chief meeting chief, with his household of state.  Harold
will meet him, in honour, at the gates of the fort.  Let Gryffyth submit
to King Edward, and ride with Harold to the Court of the Basileus.
Harold promises him life, and will plead for his pardon.  And though the
peace of this realm, and the fortune of war, forbid Harold to say, 'Thou
shalt yet be a king;' yet thy crown, son of Llewellyn, shall at least be
assured in the line of thy fathers, and the race of Cadwallader shall
still reign in Cymry."

The monk paused, and hope and joy were in the faces of the famished
chiefs; while two of the Traitor Three suddenly left their post, and sped
to tell the message to the spearmen and multitudes above. Modred, the
third conspirator, laid his hand on his hilt, and stole near to see the
face of the King;--the face of the King was dark and angry, as a midnight
of storm.

Then, raising the cross on high, Evan resumed.

"And I, though of the people of Gwentland, which the arms of Gryffyth
have wasted, and whose prince fell beneath Gryffyth's sword on the hearth
of his hall--I, as God's servant, the brother of all I behold, and, as
son of the soil, mourning over the slaughter of its latest defenders--I,
by this symbol of love and command, which I raise to the heaven, adjure
thee, O King, to give ear to the mission of peace,--to cast down the grim
pride of earth.  And instead of the crown of a day, fix thy hopes on the
crown everlasting.  For much shall be pardoned to thee in thine hour of
pomp and of conquest, if now thou savest from doom and from death the
last lives over which thou art lord."

It was during this solemn appeal that the knight, marking the sign
announced to him, and drawing close to Gryffyth, pressed the ring into
the King's hand, and whispered:

"Obey by this pledge.  Thou knowest Harold is true, and thy head is sold
by thine own people."

The King cast a haggard eye at the speaker, and then at the ring, over
which his hand closed with a convulsive spasm.  And at that dread instant
the man prevailed over the King; and far away from people and monk, from
adjuration and duty, fled his heart on the wings of the storm--fled to
the cold wife he distrusted: and the pledge that should assure him of
life, seemed as a love-token insulting his fall:--Amidst all the roar of
roused passions, loudest of all was the hiss of the jealous fiend.

As the monk ceased, the thrill of the audience was perceptible, and a
deep silence was followed by a general murmur, as if to constrain the
King.

Then the pride of the despot chief rose up to second the wrath of the
suspecting man.  The red spot flushed the dark cheek, and he tossed the
neglected hair from his brow.

He made one stride towards the monk, and said, in a voice loud, and deep,
and slow, rolling far up the hill:

"Monk, thou hast said; and now hear the reply of the son of Llewellyn,
the true heir of Roderic the Great, who from the heights of Eryri saw all
the lands of the Cymrian sleeping under the dragon of Uther.  King was I
born, and king will I die.  I will not ride by the side of the Saxon to
the feet of Edward, the son of the spoiler.  I will not, to purchase base
life, surrender the claim, vain before men and the hour, but solemn
before God and posterity--the claim of my line and my people.  All
Britain is ours--all the island of Pines.  And the children of Hengist
are traitors and rebels--not the heirs of Ambrosius and Uther.  Say to
Harold the Saxon, Ye have left us but the tomb of the Druid and the hills
of the eagle; but freedom and royalty are ours, in life and in death--not
for you to demand them, not for us to betray.  Nor fear ye, O my chiefs,
few, but unmatched in glory and truth; fear not ye to perish by the
hunger thus denounced as our doom, on these heights that command the
fruits of our own fields!  No, die we may, but not mute and revengeless.
Go back, whispering warrior; go back, false son of Cymry--and tell Harold
to look well to his walls and his trenches.  We will vouchsafe him grace
for his grace--we will not take him by surprise, nor under cloud of the
night.  With the gleam of our spears and the clash of our shields, we
will come from the hill: and, famine-worn as he deems us, hold a feast in
his walls which the eagles of Snowdon spread their pinions to share!"

"Rash man and unhappy!" cried the monk; "what curse drawest thou down on
thy head!  Wilt thou be the murtherer of thy men, in strife unavailing
and vain?  Heaven holds thee guilty of all the blood thou shalt cause to
be shed."

"Be dumb!--hush thy screech, lying raven!" exclaimed Gryffyth, his eyes
darting fire and, his slight form dilating.  "Once, priest and monk went
before us to inspire, not to daunt; and our cry, Alleluia! was taught us
by the saints of the Church, on the day when Saxons, fierce and many as
Harold's, fell on the field of Maes-Garmon.  No, the curse is on the head
of the invader, not on those who defend hearth and altar.  Yea, as the
song to the bard, the CURSE leaps through my veins, and rushes forth from
my lips.  By the land they have ravaged; by the gore they have spilt; on
these crags, our last refuge; below the carn on yon heights, where the
Dead stir to hear me,--I launch the curse of the wronged and the doomed
on the children of Hengist!  They in turn shall know the steel of the
stranger--their crown shall be shivered as glass, and their nobles be as
slaves in the land.  And the line of Hengist and Cerdic shall be rased
from the roll of empire.  And the ghosts of our fathers shall glide,
appeased, over the grave of their nation.  But we--WE, though weak in the
body, in the soul shall be strong to the last!  The ploughshare may pass
over our cities, but the soil shall be trod by our steps, and our deeds
keep our language alive in the songs of our bards.  Nor in the great
Judgment Day, shall any race but the race of Cymry rise from their graves
in this corner of earth, to answer for the sins of the brave!" [173]

So impressive the voice, so grand the brow, and sublime the wild gesture
of the King, as he thus spoke, that not only the monk himself was awed;
not only, though he understood not the words, did the Norman knight bow
his head, as a child when the lightning he fears as by instinct flashes
out from the cloud,--but even the sullen and wide-spreading discontent at
work among most of the chiefs was arrested for a moment.  But the
spearmen and multitude above, excited by the tidings of safety to life,
and worn out by repeated defeat, and the dread fear of famine, too remote
to hear the King, were listening eagerly to the insidious addresses of
the two stealthy conspirators, creeping from rank to rank; and already
they began to sway and move, and sweep slowly down towards the King.

Recovering his surprise, the Norman again neared Gryffyth, and began to
re-urge his mission of peace.  But the chief waved him back sternly, and
said aloud, though in Saxon:

"No secrets can pass between Harold and me.  This much alone, take thou
back as answer: I thank the Earl, for myself, my Queen, and my people.
Noble have been his courtesies, as foe; as foe I thank him--as king,
defy.  The torque he hath returned to my hand, he shall see again ere the
sun set.  Messengers, ye are answered.  Withdraw, and speed fast, that we
may pass not your steps on the road."

The monk sighed, and cast a look of holy compassion over the circle; and
a pleased man was he to see in the faces of most there, that the King was
alone in his fierce defiance.  Then lifting again the rood, he turned
away, and with him went the Norman.

The retirement of the messengers was the signal for one burst of
remonstrance from the chiefs--the signal for the voice and the deeds of
the Fatal Three.  Down from the heights sprang and rushed the angry and
turbulent multitudes; round the King came the bard and the falconer, and
some faithful few.

The great uproar of many voices caused the monk and the knight to pause
abruptly in their descent, and turn to look behind.  They could see the
crowd rushing down from the higher steeps; but on the spot itself which
they had so lately left, the nature of the ground only permitted a
confused view of spear points, lifted swords, and heads crowned with
shaggy locks, swaying to and fro.

"What means all this commotion?" asked the knight, with his hand on his
sword.

"Hist!" said the monk, pale as ashes, and leaning for support upon the
cross.

Suddenly, above the hubbub, was heard the voice of the King, in accents
of menace and wrath, singularly distinct and clear; it was followed by a
moment's silence--a moment's silence followed by the clatter of arms, a
yell, and a howl, and the indescribable shock of men.

And suddenly again was heard a voice that seemed that of the King, but no
longer distinct and clear!--was it laugh?--was it groan?

All was hushed; the monk was on his knees in prayer; the knight's sword
was bare in his hand.  All was hushed--and the spears stood still in the
air; when there was again a cry, as multitudinous, but less savage than
before.  And the Welch came down the pass, and down the crags.

The knight placed his back to a rock.  "They have orders to murther us,"
he murmured; "but woe to the first who come within reach of my sword!"

Down swarmed the Welchmen, nearer and nearer; and in the midst of them
three chiefs--the Fatal Three.  And the old chief bore in his hand a pole
or spear, and on the top of that spear, trickling gore step by step, was
the trunkless head of Gryffyth the King.

"This," said the old chief, as he drew near, "this is our answer to
Harold the Earl.  We will go with ye."

"Food! food!" cried the multitude.

And the three chiefs (one on either side the trunkless head that the
third bore aloft) whispered, "We are avenged!"



BOOK VIII.
FATE.



CHAPTER I.

Some days after the tragical event with which the last chapter closed,
the ships of the Saxons were assembled in the wide waters of Conway; and
on the small fore-deck of the stateliest vessel, stood Harold,
bareheaded, before Aldyth, the widowed Queen.  For the faithful bard had
fallen by the side of his lord; . . . the dark promise was unfulfilled,
and the mangled clay of the jealous Gryffyth slept alone in the narrow
bed.  A chair of state, with dossel and canopy, was set for the daughter
of Algar, and behind stood maidens of Wales, selected in haste for her
attendants.

But Aldyth had not seated herself; and, side by side with her dead lord's
great victor, thus she spoke:

"Woe worth the day and the hour when Aldyth left the hall of her fathers
and the land of her birth!  Her robe of a queen has been rent and torn
over an aching heart, and the air she has breathed has reeked as with
blood.  I go forth, widowed, and homeless, and lonely; but my feet shall
press the soil of my sires, and my lips draw the breath which came sweet
and pure to my childhood.  And thou, O Harold, standest beside me, like
the shape of my own youth, and the dreams of old come back at the sound
of thy voice.  Fare thee well, noble heart and true Saxon.  Thou hast
twice saved the child of thy foe--first from shame, then from famine.
Thou wouldst have saved my dread lord from open force, and dark murder;
but the saints were wroth, the blood of my kinsfolk, shed by his hand,
called for vengeance, and the shrines he had pillaged and burned murmured
doom from their desolate altars.  Peace be with the dead, and peace with
the living!  I shall go back to my father and brethren; and if the fame
and life of child and sister be dear to them, their swords will never
more leave their sheaths against Harold.  So thy hand, and God guard
thee!"

Harold raised to his lips the hand which the Queen extended to him; and
to Aldyth now seemed restored the rare beauty of her youth; as pride and
sorrow gave her the charm of emotion, which love and duty had failed to
bestow.

"Life and health to thee, noble lady," said the Earl.  "Tell thy kindred
from me, that for thy sake, and thy grandsire's, I would fain be their
brother and friend; were they but united with me, all England were now
safe against every foe, and each peril.  Thy daughter already awaits thee
in the halls of Morcar; and when time has scarred the wounds of the past,
may thy joys re-bloom in the face of thy child. Farewell, noble Aldyth!"

He dropped the hand he had held till then, turned slowly to the side of
the vessel, and re-entered his boat.  As he was rowed back to shore, the
horn gave the signal for raising anchor, and the ship, righting itself,
moved majestically through the midst of the fleet. But Aldyth still stood
erect, and her eyes followed the boat that bore away the secret love of
her youth.

As Harold reached the shore, Tostig and the Norman, who had been
conversing amicably together on the beach, advanced towards the Earl.

"Brother," said Tostig, smiling, "it were easy for thee to console the
fair widow, and bring to our House all the force of East Anglia and
Mercia."  Harold's face slightly changed, but he made no answer.

"A marvellous fair dame," said the Norman, "notwithstanding her cheek be
somewhat pinched, and the hue sun-burnt.  And I wonder not that the poor
cat-king kept her so close to his side."

"Sir Norman," said the Earl, hastening to change the subject, "the war is
now over, and, for long years, Wales will leave our Marches in
peace.--This eve I propose to ride hence towards London, and we will
converse by the way."

"Go you so soon?" cried the knight, surprised.  "Shall you not take means
utterly to subjugate this troublesome race, parcel out the lands among
your thegns, to hold as martial fiefs at need, build towers and forts on
the heights, and at the river mouths?--where a site, like this, for some
fair castle and vawmure?  In a word, do you Saxons merely overrun, and
neglect to hold what you win?"

"We fight in self-defence, not for conquest, Sir Norman.  We have no
skill in building castles; and I pray you not to hint to my thegns the
conceit of dividing a land, as thieves would their plunder.  King
Gryffyth is dead, and his brothers will reign in his stead.  England has
guarded her realm, and chastised the aggressors.  What need England do
more?  We are not like our first barbarous fathers, carving out homes
with the scythe of their saexes.  The wave settles after the flood, and
the races of men after lawless convulsions."

Tostig smiled, in disdain, at the knight, who mused a little over the
strange words he had heard, and then silently followed the Earl to the
fort.

But when Harold gained his chamber, he found there an express, arrived in
haste from Chester, with the news that Algar, the sole enemy and single
rival of his power, was no more.  Fever, occasioned by neglected wounds,
had stretched him impotent on a bed of sickness, and his fierce passions
had aided the march of disease; the restless and profitless race was run.

The first emotion which these tidings called forth was that of pain. The
bold sympathise with the bold; and in great hearts, there is always a
certain friendship for a gallant foe.  But recovering the shock of that
first impression, Harold could not but feel that England was free from
its most dangerous subject--himself from the only obstacle apparent to
the fulfilment of his luminous career.

"Now, then, to London," whispered the voice of his ambition.  "Not a foe
rests to trouble the peace of that empire which thy conquests, O Harold,
have made more secure and compact than ever yet has been the realm of the
Saxon kings.  Thy way through the country that thou hast henceforth
delivered from the fire and sword of the mountain ravager, will be one
march of triumph, like a Roman's of old; and the voice of the people will
echo the hearts of the army; those hearts are thine own.  Verily Hilda is
a prophetess; and when Edward rests with the saints, from what English
heart will not burst the cry, 'LONG LIVE HAROLD THE KING?'"



CHAPTER II.

The Norman rode by the side of Harold, in the rear of the victorious
armament.  The ships sailed to their havens, and Tostig departed to his
northern earldom.

"And now," said Harold, "I am at leisure to thank thee, brave Norman, for
more than thine aid in council and war;--at leisure now to turn to the
last prayer of Sweyn, and the often-shed tears of Githa my mother, for
Wolnoth the exile.  Thou seest with thine own eyes that there is no
longer pretext or plea for thy Count to detain these hostages. Thou shalt
hear from Edward himself that he no longer asks sureties for the faith of
the House of Godwin; and I cannot think that Duke William would have
suffered thee to bring me over this news from the dead if he were not
prepared to do justice to the living."

"Your speech, Earl of Wessex, goes near to the truth.  But, to speak
plainly and frankly, I think William, my lord, hath a keen desire to
welcome in person a chief so illustrious as Harold, and I guess that he
keeps the hostages to make thee come to claim them."  The knight, as he
spoke, smiled gaily; but the cunning of the Norman gleamed in the quick
glance of his clear hazel eye.

"Fain must I feel pride at such wish, if you flatter me not," said
Harold; "and I would gladly myself, now the land is in peace, and my
presence not needful, visit a court of such fame.  I hear high praise
from cheapman and pilgrim of Count William's wise care for barter and
trade, and might learn much from the ports of the Seine that would profit
the marts of the Thames.  Much, too, I hear of Count William's zeal to
revive the learning of the Church, aided by Lanfranc the Lombard; much I
hear of the pomp of his buildings, and the grace of his court.  All this
would I cheerfully cross the ocean to see; but all this would but sadden
my heart if I returned without Haco and Wolnoth."

"I dare not speak so as to plight faith for the Duke," said the Norman,
who, though sharp to deceive, had that rein on his conscience that it did
not let him openly lie; "but this I do know, that there are few things in
his Countdom which my lord would not give to clasp the right hand of
Harold and feel assured of his friendship."

Though wise and farseeing, Harold was not suspicious;--no Englishman,
unless it were Edward himself, knew the secret pretensions of William to
the English throne; and he answered simply:

"It were well, indeed, both for Normandy and England, both against foes
and for trade, to be allied and well-liking.  I will think over your
words, Sire de Graville, and it shall not be my fault if old feuds be not
forgotten, and those now in thy court be the last hostages ever kept by
the Norman for the faith of the Saxon."

With that he turned the discourse; and the aspiring and able envoy,
exhilarated by the hope of a successful mission, animated the way by
remarks--alternately lively and shrewd--which drew the brooding Earl from
those musings, which had now grown habitual to a mind once clear and open
as the day.

Harold had not miscalculated the enthusiasm his victories had excited.
Where he passed, all the towns poured forth their populations to see and
to hail him; and on arriving at the metropolis, the rejoicings in his
honour seemed to equal those which had greeted, at the accession of
Edward, the restoration of the line of Cerdic.

According to the barbarous custom of the age, the head of the unfortunate
sub-king, and the prow of his special war-ship, had been sent to Edward
as the trophies of conquest: but Harold's uniform moderation respected
the living.  The race of Gryffyth [174] were re-established on the
tributary throne of that hero, in the persons of his brothers, Blethgent
and Rigwatle, "and they swore oaths," says the graphic old chronicler,
"and delivered hostages to the King and the Earl that they would be
faithful to him in all things, and be everywhere ready for him, by water,
and by land, and make such renders from the land as had been done before
to any other king."

Not long after this, Mallet de Graville returned to Normandy, with gifts
for William from King Edward, and special requests from that prince, as
well as from the Earl, to restore the hostages.  But Mallet's acuteness
readily perceived, that in much Edward's mind had been alienated from
William.  It was clear, that the Duke's marriage and the pledges that had
crowned the union were distasteful to the asceticism of the saint king:
and with Godwin's death, and Tostig's absence from the court, seemed to
have expired all Edward's bitterness towards that powerful family of
which Harold was now the head.  Still, as no subject out of the House of
Cerdic had ever yet been elected to the Saxon throne, there was no
apprehension on Mallet's mind that in Harold was the true rival to
William's cherished aspirations.  Though Edward the Atheling was dead,
his son Edgar lived, the natural heir to the throne; and the Norman,
(whose liege had succeeded to the Duchy at the age of eight,) was not
sufficiently cognisant of the invariable custom of the Anglo-Saxons, to
set aside, whether for kingdoms or for earldoms, all claimants unfitted
for rule by their tender years.  He could indeed perceive that the young
Atheling's minority was in favour of his Norman liege, and would render
him but a weak defender of the realm, and that there seemed no popular
attachment to the infant orphan of the Germanised exile: his name was
never mentioned at the court, nor had Edward acknowledged him as heir,--a
circumstance which he interpreted auspiciously for William.
Nevertheless, it was clear that, both at court and amongst the people,
the Norman influence in England was at the lowest ebb; and that the only
man who could restore it, and realise the cherished dreams of his
grasping lord, was Harold the all-powerful.



CHAPTER III.

Trusting, for the time, to the success of Edward's urgent demand for the
release of his kinsmen, as well as his own, Harold was now detained at
the court by all those arrears of business which had accumulated fast
under the inert hands of the monk-king during the prolonged campaigns
against the Welch; but he had leisure at least for frequent visits to the
old Roman house; and those visits were not more grateful to his love than
to the harder and more engrossing passion which divided his heart.

The nearer he grew to the dazzling object, to the possession of which
Fate seemed to have shaped all circumstances, the more he felt the charm
of those mystic influences which his colder reason had disdained.  He who
is ambitious of things afar, and uncertain, passes at once into the
Poet-Land of Imagination; to aspire and to imagine are yearnings
twin-born.

When in his fresh youth and his calm lofty manhood, Harold saw action,
how adventurous soever, limited to the barriers of noble duty; when he
lived but for his country, all spread clear before his vision in the
sunlight of day; but as the barriers receded, while the horizon extended,
his eye left the Certain to rest on the Vague.  As self, though still
half concealed from his conscience, gradually assumed the wide space love
of country had filled, the maze of delusion commenced: he was to shape
fate out of circumstance,--no longer defy fate through virtue; and thus
Hilda became to him as a voice that answered the questions of his own
restless heart.  He needed encouragement from the Unknown to sanction his
desires and confirm his ends.  But Edith, rejoicing in the fair fame of
her betrothed, and content in the pure rapture of beholding him again,
reposed in the divine credulity of the happy hour; she marked not, in
Harold's visits, that, on entrance, the Earl's eye sought first the stern
face of the Vala--she wondered not why those two conversed in whispers
together, or stood so often at moonlight by the Runic grave.  Alone, of
all womankind, she felt that Harold loved her, that that love had braved
time, absence, change, and hope deferred; and she knew not that what love
has most to dread in the wild heart of aspiring man, is not persons, but
things,--is not things, but their symbols.

So weeks and months rolled on, and Duke William returned no answer to the
demands for his hostages.  And Harold's heart smote him, that he
neglected his brother's prayer and his mother's accusing tears.

Now Githa, since the death of her husband, had lived in seclusion and
apart from town; and one day Harold was surprised by her unexpected
arrival at the large timbered house in London, which had passed to his
possession.  As she abruptly entered the room in which he sate, he sprang
forward to welcome and embrace her; but she waved him back with a grave
and mournful gesture, and sinking on one knee, she said thus:

"See, the mother is a suppliant to the son for the son.  No, Harold,
no--I will not rise till thou hast heard me.  For years, long and lonely,
have I lingered and pined,--long years!  Will my boy know his mother
again?  Thou hast said to me, 'Wait till the messenger returns.'  I have
waited.  Thou hast said, 'This time the Count cannot resist the demand of
the King.'  I bowed my head and submitted to thee as I had done to Godwin
my lord.  And I have not till now claimed thy promise; for I allowed thy
country, thy King, and thy fame to have claims more strong than a mother.
Now I tarry no more; now no more will I be amused and deceived.  Thine
hours are thine own--free thy coming and thy going.  Harold, I claim
thine oath.  Harold, I touch thy right hand.  Harold, I remind thee of
thy troth and thy plight, to cross the seas thyself, and restore the
child to the mother."

"Oh, rise, rise!" exclaimed Harold, deeply moved.  "Patient hast thou
been, O my mother, and now I will linger no more, nor hearken to other
voice than your own.  I will see the King this day, and ask his leave to
cross the sea to Duke William."

Then Githa rose, and fell on the Earl's breast weeping.



CHAPTER IV.

It so chanced, while this interview took place between Githa and the
Earl, that Gurth, hawking in the woodlands round Hilda's house, turned
aside to visit his Danish kinswoman.  The prophetess was absent, but he
was told that Edith was within; and Gurth, about to be united to a maiden
who had long won his noble affections, cherished a brother's love for his
brother's fair betrothed.  He entered the gynoecium, and there still, as
when we were first made present in that chamber, sate the maids, employed
on a work more brilliant to the eye, and more pleasing to the labour,
than that which had then tasked their active hands.  They were broidering
into a tissue of the purest gold the effigy of a fighting warrior,
designed by Hilda for the banner of Earl Harold: and, removed from the
awe of their mistress, as they worked their tongues sang gaily, and it
was in the midst of song and laughter that the fair young Saxon lord
entered the chamber.  The babble and the mirth ceased at his entrance;
each voice was stilled, each eye cast down demurely.  Edith was not
amongst them, and in answer to his inquiry the eldest of the maidens
pointed towards the peristyle without the house.

The winning and kindly thegn paused a few moments, to admire the tissue
and commend the work, and then sought the peristyle.

Near the water-spring that gushed free and bright through the Roman
fountain, he found Edith, seated in an attitude of deep thought and
gloomy dejection.  She started as he approached, and, springing forward
to meet him, exclaimed:

"O Gurth, Heaven hath sent thee to me, I know well, though I cannot
explain to thee why, for I cannot explain it to myself; but know I do, by
the mysterious bodements of my own soul, that some great danger is at
this moment encircling thy brother Harold.  Go to him, I pray, I implore
thee, forthwith; and let thy clear sense and warm heart be by his side."

"I will go instantly," said Gurth, startled.  "But do not suffer, I
adjure thee, sweet kinswoman, the superstition that wraps this place, as
a mist wraps a marsh, to infect thy pure spirit.  In my early youth I
submitted to the influence of Hilda; I became man, and outgrew it. Much,
secretly, has it grieved me of late, to see that our kinswoman's Danish
lore has brought even the strong heart of Harold under his spell; and
where once he only spoke of duty, I now hear him speak of fate."

"Alas! alas!" answered Edith, wringing her hands; "when the bird hides
its head in the brake, doth it shut out the track of the hound?  Can we
baffle fate by refusing to heed its approaches?  But we waste precious
moments.  Go, Gurth, dear Gurth!  Heavier and darker, while we speak,
gathers the cloud on my heart."

Gurth said no more, but hastened to remount his steed; and Edith remained
alone by the Roman fountain, motionless and sad, as if the nymph of the
old religion stood there to see the lessening stream well away from the
shattered stone, and know that the life of the nymph was measured by the
ebb of the stream.

Gurth arrived in London just as Harold was taking a boat for the palace
of Westminster, to seek the King; and, after interchanging a hurried
embrace with his mother, he accompanied Harold to the palace, and learned
his errand by the way.  While Harold spoke, he did not foresee any danger
to be incurred by a friendly visit to the Norman court; and the interval
that elapsed between Harold's communication and their entrance into the
King's chamber, allowed no time for mature and careful reflection.

Edward, on whom years and infirmity had increased of late with rapid
ravage, heard Harold's request with a grave and deep attention, which he
seldom vouchsafed to earthly affairs.  And he remained long silent after
his brother-in-law had finished;--so long silent, that the Earl, at
first, deemed that he was absorbed in one of those mystic and abstracted
reveries, in which, more and more as he grew nearer to the borders of the
World Unseen, Edward so strangely indulged.  But, looking more close,
both he and Gurth were struck by the evident dismay on the King's face,
while the collected light of Edward's cold eye showed that his mind was
awake to the human world.  In truth, it is probable that Edward, at that
moment, was recalling rash hints, if not promises, to his rapacious
cousin of Normandy, made during his exile.  And, sensible of his own
declining health, and the tender years of the young Edgar, he might be
musing over the terrible pretender to the English throne, whose claims
his earlier indiscretion might seem to sanction.

Whatever his thoughts, they were dark and sinister, as at length he said,
slowly:

"Is thine oath indeed given to thy mother, and doth she keep thee to it?"

"Both, O King," answered Harold, briefly.

"Then I can gainsay thee not.  And thou, Harold, art a man of this living
world; thou playest here the part of a centurion; thou sayst 'Come,' and
men come--'Go,' and men move at thy will.  Therefore thou mayest well
judge for thyself.  I gainsay thee not, nor interfere between man and his
vow.  But think not," continued the King in a more solemn voice, and with
increasing emotion, "think not that I will charge my soul that I
counselled or encouraged this errand.  Yea, I foresee that thy journey
will lead but to great evil to England, and sore grief or dire loss to
thee." [175]

"How so, dear lord and King?" said Harold, startled by Edward's unwonted
earnestness, though deeming it but one of the visionary chimeras habitual
to the saint.  "How so?  William thy cousin hath ever borne the name of
one fair to friend, though fierce to foe.  And foul indeed his dishonour,
if he could meditate harm to a man trusting his faith, and sheltered by
his own roof-tree."

"Harold, Harold," said Edward, impatiently, "I know William of old. Nor
is he so simple of mind, that he will cede aught for thy pleasure, or
even to my will, unless it bring some gain to himself [176].  I say no
more.--Thou art cautioned, and I leave the rest to Heaven."

It is the misfortune of men little famous for worldly lore, that in those
few occasions when, in that sagacity caused by their very freedom from
the strife and passion of those around, they seem almost prophetically
inspired,--it is their misfortune to lack the power of conveying to
others their own convictions; they may divine, but they cannot reason:
and Harold could detect nothing to deter his purpose, in a vague fear,
based on no other argument than as vague a perception of the Duke's
general character.  But Gurth, listening less to his reason than his
devoted love for his brother, took alarm, and said, after a pause:

"Thinkest thou, good my King, that the same danger were incurred if
Gurth, instead of Harold, crossed the seas to demand the hostages?"

"No," said Edward, eagerly, "and so would I counsel.  William would not
have the same objects to gain in practising his worldly guile upon thee.
No; methinks that were the prudent course."

"And the ignoble one for Harold," said the elder brother, almost
indignantly.  "Howbeit, I thank thee, gratefully, dear King, for thy
affectionate heed and care.  And so the saints guard thee!"

On leaving the King, a warm discussion between the brothers took place.
But Gurth's arguments were stronger than those of Harold, and the Earl
was driven to rest his persistence on his own special pledge to Githa.
As soon, however, as they had gained their home, that plea was taken from
him; for the moment Gurth related to his mother Edward's fears and
cautions, she, ever mindful of Godwin's preference for the Earl, and his
last commands to her, hastened to release Harold from his pledge; and to
implore him at least to suffer Gurth to be his substitute to the Norman
court.  "Listen dispassionately," said Gurth; "rely upon it that Edward
has reasons for his fears, more rational than those he has given to us.
He knows William from his youth upward, and hath loved him too well to
hint doubts of his good faith without just foundation.  Are there no
reasons why danger from William should be special against thyself?  While
the Normans abounded in the court, there were rumours that the Duke had
some designs on England, which Edward's preference seemed to sanction:
such designs now, in the altered state of England, were absurd--too
frantic, for a prince of William's reputed wisdom to entertain.  Yet he
may not unnaturally seek to regain the former Norman influence in these
realms.  He knows that in you he receives the most powerful man in
England; that your detention alone would convulse the country from one
end of it to the other; and enable him, perhaps, to extort from Edward
some measures dishonourable to us all.  But against me he can harbour no
ill design--my detention would avail him nothing.  And, in truth, if
Harold be safe in England, Gurth must be safe in Rouen?  Thy presence
here at the head of our armies guarantees me from wrong.  But reverse the
case, and with Gurth in England, is Harold safe in Rouen?  I, but a
simple soldier, and homely lord, with slight influence over Edward, no
command in the country, and little practised of speech in the stormy
Witan,--I am just so great that William dare not harm me, but not so
great that he should even wish to harm me."

"He detains our kinsmen, why not thee!" said Harold.

"Because with our kinsmen he has at least the pretext that they were
pledged as hostages: because I go simply as guest and envoy.  No, to me
danger cannot come.  Be ruled, dear Harold."

"Be ruled, O my son," cried Githa, clasping the Earl's knees, "and do not
let me dread in the depth of the night to see the shade of Godwin, and
hear his voice say, 'Woman, where is Harold?'"

It was impossible for the Earl's strong understanding to resist the
arguments addressed to it; and, to say truth, he had been more disturbed
that he liked to confess by Edward's sinister forewarnings. Yet, on the
other hand, there were reasons against his acquiescence in Gurth's
proposal.  The primary, and, to do him justice, the strongest, was in his
native courage and his generous pride.  Should he for the first time in
his life shrink from a peril in the discharge of his duty; a peril, too,
so uncertain and vague?  Should he suffer Gurth to fulfil the pledge he
himself had taken?  And granting even that Gurth were safe from whatever
danger he individually might incur, did it become him to accept the
proxy?  Would Gurth's voice, too, be as potent as his own in effecting
the return of the hostages?

The next reasons that swayed him were those he could not avow.  In
clearing his way to the English throne, it would be of no mean importance
to secure the friendship of the Norman Duke, and the Norman acquiescence
in his pretensions; it would be of infinite service to remove those
prepossessions against his House, which were still rife with the Normans,
who retained a bitter remembrance of their countrymen decimated [177], it
was said, with the concurrence if not at the order of Godwin, when they
accompanied the ill-fated Alfred to the English shore, and who were yet
sore with their old expulsion from the English court at the return of his
father and himself.

Though it could not enter into his head that William, possessing no party
whatever in England, could himself aspire to the English crown, yet at
Edward's death, there might be pretenders whom the Norman arms could find
ready excuse to sanction.  There was the boy Atheling, on the one side,
there was the valiant Norwegian King Hardrada on the other, who might
revive the claims of his predecessor Magnus as heir to the rights of
Canute.  So near and so formidable a neighbour as the Court of the
Normans, every object of policy led him to propitiate; and Gurth, with
his unbending hate of all that was Norman, was not, at least, the most
politic envoy he could select for that end.  Add to this, that despite
their present reconciliation, Harold could never long count upon amity
with Tostig: and Tostig's connection with William, through their
marriages into the House of Baldwin, was full of danger to a new throne,
to which Tostig would probably be the most turbulent subject: the
influence of this connection how desirable to counteract! [178]

Nor could Harold, who, as patriot and statesman, felt deeply the
necessity of reform and regeneration in the decayed edifice of the
English monarchy, willingly lose an occasion to witness all that William
had done to raise so high in renown and civilisation, in martial fame and
commercial prosperity, that petty duchy, which he had placed on a level
with the kingdoms of the Teuton and the Frank. Lastly, the Normans were
the special darlings of the Roman Church. William had obtained the
dispensation to his own marriage with Matilda; and might not the Norman
influence, duly conciliated, back the prayer which Harold trusted one day
to address to the pontiff, and secure to him the hallowed blessing,
without which ambition lost its charm, and even a throne its splendour?

All these considerations, therefore, urged the Earl to persist in his
original purpose: but a warning voice in his heart, more powerful than
all, sided with the prayer of Githa, and the arguments of Gurth.  In this
state of irresolution, Gurth said seasonably:

"Bethink thee, Harold, if menaced but with peril to thyself, thou wouldst
have a brave man's right to resist us; but it was of 'great evil to
England' that Edward spoke, and thy reflection must tell thee, that in
this crisis of our country, danger to thee is evil to England--evil to
England thou hast no right to incur."

"Dear mother, and generous Gurth," said Harold, then joining the two in
one embrace, "ye have well nigh conquered.  Give me but two days to
ponder well, and be assured that I will not decide from the rash
promptings of an ill-considered judgment."

Farther than this they could not then move the Earl; but Gurth was
pleased shortly afterwards to see him depart to Edith, whose fears, from
whatever source they sprang, would, he was certain, come in aid of his
own pleadings.

But as the Earl rode alone towards the once stately home of the perished
Roman, and entered at twilight the darkening forest-land, his thoughts
were less on Edith than on the Vala, with whom his ambition had more and
more connected his soul.  Perplexed by his doubts, and left dim in the
waning lights of human reason, never more involuntarily did he fly to
some guide to interpret the future, and decide his path.

As if fate itself responded to the cry of his heart, he suddenly came in
sight of Hilda herself, gathering leaves from elm and ash amidst the
woodland.

He sprang from his horse and approached her.

"Hilda," said he, in a low but firm voice, "thou hast often told me that
the dead can advise the living.  Raise thou the Scin-laeca of the hero of
old--raise the Ghost, which mine eye, or my fancy, beheld before, vast
and dim by the silent bautastein, and I will stand by thy side.  Fain
would I know if thou hast deceived me and thyself; or if, in truth, to
man's guidance Heaven doth vouchsafe saga and rede from those who have
passed into the secret shores of Eternity."

"The dead," answered Hilda, "will not reveal themselves to eyes
uninitiate save at their own will, uncompelled by charm and rune.  To me
their forms can appear distinct through the airy flame; to me, duly
prepared by spells that purge the eye of the spirit, and loosen the walls
of the flesh.  I cannot say that what I see in the trance and the travail
of my soul, thou also wilt behold; or even when the vision hath passed
from my sight, and the voice from my ear, only memories, confused and
dim, of what I saw and heard, remain to guide the waking and common life.
But thou shalt stand by my side while I invoke the phantom, and hear and
interpret the words which rush from my lips, and the runes that take
meaning from the sparks of the charmed fire.  I knew ere thou camest, by
the darkness and trouble of Edith's soul, that some shade from the
Ash-tree of Life had fallen upon thine."

Then Harold related what had passed, and placed before Hilda the doubts
that beset him.

The Prophetess listened with earnest attention; but her mind, when not
under its more mystic influences, being strongly biassed by its natural
courage and ambition, she saw at a glance all the advantages towards
securing the throne predestined to Harold, which might be effected by his
visit to the Norman court, and she held in too great disdain both the
worldly sense and the mystic reveries of the monkish king (for the
believer in Odin was naturally incredulous of the visitation of the
Christian saints) to attach much weight to his dreary predictions.

The short reply she made was therefore not calculated to deter Harold
from the expedition in dispute.  But she deferred till the following
night, and to wisdom more dread than her own, the counsels that should
sway his decision.

With a strange satisfaction at the thought that he should, at least, test
personally the reality of those assumptions of preternatural power which
had of late coloured his resolves and oppressed his heart, Harold then
took leave of the Vala, who returned mechanically to her employment; and,
leading his horse by the reins, lowly continued his musing way towards
the green knoll and its heathen ruins.  But ere he gained the hillock,
and while his thoughtful eyes were bent on the ground, he felt his arm
seized tenderly--turned--and beheld Edith's face full of unutterable and
anxious love.

With that love, indeed, there was blended so much wistfulness, so much
fear, that Harold exclaimed:

"Soul of my soul, what hath chanced? what affects thee thus?"

"Hath no danger befallen thee?" asked Edith falteringly, and gazing on
his face with wistful, searching eyes.  "Danger! none, sweet trembler,"
answered the Earl, evasively.

Edith dropped her eager looks, and clinging to his arm, drew him on
silently into the forest land.  She paused at last where the old
fantastic trees shut out the view of the ancient ruins; and when, looking
round, she saw not those grey gigantic shafts which mortal hand seemed
never to have piled together, she breathed more freely.

"Speak to me," then said Harold, bending his face to hers; "why this
silence?"

"Ah, Harold!" answered his betrothed, "thou knowest that ever since we
have loved one another, my existence hath been but a shadow of thine; by
some weird and strange mystery, which Hilda would explain by the stars or
the fates, that have made me a part of thee, I know by the lightness or
gloom of my own spirit when good or ill shall befall thee.  How often, in
thine absence, hath a joy suddenly broke upon me; and I felt by that joy,
as by the smile of a good angel, that thou hast passed safe through some
peril, or triumphed over some foe!  And now thou askest me why I am so
sad;--I can only answer thee by saying, that the sadness is cast upon me
by some thunder gloom on thine own destiny."

Harold had sought Edith to speak of his meditated journey, but seeing her
dejection he did not dare; so he drew her to his breast, and chid her
soothingly for her vain apprehensions.  But Edith would not be comforted;
there seemed something weighing on her mind and struggling to her lips,
not accounted for merely by sympathetic forebodings; and at length, as he
pressed her to tell all, she gathered courage and spoke:

"Do not mock me," she said, "but what secret, whether of vain folly or of
meaning fate, should I hold from thee?  All this day I struggled in vain
against the heaviness of my forebodings.  How I hailed the sight of Gurth
thy brother!  I besought him to seek thee--thou hast seen him."

"I have!" said Harold.  "But thou wert about to tell me of something more
than this dejection."

"Well," resumed Edith, "after Gurth left me, my feet sought involuntarily
the hill on which we have met so often.  I sate down near the old tomb, a
strange weariness crept on my eyes, and a sleep that seemed not wholly
sleep fell over me.  I struggled against it, as if conscious of some
coming terror; and as I struggled, and ere I slept, Harold,--yes, ere I
slept,--I saw distinctly a pale and glimmering figure rise from the
Saxon's grave.  I saw--I see it still! Oh, that livid front, those glassy
eyes!"

"The figure of a warrior?" said Harold, startled.

"Of a warrior, armed as in the ancient days, armed like the warrior that
Hilda's maids are working for thy banner.  I saw it; and in one hand it
held a spear, and in the other a crown."

"A crown!--Say on, say on."

"I saw no more; sleep, in spite of myself, fell on me, a sleep full of
confused and painful--rapid and shapeless images, still at last this
dream rose clear.  I beheld a bright and starry shape, that seemed as a
spirit, yet wore thine aspect, standing on a rock; and an angry torrent
rolled between the rock and the dry safe land.  The waves began to invade
the rock, and the spirit unfurled its wings as to flee.  And then foul
things climbed up from the slime of the rock, and descended from the
mists of the troubled skies, and they coiled round the wings and clogged
them."

"Then a voice cried in my ear,--'Seest thou not on the perilous rock the
Soul of Harold the Brave?--seest thou not that the waters engulf it, if
the wings fail to flee?  Up, Truth, whose strength is in purity, whose
image is woman, and aid the soul of the brave!'  I sought to spring to
thy side; but I was powerless, and behold, close beside me, through my
sleep as through a veil, appeared the shafts of the ruined temple in
which I lay reclined.  And, methought, I saw Hilda sitting alone by the
Saxon's grave, and pouring from a crystal vessel black drops into a human
heart which she held in her hands: and out of that heart grew a child,
and out of that child a youth, with dark mournful brow.  And the youth
stood by thy side and whispered to thee: and from his lips there came a
reeking smoke, and in that smoke as in a blight the wings withered up.
And I heard the Voice say, 'Hilda, it is thou that hast destroyed the
good angel, and reared from the poisoned heart the loathsome tempter!'
And I cried aloud, but it was too late; the waves swept over thee, and
above the waves there floated an iron helmet, and on the helmet was a
golden crown--the crown I had seen in the hand of the spectre!"

"But this is no evil dream, my Edith," said Harold, gaily.

Edith, unheeding him, continued:

"I started from my sleep.  The sun was still high--the air lulled and
windless.  Then through the shafts and down the hill there glided in that
clear waking daylight, a grisly shape like that which I have heard our
maidens say the witch-hags, sometimes seen in the forest, assume; yet in
truth, it seemed neither of man nor woman.  It turned its face once
towards me, and on that hideous face were the glee and hate of a
triumphant fiend.  Oh, Harold, what should all this portend?"

"Hast thou not asked thy kinswoman, the diviner of dreams?"

"I asked Hilda, and she, like thee, only murmured, 'The Saxon crown!' But
if there be faith in those airy children of the night, surely, O adored
one, the vision forebodes danger, not to life, but to soul; and the words
I heard seemed to say that thy wings were thy valour, and the Fylgia thou
hadst lost was,--no, that were impossible--"

"That my Fylgia was TRUTH, which losing, I were indeed lost to thee. Thou
dost well," said Harold, loftily, "to hold that among the lies of the
fancy.  All else may, perchance, desert me, but never mine own free soul.
Self-reliant hath Hilda called me in mine earlier days, and wherever fate
casts me,--in my truth, and my love, and my dauntless heart, I dare both
man and the fiend."

Edith gazed a moment in devout admiration on the mien of her hero-lover,
then she drew closer and closer to his breast, consoled and believing.



CHAPTER V.

With all her persuasion of her own powers in penetrating the future, we
have seen that Hilda had never consulted her oracles on the fate of
Harold, without a dark and awful sense of the ambiguity of their
responses.  That fate, involving the mightiest interests of a great race,
and connected with events operating on the farthest times and the
remotest lands, lost itself to her prophetic ken amidst omens the most
contradictory, shadows and lights the most conflicting, meshes the most
entangled.  Her human heart, devotedly attached to the Earl, through her
love for Edith,--her pride obstinately bent on securing to the last
daughter of her princely race that throne, which all her vaticinations,
even when most gloomy, assured her was destined to the man with whom
Edith's doom was interwoven, combined to induce her to the most
favourable interpretation of all that seemed sinister and doubtful.  But
according to the tenets of that peculiar form of magic cultivated by
Hilda, the comprehension became obscured by whatever partook of human
sympathy.  It was a magic wholly distinct from the malignant witchcraft
more popularly known to us, and which was equally common to the Germanic
and Scandinavian heathens.

The magic of Hilda was rather akin to the old Cimbrian Alirones, or
sacred prophetesses; and, as with them, it demanded the priestess--that
is, the person without human ties or emotions, a spirit clear as a
mirror, upon which the great images of destiny might be cast untroubled.

However the natural gifts and native character of Hilda might be
perverted by the visionary and delusive studies habitual to her, there
was in her very infirmities a grandeur, not without its pathos.  In this
position which she had assumed between the earth and the heaven, she
stood so solitary and in such chilling air,--all the doubts that beset
her lonely and daring soul came in such gigantic forms of terror and
menace!--On the verge of the mighty Heathenesse sinking fast into the
night of ages, she towered amidst the shades, a shade herself; and round
her gathered the last demons of the Dire Belief, defying the march of
their luminous foe, and concentering round their mortal priestess, the
wrecks of their horrent empire over a world redeemed.

All the night that succeeded her last brief conference with Harold, the
Vala wandered through the wild forest land, seeking haunts or employed in
collecting herbs, hallowed to her dubious yet solemn lore; and the last
stars were receding into the cold grey skies, when, returning homeward,
she beheld within the circle of the Druid temple a motionless object,
stretched on the ground near the Teuton's grave; she approached, and
perceived what seemed a corpse, it was so still and stiff in its repose,
and the face upturned to the stars was so haggard and death-like;--a face
horrible to behold; the evidence of extreme age was written on the
shrivelled livid skin and the deep furrows, but the expression retained
that intense malignity which belongs to a power of life that extreme age
rarely knows.  The garb, which was that of a remote fashion, was foul and
ragged, and neither by the garb, nor by the face, was it easy to guess
what was the sex of this seeming corpse.  But by a strange and peculiar
odour that rose from the form [179], and a certain glistening on the
face, and the lean folded hands, Hilda knew that the creature was one of
those witches, esteemed of all the most deadly and abhorred, who, by the
application of certain ointments, were supposed to possess the art of
separating soul from body, and, leaving the last as dead, to dismiss the
first to the dismal orgies of the Sabbat.  It was a frequent custom to
select for the place of such trances, heathen temples and ancient graves.
And Hilda seated herself beside the witch to await the waking.  The cock
crowed thrice, heavy mists began to arise from the glades, covering the
gnarled roots of the forest trees, when the dread face on which Hilda
calmly gazed, showed symptoms of returning life! a strong convulsion
shook the vague indefinite form under its huddled garments, the eyes
opened, closed,--opened again; and what had a few moments before seemed a
dead thing sate up and looked round.

"Wicca," said the Danish prophetess, with an accent between contempt and
curiosity, "for what mischief to beast or man hast thou followed the
noiseless path of the Dreams through the airs of Night?"

The creature gazed hard upon the questioner, from its bleared but fiery
eyes, and replied slowly, "Hail, Hilda, the Morthwyrtha! why art thou not
of us, why comest thou not to our revels?  Gay sport have we had to-night
with Faul and Zabulus [180]; but gayer far shall our sport be in the
wassail hall of Senlac, when thy grandchild shall come in the torchlight
to the bridal bed of her lord.  A buxom bride is Edith the Fair, and fair
looked her face in her sleep on yester noon, when I sate by her side, and
breathed on her brow, and murmured the verse that blackens the dream; but
fairer still shall she look in her sleep by her lord.  Ha! ha!  Ho! we
shall be there, with Zabulus and Faul; we shall be there!"

"How!" said Hilda, thrilled to learn that the secret ambition she
cherished was known to this loathed sister in the art.  "How dost thou
pretend to that mystery of the future, which is dim and clouded even to
me?  Canst thou tell when and where the daughter of the Norse kings shall
sleep on the breast of her lord?"

A sound that partook of laughter, but was so unearthly in its malignant
glee that it seemed not to come from a human lip, answered the Vala; and
as the laugh died the witch rose, and said:

"Go and question thy dead, O Morthwyrtha!  Thou deemest thyself wiser
than we are; we wretched hags, whom the ceorl seeks when his herd has the
murrain, or the girl when her false love forsakes her; we, who have no
dwelling known to man; but are found at need in the wold or the cave, or
the side of dull slimy streams where the murderess-mother hath drowned
her babe.  Askest thou, O Hilda, the rich and the learned, askest thou
counsel and lore from the daughter of Faul?"

"No," answered the Vala, haughtily, "not to such as thou do the great
Nornas unfold the future.  What knowest thou of the runes of old,
whispered by the trunkless skull to the mighty Odin? runes that control
the elements, and conjure up the Shining Shadows of the grave. Not with
thee will the stars confer; and thy dreams are foul with revelries
obscene, not solemn and haunted with the bodements of things to come!
Only I marvelled, while I beheld thee on the Saxon's grave, what joy such
as thou can find in that life above life, which draws upward the soul of
the true Vala."

"The joy," replied the Witch, "the joy which comes from wisdom and power,
higher than you ever won with your spells from the rune or the star.
Wrath gives the venom to the slaver of the clog, and death to the curse
of the Witch.  When wilt thou be as wise as the hag thou despisest?  When
will all the clouds that beset thee roll away from thy ken?  When thy
hopes are all crushed, when thy passions lie dead, when thy pride is
abased, when thou art but a wreck, like the shafts of this temple,
through which the starlight can shine.  Then only, thy soul will see
clearly the sense of the runes, and then, thou and I will meet on the
verge of the Black Shoreless Sea!"

So, despite all her haughtiness and disdain, did these words startle the
lofty Prophetess, that she remained gazing into space long after that
fearful apparition had vanished, and up from the grass, which those
obscene steps had profaned, sprang the lark carolling.

But ere the sun had dispelled the dews on the forest sward, Hilda had
recovered her wonted calm, and, locked within her own secret chamber,
prepared the seid and the runes for the invocation of the dead.



CHAPTER VI.

Resolving, should the auguries consulted permit him to depart, to entrust
Gurth with the charge of informing Edith, Harold parted from his
betrothed, without hint of his suspended designs; and he passed the day
in making all preparations for his absence and his journey, promising
Gurth to give his final answer on the morrow,--when either himself or his
brother should depart for Rouen.  But more and more impressed with the
arguments of Gurth, and his own sober reason, and somewhat perhaps
influenced by the forebodings of Edith (for that mind, once so
constitutionally firm, had become tremulously alive to such airy
influences), he had almost predetermined to assent to his brother's
prayer, when he departed to keep his dismal appointment with the
Morthwyrtha.  The night was dim, but not dark; no moon shone, but the
stars, wan though frequent, gleamed pale, as from the farthest deeps of
the heaven; clouds grey and fleecy rolled slowly across the welkin,
veiling and disclosing, by turns, the melancholy orbs.

The Morthwyrtha, in her dark dress, stood within the circle of stones.
She had already kindled a fire at the foot of the bautastein, and its
glare shone redly on the grey shafts; playing through their forlorn gaps
upon the sward.  By her side was a vessel, seemingly of pure water,
filled from the old Roman fountain, and its clear surface flashed
blood-red in the beams.  Behind them, in a circle round both fire and
water, were fragments of bark, cut in a peculiar form, like the head of
an arrow, and inscribed with the mystic letters; nine were the fragments,
and on each fragment were graved the runes.  In her right hand the
Morthwyrtha held her seid-staff, her feet were bare, and her loins girt
by the Hunnish belt inscribed with mystic letters; from the belt hung a
pouch or gipsire of bearskin, with plates of silver.  Her face, as Harold
entered the circle, had lost its usual calm--it was wild and troubled.

She seemed unconscious of Harold's presence, and her eye fixed and rigid,
was as that of one in a trance.  Slowly, as if constrained by some power
not her own, she began to move round the ring with a measured pace, and
at last her voice broke low, hollow, and internal, into a rugged chaunt,
which may be thus imperfectly translated--

    "By the Urdar-fount dwelling,
       Day by day from the rill,
     The Nornas besprinkle
       The ash Ygg-drassill, [181]
     The hart bites the buds,
       And the snake gnaws the root,
     But the eagle all-seeing
       Keeps watch on the fruit.

     These drops on thy tomb
       From the fountain I pour;
     With the rune I invoke thee,
       With flame I restore.
     Dread Father of men,
       In the land of thy grave,
     Give voice to the Vala,
       And light to the Brave."

As she thus chaunted, the Morthwyrtha now sprinkled the drops from the
vessel over the bautastein,--now, one by one, cast the fragments of bark
scrawled with runes on the fire.  Then, whether or not some glutinous or
other chemical material had been mingled in the water, a pale gleam broke
from the gravestone thus sprinkled, and the whole tomb glistened in the
light of the leaping fire.  From this light a mist or thin smoke
gradually rose, and took, though vaguely, the outline of a vast human
form.  But so indefinite was the outline to Harold's eye, that gazing on
it steadily, and stilling with strong effort his loud heart, he knew not
whether it was a phantom or a vapour that he beheld.

The Vala paused, leaning on her staff, and gazing in awe on the glowing
stone, while the Earl, with his arms folded on his broad breast, stood
hushed and motionless.  The sorceress recommenced:

    "Mighty dead, I revere thee,
       Dim-shaped from the cloud,
     With the light of thy deeds
       For the web of thy shroud.

     As Odin consulted
       Mimir's skull hollow-eyed, [182]
     Odin's heir comes to seek
       In the Phantom a guide."

As the Morthwyrtha ceased, the fire crackled loud, and from its flame
flew one of the fragments of bark to the feet of the sorceress:--the
runic letters all indented with sparks.

The sorceress uttered a loud cry, which, despite his courage and his
natural strong sense, thrilled through the Earl's heart to his marrow and
bones, so appalling was it with wrath and terror; and while she gazed
aghast on the blazing letters, she burst forth:

    "No warrior art thou,
       And no child of the tomb;
     I know thee, and shudder,
       Great Asa of Doom.

     Thou constrainest my lips
       And thou crushest my spell;
     Bright Son of the Giant
       Dark Father of Hell!" [183]

The whole form of the Morthwyrtha then became convulsed and agitated, as
if with the tempest of frenzy; the foam gathered to her lips, and her
voice rang forth like a shriek:

    "In the Iron Wood rages
       The Weaver of Harm,
     The giant Blood-drinker
       Hag-born MANAGARM. [184]

     A keel nears the shoal;
       From the slime and the mud
     Crawl the newt and the adder,
       The spawn the of flood.

     Thou stand'st on the rock
       Where the dreamer beheld thee.
     O soul, spread thy wings,
       Ere the glamour hath spell'd thee.

     O, dread is the tempter,
       And strong the control;
     But conquer'd the tempter,
       If firm be the soul"

The Vala paused; and though it was evident that in her frenzy she was
still unconscious of Harold's presence, and seemed but to be the
compelled and passive voice to some Power, real or imaginary, beyond her
own existence, the proud man approached, and said:

"Firm shall be my soul, nor of the dangers which beset it would I ask the
dead or the living.  If plain answers to mortal sense can come from these
airy shadows or these mystic charms, reply, O interpreter of fate; reply
but to the questions I demand.  If I go to the court of the Norman, shall
I return unscathed?"

The Vala stood rigid as a shape of stone while Harold thus spoke; and her
voice came so low and strange as if forced from her scarce-moving lips:

"Thou shalt return unscathed."

"Shall the hostages of Godwin, my father, be released"

"The hostages of Godwin shall be released," answered the same voice; "the
hostages of Harold be retained."

"Wherefore hostage from me?"

"In pledge of alliance with the Norman."

"Ha! then the Norman and Harold shall plight friendship and troth?"

"Yes!" answered the Vala; but this time a visible shudder passed over her
rigid form.

"Two questions more, and I have done.  The Norman priests have the ear of
the Roman Pontiff.  Shall my league with William the Norman avail to win
me my bride?"

"It will win thee the bride thou wouldst never have wedded but for thy
league with William the Norman.  Peace with thy questions, peace!"
continued the voice, trembling as with some fearful struggle; "for it is
the demon that forces my words, and they wither my soul to speak them."

"But one question more remains; shall I live to wear the crown of
England; and if so, when shall I be a king?"

At these words the face of the Prophetess kindled, the fire suddenly
leapt up higher and brighter; again, vivid sparks lighted the runes on
the fragments of bark that were shot from the flame; over these last the
Morthwyrtha bowed her head, and then, lifting it, triumphantly burst once
more into song.

    "When the Wolf Month [185], grim and still,
     Heaps the snow-mass on the hill;
     When, through white air, sharp and bitter,
     Mocking sunbeams freeze and glitter;
     When the ice-gems, bright and barbed,
     Deck the boughs the leaves had garbed
     Then the measure shall be meted,
     And the circle be completed.
     Cerdic's race, the Thor-descended,
     In the Monk-king's tomb be ended;
     And no Saxon brow but thine
     Wear the crown of Woden's line.

     Where thou wendest, wend unfearing,
     Every step thy throne is nearing.
     Fraud may plot, and force assail thee,--
     Shall the soul thou trusteth fail thee?
     If it fail thee, scornful hearer,
     Still the throne shines near and nearer.
     Guile with guile oppose, and never
     Crown and brow shall Force dissever:
     Till the dead men unforgiving
     Loose the war steeds on the living;
     Till a sun whose race is ending
     Sees the rival stars contending;
     Where the dead men, unforgiving,
     Wheel the war steeds round the living.

     Where thou wendest, wend unfearing;
     Every step thy throne is nearing.
     Never shall thy House decay,
     Nor thy sceptre pass away,
     While the Saxon name endureth
     In the land thy throne secureth;
     Saxon name and throne together,
     Leaf and root, shall wax and wither;
     So the measure shall be meted,
     And the circle close completed.

     Art thou answer'd, dauntless seeker?
     Go, thy bark shall ride the breaker,
     Every billow high and higher,
     Waft thee up to thy desire;
     And a force beyond thine own,
     Drift and strand thee on the throne.

     When the Wolf Month, grim and still,
     Piles the snow-mass on the hill,
     In the white air sharp and bitter
     Shall thy kingly sceptre glitter:
     When the ice-gems barb the bough
     Shall the jewels clasp thy brow;
     Winter-wind, the oak uprending,
     With the altar-anthem blending;
     Wind shall howl, and mone shall sing,
     'Hail to Harold--HAIL THE KING!'"

An exultation that seemed more than human, so intense it was and so
solemn,--thrilled in the voice which thus closed predictions that seemed
signally to belie the more vague and menacing warnings with which the
dreary incantation had commenced.  The Morthwyrtha stood erect and
stately, still gazing on the pale blue flame that rose from the burial
stone, still slowly the flame waned and paled, and at last died with a
sudden flicker, leaving the grey tomb standing forth all weatherworn and
desolate, while a wind rose from the north and sighed through the
roofless columns.  Then as the light over the grave expired, Hilda gave a
deep sigh, and fell to the ground senseless.

Harold lifted his eyes towards the stars and murmured:

"If it be a sin, as the priests say, to pierce the dark walls which
surround us here, and read the future in the dim world beyond, why gavest
thou, O Heaven, the reason, ever resting, save when it explores?  Why
hast thou set in the heart the mystic Law of Desire, ever toiling to the
High, ever grasping at the Far?"

Heaven answered not the unquiet soul.  The clouds passed to and fro in
their wanderings, the wind still sighed through the hollow stones, the
fire shot with vain sparks towards the distant stars.  In the cloud and
the wind and the fire couldst thou read no answer from Heaven, unquiet
soul?

The next day, with a gallant company, the falcon on his wrist [186], the
sprightly hound gamboling before his steed, blithe of heart and high in
hope, Earl Harold took his way to the Norman court.



BOOK IX.
THE BONES OF THE DEAD.



CHAPTER I.

William, Count of the Normans, sate in a fair chamber of his palace of
Rouen; and on the large table before him were ample evidences of the
various labours, as warrior, chief, thinker, and statesman, which filled
the capacious breadth of that sleepless mind.

There lay a plan of the new port of Cherbourg, and beside it an open MS.
of the Duke's favourite book, the Commentaries of Caesar, from which, it
is said, he borrowed some of the tactics of his own martial science;
marked, and dotted, and interlined with his large bold handwriting, were
the words of the great Roman.  A score or so of long arrows, which had
received some skilful improvement in feather or bolt, lay carelessly
scattered over some architectural sketches of a new Abbey Church, and the
proposed charter for its endowment.  An open cyst, of the beautiful
workmanship for which the English goldsmiths were then pre-eminently
renowned, that had been among the parting gifts of Edward, contained
letters from the various potentates near and far, who sought his alliance
or menaced his repose.

On a perch behind him sate his favourite Norway falcon unhooded, for it
had been taught the finest polish in its dainty education--viz., "to face
company undisturbed."  At a kind of easel at the farther end of the hall,
a dwarf, misshapen in limbs, but of a face singularly acute and
intelligent, was employed in the outline of that famous action at Val des
Dunes, which had been the scene of one of the most brilliant of William's
feats in arms--an outline intended to be transferred to the notable
"stitchwork" of Matilda the Duchess.

Upon the floor, playing with a huge boar-hound of English breed, that
seemed but ill to like the play, and every now and then snarled and
showed his white teeth, was a young boy, with something of the Duke's
features, but with an expression more open and less sagacious; and
something of the Duke's broad build of chest and shoulder, but without
promise of the Duke's stately stature, which was needed to give grace and
dignity to a strength otherwise cumbrous and graceless.  And indeed,
since William's visit to England, his athletic shape had lost much of its
youthful symmetry, though not yet deformed by that corpulence which was a
disease almost as rare in the Norman as the Spartan.

Nevertheless, what is a defect in the gladiator is often but a beauty in
the prince; and the Duke's large proportions filled the eye with a sense
both of regal majesty and physical power.  His countenance, yet more than
his form, showed the work of time; the short dark hair was worn into
partial baldness at the temples by the habitual friction of the casque,
and the constant indulgence of wily stratagem and ambitious craft had
deepened the wrinkles round the plotting eye and the firm mouth: so that
it was only by an effort like that of an actor, that his aspect regained
the knightly and noble frankness it had once worn.  The accomplished
prince was no longer, in truth, what the bold warrior had been,--he was
greater in state and less in soul. And already, despite all his grand
qualities as a ruler, his imperious nature had betrayed signs of what he
(whose constitutional sternness the Norman freemen, not without effort,
curbed into the limits of justice) might become, if wider scope were
afforded to his fiery passions and unsparing will.

Before the Duke, who was leaning his chin on his hand, stood Mallet de
Graville, speaking earnestly, and his discourse seemed both to interest
and please his lord.

"Eno'!" said William, "I comprehend the nature of the land and its
men,--a land that, untaught by experience, and persuaded that a peace of
twenty or thirty years must last till the crack of doom, neglects all its
defences, and has not one fort, save Dover, between the coast and the
capital,--a land which must be won or lost by a single battle, and men
(here the Duke hesitated,) and men," he resumed with a sigh, "whom it
will be so hard to conquer that, pardex, I don't wonder they neglect
their fortresses.  Enough I say, of them.  Let us return to Harold,--thou
thinkest, then, that he is worthy of his fame?"

"He is almost the only Englishman I have seen," answered De Graville,
"who hath received scholarly rearing and nurture; and all his faculties
are so evenly balanced, and all accompanied by so composed a calm, that
methinks, when I look at and hear him, I contemplate some artful
castle,--the strength of which can never be known at the first glance,
nor except by those who assail it."

"Thou art mistaken, Sire de Graville," said the Duke, with a shrewd and
cunning twinkle of his luminous dark eyes.  "For thou tellest me that he
hath no thought of my pretensions to the English throne,--that he
inclines willingly to thy suggestions to come himself to my court for the
hostages,--that, in a word, he is not suspicious."

"Certes, he is not suspicious," returned Mallet.

"And thinkest thou that an artful castle were worth much without warder
or sentry,--or a cultivated mind strong and safe, without its
watchman,--Suspicion?"

"Truly, my lord speaks well and wisely," said the knight, startled; "but
Harold is a man thoroughly English, and the English are a gens the least
suspecting of any created thing between an angel and a sheep."

William laughed aloud.  But his laugh was checked suddenly; for at that
moment a fierce yell smote his ears, and looking hastily up, he saw his
hound and his son rolling together on the ground, in a grapple that
seemed deadly.  William sprang to the spot; but the boy, who was then
under the dog, cried out, "Laissez aller!  Laissez aller! no rescue!  I
will master my own foe;" and, so saying, with a vigorous effort he gained
his knee, and with both hands griped the hound's throat, so that the
beast twisted in vain, to and fro, with gnashing jaws, and in another
minute would have panted out its last.

"I may save my good hound now," said William, with the gay smile of his
earlier days, and, though not without some exertion of his prodigious
strength, he drew the dog from his son's grasp.

"That was ill done, father," said Robert, surnamed even then the
Courthose, "to take part with thy son's foe."

"But my son's foe is thy father's property, my vaillant," said the Duke;
"and thou must answer to me for treason in provoking quarrel and feud
with my own fourfooted vavasour."

"It is not thy property, father; thou gavest the dog to me when a whelp."

"Fables, Monseigneur de Courthose; I lent it to thee but for a day, when
thou hadst put out thine ankle bone in jumping off the rampire; and all
maimed as thou went, thou hadst still malice enow in thee to worry the
poor beast into a fever."

"Give or lent, it is the same thing, father; what I have once, that will
I hold, as thou didst before me, in thy cradle."

Then the great Duke, who in his own house was the fondest and weakest of
men, was so doltish and doting as to take the boy in his arms and kiss
him, nor, with all his far-sighted sagacity, deemed he that in that kiss
lay the seed of the awful curse that grew up from a father's agony; to
end in a son's misery and perdition.

Even Mallet de Graville frowned at the sight of the sire's
infirmity,--even Turold the dwarf shook his head.  At that moment an
officer entered, and announced that an English nobleman, apparently in
great haste (for his horse had dropped down dead as he dismounted), had
arrived at the palace, and craved instant audience of the Duke. William
put down the boy, gave the brief order for the stranger's admission, and,
punctilious in ceremonial, beckoning De Graville to follow him, passed at
once into the next chamber, and seated himself on his chair of state.

In a few moments one of the seneschals of the palace ushered in a
visitor, whose long moustache at once proclaimed him Saxon, and in whom
De Graville with surprise recognised his old friend, Godrith. The young
thegn, with a reverence more hasty than that to which William was
accustomed, advanced to the foot of the days, and, using the Norman
language, said, in a voice thick with emotion:

"From Harold the Earl, greeting to thee, Monseigneur.  Most foul and
unchristian wrong hath been done the Earl by thy liegeman, Guy, Count of
Ponthieu.  Sailing hither in two barks from England, with intent to visit
thy court, storm and wind drove the Earl's vessels towards the mouth of
the Somme [187]; there landing, and without fear, as in no hostile
country, he and his train were seized by the Count himself, and cast into
prison in the castle of Belrem [188].   A dungeon fit but for malefactors
holds, while I speak, the first lord of England, and brother-in-law to
its king.  Nay, hints of famine, torture, and death itself, have been
darkly thrown out by this most disloyal count, whether in earnest, or
with the base view of heightening ransom.  At length, wearied perhaps by
the Earl's firmness and disdain, this traitor of Ponthieu hath permitted
me in the Earl's behalf to bear the message of Harold.  He came to thee
as to a prince and a friend; sufferest thou thy liegeman to detain him as
a thief or a foe?"

"Noble Englishman," replied William, gravely, "this is a matter more out
of my cognisance than thou seemest to think.  It is true that Guy, Count
of Ponthieu, holds fief under me, but I have no control over the laws of
his realm.  And by those laws, he hath right of life and death over all
stranded and waifed on his coast. Much grieve I for the mishap of your
famous Earl, and what I can do, I will; but I can only treat in this
matter with Guy as prince with prince, not as lord to vassal.  Meanwhile
I pray you to take rest and food; and I will seek prompt counsel as to
the measures to adopt."

The Saxon's face showed disappointment and dismay at this answer, so
different from what he had expected; and he replied with the natural
honest bluntness which all his younger affection of Norman manners had
never eradicated:

"Food will I not touch, nor wine drink, till thou, Lord Count, hast
decided what help, as noble to noble, Christian to Christian, man to man,
thou givest to him who has come into this peril solely from his trust in
thee."

"Alas!" said the grand dissimulator, "heavy is the responsibility with
which thine ignorance of our land, laws, and men would charge me.  If I
take but one false step in this matter, woe indeed to thy lord!  Guy is
hot and haughty, and in his droits; he is capable of sending me the
Earl's head in reply to too dure a request for his freedom.  Much
treasure and broad lands will it cost me, I fear, to ransom the Earl. But
be cheered; half my duchy were not too high a price for thy lord's
safety.  Go, then, and eat with a good heart, and drink to the Earl's
health with a hopeful prayer."

"And it please you, my lord," said De Graville, "I know this gentle
thegn, and will beg of you the grace to see to his entertainment, and
sustain his spirits."

"Thou shalt, but later; so noble a guest none but my chief seneschal
should be the first to honour."  Then turning to the officer in waiting,
he bade him lead the Saxon to the chamber tenanted by William Fitzosborne
(who then lodged within the palace), and committed him to that Count's
care.

As the Saxon sullenly withdrew, and as the door closed on him, William
rose and strode to and fro the room exultingly.

"I have him! I have him!" he cried aloud; "not as free guest, but as
ransomed captive.  I have him--the Earl!--I have him!  Go, Mallet, my
friend, now seek this sour-looking Englishman; and, hark thee! fill his
ear with all the tales thou canst think of as to Guy's cruelty and ire.
Enforce all the difficulties that lie in my way towards the Earl's
delivery.  Great make the danger of the Earl's capture, and vast all the
favour of release.  Comprehendest thou?"

"I am Norman, Monseigneur," replied De Graville, with a slight smile;
"and we Normans can make a short mantle cover a large space.  You will
not be displeased with my address."

"Go then--go," said William, "and send me forthwith--Lanfranc--no,
hold--not Lanfranc, he is too scrupulous; Fitzosborne--no, too haughty.
Go, first, to my brother, Odo of Bayeux, and pray him to seek me on the
instant."

The knight bowed and vanished, and William continued to pace the room,
with sparkling eyes and murmuring lips.



CHAPTER II.

Not till after repeated messages, at first without talk of ransom and in
high tone, affected, no doubt, by William to spin out the negotiations,
and augment the value of his services, did Guy of Ponthieu consent to
release his illustrious captive,--the guerdon, a large sum and un bel
maneir [189] on the river Eaulne.  But whether that guerdon were the fair
ransom fee, or the price for concerted snare, no man now can say, and
sharper than ours the wit that forms the more likely guess.  These
stipulations effected, Guy himself opened the doors of the dungeon; and
affecting to treat the whole matter as one of law and right, now happily
and fairly settled, was as courteous and debonnair as he had before been
dark and menacing.

He even himself, with a brilliant train, accompanied Harold to the
Chateau d'Eu [190], whither William journeyed to give him the meeting;
and laughed with a gay grace at the Earl's short and scornful replies to
his compliments and excuses.  At the gates of this chateau, not famous,
in after times, for the good faith of its lords, William himself, laying
aside all the pride of etiquette which he had established at his court,
came to receive his visitor; and aiding him to dismount embraced him
cordially, amidst a loud fanfaron of fifes and trumpets.

The flower of that glorious nobility, which a few generations had
sufficed to rear out of the lawless pirates of the Baltic, had been
selected to do honour alike to guest and host.

There were Hugo de Montfort and Roger de Beaumont, famous in council as
in the field, and already grey with fame.  There was Henri, Sire de
Ferrers, whose name is supposed to have arisen from the vast forges that
burned around his castle, on the anvils of which were welded the arms
impenetrable in every field.  There was Raoul de Tancarville, the old
tutor of William, hereditary Chamberlain of the Norman Counts; and
Geoffroi de Mandeville, and Tonstain the Fair, whose name still
preserved, amidst the general corruption of appellations, the evidence of
his Danish birth; and Hugo de Grantmesnil, lately returned from exile;
and Humphrey de Bohun, whose old castle in Carcutan may yet be seen; and
St. John, and Lacie, and D'Aincourt, of broad lands between the Maine and
the Oise; and William de Montfichet, and Roger, nicknamed "Bigod," and
Roger de Mortemer; and many more, whose fame lives in another land than
that of Neustria!  There, too, were the chief prelates and abbots of a
church that since William's accession had risen into repute with Rome and
with Learning, unequalled on this side the Alps; their white aubes over
their gorgeous robes; Lanfranc, and the Bishop of Coutance, and the Abbot
of Bec, and foremost of all in rank, but not in learning, Odo of Bayeux.

So great the assemblage of Quens and prelates, that there was small room
in the courtyard for the lesser knights and chiefs, who yet hustled each
other, with loss of Norman dignity, for a sight of the lion which guarded
England.  And still, amidst all those men of mark and might, Harold,
simple and calm, looked as he had looked on his war-ship in the Thames,
the man who could lead them all!

From those, indeed, who were fortunate enough to see him as he passed up
by the side of William, as tall as the Duke, and no less erect--of far
slighter bulk, but with a strength almost equal, to a practised eye, in
his compacter symmetry and more supple grace,--from those who saw him
thus, an admiring murmur rose; for no men in the world so valued and
cultivated personal advantages as the Norman knighthood.

Conversing easily with Harold, and well watching him while he conversed,
the Duke led his guest into a private chamber in the third floor [191] of
the castle, and in that chamber were Haco and Wolnoth.

"This, I trust, is no surprise to you," said the Duke, smiling; "and now
I shall but mar your commune."  So saying, he left the room, and Wolnoth
rushed to his brother's arms, while Haco, more timidly, drew near and
touched the Earl's robe.

As soon as the first joy of the meeting was over, the Earl said to Haco,
whom he had drawn to his breast with an embrace as fond as that bestowed
on Wolnoth:

"Remembering thee a boy, I came to say to thee, 'Be my son;' but seeing
thee a man, I change the prayer;--supply thy father's place, and be my
brother!  And thou, Wolnoth, hast thou kept thy word to me? Norman is thy
garb, in truth; is thy heart still English?"

"Hist!" whispered Haco; "hist!  We have a proverb, that walls have ears."

"But Norman walls can hardly understand our broad Saxon of Kent, I
trust," said Harold, smiling, though with a shade on his brow.

"True; continue to speak Saxon," said Haco, "and we are safe."

"Safe!" echoed Harold.

"Haco's fears are childish, my brother," said Wolnoth, "and he wrongs the
Duke."

"Not the Duke, but the policy which surrounds him like an atmosphere,"
exclaimed Haco.  "Oh, Harold, generous indeed wert thou to come hither
for thy kinsfolk--generous!  But for England's weal, better that we had
rotted out our lives in exile, ere thou, hope and prop of England, set
foot in these webs of wile."

"Tut!" said Wolnoth, impatiently; "good is it for England that the Norman
and Saxon should be friends."  Harold, who had lived to grow as wise in
men's hearts as his father, save when the natural trustfulness that lay
under his calm reserve lulled his sagacity, turned his eye steadily on
the faces of his two kinsmen; and he saw at the first glance that a
deeper intellect and a graver temper than Wolnoth's fair face betrayed
characterised the dark eye and serious brow of Haco.  He therefore drew
his nephew a little aside, and said to him:

"Forewarned is forearmed.  Deemest thou that this fairspoken Duke will
dare aught against my life?"

"Life, no; liberty, yes."

Harold startled, and those strong passions native to his breast, but
usually curbed beneath his majestic will, heaved in his bosom and flashed
in his eye.

"Liberty!--let him dare!  Though all his troops paved the way from his
court to his coasts, I would hew my way through their ranks."

"Deemest thou that I am a coward?" said Haco, simply, "yet contrary to
all law and justice, and against King Edward's well-known remonstrance,
hath not the Count detained me years, yea, long years, in his land?  Kind
are his words, wily his deeds.  Fear not force; fear fraud."

"I fear neither," answered Harold, drawing himself up, "nor do I repent
me one moment--No! nor did I repent in the dungeon of that felon Count,
whom God grant me life to repay with fire and sword for his treason--that
I myself have come hither to demand my kinsmen.  I come in the name of
England, strong in her might, and sacred in her majesty."

Before Haco could reply, the door opened, and Raoul de Tancarville, as
Grand Chamberlain, entered, with all Harold's Saxon train, and a goodly
number of Norman squires and attendants, bearing rich vestures.

The noble bowed to the Earl with his country's polished courtesy, and
besought leave to lead him to the bath, while his own squires prepared
his raiment for the banquet to be held in his honour.  So all further
conference with his young kinsmen was then suspended.

The Duke, who affected a state no less regal than that of the Court of
France, permitted no one, save his own family and guests, to sit at his
own table.  His great officers (those imperious lords) stood beside his
chair; and William Fitzosborne, "the Proud Spirit," placed on the board
with his own hand the dainty dishes for which the Norman cooks were
renowned.  And great men were those Norman cooks; and often for some
"delicate," more ravishing than wont, gold chain and gem, and even "bel
maneir," fell to their guerdon [192].  It was worth being a cook in those
days!

The most seductive of men was William in his fair moods; and he lavished
all the witcheries at his control upon his guest. If possible, yet more
gracious was Matilda the Duchess.  This woman, eminent for mental
culture, for personal beauty, and for a spirit and ambition no less great
than her lord's, knew well how to choose such subjects of discourse as
might most flatter an English ear.  Her connection with Harold, through
her sister's marriage with Tostig, warranted a familiarity almost
caressing, which she assumed towards the comely Earl; and she insisted,
with a winning smile, that all the hours the Duke would leave at his
disposal he must spend with her.

The banquet was enlivened by the song of the great Taillefer himself, who
selected a theme that artfully flattered alike the Norman and the Saxon;
viz., the aid given by Rolfganger to Athelstan, and the alliance between
the English King and the Norman founder.  He dexterously introduced into
the song praises of the English, and the value of their friendship; and
the Countess significantly applauded each gallant compliment to the land
of the famous guest. If Harold was pleased by such poetic courtesies, he
was yet more surprised by the high honour in which Duke, baron, and
prelate evidently held the Poet: for it was among the worst signs of that
sordid spirit, honouring only wealth, which had crept over the original
character of the Anglo-Saxon, that the bard or scop, with them, had sunk
into great disrepute, and it was even forbidden to ecclesiastics [193] to
admit such landless vagrants to their company.

Much, indeed, there was in that court which, even on the first day,
Harold saw to admire--that stately temperance, so foreign to English
excesses, (but which, alas! the Norman kept not long when removed to
another soil)--that methodical state and noble pomp which characterised
the Feudal system, linking so harmoniously prince to peer, and peer to
knight--the easy grace, the polished wit of the courtiers--the wisdom of
Lanfranc, and the higher ecclesiastics, blending worldly lore with
decorous, not pedantic, regard to their sacred calling--the enlightened
love of music, letters, song, and art, which coloured the discourse both
of Duke and Duchess and the younger courtiers, prone to emulate high
example, whether for ill or good--all impressed Harold with a sense of
civilisation and true royalty, which at once saddened and inspired his
musing mind--saddened him when he thought how far behind-hand England was
in much, with this comparatively petty principality--inspired him when he
felt what one great chief can do for his native land.

The unfavorable impressions made upon his thoughts by Haco's warnings
could scarcely fail to yield beneath the prodigal courtesies lavished
upon him, and the frank openness with which William laughingly excused
himself for having so long detained the hostages, "in order, my guest, to
make thee come and fetch them.  And, by St. Valery, now thou art here,
thou shalt not depart, till, at least, thou hast lost in gentler memories
the recollection of the scurvy treatment thou hast met from that
barbarous Count.  Nay, never bite thy lip, Harold, my friend, leave to me
thy revenge upon Guy.  Sooner or later, the very maneir he hath extorted
from me shall give excuse for sword and lance, and then, pardex, thou
shalt come and cross steel in thine own quarrel.  How I rejoice that I
can show to the beau frere of my dear cousin and seigneur some return for
all the courtesies the English King and kingdom bestowed upon me!
To-morrow we will ride to Rouen; there, all knightly sports shall be held
to grace thy coming; and by St. Michael, knight-saint of the Norman,
nought less will content me than to have thy great name in the list of my
chosen chevaliers.  But the night wears now, and thou sure must need
sleep;" and, thus talking, the Duke himself led the way to Harold's
chamber, and insisted on removing the ouche from his robe of state.  As
he did so, he passed his hand, as if carelessly, along the Earl's right
arm.  "Ha!" said he suddenly, and in his natural tone of voice, which was
short and quick, "these muscles have known practice!  Dost think thou
couldst bend my bow!"

"Who could bend that of--Ulysses?" returned the Earl, fixing his deep
blue eye upon the Norman's.  William unconsciously changed colour, for he
felt that he was at that moment more Ulysses than Achilles.



CHAPTER III.

Side by side, William and Harold entered the fair city of Rouen, and
there, a succession of the brilliant pageants and knightly
entertainments, (comprising those "rare feats of honour," expanded, with
the following age, into the more gorgeous display of joust and tourney,)
was designed to dazzle the eyes and captivate the fancy of the Earl.  But
though Harold won, even by the confession of the chronicles most in
favour of the Norman, golden opinions in a court more ready to deride
than admire the Saxon,--though not only the "strength of his body," and
"the boldness of his spirit," as shown in exhibitions unfamiliar to Saxon
warriors, but his "manners," his "eloquence, intellect, and other good
qualities," [194] were loftily conspicuous amidst those knightly
courtiers, that sublime part of his character, which was found in his
simple manhood and intense nationality, kept him unmoved and serene
amidst all intended to exercise that fatal spell which Normanised most of
those who came within the circle of Norman attraction.

These festivities were relieved by pompous excursions and progresses from
town to town, and fort to fort, throughout the Duchy, and, according to
some authorities, even to a visit to Philip the French King at Compiegne.
On the return to Rouen, Harold and the six thegns of his train were
solemnly admitted into that peculiar band of warlike brothers which
William had instituted, and to which, following the chronicles of the
after century, we have given the name of Knights. The silver baldrick was
belted on, and the lance, with its pointed banderol, was placed in the
hand, and the seven Saxon lords became Norman knights.

The evening after this ceremonial, Harold was with the Duchess and her
fair daughters--all children.  The beauty of one of the girls drew from
him those compliments so sweet to a mother's ear.  Matilda looked up from
the broidery on which she was engaged, and beckoned to her the child thus
praised.

"Adeliza," she said, placing her hand on the girl's dark locks, "though
we would not that thou shouldst learn too early how men's tongues can
gloze and flatter, yet this noble guest hath so high a repute for truth,
that thou mayest at least believe him sincere when he says thy face is
fair.  Think of it, and with pride, my child; let it keep thee through
youth proof against the homage of meaner men; and, peradventure, St.
Michael and St. Valery may bestow on thee a mate valiant and comely as
this noble lord."

The child blushed to her brow; but answered with the quickness of a
spoiled infant--unless, perhaps, she had been previously tutored so to
reply: "Sweet mother, I will have no mate and no lord but Harold himself;
and if he will not have Adeliza as his wife, she will die a nun."

"Froward child, it is not for thee to woo!" said Matilda, smiling. "Thou
heardst her, noble Harold: what is thine answer?

"That she will grow wiser," said the Earl, laughing, as he kissed the
child's forehead.  "Fair damsel, ere thou art ripe for the altar, time
will have sown grey in these locks; and thou wouldst smile indeed in
scorn, if Harold then claimed thy troth."

"Not so," said Matilda, seriously; "Highborn damsels see youth not in
years but in fame--Fame, which is young for ever!"

Startled by the gravity with which Matilda spoke, as if to give
importance to what had seemed a jest, the Earl, versed in courts, felt
that a snare was round him; and replied in a tone between jest and
earnest: "Happy am I to wear on my heart a charm, proof against all the
beauty even of this court."

Matilda's face darkened; and William entering at that time with his usual
abruptness, lord and lady exchanged glances, not unobserved by Harold.

The Duke, however, drew aside the Saxon; and saying gaily, "We Normans
are not naturally jealous; but then, till now, we have not had Saxon
gallants closeted with our wives;" added more seriously, "Harold, I have
a grace to pray at thy hands--come with me."

The Earl followed William into his chamber, which he found filled with
chiefs, in high converse; and William then hastened to inform him that he
was about to make a military expedition against the Bretons; and knowing
his peculiar acquaintance with the warfare, as with the language and
manners, of their kindred Welch, he besought his aid in a campaign which
he promised him should be brief.

Perhaps the Earl was not, in his own mind, averse from returning
William's display of power by some evidence of his own military skill,
and the valour of the Saxon thegns in his train.  There might be prudence
in such exhibition, and, at all events, he could not with a good grace
decline the proposal.  He enchanted William therefore by a simple
acquiescence; and the rest of the evening--deep into night--was spent in
examining charts of the fort and country intended to be attacked.

The conduct and courage of Harold and his Saxons in this expedition are
recorded by the Norman chroniclers.  The Earl's personal exertions saved,
at the passage of Coesnon, a detachment of soldiers, who would otherwise
have perished in the quicksands; and even the warlike skill of William,
in the brief and brilliant campaign, was, if not eclipsed, certainly
equalled, by that of the Saxon chief.

While the campaign lasted, William and Harold had but one table and one
tent.  To outward appearance, the familiarity between the two was that of
brothers; in reality, however, these two men, both so able--one so deep
in his guile, the other so wise in his tranquil caution--felt that a
silent war between the two for mastery was working on, under the guise of
loving peace.

Already Harold was conscious that the politic motives for his mission had
failed him; already he perceived, though he scarce knew why, that William
the Norman was the last man to whom he could confide his ambition, or
trust for aid.  One day, as, during a short truce with the defenders of
the place they were besieging, the Normans were diverting their leisure
with martial games, in which Taillefer shone pre-eminent: while Harold
and William stood without their tent, watching the animated field, the
Duke abruptly exclaimed to Mallet de Graville, "Bring me my bow.  Now,
Harold, let me see if thou canst bend it."

The bow was brought, and Saxon and Norman gathered round the spot.

"Fasten thy glove to yonder tree, Mallet," said the Duke, taking that
mighty bow in his hand, and bending its stubborn yew into the noose of
the string with practised ease.

Then he drew the arc to his ear; and the tree itself seemed to shake at
the shock, as the shaft, piercing the glove, lodged half-way in the
trunk.

"Such are not our weapons," said the Earl; "and ill would it become me,
unpractised, so to peril our English honour, as to strive against the arm
that could bend that arc and wing that arrow.  But, that I may show these
Norman knights, that at least we have some weapon wherewith we can parry
shaft and smite assailer,--bring me forth, Godrith, my shield and my
Danish axe."

Taking the shield and axe which the Saxon brought to him, Harold then
stationed himself before the tree.  "Now, fair Duke," said he, smiling,
"choose thou thy longest shaft--bid thy ten doughtiest archers take their
bows; round this tree will I move, and let each shaft be aimed at
whatever space in my mailless body I leave unguarded by my shield."

"No!" said William, hastily; "that were murder."

"It is but the common peril of war," said Harold, simply; and he walked
to the tree.

The blood mounted to William's brow, and the lion's thirst of carnage
parched his throat.

"An he will have it so," said he, beckoning to his archers; "let not
Normandy be shamed.  Watch well, and let every shaft go home; avoid only
the head and the heart; such orgulous vaunting is best cured by
blood-letting."

The archers nodded, and took their post, each at a separate quarter; and
deadly indeed seemed the danger of the Earl, for as he moved, though he
kept his back guarded by the tree, some parts of his form the shield left
exposed, and it would have been impossible, in his quick-shifting
movements, for the archers so to aim as to wound, but to spare life; yet
the Earl seemed to take no peculiar care to avoid the peril; lifting his
bare head fearlessly above the shield, and including in one gaze of his
steadfast eye, calmly bright even at the distance, all the shafts of the
archers.

At one moment five of the arrows hissed through the air, and with such
wonderful quickness had the shield turned to each, that three fell to the
ground blunted against it, and two broke on its surface.

But William, waiting for the first discharge, and seeing full mark at
Harold's shoulder as the buckler turned, now sent forth his terrible
shaft.  The noble Taillefer with a poet's true sympathy cried, "Saxon,
beware!" but the watchful Saxon needed not the warning.  As if in
disdain, Harold met not the shaft with his shield, but swinging high the
mighty axe, (which with most men required both arms to wield it,) he
advanced a step, and clove the rushing arrow in twain.

Before William's loud oath of wrath and surprise left his lips, the five
shafts of the remaining archers fell as vainly as their predecessors
against the nimble shield.

Then advancing, Harold said, cheerfully: "This is but defence, fair
Duke--and little worth were the axe if it could not smite as well as
ward.  Wherefore, I pray you, place upon yonder broken stone pillar,
which seems some relic of Druid heathenesse, such helm and shirt of mail
as thou deemest most proof against sword and pertuizan, and judge then if
our English axe can guard well our English land."

"If thy axe can cleave the helmet I wore at Bavent, when the Franks and
their King fled before me," said the Duke, grimly, "I shall hold Caesar
in fault, not to have invented a weapon so dread."

And striding back into his pavilion, he came forth with the helm and
shirt of mail, which was worn stronger and heavier by the Normans, as
fighting usually on horseback, than by Dane and Saxon, who, mainly
fighting on foot, could not have endured so cumbrous a burthen: and if
strong and dour generally with the Norman, judge what solid weight that
mighty Duke could endure!  With his own hand William placed the mail on
the ruined Druid stone, and on the mail the helm.

Harold looked long and gravely at the edge of the axe; it was so richly
gilt and damasquined, that the sharpness of its temper could not well
have been divined under that holiday glitter.  But this axe had come to
him from Canute the Great, who himself, unlike the Danes, small and
slight [195], had supplied his deficiency of muscle by the finest
dexterity and the most perfect weapons.  Famous had been that axe in the
delicate hand of Canute--how much more tremendous in the ample grasp of
Harold!  Swinging now in both hands this weapon, with a peculiar and
rapid whirl, which gave it an inconceivable impetus, the Earl let fall
the crushing blow: at the first stroke, cut right in the centre, rolled
the helm; at the second, through all the woven mail (cleft asunder, as if
the slightest filigree work of the goldsmith,) shore the blade, and a
great fragment of the stone itself came tumbling on the sod.

The Normans stood aghast, and William's face was as pale as the shattered
stone.  The great Duke felt even his matchless dissimulation fail him;
nor, unused to the special practice and craft which the axe required,
could he have pretended, despite a physical strength superior even to
Harold's, to rival blows that seemed to him more than mortal.

"Lives there any other man in the wide world whose arm could have wrought
that feat?" exclaimed Bruse, the ancestor of the famous Scot.

"Nay," said Harold, simply, "at least thirty thousand such men have I
left at home!  But this was but the stroke of an idle vanity, and
strength becomes tenfold in a good cause."

The Duke heard, and fearful lest he should betray his sense of the latent
meaning couched under his guest's words, he hastily muttered forth
reluctant compliment and praise; while Fitzosborne, De Bohun, and other
chiefs more genuinely knightly, gave way to unrestrained admiration.

Then beckoning De Graville to follow him, the Duke strode off towards the
tent of his brother of Bayeux, who, though, except on extraordinary
occasions, he did not join in positive conflict, usually accompanied
William in his military excursions, both to bless the host, and to advise
(for his martial science was considerable) the council of war.

The bishop, who, despite the sanctimony of the Court, and his own stern
nature, was (though secretly and decorously) a gallant of great success
in other fields than those of Mars [196], sate alone in his pavilion,
inditing an epistle to a certain fair dame in Rouen, whom he had
unwillingly left to follow his brother.  At the entrance of William,
whose morals in such matters were pure and rigid, he swept the letter
into the chest of relics which always accompanied him, and rose, saying,
indifferently:

"A treatise on the authenticity of St. Thomas's little finger!  But what
ails you? you are disturbed!"

"Odo, Odo, this man baffles me--this man fools me; I make no ground with
him.  I have spent--heaven knows what I have spent," said the Duke,
sighing with penitent parsimony, "in banquets, and ceremonies, and
processions; to say nothing of my bel maneir of Yonne, and the sum wrung
from my coffers by that greedy Ponthevin.  All gone--all wasted--all
melted like snow! and the Saxon is as Saxon as if he had seen neither
Norman splendour, nor been released from the danger by Norman treasure.
But, by the splendour Divine, I were fool indeed if I suffered him to
return home.  Would thou hadst seen the sorcerer cleave my helmet and
mail just now, as easily as if they had been willow twigs.  Oh, Odo, Odo,
my soul is troubled, and St. Michael forsakes me!"

While William ran on thus distractedly, the prelate lifted his eyes
inquiringly to De Graville, who now stood within the tent, and the knight
briefly related the recent trial of strength.

"I see nought in this to chafe thee," said Odo; "the man once thine, the
stronger the vassal, the more powerful the lord."

"But he is not mine; I have sounded him as far as I dare go.  Matilda
hath almost openly offered him my fairest child as his wife.  Nothing
dazzles, nothing moves him.  Thinkest thou I care for his strong arm?
Tut, no: I chafe at the proud heart that set the arm in motion; the proud
meaning his words symbolled out, 'So will English strength guard English
land from the Norman--so axe and shield will defy your mail and your
shafts.'  But let him beware!" growled the Duke, fiercely, "or----"

"May I speak," interrupted De Graville, "and suggest a counsel?"

"Speak out, in God's name!" cried the Duke.

"Then I should say, with submission, that the way to tame a lion is not
by gorging him, but daunting.  Bold is the lion against open foes; but a
lion in the toils loses his nature.  Just now, my lord said that Harold
should not return to his native land----"

"Nor shall he, but as my sworn man!" exclaimed the Duke.

"And if you now put to him that choice, think you it will favour your
views?  Will he not reject your proffers, and with hot scorn?"

"Scorn! darest thou that word to me?" cried the Duke.  "Scorn! have I no
headsman whose axe is as sharp as Harold's? and the neck of a captive is
not sheathed in my Norman mail."

"Pardon, pardon, my liege," said Mallet, with spirit; "but to save my
chief from a hasty action that might bring long remorse, I spoke thus
boldly.  Give the Earl at least fair warning:--a prison, or fealty to
thee, that is the choice before him!--let him know it; let him see that
thy dungeons are dark, and thy walls impassable.  Threaten not his
life--brave men care not for that!--threaten thyself nought, but let
others work upon him with fear of his freedom.  I know well these Saxish
men; I know well Harold; freedom is their passion, they are cowards when
threatened with the doom of four walls." [197]

"I conceive thee, wise son," exclaimed Odo.

"Ha!" said the Duke, slowly; "and yet it was to prevent such suspicion
that I took care, after the first meeting, to separate him from Haco and
Wolnoth, for they must have learned much in Norman gossip, ill to repeat
to the Saxon."

"Wolnoth is almost wholly Norman," said the bishop, smiling; "Wolnoth is
bound par-amours, to a certain fair Norman dame; and, I trow well,
prefers her charms here to the thought of his return.  But Haco, as thou
knowest, is sullen and watchful."

"So much the better companion for Harold now," said De Graville.

"I am fated ever to plot and to scheme!" said the Duke, groaning, as if
he had been the simplest of men; "but, nathless, I love the stout Earl,
and I mean all for his own good,--that is, compatibly with my rights and
claims to the heritage of Edward my cousin."

"Of course," said the bishop.



CHAPTER IV.

The snares now spread for Harold were in pursuance of the policy thus
resolved on.  The camp soon afterwards broke up, and the troops took
their way to Bayeux.  William, without greatly altering his manner
towards the Earl, evaded markedly (or as markedly replied not to)
Harold's plain declarations, that his presence was required in England,
and that he could no longer defer his departure; while, under pretence of
being busied with affairs, he absented himself much from the Earl's
company, or refrained from seeing him alone, and suffered Mallet de
Graville, and Odo the bishop, to supply his place with Harold.  The
Earl's suspicions now became thoroughly aroused, and these were fed both
by the hints, kindly meant, of De Graville, and the less covert discourse
of the prelate: while Mallet let drop, as in gossiping illustration of
William's fierce and vindictive nature, many anecdotes of that cruelty
which really stained the Norman's character, Odo, more bluntly, appeared
to take it for granted that Harold's sojourn in the land would be long.

"You will have time," said he, one day, as they rode together, "to assist
me, I trust, in learning the language of our forefathers. Danish is still
spoken much at Bayeux, the sole place in Neustria [198] where the old
tongue and customs still linger; and it would serve my pastoral ministry
to receive your lessons; in a year or so I might hope so to profit by
them as to discourse freely with the less Frankish part of my flock."

"Surely, Lord Bishop, you jest," said Harold, seriously; "you know well
that within a week, at farthest, I must sail back for England with my
young kinsmen."

The prelate laughed.

"I advise you, dear count and son, to be cautious how you speak so
plainly to William.  I perceive that you have already ruffled him by such
indiscreet remarks; and you must have seen eno' of the Duke to know that,
when his ire is up, his answers are short but his arms are long."

"You most grievously wrong Duke William," cried Harold, indignantly, "to
suppose, merely in that playful humor, for which ye Normans are famous,
that he could lay force on his confiding guest?"

"No, not a confiding guest,--a ransomed captive.  Surely my brother will
deem that he has purchased of Count Guy his rights over his illustrious
prisoner.  But courage!  The Norman Court is not the Ponthevin dungeon;
and your chains, at least, are roses."

The reply of wrath and defiance that rose to Harold's lip, was checked by
a sign from De Graville, who raised his finger to his lip with a face
expressive of caution and alarm; and, some little time after, as they
halted to water their horses, De Graville came up to him and said in a
low voice, and in Saxon:

"Beware how you speak too frankly to Odo.  What is said to him is said to
William; and the Duke, at times, so acts on the spur of the moment
that--But let me not wrong him, or needlessly alarm you."

"Sire de Graville," said Harold, "this is not the first time that the
Prelate of Bayeux hath hinted at compulsion, nor that you (no doubt
kindly) have warned me of purpose hostile or fraudful.  As plain man to
plain man, I ask you, on your knightly honour, to tell me if you know
aught to make you believe that William the Duke will, under any pretext,
detain me here a captive?"

Now, though Mallet de Graville had lent himself to the service of an
ignoble craft, he justified it by a better reason than complaisance to
his lords; for, knowing William well, his hasty ire, and his relentless
ambition, he was really alarmed for Harold's safety.  And, as the reader
may have noted, in suggesting that policy of intimidation, the knight had
designed to give the Earl at least the benefit of forewarning.  So, thus
adjured, De Graville replied sincerely:

"Earl Harold, on my honour as your brother in knighthood I answer your
plain question.  I have cause to believe and to know that William will
not suffer you to depart, unless fully satisfied on certain points, which
he himself will, doubtless, ere long make clear to you."

"And if I insist on my departure, not so satisfying him?"

"Every castle on our road hath a dungeon as deep as Count Guy's; but
where another William to deliver you from William?"

"Over yon seas, a prince mightier than William, and men as resolute, at
least, as your Normans."

"Cher et puissant, my Lord Earl," answered De Graville, "these are brave
words, but of no weight in the ear of a schemer so deep as the Duke.
Think you really, that King Edward--pardon my bluntness--would rouse
himself from his apathy, to do more in your behalf than he has done in
your kinsmen's--remonstrate and preach?--Are you even sure that on the
representation of a man he hath so loved as William, he will not be
content to rid his throne of so formidable a subject?  You speak of the
English people; doubtless you are popular and beloved, but it is the
habit of no people, least of all your own, to stir actively and in
concert, without leaders.  The Duke knows the factions of England as well
as you do.  Remember how closely he is connected with Tostig, your
ambitious brother.  Have you no fear that Tostig himself, earl of the
most warlike part of the kingdom, will not only do his best to check the
popular feeling in your favour, but foment every intrigue to detain you
here, and leave himself the first noble in the land?  As for other
leaders, save Gurth (who is but your own vice earl), who is there that
will not rejoice at the absence of Harold?  You have made foes of the
only family that approaches the power of your own--the heirs of Leofric
and Algar.--Your strong hand removed from the reins of the empire,
tumults and dissensions ere long will break forth that will distract
men's minds from an absent captive, and centre them on the safety of
their own hearths, or the advancement of their own interests.  You see
that I know something of the state of your native land; but deem not my
own observation, though not idle, sufficed to bestow that knowledge.  I
learn it more from William's discourses; William, who from Flanders, from
Boulogne, from England itself, by a thousand channels, hears all that
passes between the cliffs of Dover and the marches of Scotland."

Harold paused long before he replied, for his mind was now thoroughly
awakened to his danger; and, while recognising the wisdom and intimate
acquaintance of affairs with which De Graville spoke, he was also rapidly
revolving the best course for himself to pursue in such extremes.  At
length he said:

"I pass by your remarks on the state of England, with but one comment.
You underrate Gurth, my brother, when you speak of him but as the vice
earl of Harold.  You underrate one, who needs but an object, to excel, in
arms and in council, my father Godwin himself.--That object a brother's
wrongs would create from a brother's love, and three hundred ships would
sail up the Seine to demand your captive, manned by warriors as hardy as
those who wrested Neustria from King Charles."

"Granted," said De Graville.  "But William, who could cut off the hands
and feet of his own subjects for an idle jest on his birth, could as
easily put out the eyes of a captive foe.  And of what worth are the
ablest brain, and the stoutest arm, when the man is dependent on another
for very sight!"

Harold involuntarily shuddered, but recovering himself on the instant, he
replied, with a smile:

"Thou makest thy Duke a butcher more fell than his ancestor Rolfganger.
But thou saidst he needed but to be satisfied on certain points.  What
are they?"

"Ah, that thou must divine, or he unfold.  But see, William himself
approaches you."

And here the Duke, who had been till then in the rear, spurred up with
courteous excuses to Harold for his long defection from his side; and, as
they resumed their way, talked with all his former frankness and gaiety.

"By the way, dear brother in arms," said he, "I have provided thee this
evening with comrades more welcome, I fear, than myself--Haco and
Wolnoth.  That last is a youth whom I love dearly: the first is unsocial
eno', and methinks would make a better hermit than soldier. But, by St.
Valery, I forgot to tell thee that an envoy from Flanders to-day, amongst
other news, brought me some, that may interest thee. There is a strong
commotion in thy brother Tostig's Northumbrian earldom, and the rumour
runs that his fierce vassals will drive him forth and select some other
lord: talk was of the sons of Algar--so I think ye called the stout dead
Earl.  This looks grave, for my dear cousin Edward's health is failing
fast. May the saints spare him long from their rest!"

"These are indeed ill tidings," said the Earl; "and I trust that they
suffice to plead at once my excuse for urging any immediate departure.
Grateful I am for thy most gracious hostship, and thy just and generous
intercession with thy liegeman" (Harold dwelt emphatically on the last
word), "for my release from a capture disgraceful to all Christendom.
The ransom so nobly paid for me I will not insult thee, dear my lord, by
affecting to repay; but such gifts as our cheapmen hold most rare,
perchance thy lady and thy fair children will deign to receive at my
hands.  Of these hereafter.  Now may I ask but a vessel from thy nearest
port."

"We will talk of this, dear guest and brother knight, on some later
occasion.  Lo, yon castle--ye have no such in England.  See its vawmures
and fosses!"

"A noble pile," answered Harold.  "But pardon me that I press for--"

"Ye have no such strongholds, I say, in England?" interrupted the Duke
petulantly.

"Nay," replied the Englishman, "we have two strongholds far larger than
that--Salisbury Plain and Newmarket Heath! [199]--strongholds that will
contain fifty thousand men who need no walls but their shields.  Count
William, England's ramparts are her men, and her strongest castles are
her widest plains."

"Ah!" said the Duke, biting his lip, "ah, so be it--but to return:--in
that castle, mark it well, the Dukes of Normandy hold their prisoners of
state;" and then he added with a laugh; "but we hold you, noble captive,
in a prison more strong--our love and our heart."

As he spoke, he turned his eye full upon Harold, and the gaze of the two
encountered: that of the Duke was brilliant, but stern and sinister; that
of Harold, steadfast and reproachful.  As if by a spell, the eye of each
rested long on that of the other--as the eyes of two lords of the forest,
ere the rush and the spring.

William was the first to withdraw his gaze, and as he did so, his lip
quivered and his brow knit.  Then waving his hand for some of the lords
behind to join him and the Earl, he spurred his steed, and all further
private conversation was suspended.  The train pulled not bridle before
they reached a monastery, at which they rested for the night.



CHAPTER V.

On entering the chamber set apart for him in the convent, Harold found
Haco and Wolnoth already awaiting him; and a wound he had received in the
last skirmish against the Bretons, having broken out afresh on the road,
allowed him an excuse to spend the rest of the evening alone with his
kinsmen.

On conversing with them--now at length, and unrestrainedly--Harold saw
everything to increase his alarm; for even Wolnoth, when closely pressed,
could not but give evidence of the unscrupulous astuteness with which,
despite all the boasted honour of chivalry, the Duke's character was
stained.  For, indeed in his excuse, it must be said, that from the age
of eight, exposed to the snares of his own kinsmen, and more often saved
by craft than by strength, William had been taught betimes to justify
dissimulation, and confound wisdom with guile.  Harold now bitterly
recalled the parting words of Edward, and recognised their justice,
though as yet he did not see all that they portended.  Fevered and
disquieted yet more by the news from England, and conscious that not only
the power of his House and the foundations of his aspiring hopes, but the
very weal and safety of the land, were daily imperilled by his continued
absence, a vague and unspeakable terror for the first time in his life
preyed on his bold heart--a terror like that of superstition, for, like
superstition, it was of the Unknown; there was everything to shun, yet no
substance to grapple with.  He who could have smiled at the brief pangs
of death, shrunk from the thought of the perpetual prison; he, whose
spirit rose elastic to every storm of life, and exulted in the air of
action, stood appalled at the fear of blindness;--blindness in the midst
of a career so grand;--blindness in the midst of his pathway to a
throne;--blindness, that curse which palsies the strong and enslaves the
free, and leaves the whole man defenceless;--defenceless in an Age of
Iron.

What, too, were those mysterious points on which he was to satisfy the
Duke?  He sounded his young kinsmen; but Wolnoth evidently knew nothing;
Haco's eye showed intelligence, but by his looks and gestures he seemed
to signify that what he knew he would only disclose to Harold.

Fatigued, not more with his emotions than with that exertion to conceal
them so peculiar to the English character (proud virtue of manhood so
little appreciated, and so rarely understood!) he at length kissed
Wolnoth, and dismissed him, yawning, to his rest. Haco, lingering, closed
the door, and looked long and mournfully at the Earl.

"Noble kinsman," said the young son of Sweyn, "I foresaw from the first,
that as our fate will be thine;--only round thee will be wall and fosse;
unless, indeed, thou wilt lay aside thine own nature--it will give thee
no armour here--and assume that which----"

"Ho!" interrupted the Earl, shaking with repressed passion, "I see
already all the foul fraud and treason to guest and noble that surround
me!  But if the Duke dare such shame he shall do so in the eyes of day.
I will hail the first boat I see on his river, or his sea-coast; and woe
to those who lay hand on this arm to detain me!"

Haco lifted his ominous eyes to Harold's; and there was something in
their cold and unimpassioned expression which seemed to repel all
enthusiasm, and to deaden all courage.

"Harold," said he, "if but for one such moment thou obeyest the impulses
of thy manly pride, or thy just resentment, thou art lost for ever; one
show of violence, one word of affront, and thou givest the Duke the
excuse he thirsts for.  Escape!  It is impossible.  For the last five
years, I have pondered night and day the means of flight; for I deem that
my hostageship, by right, is long since over; and no means have I seen or
found.  Spies dog my every step, as spies, no doubt, dog thine."

"Ha! it is true," said Harold; "never once have I wandered three paces
from the camp or the troop, but, under some pretext, I have been followed
by knight or courtier.  God and our Lady help me, if but for England's
sake!  But what counsellest thou?  Boy, teach me; thou hast been reared
in this air of wile--to me it is strange, and I am as a wild beast
encompassed by a circle of fire."

"Then," answered Haco, "meet craft by craft, smile by smile.  Feel that
thou art under compulsion, and act,--as the Church itself pardons men for
acting, so compelled."

Harold started, and the blush spread red over his cheeks.

Haco continued.

"Once in prison, and thou art lost evermore to the sight of men. William
would not then dare to release thee--unless, indeed, he first rendered
thee powerless to avenge.  Though I will not malign him, and say that he
himself is capable of secret murder, yet he has ever those about him who
are.  He drops in his wrath some hasty word; it is seized by ready and
ruthless tools.  The great Count of Bretagne was in his way; William
feared him as he fears thee; and in his own court, and amongst his own
men, the great Count of Bretagne died by poison. For thy doom, open or
secret, William, however, could find ample excuse."

"How, boy?  What charge can the Norman bring against a free Englishman?"

"His kinsman Alfred," answered Haco, "was blinded, tortured, and
murdered.  And in the court of Rouen, they say these deeds were done by
Godwin, thy father.  The Normans who escorted Alfred were decimated in
cold blood; again, they say Godwin thy father slaughtered them."

"It is hell's own lie!" cried Harold,  "and so have I proved already to
the Duke."

"Proved?  No!  The lamb does not prove the cause which is prejudged by
the wolf.  Often and often have I heard the Normans speak of those deeds,
and cry that vengeance yet shall await them.  It is but to renew the old
accusation, to say Godwin's sudden death was God's proof of his crime,
and even Edward himself would forgive the Duke for thy bloody death.  But
grant the best; grant that the more lenient doom were but the prison;
grant that Edward and the English invaded Normandy to enforce thy
freedom; knowest thou what William hath ere now done with hostages?  He
hath put them in the van of his army, and seared out their eyes in the
sight of both hosts.  Deemest thou he would be more gentle to us and to
thee?  Such are thy dangers.  Be bold and frank,--and thou canst not
escape them; be wary and wise, promise and feign,--and they are baffled:
cover thy lion heart with the fox's hide until thou art free from the
toils."

"Leave me, leave me," said Harold, hastily.  "Yet, hold.  Thou didst seem
to understand me when I hinted of--in a word, what is the object William
would gain from me?"

Haco looked around; again went to the door--again opened and closed
it--approached, and whispered, "The crown of England!"

The Earl bounded as if shot to the heart; then, again he cried: "Leave
me.  I must be alone--alone now.  Go! go!"



CHAPTER VI.

Only in solitude could that strong man give way to his emotions; and at
first they rushed forth so confused and stormy, so hurtling one the
other, that hours elapsed before he could serenely face the terrible
crisis of his position.

The great historian of Italy has said, that whenever the simple and
truthful German came amongst the plotting and artful Italians and
experienced their duplicity and craft, he straightway became more false
and subtle than the Italians themselves: to his own countrymen, indeed,
he continued to retain his characteristic sincerity and good faith; but,
once duped and tricked by the southern schemers, as if with a fierce
scorn, he rejected troth with the truthless; he exulted in mastering them
in their own wily statesmanship; and if reproached for insincerity,
retorted with naive wonder, "Ye Italians, and complain of insincerity!
How otherwise can one deal with you--how be safe amongst you?"

Somewhat of this revolution of all the natural elements of his character
took place in Harold's mind that stormy and solitary night. In the
transport of his indignation, he resolved not doltishly to be thus
outwitted to his ruin.  The perfidious host had deprived himself of that
privilege of Truth,--the large and heavenly security of man;--it was but
a struggle of wit against wit, snare against snare.  The state and law of
warfare had started up in the lap of fraudful peace; and ambush must be
met by ambush, plot by plot.

Such was the nature of the self-excuses by which the Saxon defended his
resolves, and they appeared to him more sanctioned by the stake which
depended on success--a stake which his undying patriotism allowed to be
far more vast than his individual ambition.  Nothing was more clear than
that if he were detained in a Norman prison, at the time of King Edward's
death, the sole obstacle to William's design on the English throne would
be removed.  In the interim, the Duke's intrigues would again surround
the infirm King with Norman influences; and in the absence both of any
legitimate heir to the throne capable of commanding the trust of the
people, and of his own preponderating ascendancy both in the Witan and
the armed militia of the nation, what could arrest the designs of the
grasping Duke?  Thus his own liberty was indissolubly connected with that
of his country; and for that great end, the safety of England, all means
grew holy.

When the next morning he joined the cavalcade, it was only by his extreme
paleness that the struggle and agony of the past night could be traced,
and he answered with correspondent cheerfulness William's cordial
greetings.

As they rode together--still accompanied by several knights, and the
discourse was thus general, the features of the country suggested the
theme of the talk.  For, now in the heart of Normandy, but in rural
districts remote from the great towns, nothing could be more waste and
neglected than the face of the land.  Miserable and sordid to the last
degree were the huts of the serfs; and when these last met them on their
way, half naked and hunger-worn, there was a wild gleam of hate and
discontent in their eyes, as they louted low to the Norman riders, and
heard the bitter and scornful taunts with which they were addressed; for
the Norman and the Frank had more than indifference for the peasants of
their land; they literally both despised and abhorred them, as of
different race from the conquerors.  The Norman settlement especially was
so recent in the land, that none of that amalgamation between class and
class which centuries had created in England, existed there; though in
England the theowe was wholly a slave, and the ceorl in a political
servitude to his lord, yet public opinion, more mild than law, preserved
the thraldom from wanton aggravation; and slavery was felt to be wrong
and unchristian.  The Saxon Church--not the less, perhaps, for its very
ignorance--sympathised more with the subject population and was more
associated with it, than the comparatively learned and haughty
ecclesiastics of the continent, who held aloof from the unpolished
vulgar.  The Saxon Church invariably set the example of freeing the
theowe and emancipating the ceorl, and taught that such acts were to the
salvation of the soul.  The rude and homely manner in which the greater
part of the Saxon thegns lived--dependent solely for their subsistence on
their herds and agricultural produce, and therefore on the labour of
their peasants--not only made the distinctions of rank less harsh and
visible, but rendered it the interest of the lords to feed and clothe
well their dependents.  All our records of the customs of the Saxons
prove the ample sustenance given to the poor, and a general care of their
lives and rights, which, compared with the Frank laws, may be called
enlightened and humane.  And above all, the lowest serf ever had the
great hope both of freedom and of promotion; but the beast of the field
was holier in the eyes of the Norman, than the wretched villein [200].
We have likened the Norman to the Spartan, and, most of all, he was like
him in his scorn of the helot.

Thus embruted and degraded, deriving little from religion itself, except
its terrors, the general habits of the peasants on the continent of
France were against the very basis of Christianity--marriage.  They lived
together for the most part without that tie, and hence the common name,
with which they were called by their masters, lay and clerical, was the
coarsest word contempt can apply to the sons of women.

"The hounds glare at us," said Odo, as a drove of these miserable serfs
passed along.  "They need ever the lash to teach them to know the master.
Are they thus mutinous and surly in England, Lord Harold?"

"No: but there our meanest theowes are not seen so clad, nor housed in
such hovels," said the Earl.

"And is it really true that a villein with you can rise to be a noble?"

"Of at least yearly occurrence.  Perhaps the forefathers of one-fourth of
our Anglo-Saxon thegns held the plough, or followed some craft
mechanical."

Duke William politicly checked Odo's answer, and said mildly:

"Every land its own laws: and by them alone should it be governed by a
virtuous and wise ruler.  But, noble Harold, I grieve that you should
thus note the sore point in my realm.  I grant that the condition of the
peasants and the culture of the land need reform.  But in my childhood,
there was a fierce outbreak of rebellion among the villeins, needing
bloody example to check, and the memories of wrath between lord and
villein must sleep before we can do justice between them, as please St.
Peter, and by Lanfranc's aid, we hope to do. Meanwhile, one great portion
of our villeinage in our larger towns we have much mitigated.  For trade
and commerce are the strength of rising states; and if our fields are
barren our streets are prosperous."

Harold bowed, and rode musingly on.  That civilisation he had so much
admired bounded itself to the noble class, and, at farthest, to the
circle of the Duke's commercial policy.  Beyond it, on the outskirts of
humanity, lay the mass of the people.  And here, no comparison in favour
of the latter could be found between English and Norman civilisation.

The towers of Bayeux rose dim in the distance, when William proposed a
halt in a pleasant spot by the side of a small stream, overshadowed by
oak and beech.  A tent for himself and Harold was pitched in haste, and
after an abstemious refreshment, the Duke, taking Harold's arm, led him
away from the train along the margin of the murmuring stream.

They were soon in a remote, pastoral, primitive spot, a spot like those
which the old menestrels loved to describe, and in which some pious
hermit might, pleased, have fixed his solitary home.

Halting where a mossy bank jutted over the water, William motioned to his
companion to seat himself, and reclining at his side, abstractedly took
the pebbles from the margin and dropped them into the stream. They fell
to the botton with a hollow sound; the circle they made on the surface
widened, and was lost; and the wave rushed and murmured on, disdainful.

"Harold," said the Duke at last, "thou hast thought, I fear, that I have
trifled with thy impatience to return.  But there is on my mind a matter
of great moment to thee and to me, and it must out, before thou canst
depart.  On this very spot where we now sit, sate in early youth, Edward
thy King, and William thy host.  Soothed by the loneliness of the place,
and the music of the bell from the church tower, rising pale through
yonder glade, Edward spoke of his desire for the monastic life, and of
his content with his exile in the Norman land.  Few then were the hopes
that he should ever attain the throne of Alfred.  I, more martial, and
ardent for him as myself, combated the thought of the convent, and
promised, that, if ever occasion meet arrived, and he needed the Norman
help, I would, with arm and heart, do a chief's best to win him his
lawful crown.  Heedest thou me, dear Harold?"

"Ay, my host, with heart as with ear."

"And Edward then, pressing my hand as I now press thine, while answering
gratefully, promised, that if he did, contrary to all human foresight,
gain his heritage, he, in case I survived him, would bequeath that
heritage to me.  Thy hand withdraws itself from mine."

"But from surprise:  Duke William, proceed."

"Now," resumed William, "when thy kinsmen were sent to me as hostages for
the most powerful House in England--the only one that could thwart the
desire of my cousin--I naturally deemed this a corroboration of his
promise, and an earnest of his continued designs; and in this I was
reassured by the prelate, Robert, Archbishop of Canterbury, who knew the
most secret conscience of your King.  Wherefore my pertinacity in
retaining those hostages; wherefore my disregard to Edward's mere
remonstrances, which I not unnaturally conceived to be but his meek
confessions to the urgent demands of thyself and House. Since then,
Fortune or Providence hath favoured the promise of the King, and my just
expectations founded thereon.  For one moment, it seemed indeed, that
Edward regretted or reconsidered the pledge of our youth.  He sent for
his kinsman, the Atheling, natural heir to the throne.  But the poor
prince died.  The son, a mere child, if I am rightly informed, the laws
of thy land will set aside, should Edward die ere the child grown a man;
and, moreover, I am assured, that the young Edgar hath no power of mind
or intellect to wield so weighty a sceptre as that of England.  Your
King, also, even since your absence, hath had severe visitings of
sickness, and ere another year his new Abbey may hold his tomb."

William here paused; again dropped the pebbles into the stream, and
glanced furtively on the unrevealing face of the Earl.  He resumed:

"Thy brother Tostig, as so nearly allied to my House, would, I am
advised, back my claims; and wert thou absent from England, Tostig, I
conceive, would be in thy place as the head of the great party of Godwin.
But to prove how little I care for thy brother's aid compared with thine,
and how implicitly I count on thee, I have openly told thee what a wilier
plotter would have concealed--viz., the danger to which thy brother is
menaced in his own earldom.  To the point, then, I pass at once.  I
might, as my ransomed captive, detain thee here, until, without thee, I
had won my English throne, and I know that thou alone couldst obstruct my
just claims, or interfere with the King's will, by which that appanage
will be left to me.  Nevertheless, I unbosom myself to thee, and would
owe my crown solely to thine aid.  I pass on to treat with thee, dear
Harold, not as lord with vassal, but as prince with prince.  On thy part,
thou shalt hold for me the castle of Dover, to yield to my fleet when the
hour comes; thou shalt aid me in peace, and through thy National Witan,
to succeed to Edward, by whose laws I will reign in all things
conformably with the English rites, habits, and decrees.  A stronger king
to guard England from the Dane, and a more practised head to improve her
prosperity, I am vain eno' to say thou wilt not find in Christendom.  On
my part, I offer to thee my fairest daughter, Adeliza, to whom thou shalt
be straightway betrothed: thine own young unwedded sister, Thyra, thou
shalt give to one of my greatest barons: all the lands, dignities, and
possessions thou holdest now, thou shalt still retain; and if, as I
suspect, thy brother Tostig cannot keep his vast principality north the
Humber, it shall pass to thee.  Whatever else thou canst demand in
guarantee of my love and gratitude, or so to confirm thy power that thou
shalt rule over thy countships as free and as powerful as the great
Counts of Provence or Anjou reign in France over theirs, subject only to
the mere form of holding in fief to the Suzerain, as I, stormy subject,
hold Normandy under Philip of France,--shall be given to thee.  In truth,
there will be two kings in England, though in name but one. And far from
losing by the death of Edward, thou shalt gain by the subjection of every
meaner rival, and the cordial love of thy grateful William.--Splendour of
God, Earl, thou keepest me long for thine answer!"

"What thou offerest," said the Earl, fortifying himself with the
resolution of the previous night, and compressing his lips, livid with
rage, "is beyond my deserts, and all that the greatest chief under
royalty could desire.  But England is not Edward's to leave, nor mine to
give: its throne rests with the Witan."

"And the Witan rests with thee," exclaimed William sharply.  "I ask but
for possibilities, man; I ask but all thine influence on my behalf; and
if it be less than I deem, mine is the loss.  What dost thou resign?  I
will not presume to menace thee; but thou wouldst indeed despise my
folly, if now, knowing my designs, I let thee forth--not to aid, but
betray them.  I know thou lovest England, so do I. Thou deemest me a
foreigner; true, but the Norman and Dane are of precisely the same
origin.  Thou, of the race of Canute, knowest how popular was the reign
of that King.  Why should William's be less so? Canute had no right
whatsoever, save that of the sword.  My right will be kinship to
Edward--Edward's wish in my favour--the consent through thee of the
Witan--the absence of all other worthy heir--my wife's clear descent from
Alfred, which, in my children, restore the Saxon line, through its purest
and noblest ancestry, to the throne.  Think over all this, and then wilt
thou tell me that I merit not this crown?"  Harold yet paused, and the
fiery Duke resumed:

"Are the terms I give not tempting eno' to my captive--to the son of the
great Godwin, who, no doubt falsely, but still by the popular voice of
all Europe, had power of life and death over my cousin Alfred and my
Norman knights? or dost thou thyself covet the English crown; and is it
to a rival that I have opened my heart?"

"Nay," said Harold in the crowning effort of his new and fatal lesson in
simulation.  "Thou hast convinced me, Duke William: let it be as thou
sayest."

The Duke gave way to his joy by a loud exclamation, and then
recapitulated the articles of the engagement, to which Harold simply
bowed his head.  Amicably then the Duke embraced the Earl, and the two
returned towards the tent.

While the steeds were brought forth, William took the opportunity to draw
Odo apart; and, after a short whispered conference, the prelate hastened
to his barb, and spurred fast to Bayeux in advance of the party.  All
that day, and all that night, and all the next morn till noon, courtiers
and riders went abroad, north and south, east and west, to all the more
famous abbeys and churches in Normandy, and holy and awful was the spoil
with which they returned for the ceremony of the next day.



CHAPTER VII.

The stately mirth of the evening banquet seemed to Harold as the malign
revel of some demoniac orgy.  He thought he read in every face the
exultation over the sale of England.  Every light laugh in the proverbial
ease of the social Normans rang on his ear like the joy of a ghastly
Sabbat.  All his senses preternaturally sharpened to that magnetic
keenness in which we less hear and see than conceive and divine, the
lowest murmur William breathed in the ear of Odo boomed clear to his own;
the slightest interchange of glance between some dark-browed priest and
large-breasted warrior, flashed upon his vision.  The irritation of his
recent and neglected wound combined with his mental excitement to
quicken, yet to confuse, his faculties. Body and soul were fevered.  He
floated, as it were, between a delirium and a dream.

Late in the evening he was led into the chamber where the Duchess sat
alone with Adeliza and her second son William--a boy who had the red hair
and florid hues of the ancestral Dane, but was not without a certain bold
and strange kind of beauty, and who, even in childhood, all covered with
broidery and gems, betrayed the passion for that extravagant and
fantastic foppery for which William the Red King, to the scandal of
Church and pulpit, exchanged the decorous pomp of his father's
generation.  A formal presentation of Harold to the little maid was
followed by a brief ceremony of words, which conveyed what to the
scornful sense of the Earl seemed the mockery of betrothal between infant
and bearded man.  Glozing congratulations buzzed around him; then there
was a flash of lights on his dizzy eyes, he found himself moving through
a corridor between Odo and William.  He was in his room hung with arras
and strewed with rushes; before him in niches, various images of the
Virgin, the Archangel Michael, St. Stephen, St. Peter, St. John, St.
Valery; and from the bells in the monastic edifice hard by tolled the
third watch [201] of the night--the narrow casement was out of reach,
high in the massive wall, and the starlight was darkened by the great
church tower.  Harold longed for air.  All his earldom had he given at
that moment, to feel the cold blast of his native skies moaning round his
Saxon wolds.  He opened his door, and looked forth.  A lanthorn swung on
high from the groined roof of the corridor.  By the lanthorn stood a tall
sentry in arms, and its gleam fell red upon an iron grate that jealously
closed the egress.  The Earl closed the door, and sat down on his bed,
covering his face with his clenched hand.  The veins throbbed in every
pulse, his own touch seemed to him like fire.  The prophecies of Hilda on
the fatal night by the bautastein, which had decided him to reject the
prayer of Gurth, the fears of Edith, and the cautions of Edward, came
back to him, dark, haunting, and overmasteringly.  They rose between him
and his sober sense, whenever he sought to re-collect his thoughts, now
to madden him with the sense of his folly in belief, now to divert his
mind from the perilous present to the triumphant future they foretold;
and of all the varying chaunts of the Vala, ever two lines seemed to burn
into his memory, and to knell upon his ear, as if they contained the
counsel they ordained him to pursue:

    "GUILE BY GUILE OPPOSE, and never
     Crown and brow shall Force dissever!"

So there he sat, locked and rigid, not reclining, not disrobing, till in
that posture a haggard, troubled, fitful sleep came over him; nor did he
wake till the hour of prime [202], when ringing bells and tramping feet,
and the hum of prayer from the neighbouring chapel, roused him into
waking yet more troubled, and well-nigh as dreamy. But now Godrith and
Haco entered the room, and the former inquired with some surprise in his
tone, if he had arranged with the Duke to depart that day; "For," said
he, "the Duke's hors-thegn has just been with me, to say that the Duke
himself, and a stately retinue, are to accompany you this evening towards
Harfleur, where a ship will be in readiness for our transport; and I know
that the chamberlain (a courteous and pleasant man) is going round to my
fellow-thegns in your train, with gifts of hawks, and chains, and
broidered palls."

"It is so," said Haco, in answer to Harold's brightening and appealing
eye.

"Go then, at once, Godrith," exclaimed the Earl, bounding to his feet,
"have all in order to part at the first break of the trump.  Never, I
ween, did trump sound so cheerily as the blast that shall announce our
return to England.  Haste--haste!"

As Godrith, pleased in the Earl's pleasure, though himself already much
fascinated by the honours he had received and the splendor he had
witnessed, withdrew, Haco said, "Thou has taken my counsel, noble
kinsman?"

"Question me not, Haco!  Out of my memory, all that hath passed here!"

"Not yet," said Haco, with that gloomy and intense seriousness of voice
and aspect, which was so at variance with his years, and which impressed
all he said with an indescribable authority.  "Not yet; for even while
the chamberlain went his round with the parting gifts, I, standing in the
angle of the wall in the yard, heard the Duke's deep whisper to Roger
Bigod, who has the guard of the keape, 'Have the men all armed at noon in
the passage below the council-hall, to mount at the stamp of my foot: and
if then I give thee a prisoner--wonder not, but lodge him--' The Duke
paused; and Bigod said, 'Where, my liege?' And the Duke answered
fiercely, 'Where? why, where but in the Tour noir?--where but in the cell
in which Malvoisin rotted out his last hour?'  Not yet, then, let the
memory of Norman wile pass away; let the lip guard the freedom still."

All the bright native soul that before Haco spoke had dawned gradually
back on the Earl's fair face, now closed itself up, as the leaves of a
poisoned flower; and the pupil of the eye receding, left to the orb that
secret and strange expression which had baffled all readers of the heart
in the look of his impenetrable father.

"Guile by guile oppose!" he muttered vaguely; then started, clenched his
hand, and smiled.

In a few moments, more than the usual levee of Norman nobles thronged
into the room; and what with the wonted order of the morning, in the
repast, the church service of tierce, and a ceremonial visit to Matilda,
who confirmed the intelligence that all was in preparation for his
departure, and charged him with gifts of her own needlework to his sister
the Queen, and various messages of gracious nature, the time waxed late
into noon without his having yet seen either William or Odo.

He was still with Matilda, when the Lords Fitzosborne and Raoul de
Tancarville entered in full robes of state, and with countenances
unusually composed and grave, and prayed the Earl to accompany them into
the Duke's presence.

Harold obeyed in silence, not unprepared for covert danger, by the
formality of the counts, as by the warnings of Haco; but, indeed,
undivining the solemnity of the appointed snare.  On entering the lofty
hall, he beheld William seated in state; his sword of office in his hand,
his ducal robe on his imposing form, and with that peculiarly erect air
of the head which he assumed upon all ceremonial occasions [203].  Behind
him stood Odo of Bayeux, in aube and gallium; some score of the Duke's
greatest vassals; and at a little distance from the throne chair, was
what seemed a table; or vast chest, covered all over with cloth of gold.

Small time for wonder or self-collection did the Duke give the Saxon.

"Approach, Harold," said he, in the full tones of that voice, so
singularly effective in command; "approach, and without fear, as without
regret.  Before the members of this noble assembly--all witnesses of thy
faith, and all guarantees of mine--I summon thee to confirm by oath the
promises thou mad'st me yesterday; namely, to aid me to obtain the
kingdom of England on the death of King Edward, my cousin; to marry my
daughter Adeliza; and to send thy sister hither, that I may wed her, as
we agreed, to one of my worthiest and prowest counts.  Advance thou, Odo,
my brother, and repeat to the noble Earl the Norman form by which he will
take the oath."

Then Odo stood forth by that mysterious receptacle covered with the cloth
of gold, and said briefly, "Thou wilt swear, as far as is in thy power,
to fulfil thy agreement with William, Duke of the Normans, if thou live,
and God aid thee; and in witness of that oath thou wilt lay thy hand upon
the reliquaire," pointing to a small box that lay on the cloth of gold.

All this was so sudden--all flashed so rapidly upon the Earl, whose
natural intellect, however great, was, as we have often seen, more
deliberate than prompt--so thoroughly was the bold heart, which no siege
could have sapped, taken by surprise and guile--so paramount through all
the whirl and tumult of his mind, rose the thought of England irrevocably
lost, if he who alone could save her was in the Norman dungeons--so
darkly did all Haco's fears, and his own just suspicions, quell and
master him, that mechanically, dizzily, dreamily, he laid his hand on the
reliquaire, and repeated, with automaton lips:

"If I live, and if God aid me to it!"

Then all the assembly repeated solemnly:

"God aid him!"

And suddenly, at a sign from William, Odo and Raoul de Tancarville raised
the gold cloth, and the Duke's voice bade Harold look below.

As when man descends from the gilded sepulchre to the loathsome charnel,
so at the lifting of that cloth, all the dread ghastliness of Death was
revealed.  There, from abbey and from church, from cyst and from shrine,
had been collected all the relics of human nothingness in which
superstition adored the mementos of saints divine; there lay, pell mell
and huddled, skeleton and mummy--the dry dark skin, the white gleaming
bones of the dead, mockingly cased in gold, and decked with rubies;
there, grim fingers protruded through the hideous chaos, and pointed
towards the living man ensnared; there, the skull grinned scoff under the
holy mitre;--and suddenly rushed back, luminous and searing upon Harold's
memory, the dream long forgotten, or but dimly remembered in the
healthful business of life--the gibe and the wirble of the dead men's
bones.

"At that sight," say the Norman chronicles, "the Earl shuddered and
trembled."

"Awful, indeed, thine oath, and natural thine emotion," said the Duke;
"for in that cyst are all those relics which religion deems the holiest
in our land.  The dead have heard thine oath, and the saints even now
record it in the halls of heaven!  Cover again the holy bones!"



BOOK X.
THE SACRIFICE ON THE ALTAR.



CHAPTER I.

The good Bishop Alred, now raised to the See of York, had been summoned
from his cathedral seat by Edward, who had indeed undergone a severe
illness, during the absence of Harold; and that illness had been both
preceded and followed by mystical presentiments of the evil days that
were to fall on England after his death.  He had therefore sent for the
best and the holiest prelate in his realm, to advise and counsel with.

The bishop had returned to his lodging in London (which was in a
Benedictine Abbey, not far from the Aldgate) late one evening, from
visiting the King at his rural palace of Havering; and he was seated
alone in his cell, musing over an interview with Edward, which had
evidently much disturbed him, when the door was abruptly thrown open, and
pushing aside in haste the monk, who was about formally to announce him,
a man so travel-stained in garb, and of a mien so disordered, rushed in,
that Alred gazed at first as on a stranger, and not till the intruder
spoke did he recognise Harold the Earl.  Even then, so wild was the
Earl's eye, so dark his brow, and so livid his cheek, that it rather
seemed the ghost of the man than the man himself.  Closing the door on
the monk, the Earl stood a moment on the threshold, with a breast heaving
with emotions which he sought in vain to master; and, as if resigning the
effort, he sprang forward, clasped the prelate's knees, bowed his head on
his lap, and sobbed aloud.  The good bishop, who had known all the sons
of Godwin from their infancy, and to whom Harold was as dear as his own
child, folding his hands over the Earl's head, soothingly murmured a
benediction.

"No, no," cried the Earl, starting to his feet, and tossing the
dishevelled hair from his eyes, "bless me not yet!  Hear my tale first,
and then say what comfort, what refuge, thy Church can bestow!"

Hurriedly then the Earl poured forth the dark story, already known to the
reader,--the prison at Belrem, the detention at William's court, the
fears, the snares, the discourse by the riverside, the oath over the
relics.  This told, he continued, "I found myself in the open air, and
knew not, till the light of the sun smote me, what might have passed into
my soul.  I was, before, as a corpse which a witch raises from the dead,
endows with a spirit not its own--passive to her hand--life-like, not
living.  Then, then it was as if a demon had passed from my body,
laughing scorn at the foul things it had made the clay do.  O, father,
father! is there not absolution from this oath,--an oath I dare not keep?
rather perjure myself than betray my land!"

The prelate's face was as pale as Harold's, and it was some moments
before he could reply.

"The Church can loose and unloose--such is its delegated authority. But
speak on; what saidst thou at the last to William?"

"I know not, remember not--aught save these words.  'Now, then, give me
those for whom I placed myself in thy power; let me restore Haco to his
fatherland, and Wolnoth to his mother's kiss, and wend home my way.'
And, saints in heaven! what was the answer of this caitiff Norman, with
his glittering eye and venomed smile?  'Haco thou shalt have, for he is
an orphan and an uncle's love is not so hot as to burn from a distance;
but Wolnoth, thy mother's son, must stay with me as a hostage for thine
own faith.  Godwin's hostages are released; Harold's hostage I retain: it
is but a form, yet these forms are the bonds of princes.'

"I looked at him, and his eye quailed.  And I said, 'That is not in the
compact.'  And William answered, 'No, but it is the seal to it.' Then I
turned from the Duke and I called my brother to my side, and I said,
'Over the seas have I come for thee.  Mount thy steed and ride by my
side, for I will not leave the land without thee.'  And Wolnoth answered,
'Nay, Duke William tells me that he hath made treaties with thee, for
which I am still to be the hostage; and Normandy has grown my home, and I
love William as my lord.'  Hot words followed, and Wolnoth, chafed,
refused entreaty and command, and suffered me to see that his heart was
not with England!  O, mother, mother, how shall I meet thine eye!  So I
returned with Haco.  The moment I set foot on my native England, that
moment her form seemed to rise from the tall cliffs, her voice to speak
in the winds!  All the glamour by which I had been bound, forsook me; and
I sprang forward in scorn, above the fear of the dead men's bones.
Miserable overcraft of the snarer!  Had my simple word alone bound me, or
that word been ratified after slow and deliberate thought, by the
ordinary oaths that appeal to God, far stronger the bond upon my soul
than the mean surprise, the covert tricks, the insult and the mocking
fraud.  But as I rode on, the oath pursued me--pale spectres mounted
behind me on my steed, ghastly fingers pointed from the welkin; and then
suddenly, O my father--I who, sincere in my simple faith, had, as thou
knowest too well, never bowed submissive conscience to priest and
Church--then suddenly I felt the might of some power, surer guide than
that haughty conscience which had so in the hour of need betrayed me!
Then I recognised that supreme tribunal, that mediator between Heaven and
man, to which I might come with the dire secret of my soul, and say, as I
say now, on my bended knee, O father--father--bid me die, or absolve me
from my oath!"

Then Alred rose erect, and replied, "Did I need subterfuge, O son, I
would say, that William himself hath released thy bond, in detaining the
hostage against the spirit of the guilty compact; that in the very words
themselves of the oath, lies the release--'if God aid thee.' God aids no
child to parricide--and thou art England's child!  But all school
casuistry is here a meanness.  Plain is the law, that oaths extorted by
compulsion, through fraud and in fear, the Church hath the right to
loose: plainer still the law of God and of man, that an oath to commit
crime it is a deadlier sin to keep than to forfeit. Wherefore, not
absolving thee from the misdeed of a vow that, if trusting more to God's
providence and less to man's vain strength and dim wit, thou wouldst
never have uttered even for England's sake--leaving her to the
angels;--not, I say, absolving thee from that sin, but pausing yet to
decide what penance and atonement to fix to its committal, I do in the
name of the Power whose priest I am, forbid thee to fulfil the oath; I do
release and absolve thee from all obligation thereto.  And if in this I
exceed my authority as Romish priest, I do but accomplish my duties as
living man.  To these grey hairs I take the sponsorship.  Before this
holy cross, kneel, O my son, with me, and pray that a life of truth and
virtue may atone the madness of an hour."

So by the crucifix knelt the warrior and the priest.



CHAPTER II.

All other thought had given way to Harold's impetuous yearning to throw
himself upon the Church, to hear his doom from the purest and wisest of
its Saxon preachers.  Had the prelate deemed his vow irrefragable, he
would have died the Roman's death, rather than live the traitor's life;
and strange indeed was the revolution created in this man's character,
that he, "so self-dependent," he who had hitherto deemed himself his sole
judge below of cause and action, now felt the whole life of his life
committed to the word of a cloistered shaveling.  All other thought had
given way to that fiery impulse--home, mother, Edith, king, power,
policy, ambition!  Till the weight was from his soul, he was as an outlaw
in his native land.  But when the next sun rose, and that awful burthen
was lifted from his heart and his being--when his own calm sense,
returning, sanctioned the fiat of the priest,--when, though with deep
shame and rankling remorse at the memory of the vow, he yet felt
exonerated, not from the guilt of having made, but the deadlier guilt of
fulfilling it--all the objects of existence resumed their natural
interest, softened and chastened, but still vivid in the heart restored
to humanity.  But from that time, Harold's stern philosophy and stoic
ethics were shaken to the dust; re-created, as it were, by the breath of
religion, he adopted its tenets even after the fashion of his age.  The
secret of his shame, the error of his conscience, humbled him.  Those
unlettered monks whom he had so despised, how had he lost the right to
stand aloof from their control! how had his wisdom, and his strength, and
his courage, met unguarded the hour of temptation!

Yes, might the time come, when England could spare him from her side!
when he, like Sweyn the outlaw, could pass a pilgrim to the Holy
Sepulchre, and there, as the creed of the age taught, win full pardon for
the single lie of his truthful life, and regain the old peace of his
stainless conscience!

There are sometimes event and season in the life of man the hardest and
most rational, when he is driven perforce to faith the most implicit and
submissive; as the storm drives the wings of the petrel over a
measureless sea, till it falls tame, and rejoicing at refuge, on the
sails of some lonely ship.  Seasons when difficulties, against which
reason seems stricken into palsy, leave him bewildered in dismay--when
darkness, which experience cannot pierce, wraps the conscience, as sudden
night wraps the traveller in the desert--when error entangles his feet in
its inextricable web--when, still desirous of the right, he sees before
him but a choice of evil; and the Angel of the Past, with a flaming
sword, closes on him the gates of the Future. Then, Faith flashes on him,
with a light from the cloud.  Then, he clings to Prayer as a drowning
wretch to the plank.  Then, that solemn authority which clothes the
Priest, as the interpreter between the soul and the Divinity, seizes on
the heart that trembles with terror and joy; then, that mysterious
recognition of Atonement, of sacrifice, of purifying lustration (mystery
which lies hid in the core of all religions), smoothes the frown on the
Past, removes the flaming sword from the future.  The Orestes escapes
from the hounding Furies, and follows the oracle to the spot where the
cleansing dews shall descend on the expiated guilt.

He who hath never known in himself, nor marked in another, such strange
crisis in human fate, cannot judge of the strength and the weakness it
bestows.  But till he can so judge, the spiritual part of all history is
to him a blank scroll, a sealed volume.  He cannot comprehend what drove
the fierce Heathen, cowering and humbled, into the fold of the Church;
what peopled Egypt with eremites; what lined the roads of Europe and Asia
with pilgrim homicides; what, in the elder world, while Jove yet reigned
on Olympus, is couched in the dim traditions of the expiation of Apollo,
the joy-god, descending into Hades; or why the sinner went blithe and
light-hearted from the healing lustrations of Eleusis.  In all these
solemn riddles of the Jove world and the Christ's is involved the
imperious necessity that man hath of repentance and atonement: through
their clouds, as a rainbow, shines the covenant that reconciles the God
and the man.

Now Life with strong arms plucked the reviving Harold to itself. Already
the news of his return had spread through the city, and his chamber soon
swarmed with joyous welcomes and anxious friends.  But the first
congratulations over, each had tidings that claimed his instant
attention, to relate.  His absence had sufficed to loosen half the links
of that ill-woven empire.

All the North was in arms.  Northumbria had revolted as one man, from the
tyrannous cruelty of Tostig; the insurgents had marched upon York; Tostig
had fled in dismay, none as yet knew whither.  The sons of Algar had
sallied forth from their Mercian fortresses, and were now in the ranks of
the Northumbrians, who it was rumoured had selected Morcar (the elder) in
the place of Tostig.

Amidst these disasters, the King's health was fast decaying; his mind
seemed bewildered and distraught; dark ravings of evil portent that had
escaped from his lip in his mystic reveries and visions, had spread
abroad, bandied with all natural exaggerations, from lip to lip.  The
country was in one state of gloomy and vague apprehension.

But all would go well, now Harold the great Earl--Harold the stout, and
the wise, and the loved--had come back to his native land!

In feeling himself thus necessary to England,--all eyes, all hopes, all
hearts turned to him, and to him alone,--Harold shook the evil memories
from his soul, as a lion shakes the dews from his mane.  His intellect,
that seemed to have burned dim and through smoke in scenes unfamiliar to
its exercise, rose at once equal to the occasion.  His words reassured
the most despondent.  His orders were prompt and decisive.  While, to and
fro, went forth his bodes and his riders, he himself leaped on his horse,
and rode fast to Havering.

At length that sweet and lovely retreat broke on his sight, as a bower
through the bloom of a garden.  This was Edward's favourite abode: he had
built it himself for his private devotions, allured by its woody
solitudes and gloom of its copious verdure.  Here it was said, that once
that night, wandering through the silent glades, and musing on heaven,
the loud song of the nightingales had disturbed his devotions; with vexed
and impatient soul, he had prayed that the music might be stilled: and
since then, never more the nightingale was heard in the shades of
Havering!  Threading the woodland, melancholy yet glorious with the hues
of autumn, Harold reached the low and humble gate of the timber edifice,
all covered with creepers and young ivy; and in a few moments more he
stood in the presence of the King.

Edward raised himself with pain from the couch on which he was reclined
[204], beneath a canopy supported by columns and surmounted by carved
symbols of the bell towers of Jerusalem: and his languid face brightened
at the sight of Harold.  Behind the King stood a man with a Danish
battle-axe in his hand, the captain of the royal house-carles, who, on a
sign from the King, withdrew.

"Thou art come back, Harold," said Edward then, in a feeble voice; and
the Earl drawing near, was grieved and shocked at the alteration of his
face.  "Thou art come back, to aid this benumbed hand, from which the
earthly sceptre is about to fall.  Hush! for it is so, and I rejoice."
Then examining Harold's features, yet pale with recent emotions, and now
saddened by sympathy with the King, he resumed: "Well, man of this world,
that went forth confiding in thine own strength, and in the faith of men
of the world like thee,--well, were my warnings prophetic, or art thou
contented with thy mission?"

"Alas!" said Harold, mournfully.  "Thy wisdom was greater than mine, O
King; and dread the snares laid for me and our native land, under pretext
of a promise made by thee to Count William, that he should reign in
England, should he be your survivor."

Edward's face grew troubled and embarrassed.  "Such promise," he said,
falteringly, "when I knew not the laws of England, nor that a realm could
not pass like house and hyde by a man's single testament, might well
escape from my thoughts, never too bent upon earthly affairs. But I
marvel not that my cousin's mind is more tenacious and mundane. And
verily, in those vague words, and from thy visit, I see the Future dark
with fate and crimson with blood."

Then Edward's eyes grew locked and set, staring into space; and even that
reverie, though it awed him, relieved Harold of much disquietude, for he
rightly conjectured, that on waking from it Edward would press him no
more as to those details, and dilemmas of conscience, of which he felt
that the arch-worshipper of relics was no fitting judge.

When the King, with a heavy sigh, evinced return from the world of
vision, he stretched forth to Harold his wan, transparent hand, and said:

"Thou seest the ring on this finger; it comes to me from above, a
merciful token to prepare my soul for death.  Perchance thou mayest have
heard that once an aged pilgrim stopped me on my way from God's House,
and asked for alms--and I, having nought else on my person to bestow,
drew from my finger a ring, and gave it to him, and the old man went his
way, blessing me."

"I mind me well of thy gentle charity," said the Earl; "for the pilgrim
bruited it abroad as he passed, and much talk was there of it."

The King smiled faintly.  "Now this was years ago.  It so chanced this
year, that certain Englishers, on their way from the Holy Land, fell in
with two pilgrims--and these last questioned them much of me.  And one,
with face venerable and benign, drew forth a ring and said, 'When thou
reachest England, give thou this to the King's own hand, and say, by this
token, that on Twelfth-Day Eve he shall be with me.  For what he gave to
me, will I prepare recompense without bound; and already the saints deck
for the new comer the halls where the worm never gnaws and the moth never
frets.'  'And who,' asked my subjects amazed, 'who shall we say, speaketh
thus to us?'  And the pilgrim answered, 'He on whose breast leaned the
Son of God, and my name is John!' [205] Wherewith the apparition
vanished.  This is the ring I gave to the pilgrim; on the fourteenth
night from thy parting, miraculously returned to me.  Wherefore, Harold,
my time here is brief, and I rejoice that thy coming delivers me up from
the cares of state to the preparation of my soul for the joyous day."

Harold, suspecting under this incredible mission some wily device of the
Norman, who, by thus warning Edward (of whose precarious health he was
well aware), might induce his timorous conscience to take steps for the
completion of the old promise,--Harold, we say, thus suspecting, in vain
endeavoured to combat the King's presentiments, but Edward interrupted
him, with displeased firmness of look and tone:

"Come not thou, with thy human reasonings, between my soul and the
messenger divine; but rather nerve and prepare thyself for the dire
calamities that lie greeding in the days to come!  Be thine, things
temporal.  All the land is in rebellion.  Anlaf, whom thy coming
dismissed, hath just wearied me with sad tales of bloodshed and ravage.
Go and hear him;--go hear the bodes of thy brother Tostig, who wait
without in our hall;--go, take axe, and take shield, and the men of
earth's war, and do justice and right; and on thy return thou shalt see
with what rapture sublime a Christian King can soar aloft from his
throne!  Go!"

More moved, and more softened, than in the former day he had been with
Edward's sincere, if fanatical piety, Harold, turning aside to conceal
his face, said:

"Would, O royal Edward, that my heart, amidst worldly cares, were as pure
and serene as thine!  But, at least, what erring mortal may do to guard
this realm, and face the evils thou foreseest in the Far--that will I do;
and perchance, then, in my dying hour, God's pardon and peace may descend
on me!"  He spoke, and went.

The accounts he received from Anlaf (a veteran Anglo-Dane), were indeed
more alarming than he had yet heard.  Morcar, the bold son of Algar, was
already proclaimed, by the rebels, Earl of Northumbria; the shires of
Nottingham, Derby, and Lincoln, had poured forth their hardy Dane
populations on his behalf.  All Mercia was in arms under his brother
Edwin; and many of the Cymrian chiefs had already joined the ally of the
butchered Gryffyth.

Not a moment did the Earl lose in proclaiming the Herr-bann; sheaves of
arrows were splintered, and the fragments, as announcing the War-Fyrd,
were sent from thegn to thegn, and town to town.  Fresh messengers were
despatched to Gurth to collect the whole force of his own earldom, and
haste by quick marches to London; and, these preparations made, Harold
returned to the metropolis, and with a heavy heart sought his mother, as
his next care.

Githa was already prepared for his news; for Haco had of his own accord
gone to break the first shock of disappointment.  There was in this youth
a noiseless sagacity that seemed ever provident for Harold. With his
sombre, smileless cheek, and gloom of beauty, bowed as if beneath the
weight of some invisible doom, he had already become linked indissolubly
with the Earl's fate, as its angel,--but as its angel of darkness!

To Harold's intense relief, Githa stretched forth her hands as he
entered, and said, "Thou hast failed me, but against thy will! grieve
not; I am content!"

"Now our Lady be blessed, mother--"

"I have told her," said Haco, who was standing, with arms folded, by the
fire, the blaze of which reddened fitfully his hueless countenance with
its raven hair; "I have told thy mother that Wolnoth loves his captivity,
and enjoys the cage.  And the lady hath had comfort in my words."

"Not in thine only, son of Sweyn, but in those of fate; for before thy
coming I prayed against the long blind yearning of my heart, prayed that
Wolnoth might not cross the sea with his kinsmen."

"How!" exclaimed the Earl, astonished.

Githa took his arm, and led him to the farther end of the ample chamber,
as if out of the hearing of Haco, who turned his face towards the fire,
and gazed into the fierce blaze with musing, unwinking eyes.

"Couldst thou think, Harold, that in thy journey, that on the errand of
so great fear and hope, I could sit brooding in my chair, and count the
stitches on the tremulous hangings?  No; day by day have I sought the
lore of Hilda, and at night I have watched with her by the fount, and the
elm, and the tomb; and I know that thou hast gone through dire peril; the
prison, the war, and the snare; and I know also, that his Fylgia hath
saved the life of my Wolnoth; for had he returned to his native land, he
had returned but to a bloody grave!"

"Says Hilda this?" said the Earl, thoughtfully.

"So say the Vala, the rune, and the Scin-laeca! and such is the doom that
now darkens the brow of Haco!  Seest thou not that the hand of death is
in the hush of the smileless lip, and the glance of the unjoyous eye?"

"Nay, it is but the thought born to captive youth, and nurtured in
solitary dreams.  Thou hast seen Hilda?--and Edith, my mother?  Edith
is--"

"Well," said Githa, kindly, for she sympathised with that love which
Godwin would have condemned, "though she grieved deeply after thy
departure, and would sit for hours gazing into space, and moaning. But
even ere Hilda divined thy safe return, Edith knew it; I was
beside her at the time; she started up, and cried, 'Harold is in
England!'--'How?--Why thinkest thou so?' said I.  And Edith answered, 'I
feel it by the touch of the earth, by the breath of the air.'  This is
more than love, Harold.  I knew two twins who had the same instinct of
each other's comings and goings, and were present each to each even when
absent: Edith is twin to my soul.  Thou goest to her now, Harold: thou
wilt find there thy sister Thyra.  The child hath drooped of late, and I
besought Hilda to revive her, with herb and charm.  Thou wilt come back,
ere thou departest to aid Tostig, thy brother, and tell me how Hilda hath
prospered with my ailing child?"

"I will, my mother.  Be cheered!--Hilda is a skilful nurse.  And now
bless thee, that thou hast not reproached me that my mission failed to
fulfil my promise.  Welcome even our kinswoman's sayings, sith they
comfort thee for the loss of thy darling!"

Then Harold left the room, mounted his steed, and rode through the town
towards the bridge.  He was compelled to ride slowly through the streets,
for he was recognised; and cheapman and mechanic rushed from house and
from stall to hail the Man of the Land and the Time.

"All is safe now in England, for Harold is come back!"  They seemed
joyous as the children of the mariner, when, with wet garments, he
struggles to shore through the storm.  And kind and loving were Harold's
looks and brief words, as he rode with vailed bonnet through the swarming
streets.

At length he cleared the town and the bridge; and the yellowing boughs of
the orchards drooped over the road towards the Roman home, when, as he
spurred his steed, he heard behind him hoofs as in pursuit, looked back,
and beheld Haco.  He drew rein,--"What wantest thou, my nephew?"

"Thee!" answered Haco, briefly, as he gained his side.  "Thy
companionship."

"Thanks, Haco; but I pray thee to stay in my mother's house, for I would
fain ride alone."

"Spurn me not from thee, Harold!  This England is to me the land of the
stranger; in thy mother's house I feel but the more the orphan.
Henceforth I have devoted to thee my life!  And my life my dead and dread
father hath left to thee, as a doom or a blessing; wherefore cleave I to
thy side;--cleave we in life and in death to each other!"

An undefined and cheerless thrill shot through the Earl's heart as the
youth spoke thus; and the remembrance that Haco's counsel had first
induced him to abandon his natural hardy and gallant manhood, meet wile
by wile, and thus suddenly entangle him in his own meshes, had already
mingled an inexpressible bitterness with his pity and affection for his
brother's son.  But, struggling against that uneasy sentiment, as unjust
towards one to whose counsel--however sinister, and now repented--he
probably owed, at least, his safety and deliverance, he replied gently:

"I accept thy trust and thy love, Haco!  Ride with me, then; but pardon a
dull comrade, for when the soul communes with itself the lip is silent."

"True," said Haco, "and I am no babbler.  Three things are ever silent:
Thought, Destiny, and the Grave."

Each then, pursuing his own fancies, rode on fast, and side by side; the
long shadows of declining day struggling with a sky of unusual
brightness, and thrown from the dim forest trees and the distant
hillocks.  Alternately through shade and through light rode they on; the
bulls gazing on them from holt and glade, and the boom of the bittern
sounding in its peculiar mournfulness of toile as it rose from the dank
pools that glistened in the western sun.

It was always by the rear of the house, where stood the ruined temple, so
associated with the romance of his life, that Harold approached the home
of the Vala; and as now the hillock, with its melancholy diadem of
stones, came in view, Haco for the first time broke the silence.

"Again--as in a dream!" he said, abruptly.  "Hill, ruin, grave-mound--but
where the tall image of the mighty one?"

"Hast thou then seen this spot before?" asked the Earl.

"Yea, as an infant here was I led by my father Sweyn; here too, from thy
house yonder, dim seen through the fading leaves, on the eve before I
left this land for the Norman, here did I wander alone; and there, by
that altar, did the great Vala of the North chaunt her runes for my
future."

"Alas! thou too!" murmured Harold; and then he asked aloud, "What said
she?"

"That thy life and mine crossed each other in the skein; that I should
save thee from a great peril, and share with thee a greater."

"Ah, youth," answered Harold, bitterly, "these vain prophecies of human
wit guard the soul from no anger.  They mislead us by riddles which our
hot hearts interpret according to their own desires.  Keep thou fast to
youth's simple wisdom, and trust only to the pure spirit and the watchful
God."

He suppressed a groan as he spoke, and springing from his steed, which he
left loose, advanced up the hill.  When he had gained the height, he
halted, and made sign to Haco, who had also dismounted, to do the same.
Half way down the side of the slope which faced the ruined peristyle,
Haco beheld a maiden, still young, and of beauty surpassing all that the
court of Normandy boasted of female loveliness.  She was seated on the
sward;--while a girl younger, and scarcely indeed grown into womanhood,
reclined at her feet, and leaning her cheek upon her hand, seemed hushed
in listening attention.  In the face of the younger girl Haco recognised
Thyra, the last-born of Githa, though he had but once seen her
before--the day ere he left England for the Norman court--for the face of
the girl was but little changed, save that the eye was more mournful, and
the cheek was paler.

And Harold's betrothed was singing, in the still autumn air, to Harold's
sister.  The song chosen was on that subject the most popular with the
Saxon poets, the mystic life, death, and resurrection of the fabled
Phoenix, and this rhymeless song, in its old native flow, may yet find
some grace in the modern ear.

    THE LAY OF THE PHOENIX. [206]

    "Shineth far hence--so
       Sing the wise elders
     Far to the fire-east
       The fairest of lands.

     Daintily dight is that
       Dearest of joy fields;
     Breezes all balmy-filled
       Glide through its groves.

     There to the blest, ope
       The high doors of heaven,
     Sweetly sweep earthward
       Their wavelets of song.

     Frost robes the sward not,
       Rusheth no hail-steel;
     Wind-cloud ne'er wanders,
       Ne'er falleth the rain.

     Warding the woodholt,
       Girt with gay wonder,
     Sheen with the plumy shine,
       Phoenix abides.

     Lord of the Lleod, [207]
       Whose home is the air,
     Winters a thousand
       Abideth the bird.

     Hapless and heavy then
       Waxeth the hazy wing;
     Year-worn and old in the
       Whirl of the earth.

     Then the high holt-top,
       Mounting, the bird soars;
     There, where the winds sleep,
       He buildeth a nest;--

     Gums the most precious, and
       Balms of the sweetest,
     Spices and odours, he
       Weaves in the nest.

     There, in that sun-ark, lo,
       Waiteth he wistful;
     Summer comes smiling, lo,
       Rays smite the pile!

     Burden'd with eld-years, and
       Weary with slow time,
     Slow in his odour-nest
       Burneth the bird.

     Up from those ashes, then,
       Springeth a rare fruit;
     Deep in the rare fruit
       There coileth a worm.

     Weaving bliss-meshes
       Around and around it,
     Silent and blissful, the
       Worm worketh on.

     Lo, from the airy web,
       Blooming and brightsome,
     Young and exulting, the
       Phoenix breaks forth.

     Round him the birds troop,
       Singing and hailing;
     Wings of all glories
       Engarland the king.

     Hymning and hailing,
       Through forest and sun-air,
     Hymning and hailing,
       And speaking him 'King.'

     High flies the phoenix,
       Escaped from the worm-web
     He soars in the sunlight,
       He bathes in the dew.

     He visits his old haunts,
       The holt and the sun-hill;
     The founts of his youth, and
       The fields of his love.

     The stars in the welkin,
       The blooms on the earth,
     Are glad in his gladness,
       Are young in his youth.

     While round him the birds troop,
       the Hosts of the Himmel, [208]
     Blisses of music, and
       Glories of wings;

     Hymning and hailing,
       And filling the sun-air
     With music, and glory
       And praise of the King."

As the lay ceased, Thyra said:

"Ah, Edith, who would not brave the funeral pyre to live again like the
phoenix!"

"Sweet sister mine," answered Edith, "the singer doth mean to image out
in the phoenix the rising of our Lord, in whom we all live again."

And Thyra said, mournfully:

"But the phoenix sees once more the haunts of his youth--the things and
places dear to him in his life before.  Shall we do the same, O Edith?"

"It is the persons we love that make beautiful the haunts we have known,"
answered the betrothed.  "Those persons at least we shall behold again,
and whenever they are--there is heaven."

Harold could restrain himself no longer.  With one bound he was at
Edith's side, and with one wild cry of joy he clasped her to his heart.

"I knew that thou wouldst come to-night--I knew it, Harold," murmured the
betrothed.



CHAPTER III.

While, full of themselves, Harold and Edith wandered, hand in hand,
through the neighbouring glades--while into that breast which had
forestalled, at least, in this pure and sublime union, the wife's
privilege to soothe and console, the troubled man poured out the tale of
the sole trial from which he had passed with defeat and shame,--Haco drew
near to Thyra, and sate down by her side.  Each was strangely attracted
towards the other; there was something congenial in the gloom which they
shared in common; though in the girl the sadness was soft and resigned,
in the youth it was stern and solemn. They conversed in whispers, and
their talk was strange for companions so young; for, whether suggested by
Edith's song, or the neighbourhood of the Saxon grave-stone, which
gleamed on their eyes, grey and wan through the crommell, the theme they
selected was of death.  As if fascinated, as children often are, by the
terrors of the Dark King, they dwelt on those images with which the
northern fancy has associated the eternal rest, on--the shroud and the
worm, and the mouldering bones--on the gibbering ghost, and the
sorcerer's spell that could call the spectre from the grave.  They talked
of the pain of the parting soul, parting while earth was yet fair, youth
fresh, and joy not yet ripened from the blossom--of the wistful lingering
look which glazing eyes would give to the latest sunlight it should
behold on earth; and then he pictured the shivering and naked soul,
forced from the reluctant clay, wandering through cheerless space to the
intermediate tortures, which the Church taught that none were so pure as
not for a whole to undergo; and hearing, as it wandered, the knell of the
muffled bells and the burst of unavailing prayer.  At length Haco paused
abruptly and said:

"But thou, cousin, hast before thee love and sweet life, and these
discourses are not for thee."

Thyra shook her head mournfully:

"Not so, Haco; for when Hilda consulted the runes, while, last night, she
mingled the herbs for my pain, which rests ever hot and sharp here," and
the girl laid her hand on her breast, "I saw that her face grew dark and
overcast; and I felt, as I looked, that my doom was set. And when thou
didst come so noiselessly to my side, with thy sad, cold eyes, O Haco,
methought I saw the Messenger of Death.  But thou art strong, Haco, and
life will be long for thee; let us talk of life."

Haco stooped down and pressed his lips upon the girl's pale forehead.

"Kiss me too, Thyra."

The child kissed him, and they sate silent and close by each other, while
the sun set.

And as the stars rose, Harold and Edith joined them.  Harold's face was
serene in the starlight, for the pure soul of his betrothed had breathed
peace into his own; and, in his willing superstition, he felt as if, now
restored to his guardian angel, the dead men's bones had released their
unhallowed hold.

But suddenly Edith's hand trembled in his, and her form shuddered.--Her
eyes were fixed upon those of Haco.

"Forgive me, young kinsman, that I forget thee so long," said the Earl.
"This is my brother's son, Edith; thou hast not, that I remember, seen
him before?"

"Yes, yes;" said Edith, falteringly.

"When, and where?"

Edith's soul answered the question, "In a dream;" but her lips were
silent.

And Haco, rising, took her by the hand, while the Earl turned to his
sister--that sister whom he was pledged to send to the Norman court; and
Thyra said, plaintively:

"Take me in thine arms, Harold, and wrap thy mantle round me, for the air
is cold."

The Earl lifted the child to his breast, and gazed on her cheek long and
wistfully; then questioning her tenderly, he took her within the house;
and Edith followed with Haco.

"Is Hilda within?" asked the son of Sweyn.

"Nay, she hath been in the forest since noon," answered Edith with an
effort, for she could not recover her awe of his presence.

"Then," said Haco, halting at the threshold, "I will go across the
woodland to your house, Harold, and prepare your ceorls for your coming."

"I shall tarry here till Hilda returns," answered Harold, "and it may be
late in the night ere I reach home; but Sexwolf already hath my orders.
At sunrise we return to London, and thence we march on the insurgents."

"All shall be ready.  Farewell, noble Edith; and thou, Thyra my cousin,
one kiss more to our meeting again."  The child fondly held out her arms
to him, and as she kissed his cheek whispered:

"In the grave, Haco!"

The young man drew his mantle around him, and moved away.  But he did not
mount his steed, which still grazed by the road; while Harold's, more
familiar with the place, had found its way to the stall; nor did he take
his path through the glades to the house of his kinsman. Entering the
Druid temple, he stood musing by the Teuton tomb.  The night grew deeper
and deeper, the stars more luminous and the air more hushed, when a voice
close at his side, said, clear and abrupt:

"What does Youth the restless, by Death the still?"

It was the peculiarity of Haco, that nothing ever seemed to startle or
surprise him.  In that brooding boyhood, the solemn, quiet, and sad
experience all fore-armed, of age, had something in it terrible and
preternatural; so without lifting his eyes from the stone, he answered:

"How sayest thou, O Hilda, that the dead are still?"  Hilda placed her
hand on his shoulder, and stooped to look into his face.

"Thy rebuke is just, son of Sweyn.  In Time, and in the Universe, there
is no stillness!  Through all eternity the state impossible to the soul
is repose!--So again thou art in thy native land?"

"And for what end, Prophetess?  I remember, when but an infant, who till
then had enjoyed the common air and the daily sun, thou didst rob me
evermore of childhood and youth.  For thou didst say to my father, that
'dark was the woof of my fate, and that its most glorious hour should be
its last!'"

"But thou wert surely too childlike, (see thee now as thou wert then,
stretched on the grass, and playing with thy father's falcon!)--too
childlike to heed my words."

"Does the new ground reject the germs of the sower, or the young heart
the first lessons of wonder and awe?  Since then, Prophetess, Night hath
been my comrade, and Death my familiar.  Rememberest thou again the hour
when, stealing, a boy, from Harold's house in his absence--the night ere
I left my land--I stood on this mound by thy side?  Then did I tell thee
that the sole soft thought that relieved the bitterness of my soul, when
all the rest of my kinsfolk seemed to behold in me but the heir of Sweyn,
the outlaw and homicide, was the love that I bore to Harold; but that
that love itself was mournful and bodeful as the hwata [209] of distant
sorrow.  And thou didst take me, O Prophetess, to thy bosom, and thy cold
kiss touched my lips and my brow; and there, beside this altar and
grave-mound, by leaf and by water, by staff and by song, thou didst bid
me take comfort; for that as the mouse gnawed the toils of the lion, so
the exile obscure should deliver from peril the pride and the prince of
my House--that, from that hour with the skein of his fate should mine be
entwined; and his fate was that of kings and of kingdoms.  And then, when
the joy flushed my cheek, and methought youth came back in warmth to the
night of my soul--then, Hilda, I asked thee if my life would be spared
till I had redeemed the name of my father.  Thy seidstaff passed over the
leaves that, burning with fire-sparks, symbolled the life of the man, and
from the third leaf the flame leaped up and died; and again a voice from
thy breast, hollow, as if borne from a hill-top afar, made answer, 'At
thine entrance to manhood life bursts into blaze, and shrivels up into
ashes.'  So I knew that the doom of the infant still weighed unannealed
on the years of the man; and I come here to my native land as to glory
and the grave.  But," said the young man, with a wild enthusiasm, "still
with mine links the fate which is loftiest in England; and the rill and
the river shall rush in one to the Terrible Sea."

"I know not that," answered Hilda, pale, as if in awe of herself: "for
never yet hath the rune, or the fount or the tomb, revealed to me clear
and distinct the close of the great course of Harold; only know I through
his own stars his glory and greatness; and where glory is dim, and
greatness is menaced, I know it but from the stars of others, the rays of
whose influence blend with his own.  So long, at least, as the fair and
the pure one keeps watch in the still House of Life, the dark and the
troubled one cannot wholly prevail.  For Edith is given to Harold as the
Fylgia, that noiselessly blesses and saves: and thou--" Hilda checked
herself, and lowered her hood over her face, so that it suddenly became
invisible.

"And I?" asked Haco, moving near to her side.

"Away, son of Sweyn; thy feet trample the grave of the mighty dead!"

Then Hilda lingered no longer, but took her way towards the house. Haco's
eye followed her in silence.  The cattle, grazing in the great space of
the crumbling peristyle, looked up as she passed; the watch-dogs,
wandering through the star-lit columns, came snorting round their
mistress.  And when she had vanished within the house, Haco turned to his
steed:

"What matters," he murmured, "the answer which the Vala cannot or dare
not give?  To me is not destined the love of woman, nor the ambition of
life.  All I know of human affection binds me to Harold; all I know of
human ambition is to share in his fate.  This love is strong as hate, and
terrible as doom,--it is jealous, it admits no rival.  As the shell and
the sea-weed interlaced together, we are dashed on the rushing surge;
whither? oh, whither?"



CHAPTER IV.

"I tell thee, Hilda," said the Earl, impatiently, "I tell thee that I
renounce henceforth all faith save in Him whose ways are concealed from
our eyes.  Thy seid and thy galdra have not guarded me against peril, nor
armed me against sin.  Nay, perchance--but peace: I will no more tempt
the dark art, I will no more seek to disentangle the awful truth from the
juggling lie.  All so foretold me I will seek to forget,--hope from no
prophecy, fear from no warning.  Let the soul go to the future under the
shadow of God!"

"Pass on thy way as thou wilt, its goal is the same, whether seen or
unmarked.  Peradventure thou art wise," said the Vala, gloomily.

"For my country's sake, heaven be my witness, not my own," resumed the
Earl, "I have blotted my conscience and sullied my truth.  My country
alone can redeem me, by taking my life as a thing hallowed evermore to
her service.  Selfish ambition do I lay aside, selfish power shall tempt
me no more; lost is the charm that I beheld in a throne, and, save for
Edith--"

"No! not even for Edith," cried the betrothed, advancing, "not even for
Edith shalt thou listen to other voice than that of thy country and thy
soul."

The Earl turned round abruptly, and his eyes were moist.  "O Hilda," he
cried, "see henceforth my only Vala; let that noble heart alone interpret
to us the oracles of the future."

The next day Harold returned with Haco and a numerous train of his
house-carles to the city.  Their ride was as silent as that of the day
before; but on reaching Southwark, Harold turned away from the bridge
towards the left, gained the river-side, and dismounted at the house of
one of his lithsmen (a franklin, or freed ceorl).  Leaving there his
horse, he summoned a boat, and, with Haco, was rowed over towards the
fortified palace which then rose towards the west of London, jutting into
the Thames, and which seems to have formed the outwork of the old Roman
city.  The palace, of remotest antiquity, and blending all work and
architecture, Roman, Saxon, and Danish, had been repaired by Canute; and
from a high window in the upper story, where were the royal apartments,
the body of the traitor Edric Streone (the founder of the house of
Godwin) had been thrown into the river.

"Whither go we, Harold?" asked the son of Sweyn.

"We go to visit the young Atheling, the natural heir to the Saxon
throne," replied Harold in a firm voice.  "He lodges in the old palace of
our kings."

"They say in Normandy that the boy is imbecile."

"That is not true," returned Harold.  "I will present thee to
him,--judge."

Haco mused a moment and said:

"Methinks I divine thy purpose; is it not formed on the sudden, Harold?"

"It was the counsel of Edith," answered Harold, with evident emotion.
"And yet, if that counsel prevail, I may lose the power to soften the
Church and to call her mine."

"So thou wouldest sacrifice even Edith for thy country."

"Since I have sinned, methinks I could," said the proud man humbly.

The boat shot into a little creek, or rather canal, which then ran
inland, beside the black and rotting walls of the fort.  The two
Earl-born leapt ashore, passed under a Roman arch, entered a court the
interior of which was rudely filled up by early Saxon habitations of
rough timber work, already, since the time of Canute, falling into decay,
(as all things did which came under the care of Edward,) and mounting a
stair that ran along the outside of the house, gained a low narrow door,
which stood open.  In the passage within were one or two of the King's
house-carles who had been assigned to the young Atheling, with liveries
of blue and Danish axes, and some four or five German servitors, who had
attended his father from the Emperor's court.  One of these last ushered
the noble Saxons into a low, forlorn ante-hall; and there, to Harold's
surprise they found Alred the Archbishop of York, and three thegns of
high rank, and of lineage ancient and purely Saxon.

Alred approached Harold with a faint smile on his benign face:

"Methinks, and may I think aright!--thou comest hither with the same
purpose as myself, and you noble thegns."

"And that purpose?"

"Is to see and to judge calmly, if, despite his years, we may find in the
descendant of the Ironsides such a prince as we may commend to our
decaying King as his heir, and to the Witan as a chief fit to defend the
land."

"Thou speakest the cause of my own coming.  With your ears will I hear,
with your eyes will I see; as ye judge, will judge I," said Harold,
drawing the prelate towards the thegns, so that they might hear his
answer.

The chiefs, who belonged to a party that had often opposed Godwin's
House, had exchanged looks of fear and trouble when Harold entered; but
at his words their frank faces showed equal surprise and pleasure.

Harold presented to them his nephew, with whose grave dignity of bearing
beyond his years they were favourably impressed, though the good bishop
sighed when he saw in his face the sombre beauty of the guilty sire.  The
group then conversed anxiously on the declining health of the King, the
disturbed state of the realm, and the expediency, if possible, of uniting
all suffrages in favour of the fittest successor.  And in Harold's voice
and manner, as in Harold's heart, there was nought that seemed conscious
of his own mighty stake and just hopes in that election.  But as time
wore, the faces of the thegns grew overcast; proud men and great satraps
[210] were they, and they liked it ill that the boy-prince kept them so
long in the dismal ante-room.

At length the German officer, who had gone to announce their coming,
returned; and in words, intelligible indeed from the affinity between
Saxon and German, but still disagreeably foreign to English ears,
requested them to follow him into the presence of the Atheling.

In a room yet retaining the rude splendour with which it had been
invested by Canute, a handsome boy, about the age of thirteen or
fourteen, but seeming much younger, was engaged in the construction of a
stuffed bird, a lure for a young hawk that stood blindfold on its perch.
The employment made so habitual a part of the serious education of youth,
that the thegns smoothed their brows at the sight, and deemed the boy
worthily occupied.  At another end of the room, a grave Norman priest was
seated at a table on which were books and writing implements; he was the
tutor commissioned by Edward to teach Norman tongue and saintly lore to
the Atheling.  A profusion of toys strewed the floor, and some children
of Edgar's own age were playing with them.  His little sister Margaret
[211] was seated seriously, apart from all the other children, and
employed in needlework.

When Alred approached the Atheling, with a blending of reverent obeisance
and paternal cordiality, the boy carelessly cried, in a barbarous jargon,
half German, half Norman-French:

"There, come not too near, you scare my hawk.  What are you doing? You
trample my toys, which the good Norman bishop William sent me as a gift
from the Duke.  Art thou blind, man?"

"My son," said the prelate kindly, "these are the things of
childhood--childhood ends sooner with princes than with common men.
Leave thy lure and thy toys, and welcome these noble thegns, and address
them, so please you, in our own Saxon tongue."

"Saxon tongue!--language of villeins! not I.  Little do I know of it,
save to scold a ceorl or a nurse.  King Edward did not tell me to learn
Saxon, but Norman! and Godfroi yonder says, that if I know Norman well,
Duke William will make me his knight.  But I don't desire to learn
anything more to-day."  And the child turned peevishly from thegn and
prelate.

The three Saxon lords interchanged looks of profound displeasure and
proud disgust. But Harold, with an effort over himself, approached, and
said winningly:

"Edgar the Atheling, thou art not so young but thou knowest already that
the great live for others.  Wilt thou not be proud to live for this fair
country, and these noble men, and to speak the language of Alfred the
Great?"

"Alfred the Great! they always weary me with Alfred the Great," said the
boy, pouting.  "Alfred the Great, he is the plague of my life! if I am
Atheling, men are to live for me, not I for them; and if you tease me any
more, I will run away to Duke William in Rouen; Godfroi says I shall
never be teased there!"

So saying, already tired of hawk and lure, the child threw himself on the
floor with the other children, and snatched the toys from their hands.

The serious Margaret then rose quietly, and went to her brother, and
said, in good Saxon:

"Fie! if you behave thus, I shall call you NIDDERING!"  At the threat of
that word, the vilest in the language--that word which the lowest ceorl
would forfeit life rather than endure--a threat applied to the Atheling
of England, the descendant of Saxon heroes--the three thegns drew close,
and watched the boy, hoping to see that he would start to his feet with
wrath and in shame.

"Call me what you will, silly sister," said the child, indifferently, "I
am not so Saxon as to care for your ceorlish Saxon names."

"Enow," cried the proudest and greatest of the thegns, his very moustache
curling with ire.  "He who can be called niddering shall never be crowned
king!"

"I don't want to be crowned king, rude man, with your laidly moustache: I
want to be made knight, and have banderol and baldric.--Go away!"

"We go, son," said Alred, mournfully.

And with slow and tottering step he moved to the door; there he halted,
turned back,--and the child was pointing at him in mimicry, while
Godfroi, the Norman tutor, smiled as in pleasure.  The prelate shook his
head, and the group gained again the ante-hall.

"Fit leader of bearded men! fit king for the Saxon land!" cried a thegn.
"No more of your Atheling, Alred my father!"

"No more of him, indeed!" said the prelate, mournfully.  "It is but the
fault of his nurture and rearing,--a neglected childhood, a Norman tutor,
German hirelings.  We may remould yet the pliant clay," said Harold.

"Nay," returned Alred, "no leisure for such hopes, no time to undo what
is done by circumstance, and, I fear, by nature.  Ere the year is out the
throne will stand empty in our halls."

"Who then," said Haco, abruptly, "who then,--(pardon the ignorance of
youth wasted in captivity abroad!) who then, failing the Atheling, will
save this realm from the Norman Duke, who, I know well, counts on it as
the reaper on the harvest ripening to his sickle?"

"Alas, who then?" murmured Alred.

"Who then?" cried the three thegns, with one voice, "why the worthiest,
the wisest, the bravest!  Stand forth, Harold the Earl, Thou art the
man!"  And without awaiting his answer, they strode from the hall.



CHAPTER V.

Around Northampton lay the forces of Morcar, the choice of the Anglo-Dane
men of Northumbria.  Suddenly there was a shout as to arms from the
encampment; and Morcar, the young Earl, clad in his link mail, save his
helmet, came forth, and cried:

"My men are fools to look that way for a foe; yonder lies Mercia, behind
it the hills of Wales.  The troops that come hitherward are those which
Edwin my brother brings to our aid."

Morcar's words were carried into the host by his captains and warbodes,
and the shout changed from alarm into joy.  As the cloud of dust through
which gleamed the spears of the coming force rolled away, and lay lagging
behind the march of the host, there rode forth from the van two riders.
Fast and far from the rest they rode, and behind them, fast as they
could, spurred two others, who bore on high, one the pennon of Mercia,
one the red lion of North Wales.  Right to the embankment and palisade
which begirt Mortar's camp rode the riders; and the head of the foremost
was bare, and the guards knew the face of Edwin the Comely, Mortar's
brother.  Morcar stepped down from the mound on which he stood, and the
brothers embraced amidst the halloos of the forces.

"And welcome, I pray thee," said Morcar, "our kinsman Caradoc, son of
Gryffyth [212] the bold."

So Morcar reached his hand to Caradoc, stepson to his sister Aldyth, and
kissed him on the brow, as was the wont of our fathers.  The young and
crownless prince was scarce out of boyhood, but already his name was sung
by the bards, and circled in the halls of Gwynedd with the Hirlas horn;
for he had harried the Saxon borders, and given to fire and sword even
the fortress of Harold himself.

But while these three interchanged salutations, and ere yet the mixed
Mercians and Welch had gained the encampment, from a curve in the
opposite road, towards Towcester and Dunstable, broke the flash of mail
like a river of light, trumpets and fifes were heard in the distance; and
all in Morcar's host stood hushed but stern, gazing anxious and afar, as
the coming armament swept on.  And from the midst were seen the Martlets
and Cross of England's king, and the Tiger heads of Harold; banners
which, seen together, had planted victory on every tower, on every field,
towards which they had rushed on the winds.

Retiring, then, to the central mound, the chiefs of the insurgent force
held their brief council.

The two young Earls, whatever their ancestral renown, being yet new
themselves to fame and to power, were submissive to the Anglo-Dane
chiefs, by whom Morcar had been elected.  And these, on recognising the
standard of Harold, were unanimous in advice to send a peaceful
deputation, setting forth their wrongs under Tostig, and the justice of
their cause.  "For the Earl," said Gamel Beorn (the head and front of
that revolution,)  "is a just man, and one who would shed his own blood
rather than that of any other freeborn dweller in England; and he will do
us right."

"What, against his own brother?" cried Edwin.

"Against his own brother, if we convince but his reason," returned the
Anglo-Dane.

And the other chiefs nodded assent.  Caradoc's fierce eyes flashed fire;
but he played with his torque, and spoke not.

Meanwhile, the vanguard of the King's force had defiled under the very
walls of Northampton, between the town and the insurgents; and some of
the light-armed scouts who went forth from Morcar's camp to gaze on the
procession, with that singular fearlessness which characterised, at that
period, the rival parties in civil war, returned to say that they had
seen Harold himself in the foremost line, and that he was not in mail.

This circumstance the insurgent thegns received as a good omen; and,
having already agreed on the deputation, about a score of the principal
thegns of the north went sedately towards the hostile lines.

By the side of Harold,--armed in mail, with his face concealed by the
strange Sicilian nose-piece used then by most of the Northern
nations,--had ridden Tostig, who had joined the Earl on his march, with a
scanty band of some fifty or sixty of his Danish house-carles. All the
men throughout broad England that he could command or bribe to his cause,
were those fifty or sixty hireling Danes.  And it seemed that already
there was dispute between the brothers, for Harold's face was flushed,
and his voice stern, as he said, "Rate me as thou wilt, brother, but I
cannot advance at once to the destruction of my fellow Englishmen without
summons and attempt at treaty,--as has ever been the custom of our
ancient heroes and our own House."

"By all the fiends of the North?" exclaimed Tostig, "it is foul shame to
talk of treaty and summons to robbers and rebels.  For what art thou here
but for chastisement and revenge?"

"For justice and right, Tostig."

"Ha! thou comest not, then, to aid thy brother?"

"Yes, if justice and right are, as I trust, with him."

Before Tostig could reply, a line was suddenly cleared through the armed
men, and, with bare heads, and a monk lifting the rood on high, amidst
the procession advanced the Northumbrian Danes.

"By the red sword of St. Olave!" cried Tostig, "yonder come the traitors,
Gamel Beorn and Gloneion!  You will not hear them?  If so, I will not
stay to listen.  I have but my axe for my answer to such knaves."

"Brother, brother, those men are the most valiant and famous chiefs in
thine earldom.  Go, Tostig, thou art not now in the mood to hear reason.
Retire into the city; summon its gates to open to the King's flag.  I
will hear the men."

"Beware how thou judge, save in thy brother's favour!" growled the fierce
warrior; and, tossing his arm on high with a contemptuous gesture, he
spurred away towards the gates.

Then Harold, dismounting, stood on the ground, under the standard of his
King, and round him came several of the Saxon chiefs, who had kept aloof
during the conference with Tostig.

The Northumbrians approached, and saluted the Earl with grave courtesy.

Then Gamel Beorn began.  But much as Harold had feared and foreboded as
to the causes of complaint which Tostig had given to the Northumbrians,
all fear, all foreboding, fell short of the horrors now deliberately
unfolded; not only extortion of tribute the most rapacious and illegal,
but murder the fiercest and most foul.  Thegns of high birth, without
offence or suspicion, but who had either excited Tostig's jealousy, or
resisted his exactions, had been snared under peaceful pretexts into his
castle [213], and butchered in cold blood by his house-carles.  The
cruelties of the old heathen Danes seemed revived in the bloody and
barbarous tale.

"And now," said the thegn, in conclusion, "canst thou condemn us that we
rose?--no partial rising;--rose all Northumbria!  At first but two
hundred thegns; strong in our course, we swelled into the might of a
people.  Our wrongs found sympathy beyond our province, for liberty
spreads over human hearts as fire over a heath.  Wherever we march,
friends gather round us.  Thou warrest not on a handful of rebels,--half
England is with us!"

"And ye,--thegns," answered Harold, "ye have ceased to war against
Tostig, your Earl.  Ye war now against the King and the Law.  Come with
your complaints to your Prince and your Witan, and, if they are just, ye
are stronger than in yonder palisades and streets of steel."

"And so," said Gamel Beorn, with marked emphasis, "now thou art in
England, O noble Earl,--so are we willing to come.  But when thou wert
absent from the land, justice seemed to abandon it to force and the
battle-axe."

"I would thank you for your trust," answered Harold, deeply moved. "But
justice in England rests not on the presence and life of a single man.
And your speech I must not accept as a grace, for it wrongs both my King
and his Council.  These charges ye have made, but ye have not proved
them.  Armed men are not proofs; and granting that hot blood and mortal
infirmity of judgment have caused Tostig to err against you and the
right, think still of his qualities to reign over men whose lands, and
whose rivers, lie ever exposed to the dread Northern sea-kings.  Where
will ye find a chief with arm as strong, and heart as dauntless?  By his
mother's side he is allied to your own lineage. And for the rest, if ye
receive him back to his earldom, not only do I, Harold in whom you
profess to trust, pledge full oblivion of the past, but I will undertake,
in his name, that he shall rule you well for the future, according to the
laws of King Canute."

"That will we not hear," cried the thegns, with one voice; while the
tones of Gamel Beorn, rough with the rattling Danish burr, rose above
all, "for we were born free.  A proud and bad chief is by us not to be
endured; we have learned from our ancestors to live free or die!"

A murmur, not of condemnation, at these words, was heard amongst the
Saxon chiefs round Harold: and beloved and revered as he was, he felt
that, had he the heart, he had scarce the power, to have coerced those
warriors to march at once on their countrymen in such a cause.  But
foreseeing great evil in the surrender of his brother's interests,
whether by lowering the King's dignity to the demands of armed force, or
sending abroad in all his fierce passions a man so highly connected with
Norman and Dane, so vindictive and so grasping, as Tostig, the Earl
shunned further parley at that time and place.  He appointed a meeting in
the town with the chiefs; and requested them, meanwhile, to reconsider
their demands, and at least shape them so as that they could be
transmitted to the King, who was then on his way to Oxford.

It is in vain to describe the rage of Tostig, when his brother gravely
repeated to him the accusations against him, and asked for his
justification.  Justification he could give not.  His idea of law was but
force, and by force alone he demanded now to be defended.  Harold, then,
wishing not alone to be judge in his brother's cause, referred further
discussion to the chiefs of the various towns and shires, whose troops
had swelled the War-Fyrd; and to them he bade Tostig plead his cause.

Vain as a woman, while fierce as a tiger, Tostig assented, and in that
assembly he rose, his gonna all blazing with crimson and gold, his hair
all curled and perfumed as for a banquet; and such, in a half-barbarous
day, the effect of person, especially when backed by warlike renown, that
the Proceres were half disposed to forget, in admiration of the earl's
surpassing beauty of form, the dark tales of his hideous guilt.  But his
passions hurrying him away ere he had gained the middle of his discourse,
so did his own relation condemn himself, so clear became his own
tyrannous misdeeds, that the Englishmen murmured aloud their disgust, and
their impatience would not suffer him to close.

"Enough," cried Vebba, the blunt thegn from Saxon Kent; "it is plain that
neither King nor Witan can replace thee in thine earldom.  Tell us not
farther of these atrocities; or by're Lady, if the Northumbrians had
chased thee not, we would."

"Take treasure and ship, and go to Baldwin in Flanders," said Thorold, a
great Anglo-Dane from Lincolnshire, "for even Harold's name can scarce
save thee from outlawry."

Tostig glared round on the assembly, and met but one common expression in
the face of all.

"These are thy henchmen, Harold!" he said through his gnashing teeth,
without vouchsafing farther word, strode from the council-hall.

That evening he left the town and hurried to tell to Edward the tale that
had so miscarried with the chiefs.  The next day, the Northumbrian
delegates were heard; and they made the customary proposition in those
cases of civil differences, to refer all matters to the King and the
Witan; each party remaining under arms meanwhile.

This was finally acceded to.  Harold repaired to Oxford, where the King
(persuaded to the journey by Alred, foreseeing what would come to pass)
had just arrived.



CHAPTER VI.

The Witan was summoned in haste.  Thither came the young earls Morcar and
Edwin, but Caradoc, chafing at the thought of peace, retired into Wales
with his wild band.

Now, all the great chiefs, spiritual and temporal, assembled in Oxford
for the decree of that Witan on which depended the peace of England. The
imminence of the time made the concourse of members entitled to vote in
the assembly even larger than that which had met for the inlawry of
Godwin.  There was but one thought uppermost in the minds of men, to
which the adjustment of an earldom, however mighty, was comparatively
insignificant--viz., the succession of the kingdom. That thought turned
instinctively and irresistibly to Harold.

The evident and rapid decay of the King; the utter failure of all male
heir in the House of Cerdic, save only the boy Edgar; whose character
(which throughout life remained puerile and frivolous) made the minority
which excluded him from the throne seem cause rather for rejoicing than
grief: and whose rights, even by birth, were not acknowledged by the
general tenor of the Saxon laws, which did not recognize as heir to the
crown the son of a father who had not himself been crowned
[214];--forebodings of coming evil and danger, originating in Edward's
perturbed visions; revivals of obscure and till then forgotten
prophecies, ancient as the days of Merlin; rumours, industriously
fomented into certainty by Haco, whose whole soul seemed devoted to
Harold's cause, of the intended claim of the Norman Count to the
throne;--all concurred to make the election of a man matured in camp and
council, doubly necessary to the safety of the realm.

Warm favourers, naturally, of Harold, were the genuine Saxon population,
and a large part of the Anglo-Danish--all the thegns in his vast earldom
of Wessex, reaching to the southern and western coasts, from Sandwich and
the mouth of the Thames to the Land's End in Cornwall; and including the
free men of Kent, whose inhabitants even from the days of Caesar had been
considered in advance of the rest of the British population, and from the
days of Hengist had exercised an influence that nothing save the warlike
might of the Anglo-Danes counterbalanced.  With Harold, too, were many of
the thegns from his earlier earldom of East Anglia, comprising the county
of Essex, great part of Hertfordshire, and so reaching into Cambridge,
Huntingdon, Norfolk, and Ely.  With him, were all the wealth,
intelligence, and power of London, and most of the trading towns; with
him all the veterans of the armies he had led; with him too, generally
throughout the empire, was the force, less distinctly demarked, of public
and national feeling.

Even the priests, save those immediately about the court, forgot, in the
exigency of the time, their ancient and deep-rooted dislike to Godwin's
House; they remembered, at least, that Harold had never, in foray or
feud, plundered a single convent; or in peace, and through plot,
appropriated to himself a single hide of Church land; and that was more
than could have been said of any other earl of the age--even of Leofric
the Holy.  They caught, as a Church must do, when so intimately, even in
its illiterate errors, allied with the people as the old Saxon Church
was, the popular enthusiasm.  Abbot combined with thegn in zeal for Earl
Harold.

The only party that stood aloof was the one that espoused the claims of
the young sons of Algar.  But this party was indeed most formidable; it
united all the old friends of the virtuous Leofric, of the famous
Siward; it had a numerous party even in East Anglia (in which earldom
Algar had succeeded Harold); it comprised nearly all the thegns in Mercia
(the heart of the country) and the population of Northumbria; and it
involved in its wide range the terrible Welch on the one hand, and the
Scottish domain of the sub-king Malcolm, himself a Cumbrian, on the
other, despite Malcolm's personal predilections for Tostig, to whom he
was strongly attached.  But then the chiefs of this party, while at
present they stood aloof, were all, with the exception perhaps of the
young earls themselves, disposed, on the slightest encouragement, to
blend their suffrage with the friends of Harold; and his praise was as
loud on their lips as on those of the Saxons from Kent, or the burghers
from London.  All factions, in short, were willing, in this momentous
crisis, to lay aside old dissensions; it depended upon the conciliation
of the Northumbrians, upon a fusion between the friends of Harold and the
supporters of the young sons of Algar, to form such a concurrence of
interests as must inevitably bear Harold to the throne of the empire.

Meanwhile, the Earl himself wisely and patriotically deemed it right to
remain neuter in the approaching decision between Tostig and the young
earls.  He could not be so unjust and so mad as to urge to the utmost
(and risk in the urging) his party influence on the side of oppression
and injustice, solely for the sake of his brother; nor, on the other, was
it decorous or natural to take part himself against Tostig; nor could he,
as a statesman, contemplate without anxiety and alarm the transfer of so
large a portion of the realm to the vice-kingship of the sons of his old
foe--rivals to his power, at the very time when, even for the sake of
England alone, that power should be the most solid and compact.

But the final greatness of a fortunate man is rarely made by any violent
effort of his own.  He has sown the seeds in the time foregone, and the
ripe time brings up the harvest.  His fate seems taken out of his own
control: greatness seems thrust upon him.  He has made himself, as it
were, a want to the nation, a thing necessary to it; he has identified
himself with his age, and in the wreath or the crown on his brow, the age
itself seems to put forth its flower.

Tostig, lodging apart from Harold in a fort near the gate of Oxford, took
slight pains to conciliate foes or make friends; trusting rather to his
representations to Edward, (who was wroth with the rebellious House of
Algar,) of the danger of compromising the royal dignity by concessions to
armed insurgents.

It was but three days before that for which the Witan was summoned; most
of its members had already assembled in the city; and Harold, from the
window of the monastery in which he lodged, was gazing thoughtfully into
the streets below, where, with the gay dresses of the thegns and cnehts,
blended the grave robes of ecclesiastic and youthful scholar;--for to
that illustrious university (pillaged the persecuted by the sons of
Canute), Edward had, to his honour, restored the schools,--when Haco
entered, and announced to him that a numerous body of thegns and
prelates, headed by Alred, Archbishop of York, craved an audience.

"Knowest thou the cause, Haco?"

The youth's cheek was yet more pale than usual, as he answered slowly:

"Hilda's prophecies are ripening into truths."

The Earl started, and his old ambition reviving, flushed on his brow, and
sparkled from his eye--he checked the joyous emotion, and bade Haco
briefly admit the visitors.

They came in, two by two,--a body so numerous that they filled the ample
chamber; and Harold, as he greeted each, beheld the most powerful lords
of the land--the highest dignitaries of the Church--and, oft and
frequent, came old foe by the side or trusty friend. They all paused at
the foot of the narrow dais on which Harold stood, and Alred repelled by
a gesture his invitation to the foremost to mount the platform.

Then Alred began an harangue, simple and earnest.  He described briefly
the condition of the country; touched with grief and with feeling on the
health of the King, and the failure of Cerdic's line. He stated honestly
his own strong wish, if possible, to have concentrated the popular
suffrages on the young Atheling; and under the emergence of the case, to
have waived the objection to his immature years.  But as distinctly and
emphatically he stated, that that hope and intent he had now formally
abandoned, and that there was but one sentiment on the subject with all
the chiefs and dignitaries of the realm.

"Wherefore," continued he, "after anxious consultations with each other,
those whom you see around have come to you: yea, to you, Earl Harold, we
offer our hands and hearts to do our best to prepare for you the throne
on the demise of Edward, and to seat you thereon as firmly as ever sate
King of England and son of Cerdic;--knowing that in you, and in you
alone, we find the man who reigns already in the English heart; to whose
strong arm we can trust the defence of our land; to whose just thoughts,
our laws.--As I speak, so think we all!"

With downcast eyes, Harold heard; and but by a slight heaving of his
breast under his crimson robe, could his emotion be seen.  But as soon as
the approving murmur that succeeded the prelate's speech, had closed, he
lifted his head, and answered:

"Holy father, and you, Right Worthy my fellow-thegns, if ye could read my
heart at this moment, believe that you would not find there the vain joy
of aspiring man, when the greatest of earthly prizes is placed within his
reach.  There, you would see, with deep and wordless gratitude for your
trust and your love, grave and solemn solicitude, earnest desire to
divest my decision of all mean thought of self, and judge only whether
indeed, as king or as subject, I can best guard the weal of England.
Pardon me, then, if I answer you not as ambition alone would answer;
neither deem me insensible to the glorious lot of presiding, under
heaven, and by the light of our laws, over the destinies of the English
realm,--if I pause to weigh well the responsibilities incurred, and the
obstacles to be surmounted.  There is that on my mind that I would fain
unbosom, not of a nature to discuss in an assembly so numerous, but which
I would rather submit to a chosen few whom you yourselves may select to
hear me, in whose cool wisdom, apart from personal love to me, ye may
best confide;--your most veteran thegns, your most honoured prelates: To
them will I speak, to them make clean my bosom; and to their answer,
their counsels, will I in all things defer: whether with loyal heart to
serve another, whom, hearing me, they may decide to choose; or to fit my
soul to bear, not unworthily, the weight of a kingly crown."

Alred lifted his mild eyes to Harold, and there were both pity and
approval in his gaze, for he divined the Earl.

"Thou hast chosen the right course, my son; and we will retire at once,
and elect those with whom thou mayest freely confer, and by whose
judgment thou mayest righteously abide."

The prelate turned, and with him went the conclave.  Left alone with
Haco, the last said, abruptly:

"Thou wilt not be so indiscreet, O Harold, as to confess thy compelled
oath to the fraudful Norman?"

"That is my design," replied Harold, coldly.

The son of Sweyn began to remonstrate, but the Earl cut him short.

"If the Norman say that he has been deceived in Harold, never so shall
say the men of England.  Leave me.  I know not why, Haco, but in thy
presence, at times, there is a glamour as strong as in the spells of
Hilda.  Go, dear boy; the fault is not in thee, but in the superstitious
infirmities of a man who hath once lowered, or, it may be, too highly
strained, his reason to the things of a haggard fancy. Go! and send to me
my brother Gurth.  I would have him alone of my House present at this
solemn crisis of its fate."

Haco bowed his head, and went.

In a few moments more, Gurth came in.  To this pure and spotless spirit
Harold had already related the events of his unhappy visit to the Norman;
and he felt, as the young chief pressed his hand, and looked on him with
his clear and loving eyes, as if Honour made palpable stood by his side.

Six of the ecclesiastics, most eminent for Church learning,--small as was
that which they could boast, compared with the scholars of Normandy and
the Papal States, but at least more intelligent and more free from mere
formal monasticism than most of their Saxon contemporaries,--and six of
the chiefs most renowned for experience in war or council, selected under
the sagacious promptings of Alred, accompanied that prelate to the
presence of the Earl.

"Close, thou! close! close! Gurth," whispered Harold "for this is a
confession against man's pride, and sorely doth it shame;--so that I
would have thy bold sinless heart beating near to mine."

Then, leaning his arm upon his brother's shoulder, and in a voice, the
first tones of which, as betraying earnest emotion, irresistibly chained
and affected his noble audience, Harold began his tale.

Various were the emotions, though all more akin to terror than
repugnance, with which the listeners heard the Earl's plain and candid
recital.

Among the lay-chiefs the impression made by the compelled oath was
comparatively slight: for it was the worst vice of the Saxon laws, to
entangle all charges, from the smallest to the greatest, in a reckless
multiplicity of oaths [215], to the grievous loosening of the bonds of
truth: and oaths then had become almost as much mere matter of legal
form, as certain oaths--bad relic of those times!--still existing in our
parliamentary and collegiate proceedings, are deemed by men, not
otherwise dishonourable, even now.  And to no kind of oath was more
latitude given than to such as related to fealty to a chief: for these,
in the constant rebellions which happened year after year, were openly
violated, and without reproach.  Not a sub-king in Wales who harried the
border, not an earl who raised banner against the Basileus of Britain,
but infringed his oath to be good man and true to the lord paramount; and
even William the Norman himself never found his oath of fealty stand in
the way, whenever he deemed it right and expedient to take arms against
his suzerain of France.

On the churchmen the impression was stronger and more serious: not that
made by the oath itself, but by the relics on which the hand had been
laid.  They looked at each other, doubtful and appalled, when the Earl
ceased his tale; while only among the laymen circled a murmur of mingled
wrath at William's bold design on their native land, and of scorn at the
thought that an oath, surprised and compelled, should be made the
instrument of treason to a whole people.

"Thus," said Harold, after a pause, "thus have I made clear to you my
conscience, and revealed to you the only obstacle between your offers and
my choice.  From the keeping of an oath so extorted, and so deadly to
England, this venerable prelate and mine own soul have freed me. Whether
as king or as subject, I shall alike revere the living and their long
posterity more than the dead men's bones, and, with sword and with
battle-axe, hew out against the invader my best atonement for the lip's
weakness and the heart's desertion.  But whether, knowing what hath
passed, ye may not deem it safer for the land to elect another
king,--this it is which, free and fore-thoughtful of every chance, ye
should now decide."

With these words he stepped from the dais, and retired into the oratory
that adjoined the chamber, followed by Gurth.  The eyes of the priests
then turned to Alred, and to them the prelate spoke as he had done before
to Harold;--he distinguished between the oath and its fulfilment--between
the lesser sin and the greater--the one which the Church could
absolve--the one which no Church had the right to exact, and which, if
fulfilled, no penance could expiate.  He owned frankly, nevertheless,
that it was the difficulties so created, that had made him incline to the
Atheling;--but, convinced of that prince's incapacity, even in the most
ordinary times, to rule England, he shrank yet more from such a choice,
when the swords of the Norman were already sharpening for contest.
Finally he said, "If a man as fit to defend us as Harold can be found,
let us prefer him: if not----"

"There is no other man!" cried the thegns with one voice.  "And," said a
wise old chief, "had Harold sought to play a trick to secure the throne,
he could not have devised one more sure than the tale he hath now told
us.  What! just when we are most assured that the doughtiest and
deadliest foe that our land can brave, waits but for Edward's death to
enforce on us a stranger's yoke--what! shall we for that very reason
deprive ourselves of the only man able to resist him?  Harold hath taken
an oath!  God wot, who among us have not taken some oath at law for which
they have deemed it meet afterwards to do a penance, or endow a convent?
The wisest means to strengthen Harold against that oath, is to show the
moral impossibility of fulfilling it, by placing him on the throne.  The
best proof we can give to this insolent Norman that England is not for
prince to leave, or subject to barter, is to choose solemnly in our Witan
the very chief whom his frauds prove to us that he fears the most. Why,
William would laugh in his own sleeve to summon a king to descend from
his throne to do him the homage which that king, in the different
capacity of subject, had (we will grant, even willingly) promised to
render."

This speech spoke all the thoughts of the laymen, and, with Alred's
previous remarks, reassured all the ecclesiastics.  They were easily
induced to believe that the usual Church penances, and ample Church
gifts, would suffice for the insult offered to the relics: and,--if they
in so grave a case outstripped, in absolution, an authority amply
sufficing for all ordinary matters,--Harold, as king, might easily gain
from the Pope himself that full pardon and shrift, which as mere earl,
against the Prince of the Normans, he would fail of obtaining.

These or similar reflections soon terminated the suspense of the select
council; and Alred sought the Earl in the oratory, to summon him back to
the conclave.  The two brothers were kneeling side by side before the
little altar; and there was something inexpressibly touching in their
humble attitudes, their clasped supplicating hands, in that moment when
the crown of England rested above their House.

The brothers rose, and at Alred's sign followed the prelate into the
council-room.  Alred briefly communicated the result of the conference;
and with an aspect, and in a tone, free alike from triumph and
indecision, Harold replied:

"As ye will, so will I.  Place me only where I can most serve the common
cause.  Remain you now, knowing my secret, a chosen and standing council:
too great is my personal stake in this matter to allow my mind to be
unbiassed; judge ye, then, and decide for me in all things: your minds
should be calmer and wiser than mine; in all things I will abide by your
counsel; and thus I accept the trust of a nation's freedom."

Each thegn then put his hand into Harold's, and called himself Harold's
man.

"Now, more than ever," said the wise old thegn who had before spoken,
"will it be needful to heal all dissension in the kingdom--to reconcile
with us Mercia and Northumbria, and make the kingdom one against the foe.
You, as Tostig's brother, have done well to abstain from active
interference; you do well to leave it to us to negotiate the necessary
alliance between all brave and good men."

"And to that end, as imperative for the public weal, you consent," said
Alred, thoughtfully, "to abide by our advice, whatever it be?"

"Whatever it be, so that it serve England," answered the Earl.

A smile, somewhat sad, flitted over the prelate's pale lips, and Harold
was once more alone with Gurth.



CHAPTER VII.

The soul of all council and cabal on behalf of Harold, which has led to
the determination of the principal chiefs, and which now succeeded
it--was Haco.

His rank as son of Sweyn, the first-born of Godwin's house--a rank which
might have authorised some pretensions on his own part, gave him all
field for the exercise of an intellect singularly keen and profound.
Accustomed to an atmosphere of practical state-craft in the Norman court,
with faculties sharpened from boyhood by vigilance and meditation, he
exercised an extraordinary influence over the simple understandings of
the homely clergy and the uncultured thegns. Impressed with the
conviction of his early doom, he felt no interest in the objects of
others; but equally believing that whatever of bright, and brave, and
glorious, in his brief, condemned career, was to be reflected on him from
the light of Harold's destiny, the sole desire of a nature, which, under
other auspices, would have been intensely daring and ambitious, was to
administer to Harold's greatness.  No prejudice, no principle, stood in
the way of this dreary enthusiasm.  As a father, himself on the brink of
the grave, schemes for the worldly grandeur of the son, in which he
confounds and melts his own life, so this sombre and predestined man,
dead to earth and to joy and the emotions of the heart, looked beyond his
own tomb, to that existence in which he transferred and carried on his
ambition.

If the leading agencies of Harold's memorable career might be, as it
were, symbolised and allegorised, by the living beings with which it was
connected--as Edith was the representative of stainless Truth--as Gurth
was the type of dauntless Duty--as Hilda embodied aspiring
Imagination--so Haco seemed the personation of Worldly Wisdom.  And cold
in that worldly wisdom Haco laboured on, now conferring with Alred and
the partisans of Harold; now closeted with Edwin and Morcar; now gliding
from the chamber of the sick King.--That wisdom foresaw all obstacles,
smoothed all difficulties; ever calm, never resting; marshalling and
harmonising the things to be, like the ruthless hand of a tranquil fate.
But there was one with whom Haco was more often than with all others--one
whom the presence of Harold had allured to that anxious scene of
intrigue, and whose heart leapt high at the hopes whispered from the
smileless lips of Haco.



CHAPTER VIII.

It was the second day after that which assured him the allegiance of the
thegns, that a message was brought to Harold from the Lady Aldyth. She
was in Oxford, at a convent, with her young daughter by the Welch King;
she prayed him to visit her.  The Earl, whose active mind, abstaining
from the intrigues around him, was delivered up to the thoughts, restless
and feverish, which haunt the repose of all active minds, was not
unwilling to escape awhile from himself.  He went to Aldyth.  The royal
widow had laid by the signs of mourning; she was dressed with the usual
stately and loose-robed splendour of Saxon matrons, and all the proud
beauty of her youth was restored to her cheek.  At her feet was that
daughter who afterwards married the Fleance so familiar to us in
Shakespeare, and became the ancestral mother of those Scottish kings who
had passed, in pale shadows, across the eyes of Macbeth [216]; by the
side of that child, Harold to his surprise saw the ever ominous face of
Haco.

But proud as was Aldyth, all pride seemed humbled into woman's sweeter
emotions at the sight of the Earl, and she was at first unable to command
words to answer his greeting.

Gradually, however, she warmed into cordial confidence.  She touched
lightly on her past sorrows; she permitted it to be seen that her lot
with the fierce Gryffyth had been one not more of public calamity than of
domestic grief, and that in the natural awe and horror which the murder
of her lord had caused, she felt rather for the ill-starred king than the
beloved spouse.  She then passed to the differences still existing
between her house and Harold's, and spoke well and wisely of the desire
of the young Earls to conciliate his grace and favour.

While thus speaking, Morcar and Edwin, as if accidentally, entered, and
their salutations of Harold were such as became their relative positions;
reserved, not distant--respectful, not servile.  With the delicacy of
high natures, they avoided touching on the cause before the Witan (fixed
for the morrow), on which depended their earldoms or their exile.

Harold was pleased by their bearing, and attracted towards them by the
memory of the affectionate words that had passed between him and Leofric,
their illustrious grandsire, over his father's corpse.  He thought then
of his own prayer: "Let there be peace between thine and mine!" and
looking at their fair and stately youth, and noble carriage, he could not
but feel that the men of Northumbria and of Mercia had chosen well.  The
discourse, however, was naturally brief, since thus made general; the
visit soon ceased, and the brothers attended Harold to the door with the
courtesy of the times.  Then Haco said, with that faint movement of the
lips which was his only approach to a smile:

"Will ye not, noble thegns, give your hands to my kinsman?"

"Surely," said Edwin, the handsomer and more gentle of the two, and who,
having a poet's nature, felt a poet's enthusiasm for the gallant deeds
even of a rival,--"surely, if the Earl will accept the hands of those who
trust never to be compelled to draw sword against England's hero."

Harold stretched forth his hand in reply, and that cordial and immemorial
pledge of our national friendships was interchanged.

Gaining the street, Harold said to his nephew:

"Standing as I do towards the young Earls, that appeal of thine had been
better omitted."

"Nay," answered Haco; "their cause is already prejudged in their favour.
And thou must ally thyself with the heirs of Leofric, and the successors
of Siward."

Harold made no answer.  There was something in the positive tone of this
beardless youth that displeased him; but he remembered that Haco was the
son of Sweyn, Godwin's first-born, and that, but for Sweyn's crimes, Haco
might have held the place in England he held himself, and looked to the
same august destinies beyond.

In the evening a messenger from the Roman house arrived, with two letters
for Harold; one from Hilda, that contained but these words: "Again peril
menaces thee, but in the shape of good.  Beware! and, above all, of the
evil that wears the form of wisdom."

The other letter was from Edith; it was long for the letters of that age,
and every sentence spoke a heart wrapped in his.

Reading the last, Hilda's warnings were forgotten.  The picture of
Edith--the prospect of a power that might at last effect their union, and
reward her long devotion--rose before him, to the exclusion of wilder
fancies and loftier hopes; and his sleep that night was full of youthful
and happy dreams.

The next day the Witan met.  The meeting was less stormy than had been
expected; for the minds of most men were made up, and so far as Tostig
was interested, the facts were too evident and notorious, the witnesses
too numerous, to leave any option to the judges.  Edward, on whom alone
Tostig had relied, had already, with his ordinary vacillation, been
swayed towards a right decision, partly by the counsels of Alred and his
other prelates, and especially by the representations of Haco, whose
grave bearing and profound dissimulation had gained a singular influence
over the formal and melancholy King.

By some previous compact or understanding between the opposing parties,
there was no attempt, however, to push matters against the offending
Tostig to vindictive extremes.  There was no suggestion of outlawry, or
punishment, beyond the simple deprivation of the earldom he had abused.
And in return for this moderation on the one side, the other agreed to
support and ratify the new election of the Northumbrians.  Morcar was
thus formally invested with the vice-kingship of that great realm; while
Edwin was confirmed in the earldom of the principal part of Mercia.

On the announcement of these decrees, which were received with loud
applause by all the crowd assembled to hear them, Tostig, rallying round
him his house-carles, left the town.  He went first to Githa, with whom
his wife had sought refuge, and, after a long conference with his mother,
he, and his haughty Countess, journeyed to the sea-coast, and took ship
for Flanders.



CHAPTER IX.

Gurth and Harold were seated in close commune in the Earl's chamber, at
an hour long after the complin (or second vespers), when Alred entered
unexpectedly.  The old man's face was unusually grave, and Harold's
penetrating eye saw that he was gloomy with some matters of great moment.

"Harold," said the prelate, seating himself, "the hour has come to test
thy truth, when thou saidst that thou wert ready to make all sacrifice to
thy land, and further, that thou wouldst abide by the counsel of those
free from thy passions, and looking on thee only as the instrument of
England's weal."

"Speak on, father," said Harold, turning somewhat pale at the solemnity
of the address; "I am ready, if the council so desire, to remain a
subject, and aid in the choice of a worthier king."

"Thou divinest me ill," answered Alred; "I do not call on thee to lay
aside the crown, but to crucify the heart.  The decree of the Witan
assigns Mercia and Northumbria to the sons of Algar.  The old
demarcations of the heptarchy, as thou knowest, are scarce worn out; it
is even now less one monarchy, than various states retaining their own
laws, and inhabitated by different races, who under the sub-kings, called
earls, acknowledge a supreme head in the Basileus of Britain. Mercia hath
its March law and its prince; Northumbria its Dane law and its leader.
To elect a king without civil war, these realms, for so they are, must
unite with and sanction the Witans elsewhere held. Only thus can the
kingdom be firm against foes without and anarchy within; and the more so,
from the alliance between the new earls of those great provinces and the
House of Gryffyth, which still lives in Caradoc his son.  What if at
Edward's death Mercia and Northumbria refuse to sanction thy accession?
What if, when all our force were needed against the Norman, the Welch
broke loose from their hills, and the Scots from their moors!  Malcolm of
Cumbria, now King of Scotland, is Tostig's dearest friend, while his
people side with Morcar.  Verily these are dangers enow for a new king,
even if William's sword slept in its sheath."

"Thou speakest the words of wisdom," said Harold, "but I knew beforehand
that he who wears a crown must abjure repose."

"Not so; there is one way, and but one, to reconcile all England to thy
dominion--to win to thee not the cold neutrality but the eager zeal of
Mercia and Northumbria; to make the first guard thee from the Welch, the
last be thy rampart against the Scot.  In a word, thou must ally thyself
with the blood of these young earls; thou must wed with Aldyth their
sister."

The Earl sprang to his feet aghast.

"No--no!" he exclaimed; "not that!--any sacrifice but that!--rather
forfeit the throne than resign the heart that leans on mine!  Thou
knowest my pledge to Edith, my cousin; pledge hallowed by the faith of
long years.  No--no, have mercy--human mercy; I can wed no other!--any
sacrifice but that!"

The good prelate, though not unprepared for this burst, was much moved by
its genuine anguish; but, steadfast to his purpose, he resumed:

"Alas, my son, so say we all in the hour of trial--any sacrifice but that
which duty and Heaven ordain.  Resign the throne thou canst not, or thou
leavest the land without a ruler, distracted by rival claims and
ambitions, an easy prey to the Norman.  Resign thy human affections thou
canst and must; and the more, O Harold, that even if duty compelled not
this new alliance, the old tie is one of sin, which, as king, and as high
example in high place to all men, thy conscience within, and the Church
without, summon thee to break.  How purify the erring lives of the
churchman, if thyself a rebel to the Church? and if thou hast thought
that thy power as king might prevail on the Roman Pontiff to grant
dispensation for wedlock within the degrees, and that so thou mightest
legally confirm thy now illegal troth; bethink thee well, thou hast a
more dread and urgent boon now to ask--in absolution from thine oath to
William.  Both prayers, surely, our Roman father will not grant.  Wilt
thou choose that which absolves from sin, or that which consults but thy
carnal affections?"

Harold covered his face with his hands, and groaned aloud in his strong
agony.

"Aid me, Gurth," cried Alred, "thou, sinless and spotless; thou, in whose
voice a brother's love can blend with a Christian's zeal; aid me, Gurth,
to melt the stubborn, but to comfort the human, heart."

Then Gurth, with a strong effort over himself, knelt by Harold's side,
and in strong simple language, backed the representations of the priest.
In truth, all argument drawn from reason, whether in the state of the
land, or the new duties to which Harold was committed, were on the one
side, and unanswerable; on the other, was but that mighty resistance
which love opposes ever to reason.  And Harold continued to murmur, while
his hands concealed his face.

"Impossible!--she who trusted, who trusts--who so loves--she whose whole
youth hath been consumed in patient faith in me!--Resign her! and for
another!  I cannot--I cannot.  Take from me the throne!--Oh vain heart of
man, that so long desired its own curse!--Crown the Atheling; my manhood
shall defend his youth.--But not this offering! No, no--I will not!"

It were tedious to relate the rest of that prolonged and agitatated
conference.  All that night, till the last stars waned, and the bells of
prime were heard from church and convent, did the priest and the brother
alternately plead and remonstrate, chide and soothe; and still Harold's
heart clung to Edith's, with its bleeding roots.  At length they, perhaps
not unwisely, left him to himself; and as, whispering low their hopes and
their fears of the result of the self-conflict, they went forth from the
convent, Haco joined them in the courtyard, and while his cold mournful
eye scanned the faces of priest and brother, he asked them "how they had
sped?"

Alred shook his head and answered:

"Man's heart is more strong in the flesh than true to the spirit."

"Pardon me, father," said Haco, "if I suggest that your most eloquent and
persuasive ally in this, were Edith herself.  Start not so incredulously;
it is because she loves the Earl more than her own life, that--once show
her that the Earl's safety, greatness, honour, duty, lie in release from
his troth to her--that nought save his erring love resists your counsels
and his country's claims--and Edith's voice will have more power than
yours."

The virtuous prelate, more acquainted with man's selfishness than woman's
devotion, only replied by an impatient gesture.  But Gurth, lately wedded
to a woman worthy of him, said gravely:

"Haco speaks well, my father; and methinks it is due to both that Edith
should not, unconsulted, be abandoned by him for whom she has abjured all
others; to whom she has been as devoted in heart as if sworn wife
already.  Leave we awhile my brother, never the slave of passion, and
with whom England must at last prevail over all selfish thought; and ride
we at once to tell to Edith what we have told to him; or rather--woman
can best in such a case speak to woman--let us tell all to our
Lady--Edward's wife, Harold's sister, and Edith's holy godmother--and
abide by her counsel.  On the third day we shall return."

"Go we so charged, noble Gurth," said Haco, observing the prelate's
reluctant countenance, "and leave we our reverend father to watch over
the Earl's sharp struggle."

"Thou speakest well, my son," said the prelate, "and thy mission suits
the young and the layman, better than the old and the priest."

"Let us go, Haco," said Gurth, briefly.  "Deep, sore, and lasting, is the
wound I inflict on the brother of my love; and my own heart bleeds in
his; but he himself hath taught me to hold England as a Roman held Rome."



CHAPTER X.

It is the nature of that happiness which we derive from our affections to
be calm; its immense influence upon our outward life is not known till it
is troubled or withdrawn.  By placing his heart at peace, man leaves vent
to his energies and passions, and permits their current to flow towards
the aims and objects which interest labour or arouse ambition.  Thus
absorbed in the occupation without, he is lulled into a certain
forgetfulness of the value of that internal repose which gives health and
vigour to the faculties he employs abroad.  But once mar this scarce
felt, almost invisible harmony, and the discord extends to the remotest
chords of our active being.  Say to the busiest man whom thou seest in
mart, camp, or senate, who seems to thee all intent upon his worldly
schemes, "Thy home is reft from thee--thy household gods are
shattered--that sweet noiseless content in the regular mechanism of the
springs, which set the large wheels of thy soul into movement, is thine
nevermore!"--and straightway all exertion seems robbed of its object--all
aim of its alluring charm.  "Othello's occupation is gone!"  With a
start, that man will awaken from the sunlit visions of noontide ambition,
and exclaim in his desolation anguish, "What are all the rewards to my
labour now thou hast robbed me of repose?  How little are all the gains
wrung from strife, in a world of rivals and foes, compared to the smile
whose sweetness I knew not till it was lost; and the sense of security
from mortal ill which I took from the trust and sympathy of love?"

Thus was it with Harold in that bitter and terrible crisis of his fate.
This rare and spiritual love, which had existed on hope which had never
known fruition, had become the subtlest, the most exquisite part of his
being; this love, to the full and holy possession of which, every step in
his career seemed to advance him, was it now to be evermore reft from his
heart, his existence, at the very moment when he had deemed himself most
secure of its rewards--when he most needed its consolations?  Hitherto,
in that love he had lived in the future--he had silenced the voice of the
turbulent human passion by the whisper of the patient angel, "A little
while yet, and thy bride sits beside thy throne!"  Now what was that
future! how joyless! how desolate!  The splendour vanished from
Ambition--the glow from the face of Fame--the sense of Duty remained
alone to counteract the pleadings of Affection; but Duty, no longer
dressed in all the gorgeous colourings it took before from glory and
power--Duty stern, and harsh, and terrible, as the iron frown of a
Grecian Destiny.

And thus, front to front with that Duty, he sate alone one evening, while
his lips murmured, "Oh fatal voyage, oh lying truth in the hell-born
prophecy! this, then, this was the wife my league with the Norman was to
win to my arms!"  In the streets below were heard the tramp of busy feet
hurrying homeward, and the confused uproar of joyous wassail from the
various resorts of entertainment crowded by careless revellers.  And the
tread of steps mounted the stairs without his door, and there
paused;--and there was the murmur of two voices without; one the clear
voice of Gurth,--one softer and more troubled. The Earl lifted his head
from his bosom, and his heart beat quick at the faint and scarce heard
sound of that last voice.  The door opened gently, gently: a form
entered, and halted on the shadow of the threshold; the door closed again
by a hand from without.  The Earl rose to his feet, tremulously, and the
next moment Edith was at his knees; her hood thrown back, her face
upturned to his, bright with unfaded beauty, serene with the grandeur of
self-martyrdom.

"O Harold!" she exclaimed, "dost thou remember that in the old time I
said, 'Edith had loved thee less, if thou hadst not loved England more
than Edith?'  Recall, recall those words.  And deemest thou now that I,
who have gazed for years into thy clear soul, and learned there to sun my
woman's heart in the light of all glories native to noblest man, deemest
thou, O Harold, that I am weaker now than then, when I scarce knew what
England and glory were?"

"Edith, Edith, what wouldst thou say?--What knowest thou?--Who hath told
thee?--What led thee hither, to take part against thyself?"

"It matters not who told me; I know all.  What led me?  Mine own soul,
and mine own love!"  Springing to her feet and clasping his hand in both
hers, while she looked into his face, she resumed: "I do not say to thee,
'Grieve not to part;' for I know too well thy faith, thy tenderness--thy
heart, so grand and so soft.  But I do say, 'Soar above thy grief, and be
more than man for the sake of men!'  Yes, Harold, for this last time I
behold thee.  I clasp thy hand, I lean on thy heart, I hear its beating,
and I shall go hence without a tear."

"It cannot, it shall not be!" exclaimed Harold, passionately.  "Thou
deceivest thyself in the divine passion of the hour: thou canst not
foresee the utterness of the desolation to which thou wouldst doom thy
life.  We were betrothed to each other by ties strong as those of the
Church,--over the grave of the dead, under the vault of heaven, in the
form of ancestral faith!  The bond cannot be broken.  If England demands
me, let England take me with the ties it were unholy, even for her sake,
to rend!"

"Alas, alas!" faltered Edith, while the flush on her cheek sank into
mournful paleness.  "It is not as thou sayest. So has thy love sheltered
me from the world--so utter was my youth's ignorance or my heart's
oblivion of the stern laws of man, that when it pleased thee that we
should love each other, I could not believe that that love was sin; and
that it was sin hitherto I will not think;--now it hath become one."

"No, no!" cried Harold; all the eloquence on which thousands had hung,
thrilled and spell-bound, deserting him in that hour of need, and leaving
to him only broken exclamations,--fragments, in each of which has his
heart itself seemed shivered; "no, no,--not sin!--sin only to forsake
thee.--Hush! hush!--This is a dream--wait till we wake!  True heart!
noble soul!--I will not part from thee!"

"But I from thee!  And rather than thou shouldst be lost for my sake--the
sake of woman--to honour and conscience, and all for which thy sublime
life sprang from the hands of Nature--if not the cloister, may I find the
grave!--Harold, to the last let me be worthy of thee; and feel, at least,
that if not thy wife--that bright, that blessed fate not mine!--still,
remembering Edith, just men may say, 'She would not have dishonoured the
hearth of Harold!'"

"Dost thou know," said the Earl, striving to speak calmly, "dost thou
know that it is not only to resign thee that they demand--that it is to
resign thee, and for another?"

"I know it," said Edith; and two burning tears, despite her strong and
preternatural self-exaltation, swelled from the dark fringe, and rolled
slowly down the colourless cheek, as she added, with proud voice, "I know
it: but that other is not Aldyth, it is England!  In her, in Aldyth,
behold the dear cause of thy native land; with her enweave the love which
thy native land should command.  So thinking, thou art reconciled, and I
consoled.  It is not for woman that thou desertest Edith."

"Hear, and take from those lips the strength and the valour that belong
to the name of Hero!" said a deep and clear voice behind; and
Gurth,--who, whether distrusting the result of an interview so prolonged,
or tenderly desirous to terminate its pain, had entered
unobserved,--approached, and wound his arm caressingly round his brother.
"Oh, Harold!" he said, "dear to me as the drops in my heart is my young
bride, newly wed; but if for one tithe of the claims that now call thee
to the torture and trial--yea, if but for one hour of good service to
freedom and law--I would consent without a groan to behold her no more.
And if men asked me how I could so conquer man's affections, I would
point to thee, and say, 'So Harold taught my youth by his lessons, and my
manhood by his life.'  Before thee, visible, stand Happiness and Love,
but with them, Shame; before thee, invisible, stands Woe, but with Woe
are England and eternal Glory! Choose between them."

"He hath chosen," said Edith, as Harold turned to the wall, and leaned
against it, hiding his face; then, approaching softly, she knelt, lifted
to her lips the hem of his robe, and kissed it with devout passion.

Harold turned suddenly, and opened his arms.  Edith resisted not that
mute appeal; she rose, and fell on his breast, sobbing.

Wild and speechless was that last embrace.  The moon, which had witnessed
their union by the heathen grave, now rose above the tower of the
Christian church, and looked wan and cold upon their parting.

Solemn and clear paused the orb--a cloud passed over the disk--and Edith
was gone.  The cloud rolled away, and again the moon shone forth; and
where had knelt the fair form and looked the last look of Edith, stood
the motionless image, and gazed the solemn eye, of the dark son of Sweyn.
But Harold leant on the breast of Gurth, and saw not who had supplanted
the soft and loving Fylgia of his life--saw nought in the universe but
the blank of desolation!



BOOK XI.
THE NORMAN SCHEMER, AND THE NORWEGIAN SEA-KING.



CHAPTER I.

It was the eve of the 5th of January--the eve of the day announced to
King Edward as that of his deliverance from earth; and whether or not the
prediction had wrought its own fulfilment on the fragile frame and
susceptible nerves of the King, the last of the line of Cerdic was fast
passing into the solemn shades of eternity.

Without the walls of the palace, through the whole city of London, the
excitement was indescribable.  All the river before the palace was
crowded with boats; all the broad space on the Isle of Thorney itself,
thronged with anxious groups.  But a few days before the new-built Abbey
had been solemnly consecrated; with the completion of that holy edifice,
Edward's life itself seemed done.  Like the kings of Egypt, he had built
his tomb.

Within the palace, if possible, still greater was the agitation; more
dread the suspense.  Lobbies, halls, corridors, stairs, ante-rooms, were
filled with churchmen and thegns.  Nor was it alone for news of the
King's state that their brows were so knit, that their breath came and
went so short.  It is not when a great chief is dying, that men compose
their minds to deplore a loss.  That comes long after, when the worm is
at its work, and comparison between the dead and the living often rights
the one to wrong the other.  But while the breath is struggling, and the
eye glazing, life, busy in the bystanders, murmurs,  "Who shall be the
heir?"  And, in this instance, never had suspense been so keenly wrought
up into hope and terror.  For the news of Duke William's designs had now
spread far and near; and awful was the doubt, whether the abhorred Norman
should receive his sole sanction to so arrogant a claim from the parting
assent of Edward. Although, as we have seen, the crown was not absolutely
within the bequests of a dying king, but at the will of the Witan, still,
in circumstances so unparalleled, the utter failure of all natural heirs,
save a boy feeble in mind as body, and half foreign by birth and rearing;
the love borne by Edward to the Church; and the sentiments, half of pity
half of reverence, with which he was regarded throughout the land;--his
dying word would go far to influence the council and select the
successor.  Some whispering to each other, with pale lips, all the dire
predictions then current in men's mouths and breasts; some in moody
silence; all lifted eager eyes, as, from time to time, a gloomy
Benedictine passed in the direction to or fro the King's chamber.

In that chamber, traversing the past of eight centuries, enter we with
hushed and noiseless feet--a room known to us in many a later scene and
legend of England's troubled history, as "THE PAINTED CHAMBER," long
called "THE CONFESSOR'S."  At the farthest end of that long and lofty
space, raised upon a regal platform, and roofed with regal canopy, was
the bed of death.

At the foot stood Harold; on one side knelt Edith, the King's lady; at
the other Alred; while Stigand stood near--the holy rood in his hand--and
the abbot of the new monastery of Westminster by Stigand's side; and all
the greatest thegns, including Morcar and Edwin, Gurth and Leofwine, all
the more illustrious prelates and abbots, stood also on the dais.

In the lower end of the hall, the King's physician was warming a cordial
over the brazier, and some of the subordinate officers of the household
were standing in the niches of the deep-set windows; and they--not great
eno' for other emotions than those of human love for their kindly
lord--they wept.

The King, who had already undergone the last holy offices of the Church,
was lying quite quiet, his eyes half closed, breathing low but regularly.
He had been speechless the two preceding days; on this he had uttered a
few words, which showed returning consciousness.  His hand, reclined on
the coverlid, was clasped in his wife's who was praying fervently.
Something in the touch of her hand, or the sound of her murmur, stirred
the King from the growing lethargy, and his eyes opening, fixed on the
kneeling lady.

"Ah?" said he faintly, "ever good, ever meek!  Think not I did not love
thee; hearts will be read yonder; we shall have our guerdon."

The lady looked up through her streaming tears.  Edward released his
hand, and laid it on her head as in benediction.  Then motioning to the
abbot of Westminster, he drew from his finger the ring which the palmer
had brought to him [217], and murmured scarce audibly:

"Be this kept in the House of St. Peter in memory of me!"

"He is alive now to us--speak--" whispered more than one thegn, one
abbot, to Alred and to Stigand.  And Stigand, as the harder and more
worldly man of the two, moved up, and bending over the pillow, between
Alred and the King, said:

"O royal son, about to win the crown to which that of earth is but an
idiot's wreath of withered leaves, not yet may thy soul forsake us. Whom
commendest thou to us as shepherd to thy bereaven flock? whom shall we
admonish to tread in those traces thy footsteps leave below?"

The King made a slight gesture of impatience; and the Queen, forgetful of
all but her womanly sorrow, raised her eye and finger in reproof that the
dying was thus disturbed.  But the stake was too weighty, the suspense
too keen, for that reverent delicacy in those around; and the thegns
pressed on each other, and a murmur rose, which murmured the name of
Harold.

"Bethink thee, my son," said Alred, in a tender voice tremulous with
emotion; "the young Atheling is too much an infant yet for these anxious
times."

Edward signed his head in assent.

"Then," said the Norman bishop of London, who till that moment had stood
in the rear, almost forgotten amongst the crowd of Saxon prelates, but
who himself had been all eyes and ears.  "Then," said Bishop William,
advancing, "if thine own royal line so fail, who so near to thy love, who
so worthy to succeed, as William thy cousin, the Count of the Normans?"

Dark was the scowl on the brow of every thegn, and a muttered "No, no:
never the Norman!" was heard distinctly.  Harold's face flushed, and his
hand was on the hilt of his ateghar.  But no other sign gave he of his
interest in the question.

The King lay for some moments silent, but evidently striving to
re-collect his thoughts.  Meanwhile the two archprelates bent over
him--Stigand eagerly, Alred fondly.

Then raising himself on one arm, while with the other he pointed to
Harold at the foot of the bed, the King said:

"Your hearts, I see, are with Harold the Earl: so be it."  At those words
he fell back on his pillow; a loud shriek burst from his wife's lips; all
crowded around; he lay as the dead.

At the cry, and the indescribable movement of the throng, the physician
came quick from the lower part of the hall.  He made his way abruptly to
the bedside, and said chidingly, "Air, give him air."  The throng parted,
the leach moistened the King's pale lips with the cordial, but no breath
seemed to come forth, no pulse seemed to beat; and while the two prelates
knelt before the human body and by the blessed rood, the rest descended
the dais, and hastened to depart. Harold only remained; but he had passed
from the foot to the head of the bed.

The crowd had gained the centre of the hall, when a sound that startled
them as if it had come from the grave, chained every footstep--the sound
of the King's voice, loud, terribly distinct, and full, as with the
vigour of youth restored.  All turned their eyes, appalled; all stood
spell-bound.

There sate the King upright on the bed, his face seen above the kneeling
prelates, and his eyes bright and shining down the Hall.

"Yea," he said, deliberately, "yea, as this shall be a real vision or a
false illusion, grant me, Almighty One, the power of speech to tell it."

He paused a moment, and thus resumed:

"It was on the banks of the frozen Seine, this day thirty-and-one winters
ago, that two holy monks, to whom the gift of prophecy was vouchsafed,
told me of direful woes that should fall on England; 'For God,' said
they, 'after thy death, has delivered England into the hand of the enemy,
and fiends shall wander over the land.'  Then I asked in my sorrow, 'Can
nought avert the doom? and may not my people free themselves by
repentance, like the Ninevites of old?'  And the Prophets answered, 'Nay,
nor shall the calamity cease, and the curse be completed, till a green
tree be sundered in twain, and the part cut off be carried away; yet
move, of itself, to the ancient trunk, unite to the stem, bud out with
the blossom, and stretch forth its fruit.' So said the monks, and even
now, ere I spoke, I saw them again, there, standing mute, and with the
paleness of dead men, by the side of my bed!"

These words were said so calmly, and as it were so rationally, that their
import became doubly awful from the cold precision of the tone. A shudder
passed through the assembly, and each man shrunk from the King's eye,
which seemed to each man to dwell on himself.  Suddenly that eye altered
in its cold beam; suddenly the voice changed its deliberate accent; the
grey hairs seemed to bristle erect, the whole face to work with horror;
the arms stretched forth, the form writhed on the couch, distorted
fragments from the lips: "Sanguelac! Sanguelac!--the Lake of Blood,"
shrieked forth the dying King, "the Lord hath bent his bow--the Lord hath
bared his sword.  He comes down as a warrior to war, and his wrath is in
the steel and the flame.  He boweth the mountains, and comes down, and
darkness is under his feet!"

As if revived but for these tremendous denunciations, while the last word
left his lips the frame collapsed, the eyes set, and the King fell a
corpse in the arms of Harold.

But one smile of the sceptic or the world-man was seen on the paling lips
of those present: that smile was not on the lips of warriors and men of
mail.  It distorted the sharpened features of Stigand, the world-man and
the miser, as, passing down, and amidst the group, he said, "Tremble ye
at the dreams of a sick old man?" [218]



CHAPTER II.

The time of year customary for the National Assembly; the recent
consecration of Westminster, for which Edward had convened all his chief
spiritual lords, the anxiety felt for the infirm state of the King, and
the interest as to the impending succession--all concurred to permit the
instantaneous meeting of a Witan worthy, from rank and numbers, to meet
the emergency of the time, and proceed to the most momentous election
ever yet known in England.  The thegns and prelates met in haste.
Harold's marriage with Aldyth, which had taken place but a few weeks
before, had united all parties with his own; not a claim counter to the
great Earl's was advanced; the choice was unanimous.  The necessity of
terminating at such a crisis all suspense throughout the kingdom, and
extinguishing the danger of all counter intrigues, forbade to men thus
united any delay in solemnising their decision; and the august obsequies
of Edward were followed on the same day by the coronation of Harold.

It was in the body of the mighty Abbey Church, not indeed as we see it
now, after successive restorations and remodellings, but simple in its
long rows of Saxon arch and massive column, blending the first Teuton
with the last Roman masonries, that the crowd of the Saxon freemen
assembled to honour the monarch of their choice.  First Saxon king, since
England had been one monarchy, selected not from the single House of
Cerdic--first Saxon king, not led to the throne by the pale shades of
fabled ancestors tracing their descent from the Father-God of the Teuton,
but by the spirits that never know a grave--the arch-eternal givers of
crowns, and founders of dynasties-Valour and Fame.

Alred and Stigand, the two great prelates of the realm, had conducted
Harold to the church [219], and up the aisle to the altar, followed by
the chiefs of the Witan in their long robes; and the clergy with their
abbots and bishops sung the anthems--"Fermetur manus tua," and "Gloria
Patri."

And now the music ceased; Harold prostrated himself before the altar, and
the sacred melody burst forth with the great hymn, "Te Deum."

As it ceased, prelate and thegn raised their chief from the floor, and in
imitation of the old custom of Teuton and Northman--when the lord of
their armaments was borne on shoulder and shield--Harold mounted a
platform, and rose in full view of the crowd.

"Thus," said the arch-prelate, "we choose Harold son of Godwin for lord
and for king."  And the thegns drew round, and placed hand on Harold's
knee, and cried aloud, "We choose thee, O Harold, for lord and for king."
And row by row, line by line, all the multitude shouted forth, "We choose
thee, O Harold, for lord and king."  So there he stood with his calm
brow, facing all, Monarch of England, and Basileus of Britain.

Now unheeded amidst the throng, and leaning against a column in the
arches of the aisle, was a woman with her veil round her face; and she
lifted the veil for a moment to gaze on that lofty brow, and the tears
were streaming fast down her cheek, but her face was not sad.

"Let the vulgar not see, to pity or scorn thee, daughter of kings as
great as he who abandons and forsakes thee!" murmured a voice in her ear;
and the form of Hilda, needing no support from column or wall, rose erect
by the side of Edith.  Edith bowed her head and lowered the veil, as the
King descended the platform and stood again by the altar, while clear
through the hushed assembly rang the words of his triple promise to his
people:

"Peace to His Church and the Christian flock."

"Interdict of rapacity and injustice."

"Equity and mercy in his judgments, as God the gracious and just might
show mercy to him."

And deep from the hearts of thousands came the low "Amen."

Then after a short prayer, which each prelate repeated, the crowd saw
afar the glitter of the crown held over the head of the King.  The voice
of the consecrator was heard, low till it came to the words "So potently
and royally may he rule, against all visible and invisible foes, that the
royal throne of the Angles and Saxons may not desert his sceptre."

As the prayer ceased, came the symbolical rite of anointment.  Then
pealed the sonorous organ [220], and solemn along the aisles rose the
anthem that closed with the chorus which the voice of the multitude
swelled, "May the King live for ever!"  Then the crown that had gleamed
in the trembling hand of the prelate, rested firm in its splendour on the
front of the King.  And the sceptre of rule, and the rod of justice, "to
sooth the pious and terrify the bad," were placed in the royal hands.
And the prayer and the blessings were renewed,--till the close; "Bless,
Lord, the courage of this Prince, and prosper the works of his hand.
With his horn, as the horn of the rhinoceros, may he blow the waters to
the extremities of the earth; and may He who has ascended to the skies be
his aid for ever!"

Then Hilda stretched forth her hand to lead Edith from the place.  But
Edith shook her head and murmured "But once again, but once!" and with
involuntary step moved on.

Suddenly, close where she paused, the crowd parted, and down the narrow
lane so formed amidst the wedged and breathless crowd came the august
procession;--prelate and thegn swept on from the Church to the palace;
and alone, with firm and measured step, the diadem on his brow, the
sceptre in his hand, came the King.  Edith checked the rushing impulse at
her heart, but she bent forward, with veil half drawn aside, and so gazed
on that face and form of more than royal majesty, fondly, proudly.  The
King swept on and saw her not; love lived no more for him.



CHAPTER III.

The boat shot over the royal Thames.  Borne along the waters, the shouts
and the hymns of swarming thousands from the land shook, like a blast,
the gelid air of the Wolf month.  All space seemed filled and noisy with
the name of Harold the King.  Fast rowed the rowers,--on shot the boat;
and Hilda's face, stern and ominous, turned to the still towers of the
palace, gleaming wide and white in the wintry sun. Suddenly Edith lifted
her hand from her bosom, and said passionately:

"O mother of my mother, I cannot live again in the house where the very
walls speak to me of him; all things chain my soul to the earth; and my
soul should be in heaven, that its prayers may be heard by the heedful
angels.  The day that the holy Lady of England predicted hath come to
pass, and the silver cord is loosed at last. Ah why, why did I not
believe her then? why did I then reject the cloister?  Yet no, I will not
repent; at least I have been loved!  But now I will go to the nunnery of
Waltham, and kneel at the altars he hath hallowed to the mone and the
monechyn."

"Edith," said the Vala, "thou wilt not bury thy life yet young in the
living grave!  And, despite all that now severs you--yea, despite
Harold's new and loveless ties--still clearer than ever it is written in
the heavens, that a day shall come, in which you are to be evermore
united.  Many of the shapes I have seen, many of the sounds I have heard,
in the trance and the dream, fade in the troubled memory of waking life.
But never yet hath grown doubtful or dim the prophecy, that the truth
pledged by the grave shall be fulfilled."

"Oh, tempt not!  Oh, delude not!" cried Edith, while the blood rushed
over her brow.  "Thou knowest this can not be.  Another's! he is
another's! and in the words thou hast uttered there is deadly sin."

"There is no sin in the resolves of a fate that rules us in spite of
ourselves.  Tarry only till the year bring round the birth-day of Harold;
for my sayings shall be ripe with the grape, and when the feet of the
vineherd are red in the Month of the Vine [221], the Nornas shall knit ye
together again!"

Edith clasped her hands mutely, and looked hard into the face of
Hilda,--looked and shuddered she knew not why.

The boat landed on the eastern shore of the river, beyond the walls of
the city, and then Edith bent her way to the holy walls of Waltham. The
frost was sharp in the glitter of the unwarming sun; upon leafless boughs
hung the barbed ice-gems; and the crown was on the brows of Harold! and
at night, within the walls of the convent, Edith heard the hymns of the
kneeling monks; and the blasts howled, and the storm arose, and the
voices of destroying hurricanes were blent with the swell of the choral
hymns.



CHAPTER IV.

Tostig sate in the halls of Bruges, and with him sate Judith, his haughty
wife.  The Earl and his Countess were playing at chess, (or the game
resembling it, which amused the idlesse of that age,) and the Countess
had put her lord's game into mortal disorder, when Tostig swept his hand
over the board, and the pieces rolled on the floor.

"That is one way to prevent defeat," said Judith, with a half smile and
half frown.

"It is the way of the bold and the wise, wife mine," answered Tostig,
rising, "let all be destruction where thou thyself canst win not! Peace
to these trifles!  I cannot keep my mind to the mock fight; it flies to
the real.  Our last news sours the taste of the wine, and steals the
sleep from my couch.  It says that Edward cannot live through the winter,
and that all men bruit abroad, there can be no king save Harold my
brother."

"And will thy brother as King give to thee again thy domain as Earl?"

"He must!" answered Tostig, "and, despite all our breaches, with soft
message he will.  For Harold has the heart of the Saxon, to which the
sons of one father are dear; and Githa, my mother, when we first fled,
controlled the voice of my revenge, and bade me wait patient and hope
yet."

Scarce had these words fallen from Tostig's lips, when the chief of his
Danish house-carles came in, and announced the arrival of a bode from
England.

"His news? his news?" cried the Earl, "with his own lips let him speak
his news."

The house-carle withdrew but to usher in the messenger, an Anglo-Dane.

"The weight on thy brow shows the load on thy heart," cried Tostig.
"Speak, and be brief."

"Edward is dead."

"Ha? and who reigns?"

"Thy brother is chosen and crowned."

The face of the Earl grew red and pale in a breath, and successive
emotions of envy and old rivalship, humbled pride and fierce discontent,
passed across his turbulent heart.  But these died away as the
predominant thought of self-interest, and somewhat of that admiration for
success which often seems like magnanimity in grasping minds, and
something too of haughty exultation, that he stood a King's brother in
the halls of his exile, came to chase away the more hostile and menacing
feelings.  Then Judith approached with joy on her brow, and said:

"We shall no more eat the bread of dependence even at the hand of a
father; and since Harold hath no dame to proclaim to the Church, and to
place on the dais, thy wife, O my Tostig, will have state in far England
little less than her sister in Rouen."

"Methinks so will it be," said Tostig.  "How now, nuncius? why lookest
thou so grim, and why shakest thou thy head?"

"Small chance for thy dame to keep state in the halls of the King; small
hope for thyself to win back thy broad earldom.  But a few weeks ere thy
brother won the crown, he won also a bride in the house of thy spoiler
and foe.  Aldyth, the sister of Edwin and Morcar, is Lady of England; and
that union shuts thee out from Northumbria for ever."

At these words, as if stricken by some deadly and inexpressible insult,
the Earl recoiled, and stood a moment mute with rage and amaze.  His
singular beauty became distorted into the lineaments of a fiend.  He
stamped with his foot, as he thundered a terrible curse. Then haughtily
waving his hand to the bode, in sign of dismissal, he strode to and fro
the room in gloomy perturbation.

Judith, like her sister Matilda, a woman fierce and vindictive,
continued, by that sharp venom that lies in the tongue of the sex, to
incite still more the intense resentment of her lord.  Perhaps some
female jealousies of Aldyth might contribute to increase her own
indignation.  But without such frivolous addition to anger, there was
cause eno' in this marriage thoroughly to complete the alienation between
the King and his brother.  It was impossible that one so revengeful as
Tostig should not cherish the deepest animosity, not only against the
people that had rejected, but the new Earl that had succeeded him.  In
wedding the sister of this fortunate rival and despoiler, Harold could
not, therefore, but gall him in his most sensitive sores of soul.  The
King, thus, formally approved and sanctioned his ejection, solemnly took
part with his foe, robbed him of all legal chance of recovering his
dominions, and, in the words of the bode, "shut him out from Northumbria
for ever."  Nor was this even all.  Grant his return to England; grant a
reconciliation with Harold; still those abhorred and more fortunate
enemies, necessarily made now the most intimate part of the King's
family, must be most in his confidence, would curb and chafe and
encounter Tostig in every scheme for his personal aggrandisement.  His
foes, in a word, were in the camp of his brother.

While gnashing his teeth with a wrath the more deadly because he saw not
yet his way to retribution,--Judith, pursuing the separate thread of her
own cogitations, said:

"And if my sister's lord, the Count of the Normans, had, as rightly he
ought to have, succeeded his cousin the Monk-king, then I should have a
sister on the throne, and thou in her husband a brother more tender than
Harold.  One who supports his barons with sword and mail, and gives the
villeins rebelling against them but the brand and the cord."

"Ho!" cried Tostig, stopping suddenly in his disordered strides, "kiss
me, wife, for those words!  They have helped thee to power, and lit me to
revenge.  If thou wouldst send love to thy sister, take graphium and
parchment, and write fast as a scribe.  Ere the sun is an hour older, I
am on my road to Count William."



CHAPTER V.

The Duke of the Normans was in the forest, or park land, of Rouvray, and
his Quens and his knights stood around him, expecting some new proof of
his strength and his skill with the bow.  For the Duke was trying some
arrows, a weapon he was ever employed in seeking to improve; sometimes
shortening, sometimes lengthening, the shaft; and suiting the wing of the
feather, and the weight of the point, to the nicest refinement in the law
of mechanics.  Gay and debonnair, in the brisk fresh air of the frosty
winter, the great Count jested and laughed as the squires fastened a live
bird by the string to a stake in the distant sward; and "Pardex," said
Duke William, "Conan of Bretagne, and Philip of France, leave us now so
unkindly in peace, that I trow we shall never again have larger butt for
our arrows than the breast of yon poor plumed trembler."

As the Duke spoke and laughed, all the sere boughs behind him rattled and
cranched, and a horse at full speed came rushing over the hard rime of
the sward.  The Duke's smile vanished in the frown of his pride.  "Bold
rider and graceless," quoth he, "who thus comes in the presence of counts
and princes?"

Right up to Duke William spurred the rider, and then leaped from his
steed; vest and mantle, yet more rich than the Duke's, all tattered and
soiled.  No knee bent the rider, no cap did he doff; but seizing the
startled Norman with the gripe of a hand as strong as his own, he led him
aside from the courtiers, and said:

"Thou knowest me, William? though not thus alone should I come to thy
court, if I did not bring thee a crown."

"Welcome, brave Tostig!" said the Duke, marvelling.  "What meanest thou?
nought but good, by thy words and thy smile."

"Edward sleeps with the dead!--and Harold is King of all England!"

"King!--England!--King!" faltered William, stammering in his agitation.
"Edward dead!--Saints rest him!  England then is mine! King!--I am the
King!  Harold hath sworn it; my Quens and prelates heard him; the bones
of the saints attest the oath!"

"Somewhat of this have I vaguely learned from our beau-pere Count
Baldwin; more will I learn at thy leisure; but take meanwhile, my word as
Miles and Saxon,--never, while there is breath on his lips, or one beat
in his heart, will my brother, Lord Harold, give an inch of English land
to the Norman."

William turned pale and faint with emotion, and leant for support against
a leafless oak.

Busy were the rumours, and anxious the watch, of the Quens and knights,
as their Prince stood long in the distant glade, conferring with the
rider, whom one or two of them had recognised as Tostig, the spouse of
Matilda's sister.

At length, side by side, still talking earnestly, they regained the
group; and William, summoning the Lord of Tancarville, bade him conduct
Tostig to Rouen, the towers of which rose through the forest trees.
"Rest and refresh thee, noble kinsman," said the Duke; "see and talk with
Matilda.  I will join thee anon."

The Earl remounted his steed, and saluting the company with a wild and
hasty grace, soon vanished amidst the groves.

Then William, seating himself on the sward, mechanically unstrung his
bow, sighing oft, and oft frowning; and--without vouchsafing other word
to his lords than "No further sport to-day!" rose slowly, and went alone
through the thickest parts of the forest. But his faithful Fitzosborne
marked his gloom, and fondly followed him.  The Duke arrived at the
borders of the Seine, where his galley waited him.  He entered, sat down
on the bench, and took no notice of Fitzosborne, who quietly stepped in
after his lord, and placed himself on another bench.

The little voyage to Rouen was performed in silence, and as soon as he
had gained his palace, without seeking either Tostig or Matilda, the Duke
turned into the vast hall, in which he was wont to hold council with his
barons; and walked to and fro "often," say the chronicles, "changing
posture and attitude, and oft loosening and tightening, and drawing into
knots, the strings of his mantle."

Fitzosborne, meanwhile, had sought the ex-Earl, who was closeted with
Matilda; and now returning, he went boldly up to the Duke, whom no one
else dared approach, and said:

"Why, my liege, seek to conceal what is already known--what ere the eve
will be in the mouths of all?  You are troubled that Edward is dead, and
that Harold, violating his oath, has seized the English realm."

"Truly," said the Duke mildly, and with the tone of a meek man much
injured; "my dear cousin's death, and the wrongs I have received from
Harold, touch me nearly."

Then said Fitzosborne, with that philosophy, half grave as became the
Scandinavian, half gay as became the Frank: "No man should grieve for
what he can help--still less for what he cannot help.  For Edward's
death, I trow, remedy there is none; but for Harold's treason, yea! Have
you not a noble host of knights and warriors?  What want you to destroy
the Saxon and seize his realm?  What but a bold heart?  A great deed once
well begun, is half done.  Begin, Count of the Normans, and we will
complete the rest."

Starting from his sorely tasked dissimulation; for all William needed,
and all of which he doubted, was the aid of his haughty barons; the Duke
raised his head, and his eyes shone out.

"Ha, sayest thou so! then, by the Splendour of God, we will do this deed.
Haste thou--rouse hearts, nerve hands--promise, menace, win! Broad are
the lands of England, and generous a conqueror's hand.  Go and prepare
all my faithful lords for a council, nobler than ever yet stirred the
hearts and strung the hands of the sons of Rou."



CHAPTER VI.

Brief was the sojourn of Tostig at the court of Rouen; speedily made the
contract between the grasping Duke and the revengeful traitor. All that
had been promised to Harold, was now pledged to Tostig--if the last would
assist the Norman to the English throne.

At heart, however, Tostig was ill satisfied.  His chance conversations
with the principal barons, who seemed to look upon the conquest of
England as the dream of a madman, showed him how doubtful it was that
William could induce his Quens to a service, to which the tenure of their
fiefs did not appear to compel them; and at all events, Tostig
prognosticated delays, that little suited his fiery impatience.  He
accepted the offer of some two or three ships, which William put at his
disposal, under pretence to reconnoitre the Northumbrian coasts, and
there attempt a rising in his own favour.  But his discontent was
increased by the smallness of the aid afforded him; for William, ever
suspicious, distrusted both his faith and his power.  Tostig, with all
his vices, was a poor dissimulator, and his sullen spirit betrayed itself
when he took leave of his host.

"Chance what may," said the fierce Saxon, "no stranger shall seize the
English crown without my aid.  I offer it first to thee.  But thou must
come to take it in time, or----"

"Or what?" asked the Duke, gnawing his lip.

"Or the Father race of Rou will be before thee!  My horse paws without.
Farewell to thee, Norman; sharpen thy swords, hew out thy vessels, and
goad thy slow barons."

Scarce had Tostig departed, ere William began to repent that he had so
let him depart: but seeking counsel of Lanfranc, that wise minister
reassured him.

"Fear no rival, son and lord," said he.  "The bones of the dead are on
thy side, and little thou knowest, as yet, how mighty their fleshless
arms!  All Tostig can do is to distract the forces of Harold.  Leave him
to work out his worst; nor then be in haste.  Much hath yet to be
done--cloud must gather and fire must form, ere the bolt can be launched.
Send to Harold mildly, and gently remind him of oath and of relics--of
treaty and pledge.  Put right on thy side, and then----"

"Ah, what then?"

"Rome shall curse the forsworn--Rome shall hallow thy banner; this be no
strife of force against force, but a war of religion; and thou shalt have
on thy side the conscience of man, and the arm of the Church."

Meanwhile, Tostig embarked at Harfleur; but instead of sailing to the
northern coasts of England, he made for one of the Flemish ports: and
there, under various pretences, new manned the Norman vessels with
Flemings, Fins, and Northmen.  His meditations during his voyage had
decided him not to trust to William; and he now bent his course, with
fair wind and favouring weather, to the shores of his maternal uncle,
King Sweyn of Denmark.

In truth, to all probable calculation, his change of purpose was politic.
The fleets of England were numerous, and her seamen renowned.  The
Normans had neither experience nor fame in naval fights; their navy
itself was scarcely formed.  Thus, even William's landing in England was
an enterprise arduous and dubious.  Moreover, even granting the amplest
success, would not this Norman Prince, so profound and ambitious, be a
more troublesome lord to Earl Tostig than his own uncle Sweyn?

So, forgetful of the compact at Rouen, no sooner had the Saxon lord come
in presence of the King of the Danes, than he urged on his kinsman the
glory of winning again the sceptre of Canute.

A brave, but a cautious and wily veteran, was King Sweyn; and a few days
before Tostig arrived, he had received letters from his sister Githa,
who, true to Godwin's command, had held all that Harold did and
counselled, as between himself and his brother, wise and just. These
letters had placed the Dane on his guard, and shown him the true state of
affairs in England.  So King Sweyn, smiling, thus answered his nephew
Tostig:

"A great man was Canute, a small man am I: scarce can I keep my Danish
dominion from the gripe of the Norwegian, while Canute took Norway
without slash and blow [222]; but great as he was, England cost him hard
fighting to win, and sore peril to keep.  Wherefore, best for the small
man to rule by the light of his own little sense, nor venture to count on
the luck of great Canute;--for luck but goes with the great."

"Thine answer," said Tostig, with a bitter sneer, "is not what I expected
from an uncle and warrior.  But other chiefs may be found less afraid of
the luck of high deeds."

"So," saith the Norwegian chronicler, "not just the best friends, the
Earl left the King," and went on in haste to Harold Hardrada of Norway.

True Hero of the North, true darling of War and of Song, was Harold
Hardrada!  At the terrible battle of Stiklestad, at which his brother,
St. Olave, had fallen, he was but fifteen years of age, but his body was
covered with the wounds of a veteran.  Escaping from the field, he lay
concealed in the house of a Bonder peasant, remote in deep forests, till
his wounds were healed.  Thence, chaunting by the way, (for a poet's soul
burned bright in Hardrada,) "That a day would come when his name would be
great in the land he now left," he went on into Sweden, thence into
Russia, and after wild adventures in the East, joined, with the bold
troop he had collected around him, that famous body-guard of the Greek
emperors [223], called the Vaeringers, and of these he became the chief.
Jealousies between himself and the Greek General of the Imperial forces,
(whom the Norwegian chronicler calls Gyrger,) ended in Harold's
retirement with his Vaeringers into the Saracen land of Africa.  Eighty
castles stormed and taken, vast plunder in gold and in jewels, and nobler
meed in the song of the Scald and the praise of the brave, attested the
prowess of the great Scandinavian.  New laurels, blood-stained, new
treasures, sword-won, awaited him in Sicily; and thence, rough foretype
of the coming crusader, he passed on to Jerusalem.  His sword swept
before him Moslem and robber.  He bathed in Jordan, and knelt at the Holy
Cross.

Returned to Constantinople, the desire for his northern home seized
Hardrada.  There he heard that his nephew Magnus, the illegitimate son of
St. Olave, had become King of Norway,--and he himself aspired to a
throne.  So he gave up his command under Zoe the empress; but, if Scald
be believed, Zoe the empress loved the bold chief, whose heart was set on
Maria her niece.  To detain Hardrada, a charge of mal-appropriation,
whether of pay or of booty, was brought against him. He was cast into
prison.  But when the brave are in danger, the saints send the fair to
their help!  Moved by a holy dream, a Greek lady lowered ropes from the
roof of the tower to the dungeon wherein Hardrada was cast. He escaped
from the prison, he aroused his Vaeringers, they flocked round their
chief; he went to the house of his lady Maria, bore her off to the
galley, put out into the Black Sea, reached Novgorod, (at the friendly
court of whose king he had safely lodged his vast spoils,) sailed home to
the north: and, after such feats as became sea-king of old, received half
of Norway from Magnus, and on the death of his nephew the whole of that
kingdom passed to his sway.  A king so wise and so wealthy, so bold and
so dread, had never yet been known in the north.  And this was the king
to whom came Tostig the Earl, with the offer of England's crown.

It was one of the glorious nights of the north, and winter had already
begun to melt into early spring, when two men sate under a kind of rustic
porch of rough pine-logs, not very unlike those seen now in Switzerland
and the Tyrol.  This porch was constructed before a private door, to the
rear of a long, low, irregular building of wood which enclosed two or
more courtyards, and covering an immense space of ground.  This private
door seemed placed for the purpose of immediate descent to the sea; for
the ledge of the rock over which the log-porch spread its rude roof,
jutted over the ocean; and from it a rugged stair, cut through the crag,
descended to the beach.  The shore, with bold, strange, grotesque slab,
and peak, and splinter, curved into a large creek; and close under the
cliff were moored seven warships, high and tall, with prows and sterns
all gorgeous with gilding in the light of the splendid moon.  And that
rude timber house, which seemed but a chain of barbarian huts linked into
one, was a land palace of Hardrada of Norway; but the true halls of his
royalty, the true seats of his empire, were the decks of those lofty
war-ships.

Through the small lattice-work of the windows of the loghouse, lights
blazed; from the roof-top smoke curled; from the hall on the other side
of the dwelling, came the din of tumultuous wassail, but the intense
stillness of the outer air, hushed in frost, and luminous with stars,
contrasted and seemed to rebuke the gross sounds of human revel.  And
that northern night seemed almost as bright as (but how much more
augustly calm, than) the noon of the golden south!

On a table within the ample porch was an immense bowl of birchwood,
mounted in silver, and filled with potent drink, and two huge horns, of
size suiting the mighty wassailers of the age.  The two men seemed to
care nought for the stern air of the cold night--true that they were
wrapped in furs reft from the Polar bear.  But each had hot thoughts
within, that gave greater warmth to the veins than the bowl or the
bearskin.

They were host and guest; and as if with the restlessness of his
thoughts, the host arose from his seat, and passed through the porch and
stood on the bleak rock under the light of the moon; and so seen, he
seemed scarcely human, but some war-chief of the farthest time,--yea, of
a time ere the deluge had shivered those rocks, and left beds on the land
for the realm of that icy sea.  For Harold Hardrada was in height above
all the children of modern men.  Five ells of Norway made the height of
Harold Hardrada [224].  Nor was this stature accompanied by any of those
imperfections in symmetry, nor by that heaviness of aspect, which
generally render any remarkable excess above human stature and strength
rather monstrous than commanding.  On the contrary, his proportions were
just; his appearance noble; and the sole defect that the chronicler
remarks in his shape, was "that his hands and feet were large, but these
were well made." [225]

His face had all the fair beauty of the Norseman; his hair, parted in
locks of gold over a brow that bespoke the daring of the warrior and the
genius of the bard, fell in glittering profusion to his shoulders; a
short beard and long moustache of the same colour as the hair, carefully
trimmed, added to the grand and masculine beauty of the countenance, in
which the only blemish was the peculiarity of one eyebrow being somewhat
higher than the other [226], which gave something more sinister to his
frown, something more arch to his smile.  For, quick of impulse, the
Poet-Titan smiled and frowned often.

Harold Hardrada stood in the light of the moon, and gazing thoughtfully
on the luminous sea.  Tostig marked him for some moments where he sate in
the porch, and then rose and joined him.

"Why should my words so disturb thee, O King of the Norseman?"

"Is glory, then, a drug that soothes to sleep?" returned the Norwegian.

"I like thine answer," said Tostig, smiling, "and I like still more to
watch thine eye gazing on the prows of thy war-ships.  Strange indeed it
were if thou, who hast been fighting fifteen years for the petty kingdom
of Denmark, shouldst hesitate now, when all England lies before thee to
seize."

"I hesitate," replied the King, "because he whom Fortune has befriended
so long, should beware how he strain her favour too far. Eighteen pitched
battles fought I in the Saracen land, and in every one was a
victor--never, at home or abroad, have I known shame and defeat.  Doth
the wind always blow from one point?--and is Fate less unstable than the
wind?"

"Now, out on thee, Harold Hardrada," said Tostig the fierce; "the good
pilot wins his way through all winds, and the brave heart fastens fate to
its flag.  All men allow that the North never had warrior like thee; and
now, in the mid-day of manhood, wilt thou consent to repose on the mere
triumph of youth?"

"Nay," said the King, who, like all true poets, had something of the deep
sense of a sage, and was, indeed, regarded as the most prudent as well as
the most adventurous chief in the Northland,--"nay, it is not by such
words, which my soul seconds too well, that thou canst entrap a ruler of
men.  Thou must show me the chances of success, as thou wouldst to a
grey-beard.  For we should be as old men before we engage, and as youths
when we wish to perform."

Then the traitor succinctly detailed all the weak points in the rule of
his brother.  A treasury exhausted by the lavish and profitless waste of
Edward; a land without castle or bulwark, even at the mouths of the
rivers; a people grown inert by long peace, and so accustomed to own lord
and king in the northern invaders, that a single successful battle might
induce half the population to insist on the Saxon coming to terms with
the foe, and yielding, as Ironsides did to Canute, one half of the realm.
He enlarged on the terror of the Norsemen that still existed throughout
England, and the affinity between the Northumbrians and East Anglians
with the race of Hardrada. That affinity would not prevent them from
resisting at the first; but grant success, and it would reconcile them to
the after sway.  And, finally, he aroused Hardrada's emulation by the
spur of the news, that the Count of the Normans would seize the prize if
he himself delayed to forestall him.

These various representations, and the remembrance of Canute's victory,
decided Hardrada; and, when Tostig ceased, he stretched his hand towards
his slumbering warships, and exclaimed:

"Eno'; you have whetted the beaks of the ravens, and harnessed the steeds
of the sea!"



CHAPTER VII.

Meanwhile, King Harold of England had made himself dear to his people,
and been true to the fame he had won as Harold the Earl.  From the moment
of his accession, "he showed himself pious, humble, and affable [227],
and omitted no occasions to show any token of bounteous liberality,
gentleness, and courteous behaviour."--"The grievous customs, also, and
taxes which his predecessors had raised, he either abolished or
diminished; the ordinary wages of his servants and men-of-war he
increased, and further showed himself very well bent to all virtue and
goodness." [228]

Extracting the pith from these eulogies, it is clear that, as wise
statesman no less than as good king, Harold sought to strengthen himself
in the three great elements of regal power;--Conciliation of the Church,
which had been opposed to his father; The popular affection, on which his
sole claim to the crown reposed; And the military force of the land,
which had been neglected in the reign of his peaceful predecessor.

To the young Atheling he accorded a respect not before paid to him; and,
while investing the descendant of the ancient line with princely state,
and endowing him with large domains, his soul, too great for jealousy,
sought to give more substantial power to his own most legitimate rival,
by tender care and noble counsels,--by efforts to raise a character
feeble by nature, and denationalised by foreign rearing.  In the same
broad and generous policy, Harold encouraged all the merchants from other
countries who had settled in England, nor were even such Normans as had
escaped the general sentence of banishment on Godwin's return, disturbed
in their possessions.  "In brief," saith the Anglo-Norman chronicler
[229], "no man was more prudent in the land, more valiant in arms, in the
law more sagacious, in all probity more accomplished:" and "Ever active,"
says more mournfully the Saxon writer, "for the good of his country, he
spared himself no fatigue by land or by sea." [230]  From this time,
Harold's private life ceased.  Love and its charms were no more.  The
glow of romance had vanished.  He was not one man; he was the state, the
representative, the incarnation of Saxon England: his sway and the Saxon
freedom, to live or fall together!

The soul really grand is only tested in its errors.  As we know the true
might of the intellect by the rich resources and patient strength with
which it redeems a failure, so do we prove the elevation of the soul by
its courageous return into light, its instinctive rebound into higher
air, after some error that has darkened its vision and soiled its plumes.
A spirit less noble and pure than Harold's, once entering on the dismal
world of enchanted superstition, had habituated itself to that nether
atmosphere; once misled from hardy truth and healthful reason, it had
plunged deeper and deeper into the maze.  But, unlike his contemporary,
Macbeth, the Man escaped from the lures of the Fiend.  Not as Hecate in
hell, but as Dian in heaven, did he confront the pale Goddess of Night.
Before that hour in which he had deserted the human judgment for the
ghostly delusion; before that day in which the brave heart, in its sudden
desertion, had humbled his pride--the man, in his nature, was more strong
than the god.  Now, purified by the flame that had scorched, and more
nerved from the fall that had stunned,--that great soul rose sublime
through the wrecks of the Past, serene through the clouds of the Future,
concentering in its solitude the destinies of Mankind, and strong with
instinctive Eternity amidst all the terrors of Time.

King Harold came from York, whither he had gone to cement the new power
of Morcar, in Northumbria, and personally to confirm the allegiance of
the Anglo-Danes:--King Harold came from York, and in the halls of
Westminster he found a monk who awaited him with the messages of William
the Norman.

Bare-footed, and serge-garbed, the Norman envoy strode to the Saxon's
chair of state.  His form was worn with mortification and fast, and his
face was hueless and livid, with the perpetual struggle between zeal and
flesh.

"Thus saith William, Count of the Normans," began Hugues Maigrot, the
monk.

"With grief and amaze hath he heard that you, O Harold, his sworn
liege-man, have, contrary to oath and to fealty, assumed the crown that
belongs to himself.  But, confiding in thy conscience, and forgiving a
moment's weakness, he summons thee, mildly and brother-like, to fulfil
thy vow.  Send thy sister, that he may gave her in marriage to one of his
Quens.  Give him up the stronghold of Dover; march to thy coast with
thine armies to aid him,--thy liege lord,--and secure him the heritage of
Edward his cousin.  And thou shalt reign at his right-hand, his daughter
thy bride, Northumbria thy fief, and the saints thy protectors."

The King's lip was firm, though pale, as he answered:

"My young sister, alas! is no more: seven nights after I ascended the
throne, she died: her dust in the grave is all I could send to the arms
of the bridegroom.  I cannot wed the child of thy Count: the wife of
Harold sits beside him."  And he pointed to the proud beauty of Aldyth,
enthroned under the drapery of gold.  "For the vow that I took, I deny it
not.  But from a vow of compulsion, menaced with unworthy captivity,
extorted from my lips by the very need of the land whose freedom had been
bound in my chains--from a vow so compelled, Church and conscience
absolve me.  If the vow of a maiden on whom to bestow but her hand, when
unknown to her parents, is judged invalid by the Church, how much more
invalid the oath that would bestow on a stranger the fates of a nation
[231], against its knowledge, and unconsulting its laws!  This royalty of
England hath ever rested on the will of the people, declared through its
chiefs in their solemn assembly.  They alone who could bestow it, have
bestowed it on me:--I have no power to resign it to another--and were I
in my grave, the trust of the crown would not pass to the Norman, but
return to the Saxon people."

"Is this, then, thy answer, unhappy son?" said the monk, with a sullen
and gloomy aspect.

"Such is my answer."

"Then, sorrowing for thee, I utter the words of William.  'With sword and
with mail will he come to punish the perjurer: and by the aid of St.
Michael, archangel of war, he will conquer his own.'  Amen."

"By sea and by land, with sword and with mail, will we meet the invader,"
answered the King, with a flashing eye.  "Thou hast said:--so depart."

The monk turned and withdrew.

"Let the priest's insolence chafe thee not, sweet lord," said Aldyth.
"For the vow which thou mightest take as subject, what matters it now
thou art king?"

Harold made no answer to Aldyth, but turned to his Chamberlain, who stood
behind his throne chair.

"Are my brothers without?"

"They are: and my lord the King's chosen council."

"Admit them: pardon, Aldyth; affairs fit only for men claim me now."

The Lady of England took the hint, and rose.

"But the even-mete will summon thee soon," said she.  Harold, who had
already descended from his chair of state, and was bending over a casket
of papers on the table, replied:

"There is food here till the morrow; wait me not."  Aldyth sighed, and
withdrew at the one door, while the thegns most in Harold's confidence
entered at the other.  But, once surrounded by her maidens, Aldyth forgot
all, save that she was again a queen,--forgot all, even to the earlier
and less gorgeous diadem which her lord's hand had shattered on the brows
of the son of Pendragon.

Leofwine, still gay and blithe-hearted, entered first: Gurth followed,
then Haco, then some half-score of the greater thegns.

They seated themselves at the table, and Gurth spoke first:

"Tostig has been with Count William."

"I know it," said Harold.

"It is rumoured that he has passed to our uncle Sweyn."

"I foresaw it," said the King.

"And that Sweyn will aid him to reconquer England for the Dane."

"My bode reached Sweyn, with letters from Githa, before Tostig; my bode
has returned this day.  Sweyn has dismissed Tostig; Sweyn will send fifty
ships, armed with picked men, to the aid of England."

"Brother," cried Leofwine, admiringly, "thou providest against danger ere
we but surmise it."

"Tostig," continued the King, unheeding the compliment, "will be the
first assailant: him we must meet.  His fast friend is Malcolm of
Scotland: him we must secure.  Go thou, Leofwine, with these letters to
Malcolm.--The next fear is from the Welch.  Go thou, Edwin of Mercia, to
the princes of Wales.  On thy way, strengthen the forts and deepen the
dykes of the marches.  These tablets hold thy instructions. The Norman,
as doubtless ye know, my thegns, hath sent to demand our crown, and hath
announced the coming of his war.  With the dawn I depart to our port at
Sandwich [232], to muster our fleets.  Thou with me, Gurth."

"These preparations need much treasure," said an old thegn, "and thou
hast lessened the taxes at the hour of need."

"Not yet is it the hour of need.  When it comes, our people will the more
readily meet it with their gold as with their iron.  There was great
wealth in the House of Godwin; that wealth mans the ships of England.
What hast thou there, Haco?"

"Thy new-issued coin: it hath on its reverse the word PEACE." [233]

Who ever saw one of those coins of the Last Saxon King, the bold simple
head on the one side, that single word "Peace" on the other, and did not
feel awed and touched!  What pathos in that word compared with the fate
which it failed to propitiate!

"Peace," said Harold: "to all that doth not render peace, slavery. Yea,
may I live to leave peace to our children!  Now, peace only rests on our
preparation for war.  You, Morcar, will return with all speed to York,
and look well to the mouth of the Humber."

Then, turning to each of the thegns successively he gave to each his post
and his duty; and that done, converse grew more general.  The many things
needful that had been long rotting in neglect under the Monk-king, and
now sprung up, craving instant reform, occupied them long and anxiously.
But cheered and inspirited by the vigour and foresight of Harold, whose
earlier slowness of character seemed winged by the occasion into rapid
decision (as is not uncommon with the Englishman), all difficulties
seemed light, and hope and courage were in every breast.



CHAPTER VIII.

Back went Hugues Maigrot, the monk, to William, and told the reply of
Harold to the Duke, in the presence of Lanfranc.  William himself heard
it in gloomy silence, for Fitzosborne as yet had been wholly unsuccessful
in stirring up the Norman barons to an expedition so hazardous, in a
cause so doubtful; and though prepared for the defiance of Harold, the
Duke was not prepared with the means to enforce his threats and make good
his claim.

So great was his abstraction, that he suffered the Lombard to dismiss the
monk without a word spoken by him; and he was first startled from his
reverie by Lanfranc's pale hand on his vast shoulder, and Lanfranc's low
voice in his dreamy ear:

"Up! Hero of Europe: for thy cause is won!  Up! and write with thy bold
characters, bold as if graved with the point of the sword, my credentials
to Rome.  Let me depart ere the sun sets: and as I go, look on the
sinking orb, and behold the sun of the Saxon that sets evermore on
England!"

Then briefly, that ablest statesman of the age, (and forgive him, despite
our modern lights, we must; for, sincere son of the Church, he regarded
the violated oath of Harold as entailing the legitimate forfeiture of his
realm, and, ignorant of true political freedom, looked upon Church and
Learning as the only civilisers of men,) then, briefly, Lanfranc detailed
to the listening Norman the outline of the arguments by which he intended
to move the Pontifical court to the Norman side; and enlarged upon the
vast accession throughout all Europe which the solemn sanction of the
Church would bring to his strength.  William's reawaking and ready
intellect soon seized upon the importance of the object pressed upon him.
He interrupted the Lombard, drew pen and parchment towards him, and wrote
rapidly. Horses were harnessed, horsemen equipped in haste, and with no
unfitting retinue Lanfranc departed on the mission, the most important in
its consequences that ever passed from potentate to pontiff. [234]
Rebraced to its purpose by Lanfranc's cheering assurances, the resolute,
indomitable soul of William now applied itself, night and day, to the
difficult task of rousing his haughty vavasours.  Yet weeks passed before
he could even meet a select council composed of his own kinsmen and most
trusted lords.  These, however, privately won over, promised to serve him
"with body and goods."  But one and all they told him, he must gain the
consent of the whole principality in a general council.  That council was
convened: thither came not only lords and knights, but merchants and
traders,--all the rising middle class of a thriving state.

The Duke bared his wrongs, his claims, and his schemes.  The assembly
would not or did not discuss the matter in his presence, they would not
be awed by its influence; and William retired from the hall. Various were
the opinions, stormy the debate; and so great the disorder grew, that
Fitzosborne, rising in the midst, exclaimed:

"Why this dispute?--why this unduteous discord?  Is not William your
lord?  Hath he not need of you?  Fail him now--and, you know him well--by
G--- he will remember it!  Aid him--and you know him well--large are his
rewards to service and love!"

Up rose at once baron and merchant; and when at last their spokesman was
chosen, that spokesman said: "William is our lord; is it not enough to
pay to our lord his dues?  No aid do we owe beyond the seas! Sore
harassed and taxed are we already by his wars!  Let him fail in this
strange and unparalleled hazard, and our land is undone!"

Loud applause followed this speech; the majority of the council were
against the Duke.

"Then," said Fitzosborne, craftily, "I, who know the means of each man
present, will, with your leave, represent your necessities to your Count,
and make such modest offer of assistance as may please ye, yet not chafe
your liege."

Into the trap of this proposal the opponents fell; and Fitzosborne, at
the head of the body, returned to William.  The Lord of Breteuil
approached the dais, on which William sate alone, his great sword in his
hand, and thus spoke:

"My liege, I may well say that never prince has people more leal than
yours, nor that have more proved their faith and love by the burdens they
have borne and the monies they have granted."

An universal murmur of applause followed these words.  "Good! good!"
almost shouted the merchants especially.  William's brows met, and he
looked very terrible.  The Lord of Breteuil gracefully waved his hand,
and resumed:

"Yea, my liege, much have they borne for your glory and need; much more
will they bear."

The faces of the audience fell.

"Their service does not compel them to aid you beyond the seas."

The faces of the audience brightened.

"But now they will aid you, in the land of the Saxon as in that of the
Frank."

"How?" cried a stray voice or two.

"Hush, O gentilz amys.  Forward, then, O my liege, and spare them in
nought.  He who has hitherto supplied you with two good mounted soldiers,
will now grant you four; and he who--"

"No, no, no!" roared two-thirds of the assembly; "we charged you with no
such answer; we said not that, nor that shall it be!"

Out stepped a baron.

"Within this country, to defend it, we will serve our Count; but to aid
him to conquer another man's country, no!"

Out stepped a knight.

"If once we rendered this double service, beyond seas as at home, it
would be held a right and a custom hereafter; and we should be as
mercenary soldiers, not free-born Normans."

Out stepped a merchant.

"And we and our children would be burdened for ever to feed one man's
ambition, whenever he saw a king to dethrone, or a realm to seize."

And then cried a general chorus:

"'t shall not be--it shall not!"

The assembly broke at once into knots of tens, twenties, thirties,
gesticulating and speaking aloud, like freemen in anger.  And ere
William, with all his prompt dissimulation, could do more than smother
his rage, and sit griping his sword hilt, and setting his teeth, the
assembly dispersed.

Such were the free souls of the Normans under the greatest of their
chiefs; and had those souls been less free, England had not been enslaved
in one age, to become free again, God grant, to the end of time!



CHAPTER IX.

Through the blue skies over England there rushed the bright stranger--a
meteor, a comet, a fiery star!  "such as no man before ever saw;" it
appeared on the 8th, before the kalends of May; seven nights did it shine
[235], and the faces of sleepless men were pale under the angry glare.

The river of Thames rushed blood-red in the beam, the winds at play on
the broad waves of the Humber, broke the surge of the billows into
sparkles of fire.  With three streamers, sharp and long as the sting of a
dragon, the foreboder of wrath rushed through the hosts of the stars.  On
every ruinous fort, by sea-coast and march, the warder crossed his breast
to behold it; on hill and in thoroughfare, crowds nightly assembled to
gaze on the terrible star.  Muttering hymns, monks hudded together round
the altars, as if to exorcise the land of a demon.  The gravestone of the
Saxon father-chief was lit up, as with the coil of the lightning; and the
Morthwyrtha looked from the mound, and saw in her visions of awe the
Valkyrs in the train of the fiery star.

On the roof of his palace stood Harold the King, and with folded arms he
looked on the Rider of Night.  And up the stairs of the turret came the
soft steps of Haco, and stealing near to the King, he said:

"Arm in haste, for the bodes have come breathless to tell thee that
Tostig, thy brother, with pirate and war-ship, is wasting thy shores and
slaughtering thy people!"



CHAPTER X.

Tostig, with the ships he had gained both from Norman and Norwegian,
recruited by Flemish adventurers, fled fast from the banners of Harold.
After plundering the Isle of Wight, and the Hampshire coasts, he sailed
up the Humber, where his vain heart had counted on friends yet left him
in his ancient earldom; but Harold's soul of vigour was everywhere.
Morcar, prepared by the King's bodes, encountered and chased the traitor,
and, deserted by most of his ships, with but twelve small craft Tostig
gained the shores of Scotland.  There, again forestalled by the Saxon
King, he failed in succour from Malcolm, and retreating to the Orkneys,
waited the fleets of Hardrada.

And now Harold, thus at freedom for defence against a foe more formidable
and less unnatural, hastened to make secure both the sea and the coast
against William the Norman.  "So great a ship force, so great a land
force, no king in the land had before."  All the summer, his fleets swept
the channel; his forces "lay everywhere by the sea."

But alas! now came the time when the improvident waste of Edward began to
be felt.  Provisions and pay for the armaments failed [236].  On the
defective resources at Harold's disposal, no modern historian hath
sufficiently dwelt.  The last Saxon king, the chosen of the people, had
not those levies, and could impose not those burdens which made his
successors mighty in war; and men began now to think that, after all,
there was no fear of this Norman invasion.  The summer was gone; the
autumn was come; was it likely that William would dare to trust himself
in an enemy's country as the winter drew near?  The Saxons--unlike their
fiercer kindred of Scandinavia, had no pleasure in war;--they fought well
in front of a foe, but they loathed the tedious preparations and costly
sacrifices which prudence demanded for self-defence.  They now revolted
from a strain upon their energies, of the necessity of which they were
not convinced!  Joyous at the temporary defeat of Tostig, men said,
"Marry, a joke indeed, that the Norman will put his shaven head into the
hornets' nest!  Let him come, if he dare!"

Still, with desperate effort, and at much risk of popularity, Harold held
together a force sufficient to repel any single invader.  From the time
of his accession his sleepless vigilance had kept watch on the Norman,
and his spies brought him news of all that passed.

And now what had passed in the councils of William?  The abrupt
disappointment which the Grand Assembly had occasioned him did not last
very long.  Made aware that he could not trust to the spirit of an
assembly, William now artfully summoned merchant, and knight, and baron,
one by one.  Submitted to the eloquence, the promises, the craft, of that
master intellect, and to the awe of that imposing presence; unassisted by
the courage which inferiors take from numbers, one by one yielded to the
will of the Count, and subscribed his quota for monies, for ships, and
for men.  And while this went on, Lanfranc was at work in the Vatican.
At that time the Archdeacon of the Roman Church was the famous
Hildebrand.  This extraordinary man, fit fellow-spirit to Lanfranc,
nursed one darling project, the success of which indeed founded the true
temporal power of the Roman pontiffs.  It was no less than that of
converting the mere religious ascendancy of the Holy See into the actual
sovereignty over the states of Christendom. The most immediate agents of
this gigantic scheme were the Normans, who had conquered Naples by the
arm of the adventurer Robert Guiscard, and under the gonfanon of St.
Peter.  Most of the new Norman countships and dukedoms thus created in
Italy had declared themselves fiefs of the Church; and the successor of
the Apostle might well hope, by aid of the Norman priest-knights, to
extend his sovereignty over Italy, and then dictate to the kings beyond
the Alps.

The aid of Hildebrand in behalf of William's claims was obtained at once
by Lanfranc.  The profound Archdeacon of Rome saw at a glance the immense
power that would accrue to the Church by the mere act of arrogating to
itself the disposition of crowns, subjecting rival princes to abide by
its decision, and fixing the men of its choice on the thrones of the
North.  Despite all its slavish superstition, the Saxon Church was
obnoxious to Rome.  Even the pious Edward had offended, by withholding
the old levy of Peter Pence; and simony, a crime peculiarly reprobated by
the pontiff, was notorious in England. Therefore there was much to aid
Hildebrand in the Assembly of the Cardinals, when he brought before them
the oath of Harold, the violation of the sacred relics, and demanded that
the pious Normans, true friends to the Roman Church, should be permitted
to Christianise the barbarous Saxons [237], and William he nominated as
heir to a throne promised to him by Edward, and forfeited by the perjury
of Harold.  Nevertheless, to the honour of that assembly, and of man,
there was a holy opposition to this wholesale barter of human
rights--this sanction of an armed onslaught on a Christian people.  "It
is infamous," said the good, "to authorise homicide."  But Hildebrand was
all-powerful, and prevailed.

William was at high feast with his barons when Lanfranc dismounted at his
gates and entered his hall.

"Hail to thee, King of England!" he said.  "I bring the bull that
excommunicates Harold and his adherents; I bring to thee the gift of the
Roman Church, the land and royalty of England.  I bring to thee the
gonfanon hallowed by the heir of the Apostle, and the very ring that
contains the precious relic of the Apostle himself!  Now who will shrink
from thy side?  Publish thy ban, not in Normandy alone, but in every
region and realm where the Church is honoured.  This is the first war of
the Cross."

Then indeed was it seen--that might of the Church!  Soon as were made
known the sanction and gifts of the Pope, all the continent stirred as to
the blast of the trump in the Crusade, of which that war was the herald.
From Maine and from Anjou, from Poitou and Bretagne, from France and from
Flanders, from Aquitaine and Burgundy, flashed the spear, galloped the
steed.  The robber-chiefs from the castles now grey on the Rhine; the
hunters and bandits from the roots of the Alps; baron and knight, varlet
and vagrant,--all came to the flag of the Church,--to the pillage of
England.  For side by side with the Pope's holy bull was the martial
ban:--"Good pay and broad lands to every one who will serve Count William
with spear, and with sword, and with cross-bow."  And the Duke said to
Fitzosborne, as he parcelled out the fair fields of England into Norman
fiefs:

"Harold hath not the strength of mind to promise the least of those
things that belong to me.  But I have the right to promise that which is
mine, and also that which belongs to him.  He must be the victor who can
give away both his own and what belongs to his foe." [238]

All on the continent of Europe regarded England's king as
accursed--William's enterprise as holy; and mothers who had turned pale
when their sons went forth to the boar-chase, sent their darlings to
enter their names, for the weal of their souls, in the swollen
muster-roll of William the Norman.  Every port now in Neustria was busy
with terrible life; in every wood was heard the axe felling logs for the
ships; from every anvil flew the sparks from the hammer, as iron took
shape into helmet and sword.  All things seemed to favour the Church's
chosen one.  Conan, Count of Bretagne, sent to claim the Duchy of
Normandy, as legitimate heir.  A few days afterwards, Conan died,
poisoned (as had died his father before him) by the mouth of his horn and
the web of his gloves.  And the new Count of Bretagne sent his sons to
take part against Harold.

All the armament mustered at the roadstead of St. Valery, at the mouth of
the Somme.  But the winds were long hostile, and the rains fell in
torrents.



CHAPTER XI.

And now, while war thus hungered for England at the mouth of the Somme,
the last and most renowned of the sea-kings, Harold Hardrada, entered his
galley, the tallest and strongest of a fleet of three hundred sail, that
peopled the seas round Solundir.  And a man named Gyrdir, on board the
King's ship, dreamed a dream [239].  He saw a great witch-wife standing
on an isle of the Sulen, with a fork in one hand and a trough in the
other [240].  He saw her pass over the whole fleet;--by each of the three
hundred ships he saw her; and a fowl sat on the stern of each ship, and
that fowl was a raven; and he heard the witch-wife sing this song:

    "From the East I allure him,
     At the West I secure him;
     In the feast I foresee
     Rare the relics for me;
       Red the drink, white the bones.

     The ravens sit greeding,
     And watching, and heeding;
     Thoro' wind, over water,
     Comes scent of the slaughter,
     And ravens sit greeding
       Their share of the bones.

     Thoro' wind, thoro' weather,
     We're sailing together;
     I sail with the ravens;
     I watch with the ravens;
     I snatch from the ravens
       My share of the bones."

There was also a man called Thord [241], in a ship that lay near the
King's; and he too dreamed a dream.  He saw the fleet nearing land, and
that land was England.  And on the land was a battle-array two-fold, and
many banners were flapping on both sides.  And before the army of the
landfolk was riding a huge witch-wife upon a wolf; the wolf had a man's
carcase in his mouth, and the blood was dripping and dropping from his
jaws; and when the wolf had eaten up that carcase, the witch-wife threw
another into his jaws; and so, one after another; and the wolf cranched
and swallowed them all.  And the witch-wife sang this song:

    "The green waving fields
       Are hidden behind
     The flash of the shields,
       And the rush of the banners
         That toss in the wind.

     But Skade's eagle eyes
       Pierce the wall of the steel,
     And behold from the skies
       What the earth would conceal;
     O'er the rush of the banners
       She poises her wing,
     And marks with a shadow
       The brow of the King.

     And, in bode of his doom,
     Jaw of Wolf, be the tomb
     Of the bones and the flesh,
     Gore-bedabbled and fresh,
     That cranch and that drip
     Under fang and from lip.
     As I ride in the van
     Of the feasters on man,
       With the King!

     Grim wolf, sate my maw,
       Full enow shall there be.
     Hairy jaw, hungry maw,
       Both for ye and for me!

     Meaner food be the feast
     Of the fowl and the beast;
     But the witch, for her share,
     Takes the best of the fare
     And the witch shall be fed
     With the king of the dead,
     When she rides in the van
     Of the slayers of man,
       With the King."

And King Harold dreamed a dream.  And he saw before him his brother, St.
Olave.  And the dead, to the Scald-King sang this song:

    "Bold as thou in the fight,
       Blithe as thou in the hall,
     Shone the noon of my might,
       Ere the night of my fall!

     How humble is death,
       And how haughty is life;
     And how fleeting the breath
       Between slumber and strife!

     All the earth is too narrow,
       O life, for thy tread!
     Two strides o'er the barrow
       Can measure the dead.

     Yet mighty that space is
       Which seemeth so small;
     The realm of all races,
       With room for them all!"

But Harold Hardrada scorned witch-wife and dream; and his fleets sailed
on.  Tostig joined him off the Orkney Isles, and this great armament soon
came in sight of the shores of England.  They landed at Cleveland [242],
and at the dread of the terrible Norsemen, the coastmen fled or
submitted.  With booty and plunder they sailed on to Scarborough, but
there the townsfolk were brave, and the walls were strong.

The Norsemen ascended a hill above the town, lit a huge pile of wood, and
tossed the burning piles down on the roofs.  House after house caught the
flame, and through the glare and the crash rushed the men of Hardrada.
Great was the slaughter, and ample the plunder; and the town, awed and
depeopled, submitted to flame and to sword.

Then the fleet sailed up the Humber and Ouse, and landed at Richall, not
far from York; but Morcar, the Earl of Northumbria, came out with all his
forces,--all the stout men and tall of the great race of the Anglo-Dane.

Then Hardrada advanced his flag, called Land-Eyda, the "Ravager of the
World," [243] and, chaunting a war-stave,--led his men to the onslaught.

The battle was fierce, but short.  The English troops were defeated, they
fled into York; and the Ravager of the World was borne in triumph to the
gates of the town.  An exiled chief, however tyrannous and hateful, hath
ever some friends among the desperate and lawless; and success ever finds
allies among the weak and the craven,--so many Northumbrians now came to
the side of Tostig.  Dissension and mutiny broke out amidst the garrison
within; Morcar, unable to control the townsfolk, was driven forth with
those still true to their country and King, and York agreed to open its
gates to the conquering invader.

At the news of this foe on the north side of the land, King Harold was
compelled to withdraw all the forces at watch in the south against the
tardy invasion of William.  It was the middle of September; eight months
had elapsed since the Norman had launched forth his vaunting threat.
Would he now dare to come?--Come or not, that foe was afar, and this was
in the heart of the country!

Now, York having thus capitulated, all the land round was humbled and
awed; and Hardrada and Tostig were blithe and gay; and many days, thought
they, must pass ere Harold the King can come from the south to the north.
The camp of the Norsemen was at Standford Bridge, and that day it was
settled that they should formally enter York.  Their ships lay in the
river beyond; a large portion of the armament was with the ships.  The
day was warm, and the men with Hardrada had laid aside their heavy mail
and were "making merry," talking of the plunder of York, jeering at Saxon
valour, and gloating over thoughts of the Saxon maids, whom Saxon men had
failed to protect,--when suddenly between them and the town rose and
rolled a great cloud of dust. High it rose, and fast it rolled, and from
the heart of the cloud shone the spear and the shield.

"What army comes yonder?" said Harold Hardrada.

"Surely," answered Tostig, "it comes from the town that we are to enter
as conquerors, and can be but the friendly Northumbrians who have
deserted Morcar for me."

Nearer and nearer came the force, and the shine of the arms was like the
glancing of ice.

"Advance the World-Ravager!" cried Harold Hardrada, "draw up, and to
arms!"

Then, picking out three of his briskest youths, he despatched them to the
force on the river with orders to come up quick to the aid.  For already,
through the cloud and amidst the spears, was seen the flag of the English
King.  On the previous night King Harold had entered York, unknown to the
invaders--appeased the mutiny--cheered the townsfolks; and now came like
a thunderbolt borne by the winds, to clear the air of England from the
clouds of the North.

Both armaments drew up in haste, and Hardrada formed his array in the
form of a circle,--the line long but not deep, the wings curving round
till they met [244], shield to shield.  Those who stood in the first rank
set their spear shafts on the ground, the points level with the breast of
a horseman; those in the second, with spears yet lower, level with the
breast of a horse; thus forming a double palisade against the charge of
cavalry.  In the centre of this circle was placed the Ravager of the
World, and round it a rampart of shields. Behind that rampart was the
accustomed post at the onset of battle for the King and his body-guard.
But Tostig was in front, with his own Northumbrian lion banner, and his
chosen men.

While this army was thus being formed, the English King was marshalling
his force in the far more formidable tactics, which his military science
had perfected from the warfare of the Danes.  That form of battalion,
invincible hitherto under his leadership, was in the manner of a wedge or
triangle.  So that, in attack, the men marched on the foe presenting the
smallest possible surface to the missives, and in defence, all three
lines faced the assailants.  King Harold cast his eye over the closing
lines, and then, turning to Gurth, who rode by his side, said:

"Take one man from yon hostile army, and with what joy should we charge
on the Northmen!"

"I conceive thee," answered Gurth, mournfully, "and the same thought of
that one man makes my arm feel palsied."

The King mused, and drew down the nasal bar of his helmet.

"Thegns," said he suddenly, to the score of riders who grouped round him,
"follow."  And shaking the rein of his horse, King Harold rode straight
to that part of the hostile front from which rose, above the spears, the
Northumbrian banner of Tostig.  Wondering, but mute, the twenty thegns
followed him.  Before the grim array, and hard by Tostig's banner, the
King checked his steed and cried:

"Is Tostig, the son of Godwin and Githa, by the flag of the Northumbrian
earldom?"

With his helmet raised, and his Norwegian mantle flowing over his mail,
Earl Tostig rode forth at that voice, and came up to the speaker. [245]

"What wouldst thou with me, daring foe?"

The Saxon horseman paused, and his deep voice trembled tenderly, as he
answered slowly:

"Thy brother, King Harold, sends to salute thee.  Let not the sons from
the same womb wage unnatural war in the soil of their fathers."

"What will Harold the King give to his brother?" answered Tostig,
"Northumbria already he hath bestowed on the son of his house's foe."

The Saxon hesitated, and a rider by his side took up the word.

"If the Northumbrians will receive thee again, Northumbria shalt thou
have, and the King will bestow his late earldom of Wessex on Morcar; if
the Northumbrians reject thee, thou shalt have all the lordships which
King Harold hath promised to Gurth."

"This is well," answered Tostig; and he seemed to pause as in
doubt;--when, made aware of this parley, King Harold Hardrada, on his
coal-black steed, with his helm all shining with gold, rode from the
lines, and came into hearing.

"Ha!" said Tostig, then turning round, as the giant form of the Norse
King threw its vast shadow over the ground.

"And if I take the offer, what will Harold son of Godwin give to my
friend and ally Hardrada of Norway?"

The Saxon rider reared his head at these words, and gazed on the large
front of Hardrada, as he answered, loud and distinct:

"Seven feet of land for a grave, or, seeing that he is taller than other
men, as much more as his corse may demand!"

"Then go back, and tell Harold my brother to get ready for battle; for
never shall the Scalds and the warriors of Norway say that Tostig lured
their king in his cause, to betray him to his foe.  Here did he come, and
here came I, to win as the brave win, or die as the brave die!"

A rider of younger and slighter form than the rest, here whispered the
Saxon King:

"Delay no more, or thy men's hearts will fear treason."

"The tie is rent from my heart, O Haco," answered the King, "and the
heart flies back to our England."

He waved his hand, turned his steed, and rode off.  The eye of Hardrada
followed the horseman.

"And who," he asked calmly, "is that man who spoke so well?" [246]

"King Harold!" answered Tostig, briefly.

"How!" cried the Norseman, reddening, "how was not that made known to me
before?  Never should he have gone back,--never told hereafter the doom
of this day!"

With all his ferocity, his envy, his grudge to Harold, and his treason to
England, some rude notions of honour still lay confused in the breast of
the Saxon; and he answered stoutly:

"Imprudent was Harold's coming, and great his danger; but he came to
offer me peace and dominion.  Had I betrayed him, I had not been his foe,
but his murderer!"

The Norse King smiled approvingly, and, turning to his chiefs, said
drily:

"That man was shorter than some of us, but he rode firm in his stirrups."

And then this extraordinary person, who united in himself all the types
of an age that vanished for ever in his grave, and who is the more
interesting, as in him we see the race from which the Norman sprang,
began, in the rich full voice that pealed deep as an organ, to chaunt his
impromptu war-song.  He halted in the midst, and with great composure
said:

"That verse is but ill-tuned: I must try a better." [247]

He passed his hand over his brow, mused an instant, and then, with his
fair face all illumined, he burst forth as inspired.

This time, air, rhythm, words, all so chimed in with his own enthusiasm
and that of his men, that the effect was inexpressible.  It was, indeed,
like the charm of those runes which are said to have maddened the
Berserker with the frenzy of war.

Meanwhile the Saxon phalanx came on, slow and firm, and in a few minutes
the battle began.  It commenced first with the charge of the English
cavalry (never numerous), led by Leofwine and Haco, but the double
palisade of the Norman spears formed an impassable barrier; and the
horsemen, recoiling from the frieze, rode round the iron circle without
other damage than the spear and javelin could effect. Meanwhile, King
Harold, who had dismounted, marched, as was his wont, with the body of
footmen.  He kept his post in the hollow of the triangular wedge; whence
he could best issue his orders.  Avoiding the side over which Tostig
presided, he halted his array in full centre of the enemy, where the
Ravager of the World, streaming high above the inner rampart of shields,
showed the presence of the giant Hardrada.

The air was now literally darkened with the flights of arrows and spears;
and in a war of missives, the Saxons were less skilled than the Norsemen.
Still King Harold restrained the ardour of his men, who, sore harassed by
the darts, yearned to close on the foe.  He himself, standing on a little
eminence, more exposed than his meanest soldier, deliberately eyed the
sallies of the horse, and watched the moment he foresaw, when, encouraged
by his own suspense and the feeble attacks of the cavalry, the Norsemen
would lift their spears from the ground, and advance themselves to the
assault.  That moment came; unable to withhold their own fiery zeal,
stimulated by the tromp and the clash, and the war hymns of their King,
and his choral Scalds, the Norsemen broke ground and came on.

"To your axes, and charge!" cried Harold; and passing at once from the
centre to the front, he led on the array.  The impetus of that artful
phalanx was tremendous; it pierced through the ring of the Norwegians; it
clove into the rampart of shields; and King Harold's battle-axe was the
first that shivered that wall of steel; his step the first that strode
into the innermost circle that guarded the Ravager of the World.

Then forth, from under the shade of that great flag, came, himself also
on foot, Harold Hardrada: shouting and chaunting, he leapt with long
strides into the thick of the onslaught.  He had flung away his shield,
and swaying with both hands his enormous sword, he hewed down man after
man till space grew clear before him; and the English, recoiling in awe
before an image of height and strength that seemed superhuman, left but
one form standing firm, and in front, to oppose his way.

At that moment the whole strife seemed not to belong to an age
comparatively modern, it took a character of remotest eld; and Thor and
Odin seemed to have returned to the earth.  Behind this towering and
Titan warrior, their wild hair streaming long under their helms, came his
Scalds, all singing their hymns, drunk with the madness of battle.  And
the Ravager of the World tossed and flapped as it followed, so that the
vast raven depicted on its folds seemed horrid with life.  And calm and
alone, his eye watchful, his axe lifted, his foot ready for rush or for
spring--but firm as an oak against flight--stood the Last of the Saxon
Kings.

Down bounded Hardrada, and down shore his sword; King Harold's shield was
cloven in two, and the force of the blow brought himself to his knee.
But, as swift as the flash of that sword, he sprang to his feet; and
while Hardrada still bowed his head, not recovered from the force of his
blow, the axe of the Saxon came so full on his helmet, that the giant
reeled, dropped his sword, and staggered back; his Scalds and his chiefs
rushed around him.  That gallant stand of King Harold saved his English
from flight; and now, as they saw him almost lost in the throng, yet
still cleaving his way--on, on--to the raven standard, they rallied with
one heart, and shouting forth, "Out, out! Holy Crosse!" forced their way
to his side, and the fight now waged hot and equal, hand to hand.
Meanwhile Hardrada, borne a little apart, and relieved from his dinted
helmet, recovered the shock of the weightiest blow that had ever dimmed
his eye and numbed his hand. Tossing the helmet on the ground, his bright
locks glittering like sun-beams, he rushed back to the melee.  Again helm
and mail went down before him; again through the crowd he saw the arm
that had smitten him; again he sprang forwards to finish the war with a
blow,--when a shaft from some distant bow pierced the throat which the
casque now left bare; a sound like the wail of a death-song murmured
brokenly from his lips, which then gushed out with blood, and tossing up
his arms wildly, he fell to the ground, a corpse.  At that sight, a yell
of such terror, and woe, and wrath all commingled, broke from the
Norsemen, that it hushed the very war for the moment!

"On!" cried the Saxon King; "let our earth take its spoiler!  On to the
standard, and the day is our own!"

"On to the standard!" cried Haco, who, his horse slain under him, all
bloody with wounds not his own, now came to the King's side.  Grim and
tall rose the standard, and the streamer shrieked and flapped in the wind
as if the raven had voice, when, right before Harold, right between him
and the banner, stood Tostig his brother, known by the splendour of his
mail, the gold work on his mantle--known by the fierce laugh, and the
defying voice.

"What matters!" cried Haco; "strike, O King, for thy crown!"

Harold's hand griped Haco's arm convulsively; he lowered his axe, turned
round, and passed shudderingly away.

Both armies now paused from the attack; for both were thrown into great
disorder, and each gladly gave respite to the other, to re-form its own
shattered array.

The Norsemen were not the soldiers to yield because their leader was
slain--rather the more resolute to fight, since revenge was now added to
valour; yet, but for the daring and promptness with which Tostig had cut
his way to the standard, the day had been already decided.

During the pause, Harold summoning Gurth, said to him in great emotion,
"For the sake of Nature, for the love of God, go, O Gurth,--go to Tostig;
urge him, now Hardrada is dead, urge him to peace.  All that we can
proffer with honour, proffer--quarter and free retreat to every Norseman
[248].  Oh, save me, save us, from a brother's blood!"

Gurth lifted his helmet, and kissed the mailed hand that grasped his own.

"I go," said he.  And so, bareheaded, and with a single trumpeter, he
went to the hostile lines.

Harold awaited him in great agitation; nor could any man have guessed
what bitter and awful thoughts lay in that heart, from which, in the way
to power, tie after tie had been wrenched away.  He did not wait long;
and even before Gurth rejoined him, he knew by an unanimous shout of
fury, to which the clash of countless shields chimed in, that the mission
had been in vain.

Tostig had refused to hear Gurth, save in presence of the Norwegian
chiefs; and when the message had been delivered, they all cried, "We
would rather fall one across the corpse of the other [249], than leave a
field in which our King was slain."

"Ye hear them," said Tostig; "as they speak, speak I."

"Not mine this guilt, too, O God!" said Harold, solemnly lifting his hand
on high.  "Now, then, to duty."

By this time the Norwegian reinforcements had arrived from the ships, and
this for a short time rendered the conflict, that immediately ensued,
uncertain and critical.  But Harold's generalship was now as consummate
as his valour had been daring.  He kept his men true to their
irrefragable line.  Even if fragments splintered off, each fragment threw
itself into the form of the resistless wedge.  One Norwegian, standing on
the bridge of Stanford, long guarded that pass; and no less than forty
Saxons are said to have perished by his arm. To him the English King sent
a generous pledge, not only of safety for the life, but honour for the
valour.  The viking refused to surrender, and fell at last by a javelin
from the hand of Haco.  As if in him had been embodied the unyielding
war-god of the Norsemen, in that death died the last hope of the vikings.
They fell literally where they stood; many, from sheer exhaustion and the
weight of their mail, died without a blow [250].  And in the shades of
nightfall, Harold stood amidst the shattered rampart of shields, his foot
on the corpse of the standard-bearer, his hand on the Ravager of the
World.

"Thy brother's corpse is borne yonder," said Haco in the ear of the King,
as wiping the blood from his sword, he plunged it back into the sheath.



CHAPTER XII.

Young Olave, the son of Hardrada, had happily escaped the slaughter. A
strong detachment of the Norwegians had still remained with the vessels,
and amongst them some prudent old chiefs, who foreseeing the probable
results of the day, and knowing that Hardrada would never quit, save as a
conqueror or a corpse, the field on which he had planted the Ravager of
the World, had detained the prince almost by force from sharing the fate
of his father.  But ere those vessels could put out to sea, the vigorous
measures of the Saxon King had already intercepted the retreat of the
vessels.  And then, ranging their shields as a wall round their masts,
the bold vikings at least determined to die as men.  But with the morning
came King Harold himself to the banks of the river, and behind him, with
trailed lances, a solemn procession that bore the body of the Scald King.
They halted on the margin, and a boat was launched towards the Norwegian
fleet, bearing a monk, who demanded the chief, to send a deputation,
headed by the young Prince himself, to receive the corpse of their King,
and hear the proposals of the Saxon.

The vikings, who had anticipated no preliminaries to the massacre they
awaited, did not hesitate to accept these overtures.  Twelve of the most
famous chiefs still surviving, and Olave himself, entered the boat; and,
standing between his brothers, Leofwine and Gurth, Harold thus accosted
them:

"Your King invaded a people that had given him no offence; he has paid
the forfeit--we war not with the dead!  Give to his remains the honours
due to the brave.  Without ransom or condition, we yield to you what can
no longer harm us.  And for thee, young Prince," continued the King, with
a tone of pity in his voice, as he contemplated the stately boyhood, and
proud, but deep grief in the face of Olave; "for thee, wilt thou not live
to learn that the wars of Odin are treason to the Faith of the Cross?  We
have conquered--we dare not butcher.  Take such ships as ye need for
those that survive. Three-and-twenty I offer for your transport.  Return
to your native shores, and guard them as we have guarded ours.  Are ye
contented?" Amongst those chiefs was a stern priest--the Bishop of the
Orcades--he advanced and bent his knee to the King.

"O Lord of England," said he, "yesterday thou didst conquer the
form--to-day, the soul.  And never more may generous Norsemen invade the
coast of him who honours the dead and spares the living."

"Amen!" cried the chiefs, and they all knelt to Harold.  The young Prince
stood a moment irresolute, for his dead father was on the bier before
him, and revenge was yet a virtue in the heart of a sea-king. But lifting
his eyes to Harold's, the mild and gentle majesty of the Saxon's brow was
irresistible in its benign command; and stretching his right hand to the
King, he raised on high the other, and said aloud, "Faith and friendship
with thee and England evermore."

Then all the chiefs rising, they gathered round the bier, but no hand, in
the sight of the conquering foe, lifted the cloth of gold that covered
the corpse of the famous King.  The bearers of the bier moved on slowly
towards the boat; the Norwegians followed with measured funereal steps.
And not till the bier was placed on board the royal galley was there
heard the wail of woe; but then it came, loud, and deep, and dismal, and
was followed by a burst of wild song from a surviving Scald.

The Norwegian preparations for departure were soon made, and the ships
vouchsafed to their convoy raised anchor, and sailed down the stream.
Harold's eye watched the ships from the river banks.

"And there," said he, at last, "there glide the last sails that shall
ever bear the devastating raven to the shores of England."

Truly, in that field had been the most signal defeat those warriors,
hitherto almost invincible, had known.  On that bier lay the last son of
Berserker and sea-king: and be it, O Harold, remembered in thine honour,
that not by the Norman, but by thee, true-hearted Saxon, was trampled on
the English soil the Ravager of the World! [251]

"So be it," said Haco, "and so, methinks, will it be.  But forget not the
descendant of the Norsemen, the Count of Rouen!"

Harold started, and turned to his chiefs.  "Sound trumpet, and fall in.
To York we march.  There re-settle the earldom, collect the spoil, and
then back, my men, to the southern shores.  Yet first kneel thou, Haco,
son of my brother Sweyn: thy deeds were done in the light of Heaven, in
the sight of warriors in the open field; so should thine honours find
thee!  Not with the vain fripperies of Norman knighthood do I deck thee,
but make thee one of the elder brotherhood of Minister and Miles.  I gird
round thy loins mine own baldric of pure silver; I place in thy hand mine
own sword of plain steel; and bid thee rise to take place in council and
camps amongst the Proceres of England,--Earl of Hertford and Essex.
Boy," whispered the King, as he bent over the pale cheek of his nephew,
"thank not me.  From me the thanks should come.  On the day that saw
Tostig's crime and his death, thou didst purify the name of my brother
Sweyn!  On to our city of York!"

High banquet was held in York; and, according to the customs of the Saxon
monarchs, the King could not absent himself from the Victory Feast of his
thegns.  He sate at the head of the board, between his brothers.  Morcar,
whose departure from the city had deprived him of a share in the battle,
had arrived that day with his brother Edwin, whom he had gone to summon
to his aid.  And though the young Earls envied the fame they had not
shared, the envy was noble.

Gay and boisterous was the wassail; and lively song, long neglected in
England, woke, as it wakes ever, at the breath of Joy and Fame.  As if in
the days of Alfred, the harp passed from hand to hand; martial and rough
the strain beneath the touch of the Anglo-Dane, more refined and
thoughtful the lay when it chimed to the voice of the Anglo-Saxon. But
the memory of Tostig--all guilty though he was--a brother slain in war
with a brother, lay heavy on Harold's soul.  Still, so had he schooled
and trained himself to live but for England--know no joy and no woe not
hers--that by degrees and strong efforts he shook off his gloom.  And
music, and song, and wine, and blazing lights, and the proud sight of
those long lines of valiant men, whose hearts had beat and whose hands
had triumphed in the same cause, all aided to link his senses with the
gladness of the hour.

And now, as night advanced, Leofwine, who was ever a favourite in the
banquet, as Gurth in the council, rose to propose the drink-hael, which
carries the most characteristic of our modern social customs to an
antiquity so remote, and the roar was hushed at the sight of the young
Earl's winsome face.  With due decorum, he uncovered his head [252],
composed his countenance, and began:

"Craving forgiveness of my lord the King, and this noble assembly," said
Leofwine, "in which are so many from whom what I intend to propose would
come with better grace, I would remind you that William, Count of the
Normans, meditates a pleasure excursion, of the same nature as our late
visitor, Harold Hardrada's."

A scornful laugh ran through the hall.

"And as we English are hospitable folk, and give any man, who asks, meat
and board for one night, so one day's welcome, methinks, will be all that
the Count of the Normans will need at our English hands."

Flushed with the joyous insolence of wine, the wassailers roared
applause.

"Wherefore, this drink-hael to William of Rouen!  And, to borrow a saying
now in every man's lips, and which, I think, our good scops will take
care that our children's children shall learn by heart,--since he covets
our Saxon soil, 'seven feet of land' in frank pledge to him for ever!"

"Drink-hael to William the Norman!" shouted the revellers; and each man,
with mocking formality, took off his cap, kissed his hand, and bowed
[253].  "Drink-hael to William the Norman!" and the shout rolled from
floor to roof--when, in the midst of the uproar, a man all bedabbled with
dust and mire, rushed into the hall, rushed through the rows of the
banqueters, rushed to the throne-chair of Harold, and cried aloud,
"William the Norman is encamped on the shores of Sussex; and with the
mightiest armament ever yet seen in England, is ravaging the land far and
near!"



BOOK XII.
THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS



CHAPTER I.



In the heart of the forest land in which Hilda's abode was situated, a

gloomy pool reflected upon its stagnant waters the still shadows of the
autumnal foliage.  As is common in ancient forests in the neighbourhood
of men's wants, the trees were dwarfed in height by repeated loppings,
and the boughs sprang from the hollow, gnarled boles of pollard oaks and
beeches; the trunks, vast in girth, and covered with mosses and whitening
canker-stains, or wreaths of ivy, spoke of the most remote antiquity: but
the boughs which their lingering and mutilated life put forth, were
either thin and feeble with innumerable branchlets, or were centred on
some solitary distorted limb which the woodman's axe had spared.  The
trees thus assumed all manner of crooked, deformed, fantastic shapes--all
betokening age, and all decay--all, in despite of the noiseless solitude
around, proclaiming the waste and ravages of man.

The time was that of the first watches of night, when the autumnal moon
was brightest and broadest.  You might see, on the opposite side of the
pool, the antlers of the deer every now and then, moving restlessly above
the fern in which they had made their couch; and, through the nearer
glades, the hares and conies stealing forth to sport or to feed; or the
bat wheeling low, in chase of the forest moth.  From the thickest part of
the copse came a slow human foot, and Hilda, emerging, paused by the
waters of the pool.  That serene and stony calm habitual to her features
was gone; sorrow and passion had seized the soul of the Vala, in the
midst of its fancied security from the troubles it presumed to foresee
for others.  The lines of the face were deep and care-worn--age had come
on with rapid strides--and the light of the eye was vague and unsettled,
as if the lofty reason shook, terrified in its pride, at last.

"Alone, alone!" she murmured, half aloud: "yea, evermore alone!  And the
grandchild I had reared to be the mother of kings--whose fate, from the
cradle, seemed linked with royalty and love--in whom, watching and hoping
for, in whom, loving and heeding, methought I lived again the sweet human
life--hath gone from my hearth--forsaken, broken-hearted--withering down
to the grave under the shade of the barren cloister!  Is mine heart,
then, all a lie?  Are the gods who led Odin from the Scythian East but
the juggling fiends whom the craven Christian abhors?  Lo! the Wine Month
has come; a few nights more, and the sun which all prophecy foretold
should go down on the union of the icing and the maid, shall bring round
the appointed day: yet Aldyth still lives, and Edith still withers; and
War stands side by side with the Church, between the betrothed and the
altar.  Verily, verily, my spirit hath lost its power, and leaves me
bowed, in the awe of night, a feeble, aged, hopeless, childless woman!"

Tears of human weakness rolled down the Vala's cheeks.  At that moment, a
laugh came from a thing that had seemed like the fallen trunk of a tree,
or a trough in which the herdsman waters his cattle, so still, and
shapeless, and undefined it had lain amongst the rank weeds and
night-shade and trailing creepers on the marge of the pool, The laugh was
low yet fearful to hear.

Slowly, the thing moved, and rose, and took the outline of a human form;
and the Prophetess beheld the witch whose sleep she had disturbed by the
Saxon's grave.

"Where is the banner?" said the witch, laying her hand on Hilda's arm,
and looking into her face with bleared and rheumy eyes, "where is the
banner thy handmaids were weaving for Harold the Earl?  Why didst thou
lay aside that labour of love for Harold the King?  Hie thee home, and
bid thy maidens ply all night at the work; make it potent with rune and
with spell, and with gums of the seid.  Take the banner to Harold the
King as a marriage-gift; for the day of his birth shall be still the day
of his nuptials with Edith the Fair!"

Hilda gazed on the hideous form before her; and so had her soul fallen
from its arrogant pride of place, that instead of the scorn with which so
foul a pretender to the Great Art had before inspired the King-born
Prophetess, her veins tingled with credulous awe.

"Art thou a mortal like myself," she said after a pause, "or one of those
beings often seen by the shepherd in mist and rain, driving before them
their shadowy flocks? one of those of whom no man knoweth whether they
are of earth or of Helheim? whether they have ever known the lot and
conditions of flesh, or are but some dismal race between body and spirit,
hateful alike to gods and to men?"

The dreadful hag shook her head, as if refusing to answer the question,
and said:

"Sit we down, sit we down by the dead dull pool, and if thou wouldst be
wise as I am, wake up all thy wrongs, fill thyself with hate, and let thy
thoughts be curses.  Nothing is strong on earth but the Will; and hate to
the will is as the iron in the hands of the war-man."

"Ha!" answered Hilda, "then thou art indeed one of the loathsome brood
whose magic is born, not of the aspiring soul, but the fiendlike heart.
And between us there is no union.  I am of the race of those whom priests
and kings reverenced and honoured as the oracles of heaven; and rather
let my lore be dimmed and weakened, in admitting the humanities of hope
and love, than be lightened by the glare of the wrath that Lok and Rana
bear the children of men."

"What, art thou so base and so doting," said the hag, with fierce
contempt, "as to know that another has supplanted thine Edith, that all
the schemes of thy life are undone, and yet feel no hate for the man who
hath wronged her and thee?--the man who had never been king if thou hadst
not breathed into him the ambition of rule?  Think, and curse!"

"My curse would wither the heart that is entwined within his," answered
Hilda; "and," she added abruptly, as if eager to escape from her own
impulses, "didst thou not tell me, even now, that the wrong would be
redressed, and his betrothed yet be his bride on the appointed day?"

"Ha! home, then!--home! and weave the charmed woof of the banner, broider
it with zimmes and with gold worthy the standard of a king; for I tell
thee, that where that banner is planted, shall Edith clasp with bridal
arms her adored.  And the hwata thou hast read by the bautastein, and in
the temple of the Briton's revengeful gods, shall be fulfilled."

"Dark daughter of Hela," said the Prophetess, "whether demon or god hath
inspired thee, I hear in my spirit a voice that tells me thou hast
pierced to a truth that my lore could not reach.  Thou art houseless and
poor; I will give wealth to thine age if thou wilt stand with me by the
altar of Thor, and let thy galdra unriddle the secrets that have baffled
mine own.  All foreshown to me hath ever come to pass, but in a sense
other than that in which my soul read the rune and the dream, the leaf
and the fount, the star and the Scin-laeca. My husband slain in his
youth; my daughter maddened with woe; her lord murdered on his
hearthstone; Sweyn, whom I loved as my child,"--the Vala paused,
contending against her own emotions,--"I loved them all," she faltered,
clasping her hands, "for them I tasked the future.  The future promised
fair; I lured them to their doom, and when the doom came, lo! the promise
was kept! but how?--and now, Edith, the last of my race; Harold, the
pride of my pride!--speak, thing of Horror and Night, canst thou
disentangle the web in which my soul struggles, weak as the fly in the
spider's mesh?"

"On the third night from this, will I stand with thee by the altar of
Thor, and unriddle the rede of my masters, unknown and unguessed, whom
thou hadst duteously served.  And ere the sun rise, the greatest mystery
earth knows shall be bare to thy soul!"

As the witch spoke, a cloud passed over the moon; and before the light
broke forth again, the hag had vanished.  There was only seen in the dull
pool, the water-rat swimming through the rank sedges; only in the forest,
the grey wings of the owl, fluttering heavily across the glades; only in
the grass, the red eyes of the bloated toad.

Then Hilda went slowly home, and the maids worked all night at the
charmed banner.  All that night, too, the watch-dogs howled in the yard,
through the ruined peristyle--howled in rage and in fear.  And under the
lattice of the room in which the maids broidered the banner, and the
Prophetess muttered her charm, there couched, muttering also, a dark,
shapeless thing, at which those dogs howled in rage and in fear.



CHAPTER II.

All within the palace of Westminster showed the confusion and dismay of
the awful time;--all, at least, save the council-chamber, in which
Harold, who had arrived the night before, conferred with his thegns. It
was evening: the courtyards and the halls were filled with armed men, and
almost with every hour came rider and bode from the Sussex shores.  In
the corridors the Churchmen grouped and whispered, as they had whispered
and grouped in the day of King Edward's death.  Stigand passed among
them, pale and thoughtful.  The serge gowns came rustling round the
archprelate for counsel or courage.

"Shall we go forth with the King's army?" asked a young monk, bolder than
the rest, "to animate the host with prayer and hymn?"

"Fool!" said the miserly prelate, "fool! if we do so, and the Norman
conquer, what become of our abbacies and convent lands?  The Duke wars
against Harold, not England.  If he slay Harold----"

"What then?"

"The Atheling is left us yet.  Stay we here and guard the last prince of
the House of Cerdic," whispered Stigand, and he swept on.

In the chamber in which Edward had breathed his last, his widowed Queen,
with Aldyth, her successor, and Githa and some other ladies, waited the
decision of the council.  By one of the windows stood, clasping each
other by the hand, the fair young bride of Gurth and the betrothed of the
gay Leofwine.  Githa sate alone, bowing her face over her
hands--desolate; mourning for the fate of her traitor son; and the
wounds, that the recent and holier death of Thyra had inflicted, bled
afresh.  And the holy lady of Edward attempted in vain, by pious
adjurations, to comfort Aldyth, who, scarcely heeding her, started ever
and anon with impatient terror, muttering to herself, "Shall I lose this
crown too?"

In the council-hall debate waxed warm,--which was the wiser, to meet
William at once in the battle-field, or to delay till all the forces
Harold might expect (and which he had ordered to be levied, in his rapid
march from York) could swell his host?

"If we retire before the enemy," said Gurth, "leaving him in a strange
land, winter approaching, his forage will fail.  He will scarce dare to
march upon London: if he does, we shall be better prepared to encounter
him.  My voice is against resting all on a single battle."

"Is that thy choice?" said Vebba, indignantly.  "Not so, I am sure, would
have chosen thy father; not so think the Saxons of Kent.  The Norman is
laying waste all the lands of thy subjects, Lord Harold; living on
plunder, as a robber, in the realm of King Alfred.  Dost thou think that
men will get better heart to fight for their country by hearing that
their King shrinks from the danger?"

"Thou speakest well and wisely," said Haco; and all eyes turned to the
young son of Sweyn, as to one who best knew the character of the hostile
army and the skill of its chief.  "We have now with us a force flushed
with conquest over a foe hitherto deemed invincible.  Men who have
conquered the Norwegian will not shrink from the Norman.  Victory depends
upon ardour more than numbers.  Every hour of delay damps the ardour.
Are we sure that it will swell the numbers?  What I dread most is not the
sword of the Norman Duke, it is his craft.  Rely upon it, that if we meet
him not soon, he will march straight to London. He will proclaim by the
way that he comes not to seize the throne, but to punish Harold, and
abide by the Witan, or, perchance, by the word of the Roman pontiff.  The
terror of his armament, unresisted, will spread like a panic through the
land.  Many will be decoyed by his false pretexts, many awed by a force
that the King dare not meet.  If he come in sight of the city, think you
that merchants and cheapmen will not be daunted by the thought of pillage
and sack?  They will be the first to capitulate at the first house which
is fired.  The city is weak to guard against siege; its walls long
neglected; and in sieges the Normans are famous.  Are we so united (the
King's rule thus fresh) but what no cabals, no dissensions will break out
amongst ourselves?  If the Duke come, as come he will, in the name of the
Church, may not the Churchmen set up some new pretender to the
crown--perchance the child Edgar?  And, divided against ourselves, how
ingloriously should we fall!  Besides, this land, though never before
have the links between province and province been drawn so close, hath
yet demarcations that make the people selfish.  The Northumbrians, I
fear, will not stir to aid London, and Mercia will hold aloof from our
peril.  Grant that William once seize London, all England is broken up
and dispirited; each shire, nay, each town, looking only to itself. Talk
of delay as wearing out the strength of the foe!  No, it would wear out
our own.  Little eno', I fear, is yet left in our treasury. If William
seize London, that treasury is his, with all the wealth of our burgesses.
How should we maintain an army, except by preying on the people, and thus
discontenting them?  Where guard that army? Where are our forts? where
our mountains?  The war of delay suits only a land of rock and defile, or
of castle and breast-work.  Thegns and warriors, ye have no castles but
your breasts of mail.  Abandon these, and you are lost."

A general murmur of applause closed this speech of Haco, which, while
wise in arguments our historians have overlooked, came home to that
noblest reason of brave men, which urges prompt resistance to foul
invasion.

Up, then, rose King Harold.

"I thank you, fellow-Englishmen, for that applause with which ye have
greeted mine own thoughts on the lips of Haco.  Shall it be said that
your King rushed to chase his own brother from the soil of outraged
England, yet shrunk from the sword of the Norman stranger?  Well indeed
might my brave subjects desert my banner if it floated idly over these
palace walls while the armed invader pitched his camp in the heart of
England.  By delay, William's force, whatever it might be, cannot grow
less; his cause grows more strong in our craven fears. What his armament
may be we rightly know not; the report varies with every messenger,
swelling and lessening with the rumours of every hour.  Have we not
around us now our most stalwart veterans--the flower of our armies--the
most eager spirits--the vanquishers of Hardrada?  Thou sayest, Gurth,
that all should not be perilled on a single battle.  True.  Harold should
be perilled, but wherefore England?  Grant that we win the day; the
quicker our despatch, the greater our fame, the more lasting that peace
at home and abroad which rests ever its best foundation on the sense of
the power which wrong cannot provoke unchastised.  Grant that we lose; a
loss can be made gain by a king's brave death.  Why should not our
example rouse and unite all who survive us?  Which the nobler
example--the one best fitted to protect our country--the recreant backs
of living chiefs, or the glorious dead with their fronts to the foe?
Come what may, life or death, at least we will thin the Norman numbers,
and heap the barriers of our corpses on the Norman march.  At least, we
can show to the rest of England how men should defend their native land!
And if, as I believe and pray, in every English breast beats a heart like
Harold's, what matters though a king should fall?--Freedom is immortal."

He spoke; and forth from his baldric he drew his sword.  Every blade, at
that signal, leapt from the sheath: and, in that council-hall at least,
in every breast beat the heart of Harold.



CHAPTER III.

The chiefs dispersed to array their troops for the morrow's march; but
Harold and his kinsmen entered the chamber where the women waited the
decision of the council, for that, in truth, was to them the parting
interview.  The King had resolved, after completing all his martial
preparations, to pass the night in the Abbey of Waltham; and his brothers
lodged, with the troops they commanded, in the city or its suburbs.  Haco
alone remained with that portion of the army quartered in and around the
palace.

They entered the chamber, and in a moment each heart had sought its mate;
in the mixed assembly each only conscious of the other.  There, Gurth
bowed his noble head over the weeping face of the young bride that for
the last time nestled to his bosom.  There, with a smiling lip, but
tremulous voice, the gay Leofwine soothed and chided in a breath the
maiden he had wooed as the partner for a life that his mirthful spirit
made one holiday; snatching kisses from a cheek no longer coy.

But cold was the kiss which Harold pressed on the brow of Aldyth; and
with something of disdain, and of bitter remembrance of a nobler love, he
comforted a terror which sprang from the thought of self.

"Oh, Harold!" sobbed Aldyth, "be not rashly brave: guard thy life for my
sake.  Without thee, what am I?  Is it even safe for me to rest here?
Were it not better to fly to York, or seek refuge with Malcolm the Scot?"

"Within three days at the farthest," answered Harold, "thy brothers will
be in London.  Abide by their counsel; act as they advise at the news of
my victory or my fall."

He paused abruptly, for he heard close beside him the broken voice of
Gurth's bride, in answer to her lord.  "Think not of me, beloved; thy
whole heart now be England's.  And if--if"--her voice failed a moment,
but resumed proudly, "why even then thy wife is safe, for she survives
not her lord and her land!"

The King left his wife's side, and kissed his brother's bride.

"Noble heart!" he said; "with women like thee for our wives and mothers,
England could survive the slaughter of thousand kings."

He turned, and knelt to Githa.  She threw her arms over his broad breast,
and wept bitterly.

"Say--say, Harold, that I have not reproached thee for Tostig's death. I
have obeyed the last commands of Godwin my lord.  I have deemed thee ever
right and just; now let me not lose thee, too.  They go with thee, all my
surviving sons, save the exile Wolnoth,--him whom now I shall never
behold again.  Oh, Harold!--let not mine old age be childless!"

"Mother,--dear, dear mother, with these arms round my neck I take new
life and new heart.  No! never hast thou reproached me for my brother's
death--never for aught which man's first duty enjoined. Murmur not that
that duty commands us still.  We are the sons, through thee, of royal
heroes; through my father, of Saxon freemen.  Rejoice that thou hast
three sons left, whose arms thou mayest pray God and his saints to
prosper, and over whose graves, if they fall, thou shalt shed no tears of
shame!"

Then the widow of King Edward, who (the crucifix clasped in her hands)
had listened to Harold with lips apart and marble cheeks, could keep down
no longer her human woman's heart; she rushed to Harold as he still knelt
to Githa--knelt by his side, and clasped him in her arms with despairing
fondness:

"O brother, brother, whom I have so dearly loved when all other love
seemed forbidden me;--when he who gave me a throne refused me his heart;
when, looking at thy fair promise, listening to thy tender
comfort,--when, remembering the days of old, in which thou wert my docile
pupil, and we dreamed bright dreams together of happiness and fame to
come,--when, loving thee methought too well, too much as weak mothers may
love a mortal son, I prayed God to detach my heart from earth!--Oh,
Harold! now forgive me all my coldness.  I shudder at thy resolve.  I
dread that thou should meet this man, whom an oath hath bound thee to
obey.  Nay, frown not--I bow to thy will, my brother and my King.  I know
that thou hast chosen as thy conscience sanctions, as thy duty ordains.
But come back--Oh, come back--thou who, like me," (her voice whispered,)
"hast sacrificed the household hearth to thy country's altars,--and I
will never pray to Heaven to love thee less--my brother, O my brother!"

In all the room were then heard but the low sounds of sobs and broken
exclamations.  All clustered to one spot-Leofwine and his
betrothed--Gurth and his bride--even the selfish Aldyth, ennobled by the
contagion of the sublime emotion,--all clustered round Githa the mother
of the three guardians of the fated land, and all knelt before her, by
the side of Harold.  Suddenly, the widowed Queen, the virgin wife of the
last heir of Cerdic, rose, and holding on high the sacred rood over those
bended heads, said, with devout passion:

"O Lord of Hosts--We Children of Doubt and Time, trembling in the dark,
dare not take to ourselves to question thine unerring will. Sorrow and
death, as joy and life, are at the breath of a mercy divine, and a wisdom
all-seeing: and out of the hours of evil thou drawest, in mystic circle,
the eternity of Good.  'Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.'
If, O Disposer of events, our human prayers are not adverse to thy
pre-judged decrees, protect these lives, the bulwarks of our homes and
altars, sons whom the land offers as a sacrifice.  May thine angel turn
aside the blade--as of old from the heart of Isaac!  But if, O Ruler of
Nations, in whose sight the ages are as moments, and generations but as
sands in the sea, these lives are doomed, may the death expiate their
sins, and, shrived on the battle-field, absolve and receive the souls!"



CHAPTER IV.

By the altar of the Abbey Church of Waltham, that night, knelt Edith in
prayer for Harold.

She had taken up her abode in a small convent of nuns that adjoined the
more famous monastery of Waltham; but she had promised Hilda not to enter
on the novitiate, until the birthday of Harold had passed. She herself
had no longer faith in the omens and prophecies that had deceived her
youth and darkened her life; and, in the more congenial air of our Holy
Church, the spirit, ever so chastened, grew calm and resigned.  But the
tidings of the Norman's coming, and the King's victorious return to his
capital, had reached even that still retreat; and love, which had blent
itself with religion, led her steps to that lonely altar.  And suddenly,
as she there knelt, only lighted by the moon through the high casements,
she was startled by the sound of approaching feet and murmuring voices.
She rose in alarm--the door of the church was thrown open--torches
advanced--and amongst the monks, between Osgood and Ailred, came the
King.  He had come, that last night before his march, to invoke the
prayers of that pious brotherhood; and by the altar he had founded, to
pray, himself, that his one sin of faith forfeited and oath abjured,
might not palsy his arm and weigh on his soul in the hour of his
country's need.

Edith stifled the cry that rose to her lips, as the torches fell on the
pale and hushed and melancholy face of Harold; and she crept away under
the arch of the vast Saxon columns, and into the shade of abutting walls.
The monks and the King, intent on their holy office, beheld not that
solitary and shrinking form.  They approached the altar; and there the
King knelt down lowlily, and none heard the prayer.  But as Osgood held
the sacred rood over the bended head of the royal suppliant, the Image on
the crucifix (which had been a gift from Alred the prelate, and was
supposed to have belonged of old to Augustine, the first founder of the
Saxon Church--so that, by the superstition of the age, it was invested
with miraculous virtues) bowed itself visibly.  Visibly, the pale and
ghastly image of the suffering God bowed over the head of the kneeling
man; whether the fastenings of the rood were loosened, or from what cause
soever,--in the eyes of all the brotherhood, the Image bowed. [254]

A thrill of terror froze every heart, save Edith's, too remote to
perceive the portent, and save the King's, whom the omen seemed to doom,
for his face was buried in his clasped hands.  Heavy was his heart, nor
needed it other warnings than its own gloom.

Long and silently prayed the King; and when at last he rose, and the
monks, though with altered and tremulous voices, began their closing
hymn, Edith passed noislessly along the wall, and, stealing through one
of the smaller doors which communicated to the nunnery annexed, gained
the solitude of her own chamber.  There she stood, benumbed with the
strength of her emotions at the sight of Harold thus abruptly presented.
How had the fond human heart leapt to meet him!  Twice, thus, in the
august ceremonials of Religion, secret, shrinking, unwitnessed, had she,
his betrothed, she, the partner of his soul, stood aloof to behold him.
She had seen him in the hour of his pomp, the crown upon his brow,--seen
him in the hour of his peril and agony, that anointed head bowed to the
earth.  And in the pomp that she could not share, she had exulted; but,
oh, now--now,--oh now that she could have knelt beside that humbled form,
and prayed with that voiceless prayer!

The torches flashed in the court below; the church was again deserted;
the monks passed in mute procession back to their cloister; but a single
man paused, turned aside, and stopped at the gate of the humbler convent:
a knocking was heard at the great oaken door, and the watch-dog barked.
Edith started, pressed her hand on her heart and trembled.  Steps
approached her door--and the abbess, entering, summoned her below, to
hear the farewell greeting of her cousin the King.

Harold stood in the simple hall of the cloister: a single taper, tall and
wan, burned on the oak board.  The abbess led Edith by the hand, and at a
sign from the King, withdrew.  So, once more upon earth, the betrothed
and divided were alone.

"Edith," said the King, in a voice in which no ear but hers could have
detected the struggle, "do not think I have come to disturb thy holy
calm, or sinfully revive the memories of the irrevocable past: where once
on my breast, in the old fashion of our fathers, I wrote thy name, is
written now the name of the mistress that supplants thee. Into Eternity
melts the Past; but I could not depart to a field from which there is no
retreat--in which, against odds that men say are fearful, I have resolved
to set my crown and my life--without once more beholding thee, pure
guardian of my happier days!  Thy forgiveness for all the sorrow that, in
the darkness which surrounds man's hopes and dreams, I have brought on
thee (dread return for love so enduring, so generous and divine!)--thy
forgiveness I will not ask. Thou alone perhaps on earth knowest the soul
of Harold; and if he hath wronged thee, thou seest alike in the wronger
and the wronged, but the children of iron Duty, the servants of imperial
Heaven.  Not thy forgivenness I ask--but--but--Edith, holy maid! angel
soul!--thy--thy blessing!"  His voice faltered, and he inclined his lofty
head as to a saint.

"Oh that I had the power to bless!" exclaimed Edith, mastering her rush
of tears with a heroic effort; "and methinks I have the power--not from
virtues of my own, but from all that I owe to thee!  The grateful have
the power to bless.  For what do I not owe to thee--owe to that very love
of which even the grief is sacred?  Poor child in the house of the
heathen, thy love descended upon me, and in it, the smile of God!  In
that love my spirit awoke, and was baptised: every thought that has risen
from earth, and lost itself in heaven, was breathed into my heart by
thee!  Thy creature and thy slave, hadst thou tempted me to sin, sin had
seemed hallowed by thy voice; but thou saidst 'True love is virtue,' and
so I worshipped virtue in loving thee.  Strengthened, purified, by thy
bright companionship, from thee came the strength to resign thee--from
thee the refuge under the wings of God--from thee the firm assurance that
our union yet shall be--not as our poor Hilda dreams, on the perishable
earth,--but there! oh, there! yonder by the celestial altars, in the land
in which all spirits are filled with love.  Yes, soul of Harold! there
are might and holiness in the blessing the soul thou hast redeemed and
reared sheds on thee!"

And so beautiful, so unlike the Beautiful of the common earth, looked the
maid as she thus spoke, and laid hands, trembling with no human passion,
on that royal head-that could a soul from paradise be made visible, such
might be the shape it would wear to a mortal's eye! Thus, for some
moments both were silent; and in the silence the gloom vanished from the
heart of Harold, and, through a deep and sublime serenity, it rose
undaunted to front the future.

No embrace--no farewell kiss--profaned the parting of those pure and
noble spirits--parting on the threshold of the grave.  It was only the
spirit that clasped the spirit, looking forth from the clay into
measureless eternity.  Not till the air of night came once more on his
brow, and the moonlight rested on the roofs and fanes of the land
entrusted to his charge, was the man once more the human hero; not till
she was alone in her desolate chamber, and the terrors of the coming
battle-field chased the angel from her thoughts was the maid inspired,
once more the weeping woman.

A little after sunrise the abbess, who was distantly akin to the house of
Godwin, sought Edith, so agitated by her own fear, that she did not
remark the trouble of her visitor.  The supposed miracle of the sacred
Image bowing over the kneeling King, had spread dismay through the
cloisters of both nunnery and abbey; and so intense was the disquietude
of the two brothers, Osgood and Ailred, in the simple and grateful
affection they bore their royal benefactor, that they had obeyed the
impulse of their tender credulous hearts, and left the monastery with the
dawn, intending to follow the King's march [255], and watch and pray near
the awful battle-field.  Edith listened, and made no reply; the terrors
of the abbess infected her; the example of the two monks woke the sole
thought which stirred through the nightmare dream that suspended reason
itself; and when, at noon the abbess again sought the chamber, Edith was
gone;--gone, and alone--none knew wherefore--one guessed whither.

All the pomp of the English army burst upon Harold's view, as, in the
rising sun, he approached the bridge of the capital.  Over that bridge
came the stately march,--battle-axe, and spear, and banner, glittering in
the ray.  And as he drew aside, and the forces filed before him, the cry
of; "God save King Harold!" rose with loud acclaim and lusty joy, borne
over the waves of the river, startling the echoes in the ruined keape of
the Roman, heard in the halls restored by Canute, and chiming, like a
chorus, with the chaunts of the monks by the tomb of Sebba in St.
Paul's--by the tomb of Edward at St. Peter's.

With a brightened face, and a kindling eye, the King saluted his lines,
and then fell into the ranks towards the rear, where among the burghers
of London and the lithsmen of Middlesex, the immemorial custom of Saxon
monarchs placed the kingly banner.  And, looking up, he beheld, not his
old standard with the Tiger heads and the Cross, but a banner both
strange and gorgeous.  On a field of gold was the effigies of a Fighting
Warrior; and the arms were bedecked in orient pearls, and the borders
blazed in the rising sun, with ruby, amethyst, and emerald.  While he
gazed, wondering, on this dazzling ensign, Haco, who rode beside the
standard-bearer, advanced, and gave him a letter.

"Last night," said he, "after thou hadst left the palace, many recruits,
chiefly from Hertfordshire and Essex, came in; but the most gallant and
stalwart of all, in arms and in stature, were the lithsmen of Hilda.
With them came this banner, on which she has lavished the gems that have
passed to her hand through long lines of northern ancestors, from Odin,
the founder of all northern thrones.  So, at least, said the bode of our
kinswoman."

Harold had already cut the silk round the letter, and was reading its
contents.  They ran thus:--

"King of England, I forgive thee the broken heart of my grandchild. They
whom the land feeds, should defend the land.  I send to thee, in tribute
the best fruits that grow in the field, and the forest, round the house
which my husband took from the bounty of Canute;--stout hearts and strong
hands!  Descending alike, as do Hilda and Harold (through Githa thy
mother,) from the Warrior God of the North, whose race never shall
fail--take, O defender of the Saxon children of Odin, the banner I have
broidered with the gems that the Chief of the Asas bore from the East.
Firm as love be thy foot, strong as death be thy hand, under the shade
which the banner of Hilda,--under the gleam which the jewels of
Odin,--cast on the brows of the King!  So Hilda, the daughter of
monarchs, greets Harold the leader of men."

Harold looked up from the letter, and Haco resumed:

"Thou canst guess not the cheering effect which this banner, supposed to
be charmed, and which the name of Odin alone would suffice to make holy,
at least with thy fierce Anglo-Danes, hath already produced through the
army."

"It is well, Haco," said Harold with a smile.  "Let priest add his
blessing to Hilda's charm, and Heaven will pardon any magic that makes
more brave the hearts that defend its altars.  Now fall we back, for the
army must pass beside the hill with the crommell and gravestone; there,
be sure, Hilda will be at watch for our march, and we will linger a few
moments to thank her somewhat for her banner, yet more justly, methinks,
for her men.  Are not yon stout fellows all in mail, so tall and so
orderly, in advance of the London burghers, Hilda's aid to our Fyrd?"

"They are," answered Haco.

The King backed his steed to accost them with his kingly greeting; and
then, with Haco, falling yet farther to the rear seemed engaged in
inspecting the numerous wains, bearing missiles and forage, that always
accompanied the march of a Saxon army, and served to strengthen its
encampment.  But when they came in sight of the hillock by which the
great body of the army had preceded them, the King and the son of Sweyn
dismounted and on foot entered the large circle of the Celtic ruin.

By the side of the Teuton altar they beheld two forms, both perfectly
motionless: but one was extended on the ground as in sleep or in death;
the other sate beside it, as if watching the corpse, or guarding the
slumber.  The face of the last was not visible, propped upon the arms
which rested on the knees, and bidden by the hands.  But in the face of
the other, as the two men drew near, they recognised the Danish
Prophetess.  Death in its dreadest characters was written on that ghastly
face; woe and terror, beyond all words to describe, spoke in the haggard
brow, the distorted lips, and the wild glazed stare of the open eyes.  At
the startled cry of the intruders on that dreary silence, the living form
moved; and though still leaning its face on its hands, it raised its
head; and never countenance of Northern Vampire, cowering by the rifled
grave, was more fiendlike and appalling.

"Who and what art thou?" said the King; "and how, thus unhonored in the
air of heaven, lies the corpse of the noble Hilda?  Is this the hand of
Nature?  Haco, Haco, so look the eyes, so set the features, of those whom
the horror of ruthless murder slays even before the steel strikes.
Speak, hag, art thou dumb?"

"Search the body," answered the witch, "there is no wound!  Look to the
throat,--no mark of the deadly gripe!  I have seen such in my day.--There
are none on this corpse, I trow; yet thou sayest rightly, horror slew
her!  Ha, ha! she would know, and she hath known; she would raise the
dead and the demon; she hath raised them; she would read the riddle,--she
hath read it.  Pale King and dark youth, would ye learn what Hilda saw,
eh? eh?  Ask her in the Shadow-World where she awaits ye!  Ha! ye too
would be wise in the future; ye too would climb to heaven through the
mysteries of hell.  Worms! worms! crawl back to the clay--to the earth!
One such night as the hag ye despise enjoys as her sport and her glee,
would freeze your veins, and sear the life in your eyeballs, and leave
your corpses to terror and wonder, like the carcase that lies at your
feet!"

"Ho!" cried the King, stamping his foot.  "Hence, Haco; rouse the
household; summon hither the handmaids; call henchman and ceorl to guard
this foul raven."

Haco obeyed; but when he returned with the shuddering and amazed
attendants, the witch was gone, and the King was leaning against the
altar with downcast eyes, and a face troubled and dark with thought.

The body of the Vala was borne into the house; and the King, waking from
his reverie, bade them send for the priests and ordered masses for the
parted soul.  Then kneeling, with pious hand he closed the eyes and
smoothed the features, and left his mournful kiss on the icy brow.  These
offices fulfilled, he took Haco's arm, and leaning on it, returned to the
spot on which they had left their steeds.  Not evincing surprise or
awe,--emotions that seemed unknown to his gloomy, settled, impassible
nature--Haco said calmly, as they descended the knoll:

"What evil did the hag predict to thee?"

"Haco," answered the King, "yonder, by the shores of Sussex, lies all the
future which our eyes now should scan, and our hearts should be firm to
meet.  These omens and apparitions are but the ghosts of a dead Religion;
spectres sent from the grave of the fearful Heathenesse; they may appal
but to lure us from our duty.  Lo, as we gaze around--the ruins of all
the creeds that have made the hearts of men quake with unsubstantial
awe--lo, the temple of the Briton!--lo, the fane of the Roman!--lo, the
mouldering altar of our ancestral Thor!  Ages past lie wrecked around us
in these shattered symbols.  A new age hath risen, and a new creed.  Keep
we to the broad truths before us; duty here; knowledge comes alone in the
Hereafter."

"That Hereafter!--is it not near?" murmured Haco.

They mounted in silence; and ere they regained the army paused, by a
common impulse, and looked behind.  Awful in their desolation rose the
temple and the altar!  And in Hilda's mysterious death it seemed that
their last and lingering Genius,--the Genius of the dark and fierce, the
warlike and the wizard North, had expired for ever.  Yet, on the outskirt
of the forest, dusk and shapeless, that witch without a name stood in the
shadow, pointing towards them, with outstretched arm, in vague and
denouncing menace;--as if, come what may, all change of creed,--be the
faith ever so simple, the truth ever so bright and clear,--there is a
SUPERSTITION native to that Border-land between the Visible and the
Unseen, which will find its priest and its votaries, till the full and
crowning splendour of Heaven shall melt every shadow from the world!



CHAPTER V.

On the broad plain between Pevensey and Hastings, Duke William had
arrayed his armaments.  In the rear he had built a castle of wood, all
the framework of which he had brought with him, and which was to serve as
a refuge in case of retreat.  His ships he had run into deep water, and
scuttled; so that the thought of return, without victory, might be
banished from his miscellaneous and multitudinous force.  His outposts
stretched for miles, keeping watch night and day against surprise. The
ground chosen was adapted for all the manoeuvres of a cavalry never
before paralleled in England nor perhaps in the world,--almost every
horseman a knight, almost every knight fit to be a chief.  And on this
space William reviewed his army, and there planned and schemed, rehearsed
and re-formed, all the stratagems the great day might call forth.  But
more careful, and laborious, and minute, was he in the manoeuvre of a
feigned retreat.  Not ere the acting of some modern play, does the
anxious manager more elaborately marshal each man, each look, each
gesture, that are to form a picture on which the curtain shall fall
amidst deafening plaudits than did the laborious captain appoint each
man, and each movement, in his lure to a valiant foe:--The attack of the
foot, their recoil, their affected panic, their broken exclamations of
despair;--their retreat, first partial and reluctant, next seemingly
hurried and complete,--flying, but in flight carefully confused:--then
the settled watchword, the lightning rally, the rush of the cavalry from
the ambush; the sweep and hem round the pursuing foe, the detachment of
levelled spears to cut off the Saxon return to the main force, and the
lost ground,--were all directed by the most consummate mastership in the
stage play, or upokrisis, of war, and seized by the adroitness of
practised veterans.

Not now, O Harold! hast thou to contend against the rude heroes of the
Norse, with their ancestral strategy unimproved!  The civilisation of
Battle meets thee now!--and all the craft of the Roman guides the manhood
of the North.

It was in the midst of such lessons to his foot and his horsemen--spears
gleaming--pennons tossing--lines reforming--steeds backing, wheeling,
flying, circling--that William's eye blazed, and his deep voice thundered
the thrilling word; when Mallet de Graville, who was in command at one of
the outposts, rode up to him at full speed, and said in gasps, as he drew
breath:

"King Harold and his army are advancing furiously.  Their object is
clearly to come on us unawares."

"Hold!" said the Duke, lifting his hand; and the knights around him
halted in their perfect discipline; then after a few brief but distinct
orders to Odo, Fitzosborne, and some other of his leading chiefs, he
headed a numerous cavalcade of his knights, and rode fast to the outpost
which Mallet had left,--to catch sight of the coming foe.

The horsemen cleared the plain--passed through a wood, mournfully fading
into autumnal hues--and, on emerging, they saw the gleam of the Saxon
spears rising on the brows of the gentle hills beyond.  But even the
time, short as it was, that had sufficed to bring William in view of the
enemy, had sufficed also, under the orders of his generals, to give to
the wide plain of his encampment all the order of a host prepared.  And
William, having now mounted on a rising ground, turned from the spears on
the hill tops, to his own fast forming lines on the plain, and said with
a stern smile:

"Methinks the Saxon usurper, if he be among those on the height of yon
hills, will vouchsafe us time to breathe!  St. Michael gives his crown to
our hands, and his corpse to the crow, if he dare to descend."

And so indeed, as the Duke with a soldier's eye foresaw from a soldier's
skill, so it proved.  The spears rested on the summits.  It soon became
evident that the English general perceived that here there was no
Hardrada to surprise; that the news brought to his ear had exaggerated
neither the numbers, nor the arms, nor the discipline of the Norman; and
that the battle was not to the bold but to the wary.

"He doth right," said William, musingly; "nor think, O my Quens, that we
shall find a fool's hot brain under Harold's helmet of iron.  How is this
broken ground of hillock and valley named in our chart?  It is strange
that we should have overlooked its strength, and suffered it thus to fall
into the hands of the foe.  How is it named?  Can any of ye remember?"

"A Saxon peasant," said De Graville, "told me that the ground was called
Senlac [256] or Sanglac, or some such name, in their musicless jargon."

"Grammercy!" quoth Grantmesnil, "methinks the name will be familiar eno'
hereafter; no jargon seemeth the sound to my ear--a significant name and
ominous,--Sanglac, Sanguelac--the Lake of Blood."

"Sanguelac!" said the Duke, startled; "where have I heard that name
before? it must have been between sleeping and waking.--Sanguelac,
Sanguelac!--truly sayest thou, through a lake of blood we must wade
indeed!"

"Yet," said De Graville, "thine astrologer foretold that thou wouldst win
the realm without a battle."

"Poor astrologer!" said William, "the ship he sailed in was lost. Ass
indeed is he who pretends to warn others, nor sees an inch before his
eyes what his own fate will be!  Battle shall we have, but not yet. Hark
thee, Guillaume, thou hast been guest with this usurper; thou hast seemed
to me to have some love for him--a love natural since thou didst once
fight by his side; wilt thou go from me to the Saxon host with Hugues
Maigrot, the monk, and back the message I shall send?"

The proud and punctilious Norman thrice crossed himself ere he answered:

"There was a time, Count William, when I should have deemed it honour to
hold parle with Harold the brave Earl; but now, with the crown on his
head, I hold it shame and disgrace to barter words with a knight unleal
and a man foresworn."

"Nathless, thou shalt do me this favour," said William, "for" (and he
took the knight somewhat aside) "I cannot disguise from thee that I look
anxiously on the chance of battle.  Yon men are flushed with new triumph
over the greatest warrior Norway ever knew, they will fight on their own
soil, and under a chief whom I have studied and read with more care than
the Comments of Caesar, and in whom the guilt of perjury cannot blind me
to the wit of a great general.  If we can yet get our end without battle,
large shall be my thanks to thee, and I will hold thine astrologer a man
wise, though unhappy."

"Certes," said De Graville gravely, "it were discourteous to the memory
of the star-seer, not to make some effort to prove his science a just
one.  And the Chaldeans----"

"Plague seize the Chaldeans!" muttered the Duke.  "Ride with me back to
the camp, that I may give thee my message, and instruct also the monk."

"De Graville," resumed the Duke, as they rode towards the lines, "my
meaning is briefly this.  I do not think that Harold will accept my offer
and resign his crown, but I design to spread dismay, and perhaps revolt
amongst his captains; I wish that they may know that the Church lays its
Curse on those who fight against my consecrated banner.  I do not ask
thee, therefore, to demean thy knighthood, by seeking to cajole the
usurper; no, but rather boldly to denounce his perjury and startle his
liegemen.  Perchance they may compel him to terms--perchance they may
desert his banner; at the worst they shall be daunted with full sense of
the guilt of his cause."

"Ha, now I comprehend thee, noble Count; and trust me I will speak as
Norman and knight should speak."

Meanwhile, Harold seeing the utter hopelessness of all sudden assault,
had seized a general's advantage of the ground he had gained. Occupying
the line of hills, he began forthwith to entrench himself behind deep
ditches and artful palisades.  It is impossible now to stand on that
spot, without recognising the military skill with which the Saxon had
taken his post, and formed his precautions.  He surrounded the main body
of his troops with a perfect breastwork against the charge of the horse.
Stakes and strong hurdles interwoven with osier plaits, and protected by
deep dykes, served at once to neutralise the effect of that arm in which
William was most powerful, and in which Harold almost entirely failed;
while the possession of the ground must compel the foe to march, and to
charge, up hill, against all the missiles which the Saxons could pour
down from their entrenchments.

Aiding, animating, cheering, directing all, while the dykes were fast
hollowed, and the breastworks fast rose, the King of England rode his
palfrey from line to line, and work to work, when, looking up, he saw
Haco leading towards him up the slopes, a monk, and a warrior whom, by
the banderol on his spear and the cross on his shield, he knew to be one
of the Norman knighthood.

At that moment Gurth and Leofwine, and those thegns who commanded
counties, were thronging round their chief for instructions.  The King
dismounted, and beckoning them to follow, strode towards the spot on
which had just been planted his royal standard.  There halting, he said
with a grave smile:

"I perceive that the Norman Count hath sent us his bodes; it is meet that
with me, you, the defenders of England, should hear what the Norman
saith."

"If he saith aught but prayer for his men to return to Rouen,--needless
his message, and short our answer," said Vebba, the bluff thegn of Kent.

Meanwhile the monk and the Norman knight drew near and paused at some
short distance, while Haco, advancing, said briefly:

"These men I found at our outposts; they demand to speak with the King."

"Under his standard the King will hear the Norman invader," replied
Harold; "bid them speak."

The same sallow, mournful, ominous countenance, which Harold had before
seen in the halls of Westminster, rising deathlike above the serge garb
of the Benedict of Caen, now presented itself, and the monk thus spoke:

"In the name of William, Duke of the Normans in the field, Count of Rouen
in the hall, Claimant of all the realms of Anglia, Scotland, and the
Walloons, held under Edward his cousin, I come to thee, Harold his liege
and Earl."

"Change thy titles, or depart," said Harold, fiercely, his brow no longer
mild in its majesty, but dark as midnight.  "What says William the Count
of the Foreigners, to Harold, King of the Angles, and Basileus of
Britain?"

"Protesting against thy assumption, I answer thee thus," said Hugues
Maigrot.  "First, again he offers thee all Northumbria, up to the realm
of the Scottish sub-king, if thou wilt fulfil thy vow, and cede him the
crown."

"Already have I answered,--the crown is not mine to give; and my people
stand round me in arms to defend the king of their choice. What next?"

"Next, offers William to withdraw his troops from the land, if thou and
thy council and chiefs will submit to the arbitrement of our most holy
Pontiff, Alexander the Second, and, abide by his decision whether thou or
my liege have the best right to the throne."

"This, as Churchman," said the Abbot of the great Convent of Peterboro',
(who, with the Abbot of Hide, had joined the march of Harold, deeming as
one the cause of altar and throne), "this as Churchman, may I take leave
to answer.  Never yet hath it been heard in England, that the spiritual
suzerain of Rome should give us our kings."

"And," said Harold, with a bitter smile, "the Pope hath already summoned
me to this trial, as if the laws of England were kept in the rolls of the
Vatican!  Already, if rightly informed, the Pope hath been pleased to
decide that our Saxon land is the Norman's.  I reject a judge without a
right to decide; and I mock at a sentence that profanes heaven in its
insult to men.  Is this all?"

"One last offer yet remains," replied the monk sternly.  "This knight
shall deliver its import.  But ere I depart, and thou and thine are
rendered up to Vengeance Divine, I speak the words of a mightier chief
than William of Rouen.  Thus saith his Holiness, with whom rests the
power to bind and to loose, to bless and to curse: 'Harold, the Perjurer,
thou art accursed!  On thee and on all who lift hand in thy cause, rests
the interdict of the Church.  Thou art excommunicated from the family of
Christ.  On thy land, with its peers and its people, yea, to the beast in
the field and the bird in the air, to the seed as the sower, the harvest
as the reaper, rests God's anathema! The bull of the Vatican is in the
tent of the Norman; the gonfanon of St. Peter hallows yon armies to the
service of Heaven.  March on, then: ye march as the Assyrian; and the
angel of the Lord awaits ye on the way!'"

At these words, which for the first time apprised the English leaders
that their king and kingdom were under the awful ban of excommunication,
the thegns and abbots gazed on each other aghast. A visible shudder
passed over the whole warlike conclave, save only three, Harold, and
Gurth, and Haco.

The King himself was so moved by indignation at the insolence of the
monk, and by scorn at the fulmen, which, resting not alone on his own
head, presumed to blast the liberties of a nation, that he strode towards
the speaker, and it is even said of him by the Norman chroniclers, that
he raised his hand as if to strike the denouncer to the earth.

But Gurth interposed, and with his clear eye serenely shining with
virtuous passion, he stood betwixt monk and king.

"O thou," he exclaimed, "with the words of religion on thy lips, and the
devices of fraud in thy heart, hide thy front in thy cowl, and slink back
to thy master.  Heard ye not, thegns and abbots, heard ye not this bad,
false man offer, as if for peace, and as with the desire of justice, that
the Pope should arbitrate between your King and the Norman? yet all the
while the monk knew that the Pope had already predetermined the cause;
and had ye fallen into the wile, ye would but have cowered under the
verdict of a judgment that has presumed, even before it invoked ye to the
trial, to dispose of a free people and an ancient kingdom!"

"It is true, it is true," cried the thegns, rallying from their first
superstitious terror, and, with their plain English sense of justice,
revolted at the perfidy which the priest's overtures had concealed. "We
will hear no more; away with the Swikebode." [257]

The pale cheek of the monk turned yet paler, he seemed abashed by the
storm of resentment he had provoked; and in some fear, perhaps, at the
dark faces bent on him, he slunk behind his comrade the knight, who as
yet had said nothing, but, his face concealed by his helmet, stood
motionless like a steel statue.  And, in fact, these two ambassadors, the
one in his monk garb, the other in his iron array, were types and
representatives of the two forces now brought to bear upon Harold and
England--Chivalry and the Church.

At the momentary discomfiture of the Priest, now stood forth the Warrior;
and, throwing back his helmet, so that the whole steel cap rested on the
nape of the neck, leaving the haughty face and half-shaven head bare,
Mallet de Graville thus spoke:

"The ban of the Church is against ye, warriors and chiefs of England, but
for the crime of one man!  Remove it from yourselves: on his single head
be the curse and the consequence.  Harold, called King of
England--failing the two milder offers of my comrade, thus saith from the
lips of his knight, (once thy guest, thy admirer, and friend,) thus saith
William the Norman:--'Though sixty thousand warriors under the banner of
the Apostle wait at his beck, (and from what I see of thy force, thou
canst marshal to thy guilty side scarce a third of the number,) yet will
Count William lay aside all advantage, save what dwells in strong arm and
good cause; and here, in presence of thy thegns, I challenge thee in his
name to decide the sway of this realm by single battle.  On horse and in
mail, with sword and with spear, knight to knight, man to man, wilt thou
meet William the Norman?'"

Before Harold could reply, and listen to the first impulse of a valour,
which his worst Norman maligner, in the after day of triumphant calumny,
never so lied as to impugn, the thegns themselves almost with one voice,
took up the reply.

"No strife between a man and a man shall decide the liberties of
thousands!"

"Never!" exclaimed Gurth.  "It were an insult to the whole people to
regard this as a strife between two chiefs, which should wear a crown.
When the invader is in our land, the war is with a nation, not a king.
And, by the very offer, this Norman Count (who cannot even speak our
tongue) shows how little he knows of the laws, by which, under our native
kings, we have all as great an interest as a king himself in our
Fatherland."

"Thou hast heard the answer of England from those lips, Sire de
Graville," said Harold: "mine but repeat and sanction it.  I will not
give the crown to William in lieu for disgrace and an earldom.  I will
not abide by the arbitrement of a Pope who has dared to affix a curse
upon freedom.  I will not so violate the principle which in these realms
knits king and people, as to arrogate to my single arm the right to
dispose of the birthright of the living, and their races unborn; nor will
I deprive the meanest soldier under my banner, of the joy and the glory
to fight for his native land.  If William seek me, he shall find me,
where war is the fiercest, where the corpses of his men lie the thickest
on the plains, defending this standard, or rushing on his own.  And so,
not Monk and Pope, but God in his wisdom, adjudge between us!"

"So be it," said Mallet de Graville, solemnly, and his helmet re-closed
over his face.  "Look to it, recreant knight, perjured Christian, and
usurping King!  The bones of the Dead fight against thee."

"And the fleshless hands of the Saints marshal the hosts of the living,"
said the monk.

And so the messengers turned, without obeisance or salute, and strode
silently away.



CHAPTER VI.

The rest of that day, and the whole of the next, were consumed by both
armaments in the completion of their preparations.

William was willing to delay the engagement as long as he could; for he
was not without hope that Harold might abandon his formidable position,
and become the assailing party; and, moreover, he wished to have full
time for his prelates and priests to inflame to the utmost, by their
representations of William's moderation in his embassy, and Harold's
presumptuous guilt in rejection, the fiery fanaticism of all enlisted
under the gonfanon of the Church.

On the other hand, every delay was of advantage to Harold, in giving him
leisure to render his entrenchments yet more effectual, and to allow time
for such reinforcements as his orders had enjoined, or the patriotism of
the country might arouse; but, alas! those reinforcements were scanty and
insignificant; a few stragglers in the immediate neighborhood arrived,
but no aid came from London, no indignant country poured forth a swarming
population.  In fact, the very fame of Harold, and the good fortune that
had hitherto attended his arms, contributed to the stupid lethargy of the
people.  That he who had just subdued the terrible Norsemen, with the
mighty Hardrada at their head, should succumb to those dainty
"Frenchmen," as they chose to call the Normans; of whom, in their insular
ignorance of the continent, they knew but little, and whom they had seen
flying in all directions at the return of Godwin; was a preposterous
demand on the imagination.

Nor was this all: in London, there had already formed a cabal in favour
of the Atheling.  The claims of birth can never be so wholly set aside,
but what, even for the most unworthy heir of an ancient line, some
adherents will be found.  The prudent traders thought it best not to
engage actively on behalf of the reigning King, in his present combat
with the Norman pretender; a large number of would-be statesmen thought
it best for the country to remain for the present neutral.  Grant the
worst--grant that Harold were defeated or slain; would it not be wise to
reserve their strength to support the Atheling?  William might have some
personal cause of quarrel against Harold, but he could have none against
Edgar; he might depose the son of Godwin, but could he dare to depose the
descendant of Cerdic, the natural heir of Edward?  There is reason to
think that Stigand, and a large party of the Saxon Churchmen, headed this
faction.

But the main causes for defection were not in adherence to one chief or
to another.  They were to be found in selfish inertness, in stubborn
conceit, in the long peace, and the enervate superstition which had
relaxed the sinews of the old Saxon manhood; in that indifference to
things ancient, which contempt for old names and races engendered; that
timorous spirit of calculation, which the over-regard for wealth had
fostered; which made men averse to leave trade and farm for the perils of
the field, and jeopardise their possessions if the foreigner should
prevail.

Accustomed already to kings of a foreign race, and having fared well
under Canute, there were many who said, "What matters who sits on the
throne? the king must be equally bound by our laws."  Then too was heard
the favourite argument of all slothful minds: "Time enough yet! one
battle lost is not England won.  Marry, we shall turn out fast eno' if
Harold be beaten."

Add to all these causes for apathy and desertion, the haughty jealousies
of the several populations not yet wholly fused into one empire.  The
Northumbrian Danes, untaught even by their recent escape from the
Norwegian, regarded with ungrateful coldness a war limited at present to
the southern coasts; and the vast territory under Mercia was, with more
excuse, equally supine; while their two young Earls, too new in their
command to have much sway with their subject populations, had they been
in their capitals, had now arrived in London; and there lingered, making
head, doubtless, against the intrigues in favour of the Atheling;--so
little had Harold's marriage with Aldyth brought him, at the hour of his
dreadest need, the power for which happiness had been resigned!

Nor must we put out of account, in summing the causes which at this awful
crisis weakened the arm of England, the curse of slavery amongst the
theowes, which left the lowest part of the population wholly without
interest in the defense of the land.  Too late--too late for all but
unavailing slaughter, the spirit of the country rose amidst the violated
pledges, but under the iron heel, of the Norman Master! Had that spirit
put forth all its might for one day with Harold, where had been the
centuries of bondage!  Oh, shame to the absent--All blessed those
present!  There was no hope for England out of the scanty lines of the
immortal army encamped on the field of Hastings. There, long on earth,
and vain vaunts of poor pride, shall be kept the roll of the
robber-invaders.  In what roll are your names, holy Heroes of the Soil?
Yes, may the prayer of the Virgin Queen be registered on high; and
assoiled of all sin, O ghosts of the glorious Dead, may ye rise from your
graves at the trump of the angel; and your names, lost on earth, shine
radiant and stainless amidst the Hierarchy of Heaven!

Dull came the shades of evening, and pale through the rolling clouds
glimmered the rising stars; when,--all prepared, all arrayed,--Harold sat
with Haco and Gurth, in his tent; and before them stood a man, half
French by origin, who had just returned from the Norman camp.

"So thou didst mingle with the men undiscovered?" said the King.

"No, not undiscovered, my lord.  I fell in with a knight, whose name I
have since heard as that of Mallet de Graville, who wilily seemed to
believe in what I stated, and who gave me meat and drink, with debonnair
courtesy.  Then said he abruptly,--'Spy from Harold, thou hast come to
see the strength of the Norman.  Thou shalt have thy will--follow me.'
Therewith he led me, all startled I own, through the lines; and, O King,
I should deem them indeed countless as the sands, and resistless as the
waves, but that, strange as it may seem to thee, I saw more monks than
warriors."

"How! thou jestest!" said Gurth, surprised.

"No; for thousands by thousands, they were praying and kneeling; and
their heads were all shaven with the tonsure of priests."

"Priests are they not," cried Harold, with his calm smile, "but doughty
warriors and dauntless knights."  Then he continued his questions to the
spy; and his smile vanished at the accounts, not only of the numbers of
the force, but their vast provision of missiles, and the almost
incredible proportion of their cavalry.

As soon as the spy had been dismissed, the King turned to his kinsmen.

"What think you?" he said; "shall we judge ourselves of the foe?  The
night will be dark anon--our steeds are fleet--and not shod with iron
like the Normans;--the sward noiseless--What think you?"

"A merry conceit," cried the blithe Leofwine.  "I should like much to see
the boar in his den, ere he taste of my spear-point."

"And I," said Gurth, "do feel so restless a fever in my veins that I
would fain cool it by the night air.  Let us go: I know all the ways of
the country; for hither have I come often with hawk and hound.  But let
us wait yet till the night is more hushed and deep."

The clouds had gathered over the whole surface of the skies, and there
hung sullen; and the mists were cold and grey on the lower grounds, when
the four Saxon chiefs set forth on their secret and perilous enterprise.

    "Knights and riders took they none,
     Squires and varlets of foot not one;
     All unarmed of weapon and weed,
     Save the shield, and spear, and the sword at need." [258]

Passing their own sentinels, they entered a wood, Gurth leading the way,
and catching glimpses, through the irregular path, of the blazing lights,
that shone red over the pause of the Norman war.

William had moved on his army to within about two miles from the farthest
outpost of the Saxon, and contracted his lines into compact space; the
reconnoiterers were thus enabled, by the light of the links and
watchfires, to form no inaccurate notion of the formidable foe whom the
morrow was to meet.  The ground [259] on which they stood was high, and
in the deep shadow of the wood; with one of the large dykes common to the
Saxon boundaries in front, so that, even if discovered, a barrier not
easily passed lay between them and the foe.

In regular lines and streets extended huts of branches for the meaner
soldiers, leading up, in serried rows but broad vistas, to the tents of
the knights, and the gaudier pavilions of the counts and prelates. There,
were to be seen the flags of Bretagne and Anjou, of Burgundy, of
Flanders, even the ensign of France, which the volunteers from that
country had assumed; and right in the midst of this Capital of War, the
gorgeous pavilion of William himself, with a dragon of gold before it,
surmounting the staff, from which blazed the Papal gonfanon.  In every
division they heard the anvils of the armourers, the measured tread of
the sentries, the neigh and snort of innumerable steeds.  And along the
lines, between hut and tent, they saw tall shapes passing to and from the
forge and smithy, bearing mail, and swords, and shafts. No sound of
revel, no laugh of wassail was heard in the consecrated camp; all was
astir, but with the grave and earnest preparations of thoughtful men.  As
the four Saxons halted silent, each might have heard, through the remoter
din, the other's painful breathing.

At length, from two tents, placed to the right and left of the Duke's
pavilion, there came a sweet tinkling sound, as of deep silver bells. At
that note there was an evident and universal commotion throughout the
armament.  The roar of the hammers ceased; and from every green hut and
every grey tent, swarmed the host.  Now, rows of living men lined the
camp-streets, leaving still a free, though narrow passage in the midst.
And, by the blaze of more than a thousand torches, the Saxons saw
processions of priests, in their robes and aubes, with censer and rood,
coming down the various avenues.  As the priests paused, the warriors
knelt; and there was a low murmur as if of confession, and the sign of
lifted hands, as if in absolution and blessing.  Suddenly, from the
outskirts of the camp, and full in sight, emerged, from one of the cross
lanes, Odo of Bayeux himself, in his white surplice, and the cross in his
right hand.  Yea, even to the meanest and lowliest soldiers of the
armament, whether taken from honest craft and peaceful calling, or the
outpourings of Europe's sinks and sewers, catamarans from the Alps, and
cut-throats from the Rhine,--yea, even among the vilest and the meanest,
came the anointed brother of the great Duke, the haughtiest prelate in
Christendom, whose heart even then was fixed on the Pontiff's
throne--there he came, to absolve, and to shrive, and to bless.  And the
red watchfires streamed on his proud face and spotless robes, as the
Children of Wrath knelt around the Delegate of Peace.

Harold's hand clenched firm on the arm of Gurth, and his old scorn of the
monk broke forth in his bitter smile and his muttered words.  But Gurth's
face was sad and awed.

And now, as the huts and the canvas thus gave up the living, they could
indeed behold the enormous disparity of numbers with which it was their
doom to contend, and, over those numbers, that dread intensity of zeal,
that sublimity of fanaticism, which from one end of that war-town to the
other, consecrated injustice, gave the heroism of the martyr to ambition,
and blended the whisper of lusting avarice with the self-applauses of the
saint!

Not a word said the four Saxons.  But as the priestly procession glided
to the farther quarters of the armament, as the soldiers in their
neighbourhood disappeared within their lodgments, and the torches moved
from them to the more distant vistas of the camp, like lines of
retreating stars, Gurth heaved a heavy sigh, and turned his horse's head
from the scene.

But scarce had they gained the centre of the wood, than there rose, as
from the heart of the armament, a swell of solemn voices.  For the night
had now come to the third watch [260], in which, according to the belief
of the age, angel and fiend were alike astir, and that church-division of
time was marked and hallowed by a monastic hymn.

Inexpressibly grave, solemn, and mournful came the strain through the
drooping boughs, and the heavy darkness of the air; and it continued to
thrill in the ears of the riders till they had passed the wood, and the
cheerful watchfires from their own heights broke upon them to guide their
way.  They rode rapidly, but still in silence, past their sentries; and,
ascending the slopes, where the force lay thick, how different were the
sounds that smote them!  Round the large fires the men grouped in great
circles, with the ale-horns and flagons passing merrily from hand to
hand; shouts of drink-hael and was-hael, bursts of gay laughter, snatches
of old songs, old as the days of Athelstan,--varying, where the
Anglo-Danes lay, into the far more animated and kindling poetry of the
Pirate North,--still spoke of the heathen time when War was a joy, and
Valhalla was the heaven.

"By my faith," said Leofwine brightening; "these are sounds and sights
that do a man's heart good, after those doleful ditties, and the long
faces of the shavelings.  I vow by St. Alban, that I felt my veins
curdling into ice-bolts, when that dirge came through the woodholt.
Hollo, Sexwolf, my tall man, lift us up that full horn of thine, and keep
thyself within the pins, Master Wassailer; we must have steady feet and
cool heads to-morrow."

Sexwolf, who, with a band of Harold's veterans, was at full carousal,
started up at the young Earl's greetings, and looked lovingly into his
smiling face as he reached him the horn.

"Heed what my brother bids thee, Sexwolf," said Harold severely; "the
hands that draw shafts against us to-morrow will not tremble with the
night's wassail."

"Nor ours either, my lord the King," said Sexwolf, boldly; "our heads can
bear both drink and blows,--and--(sinking his voice into a whisper) the
rumour runs that the odds are so against us, that I would not, for all
thy fair brother's earldoms, have our men other than blithe tonight."

Harold answered not, but moved on, and coming then within full sight of
the bold Saxons of Kent, the unmixed sons of the Saxon soil, and the
special favourers of the House of Godwin, so affectionate, hearty, and
cordial was their joyous shout of his name, that he felt his kingly heart
leap within him.  Dismounting, he entered the circle, and with the august
frankness of a noble chief, nobly popular, gave to all cheering smile and
animating word.  That done, he said more gravely: "In less than an hour,
all wassail must cease,--my bodes will come round; and then sound sleep,
my brave merry men, and lusty rising with the lark!"

"As you will, as you will, dear our King," cried Vebba, as spokesman for
the soldiers.  "Fear us not--life and death, we are yours."

"Life and death yours, and freedom's," cried the Kent men.

Coming now towards the royal tent beside the standard, the discipline was
more perfect, and the hush decorous.  For round that standard were both
the special body-guard of the King, and the volunteers from London and
Middlesex; men more intelligent than the bulk of the army, and more
gravely aware, therefore, of the might of the Norman sword.

Harold entered his tent, and threw himself on his couch, in deep reverie;
his brothers and Haco watched him silently.  At length, Gurth approached;
and, with a reverence rare in the familiar intercourse between the two,
knelt at his brother's side, and taking Harold's hand in his, looked him
full in the face, his eyes moist with tears, and said thus:

"Oh, Harold! never prayer have I asked of thee, that thou hast not
granted: grant me this! sorest of all, it may be, to grant, but most
fitting of all for me to press.  Think not, O beloved brother, O honoured
King, think not that it is with slighting reverence, that I lay rough
hand on the wound deepest at thy heart.  But, however surprised or
compelled, sure it is that thou didst make oath to William, and upon the
relics of saints; avoid this battle, for I see that thought is now within
thy soul; that thought haunted thee in the words of the monk to-day; in
the sight of that awful camp to-night;--avoid this battle! and do not
thyself stand in arms against the man to whom the oath was pledged!"

"Gurth, Gurth!" exclaimed Harold, pale and writhing.

"We," continued his brother, "we at least have taken no oath, no perjury
is charged against us; vainly the thunders of the Vatican are launched on
our heads.  Our war is just: we but defend our country. Leave us, then,
to fight to-morrow; thou retire towards London and raise fresh armies; if
we win, the danger is past; if we lose, thou wilt avenge us.  And England
is not lost while thou survivest."

"Gurth, Gurth!" again exclaimed Harold, in a voice piercing in its pathos
of reproach.

"Gurth counsels well," said Haco, abruptly; "there can be no doubt of the
wisdom of his words.  Let the King's kinsmen lead the troops; let the
King himself with his guard hasten to London and ravage and lay waste the
country as he retreats by the way [261]; so that even if William beat us,
all supplies will fail him; he will be in a land without forage, and
victory here will aid him nought; for you, my liege, will have a force
equal to his own, ere he can march to the gates of London."

"Faith and troth, the young Haco speaks like a greybeard; he hath not
lived in Rouen for nought," quoth Leofwine.  "Hear him, my Harold, and
leave us to shave the Normans yet more closely than the barber hath
already shorn."

Harold turned ear and eye to each of the speakers, and, as Leofwine
closed, he smiled.

"Ye have chid me well, kinsmen, for a thought that had entered into my
mind ere ye spake"--

Gurth interrupted the King, and said anxiously:

"To retreat with the whole army upon London, and refuse to meet the
Norman till with numbers more fairly matched!"

"That had been my thought," said Harold, surprised.

"Such for a moment, too, was mine," said Gurth, sadly; "but it is too
late.  Such a measure, now, would have all the disgrace of flight, and
bring none of the profits of retreat.  The ban of the Church would get
wind; our priests, awed and alarmed, might wield it against us; the whole
population would be damped and disheartened; rivals to the crown might
start up; the realm be divided.  No, it is impossible!"

"Impossible," said Harold, calmly.  "And if the army cannot retreat, of
all men to stand firm, surely it is the captain and the King.  I, Gurth,
leave others to dare the fate from which I fly!  I give weight to the
impious curse of the Pope, by shrinking from its idle blast!  I confirm
and ratify the oath, from which all law must absolve me, by forsaking the
cause of the land, which I purify myself when I guard! I leave to others
the agony of the martyrdom or the glory of the conquest!  Gurth, thou art
more cruel than the Norman!  And I, son of Sweyn, I ravage the land
committed to my charge, and despoil the fields which I cannot keep!  Oh,
Haco, that indeed were to be the traitor and the recreant!  No, whatever
the sin of my oath, never will I believe that Heaven can punish millions
for the error of one man. Let the bones of the dead war against us; in
life, they were men like ourselves, and no saints in the calendar so holy
as the freemen who fight for their hearths and their altars.  Nor do I
see aught to alarm us even in these grave human odds.  We have but to
keep fast these entrenchments; preserve, man by man, our invincible line;
and the waves will but split on our rock: ere the sun set to-morrow, we
shall see the tide ebb, leaving, as waifs, but the dead of the baffled
invader."

"Fare ye well, loving kinsmen; kiss me, my brothers; kiss me on the
cheek, my Haco.  Go now to your tents.  Sleep in peace and wake with the
trumpet to the gladness of noble war!"

Slowly the Earls left the King; slowest of all the lingering Gurth; and
when all were gone, and Harold was alone, he threw round a rapid,
troubled glance, and then, hurrying to the simple imageless crucifix that
stood on its pedestal at the farther end of the tent, he fell on his
knees, and faltered out, while his breast heaved, and his frame shook
with the travail of his passion:

"If my sin be beyond a pardon, my oath without recall, on me, on me, O
Lord of Hosts, on me alone the doom.  Not on them, not on them--not on
England!"



CHAPTER VII.

On the fourteenth of October, 1066, the day of St. Calixtus, the Norman
force was drawn out in battle array.  Mass had been said; Odo and the
Bishop of Coutance had blessed the troops; and received their vow never
more to eat flesh on the anniversary of that day.  And Odo had mounted
his snow-white charger, and already drawn up the cavalry against the
coming of his brother the Duke.  The army was marshalled in three great
divisions.

Roger de Montgommeri and William Fitzosborne led the first; and with them
were the forces from Picardy and the countship of Boulogne, and the fiery
Franks; Geoffric Martel and the German Hugues (a prince of fame); Aimeri,
Lord of Thouars, and the sons of Alain Fergant, Duke of Bretagne, led the
second, which comprised the main bulk of the allies from Bretagne, and
Maine, and Poitou.  But both these divisions were intermixed with
Normans, under their own special Norman chiefs.

The third section embraced the flower of martial Europe, the most
renowned of the Norman race; whether those knights bore the French titles
into which their ancestral Scandinavian names had been transformed--Sires
of Beaufou and Harcourt, Abbeville, and de Molun, Montfichet,
Grantmesnil, Lacie, D'Aincourt, and D'Asnieres;--or whether, still
preserving, amidst their daintier titles, the old names that had
scattered dismay through the seas of the Baltic; Osborne and Tonstain,
Mallet and Bulver, Brand and Bruse [262].  And over this division
presided Duke William.  Here was the main body of the matchless cavalry,
to which, however, orders were given to support either of the other
sections, as need might demand.  And with this body were also the
reserve.  For it is curious to notice, that William's strategy resembled
in much that of the last great Invader of Nations--relying first upon the
effect of the charge; secondly, upon a vast reserve brought to bear at
the exact moment on the weakest point of the foe.

All the horsemen were in complete link or net mail [263], armed with
spears and strong swords, and long, pear-shaped shields, with the device
either of a cross or a dragon [264].  The archers, on whom William
greatly relied, were numerous in all three of the corps [265], were armed
more lightly--helms on their heads, but with leather or quilted
breastplates, and "panels," or gaiters, for the lower limbs.

But before the chiefs and captains rode to their several posts they
assembled round William, whom Fitzosborne had called betimes, and who had
not yet endued his heavy mail, that all men might see suspended from his
throat certain relics chosen out of those on which Harold had pledged his
fatal oath.  Standing on an eminence in front of all his lines, the
consecrated banner behind him, and Bayard, his Spanish destrier, held by
his squires at his side, the Duke conversed cheerily with his barons,
often pointing to the relics.  Then, in sight of all, he put on his mail,
and, by the haste of his squires, the back-piece was presented to him
first.  The superstitious Normans recoiled as at an evil omen.

"Tut!" said the ready chief; "not in omens and divinations, but in God,
trust I!  Yet, good omen indeed is this, and one that may give heart to
the most doubtful; for it betokens that the last shall be first--the
dukedom a kingdom--the count a king!  Ho there, Rou de Terni, as
Hereditary Standard-bearer take thy right, and hold fast to yon holy
gonfanon."

"Grant merci," said De Terni, "not to-day shall a standard be borne by
me, for I shall have need of my right arm for my sword, and my left for
my charger's rein and my trusty shield."

"Thou sayest right, and we can ill spare such a warrior.  Gautier
Giffart, Sire de Longueville, to thee is the gonfanon."

"Beau Sire," answered Gautier; "par Dex, Merci.  But my head is grey and
my arm weak; and the little strength left me I would spend in smiting the
English at the head of my men."

"Per la resplendar De," cried William, frowning;--"do ye think, my proud
vavasours, to fail me in this great need?"

"Nay," said Gautier; "but I have a great host of chevaliers and paid
soldiers, and without the old man at their head will they fight as well?"

"Then, approach thou, Tonstain le Blanc, son of Rou," said William; "and
be thine the charge of a standard that shall wave ere nightfall over the
brows of thy--King!"  A young knight, tall and strong as his Danish
ancestor, stept forth, and laid gripe on the banner.

Then William, now completely armed, save his helmet, sprang at one bound
on his steed.  A shout of admiration rang from the Quens and knights.

"Saw ye ever such beau rei?" [266] said the Vicomte de Thouars.

The shout was caught by the lines, and echoed afar, wide, and deep
through the armament, as in all his singular majesty of brow and mien,
William rode forth: lifting his hand, the shout hushed, and thus he spoke
"loud as a trumpet with a silver sound."

"Normans and soldiers, long renowned in the lips of men, and now hallowed
by the blessing of the Church!--I have not brought you over the wide seas
for my cause alone; what I gain, ye gain.  If I take the land, you will
share it.  Fight your best, and spare not; no retreat, and no quarter!  I
am not come here for my cause alone, but to avenge our whole nation for
the felonies of yonder English.  They butchered our kinsmen the Danes, on
the night of St. Brice; they murdered Alfred, the brother of their last
King, and decimated the Normans who were with him.  Yonder they
stand,--malefactors that await their doom! and ye the doomsmen!  Never,
even in a good cause, were yon English illustrious for warlike temper and
martial glory [267].  Remember how easily the Danes subdued them!  Are ye
less than Danes, or I than Canute?  By victory ye obtain vengeance,
glory, honours, lands, spoil,--aye, spoil beyond your wildest dreams.  By
defeat,--yea, even but by loss of ground, ye are given up to the sword!
Escape there is not, for the ships are useless.  Before you the foe,
behind you the ocean.  Normans, remember the feats of your countrymen in
Sicily! Behold a Sicily more rich!  Lordships and lands to the
living,--glory and salvation to those who die under the gonfanon of the
Church!  On, to the cry of the Norman warrior; the cry before which have
fled so often the prowest Paladins of Burgundy and France--'Notre Dame et
Dex aide!'" [268]

Meanwhile, no less vigilant, and in his own strategy no less skilful,
Harold had marshalled his men.  He formed two divisions; those in front
of the entrenchments; those within it.  At the first, the men of Kent, as
from time immemorial, claimed the honour of the van, under "the Pale
Charger,"--famous banner of Hengist.  This force was drawn up in the form
of the Anglo-Danish wedge; the foremost lines in the triangle all in
heavy mail, armed with their great axes, and covered by their immense
shields.  Behind these lines, in the interior of the wedge, were the
archers, protected by the front rows of the heavy armed; while the few
horsemen--few indeed compared with the Norman cavalry--were artfully
disposed where they could best harass and distract the formidable
chivalry with which they were instructed to skirmish, and not peril
actual encounter.  Other bodies of the light armed; slingers, javelin
throwers, and archers, were planted in spots carefully selected,
according as they were protected by trees, bushwood, and dykes.  The
Northumbrians (that is, all the warlike population, north the Humber,
including Yorkshire, Westmoreland, Cumberland, etc.), were, for their
present shame and future ruin, absent from that field, save, indeed, a
few who had joined Harold in his march to London.  But there were the
mixed races of Hertfordshire and Essex, with the pure Saxons of Sussex
and Surrey, and a large body of the sturdy Anglo-Danes from Lincolnshire,
Ely and Norfolk.  Men, too, there were, half of old British blood, from
Dorset, Somerset, and Gloucester.  And all were marshalled according to
those touching and pathetic tactics which speak of a nation more
accustomed to defend than to aggrieve.  To that field the head of each
family led his sons and kinsfolk; every ten families (or tything) were
united under their own chosen captain.  Every ten of these tythings had,
again, some loftier chief, dear to the populace in peace; and so on the
holy circle spread from household, hamlet, town,--till, all combined, as
one county under one Earl, the warriors fought under the eyes of their
own kinsfolk, friends, neighbours, chosen chiefs!  What wonder that they
were brave?

The second division comprised Harold's house-carles, or bodyguard,--the
veterans especially attached to his family,--the companions of his
successful wars,--a select band of the martial East-Anglians,--the
soldiers supplied by London and Middlesex, and who, both in arms,
discipline, martial temper and athletic habits, ranked high among the
most stalwart of the troops, mixed, as their descent was, from the
warlike Dane and the sturdy Saxon.  In this division, too, was comprised
the reserve.  And it was all encompassed by the palisades and
breastworks, to which were but three sorties, whence the defenders might
sally, or through which at need the vanguard might secure a retreat.  All
the heavy armed had mail and shields similar to the Normans, though
somewhat less heavy; the light armed had, some tunics of quilted linen,
some of hide; helmets of the last material, spears, javelins, swords, and
clubs.  But the main arm of the host was in the great shield, and the
great axe wielded by men larger in stature and stronger of muscle than
the majority of the Normans, whose physical race had deteriorated partly
by inter-marriage with the more delicate Frank, partly by the haughty
disdain of foot exercise.

Mounting a swift and light steed, intended not for encounter (for it was
the custom of English kings to fight on foot, in token that where they
fought there was no retreat), but to bear the rider rapidly from line to
line [269], King Harold rode to the front of the vanguard;--his brothers
by his side.  His head, like his great foe's, was bare, nor could there
be a more striking contrast than that of the broad unwrinkled brow of the
Saxon, with his fair locks, the sign of royalty and freedom, parted and
falling over the collar of mail, the clear and steadfast eye of blue, the
cheek somewhat hollowed by kingly cares, but flushed now with manly
pride--the form stalwart and erect, but spare in its graceful symmetry,
and void of all that theatric pomp of bearing which was assumed by
William--no greater contrast could there be than that which the simple
earnest Hero-king presented, to the brow furrowed with harsh ire and
politic wile, the shaven hair of monastic affectation, the dark,
sparkling tiger eye, and the vast proportions that awed the gaze in the
port and form of the imperious Norman.  Deep and loud and hearty as the
shout with which his armaments had welcomed William, was that which now
greeted the King of the English host: and clear and full, and practised
in the storm of popular assemblies, went his voice down the listening
lines.

"This day, O friends and Englishmen, sons of our common land--this day ye
fight for liberty.  The Count of the Normans hath, I know, a mighty army;
I disguise not its strength.  That army he hath collected together, by
promising to each man a share in the spoils of England. Already, in his
court and his camp, he hath parcelled out the lands of this kingdom; and
fierce are the robbers who fight for the hope of plunder!  But he cannot
offer to his greatest chief boons nobler than those I offer to my meanest
freeman--liberty, and right, and law, in the soil of his fathers!  Ye
have heard of the miseries endured in the old time under the Dane, but
they were slight indeed to those which ye may expect from the Norman.
The Dane was kindred to us in language and in law, and who now can tell
Saxon from Dane?  But yon men would rule ye in a language ye know not, by
a law that claims the crown as the right of the sword, and divides the
land among the hirelings of an army.  We baptized the Dane, and the
Church tamed his fierce soul into peace; but yon men make the Church
itself their ally, and march to carnage under the banner profaned to the
foulest of human wrongs! Outscourings of all nations, they come against
you: Ye fight as brothers under the eyes of your fathers and chosen
chiefs; ye fight for the women ye would save from the ravisher; ye fight
for the children ye would guard from eternal bondage; ye fight for the
altars which yon banner now darkens!  Foreign priest is a tyrant as
ruthless and stern as ye shall find foreign baron and king!  Let no man
dream of retreat; every inch of ground that ye yield is the soil of your
native land.  For me, on this field I peril all.  Think that mine eye is
upon you wherever ye are.  If a line waver or shrink, ye shall hear in
the midst the voice of your King.  Hold fast to your ranks, remember,
such amongst you as fought with me against Hardrada,--remember that it
was not till the Norsemen lost, by rash sallies, their serried array,
that our arms prevailed against them.  Be warned by their fatal error,
break not the form of the battle; and I tell you on the faith of a
soldier who never yet hath left field without victory,--that ye cannot be
beaten.  While I speak, the winds swell the sails of the Norse ships,
bearing home the corpse of Hardrada. Accomplish this day the last triumph
of England; add to these hills a new mount of the conquered dead!  And
when, in far times and strange lands, scald and scop shall praise the
brave man for some valiant deed wrought in some holy cause, they shall
say, 'He was brave as those who fought by the side of Harold, and swept
from the sward of England the hosts of the haughty Norman.'"

Scarcely had the rapturous hurrahs of the Saxons closed on this speech,
when full in sight, north-west of Hastings, came the first division of
the Invader.

Harold remained gazing at them, and not seeing the other sections in
movement, said to Gurth, "If these are all that they venture out, the day
is ours."

"Look yonder!" said the sombre Haco, and he pointed to the long array
that now gleamed from the wood through which the Saxon kinsmen had passed
the night before; and scarcely were these cohorts in view, than lo! from
a third quarter advanced the glittering knighthood under the Duke.  All
three divisions came on in simultaneous assault, two on either wing of
the Saxon vanguard, the third (the Norman) towards the entrenchments.

In the midst of the Duke's cohort was the sacred gonfanon, and in front
of it and of the whole line, rode a strange warrior of gigantic height.
And as he rode, the warrior sang:

    "Chaunting loud the lusty strain
     Of Roland and of Charlemain,
     And the dead, who, deathless all,
     Fell at famous Roncesval." [270]

And the knights, no longer singing hymn and litany, swelled, hoarse
through their helmets, the martial chorus.  This warrior, in front of the
Duke and the horsemen, seemed beside himself with the joy of battle.  As
he rode, and as he chaunted, he threw up his sword in the air like a
gleeman, catching it nimbly as it fell [271], and flourishing it wildly,
till, as if unable to restrain his fierce exhilaration, he fairly put
spurs to his horse, and, dashing forward to the very front of a
detachment of Saxon riders, shouted:

"A Taillefer! a Taillefer!" and by voice and gesture challenged forth
some one to single combat.

A fiery young thegn who knew the Romance tongue, started forth and
crossed swords with the poet; but by what seemed rather a juggler's
sleight of hand than a knight's fair fence, Taillefer, again throwing up
and catching his sword with incredible rapidity, shore the unhappy Saxon
from the helm to the chine, and riding over his corpse, shouting and
laughing, he again renewed his challenge.  A second rode forth and shared
the same fate.  The rest of the English horsemen stared at each other
aghast; the shouting, singing, juggling giant seemed to them not knight,
but demon; and that single incident, preliminary to all other battle, in
sight of the whole field, might have sufficed to damp the ardour of the
English, had not Leofwine, who had been despatched by the King with a
message to the entrenchments, come in front of the detachment; and, his
gay spirit roused and stung by the insolence of the Norman, and the
evident dismay of the Saxon riders, without thought of his graver duties,
he spurred his light half-mailed steed to the Norman giant; and, not even
drawing his sword, but with his spear raised over his head, and his form
covered by his shield, he cried in Romance tongue, "Go and chaunt to the
foul fiend, O croaking minstrel!"  Taillefer rushed forward, his sword
shivered on the Saxon shield, and in the same moment he fell a corpse
under the hoofs of his steed, transfixed by the Saxon spear.

A cry of woe, in which even William (who, proud of his poet's
achievements, had pressed to the foremost line to see this new encounter)
joined his deep voice, wailed through the Norman ranks; while Leofwine
rode deliberately towards them, halted a moment, and then flung his spear
in the midst with so deadly an aim, that a young knight, within two of
William, reeled on his saddle, groaned, and fell.

"How like ye, O Normans, the Saxon gleeman?" said Leofwine, as he turned
slowly, regained the detachment, and bade them heed carefully the orders
they had received, viz., to avoid the direct charge of the Norman horse,
but to take every occasion to harass and divert the stragglers; and then
blithely singing a Saxon stave, as if inspired by Norman minstrelsy, he
rode into the entrenchments.



CHAPTER VIII.

The two brethren of Waltham, Osgood and Ailred, had arrived a little
after daybreak at the spot in which, about half a mile, to the rear of
Harold's palisades, the beasts of burden that had borne the heavy arms,
missiles, luggage, and forage of the Saxon march, were placed in and
about the fenced yards of a farm.  And many human beings, of both sexes
and various ranks, were there assembled, some in breathless expectation,
some in careless talk, some in fervent prayer.

The master of the farm, his sons, and the able-bodied ceorls in his
employ, had joined the forces of the King, under Gurth, as Earl of the
county [272].  But many aged theowes, past military service, and young
children, grouped around: the first, stolid and indifferent--the last,
prattling, curious, lively, gay.  There, too, were the wives of some of
the soldiers, who, as common in Saxon expeditions, had followed their
husbands to the field; and there, too, were the ladies of many a Hlaford
in the neighbouring district, who, no less true to their mates than the
wives of humbler men, were drawn by their English hearts to the fatal
spot.  A small wooden chapel, half decayed, stood a little behind, with
its doors wide open, a sanctuary in case of need; and the interior was
thronged with kneeling suppliants.

The two monks joined, with pious gladness, some of their sacred calling,
who were leaning over the low wall, and straining their eyes towards the
bristling field.  A little apart from them, and from all, stood a female;
the hood drawn over her face, silent in her unknown thoughts.

By and by, as the march of the Norman multitude sounded hollow, and the
trumps, and the fifes, and the shouts, rolled on through the air, in many
a stormy peal,--the two abbots in the Saxon camp, with their attendant
monks, came riding towards the farm from the entrenchments.

The groups gathered round these new comers in haste and eagerness.

"The battle hath begun," said the Abbot of Hide, gravely.  "Pray God for
England, for never was its people in peril so great from man."

The female started and shuddered at those words.

"And the King, the King," she cried, in a sudden and thrilling voice;
"where is he?--the King?"

"Daughter," said the abbot, "the King's post is by his standard; but I
left him in the van of his troops.  Where he may be now I know not.
Wherever the foe presses sorest."

Then dismounting, the abbots entered the yard, to be accosted instantly
by all the wives, who deemed, poor souls, that the holy men must,
throughout all the field, have seen their lords; for each felt as if
God's world hung but on the single life in which each pale trembler
lived.

With all their faults of ignorance and superstition, the Saxon churchmen
loved their flocks; and the good abbots gave what comfort was in their
power, and then passed into the chapel, where all who could find room
followed them.

The war now raged.

The two divisions of the invading army that included the auxiliaries had
sought in vain to surround the English vanguard, and take it in the rear:
that noble phalanx had no rear.  Deepest and strongest at the base of the
triangle, everywhere front opposed the foe; shields formed a rampart
against the dart--spears a palisade against the horse.  While that
vanguard maintained its ground, William could not pierce to the
entrenchments, the strength of which, however, he was enabled to
perceive.  He now changed his tactics, joined his knighthood to the other
sections, threw his hosts rapidly into many wings, and leaving broad
spaces between his archers--who continued their fiery hail--ordered his
heavy-armed foot to advance on all sides upon the wedge, and break its
ranks for the awaiting charge of his horse.

Harold, still in the centre of the vanguard, amidst the men of Kent,
continued to animate them all with voice and hand; and, as the Normans
now closed in, he flung himself from his steed, and strode on foot, with
his mighty battle-axe, to the spot where the rush was dreadest.

Now came the shock--the fight hand-to-hand: spear and lance were thrown
aside, axe and sword rose and shore.  But before the close-serried lines
of the English, with their physical strength and veteran practice in
their own special arm, the Norman foot were mowed as by the scythe.  In
vain, in the intervals, thundered the repeated charges of the fiery
knights; in vain, throughout all, came the shaft and the bolt.

Animated by the presence of their King fighting amongst them as a simple
soldier, but with his eye ever quick to foresee, his voice ever prompt to
warn, the men of Kent swerved not a foot from their indomitable ranks.
The Norman infantry wavered and gave way; on, step by step, still
unbroken in array, pressed the English.  And their cry, "Out! out! Holy
Crosse!" rose high above the flagging sound of "Ha Rou! Ha Rou!--Notre
Dame!"

"Per la resplendar De," cried William.  "Our soldiers are but women in
the garb of Normans.  Ho, spears to the rescue!  With me to the charge,
Sires D'Aumale and De Littain--with me, gallant Bruse, and De Mortain;
with me, De Graville and Grantmesnil--Dex aide!  Notre Dame." And heading
his prowest knights, William came, as a thunderbolt, on the bills and
shields.  Harold, who scarce a minute before had been in a remoter rank,
was already at the brunt of that charge.  At his word down knelt the
foremost line, leaving nought but their shields and their spear-points
against the horse.  While behind them, the axe in both hands, bent
forward the soldiery in the second rank, to smite and to crush.  And,
from the core of the wedge, poured the shafts of the archers.  Down
rolled in the dust half the charge of those knights. Bruse reeled on his
saddle; the dread right hand of D'Aumale fell lopped by the axe; De
Graville, hurled from his horse, rolled at the feet of Harold; and
William, borne by his great steed and his colossal strength into the
third rank--there dealt, right and left, the fierce strokes of his iron
club, till he felt his horse sinking under him--and had scarcely time to
back from the foe--scarcely time to get beyond reach of their weapons,
ere the Spanish destrier, frightfully gashed through its strong mail,
fell dead on the plain.  His knights swept round him.  Twenty barons
leapt from selle to yield him their chargers.  He chose the one nearest
to hand, sprang to foot and to stirrup, and rode back to his lines.
Meanwhile De Graville's casque, its strings broken by the shock, had
fallen off, and as Harold was about to strike, he recognised his guest.

Holding up his hand to keep off the press of his men, the generous King
said briefly: "Rise and retreat!--no time on this field for captor and
captive.  He whom thou hast called recreant knight, has been Saxon host.
Thou hast fought by his side, thou shalt not die by his hand!--Go."

Not a word spoke De Graville; but his dark eye dwelt one minute with
mingled pity and reverence on the King; then rising, he turned away; and
slowly, as if he disdained to fly, strode back over the corpses of his
countrymen.

"Stay, all hands!" cried the King to his archers; "yon man hath tasted
our salt, and done us good service of old.  He hath paid his weregeld."

Not a shaft was discharged.

Meanwhile, the Norman infantry, who had been before recoiling, no sooner
saw their Duke (whom they recognised by his steed and equipment) fall on
the ground, than, setting up a shout--"The Duke is dead!" they fairly
turned round, and fled fast in disorder.

The fortune of the day was now well-nigh turned in favour of the Saxons;
and the confusion of the Normans, as the cry of "The Duke is dead!"
reached, and circled round, the host, would have been irrecoverable, had
Harold possessed a cavalry fit to press the advantage gained, or had not
William himself rushed into the midst of the fugitives, throwing his
helmet back on his neck, showing his face, all animated with fierce
valour and disdainful wrath, while he cried aloud:

"I live, ye varlets!  Behold the face of a chief who never yet forgave
coward!  Ay, tremble more at me than at yon English, doomed and accursed
as they be!  Ye Normans, ye!  I blush for you!" and striking the foremost
in the retreat with the flat of his sword, chiding, stimulating,
threatening, promising in a breath, he succeeded in staying the flight,
reforming the lines, and dispelling the general panic.  Then, as he
joined his own chosen knights, and surveyed the field, he beheld an
opening which the advanced position of the Saxon vanguard had left, and
by which his knights might gain the entrenchments.  He mused a moment,
his face still bare, and brightening, as he mused.  Looking round him, he
saw Mallet de Graville, who had remounted, and said, shortly:

"Pardex, dear knight, we thought you already with St. Michael!--joy, that
you live yet to be an English earl.  Look you, ride to Fitzosborne with
the signal-word, 'Li Hardiz passent avant!'  Off, and quick."

De Graville bowed, and darted across the plain.

"Now, my Quens and chevaliers," said William, gaily, as he closed his
helmet, and took from his squire another spear; "now, I shall give ye the
day's great pastime.  Pass the word, Sire de Tancarville, to every
horseman--'Charge!--to the Standard!'"

The word passed, the steeds bounded, and the whole force of William's
knighthood, scouring the plain to the rear of the Saxon vanguard, made
for the entrenchments.

At that sight, Harold, divining the object, and seeing this new and more
urgent demand on his presence, halted the battalions over which he had
presided, and, yielding the command to Leofwine, once more briefly but
strenuously enjoined the troops to heed well their leaders, and on no
account to break the wedge, in the form of which lay their whole
strength, both against the cavalry and the greater number of the foe.
Then mounting his horse, and attended only by Haco, he spurred across the
plain, in the opposite direction to that taken by the Normans.  In doing
so, he was forced to make a considerable circuit towards the rear of the
entrenchment, and the farm, with its watchful groups, came in sight.  He
distinguished the garbs of the women, and Haco said to him,--

"There wait the wives, to welcome the living victors."

"Or search their lords among the dead!" answered Harold.  "Who, Haco, if
we fall, will search for us?"

As the word left his lips, he saw, under a lonely thorn-tree, and scarce
out of bowshot from the entrenchments, a woman seated.  The King looked
hard at the bended, hooded form.

"Poor wretch!" he murmured, "her heart is in the battle!"  And he shouted
aloud, "Farther off! farther off?--the war rushes hitherward!"

At the sound of that voice the woman rose, stretched her arms, and sprang
forward.  But the Saxon chiefs had already turned their faces towards the
neighbouring ingress into the ramparts, and beheld not her movement,
while the tramp of rushing chargers, the shout and the roar of clashing
war, drowned the wail of her feeble cry:

"I have heard him again, again!" murmured the woman, "God be praised!"
and she re-seated herself quietly under the lonely thorn.

As Harold and Haco sprang to their feet within the entrenchments, the
shout of "the King--the King!--Holy Crosse!" came in time to rally the
force at the farther end, now undergoing the full storm of the Norman
chivalry.

The willow ramparts were already rent and hewed beneath the hoofs of
horses and the clash of swords; and the sharp points on the frontals of
the Norman destriers were already gleaming within the entrenchments, when
Harold arrived at the brunt of action.  The tide was then turned; not one
of those rash riders left the entrenchments they had gained; steel and
horse alike went down beneath the ponderous battle-axes; and William,
again foiled and baffled, drew off his cavalry with the reluctant
conviction that those breastworks, so manned, were not to be won by
horse.  Slowly the knights retreated down the slope of the hillock, and
the English, animated by that sight, would have left their stronghold to
pursue, but for the warning cry of Harold.  The interval in the strife
thus gained was promptly and vigorously employed in repairing the
palisades.  And this done, Harold, turning to Haco, and the thegns round
him, said joyously:

"By Heaven's help we shall yet win this day.  And know you not that it is
my fortunate day--the day on which, hitherto, all hath prospered with me,
in peace and in war--the day of my birth?"

"Of your birth!" echoed Haco in surprise.  "Ay--did you not know it?"

"Nay!--strange!--it is also the birthday of Duke William!  What would
astrologers say to the meeting of such stars?" [273]

Harold's cheek paled, but his helmet concealed the paleness:--his arm
drooped.  The strange dream of his youth again came distinct before him,
as it had come in the hall of the Norman at the sight of the ghastly
relics;--again he saw the shadowy hand from the cloud--again heard the
voice murmuring: "Lo, the star that shone on the birth of the victor;"
again he heard the words of Hilda interpreting the dream--again the
chaunt which the dead or the fiend had poured from the rigid lips of the
Vala.  It boomed on his ear; hollow as a death bell it knelled through
the roar of battle--

                                "Never
    Crown and brow shall Force dissever,
    Till the dead men, unforgiving,
    Loose the war-steeds on the living;
    Till a sun whose race is ending
    Sees the rival stars contending,
    Where the dead men, unforgiving,
    Wheel their war-steeds round the living!"

Faded the vision, and died the chaunt, as a breath that dims, and
vanishes from, the mirror of steel.  The breath was gone--the firm steel
was bright once more; and suddenly the King was recalled to the sense of
the present hour, by shouts and cries, in which the yell of Norman
triumph predominated, at the further end of the field.  The signal words
to Fitzosborne had conveyed to that chief the order for the mock charge
on the Saxon vanguard, to be followed by the feigned flight; and so
artfully had this stratagem been practised, that despite all the solemn
orders of Harold, despite even the warning cry of Leofwine, who, rash and
gay-hearted though he was, had yet a captain's skill--the bold English,
their blood heated by long contest and seeming victory, could not resist
pursuit.  They rushed forward impetuously, breaking the order of their
hitherto indomitable phalanx, and the more eagerly because the Normans
had unwittingly taken their way towards a part of the ground concealing
dykes and ditches, into which the English trusted to precipitate the foe.
It was as William's knights retreated from the breastworks that this
fatal error was committed: and pointing toward the disordered Saxons with
a wild laugh of revengeful joy, William set spurs to his horse, and,
followed by all his chivalry, joined the cavalry of Poitou and Boulogne
in their swoop upon the scattered array.  Already the Norman infantry had
turned round--already the horses, that lay in ambush amongst the
brushwood near the dykes, had thundered forth.  The whole of the late
impregnable vanguard was broken up, divided corps from corps,--hemmed in;
horse after horse charging to the rear, to the front, to the flank, to
the right, to the left.

Gurth, with the men of Surrey and Sussex, had alone kept their ground,
but they were now compelled to advance to the aid of their scattered
comrades; and coming up in close order, they not only awhile stayed the
slaughter, but again half turned the day.  Knowing the country
thoroughly, Gurth lured the foe into the ditches concealed within a
hundred yards of their own ambush, and there the havoc of the foreigners
was so great, that the hollows are said to have been literally made level
with the plain by their corpses.  Yet this combat, however fierce, and
however skill might seek to repair the former error, could not be long
maintained against such disparity of numbers.  And meanwhile, the whole
of the division under Geoffroi Martel, and his co-captains, had by a
fresh order of William's occupied the space between the entrenchments and
the more distant engagement; thus when Harold looked up, he saw the foot
of the hillocks so lined with steel, as to render it hopeless that he
himself could win to the aid of his vanguard.  He set his teeth firmly,
looked on, and only by gesture and smothered exclamations showed his
emotions of hope and fear.  At length he cried:

"Gallant Gurth! brave Leofwine, look to their pennons; right, right; well
fought, sturdy Vebba!  Ha! they are moving this way.  The wedge cleaves
on--it cuts its path through the heart of the foe."  And indeed, the
chiefs now drawing off the shattered remains of their countrymen, still
disunited, but still each section shaping itself wedge-like,--on came the
English, with their shields over their head, through the tempest of
missiles, against the rush of the steeds, here and there, through the
plains, up the slopes, towards the entrenchment, in the teeth of the
formidable array of Martel, and harassed behind by hosts that seemed
numberless.  The King could restrain himself no longer.  He selected five
hundred of his bravest and most practised veterans, yet comparatively
fresh, and commanding the rest to stay firm, descended the hills, and
charged unexpectedly into the rear of the mingled Normans and Bretons.

This sortie, well-timed though desperate, served to cover and favour the
retreat of the straggling Saxons.  Many, indeed, were cut off, but Gurth,
Leofwine, and Vebba hewed the way for their followers to the side of
Harold, and entered the entrenchments, close followed by the nearer foe,
who were again repulsed amidst the shouts of the English.

But, alas! small indeed the band thus saved, and hopeless the thought
that the small detachments of English still surviving and scattered over
the plain, would ever win to their aid.

Yet in those scattered remnants were, perhaps, almost the only men who,
availing themselves of their acquaintance with the country, and
despairing of victory, escaped by flight from the Field of SANGUELAC.
Nevertheless, within the entrenchments not a man had lost heart; the day
was already far advanced, no impression had been yet made on the
outworks, the position seemed as impregnable as a fortress of stone; and,
truth to say, even the bravest Normans were disheartened, when they
looked to that eminence which had foiled the charge of William himself.
The Duke, in the recent melee, had received more than one wound, his
third horse that day had been slain under him.  The slaughter among the
knights and nobles had been immense, for they had exposed their persons
with the most desperate valour.  And William, after surveying the rout of
nearly one half of the English army, heard everywhere, to his wrath and
his shame, murmurs of discontent and dismay at the prospect of scaling
the heights, in which the gallant remnant had found their refuge.  At
this critical juncture, Odo of Bayeux, who had hitherto remained in the
rear [274], with the crowds of monks that accompanied the armament, rode
into the full field, where all the hosts were reforming their lines.  He
was in complete mail, but a white surplice was drawn over the steel, his
head was bare, and in his right hand he bore the crozier.  A formidable
club swung by a leathern noose from his wrist, to be used only for
self-defence: the canons forbade the priest to strike merely in assault.

Behind the milk-white steed of Odo came the whole body of reserve, fresh
and unbreathed, free from the terrors of their comrades, and stung into
proud wrath at the delay of the Norman conquest.

"How now--how now!" cried the prelate; "do ye flag? do ye falter when the
sheaves are down, and ye have but to gather up the harvest?  How now,
sons of the Church! warriors of the Cross! avengers of the Saints!
Desert your Count, if ye please; but shrink not back from a Lord mightier
than man.  Lo, I come forth, to ride side by side with my brother,
bareheaded, the crozier in my hand.  He who fails his liege is but a
coward--he who fails the Church is apostate!"

The fierce shout of the reserve closed this harangue, and the words of
the prelate, as well as the physical aid he brought to back them,
renerved the army.  And now the whole of William's mighty host, covering
the field, till its lines seemed to blend with the grey horizon, came on
serried, steadied, orderly--to all sides of the entrenchment.  Aware of
the inutility of his horse, till the breastworks were cleared, William
placed in the van all his heavy armed foot, spearmen, and archers, to
open the way through the palisades, the sorties from which had now been
carefully closed.

As they came up the hills, Harold turned to Haco and said: "Where is thy
battle-axe?"

"Harold," answered Haco, with more than his usual tone of sombre sadness,
"I desire now to be thy shield-bearer, for thou must use thine axe with
both hands while the day lasts, and thy shield is useless.  Wherefore
thou strike, and I will shield thee."

"Thou lovest me, then, son of Sweyn; I have sometimes doubted it."

"I love thee as the best part of my life, and with thy life ceases mine:
it is my heart that my shield guards when it covers the breast of
Harold."

"I would bid thee live, poor youth," whispered Harold; "but what were
life if this day were lost?  Happy, then, will be those who die!"

Scarce had the words left his lips ere he sprang to the breastworks, and
with a sudden sweep of his axe, down dropped a helm that peered above
them.  But helm after helm succeeds.  Now they come on, swarm upon swarm,
as wolves on a traveller, as bears round a bark. Countless, amidst their
carnage, on they come!  The arrows of the Norman blacken the air: with
deadly precision, to each arm, each limb, each front exposed above the
bulwarks whirrs the shaft.  They clamber the palisades, the foremost fall
dead under the Saxon axe; new thousands rush on: vain is the might of
Harold, vain had been a Harold's might in every Saxon there!  The first
row of breastworks is forced--it is trampled, hewed, crushed down,
cumbered with the dead. "Ha Rou! Ha Rou! Notre Dame! Notre Dame!" sounds
joyous and shrill, the chargers snort and leap, and charge into the
circle.  High wheels in air the great mace of William; bright by the
slaughterers flashes the crozier of the Church.

"On, Normans!--Earldom and land!" cries the Duke.

"On, Sons of the Church!  Salvation and heaven!" shouts the voice of Odo.

The first breastwork down--the Saxons yielding inch by inch, foot by
foot, are pressed, crushed back, into the second enclosure.  The same
rush, and swarm, and fight, and cry, and roar:--The second enclosure
gives way.  And now in the centre of the third--lo, before the eyes of
the Normans, towers proudly aloft, and shines in the rays of the
westering sun, broidered with gold, and, blazing with mystic gems, the
standard of England's King!  And there, are gathered the reserve of the
English host; there, the heroes who had never yet known defeat--unwearied
they by the battle--vigorous, high-hearted still; and round them the
breastworks were thicker, and stronger, and higher, and fastened by
chains to pillars of wood and staves of iron, with the waggons and carts
of the baggage, and piled logs of timber-barricades at which even William
paused aghast, and Odo stifled an exclamation that became not a priestly
lip.

Before that standard, in the front of the men, stood Gurth, and Leofwine,
and Haco, and Harold, the last leaning for rest upon his axe, for he was
sorely wounded in many places, and the blood oozed through the links of
his mail.

Live, Harold; live yet, and Saxon England shall not die!

The English archers had at no time been numerous; most of them had served
with the vanguard, and the shafts of those within the ramparts were
spent; so that the foe had time to pause and to breathe.  The Norman
arrows meanwhile flew fast and thick, but William noted to his grief that
they struck against the tall breastworks and barricades, and so failed in
the slaughter they should inflict.

He mused a moment, and sent one of his knights to call to him three of
the chiefs of the archers.  They were soon at the side of his destrier.

"See ye not, maladroits," said the Duke, "that your shafts and bolts fall
harmless on those ozier walls?  Shoot in the air; let the arrow fall
perpendicular on those within--fall as the vengeance of the saints
falls--direct from heaven!  Give me thy bow, Archer,--thus." He drew the
bow as he sate on his steed, the arrow flashed up, and descended in the
heart of the reserve, within a few feet of the standard.

"So; that standard be your mark," said the Duke, giving back the bow.

The archers withdrew.  The order circulated through their bands, and in a
few moments more down came the iron rain.  It took the English host as by
surprise, piercing hide cap, and even iron helm; and in the very surprise
that made them instinctively look up--death came.

A dull groan as from many hearts boomed from the entrenchments on the
Norman ear.

"Now," said William, "they must either use their shields to guard their
heads--and their axes are useless--or while they smite with the axe they
fall by the shaft.  On now to the ramparts.  I see my crown already
resting on yonder standard!"

Yet despite all, the English bear up; the thickness of the palisades, the
comparative smallness of the last enclosure, more easily therefore manned
and maintained by the small force of the survivors, defy other weapons
than those of the bow.  Every Norman who attempts to scale the breastwork
is slain on the instant, and his body cast forth under the hoofs of the
baffled steeds.  The sun sinks near and nearer towards the red horizon.

"Courage!" cries the voice of Harold, "hold but till nightfall, and ye
are saved.  Courage and freedom!"

"Harold and Holy Crosse!" is the answer.

Still foiled, William again resolves to hazard his fatal stratagem. He
marked that quarter of the enclosure which was most remote from the chief
point of attack--most remote from the provident watch of Harold, whose
cheering voice, ever and anon, he recognised amidst the hurtling clamour.
In this quarter the palisades were the weakest, and the ground the least
elevated; but it was guarded by men on whose skill with axe and shield
Harold placed the firmest reliance--the Anglo-Danes of his old
East-Anglian earldom.  Thither, then, the Duke advanced a chosen column
of his heavy-armed foot, tutored especially by himself in the rehearsals
of his favourite ruse, and accompanied by a band of archers; while at the
same time, he himself, with his brother Odo, headed a considerable
company of knights under the son of the great Roger de Beaumont, to gain
the contiguous level heights on which now stretches the little town of
"Battle;" there to watch and to aid the manoeuvre.  The foot column
advanced to the appointed spot, and after a short, close, and terrible
conflict, succeeded in making a wide breach in the breastworks.  But that
temporary success only animates yet more the exertions of the beleaguered
defenders, and swarming round the breach, and pouring through it, line
after line of the foe drop beneath their axes.  The column of the
heavy-armed Normans fall back down the slopes--they give way--they turn
in disorder--they retreat--they fly; but the archers stand firm, midway
on the descent--those archers seem an easy prey to the English--the
temptation is irresistible.  Long galled, and harassed, and maddened by
the shafts, the Anglo-Danes rushed forth at the heels of the Norman
swordsmen, and sweeping down to exterminate the archers, the breach that
they leave gapes wide.

"Forward," cries William, and he gallops towards the breach.

"Forward," cries Odo, "I see the hands of the holy saints in the air!
Forward! it is the Dead that wheel our war-steeds round the living!"

On rush the Norman knights.  But Harold is already in the breach,
rallying around him hearts eager to replace the shattered breastworks.

"Close shields!  Hold fast!" shouts his kingly voice.  Before him were
the steeds of Bruse and Grantmesnil.  At his breast their spears:--Haco
holds over the breast the shield.  Swinging aloft with both hands his
axe, the spear of Grantmesnil is shivered in twain by the King's stroke.
Cloven to the skull rolls the steed of Bruse.  Knight and steed roll on
the bloody sward.

But a blow from the sword of De Lacy has broken down the guardian shield
of Haco.  The son of Sweyn is stricken to his knee.  With lifted blades
and whirling maces the Norman knights charge through the breach.

"Look up, look up, and guard thy head," cries the fatal voice of Haco to
the King.

At that cry the King raises his flashing eyes.  Why halts his stride? Why
drops the axe from his hand?  As he raised his head, down came the
hissing death-shaft.  It smote the lifted face; it crushed into the
dauntless eyeball.  He reeled, he staggered, he fell back several yards,
at the foot of his gorgeous standard.  With desperate hand he broke the
head of the shaft, and left the barb, quivering in the anguish.  Gurth
knelt over him.

"Fight on," gasped the King, "conceal my death!  Holy Crosse!  England to
the rescue! woe-woe!"

Rallying himself a moment, he sprang to his feet, clenched his right
hand, and fell once more,--a corpse.

At the same moment a simultaneous rush of horsemen towards the standard
bore back a line of Saxons, and covered the body of the King with heaps
of the slain.

His helmet cloven in two, his face all streaming with blood, but still
calm in its ghastly hues, amidst the foremost of those slain, fell the
fated Haco.  He fell with his head on the breast of Harold, kissed the
bloody cheek with bloody lips, groaned, and died.

Inspired by despair with superhuman strength, Gurth, striding over the
corpses of his kinsmen, opposed himself singly to the knights; and the
entire strength of the English remnant, coming round him at the menaced
danger to the standard, once more drove off the assailants.

But now all the enclosure was filled with the foe, the whole space seemed
gay, in the darkening air, with banderols and banners.  High, through
all, rose the club of the Conqueror; high, through all, shone the crozier
of the Churchman.  Not one Englishman fled; all now centering round the
standard, they fell, slaughtering if slaughtered. Man by man, under the
charmed banner, fell the lithsmen of Hilda. Then died the faithful
Sexwolf.  Then died the gallant Godrith, redeeming, by the death of many
a Norman, his young fantastic love of the Norman manners.  Then died,
last of such of the Kent-men as had won retreat from their scattered
vanguard into the circle of closing slaughter, the English-hearted Vebba.

Even still in that age, when the Teuton had yet in his veins the blood of
Odin, the demi-god,--even still one man could delay the might of numbers.
Through the crowd, the Normans beheld with admiring awe,--here, in the
front of their horse, a single warrior, before whose axe spear shivered,
helm drooped;--there, close by the standard, standing breast-high among
the slain, one still more formidable, and even amidst ruin unvanquished.
The first fell at length under the mace of Roger de Montgommeri.  So,
unknown to the Norman poet (who hath preserved in his verse the deeds but
not the name), fell, laughing in death, young Leofwine!  Still by the
enchanted standard towers the other; still the enchanted standard waves
aloft, with its brave ensign of the solitary "Fighting Man" girded by the
gems that had flashed in the crown of Odin.

"Thine be the honour of lowering that haughty flag," cried William,
turning to one of his favourite and most famous knights, Robert de
Tessin.

Overjoyed, the knight rushed forth, to fall by the axe of that stubborn
defender.

"Sorcery," cried Fitzosborne, "sorcery.  This is no man, but fiend."

"Spare him, spare the brave," cried in a breath Bruse, D'Aincourt, and De
Graville.

William turned round in wrath at the cry of mercy, and spurring over all
the corpses, with the sacred banner borne by Tonstain close behind him,
so that it shadowed his helmet,--he came to the foot of the standard, and
for one moment there was single battle between the Knight-Duke and the
Saxon hero.  Nor, even then, conquered by the Norman sword, but exhausted
by a hundred wounds, that brave chief fell [275], and the falchion vainly
pierced him, falling.  So, last man at the standard, died Gurth.

The sun had set, the first star was in heaven, the "Fighting Man" was
laid low, and on that spot where now, all forlorn and shattered, amidst
stagnant water, stands the altar-stone of Battle Abbey, rose the
glittering dragon that surmounted the consecrated banner of the Norman
victor.



CHAPTER IX.

Close by his banner, amidst the piles of the dead, William the Conqueror
pitched his pavilion, and sate at meat.  And over all the plain, far and
near, torches were moving like meteors on a marsh; for the Duke had
permitted the Saxon women to search for the bodies of their lords.  And
as he sate, and talked, and laughed, there entered the tent two humble
monks: their lowly mien, their dejected faces, their homely serge, in
mournful contrast to the joy and the splendour of the Victory-Feast.

They came to the Conqueror, and knelt.

"Rise up, sons of the Church," said William, mildly, "for sons of the
Church are we!  Deem not that we shall invade the rights of the religion
which we have come to avenge.  Nay, on this spot we have already sworn to
build an abbey that shall be the proudest in the land, and where masses
shall be sung evermore for the repose of the brave Normans who fell in
this field, and for mine and my consort's soul."

"Doubtless," said Odo, sneering, "the holy men have heard already of this
pious intent, and come to pray for cells in the future abbey."

"Not so," said Osgood, mournfully, and in barbarous Norman; "we have our
own beloved convent at Waltham, endowed by the prince whom thine arms
have defeated.  We come to ask but to bury in our sacred cloisters the
corpse of him so lately King over all England--our benefactor, Harold."

The Duke's brow fell.

"And see," said Ailred, eagerly, as he drew out a leathern pouch, "we
have brought with us all the gold that our poor crypts contained, for we
misdoubted this day," and he poured out the glittering pieces at the
Conqueror's feet.

"No!" said William, fiercely, "we take no gold for a traitor's body; no,
not if Githa, the usurper's mother, offered us its weight in the shining
metal; unburied be the Accursed of the Church, and let the birds of prey
feed their young with his carcase!"

Two murmurs, distinct in tone and in meaning, were heard in that
assembly: the one of approval from fierce mercenaries, insolent with
triumph; the other of generous discontent and indignant amaze, from the
large majority of Norman nobles.

But William's brow was still dark, and his eye still stern; for his
policy confirmed his passions; and it was only by stigmatising, as
dishonoured and accursed, the memory and cause of the dead King, that he
could justify the sweeping spoliation of those who had fought against
himself, and confiscate the lands to which his own Quens and warriors
looked for their reward.

The murmurs had just died into a thrilling hush, when a woman, who had
followed the monks unperceived and unheeded, passed with a swift and
noiseless step to the Duke's foot-stool; and, without bending knee to the
ground, said, in a voice which, though low, was heard by all:

"Norman, in the name of the women of England, I tell thee that thou
darest not do this wrong to the hero who died in defence of their hearths
and their children!"

Before she spoke she had thrown back her hood; her hair dishevelled, fell
over her shoulders, glittering like gold, in the blaze of the
banquet-lights; and that wondrous beauty, without parallel amidst the
dames of England, shone like the vision of an accusing angel, on the eyes
of the startled Duke, and the breathless knights.  But twice in her life
Edith beheld that awful man.  Once, when roused from her reverie of
innocent love by the holiday pomp of his trumps and banners, the
childlike maid stood at the foot of the grassy knoll; and once again,
when in the hour of his triumph, and amidst the wrecks of England on the
field of Sanguelac, with a soul surviving the crushed and broken heart,
the faith of the lofty woman defended the Hero Dead.

There, with knee unbent, and form unquailing, with marble cheek, and
haughty eye, she faced the Conqueror; and, as she ceased, his noble
barons broke into bold applause.

"Who art thou?" said William, if not daunted at least amazed. "Meth