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Title: A Legend of Reading Abbey
Author: MacFarlane, Charles
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A LEGEND OF READING ABBEY.

by

CHARLES MACFARLANE

The Author of 'The Camp of Refuge.'



London:
Charles Knight & Co., Ludgate Street.
1845.



A LEGEND OF READING ABBEY.



I.


It was in the year of Grace eleven hundred and thirty-seven (when the
grace of God appeared to be entirely departing from the sinful and
unhappy land of England), and Stephen of Blois, nephew of the deceased
King Henry Beauclerc, sat upon the throne, lawfully and honestly, as
some men said, but most unlawfully, according to others. And the woe I
have to relate arose from this divergency of opinion, but still more
from the change-ableness of men's minds, which led our bishops, lords,
and optimates to side now with one party and now with the other, and now
change sides again, to the great perplexing of the understanding of
honest and simple men, to the undoing of their fortunes, and well nigh
to the utter ruin of this realm, which that learned clerk and right
politic King Henricus Primus had left in so flourishing and peaceful a
condition.

Our great religious house of Reading (may the hand of sacrilege and the
flames of war never more reach it!), founded and endowed by the
Beauclerc, had then been newly raised on that smiling, favoured spot of
earth which lies on the bank of the Kennet, hard by the juncture of that
clear and swift stream with our glorious river Thamesis; and in sooth
our noble house was not wholly finished and furnished at this time; for
albeit the first church, together with most of its chapels and shrines,
was in a manner completed, and our great hall was roofed in, and floored
and lined with oak, the lord abbat's apartment, and the lodging of the
prior, and the dormitory for the brethren, and the granary and the
stables for my lord abbat's horses, were yet unfinished; and, except on
Sundays and the feast days of Mother Church, these parts of the abbey
were filled by artisans and well-skilled workmen who had been collected
from Windsor, Wallingford, Oxenford, Newbury, nay even from the right
royal city of Winchester, which abounded with well-skilled masons and
builders, and the capital city of London, where all the arts be most
cultivated. Moreover, sundry artists we had from beyond the seas, as
masons and hewers of stone, who had been sent unto us from Caen in
Normandie by the defunct king, and some right skilful carvers in wood
and in stone, who had been brought out of Italie by Father Michael
Angelo Torpietro, a member of our house, who had quitted the glorious
monastery of Mons Casinium, which had been raised and occupied by the
founder of our order, the blessed Benedict himself, when he was in the
flesh, in order to live among us and instruct us in humane letters and
in all the rules and ordinances of our order, wherein we Anglo and
Anglo-Norman monks, in verity, needed some instruction. And this Father
Torpietro of happy memory had also been enabled by the liberality of
our first lord abbat to bring from the city of Pisa in Italie a right
good limner, who painted such saints and Virgins upon gilded panels as
had not before been seen in England, and who was now painting the chapel
of our Ladie with rare and inappreciable art, as men who have eyes and
understanding may see at this day. All the learned and periti do affirm
that for limning and gilding our chapel of the Ladie doth excel whatever
is seen in the churches of Westminster and Winchester in the south, or
in the churches of York and Durham in the north, or in the churches of
Wells and Exeter in the west, or in Ely and Lincoln in the east. [I
speak not of the miracles performed by our relics: they are known to the
world, and be at least as great as those performed by our Ladie of
Walsingham.] Albeit our walls of stone and flint were not all finished
in the inner part, our house was girded and guarded by ramparts of royal
charters and papal bulls. Two charters had we from our founder, and one
from King Stephen, confirmatory of those two. And great were the
immunities and privileges contained in these charters. No scutage had we
to pay; no stallage, no tolls, no tribute; no customs in fair or market,
no tithing penny or two-penny, no amercements or fines or forfeitures of
any kind! Our mills were free, and our fisheries and our woods and
parks. No officer of the king was to exercise any right in the woods and
chases of the lord abbat, albeit they were within the limits of the
forests royal; but the lord abbat and the monks and their servitors were
to hold and for ever enjoy the same powers and liberties in their woods
and chases as the king had in his. Hence was the House of Reading ever
well stocked with the succulent meat of the buck. Too long were it to
tell all that our founder Henricus did for us. At the beginning of his
reign, he abolished the ancient power of abbats to make knights; yet, in
order to distinguish our house, he did, by a particular clause in our
charter of foundation, give unto the lord abbat of Reading and to his
successors for ever, authority to make knights, whether clerks or
laymen, provided only that the ceremony should be performed by the abbat
in his clerical habit and capacity, and not as a layman, and that he
should be careful to advance none but men of manly age and discreet
judgment. Of all the royal and mitred abbeys in the land ours was
chiefest after Glastonbury and St. Albans; and assuredly we have some
honours and privileges which those two more ancient houses have not. I,
who have taken up the pen in mine old age to record upon enduring
parchment some of the passages I witnessed in my youth and ripe manhood,
would not out of any unseemly vanity perpetuate my name and condition; I
would lie, unnamed, among the humblest of this brotherhood who have
lived or will live without praise, and have died or will die without
blame; but as the world in after-time may wish to know who it was that
told the story I have now in hand, and what were my opportunities of
knowing the truth, it may be incumbent on me to say so much as
this:--John Fitz-John of Sunning was my secular name and my designation
in the world of pomps and vanities; my mother was of the Saxon, my
father of the Norman race; my mother (I say a requiem for her daily)
descended from a great Saxon earl, or, as some do say, prince; and my
father's grandfather, who fought at the battle of Hastings, was
cup-bearer to William the Conqueror, in sort that if I could be puffed
up with mundane greatness I have the wherewithal: my name in religion is
Felix, of the order of St. Benedict and of the Abbey of Reading; and as
a servant of the servants of the Lord, I have filled without discredit,
in the course of many years, the several high offices of sub-sacrist and
sacrist, refectorarius, cellarer, chamberlain, and sub-prior; and mayhap
when I shall be gone hence some among this community will say that there
have been worse officials than Father Felix.

In the year eleven hundred and thirty-seven I was but a youthful novice,
still longing after the flesh-pots of Egypt, and mourning for the loss
of the worldly liberty I had enjoyed or abused in my mother's house at
Sunning, which was a goodly house near the bank of Thamesis, on a wooded
hill hard by the wooden old Saxon bridge of Sunning. But I was old
enough to comprehend most of the passing events; and being much favoured
and indulged by the lord abbat and several of the brotherhood, I heard
and saw more than the other novices, and was more frequently employed
upon embassages beyond the precincts of the abbey lands. It was a common
saying in the house that Felix the Sunningite, though but little given
to his books within doors, was the best of boys for out-door work. By
the favour of our Ladie, the love of in-door studies came upon me
afterwards at that time when I was first assailed by podagra, and since
that time have I not read all the forty and odd books that be in our
library, and have I not made books with mine own hand, faithfully
transcribing the Confessions of St. Augustin, and the whole of the Life
of St. Benedict, and missals not a few? But not to me the praise and
glory, _sed nomini tuo_!

As I was born in the house at Sunning (may the sun ever shine upon that
happy village, and upon the little church wherein rests the mortal part
of my mother) on the eve of St. John the Evangelist, in the year of our
Redemption eleven hundred and twenty, being the twentieth year of the
Beauclerc's reign, I was, on the feast of St. Edbert, Bishop and
Confessor, in the year eleven hundred and thirty-seven, close upon the
eighteenth year of mine age.

St. Edbert's festival, falling in the flowering month of May, is one
which my heart hath always much affected. The house had kept it right
merrily; and notwithstanding the unfinished state of portions of the
abbey, I do opine that our ceremonies in church and choir were that day
very magnificent, and fit to be a pattern to some other houses. All
labours were suspended; for he is a niggard of the worst sort that
begrudgeth even his serfs and bondmen rest at such a tide; and eager as
was our lord abbat Edward for the completion of our stately edifice, and
_speciliater_ for the finishing of our dormitory, he would not allow a
man to chip a stone, or put one flint upon another, or hew or shape wood
upon St. Edbert's day; and he was almost angered at the Italian limner
for finishing part of a glory which he had begun in our Ladie's chapel.
It was a memorable day, and, _inter alia_, for this: it was the first
night that the good lord abbat slept within the walls of the abbey; for
hitherto, on account of the cold and dampness of the new walls, he had
betaken himself for his nightly rest either to a house close by in the
town of Reading, or to the house of a God-fearing relation, who dwelt on
the other side of Thamesis at Caversham.

After the completorium and supper (we had both meat and wine of the best
at that coena), the weather being warm, and the evening altogether
beautiful, the abbat and reverend fathers, as well as the younger
members of the house, gathered together in my lord abbat's garden at the
back of the abbey, and sat there for a season on the green bank of the
Kennet, looking at the bright river as it glided by, and at the young
moon and twinkling stars that were reflected in the water, or
discoursing with one another upon sundry cheerful topics. Good cheer had
made me cheerful, and it remembers me that I made little coronals and
chains of the violets that grew by the river bank, and of the
bright-eyed daisies that covered all the sward, and threw them upon the
gliding and ever-changing surface of the Kennet, and said, as I had done
in my still happier childhood, "Get ye down to Sunning bridge, and stop
not at this bank or on that, but go ye right down to Sunning, and tell
my mother that I am happy with my shaven crown."

The lord abbat, looking back upon the tall tower of our church, and the
broad massive walls of our Aula Magna, said--

"In veritate, this is a goodly and substantial house, and one fitted to
beautify holiness."

"In truth is it," said that good and learned Italian father who had
brought the limner from Pisa.

"Torpietro," said the abbat, "this soil grows no marble; we have not
hereabout the nitent blocks of Carrara, or the soberer marble of Lucca;
we have neither granite nor freestone; but rounded chalk-hills have we,
and flints love the chalk-pit, and the pits of Caversham are
inexhaustible; and with our mortar, rubble, and flints, we have built
walls three fathoms thick, and have made an abbey which will stand
longer than your Italian temples, built of stone and marble; for time,
that corrodes and consumes other substances, makes our cement the harder
and stronger. Somewhat rough are they on the outside, like the character
of our nation; but they are compact and sound within, and not to be
moved or shaken--no, scarcely by an earthquake."

"'Tis a substantial pile," quoth Torpietro. "Balestra, nor catapult, nor
manginall, nor the mightiest battering-ram, will ever breach these
walls; and therefore is the house safe against any attack of war, and
therefore will it stand, entire as it now is, when a thousand years are
gone."

"Nay," said the abbat, "name not war: a sacred place like this is not to
be assaulted; and our good and brave King Stephen is now firmly and
rightfully seated, and we shall have no intestine trouble. We have no
fig-trees, or I would quote to thee, Brother Torpietro, that passage
which saith.... Felix, my son, leave off throwing flowers in the stream;
run unto the gate, and see what is toward, for there be some who smite
upon the gate with unwonted violence, and it is now past the curfew."

When the abbat first spoke to me, I heard a mighty rapping, which I had
not heard before, or had not heeded, being lost in a reverie as I
watched my coronals on their voyage towards Sunning bridge; but when his
lordship spake to me, I hurried across the narrow garden, and into the
house, and up to the outer gate, where I found Humphrey, the old
janitor, and none but he. Humphrey had opened the wicket, and had closed
it again, before I came to the gate. "Felix, thou good boy of Sunning,"
said he unto me, "thou art as nimble as the buck of the forest, and art
ever willing to make thy young limbs save the limbs of an old man, so
prithee take this corbel, and bear it to my lord abbat's presence
forthwith, and bear it gently and with speed, for those who left it said
there was delicate stuff within, which must not be shaken, but which
must be opened by the lord abbat right soon. So take it, good Felix, for
there is no lay-brother at hand, and the weight is nought."

I took up the corbel gently under my left arm, and began to stride with
it to the abbat, down at the Kennet banks. I was presently there, for
albeit the corbel was of some size, the weight thereof was indeed as
nothing.

"So, so," said my lord abbat, as he espied me and my burthen, "What have
we here?"

"Doubtless," said the then refectorarius, "some little donation from the
faithful. Venison is not as yet; but lamb is in high perfection at this
season."

"Nay," quoth the coquinarius, "from the shape of the wicker, I think it
is rather some sizeable pike, sent down by our friends and brothers at
Pangbourne."

"Bethinks me rather," said the lord abbat, waving his right hand over
the corbel (the jewels and bright gold of his finger-rings glittering in
the young moon as he did it), "bethinks me rather that it is a collation
of simnels from our chaste sisters the nuns of Wargrave, who ever and
anon do give a sign of life and love to us the Benedictines of Reading
Abbey. But open, Felix! cut the withies, and undo the basket-lid, and
let us see with our own eyes."

As my curiosity was now at the least as great as that of any of my
superiors in age and dignity, I cut the slight bindings, and undid the
corbel; and then there lay, uncovered and revealed to sight--the most
beautiful babe mine eyes ever beheld withal!

"Benedicamus!" said the lord abbat, gazing and crossing himself.

"Miserere! The Lord have mercy upon us! But what thing have we here?"
quoth the prior.

"'Tis a marvellous pretty infant," said the limner from Pisa, "and would
do to paint for one of the cherubim in the chapel of our Ladie."

"A marvellously pretty devil," said our then sub-prior, a sourish man,
and somewhat overmuch given to suspicious and evil thoughts of his
brothers and neighbours: "What have we celibatarians and Benedictines to
do with little babies? I smell mischief here--mischief and irregularity.
Felix, what knowest thou of this corbel? I hope thou knowest not all too
much! But know all or know nothing, why, oh boy, didst bring this
arcanum into this reverend company?"

"Father," said I, "'twas Humphrey bade me bring it, and for all the rest
I know nothing;" and this being perfectly true, yet did I hold down my
head, for that I felt the blood all glowing in my face, not knowing how
or why it should be so.

"Bid the janitor to our presence," said the lord abbat.

Humphrey, who had nothing doubted that the basket contained some
creature comforts, such as the faithful not unfrequently sent to our
house, soon appeared, and was not a little amazed to see the amazement
of the monks, and the high displeasure of the abbat; for as age had
somewhat dimmed his sight, and as the last gleams of twilight were now
dying away, the good janitor did not perceive the sleeping babe.

"Humphrey," said the abbat, "what is this thou hast sent us? Tell me, in
the name of the saints, who gave thee this basket?"

As the abbat spoke the infant awoke from its slumber, and began to cry
out, and lay its arms about, as if feeling for its nurse; and hereat our
old janitor's wonderment being manifoldly increased, he started back,
and crossed himself, and said, "Jesu Maria! Jesu Maria!"

"Say what thou hast to say," cried our sacrist; "my lord abbat would
know who left this corbel at the gate, and why thou didst take it in?"

"But," said the old janitor, making that reverence to his superiors
which he was bounden to do, "may I ask what it is that the corbel
holds?"

"A babe," said the prior.

"And of the feminine gender--to make the matter worse," said the teacher
of the Novices.

"'Tis witchcraft," said Humphrey--"'tis nought but witchcraft! What
Christian man, or woman either, could ever think of sending a babe to
the monks of Reading!"

"But who sent the basket?" said the abbat.

"That know I not," said old Humphrey, still crossing himself.

"Then who left it with thee?" asked the sacrist.

"Two serfs that I have seen at this house aforetime," said
Humphrey--"two honest-visaged churls, who were out of breath when they
came to the wicket, and who went away to the westward so soon as they
had put the basket in my hands, and told me to handle it gently, and
carry it to my lord abbat forthwith."

"And said they nothing more?" quoth the prior.

"Yea, they did say there was delicate stuff within."

"And what stuff didst thou think it was?" said the coquinarius.

"Verily something to eat or drink."

"Thou art stolid," said the sour sub-prior; "thou art stolid, oh
Humphrey, to take a corbel from strange men. Wouldst know the serfs
again?"

"I should know them again if I could but see them again. Seen them I
have aforetime. Whose men they be I know not; but I thought I had seen
them before bring gifts and offerings to our house; and it is not in my
office to open anything that is shut, except the convent-door; and ill
would it have beseemed me to have been prying into a basket left for my
lord abbat."

"But said the churls nothing else?" asked the abbat. "Bethink thee, oh
Humphrey! said the churls nought else?"

"Methinks that when I asked them whose men they were, and who had sent
this present, one of them did make reply that my lord abbat would know
right well."

Here all our eyes were bent upon the good abbat, who, to tell the truth,
did look somewhat conturbated. But when the head of our house had
recovered from this sudden emotion, he said to the janitor, "Were those
the very words the man did speak?"

"The matter of the words was that," said Humphrey; "yet I do think the
slaves subjoined that if your lordship knew not who sent the gift, your
lordship would soon know right well. But as the churl was walking away
while he was speaking, I cannot say that these were his _ipsissima
verba_."

"Janitor," quoth the abbat, "knowest thou what festival of mother church
it is we have celebrated this day?"

"The feast of the blessed Saint Edbert," responded Humphrey, with a
genuflexion and an _ora pro nobis_.

"Then from this day forward," quoth the lord abbat, "take not and admit
not within these gates any donation or thing whatsoever from men that
thou knowest not, and that run from our door instead of tarrying to
refresh themselves in the hospitium."

"That last unwonted and unnatural fact," quoth the cellarer, "ought to
have warned thee, oh Humphrey, that there was mischief in the corbel."

"But," replied the janitor, "it was past the time of even' prayer, nay,
after supper-time; and they did place the basket in my hands, and vanish
away all in a minute, and I could not throw the corbel after them, nor
could I leave it outside the gate. But mischief did I suspect none."

Humphrey being dismissed, the elders of our house debated what had best
be done with the child, which had not ceased crying all this while, and
which moved my heart to pity, for it was a beautiful babe to look upon,
and it seemed right hungry, and witchcraft could there be none about it;
for our sub-prior, who had adventured to take it up in his arms, had
espied a little golden cross round its neck, and an Agnus Dei sewed to
its clothes. The lord abbat, whose heart was always kind to man, woman,
and child, nay, even unto the beasts in the stable and field, and the
hounds of the chase, said that albeit it had been cast into a wrong
place, it was assuredly a sweet innocent and most Christian-looking
child, and that as the hour was waxing very late, it would be well to
keep it in the house until the morrow morn. But the sub-prior bade his
lordship bethink himself of the sex of the child, and of the rigid rule
of our order, which, in its strictest interpretation, would seem to
imply that nothing of the sex feminine should ever abide by night within
our cloisters. "In spite of its cross and agnus," subjoined the sour
suspicious man, "I must opine that this piping baby hath been sent
hither by some secret enemy, in order to bring down discredit and
aspersions upon our community."

"But what, in the name of the Virgin, wouldst have us do with the little
innocent?" said the abbat.

"Peradventure," quoth the sub-prior, "it were not badly done to set the
brat afloat in its basket down the Kennet into Thamesis. It may ground
among the rushes, and be found by the country people, or it may----"

"Brother," said the abbat, "thy heart is waxing as hard as the flint of
our walls! I would not do that thing, or see it done, to escape all the
calumnies which all the evil tongues of England could heap upon me."

"No, assuredly, nor would I," said the sub-prior; "for upon
after-thought it doth appear that the babe perchance might drown. Still,
my lord abbat, it is not well that it should stay where it is, or that
the townfolk of Reading should know that it hath been brought to our
door; for they have too many bad stories already, and some of them do
remember the wicked marrying priests of the days of the Red King."

"True, oh sub-prior," quoth the lord abbat; "true and well-bethought. We
must not, therefore, send the child into Reading town; but I will have
it conveyed unto my good nephew at Caversham, and his wife will have
care of it until we shall learn whose babe it is, and why so
mysteriously sent hither. There is gentle blood in those veins; this is
no churl's child. I never saw a more beautiful babe, and in my time I
have baptized many an earl's daughter, ay, and more than one little
princess. It must be a strange tale that which shall explain how the
mother could ever part with such an infant. But it grows dark; so,
Philip, take up the basket, and bear it straightway and with all care
and gentleness to Caversham; and Felix, do thou go with Philip, and
salute my kinsman in my name, and relate unto him the strange and
marvellous manner in which the basket hath been brought into our house,
and tell him I will see him in the morning after service."

Philip was an honest lay-brother of the house, and between him and me
there had always been much friendship; for on my first coming to the
abbey, to be trained to religion and learning, he had procured many
little indulgences for me, and had ofttimes taken me behind him on his
horse when he rode towards Sunning to look after a farm which my lord
abbat had near to that place. He was a mirthful man, and so fond of
talk, that when he had not me riding behind him he usually discoursed
all the way with his horse. Now he took up the corbel with as much
gentleness as a lady's nurse, and we began to go on our way, the dear
child still piping and bewailing. The sub-prior followed us to the gate
to give Humphrey the needful order to open, for at that hour the janitor
would not have allowed egress to any lay-brother or novice. "Beshrew
me," said old Humphrey as the sub-prior withdrew, "but this foundling
hath brought trouble upon me and sharp words; yet let me see its face,
good Philip, for I hear 'tis a Christian child, and a lovely ..."

Hereupon we took the basket into Humphrey's cell by the gate, where a
light was burning; and the janitor having peered in its face, vowed, as
others had done, that he had not seen so fair a babe. "'Tis nine months
old, at the very least," said he; "and ye may tell by its shrill piping
that 'tis a strong and healthy child. Mayhap it cries for hunger;" and
at this timeous thought the old janitor brought forth a little milk and
honey and gave it to the babe, who partook thereof, and then smiled and
dropped fast asleep.

We took the shortest path across the King's Mead to Caversham bridge. As
we walked along Philip ceased not from talking about the child and the
unprecedented way in which it had been left at the abbey. Being a man
much given to speculation and the putting of this thing and that
together, he made sundry surmises which I will not repeat, for they
touched the good lord abbat, and the next morning proved that though
very ingenious they had no foundation in truth. When we came to the long
wooden bridge, we found, as we had expected, that part of it was raised,
and that the old man that levied the toll for the baron was fast asleep.
But our shouting soon roused the toll-man, and he soon challenged us and
lowered the draw-bridge, though not without sundry expressions of
astonishment that two monks should be abroad at so late an hour. When we
told him whither we were going, he bade us make haste, for the lights
were disappearing in the mansion, and the family would soon be buried in
sleep. He then lowered the draw-bridge at the other end, and we went on
towards the hill side with hasty steps, the only light visible in the
mansion being one that shone brightly through the casement of the
southern turret.

"Ralpho, the toll-man," said I, "must have been more than half asleep,
or assuredly he would have asked what we were carrying in the basket at
this time o'night."

"May the babe have an extra blessing," quoth Philip, "for that it sleeps
on and did not wake on the bridge! A pretty tale would gossip Ralpho
have had to tell about us Benedictines if the babe had set up its piping
on the bridge!"

The castellum or baronial mansion stood on the top of Caversham hill at
the point where that hill is steepest; the village lay at its feet, and
the church then stood midway between the castle and the village. We
were soon at the edge of the dry moat; but the draw-bridge was up, and
we had to shout and blow the cow-horn for some time before we could make
ourselves heard by any one within; and when the warder awoke and looked
forth he was in no good humour. But as we made ourselves known, and told
him that we came from the lord abbat upon an occasion that brooked no
delay, he altered his tone; and after telling us that though bedward, he
believed his lord and ladie were not yet in bed, as he could see a light
in their bower above, he lowered the draw-bridge and unbarred the
wicket. That which Ralpho had omitted to do on the bridge, the warder
did under the gateway of the castle; for, pointing to the basket, he
said, "What have we here, brother Philip? Cates and sweetmeats for my
lord and ladie? Ay, Reading Abbey is famed for its confections!"

He had scarcely said the words when a noise came from the basket which
made him start back and cross himself; for the dear child began to pipe
and scream, and much more loudly methought that I had heard it do
before. We, however, stayed not to talk with the astonished warder; for
a waiting-woman had come down from the southern turret to inquire what
was toward, and we followed this good woman, who was still more
astonished than the warder, to the chamber where the lord and ladie
were. Sir Alain de Bohun was a bountiful lord, ever kind of heart and
gentle in speech; and the Ladie Alfgiva, his wife, descended from the
Saxon thanes who had once owned and held all the country from Caversham
to Maple-Durham, was the gentlest, truest ladie, and at this season one
of the fairest that lived anywhere in Berkshire or Oxfordshire. Before
hearing the short tale we had to tell, Sir Alain vowed that the little
stranger was welcome, and that so sweet a foundling should never want
home or nurture while he had a roof-tree to sit under; and the ladie
took the child in her arms, and kissed it, and pacified it; and before I
had gotten half through my narration, and the message from my lord
abbat, the babe went to sleep on the ladie's bosom. Our limner from Pisa
ought to have seen that sight; for the Madonna and Child he did
afterwards paint for the chapel of our Ladie was not so beautiful and
tender a picture as that presented to mine eye by the wife of Sir Alain
de Bohun and our little foundling. Much marvelled the gentle ladie at
the tale; but her other feelings were stronger than her curiosity and
astonishment; and she soon withdrew to place the child with her own dear
children--a little boy some four or five years old, and a little girl
not many months older than the stranger. Sir Alain gave to the
lay-brother Philip a piece of money, and to me a beaker of wine, and so
dismissed us with a right courteous message to our abbat and his good
and right reverend uncle.

The warder would have stayed us to explain how it was that monks went
about in the hours of night with a babe in a basket; but as he had a
sharp wit and a ribald tongue, we forbore to answer his questions, and
recommending him to the saints that keep watch by night, and telling him
it was too late for talk, we began to return rapidly by the way we had
come. As Ralpho let us across Caversham bridge he bemoaned the hardness
of his life, and complained that Sir Alain put him to much unnecessary
trouble in a time of peace and tranquillity, when the bridge might very
well be left open by night and by day without fear of the passage of
foes. Alack! before the next morning dawned Ralpho was made to know that
Sir Alain's caution was very needful. Scarcely had Philip and I gotten a
rood from the bridge-end when that honest lay-brother shouted "Fire!
Fire! a fire!" and looking to the west, the sky behind the town and
hills of Reading seemed all in a blaze. The young moon had set; but as
we came to the King's Mead our path was lighted by a glaring red light,
which seemed every instant to become stronger and redder. "Eheu!" said
Philip, who knew every township better than I then knew my Litany;
"Eheu! there is mischief afoot! The flames mount in the direction of
Tilehurst and Sulham and Charlton! More than one township is a-burning!"

I looked down the river, and joyed to see that there was no sign of
conflagration at Sunning, and returned thanks therefore to my patron
saint.

We were now running across the mead as fast as we could run; but before
we came to the abbey-gate the alarm-bell rung out from the tower, and a
loud shouting and crying came from the town of Reading, and the sounds
of another alarm-bell from Sir Alain's castellum at Caversham.

"What can this mean?" said Philip. "The two serfs that brought the babe
to our house came from the westward, or did go back in that direction,
or so said old Humphrey. After twenty years and more of a happy peace,
is this land to be wasted again by factions and civil war?"

Alas! Philip had said it! This night witnessed the beginning of those
troubles which carried woe into every part of England, and which ended
not until sixteen long years had passed over our heads, sending some of
our brotherhood with sorrow to the grave, and making others old men
before their time; for, to say nothing of our personal sufferings and
hazards, there was not one among us but had a brother or a sister and
friends near and dear to him tortured or butchered in these the worst
wars that were ever waged in England.

When we returned into the abbey we found that the lord abbat had called
up his men-at-arms, and the three good knights who did military service
for the abbey in return for the lands they held; that one of these
knights and divers of the men-at-arms were mounting and about to go
forth; and that the better conditioned of the town people of Reading
were already bringing their goods and chattels to our house for
protection; for the walls of the town had been allowed to fall into ruin
during the long and happy peace which Henricus Primus had kept in the
land, and our burghers had almost wholly lost the art military. Some of
these men, who had been to the hills, said that the whole country was on
fire from Inglesfield to Tilehurst, and from Tilehurst to Purley, which
news destroyed the hope our good abbat had been entertaining that the
fire might be accidental and confined to the thatch-covered houses of
one village or township. And, in very deed, by this time the whole west
seemed to be burning, and the welkin to be overcast by smoke and flame,
and a reflected lurid and horrible light. The swift stream of the Kennet
looked as though its waters had been transmuted into red wine, and the
broad Thamesis shined like a path of fire. No eye closed for sleep in
the abbey that night; and it was not until a full hour after the
scarcely perceptible dawn of day that certain intelligence was brought
us as to the causes and parties which had thus begun to turn our
pleasant and fruitful land into a wilderness.



II.


We had sung matins in the choir, and had nearly finished chanting lauds,
when three knights of good fame, to wit, Sir Hugh de Basildon, Sir Hugh
Fitzhugh, of Purley, and Sir Walter de Courcy, from Inglesfield, arrived
at the abbey, and demanded speech of our superiors. So soon as the
service permitted, the lord abbat, the prior, and the other
obedientiarii of our house retired into the abbat's garden with these
worthy knights, who were in great haste, insomuch that they would
neither stay to partake of my lord's collation, which was now nigh upon
being ready, nor allow the saddles to be taken from their wearied
horses. They stayed but a short while in the garden, and then remounting
their steeds, they spurred away for Caversham, bidding the burghers of
Reading and a number of serfs, who had collected outside our gates, to
look after their bows and arrows, and to get such other weapons as they
could, and to stand upon their defence, as traitors to King Stephen were
abroad and might be soon upon them. These good people made loud
lamentation, for they were ill prepared and provided, and they could not
divine who these enemies and night burners could be. We, the humbler
members of the house, were alike ignorant; but after he had refreshed
his inward man, the good abbat came forth and addressed us all, and the
people without the gate, in this wise:--

"My brothers and children, and ye good men of Reading, who be also my
children, lift up your voices and say with me, God save King Stephen,
the rightful king of this realm, and down with the traitors who would
shake his throne!"

Having all of us shouted as we were bidden to do, and with right good
will, for King Stephen at this time was much loved in the land, my lord
abbat continued his oration.

"The case," said he, "stands thus. That ungodly restless woman, the
undutiful daughter of our late pious King Henry, whose body rests within
these walls--that presumptuous Matilda, once Empress, but now nought but
Countess of Anjou, hath sent over her bastard half-brother Robert, Earl
of Gloucester, to claim the throne of England as her right; as if the
martial nobility and bold people of this land could ever be governed by
a woman, and as if Stephen, our good king and the well-beloved nephew of
our late King Henry, who appointed him to be his successor, had not been
elected with the consent of the baronage, clergy, and people of England,
and confirmed in his lawful seat by our lord the Pope! Now this
traitorous Earl of Gloucester, after taking the oaths of fealty and
homage to King Stephen, and obtaining by the act possession of his great
estates in this realm, hath suddenly lifted up the mask and thrown down
the gauntlet, and sundry false barons like himself have followed his
pernicious example, and are now raging through the country, seizing upon
the king's towns and castles, treacherously surprising the castles of
honest lords and good knights, and burning the homes and destroying the
lives of all such as will not join them, or of all such as hold the
manors and lands these traitors desire to be possessed of. In the east
Hugh Bigod, steward of the late king's household, and the very man who
made oath before the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other great lords
of the realm, as well lay as ecclesiastic, that King Henry on his
death-bed did adopt and choose his nephew Stephen to be his successor,
because this Matilda, Countess of Anjou, had been an undutiful child
unto him, and had given him many and grievous offences, and was by her
sex disqualified for the succession; this Hugh Bigod, I say, hath in the
east seized Norwich Castle and hoisted thereupon the banner of this
Angevin Countess. In the west the Earl of Gloucester hath armed all his
vassals, and is calling upon all such friends as hope to better their
worldly fortunes by deluging the country with blood and wasting it with
fire. Some of these evil men have raised the banner of war in our quiet
neighbourhood, and have fallen with merciless fury upon some of our
noblest and best neighbours, taking them by foul treachery and
surprisal, and waging war upon women and children, and unarmed serfs, in
the absence of their lords. Yesterday a great band of these traitors
marched from the vicinage of Windsore, and, last night, after a foul
plunder and butchery of the people, the townships of Basildon,
Whitechurch, Purley, Tidmersh, Tilehurst, Sulham, Theal, and Speen were
given to the flames. Sir Ingelric, of Huntercombe, who hath ever been
held as a loyal and fearless knight, and whose noble mate could trace
her Saxon ancestry beyond the days of King Alfred, was not at his home,
but his fair young wife being forewarned of their coming, made fast the
gates and defended the manor-house for divers hours: but, woe is me! the
evil men set fire to the house, and--_combusta est_, it is burned, with
the gentle dame and all that were in it! The brave Sir Ingelric of
Huntercombe was not there, or mayhap----"

"Ingelric of Huntercombe is here," cried that dark and sad-looking
knight, who had just arrived on a panting steed; "Ingelric of
Huntercombe is here, with a soul athirst for vengeance! But, my child!
My lord abbat, tell me of my babe!"

The fearful conflagration, which had made us all think of the day of
judgment, had caused my lord abbat, as well as the rest of us, to forget
the little stranger that had come in the basket, not without bringing
some trouble to him and to some of us; but his lordship soon collected
his thoughts, and seeing how the matter stood, he clasped in his arms
the knight, who had dismounted from his horse, and said to him in his
kind fatherly voice, "Sir Ingelric, may the saints vouchsafe thee
strength to bear the woe that hath befallen thee; but thy child is
safe."

"Let me see her," said the knight; "let me hold her in mine arms; her
mother shall I never see more! Her sweet body hath been consumed in the
fire that hath left me without a home! I can see my wife no more--no,
not even in death! But let me have sight of my child!"

The abbat then explained in a few words where the child was, and in what
good and tender keeping; and while he was doing this, Humphrey, our old
janitor, looking steadfastly at a churl who had dismounted to hold Sir
Ingelric's horse, and at another serf, who remained mounted, he said
aloud, "These be the two knaves that gave me the basket!" and then
entering into short converse with the men, Humphrey brought out these
facts:--At the near approach of the danger, of which she had been
forewarned, their mistress had given her child to them, with charge to
hasten with it to Reading Abbey, and then to make all possible speed
back to Tilehurst, whither, as she had fondly hoped, her lord would be
returned before his enemies could do her harm, for Sir Ingelric had gone
to no greater distance than to Wallingford, and a messenger had been
despatched after him on the only fleet horse he had left in the stable,
and well did she know that the love her husband bore her would bring him
rapidly to her rescue. This was all we learned now, but we afterwards
learned that the messenger on the fleet horse had been intercepted and
slain; that the manor-house had been stormed and set on fire before the
two serfs who had brought the child to Reading could get back; and that,
at this sad sight, the said two bondmen, full of devotion for their
lord, had thrown themselves into the woods, and had gone a wearisome
journey on foot in search of him, and had met their master between night
and morning near North Stoke Ford, for the conflagration had been seen
at Wallingford, and had filled the heart of Sir Ingelric with awful
presentiments, albeit he and no other man could at first conceive the
cause and nature of the mischief which had so suddenly broken out in a
time of the most perfect tranquillity. When Sir Ingelric had understood
that which had befallen, he had well nigh died of sudden horror; but,
rousing himself to vengeance, he had collected a few honest men and some
horses, and had ridden with all speed to our abbey, being but too surely
confirmed on his way, by a few of his serfs who had escaped, of the fate
his fair young wife had met in the manor-house. Never did I see a face
fuller of woe than was that of Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe when our good
abbat, taking him by the hand, led him within the house, to give him
ghostly consolation, and to commune with him upon the measures which
ought to be adopted for the defence of the country. But I should tell
how that, before our lord abbat quitted the outer gate, he gave
commandment that the draw-bridge, which had not been raised for many a
day, should be hauled up, and that the serfs of our abbey lands should
be set to work to deepen the ditch, and to dig a new trench right down
to the Kennet. Albeit no enemy was visible, the townfolk of Reading and
all the simple hinds that had assembled were seized with a mighty
consternation when we began to take measures for heaving up the bridge
and closing our strong iron-bound gate. By order of the prior many of
the better sort were admitted into our outer court, with their wives and
children, as well as their property. Those who remained without wrung
their hands, but departed not, for they felt that the very shadow of our
holy walls would be a better protection unto them than any other they
could find; and certes we would have brought them within those walls in
case of extremity; for was not our house the asylum of the unhappy as
well as the _refugium peccatorum_?

When Sir Ingelric had communed until the beginning of tierce with our
lord abbat, and had been somewhat restored by prayer and exhortation,
and by meat and wine, he came out and called for his horse. But the
abbat noted that the knight's horse needed rest, and so he ordered a
fresh steed to be brought from his own stable, together with his own
quiet grey palfrey, telling the brethren that he was minded to ride over
to Caversham with Sir Ingelric to deliberate with his well-beloved
nephew, who was too good a man of war to have omitted making some
preparations against the threatening storm. "You will put up a prayer or
twain for my safety," said the abbat to the prior, "and cause a
_Miserere, Domine_, to be sung in the church. And thou wilt hold thyself
ready, oh prior, to hurl an anathema at the head of the rebels, if they
should come near unto this godly house; and moreover thou wilt see to
such war-harness and weapons as we do possess, and station the
strongest-armed of our monks and lay-brothers, and the stoutest-hearted
of our serfs, with our men-at-arms, in the tower and turrets, with bows
and cross-bows; for it may chance that those who respect not the Lord's
anointed will have no respect for holy church that hath anointed him;
and when the children of Ishmael fall on, the children of Jacob may
defend themselves with the arms of the flesh."

Now our prior was a man of a very martial and fearless temperament, and
one that well remembered how, in the times that were passed, bishops and
abbats had put chain armour over their rockets and albs, and had ridden
forth with lay-lords and men of war, and had ofttimes done battle for
the cause which they held to be the just one, or the cause of the
church. It is not for a humble servant of mother church like me to
decide whether such actions be altogether conformable to the councils of
the church and the canons therein propounded; but this I do know, that
the sword and battle-axe have wrought their effects upon stubborn and
impenitent minds when our spiritual arms had failed, ay, when the wicked
had laughed to scorn our interdicts and our very excommunications. But
not to press further this _casus conscientiæ_, I will only record that
our prior responded with a firm voice and willing heart to the warlike
portions of our lord abbat's instructions, and that he, with marvellous
alacrity, did arm the house and prepare to do battle.

As the gate was unbarred and the draw-bridge again lowered to allow the
abbat and Sir Ingelric to go forth for Caversham, those of our knights
and men-at-arms who had ridden at an earlier hour to make
reconnaissance, came back with loose bridle to report that a great
battalia of the rebels was advancing upon the town of Reading by the
western road.

"Then," quoth our abbat, "is there no time to lose;" and putting his
foot in the bright silver stirrup, he got into his saddle without the
least assistance, albeit he was a corpulent man, and had had podagra.
Two of our knights and half of our men-at-arms rode after the lord abbat
and Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe, but the rest tarried with us.

"Remember," said the abbat, turning the head of his palfrey, and
addressing the townfolk and the serfs, "remember well that ye be all
true men unto King Stephen!"

The poor people made a very feeble essay to shout "Long live King
Stephen!" and then prayed that we would admit them in at the
postern-gate if the rebels came nearer; which thing we did now promise
them to do.

The lord abbat and his party, riding away at a hard gallop, were soon
seen crossing at Caversham bridge; and very soon after they had crossed,
a goodly band of armed men was seen to take post on the opposite bank of
the river, a little below the bridge. Except these armed men, not a man,
woman, or child could be discovered anywhere; for the shepherds and
cowherds had driven their flocks and herds to the other side of
Thamesis, and all the serfs and labouring people had fled either to our
abbey walls or unto Caversham Castle. Only yesterday morning our green
meadows and fruitful corn-fields had been full of life and joy and
thoughtless song, but now they were solitary, and as sad and still as
the grave. The wind, which blew freshly from the westward, still brought
with it hideous drifts of smoke, which dirtied the bright blue sky, and
a coarse pungent smell, which overcame the sweet odours that were
emitted by our flowering hedge-rows and by the myriads of flowers which
grew in the bright green meads and along the moist banks by the river
side. It was all a Tartarus now; but on that sunny, happy May morning of
yesterday it was like being in paradise to stand on our outer turret and
scent the breeze, and feast the eye on plain and hill, meadow, river,
and woodland, and to hear the lark singing in the clear sky over our
head, and the blackbird whistling in the brake at our feet. Not a bird
of all that choir was left now: the foul smoke and the pungent smell
had scared them all away, as Ætna and Vesuve are said to do when they
vomit their sulphureous fires.

I was roused from some meditations of this sort by the scream of a
trumpet, and by a chorus of rude voices that shouted, "The Empress for
England! Down with the usurper Stephen! Long life to the Queen, and
death to all who gainsay it!"

And presently after hearing these sounds I saw the head of a great
column wind round the castle-mound (whereon there was not now any castle
deserving of the name), and take the high road which runs from Reading
town to Caversham bridge. Saint John the Evangelist to my aid, but it
seemed a formidable host! And there were many men-at-arms in the midst,
and a company of well-mounted and fully appointed knights rode at the
head of it. But our prior, after waxing very red and wrathful at the
first sight, did say, upon better observance, that the mass of that host
were but rascaille people, serfs that had slipped their collars, knaves
that had no arms but staves and bludgeons, and that would not stand for
a moment against a charge of horse, nay, nor even against a good flight
of quarrels or long-bow arrows.

"They will not win across the bridge," said the prior, "for the chains
be up, and pass the river they cannot, for the skiffs be all on the
other side, and there is no ford hereabout. But see, they halt! And now
they wheel round for the King's Mead! Will the caitiffs hitherward? Let
them come--our walls be of flint. By the founder of our house, it is
this way they come!"

And in little more time than it takes to say the credo and
pater-noster, the rebels crossed a brook which runs into Thamesis, and
came midway into the King's Mead, with the head of their column pointing
straight for our main gate. But who be those that follow them on the
grey palfrey and dapple jennet? By Saint John and Saint James, the
patrons of our house, it is our good lord abbat, and it is that
right-hearted man the mass-priest of Caversham, and the latter hath a
white flag fastened to his saddle, and he upholds a golden banner
whereon is depicted the effigies of Him who died for our sins, and
taught that there was to be peace upon earth and good will among all
men! And see, the rebels halt, and our abbat and the mass-priest
fearlessly ride up to their leaders, and discourse with them. Word can
we hear not at this distance, but plainly do we discern, by the abbat's
gestures, and by the frequent up-lifting of the holy standard, that the
head of our house is earnestly recommending peace and repentance, the
truce of God for the present, and agreement and reconciliation
hereafter. Gentle are our lord abbat's actions, and no doubt his speech,
albeit the rebels have set their impious feet upon the lands of our
abbey; but rude and outrageous are the gestures of those mailed knights
that do confer with him.... And can their ungodly rage amount to
this?... Yea, verily, so it is! One of them rides his big war-horse
against the grey palfrey, and the lord abbat of Reading is jostled out
of his seat, and lies prostrate on the grass--may it be soft beneath
him!

Judge ye of the choler of our prior, and of the grief and anger of all
of us that saw this shameful and sacrilegious sight. We shouted from
our tower and turrets, "_O turpissime!_" and the prior, standing upon
the loftiest battlement, stretched out his hands towards the traitors in
the King's Mead, even as Pope Leo did from the walls of Rome, when
Attila and his pagans came on for the assault of the holy city. But the
prior's first anathema was not said before our good abbat, assisted by
the mass-priest of Caversham, was on his feet, and to all seeming not
much the worse for his fall. He now spoke so loudly to the knights that
we could hear the sound of his voice and distinguish some of his words,
_specialiter_ when he conjured them to depart quietly thence, and avoid
the shedding of blood. It was plain that the savage crew would not
listen to him; and we saw him remount his palfrey, and turn his head
back towards the bridge. We much feared that the rebels would lay
violent hands upon him, and keep him as their prisoner; but, _nemo
repente_, this was but the beginning of the great wickedness; and albeit
impious factions did afterwards load the servants of the church with
chains, and throw even bishops into noisome dungeons, and keep them
there for ransom among toads and snakes, Jews and thieves, and other
unclean men, this present band did offer no let or hindrance to our lord
abbat or to the mass-priest, who went back at a good pace to Caversham
bridge.

"And now," quoth our prior, with a brightening eye, "we shall surely see
some feat of war if Sir Alain be alive! The foul rebels have refused to
parley, and have atrociously wronged the would-be peace-maker. Ay, by
the bones of King Henry, 'tis as I thought! The trumpets sound! Sir
Alain's lances are on the bridge! May the saints give them the victory!"

I, Felix the novice, being at the topmost part of all the abbey with
Philip, the lay brother, who had been teaching me how to use the long
bow, did now see a battalia rushing across the bridge, a mixed force of
horse and foot, and did further perceive a good company of cross-bowmen
descend the left bank of Thamesis as if their intent was to march below
our abbey to Sunning. The battalia which crossed the bridge divided
itself into two parts, of the which one marched hastily along the road
that leads right to the Castle-hill and town of Reading, while the other
and major part struck across the meadows for the King's Mead, never
halting or pausing until it was right in front of the rebels. With the
party in the mead were seen the pennon and cognizances of Sir Alain de
Bohun: it seemed but a small force compared with that which was opposed
to it, but of horse Sir Alain seemed to have rather more than the
adverse party. There was a short parley, the words of which we could not
hear, but it was very short, and then we heard right well, from the one
side the shout of "God for King Stephen!" and from the other "God for
the Empress-queen!" and when they had thus shouted for a space, they
joined battle. At first their superiority in number seemed to give the
rebels the advantage; and our prior was so transported at this, that he
clapped a coat of mail over his black gown, took a lance in his hand,
and called for his horse, and would fain have gone forth with our
knights and men-at-arms to charge the enemy in the rear. But, lo! the
cross-bows, of whom we had lost sight, appeared on the river in skiffs,
and in less than an Ave they landed on the right bank; and then they
formed in good order, and came on with quick steps to the right wing of
the foe, and shooting close and all together, smote it sorely with their
quarrels. And hereupon the rascaille people fell off from their leaders,
and ran in much disorder across the meadows. Now that part of Sir
Alain's battalion which had marched towards the Castle-hill set up a
triumphant shout, and drove the fugards back again, and moved upon the
other flank of the disordered rebel host. The serfs of the abbey-lands
and the townfolk and others who had been cowering under our walls and
even in our ditches, became full of heart at sight of the great success
of Sir Alain's cross-bows and the easy victory the good knight of
Caversham was now completing; and this encouraged the prior to
distribute bows and bills among them, and to throw open the abbey-gate
and form a third line or battalia round the discomfited foe. Divers of
our brotherhood did go forth with the prior, and even take a post in
advance upon the Falbury-hill; but I, Felix, having no commandment to
the contrary, stayed where I was, in a very safe place, whence I could
see all that chanced below. After making sundry desperate attempts to
stop the flight of their pedones and bring them to a head again, the
Empress's knights, not without holes in their chain jerkins, began to
fly themselves and to knock down and ride pitilessly over their own
people. They could go no other gait than close by our abbey and across
the Falbury; and when they came near unto our force on the hillock, a
stiffish flight of arrows and quarrels made them swerve and draw rein.
At this juncture, Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe, whose lance was red with
blood, and whose casque had been knocked from his head by some terrible
blow, and whose face was covered with blood in a manner fearful to look
upon, came thundering among the rebel knights calling upon his mortal
foe, that caitiff knight Sir Jocelyn de Brienne, to tarry and receive
his inevitable doom as a felon traitor, coward, and foul murtherer. At
these hard words Sir Jocelyn, who was aforetime a man of a very evil
reputation, wheeled round his horse, and with his lance in rest charged
Sir Ingelric, who was charging him. Sir Jocelyn, the prime leader of
this first rebellion, and main actor in the horrible deeds of the
over-night, was wounded and unhorsed, and lay on the hard ground of the
Falbury (not on a soft mead like that on which he made fall our lord
abbat) crying "Rescue! rescue! Help me or I perish!"

Ay! there lay the proud strong man, struck down in his pride and
strength, looking towards our abbey-gate, and upon the hospital for
lepers, called the Hospital of St. Mary Magdalen, which Aucherius, the
second abbat of our house, did build near to the great gate, and I ween
that Sir Jocelyn would have changed his present estate even for that of
a leper! and still he cried "Rescue! rescue! Will no true man stop and
save me?" But the knights and men-at-arms that had ridden with him could
not stay to lift him up or give him any aid, for that Sir Alain de Bohun
and his horsemen were now again close upon them, and therefore did they
spur their steeds and gallop madly past some of the townfolk our prior
had armed. Rings still in my ear the horrible voice with which the
fallen and disabled Sir Jocelyn cried "Quarter! quarter!" and called
upon his foe to show mercy, and name what ransom he would; and still my
blood runs cold as I recall the manner in which Sir Ingelric of
Huntercombe, dismounting, lifted up his enemy's coat of mail and drove
under it into Sir Jocelyn's heart his long thick dagger, screaming,
"Where was thy mercy last night! Die unconfessed!" And Sir Jocelyn
perished, and another knight and ten men-at-arms perished unshrieved
upon our abbey lands, yea, and close unto our church and sacristy. Many
that escaped were sorely wounded, and well upon two score of the
commoner sort were made prisoners, either in the King's Mead or in the
Falbury. Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe, mad with revenge, would have
butchered all these captives on the Falbury-hill as a sacrifice to the
manes of his beloved wife, but Sir Alain de Bohun stood between the
wretched serfs and this great fury, and when our good and merciful lord
abbat rode up on his grey palfrey, Sir Ingelric was somewhat pacified at
his discourse. By the foundation charter which the Beauclerc had given
us, it appertained to the lord abbat, and to none but him, to judge of
offences committed upon the lands of the abbey; yea, our lord abbat had
the privileges of the hundred courts, and all manner of pleas, with soc
and sac, infangtheof, and hamsockna; that is to say, he could try all
causes, impose forfeitures, judge bondmen and villeins, with their
children, goods and chattels, and try and punish any thief or
housebreaker, or other evil-doer taken within our jurisdiction. All
these rights and privileges were granted to the abbat of Reading Abbey
in their fullest extent, with judicial power in all cases of assault,
murder, breach of the peace, and the like; in short, in as full extent
as belonged to the royal authority. Lord Edward might have hanged every
one of those prisoners by the neck to the trees on the Falbury, and none
could have said him nay; or he could have chopped off their hands and
feet. But being of a merciful nature, he only made cut off the ears and
slit the noses of a few of the churls, and then dismissed them all, as
to keep them in prison would be troublesome and costly. And when this
last thing was done, all the victorious party came into our church,
where we the monks and novices did chant the _Te Deum laudamus_, after
which our abbat delivered a learned discourse upon the rights of King
Stephen, and put up a prayer for his preservation on the throne.

Much bloodshedding and many horribly vindictive acts did the lord abbat
prevent on this unhappy day: nevertheless much blood was shed, and a new
score of vengeance was commenced. The kin and friends of Sir Jocelyn
could no more forgive and forget his death than Sir Ingelric of
Huntercombe could forgive the burning of his house and the murther of
his wife; every man that had fallen in the field left some behind him
who were sure to call for vengeance.



III.


Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe and the other knights whose houses had been
destroyed by the so sudden onset of their enemies, regained possession
of their lands; and, in other parts of the kingdom, Stephen, by force of
arms, or by treaty, recovered nearly all the castles which had been
taken from him. Merciful was the soul of King Stephen, even as that of
our lord abbat; for, although he lopped off the hands of some few of the
mean sort, he took not the life of one lord or knight, but, upon
submission made, did pardon them all their late rebellion. The empress's
illegitimate half-brother, Robert, Earl of Gloucester, fled beyond sea;
and when he was safe in Anjou, he sent his defiance to Stephen, wherein
he renounced his homage, and called the king usurper. But before he fled
out of England, Earl Robert had made a great league with many of our
barons, and had induced the Scottish king to engage to invade our land
with all the forces he could collect. King Stephen was again triumphant
over his many foes; he took castle after castle from the English barons,
and rarely began a siege which did not end prosperously. When the Scots,
and Gallowegians, and Highlanders, and men of the Isles, burst into
Northumberland and advanced into Yorkshire, Stephen was not there; but
the army that was collected for him by Thurstan, my lord archbishop of
York, and that was commanded for him in the field by Ranulph, my lord
bishop of Durham, and by William Peveril and Walter Espee of
Nottinghamshire, and Gilbert de Lacy and his brother Walter de Lacy of
Yorkshire, gained a glorious and most complete victory over the Scottish
barbarians at Northallerton in the great battle of the Standard, slaying
twelve thousand of them. The country, and the poor people of it,
suffered much during these sieges, and intestine wars, and foreign
invasions; but they came not near to Reading Abbey, and King Stephen was
everywhere successful, until, in an evil hour for him and for all of us,
he did violence to the church in order to satisfy the rapacity of his
ungodly men of war. For ye must know that King Stephen, in order to gain
the affections of the lay baronage, had given away so many lands and so
much money, that he had now nought left to give, and still those barons
cried "Give! give! or we will declare for the empress." "I see a flaw in
your title, therefore give me two more castles," said one great lord. "I
see two flaws, therefore give me four more castles that I may support
your right," said another great lord. "I fought for thee at
Northallerton, and therefore must have some domain for my guerdon," said
another. But castles, domains, all had been given away already; there
remained not of the crown lands enough to keep the king and his
household, and as for the treasury, it had long been empty. Seeing that
Stephen was like a spunge that had been squeezed, and that nothing was
to be gotten except by war and change of government, sundry of these
great lords withdrew to the strongest of their castles, and renewed
their correspondence with the Earl of Gloucester. In these great
straits, and while Stephen was holding his court in Oxenford, threatened
by foreign invasion, and not knowing how to distinguish his friends from
his foes, he was advised by the worst of his enemies to lay his hands
upon the property of churchmen. The most potent and wealthy churchman of
that day was old Roger, bishop of Sarum, who had been justiciary and
treasurer to Henry Beauclerc, and who had for a season filled the same
offices under Stephen; and next to the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen's
own brother, no man had done more than this Bishop Roger to bar the
claim of the empress, and secure the crown for the king. Moreover, this
great Bishop of Sarum had two episcopal nephews almost as great as
himself; the first of them being Alexander, bishop of Lincoln; the
second, Nigel, bishop of Ely. All three had been great builders of
castles, and men of a bold and martial humour. I find not in the canons
or in the fathers that bishops ought to make their houses places of
arms; but it is to be remembered King Stephen, to please the baronage,
had, at the commencement of his reign, given every baron permission to
fortify his old castle or castles, and to build new ones; nor is it to
be forgotten that in the midst of so many places of arms, the simple
unfortified manor-house of a bishop could never have been a safe abiding
place, or have afforded any protection to the serfs who cultivated the
soil, and the rest of my lord bishop's people. If Bishop Roger and his
nephews did build some castles for the defence of their manors and the
people upon them, and did expend much money in temporalities, they did
also raise splendid edifices to the glory of God. Witness the great
church at Sarum, which Bishop Roger rebuilt after it had been injured by
fire and by tempest--witness the beautiful works done at Lincoln by
Bishop Alexander, who nearly rebuilt the whole of that cathedral; and at
Ely, by Bishop Nigel. And these three great prelates did make noble use
of their wealth, in bringing over from foreign parts good builders and
artisans, and men of letters and doctrine, to improve and teach in their
several ways the people of this island; and if Bishop Nigel was somewhat
overmuch given to hunting and hawking, and spent much time, as well as
much money, upon his falcons and falconers, doubtlessly it was because
the climate of Ely is cold and damp, and requireth much exercise of the
body for the conservation of health, and because the circumjacent fen
country doth incredibly and most temptingly abound with wild-fowl proper
for the hawk to fly at. But to the propositus. King Stephen, being
minded to plunder these three great prelates, did summon them all three
to his court at Oxenford, where many ravenous lay lords and some foreign
lords had previously assembled. The two nephews, apprehending no
mischief, and being young men and active, went willingly enough; but it
was otherwise with the uncle, who was now a very old man. Bishop Roger
had lost his relish for courts, and seemingly had some presentiment;
for, as he started on his journey, he was heard to say, "By my Ladie St.
Mary, I know not wherefore, but my heart is heavy; but this I do know
for a surety, that I shall be of much the same service at court as a
fool in battle." At Oxenford the three bishops were received with a
great show of courtesy, as men who had done notable service to the king,
and as men whom the king delighted to honour; but they had not been long
in the town when a fierce quarrel arose about quarters and purveyance
between the retainers of Bishop Roger and the followers of that
outlandish man the Earl of Brittany. The aged prelate would have stilled
this tumult, but the Bretons, who had been purposely set on by those
about the king, would not desist, and swords being drawn on both sides,
the affray did not end until many men of the commoner sort were wounded,
and one knight was slain. And hereupon it was wickedly given out that
the bishops' people had begun the affray, and that the three bishops had
set them on to break the king's peace, and murther his guests within the
precincts of his royal court. Bishop Roger, the uncle, was seized in the
king's own hall, and Alexander, the bishop of Lincoln, at his lodgings
in the town; but Bishop Nigel, who had taken up his quarters in a house
outside the town, getting to horse, galloped across the country, and
threw himself into the castle of Devizes, the strongest of all his
uncle's strongholds. And it was thought that the Bishop of Ely would not
have been able to do this, and to distance his pursuers by leaping hedge
and ditch, if he had not providentially practised hunting and hawking in
his easy days. Bishop Roger, and his less fortunate nephew Alexander,
bishop of Lincoln, were confined in separate dungeons at Oxenford. They
were severally told that the king held them as traitors, and that the
price of their liberation would be surrender unto Stephen of all their
castles and manors, with whatsoever treasure they contained; and those
who delivered the message chuckled at it, seeing that they hoped to have
a share in the great spoil. At first Bishop Roger and Bishop Alexander
did manfully refuse to give up anything, but bishops in dungeons and in
chains are weak, and kings be sometimes very strong; and after they had
been menaced with torture and death, the two prelates put their names
and seals to an act of surrender and renunciation, and the castles which
Roger had built at Malmsbury and Sherborne, and that which he had
enlarged and strengthened at Sarum, and the magnificent castle which
Bishop Alexander had built at Newark, together with other places of
strength, were taken possession of by the king's people, in virtue of
the orders of the two bishops to their own people. But the alert,
hard-riding, and warlike Bishop of Ely would not give up the castle of
Devizes, into which he had thrown himself on his escape from Oxenford;
and, counting on the strength of his uncle's best fortress, and on the
affection the garrison and the people of the neighbouring country bore
to his family, Nigel did defy the power of King Stephen. Our unhappy
ill-advised king, whom I have so often seen, and with whom I have so
often spoken in this our house at Reading, had not the head to conceive,
nor the heart to execute, the foul trick which followed. No! it was all
the contriving and the doing of some of his ill-advisers, of the Earl of
Brittany, or Sir Alberic de Vere, or some other or others of those
children of perdition. Fasting is commendable at some seasons, but
starvation is horrible at all. If a man starve himself, he is guilty of
the worst and most unnatural species of suicide; and if a man starve
another, certes he is guilty of the cruellest of murthers. That which
impresses on my mind the belief that the aforesaid Sir Alberic de Vere
was deep in this guilt, are the facts of which I have had assurance; to
wit, that Sir Alberic never afterwards gave a feast in his own castle,
without seeing the apparitions of two ghastly, pale, starving bishops
take their stand opposite to him, and knit their brows, and wave their
right hands, as if they were pronouncing a curse each time his plate was
laid before him or his wine-cup filled; and that the said Sir Alberic
did die at the last of angina, which closed up his throat and allowed no
food to pass. Bethink ye whether the knight did not then think of Bishop
Roger and his episcopal nephew! But the procedure to force the Bishop of
Ely to give up the strong castle of Devizes was this:--Bishop Roger and
his nephew, the Bishop of Lincoln, were loaded in their dungeons with
more chains, and orders were given that they should be kept without food
until the castle was delivered up to King Stephen. When Bishop Nigel was
told of this intent he could not believe it, nor was it easy, even in
those wicked days, for any man to conceive the world wicked enough to
starve two prelates. "I will keep mine uncle's castle for him," said
Bishop Nigel, "for they dare not do the thing they speak of." But,
alack! his lordship was soon convinced to the contrary; for Bishop Roger
himself, already pale and emaciated, was carried to Devizes, and made to
state his own case in front of his own castle. And the old man implored
his nephew to surrender, and so save the life of his uncle and that of
his brother: and then Bishop Nigel gave up that great fortress, and
thereupon Bishop Roger and Bishop Alexander were allowed to have food,
after they had been three days and three nights in a fearful fast.
Before long all three of the bishops were set at liberty, but they had
been plundered of nearly all they possessed. The evil advisers of King
Stephen got most of the spoil. The robbery did not even a momentary good
to the king, and terrible was the penalty he was made to pay for it. The
whole body of the dignified clergy turned against him; and even his own
brother, Henry, bishop of Winchester, who was now the Pope's legatus for
all England, did join the other bishops in charging Stephen with
sacrilege. It was his own brother, the legatus, who summoned the king to
appear before a synod of bishops at Winchester; and what is brotherly
love when weighed in the balance with the duty of every churchman to the
church? King Stephen would not attend _personaliter_, but he sent unto
Winchester that Sir Alberic de Vere of whom I have spoken; and Sir
Alberic went into the hall of synod with a great company of armed
knights, and did there much misuse the prelates of the land, and did
refuse, in Stephen's name, to make restitution to Bishop Roger and his
two nephews of that of which they had been despoiled; and when he had
done these things, Sir Alberic made appeal to the pope and dissolved the
council, the wicked knights with him drawing their swords to enforce
obedience. The bishops separated for that present, but every one of them
saw that madness and much wickedness had prepared the downfall of King
Stephen. Bishop Roger died of old age, and grief and indignation, and of
the fatal effects of that dread fast; and while he was dying, the plate
and money which he had saved from the king's rapacity, which he had
devoted to the completion of his glorious church at Sarum, and which he
had layed for safety upon the high altar, were seized and carried off by
some who cared not for the guilt of sacrilege, and who were so blind
that they could not see in what such crimes must end. Forty thousand
marks, by our Ladie, was the value of that which was stolen from the
shadow of the Holy of Holies!

Now some of the baronage and clergy did send messengers into Anjou to
invite the Empress Matilda into England, and to give her assurance good
that they would place her upon the throne of her late father. And the
ex-empress, being a woman of a high spirit, did presently come over with
her half-brother the Earl of Gloucester, and one hundred and forty
knights; and the two nephews of the late Bishop Roger and many of the
optimates did renounce their allegiance to King Stephen and join her
standard. Bishop Nigel, who would have continued to hold the castle of
Devizes if it had not been for that fearful fast, went into the Isle of
Ely, his own diocese, and there amidst the bogs and fens, and on the
very spot where Hereward the Lord of Brunn had withstood William the
Conqueror, he raised a great rampart and collected a great force against
Stephen. In other parts our bishops were seen mounted on war-horses,
clad in armour, and directing in the battle or the siege: and many and
bloody were the battles which were fought during two years, and until
King Stephen was surprised and defeated in the great battle of Lincoln,
and taken prisoner by the Earl of Gloucester, the half-brother of the
empress. Stephen was now thrown into a dungeon in Bristowe Castle, and
his brother the Bishop of Winchester and legatus acknowledged the right
and title of the empress, and led her in triumph to his cathedral church
at Winchester, and there blessed all who should be obedient to her, and
cursed all who should refuse to submit to her authority. And this being
done, Stephen's brother, the bishop and legate aforesaid, did convene an
assembly of churchmen to ratify her accession. At this synod the said
legate bore testimony against his brother, and said that God had
pronounced judgment against him; and the great churchmen, to whom it
chiefly belongs to elect kings and ordain them, did elect Matilda to
fill the place which Stephen's demerits had vacated. Yet some of the
clergy there were who did not think that they could be so easily
discharged of the oaths they had taken unto Stephen, or move so far in
this matter without a direct command from our lord the pope, and many
lords there were, as well of the laity as of the clergy, who did not
like Matilda the better for knowing more of her. But not one felt more
unhappy at these changes than our good lord abbat, who came back from
the last meeting of the clergy at Winchester well nigh broken-hearted;
for, albeit he lamented his errors, he had much affection for King
Stephen and great reverence to the obligations of an oath, and very
earnestly desired peace and happiness to the country.

Also was he and all of us of the house at Reading and all devout and
considerate men in the land, much consternated by great signs in the
heavens: for on the twenty-first of the kalends of March in the year of
our redemption eleven hundred and forty, while we were sitting at
dinner, there was so great an eclipse of the sun that we could not see
to eat our meat, and were forced to light candles, and when lights were
brought in our appetites were gone because of our great fear; and when
we went out to gaze at the obscured sun and blackened heavens we did
plainly see divers stars twinkling near the sun. And these sad sights
were seen all over the land, making men believe, while they lasted, that
chaos was come again, and that this day was to be the day of judgment.
Abbat Edward did interpret these things as omens of our future woe.

"I do foresee," said he, "that infinite woe will arise out of these our
distractions, and I can plainly see with only half of an eye that too
many of our magnates be looking to nothing but their own worldly
advantage. With this classis of men 'twill be down with Stephen and up
with Matilda to-day, and down with Matilda and up with Stephen
to-morrow; just as they hope to gain by the change. They will all find
in the end that they have miscalculated, but that will not heal the
wounds that will have been inflicted on the country through their
selfish unsteadiness, and lack of principle, and oath-breaking. The
ex-empress hath brought a pestilent set of hungry foreigners over with
her; and every one of them is looking for some great estate or bishopric
or abbey; others will follow, and they will have no bowels of compassion
for the people of this land. 'Tis true King Stephen hath done much amiss
or hath allowed evil things to be done in his name, but Matilda will do
worse, and will have less power than he to prevent the rapacity and
bloodthirstiness of others! Steel-clad barons and knights will not yield
obedience to the distaff. Even the church will be divided. St. John and
St. James to our aid! but my heart trembles for this house, and for the
poor townfolk of Reading, and the freemen and the serfs who have so long
lived in peace upon our manors; I am an old man--this journey to
Winchester hath added the weight of ten more years--I shall not live to
see an end to these troubles which have already lasted four years. Death
will relieve me from witnessing the worst; but when I am gone hence, oh
my brethren and children, put your faith in heaven, and remember that
the honestest policy is aye the best, and meditate night and day, and
labour hard, in order to lessen the sufferings of our poor vassals and
dependants."

Grieves me to say that some of our house who made many solemn
protestations now, did not in after-time do that which they ought to
have done.

Affairs were in this state, and the flames of civil war were raging all
round us, and the health of our good lord abbat was daily breaking more
and more, when the Empress Matilda passed through Reading without
stopping at our abbey to say an orison at her father's grave, being on
her way to Westminster, there to be crowned and anointed by those who
had crowned King Stephen only six years ago. But the citizens of London,
who were very bold and powerful, loved Stephen more than Matilda, and
before the coronation dresses could be got ready they rose upon her and
drove her from the city, flying on horseback and at first almost alone,
as she did. This time the daughter of the Beauclerc found it opportune
to come to our abbey, for she wanted food, lodging, and raiment, and
knew not where else to procure them. A messenger on a foundered horse
announced that she was coming, and by the time the man had put his beast
into our lord abbat's stable, a great cloud of dust was seen rolling on
the road beyond the Kennet from the eastward. "_Medea fert tristes
succos_--she is coming, and will bring poisons with her! She cometh in a
whirlwind," said our good lord abbat, "and albeit she is her father's
daughter--the lawfully begotten daughter of the founder of this house,
(though some men do say the contrary,) it grieves me that she cometh at
all. Last year, and at this same season of the year, we did lodge and
entertain King Stephen, and prayed God to bless him; and now must I
feast this wandering woman and cry God save Queen Matilda? The
unlettered and rustical people be slow of comprehension, yet will they
not have their hearts turned from us by seeing these rapid shiftings and
changings? And so soon as the commoner sort lose their faith or belief
in the principles of their betters, crime and havoc will have it all
their own way. This people--this already mixed people of Saxons and
Normans--will go backwards into blood, and there will be war between
cottage and cottage as well as between castle and castle!"

The empress-queen arrived at our gates, and with a numerous attendance;
for some had followed by getting stealthily out of London, and some had
joined her on the road. Sooth to say she was an imperious, and
despotical, and loud-voiced, manlike woman, and of a very imposing
presence. Maugre her hasty flight she had a coronet of gold on her head,
and a jewel like a star on her breast, and her garments were of purple
and gold. A foreign lord, with a truculent countenance, bore a naked
sword before her, and another knight, with a visage no less stern,
carried a jewelled sceptre.

"'Tis mine own father's house," said she as she came within our gates,
"'tis the gift and doing of mine own father, of blessed memory, and
much, oh monks! did you wrong him and me by entertaining within these
walls the foul usurper Stephen. The usurper is rotting in the nethermost
dungeon of Bristowe Castle, and there let him die; but, oh abbat, lead
me to my dear father's tomb, that I may say a prayer for the good of his
soul; and see in the coining place what money thou hast in hand, for
much do I lack money and must for the nonce be a borrower! Bid thy
people make ready a banquet in the hall, for we be all fasting and right
hungry; and send into the township and call forth each man that hath a
horse and a sword, in order that he may follow us to Oxenford, and help
to be our guard upon the way. Do these few things, oh abbat, and I will
yet hold thee in good esteem. The land rings with thy great wealth and
power. By Notre Dame of Anjou! 'tis a goodly house, and the walls be
strong, and the ditch round about broad and deep,--by the holy visage of
St. Luke! I will not hence to-night though all the rebel citizens of
London, that do swarm like bees from their hives, should follow me so
far."

Our good lord abbat could do little more than bow and cross himself, and
our prior of the bellicose humour, who partook in our abbat's affection
for King Stephen, reddened in the face and turned aside his face and
grinded his teeth, and muttered down his own throat, "Beshrew the
distaff! The Beauclerc, her sire, was more courteous unto clerks!"

Our sub-prior, being of a more supple nature, and being, moreover, not
without his hopes of being nominated to the abbatial dignity so soon as
our lord abbat should be laid under the chancel of the abbey church,
kneeled before the empress-queen, and then formed some of the monks _in
processionale_, and began lead the way to the sepulchre of Henricus
Primus. But this roused the abbat and threw the thoughts of our prior
into another channel, and the lord abbat said in a grim and loud whisper
unto the sub-prior, "I am chief here, and none must move without my
bidding;" and the prior said without any essay at a whisper, "Oh, sub,
seek not to climb above _me_!"

The proud woman reddened and said, "If ye would honour me, oh monks, as
your queen, make haste to do it! An ye will not, I can get me in without
your ceremonies. No time have I to lose, and money and aid must be
forthcoming!"

Then up spake the lord abbat Edward, and said in a loud voice, "Oh dread
ladie, when that king of peace and lion of justice, _Rex pacis et leo
justitiæ_, did found this house, he did give us his royal charter,
wherein it is said, 'Let no person, great or small, whether by violence
or as a due custom, exact anything or take anything from the persons,
lands, or possessions whatsoever belonging unto the monastery of
Reading; nor levy any money, nor ask any tax for the building of bridges
or castles, for carriages or for horses for carrying; nor lay any custom
or subsidy, whether for ship-money or tribute-money or for presents;
nor....'"

"Oh abbat of the close fist," said Matilda, "I only want to borrow."

"But we may not lend without full consent of all our chapter monks in
chapter assembled," quoth the prior.

"And the foundation charter of Henricus Primus," said our abbat,
"recommends all the successors of the said royal founder to observe the
charter as they wish for the divine favour and preservation, and
pronounces a malediction upon any one that shall infringe or diminish
his donations. Dread ladie, thou art the Beauclerc's daughter: the curse
of a father is hard to bear!"

There was some whispering and sign-making among her followers; but the
imperious woman said not a word: she only stretched out her right hand
and pointed forward, into the interior of our abbey.

We now formed in more proper order and went through the church to the
Beauclerc's grave, on the broad slab of which there burned unceasing
lamps, and sweet incense renewed every hour, and at the edge of which
there was ever some brother of the house telling his beads and praying
for the defunct king, the founder of the house. Dim was the spot, for
death is darkness, and too much light suits ill with the decaying flesh
and bones of mortal man, be he king or plough-hind; yet, as the
empress-queen entered, our acolytes touched the tips of three hundred
and sixty-five tapers--sweet smelling tapers made of the wax brought
from Gascony and Spain and Italie--and in an instant that dim sepulchral
place was flooded with light, the converging rays meeting and shining
brightest upon the black slab and the graven epitaph which began with
the proud titles of the Beauclerc king, and which ended with that
passage from holy writ which saith that all is vanity here below.

Matilda knelt and put her lips to that black slab (which she safely
might do, for it was kept clear of all dirt and dust, it being the sole
occupation of one of the lay brothers of our house to rub it every day
and keep it clean), and she said an orison, of the shortest, and made
some show of shedding tears; but then she quickly rose, and would have
gone forth from the vault or cappella. But the lord abbat was not minded
that the first visit paid by his daughter to the tomb of her father
should pass off with so little ceremony and devotion; and, he himself
taking the lead with his deep solemn voice, the Officium de Functorum,
or Service for the Dead, was recited and chanted. The empress-queen was
somewhat awed and moved, and there seemed to be penitential tears in her
eyes as we chaunted "Beati Mortui qui in Domino moriuntur;" but at the
last requiem "Æternam" she flung away from the place and began to talk
with a loud shrill voice of worldly affairs and of battles and
sieges--for the royal-born woman had the heart of a man and warrior, and
her grandfather the great Conqueror was not more ambitious or avid of
dominion than she.

When we had well feasted Matilda and those who followed her in the
abbat's apartment, we hoped she would be gone, for it was a long and
fine day of June, well nigh upon the feast of St. John, and she well
might have ridden half way to Oxenford before nightfall; but she soon
gave the abbat to understand that she had no intention of going so soon.
Without blushing she did ask how and where we monks could lodge her and
her women for the night, telling us that she could not think of
sleeping in the town, seeing that it was but poorly defended by walls
and bulwarks. The abbat looked at the prior, and all the fathers looked
at one another with astonishment, but the ungodly waiting-women, who
came all from Anjou and other foreign parts, only smiled and simpered as
they gazed at one another and observed our exceeding great confusion.

"In truth, royal dame," said our lord abbat, "it is against the rule of
our order to lodge females within our walls."

"But I am your queen, oh abbat," said Matilda, "and this is a royal
abbey, and my sire founded it and endowed it! Have I not, as my father's
daughter and lawful sovereign of this realm, the right to an exemption
from the severity of your ordinances?"

"Ladie," quoth the abbat, "I wit not that you have such right, or that
the rule of St. Benedict is in any case to be set aside."

"But it hath been set aside," said Matilda, "and queens and their
honourable damsels have slept in royal abbeys before now."

"That," quoth the abbat, "was before the Norman conquest, when, through
the indolence, carelessness, and gluttony of the Saxon monks, the
statutes of our order were generally ill-observed."

"But I tell thee, oh stubborn monk, that I, the empress-queen, that I,
thy liege ladie Matilda, have slept and sojourned in half the abbeys and
priories of England!"

"'Tis because of these civil wars which have so long raged to the
destruction of all discipline and order, and to the utter undoing of
this poor people of England! I, by the grace of God, abbat of Reading,
would not shape my conduct after the pattern of some abbats and priors
that be in this land, or willingly allow that which they perchance may
have permitted without protest, and to the spiritual dishonour of their
houses."

Here the eyes of the empress-queen flashed fire, and wrathful and
scornful was the voice with which she said unto our good lord abbat, in
presence of most of the community, "Shaveling, I am here, and will here
tarry so long as it suits my occasions! I believe thy traitorous
affection for my false cousin Stephen hath more to do with thine
obstinacy than any reverence thou bearest to the rules of thine order.
But, monk, 'tis too late! thou shouldest have kept thy gates closed! I
and my maidens are within thy house, and these my faithful knights will
see thee and thy brethren slain between the horns of the altar rather
than see the Queen of England thrust out like a vagrant beggar from the
abbey her own father founded!"

As the empress-queen said these words the knights knit their brows and
made a rattling with their swords. This did much terrify the major part
of our community, and I, Felix, being then of a timorous nature, and a
great lover of peace, as became my profession, did creep towards the
door of the hall. But our prior spoke out with a right manful voice
against the insults put upon our good abbat, telling the empress-queen
to her face that respect and reverence were due to the church even from
the greatest of princes; that her father, of renowned and happy memory,
would not so have treated the humblest servant of the church; and that
if this unseemly business should be put to the issue of arms--if swords
should be drawn over her royal father's grave--it might peradventure
happen that the armed retainers of the abbey would prove as good men as
these outlandish knights, and that the fathers and brothers of the house
would fight for their lives, as other servants of the church had
ofttimes been constrained to do in these turbulent, lawless, ungodly
days.

At this discourse of our bellicose prior the empress-queen turned pale
and her lip quivered, though more through wrath than fear, as it seemed
to me; but her knights left off noising with their swords; and one of
them, a native knight, spoke words of gentleness and accommodation, and
put it as an entreaty rather than as a command, that the queen should be
allowed to infringe our rules for only one night.

"My conscience doth forbid it," said our lord abbat, "for it may be made
a precedent, to the great injury and decay of our discipline. Therefore
do I solemnly enter my protest against it. But as I would not see this
holy house defiled by strife and blood, nor attempt a forcible
expulsion, I will quit mine apartments." And so saying, the lord abbat
withdrew, and was followed by all of us. The queen slept in the abbat's
bed; her maidens on the rushes, which were carried into that chamber
from the abbat's hall; and the knights and men-at-arms slept in the Aula
Magna. And, as our good abbat had foreseen, this evil practice was taken
as a precedent, in such sort that empresses and queens, and other great
princesses, have in these later times been often lodged in Benedictine
and in other houses; yet, wherever the abbats and monks entertain a
proper sense of their duty, they lodge these visitors in the lord
abbat's house, apart from the religious community.

But before sleeping, the empress-queen did many things, for it still
wanted some hours of the Ave Maria, and many were the stormy thoughts
that were working in her brain. Two of her knights we allowed to go out
of the house by the postern-gate, but farther ingress we granted to
none; and not only did our armed retainers keep watch for us, but our
monks, under the vigilant eye of the prior, did also keep watch and ward
all through that evening and night, for we feared some extreme mischief;
and it would not have failed to happen if Matilda had been enabled to
get her partisans in greater force within the house. In truth, not many
of our community knew that night what sleep was. The materials for an
abundant supper were furnished to the empress-queen and her people; and
some of these last were singing ungodly songs in the abbat's great hall
when our church-bell told the midnight hour; yea, there was a noise of
singing, and a running to and fro, and a squealing of womanly voices
long after that, to the great sorrow and shame of the fathers of our
house. I, Felix, albeit only a novice, was of those who slept not. And I
saw a great sight. Watching in the eastern turret, I did see a fiery
meteor, hirsute like a comet, but not so big, shoot up from the marshes
on the other side of the Kennet, not far from the back of our abbey; and
this meteor, as it passed over our house, did divide itself into three
several parts, and these did rush away to the westward as quick as
lightning, and there drop and disappear. Before the night came again I
was made to understand what these things meant.



IV.


From all ungodly guests _libera nos_! Although they had feasted so late
at night, the people of the empress did make an early call for a
matutinal refection; and our good chamberlain and coquinarius and
cellarius were made to bestir themselves by times, and sundry of our lay
brothers and servitors, to the great endangering of their souls, were
made to run with viands and drink into our lord abbat's hall, and there
wait upon the daughter of the Beauclerc and her foreign black-eyed
damsels, who did shoot love-looks at them and discompose their monastic
sobriety and gravity by laying their hands upon their sleeves and
twitching their hoods for this thing and that (for the young Jezebels
spoke no English), and by singing snatches of love songs at them, even
as the false syrens of old did unto the wise Ulysses. Certes, the
founder of our order, the blessed Benedict, did know what he was a-doing
when he condemned and prohibited the resort of women to our houses and
their in-dwelling with monks. Monks are mortal, and mortal flesh is
weak: _et ne nos inducas in tentationem_.

It was still an early hour, not much more than half way between prima
and tertia, when more troubles came upon us. The two knights who had
been sent forth by the daughter of the Beauclerc to make an espial into
the condition of the country, and to summon her friends unto her,
returned to our gate with a large company of knights and men-at-arms,
and demanded to be readmitted. Our good abbat, calling together the
fathers of the house, held counsel with them; and it was agreed that to
admit so great a company of men of war would be perilous to our
community; and even our bellicose prior did opine that our people would
be too few to protect the abbey if these men without should be joined to
those the empress had within. It was our prior who addressed that great
company from the porter's window over the gateway, telling them that the
two knights who had come from London with the empress might be
readmitted, but that our doors would not be unbarred even unto them
unless the rest of that armed host went to a distance into the King's
Mead. Hereat there arose a loud clamour from those knights and
men-at-arms, with great reproaches and threats. Yea, one of those
knights, Sir Richard à Chambre, who was in after time known for a most
faithless man, and a variable, changing sides as often as the moon doth
change her face, did call our lord abbat apostate monk and traitor, and
did threaten our good house with storm and spoliation. The major part of
us had gathered in front of the house to see and hear what was passing;
but, alack! we were soon made to run towards the back of the abbey, for
while Sir Richard à Chambre was discoursing in this unseemly strain, and
shaking his mailed fist at the iron bars through which he could scantly
see the tip of our prior's nose, a knight on foot, who wore black mail
and a black plume in his casque, and who never raised his visor and
scarce spoke word after these few, came running round the eastern angle
of the abbey walls, shouting "'Tis open! 'tis ours! Win in, in the name
of Matilda!" The voice that said these few words seemed to not a few of
us to have been heard before, but we had no time to think of that. The
armed host set up a shout, and ran round for our postern gate, which
openeth upon the Kennet, and we all began to run for the same, our lord
abbat wringing his hands, and saying "The postern! the postern! some
traitor hath betrayed us!"

Now our postern was secured by two great locks of rare strength and
ingenuity of workmanship, and the keys thereof were not intrusted to the
portarius, but were always kept by the sub-prior, and without these keys
there was no undoing the door either from within or from without. As he
ran from the great gateway, I heard our prior say in an angry voice unto
the sub-prior, "Brother Hildebrand, how is this? Where be the keys?" And
I heard the sub-prior make response, "On my soul, I know not how it is,
but verily the keys I did leave under the pallet in my cell."

When we came into the paved quadrangle, we found some of our retainers
hastily putting on their armour; but when we came into the garden, we
found it thronged with men already armed, and we saw the postern wide
open and many more warriors rushing in through it: the evil men who had
stayed with the queen, and who had so much abused our hospitality, had
already joined the new comers, and the united and still increasing force
was so great that we could not hope to expel them and save our house
from robbery and profanation. Our very prior smote his breast in
despair. But our good abbat, though of a less bellicose humour, had no
fear of the profane intruders, for he stood up in the midst of them and
upbraided them roundly, and threatened to lay an interdict upon them all
for the thing that they were doing. But anon the empress herself came
forth with one that waved a flag over her head, and at sight hereof the
sinful men set up a shouting and fell to a kissing, some the flag, which
was but a small and soiled thing, and some--on their knees--the hand of
the Beauclerc's daughter; and while this was passing, those foreign
damsels came salting and skipping, and clapping their hands and talking
Anjou French, into the garden. There was one of them attired in a short
green kirtle that had the smallest and prettiest feet, and the largest
and blackest eyes, and the longest and blackest eyelashes, and the
laughingest face, that ever man did behold in these parts of the world;
and she danced near to me on those tiny pretty feet, and glanced at me
such glances from those black eyes, that my heart thumped against my
ribs; but the saints gave me strength and protection, and I pulled my
hood over my eyes and fell to telling my beads, and thus, when others
were backsliders, I, Felix the novice, was enabled to stand steadfast in
my faith.

The empress had taken no heed of our lord abbat, or of any of us; but
when she had done welcoming the knights that came to do her service,
and, imprimis, to escort her on her way to Oxenford, she turned unto the
abbat and said, "Monk, thou art too weak to cope with a queen, the
daughter of a king, the widow of an emperor, and one from whom many
kings will spring. But by thy perversity, which we think amounts to
treason, thou hast incurred the penalty of deprivation; and when we
have time for such matters, or at the very next meeting of a synod of
bishops and abbats, I will see that thou art both deprived and
imprisoned."

"That synod," said our abbat very mildly, "will not sit so soon, and
from any synod I can appeal to his holiness the Pope."

"Fool!" quoth Matilda, with the ugliest curl of the lip I ever beheld;
"obstinate fool! the Pope's legate is our well-beloved subject and
friend the Bishop of Winchester."

"See that you keep his allegiance! He hath put you upon a throne, and
can pull you down therefrom!" So spake our prior, who could not stomach
the irreverent treatment the Countess of Anjou put upon his superior,
and who knew that Matilda had in various ways broken her compact with
him, and done deeds highly displeasing to King Stephen's brother, the
tough-hearted Bishop of Winchester.

"Beshrew me!" quoth Matilda; "but these Reading monks be proud of
stomach and rebellious! Sir Walleren of Mantes, drive them into their
church, and see that they quit it not while we tarry here."

"I will," said the foreign knight; "and also will I see that they do
sing the _Salve, Regina_."

And this Sir Walleren and other unknightly knights drew their swords and
called up their retainers; and before this ungodly host the abbat and
prior and the monks were all compelled to retreat into the church,
leaving the whole range of the abbey to those who had so unrighteously
invaded it. But as soon as we were in the choir, instead of singing a
_Salve, Regina_, we did chant _In te, Domine, speravi_.

A strong guard was put at the church-door and in the cloisters; but it
was not needed, as we could oppose no resistance to those who were now
robbing our house; and as it had been determined therefore that all who
had come into the church should remain, with psalmody and prayer, until
these men of violence should take their departure from the abbey, or
complete their wickedness by driving us from it. As they ransacked our
house, as though it had been a castle taken by storm, and as they
shouted and made such loud noises as soldiers use when a castle or a
town hath been successfully stormed, we only chanted the louder in the
choir. For full two hours did these partisans of Matilda ransack the
abbey, with none to say them nay. At the end of that time, when they had
gotten all that they considered worth taking, that ill-visaged knight
Sir Walleren of Mantes came to the church-door, and called forth the
abbat and prior, saying that the queen would speak with them before she
went, and give them a lesson which they might remember. Though thrice
summoned in the name of the queen, the heads of our house did not move,
nor would they have gone forth at all if the fierce Sir Walleren
aforesaid had not sent in a score of pikes to drive them, or prick them
from their seats. Nay, even then, the prior would have run not unto the
door, but unto the altar; but the good abbat, fearing that God's house
might be desecrated by blood, took the prior by the sleeve, and
whispered a few soothing words to him, and so led him out into the
cloisters; and then all we who had been driven into the church followed
the abbat and the prior, and went to the quadrangle, where was the queen
on horseback, mounted on the lord abbat's own grey palfrey, which had
been stolen from the stable, together with every horse and mule that our
community possessed. It was a sad sight; and the lord abbat's master of
the horse and his palfrey-keeper were wringing their hands at it. Our
good cattle, save and except the lord abbat's palfrey and a fine
war-horse which had appertained to one of our knights, but which was now
mounted by that silent knight in the black mail, who never raised his
visor, were loaded with the spoils of our own house, to wit, the coined
money taken out of our mint, provisions, corn, wine, raiment, and goodly
furnishings. The masked knight had a plain shield, carried by his page,
and no cognizance whereby he might be known: he held in his hand one of
the queen's reins, and by his gestures, and his constant looking to the
great gate of our house, which was now thrown wide open, he seemed very
eager to be gone. As our lord abbat, with his hand still upon the
prior's sleeve, came through the crowd and nigh to the space where
Matilda sat upon his own palfrey, she first frowned upon him and then
laughed at him, and between laughing and frowning said--"Oh abbat that
shalt not be abbat long, thou hast comported thyself like a traitor and
a very churl in stinting thy queen of that which she needed, in
begrudging hospitality to these fair damsels, and in barring thy doors
against these my gallant knights and faithful people. For this have we,
for the present, relieved thy house of some of its superfluous stuff. It
is not well that disloyal monks be so well supplied and furnished, when
a queen, and noble ladies, and high-born knights be unprovided and bare,
and forced by treasons foul to flee from place to place as if they were
accursed Israelites. Light meals are followed by light digestion, and
abstinence is favourable to prayer and devotion. Yet have we taken
nothing from ye, O monks, but what is rightfully ours, or was given ye
by my father of thrice glorious memory."

"Oh Empress, or Countess of Anjou, or Queen of England, if so must be,
the deeds which have been done in this holy house, built and endowed by
thy father for the expiation of his sins, will make the bones of thy
father turn in his grave, and will bring down a curse upon the heads of
thee and thy party. Bethink thee, and repent while it is yet time! Thy
father, the father of his people and the peace of his country, _Pax
patriæ, gentisque suæ Pater_, did for the good of his own soul found
this abbey, and endow it with the town and manor of Reading, and with
all the lands which had aforetime belonged to the nunnery of Reading and
the monasteries of Cholsey and Leominster (which houses had been
destroyed in our old wars), and he did make it one of the royal mitred
abbeys, and did give the lord abbat privilege to coin his own money, by
having a mint and mintmaster. Other donations did he make, and other
privileges and honours did he confer upon our community. And hath not
our lord the pope by a special bull confirmed and sanctified this kingly
grant, and taken our house, with all its possessions and appurtenances,
to wit, lands cultivated and uncultivated, its manors, meadows, woods,
pastures, mills, fisheries, and all other, under the protection of the
holy Roman see? And hath not his holiness decreed that none are to
disturb our house, or to lay an impious hand on our possessions, or to
keep, or diminish the same, or in any other way give us trouble; but
that all that we have and hold is to be kept under the government of the
monks, and for the pious uses for which it was given? And in the same
bull hath not the pope blessed those who keep this commandment, and
cursed those who in any way break it? Unless thou makest restitution
thou wilt be denied the viaticum on thy death-bed--_et a sacratissimo
corpore et sanguine Dei et Domini nostri aliena fiat_."

At these words spoken, the countess did somewhat tremble on the palfrey,
and turn pale; but one of her wicked advisers from beyond sea said that
she did but borrow, and would make restitution at the fitting time, and
that we, being so rich, could well spare some of our substance.

Our treasurer, who would not deign to speak to this foreign marauder,
said to the countess, "Oh, ill-advised ladie, we be none so rich, and
much is expected from us. By thy father's endowment full two hundred
monks are to be kept for aye in this his royal abbey, and we be as yet
scantly more than one hundred and two score. Also do the good people
that we have drawn to this township of Reading look to us for present
employment and support; and herein have we much laboured, for the good
of the realm, and the happiness of the commoner sort. In the days of thy
grandfather, the dread Conqueror of this kingdom, when the Domesday-book
was made, Reading had only twenty-nine houses; but now look abroad, and
see how new houses have risen, and men have increased under the shadow
of our peaceful walls."

"There will be woe and want among that industrious people," said abbat
Edward, "if thou carriest away from us this great spoil, and all the
money that we have minted! The curse of the poor, which is the next
terriblest thing to the curse of God and holy church, will cling to
thee, oh countess, or queen! Look to it, oh Matilda! I see the crown
already dropping from thy head."

"This is treason!" said the silent knight with his visor down, in a
voice which made all of us start, for it sounded like that of one who
had lately been our fast friend.

Matilda, rising in her saddle, with glaring eyes and reddened cheek,
said, "And I, rebel monk, do see the mitre falling from thy head. Thou
wilt not be abbot of Reading this time next month."

"_Fiat voluntas_, let the will of God be done," replied our lord abbat.

"And now," quoth the violent daughter of the Beauclerc, "let us ride on
our way for Oxenford. Methinks we be now strong enough to defy all
traitors on the road." And she struck with her riding-wand the grey
palfrey, which it much grieved our abbat to lose, and followed by her
knights and her leering and laughing foreign damsels, she rode out at
our gate, and with a great host departed from Reading.

When the evil-doers were all gone we made fast our doors, and proceeded
to examine the condition of our house and its community. They had
completely emptied the buttery, the store-house, the granary, the
wine-cellar; they had so stripped the lord abbat's house and the lodging
of the prior that there was nothing left in them save the tables and
chairs, the mats and rushes; they had broken open both treasury and
sacristy, and had stolen thence all our most precious relics, and all
our gold and silver vessels, and all our portable pictures and
crucifixes; they had not left us so much as a patera, a chalice, or an
encensoire; they had even laid their impious thievish hands upon the
silver lamp which had been used to burn day and night at the head of the
Beauclerc's tomb, and they had carried off with them the Agnus Dei and
the jewelled cross which Henricus Primus had worn for many years of his
life, and which, at his order, had been laid upon his tomb. That silver
lamp had been sent to the abbey by Queen Adelise, the Beauclerc's second
and surviving wife, who, on the first anniversary of the Beauclerc's
death, gave us the manor of Aston in Hertfordshire, offering a pall upon
the altar in confirmation of the grant; and who likewise gave us the
land of Reginald, the Forester, at Stanton-Harcourt, nigh unto Oxenford,
and afterwards the patronage and revenues of the church of
Stanton-Harcourt, to supply the cost of the silver lamp, which she
herself did order should burn continually before the pix and the tomb of
her late husband. Yet Matilda and her plundering band had carried off
this precious cresset--and long did they prevent us getting any rent or
revenues from the lands which Queen Adelise had granted us. Not the most
recondite and secret part of our house had escaped their search. Much
did we marvel at this, until, calling over the roll, we found that three
members of our community did not answer to their names. The three
missing were, two novices, to wit, young Urswick, the whiteheaded, from
Pangbourne, and John Blount from Maple-Durham, and one full monk, to
wit, Father Anselm, of Norman birth, who had but lately taken the vows,
but who had been much employed by our treasurer in offices of trust. The
two novices (may their souls be assoiled!) had been wiled away by those
young Jezebels, and had put on warlike harness, and had gone with
Matilda to serve her as men-at-arms: Father Anselm, being a
well-favoured man, had found favour in the sight of the Countess of
Anjou, and had gone with her to be her mass-priest, and to aim at some
vacant bishopric or abbey. Well had it been for us if he had never come
back to Reading. Heavy suspicions had fallen upon our sub-prior
Hildebrand, touching the postern gate; but it was ascertained upon
inquiry, that Urswick, the whiteheaded, who had been wont to wait upon
the sub-prior, did, at the bidding of Matilda, or of one of her damsels,
steal the keys and undo the door.

Besides the three deserters from our own body, we found that divers of
our armed retainers had taken service with the errant countess, and had
gone away with her with their arms and horses; and that even one of our
knights, who did service for the lands of the abbey he held, had
forgotten his bounden duty and his honour in a sudden fantastic
affection for a pair of black eyes.

We were bemoaning our losses, and our exceeding great calamity and
disgrace, and wondering where we should get a dinner, when, some three
hours after the departure of Matilda, and the host that followed her
standard, another great body of horse and foot, bearing the banner of
King Stephen, marched towards our gates, demanding meat and drink, and
vowing, with many soldier-like profane oaths, that they would burn and
destroy all such as were not for Stephen. The new alarm thus created
was, however, but short, for some noble barons and knights, who had been
riding in the rear, came spurring up to the van, which was now halting
in the Falbury, and among these we saw, with his vizor down, that right
noble lord Sir Alain de Bohun, Lord of Caversham and the well-beloved
nephew of our lord abbat, whose sad heart was much rejoiced at his so
sudden appearance.

"Be it King Stephen or Queen Matilda," said the abbat, "let us throw
open our gates to our well-beloved nephew, for he will not see harm done
to us, and now, verily, we have nothing to lose but lives not worth the
taking." And the gates were thrown open, and Sir Alain was welcomed and
affectionately greeted by his uncle; and after many expressions of
astonishment and indignation at the wrongs which had been done us, Sir
Alain and divers of the lords and knights with him retired for a space
to the lord abbat's despoiled and naked apartment, with the lord abbat
and our prior, and some other fathers. I was not of that council, being
but a novice, nor can I say it that I ever learned in after times _all_
that was said in it; but I do know that when it was finished (and it
lasted not long) the prior came forth with a very confident countenance,
and told us all that the Bishop of Winchester, the pope's Legatus à
latere, had changed sides, that Stephen of Blois was still King Stephen,
and that we must sing a _Te Deum laudamus_ for that same. And we all
went forthwith into our church, and the barons and knights went in after
us, and we admitted as many as the church would hold of those
men-at-arms, and bill-men and bow-men, that had halted in the Falbury
with King Stephen's banner, and albeit we were hungry and faint, we sang
the _Te Deum_ for Stephen with sonorous voices.

Sir Alain de Bohun, one of the very few lords of England that never
changed sides during these nineteen years of revolutions and wars, had
fought bravely for King Stephen in the great battle at Lincoln, where
other barons and knights had deserted with all their forces to Matilda's
illegitimate brother and commander the Earl of Gloucester; and after
Stephen had been taken prisoner (not until both his sword and battle-axe
had been broken), Sir Alain had escaped from the field and had joined
one of the many leagues of nobles who vowed never to submit to the
distaff, or allow the Countess of Anjou to be Queen of England. In the
five months which had passed since the battle of Lincoln, Sir Alain had
fought in sundry other battles, and had given heart to many a knight,
who, after the synod of Winchester, had despaired of the cause of King
Stephen. He had appeared with a good body of horse, and the standard of
Stephen, on the southern side of Thamesis, opposite the city of London,
and his appearance had encouraged the citizens to rise and drive out
Matilda. And the day before, appearing in the suburb of London, Sir
Alain de Bohun had been at Guildford, and had there conferred with
Stephen's queen, the good Maud, and also with Stephen's brother, the
Bishop of Winchester, who did already repent him of that which he had
done in synod. But that the bishop had met either Queen Maud or Sir
Alain was for the present kept secret.

The Lord of Caversham and his friends had crossed the river, and entered
London city within an hour of Matilda's flight. Having toiled far that
same day, the horses of the king's party were weary, and could not give
pursuit; but after short rest they followed the flying queen along the
great road which leads to the westernmost parts of our island. Jesu
Maria! had they come unto Reading a few hours sooner, before the arrival
of that battalia which the two knights Matilda had sent forth from our
abbey had collected, the violent woman might have been made prisoner,
and our house have been saved from plunder. But now the horses of King
Stephen's friends were again aweary, and though Sir Alain and the noble
barons with him were stronger in foot soldiers, they were much weaker in
horse than the host which had left Reading with the countess, who, upon
these sundry considerations, and for that she had been gone more than
two hours, was let go on her road to Oxenford without pursuit.

The burghers of Reading who had endeavoured to save themselves from
plunder and violence by throwing up their caps and shouting for the
errant queen, but who had been plundered and beaten all the same (nay,
divers of them were wounded by sword and lance, and cruelly maimed), now
came to our abbey-gates, making their throats hoarse with shouting for
King Stephen and the good and gracious Lord of Caversham; and some of
the richer franklins of the township and neighbourhood, who had escaped
being plundered by Matilda's party, upon learning the sad case in which
we, the monks, had been left, hastened to bring us meat and drink.

Sir Alain de Bohun, who had not seen his wife or his home for many a sad
day, was about to ride across the fields homeward, when his ladie's page
was seen running across the King's Mead towards our abbey.

"Yonder comes one from Caversham," said Sir Alain; "and I read by his
looks and his hurry that he bringeth no good news!"

"Fear not," said the abbat, who saw that his nephew's cheek was growing
pale, "for the saints have ever defended thy roof-tree, and as I told
thee before, the Ladie Alfgiva and the children were as well as well
could be at the hour of noon of yesterday, when I did see them."

Nevertheless, the little page did bring bad news, or tidings which much
afflicted Sir Alain and our lord abbat. There had been treachery at
Caversham, and a fast friend had played loose. That sweet babe, the
daughter of Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe, who had caused our household so
much dismay four years agone, and had sent me and Philip the lay-brother
on the night-journey to Sir Alain de Bohun's castle, had dwelt in that
castle ever since, and had been nurtured with all delicacy and honour,
like a child of the house. For a long season Sir Ingelric, her father,
had no safe home unto which he could take her; for since the beginning
of these unhappy wars, no house in England could be called safe that was
not moated and battlemented, and strongly garrisoned; and if Sir
Ingelric had possessed a castellum, he had no gentle dame unto whom he
could confide his infant female child. But the Ladie Alfgiva was as
tender as a mother to this babe, and this tenderness became the greater
when death deprived her of her own little daughter. Sir Ingelric of
Huntercombe, who had taken vengeance on the destroyer of his wife and
home, Sir Jocelyn de Brienne, in the Falbury almost at our abbey gates,
seemed engaged for life in a blood-feud with Sir Jocelyn's family and
friends, and to be for ever wedded to the party of King Stephen by the
strong ties of necessity and revenge. Many were the combats he had
fought between that time his house and wife were burned, and the time
when King Stephen prepared for that campaign which had ended so
disastrously at Lincoln. During this long and busy interval he went not
often to Caversham, so that his child grew up with little knowledge of
him. The little Alice was wont to call Sir Alain de Bohun her father,
even as she called the Ladie Alfgiva mother. Once or twice within the
last twelve months Sir Ingelric had said, that since his house was well
nigh rebuilt, he should have a safe bower for his daughter, and that
Alice must soon home with him; and each time he had said the words the
child had run from him to the Ladie Alfgiva, and had clung round her
neck, weeping and saying that she would not leave her mother; and her
playmate and champion, that right gallant boy Arthur de Bohun, the only
son, and now the only child, of Sir Alain, who was some four years older
than Alice, said that she must not leave him. It was noticed upon these
occasions, that although Sir Ingelric began as in a jest, his
countenance soon grew dark and his voice harsh, and that he almost shook
his child when he took her on his knee and told her that she must love
her father, and must not always be a burthen unto other people. Nay,
the last time that he said these words he pressed the little Alice's arm
so violently that he left the blackening marks of his fingers upon it.
Other things were noted as well by Sir Alain de Bohun as by the Ladie
Alfgiva. It is not every man that is chastened by calamity. Sir
Ingelric's great misfortune had made him fierce, proud, and rebellious
to the will of Heaven; and, in losing his fair young wife, he had lost
his best guide and monitor. He became hard of heart, and grasping, and
covetous; and as for more than three years the party of King Stephen had
been almost everywhere victorious, he had abundant opportunities of
satisfying his appetite for havoc and booty. But the more he gained the
more he wished to get, and by degrees he gave up his whole soul to
avarice and ambition. Sir Alain de Bohun, who looked for no advantage
unto himself, who adhered to King Stephen out of loyalty and affection,
and who kept out of the horrible and unnatural warfare as much as he
thought his duty would allow him, entertained apprehensions that his
friend Sir Ingelric loved the war for what he gained by it, and would
not be very steady to any losing party. Sir Ingelric, however, had
fought bravely for King Stephen at Lincoln, and had there been taken
prisoner. But he had paid a ransom to his captor, and had been some time
at large, busied in putting the finishing hand to the strong castle
which he had raised on his lands at Speen. Though the distance was so
short to Caversham, he had not gone once thither until the evening of
the unhappy day on which the Countess of Anjou had come to our
abbey--that is, the evening of yesterday--but then he had told the
Ladie Alfgiva that as the weather was so fine and the country so
tranquil (alack! the good people at Caversham had not seen the arrival
of Matilda and her young Jezebels at our abbey), he would take the two
children forth for a walk in the meadows by the river side; and the
false knight had gone forth with the children, and neither he nor the
children had since been seen or heard of. As the little page came to
this point in his dismal story, not only our prior, but several of us
less entitled to speak in such a presence, cried out, "That knight in
the black mail who kept his vizor down, and that went away with the
countess, was none other than Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe;" and our
abbot said, "Verily, the voice was that of Sir Ingelric!"

"Woe for these changes!" said Sir Alain de Bohun, "woe and shame upon
them. If men have no faith even with old friends--if men do shift from
side to side like the inconstant wind, this war will never know an end,
and truth, and honour, and mercy will depart the land! Sir Ingelric of
Huntercombe! I aided thee in thy wretchedness, and King Stephen did
afterwards hand thee on the road to riches and greatness. I first gave
thee money and the labour of my serfs that thou mightest re-edify thy
house, but now thou hast built to thyself a strong castle, wherein thou
thinkest thou canst defy me, now thou believest the cause of Stephen to
be desperate, and therefore dost thou raise thy hand against me, and
steal away, like a thief, not only the child that was thine own, but
also mine only son, that the woman of Anjou may have my dearest hostage
in her power. May God of his mercy protect my dear boy! But, oh Sir
Ingelric, thy treachery is ill-laid and ill-timed, thy cunning is
foolishness. Great things have happened since thou hast been
castle-building, and thou wilt find that thou hast quitted the stronger
for the weaker party. Hereafter will I make thee pay, if not for thy
black ingratitude to me, for thy disloyalty to thy too bountiful king,
and for the tears my ladie wife will shed for her double loss!"

Here moisture very like a tear stood in the eyes of the Lord of
Caversham: but grief gave way to wrath as he said that the felon knight
might have taken his own child, which would long since have been in its
grave but for the Ladie Alfgiva, without robbing him of his son.

Our good abbat, who had his prophetic seasons, said, "Grieve not, my
well-beloved nephew. The two children will do well together, and thou
wilt soon have them restored to thy house: they were born to be together
and love one another, and so will not be separated. Alice will repay
thee hereafter for the ingratitude and treasons and other evil doings of
her father."

Here I, Felix the novice, and Philip the lay-brother, who had carried
little Alice from the abbey unto Caversham, and who had loved the child
ever since, did say "Amen! amen! So be it."

"The children," said an honest franklin who had stood by all the time of
these discourses, "be surely gone with the Countess of Anjou for
Oxenford; as on the road beyond the town I saw a blue-eyed boy riding
before a man-at-arms, and a little girl in the arms of a waiting-woman
who rode close to the countess on a piebald horse, and both the children
were crying piteously."

"Then will we recover them at Oxenford," said one of the knights.

Sir Alain de Bohun, with a part of the company who had come with him,
mounted for Caversham; and when Sir Alain began to ride, I could see
that he rode hotly and impatiently. The rest of the knightly company we
entertained in the abbey as best we could, and lodged them for that
night, the good franklins having brought us in some clean straw and
rushes for that purpose. The commoner sort slept in the open air on the
Falbury, with their weapons by their sides.

But before the troublous day was finished, other dismal tidings and
sights of woe were brought to our house. John Appold and Ralph Wain, two
franklins whilome of good substance, who farmed some of our outstanding
abbey lands beyond Pangbourne, came to tell us that their houses had
been burned, their granaries emptied, and the plough-hinds and shepherds
and all the serfs driven away by Matilda's people, who had chained them
together by their iron neck-collars, and had goaded them before them
like cattle with the points of their lances. And before these sad tales
were well ended, Will Shakeshaft, a faithful steward who dwelt in a
house our lord abbat had at Purley, arrived on a maimed horse, and with
a ghastly cut across his face, to let us know that violence had been
done to his wife, and that that fair house had been burned also. A
little later there came three of our poor serfs howling so that it was
dreadful to hear, and holding in the air their red and still bleeding
stumps. They had been amputated and then liberated, in order that they
might go forth and show all the people what they had to expect if they
opposed or so much as forbore to aid and join the empress-queen. As the
night became dark, we could trace the march of the countess by a line of
fire and smoke. Such were the things which drove the poor people of
England into impiety and blasphemy, making them say that Christ and the
saints had fallen asleep! And these things lasted in the land for
fifteen more years.



V.


When baptized Christian men did steal the children of other Christian
men, yea, and torture and slay them, no marvel was it that the
unconverted Israelites, who had been allowed to come into the land in
great numbers since the Norman conquest, should do deeds of the like
sort. So it was, that in King Stephen's reign the rich Jews of Norwich
did buy a Christian child from its poor parents a little before Easter,
and on the Long Friday, when the church was mourning for the crucifixion
of our Lord, they tortured him after the same manner as our Lord was
tortured, and did nail him on a rood in mockery of our Saviour; and
afterwards buried him. These sacrilegious and cruel Jews thought that
their horrible crime would be concealed, but it was revealed from above,
and the people of Norwich smote the Jews and tortured them as they
merited; and the Lord showed that the Christian child was a holy martyr:
and the monks took him and buried him with all honour and reverence in
Norwich Minster; and he is called Saint William, and through our Lord
wonderful miracles are wrought at his tomb even in our own day, and his
festival is kept with becoming solemnity on the twenty-fifth of the
kalends of March.

Sad and sinful was it for Christian parents to sell their children to
Jew, or even to Gentile. The evil practice had once been common in
England, and in the port of Bristowe children were once sold in great
numbers to be carried into Ireland and elsewhere; but the church had put
down the unnatural traffic, and when King Stephen came to the throne no
freeman would have sold his child. But want and hunger now severed the
natural tie, and starving parents sold their starving children rather
than see them die before their eyes and they unable to help them. Yea,
frantic mothers would give their infants from their dried-up breasts to
any strangers that would promise to nourish them. _Horresco repetens!_ I
do shudder in the telling of it, but so it was. Fair English children
were again sold to traffickers on the western coast, who carried them
into Ireland, and in such numbers that the slave-market of the Irishry
was all over-stocked with them. In the happy and plentiful days which
now be in the land such things are hard to believe; but I, as a novice,
did often see them with mine own eyes, and the causes that led
thereunto. Yea, have I seen the poor people of England roaming by the
wayside and eating garbage which scarcely the fox or the foul birds of
the air would touch, rambling in the woods and fields in search of roots
and berries, ay, grazing on the bank-side like cattle, or that great
sinner Nebuchadnezzar; for flocks and herds were swept away, and
slaughtered, and wasted by the armed bands that ever ranged the country,
or were kept penned up within the castles of the strong men--those
pestilent barons and knights that were now for Matilda and now for
Stephen, and always for plunder and all crime, living and fattening
upon great and bloody thievings--_magna et sanguineolentia latrocinia_:
and the fields could not be cultivated because of the continual passing
and repassing, and burning, and fighting, and slaying of these armed
hosts and bands of robbers, who did worse than the heathen had ever
done; for after a time they spared neither church nor churchyard,
neither a bishop's land nor an abbat's land, and not more the lands of a
priest than the fields of a franklin, but plundered both monks and
clerks! And so it came to pass that nearly every man that could, robbed
another, and carried away his wife or daughter, and did with her what he
list. If two men or three came riding to a town, all the township fled,
concluding them to be robbers. Some of our bishops and learned men
continually did excommunicate them and curse them; but the effect
thereof was nought, for they were one and all accursed, and forsworn,
and abandoned; and grieves me to say that too many bishops and churchmen
were men of violent and unsteady councils and castle-builders
themselves, waging war like the lay lords, and being as void as they of
steadiness and loyalty, and mercy for the people. Verily I myself have
seen prelates clad in armour and mounted on war-horses, even as at the
time of the Conquest, and in that guise directing the siege or the
attack, or drawing lots with the rest for the booty. The strong men
constantly laid gilds on the towns, and called it by a Norman name which
signifyeth _torture_; and when the poor townfolk had no more to give,
then they plundered and burned the towns; so that thou mightest go a
whole day's journey and never behold a man sitting in a town or see a
field that was tilled. To till the ground was as useless as to plough
the sea, for no man could hope to reap that which he sowed. Thus the
earth bare little or no corn; and bread became of a fearful dear price;
and flesh, and cheese, and butter were there none for the poor. Ay,
franklins who had been rich men, and who had kept good house and been
bountiful to the poor and to mother church, were seen begging alms on
the road. Many of the poorest died of hunger on a soil which God had
blessed with fertility, but which sinful men had turned into a
wilderness; and many, going distraught, threw themselves into the
rivers, or hanged themselves in the woods. This was greater woe than
England had witnessed during the long wars of the Norman conquest; and
it was in this abyss of misery that fathers and mothers sold their
children.

On the morning after his going to Caversham Sir Alain de Bohun returned
unto our house with the knights who had gone with him; and before it was
time to begin the service of tertia in the church, he and all the
company, as well foot as horse, marched away to the north-west. They
intended for Oxenford, but did not take the direct road; for they had
learned from scouts that Matilda's party had been strengthened by some
bands from the eastward, and Sir Alain and his friends hoped to get an
increase of strength in the westward before they turned round upon the
countess. But while the partisans of King Stephen were marching to the
westward and gaining great strength on the borders of Wiltshire, the
Countess of Anjou suddenly decamped from Oxenford and began a march for
Winchester, for she had at length conceived suspicion and alarm at the
conduct of the Bishop of Winchester, the king's brother, and our lord
the pope's legate. Intending to pass through Berkshire into Hampshire
and unto Winchester, she took her course by Cumnor, Abingdon, and
Wallingford. The news of her approach was a death-blow to our good
abbat. He had been for some time past declining. He could not away with
the thought of Matilda's evil doings unto our house. Being a man
formerly addicted to hospitality, good company, cheerful conversation,
music, and innocent mirth, he was observed to forsake all this with much
melancholy and pensiveness, and so to droop and pine away; but yet was
it the news of the countess's coming that gave the finishing stroke.
Eheu! and Miserrimus! A better monk or a nobler lord abbat was never
slain by princely violence and the wickedness of excommunicate men. He
was at Sir Alain de Bohun's castle, and I and Philip the lay-brother
were in attendance upon him when our scouts brought the intelligence
that Matilda was at Abingdon with the heads of her columns pointing
along the road towards Reading. The good, kind-hearted man had gone to
Caversham in order to console the Ladie Alfgiva, whom he found, like
Rachel, mourning for her children, yet not mourning like one that would
not be comforted. But comfortless and sad was the face of our lord abbat
when he gave his niece the parting blessing, and warned her to look well
to her castle, and bade the warder to keep close the gates, and not
admit so much as a strange dog within the walls. There had been a slow
fever in his veins ever since the bad visit of the Angevin countess, and
now his limbs shook and his eyes seemed to swim in his head, and he had
much ado to mount the rough upland horse which had been procured for
him in lieu of his gentle-paced palfrey. "Felix, my boy," said he unto
me as we descended the slopes of Caversham towards the river, "ride
close to my bridle-hand, for I am faint, and a heavy sickness is upon my
heart." As he rode across the meads, the breeze, which blew freshly and
coolly from the broad river, did somewhat revive him; but anon he
complained of the rough motion of his steed, and gently lamented the
loss of his ambling grey, which Matilda had stolen from him so foully.
When near to the great gate of the abbey he turned round and looked
towards the river and the Caversham hills that were shining in the
setting sun; and then, as he went under the archway, I saw tears drop
from his eyes, and I heard him mutter to himself, "'Tis a right
beauteous sight, but I shall see it no more." And that night, and before
the middle watches thereof, praying for the community of Reading and all
England besides, and imploring the saints to protect the house at
Caversham and the two sweet children, he turned his face to the wall and
died, to the unspeakable grief of every honest member of the house. He
left this troubled world in such good repute as a virtuous and holy man,
that assuredly he merited beatification, if not the higher glories of
canonization.--_In Domino moritur._

Before going to his bed, our good abbat held council with all the
obedientiarii and sworn monks of the abbey, and I was of the number of
those who thought that this exertion, and his long and anxious speaking,
hastened his demise. His opinions were, that the monks ought to keep
close their gates, and call in their retainers and some of the townfolk
of Reading to help them to defend the house; that Matilda could not
tarry long for a siege or any other object, as Sir Alain de Bohun and
his party would soon retrace their steps; and that the monks, having
made good their house by standing on the defensive, should remain
neutral in the horrible war, taking no step and raising no voice either
for King Stephen or Queen Matilda, until they saw what course was taken
by the pope's legate or a synod of the church. All present at this
council, whether cloister monks or monks holding office, agreed that
this advice was the best that could be given, and protested that they
would follow it; and Hildebrand, the sub-prior, was the loudest of any
in his prayers that St. James and St. John the Evangelist, patrons of
our house, would long preserve the life of our good old abbat, who had
governed the abbey for many years with great wisdom and gentleness; and,
sooth to say, in all that time he had ruled as a fond father rules his
own children, and never did he sadden the heart of an honest man and
faithful servant of the church, or cause a tear to flow until he died.

But, woe the while! the wickedness, the treachery, and malice of the
times, had spread themselves on every side and to every community; and
some members of our once quiet and loving brotherhood there were that
hid Judas hearts under fawning countenances; and before the passing bell
ceased to toll for our abbat's death, these unhappy men took secret
council with one another, and resolved to act in a manner altogether
different from that which had been advised, and that which they had
promised and vowed to follow. And, lo! on the second evening after the
death of our good abbat, when the Angevin woman and her host came again
unto our house, like a whirlwind, with lances in the air, and clouds of
dust rolling before their path, the sub-prior and his fautors, including
as well some of the franklins and retainers, as monks and novices, and
lay brothers of the abbey, did drive away the other party, and lower our
draw-bridge, and throw wide open our great gate, and sing hosannas, and
cry, "Long live the empress-queen! God bless the sweet face of Queen
Matilda, the lawful sovereign of this realm!" And again Matilda came
within the cloisters, and took possession of our house with her lawless
men of war and her gadabout damsels. This time they could not rob, for
we had not the wherewithal, unless they took our gowns, hoods, and
sandals, and our flesh and bones; but they did worse things than steal.
Matilda ordered that on the instant the fathers of the house should
proceed to elect and appoint a new abbat.

"Dread ladie," said Reginald, our prior, now the highest in office,
"This cannot be! It is against the rules of our order; it is against the
canons of holy church; it is against the feelings of humanity; it is
contrary to common decency! Our late lord abbat lies as yet unburied
within our walls. He must be first interred honorably, and as becometh
the dignity of the house; and before we, the fathers of the house, can
open a Chapter, many masses of requiem must be said, and the guidance of
the Spirit must be invoked to help us in our election, and notice must
be sent unto the head of our order, and alms must be given unto the
poor. Albeit, I see not what alms we can give, since our house hath been
so----"

"Rebel monk," cried Matilda, "reproach not thy queen! But I do perceive
that thou art a fautor of Stephen, like the old rebel that hath
departed. I told him that the mitre was falling from his head, and I now
tell thee that it shall never drop upon thine."

"Would that it had pleased the saints to keep it on the head which wore
it so long, and with so much honour," said our bold prior. "I never
aimed at it, or had a wish for it. I would not stoop my body, or stretch
out my hand, to pick it up, if it lay at my feet. I would never wear it
except forced so to do by canonical election, and the free and strong
will of my brothers. Matilda, thou that ransackest houses of religion,
and the very tomb of thy father, and tramplest on the monks that live to
pray for the soul of thy father, I would not accept the mitre and
crozier from thee if thou wert to fall on thy knees and implore me to do
it! I stand here as an humble but faithful servant of this community--as
a lowly member of the great family of St. Benedict; and if I raise my
voice, it is only for the sake of our religion and unchangeable rules.
Thy men-at-arms need not grind their teeth, and point their lances at
me. I fear them not; and in this cause would face torture and death."

"By the splendour!" cried Matilda, "we do but waste time in speech with
such as thou art. I tell thee, thou traitor and malignant, that the
election shall be made forthwith; and that before I quit this house I
will see an honest man put into the abbatial chair, and confirm him
therein by our royal deed. Thou wilt not question, oh monk, that the
election of a Chapter is nought without the assent and confirmation of
the lawful sovereign; and as I have weighty matters in hand, and will
soon be far away from Reading, there might be great delay in obtaining
my confirmation if it were not given now."

At this passage the sub-prior, bowing before Matilda more lowly than he
was ever seen to bow before the effigies of our Ladie in the Ladie's
chapel, said yea and verily, and that this last was a weighty
consideration before which the rule of St. Benedict might, in some
points, give way; and that in times of trouble and discord and anarchy
like these we were living in, the royal abbey of Reading could not with
safety be left for a single day without a head.

This discourse of the sub-prior much chafed our fearless and honest
prior, Reginald, who well knew the man and his ungodly designs; but
before the prior's wrath allowed him to speak, our sacrist brought forth
the book and opened the rules of our order, and read the same with an
audible yet gentle voice, and with the same gentleness did show that
much time must be allowed for mature deliberation; that a Chapter could
not be assembled while the house was full of strangers and armed men,
for that elections must be free and unbiassed by fear or by any other
worldly consideration; and then he did fall to quoting the charters of
the Beauclerc, which direct that on the death of a lord abbat possession
of the monastery, with all its rights and privileges, shall remain in
the prior, and at the disposal of the prior and the monks of the
Chapter, and that none shall in any ways meddle in the election of the
new abbat: and when the sacrist had thus spoken, the cellarer or bursar,
the second father of the convent, who had charge of everything relating
to the food of the monks, and who always knew best, by the eating, who
were present and who absent, did beg it might be observed that three
cloister monks were absent, one disobediently and contumaciously
(meaning hereby Father Anselm, who had absconded with the countess on
her previous visit); but two, to wit, the chamberlain and the almoner,
on the business of the abbey--and without the votes of these two named
fathers no election could be legal or canonical.

"But my good cellarius," said the sub-prior, in a very dulcet and
persuasive tone of voice, "it yet behoves us to think of the dangers of
the times, and to provide for the security of this royal abbey and
God-fearing community, even though we should depart from the rigid
letter of some of our minor rules. Remember, oh cellarius, that these be
days of trouble, and that we be living in the midst of discord and
anarchy, and treachery, and----"

"Treachery, quotha! I wis there was no treachery in this community until
thou didst bring it amongst us," cried our prior; "nor did we know
discord or anarchy in our abbey, or in any part of the manors and
hundreds appertaining unto this house until thou, oh Matilda, didst come
to our gates! Troubles there were around us, and for those troubles the
good men of our house grieved--not without labouring to alleviate them;
but we were a quiet community when thou didst come thundering at our
gates, bringing with thee thy subtle maidens and thy violent men of war!
and hadst thou never come we had still been at peace. If thou wouldst
listen to me now, I would say Get thee gone and cease from troubling us!
But _orgeuil mesprise bon conseil_, pride despiseth good counsel, and
pride and hardness of heart will lead to thy undoing."

Tradition reporteth that the wrath of William the Conqueror was a thing
fearful to behold; that the rage of the Red King was a consuming fire;
and that the slower and stiller but deeper hate of Henry the Beauclerc
was like unto the grim visage of death; yet do I doubt whether the wrath
of all these three preceding kings, if put all together, could be so
dreadful as that which the choleric daughter of the Beauclerc did now
display: and certes the extreme passion of rage in a woman, even when
she hath not a regal and tyrannical power, is fearful to behold. From
the redness of the fire she became pale as ashes; but then she reddened
again as she shouted "Ho! my men-at-arms, gag me that old traitor!"

"Tyrannous woman, that the sins of the land have brought into England,
the truth will endure and be the same though I speak it not. Thou hast
violated the sanctuary--thou hast dishonoured and plundered the very
grave of thy father! See that he rise not from the grave to rebuke
thee."

"Drag the traitor hence; put chains upon him; cast him into the
dungeon," cried the unfaithful wife of the Angevin count; and the
men-at-arms who had laid their rude hands upon the prior to gag him, did
drag the prior out of the Aula Magna. And when he was gone, Matilda
swore oaths too terrible to be repeated, that, seeing she must herself
away on the morrow, she would leave a garrison of her fiercest fighting
men in the abbey, and devastate all the abbey lands that lay on her
march, if our fathers did not forthwith elect and appoint a lord abbat
true to her party and obedient to her will. Most of the officials and
cloister monks held down their heads and were sore afeard. Not so the
sacrist and cellarer, who cried "Charter! Charter!" and repeated that
such election could not be, and who were thereupon dragged forth and put
in duresse with the bold prior. And now the sub-prior, who never doubted
that the choice was to fall upon him, did entreat those who had the
right of voting to submit to the will of God and the commandment of the
queen, and so save the house from ruin: and some he did terrify, and
some cajole, talking apart with them, and telling them that he would be
good lord and indulgent abbat unto them all. At last the timid gave way,
and the monks of delicate conscience would resist no longer; and the
sub-prior, with a smile upon his countenance, said to Matilda, in his
blandest voice, that the community was ready to elect whomsoever her
grace might be pleased to name.

"'Tis prudent and wise in the community," said Matilda; and then she
clapped her hands thrice, as great lords or ladies use to do when they
would summon a menial or call in their fool to make them sport; and as
she clapped her hands she said, "Come in, my Lord Abbat elect!"

And then, from an inner apartment, where he had been listening all the
while, there glided into the great hall, and stood before us, with an
unblushing and complacent countenance, that rule-breaker and
deserter--Father Anselm.

I did think that our sub-prior would have fallen to the ground in a
swoon, for his legs trembled beneath him, and his face became as ashy
with grief and disappointment as that of the countess had lately been
with rage: his eye, fixed immoveably on Father Anselm, became glazed and
dull, like the eye of a dead fish, and instead of a cry of wonderment, I
heard a rattling in his throat. But in a while the sub-prior recovered,
and ventured to say that the Chapter could by no means elect one who had
broken his vow of obedience, and who was thereby under censure and
interdict.

"In absenting myself from the house, I did but obey the command laid on
me by the queen's grace," said Father Anselm.

"Not the sovereign ladie, nay, nor the sovereign lord of the land, can
give such command without the foreknowledge and consent of the Lord
Abbat, or of the prior in the abbat's absence," said the sub-prior,
whose voice was growing bolder; "and dread ladie, I tell thee again,
that the chapter cannot elect this monk--I tell thee that I myself will
protest against such choice, and defeat such election."

"Ha!" cried Matilda, "sayest thou so? Then shalt thou join the other
rebel monks. Men-at-arms, away with him! He but wanted the mitre for his
own ugly head; but my dear mass-priest, thou shalt have it, and none but
thee, for I can rely on thy faith and love, and thou art the handsomest
monk that ever shaved a crown or wore a hood." And as she spake the last
words, she looked so lovingly at him that it was a shame to see.

Well! our false and double-dealing sub-prior was whirled away to the
dungeon, and the remaining officials and cloister monks were commanded
by Matilda to begin the election of Father Anselm and finish it off
hand, the countess vowing by the visage of St. Luke that she would not
take food again until the thing was done.

The terrible threats of the countess and the subtle arguments which
Father Hildebrand, the sub-prior, had made use of, in the belief that he
was to be our abbat, had such weight with the fathers that they kissed
the jewelled hand of Matilda, and went into the chapter-house; and
there, in less time than had been wont to be spent in deliberation on
the slightest business of the house (mailed knights and fierce
men-at-arms standing by the chapter-door the while), they did name and
elect the runagate Anselm to be our lord abbat, the monks of tender
conscience merely holding up their hands in assent, and saying no word,
but uttering in their secret souls that they acted under fear and
violence, and that all this was uncanonical work and foul, and against
the rule of St. Benedict. And then they all came forth from the
chapter-house, singing _Benedictus Dominus_; and the countess and her
painted damsels looked out from the windows of the abbat's house and
laughed, and the armed and ungodly multitude set up a shout, as though
they had gained a great victory. I will not tell how, in Father Anselm's
inauguration in the church, the rules of our order, the canons, the
decretals of councils, and the bulls of the pope, were all transgressed,
or turned into a jest and mockery: these things are not to be forgotten,
but I will not relate them. Instead of a godly bishop, it was the
countess herself that placed the mitre on the head, and the ring on the
finger of Father Anselm, and that gave him the first kiss and
accolade--_Osculum Pacis_, while _Te Deum laudamus_ was being sung in
the choir; but verily was it sung in so faint and plaintive a manner,
that it sounded more like a _Miserere Domine_. But when it was over, the
intrusive abbat was kissed by all the convent, according to rule; and
_Benedicite_ having been said, Father Anselm gave thanks to the monks
for that they had chosen him, the least of them all, to be their lord
and shepherd, not on account of his own merits, but solely by the will
of God. O! sinful and sacrilegious Anselm, better had it been for thee
that thou hadst never been born!

The will of the wicked woman was thus accomplished, but it brought her
neither future worldly success nor present peace. That same night as I,
Felix the Novice, lay in my cell unable to sleep, mourning for the loss
of our good lord abbat, and ruminating on all which had since befallen
us, I heard a cry, a piercing shriek, which rang through our cloisters
and corridors, and through every part of our great abbey. Yea, as I
afterwards learned, it was heard by the prior and by those that were
with him in the prison underground. Cardiff castle did not ring and echo
with so shrill a shriek of agony when the red-hot copper basin was held
over the face of the Beauclerc's unhappy brother Duke Robert to sear his
eyes and destroy his sight, as did now the abbey of Reading, which was
mainly built in expiation of that great crime of Henricus. It was
followed by a loud call for lights--lights in the queen's sleeping
chamber. And lights were carried thither, and Matilda slept no more that
night; and before the dawn of day preparations were made for her
departure. The shriek was from her, the vision was hers. _O beate
virgine!_ save us from ill deeds and an ill conscience, and the dreams
they do bring. The vision of the Beauclerc's daughter, as it afterwards
came to my knowledge, was this:--her father appeared before her, holding
in his right hand his heart, which had not been brought to our abbey
with his body, but which had been deposited in the church of St. Mary at
Rouen, which his mother had founded; and this heart did distil great
gouts of blood, as if in agony for the wrong which had been done our
abbey, and the insults which had been heaped upon his grave; and the
face of the spectrum was menacing and awful, and the visionary voice
full of dread--the words so terrible that the countess would never
repeat them save to her confessor.

In the same watches of the night there were moans and groans in the
prison underground. Nor was it only the upbraiding of an evil conscience
that caused Hildebrand, our sub-prior, so to lament and cry out. For our
bellicose and choleric prior Reginald did beat him, and tweak him by the
nose, reviling him as a Judas Iscariot; and, peradventure, he would have
slain him outright, or have done him some great bodily harm, if the
gentler and more circumspect sacrist and cellarer had not been there to
intercede and intervene. Our prior was the strongest man that then lived
in all these parts. A terrible man in his wrath was our prior! But his
wrath was never kindled except against evil-doers, and the swinkers and
oppressors of the poor. With all others he was as gentle as a lamb, and
he was ever indulgent to error and all minor offences, as I, who lived
long under his rule, can well testify--REQUIEM ÆTERNAM.

I, Felix, having in the bye-gone times had much familiarity and
friendship with our two backsliding novices, Urswick the Whiteheaded
from Pangbourne, and John-à-Blount from Maple-Durham, did much marvel
how it fared with them since their apostacy, and did diligently seek
them out in the great press which came with the countess, to the end
that I might talk gently with them upon their transgressions, and obtain
from them some knowledge of what had become of the little Alice and my
prime friend young Arthur de Bohun, hoping hereby to gain tidings
grateful and cheerful to the ear of the good and bountiful Ladie
Alfgiva. But neither in the evening nor in the morning could I see
Urswick or John among the people of the countess. Yet in the morning,
just before the departure, I gave a bowman my only piece of money, and
learned from him that a part of Matilda's host with sundry wains and
horse-litters had not come with her unto Reading, but had taken a
shorter road for Winchester; and so I did conclude that my two quondam
comrades had gone with that company, and I did comfort myself with
thinking that they had yet so much grace left in them as to have been
averse to come back and witness our exceeding great misery. Yet did the
archer spoil this my comfort by telling me that two black-eyed damsels
had gone with that division, riding like men upon big war-horses. Of
children the man knew nought; nor he nor any man of the meaner sort had
been allowed to look into the wains or to approach the litters. There
might be children, he said, among this moveable and vagrant host, but he
had seen none. Here again did I grieve, for I loved Alice and Arthur
right well, and would have laid down an untold treasure in gold to have
it in my power to speak comfortably unto the Ladie Alfgiva.

At the command of Father Anselm the monks of the house, and we the
novices likewise, did form in processional order, and accompany Matilda
from our gates even unto the Hallowed Brook, that branch of the swift
and clear Kennet which floweth by the township; and halting on the bank
of that holy and peaceful water, which ought not to have heard such
notes, Father Anselm made us chaunt _Hosanna_ and _Jubilate_, and
promised to the Angevin countess a bloody and complete victory over all
her enemies. And hence, upon _famam vulgi_, the trifling and ungrounded
talk of the common people, who, in parts remote from Reading, knew not
the violence which had been used, it was proclaimed to the world that
the abbat and monks of Reading, in this unhappy year eleven hundred and
forty-one, had received the empress-queen with the highest honours, and
had made themselves her servants and beadsmen. _Pater de Coelis, Deus,
miserere nobis!_



VI.


While she was yet at Oxenford, Matilda had rudely summoned the Bishop of
Winchester, legate to the pope and brother to King Stephen, to appear in
her presence and give an account of his actions and intentions. The
bishop had replied that he was getting ready for her; and this was true
enough, for he was manning and victualling the castles which he had
built within his diocese as at Waltham, Farnham, and divers other
places. Upon quitting our house at Reading, Matilda hoped, by a rapid
march, to surprise the bishop within Winchester, and to make him
captive, and to send him loaded with chains to join the king his brother
in Bristowe Castle, in despite of his legatine and episcopal character
and the authority of the holy see. But the lord bishop was ever wary and
well advised, and before the countess could reach Winchester he withdrew
from that most royal city, having first fortified his episcopal
residence therein, and set up his brother's standard on the roof.
Matilda was treacherously admitted into the royal castle at Winchester,
whither she summoned her half-brother the great Earl of Gloucester, and
her uncle David, king of Scots, who had been for some time in England
vainly endeavouring to make her follow mild and wise counsels. The Scots
king and Gloucester, and the Earls of Hereford and Chester, went
straight to Winchester and abided with the queen and her court in the
castle. But the bishop had made his palace as strong as the castle, and
when the party of Matilda laid siege to it, the bishop's garrison, being
resolved not to yield, did many valorous and some very sinful deeds.
They sallied more than once against the people of Matilda, and put them
to the rout; and they hurled combustibles from the palace, and set fire
to the houses of the town that stood nearest to the palace in order to
drive thence the enemy's archers; but by their thus doing, the abbey of
nuns within the town, and the monastery called the Hide without the town
walls were consumed, to their great sin and shame. Here was a crucifix
made of gold and silver and precious stones, the gift of King Canute,
the Dane; and it was seized by the ravenous flames, and was thrown from
the rood-loft to the ground, and was afterwards stripped of its
ornaments by order of the bishop-legate himself, and more than five
hundred marks of silver and thirty marks of gold were found in it, and
given as largesse to the soldiers; for, whether they stood for Stephen
or for Matilda, or whether they did battle with the sanction of the
church or warred against its authority, these fighting men did mainly
look to pay and plunder. And at a later season the abbey of nuns at
Warewell was also burned by William de Ypres, an abandoned man, who
feared neither God nor men, and who did change sides as often as any
one; but at this season he was for King Stephen, and he set fire to the
religious house for that some of Matilda's people had secured themselves
within it.

Having made a ruin all round the episcopal palace, the bishop's
garrison, being confident of succour, waited the event. The legate did
not make them wait long. Being reinforced by Queen Maud and the stout
citizens of London, who to the number of two thousand took the field for
King Stephen, clad in coats of mail, and wearing steel casques on their
heads, like noble men of war (more money, I wis, had they in their
pouches than most of our noble knights or pseudo proceres), he turned
rapidly back upon Winchester, and besieged the besiegers there. By the
first day of the Kalends of August, or nigh upon the festival of Saint
Afra, saint and martyr, the bishop did gird with a close siege the royal
castle of Winchester. Herein were Matilda, the King of Scots, the Earls
of Gloucester, Hereford, and Chester, and many others of note; and of
all these not one would have escaped if it had not been for the respect
paid by the bishop and the party of King Stephen for the festivals of
the church, which verily ought to be held by all parties as Truces of
God, neither party doing anything while such truce lasts. But when the
siege had endured the space of forty and two days, and when those within
the royal castle had eaten up all their victual, the 14th day of
September arrived, which blessed day was the festival of the Holy
Rood, and a sabbath-day besides; and lo! at a very early hour in the
morning of that day--_Festa duplex_, while my lord bishop's host were
hearing mass, or confessing their sins--which alas! were but too
numerous--Matilda mounted a swift horse, and, attended by a strong and
well-mounted escort, crept secretly and quietly out of the castle. Her
half-brother the Earl of Gloucester followed her at a short distance of
time, with a number of knights, English, Angevins and Brabançons, who
had all engaged to keep between the countess and her pursuers, and to
risk their own liberty for the sake of securing hers. They all got a
good way upon the Devizes road before the beleaguerers knew that they
were gone. But so soon as it was known that they had broken the Truce of
God, the bishop's people were to horse, and began a hot pursuit; and at
Stourbridge the Earl of Gloucester and his band of knights were
overtaken, and, after a fierce battle, were for the most part made
prisoners. But while the long fight lasted, the countess, still pressing
on her swift steed, reached Devizes, the work of, and the cause of so
much woe unto, the magnificent castle-building Roger, late bishop of
Sarum. But the strong castle of Devizes was not furnished with victual,
so that the countess could not tarry there; and being in a great fear as
to what might befal her on the road, she put herself upon a feretrum or
death-bier, as if she were dead, and caused herself to be drawn in a
hearse from Devizes unto Gloucester, whereat she arrived in that guise,
not without the wonderment of men and the anger of the saints. Of all
who had formed her strong rearward guard on her flight from Winchester
castle, the Earl of Hereford alone reached Gloucester castle, and he
arrived in a wretched state, being wounded and almost naked. The other
barons and knights who escaped from the fight of Stourbridge threw away
their arms and essayed to escape in the disguise of peasants; but some
of them, betrayed by their foreign speech, were seized by the English
serfs, who bound them with cords and drove them before them with whips
to deliver them up to their enemies. Yea some of the churls did cruelly
maltreat and maim these proud knights from beyond sea, thereby taking
vengeance for the great wrongs and cruelties which by them had been
committed. Nay men of prelatical dignity were not respected, for they
had had no bowels for the people, who now stripped them naked and
scourged them. The King of Scots, Matilda's uncle, got safe back to his
own kingdom; but her half-brother, the most important prisoner that
could be taken, was conveyed to Stephen's queen Maud, who laid him fast
in Rochester castle, but without loading him with chains as Matilda had
done unto Stephen, for Queen Maud was merciful and generous of heart.

Sir Alain de Bohun, who had joined the legate with a good force before
the siege of Winchester Castle was begun, made haste to enter into that
castle when it was abandoned by Matilda and given up by the few soldiers
that remained in it. It was no thirst for blood and no appetite for
plunder that made our good Caversham lord enter into the fortalice; but
it was his fatherly love for his only boy, and his tenderness for the
little Alice, who had grown up as his daughter. He thought that in so
hurried and rough a departure the children whom he had traced to
Winchester Castle must have been left therein; but although he searched
every part of the castle, as well below ground as above, he could not
find the children, or any trace of them, nor could he from the prisoners
taken learn more than that a fine young boy and a beautiful little girl,
together with sundry foreign damsels, had been sent from Winchester a
day or twain before the legate commenced the siege of the castle. Sir
Alain, albeit sorely disappointed, thanked Heaven that the children had
not been separated. A little later in this year's terrible war, when Sir
Alain de Bohun had discomfited a force commanded by Sir Ingelric of
Huntercombe, his once cherished friend, but now his deadliest foe, and
had well nigh taken Sir Ingelric prisoner, a writing was in secret
delivered unto the good lord of Caversham by one who wore pilgrim's
weeds, but who was a wolf in sheep's clothing, and, in verity, a fautor
and spy of the countess. Sir Alain being competently learned, and well
able to read without the assistance of his mass-priest, who was not
there to aid him, did peruse the secret missive, which did tell him in
the name of Matilda that she had his son in sure-keeping, and would
never deliver him up or permit the eye of father or mother to be blessed
with the sight of him until Sir Alain should have abandoned the traitor
Stephen and have joined the rightful queen of England; and that if he
long failed so to do, the boy would be sent beyond sea and immured in an
Angevin castle, where all traces of him would be for ever lost, and
where, doubtlessly, he would soon perish. "But if," said the letter,
"Sir Alain de Bohun will follow the loyal and wise example of his once
friend Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe and come join the queen, her grace
will receive him with honour, and Sir Ingelric will forget that which is
passed, and the boy shall be restored, and the little maiden likewise,
and they shall be contracted in marriage, and the queen will give a rich
dower to Alice out of her own royal domains, and Sir Ingelric and Sir
Alain may live neighbourly and happily together as aforetime."

Sir Alain, who could write as well as read, replied in few words that
his conscience forbade his breaking oaths to King Stephen; that he could
not change sides either through fear or through interest; that he could
not subject his lance to the distaff, or believe that the warlike
baronage of England would ever live quietly under the rule of a woman;
that he must trust to God and his saints for the protection of his only
child, as also for the well-being of his not less than daughter; and
that if it were the will of Heaven that the children, who had been
brought up so lovingly together, should be conjoined at some future day
in holy matrimony (of which in happier days there had been some talk
between him and the little maiden's father), it would not be in the
power of empress or queen to prevent it. "If," said Sir Alain de Bohun
in terminating his epistle, "if, oh Matilda! thou shouldest so far
forget the tender feelings of a woman and mother as to do harm to mine
only son, and thereby bring my wife with sorrow to the grave, God will
so strengthen mine arm in battle as to enable me to take a fearful
vengeance upon thy party and upon some that are nearest to thee. But
thou wilt not do that which thou sayest. So let me have no more secret,
tampering missives. When Thamesis flows backward from Caversham to
Oxenford instead of pursuing its course to the everlasting sea, then,
but not until then, will Sir Alain de Bohun prove false to his oath and
traitor to King Stephen."

_Circa id tempus_, or nigh upon the time that Sir Alain sent this
response unto Matilda, Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe, having composed his
feud with that family and kindred, espoused the rich widow of that Sir
Jocelyn who had burned his wife, the mother of the little Alice, in his
house, and who had been by him slain in the Falbury of Reading, almost
at our gates. The ladie of Sir Jocelyn had acquired an ill-fame during
her widowhood, for she was greedy of other people's goods and avaricious
of her own, faithless unto her friends, merciless to her foes, and to
her vassals and serfs haughty and cruel. It was as much from the
darkness of her deeds as from her foreign and dark complexion, that she
had gotten all through the country the name of The Dark Ladie. But she
was rich, passing rich, and aspiring, and allied with some of our
greatest men, and Sir Ingelric had given up his whole soul to ambition
and gold. This unseemly matrimony was mainly brought about by the
countess, and there were others of the like sort, which all terminated
in misery and woe, and in visible manifestations of God's wrath and
vengeance.

The Dark Ladie, who had done much mischief in the land in her widowed
condition, became still more terrible as the wife of Sir Ingelric, and
that lost knight became all the worse for his union with her. They
crammed their castle at Speen with a most ungodly garrison, and with
prisoners they kept and tortured for ransom.

King Stephen being a close prisoner in the castle of Bristowe, and the
Earl of Gloucester being well guarded in Rochester Castle, each of the
contending parties was, in a manner, without a head, for Stephen's
brother, the bishop-legate, was, after all, but a priest, and the woman
Matilda was nothing without her half-brother. A negociation was
therefore set on foot for a mutual release of prisoners. This was
several times interrupted, and at each interruption the party of King
Stephen threatened to send the Earl of Gloucester out of the land unto
Boulogne, there to be buried in a castle-prison deep under the ground,
and the party of Matilda threatened to send King Stephen over to Ireland
and consign him to the wild Irishry; but at last, on the first of the
kalends of November, it was agreed between them that the great Earl of
Gloucester should be exchanged for King Stephen; and the earl and the
king being both liberated, each betook himself to the head-quarters of
his friends and partisans. Both factions now stood much as they did
previously to the battle of Lincoln; but fearfully had the people of
England suffered in the interim. And yet, after all these sufferings,
neither faction did turn its thoughts _ad regnum tranquillandum_; but
both did prepare for more battles and sieges, sending forth their bands
of foreigners and leaving the cruel castle-holders to seize, torture,
plunder and kill. While the land was thus weeping tears of blood, the
king and his brother, the bishop, made repair unto London, where the
king had his best friends, and where the legate did summon a great
ecclesiastical council to meet at Westminster on the 7th of the kalends
of December, _ad pacem componendam_, for the composing of peace unto the
church and kingdom. When this council met on the appointed day, which
was in the octaves of Saint Andrew, King Stephen addressed the prelates:
he mildly and briefly complained of the wrongs and hardships he had
suffered from his vassals, unto whom he had never denied justice when
asked for it; he said that if it would please the nobles and bishops of
the realm to aid him with men and money, he trusted so to work as to
relieve them from the fear of a shameful submission to the yoke of a
woman, and so to succeed in his enterprises as to put an end to
intestine war and havoc, and establish his throne in peace. When the
king had done speaking, the legate his brother, who only nine months
before had in the synod held at Winchester declared for Matilda, rose
and proclaimed that the pope had ordered him to release and restore his
brother, that Matilda had observed nothing of what she had sworn to him;
that the great barons of England had performed their engagements towards
her, and that she, not knowing how to use her prosperity with
moderation, had violated all her engagements and oaths; that she had
even made attempts against his, the legate's, liberty and life; and that
this freed him from the obligations of the oaths he had taken to the
Countess of Anjou, for he would not longer call her queen. The legate
further said that the judgment of Heaven was visible in the prompt
punishment of her perfidy, and that God himself now restored his brother
the rightful King Stephen to the throne. Albeit there were some among
them who had but lately quitted the party of Matilda, the prelates and
great men at Westminster assembled did agree that all loyal men ought
forthwith to arm for King Stephen, and that the adherents of the
countess should be everywhere stripped of their usurped authority,
whether in church or civil government; that forced elections should be
all annulled, and that sentence of excommunication should go forth
against all the obstinate and irreclaimable partisans of the countess.
And the Bishop of Winchester, as legatus à latere, did stand up with a
new bull of the pope in his right hand, and pronounced the dread
sentence against all such as should disturb the peace in favour of the
Countess of Anjou, or should build new castles in the land, or invade
the rights and privileges of the church, or wrong the poor and
defenceless.

Judge ye if the news of these high proceedings at Westminster did not
bring with them joy and comfort unto the friends of the late Lord Abbot
Edward and all the honest monks of Reading abbey! Besides the sin and
shame of his forced election, we had suffered many things at the hands
of Anselm during the few months that he had held rule over us. In all
that time he had kept the stout-hearted prior Reginald in the prison
underground, and had maliciously devised penances and punishments for
all such members of the community as had pitied the prisoner. He had
alienated and sold some of the abbey lands to furnish out men-at-arms
for his countess. He had half-starved the brotherhood, and no
hospitality had he exercised unto strangers except to some Angevin
marauders; and when he went away to see the countess, which more than
once he did, he left in the abbey some of these outlandish men to keep
us in submission and dread. But now his evil reign was over, for so soon
as they had learned what had passed at Westminster, and had gotten a
rescript from the legate, the elders of our house took counsel together
and resolved to liberate Reginald the prior, and offer him the mitre,
and to throw Father Anselm into the prison instead of the prior. And the
thing was easy to do, for by this time Anselm had given offence to every
cloister monk, novice, and lay-brother, and the warier sort did all
opine that now that King Stephen was liberated, and his enemies
excommunicated by the legate, the cause of the countess must be
altogether desperate. And so with one voice and one will Anselm was
seized and thrown into the underground cell, and the prior was brought
forth, and conducted in triumph to the abbat's house, and there told
that he must be our lord abbat. Most true it was that he had never
wished for this post of eminence, and now prayed the brotherhood to
elect the chamberlain or the sacrist or any experienced cloister-monk
rather than him; but the universal will and voice of the community would
not be gainsayed, and in the course of a few days the prior was
unanimously elected, by those who had the right of voting in the
Chapter, to be our abbat; and then we all carried him into the church in
procession, sang _Te Deum laudamus_, with loud and jubilant voices, rang
the bells until they well nigh cracked, and set him on the abbat's
throne, and did him all the homage that is due unto the mitred abbat of
a royal abbey; and then brought up Father Anselm, and drove him out of
our gates with many kicks behind, for our new lord abbat would not have
him linger and pine in that cold dark cell underground, saying that he
knew to his cost how sad a thing it was, and that to hold any captive
therein would be to make the wholesome air of the house infaust and
insalubrious.

As he was crossing the Holy Brook the townfolk of Reading, who no more
loved Anselm than did we the monks, caught him by the girdle and threw
him into the stream, so that he was nearly drowned at the place where he
had forced us against our conscience to psalmodize for Matilda. He took
these things so much to heart that he got him back into Normandie. It
was said by some that he falsified his history and his very name, and
so gained admission into the abbey of Bec, but from the volatile nature
of the man, I did rather give my belief to another report--to wit, that
he turned himself into a jongleur or trouvere, and went about France
with women and menestrels and other lewd people.

Sundry times he promised, and did in his heart intend, to visit our
house, and force the restitution of the lands which the usurping Anselm
had alienated to ungodly men; yet King Stephen came not to Reading for
many a year, and when he came he could not tarry with us. But the king
sent Sir Alain de Bohun to build up and restore the ruinous castle of
Reading; and when this had been done, and when, by the vassals and serfs
of the abbey, the walls of the township had been strengthened, we
entered upon the enjoyment of such peace and tranquillity as we had not
known during five long years; for the Philistines could not come
suddenly upon us, or easily break through our defences. At Reading,
indeed, we did live as in a little Goshen, while war was raging all
round about; and albeit we could not always defend our outlying manors
and houses from fire and sword, but suffered many and grievous losses in
serfs, cattle, corn, hay, farm-houses, and granges; we yet suffered less
than other communities, and nothing at all in comparison with the abbat
and monks of Abingdon, our neighbours, but not always friends. Driven
from their once quiet seat at Oxenford, or too sorely troubled in their
residence there by the people of the countess, and the constant coming
and going of warlike and plundering bands, many of the professors and
pupils, _doctores et alumni_, did come unto Reading, and under the
shadow of our secure and peaceful walls, pursue those studies which
were destined to give to England a learned priesthood and a universal
increase of civility. Our brotherhood too did attend to that learning
and to the making of many good books which had done honour to the
Benedictines ever since their first foundation and in whatsoever country
their order was established. Our scribes and copyists once more worked
amain in their quiet cells, multiplying with a slow but correct pen the
precious works of antiquity, and the holy books, and the lives of
saints; and need there was for this labour, since other religious houses
had no peace or leisure, and great and fearful was the destruction of
books and codices in the conflagrations and stormings of this long
intestine war. But for the labours of the Benedictines and some few
learned monks of other orders in England, and but for the blessed
saints, who kept alive their love of letters and books, and gave them
heart and strength to work even in a season of horror and despair, the
land would have been plunged back into utter barbarism, and would have
been void of learning and of books as when the great Alfred came to the
throne. In the tranquil easy days in which I now write, for the solace
of my lonely hours and for the preservation of the fading memory of the
times of trouble, and for no fame or vain glory, the sense of these
things hath already become faint in men's minds, and mayhap, in after
ages, when the world shall have made great strides in learning and all
civility, these labours of the Benedictines will be altogether
forgotten, or be treated as nought. Yet was it they that did mainly save
the land from a great retrograde step; and I, Felix, _servus servorum_,
the humblest or least worthy member of the order (who have so often
seen shining in our western turret the midnight lamp which lighted our
copyists and makers of books at their solitary labours, and who have
seen those labours steadily pursued when the country was ringing with
the din of arms, and was blazing with midnight fires, and when no
earthly honour or reward whatsoever seemed to attend their toil), would
fain put upon record some faint notice of that which was done in the
evil times by our house and order: but not unto us the praise, but unto
thee, oh Lord! They, themselves, sought for no applause--_Celata
virtus_--their virtue is all hidden: not so much as the name is
preserved of these good and laborious monks who did so much for learning
and religion.

It was about the time in which Sir Alain de Bohun did re-edify Reading
Castle, that I, Felix, recovering from my early podagra, under the
instruction and guidance of old father Ambrosius (he hath now been many
years at rest in the chancel of our church, and I in gratitude do say a
daily prayer over his grave), did first addict myself to the use of the
pen, beginning with a missal, which our Pisan limner did richly
illuminate; and when this my first essay was finished, I did present it
unto the Ladie Alfgiva in her house at Caversham, and that bountiful and
right noble ladie did acknowledge the gift by sending unto the abbey
five milch cows and a goodly stock of Caen fowls, which our community at
that time much needed, for there had been a murrain among cattle, and
the spoilers had again swept bare our best farms.

Many were the tears shed by me, and many the masses and prayers said by
our house for the said Ladie Alfgiva and the two missing children. Grief
and anxiety for her son and foster daughter did at times almost bow that
noble dame to the earth, and her grief was the greater because of her
frequent loneliness and the hazards her lord was running in the many
sieges and battles of the times; but although her health declined and
her cheek became wan, hope and trust in heaven's goodness did not
forsake her. A pious dame was Ladie Alfgiva, and of a nature high and
noble in all things. Though thinking day and night of her only son and
her only living child, she never once implored Sir Alain to purchase the
boy's release and his restoration to her arms by proving false to his
oath and untrue to the king, and every time that her lord came to his
home she dried her tears and did all that she could to conceal her great
grief so long as he tarried with her. The virtuous woman is a crown unto
her husband, and verily there be wives as well as virgins that merit the
crown the church awards to saints and martyrs. Saint Catherine on the
wheel, or Saint Agatha at the fiery stake, suffered not pangs so acute
as those of this bereaved mother; and their torture was soon over, and
while they suffered they saw from the wheel and stake the heavens
opening to the eye, and they heard heavenly music in the air which made
them deaf to the shouts of the infidel rabble that were slaying them. So
much bliss and so great a foretaste of celestial joy was not vouchsafed
unto the secular Ladie Alfgiva, and could not be expected by her:
nevertheless had she her happy visions and sweet soothing sounds during
her long bereavement. More than once, in her great loneliness, when her
lord was away fighting for King Stephen, as she stood on the battlements
of her castle at eventide, she saw her boy and his playmate Alice
sitting on the flowery bank which slopes down to the river, as they used
often to sit before Sir Ingelric did steal them away; and she heard
their merry little voices on the breeze, and their frolicsome laugh.
Some would say that she but took two stray lambs for the lost children,
and that the sounds she heard were only made by the evening breeze among
the tall growing grass and the leafy coppices; but I, Felix, could never
so interpret it unto her. But constantly did I strive to give her
comfort, and to conceal from her the cruelties that were daily committed
in the land, and to stop the thoughtless indiscreet tongue of her people
who would have filled her ears with horrible tales of murdered children
and babes, for not the massacre of the Innocents in Judea was so fierce
as the slaughter that raged in England.



VII.


When our good lord abbat Edward had been dead well nigh a year, to wit,
in the summer season of eleven hundred and forty-two, King Stephen, from
great fatigue of body and uneasiness of mind, fell sore sick, and lay
for a long while like one that was dying. While this lasted the barons
of his party did many evil deeds, there being no authority strong enough
to check their lawlessness; and, at the same troublous season, the
partisans of Matilda and the foreign mercenaries in her pay did ravage
all the western parts; and more robbers came over from Anjou, Normandie,
and Picardie, asking no pay, but only free quarters, and the right of
plundering the poor English. It was a Benedictine from Rome that had
studied medicine in the school of Salerno, that brought a healing potion
to the king, and snatched him back to life from the jaws of the grave.

So soon as Stephen could mount his war-horse he marched with a great
force unto Oxenford, where the countess had fixed her court; and he
invested that unhappy city with a firm resolution never to move thence
until he had gotten his troublesome rival into his hands. After some
fighting, in which many lives were lost by both parties, Stephen burst
into the town, and having set fire to a large part thereof, he laid
siege unto the castle into which Matilda and her people had retired. Now
the castle of Oxenford, standing in the midst of waters, was very
strong. From St. Michael's mass well nigh unto Christ's mass, _à festo
Michæelis usque ad natali Domini_, did King Stephen persevere in the
siege, telling all men that complained of the hard service that he must
have the castle, and in it the countess, and that then there would be
peace in England.

In the mid siege, our new lord abbat, who had had much correspondence
with the lord abbat of Abingdon, with the prior and monks at Hurley, and
with other Benedictine houses, for the good purpose of saving the
remnant of the Christian people in those parts, and putting an end to
the cruelties and many deadly sins which were daily committed, received
from the Abingdon cell at Cumnor, nigh unto Oxenford, a missive from the
abbat of that community, who entreated him, now that the country was
clear of Matilda's people, to repair unto Cumnor that they might take
council together, and together confer with King Stephen, who seemed at
that moment to be in a heavenly disposition, and to have an exceeding
great desire to tranquillize the land, and to consult with the loyal
abbat of Reading. Now albeit Stephen had, by means of Sir Alain de
Bohun, expressed his great contentment at the expulsion of Father
Anselm, and at all that had been done by our community since the great
meeting of the synod at Westminster, the election of the prior to be our
lord abbat had not yet been formally confirmed by the king; and
therefore Dominus Reginaldus did make haste to accept the invitation of
the abbat of Abingdon, and to get him unto Cumnor. Not for any merit of
mine own, but through the kind favour he was ever pleased to show me, I
was chosen to be of the travelling party. Philip the lay-brother went
likewise; but Philip was a brave and ready man, quick-witted, and
well-trained aforetime in the use of arms, and in the riding of the
great horse. Although the nerve of the Angevin faction was shut up in
Oxenford Castle, my Lord Reginald was too wise a man to put himself on
the road with a weak escort; for he well knew that there were many
barons and knights, calling themselves King Stephen's friends and the
friends of mother church, that would not scruple to plunder an abbat, or
to keep him in their donjons for the sake of a great ransom; and well
nigh every castle between Reading and Oxenford, and between Oxenford and
Bristowe, was a den of thieves, and worse; and Lord Reginald had not
lost his bellicose humour by being promoted to the highest dignity. "By
the head of Saint John the Baptist," said he, as we were about to take
our departure, "not a robber of them all shall lay me in his crucet
house without having a hard fight for it! Before I bear the weight of
their sachenteges, I will make them taste the sharpness of my lance, and
the weight of my mace." And so was it that we went forth from Reading
forty and one strong, and every man of us armed cap-à-pie, and most of
us well mounted. The lord abbat wore a steel cap under his hood, and a
coat of mail and steel hose under his robes; and he had a two-edged
sword at his side and a heavy mace at the pommel of his saddle, and a
good lance resting on stirrup-iron; yea, and I, Felix the novice, wore
ringed armour and a steel casque, and had my sword and lance: Englehard
de Cicomaco, that famed and well-judging knight, who was one of the
retainers of our abbey, doing military service for the abbey lands he
held near Hurley Common, did say that I looked a very proper
man-at-arms, and did bestride my steed like a knight--but these are
vanities, and I by my vows did renounce all vanity. Yet can I but mark
that when we came to Cumnor a great baron asked who was that gallant
well-favored young soldier that rode in the van, near to the lord abbat
of Reading.

On our way we tarried for a night at Berecourt by Pangbourne, where we
had a goodly house among the hills which had wont to be a summer
residence of our abbats. But this goodly house had been robbed and
spoiled, and our vassals and serfs had not yet been enabled to restore
it. We were therefore roughly lodged and not over well fed; but that
which affected me more grievously than this was the sad condition of the
poor people of Pangbourne, who had been so prosperous and happy before
these accursed wars began. Sad were the tales they told, and not the
least sad of them all was this: my quondam friend and brother novice,
Urswick the Whiteheaded, had been in the spring season of this year at
Pangbourne with a great band of English and foreign robbers, ransacking
the place of his birth and maltreating the friends among whom he had
been born and bred; and his aged father had to his face pronounced a
curse upon him; and in a quarrel with some savage men from Anjou
touching the division of spoil, Urswick had been slain on the bank of
Thamesis, before he could recross the river or get out of sight of his
native village: and, since that black morning, or so our serfs did say,
his well-known voice had been heard at midnight, and he had been seen by
the light of the moon, now habited as a monk, and wringing his hands by
the river side where he fell, looking piteously towards the abbey of
Reading, from which he had fled, and now equipped as a man-at-arms, and
galloping on a great black horse, across the country and up the steep
hills and down the precipices--fire flashing from the eyes and nostrils
of the infernal steed, and from the burning heart of the lost novice.

On our march from Pangbourne we shunned the townships and castles as
much as we could, and took especial heed not to get near unto
Wallingford; for the strong castle there was held by Brian Fitzcount,
the most terrible of all Matilda's partisans, and the greatest robber of
them all; and the castle at this very time was known to be full of
unfortunate prisoners whom he kept and daily tortured in order to make
them disclose their supposed hidden treasures, or to pay a heavier
ransom than any they had the means of paying. Christian burghers and
franklins, noble knights who had warred against the heathen in
Palestine, nay churchmen, the highest in the hierarchy, were known to be
in his foul prison, pent up with Jewish traffickers and money-dealers;
the noblest and the purest with the vilest and foulest of the earth: and
the gaolers and torturers of Brian Fitzcount treated the Christians no
whit better than the Israelites that were chained at their sides,
contaminating them with their touch and poisoning the air they breathed.
Night after night, such of the poor townfolk as had contrived to live in
the midst of these horrors without deserting Wallingford, were startled
in their sleep by the cries and shrieks which came from the grim castle;
and when in the morning they adventured to ask what had been toward in
the night watches, the Count's people would tell them jestingly from the
battlements that it was nothing, or that Brian Fitzcount had only been
coining a little more money, or that a Jew had had his teeth drawn, or
that a traitor to the empress-queen had been questioned about his
treason and treasure.

The great prison in this castle of Wallingford was called Brian's Hell,
and it was deserving of the name. But the fiends were abroad, as well as
within those abominable walls--the spirit of the arch-fiend was
everywhere. The village churches and the chapels and hospitia in
solitary places had been destroyed or turned into fortalices; deep
trenches were cut in the churchyards among the consecrated abodes of the
dead; the sweet sounding church bells had been thrown down, and engines
of war had been set up on the church towers. Yea! the resting places
which the church and the piety of the faithful had built and stocked for
the poor and hungry wayfarers in the desert had been plundered and
destroyed--the last holy resting-places had been profaned! The temple of
peace and mercy had been turned into a place of arms!

As we came near to Hanney mead and the river Ock--that pleasant little
river that wells from the ground near Uffington and drops into Thamesis
by Abingdon, and that has the most savoury pike that be fished in these
parts--we came suddenly upon a castellum which we could by no means
avoid; for it had been lately built, and we knew not of it, and it lay
so low among marshes that we saw it not until we were close upon it. It
lay close to the only road that led to the ford across the river. To a
trumpet which sounded a challenge from the walls our party replied with
sound of trumpet, and then at the abbat's commandment proceeded
deliberately onward. As we came nearer, the warder of the castle shouted
"For whom be ye?"

"What if I say for King Stephen?" quoth our lord abbat, rising in his
stirrups and waving his lance over his head.

"Long live King Stephen! an thou wilt," said the warder, "but thou must
pay toll ere thou mayest pass the river."

"The lord abbat of Reading pays not even bridge toll, and here there is
no bridge," said our lord abbat, "and fords be ever free. Go read our
charter: _In terris et aquis, in transitibus pontium_, by land and by
water, and in the passing of bridges, we be free from all tolls or
consuetudinary payments. If thou wilt have toll from me, i'faith, thou
must come forth and take it."

"Thou art but a traitor," cried the warder. "Long live the
empress-queen!" shouted divers armed men who ran to the battlement, and
as they did shout did also bend their cross-bows. But by this time we
had all put spurs to our horses, and we dashed past the ugly castellum
and across the ford without receiving any hurt, albeit a quarrel did hit
the lord abbat's steed near unto the tail and make him caper. Had our
party been less numerous and warlike, doubtless we had been lodged that
night among Brian Fitzcount's prisoners.

The town and abbey of Abingdon we did also avoid, keeping a little to
the westward thereof; for another tyrant and man destroyer had built
himself a great castle in that vicinage, and there had been many feuds
and factions and changing of sides among the monks of Abingdon, while
the best and most trusty of that community were known to be at the house
at Cumnor with their abbat. The roads were deep and miry, the way was
long, the days were short, and the weather of the saddest; but on the
third evening after our departure from Reading we arrived at the Cell of
Cumnor, where our lord abbat was hospitably received by the abbat of
Abingdon, and where we of less note found good lodging and
entertainment, to wit, a blazing wood fire whereat to dry our clothes,
clean straw to sleep upon, and salted meats and manchets to eat, and
good Oxenford ale to drink.

On the morrow, when it wanted but two days of the feast of St. Thomas
the Apostle, King Stephen with a few lords and knights rode from the
beleaguer of Oxenford Castle to Cumnor, and did there confer with the
two abbats and other ecclesiastics. What passed in the council chamber I
cannot tell; but it was seen by all of us that the king wore a cheerful
aspect, and it was told unto us all that the castle was reduced to
extremity, and that, there being no escape thence, the countess must
soon surrender or die of starvation. When the conference was over, and
when the king had been entertained as royally as the abbat of Abingdon
could do it in that place and at that time--and when Stephen had laid
his offering upon the altar in the church, he rode back to the siege,
and our lord abbat of Reading, and all of us who had come with him,
attended the king to Oxenford, intending there to tarry until the
surrender of Matilda.

"With the saints to my aid," said our abbat, "I may prevail upon this
perverse daughter of the Beauclerc to deliver herself quietly up, and
upon King Stephen to be merciful unto her in her captivity. If the
Angevin countess should still persevere in the wickedness of her ways,
and attempt to escape again on a bier instead of putting an end to the
woes of the land by a surrender, forty good swords the more may do
service for the king. My children, my friends, ye will all be vigilant
in this matter, and do duty like good soldiers, if it should be required
of ye!" And as the good lord Reginald went into Oxenford town and saw
the palace which the Beauclerc king had there builded, and saw the
engines of war, and heard the horrid noise of war all about, he heaved a
sigh and said, "_Eheu! quantum mutatur!_ How be all things changed! Here
in the days of Henricus Primus, that peace-loving king, _Rex pacis_,
have I seen nothing but quiet scholars and learned men, and the court of
a king that was an academe and a sanctuary of letters. Wot ye, my boy
Felix, why it was that Henricus did build him a palace here?" And I
having confessed my ignorance as became me, our abbat went on to say,
"Felix, my son, the Beauclerc had collected in his most royal park at
Woodstock many wild beasts from foreign parts, such as lions and bears,
leopards and lynxes, and porcupines, and of these he had a wonderful
great liking, and here at Oxenford learned men were collecting every
year in greater numbers, and in the company of these scholars his grace
did take marvellous delight: in truth it were not easy to say whether he
liked the beasts better than the bookish men, or the bookish men better
than the beasts; but, to have the enjoyment of both, he ofttimes fixed
his residence between them; and therefore was it, my son, that Henricus
Primus raised this royal dwelling, and preferred it above his other
houses." That very night, albeit I knew it not then, there came to King
Stephen the very unfavourable news that the countess's half-brother, the
great Earl of Gloucester, who for some months had been absent, had
returned into England with a great body of Angevin and Norman troops,
and had brought with him Henry Fitz-empress, Matilda's young son and
heir, had stormed and taken the castle of Wareham, had been joined by
many traitorous barons who had but lately given fresh oaths of fidelity
to Stephen, and was marching through the land to relieve his sister in
Oxenford Castle and fall upon her besiegers. Maugre the pains that were
taken to conceal this intelligence, it got abroad, and was by some
double-dealer conveyed to Matilda within the castle.

That night there fell a great fall of snow, and after the snow a sharp
and most sudden frost did set in, which in less than twenty-four hours
did cover the river Isis and the moat of the castle and the circumjacent
marshes with thick ice. The beleaguerers made themselves great fires,
and seemed not to remit in their watchfulness. I, Felix, with Philip the
lay-brother, and Sir Englehard de Cicomaco, did mount guard and stand
wakeful all that bitter night, opposite to a postern gate of the castle.
From time to time some great officer of King Stephen went from watch to
watch, and all round the lines to see that the people did their duty and
slept not. Joy came to my heart, and the deadening cold seemed to quit
my body, when I saw Sir Alain de Bohun come to the place where I stood.

"Watch well to-night, oh Felix," said that brave and always courteous
lord; "watch well to-night, and to-morrow will we have our enemy in our
hands--and dear friends, too. Felix! I have had assurance that my son
and thy little friend is within those walls! To-morrow Matilda must
yield; so watch well that postern."

I kissed Sir Alain's hand, and vowed that not so much as a famished cat
or rat should come forth of that gate, nor did there while my watch
lasted.

On the next day, the vigil of St. Thomas, as soon as it was light, a
white flag was raised in the camp in token of peace or truce, and our
lord abbat, with a goodly train of ecclesiastics, bearing church banners
and elevated crucifixes, came down to the very edge of the castle moat,
and demanded speech of the countess; and Matilda ascended to the
battlements, but rather to rebuke them than to hear them. I, Felix,
being relieved from my night watch, did see that stern woman of many
adventures and indomitable pride stand on the castle top in that cold,
grey, leaden air. Thin was she, and gaunt and pale, like one that had
suffered long fasting and sickness; but she had the same flashing eye
and resolute look as at the time when she dictated her will to our house
at Reading; and if her voice was more hollow, it was not less imperious
and awe-commanding now than it was then. The lord abbat entreated her to
give up the castle, promising, in the name of King Stephen, that no harm
should be done to her or to any that were with her; that she should be
honorably escorted to the coast, and there embarked for Anjou; that
lands and money should be given to her and her adherents with a liberal
hand; and that the king would take all her partisans into his peace, if
they would but be true to treaty, and give up a war which had already
lasted so many years to the reproach of Christendom, and to the utter
undoing of the people of England. The abbat told her that her famishing
state was known, and that hope of escape there was none.

"And who told thee, oh meddling monk, that I ever thought of escape?
Dost not know that the Earl of Gloucester is at hand, to do the thing
which he did aforetime at Lincoln? We have meat and meal yet, and will
abide the earl's coming. I will not throw open these gates, or quit
these walls, until I see the false recreant Stephen in chains at my
feet, praying again for that life which I ought to have rid him of long
since."

As the proud woman said these words, I could see that many of our
bystanders looked at one another with perplexity and alarm, and that
divers even of the churchmen put on very thoughtful countenances, and
did nothing and said nothing to aid our lord abbat, or to rebuke the
countess, who in a great passion of wrath threatened to have him hanged
for a felon under the archway of his own abbey.

Some there were that would have counselled an immediate assault upon the
fortress; for albeit no breach had been made in those formidable walls,
the moat was so frozen that it would bear any weight, and scaling
ladders and other needful materials were not wanting. But the more
cautious sort said that the famishing garrison were very numerous and
very desperate; that it would be better to wait a day or two, and have
the castle upon composition; that the Earl of Gloucester had yet sundry
days of march to perform; and that if he came with ever so great a host,
he would find it no easy work to break through our barricades and
defences, and get into the town. Some of the churchmen, moreover, did
say that no enterprise of war would prosper during the festivals of the
church; and, certes, the major part of King Stephen's soldiers did seem
fully determined to keep this the vigil, and to-morrow the festival of
St. Thomas the Apostle, according to the rubric, whether the king would
have it so or not. Hence there was a very visible relaxation of
vigilance. Refreshed by a short sleep in the day, I did watch again that
night with the beleaguerers; but my post was not where it had been the
night before, and in the morning, before I could be relieved, I learned
that the countess had escaped through the postern which I had watched so
well. Marvellous, truly, was the skill and fortune of the Beauclerc's
daughter! She had escaped from Devizes by putting on the semblance and
trappings of the dead, and now she had escaped from Oxenford like a
sheeted ghost! A little after the midnight hour she had dressed herself
all in white, and had thrown white sheets over Sir Ingelric of
Huntercombe, and three others of her knights; and she and these four
sheeted warriors had stolen out of the castle by the postern gate, and
had crossed the moat on the ice and traversed the ice-bound Isis, and
creeping on their hands and knees over the deep white snow, they had
escaped detection, and got safely through our lines and all our
outposts. On foot, in the deep snow, Matilda with her attendant spectres
travelled to Abingdon; but there they found friends and horses, for the
news of the coming of the Earl of Gloucester had reached the place, and
had been very fatal to men's loyalty unto Stephen. From Abingdon,
without resting there, the countess rode through that cold night to
Wallingford Castle, where Brian Fitzcount received her very joyfully.
But these things came to my knowledge afterwards; and when it was first
heard that the countess was gone, none could tell how she was gone, or
whither she had betaken herself. The notice was not given until more
than seven hours after her departure, when, as the day began to dawn, a
starving man-at-arms cried out from the battlements that the garnison
were ready to throw open the gates unto King Stephen, and so save
themselves from death by hunger, as the queen had fled thence, and was
no longer in any danger. At first the news was not credited by any of
the king's people; but soon the governor of the castle sounded trumpets
for a parley, and held out a flag of truce, and offered to deliver up
the castle upon condition that his life and the lives of his people
should be spared. King Stephen himself came rushing to the post opposite
the castle gate to learn the truth, and settle the conditions of
surrender; and with him came Sir Alain de Bohun, mortified yet rejoiced,
a much perplexed yet a happy man; for though it should be found that the
scourge of England had escaped, he had a confident hope that she could
not have carried away his son with her.

King Stephen spoke aloud to the castellan, and said, "This is but a
fabulous rumour! The countess of Anjou is where she hath been these last
three months! Unsay what hath been said! Tell me that she is within
those walls, and, starving as thou art, I will give thee more than the
conditions thou askest--I will give thee wealth and honours! Only say
that she hath not escaped."

"Earl of Moriton and Boulogne!" shouted the proud castellan, "if the
empress queen were within these walls I would starve and die, but never
open these gates unto thee! Let mine offer to surrender be a proof that
she is gone hence. I swear, by the holy rood, that she hath been gone
ever since midnight."

"Whither hath she gone?" cried Stephen.

"I know not, and would not tell thee if I did know; but 'tis likely she
will soon tell thee where she is."

While the castellan was talking in this guise on the outer walls, many
of our lords and knights, with their men-at-arms, got them to horse,
and, dividing into different parties, went scouring over the country in
all directions, some along the road that leads to Woodstock, some on the
Abingdon road, some down the river towards Newnham, some towards Forest
Hill, and some across the hills towards Islip and Weston-on-Green.

Many slips and falls had they on the frozen ice and slippery roads; yet
was it all but a bootless chace. The party that went along the Abingdon
road, and that came back even faster than they went, as Sir Brian
Fitzcount had advanced a body of horse to the township of Abingdon, had
met on their advance an aged shepherd who had been out in the night in
search of some sheep that had been lost in the snow drifts; and this
aged man had told them that about the midnight hour he had seen gliding
along the road between Oxenford and Abingdon five ghosts or revenants
all in white, which he took to be the uneasy spirits of some who had
perished in our diurnal slaughters; and this was all that was learned by
our too late pursuing companies.

In the first heat of his wrath and bitterness of his disappointment the
king refused to admit the garnison to capitulation, and threatened to
hang them all, together with many of his own watch; but our lord abbat
moderated his wrath. Sir Alain de Bohun, eager for sight of his boy, and
always averse to bloodshed, did recommend mercy and moderation; and so,
about mid-day, terms were granted, and the castle was given up to
Stephen. I was among the first that entered with our good Lord of
Caversham. Sir Alain found many friends among those who had been kept as
prisoners by the Countess; but for some time he could not find his son,
or hear anything concerning him, save that the boy had been seen in the
castle a few days agone. Fearful thoughts agitated the loving father,
and made him turn ghastly pale. Had the Countess in her rough nocturnal
flight carried the boy with her? No, there was a knight who opened the
postern-gate for her, and who swore upon his cross that none had gone
forth but the empress-queen, Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe, and the three
other knights. Had the desperate woman in her fury against one of the
most constant of her enemies taken the life of the dear boy? None would
confess to the atrocious deed, yet none seemed to know what had befallen
Sir Alain's son. In truth they were all ravenous and stupified with
their excess of hunger, and were only eager to get out into the town,
and at the meat and drink which had been mercifully promised them; and
for many a day few of them had taken any note of what was doing within
the castle or in the lodging of Matilda. But the Lord of Caversham and
the best of his own people, and I, Felix, and Philip, the lay-brother,
did rush into the apartment of the Countess and ransack it well; and
while we were in an inner room in the tower that looks upon Isis, we
heard a feeble voice as of one lamenting, and pulling aside some
hangings on the wall, we discovered a small low door under an arch, and
thereupon Sir Alain, all of a tremble, cried out in a voice that went
unto the hearts of all of us, "Who lieth within? Is it thou, mine only
son?" and the faint voice said "My father," and said no more. The
iron-bound door was locked, and the key was gone; but spite of its
thickness and strength, we soon burst the door open with a mighty crash.
I did enter that foul hole in the wall with Sir Alain, and did see and
hear that which passed when he raised his boy from the dirty straw upon
which he had fainted; but I have not the power to narrate that which I
saw and heard. Nay, to speak more soothly, I did see but faintly, for
the light that came into the cell through a narrow loophole was but
scant, and my gushing tears did almost blind me. But we soon carried the
boy out into wholesome air, and put wine to his lips; and he recovered
and knew his father. And when he had eaten and gained strength, he told
his sire, who had never before been seen so wrathful, that he had not
tasted meat or drink for two whole days and nights. Verily it did seem
that the Countess had destined him to die of starvation, and that she
had herself secreted him in that hideous hole in the castle-wall, for
none of her attendants would confess any knowledge of the thing. But Sir
Alain would not give credit to these protestations of ignorance, saying
that some of the Countess's people must have known what was done in her
own apartment, and sorely did he beat with the flat of his sword an old
foreign hag that had been the Countess's chamber-woman, and two Angevins
that had been in constant attendance upon her; and he swore more oaths
than had ever come from his lips, that were it not for the love of the
king his master, and for the king's honour, and for his own religious
respect for compacts and treaties and capitulations of war, he would
hang them all three on the top of that accursed tower.

So soon as I saw that the hope of the house of Caversham was restored to
some of his strength (and he gave me a proof thereof by saluting me and
taking me by the hand as an old friend), I went forth to try if I could
gain some intelligence of the little Alice, who was not born to live
separated from Arthur, and likewise of my whilom friend and companion
John-à-Blount from Maple-Durham, who had fled from our house at Reading
with the novice Urswick, of unhappy memory. I soon learned from some
retainers of Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe that the little maiden, before
the coming of King Stephen to Oxenford, had been bestowed with her
step-mother in the strong castle at Old Speen, which Sir Ingelric had
rebuilded; but the fellows knew not, or pretended not to know, anything
touching our fugitive novice John-à-Blount. Therefore did I put my soul
and body in peril by going into the very midst of the Countess Matilda's
black-eyed damsels; for I thought in the nature of things that he
should be among those young Jezebels who had first led him astray.
Albeit the merciful terms of capitulation were faithfully observed, and
knights of good repute were stationed in the castle to see that no harm
was done to those that had surrendered; the interior of the fortress was
still a scene of unspeakable confusion and alarm. Fierce knights that
had not prayed for many a day, and rough outlandish soldiers who knew
not how to say a credo or an ave, were muttering orisons and telling
their beads, or holding their crucifixes in their hands, crying ever and
anon to the more truculent visaged of the king's people, "We have all
rendered upon paction--We be all in the king's mercy and honour--Touch
not our lives or limbs, or eyes, but give us to eat, or we perish!"

The women of the countess, whose eyes were much less bright and
dangerous than when I last saw them in their pride and insolency at our
abbey, lay all huddled and crouching together in a corner of the
castle-yard, where divers clerks of Oxenford, with the marshal of King
Stephen's camp, were making lists of the names and qualities of the
prisoners. Many men, as well English as foreign, were standing near
these affrighted and more than half-famished women; and a few young
knights and esquires seemed to be speaking words of comfort to divers of
them; but among these men I could not see John-à-Blount, from
Maple-Durham, nor any young man that resembled him; and when I asked of
many, they all told me that they knew nothing of the said John: which
was grievous unto my soul, for I had hoped to find him there, and to
reclaim him, and thereby save him from the fate of the unhappy Urswick.
As I was about to turn from that company of women, I was brought to a
pause by a pair of eyes, swimming in tears, that did bind me to the
spot, like one spell-bound. They were the large black eyes of that
damsel in the short green kirtle, and of the incomparably small feet and
ankles that had come salting and dancing up to me in the garden of our
house at Reading; but alack, she danced not now, and seemed scarcely
able to stand, and instead of the laughingest she had the saddest face;
and she was all thin and haggard as the poorest of the wandering
houseless beggars we had met on our march from Reading to Oxenford. I
had the remnant of a manchet in the sleeve of my monastic gown, and
though many eyes were upon me, and others might be as hungry as she was,
I took forth the blessed piece of bread, and thrust it into her skinny
hands, and then hurried away to Sir Alain de Bohun, who did forthwith
order some meat and drink to be given to those poor outlandish
starvelings.

On the day next after the surrender of the castle, the foreign
women--praise and thanks to the Lord for that same!--were all sent away
under a strong and reliable escort for the city of London, there to be
kept by Stephen's good queen Maud until they should be ransomed or
exchanged for other prisoners. And in the current of that same day we
did hear but too surely what the escaped countess was a-doing. She had
gone forth from Wallingford Castle with Brian Fitzcount and a great host
of foreign mercenaries, and was marching to the westward to meet the
Earl of Gloucester, who was not so near to Oxenford as had been
reported, and she was again marking her evil path with blood and
flames. King Stephen resolved to follow her and bring the great earl to
battle; but the countess and her half-brother having met in Wiltshire,
retreated rapidly to the west, where lay their great strength in
partisans and castles, and they threw themselves into the castle of
Bristowe, which was their strongest hold all through the war. The king
would have turned back to lay siege to Wallingford Castle, in the
absence of its terrible lord the merciless Brian Fitzcount; but a plot
broke out in the vicinage of London, and sundry barons raised the banner
of Matilda in Essex, thereby obliging Stephen to march with all speed to
the eastward. So Wallingford Castle remained in the hands of the
robbers, to be a curse to the country and a den of torture: but we, the
monks of Reading, with little aid but what the saints sent us, and with
no loss of life to our party, did prevail over another band of thieves
and destroy their den, to the inestimable relief and comfort of that
country side.



VIII.


The day before King Stephen marched from Oxenford to pursue the
countess, our lord abbat, who grieved to see that his brother of
Abingdon was influenced by the changes of the times and by the rumour of
the great force which the Earl of Gloucester had brought with him, took
his departure for his own abbey, and with us went Sir Alain de Bohun,
who needs must restore his beloved son to his ladie and home ere he
tried again the fortune of war or entered upon any new emprise. The lord
of Caversham took with him a score of retainers, so that we were now
sixty-two well-armed men. The young Lord Arthur sometimes rode before
his father, and sometimes a manèged horse by himself, for the boy was
now in his tenth year, and had been taught by times to do that which
befits a knight. A proud and happy man I wis was Sir Alain as he looked
upon his only son and thought of the great joy their return would give
to the Ladie Alfgiva. Much also did I converse with the young Lord
Arthur on the road, and he did tell me how much he had grieved when Sir
Ingelric had carried away from him his little playmate who had travelled
with him so many days in horse litters, and who had abided with him in
so many castles that he could not tell the names of half of them. A
shrewd brave boy was the young Lord Arthur, and for his age marvellously
advanced in letters; and I, Felix, had at times given him instruction
before that Sir Ingelric did steal him away from his home so
feloniously. Again, though through no fear, since our party was so
strong and warlike, we shunned the townships and castles that lay near
our road. Also did we choose another ford whereby to cross the river Ock
without passing near the walls of that uncivil castellum that lay in the
swamps; for we were all anxious to be home and had no tools for trying a
siege; nay, had we not among us so much as a single scaling ladder. Yet
when we came to our poor house at Pangbourne we heard that which did put
us in heart to undertake the storming of a castle. It was dark night
when we arrived there, and the day had been a day of heavy snow with
rain, and I was sitting with a few others by the kitchen fire in the
chimney nook drying myself, when a little boy of the village came in and
tugged me by the sleeve, and said that there was one without who would
speak with me. Such message liked me not, nor did the time of night, for
I thought of Urswick and his hell-horse; nevertheless I soon followed
the boy to the house porch, and thereby I found a lonely man, sitting on
a cold wet stone, with his face muffled, and his body bent to the earth
like one sore afflicted. Started I not back with the thought that the
form that I saw was but the spectrum of Urswick! It spake not, nor did
it move. I turned me round to grasp my conductor by the arm, but the boy
was gone; and I stood alone with that lone and dolorous figure which I
could but faintly see, for there was no moon, and the stars were
overcast with black clouds, and verily my fears or my exceeding great
awe did not aid my eyesight. But at last the figure rose from the cold
stone and said, "Is it thou, oh Felix? Is it thou, my once friend?"

The voice was that of John-à-Blount from Maple-Durham; and before I
could say "It is even I," that erring novice clasped me by the hand and
peered into my face, and turned me towards the faint uncertain light,
and then fell upon my neck, and wept aloud. I led him farther from the
house-door, and when he grew calmer I communed with him where none might
overhear his words; but I took not this step until he vowed to me that
his soul was penitent, and that he had come unto Pangbourne only to do a
good deed. He confessed unto me that the love of woman had been his
undoing, that one of the countess's foreign damsels had practised upon
him and bewitched him, and that he had done many deadly sins on her
account in battles and nightly surprisals, and the burning and storming
of towns. But after a season the young cockatrice had scorned his love,
and had told him that she must mate with a great lord, and not with a
runagate shaveling, who had neither house nor lands: and at her own
prayer her mistress, the Countess Matilda, had sent poor John-à-Blount
away to serve with Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe, and Sir Ingelric had for
a long time left him in his castle with a gang of robbers and
cut-throats.

"Oh, John-à-Blount!" said I, "these foreign women be worse than painted
sepulchres. I doubt not that Urswick was entreated in like manner by his
leman."

"He was, and worse," quoth John; "and it did drive him into a boiling
madness, and into the doing of the most savage deeds."

"Urswick had ever a wild heart and volage thoughts; Urswick perished in
his guilt," said I: "but thou are more fortunate in that thou livest to
repent."

"I know his fate," said John, "and may the saints now spare us the sight
of him on his infernal steed! By all the saints that preside over our
house at Reading, I was penitent before; but the tale of these nightly
visitings of my comrade Urswick did complete my guerison, and make me
resolve to do that which I have now come hither to propose."

"What good and expiatory deed is that?"

"The delivering up of Sir Ingelric's detestable castle," replied
John-à-Blount.

"That were a good deed if thou couldest do it."

"I can," said John, "if a few will march thitherward with me; for there
be those within that will help me, captives that I can release from
their chains, and unwilling vassals of Sir Ingelric. Dost comprehend me,
Felix?"

I then asked whether the little Alice were safe within the castle, and
whether Sir Ingelric's second wife were a mate worthy of such a husband,
for fame reported her to be so, and it was hard to think well of one who
had married the slayer of the husband of her youth. John gave me
assurance that Alice was there, and harshly used by her step-mother, and
that the said dame was well nigh as merciless and rapacious as her
present lord, keeping prisoners in the donjon and putting them to the
torture for their money.

"But we lose time," said John; "the deed in hand must be done to-night,
or some within the hellish cavern will be racked to-morrow morning. So
lead me to the prior--to the new lord abbat I would say--that I may
propound my plan unto him or unto Sir Alain de Bohun. When the deed
shall be done they will throw me into the abbey prison; but I am past
caring for that, and have not long to live."

I told him that our new abbat, the Lord Reginald, was the most indulgent
of men, and Sir Alain the most generous, but he would not be comforted.
While walking back to the porch of the Pangbourne house I did inquire of
him how he so well knew about our coming and our party; and to this he
made answer that Sir Ingelric's castellan, who had gotten by his
stealthy movements and savage assaults the name of the Wolf, did
constantly keep in his pay some wretched serfs who acted as scouts and
spies, and ofttimes lured heedless men to their destruction. "Ye were
watched," said John, "at your going unto Oxenford, and would have been
attacked if you had not been so well provided; and ye have been tracked
and watched on the return, and I, upon the report of those espials, and
upon a feigned show of great zeal, have been sent hither by Sir
Ingelric's fit mate to see whether an attack might not be made during
the darkness of the night upon my lord abbat's horses and baggage."

"May the foul fiend reward that same unwomanly ladie for the impious
intention," said I.

"He will," quoth John, "if the good lords will but take counsel of so
lowly and miserable a man as I am."

When we came near unto the porch, the heart of my sad companion failed
him, and he said that he could not face the lord abbat so suddenly, and
that it were better I went in to prepare the way for him. I had no
suspicion of his penitence or his present good faith, but my short
experience in war had made me wary, and I called to some men-at-arms
that were tending their horses in the stable, and bade them look to the
stranger. My lord abbat and Sir Alain were already at their supper, and
savoury was the smell of the fried fish of Thamesis and the roasted
meats that were spread on the table before them; but before he heard
half of that which I had to say, the abbat thrust aside his platter and
gave thanks to Heaven as for the return of a prodigal son, and thanked
the patron saints of our abbey for so good a prospect of destroying a
nest of robbers; and Sir Alain gave thanks for the same, and for so fair
a hope of recovering the gentle little Alice; and the young Lord Arthur,
who was eating at a side table placed near the fire, started to his feet
and said that he would go with sword and pike to break open the wicked
castle and recover his playmate; and they all three bade me hasten to
the porch and bring in John-à-Blount. Many a hardened sinner would have
been brought to repentance if he could but have seen in how kindly a
manner the lord abbat received the penitent stray sheep of his flock. He
raised John from the earth, he told him that his sins would be forgiven
him, he bade him be of good cheer, and to put some little present cheer
into the haggard trembling young man he gave him a cup of wine in his
own silver cup. Although he had been straitened by no siege and had
undergone no compulsory fast, the face of that black-eyed damsel that
wore a green kirtle was not more changed than that of John-à-Blount: and
I almost shuddered as I looked upon it in the bright light of that room.
The abbat and Sir Alain listened with eager attention to the unhappy
youth; and when they had heard him out his plan was speedily agreed. He
would hasten back to the foul den he had left, and tell Sir Ingelric's
people that the weary travellers were buried in sleep, and that there
was the fittest opportunity in the world for seizing their cattle and
baggage, and bringing off a rich booty. The entire garrison of the
castle was barely two-score men. One half of these would sally to make
the booty, and these might all be seized on their march by an ambuscade
of my lord abbat's followers. Of those that would remain within the
castle sundry were ready to revolt, and John-à-Blount would release the
many prisoners, and slay the castellan, that ravenous wolf, in the den.

"My son," said the abbat, as John was taking his hasty departure, "do
what thou wilt with the Wolf, but spare Sir Ingelric's wife."

"And," said Sir Alain, "as thou valuest thine own life, or the future
health of thy repentant soul, have a care of the little Alice in the
affray."

John laid his right hand upon his breast, and bowed lowly. Following him
almost to the door of the room our kind-hearted lord abbat said, "Still
there is one thought that doth spoil my present hope and joy: thou
mayest fail in thine enterprise, and if thou art but suspected thou wilt
be murthered by that bloody Wolf. Bethink thee, my son! Peradventure it
may be better that thou stayest in safety where thou art, and that we
leave this vile castellum to be reduced by regular siege at some future
day."

"My lord and father," said John, dropping on his knee, and kissing the
abbat's hand, "should I die in the attempt to perform a good deed, thou
wilt have prayers and masses said for me. But I shall not die to-night,
and I see no chance of miscarriage. I could wish that for me the danger
were greater, that it might the better stand as an atonement for my many
transgressions."

"Go then, my son, and God speed thee! And then will we ourselves shrieve
thee, and absolve thee after some due penitence, and make thee sound in
conscience, and heart-whole and happy again."

John-à-Blount kissed the abbat's hand once more, and prayed the saints
to bless him: but as he rushed out at the door we saw big tears in his
eyes, and heard him mutter that he should never be happy again in this
world.

"That poor boy," quoth Sir Alain, "hath not yet forgotten the young
syren that led him astray."

"'Tis witchcraft and sortilege, _maleficium et sortilegium_," said the
abbat. "But by the help of our prayers and relics we will disenchant
him."

Sir Alain shook his head, but said no word.

Forty men of us put on harness and followed in the track of
John-à-Blount when he had been gone some short time. Sir Alain would
have willed the lord abbat to tarry in the house with Arthur, but the
abbat would on no account be left out of the adventure, saying, that his
presence and exhortations might spare unnecessary bloodshed; yet while
he was saying the words he was feeling the point of his lance, and he
took with him his heavy battle mace. We all journeyed on foot, for war
horses would be but an incumbrance at Sir Ingelric's castle, and by
neighing or making other noise they might spoil our ambuscade on the
road. That road was a very rough one, and the night continued rather
dark; hence divers of us stumbled, and fell more than once: nevertheless
we kept up a good pace, and in little more than an hour came to a wooded
hollow, about midway between Pangbourne and Speen, through which the
robbers must pass on the way from their castle to our manor-house. The
trees were all leafless and bare; but the trunks of the ancient oaks
were thick, and so every man of us got him behind an oak, twenty on this
side the narrow road and twenty on that, and there we all stood
concealed from view, and silent as grave stones. I, Felix, had a bad
catarrh, yet did I neither cough nor sneeze all the while I was there,
for I had prayed unto the saint that hath controul over coughs and
colds. For a space that seemed to us very long we heard no sound, and in
that wooded hollow and night-darkness we could see but a very little
way. I began to think that the good strategem had miscarried, and to
moan inwardly for John-à-Blount as a murthered man. But at last we
heard, not voices, for the ungodly Philistines were as silent as we, but
the heavy tread of footsteps on the broad heath, just above the hollow;
and these sounds rapidly came nearer; and then, by peeping round the
bole of my covering tree, I did faintly discern a score or more of dark
figures descending in loose and careless array into the hollow. As we
had been bidden, we all stood stock still until the robbers were at the
bottom of the hollow, and between us; but so soon as they were there as
in a trap, Sir Alain shouted "Now for the onslaught in the name of King
Stephen!" and our abbat shouted "Down, traitors, down!" and the valorous
Lord of Caversham and our not less valorous lord abbat, and every man of
us, from this side of the pathway and from that, sprung from behind the
trees and hemmed in the evil-doers; and in less time than I can say it
the heavy mace of our lord abbat laid two of the robbers on the earth
with bleeding pates, and Sir Alain's lance went through the body of one
that seemed the leader, and pinned him to the very oak behind which I
had been standing. The rest, after making vain effort to retreat the way
they had come, laid down their arms and cried piteously for quarter and
for that mercy which they had never shown to other men. There were a
score of them besides the three that had gotten their death-warrants. We
bound the score with the cords and thongs we had brought with us, and
putting them in motion with the sharp heads of our lances, we proceeded
rapidly to the foul donjon at Speen, our lord abbat saying that thus far
was well, and some of our captives already beginning to say to Sir Alain
that they would change banners and fight for King Stephen if his
lordship would spare their lives and accept their services. The dark
wintry clouds rolled away, and the stars shone out brightly as if in
approbation of our enterprise, and in no long while we did see that
equable little river the Lambourne, which neither overflows in winter
nor shrinks in summer, but is at all seasons the same (its pike be pale
in colour, and in taste not to compare with those of Ock), gliding to
join our own swift, sweet Kennet at the township of Shaw; and we saw
still clearer the swift Kennet gliding before us, on its way from Speen
to our abbey walls at Reading and the broad Thamesis. And then, as we
hurried on our way, and as the stars shone out with still more
brightness, we discovered broken columns and fragments of walls,
standing up from the ground like spectres on a heath; and anon we heard
the owls hooting to one another among these ancient ruins. And ancient
in sooth they were, for the Romans in the days of the Cæsars had built
them a city at Spinæ which men do now call Speen, and these dark and
fantastically shaped fragments and ruins were all that remained of it;
for the men of Newbury, who have ever had a great envy to other
townships and a great liking for the property of other men, had levelled
most of the Roman walls and had carried away the stones and bricks
thereof to enlarge their own town; and people of other townships had
helped themselves at Spinæ as though it had been a common quarry. Such
fate befalls towns in decay; but such will never befall our glorious
abbey at Reading, for the saints and angels have custody thereof, even
as we have meetly expressed, in large letters graven upon the left door
of our gate-house under the abbey arms, ANGELI TUI CUSTODIANT MUROS
EIUS. But I wis it was not on this night that I did think of the
renowned Romans, or make these sanctifying reflections. True, I walked
in the paths of pensive thought; but it was only to think of
John-à-Blount and of the emprise we had in hand. And when we reached the
lonely mill on the Kennet, a few bow-shots below Sir Ingelric's castle
at Speen, we hid ourselves behind the mill and blew three blasts upon a
trumpet, for this was the only signal which John-à-Blount had asked for.
"And now," said our lord abbat, telling his beads, "may the saints
befriend the brave boy from Maple-Durham. The token of his success will
be three corresponding blasts. Let us be motionless and silent until we
hear them." For a space the sound of our own brazen instrument floated
along the waters, and was given back in echoes by the sleeping hills;
and then for a longer space, during which an expeditious mass-priest
might have said a camp-mass, nought was heard but the plash and ripple
of the ever sweet and clear Kennet, and the faint moaning of some trees
whose bare branches were shaken by the fresh gale which had blown away
the clouds, and brought forth the lustrous and approving stars. But
then, I wis, there came from the evil den the sounds of a mighty crash
and clangour of arms that made us all start, and then sounds of woe and
lamentation, shrieks and yells like those of the damned, which made us
all shudder and cross ourselves. And, anon, upon these hellish sounds
came three blasts from a trumpet, loud and shrill; and at the hearing
thereof our lord abbat clasped his hands and said joyously, "The bold
youth is safe, the deed is done; so now to the castle, which is ours!"

And we all ran from behind the mill to the foul den, driving our
captives with us at the spear point as before. Short was the distance,
and great our speed; yet before we reached the castle moat the
draw-bridge was down, the gate was open, and under the archway, in the
midst of a company of men who had still chains and fetters on their
legs, but who held flaming torches in their hands, stood John-à-Blount
with the gashful, blood-dripping head of the Wolf fixed on his lance.
John had released the army of prisoners at the opportune moment, and
being joined by some of Sir Ingelric's people, he had made himself
master of the castle without need of any aid from us: but the Wolf and
some of his evil band who could expect no quarter had made a desperate
resistance, and had been slain to a man. The warder who had raised the
portcullis and the few others who had aided in the emprise were now
shouting for King Stephen, and Sir Alain de Bohun and the lord abbat of
Reading, and the terrified captives we had with us, joined in these
cries with such voice as their fears and astonishment allowed them to
raise. As we all marched in at the gate the abbat said, "John, my son, I
fear thou hast been somewhat too hasty and violent! I would have put
some questions to that wild beast before sending him hence; yet is the
Wolf better dead than alive! But, my son, I trust thou hast not allowed
harm to be done unto the dark ladie of this most dark and bloody lair?"

"The evil woman is safe in her bower; I did lock her up before I
unlocked the prisoners whose hearts were steeled against her," said
John.

"And where," asked Sir Alain, "is the gentle flower that was not made to
bloom in this horrent place?"

"There," quoth John, pointing to one of the female captives who came
running across the quadrangle of the castle with the little Alice in her
arms. "She is there, the true and worthy child of her gentle and
martyred mother, and may she long live to make compensation to the world
for the many cruelties and crimes of her unnatural father;" and as he
spake John threw far from him into a dark corner the bleeding head of
the Wolf, lest Alice should be scared by the sight thereof.

The dear child was presently in the arms of the good Lord of Caversham;
and though she had not seen his face for eighteen long months, and
though she had not quite recovered from her great terror on being
startled from her sleep by the clashing of arms and those shrieks and
yells, she soon knew Sir Alain, and clung round his neck with many a
fond kiss, and with many a fond inquiry after her own dear mother the
Ladie Alfgiva and her companion and champion Arthur, whom she had left
in sad case at Oxenford.

The first thing we did within the castle was to secure our prisoners
with the chains which Sir Ingelric's unhappy captives had been wearing,
and to hurl them into that horrible and feculent prison where so many
good and peaceful men had long been rotting. Next we gave food to some
of the released captives who had been so tortured by fast that their
bones were cutting through their skin. And then we did all assemble in
the great hall with a great glare of torches and tapers, and the lord
abbat and Sir Alain being seated on the dais at the head of the hall in
the massy chairs in which Sir Ingelric and his dame had been wont to sit
in the days of their pride and evil power, that dark ladie was summoned
from her uneasy bower to that august presence. A dark dame was she, and
fierce as an untamed she-wolf as she came into the hall, screaming that
the empress-queen and her husband Sir Ingelric would know how to avenge
the traitorous deeds of this night, and the foul surprisal of a loyal
castle. These her words, and others that were more vituperative, chafed
our good lord abbat, and with a solemn and severe countenance he said
unto her, "Peace, woman! peace! these be not words to be heard by the
company here assembled, who be all true men and faithful lieges to King
Stephen. Most fit mate for a bloodthirsty and ungodly lord who hath
changed his party as men change their coats, who hath never had in view
ought else than his own interest, and who for these eighteen months last
past hath stopped at no crime whereby he might enrich himself; dost call
it loyalty to the queen or countess to turn thy castle into a den of
robbers and torturers, to waste the country round about it until it
looks like unto a Golgotha,--to seize, rob, imprison, and torment all
manner of men, as well the secret partisans of Matilda as the open
partisans of King Stephen, as well the poor and lowly as the rich and
great, and as well the quiet franklins and toiling serfs, who be of no
party and who only seek to live in peace, as the knights and trained men
of war that go forth to battle? Call ye this loyalty and faithfulness to
a party? Honourable men, alas! may have honestly differed in these
unhappy disputes, but thy husband hath been but a robber, and it is for
that there be so many like him in the land that these wars have lasted
so long. Dost call the seizing of priests and monks upon the highway
loyalty? Dost call it Christian duty and reverence to mother church to
kidnap the servants of the altar and put them to the rack as thy people
have done? Oh, woman, the holy water that baptised thee was thrown away!
But thou shalt away hence to some sure keeping in a lonely cell, where
thou mayest have time for repentance and prayer. We did only send for
thee that we might remind thee of thy many sins, and get from thee the
keys of thy ill-acquired treasures, and some list or knowledge of those
who have been robbed by thee, to the end that we may make restitution."

No ways humbled or abashed, the dark ladie of the castle called my lord
abbat robber and housebreaker, and said that she had only levied tolls
and baronial droits; that Sir Ingelric had taken away most of the money
to give it to the misused and distressed queen; and that it was but a
small matter that which remained in the house. And then, with great
pride and insolency, she threw down upon the table one heavy key, saying
that that was the key to the only treasure.

"The foul dame lies in her throat," cried one of her own people, "she
hath treasure in other places; she hath gold, and silver, and jewels,
aye, and church-plate stolen from the very altar, hid in most secret
hiding-places; and, my lords, ye will not get to the full knowledge
thereof unless ye do put her in her own crucet-house!"

Albeit, they were fully resolved to come at this great wealth, Sir Alain
de Bohun shuddered at the mention of that terrible engine of torture,
and the lord abbat said that such things were accursed by the church,
and that verily he would never crucet a woman.

"Then will ye never get at the silver and gold!" said the man who had
before spoken.

But at this juncture the repentant old warder of the castle stood up,
and said that his daughter, who had been handmaiden to Sir Ingelric's
wife, knew the whole secret, having watched her mistress with feminine
curiosity, and could so point out every recess and hiding-place; and at
the hearing of these words the dark woman uttered a shriek, and fell to
the ground as if her heart had been cleft in twain; so fearfully had she
and her lord sold themselves to Lucifer, and made a god of money. The
sight of blood and of the foe standing triumphant on her own hearth had
not made her quail, nor had the mention of the crucet-house caused her
to tremble; but the thought of losing all her accursed spoil had gone
through her like a knife. We could not leave her where she was, lest
some of her lately released captives should lay violent hands upon her;
so we carried her to a turret-chamber, and having bound her so that she
should not lay violent hands upon herself in a maniacal mood, and having
placed one of her women to watch by her, we made fast that door and went
in search of the treasure, being guided by the warden and his daughter.
It was, in truth, but a small matter that which we found under the lock
to which the dark ladie had given us the key; but, in the hiding-places,
within the thick walls, and under the stone floors of the dark ladie's
bower (places so invisible and recondite that of ourselves we never
could have found them), were piled silver and gold, and wrought-plate
and jewels, that seemed to me enough to pay a king's ransom, and that
made mine eyes twinkle as I looked upon them by that light from many
torches. When he had gathered it all together in a mighty great heap, in
the middle of the room, our abbat made fast that door also, and hung a
crucifix to the door-post, and threatened with excommunication all such
as should approach the door until ordered by him so to do. "Souls have
been lost," said he, "in the getting together of that heap, and his soul
will assuredly perish that touches it for his own use. It is all the
property of the church, or the property of the poor, or the heavy ransom
of tortured victims. The malison of heaven will go along with every part
of it that is not restored to its rightful owners. So now, my children
all, follow me down these flinty stairs to refresh yourselves with meat
and drink; for the day is dawning in the east, and we shall have hard
work at daylight. This infamous donjon must down: not a stone must be
left upon another."

"I did help to build it," said Sir Alain, "but will now be more happy in
destroying it! Not a nook must be left to be repaired of my
false-hearted ravenous friend, or of any other wolf of his choosing."

"Humanity will bless the destruction! Tears of joy will be shed for
leagues round about," said one of the released captives; "and when all
dens of the like sort be a-level with the earth, England will be England
again."

It was a marvellous and a provoking thing to see how well the foul
robbers had been victualled and provided; gaunt hunger ranged all round
them, and filled the fertile but untilled valleys with its cries and
screams; but their buttery was crammed with the best of meat, their
stalls were filled with beeves and sheep, their cellars were full of
ale, mead, and wine, their granaries with corn, their stables with the
best of horses. Rarely have I seen so sumptuous a feast as that to which
we did sit down in the castle hall, with our sharp winter-morning
appetites.

By the time this goodly collation was finished it was broad daylight.
"So now," said the lord abbat, "will we think of carrying out these
goods and chattels, and then of destroying tougher crusts than those of
venison-pasties. Bring me forth the rascaille-people from the
prison-house, that they may lend us their shoulders and aid us in
destroying their own foul nest."

Being boyishly and unwisely curious to see with mine own eyes the
abominable pit of which I had heard so much, I went with those that
repaired to the house of captivity and torture, and one who had been
released over-night did follow me thither to explain its horrible
mysteries, as one who had full experience of them all. Misericordia Dei,
into what a bolge of hell did my staggering feet carry me! And what an
atmosphere was that which made my head turn giddy and my stomach sick!
Deep in the bowels of the earth, within the foundations of the keep of
the castellum, was a great chamber paved with the sharpest flints, and,
dimly lighted from above by a few chinks, so narrow that the bats could
scarce have crept through them. The noisome air, never fanned by the
sweet breath of heaven, was made more foul and poisonous by accumulated
filth and stagnant pools of blood, and a fetid smell of smoke. The
torches we brought in to give us light to discover all the mysteries of
the place burned with a sickly and uncertain flame.

"Can man live here?" said I.

"I lay dying here the full length of nine moons," said my guide.

"And what is this?" said I, looking into a short narrow chest not much
unlike the coffin of a child, but half-filled within with sharp stones
and spikes of iron.

"Curses on it, that is the crucet-house," replied the man, "and therein
they did thrust the body of a full-grown man, breaking his limbs and
causing him exquisite torture. That was one of their processes for
gratifying their cruelty or for extorting money. And this," continued
the man, kicking a monstrous great beam which seemed loaded with iron,
and to be heavy enough to bear down and crush two or three of the
strongest men, "this is one of their sachenteges, which they would lay
upon one poor man, and these iron collars with the sharp steel spikes
are what they put round men's throats and necks, so that they could in
no direction sit, or lie down, or sleep, for these collars be fastened
by these strong iron chains to the stone walls. In my time I have seen
two men and a woman perish with these hell-collars about their necks."

"And what be these sharp knotted strings?" said I, growing more and more
faint and sick.

"These strings," replied the man, "they twisted round the head until the
pain went to the brain. And see! these be the thumb-screws. And see
above-head that pulley and foul rope! At times they pulled us up by the
thumbs, and hung heavy coats of mail to our feet; at other times they
hanged us up by the feet and smoked us with foul smoke until our blood
and brain...."

"By our Ladie of Mercy, say no more--show me no more;" and so saying, I
rushed out of the infernal place with a cold sweat upon my brow and my
limbs all quivering.

"I am told," said the old captive, who followed me, "that there be still
worse prison-houses than this, and that there be many scores of them in
the land."

"May they all down!" said I; "and may men in after days not believe that
they ever stood! But, franklin, I do pray thee say no more, for I feel
those collars on mine own neck, and the anguish at the brain!" And, in
truth, I was in so bad case that I could do nothing until Philip the
lay-brother did bathe my brow with some cold Kennet-water, and make me
drink a cup of wine.

The evil castle was soon cleared of whatsoever it contained (not even
excepting a poor maimed Jew that had been so misused in the crucet-house
that he could neither walk nor crawl), and so soon as everything was
taken up we began to demolish the abominable walls. Many poor men who
lived in that neighbourhood came to our assistance, and being first
refreshed by meat and drink, they laboured with astonishing vigour,
giving joyous shouts whenever a great piece of the building was brought
down. By commandment of our lord abbat the instruments of torture were
all heaped together in that foul cell under the keep, and a great supply
of wood, brush-wood, and straw being placed therein, fire was set to the
whole, and so mighty a combustion was made that the stones cracked, and
the flints seemed to melt, and every beam or other piece of timber
taking fire, the greater part of the tower fell in with a terrific
noise, and a most hellish smoke. While the castle was burning it was
terrible to see how the impenitent dark ladie did gnash her teeth and
stamp her feet, as likewise to hear how she did curse Sir Alain de Bohun
and our good abbat, and all of us that were there present. Surely in
that horrid frenzy she would have died the death of Judas Iscariot if
we had not bound her hands, and kept a strong guard over her. When the
smoke cleared away, and we saw that the keep was nearly all down, our
lord abbat distributed the victual and sheep and cattle among the
famishing men who had come to help us, and who engaged not to leave the
place until the moat should be filled up, and the walls all made level;
and then we departed with our prisoners and all the treasure to
Pangbourne, rejoicing as we went. Only no joy could be gotten into the
sad heart of John-à-Blount; the commendations of that great man of war,
the Lord of Caversham, did not cheer him, nor was he made the happier by
our good abbat's telling him that he would provide well for him in some
other manner of life than the monastic, for which he never could have
had the due vocation. John thanked the lord abbat, but there was no joy
in his gratitude. As I walked by his side I did try to comfort him by
telling him that he had broken none of the greater vows of our order, as
he was happily only in his noviciate; but he only shook his head at this
my remark, and said, "Felix, it is not so much a wounded conscience and
remorse, as something else that is leading me to the grave!" And then I
saw that he was thinking of that foreign damsel that had led him into
sin, and had then spurned his love, and I did thrice cross myself and
fall to telling my beads, for verily phantasms of that other black-eyed
maiden in the green kirtle came flashing through mine own weak brain,
aye, lively effigies of her, both as I saw her first in her pride and
beauty in our abbey garden, and as I saw her last, famine-wasted and
crushed with fear in the castle-yard at Oxenford. But the saints gave
me strength to expel the visions, and I never saw those living perilous
eyes again.

To me the most tender and beautiful thing in all this our great
adventure and emprise was the meeting of little Arthur and Alice. Our
good abbat was certainly of my mind, for he almost danced with joy at
the sight thereof, and kept long repeating in his most joyous tones,
"These children were made the one for the other! It is not man that can
separate them, or keep them long asunder! My predecessor abbat Edward
said the words, and the gift of prophecy was in him before he died."

The day being far advanced before we got back from the evil castle, we
tarried that night at our poor-house at Pangbourne, keeping good watch;
for albeit we knew that our great enemies were afar off, yet were we and
our poor serfs but as lambs among most ravenous wolves, bears, and
lions--_in medio luporum rapicissimorum, ursorum, et leonum_. A trusty
messenger had been sent to Reading Abbey and the castle of Caversham the
night before, and now we despatched another to bid the stay-at-home
monks prepare a Te Deum, and a feast for us on the morrow.



IX.


By times in the morning, the treasure, which filled six coffers of the
largest, was put into boats to be floated down Thamesis unto our abbey;
and some of us going by water and some by land, we all proceeded
thitherward, amidst the rejoicings and blessings of all the people.
Right glad were they all for the destruction of Sir Ingelric's
stronghold! Had it been the fitting season they would have carried
palm-branches before us, as was used at that blessed entrance into
Jerusalem; but it was dead winter, and the morning, though bright and
clear, was nipping cold. The first time it was I did see our hardy lord
abbat muffle his chin, in a skin or fur brought from foreign parts. A
glorious reception, I ween, was that which awaited us! Our brotherhood,
to the number of one hundred and fifty, formed in goodly order of
procession with the banners of our church displayed, and with the prior
at their head bearing our richest rood, met us at the edge of the
Falbury, all singing--"Beati qui veniant,"--"Blessed are those that come
in the name of the Lord; blessed are those that come from the doing of
good." And our good vassals of the township, and the franklins of
Reading and the vicinage, were all there in their holiday clothes, and
our near-dwelling serfs in their cleanest sheep-skin jackets, shouting
and throwing up their caps; our abbey bells ringing out lustily and
merrily the while. Needs not to say that we sang our best in the choir
at that Te Deum, or that the feast which was ready by the hour of noon
was sumptuous and mirthful. Nor was the joy less that evening in the
castle at Caversham, whither I and some few others went with Sir Alain
and the abbat; for the lord of Caversham being ever of a pleasant humour
and ofttimes jocose, did say that forasmuch as I, Felix the novice, and
Philip the merry lay-brother, did first carry Alice by night in the
little basket unto the castle, to the scandal of some and to the
amazement of all, so ought we now to carry back and present to the ladie
Alfgiva the restored damsel; and hereat the young Lord Arthur had
clapped his hands, and said so it ought to be.

And from this happy evening the bountiful ladie of Caversham grew well
and strong, and the children grew up together in all love and
loveliness. Somewhat squalid were they both when they were first brought
home, but in a brief space of time they were plump and ruddy with
health. The little maiden was then in her sixth year; the little lord,
as hath been said, only in his tenth. Truly it is wondrous to think how
soon they grew up into womanhood and manhood! And I the while was
passing from blooming manhood to sober age; yet did I not grieve with
Horatius--_Eheu! Fugaces._

When at our leisure we did examine the great treasure brought from the
evil castellum at Speen, we found much money that bore the impress of
the mint of our house, and divers pieces of plate which had been stolen
by the countess's people out of our church. These things, as of right,
we did keep; but the rest of the plate we restored to the lawful owners
thereof when we could discover them, which, sooth to say, did not happen
on every occasion. Of the money which was not thought to be our own we
did make two portions, and gave one to the poor and sent the other to
King Stephen, who ever needed more money than he could get. But let men
do ever so right and be ever so just and holy, they will still be
exposed to evil constructions, and the sharp malice of evil tongues; and
therefore no marvel was it that many did say we made a great profit unto
ourselves out of the sacking of Sir Ingelric's castle.

And now, touching Sir Ingelric's dark wife; she was shut up for a short
season in Reading Castle, and was then carried away to the eastern
parts, and was there confined in a solitary and very strong house of
religion that stood on the sea-shore. Of the other prisoners, some,
being foreigners, were shipped and sent beyond sea, and the rest of
them, being native, were sent unto King Stephen's army.

By the time we had returned unto our abbey, from Oxenford, it was hard
upon the feast of the Epiphany, of the year of grace eleven hundred and
forty-three. At the first coming of spring the king, who had been to
London and the eastern parts to collect a great force, marched through
Reading and tarried a few hours at our house, without doing any notable
damage thereunto, excepting always that he did _borrow_ from us all the
coined money in our mint, which he did intend to repay so soon as the
country should be settled. But it grieved us much to learn that he, too,
had hired and brought into England great tumultuary companies of
Flemings and Bourguignons and other half-baptized, unholy, ungodly men,
who had no bowels of compassion for the people of England, no respect
for our holy places, but an insatiate appetite for plunder. And these
black bands, on marching away to the westward, brake open divers
nunneries and burned sundry towns and churches, maugre all that the
legate bishop of Winchester, who was with his brother the king, could
say or do to prevent them. This sacrilege brought down vengeance and
discomfiture upon the king's cause, and did drive away from his banner
for that time our good Lord of Caversham. Matilda and her princely boy
Henry remained in Bristowe Castle, or about that fair western country by
the shores of the broad Severn, or on the banks of the Avon; but some of
her partisans had made themselves formidable at Sarum; and to check the
incursions of these the king turned the nunnery at Wilton into a castle,
driving out the chaste sisterhood and girding their once quiet abode
with bulwarks and battlements. But while he was upon this ill-judged
work the great Robert, Earl of Gloucester, on the first of the kalends
of July, fell suddenly upon his encamped army, and by surprise and
superiority of force did gain a great victory over King Stephen. The
king with his brother the bishop fled with shame, and the earl's men
took the king's people and his plate and money-chest, and other things.
Among the men of name that were taken at Wilton was William Martell, the
great favourite and sewer to the king, who was sent to Wallingford
Castle, that terrible stronghold of Brian Fitzcount, which few men could
mention without turning pale. Thus sundry more years passed with
variable successes, and every year heaped on each side fresh
calamities, to the great ruin of the whole land. And still both parties
brought over their hungry bands of adventurers, and still many of our
great men, caring neither for one party nor for the other, continued
their castle-building and their plundering for their own account, and
still the poor and despairing people of England said that Christ and his
saints were asleep. Villages and hamlets were fast disappearing, and
that our towns were not _all_ sacked and burned in these nineteen years
of war, and that the substance of every man was not taken from him, was
owing to the prayers of the church, and to the leagues and
confederations which the franklins and free burghers did make among
themselves, binding themselves by a solemn covenant each to assist the
others. At first those who were men of war did laugh at these leagues,
but after they had sustained many a check and defeat they were taught to
respect the valour of our free men. I have known the weaver quit his
shuttle and go forth to battle with sword and spear, and bring back
captive from the field a knight and great lord; and when numerous deeds
of the like sort had been done by the honest folk who took up arms only
for the defence of their own houses and properties and lives, the great
lords and powerful men did either avoid these townships, or treat them
with more gentleness and justice.

It was in this year, at the fall of the leaf, that John-à-Blount died at
Maple-Durham, and was buried there. After that our indulgent abbat had
confessed him and shrieved him (upon penances duly performed by the said
John), and had quitted and fully released him from the cucullus, the
poor youth again put on the steel cap, and went to Caversham to serve
as one of the garnison of that good house. Good were the lord and the
happy little lordling unto John, and I ween the Ladie Alfgiva had a
great care taken of him when she saw how sad he was, and how fast
wasting. But neither cook nor leach, neither generous wine nor
comfortable words, could restore strength, or infuse hope, or induce a
composure and tranquillity of mind, or keep poor John any long season
among us. His heart seemed broken within him; and there was a flush on
his wasted cheek, and then a terrible coughing. So at last my whilome
companion being able to do nothing, quitted Caversham and went to
Maple-Durham, that he might die there among some of his kindred, and be
buried under the sward by the wattled hillock which marked the grave of
his father. That young Angevin Herodias was as much John's murtheress as
she could have been if she had put poison in his meat, or a dagger into
his heart. May his soul find peace, and her great sin forgiveness! We
did most of us weep as well as pray for poor John-à-Blount.

In the year next after the battle at Wilton, King Stephen gained a great
victory in the meadows which lie near to the abbey of Saint Albans, and
our Lord Abbat Reginald did plant a goodly vineyard on the slopes by the
side of our house at Reading, and did make an orchard a little beyond
Kennet. Many other battles were there in this same year of woe; and that
great partisan of the countess, Robert Marmion, was slain in a fierce
fight at Coventry; and Geoffrey Mandeville, Earl of Essex, was slain at
Burwell; and Ernulphus, Earl Mandeville's son, was taken after his
father's death and banished the land. There seemed no end to these
slayings and banishings and imprisonings in foul prisons. Verily those
who made the mischief did not escape from its effects! The cup of woe
they mixed for the nation was put to their own lips; turn and turn about
they nearly all perished or suffered the extremities of evil fortune!
None gained, all lost in the end, by this intestine and unnatural war.

In the year of grace eleven hundred and forty-five King Stephen again
passed by Reading, and went and laid close siege to Wallingford Castle;
but he could not prevail against that mighty robber and spoiler Brian
Fitzcount; and on the feast of St. Benedict, at the close of this same
year, I, with the saints' aid, having completed my noviciate, took the
great vows and became a cloister-monk, with much credit and applause
from the whole community, the sweetmeats and all delicate cates being
furnished for that feast by the bountiful Ladie Alfgiva, and both Sir
Alain de Bohun and his son Arthur being present at the feast. That night
there came from the plashy margent of Thamesis a meteor of rare size and
brightness, and it stopped for the space of an Ave Maria over our house,
and shined in all its brightness upon the tower; as was noted by all the
brotherhood, who did please to say that it was a good omen, portending
that I should rise high in office, and be an ornament and shining light
to the house: and truly since then I have passed through offices of
trust and honour, and my name hath been made known unto some of our
order in foreign parts, and I am now by the grace of our ladie sub-prior
of this royal abbey of Reading. Also is it to be noted that in this
important year we, the monks of Reading, were enabled to keep our great
fair in the Falbury, on the day of St. Lawrence and the three days next
following, according to the particular charter of privilege granted by
our founder Henricus Primus, who commanded in the aforesaid charter that
no people should be hindered or troubled either in their coming to the
fair or in their going from it, under heavy penalties to be paid in fine
silver. And the wise Beauclerc had thus ordered, for that the men of
Newbury having a fair of their own about the same season, for the sale
of cattle and much cheese, were likely to waylay and stop such as were
coming to our fair, as in verity they afterwards did, despite of our
charter and to the peril of their own souls. But the castle-builders and
the robbers that were liege-men unto them, had done the Fair-wending
franklins much more harm than had been done them by the wicked men of
Newbury; and in this sort our fair of St. Lawrence had been thinly
attended for some years, and had not brought to our house in tolls,
fees, and droits, one-half so much as the value of the alms we
distributed upon that saint's day.

In the year which followed upon my vows, the husband of Matilda, the
Count of Anjou, much grieving for the long absence of his son Henry, and
seeing that the presence of one so young did no good to his mother's
cause in England, entreated that he might be sent back into Anjou, and
young Henry was sent thither accordingly. It had been well for England
if the count had gotten back his wife also, but he was too glad to leave
Matilda where she was, for there had not been for many a year any love
between them, and from the day of his marriage with her until Matilda's
return to her own country to wage war in it, the count was said never to
have known a day's peace. During his long abode in Bristowe Castle the
boy Henry had been carefully nurtured and instructed by his uncle the
Earl of Gloucester, and by some teachers gathered in England and in
foreign parts; and, to speak the truth of all men, the said earl was
well nigh as learned as his father the Beauclerc, and a great encourager
of humanizing letters. That great earl was also much commended by his
friends for his constancy to the cause of his half-sister Matilda, and
for his perseverance in all manner of fortunes, and for the equanimity
with which he bore defeat and calamity; but, certes, it had been better
for us if his perseverance had been less, and if his equanimity had been
disturbed by the woes and unutterable anguishes the people of England
did suffer from his so long perseverance. But the hand of death was now
upon him, and the great earl died soon after the departure of Henry
Fitz-empress, and was buried at Bristowe in the choir of the church of
St. James, which he had founded. And no long while after the departure
of her son and the death of her valorous half-brother, the countess, to
the great trouble of her husband, quitted England and went into Anjou;
and King Stephen, surprising and vanquishing his enemy the Earl of
Chester, who had gotten possession of Lincoln town, did triumphantly
enter into that town and abide there, which no king durst do before him,
for that certain wizards had prophesied evil luck to any king that went
into Lincoln town. Being thus within Lincoln, and somewhat elated with
the smiles of capricious fortune, King Stephen summoned the great
barons and magnates of the land unto him, and at the solemnization of
the Nativity of our Lord, he wore the regal crown upon his head, or, as
others have it, he was re-crowned and consecrated anew in the mother
church at Lincoln; and having the crown of England, to all seeming,
firmly fixed on his brow, he caused the magnates all to swear allegiance
to his son Prince Eustace as his lawful successor in the realm. No great
man gainsayed the king, but all present made a great show of loyalty and
affection as well to the son as to the father. Many there were of them
who had no truth or steadiness in their hearts; but Sir Alain, our good
Lord of Caversham, was there, and likewise the young Lord Arthur, and it
was with a faith as pure and entire as that of a primitive Christian
that the nobles twain placed their hands within the hands of Prince
Eustace and vowed to be his true men for aye. And as it was now time
that Arthur should enter upon a more active life, and put himself in
training for the honours of knighthood, and as Prince Eustace conceived
much affection for him, as did all who ever knew the hopeful youth,
Arthur was left in the family of the prince to serve him as page and
esquire. Yet was the young lord's absence from among us very short, for
Prince Eustace came nigh unto Reading to prepare for the laying of
another siege to Wallingford Castle, which still lay upon the fair bosom
of the country like a hugeous and hideous nightmare, and whensoever it
was not beleaguered the wicked garnison went forth to do that which for
so many years they had been doing. Brian Fitzcount, the lord of
Wallingford, Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe, and others not a few, had
gone beyond sea with the countess; but they meditated a speedy return
with more bands of foreign marauders, and many of their similars and
fautors shut themselves up in their home-castles, which were spread all
over the country. These things prevented the entire blessing of peace;
yet was England more tranquil than she had been since the Beauclerc's
death, and by a succession of sieges Stephen would have gotten the men
of anarchy within his power if other accidents had not happened.

As the king (who had long and grievously mourned for the license and
castle-building he had permitted at the beginning of his reign, in the
hopes of attaching the great lords to his interest) openly showed his
resolution to curb the excessive power and fierce lawlessness of the
feudal lords, a great outcry was raised against him, and divers of the
lords of his own party began to plot and make league with the barons of
Matilda's faction. Others fell from his side because he could give them
no money or fiefs, unless he robbed other men or laid heavy tallages
upon the poor people. As these selfish men deserted him. Stephen
exclaimed, as he had done before, "False lords, why did ye make me king
to betray me thus! But, by the glory of God, I will not live a
discrowned king!" And so much was granted to him in the end, that
Stephen did die with the crown upon his head. Peradventure might the
king have had the better of his secular foes if in the midst of these
troubles he had not quarrelled with the clergy and braved the wrath of
the holy see. By the death of one pope and the election of another, the
king's brother, the Bishop of Winchester, had ceased to be legatus à
latere, and the legatine office had passed into the hands of Theobald,
archbishop of Canterbury, who had ever leaned to the Angevin party. The
said lord archbishop was no friend to our Lord Abbat Reginald, or to any
of our community, but it becomes not me to rake up the ashes of the
dead, or to disturb with a reproachful voice the grave of the primate of
England; and it needs must be said that the king was over violent in his
regard, and undutiful to our father the pope. For it must ever be
acknowledged that the triple crown of Rome is more than the crown of
England, and that the head of the holy Roman Apostolic and Catholic
church hath a power supreme in spiritualities over all the kings of
Christendom. Nevertheless did King Stephen in an ill hour give a doom of
exile against the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, for that he had
attended at the bidding of the pope, but without consent of the king, a
great council of the church in the city of Rheims, in France. Instead of
submitting to this sentence, the archbishop went and put himself under
the protection of Hugh Bigod, the powerful Earl of Norfolk, who was of
the Angevin faction, and then put forth a sentence of interdict against
King Stephen, and all that part of the kingdom which obeyed the
_usurper_. In the west country, and in some parts of the east and north,
the priests shut up their churches and refused to perform any of the
offices of religion. Good men went between the king and the primate, and
after two years a reconciliation was brought about, Stephen agreeing to
be the most bountiful king and the best friend of the church that the
church had ever yet known in this land. Yet when Archbishop Theobald was
called upon to recognise and anoint Prince Eustace as heir to the
throne, he refused to do it, saying that he was forbidden by our lord
the pope, and that Stephen, being a usurper, could not, like a
legitimate sovereign, transmit his crown to his posterity. The king,
unto whom the archbishop had taken the oath of allegiance, waxed wroth,
and threatened the archbishop with a punishment sharper than banishment;
but, when the first passion of anger was over, he did nothing. Men
censured the archbishop at the time, but they afterwards thought he had
taken the wisest course for putting an end to this long war. In the
interim Henry Fitz-empress had been again in our island. In the year
eleven hundred and forty-nine, having attained the military age of
sixteen, Henry Plantagenet came over to Scotland with a splendid
retinue, to be made a knight by his mother's uncle, King David. The
ceremony was performed with much magnificence in the city of Carlisle,
where the old Scottish king did then keep his court; and most of the
nobles of Scotland and many of our great English barons were present at
the celebration, and did then and there make note of the many high
qualities of the truly great and ever to be remembered son of the
Countess Matilda. All manner of honours and power alighted on the head
of Henry Plantagenet soon after his being knighted at Carlisle. The
death of his father Geoffrey left him in full possession of the dukedom
of Normandie, which he had governed for him, and of the earldom of
Anjou, which was his own birthright; and in that lucky year for the
house of Plantagenet, the year of our redemption eleven hundred and
fifty-two, by espousing Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry acquired that great
dame's rights to the earldom of Poictou and the great duchy of
Aquitaine. Henry was thus the greatest and richest prince in all the
main land of Europe, and albeit he was only in his twentieth year, he
already knew the arts of government and of war better than any of his
neighbours. A great prince was he from his cradle: he was born to
command.

Et interim, Eustace, the son of Stephen, being nearly of the same age as
the son of Matilda, had become a very worthy soldier, and our young Lord
of Caversham had grown up with him, and improved under him. They had
miscarried in the siege of Wallingford Castle, because that house of the
devil was so exceeding strong, and because they were called off to
another more urgent enterprise; but in other quarters they had been more
successful, beating divers of the castle-builders in the field, or
taking them in their dens. Every castle that they took was burned and
destroyed, like Sir Ingelric's castellum at Speen. They brought many
offerings to our shrines, for they were much in our part of the country,
to keep in check the Angevin party to the westward; and whenever he was
not engaged in these duties of war, the young Lord Arthur came to his
home. The winter season allowed him the longest repose, and thus it
befel that the Ladie Alfgiva and that little maiden which I and Philip,
the lay-brother, did first convey to Caversham, became sad instead of
gay at the advance of spring. But Alice was no longer the little maiden
that could lie perdue in a basket, and there had already been many
discourses and conjectures as to the day when she and the young Lord
Arthur would be made one by holy church; for the great love that had
been between them from the days of their childhood was known to all the
country side. Strange it was, but still most true, that Sir Ingelric of
Huntercombe never had made any attempt to recover his fair and good
daughter. Great endeavours he made to get back that dark ladie of the
castle, his wicked and impenitent second wife, and he had at last, by
means, it was said, of the Archbishop of Canterbury, obtained her
release from the nunnery on the eastern coast; but he had never set on
foot any treaty, nor, as far as could be learned, had ever made any
inquiry touching the gentle Alice, who in her heart could not think
without trembling and turning pale of her dark, stern step-mother, and
the days she had passed with her in that foul donjon at Speen.

Though his hair had grown grey and scant under the cap of steel, and his
soul panted for peace as the hunted hart doth for running waters, Sir
Alain de Bohun kept the field almost as constantly as his son; and his
constancy to King Stephen knew no abatement. So much virtue and
steadiness could not be understood in those changeable and treacherous
times; and as it was thought that he put a monstrously high price upon
his services, and was true to one side because he had not been
sufficiently tempted by the other, in the course of the year eleven
hundred and fifty-two there came a secret emissary to offer him one of
the greatest earldoms in England, and one of the richest and noblest
damsels in Anjou as a bride for his son. Sir Alain bound the emissary
with cords, like a felon spy, and sent him and his papers and credential
signets unto King Stephen. No mind was ruffled in Caversham Castle upon
this occurrence except the tender mind of Alice, who bethought her that
she was but a poor portionless maiden, the daughter of a proscribed man
whose estates had long been confiscated and held by the king; but Arthur
saw and soon chased away these vain grievings. His father had manors and
lands enow, and he wished never to be greater or richer than his father,
and Alice was rich in herself, and she was his own Alice, and a greater
treasure than any that dukes or kings or emperors could bestow. Let
there be peace; let there only be peace in the land for the herdsman and
the tiller of the soil, and the industrious vassals, and what earthly
luxury or comfort would be wanting in the house at Caversham? Fools
might contend for more, and barter their souls away to get it, but his
father's son would never be this fool.

I was myself at Caversham at the time of these occurrences, and it was
not long after that I became sub-sacrist in our abbey, and did build at
mine own cost a new rood-loft in the church.

Also in this year deceased, to King Stephen's great grief, the good
Queen Maud, and she was buried at Feversham in Kent.



X.


Before the swallows made their next return to our meads and river sides,
the flames of war were again kindled in our near neighbourhood. When
that I heard Sir Ingelric had stolen back into the island with an
Angevin band, and that Brian Fitzcount, through the treachery of some of
King Stephen's people, had been allowed to win his way into his
inexpugnable castle at Wallingford with great supply of munitions of
war, I did foresee that the year eleven hundred and fifty-three would be
a year of storm and trouble to Reading Abbey, and to all the country
besides. Sir Ingelric's return was soon notified to us by the burning of
divers villages between Reading and Speen, and by the sudden plunder and
devastation of some of our own outlying manors; and while we were
grieving at these things, news was brought to us that Brian Fitzcount
had called upon all the castle holders in the west to take up arms, not
for the Countess Matilda, but for her son Henry; and that the said Sir
Brian had ravaged well nigh all the country from Wallingford to
Oxenford, making a great prey of men and cattle.

Sir Alain de Bohun and our stout-hearted Abbat Reginald collected such
force as they could, and marched in quest of Sir Ingelric; but that
cruel knight fled at their approach, and then retreated into the far
west. King Stephen made an appeal to the wealthy and warlike citizens of
London, who were ever truer to him than were his great barons, and being
well furnished with arms and men, and the great machines proper for the
sieges of strong places, the king went straight to Wallingford with a
determination not to remove thence until he had reduced that terrible
castle. This time he came not unto our abbey, but the lord abbat sent
some of our retainers to assist in the great siege; and as all the lords
that were true to the king marched with the best of their vassals to
Wallingford, a great army was collected there. Of the people of that
vicinage, every free man that was at all able to work repaired to the
king's camp, and offered his labour for the capture and destruction of
Brian Fitzcount's den. A deep trench was speedily cut all round the
castle, and such bulwarks and palisadoes were made that none could come
out of the place or enter therein; and catapults were in readiness to
batter the walls, and mines were digging that would have caused the keep
to totter and fall. Certes, the emprise was close to a successful issue,
when tidings were brought that Henry Plantagenet had landed in the
south-west with one hundred and forty knights, and three thousand
foreign foot soldiers, that all the great barons of the west were
proclaiming him to be the lawful king of England, and were joining his
standard, and that he was moving with a mighty force to lay siege to
Malmesbury. King Stephen had found no more faith abroad than he had
found at home. Ludovicus, the French king, having many weighty reasons
to mislike and fear Henry Plantagenet, had made a treaty of alliance
with Stephen, had affianced his daughter Constance to Prince Eustace
the son of Stephen, and had engaged to keep the powerful Angevin at home
by threatening Anjou and Normandie with the invasion of a great French
army; but, instead of a great army, the French king sent but a few
ill-governed bands; and when these had been discomfited in a few
encounters, Ludovicus listened to proposals of peace, and abandoned the
interests of Stephen. And that great English earl, Ranulph, earl of
Chester, whom King Stephen had driven out of Lincoln, went over to Anjou
to invite Henry into England, and to engage soul and body in his
service; first taking care to obtain from that young prince a deed of
charter conveying to him, the said Earl Ranulph, in _foede et
heriditate_, the lands of William de Peveril, and many fiefs and broad
manors in Cheshire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire, and elsewhere,
together with sundry strong castles which the said earl hoped to
keep--but did not. Forced was King Stephen to raise his siege of
Wallingford Castle, and to evacuate and destroy the wooden castle of
Cranmerse which he had raised close to Brian Fitzcount's gates. He had
scarcely drawn off his people, and begun a march along the left bank of
Thamesis above Wallingford, ere Henry Plantagenet, having gotten
possession of Malmesbury and of many strong castles, which the
castle-builders, not foreseeing that which was to happen, had given up
to him, appeared on the right bank of the river with his great army of
horse and foot. The Plantagenet was of an heroical temper; and Stephen,
who had fought in so many battles, was yet as brave as his young rival,
and was transported with wrath at seeing how many barons who had
repeatedly sworn allegiance to him were in array against him; moreover,
Prince Eustace was with his father, and, like a valorous and passionate
youth, was eager for the fight; and of a certainty there would have been
a terrible and bloody battle, if battle could have been joined at the
first confronting of these two forces; but a heavy and long-continuing
rain had swollen all the rivers and brooks, and had poured such a volume
of water into Thamesis that there was no crossing it. Therefore lay the
two mighty armies opposite to each other for the space of several days;
and during that interval certain of our prelates bestirred themselves as
peace-makers, and sundry great lords on either side said that verily it
was time this unnatural war should have an end. But Henry Plantagenet
did want for his immediate wearing the kingly crown of England, and
Stephen had vowed by the glory of God to keep that crown on his head
until his death, and none durst speak to him of a present surrender of
it. When the waters somewhat abated the king marshalled his host, as if
determined to come at his foe by crossing the river at a ford not far
off; but upon mounting his war-horse, which had carried him in many
battles, the steed stumbled and fell, not without peril to his rider.
The king mounted again, laughing as at a trifling accident; but when the
horse fell a second time under him, his countenance became troubled.
Nevertheless he essayed a third time, and for a third time the steed
fell flat to the earth as though he had been pierced through poitrail
and heart by an arrow. Then did the king turn pale, and his nobles 'gan
whisper that this was a fearful omen.

"By our Ladie St. Mary," quoth Prince Eustace, "the steed hath grown
old, and distemper hath seized him during his days of inactivity in
this swampy and overflooded country! This is all the omen, and the death
of the poor horse will be all our loss."

And the resolute young prince would have mounted his father on another
steed, and have marched on to the ford, and then straight to battle. But
the Earl of Arundel, being much inclined to peace, and a bold and
eloquent man, took advantage of the consternation which the omen or
horse-sickness had created in the king's army, and going up to Stephen,
he did advise him to make a present convention and truce with Henry
Plantagenet, affirming that the title of Duke Henry to the crown of
England was held to be just by a large part of the nation, and by some
who had never been willing to admit his mother to the throne; that the
country was all too weary of these wars, and that the king ought by
experience to know the little trust that was to be put in many of his
present followers. "But I will not die a discrowned king," said Stephen.
"Nor shalt thou," replied the great Earl of Arundel.

After many entreaties and prayers, the kingly mind of Stephen yielded so
far as to allow a parley for a truce; and Henry Plantagenet, not being
less politic than warlike, entered upon a convention, and then agreed to
confer with Stephen.

The place for conference was so appointed that the river Thamesis, where
it narrows a little above Wallingford, parted the two princes and the
great lords that were with them; so that from either bank King Stephen
and Duke Henry saluted each other, and afterwards conversed together.
The conference ended in a truce, during which neither party was to
attempt any enterprise of war, but both were to discuss and amicably
settle the question of Duke Henry's right to the crown upon the demise
of Stephen.

Prince Eustace had not been a prince if he had quietly submitted to an
arrangement which went to deprive him of the succession to a great
kingdom: he burst suddenly away from the king's camp, calling upon those
who had taken the oaths to him to follow him to the east. Not many rode
off with him; but our young Lord Arthur, feeling the obligations of his
replicated vows and the ties of duty and friendship, would not quit his
master; nor did his father Sir Alain, who had placed him in the prince's
service, make any effort to restrain him. As for the good lord of
Caversham himself, he returned to his home with the double determination
of observing the truce, and of not giving up his allegiance to King
Stephen, unless the king should voluntarily release him therefrom; for,
much as he sighed for the return of peace, Sir Alain prized his honour,
and did never think that a good settlement of the kingdom could be
obtained through falsehood and perjury. But woful apprehensions and
sadness did again fall upon the house at Caversham, for the course taken
by Prince Eustace was full of danger to him and his few adherents, and
it was reported that his great anger and desperation had driven him mad.
But short was the career of that hapless young prince, who, though born
to a kingdom, lived not to see anything but the calamities thereof. I
wis those men who had most flattered him, and had taken oaths to him as
to the lawful heir to this glorious crown of England, did speak most
evil of him in the days of his adversity, and after his death. I, who
knew him and conversed with him oft times, did ever find him a youth of
a right noble nature, valorous and merciful like his father, and as
devout and friendly unto the church as his mother Queen Maud. Yet may I
not deny that in his last despair he did some wicked deeds which sorely
grieved our young Lord Arthur, who could not prevent them, and who yet
would not abandon him in this extremity of his fortune. Coming into the
countries of the east, and finding few to join him, he burst into the
liberties of St. Edmund, and into the very abbey of St. Edmund, king and
martyr, and demanded from the Lord Abbat Ording, and the monks of that
holy house, money and other means for the carrying on of his heady
designs; and when that brotherhood, as in duty bound, and like men that
were unwilling to be wagers of new wars, did refuse his request and
point out the unreasonableness and ungodliness of them, he ordered his
hungry and desperate soldiers to seize all the corn that was in the
abbey, and carry it into a castle which he held hard by, and then to go
forth and plunder and waste the lord abbat's manors. The corn was
carried to the castle, but before further mischief could be done the
soul of Prince Eustace was required of him; for that very day, as he sat
at dinner in his castle, he dropped down in a deadly fit, and was dead
before the kind Arthur could get a monk to shrive him. The Countess
Matilda, I ween, had done worse deeds at Reading than Eustace did at St.
Edmund's Bury, and, certes, the patrons and protectors of our house, our
Ladie the Virgin, and St. James, and St. John the evangelist, were not
less powerful to punish than St. Edmund the king and martyr;
nevertheless Matilda was let live, and the young Eustace perished in his
prime. But these things are not to be scanned by mortal eye, and the
judgments of heaven are not always immediate, and it might not have been
so much in vengeance for Eustace's great sin in robbing the monks of St.
Edmund's Bury of their corn, as in mercy to the suffering people of
England, that the son of King Stephen was so suddenly smitten and
removed. The monks of St. Edmund did, however, give out that it was
their saint who slew him for his sin, causing the first morsel of the
stolen victual he put into his mouth to drive him into a frenzy, whereof
he died. Others there were who accounted for his opportune death by
alleging that some subtile poison had been administered to him; but of
this was there never any proof. Our young Lord Arthur, without denying
the great provocation he had given unto St. Edmund, did always think
that his brain had been touched ever since his father held the
conference above Wallingford with Duke Henry, and that a great gust of
passion killed him. But whatever was the cause of his death, and however
sad was that event in itself, he was surely dead, and it was just as
sure that the kingdom would be the better for it. If few had followed
him while he was alive, still fewer stayed to do honour to his remains;
but Arthur, with a very sincere grief, and with all respect and piety,
carried the body of his master to the sea-side, and thence by water into
Kent, and saw it interred at Feversham by the side of Queen Maud, with
all the rites and obsequies of holy church. Fidelity could not go beyond
this; the great arbiter, Death, had freed him from his allegiance and
vows to the prince, and so from the honoured grave in Feversham Abbey,
Arthur de Bohun rode with all possible speed unto Caversham. So true was
it, that nothing that man could do could keep Alice and him long
asunder.

Many of our wicked castle builders, who had not always respected the
truce of God, would not now be bound by the truce concluded between two
mortal princes; and when the term of that suspension had expired, some
of the barons on either side would have renewed the war on a grand
scale, and have carried it into all parts of the kingdom. Some few
sieges were commenced, and some hostile movements made in the field, by
King Stephen and Duke Henry; but since the unhappy death of Prince
Eustace, the king cared not much about keeping the crown in his family,
for he had but one other lawful son, and this son, the gentle-tempered
William, was only a boy, and was without ambition; for his eyes had not
been dazzled by any near prospect of the crown, and none of the baronage
had ever sworn fealty to him. And thus, when the peace-makers renewed
their blessed endeavours, King Stephen was easily induced to agree that
Duke Henry should be his successor in this kingdom, provided that he
left him a peaceable possession of the disputed throne for the term of
his natural life, and bound himself to fulfil a few other engagements.
The king's brother, the Bishop of Winchester, did now join with his old
enemy, Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, in urging this accord, and on
either side the great barons recommended the adjustment; for all were
weary of the war except a few desperate robbers, whose crimes had been
so numerous that they could not hope to escape punishment at the return
of peace. Another great council of barons and prelates was, therefore,
called together at Winchester; and in that royal and episcopal city, on
the seventh of the Kalends of November, in this the last year of our
woe, eleven hundred and fifty-three, the agreement was finished, and a
charter naming Henry heir to the throne was granted by Stephen, and
witnessed by Theobald the archbishop, the Bishop of Winchester, eleven
other bishops, the prior of Bermondsey, the head of the knights
Templars, and eighteen great lay lords. And a short season after this,
the king and the duke travelled lovingly together to Oxenford, where the
earls and barons, by the king's commandment, did swear fealty to the
duke, saving the king's honour, so long as he lived; and the Plantagenet
did pledge himself to behave to Stephen of Blois as a duteous and
affectionate son, and to grant to him, all the days of his life, the
name and seat of the kingly pre-eminence. In the presence of the best of
our baronage, the king and duke did then confer about other state
matters, and did fully agree and concur in this--that there must be an
end of castle-building and castle-builders, that the donjons which
remained must all down, and that the vengeance of the law must fall upon
the robbers, whether they had been, or had pretended to be, followers of
Matilda, or Stephen, or Duke Henry himself; for, being now acknowledged
heir to the crown, Henry wished not to come into a wasted and
impoverished land, and well he knew, at all times, that the prosperity
of the people maketh the wealth, and power, and glory of the ruler.
Those castles in the west, which had been given up to him by their
builders, were presently levelled with the earth; and even Brian
Fitzcount was warned that he must quit his strong house at Wallingford,
or abide the most fearful consequences. Some of the cruel oppressors of
their country came in of their own will, and submitted to King Stephen
and the law; but others held out stiffly, denying all allegiance whether
to the king regnant or to Duke Henry as his successor; and in this sort
the poor people in divers parts continued to be harrowed, and plundered,
and captured, and tortured, as in the foregone time. Nay, some of our
wicked barons, making league with the rapinous princes and wild chiefs
of the Welsh mountains, did continue to keep the open fields in the
western parts, and to desolate the land from the river Severn even unto
the river Mersey.

Many were the private discourses which King Stephen held with the
hopeful Plantagenet, for Stephen's heart was all for the commonalty of
England, and he trusted that he could give such instruction and advice
to Henry as would aid that prince in making his future government firm,
and, at home, pacific, and in that sort a blessing to the people. But
the Plantagenet had solemnly pledged his faith by treaty and by oath to
leave unto Stephen, so long as he should live, the full exercise of the
authority royal, and this could hardly have been if Henry had tarried in
England; and, moreover, matters of high concernment called for the
return of the duke to Anjou and Normandie. So, in the spring season of
the year of grace eleven hundred and fifty-four, after some long
consultations held at Dunstable to treat of the future state and peace
of the kingdom, the king accompanied the duke to the sea-coast, and,
with a loving leave-taking of Stephen, Henry embarked and sailed over
to Normandie. Foul rumours there were, as that Stephen's young son with
a party of Flemings would have waylaid the duke on Barham downs, and
have there slaughtered him; but I wis all this was but a fable, for the
boy William was too young for such matters, and being of a gentle and
unambitious nature, and too well knowing that the crown of England had
been a crown of thorns to his father, he was more than content with the
lands and honours secured unto him by the Charta Conventionum.

Also was it nigh upon the time that William, archbishop of York, a
kinsman of King Stephen, who had been deprived by the pope in the year
eleven hundred and forty-seven, and who had been reinstated after the
truce concluded at Wallingford, suddenly departed this life at York, and
was buried with great haste and little ceremony in that minster. And
here too there were evil reports spread through the land as that
Archbishop William had been poisoned. Having no light wherewith to
penetrate the darkness of this mystery, I will not affirm that King
Stephen's kinsman was so disposed of; but verily the malice of men's
hearts was great, and there was much secret poisoning in these times!

Stephen being thus left to govern by himself, sundry of our great men,
having from that which they had seen and heard of Prince Henry come to
the conclusion that if he should be king he would keep a bit in their
mouths and keep a strong rein in his own hands, did repair to the king
who had so often been betrayed by them, and did strongly urge him to
break the treaty and trust to war and the valour and faith of his
vassals for the continuance of his family on the throne. But Stephen
having a respect for his oaths (which mayhap was the greater by reason
of a sickness that was upon him), and knowing the trust that was to be
put in the faith and steadiness of these men, said, "There hath been war
enough, and too much woe!" and he would not give his ear unto them, but
did command forces to be gathered for putting down the castle-builders
and the robbers that had allied themselves with the Welsh.

And of a surety in these his last days King Stephen betook himself
wholly to repair the ruins of the state, and heal the great afflictions
of the church. He made a progress into most parts of the kingdom to
reform the monstrous irregularities which had arisen by long war, to
curb the too great baronial power, to get back to our abbeys and
churches the things whereof they had been despoiled, and to speak and
deal comfortably with all manner of peace-loving men. Some castles he
reduced by force, others he terrified into submission, and others were
taken by a few good lords like Sir Alain de Bohun. In all these
occurrents nothing was heard of our impenitent neighbour Sir Ingelric,
save that his wife the dark ladie of the castle had died, and that he
himself was thought to have gone into the west. Of that greater and far
more terrible chief, Brian Fitzcount, we did hear enough and more than
enough, for in despite of the joint commandment of King Stephen and Duke
Henry, he kept possession of his castle at Wallingford and continued his
evil courses in all things. Yea, at a season when we did apprehend no
such doing, one of his excommunicated companies, stealing by night down
the vale of Thamesis, did set fire to our granaries at Pangbourne, and
maim our cattle, and so sweep our basse-court that we had not left so
much as one goose wherewith to celebrate the feast of St. Michael. The
better to put down these atrocious doings, King Stephen called together
within the city of London a great and godly meeting of barons and
prelates and head men of towns; and sooth to say the spirit of peace and
love presided over that great council, and many proper methods were
taken by it and good laws passed. I, who went unto London city with our
lord abbat, did see with mine own eyes the respect which was now paid
unto the eldermen of great towns and boroughs, and likewise to the
franklins, whether mixed by the marriages of their fathers or
grandfathers with Norman women, or whether of the old and unmixed Saxon
stock, the number of these last being as a score to one; and then did I
say to myself that if these things continued, the day might arrive when
the burghers and free plebeians of England might be something in the
state. Nay, I did even dream that in process of time the collar might be
taken from the neck of our serf, and the cultivator of the soil be no
longer a villein, but a free man. But I concealed this my bright vision,
lest it should expose me to censure and mockery.

When this great council at London was broken up King Stephen made repair
unto Dover to meet and confer with his ancient ally and friend the Earl
of Flanders. The king was well attended, and among the best lords of
England that went with him was our neighbour Sir Alain de Bohun. We, the
monks of Reading, or such of us as had gone to the great city, journeyed
back to our abbey, in a great fall of autumnal rain; and when, at the
end of three days, we in uncomfortable case did reach the abbey, we
found that the swollen river had swept away good part of the mill which
we had built on the Kennet, at a short space from our house, and had
otherwise done us much mischief. Also was there seen a great falling
star, and there were heard in the heavens, on one very dark and gusty
night, some dolorous sounds, as of men wailing and lamenting. In a few
days more some sad but uncertain rumours did begin to reach our house;
but it was not until one stormy night in the early part of November,
when Sir Alain de Bohun on his way homeward stopped at our gates, that
we knew of a certainty that which had befallen. Ah, well-a-day, King
Stephen was dead! He who for well nigh nineteen years had not known one
day's perfect peace was now, inasmuch as the world and mortal man could
affect him, at peace for ever! And may God have mercy on his soul in the
world to come! After the politic conferences with the Earl of Flanders,
and the departure of the said earl for his own dominions, the king was
all of a sudden seized with the great pain of the Iliac passion, and
with an old disease which had more than once brought him to the brink of
the grave; and so, after short but acute suffering, he laid him down to
die, and did die in the house of the monks of Canterbury, on the five
and twentieth day of the kalends of October. _Sic mors rapit omne
genus._ And our true-hearted lord of Caversham, who was true unto death,
and who had tenderly nursed the dying king, conveyed the body to
Feversham, and placed it in the same grave with his beloved wife Maud,
and his son Stephen, in the goodly abbey which he and his queen had
built and endowed in that Kentish township; and having in this guise
done the last duty to his liege lord and king, and being by death
liberated from the oaths of fealty and allegiance, which he had never
broken by word or deed, Sir Alain, caring for none of the honours and
advancements which other lords were ready to struggle for at the coming
in of a new king, came quietly home, only hoping and praying that his
country would be happy under Henry Plantagenet.

King Stephen being gone, much evil was said of him on all sides and by
all parties: yea, his own partisans, in the expectation that such words
would be grateful to the ear of the new king, did affect to murmur and
lament that he should so long have kept the great Henricus from the
throne; and, generaliter, the great men did burthen the memory of
Stephen with the past miseries of the people of England, of which they
themselves had been the promoters. I have said it: the defunct king, in
the straits and troubles into which he had been driven by the greed,
ambition, and faithlessness of the baronage, had ofttimes done amiss,
and, specialiter, had much travailed churchmen: yet be it remembered
that he built more royal abbeys than any king that went before him; that
he founded hospitals for the poor sick; and that during the whole of his
troublous reign he laid no new tax or tallage upon the people; and that
he was of a nature so mild and merciful that notwithstanding the many
revolts and rebellions and treasons practised against him, he did never
put any great man to death. I, Felix, who had seen how large he was of
heart and how open of hand, and who had tasted of his bounty and
condescension, could not forget these things when, in a few days, after
saying a mass of Requiem for his soul, we chanted in our church a Te
Deum laudamus for his successor.



XI.


I have said that we heard all too much of our powerful and wicked
neighbour Brian Fitzcount. But now that he knew Henry Plantagenet was
coming, and was one that would have power to destroy him and to put an
end to all plundering and castle-building, a sudden repentance seized
his time-hardened conscience. Some did much praise him for this, and
greatly admired the seeming severity of his penance; but it is to be
feared that he, like many others among our castle-builders and
depredators, did only repent when he found that he could sin no more. So
great had been his crimes, and so noted was Duke Henry for his strict
execution of justice, that, notwithstanding his long adherence to
Henry's mother, Sir Brian could not hope to escape a severe punishment,
with forfeiture of the broad lands which had become his by marriage, and
with deprivation of the great riches he had accumulated by plundering
the country. In this wise no secure asylum was open to him except in the
cloisters or in taking the cross. And before the Plantagenet returned
into England Sir Brian Fitzcount did take upon him the cross, and giving
up his terrible castle at Wallingford with all his fiefs, and abandoning
all his riches--_relictis fortunis omnibus_--he joined other crusaders
and took his departure for Palestine. His wife Maud, the rich daughter
of Sir Robert d'Oyley, had before this time retired into a convent in
Normandie, and there, being awakened to a sense of the wickedness of her
past life, she did soon take the veil. As they had no issue, and left no
knight near of kin, King Henry, soon after his coronation, took
possession of Wallingford Castle and of the honour of Wallingford; and
from that happy moment the troubles of the country and of our good house
ceased. Such was the fate of our worst enemy; but of the scarcely less
wicked Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe we still could learn nothing of
certain, and the rumours which reached us were very contradictory, some
saying that he had been slain by Welsh thieves, some that he had fled
beyond sea, some that he had entered into religion under a feigned name,
and was preparing to take the monastic vows in the Welsh house at
Bangor, and some asserting that he had gone with a desperate band into
Scotland to take service with that king and aid him in subjugating the
wild mountaineers of the north. Nay, there was still another report
common among the poor country folk that dwelt upon Kennet near Speen,
and it was to the effect that Satan had carried him away bodily. In
short, none knew what had become of him, but all prayed that they might
never see his face again.

Henry Plantagenet was busied in reducing the castles of some of his
turbulent barons in Normandie when he received the news of King
Stephen's demise. Being well assured that none in England would dare
question his right to the vacant throne, and being moreover a wise
prince, who always finished that which he had in hand before beginning
any new thing, he prosecuted his sieges, and ceased not until he had
reduced all the castles. Thus it was good six weeks after the death of
Stephen, and hard upon the most solemn festival of the Nativity, when
Henry came into England with his wife Eleanor and a mighty company of
great men. He was received as a deliverer, and there was joy and
exultation in the heart of every true Englishman at his coming. A
wondrously handsome and strong prince he was, albeit his hair inclined
to that colour which got for his great-uncle the name of Rufus or Red
King. His forehead was broad and lofty, as if it were the seat of great
wisdom, and a sanctuary of high schemes of government. His eyes were
round and large, and while he was in a quiet mood, they were calm, and
soft, and dovelike; but when he was angered, those eyes flashed fire and
were like unto lightning. His voice!--it made the heart of the boldest
quake when he raised it in wrath, or in peremptory command; but it
melted the soul like soft music when he was in the gentle mood that was
more common to him, and it even won men's hearts through their ears: it
was by turns a trumpet or a lute. Great, and for a prince miraculous,
was his learning, his grandfather, the Beauclerc, not having been a
finer scholar: wonderful was his eloquence, admirable his steadiness,
straightforwardness and sagacity in the despatch of all business. He
breathed a new life, and put a new soul into the much worn and
distracted body of England. There shall be peace in this land, said he;
and peace sprang up as quick as the gourd of the prophet: there shall be
justice among men of all degrees; and there was justice. Having taken
the oaths to be good king and lord--to respect mother church and the
ancient liberties of the people, the great Plantagenet was solemnly
crowned and anointed in the royal city of Winchester on the 19th of the
kalends of December, by Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury; and Eleanor,
his wife, was crowned with him. In the speech which he did then deliver,
he boasted of the Saxon blood which he inherited from his grandmother,
Queen Maud, of happy memory, who descended in right line from Alfredus
Magnus; and these his royal words did much gratify the English people,
without giving offence to the lords and knights of foreign origin, who,
by frequent intermarriages, had themselves become more than half Saxons,
and who had long since prided themselves in the name of Englishmen, and
would, in truth, be called by none other name. And full soon did
Henricus Secundus make it a name of terror to Normandie, to the whole of
France, and all circumjacent nations; and now that I write, in his happy
time, hath he not filled the highest offices in church and state with
men of English birth, and with many of the unmixed Saxon race? From his
first entrance into the government of this realm, he was principally
directed in matters of law and justice by our great lord archbishop,
Thomas à Becket, then only archdeacon of Canterbury, provost of
Beverley, and prebendary of Lincoln, and St. Paul's, London; and our
Lord Thomas, as all men do know, is the son of Gilbert à Becket,
merchant of the city of London.

King Henry kept his Christmas at Bermondsey; and it was from that place
that he issued his royal mandate, that all the foreign mercenaries and
companies of adventure that had done such terrible mischief in the wars
between King Stephen and Matilda should depart the land within a given
time, and without carrying with them the plunder they had made. Divers
of these men had been created earls and barons, and still kept
possession of fiefs and castles, but they nearly all yielded for the
great dread they had of the new king, and so got them out of England by
the appointed day, as naked and poor as they were when, for our sins,
they first came among us; and many a Fleming and Brabanter, Angevin and
Breton, from being a baron and castle-builder, returned to the
plough-tail in his own country. As the spring season approached, our
great king repaired unto Wallingford Castle, and there convened a great
council of earls, bishops, abbats, and some few citizens of note and
wealthy franklins. It was a pleasant and right joyous journey that which
I had with our Lord Abbat Reginald, and Sir Alain de Bohun, and my young
Lord Arthur. Already the hamlets which had been burned began to rear
again their yellow-thatched roofs in the bright sun; the wasted and
dispeopled towns were already under repair; the shepherd, with his snowy
flock and skipping lambs, was again whistling on the hill sides like one
that had nought to fear; the hind was singing at his labours in the
fertile fields; the farmer and the trader were travelling with their
wains and pack-horses, from grange to market and from town to town,
without dread of being robbed, and seized, and castle-bound; skiffs and
barks were ascending and descending the river with good cargaisons, and
without having a single lance or sword among their crews; the trenches
cut in the churchyards were filled up, the unseemly engines of war were
taken down from the church towers, and the church bells, being
replaced, again filled the air with their holy and sanctifying sounds.
Even the wilderness and the solitary place partook of the spirit of this
universal peace and gladness: there was sunshine in every man's face,
whether bond or free. In summa, it seemed, in truth, a time when the
wolf dwelt with the lamb, and the leopard lay down with the kid, and the
lion with the fatted calf; when the iron of the great engines of war was
turned into a ploughshare, the sword into a pruning-hook, and the lance
into a pastoral crook. I, who did well remember the sad state of things
only a few months agone, did much marvel that a country could so soon
recover from the horrors of war, and the depth of a universal anarchy
and havoc; and did, with a melting heart and moistened eye, offer up my
thanks to the Giver of all good things that it should be so.

It was at Wallingford that I did see, for the first time, our
far-renowned Thomas à Becket. There was no seeing him without discerning
the great heights to which he was destined to rise, even more by his
natural gifts than by the king's favour. At this time he numbered some
thirty-six or thirty-seven years; and from his childhood those years had
been years of study or of active business, as well of a secular as of an
ecclesiastical kind. A handsome man was he at that season, and blithe
and debonnaire, and, mayhap, a trifle too much given to state affairs,
and the pomps and vanities of this world, for a churchman: but, oh, John
the Evangelist, what a mind was his! what readiness of wit and reach of
thought! And what an eagerness was in him to raise his countrymen to
honour, to make his country happy and full of glory, and to raise the
church in power and dignity! "_Angli sumus_, we be Englishmen," said he
to our lord abbat, "and we must see to raise the value of that name."
Great and long experienced statesmen there were in this great council at
Wallingford, men that had travailed in negotiation at home and abroad,
and that had grown grey and bald in state offices; but verily they all
seemed children compared with the son of our London merchant, and they
one and all submitted their judgment to that of Thomas à Becket, who had
barely passed the middle space of human life. Numerous were the wise and
healing resolutions adopted in that great council, the most valuable of
all being, that the crown lands which King Stephen had alienated, in
order to satisfy his rapacious barons, should be resumed and re-annexed
to the crown; and that not one of the eleven hundred and more castles,
which the wicked castle-builders had made in Stephen's time, should be
allowed to stand as a place of arms. Some few were to remain to curb the
Welsh and Scots, or to guard the coast; but these were to be intrusted
to the keeping of the king's own castellans: of the rest, not a stone
was to be left upon another. This had been decreed before, but time had
not been allowed King Stephen to do the work; and so easy and over
indulgent was he, that it is possible the work would not have been done
for many a year if he had continued to live and reign.

Even in these sun-shining days there were some slight clouds raised by
the jealousies and ambitions and craving appetites of certain of our
great men, who sought to raise themselves at the cost of others.
Certain magnates whose names shall not soil this pure parchment--certain
self-seeking men who had been allied with Brian Fitzcount and Sir
Ingelric of Huntercombe, and who, like Sir Ingelric, had shifted from
side to side, tried hard to fill the ears of King Henry and his
secretarius Thomas à Becket with tales unfavourable to Sir Alain de
Bohun and his son Arthur; as that they had made war against the king's
mother, and had oppressed and plundered the lords that were favourable
to her cause, and had ever been the steadiest and most devoted of all
the partisans of the usurper Stephen. But neither the king nor à-Becket
was to be moved by these evil reports. "I do see," said the sharp and
short-dealing secretarius, "that all the good and quiet people of his
country bear testimony in favour of the Lord of Caversham and his brave
son: I do further see (and here à-Becket, with a light and quick thumb,
turned over great scrolls of parchment which had affixed to them the
name and seal of King Stephen) that in the nineteen years he so
faithfully served the late king, the said Sir Alain de Bohun hath not
added a single manor, nay, nor a single rood of land, to the estates
bequeathed unto him by his father or inherited through his wife; and
also do I see that he hath aspired after no new rank, or title, or
office, or honour whatsoever, but is now, save in the passage of time
and the wear of nineteen years' faithful and at times very hard service,
that which he was at the demise of Henricus Primus; and having all these
things in consideration, I do opine that the Lord of Caversham hath ever
followed the dictates of a pure conscience, and hath ever been and still
is a man to be trusted and honoured by our Lord the King Henricus
Secundus."

"And I," quoth the right royal Plantagenet, "I who am come hither to
make up differences, to reconcile factions, to heal the wounds which are
yet bleeding, and to give peace to this good and patient and generous
English people, will give heed to no tales told about the bygone times.
The faith and affection which Sir Alain de Bohun did bear unto my
unhappy predecessor, in bad fortune as well as in good, are proofs of
the fidelity he will bear unto me when I have once his oath. My lords,
there be some among ye that cannot show so clean a scutcheon! What with
the turnings from this side to that and from that to this, and the
castle-buildings and other doings of some of ye, I should have had a
wilderness for a kingdom! But these things will I bury in oblivion, and
this present mention of them is only provoked by ill-advised discourses,
and the whisperings and murmurings of a few. But let that faction look
to this--I am Henry Plantagenet, and not Stephen of Blois! With the laws
to my aid I will be sole king in this land, and be obeyed as such! The
reign of the eleven hundred kings is over! Let me hear no more of this.
By all the saints in heaven and all their shrines on earth! I will hold
that man mine enemy, and an enemy to the peace of this kingdom, that
saith another word against Sir Alain de Bohun, or his son, or any lord
or knight that hath done as they have done in the times that be past."

And so it was that our good Lord of Caversham was received by the king,
not as an old enemy but as an old friend, and was admitted to sit with
the greatest of the lords in consultation in Wallingford Castle, and
there to give his advice as to the best means of improving the condition
of his country. And a few days after this, when Sir Alain and his son
Arthur had taken the oaths of allegiance and fidelity unto King Henry
and his infant son, the king with his own hands made our young Lord
Arthur knight, giving him on that great occasion the sword which he had
worn at his own side, and a splendid horse which had been brought for
his own use from Apulia in Italie, out of the stables of the great Count
of Conversano, who hath long bred the best horses in all Christendom, to
his no small profit and glory.

Upon the breaking up of the council of Wallingford our great Plantagenet
prepared to march into the west with a well furnished army, in order to
reduce by siege the castles of Hugh Mortimer and a few other arrogant
barons who had the madness to defy him. Before quitting Brian
Fitzcount's great house, the king said to Sir Alain de Bohun, "For forty
days, and not longer, I may have my young knight Sir Arthur with me.
Unto thee, in the meantime, I give commission to level every castle
whatsoever that hath been left standing in this fair country of
Berkshire."

Seeing our lord abbat start a little at these words, the king said, in
his sweetest voice, "Aye, my lord abbat, even Reading Castle must down
with the rest; but ye will not feel the want of it, for with God's help
none shall trouble thy house, or cause the least mischief to thy lands
or vassals while I am king of England; and as a slight token of my trust
and esteem, thy good and near neighbour Sir Alain shall keep his
battlements standing. It were a task worthy of thee, good my lord, that
thou shouldest even go with Sir Alain on his present mission, and
sprinkle some holy water on the ground where these accursed castles have
stood, and build here and there a chapel upon the spots."

Our abbat, who ever much affected the society of Sir Alain, and who
loved the good work in hand, said he would perform this task; and for
this the king gave him thanks.

"Before I go hence," said the king to the Lord of Caversham, "is there
no grace or guerdon that thou wouldest ask of me?"

Sir Alain responded that he and his son had had grace and guerdon enow.

"By our Ladie of Fontevraud," quoth the king, "I have given thee
nothing, and have only given thy son a horse and a sword and his
knighthood. Bethink thee, good Sir Alain, is there no thing that thou
canst ask, and that I ought to give?"

Sir Alain smiled and shook his head, and said that there was nothing he
could ask for.

"By the bones of my grandfather," quoth the king, "thou art the first
man I ever found in Anjou, Normandie, or England, of this temper of
mind! But I have a wish to give if thou hast none to take; I charge thee
with a service that is important to me and the people, and that must
cost thee somewhat ere thou shalt have finished it; and, therefore,
would I give thee beforehand some suitable reward.... What, still dumb
and wantless?"

Here our lord abbat, bethinking himself of sundry things, whispered to
his neighbour, "Sir Alain, say a word for Sir Arthur's marriage with
the gentle Alice, and ask the king's grace for a free gift of the
forfeited lands which once appertained to Sir Ingelric."

"Beshrew me," quoth the Lord of Caversham, "I never thought of the
king's consent being necessary to my son's marriage. I thank thee, lord
abbat, and will speak to that point." Yet when he spake, all that he
told was the simple story of the nurture which had been given in his own
house by his sweet wife to the fair daughter of Sir Ingelric, and of the
long and constant love which had been between that maiden and his only
son, and all that he asked was that the king, as natural guardian of all
noble orphans, would allow the marriage.

The eyebrows of the Plantagenet kept arching and rising in amazement,
until Abbat Reginald thought that they would get to the top of his
forehead, high as it was. When he spake again, which he did not do for a
space, he said, "And is this formula, that costs me nothing, all that
thou hast to ask from the King of England, Duke of Normandie, and Earl
of Anjou, Poictou, and Aquitaine?"

"Verily," replied Sir Alain, "'tis all that I can think of, and for that
one favour I will ever be your bedesman."

"Sir Alain," said our abbat, tugging him by the skirt, "thou hast said
no one word touching the lands of Sir Ingelric."

"We need them not," said the high-minded old knight, "we be rich enow
without. If Sir Ingelric were alive and penitent, I might, in this happy
time of reconciliation and oblivion of past wrongs, ask the fiefs for
him; but as it is, let them go, or let the king keep them--he may need
them more than I."

"Well!" quoth the Plantagenet, "I see thou hast taken counsel. So now,
my trusty Sir Alain, tell me what guerdon I shall give thee for the
services with which thou art charged."

"My liege lord," quoth the lord of Caversham, "I, who in the times that
are past have so often done that which liked me not for no fee or
reward, but only in discharge of the oaths I had sworn, would not now
ask a guerdon for the performance of a task so grateful unto me. Let my
son espouse the fair Alice, and I am more than content."

But the king, who had been turning things over in his mind while our
abbat had been counselling Sir Alain, now called in Sir Arthur de Bohun,
and said to him thus:--"Sir Knight of mine own making, I, the king, do
give unto thee the hand of that little ladie Alice thou wottest of; and
I do confer as a dower upon the said ladie Alice all the manors,
honours, and lands whatsoever that were by her mother conveyed to Sir
Ingelric of Huntercombe. It were not well that so noble a damsel should
go portionless to her husband. Ye may be people of that rare sort that
would care not for the fiefs, but the noble maiden might feel it. The
less we say of her unnatural sire Sir Ingelric the better for him and
for us. Whether he be dead or alive, the lands which were his through
his two marriages are confiscated. It were but a common act of justice
to give back to the maiden that which was her mother's, and I would as
my free gift add the lands of the second marriage. À-Becket shall see to
it, and draw up the grant before we go hence. Sir Arthur, I hail thee
lord of Speen, and wish thee joy with thy bride. These forty days of war
will soon be over, and with thy ladie's prayers to help us, we may
finish with this mad Hugh de Mortimer in much less time."

Arthur knelt at the feet of the Plantagenet, and kissed his royal hand,
and said it was too much grace and over much greatness; and both father
and son joined in telling the king that the lands of the mother of Alice
would be more than enough without the inheritance of the dark ladie.

"Of a truth," said Sir Alain, "I should fear that that evil heritage
would come to us burthened with a curse; for it was ill acquired by the
father of the dark ladie, and was ever by her misused."

"Well," quoth the king, "we will keep part of those lands in our own
hands, and give a part to the abbat and monks of Reading, who will know
how to remove the curse with masses and prayer, and almsgiving to the
poor."

It was now the turn of our lord abbat to give thanks, which he did like
the noble and learned churchman that he was. And all these things being
pre-arranged, Thomas-à-Becket penned the royal grant for the fair Alice,
and a new charter for our house; and the king signed and sealed the
twain. By the charter he confirmed all preceding charters and donations.
And he gave to the abbey two good manors which had belonged to the dark
ladie, together with permission to enclose a park, in the place called
Cumba, for the use of the sick, whether monks or strangers. And very
soon after, upon his returning out of the west country, the king, by a
particular charter, gave the monks of Reading licence to hold a fair
every year on the day of St. James and the three following days, and
confirmed our old right to a Sunday market at Thatcham, commanding the
inhabitants of the country to attend the said market, and the jealous
men of Newbury not to hinder them or molest them. He also made us a
grant of forty marks of silver, to be paid annually out of his exchequer
until he should be enabled to secure unto us a revenue of the same value
in lands. Verily, we the monks of Reading did no more suffer for that
which we had done in the past time than did our noble neighbours of
Caversham. When that the great men saw in what high esteem Sir Alain and
Sir Arthur were held by the king, they spake to them cap in hand, and
vexed their wit to make them fine flattering speeches; yea, the very
lords who had essayed to work their ruin did now make them big
professions of friendship.

So the Plantagenet departed and went unto Gloucester and Bridgenorth
with his great battalia and engines of war, and the lord abbat and I,
Father Felix, went with Sir Alain de Bohun to perambulate and
perlustrate the country of Barkshire, bearing with us the royal mandate
to all heads of boroughs and townships and all good men to assist in
rooting out the foul donjons which disfigured the fair country like
blots of ink let fall upon a pure skin of parchment. Expeditive and very
complete was the work we made; for even as at Speen the country people
of their own free will came flocking to us with their pickaxes and
mattocks on their shoulders; and so soon as a castle was levelled, our
lord abbat, in pontificalibus, did sprinkle holy water upon the spot to
drive away the evil spirits that had so long reigned there; and did, in
the tongue of the people, as well as in Latin, put up a prayer that such
wickednesses might not be again known in the land. Divers strange
things and many recondite holes and corners, and most secret and
undiscoverable chambers, were brought to light in the course of these
demolishings; but it was not until we broke down and took to pieces a
castle near Shrivenham, on the confines of Barks, an outlying and little
known place, that we laid open to the light of day a very tragic
spectacle, which was in itself a conclusion to a part of this my
narration. Upon our coming to it, this castellum, like all the rest, was
deserted, the draw-bridge being down, and the portcullis and all other
gates removed by the serfs of the neighbouring manors, who had made
themselves good winter fires of the wood thereof. Nay, some poor
houseless men had for a season dwelt within the keep, and penned their
swine in the courtyard; but they had been terrified thence by
unaccountable and horrible noises at midnight; and these men and their
neighbours declared that it was the most accursed place in all the
country. It was a wonderful thing to see how fast those walls toppled
down, and how soon the deep moat was filled up. When the thick southern
wall of the square keep was all but levelled, Sir Alain de Bohun's
people came suddenly upon a secret chamber which had been contrived with
much art and cunning within the said wall. The men reached it by
demolishing the masonry above, but the access to it had been through a
crooked passage which mounted from a cell underground, and then through
a low narrow doorway, the door of which contained more iron than oak,
and closed inward with certain hidden springs, the secret whereof was
not to be apprehended by any of us until the door was knocked down and
taken to pieces. Within this dark and narrow chamber was revealed a
great heap of gold and silver, being well nigh as much as we had found
at Speen; and, prone upon this heap, with the face buried among the gold
and silver pieces, and with the arms stretched out as though he had died
in the act of clutching the heap, was seen the body of a knight in black
mail. At the first glance Sir Alain's people and the serfs that were
helping them cried out joyously, "Gold! gold!" but then they took the
knight in his armour for some scaled dragon or demon that was guarding
the treasure, and they ran away, crying "Diabolus! It is the devil!"

As it especially concerned monks to deal with the great dragon, and lay
evil spirits, Abbat Reginald and I, Father Felix, with an acolyte, who
was but of tender age, and truth to say, sorely afeared, hastened with
Sir Alain to that pit within the wall.

"By the blessed rood!" said the Lord of Caversham, as he looked down
into the hollow space--"That is no living devil, but the dead body of
Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe! I know him by that black mail of Milan, and
by the rare hilt of that sword, which I did give him when we were sworn
friends and brothers."

"This is wonderful, and I see the finger of Heaven in it," said our
abbat, crossing himself: and we all crossed ourselves for the amazement
and horror that was upon us. The meaner sort, who had fled from the dead
knight, now bethought themselves of the glittering gold, and came back
to the edge of that narrow pit; and when we, the monks, had thrown some
holy water therein, and caused our acolyte to hold the cross over the
gap, two of Sir Alain's men-at-arms descended, and re-ascending,
brought forth the body and laid it at our feet upon its back, and with
its face turned towards the heavens. Jesu Maria! but it was a ghostly
sight! From the little air that had been in that narrow cell, and from
the great siccity or dryness of the place, betwixt stones, flint, and
mortar, the body had not wasted away, or undergone the rapid corruption
of the damp grave; and albeit the face was all shrivelled and shrunk, it
was not hard to trace some of the lineaments of the unhappy Sir
Ingelric. Within the cavity of the mouth were pieces of coined gold, as
tho' he had set his famishing teeth in them; and within his clenched
hands, clenched by the last agony and convulsion of death, were pieces
of gold and silver. On the brow was the well-known mark of a wound which
that unhappy knight had gotten in his early days in fighting for King
Stephen; the Agnus Dei, and the little cross at the breast, were those
of Sir Ingelric, and were marked with his name; and the blade of the
sword bore the conjoined names of Sir Ingelric and Sir Alain. Having
noted and pointed out all these things, Abbat Reginald, after another
and more copious aspersion of the blessed water, which is holier than
the stream which now floweth in Jordan, raised his right hand and said,
"My children, there is a dread lesson and example in that which lieth
before us! Crooked courses ever lead to evil ends, albeit not always in
this nether world. But here is one that hath reaped upon earth the fruit
of his crimes, and that hath perished by the demon that first led him
astray--aye, perished upon a heap of gold and silver, and of
famine, the cruellest of deaths, and in a miser's hole--a robber's
hiding-place--unpitied, unheeded, unconfessed, with the fiend mocking
him, and bidding him eat his gold, and with the interdict of holy mother
church and the curses of ruined men pressing upon his sinful soul. And
was it for this, oh Sir Ingelric, that thou didst soil thy faith, and
betray thy king and friends, and waste the fair land of thy birth, and
rack and torture the poor? Take hence the excommunicate body and bury it
deep in unconsecrated earth; but remember, oh my children, all that
which ye have this day seen!"

The gold and silver we removed and put into strong coffers, in order
that we might use them with the same justice and regard to the poor that
we had used with the treasure found in Sir Ingelric's own castle at
Speen.

When we came to make inquiries among the people of those parts, and to
put their several reports together, we made a good key to the awful
enigma and mystery of Sir Ingelric's death. That castle by Shrivenham
had been made by one of the very worst of the castle-building robbers,
who had never raised any standard but his own over his donjon keep. In
the autumnal season of the year preceding that in which we came to
destroy the place, and at the time when the joint orders of King Stephen
and Henry Plantagenet were sent forth against the castle-holders, there
suddenly appeared at Shrivenham a band that came from the westward, and
that were headed by a knight in black mail, and with a black plume to
his casque; and by some of those reaches of treachery which were common
among these evil doers, the new-comers got possession of this castellum,
and made a slaughter of the builder of it, and of the men that were true
to him. But the new comers had not been a day in possession of the
castle when intelligence was brought them by a scout that a force of
King Stephen, which had tracked them from the westward, was approaching
Shrivenham; and thereupon, and for that the castle was too unfurnished
with victual to withstand any beleaguer, the strangers fled from it more
suddenly than they had come to it. As the vicinage was almost deserted,
and as the few people fled and hid themselves, the black band had no
communications with them during their brief stay; but two poor serfs who
had watched their departure had described it as being full of panic,
terror, and of a dread of other things besides that of the close
approach of the king's force (which force never came at all); for they
had heard the band bewailing that they had no longer a leader, that
their chief had disappeared in the castellum, and that the devil must
have carried him off bodily: and the serfs did well mark that the knight
in the black mail was not among them, nor at their head, as they had
seen him at their first coming. And as Sir Alain's people, in finishing
their good work at the castellum, threw open the subterrain winding
passage, of which mention hath been made, they found the body of an old
man with a bundle of great keys at his girdle, and a long dagger
sticking in his left side; and his head lay close to the strong door of
the treasure chamber, and between the body and the door were picked up a
strong bag and part of a long extinguished torch.

"By Saint Lucia, who presideth over man's blessed organ of sight and the
glorious light of day," quoth our abbat; "by sweet Saint Lucia, I do see
daylight through that dark passage. The bait of that gold drew Sir
Ingelric hither, to be taken as in a trap. He was eager to have the
first hanselling and most precious bits of the treasure, or mayhap to
carry off the whole, or conceal it for his own use, counting upon more
time than heaven allowed him. That old unshriven traitor was, doubtless,
one of the men of the castle-builder, that betrayed their master, and
him Sir Ingelric slew so soon as he had led him to the chamber and
opened the door, with the intent that he should not divulge unto others
the secret of the hiding place. Peradventure, the old man in his
death-struggles dashed out the light and pulled to the open door; or Sir
Ingelric, being left in darkness, and uninformed of the fastenings, did
in his great haste kick the door and so cause it to fly to, and shut for
ever upon him."

We did all think that the riddle was well read by Abbat Reginald, and
that this was a natural conclusion to the other and better known
incidents of Sir Ingelric's dark story.

By the time we had finished with the wicked castles of Barkshire, our
great and ever victorious King Henry had finished with that perverse man
Hugh de Mortimer; and as we came to our house at Pangbourne on our way
back to Reading, we there met the young Lord of Caversham, Sir Arthur de
Bohun, who had been dismissed to his home by the king, and not without
some further proof of the royal friendship, for, as it was ever in his
nature to do, Sir Arthur had done manfully in the king's sieges and
other emprises. It was a happy meeting to all of us, and there was no
longer any public calamity to cloud or reproach our private happiness.
The donjons were all down, or in good keeping; and, from end to end and
in all its breadth England was at peace, and none of the baronage were
so daring as to resist the king and the law. _Dulce mihi nomen
pacis!_--ever sweet unto me was the name of peace, and now we had both
the name and the substance of it. It was therefore resolved at
Pangbourne that the marriage of Sir Arthur and the Lady Alice should be
celebrated on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, which was now near
at hand.

Upon coming to Caversham Sir Alain de Bohun hung his shield upon the
wall, intending to go forth to no more wars. Then he put into the hands
of the gentle Alice the king's charter which conferred upon her the
domains of her mother, telling her, in his jocose way, that as she had
now so goodly an inheritance she might be minded to quit the humble
house and poor people at Caversham, and get her to court to match with
some great earl. And at this that fairest of maidens placed the king's
charter in the hands of Sir Arthur, and with a blushing cheek and
without words spoken, went out of the hall. Sir Arthur did afterwards
inform her, in the gentlest manner, of the sure death of Sir Ingelric
many months agone; and, albeit he had been so unnatural a father, Alice
shed many tears, and made a vow to give money to the church and poor,
that his sinful soul might be prayed for. The dreadful manner of Sir
Ingelric's death was carefully concealed from the young bride, and hath
never been fully made known unto her. She was united to Sir Arthur in
our abbey church, on the happiest festival of St. Michael that our house
had ever known, for the season was mild and beautiful, the harvest had
been abundant, we had gotten in all our crops without hindrance, our
granaries were filled with corn and our hearts with joy; and as all of
us, from the lord abbat down to the obscurest lay brother, had a
surpassing affection as well for the gentle bride as for her noble mate,
who had in a manner been our son and pupil, and an old reverence and
love for Sir Alain and his ladie, we could not but rejoice at the great
joy we saw in them. But all good people, gentle or simple, bond or free,
did jubilate on this happy day; and when the bride and bridegroom
returned homeward, the procession which followed them, shouting and
singing, and calling down blessings upon their young heads, was so long
as to run in an unbroken line from the midst of the King's mead to the
end of Caversham-bridge; for our good vassals of Reading town had all
put on their holiday clothes and shut up their houses, and all the
people of Caversham were afoot, and Tilehurst, and Sulham, and Charlton,
and Purley, and Sunning, and Speen, and Pangbourne, and every other
township and village for miles round-about had poured out their
inhabitants; and not a franklin or serf, not a man, woman, or child
among them all, but was feasted either by Sir Alain or Sir Arthur, or by
us the monks of Reading. Methinks the sun never rose and set upon so
beautiful a day! The air and the earth rejoiced, and the flowing waters;
the full Thamesis and our own quick and resonant Kennet made music and
thanksgiving together; and seemed it to me that I had never so loved the
country of my birth, and the fair scenes in which my life had been past
from infancy to ripe manhood; and yet had I ever loved that fair country
above all that mine eyes had seen in much travelling. _Natale solum
dulcedine cunctos mulcet._ Oh native soil, thou softenest man's heart,
and fillest it with love of thee!

Now did the Ladie Alice more than verify the happy prediction which our
good Abbat Edward put forth in the stormy time, to wit, that the little
maiden which came to our house in the basket, and which I, Felix the
novice, and Philip the lay-brother did convey by night unto Caversham,
would make amends for the ingratitude and treasons and other wicked
doings of her father. Betwixt that merry wedding-day and the day that
now is, there have been nine long years, and they have all been years of
peace and happiness to the good house at Caversham, with that increase
and multiplication which God willed when the world was in its infancy
and all unpeopled.

Happy, too, hath been our house at Reading, and great the increase of
the abbey in beauty and splendour. Some few griefs and trials we have
had; for earth, at the happiest, was never meant to be heaven; and we
all live to die, and must die to live again. The good and bountiful Lord
Abbat Reginald deceased on the fourth of the kalends of February, in the
year of grace eleven hundred and fifty-eight; but he died full of years
and honour, and verily, the Lord Abbat Roger that now is, hath been
approved his very worthy successor. As our wealth increased under the
blessed peace, and the sage government of our great king, and the favour
of our Lord Thomas à Becket, for some while chancellor of the kingdom,
and now and for the two years last past, by the grace of God, Archbishop
of Canterbury and Primate of England, we of the chapter did begin to
think that our church was not sufficiently lofty and spacious, and that
wondrous improvements might be made in it, if we devoted to the task
some of our superfluous wealth. And six years agone, when our Lord
Reginald was in the twelfth year of his government over us (may our
Ladie the Virgin, and St. John and St. James ever have him in their holy
keeping), we made a beginning; and the year last past, being the year of
our redemption eleven hundred and sixty-four, we finished our great
church, which hath been so much enlarged and altered that it may be
called a new church; and Rex Henricus Secundus being present with ten
suffragan bishops, and great lay barons too many to count, our Lord
Archbishop Thomas did consecrate it with that solemnity and magnificence
which he puts into all his doings: and on the very day on which the
archbishop consecrated our church, the king, keeping his royal promise,
granted us a land revenue of forty marks of silver out of the manor of
Hoo in Kent, by assignment of Sir Robert Bardolph, the lord of that
manor.

And our mighty and ever victorious king, who is no less a friend to
learning and learned men, nor less a patron of the church than was his
grandfather the Beauclerc, hath ordered books to be bought for the
enriching of our library, and hath given us another charter confirming
our liberties and immunities, and enjoining all the kings that may come
after him to observe the same, and calling upon the Lord to snatch them
out of the land of the living, together with their posterity, if they or
any one of them should seek to infringe our charter, or lessen our
rights and properties. "_Quam qui infringere vel minuere presumpserit,
extrahat eum dominus et evertat de terra viventium cum omni posteritate
sua._" These be the king's very words in the second great charter he
hath given us.

Here I surcease from the pleasant labours which have amused the few
lonely hours that my various duties left me. There cannot be a better
time to stop and say _vale_! Henricus Secundus is king; Thomas à Becket
is primate; Roger is lord abbat of Reading; and I, Felix the Sunningite,
and novice that was, am poor sub-prior; and every monk of the house is a
man of English birth. It hath been noted of late, that our prior
declineth apace; and there hath been a talk among the cloister monks
that I best merit that succession, which would place me next in dignity
and greatness to the mitred lord abbat of this royal abbey. But, alas!
what is increase of dignity but increase of care! I do hope that our
good prior may live all through this winter; albeit, it is a very sharp
one, and old men be falling fast around us.--_Vale et semper Vale!_


THE END.

LONDON: WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET.

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