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Title: Harold : the Last of the Saxon Kings — Volume 10
Author: Lytton, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron
Language: English
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BOOK X.


THE SACRIFICE ON THE ALTAR.



CHAPTER I.


The good Bishop Alred, now raised to the See of York, had been
summoned from his cathedral seat by Edward, who had indeed undergone a
severe illness, during the absence of Harold; and that illness had
been both preceded and followed by mystical presentiments of the evil
days that were to fall on England after his death.  He had therefore
sent for the best and the holiest prelate in his realm, to advise and
counsel with.

The bishop had returned to his lodging in London (which was in a
Benedictine Abbey, not far from the Aldgate) late one evening, from
visiting the King at his rural palace of Havering; and he was seated
alone in his cell, musing over an interview with Edward, which had
evidently much disturbed him, when the door was abruptly thrown open,
and pushing aside in haste the monk, who was about formally to
announce him, a man so travel-stained in garb, and of a mien so
disordered, rushed in, that Alred gazed at first as on a stranger, and
not till the intruder spoke did he recognise Harold the Earl.  Even
then, so wild was the Earl's eye, so dark his brow, and so livid his
cheek, that it rather seemed the ghost of the man than the man
himself.  Closing the door on the monk, the Earl stood a moment on the
threshold, with a breast heaving with emotions which he sought in vain
to master; and, as if resigning the effort, he sprang forward, clasped
the prelate's knees, bowed his head on his lap, and sobbed aloud.  The
good bishop, who had known all the sons of Godwin from their infancy,
and to whom Harold was as dear as his own child, folding his hands
over the Earl's head, soothingly murmured a benediction.

"No, no," cried the Earl, starting to his feet, and tossing the
dishevelled hair from his eyes, "bless me not yet!  Hear my tale
first, and then say what comfort, what refuge, thy Church can bestow!"

Hurriedly then the Earl poured forth the dark story, already known to
the reader,--the prison at Belrem, the detention at William's court,
the fears, the snares, the discourse by the riverside, the oath over
the relics.  This told, he continued, "I found myself in the open air,
and knew not, till the light of the sun smote me, what might have
passed into my soul.  I was, before, as a corpse which a witch raises
from the dead, endows with a spirit not its own--passive to her hand--
life-like, not living.  Then, then it was as if a demon had passed
from my body, laughing scorn at the foul things it had made the clay
do.  O, father, father! is there not absolution from this oath,--an
oath I dare not keep? rather perjure myself than betray my land!"

The prelate's face was as pale as Harold's, and it was some moments
before he could reply.

"The Church can loose and unloose--such is its delegated authority.
But speak on; what saidst thou at the last to William?"

"I know not, remember not--aught save these words.  'Now, then, give
me those for whom I placed myself in thy power; let me restore Haco to
his fatherland, and Wolnoth to his mother's kiss, and wend home my
way.'  And, saints in heaven! what was the answer of this caitiff
Norman, with his glittering eye and venomed smile?  'Haco thou shalt
have, for he is an orphan and an uncle's love is not so hot as to burn
from a distance; but Wolnoth, thy mother's son, must stay with me as a
hostage for thine own faith.  Godwin's hostages are released; Harold's
hostage I retain: it is but a form, yet these forms are the bonds of
princes.'

"I looked at him, and his eye quailed.  And I said, 'That is not in
the compact.'  And William answered, 'No, but it is the seal to it.'
Then I turned from the Duke and I called my brother to my side, and I
said, 'Over the seas have I come for thee.  Mount thy steed and ride
by my side, for I will not leave the land without thee.'  And Wolnoth
answered, 'Nay, Duke William tells me that he hath made treaties with
thee, for which I am still to be the hostage; and Normandy has grown
my home, and I love William as my lord.'  Hot words followed, and
Wolnoth, chafed, refused entreaty and command, and suffered me to see
that his heart was not with England!  O, mother, mother, how shall I
meet thine eye!  So I returned with Haco.  The moment I set foot on my
native England, that moment her form seemed to rise from the tall
cliffs, her voice to speak in the winds!  All the glamour by which I
had been bound, forsook me; and I sprang forward in scorn, above the
fear of the dead men's bones.  Miserable overcraft of the snarer!  Had
my simple word alone bound me, or that word been ratified after slow
and deliberate thought, by the ordinary oaths that appeal to God, far
stronger the bond upon my soul than the mean surprise, the covert
tricks, the insult and the mocking fraud.  But as I rode on, the oath
pursued me--pale spectres mounted behind me on my steed, ghastly
fingers pointed from the welkin; and then suddenly, O my father--I
who, sincere in my simple faith, had, as thou knowest too well, never
bowed submissive conscience to priest and Church--then suddenly I felt
the might of some power, surer guide than that haughty conscience
which had so in the hour of need betrayed me!  Then I recognised that
supreme tribunal, that mediator between Heaven and man, to which I
might come with the dire secret of my soul, and say, as I say now, on
my bended knee, O father--father--bid me die, or absolve me from my
oath!"

Then Alred rose erect, and replied, "Did I need subterfuge, O son, I
would say, that William himself hath released thy bond, in detaining
the hostage against the spirit of the guilty compact; that in the very
words themselves of the oath, lies the release--'if God aid thee.'
God aids no child to parricide--and thou art England's child!  But all
school casuistry is here a meanness.  Plain is the law, that oaths
extorted by compulsion, through fraud and in fear, the Church hath the
right to loose: plainer still the law of God and of man, that an oath
to commit crime it is a deadlier sin to keep than to forfeit.
Wherefore, not absolving thee from the misdeed of a vow that, if
trusting more to God's providence and less to man's vain strength and
dim wit, thou wouldst never have uttered even for England's sake--
leaving her to the angels;--not, I say, absolving thee from that sin,
but pausing yet to decide what penance and atonement to fix to its
committal, I do in the name of the Power whose priest I am, forbid
thee to fulfil the oath; I do release and absolve thee from all
obligation thereto.  And if in this I exceed my authority as Romish
priest, I do but accomplish my duties as living man.  To these grey
hairs I take the sponsorship.  Before this holy cross, kneel, O my
son, with me, and pray that a life of truth and virtue may atone the
madness of an hour."

So by the crucifix knelt the warrior and the priest.



CHAPTER II.


All other thought had given way to Harold's impetuous yearning to
throw himself upon the Church, to hear his doom from the purest and
wisest of its Saxon preachers.  Had the prelate deemed his vow
irrefragable, he would have died the Roman's death, rather than live
the traitor's life; and strange indeed was the revolution created in
this man's character, that he, "so self-dependent," he who had
hitherto deemed himself his sole judge below of cause and action, now
felt the whole life of his life committed to the word of a cloistered
shaveling.  All other thought had given way to that fiery impulse--
home, mother, Edith, king, power, policy, ambition!  Till the weight
was from his soul, he was as an outlaw in his native land.  But when
the next sun rose, and that awful burthen was lifted from his heart
and his being--when his own calm sense, returning, sanctioned the fiat
of the priest,--when, though with deep shame and rankling remorse at
the memory of the vow, he yet felt exonerated, not from the guilt of
having made, but the deadlier guilt of fulfilling it--all the objects
of existence resumed their natural interest, softened and chastened,
but still vivid in the heart restored to humanity.  But from that
time, Harold's stern philosophy and stoic ethics were shaken to the
dust; re-created, as it were, by the breath of religion, he adopted
its tenets even after the fashion of his age.  The secret of his
shame, the error of his conscience, humbled him.  Those unlettered
monks whom he had so despised, how had he lost the right to stand
aloof from their control! how had his wisdom, and his strength, and
his courage, met unguarded the hour of temptation!

Yes, might the time come, when England could spare him from her side!
when he, like Sweyn the outlaw, could pass a pilgrim to the Holy
Sepulchre, and there, as the creed of the age taught, win full pardon
for the single lie of his truthful life, and regain the old peace of
his stainless conscience!

There are sometimes event and season in the life of man the hardest
and most rational, when he is driven perforce to faith the most
implicit and submissive; as the storm drives the wings of the petrel
over a measureless sea, till it falls tame, and rejoicing at refuge,
on the sails of some lonely ship.  Seasons when difficulties, against
which reason seems stricken into palsy, leave him bewildered in dismay
--when darkness, which experience cannot pierce, wraps the conscience,
as sudden night wraps the traveller in the desert--when error
entangles his feet in its inextricable web--when, still desirous of
the right, he sees before him but a choice of evil; and the Angel of
the Past, with a flaming sword, closes on him the gates of the Future.
Then, Faith flashes on him, with a light from the cloud.  Then, he
clings to Prayer as a drowning wretch to the plank.  Then, that solemn
authority which clothes the Priest, as the interpreter between the
soul and the Divinity, seizes on the heart that trembles with terror
and joy; then, that mysterious recognition of Atonement, of sacrifice,
of purifying lustration (mystery which lies hid in the core of all
religions), smoothes the frown on the Past, removes the flaming sword
from the future.  The Orestes escapes from the hounding Furies, and
follows the oracle to the spot where the cleansing dews shall descend
on the expiated guilt.

He who hath never known in himself, nor marked in another, such
strange crisis in human fate, cannot judge of the strength and the
weakness it bestows.  But till he can so judge, the spiritual part of
all history is to him a blank scroll, a sealed volume.  He cannot
comprehend what drove the fierce Heathen, cowering and humbled, into
the fold of the Church; what peopled Egypt with eremites; what lined
the roads of Europe and Asia with pilgrim homicides; what, in the
elder world, while Jove yet reigned on Olympus, is couched in the dim
traditions of the expiation of Apollo, the joy-god, descending into
Hades; or why the sinner went blithe and light-hearted from the
healing lustrations of Eleusis.  In all these solemn riddles of the
Jove world and the Christ's is involved the imperious necessity that
man hath of repentance and atonement: through their clouds, as a
rainbow, shines the covenant that reconciles the God and the man.

Now Life with strong arms plucked the reviving Harold to itself.
Already the news of his return had spread through the city, and his
chamber soon swarmed with joyous welcomes and anxious friends.  But
the first congratulations over, each had tidings that claimed his
instant attention, to relate.  His absence had sufficed to loosen half
the links of that ill-woven empire.

All the North was in arms.  Northumbria had revolted as one man, from
the tyrannous cruelty of Tostig; the insurgents had marched upon York;
Tostig had fled in dismay, none as yet knew whither.  The sons of
Algar had sallied forth from their Mercian fortresses, and were now in
the ranks of the Northumbrians, who it was rumoured had selected
Morcar (the elder) in the place of Tostig.

Amidst these disasters, the King's health was fast decaying; his mind
seemed bewildered and distraught; dark ravings of evil portent that
had escaped from his lip in his mystic reveries and visions, had
spread abroad, bandied with all natural exaggerations, from lip to
lip.  The country was in one state of gloomy and vague apprehension.

But all would go well, now Harold the great Earl--Harold the stout,
and the wise, and the loved--had come back to his native land!

In feeling himself thus necessary to England,--all eyes, all hopes,
all hearts turned to him, and to him alone,--Harold shook the evil
memories from his soul, as a lion shakes the dews from his mane.  His
intellect, that seemed to have burned dim and through smoke in scenes
unfamiliar to its exercise, rose at once equal to the occasion.  His
words reassured the most despondent.  His orders were prompt and
decisive.  While, to and fro, went forth his bodes and his riders, he
himself leaped on his horse, and rode fast to Havering.

At length that sweet and lovely retreat broke on his sight, as a bower
through the bloom of a garden.  This was Edward's favourite abode: he
had built it himself for his private devotions, allured by its woody
solitudes and gloom of its copious verdure.  Here it was said, that
once that night, wandering through the silent glades, and musing on
heaven, the loud song of the nightingales had disturbed his devotions;
with vexed and impatient soul, he had prayed that the music might be
stilled: and since then, never more the nightingale was heard in the
shades of Havering!  Threading the woodland, melancholy yet glorious
with the hues of autumn, Harold reached the low and humble gate of the
timber edifice, all covered with creepers and young ivy; and in a few
moments more he stood in the presence of the King.

Edward raised himself with pain from the couch on which he was
reclined [204], beneath a canopy supported by columns and surmounted
by carved symbols of the bell towers of Jerusalem: and his languid
face brightened at the sight of Harold.  Behind the King stood a man
with a Danish battle-axe in his hand, the captain of the royal house-
carles, who, on a sign from the King, withdrew.

"Thou art come back, Harold," said Edward then, in a feeble voice; and
the Earl drawing near, was grieved and shocked at the alteration of
his face.  "Thou art come back, to aid this benumbed hand, from which
the earthly sceptre is about to fall.  Hush! for it is so, and I
rejoice."  Then examining Harold's features, yet pale with recent
emotions, and now saddened by sympathy with the King, he resumed:
"Well, man of this world, that went forth confiding in thine own
strength, and in the faith of men of the world like thee,--well, were
my warnings prophetic, or art thou contented with thy mission?"

"Alas!" said Harold, mournfully.  "Thy wisdom was greater than mine, O
King; and dread the snares laid for me and our native land, under
pretext of a promise made by thee to Count William, that he should
reign in England, should he be your survivor."

Edward's face grew troubled and embarrassed.  "Such promise," he said,
falteringly, "when I knew not the laws of England, nor that a realm
could not pass like house and hyde by a man's single testament, might
well escape from my thoughts, never too bent upon earthly affairs.
But I marvel not that my cousin's mind is more tenacious and mundane.
And verily, in those vague words, and from thy visit, I see the Future
dark with fate and crimson with blood."

Then Edward's eyes grew locked and set, staring into space; and even
that reverie, though it awed him, relieved Harold of much disquietude,
for he rightly conjectured, that on waking from it Edward would press
him no more as to those details, and dilemmas of conscience, of which
he felt that the arch-worshipper of relics was no fitting judge.

When the King, with a heavy sigh, evinced return from the world of
vision, he stretched forth to Harold his wan, transparent hand, and
said:

"Thou seest the ring on this finger; it comes to me from above, a
merciful token to prepare my soul for death.  Perchance thou mayest
have heard that once an aged pilgrim stopped me on my way from God's
House, and asked for alms--and I, having nought else on my person to
bestow, drew from my finger a ring, and gave it to him, and the old
man went his way, blessing me."

"I mind me well of thy gentle charity," said the Earl; "for the
pilgrim bruited it abroad as he passed, and much talk was there of
it."

The King smiled faintly.  "Now this was years ago.  It so chanced this
year, that certain Englishers, on their way from the Holy Land, fell
in with two pilgrims--and these last questioned them much of me.  And
one, with face venerable and benign, drew forth a ring and said, 'When
thou reachest England, give thou this to the King's own hand, and say,
by this token, that on Twelfth-Day Eve he shall be with me.  For what
he gave to me, will I prepare recompense without bound; and already
the saints deck for the new comer the halls where the worm never gnaws
and the moth never frets.'  'And who,' asked my subjects amazed, 'who
shall we say, speaketh thus to us?'  And the pilgrim answered, 'He on
whose breast leaned the Son of God, and my name is John!' [205]
Wherewith the apparition vanished.  This is the ring I gave to the
pilgrim; on the fourteenth night from thy parting, miraculously
returned to me.  Wherefore, Harold, my time here is brief, and I
rejoice that thy coming delivers me up from the cares of state to the
preparation of my soul for the joyous day."

Harold, suspecting under this incredible mission some wily device of
the Norman, who, by thus warning Edward (of whose precarious health he
was well aware), might induce his timorous conscience to take steps
for the completion of the old promise,--Harold, we say, thus
suspecting, in vain endeavoured to combat the King's presentiments,
but Edward interrupted him, with displeased firmness of look and tone:

"Come not thou, with thy human reasonings, between my soul and the
messenger divine; but rather nerve and prepare thyself for the dire
calamities that lie greeding in the days to come!  Be thine, things
temporal.  All the land is in rebellion.  Anlaf, whom thy coming
dismissed, hath just wearied me with sad tales of bloodshed and
ravage.  Go and hear him;--go hear the bodes of thy brother Tostig,
who wait without in our hall;--go, take axe, and take shield, and the
men of earth's war, and do justice and right; and on thy return thou
shalt see with what rapture sublime a Christian King can soar aloft
from his throne!  Go!"

More moved, and more softened, than in the former day he had been with
Edward's sincere, if fanatical piety, Harold, turning aside to conceal
his face, said:

"Would, O royal Edward, that my heart, amidst worldly cares, were as
pure and serene as thine!  But, at least, what erring mortal may do to
guard this realm, and face the evils thou foreseest in the Far--that
will I do; and perchance, then, in my dying hour, God's pardon and
peace may descend on me!"  He spoke, and went.

The accounts he received from Anlaf (a veteran Anglo-Dane), were
indeed more alarming than he had yet heard.  Morcar, the bold son of
Algar, was already proclaimed, by the rebels, Earl of Northumbria; the
shires of Nottingham, Derby, and Lincoln, had poured forth their hardy
Dane populations on his behalf.  All Mercia was in arms under his
brother Edwin; and many of the Cymrian chiefs had already joined the
ally of the butchered Gryffyth.

Not a moment did the Earl lose in proclaiming the Herr-bann; sheaves
of arrows were splintered, and the fragments, as announcing the War-
Fyrd, were sent from thegn to thegn, and town to town.  Fresh
messengers were despatched to Gurth to collect the whole force of his
own earldom, and haste by quick marches to London; and, these
preparations made, Harold returned to the metropolis, and with a heavy
heart sought his mother, as his next care.

Githa was already prepared for his news; for Haco had of his own
accord gone to break the first shock of disappointment.  There was in
this youth a noiseless sagacity that seemed ever provident for Harold.
With his sombre, smileless cheek, and gloom of beauty, bowed as if
beneath the weight of some invisible doom, he had already become
linked indissolubly with the Earl's fate, as its angel,--but as its
angel of darkness!

To Harold's intense relief, Githa stretched forth her hands as he
entered, and said, "Thou hast failed me, but against thy will! grieve
not; I am content!"

"Now our Lady be blessed, mother--"

"I have told her," said Haco, who was standing, with arms folded, by
the fire, the blaze of which reddened fitfully his hueless countenance
with its raven hair; "I have told thy mother that Wolnoth loves his
captivity, and enjoys the cage.  And the lady hath had comfort in my
words."

"Not in thine only, son of Sweyn, but in those of fate; for before thy
coming I prayed against the long blind yearning of my heart, prayed
that Wolnoth might not cross the sea with his kinsmen."

"How!" exclaimed the Earl, astonished.

Githa took his arm, and led him to the farther end of the ample
chamber, as if out of the hearing of Haco, who turned his face towards
the fire, and gazed into the fierce blaze with musing, unwinking eyes.

"Couldst thou think, Harold, that in thy journey, that on the errand
of so great fear and hope, I could sit brooding in my chair, and count
the stitches on the tremulous hangings?  No; day by day have I sought
the lore of Hilda, and at night I have watched with her by the fount,
and the elm, and the tomb; and I know that thou hast gone through dire
peril; the prison, the war, and the snare; and I know also, that his
Fylgia hath saved the life of my Wolnoth; for had he returned to his
native land, he had returned but to a bloody grave!"

"Says Hilda this?" said the Earl, thoughtfully.

"So say the Vala, the rune, and the Scin-laeca! and such is the doom
that now darkens the brow of Haco!  Seest thou not that the hand of
death is in the hush of the smileless lip, and the glance of the
unjoyous eye?"

"Nay, it is but the thought born to captive youth, and nurtured in
solitary dreams.  Thou hast seen Hilda?--and Edith, my mother?  Edith
is--"

"Well," said Githa, kindly, for she sympathised with that love which
Godwin would have condemned, "though she grieved deeply after thy
departure, and would sit for hours gazing into space, and moaning.
But even ere Hilda divined thy safe return, Edith knew it; I was
beside her at the time; she started up, and cried, 'Harold is in
England!'--'How?--Why thinkest thou so?' said I.  And Edith answered,
'I feel it by the touch of the earth, by the breath of the air.'  This
is more than love, Harold.  I knew two twins who had the same instinct
of each other's comings and goings, and were present each to each even
when absent: Edith is twin to my soul.  Thou goest to her now, Harold:
thou wilt find there thy sister Thyra.  The child hath drooped of
late, and I besought Hilda to revive her, with herb and charm.  Thou
wilt come back, ere thou departest to aid Tostig, thy brother, and
tell me how Hilda hath prospered with my ailing child?"

"I will, my mother.  Be cheered!--Hilda is a skilful nurse.  And now
bless thee, that thou hast not reproached me that my mission failed to
fulfil my promise.  Welcome even our kinswoman's sayings, sith they
comfort thee for the loss of thy darling!"

Then Harold left the room, mounted his steed, and rode through the
town towards the bridge.  He was compelled to ride slowly through the
streets, for he was recognised; and cheapman and mechanic rushed from
house and from stall to hail the Man of the Land and the Time.

"All is safe now in England, for Harold is come back!"  They seemed
joyous as the children of the mariner, when, with wet garments, he
struggles to shore through the storm.  And kind and loving were
Harold's looks and brief words, as he rode with vailed bonnet through
the swarming streets.

At length he cleared the town and the bridge; and the yellowing boughs
of the orchards drooped over the road towards the Roman home, when, as
he spurred his steed, he heard behind him hoofs as in pursuit, looked
back, and beheld Haco.  He drew rein,--"What wantest thou, my nephew?"

"Thee!" answered Haco, briefly, as he gained his side.  "Thy
companionship."

"Thanks, Haco; but I pray thee to stay in my mother's house, for I
would fain ride alone."

"Spurn me not from thee, Harold!  This England is to me the land of
the stranger; in thy mother's house I feel but the more the orphan.
Henceforth I have devoted to thee my life!  And my life my dead and
dread father hath left to thee, as a doom or a blessing; wherefore
cleave I to thy side;--cleave we in life and in death to each other!"

An undefined and cheerless thrill shot through the Earl's heart as the
youth spoke thus; and the remembrance that Haco's counsel had first
induced him to abandon his natural hardy and gallant manhood, meet
wile by wile, and thus suddenly entangle him in his own meshes, had
already mingled an inexpressible bitterness with his pity and
affection for his brother's son.  But, struggling against that uneasy
sentiment, as unjust towards one to whose counsel--however sinister,
and now repented--he probably owed, at least, his safety and
deliverance, he replied gently:

"I accept thy trust and thy love, Haco!  Ride with me, then; but
pardon a dull comrade, for when the soul communes with itself the lip
is silent."

"True," said Haco, "and I am no babbler.  Three things are ever
silent: Thought, Destiny, and the Grave."

Each then, pursuing his own fancies, rode on fast, and side by side;
the long shadows of declining day struggling with a sky of unusual
brightness, and thrown from the dim forest trees and the distant
hillocks.  Alternately through shade and through light rode they on;
the bulls gazing on them from holt and glade, and the boom of the
bittern sounding in its peculiar mournfulness of toile as it rose from
the dank pools that glistened in the western sun.

It was always by the rear of the house, where stood the ruined temple,
so associated with the romance of his life, that Harold approached the
home of the Vala; and as now the hillock, with its melancholy diadem
of stones, came in view, Haco for the first time broke the silence.

"Again--as in a dream!" he said, abruptly.  "Hill, ruin, grave-mound--
but where the tall image of the mighty one?"

"Hast thou then seen this spot before?" asked the Earl.

"Yea, as an infant here was I led by my father Sweyn; here too, from
thy house yonder, dim seen through the fading leaves, on the eve
before I left this land for the Norman, here did I wander alone; and
there, by that altar, did the great Vala of the North chaunt her runes
for my future."

"Alas! thou too!" murmured Harold; and then he asked aloud, "What said
she?"

"That thy life and mine crossed each other in the skein; that I should
save thee from a great peril, and share with thee a greater."

"Ah, youth," answered Harold, bitterly, "these vain prophecies of
human wit guard the soul from no anger.  They mislead us by riddles
which our hot hearts interpret according to their own desires.  Keep
thou fast to youth's simple wisdom, and trust only to the pure spirit
and the watchful God."

He suppressed a groan as he spoke, and springing from his steed, which
he left loose, advanced up the hill.  When he had gained the height,
he halted, and made sign to Haco, who had also dismounted, to do the
same.  Half way down the side of the slope which faced the ruined
peristyle, Haco beheld a maiden, still young, and of beauty surpassing
all that the court of Normandy boasted of female loveliness.  She was
seated on the sward;--while a girl younger, and scarcely indeed grown
into womanhood, reclined at her feet, and leaning her cheek upon her
hand, seemed hushed in listening attention.  In the face of the
younger girl Haco recognised Thyra, the last-born of Githa, though he
had but once seen her before--the day ere he left England for the
Norman court--for the face of the girl was but little changed, save
that the eye was more mournful, and the cheek was paler.

And Harold's betrothed was singing, in the still autumn air, to
Harold's sister.  The song chosen was on that subject the most popular
with the Saxon poets, the mystic life, death, and resurrection of the
fabled Phoenix, and this rhymeless song, in its old native flow, may
yet find some grace in the modern ear.

    THE LAY OF THE PHOENIX. [206]

    "Shineth far hence--so
       Sing the wise elders
     Far to the fire-east
       The fairest of lands.

     Daintily dight is that
       Dearest of joy fields;
     Breezes all balmy-filled
       Glide through its groves.

     There to the blest, ope
       The high doors of heaven,
     Sweetly sweep earthward
       Their wavelets of song.

     Frost robes the sward not,
       Rusheth no hail-steel;
     Wind-cloud ne'er wanders,
       Ne'er falleth the rain.

     Warding the woodholt,
       Girt with gay wonder,
     Sheen with the plumy shine,
       Phoenix abides.

     Lord of the Lleod, [207]
       Whose home is the air,
     Winters a thousand
       Abideth the bird.

     Hapless and heavy then
       Waxeth the hazy wing;
     Year-worn and old in the
       Whirl of the earth.

     Then the high holt-top,
       Mounting, the bird soars;
     There, where the winds sleep,
       He buildeth a nest;--

     Gums the most precious, and
       Balms of the sweetest,
     Spices and odours, he
       Weaves in the nest.

     There, in that sun-ark, lo,
       Waiteth he wistful;
     Summer comes smiling, lo,
       Rays smite the pile!

     Burden'd with eld-years, and
       Weary with slow time,
     Slow in his odour-nest
       Burneth the bird.

     Up from those ashes, then,
       Springeth a rare fruit;
     Deep in the rare fruit
       There coileth a worm.

     Weaving bliss-meshes
       Around and around it,
     Silent and blissful, the
       Worm worketh on.

     Lo, from the airy web,
       Blooming and brightsome,
     Young and exulting, the
       Phoenix breaks forth.

     Round him the birds troop,
       Singing and hailing;
     Wings of all glories
       Engarland the king.

     Hymning and hailing,
       Through forest and sun-air,
     Hymning and hailing,
       And speaking him 'King.'

     High flies the phoenix,
       Escaped from the worm-web
     He soars in the sunlight,
       He bathes in the dew.

     He visits his old haunts,
       The holt and the sun-hill;
     The founts of his youth, and
       The fields of his love.

     The stars in the welkin,
       The blooms on the earth,
     Are glad in his gladness,
       Are young in his youth.

     While round him the birds troop,
       the Hosts of the Himmel, [208]
     Blisses of music, and
       Glories of wings;

     Hymning and hailing,
       And filling the sun-air
     With music, and glory
       And praise of the King."

As the lay ceased, Thyra said:

"Ah, Edith, who would not brave the funeral pyre to live again like
the phoenix!"

"Sweet sister mine," answered Edith, "the singer doth mean to image
out in the phoenix the rising of our Lord, in whom we all live again."

And Thyra said, mournfully:

"But the phoenix sees once more the haunts of his youth--the things
and places dear to him in his life before.  Shall we do the same, O
Edith?"

"It is the persons we love that make beautiful the haunts we have
known," answered the betrothed.  "Those persons at least we shall
behold again, and whenever they are--there is heaven."

Harold could restrain himself no longer.  With one bound he was at
Edith's side, and with one wild cry of joy he clasped her to his
heart.

"I knew that thou wouldst come to-night--I knew it, Harold," murmured
the betrothed.



CHAPTER III.


While, full of themselves, Harold and Edith wandered, hand in hand,
through the neighbouring glades--while into that breast which had
forestalled, at least, in this pure and sublime union, the wife's
privilege to soothe and console, the troubled man poured out the tale
of the sole trial from which he had passed with defeat and shame,--
Haco drew near to Thyra, and sate down by her side.  Each was
strangely attracted towards the other; there was something congenial
in the gloom which they shared in common; though in the girl the
sadness was soft and resigned, in the youth it was stern and solemn.
They conversed in whispers, and their talk was strange for companions
so young; for, whether suggested by Edith's song, or the neighbourhood
of the Saxon grave-stone, which gleamed on their eyes, grey and wan
through the crommell, the theme they selected was of death.  As if
fascinated, as children often are, by the terrors of the Dark King,
they dwelt on those images with which the northern fancy has
associated the eternal rest, on--the shroud and the worm, and the
mouldering bones--on the gibbering ghost, and the sorcerer's spell
that could call the spectre from the grave.  They talked of the pain
of the parting soul, parting while earth was yet fair, youth fresh,
and joy not yet ripened from the blossom--of the wistful lingering
look which glazing eyes would give to the latest sunlight it should
behold on earth; and then he pictured the shivering and naked soul,
forced from the reluctant clay, wandering through cheerless space to
the intermediate tortures, which the Church taught that none were so
pure as not for a whole to undergo; and hearing, as it wandered, the
knell of the muffled bells and the burst of unavailing prayer.  At
length Haco paused abruptly and said:

"But thou, cousin, hast before thee love and sweet life, and these
discourses are not for thee."

Thyra shook her head mournfully:

"Not so, Haco; for when Hilda consulted the runes, while, last night,
she mingled the herbs for my pain, which rests ever hot and sharp
here," and the girl laid her hand on her breast, "I saw that her face
grew dark and overcast; and I felt, as I looked, that my doom was set.
And when thou didst come so noiselessly to my side, with thy sad, cold
eyes, O Haco, methought I saw the Messenger of Death.  But thou art
strong, Haco, and life will be long for thee; let us talk of life."

Haco stooped down and pressed his lips upon the girl's pale forehead.

"Kiss me too, Thyra."

The child kissed him, and they sate silent and close by each other,
while the sun set.

And as the stars rose, Harold and Edith joined them.  Harold's face
was serene in the starlight, for the pure soul of his betrothed had
breathed peace into his own; and, in his willing superstition, he felt
as if, now restored to his guardian angel, the dead men's bones had
released their unhallowed hold.

But suddenly Edith's hand trembled in his, and her form shuddered.--
Her eyes were fixed upon those of Haco.

"Forgive me, young kinsman, that I forget thee so long," said the
Earl.  "This is my brother's son, Edith; thou hast not, that I
remember, seen him before?"

"Yes, yes;" said Edith, falteringly.

"When, and where?"

Edith's soul answered the question, "In a dream;" but her lips were
silent.

And Haco, rising, took her by the hand, while the Earl turned to his
sister--that sister whom he was pledged to send to the Norman court;
and Thyra said, plaintively:

"Take me in thine arms, Harold, and wrap thy mantle round me, for the
air is cold."

The Earl lifted the child to his breast, and gazed on her cheek long
and wistfully; then questioning her tenderly, he took her within the
house; and Edith followed with Haco.

"Is Hilda within?" asked the son of Sweyn.

"Nay, she hath been in the forest since noon," answered Edith with an
effort, for she could not recover her awe of his presence.

"Then," said Haco, halting at the threshold, "I will go across the
woodland to your house, Harold, and prepare your ceorls for your
coming."

"I shall tarry here till Hilda returns," answered Harold, and it may
be late in the night ere I reach home; but Sexwolf already hath my
orders.  At sunrise we return to London, and thence we march on the
insurgents."

"All shall be ready.  Farewell, noble Edith; and thou, Thyra my
cousin, one kiss more to our meeting again."  The child fondly held
out her arms to him, and as she kissed his cheek whispered:

"In the grave, Haco!"

The young man drew his mantle around him, and moved away.  But he did
not mount his steed, which still grazed by the road; while Harold's,
more familiar with the place, had found its way to the stall; nor did
he take his path through the glades to the house of his kinsman.
Entering the Druid temple, he stood musing by the Teuton tomb.  The
night grew deeper and deeper, the stars more luminous and the air more
hushed, when a voice close at his side, said, clear and abrupt:

"What does Youth the restless, by Death the still?"

It was the peculiarity of Haco, that nothing ever seemed to startle or
surprise him.  In that brooding boyhood, the solemn, quiet, and sad
experience all fore-armed, of age, had something in it terrible and
preternatural; so without lifting his eyes from the stone, he
answered:

"How sayest thou, O Hilda, that the dead are still?"  Hilda placed her
hand on his shoulder, and stooped to look into his face.

"Thy rebuke is just, son of Sweyn.  In Time, and in the Universe,
there is no stillness!  Through all eternity the state impossible to
the soul is repose!--So again thou art in thy native land?"

"And for what end, Prophetess?  I remember, when but an infant, who
till then had enjoyed the common air and the daily sun, thou didst rob
me evermore of childhood and youth.  For thou didst say to my father,
that 'dark was the woof of my fate, and that its most glorious hour
should be its last!'"

"But thou wert surely too childlike, (see thee now as thou wert then,
stretched on the grass, and playing with thy father's falcon!)--too
childlike to heed my words."

"Does the new ground reject the germs of the sower, or the young heart
the first lessons of wonder and awe?  Since then, Prophetess, Night
hath been my comrade, and Death my familiar.  Rememberest thou again
the hour when, stealing, a boy, from Harold's house in his absence--
the night ere I left my land--I stood on this mound by thy side?  Then
did I tell thee that the sole soft thought that relieved the
bitterness of my soul, when all the rest of my kinsfolk seemed to
behold in me but the heir of Sweyn, the outlaw and homicide, was the
love that I bore to Harold; but that that love itself was mournful and
bodeful as the hwata [209] of distant sorrow.  And thou didst take me,
O Prophetess, to thy bosom, and thy cold kiss touched my lips and my
brow; and there, beside this altar and grave-mound, by leaf and by
water, by staff and by song, thou didst bid me take comfort; for that
as the mouse gnawed the toils of the lion, so the exile obscure should
deliver from peril the pride and the prince of my House--that, from
that hour with the skein of his fate should mine be entwined; and his
fate was that of kings and of kingdoms.  And then, when the joy
flushed my cheek, and methought youth came back in warmth to the night
of my soul--then, Hilda, I asked thee if my life would be spared till
I had redeemed the name of my father.  Thy seidstaff passed over the
leaves that, burning with fire-sparks, symbolled the life of the man,
and from the third leaf the flame leaped up and died; and again a
voice from thy breast, hollow, as if borne from a hill-top afar, made
answer, 'At thine entrance to manhood life bursts into blaze, and
shrivels up into ashes.'  So I knew that the doom of the infant still
weighed unannealed on the years of the man; and I come here to my
native land as to glory and the grave.  But," said the young man, with
a wild enthusiasm, "still with mine links the fate which is loftiest
in England; and the rill and the river shall rush in one to the
Terrible Sea."

"I know not that," answered Hilda, pale, as if in awe of herself: "for
never yet hath the rune, or the fount or the tomb, revealed to me
clear and distinct the close of the great course of Harold; only know
I through his own stars his glory and greatness; and where glory is
dim, and greatness is menaced, I know it but from the stars of others,
the rays of whose influence blend with his own.  So long, at least, as
the fair and the pure one keeps watch in the still House of Life, the
dark and the troubled one cannot wholly prevail.  For Edith is given
to Harold as the Fylgia, that noiselessly blesses and saves: and thou--"
Hilda checked herself, and lowered her hood over her face, so that
it suddenly became invisible.

"And I?" asked Haco, moving near to her side.

"Away, son of Sweyn; thy feet trample the grave of the mighty dead!"

Then Hilda lingered no longer, but took her way towards the house.
Haco's eye followed her in silence.  The cattle, grazing in the great
space of the crumbling peristyle, looked up as she passed; the watch-
dogs, wandering through the star-lit columns, came snorting round
their mistress.  And when she had vanished within the house, Haco
turned to his steed:

"What matters," he murmured, "the answer which the Vala cannot or dare
not give?  To me is not destined the love of woman, nor the ambition
of life.  All I know of human affection binds me to Harold; all I know
of human ambition is to share in his fate.  This love is strong as
hate, and terrible as doom,--it is jealous, it admits no rival.  As
the shell and the sea-weed interlaced together, we are dashed on the
rushing surge; whither? oh, whither?"



CHAPTER IV.


"I tell thee, Hilda," said the Earl, impatiently, "I tell thee that I
renounce henceforth all faith save in Him whose ways are concealed
from our eyes.  Thy seid and thy galdra have not guarded me against
peril, nor armed me against sin.  Nay, perchance--but peace: I will no
more tempt the dark art, I will no more seek to disentangle the awful
truth from the juggling lie.  All so foretold me I will seek to
forget,--hope from no prophecy, fear from no warning.  Let the soul go
to the future under the shadow of God!"

"Pass on thy way as thou wilt, its goal is the same, whether seen or
unmarked.  Peradventure thou art wise," said the Vala, gloomily.

"For my country's sake, heaven be my witness, not my own," resumed the
Earl, "I have blotted my conscience and sullied my truth.  My country
alone can redeem me, by taking my life as a thing hallowed evermore to
her service.  Selfish ambition do I lay aside, selfish power shall
tempt me no more; lost is the charm that I beheld in a throne, and,
save for Edith--"

"No! not even for Edith," cried the betrothed, advancing, "not even
for Edith shalt thou listen to other voice than that of thy country
and thy soul."

The Earl turned round abruptly, and his eyes were moist.  "O Hilda,"
he cried, "see henceforth my only Vala; let that noble heart alone
interpret to us the oracles of the future."

The next day Harold returned with Haco and a numerous train of his
house-carles to the city.  Their ride was as silent as that of the day
before; but on reaching Southwark, Harold turned away from the bridge
towards the left, gained the river-side, and dismounted at the house
of one of his lithsmen (a franklin, or freed ceorl).  Leaving there
his horse, he summoned a boat, and, with Haco, was rowed over towards
the fortified palace which then rose towards the west of London,
jutting into the Thames, and which seems to have formed the outwork of
the old Roman city.  The palace, of remotest antiquity, and blending
all work and architecture, Roman, Saxon, and Danish, had been repaired
by Canute; and from a high window in the upper story, where were the
royal apartments, the body of the traitor Edric Streone (the founder
of the house of Godwin) had been thrown into the river.

"Whither go we, Harold?" asked the son of Sweyn.

"We go to visit the young Atheling, the natural heir to the Saxon
throne," replied Harold in a firm voice.  "He lodges in the old palace
of our kings."

"They say in Normandy that the boy is imbecile."

"That is not true," returned Harold.  "I will present thee to him,--
judge."

Haco mused a moment and said:

"Methinks I divine thy purpose; is it not formed on the sudden,
Harold?"

"It was the counsel of Edith," answered Harold, with evident emotion.
"And yet, if that counsel prevail, I may lose the power to soften the
Church and to call her mine."

"So thou wouldest sacrifice even Edith for thy country."

"Since I have sinned, methinks I could," said the proud man humbly.

The boat shot into a little creek, or rather canal, which then ran
inland, beside the black and rotting walls of the fort.  The two Earl-
born leapt ashore, passed under a Roman arch, entered a court the
interior of which was rudely filled up by early Saxon habitations of
rough timber work, already, since the time of Canute, falling into
decay, (as all things did which came under the care of Edward,) and
mounting a stair that ran along the outside of the house, gained a low
narrow door, which stood open.  In the passage within were one or two
of the King's house-carles who had been assigned to the young
Atheling, with liveries of blue and Danish axes, and some four or five
German servitors, who had attended his father from the Emperor's
court.  One of these last ushered the noble Saxons into a low, forlorn
ante-hall; and there, to Harold's surprise they found Alred the
Archbishop of York, and three thegns of high rank, and of lineage
ancient and purely Saxon.

Alred approached Harold with a faint smile on his benign face:

"Methinks, and may I think aright!--thou comest hither with the same
purpose as myself, and you noble thegns."

"And that purpose?"

"Is to see and to judge calmly, if, despite his years, we may find in
the descendant of the Ironsides such a prince as we may commend to our
decaying King as his heir, and to the Witan as a chief fit to defend
the land."

"Thou speakest the cause of my own coming.  With your ears will I
hear, with your eyes will I see; as ye judge, will judge I," said
Harold, drawing the prelate towards the thegns, so that they might
hear his answer.

The chiefs, who belonged to a party that had often opposed Godwin's
House, had exchanged looks of fear and trouble when Harold entered;
but at his words their frank faces showed equal surprise and pleasure.

Harold presented to them his nephew, with whose grave dignity of
bearing beyond his years they were favourably impressed, though the
good bishop sighed when he saw in his face the sombre beauty of the
guilty sire.  The group then conversed anxiously on the declining
health of the King, the disturbed state of the realm, and the
expediency, if possible, of uniting all suffrages in favour of the
fittest successor.  And in Harold's voice and manner, as in Harold's
heart, there was nought that seemed conscious of his own mighty stake
and just hopes in that election.  But as time wore, the faces of the
thegns grew overcast; proud men and great satraps [210] were they, and
they liked it ill that the boy-prince kept them so long in the dismal
ante-room.

At length the German officer, who had gone to announce their coming,
returned; and in words, intelligible indeed from the affinity between
Saxon and German, but still disagreeably foreign to English ears,
requested them to follow him into the presence of the Atheling.

In a room yet retaining the rude splendour with which it had been
invested by Canute, a handsome boy, about the age of thirteen or
fourteen, but seeming much younger, was engaged in the construction of
a stuffed bird, a lure for a young hawk that stood blindfold on its
perch.  The employment made so habitual a part of the serious
education of youth, that the thegns smoothed their brows at the sight,
and deemed the boy worthily occupied.  At another end of the room, a
grave Norman priest was seated at a table on which were books and
writing implements; he was the tutor commissioned by Edward to teach
Norman tongue and saintly lore to the Atheling.  A profusion of toys
strewed the floor, and some children of Edgar's own age were playing
with them.  His little sister Margaret [211] was seated seriously,
apart from all the other children, and employed in needlework.

When Alred approached the Atheling, with a blending of reverent
obeisance and paternal cordiality, the boy carelessly cried, in a
barbarous jargon, half German, half Norman-French:

"There, come not too near, you scare my hawk.  What are you doing?
You trample my toys, which the good Norman bishop William sent me as a
gift from the Duke.  Art thou blind, man?"

"My son," said the prelate kindly, "these are the things of childhood
--childhood ends sooner with princes than with common men.  Leave thy
lure and thy toys, and welcome these noble thegns, and address them,
so please you, in our own Saxon tongue."

"Saxon tongue!--language of villeins! not I.  Little do I know of it,
save to scold a ceorl or a nurse.  King Edward did not tell me to
learn Saxon, but Norman! and Godfroi yonder says, that if I know
Norman well, Duke William will make me his knight.  But I don't desire
to learn anything more to-day."  And the child turned peevishly from
thegn and prelate.

The three Saxon lords interchanged looks of profound displeasure and
proud disgust. But Harold, with an effort over himself, approached,
and said winningly:

"Edgar the Atheling, thou art not so young but thou knowest already
that the great live for others.  Wilt thou not be proud to live for
this fair country, and these noble men, and to speak the language of
Alfred the Great?"

"Alfred the Great! they always weary me with Alfred the Great," said
the boy, pouting.  "Alfred the Great, he is the plague of my life! if
I am Atheling, men are to live for me, not I for them; and if you
tease me any more, I will run away to Duke William in Rouen; Godfroi
says I shall never be teased there!"

So saying, already tired of hawk and lure, the child threw himself on
the floor with the other children, and snatched the toys from their
hands.

The serious Margaret then rose quietly, and went to her brother, and
said, in good Saxon:

"Fie! if you behave thus, I shall call you NIDDERING!"  At the threat
of that word, the vilest in the language--that word which the lowest
ceorl would forfeit life rather than endure--a threat applied to the
Atheling of England, the descendant of Saxon heroes--the three thegns
drew close, and watched the boy, hoping to see that he would start to
his feet with wrath and in shame.

"Call me what you will, silly sister," said the child, indifferently,
"I am not so Saxon as to care for your ceorlish Saxon names."

"Enow," cried the proudest and greatest of the thegns, his very
moustache curling with ire.  "He who can be called niddering shall
never be crowned king!"

"I don't want to be crowned king, rude man, with your laidly
moustache: I want to be made knight, and have banderol and baldric.--
Go away!"

"We go, son," said Alred, mournfully.

And with slow and tottering step he moved to the door; there he
halted, turned back,--and the child was pointing at him in mimicry,
while Godfroi, the Norman tutor, smiled as in pleasure.  The prelate
shook his head, and the group gained again the ante-hall.

"Fit leader of bearded men! fit king for the Saxon land!" cried a
thegn.  "No more of your Atheling, Alred my father!"

"No more of him, indeed!" said the prelate, mournfully.  "It is but
the fault of his nurture and rearing,--a neglected childhood, a Norman
tutor, German hirelings.  We may remould yet the pliant clay," said
Harold.

"Nay," returned Alred, "no leisure for such hopes, no time to undo
what is done by circumstance, and, I fear, by nature.  Ere the year is
out the throne will stand empty in our halls."

"Who then," said Haco, abruptly, "who then,--(pardon the ignorance of
youth wasted in captivity abroad!) who then, failing the Atheling,
will save this realm from the Norman Duke, who, I know well, counts on
it as the reaper on the harvest ripening to his sickle?"

"Alas, who then?" murmured Alred.

"Who then?" cried the three thegns, with one voice, "why the
worthiest, the wisest, the bravest!  Stand forth, Harold the Earl,
Thou art the man!"  And without awaiting his answer, they strode from
the hall.



CHAPTER V.


Around Northampton lay the forces of Morcar, the choice of the Anglo-
Dane men of Northumbria.  Suddenly there was a shout as to arms from
the encampment; and Morcar, the young Earl, clad in his link mail,
save his helmet, came forth, and cried:

"My men are fools to look that way for a foe; yonder lies Mercia,
behind it the hills of Wales.  The troops that come hitherward are
those which Edwin my brother brings to our aid."

Morcar's words were carried into the host by his captains and
warbodes, and the shout changed from alarm into joy.  As the cloud of
dust through which gleamed the spears of the coming force rolled away,
and lay lagging behind the march of the host, there rode forth from
the van two riders.  Fast and far from the rest they rode, and behind
them, fast as they could, spurred two others, who bore on high, one
the pennon of Mercia, one the red lion of North Wales.  Right to the
embankment and palisade which begirt Mortar's camp rode the riders;
and the head of the foremost was bare, and the guards knew the face of
Edwin the Comely, Mortar's brother.  Morcar stepped down from the
mound on which he stood, and the brothers embraced amidst the halloos
of the forces.

"And welcome, I pray thee," said Morcar, "our kinsman Caradoc, son of
Gryffyth [212] the bold."

So Morcar reached his hand to Caradoc, stepson to his sister Aldyth,
and kissed him on the brow, as was the wont of our fathers.  The young
and crownless prince was scarce out of boyhood, but already his name
was sung by the bards, and circled in the halls of Gwynedd with the
Hirlas horn; for he had harried the Saxon borders, and given to fire
and sword even the fortress of Harold himself.

But while these three interchanged salutations, and ere yet the mixed
Mercians and Welch had gained the encampment, from a curve in the
opposite road, towards Towcester and Dunstable, broke the flash of
mail like a river of light, trumpets and fifes were heard in the
distance; and all in Morcar's host stood hushed but stern, gazing
anxious and afar, as the coming armament swept on.  And from the midst
were seen the Martlets and Cross of England's king, and the Tiger
heads of Harold; banners which, seen together, had planted victory on
every tower, on every field, towards which they had rushed on the
winds.

Retiring, then, to the central mound, the chiefs of the insurgent
force held their brief council.

The two young Earls, whatever their ancestral renown, being yet new
themselves to fame and to power, were submissive to the Anglo-Dane
chiefs, by whom Morcar had been elected.  And these, on recognising
the standard of Harold, were unanimous in advice to send a peaceful
deputation, setting forth their wrongs under Tostig, and the justice
of their cause.  "For the Earl," said Gamel Beorn (the head and front
of that revolution,)  is a just man, and one who would shed his own
blood rather than that of any other freeborn dweller in England; and
he will do us right."

"What, against his own brother?" cried Edwin.

"Against his own brother, if we convince but his reason," returned the
Anglo-Dane.

And the other chiefs nodded assent.  Caradoc's fierce eyes flashed
fire; but he played with his torque, and spoke not.

Meanwhile, the vanguard of the King's force had defiled under the very
walls of Northampton, between the town and the insurgents; and some of
the light-armed scouts who went forth from Morcar's camp to gaze on
the procession, with that singular fearlessness which characterised,
at that period, the rival parties in civil war, returned to say that
they had seen Harold himself in the foremost line, and that he was not
in mail.

This circumstance the insurgent thegns received as a good omen; and,
having already agreed on the deputation, about a score of the
principal thegns of the north went sedately towards the hostile lines.

By the side of Harold,--armed in mail, with his face concealed by the
strange Sicilian nose-piece used then by most of the Northern
nations,--had ridden Tostig, who had joined the Earl on his march,
with a scanty band of some fifty or sixty of his Danish house-carles.
All the men throughout broad England that he could command or bribe to
his cause, were those fifty or sixty hireling Danes.  And it seemed
that already there was dispute between the brothers, for Harold's face
was flushed, and his voice stern, as he said, "Rate me as thou wilt,
brother, but I cannot advance at once to the destruction of my fellow
Englishmen without summons and attempt at treaty,--as has ever been
the custom of our ancient heroes and our own House."

"By all the fiends of the North?" exclaimed Tostig, "it is foul shame
to talk of treaty and summons to robbers and rebels.  For what art
thou here but for chastisement and revenge?"

"For justice and right, Tostig."

"Ha! thou comest not, then, to aid thy brother?"

"Yes, if justice and right are, as I trust, with him."

Before Tostig could reply, a line was suddenly cleared through the
armed men, and, with bare heads, and a monk lifting the rood on high,
amidst the procession advanced the Northumbrian Danes.

"By the red sword of St. Olave!" cried Tostig, "yonder come the
traitors, Gamel Beorn and Gloneion!  You will not hear them?  If so, I
will not stay to listen.  I have but my axe for my answer to such
knaves."

"Brother, brother, those men are the most valiant and famous chiefs in
thine earldom.  Go, Tostig, thou art not now in the mood to hear
reason.  Retire into the city; summon its gates to open to the King's
flag.  I will hear the men."

"Beware how thou judge, save in thy brother's favour!" growled the
fierce warrior; and, tossing his arm on high with a contemptuous
gesture, he spurred away towards the gates.

Then Harold, dismounting, stood on the ground, under the standard of
his King, and round him came several of the Saxon chiefs, who had kept
aloof during the conference with Tostig.

The Northumbrians approached, and saluted the Earl with grave
courtesy.

Then Gamel Beorn began.  But much as Harold had feared and foreboded
as to the causes of complaint which Tostig had given to the
Northumbrians, all fear, all foreboding, fell short of the horrors now
deliberately unfolded; not only extortion of tribute the most
rapacious and illegal, but murder the fiercest and most foul.  Thegns
of high birth, without offence or suspicion, but who had either
excited Tostig's jealousy, or resisted his exactions, had been snared
under peaceful pretexts into his castle [213], and butchered in cold
blood by his house-carles.  The cruelties of the old heathen Danes
seemed revived in the bloody and barbarous tale.

"And now," said the thegn, in conclusion, "canst thou condemn us that
we rose?--no partial rising;--rose all Northumbria!  At first but two
hundred thegns; strong in our course, we swelled into the might of a
people.  Our wrongs found sympathy beyond our province, for liberty
spreads over human hearts as fire over a heath.  Wherever we march,
friends gather round us.  Thou warrest not on a handful of rebels,--
half England is with us!"

"And ye,--thegns," answered Harold, "ye have ceased to war against
Tostig, your Earl.  Ye war now against the King and the Law.  Come
with your complaints to your Prince and your Witan, and, if they are
just, ye are stronger than in yonder palisades and streets of steel."

"And so," said Gamel Beorn, with marked emphasis, "now thou art in
England, O noble Earl,--so are we willing to come.  But when thou wert
absent from the land, justice seemed to abandon it to force and the
battle-axe."

"I would thank you for your trust," answered Harold, deeply moved.
"But justice in England rests not on the presence and life of a single
man.  And your speech I must not accept as a grace, for it wrongs both
my King and his Council.  These charges ye have made, but ye have not
proved them.  Armed men are not proofs; and granting that hot blood
and mortal infirmity of judgment have caused Tostig to err against you
and the right, think still of his qualities to reign over men whose
lands, and whose rivers, lie ever exposed to the dread Northern sea-
kings.  Where will ye find a chief with arm as strong, and heart as
dauntless?  By his mother's side he is allied to your own lineage.
And for the rest, if ye receive him back to his earldom, not only do
I, Harold in whom you profess to trust, pledge full oblivion of the
past, but I will undertake, in his name, that he shall rule you well
for the future, according to the laws of King Canute."

"That will we not hear," cried the thegns, with one voice; while the
tones of Gamel Beorn, rough with the rattling Danish burr, rose above
all, "for we were born free.  A proud and bad chief is by us not to be
endured; we have learned from our ancestors to live free or die!"

A murmur, not of condemnation, at these words, was heard amongst the
Saxon chiefs round Harold: and beloved and revered as he was, he felt
that, had he the heart, he had scarce the power, to have coerced those
warriors to march at once on their countrymen in such a cause.  But
foreseeing great evil in the surrender of his brother's interests,
whether by lowering the King's dignity to the demands of armed force,
or sending abroad in all his fierce passions a man so highly connected
with Norman and Dane, so vindictive and so grasping, as Tostig, the
Earl shunned further parley at that time and place.  He appointed a
meeting in the town with the chiefs; and requested them, meanwhile, to
reconsider their demands, and at least shape them so as that they
could be transmitted to the King, who was then on his way to Oxford.

It is in vain to describe the rage of Tostig, when his brother gravely
repeated to him the accusations against him, and asked for his
justification.  Justification he could give not.  His idea of law was
but force, and by force alone he demanded now to be defended.  Harold,
then, wishing not alone to be judge in his brother's cause, referred
further discussion to the chiefs of the various towns and shires,
whose troops had swelled the War-Fyrd; and to them he bade Tostig
plead his cause.

Vain as a woman, while fierce as a tiger, Tostig assented, and in that
assembly he rose, his gonna all blazing with crimson and gold, his
hair all curled and perfumed as for a banquet; and such, in a half-
barbarous day, the effect of person, especially when backed by warlike
renown, that the Proceres were half disposed to forget, in admiration
of the earl's surpassing beauty of form, the dark tales of his hideous
guilt.  But his passions hurrying him away ere he had gained the
middle of his discourse, so did his own relation condemn himself, so
clear became his own tyrannous misdeeds, that the Englishmen murmured
aloud their disgust, and their impatience would not suffer him to
close.

"Enough," cried Vebba, the blunt thegn from Saxon Kent; "it is plain
that neither King nor Witan can replace thee in thine earldom.  Tell
us not farther of these atrocities; or by're Lady, if the
Northumbrians had chased thee not, we would."

"Take treasure and ship, and go to Baldwin in Flanders," said Thorold,
a great Anglo-Dane from Lincolnshire, "for even Harold's name can
scarce save thee from outlawry."

Tostig glared round on the assembly, and met but one common expression
in the face of all.

"These are thy henchmen, Harold!" he said through his gnashing teeth,
without vouchsafing farther word, strode from the council-hall.

That evening he left the town and hurried to tell to Edward the tale
that had so miscarried with the chiefs.  The next day, the
Northumbrian delegates were heard; and they made the customary
proposition in those cases of civil differences, to refer all matters
to the King and the Witan; each party remaining under arms meanwhile.

This was finally acceded to.  Harold repaired to Oxford, where the
King (persuaded to the journey by Alred, foreseeing what would come to
pass) had just arrived.



CHAPTER VI.


The Witan was summoned in haste.  Thither came the young earls Morcar
and Edwin, but Caradoc, chafing at the thought of peace, retired into
Wales with his wild band.

Now, all the great chiefs, spiritual and temporal, assembled in Oxford
for the decree of that Witan on which depended the peace of England.
The imminence of the time made the concourse of members entitled to
vote in the assembly even larger than that which had met for the
inlawry of Godwin.  There was but one thought uppermost in the minds
of men, to which the adjustment of an earldom, however mighty, was
comparatively insignificant--viz., the succession of the kingdom.
That thought turned instinctively and irresistibly to Harold.

The evident and rapid decay of the King; the utter failure of all male
heir in the House of Cerdic, save only the boy Edgar; whose character
(which throughout life remained puerile and frivolous) made the
minority which excluded him from the throne seem cause rather for
rejoicing than grief: and whose rights, even by birth, were not
acknowledged by the general tenor of the Saxon laws, which did not
recognize as heir to the crown the son of a father who had not himself
been crowned [214];--forebodings of coming evil and danger,
originating in Edward's perturbed visions; revivals of obscure and
till then forgotten prophecies, ancient as the days of Merlin;
rumours, industriously fomented into certainty by Haco, whose whole
soul seemed devoted to Harold's cause, of the intended claim of the
Norman Count to the throne;--all concurred to make the election of a
man matured in camp and council, doubly necessary to the safety of the
realm.

Warm favourers, naturally, of Harold, were the genuine Saxon
population, and a large part of the Anglo-Danish--all the thegns in
his vast earldom of Wessex, reaching to the southern and western
coasts, from Sandwich and the mouth of the Thames to the Land's End in
Cornwall; and including the free men of Kent, whose inhabitants even
from the days of Caesar had been considered in advance of the rest of
the British population, and from the days of Hengist had exercised an
influence that nothing save the warlike might of the Anglo-Danes
counterbalanced.  With Harold, too, were many of the thegns from his
earlier earldom of East Anglia, comprising the county of Essex, great
part of Hertfordshire, and so reaching into Cambridge, Huntingdon,
Norfolk, and Ely.  With him, were all the wealth, intelligence, and
power of London, and most of the trading towns; with him all the
veterans of the armies he had led; with him too, generally throughout
the empire, was the force, less distinctly demarked, of public and
national feeling.

Even the priests, save those immediately about the court, forgot, in
the exigency of the time, their ancient and deep-rooted dislike to
Godwin's House; they remembered, at least, that Harold had never, in
foray or feud, plundered a single convent; or in peace, and through
plot, appropriated to himself a single hide of Church land; and that
was more than could have been said of any other earl of the age--even
of Leofric the Holy.  They caught, as a Church must do, when so
intimately, even in its illiterate errors, allied with the people as
the old Saxon Church was, the popular enthusiasm.  Abbot combined with
thegn in zeal for Earl Harold.

The only party that stood aloof was the one that espoused the claims
of the young sons of Algar.  But this party was indeed most
formidable; it united all.  the old friends of the virtuous Leofric,
of the famous Siward; it had a numerous party even in East Anglia (in
which earldom Algar had succeeded Harold); it comprised nearly all the
thegns in Mercia (the heart of the country) and the population of
Northumbria; and it involved in its wide range the terrible Welch on
the one hand, and the Scottish domain of the sub-king Malcolm, himself
a Cumbrian, on the other, despite Malcolm's personal predilections for
Tostig, to whom he was strongly attached.  But then the chiefs of this
party, while at present they stood aloof, were all, with the exception
perhaps of the young earls themselves, disposed, on the slightest
encouragement, to blend their suffrage with the friends of Harold; and
his praise was as loud on their lips as on those of the Saxons from
Kent, or the burghers from London.  All factions, in short, were
willing, in this momentous crisis, to lay aside old dissensions; it
depended upon the conciliation of the Northumbrians, upon a fusion
between the friends of Harold and the supporters of the young sons of
Algar, to form such a concurrence of interests as must inevitably bear
Harold to the throne of the empire.

Meanwhile, the Earl himself wisely and patriotically deemed it right
to remain neuter in the approaching decision between Tostig and the
young earls.  He could not be so unjust and so mad as to urge to the
utmost (and risk in the urging) his party influence on the side of
oppression and injustice, solely for the sake of his brother; nor, on
the other, was it decorous or natural to take part himself against
Tostig; nor could he, as a statesman, contemplate without anxiety and
alarm the transfer of so large a portion of the realm to the vice-
kingship of the sons of his old foe--rivals to his power, at the very
time when, even for the sake of England alone, that power should be
the most solid and compact.

But the final greatness of a fortunate man is rarely made by any
violent effort of his own.  He has sown the seeds in the time
foregone, and the ripe time brings up the harvest.  His fate seems
taken out of his own control: greatness seems thrust upon him.  He has
made himself, as it were, a want to the nation, a thing necessary to
it; he has identified himself with his age, and in the wreath or the
crown on his brow, the age itself seems to put forth its flower.

Tostig, lodging apart from Harold in a fort near the gate of Oxford,
took slight pains to conciliate foes or make friends; trusting rather
to his representations to Edward, (who was wroth with the rebellious
House of Algar,) of the danger of compromising the royal dignity by
concessions to armed insurgents.

It was but three days before that for which the Witan was summoned;
most of its members had already assembled in the city; and Harold,
from the window of the monastery in which he lodged, was gazing
thoughtfully into the streets below, where, with the gay dresses of
the thegns and cnehts, blended the grave robes of ecclesiastic and
youthful scholar;--for to that illustrious university (pillaged the
persecuted by the sons of Canute), Edward had, to his honour, restored
the schools,--when Haco entered, and announced to him that a numerous
body of thegns and prelates, headed by Alred, Archbishop of York,
craved an audience.

"Knowest thou the cause, Haco?"

The youth's cheek was yet more pale than usual, as he answered slowly:

"Hilda's prophecies are ripening into truths."

The Earl started, and his old ambition reviving, flushed on his brow,
and sparkled from his eye--he checked the joyous emotion, and bade
Haco briefly admit the visitors.

They came in, two by two,--a body so numerous that they filled the
ample chamber; and Harold, as he greeted each, beheld the most
powerful lords of the land--the highest dignitaries of the Church--
and, oft and frequent, came old foe by the side or trusty friend.
They all paused at the foot of the narrow dais on which Harold stood,
and Alred repelled by a gesture his invitation to the foremost to
mount the platform.

Then Alred began an harangue, simple and earnest.  He described
briefly the condition of the country; touched with grief and with
feeling on the health of the King, and the failure of Cerdic's line.
He stated honestly his own strong wish, if possible, to have
concentrated the popular suffrages on the young Atheling; and under
the emergence of the case, to have waived the objection to his
immature years.  But as distinctly and emphatically he stated, that
that hope and intent he had now formally abandoned, and that there was
but one sentiment on the subject with all the chiefs and dignitaries
of the realm.

"Wherefore," continued he, "after anxious consultations with each
other, those whom you see around have come to you: yea, to you, Earl
Harold, we offer our hands and hearts to do our best to prepare for
you the throne on the demise of Edward, and to seat you thereon as
firmly as ever sate King of England and son of Cerdic;--knowing that
in you, and in you alone, we find the man who reigns already in the
English heart; to whose strong arm we can trust the defence of our
land; to whose just thoughts, our laws.--As I speak, so think we all!"

With downcast eyes, Harold heard; and but by a slight heaving of his
breast under his crimson robe, could his emotion be seen.  But as soon
as the approving murmur that succeeded the prelate's speech, had
closed, he lifted his head, and answered:

"Holy father, and you, Right Worthy my fellow-thegns, if ye could read
my heart at this moment, believe that you would not find there the
vain joy of aspiring man, when the greatest of earthly prizes is
placed within his reach.  There, you would see, with deep and wordless
gratitude for your trust and your love, grave and solemn solicitude,
earnest desire to divest my decision of all mean thought of self, and
judge only whether indeed, as king or as subject, I can best guard the
weal of England.  Pardon me, then, if I answer you not as ambition
alone would answer; neither deem me insensible to the glorious lot of
presiding, under heaven, and by the light of our laws, over the
destinies of the English realm,--if I pause to weigh well the
responsibilities incurred, and the obstacles to be surmounted.  There
is that on my mind that I would fain unbosom, not of a nature to
discuss in an assembly so numerous, but which I would rather submit to
a chosen few whom you yourselves may select to hear me, in whose cool
wisdom, apart from personal love to me, ye may best confide;--your
most veteran thegns, your most honoured prelates: To them will I
speak, to them make clean my bosom; and to their answer, their
counsels, will I in all things defer: whether with loyal heart to
serve another, whom, hearing me, they may decide to choose; or to fit
my soul to bear, not unworthily, the weight of a kingly crown."

Alred lifted his mild eyes to Harold, and there were both pity and
approval in his gaze, for he divined the Earl.

"Thou hast chosen the right course, my son; and we will retire at
once, and elect those with whom thou mayest freely confer, and by
whose judgment thou mayest righteously abide."

The prelate turned, and with him went the conclave.  Left alone with
Haco, the last said, abruptly:

"Thou wilt not be so indiscreet, O Harold, as to confess thy compelled
oath to the fraudful Norman?"

"That is my design," replied Harold, coldly.

The son of Sweyn began to remonstrate, but the Earl cut him short.

"If the Norman say that he has been deceived in Harold, never so shall
say the men of England.  Leave me.  I know not why, Haco, but in thy
presence, at times, there is a glamour as strong as in the spells of
Hilda.  Go, dear boy; the fault is not in thee, but in the
superstitious infirmities of a man who hath once lowered, or, it may
be, too highly strained, his reason to the things of a haggard fancy.
Go! and send to me my brother Gurth.  I would have him alone of my
House present at this solemn crisis of its fate."

Haco bowed his head, and went.

In a few moments more, Gurth came in.  To this pure and spotless
spirit Harold had already related the events of his unhappy visit to
the Norman; and he felt, as the young chief pressed his hand, and
looked on him with his clear and loving eyes, as if Honour made
palpable stood by his side.

Six of the ecclesiastics, most eminent for Church learning,--small as
was that which they could boast, compared with the scholars of
Normandy and the Papal States, but at least more intelligent and more
free from mere formal monasticism than most of their Saxon
contemporaries,--and six of the chiefs most renowned for experience in
war or council, selected under the sagacious promptings of Alred,
accompanied that prelate to the presence of the Earl.

"Close, thou! close! close! Gurth," whispered Harold "for this is a
confession against man's pride, and sorely doth it shame;--so that I
would have thy bold sinless heart beating near to mine."

Then, leaning his arm upon his brother's shoulder, and in a voice, the
first tones of which, as betraying earnest emotion, irresistibly
chained and affected his noble audience, Harold began his tale.

Various were the emotions, though all more akin to terror than
repugnance, with which the listeners heard the Earl's plain and candid
recital.

Among the lay-chiefs the impression made by the compelled oath was
comparatively slight: for it was the worst vice of the Saxon laws, to
entangle all charges, from the smallest to the greatest, in a reckless
multiplicity of oaths [215], to the grievous loosening of the bonds of
truth: and oaths then had become almost as much mere matter of legal
form, as certain oaths--bad relic of those times!--still existing in
our parliamentary and collegiate proceedings, are deemed by men, not
otherwise dishonourable, even now.  And to no kind of oath was more
latitude given than to such as related to fealty to a chief: for
these, in the constant rebellions which happened year after year, were
openly violated, and without reproach.  Not a sub-king in Wales who
harried the border, not an earl who raised banner against the Basileus
of Britain, but infringed his oath to be good man and true to the lord
paramount; and even William the Norman himself never found his oath of
fealty stand in the way, whenever he deemed it right and expedient to
take arms against his suzerain of France.

On the churchmen the impression was stronger and more serious: not
that made by the oath itself, but by the relics on which the hand had
been laid.  They looked at each other, doubtful and appalled, when the
Earl ceased his tale; while only among the laymen circled a murmur of
mingled wrath at William's bold design on their native land, and of
scorn at the thought that an oath, surprised and compelled, should be
made the instrument of treason to a whole people.

"Thus," said Harold, after a pause, "thus have I made clear to you my
conscience, and revealed to you the only obstacle between your offers
and my choice.  From the keeping of an oath so extorted, and so deadly
to England, this venerable prelate and mine own soul have freed me.
Whether as king or as subject, I shall alike revere the living and
their long posterity more than the dead men's bones, and, with sword
and with battle-axe, hew out against the invader my best atonement for
the lip's weakness and the heart's desertion.  But whether, knowing
what hath passed, ye may not deem it safer for the land to elect
another king,--this it is which, free and fore-thoughtful of every
chance, ye should now decide."

With these words he stepped from the dais, and retired into the
oratory that adjoined the chamber, followed by Gurth.  The eyes of the
priests then turned to Alred, and to them the prelate spoke as he had
done before to Harold;--he distinguished between the oath and its
fulfilment--between the lesser sin and the greater--the one which the
Church could absolve--the one which no Church had the right to exact,
and which, if fulfilled, no penance could expiate.  He owned frankly,
nevertheless, that it was the difficulties so created, that had made
him incline to the Atheling;--but, convinced of that prince's
incapacity, even in the most ordinary times, to rule England, he
shrank yet more from such a choice, when the swords of the Norman were
already sharpening for contest. Finally he said, "If a man as fit to
defend us as Harold can be found, let us prefer him: if not----"

"There is no other man!" cried the thegns with one voice.  "And," said
a wise old chief, "had Harold sought to play a trick to secure the
throne, he could not have devised one more sure than the tale he hath
now told us.  What! just when we are most assured that the doughtiest
and deadliest foe that our land can brave, waits but for Edward's
death to enforce on us a stranger's yoke--what! shall we for that very
reason deprive ourselves of the only man able to resist him?  Harold
hath taken an oath!  God wot, who among us have not taken some oath at
law for which they have deemed it meet afterwards to do a penance, or
endow a convent?  The wisest means to strengthen Harold against that
oath, is to show the moral impossibility of fulfilling it, by placing
him on the throne.  The best proof we can give to this insolent Norman
that England is not for prince to leave, or subject to barter, is to
choose solemnly in our Witan the very chief whom his frauds prove to
us that he fears the most. Why, William would laugh in his own sleeve
to summon a king to descend from his throne to do him the homage which
that king, in the different capacity of subject, had (we will grant,
even willingly) promised to render."

This speech spoke all the thoughts of the laymen, and, with Alred's
previous remarks, reassured all the ecclesiastics.  They were easily
induced to believe that the usual Church penances, and ample Church
gifts, would suffice for the insult offered to the relics: and,--if
they in so grave a case outstripped, in absolution, an authority amply
sufficing for all ordinary matters,--Harold, as king, might easily
gain from the Pope himself that full pardon and shrift, which as mere
earl, against the Prince of the Normans, he would fail of obtaining.

These or similar reflections soon terminated the suspense of the
select council; and Alred sought the Earl in the oratory, to summon
him back to the conclave.  The two brothers were kneeling side by side
before the little altar; and there was something inexpressibly
touching in their humble attitudes, their clasped supplicating hands,
in that moment when the crown of England rested above their House.

The brothers rose, and at Alred's sign followed the prelate into the
council-room.  Alred briefly communicated the result of the
conference; and with an aspect, and in a tone, free alike from triumph
and indecision, Harold replied:

"As ye will, so will I.  Place me only where I can most serve the
common cause.  Remain you now, knowing my secret, a chosen and
standing council: too great is my personal stake in this matter to
allow my mind to be unbiassed; judge ye, then, and decide for me in
all things: your minds should be calmer and wiser than mine; in all
things I will abide by your counsel; and thus I accept the trust of a
nation's freedom."

Each thegn then put his hand into Harold's, and called himself
Harold's man.

"Now, more than ever," said the wise old thegn who had before spoken,
"will it be needful to heal all dissension in the kingdom--to
reconcile with us Mercia and Northumbria, and make the kingdom one
against the foe.  You, as Tostig's brother, have done well to abstain
from active interference; you do well to leave it to us to negotiate
the necessary alliance between all brave and good men."

"And to that end, as imperative for the public weal, you consent,"
said Alred, thoughtfully, "to abide by our advice, whatever it be?"

"Whatever it be, so that it serve England," answered the Earl.

A smile, somewhat sad, flitted over the prelate's pale lips, and
Harold was once more alone with Gurth.



CHAPTER VII.


The soul of all council and cabal on behalf of Harold, which has led
to the determination of the principal chiefs, and which now succeeded
it--was Haco.

His rank as son of Sweyn, the first-born of Godwin's house--a rank
which might have authorised some pretensions on his own part, gave him
all field for the exercise of an intellect singularly keen and
profound.  Accustomed to an atmosphere of practical state-craft in the
Norman court, with faculties sharpened from boyhood by vigilance and
meditation, he exercised an extraordinary influence over the simple
understandings of the homely clergy and the uncultured thegns.
Impressed with the conviction of his early doom, he felt no interest
in the objects of others; but equally believing that whatever of
bright, and brave, and glorious, in his brief, condemned career, was
to be reflected on him from the light of Harold's destiny, the sole
desire of a nature, which, under other auspices, would have been
intensely daring and ambitious, was to administer to Harold's
greatness.  No prejudice, no principle, stood in the way of this
dreary enthusiasm.  As a father, himself on the brink of the grave,
schemes for the worldly grandeur of the son, in which he confounds and
melts his own life, so this sombre and predestined man, dead to earth
and to joy and the emotions of the heart, looked beyond his own tomb,
to that existence in which he transferred and carried on his ambition.

If the leading agencies of Harold's memorable career might be, as it
were, symbolised and allegorised, by the living beings with which it
was connected--as Edith was the representative of stainless Truth--as
Gurth was the type of dauntless Duty--as Hilda embodied aspiring
Imagination--so Haco seemed the personation of Worldly Wisdom.  And
cold in that worldly wisdom Haco laboured on, now conferring with
Alred and the partisans of Harold; now closeted with Edwin and Morcar;
now gliding from the chamber of the sick King.--That wisdom foresaw
all obstacles, smoothed all difficulties; ever calm, never resting;
marshalling and harmonising the things to be, like the ruthless hand
of a tranquil fate.  But there was one with whom Haco was more often
than with all others--one whom the presence of Harold had allured to
that anxious scene of intrigue, and whose heart leapt high at the
hopes whispered from the smileless lips of Haco.



CHAPTER VIII.


It was the second day after that which assured him the allegiance of
the thegns, that a message was brought to Harold from the Lady Aldyth.
She was in Oxford, at a convent, with her young daughter by the Welch
King; she prayed him to visit her.  The Earl, whose active mind,
abstaining from the intrigues around him, was delivered up to the
thoughts, restless and feverish, which haunt the repose of all active
minds, was not unwilling to escape awhile from himself.  He went to
Aldyth.  The royal widow had laid by the signs of mourning; she was
dressed with the usual stately and loose-robed splendour of Saxon
matrons, and all the proud beauty of her youth was restored to her
cheek.  At her feet was that daughter who afterwards married the
Fleance so familiar to us in Shakespeare, and became the ancestral
mother of those Scottish kings who had passed, in pale shadows, across
the eyes of Macbeth [216]; by the side of that child, Harold to his
surprise saw the ever ominous face of Haco.

But proud as was Aldyth, all pride seemed humbled into woman's sweeter
emotions at the sight of the Earl, and she was at first unable to
command words to answer his greeting.

Gradually, however, she warmed into cordial confidence.  She touched
lightly on her past sorrows; she permitted it to be seen that her lot
with the fierce Gryffyth had been one not more of public calamity than
of domestic grief, and that in the natural awe and horror which the
murder of her lord had caused, she felt rather for the ill-starred
king than the beloved spouse.  She then passed to the differences
still existing between her house and Harold's, and spoke well and
wisely of the desire of the young Earls to conciliate his grace and
favour.

While thus speaking, Morcar and Edwin, as if accidentally, entered,
and their salutations of Harold were such as became their relative
positions; reserved, not distant--respectful, not servile.  With the
delicacy of high natures, they avoided touching on the cause before
the Witan (fixed for the morrow), on which depended their earldoms or
their exile.

Harold was pleased by their bearing, and attracted towards them by the
memory of the affectionate words that had passed between him and
Leofric, their illustrious grandsire, over his father's corpse.  He
thought then of his own prayer: "Let there be peace between thine and
mine!" and looking at their fair and stately youth, and noble
carriage, he could not but feel that the men of Northumbria and of
Mercia had chosen well.  The discourse, however, was naturally brief,
since thus made general; the visit soon ceased, and the brothers
attended Harold to the door with the courtesy of the times.  Then Haco
said, with that faint movement of the lips which was his only approach
to a smile:

"Will ye not, noble thegns, give your hands to my kinsman?"

"Surely," said Edwin, the handsomer and more gentle of the two, and
who, having a poet's nature, felt a poet's enthusiasm for the gallant
deeds even of a rival,--"surely, if the Earl will accept the hands of
those who trust never to be compelled to draw sword against England's
hero."

Harold stretched forth his hand in reply, and that cordial and
immemorial pledge of our national friendships was interchanged.

Gaining the street, Harold said to his nephew:

"Standing as I do towards the young Earls, that appeal of thine had
been better omitted."

"Nay," answered Haco; "their cause is already prejudged in their
favour.  And thou must ally thyself with the heirs of Leofric, and the
successors of Siward."

Harold made no answer.  There was something in the positive tone of
this beardless youth that displeased him; but he remembered that Haco
was the son of Sweyn, Godwin's first-born, and that, but for Sweyn's
crimes, Haco might have held the place in England he held himself, and
looked to the same august destinies beyond.

In the evening a messenger from the Roman house arrived, with two
letters for Harold; one from Hilda, that contained but these words:
"Again peril menaces thee, but in the shape of good.  Beware! and,
above all, of the evil that wears the form of wisdom."

The other letter was from Edith; it was long for the letters of that
age, and every sentence spoke a heart wrapped in his.

Reading the last, Hilda's warnings were forgotten.  The picture of
Edith--the prospect of a power that might at last effect their union,
and reward her long devotion--rose before him, to the exclusion of
wilder fancies and loftier hopes; and his sleep that night was full of
youthful and happy dreams.

The next day the Witan met.  The meeting was less stormy than had been
expected; for the minds of most men were made up, and so far as Tostig
was interested, the facts were too evident and notorious, the
witnesses too numerous, to leave any option to the judges.  Edward, on
whom alone Tostig had relied, had already, with his ordinary
vacillation, been swayed towards a right decision, partly by the
counsels of Alred and his other prelates, and especially by the
representations of Haco, whose grave bearing and profound
dissimulation had gained a singular influence over the formal and
melancholy King.

By some previous compact or understanding between the opposing
parties, there was no attempt, however, to push matters against the
offending Tostig to vindictive extremes.  There was no suggestion of
outlawry, or punishment, beyond the simple deprivation of the earldom
he had abused.  And in return for this moderation on the one side, the
other agreed to support and ratify the new election of the
Northumbrians.  Morcar was thus formally invested with the vice-
kingship of that great realm; while Edwin was confirmed in the earldom
of the principal part of Mercia.

On the announcement of these decrees, which were received with loud
applause by all the crowd assembled to hear them, Tostig, rallying
round him his house-carles, left the town.  He went first to Githa,
with whom his wife had sought refuge, and, after a long conference
with his mother, he, and his haughty Countess, journeyed to the sea-
coast, and took ship for Flanders.



CHAPTER IX.


Gurth and Harold were seated in close commune in the Earl's chamber,
at an hour long after the complin (or second vespers), when Alred
entered unexpectedly.  The old man's face was unusually grave, and
Harold's penetrating eye saw that he was gloomy with some matters of
great moment.

"Harold," said the prelate, seating himself, "the hour has come to
test thy truth, when thou saidst that thou wert ready to make all
sacrifice to thy land, and further, that thou wouldst abide by the
counsel of those free from thy passions, and looking on thee only as
the instrument of England's weal."

"Speak on, father," said Harold, turning somewhat pale at the
solemnity of the address; "I am ready, if the council so desire, to
remain a subject, and aid in the choice of a worthier king."

"Thou divinest me ill," answered Alred; "I do not call on thee to lay
aside the crown, but to crucify the heart.  The decree of the Witan
assigns Mercia and Northumbria to the sons of Algar.  The old
demarcations of the heptarchy, as thou knowest, are scarce worn out;
it is even now less one monarchy, than various states retaining their
own laws, and inhabitated by different races, who under the sub-kings,
called earls, acknowledge a supreme head in the Basileus of Britain.
Mercia hath its March law and its prince; Northumbria its Dane law and
its leader.  To elect a king without civil war, these realms, for so
they are, must unite with and sanction the Witans elsewhere held.
Only thus can the kingdom be firm against foes without and anarchy
within; and the more so, from the alliance between the new earls of
those great provinces and the House of Gryffyth, which still lives in
Caradoc his son.  What if at Edward's death Mercia and Northumbria
refuse to sanction thy accession?  What if, when all our force were
needed against the Norman, the Welch broke loose from their hills, and
the Scots from their moors!  Malcolm of Cumbria, now King of Scotland,
is Tostig's dearest friend, while his people side with Morcar.  Verily
these are dangers enow for a new king, even if William's sword slept
in its sheath."

"Thou speakest the words of wisdom," said Harold, "but I knew
beforehand that he who wears a crown must abjure repose."

"Not so; there is one way, and but one, to reconcile all England to
thy dominion--to win to thee not the cold neutrality but the eager
zeal of Mercia and Northumbria; to make the first guard thee from the
Welch, the last be thy rampart against the Scot.  In a word, thou must
ally thyself with the blood of these young earls; thou must wed with
Aldyth their sister."

The Earl sprang to his feet aghast.

"No--no!" he exclaimed; "not that!--any sacrifice but that!--rather
forfeit the throne than resign the heart that leans on mine!  Thou
knowest my pledge to Edith, my cousin; pledge hallowed by the faith of
long years.  No--no, have mercy--human mercy; I can wed no other!--any
sacrifice but that!"

The good prelate, though not unprepared for this burst, was much moved
by its genuine anguish; but, steadfast to his purpose, he resumed:

"Alas, my son, so say we all in the hour of trial--any sacrifice but
that which duty and Heaven ordain.  Resign the throne thou canst not,
or thou leavest the land without a ruler, distracted by rival claims
and ambitions, an easy prey to the Norman.  Resign thy human
affections thou canst and must; and the more, O Harold, that even if
duty compelled not this new alliance, the old tie is one of sin,
which, as king, and as high example in high place to all men, thy
conscience within, and the Church without, summon thee to break.  How
purify the erring lives of the churchman, if thyself a rebel to the
Church? and if thou hast thought that thy power as king might prevail
on the Roman Pontiff to grant dispensation for wedlock within the
degrees, and that so thou mightest legally confirm thy now illegal
troth; bethink thee well, thou hast a more dread and urgent boon now
to ask--in absolution from thine oath to William.  Both prayers,
surely, our Roman father will not grant.  Wilt thou choose that which
absolves from sin, or that which consults but thy carnal affections?"

Harold covered his face with his hands, and groaned aloud in his
strong agony.

"Aid me, Gurth," cried Alred, "thou, sinless and spotless; thou, in
whose voice a brother's love can blend with a Christian's zeal; aid
me, Gurth, to melt the stubborn, but to comfort the human, heart."

Then Gurth, with a strong effort over himself, knelt by Harold's side,
and in strong simple language, backed the representations of the
priest.  In truth, all argument drawn from reason, whether in the
state of the land, or the new duties to which Harold was committed,
were on the one side, and unanswerable; on the other, was but that
mighty resistance which love opposes ever to reason.  And Harold
continued to murmur, while his hands concealed his face.

"Impossible!--she who trusted, who trusts--who so loves--she whose
whole youth hath been consumed in patient faith in me!--Resign her!
and for another!  I cannot--I cannot.  Take from me the throne!--Oh
vain heart of man, that so long desired its own curse!--Crown the
Atheling; my manhood shall defend his youth.--But not this offering!
No, no--I will not!"

It were tedious to relate the rest of that prolonged and agitatated
conference.  All that night, till the last stars waned, and the bells
of prime were heard from church and convent, did the priest and the
brother alternately plead and remonstrate, chide and soothe; and still
Harold's heart clung to Edith's, with its bleeding roots.  At length
they, perhaps not unwisely, left him to himself; and as, whispering
low their hopes and their fears of the result of the self-conflict,
they went forth from the convent, Haco joined them in the courtyard,
and while his cold mournful eye scanned the faces of priest and
brother, he asked them "how they had sped?"

Alred shook his head and answered:

"Man's heart is more strong in the flesh than true to the spirit."

"Pardon me, father," said Haco, "if I suggest that your most eloquent
and persuasive ally in this, were Edith herself.  Start not so
incredulously; it is because she loves the Earl more than her own
life, that--once show her that the Earl's safety, greatness, honour,
duty, lie in release from his troth to her--that nought save his
erring love resists your counsels and his country's claims--and
Edith's voice will have more power than yours."

The virtuous prelate, more acquainted with man's selfishness than
woman's devotion, only replied by an impatient gesture.  But Gurth,
lately wedded to a woman worthy of him, said gravely:

"Haco speaks well, my father; and methinks it is due to both that
Edith should not, unconsulted, be abandoned by him for whom she has
abjured all others; to whom she has been as devoted in heart as if
sworn wife already.  Leave we awhile my brother, never the slave of
passion, and with whom England must at last prevail over all selfish
thought; and ride we at once to tell to Edith what we have told to
him; or rather--woman can best in such a case speak to woman--let us
tell all to our Lady--Edward's wife, Harold's sister, and Edith's holy
godmother--and abide by her counsel.  On the third day we shall
return."

"Go we so charged, noble Gurth," said Haco, observing the prelate's
reluctant countenance, "and leave we our reverend father to watch over
the Earl's sharp struggle."

"Thou speakest well, my son," said the prelate, "and thy mission suits
the young and the layman, better than the old and the priest."

"Let us go, Haco," said Gurth, briefly.  "Deep, sore, and lasting, is
the wound I inflict on the brother of my love; and my own heart bleeds
in his; but he himself hath taught me to hold England as a Roman held
Rome."



CHAPTER X.


It is the nature of that happiness which we derive from our affections
to be calm; its immense influence upon our outward life is not known
till it is troubled or withdrawn.  By placing his heart at peace, man
leaves vent to his energies and passions, and permits their current to
flow towards the aims and objects which interest labour or arouse
ambition.  Thus absorbed in the occupation without, he is lulled into
a certain forgetfulness of the value of that internal repose which
gives health and vigour to the faculties he employs abroad.  But once
mar this scarce felt, almost invisible harmony, and the discord
extends to the remotest chords of our active being.  Say to the
busiest man whom thou seest in mart, camp, or senate, who seems to
thee all intent upon his worldly schemes, "Thy home is reft from thee
--thy household gods are shattered--that sweet noiseless content in the
regular mechanism of the springs, which set the large wheels of thy
soul into movement, is thine nevermore!"--and straightway all exertion
seems robbed of its object--all aim of its alluring charm.  "Othello's
occupation is gone!"  With a start, that man will awaken from the
sunlit visions of noontide ambition, and exclaim in his desolation
anguish, "What are all the rewards to my labour now thou hast robbed
me of repose?  How little are all the gains wrung from strife, in a
world of rivals and foes, compared to the smile whose sweetness I knew
not till it was lost; and the sense of security from mortal ill which
I took from the trust and sympathy of love?"

Thus was it with Harold in that bitter and terrible crisis of his
fate.  This rare and spiritual love, which had existed on hope which
had never known fruition, had become the subtlest, the most exquisite
part of his being; this love, to the full and holy possession of
which, every step in his career seemed to advance him, was it now to
be evermore reft from his heart, his existence, at the very moment
when he had deemed himself most secure of its rewards--when he most
needed its consolations?  Hitherto, in that love he had lived in the
future--he had silenced the voice of the turbulent human passion by
the whisper of the patient angel, "A little while yet, and thy bride
sits beside thy throne!"  Now what was that future! how joyless! how
desolate!  The splendour vanished from Ambition--the glow from the
face of Fame--the sense of Duty remained alone to counteract the
pleadings of Affection; but Duty, no longer dressed in all the
gorgeous colourings it took before from glory and power--Duty stern,
and harsh, and terrible, as the iron frown of a Grecian Destiny.

And thus, front to front with that Duty, he sate alone one evening,
while his lips murmured, "Oh fatal voyage, oh lying truth in the hell-
born prophecy! this, then, this was the wife my league with the Norman
was to win to my arms!"  In the streets below were heard the tramp of
busy feet hurrying homeward, and the confused uproar of joyous wassail
from the various resorts of entertainment crowded by careless
revellers.  And the tread of steps mounted the stairs without his
door, and there paused;--and there was the murmur of two voices
without; one the clear voice of Gurth,--one softer and more troubled.
The Earl lifted his head from his bosom, and his heart beat quick at
the faint and scarce heard sound of that last voice.  The door opened
gently, gently: a form entered, and halted on the shadow of the
threshold; the door closed again by a hand from without.  The Earl
rose to his feet, tremulously, and the next moment Edith was at his
knees; her hood thrown back, her face upturned to his, bright with
unfaded beauty, serene with the grandeur of self-martyrdom.

"O Harold!" she exclaimed, "dost thou remember that in the old time I
said, 'Edith had loved thee less, if thou hadst not loved England more
than Edith?'  Recall, recall those words.  And deemest thou now that
I, who have gazed for years into thy clear soul, and learned there to
sun my woman's heart in the light of all glories native to noblest
man, deemest thou, O Harold, that I am weaker now than then, when I
scarce knew what England and glory were?"

"Edith, Edith, what wouldst thou say?--What knowest thou?--Who hath
told thee?--What led thee hither, to take part against thyself?"

"It matters not who told me; I know all.  What led me?  Mine own soul,
and mine own love!"  Springing to her feet and clasping his hand in
both hers, while she looked into his face, she resumed: "I do not say
to thee, 'Grieve not to part;' for I know too well thy faith, thy
tenderness--thy heart, so grand and so soft.  But I do say, 'Soar
above thy grief, and be more than man for the sake of men!'  Yes,
Harold, for this last time I behold thee.  I clasp thy hand, I lean on
thy heart, I hear its beating, and I shall go hence without a tear."

"It cannot, it shall not be!" exclaimed Harold, passionately.  "Thou
deceivest thyself in the divine passion of the hour: thou canst not
foresee the utterness of the desolation to which thou wouldst doom thy
life.  We were betrothed to each other by ties strong as those of the
Church,--over the grave of the dead, under the vault of heaven, in the
form of ancestral faith!  The bond cannot be broken.  If England
demands me, let England take me with the ties it were unholy, even for
her sake, to rend!"

"Alas, alas!" faltered Edith, while the flush on her cheek sank into
mournful paleness.  "It is not as thou sayest. So has thy love
sheltered me from the world--so utter was my youth's ignorance or my
heart's oblivion of the stern laws of man, that when it pleased thee
that we should love each other, I could not believe that that love was
sin; and that it was sin hitherto I will not think;--now it hath
become one."

"No, no!" cried Harold; all the eloquence on which thousands had hung,
thrilled and spell-bound, deserting him in that hour of need, and
leaving to him only broken exclamations,--fragments, in each of which
has his heart itself seemed shivered; "no, no,--not sin!--sin only to
forsake thee.--Hush! hush!--This is a dream--wait till we wake!  True
heart! noble soul!--I will not part from thee!"

"But I from thee!  And rather than thou shouldst be lost for my sake--
the sake of woman--to honour and conscience, and all for which thy
sublime life sprang from the hands of Nature--if not the cloister, may
I find the grave!--Harold, to the last let me be worthy of thee; and
feel, at least, that if not thy wife--that bright, that blessed fate
not mine!--still, remembering Edith, just men may say, 'She would not
have dishonoured the hearth of Harold!'"

"Dost thou know," said the Earl, striving to speak calmly, "dost thou
know that it is not only to resign thee that they demand--that it is
to resign thee, and for another?"

"I know it," said Edith; and two burning tears, despite her strong and
preternatural self-exaltation, swelled from the dark fringe, and
rolled slowly down the colourless cheek, as she added, with proud
voice, "I know it: but that other is not Aldyth, it is England!  In
her, in Aldyth, behold the dear cause of thy native land; with her
enweave the love which thy native land should command.  So thinking,
thou art reconciled, and I consoled.  It is not for woman that thou
desertest Edith."

"Hear, and take from those lips the strength and the valour that
belong to the name of Hero!" said a deep and clear voice behind; and
Gurth,--who, whether distrusting the result of an interview so
prolonged, or tenderly desirous to terminate its pain, had entered
unobserved,--approached, and wound his arm caressingly round his
brother.  "Oh, Harold!" he said, "dear to me as the drops in my heart
is my young bride, newly wed; but if for one tithe of the claims that
now call thee to the torture and trial--yea, if but for one hour of
good service to freedom and law--I would consent without a groan to
behold her no more.  And if men asked me how I could so conquer man's
affections, I would point to thee, and say, 'So Harold taught my youth
by his lessons, and my manhood by his life.'  Before thee, visible,
stand Happiness and Love, but with them, Shame; before thee,
invisible, stands Woe, but with Woe are England and eternal Glory!
Choose between them."

"He hath chosen," said Edith, as Harold turned to the wall, and leaned
against it, hiding his face; then, approaching softly, she knelt,
lifted to her lips the hem of his robe, and kissed it with devout
passion.

Harold turned suddenly, and opened his arms.  Edith resisted not that
mute appeal; she rose, and fell on his breast, sobbing.

Wild and speechless was that last embrace.  The moon, which had
witnessed their union by the heathen grave, now rose above the tower
of the Christian church, and looked wan and cold upon their parting.

Solemn and clear paused the orb--a cloud passed over the disk--and
Edith was gone.  The cloud rolled away, and again the moon shone
forth; and where had knelt the fair form and looked the last look of
Edith, stood the motionless image, and gazed the solemn eye, of the
dark son of Sweyn.  But Harold leant on the breast of Gurth, and saw
not who had supplanted the soft and loving Fylgia of his life--saw
nought in the universe but the blank of desolation!





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