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Title: Brian Fitz-Count - A Story of Wallingford Castle and Dorchester Abbey
Author: Crake, A. D. (Augustine David)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A.D. 30-476.

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A Story of Wallingford Castle and Dorchester Abbey



Vicar of Cholsey, Berks; and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society;
Author of the 'Chronicles Of Æscendune,' etc. etc.

     'Heu miserande puer, siqua fata aspera rumpas,
     Tu Marcellus eris.'
     VIRGIL: _Æneid_, vi. 882-3.

Waterloo Place, London






The author has accomplished a desire of many years in writing a story of
Wallingford Castle and Dorchester Abbey. They are the two chief
historical landmarks of a country familiar to him in his boyhood, and
now again his home. The first was the most important stronghold on the
Thames during the calamitous civil war of King Stephen's days. The
second was founded at the commencement of the twelfth century, and was
built with the stones which came from the Bishop's palace in Dorchester,
abandoned when Remigius in 1092 removed the seat of the Bishopric to

The tale is all too true to mediæval life in its darker features. The
reader has only to turn to the last pages of the _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_
to justify the terrible description of the dungeons of the Castle, and
the sufferings inflicted therein. Brian Fitz-Count was a real personage.
The writer has recorded his dark deeds, but has striven to speak gently
of him, especially of his tardy repentance; his faults were those of
most Norman barons.

The critic may object that the plot of the story, so far as the secret
of Osric's birth is concerned, is too soon revealed--nay, is clear from
the outset. It was the writer's intention, that the fact should be
patent to the attentive reader, although unknown at the time to the
parties most concerned. Many an intricate story is more interesting the
second time of reading than the first, from the fact that the reader,
having the key, can better understand the irony of fate in the tale, and
the hearing of the events upon the situation.

In painting the religious system of the day, he may be thought by
zealous Protestants too charitable to the Church of our forefathers; for
he has always brought into prominence the evangelical features which,
amidst much superstition, ever existed within her, and which in her
deepest corruption was still _the salt_ which kept society from utter
ruin and degradation. But, as he has said elsewhere, it is a far nobler
thing to seek points of agreement in controversy, and to make the best
of things, than to be gloating over "corruptions" or exaggerating the
faults of our Christian ancestors. At the same time the author must not
be supposed to sympathise with all the opinions and sentiments which, in
consistency with the period, he puts into the mouth of theologians of
the twelfth century.

There has been no attempt to introduce archaisms in language, save that
the Domesday names of places are sometimes given in place of the modern
ones where it seemed appropriate or interesting to use them. The
speakers spoke either in Anglo-Saxon or Norman-French: the present
diction is simply translation. The original was quite as free from
stiffness, so far as we can judge.

The roads, the river, the hills, all the details of the scenery have
been familiar to the writer since his youth, and are therefore described
from personal knowledge. The Lazar-House at Byfield yet lingers in
tradition. Driving by the "Pond" one day years ago, the dreary sheet of
water was pointed out as the spot where the lepers once bathed; and the
informant added that to that day the natives shrank from bathing
therein. A strange instance of the long life of oral tradition--which
is, however, paralleled at Bensington, where the author in his youth
found traditions of the battle of the year 777 yet in existence,
although the fight does not find a place, or did not then, in the short
histories read in schools.

The author dedicates this book, with great respect, to the present owner
of the site and remains of Wallingford Castle, John Kirby Hedges, Esq.,
who with great kindness granted him free access to the Castle-grounds at
all times for the purposes of the story; and whose valuable work, _The
History of Wallingford_, has supplied the topographical details and the
special history of the Castle. For the history of Dorchester Abbey, he
is especially indebted to the notes of his lamented friend, the late
vicar of Dorchester.

A. D. C.



CHAP.                                        PAGE
     I. THE LORD OF THE CASTLE                  1

    II. THE CHASE                               8

   III. WHO STRUCK THE STAG?                   16

    IV. IN THE GREENWOOD                       24

     V. CWICHELM'S HLAWE                       32

    VI. ON THE DOWNS                           40

   VII. DORCHESTER ABBEY                       48


    IX. THE LEPERS                             64

     X. THE NEW NOVICE                         72

    XI. OSRIC'S FIRST RIDE                     79

   XII. THE HERMITAGE                          87

  XIII. OSRIC AT HOME                          95

   XIV. THE HERMITAGE                         104


   XVI. AFTER THE ESCAPE                      131


 XVIII. BROTHER ALPHEGE                       150

   XIX. IN THE LOWEST DEPTHS                  158

    XX. MEINHOLD AND HIS PUPILS               170

   XXI. A DEATHBED DISCLOSURE                 178

  XXII. THE OUTLAWS                           189



   XXV. THE SANCTUARY                         216

  XXVI. SWEET SISTER DEATH                    226

 XXVII. FRUSTRATED                            234

XXVIII. FATHER AND SON                        244

  XXIX. IN THE HOLY LAND                      257



It was the evening of the 30th of September in the year of grace 1139;
the day had been bright and clear, but the moon, arising, was rapidly
overpowering the waning light of the sun.

Brian Fitz-Count, Lord of Wallingford Castle by marriage with the Lady
Maude (_Matildis Domina de Walingfort_), the widow of the doughty Baron
Milo Crispin, who died in 1107, without issue--was pacing the ramparts
of his castle, which overlooked the Thames. Stern and stark was this
mediæval baron, and large were his possessions. He was the son of Count
Alain of Brittany[1]--a nephew of Hamelin de Baladin, of Abergavenny
Castle, from whom he inherited large possessions in Wales: a nephew also
of Brian, lord of a manor in Cornwall, which he also inherited.

     "Great his houses, lands, and castles,
     Written in the Domesday Book."

Furthermore, he was an especial favourite with Henry the First, who
commanded the Lady of Wallingford to marry his minion--according to the
law which placed such widows at the disposal of the crown--he was
present at the consecration of the great abbey of Reading, where amongst
the co-signatories we read "_Signum Brientii filii comitis, de
Walingfort_:" the seal of Brian Fitz-Count of Wallingford.

He walked the ramparts on this last evening of September, and gazed
upon his fair castle, or might have done so had his mind been at rest,
but "black care sat on his back."

Still we will gaze, unimpeded by that sable rider, although we fear he
is not dead yet.

The town of Wallingford had been utterly destroyed by the Danes in 1006,
as recorded in our former story of _Alfgar the Dane_. It was soon
afterwards rebuilt, and in the time of Edward the Confessor, was in the
hands of the thane, and shire-reeve (sheriff) Wigod de Wallingford, a
cupbearer of the pious monarch, and one who shared all that saintly
king's Norman proclivities. Hence it is not wonderful that when William
the Conqueror could not cross the Thames at Southwark, owing to the
opposition of the brave men of London town, he led his army along the
southern bank of the great river to Wallingford, where he was assured of
sympathy, and possessed an English partisan. Here Wigod received him in
his hall--a passable structure for those times--which subsequently
formed a part of the castle which the Norman king ordered to be built,
and which became one of the strongest fortresses in the kingdom, and the
key of the midlands.

The Conqueror was a guest of Wigod for several days, and before he left
he witnessed the marriage of the eldest daughter of his host, the
English maiden Aldith, to a Norman favourite, Robert d'Oyley, whom he
made Lord of Oxford.

Now the grand-daughter of that Wigod, whom we will not call traitor to
his country--although some might deem him so--in default of male issue,
became the wife of Brian Fitz-Count. The only son of Wigod, who might
have passed on the inheritance to a line of English lords--Tokig of
Wallingford--died in defence of William the Conqueror[2] at the battle
of Archenbrai, waged between the father and his son Robert Courthose.

To build the new castle,[3] Robert d'Oyley, who succeeded to the
lordship on the death of Wigod, destroyed eight houses, which furnished
space for the enlargement, and material for the builders. We are not
told whether he made compensation--it is doubtful.

The castle was built within the ancient walls in the north-east quarter
of the town, occupying a space of some twenty or thirty acres, and its
defence on the eastern side was the Thames.

Within the precincts rose one of those vast mounds thrown up by
Ethelfleda, lady of the Mercians, and daughter of the great Alfred, a
century and a half earlier. It formed the kernel of the new stronghold,
and surmounted by a lofty tower, commanded a wondrous view of the
country around, from a height of some two hundred feet.

On the north-east lay the long line of the Chilterns; on the south-west,
the Berkshire downs stretching towards Cwichelm's Hlawe, and the White
Horse Hill; between the two lay the gorge of the Thames, and in the
angle the fertile alluvial plain, chiefly filled at that time by a vast
park or chase, or by forest or marsh land.

The Chilterns were covered with vast beech forests, the Berkshire downs
were more bare.

There were three bastions to the north and two on the south; within the
inner dyke or moat on the east was the "glacis," which sloped abruptly
towards the river: the main entrance, on the west, was approached by a
series of drawbridges, while beneath the tower a heavy portcullis
defended the gateway.

Upon the keep stood two sentinels, who from the summit of their lofty
tower scrutinised the roads and open country all day long, until they
were relieved by those who watched by night. Beneath them lay the town
with its moat, and earthen rampart in compass a good mile and more,
joining the river at each extremity. Within the compass were eleven
parishes, "well and sufficiently built," with one parish church in each
of them, well constructed, and with chaplains and clerks daily
officiating, so that people had no lack of spiritual provision.

Beyond, the roads stretched in all directions: the Lower Icknield Street
ran by woody Ewelme along the base of the downs, towards distant
Stokenchurch and Wycombe; while on the opposite side, it ran across the
wild moor land through Aston and Blewbery to the Berkshire downs, where
it joined the upper way again, and continued its course for Devizes. Our
readers will know this road well by and by.

Another road led towards the hills, called "Ye Kynge's Standynge," where
it ascended the downs, and joining the upper Icknield Street, stretched
across the slopes of Lowbury Hill, the highest point on the eastern
downs, where the remains of a strong Roman tower formed a conspicuous
object at that date. Another road led directly to the west, and to
distant Ffaringdune, along the southern side of the twin hills of

Now we will cease from description and take up our story.

"Our lord looks ill at ease," said Malebouche, one of the sentinels on
the keep, to Bardulf, his companion.

"As well he may on this day!"

"Why on this day?"

"Dost thou not know that he is childless?"

"I suppose that is the case every day in the year."

"Ah, thou art fresh from fair Brittany, so I will tell thee the tale,
only breathe it not where our lord can hear of my words, or I shall make
acquaintance with his dog-whip, if not with gyves and fetters. Well, it
chanced that thirteen years agone he burnt an old manor-house over on
the downs near Compton, inhabited by a family of English churls who
would not pay him tribute; the greater part of the household, unable to
escape, perished in the flames, and amongst them, the mother and eldest
child. In a dire rage and fury the father, who escaped, being absent
from home, plotted revenge. Our lord had a son then, a likely lad of
some three summers, and soon afterwards, on this very day, the child was
out with scanty attendance taking the air, for who, thought they, would
dare to injure the heir of the mighty baron, when some marauders made a
swoop from the woods on the little party, slew them all and carried off
the child--at least the body was never found, while those of the
attendants lay all around, male and female."

"And did not they make due search?"

"Thou mayst take thy corporal oath of that. They searched every thicket
and fastness, but neither the child nor any concerned in the outrage
were ever found. They hung two or three poor churls and vagrants on
suspicion, but what good could that do; there was no proof, and the
wretches denied all knowledge."

"Did not they try the 'question,' the '_peine forte et dure_?'"

"Indeed they did, but although one poor vagrant died under it, he
revealed nothing, because he had nothing to reveal, I suppose."

"What ho! warder! dost thou see nought on the roads?" cried a stern,
loud voice which made both start.

"Nought, my lord."

"Keep a good look-out; I expect guests."

And Brian Fitz-Count resumed his walk below--to and fro, communing with
his own moody thoughts.

An hour had passed away, when the sentinel cried aloud--

"A party of men approaches along the lower Ickleton Way from the west."

"How many in number?"

"About twenty."

"Where are they?"

"They cross the moor and have just left the South Moor Town."

"Canst thou make out their cognisance?"

"The light doth not serve."

"Order a troop of horse: I ride to meet them; let the banquet be

In another quarter of an hour a little party dashed over the lowered
drawbridges and out on the western road; meanwhile the great hall was
lighted, and the cooks hurried on the feast.

In less than another hour the blast of trumpets announced the return of
the Lord of the Castle with his guest. And Brian Fitz-Count rode proudly
into his stronghold: on his right hand rode a tall knight, whose squires
and attendants followed behind with the Wallingford men.

"Welcome, Sir Milo of Gloucester, to my castle," exclaimed the Lord of
Wallingford, as he clasped the hand of his visitor beneath the entrance

"By'r ladye, a fine stronghold this of yours; that tower on the keep
might rival in height the far-famed tower of Babel."

"We do not hope to scale Heaven, although, forsooth, if the Masses said
daily in Wallingford are steps in the ladder, it will soon be long

And they both laughed grimly in a way which did not infer implicit
belief in the power of the Church.

"The bath, then the board--prepare the bath for our guest."

So they led him to the bathroom, for the Normans washed themselves, for
which the natives charged them with effeminacy; and there they brought
towels, and perfumed waters, and other luxuries. After which two pages
conducted the guest to the great hall, which was nearly a hundred feet
in length. The high table stood at the one end upon a platform, and
there the Lord of Wallingford seated himself, while upon his left hand
sat the Lady Maude, a lady of middle age, and upon his right a seat of
state was prepared, to which the pages led his visitor.

Fully two hundred men banqueted in the hall that night, boards on
trestles were distributed all along the length at right angles to the
high table, with space between for the servers to pass, and troops of
boys and lower menials squatted on the rushes, while the men-at-arms sat
at the board.

A gallery for the musicians projected above the feasters on one side of
the hall, and there a dozen performers with harps and lutes played
warlike songs, the while the company below ate and drank. The music was
rough but seemed to stir the blood as its melody rose and fell.

And when at last the banquet was ended, a herald commanded silence, and
Brian Fitz-Count addressed the listening throng:

"My merry men all, our guest here bringeth us news which may change our
festal attire for helm and hauberk, and convert our ploughshares and
pruning-hooks into swords and lances; but nought more of this to-night,
the morrow we hunt the stag, and when we meet here on to-morrow night I
may have welcome news for all merry men who love war and glory better
than slothful ease."

A loud burst of applause followed the speech, the purport of which they
fully understood, for the long peace had wearied them, and they were all
eager for the strife as the beasts of prey for rapine, so in song and
wassail they spent the evening, while the Baron and his guest withdrew
to take secret council in an inner chamber.


[1] Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

[2] William's first wound came from the hand from which a wound is most
bitter. Father and son met face to face in the battle; the parricidal
spear of Robert pierced the hand of his father, an arrow at the same
moment struck the horse on which he rode, and the Conqueror lay for a
moment on the earth expecting death at the hands of his own son. A loyal
Englishman sped to the rescue--Tokig, the son of Wigod of Wallingford,
sprang down and offered his horse to the fallen king--at that moment the
shot of a crossbow gave the gallant thane of Berkshire a mortal wound,
and Tokig gave up his life for his sovereign.--_Freeman._

[3] Leland writes--giving his own observations in the sixteenth century
(temp. Henry VIII.):--"The castle joineth to the north gate of the town,
and hath three dykes, large and deep and well watered; about each of the
two first dykes, as upon the crests of the ground, runneth an embattled
wall now sore in ruin; all the goodly building with the tower and
dungeon be within the three dykes." The dykes or moats were supplied
with water from the _Moreton_ brook.



     "Hail, smiling morn,
     That tips the hills with gold."

The merry sound of horns blowing the _reveillée_ greeted the sleepers as
they awoke, lazily, and saw the morning dawn shining through their
windows of horn, or stretched skin, or through the chinks of their
shutters in the chambers of Wallingford Castle, and in a very short
space of time the brief toilettes were performed, the hunting garb
donned, and the whole precincts swarmed with life, while the clamour of
dogs or of men filled the air.

Soon the doughty Baron with his commanding voice stilled the tumult, as
he gave his orders for the day; the _déjeûner_ or breakfast of cold
meats, washed down with ale, mead, or wine, was next despatched, a
hunting Mass was said in "St. Nicholas his Chapel"--that is, a Mass
shorn of its due proportions and reduced within the reasonable compass
of a quarter of an hour--and before the hour of Prime (7 A.M.) the whole
train issued from the gates, Milo, Sheriff of Gloucester,[4] riding by
the side of his host.

It was a bright, bracing morning that First of October, the air keen but
delicious--one of those days when we hardly regret the summer which has
left us and say we like autumn best; every one felt the pulses of life
beat the more healthily, as the hunting train rode up by the side of the
Moreton brook, towards distant Estune or East-town, as Aston was then

They were now approaching a densely-wooded district, for all that
portion of the "honour" of Wallingford which lay beneath the downs, was
filled with wood and marsh nourished by many slow and half stagnant
streams, or penetrated by swiftly running brooks which still follow the
same general course through the district in its cultivated state.

At length they reached a wide open moor covered with gorse or heather;
gay and brilliant looked the train as it passed over the spot. The
hunters generally wore a garb familiar to some of us by pictorial
representations, a green hunting tunic girded by a belt with silver
clasps, a hunting knife in the girdle, a horn swung round the shoulder
dependent from the neck; but beneath this gay attire the great men wore
suits of chain mail, so flexible that it did not impede their movements
nor feel half so uncomfortable as some present suits of corduroy would
feel to a modern dandy. There were archers a few, there were also
spearmen who ran well and kept up with the mounted company at a steady
swinging trot, then there were fine-looking dogs of enormous size, and
of wondrous powers of strength and motion. The very thought of it is
enough to make the modern hunter sigh for the "good old times."

Onward! onward! we fly, the moor is past, the hunting train turns to the
right and follows the course of the brook towards the park of Blidberia
(or Blewbery), the wood gets thicker and thicker; it is a tangled marsh,
and yet a forest; tall trees rise in endless variety, oaks that might
have borne mistletoes for the Druids; huge beeches with spreading
foliage, beneath which Tityrus might have reclined nor complained of
want of shade; willows rooted in water; decaying trunks of trees,
rotting in sullen pools of stagnant mire; yet, a clear, fresh spring
rushes along by the side of the track.

And at intervals the outline of the Bearroc hills, the Berkshire downs,
rises above the forest, and solemnly in the distance looms the huge
tree-covered barrow, where Cwichelm, the last King of Wessex, sleeps his
long sleep while his subjugated descendants serve their Norman masters
in the country around his hill-tomb.

And now a gallant stag is roused--a stag of ten branches. He scents the
dogs as the wind blows from them to him, he shakes the dewdrops from his
flanks, he listens one moment to the clamour of the noisy pack of canine
foes, he shakes his head disdainfully, and rushes on his headlong
course. The dogs bark and bay, the horns ring out, the voices of men and
boys, cheering and shouting as they spur their willing steeds, join the
discord. Hark! hark! Halloa! halloa! Whoop! whoop! and onward they fly.
The timid hares and rabbits rush away or seek their burrows. The hawks
and birds of prey fly wildly overhead in puzzled flight, as the wild
huntsmen rush along.

But now the natural obstacles retard their flight, and the stag gains
the downs first, and speeds over the upper plains. A mile after him, the
hunt emerges just above the tangled maze of Blewbery. Now all is open
ground, and the stag heads for Cwichelm's Hlawe.

Swiftly they sweep along; the footmen are left far behind. The wind is
blowing hard, and the shadows of fleecy clouds are cast upon the downs,
but the riders outstrip them, and leave the dark outlines behind them.
The leaves blow from many a fading tree, but faster rush the wild
huntsmen, and Brian Fitz-Count rides first.

They have left the clump on Blewbery down behind: the sacred mound on
which St. Birinus once stood when he first preached the Gospel of Christ
to the old English folk of Wessex, is passed unheeded. When lo! they
cross a lateral valley and the stag stops to gaze, then as if mature
reflection teaches him the wood and tangled marsh are safer for him,
descends again to the lower ground.

What a disappointment to be checked in such a gallant run, to leave the
springy turf and have again to seek the woods and abate their speed, and
what is worse, when they enter the forest they find all the dogs at
variance of purpose; a fox, their natural enemy, has crossed the track
but recently, and nearly all the pack are after him, while the rest
hesitate and rush wildly about. The huntsmen strive to restore order,
but meanwhile the stag has gained upon his pursuers. The poor hunted
beast, panting as though its heart would break, is safe for a while.

Let us use a tale-teller's privilege and guide the reader to another

Not many furlongs from the spot where the hunters stopped perplexed,
stood a lonely cot in a green islet of ground, amidst the mazy windings
of a brook, which sprang from the hills and rising from the ground in
copious streams, inundated the marsh and gave protection to the dwellers
of this primæval habitation.

It was a large cottage for that period, divided into three rooms, the
outer and larger one for living, the two inner and smaller for
bedchambers. Its construction was simple and not unlike those raised by
the dwellers in the wild parts of the earth now. Larches or pines, about
the thickness of a man's leg, had been cut down, shaped with an axe,
driven into the earth at the intervals of half a yard, willow-twigs had
been twined round them, the interstices had been filled with clay, cross
beams had been laid upon the level summits of the posts, a roof of bark
supported on lighter timber placed upon it, slightly shelving from the
ridge, and the outer fabric was complete. Then the inner partitions had
been made, partly with bark, partly with skins, stretched from post to
post; light doors swung on hinges of leather, small apertures covered
with semitransparent skin formed the windows, and a huge aperture in the
roof over a hearth, whereon rested a portable iron grate, served for

A table, roughly made, stood upon trestles, two or three seats, like
milking-stools, supplied the lack of chairs--such was the furniture of
the living room.

Over the fire sat the occupants of the house--whom we must particularly
introduce to our readers.

The first and most conspicuous was an old man, dressed mainly in
vestments of skin, but the one impression he produced upon the beholder
was "fallen greatness." Such a face, such noble features, withered and
wrinkled though they were by age; long masses of white hair, untouched
by barber or scissors, hung down his back, and a white wavy beard
reached almost to his waist.

By his side, attentive to his every word, sat a youth of about sixteen
summers, and he was also worthy of notice--he seemed to combine the
characteristic features of the two races, Norman and English--we will
not use that misnomer "Saxon," our ancestors never called themselves by
other name than English after the Heptarchy was dissolved. His hair was
dark, his features shapely, but there was that one peculiarity of
feature which always gives a pathetic look to the face--large blue eyes
under dark eyebrows.

The third person was evidently of lower rank than the others, although
this was not evident from any distinction of dress, for poverty had
obliterated all such tokens, but from the general manner, the look of
servitude, the air of submission which characterised one born of a race
of thralls. In truth she was the sole survivor of a race of hereditary
bondsmen, who had served the ancestors of him whom she now tended with
affectionate fidelity amidst poverty and old age.

Let us listen to their conversation, and so introduce them to the

"And so, grandfather," said the boy in a subdued voice of deep feeling,
"you saw him, your father, depart for the last time--the very last?"

"I remember, as if it were but yesterday, when my father gathered his
churls and thralls[5] around him at our house at Kingestun under the
downs to the west: there were women and children, whose husbands and
fathers were going with him to join the army of Harold at London; they
were all on foot, for we had few knights in those days, but ere my
father mounted his favourite horse--'Whitefoot'--he lifted me in his
arms and kissed me. I was but five years old, and then he pressed my
mother to his bosom, she gave one sob but strove to stifle it, as the
wife of a warrior should. Then all tried to cry--'Long live Thurkill of

"'Come, my men,' said my father, 'we shall beat these dainty Frenchmen,
as our countrymen have beaten the Danes at Stamford, so the 'bode' here
tells me. We go to fill the places of the gallant dead who fell around
our Harold in the hour of victory--let there be no faint hearts amongst
us, 'tis for home and hearth; good-bye, sweethearts,' and they rode

"They rode first to the Abbey town (Abingdon), and there made their vows
before the famous 'Black Cross' of that ancient shrine; then all bent
them for the long march to London town, where they arrived in time to
march southward with the hero king, the last English king, and
seventy-three years ago this very month of October the end came; blessed
were the dead who fell that awful day on the heights of Senlac, thrice
blessed--and cursed we who survived, to lose home, hearth, altar, and
all, and to beget a race of slaves."

"Nay, not slaves, grandfather; thou hast never bent the knee."

"Had I been ten years older, I had been at Senlac and died by my
father's side."

"But your mother, you lived to comfort her."

"Not long; when the news of our father's death came, she bore up for my
sake--but when our patrimony was taken by force, and we who had fought
for our true king were driven from our homes as rebels and traitors, to
herd with the beasts of the field; when our thralls became the bondsmen
of men of foreign tongues and hard hearts--her heart broke, and she
left me alone, after a few months of privation."

"But you fought against the Norman."

"I fought by the side of the last Englishman who fought at all, with
Hereward and his brave men at the 'Camp of Refuge'; and spent the prime
of my life a prisoner in the grim castle of the recreant Lords of

And he lifted up his eyes, suffused with tears, to heaven.

"Why do you call the Lords of Wallingford Castle recreant?"

"Because they were false to their country, in submitting to the Norman
invader. When the Conqueror came to Southwark, the brave men of the city
of London, guarded by their noble river and Roman walls, bade him
defiance. So he came up the south bank of the stream to Wallingford,
where the shire-reeve (the sheriff), Wigod, was ready, like a base
traitor, to receive him. There Wigod sumptuously entertained him, and
the vast mound which told of English victory in earlier days, became the
kernel of a Norman stronghold. The Conqueror gave the daughter of Wigod
in marriage to his particular friend, Robert d'Oyley, of Oxford Castle;
and when men afterwards saw men like Wigod of Wallingford and Edward of
Salisbury glutted with the spoils of Englishmen, better and braver than
themselves, they ate their bread in bitterness of spirit, and praised
the dead more than the living."

Just then a rustling in the branches attracted their attention.

"Oh, grandfather, there is a gallant stag! may I go and take him?--it
will replenish our larder for days. We have been so hungry."

"It is death to kill the Baron's deer."

"When he can catch us!--that!--for him," and the boy snapped his

"Hist! I hear the sound of hound and horn--be cautious, or we may get
into dire trouble."

"Trust me, grandfather. Where are my arrows? Oh, here they are. Come,

And a large wolf-hound bounded forth, eager as his young master.


[4] Sir Milo was Sheriff of Gloucester, and was afterwards created Earl
of Hereford by the Empress Maude.

[5] Otherwise ceorls and theowes, tenant farmers and labourers, the
latter, bondsmen, "_adscripti glebæ_," bought with the land, but who
could not be sold apart from it.



     "It was a stag, a stag of ten,
     Bearing his branches sturdily."

We left the grandson of the recluse setting forth in quest of the stag.

Forth he and his dog bounded from the thick covert in which their
cottage was concealed, and emerging from the tall reeds which bordered
the brook, they stood beneath the shade of the mighty beech-trees, whose
trunks upbore the dense foliage, as pillars in the solemn aisles of
cathedrals support the superstructure; for the woods were God's first
temples, and the inhabitants of such regions drew from them the
inspiration from which sprang the various orders of Gothic architecture.

Here Osric, for such was his name, paused and hid in a thicket of hazel,
for he spied the stag coming down the glade towards him, he restrained
the dog by the leash: and the two lay in ambush.

The hunted creature, quite unsuspecting any new foes, came down the
glen, bearing his branches loftily, for doubtless he was elate, poor
beast, with the victory which his heels had given him over his human and
canine foes. And now he approached the ambush: the boy had fitted an
arrow to his bow but hesitated, it seemed almost a shame to lay so noble
an animal low; but hunger and want are stern masters, and men must eat
if they would live.

Just then the creature snuffed the tainted air, an instant, and he would
have escaped; but the bow twanged, and the arrow buried itself in its
side, the stag bounded in the death agony towards the very thicket
whence the fatal dart had come; when Osric met it, and drawing his keen
hunting-knife across its throat, ended its struggles and its life

He had received a woodland education, and knew what to do; he soon
quartered the stag, whose blood the dog was lapping, and taking one of
the haunches on his shoulders, entered the tangled maze of reeds and
water wherein lay his island-home.

"Here, grandfather, here is one of the haunches, what a capital fat one
it is! truly it will be a toothsome morsel for thee, and many tender
bits will there be to suit thy aged teeth; come, Judith, come and help
me hang it on the tree; then I will go and fetch the rest, joint by

"But stop, Osric, what sound, what noise is that?" and the old man
listened attentively--then added--

"Huntsmen have driven that stag hitherwards, and are following on its

The breeze brought the uproarious baying of dogs and cries of men down
the woods. It was at that moment, that, as stated in our last chapter,
the fox had crossed the track, and baffled them for the moment.

Alas for poor Osric, only for the moment, for the huntsmen had succeeded
in getting some of the older and wiser hounds to take up the lost trail,
and the scent of their former enemy again greeting their olfactory
organs, they obeyed the new impulse--or rather the old one renewed, and
were off again after the deer.

And as we see a flock of sheep, stopped by a fence, hesitating where to
go, until one finds a gap and all follow; so the various undecided dogs
agreed that venison was better than carrion, and the stag therefore a
nobler quarry than the fox; so, save a few misguided young puppies, they
resumed the legitimate chase.

The huntsmen followed as fast as the trees and bushes allowed them,
until, after a mile or two, they all came to a sudden stand, where the
object of the chase had already met its death at the hands of Osric.

Meanwhile the unhappy youth had heard them drawing nearer and nearer. He
knew that it would be impossible to escape discovery, unless the
intricacies of their retreat should baffle the hunters, whom they heard
drawing nearer and nearer. The dogs, they knew, would not pursue the
chase beyond the place of slaughter. Oh! if they had but time to mangle
it before the men arrived, so that the manner in which it had met its
death might not be discovered--but that was altogether unlikely. And in
truth clamorous human cries mingled with wild vociferous barkings,
howlings, bayings, and other canine clamour, showed that the hunt was
already assembled close by.

"I will go forth and own the deed: then perhaps they will not inquire

"Nay, my son, await God's Will here."

And the old man restrained the youth.

At length they heard such words as these--

"He cannot be far off."

"He is hidden amongst the reeds."

"Turn in the dogs."

"They have tasted blood and are useless."

"Fire the reeds."

"Nay, grandfather, I must go, the reeds are dry, they will burn us all
together. They may show me mercy if I own it bravely."

"Nay, they love their deer too well; they will hang thee on the nearest

"Look! they have fired the reeds."

"It may be our salvation: they cannot penetrate them when burning, and
see, if the smoke stifle us not, the fire will not reach us; there is
too much green and dank vegetation around the brook between us and the

"Ah! the wind blows it the other way; nay, it eddies--see that tongue of
flame darting amongst the dry fuel--now another: that thick smoke--there
it is changed to flame. Oh, grandfather, let us get off by the other
side--at once--at once."

"Thou forgettest I am a cripple; but there may be time for you and
Judith to save yourselves."

"Nay," said Osric, proudly, "we live or die together."

"Judith will stay with her old master," said the poor thrall, "and with
her young lord too."

They were yet "lords" in her eyes, bereft although they were of their
once vast possessions.

"Perhaps we are as safe here; their patience will wear out before they
can penetrate the island. See, they are firing the reeds out yonder.
Normans love a conflagration," said the old man.

In fact, it was as much with that inherent love of making a blaze, which
had marked the Normans and the Danes from the beginning, when church,
homestead, barn, and stack, were all kindled as the fierce invaders
swept through the land; that the mischievous and vindictive men-at-arms
had fired the reeds, wherein they thought the slayer of the deer had
taken refuge, when they found that the dogs would not enter after him.
There was little fear of any further harm than the clearing of a few
acres. The trees were too damp to burn, or indeed to take much harm from
so hasty and brief a blaze: so they thought, if they thought at all.

But the season had been dry, the material was as tinder, and the blaze
reached alarming proportions--several wild animals ran out, and were
slain by the bystanders, others were heard squeaking miserably in the
flames; but that little affected the hardened folk of the time, they had
to learn mercy towards men, before the time came to start a society for
the prevention of cruelty to animals.

"He cannot be there or he would have run out by this time."

"He has escaped the other side."

"Nay, Alain and his men have gone round there to look out."

"But they cannot cross the brook on foot, and even a horse would get
stuck in the mire."

"They will do their best."

The three in the cottage saw the flames rise and crackle all round them,
and the dense clouds of smoke were stifling. Osric got water from the
brook and dashed it all over the roof and the more inflammable portions
of their dwelling, lest a spark should kindle them, and worked hard at
his self-imposed task, in the intense heat.

But the conflagration subsided almost as rapidly as it arose from sheer
want of fuel, and with the cessation of the flames came the renewal of
the danger of discovery.

Other voices were now heard, one loud and stern as befitted a leader:--

"What meaneth this? Who hath kindled the reeds without my order?"

"The deer-slayer lurketh within."

"What deer-slayer? Who struck the stag?"

"We know not. It could not have been many minutes before we arrived; the
carcase was still warm."

"He must be caught; thou shalt not suffer a poacher to live, is the
royal command, and mine too; but did you not set the dogs after him?"

"They had tasted blood, my lord."

"But if he were hidden herein, he must have come forth. If the bed of
reeds were properly encircled--it seems to cover some roods of forest."

"A shame for so fine a beast to be so foully murdered."

"It was a stag of ten branches."

"And he gave us good sport."

"We will hang his slayer in his honour."

"A fine acorn for a lusty oak."

"When we catch him."

"He shall dance on nothing, and we will amuse ourselves by his

"Nothing more laughable than the face a _pendu_ makes with the rope
round his neck."

"Has anybody got a rope?"

"Has anybody found the poacher?"

A general laugh.

"Silence, listen."

A dry old oak which had perhaps seen the Druids, and felt the keen knife
bare its bosom of the hallowed mistletoe, had kindled and fallen; as it
fell sending forth showers upon showers of sparks.

The fall of the tree opened a sort of vista in the flames, and

"Look," said the Baron, "I see something like the roof of a hut just
beyond the opening the tree has made."

"I think so too," said Sir Milo of Gloucester.

"Very well, wait here awhile, my men; these reeds are all burnt, and the
ground will soon cool, then you may go in and see what that hut
contains: reserve them for my judgment. Here, Tristam, here, Raoul, hold
our horses."

Two sprightly-looking boy pages took the reins, and Brian and Milo, if
we may presume to call them by such familiar appellations, walked
together in the glade.

Deep were their cogitations, and how much the welfare of England
depended upon them, would hardly be believed by our readers. We would
fain reveal what they said, but only the half can be told.

"It can be endured no longer!"

"Soon no one but he will be allowed to build a castle!"

"But to lay hands upon two anointed prelates."

"The Bishops of Sarum and Lincoln."

"Arrested just when they were trusting to his good faith."

"The one in the king's own ante-chamber, the other in his lodgings
eating his dinner."

"The Bishop of Ely only escaped by the skin of his teeth."

"And he, too, was forced to surrender his castle, for the king vowed
that the Bishop of Salisbury should have no food until his nephew of
Ely surrendered, and led poor Roger, pale and emaciated, stretching
forth his skinny hands, and entreating his nephew to save him from
starvation, to and fro before the walls, until he gained his ends, and
the castle was yielded."

"He is not our true king, but a foul usurper."

"Well, my good cousin, a few hours may bring us news. But, listen; can
our folk have caught the deer-slayers? let us return to them."

In the absence of their leaders, the men-at-arms, confiding in the
goodness of their boots and leggings, had trodden across the smoking
soil in the direction where their leader had pointed out the roof of a
hut amidst leafy trees, and had quickly discovered their victims,
crossed the brook, and surrounded the house.

"Come forth, Osric, my son," said the old man, "whatever befalls, let us
not disgrace our ancestry; let nothing become us in life more than the
mode of leaving it, if die we must."

"But must we die? what have we done?"

"Broken their tyrannical laws. Judith, open the door."

A loud shout greeted the appearance of the old man, his beard descending
to his waist, as he issued forth, leading Osric by the hand.

"What seek ye, Normans? wherefore have ye surrounded my humble home,
whither tyranny has driven me?"

A loud shout of exultation.

"The deer--give up the deer--confess thy guilt."

"Search for it"--"a haunch was gone"--"if in the house, we need no
further trial"--"to the nearest tree."

The house was rudely entered--but the haunch, which had been removed
from the tree and hidden by Judith, could not be found.

"Ye have no proof that we have offended."

They searched a long while in vain, they opened cupboard and chest, but
no haunch appeared.

"Examine them by torture: try the knotted cord."

"One should never go out without thumbscrews in this vile country; they
would fit that young poacher's thumbs well."

Just then the Baron was seen returning from his stroll with his guest.

"Bring them to the Baron! bring them to the Baron!"

"And meanwhile fire the house."

"Nay, not till we have orders; our master is stern and strict."



     "What shall he have who killed the deer?"

The return of Brian Fitz-Count and his companion from their stroll in
the woods probably saved our aged friend Sexwulf and his grandson from
much rough treatment, for although in the presence of express orders
from their dread lord, the men-at-arms would not attempt aught against
the _life_ of their prisoners, yet they might have offered any violence
and rudeness short of that last extremity, in their desire to possess
proof of the slaughter of the deer.

Poor beast, the cause of so much strife: it had behoved him to die
amongst the fangs of the hounds, and he had been foully murdered by
arrow and knife! It was not to be endured.

But no sooner did the Baron return, than the scene was changed.

"What means this clamour? Shut your mouths, ye hounds! and bring the
deer-slayers before me; one would think Hell had broken loose amongst

He sat deliberately down on the trunk of a fallen tree, and called Milo
to be his assessor (_amicus curiæ_), as one might have said.

A circle was immediately formed, and the old man and boy, their arms
tied behind them, were placed before their judge.

He looked them sternly in the face, as if he would read their hearts.

"Whose serfs are ye?"

"We were never in bondage to any man."

"It is a lie--all Englishmen are in serfdom."

"Time will deliver them."

"Do you dare to bandy words with me; if so, a short shrift and a long
halter will suffice: you are within my jurisdiction, and your lives are
as much in my power as those of my hounds."

This was not said of hot temper, but bred of that cool contempt which
the foreign lords felt for the conquered race with which, nevertheless,
they were destined to amalgamate.

"Your names?"

"Sexwulf, son of Thurkill, formerly thane of Kingestun."

"Whose father fell in the fight at Senlac (Hastings), by the side of the
perjured Harold; and is this thy son? brought up doubtless to be a rebel
like thyself."

"He is my grandson."

"And how hast thou lived here, so long unknown, in my woods?"

"The pathless morass concealed us."

"And how hast thou lived? I need not ask, on my red deer doubtless."

"No proof has been found against us," said the old man, speaking with
that meek firmness which seemed to impress his questioner.

"And now, what hast thou done with the haunch of this deer?"

"I have not slain one."

"But the boy may have done so--come, old man, thou lookest like one who
would not lie even to save his neck; now if thou wilt assure me, on the
faith of a Christian, and swear by the black cross of Abingdon that thou
knowest nought of the deer, I will believe thee."

A pause--but Brian foresaw the result of his appeal.

"I cannot," said the captive at length; "I did not slay it, yet if,
according to your cruel laws, a man must die for a deer: I refuse not to
die--I am weary of the world."

"Nay, the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son; that were
contrary to Scripture and to all sound law."

"Grandfather, thou shalt not die," interrupted the boy; "Baron, it was
I; but must I die for it? we were so hungry."

"Oh my lord, crush not the young life in the springtime of youth. God
has taken all my children in turn from me, He has deprived me of home
and kin: but He is just. He has left this boy to comfort my old age:
take not away the light of the old man's eyes. See I, who never asked
favour of Norman or foreign lord before, bow my knees to thee; let the
boy live, or if not, let both die together."

"One life is enough for _one_ deer."

"Nay, then let me die."

"Who slew the deer?"

"I, my lord, and I must die, not my grandfather."

"It was for me, and I must die, as the primal cause of the deed," said
the old man.

"By the teeth of St. Peter, I never saw two thralls contending for the
honour of a rope before," said Milo.

"Nor I, but they have taken the right way to escape. Had they shown
cowardice, I should have felt small pity, but courage and self-devotion
ever find a soft place in my heart; besides, there is something about
this boy which interests me more than I can account for. Old man, tell
the truth, as thou hopest for the life of the boy. Is he really thy

"He is the son of my daughter, now with the Saints."

"And who was his sire?"

"An oppressed Englishman."

"Doubtless: you all think yourselves oppressed, as my oxen may, because
they are forced to draw the plough, but the boy has the face of men of
better blood, and I should have said there was a cross in the breed: but
hearken! Malebouche, cut their bonds, take a party of six, escort them
to the castle, place them in the third story of the North Tower, give
them food and drink, but let none have access to them till I return."

Further colloquy was useless; the Baron spoke like a man whose mind was
made up, and his vassals had no choice but to obey.

Therefore the party broke up, the rest of the train to seek another
stag, if they could find one, but Brian called the Sheriff of Gloucester

They stood in a glade of the forest near a tree blown down by the wind,
where they could see the downs beyond.

"Dost see that barrow, Sir Milo?"

"I do."

"It is called Cwichelm's Hlawe; there an old king of these English was
buried; they say he walks by night."

"A likely place."

"Well, I have a curiosity to test the fact, moreover the hill commands a
view unrivalled in extent in our country; I shall ride thither."

"In search of ghosts and night scenery, the view will be limited in

"But beacon fires will show best in the dark."

"I comprehend; shall I share thy ride?"

"Nay, my friend, my mind is ill at rest, I want solitude. Return with
the hunting train and await my arrival at the castle; and the Baron
beckoned to his handsome young page Alain, to lead the horse to him.

"Well, Alain, what didst thou think of the young Englishman? He
confronted death gallantly enough."

"He is only half an Englishman; I am sure he has Norman blood, _noblesse
oblige_," replied the boy, who was a spoiled pet of his stern lord,
stern to others.

"Well, the old man feared the cord as little."

"He has not much life left to beg for: one foot in the grave already."

"How wouldst thou like that boy for a fellow-page?"

"Not at all, my lord."

"And why not?"

"Because I would like my companions to be of known lineage and of
gentle blood on both sides."

"The great Conqueror himself was not."

"And hence many despised him."

"They did not dare tell him so."

"Then they were cowards, my lord; I hope my tongue shall never conceal
what my heart feels."

"My boy, if thou crowest so loudly, I fear thou wilt have a short life."

"I can make my hands keep my head, at least against my equals."

"Art thou sorry I pardoned the lad then?"

"No, I like not to see the brave suffer; had he been a coward I should
have liked the sport fairly well."


"It is so comical to see deer-stealers dance on nothing, and it serves
them right."

Now, do not let my readers think young Alain unnatural, he was of his
period; pity had small place, and the low value set on life made boys
and even men often see the ridiculous side of a tragedy, and laugh when
they should have wept: yet courage often touched their sympathies, when
entreaty would have failed.

But the Lord of Wallingford was in a gentle frame of mind, uncommon in
him: he had not merely been touched by the strife, which of the two
should die, between the ill-assorted pair, but there had been something
in every tone and gesture of the boy which had awakened strange sympathy
in his heart, and the sensation was so unprecedented, that Brian longed
for solitude to analyse it.

In truth, the prisoners had not been in great danger, for although their
judge was pleased to try their courage, he had not the faintest
intention of proceeding to any extremities with either grandsire or
grandson--not at least after he had heard the voice of the boy.

The party broke up, the Baron rode on alone towards the heights, the
sheriff, attended by young Alain, returned down the course of the
stream towards the castle. The rest separated into divers bands, some to
hunt for deer or smaller game, so as not to return home with empty
hands, to the great wrath of the cooks and others also. Malebouche with
six archers escorted the prisoners. They rode upon one steed, the boy in
front of his sire.

"Old man, what is the stripling's name?"


"And you will not tell who his sire was?"

"If I would not tell your dread lord, I am not likely to tell thee."

"Because I have a _guess_: a mere suspicion."

"'Thoughts are free;' it will soon be shown whether it be more."

"Which wouldst thou soonest be in thy heart, boy, English or Norman?"

"English," said the boy firmly.

"Thou preferrest then the deer to the lion?"

"I prefer to be the oppressed rather than the oppressor."

"Well, well, each man to his taste, but I would sooner be the wolf who
eats, than the sheep which is eaten; of the two sensations I prefer the
former. Now dost thou see that proud tower soaring into the skies down
the brook? it is the keep of Wallingford Castle. Stronger hold is not in
the Midlands."

"I have been there before," said old Sexwulf.

"Not in my time."

Our readers may almost have forgotten the existence of the poor thrall
Judith during the exciting scene we have narrated.

She loved her masters, young and old, deeply loved them did this
hereditary slave, and her anxiety had been extreme during the period of
their danger: she skipped in and out of the hut, for no one thought her
worth molesting, she peered through the bushes, she acted like a hen
partridge whose young are in danger, and when they bound Osric,
actually flew at the men-at-arms, but they thrust her so roughly aside
that she fell; little recked they. An English thrall, were she wife,
mother, or daughter, was naught in their estimation.

Yet she did not feel the same anxiety in one respect, which Sexwulf
felt. "I can save him yet," she muttered; "they shall never put a rope
around his bonnie neck, not even if I have to betray the secret I have
kept since his infancy."

So she listened close at hand. Once or twice she seemed on the point of
thrusting herself forward, when the fate of her dear boy seemed to hang
in the balance, but restrained herself.

"I promised," she said, "I promised, and _he_ will grieve to learn that
I was faithless to my word. The old woman has a soul, aged crone though
she be: and I swore by the black cross of Abingdon. Yet black cross or
white one, I would risk the claws of Satan, sooner than allow the rope
to touch his neck: bad enough that it should encircle his fair wrists."

When at last the suspense was over, and the grandsire and grandson were
ordered to be taken as prisoners to the castle, she seemed content.

"I must see him," she said, "and tell him what has chanced: he will know
what to do."

Just then she heard a voice which startled her.

"Shall we burn the hut, my lord?"

A moment of suspense: then came the stern reply.

"He that doth so shall hang from the nearest oak."

She chuckled.

"The spell already works," she said; "I may return to the shelter which
has been mine so long. He will not harm them."

The time of the separation of the foe had now come; the Baron rode off
to his midnight watch on Cwichelm; Malebouche conducted the two captives
along the road to the distant keep; the others, men and dogs, circulated
right and left in the woods.

The woods and reeds were still smoking, the atmosphere was dense and
murky, as Judith returned to the hut.

She sat by the fire which still smoked on the hearth, and rocked herself
to and fro, and as she sat she sang in an old cracked voice--

     "They sought my bower one murky night,
     They burnt my bower, they slew my knight;
     My servants all for life did flee,
     And left me in extremitie:
     But vengeance yet shall have its way,
     When shall the son the sire betray?"

The last line was very enigmatical, like a Delphic response; perhaps our
tale may solve it.

Then at last she arose, and going to a corner of the hut, opened a chest
filled with poor coarse articles of female attire, such as a slave might
wear, but at the bottom wrapped in musty parchment was something of
greater value.

It was a ring with a seal, and a few articles of baby attire, a little
red shoe, a small frock, and a lock of maiden's hair.

She kissed the latter again and again, ere she looked once more at the
ring: it bore a crest upon a stone of opal, and she laughed weirdly.

The crest was the crest of Brian Fitz-Count.



It was a wild and lonely spot, eight hundred feet above sea level, the
highest ground of the central downs of Berkshire, looking northward over
a vast expanse of fertile country, as yet but partially tilled, and
mainly covered with forest.

A tumulus or barrow of huge dimensions arose on the summit, no less than
one hundred and forty yards in circumference, and at that period some
fifty feet in height; it had been raised five hundred years earlier in
the history of the country over the remains of the Saxon King Cwichelm,
son of Cynegils, and grandson of Ceol, who dwelt in the Isle of Ceol--or
Ceolseye--and left his name to Cholsey.

A wood of firs surrounded the solemn mound, which, however, dominated
them in height; the night wind was sighing dreamily over them, the
heavens were alternately light and dark as the aforesaid wind made rifts
in the cloud canopy and closed them again--ever and anon revealing the
moon wading amidst, or rather beyond, the masses of vapour.

An aged crone stood on the summit of the mound clad in long flowing
garments of coarse texture, bound around the waist with a girdle of
leather; her hair, white as snow, streamed on the wind. She supported
her strength by an ebony staff chased with Runic figures. Any one who
gazed might perchance have thought her a sorceress, or at least a seer
of old times raised again into life.

"Ah, he comes!"

Over the swelling ridges of the downs she saw a horseman approaching;
heard before she saw, for the night was murky.

The horseman dismounted in the wood, tied his horse to a tree, left it
with a huge boar-hound, as a guard, and penetrating the wood, ascended
the mound.

"Thou art here, mother: the hour is come; it is the first day of the
vine-month, as your sires called it."

"Yes, the hour is come, the stars do not lie, nor did the mighty dead
deceive me."

"The dead; call them not, whilst I am here."

"Dost thou fear them? We must all share their state some day."

"I would sooner, far sooner, not anticipate the time."

"Yet thou hast sent many, and must send many more, to join them."

"It is the fortune of war; I have had Masses said for their souls. It
might have chanced to me."

"Ha! ha! so thou wouldst not slay soul and body both?"

"God forbid."

"Well, once I believed in Priest and Mass--I, whom they call the witch
of 'Cwichelm's Hlawe': now I prefer the gods of war, of storm, and of
death; Woden, Thor, and Teu; nay, even Hela of horrid aspect."

"Avaunt thee, witch! wouldst worship Satan!"

"Since God helped me not: listen, Brian Fitz-Count. I, the weird woman
of the haunted barrow, was once a Christian, and a nun."

"A nun!"

"Yea, and verily. A few of us had a little cell, a dozen were we in
number, and we lived under the patronage--a poor reed to lean on we
found it--of St. Etheldreda.[6] Now a stern Norman like thyself came
into those parts after the conquest; he had relations abroad who 'served
God' after another rule; he craved our little home for them; he drove
us out to perish in the coldest winter I remember. The abbess, clinging
to her home and refusing to go, was slain by the sword: two or three
others died of cold; we sought shelter in vain, the distress was
everywhere. I roamed hither--I was born at the village of Hendred
below--my friends were dead and gone, my father had followed Thurkill of
Kingestun, and been killed at Senlac. My mother, in consequence, had
been turned out of doors by the new Norman lord, and none ever learned
what became of her, my sweet mother! my brothers had become outlaws; my
sisters--well, I need tell thee no more. I lost faith in the religion,
in the name of which, and under the sanction of whose chief teacher, the
old man who sits at Rome, the thing had been done. They say I went mad.
I know I came here, and that the dead came and spoke with me, and I
learned mysteries of which Christians dream not, yet which are true for
good or ill."

"And by their aid thou hast summoned me here, but I marvel thou hast not
perished as a witch amidst fire and faggot."

"They protect me!"

"Who are they?"

"Never mind; that is my secret."

"Thou didst tell me that if I came to-night I should see the
long-expected signal to arm my merrie men, and do battle for our winsome

"Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war. Well, I told thee truly: the
hour is nigh, wait and watch with me; fix thine eyes on the south."

Dim and misty the outlines of the hills looked in that uncertain
gloaming; here and there a light gleamed from some peasant's hut, for
the hour of eight had not yet struck, when, according to the curfew law,
light and fire had to be extinguished. But our lone watchers saw them
all disappear at last, and still the light they looked for shone not

"Why does not the bale-fire blaze?"

"Baleful shall its influence be."

"Woman, one more question I have. Thou knowest my family woes, that I
have neither kith nor kin to succeed me, no gallant boy for whom to win
honour: two have I had, but they are dead to the world."

"The living death of leprosy."

"And one--not indeed the lawful child of my spouse--was snatched from me
in tender infancy; one whom I destined for my heir: for why should that
bar-sinister which the Conqueror bore sully the poor child. Thou

"Thou didst seek me in the hour of thy distress, and I told thee the
child lived."

"Does it yet live? tell me." And the strong man trembled with eagerness
and emotion as he looked her eagerly in the face.

"They have not told me; I know not."

"Methinks I saw him to-day."


"In the person of a peasant lad--the grandson of an old man, who has
lived, unknown, in my forest, and slain my deer."

"And didst thou hang him, according to thy wont?"

"No, for he was brave, and something in the boy's look troubled me, and
reminded me of her I once called my 'Aimèe.' She was English, but
Eadgyth was hard to pronounce, so I called her 'Aimèe.'"

"Were there any marks by which you could identify your boy? Pity such a
race should cease."

"I remember none. And the grandfather claims the lad as his own. Tell
me, is he mine?"

"I know not, but there is a way in which thou canst inquire."


"Hast thou courage?"

"None ever questioned it and lived."

"But many could face the living, although girt in triple mail, who fear
the dead."

"I am distracted with hope."

"And thou canst face the shrouded dead?"

"I would dare their terrors."

"Sleep here, then, to-night."


"In a place which I will show thee, ha! ha!"

"Is it near?"

"Beneath thy feet."

"Beneath my feet?"

"It is the sepulchre of the royal dead."

"Of Cwichelm?"

"Even he."

"May I see it? the bale-fire blazes not, and it is cold waiting here."


"Lead on, I follow."

She descended the sloping sides of the mound, he followed. At the base,
amidst nettles and briars, was a rude but massive door. She drew forth a
heavy key and opened it. She passed along a narrow passage undeterred by
a singular earthy odour oppressive to the senses, and the Baron followed
until he stood by her side, in a chamber excavated in the very core of
the huge mound.

There, in the centre, was a large stone coffin, and within lay a giant

"It is he, who was king of this land."

"Cwichelm, son of Ceol, who dwelt in the spot they now call Ceolseye."

"And the son of the Christian King of Wessex--they mingled Christian and
Pagan rites when they buried him here. See his bow and spear."

"But who burrowed this passage? Surely they left it not who buried him?"

"Listen, and your ears shall drink in no lies. Folk said that his royal
ghost protected this spot, and that if the heathen Danes came where the
first Christian king lay, guarding the land, even in death, they should
see the sea no more. Now, in the Christmas of the year 1006, aided by a
foul traitor, Edric Streorn, they left the Isle of Wight, where they
were wintering, and travelling swiftly, burst upon the ill-fated,
unwarned folk of this land, on the very day of the Nativity, for Edric
had removed the guardians of the beacon fires.[7] They burnt Reading;
they burnt Cholsey, with its church and priory; they burned Wallingford;
they slew all they met, and left not man or beast alive whom they could
reach, save a few most unhappy captives, whom they brought here after
they had burned Wallingford, for here they determined to abide as a
daring boast, having heard of the prophecy, and despising it. And here
they revelled after the fashion of fiends for nine days and nights. Each
day they put to death nine miserable captives with the torture of the
Rista Eorn, and so they had their fill of wine and blood. And as they
had heard that treasures were buried with Cwichelm, they excavated this
passage. Folk said that they were seized with an awful dread, which
prevented their touching his bones or further disturbing his repose. At
length they departed, and each year since men have seen the ghosts of
their victims gibbering in the moonlight between Christmas and Twelfth

"Hast thou?"

"Often, but covet not the sight; it freezes the very marrow in the
bones. Only beware that thou imitate not these Danes in their


"Yes, even thou."

"Am I a heathen dog?"

"What thou art I know, what thou wilt become I think I trow. But peace:
wouldst thou invoke the dead king to learn thy future path? I can raise

Brian Fitz-Count was a brave man, but he shuddered.

"Another time; besides, mother, the bale-fire may be blazing even now!"

"Come and see, then. I foresee thou wilt return in time of sore need."

They reached the summit of the mound. The change to the open air was
most refreshing.

"Ah! the bale-fire!!"

Over the rolling wastes, far to the south, arose the mountainous range
now called Highclere. It was but faintly visible in the daytime, and
under the uncertain moonlight, only those familiar with the locality
could recognise its position. The central peak was now tipped with fire,
crowned with a bright flickering spot of light.

And while they looked, Lowbury caught the blaze, and its beacon fire
glowed in the huge grating which surmounted the tower, whose foundations
may yet be traced. From thence, Synodune took up the tale and told it to
the ancient city of Dorchester, whose monks looked up from cloistered
hall and shuddered. The heights of Nettlebed carried forward the fiery
signal, and blazing like a comet, told the good burgesses of Henley and
Reading that evil days were at hand. The Beacon Hill, above Shirburne
Castle, next told the lord of that baronial pile that he might buckle on
his armour, and six counties saw the blaze on that beacon height.
Faringdon Clump, the home of the Ffaringas of old, next told the news to
the distant Cotswolds and the dwellers around ancient Corinium; and soon
Painswick Beacon passed the tidings over the Severn to the old town of
Gloucester, whence Milo came, and far beyond to the black mountains of
Wales. The White Horse alarmed Wiltshire, and many a lover of peace
shook his head and thought of wife and children, although but few knew
what it all meant, namely, that the Empress Maud, the daughter of the
Beauclerc, had come to claim her father's crown, which Stephen, thinking
it right to realise the prophecy contained in his name,[8] had put on
his own head.

And from Cwichelm's Hlawe the curious ill-assorted couple we have
portrayed beheld the war beacons' blaze.

She lost all her self-possession, she became entranced; her hair
streamed behind her in the wind; she stretched out her aged arms to the
south and sang--did that crone of ninety years--

     "Come hither, fatal cloud of death,
     O'er England breathe thy hateful breath;
     Breathe o'er castles, churches, towns,
     Brood o'er flat plain, and cloud-flecked downs,
     Until the streams run red with gore,
     From eastern sea to western shore.
     Let mercy frighted haste away,
     Let peace and love no longer stay,
     Let justice outraged swoon away,
     But let revenge and bitter hate
     Alone control the nation's fate;
     Let fell discord the chorus swell,
     Let every hold become a hell----

"Nay, nay, mother, enough! Thou ravest. Every hold a hell! not at least
Wallingford Castle!"

"That worst of all, Brian Fitz-Count. There are possibilities of evil in
thee, which might make Satan laugh! Thy sword shall make women
childless, thy torch light up----"

"Nay, nay, no more, I must away. My men will go mad when they see these
fires. I must home, to control, advise, direct."

"Go, and the powers of evil be with thee. Work out thy curse and thy
doom, since so it must be!"


[6] See a similar instance in Thierry's _Norman Conquest_, vol. i.

[7] I have told the story of this Danish invasion in _Alfgar the Dane_.

[8] "Stephanus" signifies "a crown."



We fear that Brian Fitz-Count must have sunk in the reader's estimation.
After the perusal of the last chapter, it is difficult to understand how
a doughty warrior and belted knight could so demean himself as to take
an old demented woman into his consultations, and come to her for

Let us briefly review the phases of mind through which he had passed,
and see whether we can find any rational explanation of his condition.

The one great desire of Brian's life was to have a son to whom he could
bequeath his vast possessions, and his reflected glory. Life was short,
but if he could live, as it were, in the persons of his descendants, it
seemed as if death would be more tolerable. God heard his prayer. He had
two sons, fine lads, by his Countess, and awhile he rejoiced in them,
but the awful scourge of leprosy made its appearance in his halls. For a
long time he would not credit the reality of the infliction, and was
with difficulty restrained from knocking down the physician who first
announced the fact. By degrees the conviction was forced upon him, and
the law of the time--the unwritten law especially--forced him to consign
them to a house of mercy for lepers, situated near Byfield in
Northamptonshire. Poor boys, they wept sore, for they were old enough to
share their father's craving for glory and distinction; but they were
torn away and sent to this living tomb, for in the eyes of all men it
was little better.

Brian wearied Heaven with prayers; he had Masses innumerable said on
their behalf; he gave alms to all the churches of Wallingford for the
poor; he made benefactions to Reading Abbey and the neighbouring
religious houses; he helped to enrich the newly-built church of Cholsey,
built upon the ruins of the edifice the Danes had burnt. But still
Heaven was obdurate, the boys did not recover, and he had to part with
the delight of his eyes.

And then ensued a sudden collapse of faith. He ceased to pray. God heard
not prayer: perhaps there was no God; and he ceased from his good deeds,
gave no alms, neglected Divine service, and became a sceptic in
heart--secretly, however, for whatever a man might think in his heart in
those days of ecclesiastical power, the doughtiest baron would hesitate
to avow scepticism; men would condone, as, alas, many do now, an
irreligious life, full of deeds of evil, if only the evil-doer
_professed_ to believe in the dominant Creed.

When a man ceases to believe in God, he generally comes to believe in
the Devil. Men must have a belief of some sort; so in our day, men who
find Christianity too difficult, take to table turning, and like
phenomena, and practise necromancy of a mild description.

So it was then. Ceasing to believe in God, Brian Fitz-Count believed in

The intense hatred of witchcraft, begotten of dread, which kindled the
blazing funeral pyres of myriads of people, both guilty--at least in
intention--and innocent of the black art, had not yet attained its

Pope Innocent had not yet pronounced his fatal decree. The witch
inquisitors had not yet started on their peregrinations, Hopkins had yet
to be born, and so the poor crazed nun who had done no one any harm,
whom wise men thought mad, and foolish ones inspired, was allowed to
burrow at Cwichelm's Hlawe.

And many folk resorted to her, to make inquiries about lost property,
lost kinsfolk, the present and the future. Amongst others, a seneschal
of Wallingford, who had lost a valuable signet ring belonging to his

"On your return to the castle seize by the throat the first man you meet
after you pass the portals. He will have the ring."

And the first man the seneschal met was a menial employed to sweep and
scour the halls; him without fear he seized by the throat. "Give me the
ring thou hast found," and lo, the affrighted servitor, trembling, drew
it forth and restored it.

Brian heard of the matter; it penetrated through the castle. He gave
orders to hang the servitor, but the poor wretch took sanctuary in time;
and then he rode over to Cwichelm's Hlawe himself.

What was his object?

To inquire after his progeny.

One son, a beautiful boy, had escaped the fatal curse, but it was not
the child of his wife. Brian had loved a fair English girl, whom he had
wooed rather by violence than love. He carried her away from her home, a
thing too common in those lawless days to excite much comment. She died
in giving birth to a fair boy, and was buried in the adjacent graveyard.

After he lost his other two children by leprosy, Brian became devoted to
this child; the reader has heard how he lost him.

And to inquire whether, perchance, the child, whose body had never been
found, yet lived, Brian first rode to Cwichelm's Hlawe.

"Have I given the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" was his
bitter cry. "Doth the child yet live?"

The supposed sorceress, after incantations dire, intended to impress the
mind, replied in the affirmative.

"But where?"

"Beware; the day when thou dost regain him it will be the bitterest of
thy life."

"But where shall he be found?"

"That the dead have not told me."

"But they may tell."

"I know not, but thou shalt see him again in the flesh. Come again in
the vine-month, when the clouds of war and rapine shall begin to gather
over England once more, and I will tell thee all I shall have learned."

"The clouds of war and rapine?"

"Yes, Brian Fitz-Count. Dost thou, the sworn ally of the banished
Empress, mistake my words?"

And we have seen the result of that last interview--in the second visit.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Brian rode from the barrow--out on the open downs--he gazed upon
the beacons which yet blazed, and sometimes shouted with exultation, for
like a war-horse he sniffed the coming battle, and shouted ha! ha! He
gave his horse the reins and galloped along the breezy ridge--following
the Icknield way--his hound behind him.

And then he saw another horseman approaching from the opposite
direction, just leaving the Blewbery down. In those days when men met it
was as when in a tropical sea, in days happily gone by, sailors saw a
strange sail: the probability was that it was an enemy.

Still Brian feared not man, neither God nor man, and only loosing his
sword in its sheath, he rode proudly to the _rencontre_.

"What ho! stranger! who? and whence?"

"Thy enemy from the grave, whither thou hast sent my kith and kin."

"Satan take thee; when did I slay them? If I did, must I send thee to
rejoin them?"

"Try, and God defend the right. Here on this lonely moor, we meet face
to face. Defend thyself."

"Ah! I guess who thou art: an outlaw!"

"One whom thou didst make homeless."

"Ah! I see, Wulfnoth of Compton. Tell me, thou English boar, what thou
didst with my child."

"And if I slew him, as thou didst mine, what then?"

A mighty blow was the reply, and the two drawing their swords, fell to
work--the deadly work.

And by their sides a canine battle took place, a wolf-hound, which
accompanied the stranger, engaged the boar-hound of the Baron.

Oh! how they strove; how blow followed blow; how the horses seemed to
join in the conflict, and tried to bite and kick each other with their
rampant fore-feet; how the blades crashed; how thrust, cut, and parry,
succeeded each other.

But Norman skill prevailed over English strength, and the Englishman
fell prone to the ground, with a frightful wound on the right shoulder,
while his horse galloped round and round in circles.

And meanwhile the opposite result took place in the struggle between the
quadrupeds: the wolf-hound had slain the boar-hound. Brian would fain
have avenged his favourite, but the victor avoided his pursuit, and bow
and arrows had he none, nor missile of any kind, for he had accidentally
left his hunting spear behind.

He looked at his foe who lay stretched on the turf, bleeding profusely.
Then dismounting, he asked sternly--

"Say what thou didst with my boy!"

"Strike; thou shalt never know."

And Brian would have struck, but his opponent fell back senseless, and
he could not strike him in that condition: something restrained his

"Poor Bruno," he said, as he gave his gallant hound one sigh. "Less
fortunate than thy lord; that mongrel cur hath slain thee: but I may not
stay to waste tears over thee," and remounting, he rode away unscathed
from the struggle, leaving the horse of the vanquished one to roam the

And as he rode, his thoughts were again on his lost child, and on the
boy whom he had seen on the previous day, and sent before him in
durance. Was it possible this was his son? Nay, the old man, who would
not lie to save his life, had affirmed the contrary. Still he would make
further inquiries, and keep the lad in sight, if not assured of his
birth and parentage.

A thought struck him: should he threaten the torture to the aged
Englishman, and so strive to wring the secret--if there were one--from
him. Yet he hesitated, and debated the question with its pros and cons
again and again, until the greater urgency of the coming struggle
extinguished all other thoughts in his mind.

He had enemies, yes, bitter ones, and now that the dogs of war were
allowed to be unchained, he would strike a blow for himself, as well as
for Maud. Why, there was that hated rival, the Lord of Shirburne, who
boasted that he kept the Key of the Chilterns in his hand--there was his
rival of Donnington Castle over the downs--what splendid opportunities
for plunder, vainglory, and revenge.

In such meditations did the Lord of Wallingford ride home through the
forest, and adown the Moreton brook.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile his defeated foe, upon whom the victor had scarcely bestowed a
passing thought, lay stiff and stark upon the ground.

The night wind sang a dirge over him, but no human being was there to
see whether the breath was yet in him. But a canine friend was
there--his poor wolf hound--mangled by the teeth of his foe, but yet
alive and likely to live. And now he came up to the prostrate body of
his master and licked his face, while from time to time he raised his
nose in the air, and uttered a plaintive howl, which floated adown the
wind an appeal for help.

Was it a prayer for the living or the dead?

Surely there were the signs of life, the hues of that bloodless cheek
are not yet those of death; see, he stirs! only just a stir, but it
tells of life, and where there is life there is hope.

But who shall cherish the flickering spark?

The aspect of nature seems all merciless. Is there mercy yet in man?

A faint beating of the heart; a faint pulsation of the wrist--it might
be quickened into life.

Is it well that he should live?

A typical Englishman, of Saxon lineage, stout, thickset. Did we believe
in the transmigration of souls, we should say he had been a bull in some
previous state of existence. Vast strength, great endurance, do find
their incarnations in that frame: he might have felled an ox, but yet he
went down before the subtlety of Norman fence.

Is it good that he should live, an outlaw, whose life any Norman may
take and no questions asked? Look at that arm; it may account for many a
Norman lost in solitary wayfaring. Oh! what memories of wrong sleep
within that insensible brain!

Happily it is for a wiser power to decide.

Listen, there is a tinkling of small bells over there in the distance.
It draws nearer; the dog gives a louder howl--now the party is close.

Five or six horses, a sumpter mule, five or six ecclesiastics in sombre
dress, riding the horses, the hoods drawn back over the heads, the
horses richly caparisoned, little silver bells dependent here and there
from their harness.

"What have we here, brother Anselm? why doth the dog thus howl?"

"There hath been a fray, brother Laurentius. Here is a corpse; pray for
his soul."

"Nay, he yet liveth," said a third, who had alighted. "I feel his heart
beat; he is quite warm. But, oh! Saint Benedict! what a wound, what a
ghastly gash across the shoulder."

"Raise him on the sumpter mule; we must bear him home and tend him.
Remember the good Samaritan."

"But first let me bind up the wound as well as I can, and pour in oil
and wine. I will take him before me. Sancta Maria! what a weight! No,
good dog, we mean thy master no harm."

But the dog offered no opposition; he saw his master was in good hands.
He only tried as well as his own wounds would let him to caper for joy.

"Poor dog, he hath been hurt too. How chanced it? What a mystery."

Happily the good brothers never travelled without medicinal stores, and
a little ointment modifies pain.

So in a short time they were on their road again, carrying the wounded
with them.

They were practical Christians, those monks.



The Abbey of Dorchester stood on the banks of the river Tame, a small
stream arising near the town of the same name, and watering the finest
pasture land of the county of Oxfordshire, until, half a mile below the
Abbey, it falls into the Isis, which thence, strictly speaking, becomes
the Thames (Tamesis).

This little town of Dorchester is not unknown to fame; it was first a
British town, then a Roman city. Destroyed by the Saxons, it rose from
its ashes to become the Cathedral city of the West Saxons, and the scene
of the baptism of Cynegils, son of Ceol, by the hands of St. Birinus.
The see was transferred to Winchester, but afterwards it became the seat
of the great Mercian bishopric, and as its jurisdiction had once reached
the Channel, so now it extended to the Humber and the Wash.

Cruelly destroyed by the Danes, it never regained its importance, and on
account of its impoverished state,[9] the see was again removed by
Remigius, the first Norman Bishop, to Lincoln, in the year 1092. But
although the ancient city was thus deserted, the Bishop strove to make
it some amends. He took care that an abbey should be created at
Dorchester, lest the place should be ruined, or sunk in oblivion; and
some say the Abbey was built with the stones which came from the
Bishop's palace, the site of which is still marked by a farm called
"Bishop's Court."

But the earlier buildings must have been of small extent, for at the
time of our story, Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, was busy with a more
magnificent structure, and he had already removed into the buildings, as
yet but incomplete, a brotherhood of Black Canons, or Augustinians,
under the rule of Abbot Alured.

The great church which had been the cathedral--the mother church of the
diocese--had been partially rebuilt in the Norman style,[10] and around
stood the buildings of the Abbey, west and north of the church.

In the scriptorium, overlooking the Tame, sat Abbot Alured. The Chapter
Mass, which followed Terce (9 A.M.), had been said, and he was busy with
the librarian, arranging his books. Of middle stature, with dark
features, he wore an air of asceticism, tempered by an almost feminine
suavity, and his voice was soft and winning.

He was the son of a Norman knight by an English wife, who had brought
the aforesaid warrior an ample dowry in lands, for thus did the policy
of the Conqueror attempt the reconciliation of conflicting interests and
the amalgamation of the rival races of conquerors and conquered. For a
long time the pair were childless, until the mother--like Hannah, whose
story she had heard in church--vowed, if God would grant her a child, to
dedicate it to God. Alured was born, and her husband, himself weary of
perpetual fighting and turmoil, allowed her to fulfil her vow. The boy
was educated at Battle Abbey, and taught monastic discipline; sent
thence to Bec, which the fame of Lanfranc and Anselm--both successively
translated to Canterbury--had made the most renowned school of theology
in Northern Europe. There he received the tonsure, and passed through
the usual grades, until, attracting the attention of Bishop Alexander,
during a visit of that prelate to Bec, he was selected to be the new
Abbot of Dorchester.

And now he was in the library, or scriptorium--the chamber he loved best
in his Abbey. What books, forsooth, had he there in those dark ages!

First there were all the books of the Old Testament in several volumes
and in the Latin tongue; then the New Testament in three volumes; there
were all the works of St. Augustine, in nineteen large tomes, with most
of the books of the other fathers of the Western Church; the lives of
the great monastic Saints, and the martyrology or acts of the Martyrs.
There were books of ecclesiastical history, and treatises on Church
music, with various liturgical works. Of light reading there was none,
but the lives of the Saints and Martyrs furnished the most exciting
reading, wherein fact was unintentionally blended with fiction.

"What a wonderful mine of wealth we have here in this new martyrology!
Truly, my brethren, here we have the patience and faith of the Saints to
encourage us in our warfare," said the Abbot, opening a huge volume
bound in boar's hide, and glancing round at the scribes, who, pen in
hand and ink-horn at their girdles, with clear sheets of vellum before
them, prepared to write at his dictation.

"This book was lent us by the Abbot of Abingdon, now six months ago, and
before Advent it must be returned thither--not until every letter has
been duly transcribed into our new folios. Where didst thou leave off

"At the 'Acts of St. Artemas.'"

And the Abbot read, while they wrote down his words: "Artemus was a
Christian boy, who lived at Puteoli, and who was sent, at the
instigation of heathen relations, to the school of one Cathageta, a
heathen. But the little scholar could not hide his faith, although
bidden to do so, lest he should suffer persecution. But what is deep in
the heart comes out of the mouth, and he converted two or three
schoolfellows, so that at the next festival, in honour of Diana, they
omitted to place the customary garlands on her image. This aroused
inquiry, and the young athlete of Christ was discovered. The master,
bidding him renounce his faith in vain, severely scourged him, but the
boy said: 'The more you scourge me the more you whip my religion into
me.' Whereupon Cathageta, turning to the other scholars, said: 'Perhaps
your endeavours will be more successful than mine in wiping out this
disgrace from the school;' and he departed, leaving him to the mercies
of the other boys, who, educated in the atrocities of the arena, stabbed
him to death with their stili or pointed iron pens."[11]

"Poor boy," murmured the youngest copyist--himself but a boy--when the
dictation was finished.

"Nay; glorious Martyr, you mean. He has his reward now. You have heard
me speak of the martyrdom of St. Euthymius; that was a harder one. It
follows here.

"St. Euthymius was a Bishop of the African Church, who, being taken by
his persecutors, and refusing to offer sacrifice to the idols, was shut
up in a close stone cell with a multitude of mice. A wire, attached to a
bell outside, was placed near his hand, and he was told that if he were
in distress he might ring it, and should obtain immediate assistance;
but that his doing so would be taken as equivalent to a renunciation of
Christ. No bell was heard, and when on the third day they opened the
cell, they found nought but a whitened skeleton and a multitude of
fattened mice."

Every one drew in his breath, some in admiration, some in horror.

The young novice had suspended his labours to listen.

"Benedict, you are neglecting your gradual," said the Abbot. "The music
must be completed for the coming festival of All Saints; it is the chant
of Fescamp--somewhat softer to our ears than the harsher Gregorian
strains. Yet many love the latter well; as did the monks of

Here he paused, and waited until he saw they were all open-mouthed for
his story; for such was monastic discipline, that no one ventured to
say: "Tell us the story."

"Well," he said, "the English monks of Glastonbury had endured much
unmerited severity at the hands of Thurstan, their Norman Abbot, but
they bore all, until he bade them leave off their crude Gregorian
strains, and chant the lays of William of Fescamp. Then they stoutly
refused; and he sent for a troop of men-at-arms. The monks rushed to the
great church and barred themselves in, but the men-at-arms forced a way
into the church, and slew the greater part of the monks with their
arrows. So thick was the storm of piercing shafts, that the image of the
Christ on the rood was stuck full of these sacrilegious missiles."

"And what became of Thurstan?" asked one of the elder brethren.

"The king deposed him, as unfit to rule; suggesting that a shepherd
should not flay his sheep."

"And that was all?" said an indignant young novice, whose features
showed his English blood.

"Hush! my son Wilfred. Novices must hear--not speak. Speech is silver;
silence is golden."

At that moment the Prior made his appearance in the doorway.

"My father Abbot, the brethren have returned from our poor house at
Hermitage, and they bring a wounded man, whom they found on the downs."

"English or Norman?"

"The former, I believe, but he has not yet spoken."

"Send for the almoner and infirmarer. I will come and look at him

Leaving the scriptorium, the Abbot traversed the pleasant cloisters,
which were full of boys, learning their lessons under the
superintendence of certain brethren--some declining Latin nouns or
conjugating verbs; some reading the scanty leaves of parchment which
served as lesson books, more frequently repeating passages _viva voce_
after a master, while seated upon rude forms, or more commonly standing.
So were the cloisters filled--the only schools for miles around. They
looked upon an inner quadrangle of the monastery, with the great church
to the south. Passing through a passage to the west of the nave, the
Abbot reached the gateway of the abbey, somewhere near the site of the
present tower, which is modern. The view to the south from this point
stretched across the Thames to Synodune; nearer at hand rose to left and
right the towers of two parish churches,[12] the buildings of the town
(or city, as it had hitherto been), poor and straggling as compared with
the ecclesiastical dwellings, lay before them; the embankment of the
Dyke hills then terminated the town in this direction, and beyond rose
the stately clumps of Synodune.

Inside the porch rested the wayfarers; their beasts had been led to the
stables, and on a sort of hand-bier before them, resting on tressels,
lay the prostrate form of the victim of the prowess of Brian Fitz-Count.

"Where didst thou find him?" asked the Abbot.

"Near the spot on the downs where once holy Birinus preached the

"And this dog?"

"Was with him, wounded by teeth as the master by sword. It was his moans
and howls which attracted us."

The Abbot bent over the prostrate form.

"Has he spoken since you found him?"

"No, my lord; only moans and gasps."

"I see he is much hurt; I fear you have only brought him hither to die."

"Houselled, anointed and annealed?"

"If he recover his senses sufficiently."

Just then a moan, louder than before, made them all start, then followed
a deep, hollow, articulate voice.

"Where am I?"

"At the Abbey of Dorchester."

"Who brought me hither?"


He gazed wildly round, then sank with a deep groan back on the bier.

"Take him to the infirmary, and on the morrow we will see him."

A chance medley on the downs--a free fight between two who met by
chance--was so common, that the Abbot thought far less of the matter
than we may imagine.

"Insooth, he is ghastly," he said, "but in the more need of our aid. I
trust we shall save both soul and body. Let the dog also have food and

But the dog would not leave his master's side, and they were forced to
move both into the same cell, where the poor beast kept licking the hand
which dropped pendent from the couch.

"My lord Abbot, there are weightier matters to consider than the welfare
of one poor wounded wayfarer, who has fallen among thieves."

"What are they?"

"Didst thou mark the bale-fire on Synodune last night?"

"We did, and marvelled what it could mean."

"They were lighted all over the country: Lowbury, Highclere, White
Horse, Shirburne Beacon--all sent their boding flames heavenward."

"What does it portend?"

"There were rumours that Matilda, the Empress Queen, had landed
somewhere in the south."

"Then we shall have civil war, and every man's hand will be against his
brother, which God forbid. Yet when Stephen seized our worthy Bishop in
his chamber, eating his dinner of pulse and water----"

"Pheasant, washed down with malmsey, more likely," muttered a voice.

The Abbot heard not, but continued--

"And shut him in a dungeon--the anointed of the Lord--and half starved

"Making him fast for once, in earnest!"

"Until he should deliver his castles of Newark and Sleaford----"

"Pretty sheepfolds for a shepherd to keep!"

"Such a king has little hold of his people; and it may be, God's just
judgments are impending over us. And what shall we do if we cannot save
the poor sheep committed to our charge; for be the one party or the
other victorious, the poor will have to suffer. Therefore, my dear
brethren, after Sext, we will hold a special chapter before we take our
meridiana" (noontide nap, necessitated when there was so much night
rising), "and consider what we had best do. Haste ye, my brother
Ambrose; take thy party to the cellarer, and get some light refreshment.
This is the day when he asks pardon of us all for his little
negligencies, and in return for the Miserere we sing in his name, we get
a better refection than usual. So do not spoil your appetites now.
Haste, and God be with you. The sacristan has gone to toll the bell for


[9] "Quæ urbs propter parvitatem Remigio displicebat."--JOHN OF

[10] It consisted of the present nave, exclusive of the south aisle, and
extended some distance beyond the chancel arch, including the north
aisle as far as the present door. The cloister extended northward,
covering the small meadow which separates the manor-house grounds from
the church. The latter were probably the gardens of the abbey.

[11] This true story is the foundation of _The Victor's Laurel_, a tale
of school life in Italy, by the same author.

[12] Leland thus marks their site--three in all besides the abbey
church--one a little by south from the abbey, near the bridge; one more
south above it (nearer the Dyke); and "there was the 3 Paroch Chirch by
south-west" (towards Wittenham).



When Brian Fitz-Count returned to his castle it was buried in the
silence and obscurity of night; only the sentinels were awake, and as
they heard his password, they hastened to unbar the massive gates, and
to undraw the heavy bolts, and turn the ponderous keys which gave
admittance to his sombre castle.

The fatigue of a long day had made even the strong man weary, and he
said nought to any man, but sought his inner chamber, threw himself on
his pallet, and there the man of strife slept, for he had the soldier's
faculty of snatching a brief nap in the midst of perplexity and toil.

In vain did the sentinels look for some key to the meaning of the
bale-fires, which had blazed all round; their lord was silent. "The
smiling morn tipped the hills with gold," and the _reveillée_ blew loud
and long; the busy tide of life began to flow within the walls; men
buckled on their armour, to try if every rivet were tight; tried the
edge of their swords, tested the points of their lances; ascended the
towers and looked all round for signs of a foe; discussed, wondered,
argued, quarrelled of course, but all without much result, until, at the
hour of _déjeûner_ (or breakfast), their dread lord appeared, and took
his usual place at the head of the table in the great hall.

The meal--a substantial one of flesh, fish, and fowl, washed down by
ale, mead and wine--was eaten amid the subdued murmur of many voices,
and not till it was ended, and the Chaplain had returned thanks--for
such forms did Brian, for policy's sake, if for no better motive, always
observe--than he rose up to his full height and spoke--

"Knights and pages, men-at-arms all! I have good news for you! The
Empress--our rightful Queen--has landed in Sussex, and this very day I
go to meet her, and to aid in expelling the fell usurper Stephen. Who
will follow in my train?"

Every hand was upraised, amidst a clamour of voices and cheers, for they
sniffed the battle afar, like the war-horse in Job, and delighted like
the vulture in the scent of blood.

"It is well. I would sooner have ten free-hearted volunteers than a
hundred lagging retainers, grudgingly fulfilling their feudal
obligations. Let every man see to his horse, armour, sword, shield, and
lance, and at noontide we will depart."

"At what time," asked the Chaplain, "shall we have the special Mass
said, to evoke God's blessing on our efforts to dethrone the tyrant, who
has dared to imprison our noble Bishop, Alexander?"

"By all means a Mass, it will sharpen our swords: say at nine--a hunting
Mass, you know." (That is, a Mass reduced to the shortest proportions
the canons allowed.)

When the household had dispersed, all save the chief officers who waited
to receive their lord's orders about the various matters committed
severally to their charge, Brian called one of them aside.

"Malebouche, bid Coupe-gorge, the doomster, be ready with his minions in
the torture-chamber, and take thither the old man whom we caught in the
woods yestere'en. I will be present myself, and give orders what is to
be done, in half an hour."

Malebouche departed on the errand, and Brian hastened to accomplish
various necessary tasks, ere the time to which he looked forward with
some interest arrived. It came at last, and he descended a circular
stone staircase in the interior of the north-west tower, which seemed
to lead into the bowels of the earth.

Rather into a vaulted chamber, curiously furnished with divers chains
and pulleys, and hooks, and pincers, and other quaint instruments of
mediæval cruelty. In one corner hung a thick curtain, which concealed
all behind from view.

In the centre there was a heavy wooden table, and at the head a massive
rude chair, wherein the Baron seated himself.

Before the table stood the prisoner--the aged Sexwulf--still preserving
his composure, and gazing with serene eye upon the fierce Baron--the
ruthless judge, in whose hands was his fate.

Two lamps suspended from the roof shed a lurid light upon the scene.

"Sexwulf, son of Thurkill, hearken, and thou, Malebouche, retire up the
stairs, and wait my orders on the landing above."

"My lord, the tormentor is behind the curtain," whispered Malebouche, as
he departed.

Brian nodded assent, but did not think fit to order the departure of the
doomster, whose horrible office made him familiar with too many secrets,
wrung from the miserable victims of his art, and who was, like a
confessor, pledged to inviolable secrecy. A grim confessor he!

"Now, old man," said the Baron, "I am averse to wring the truth from the
stammering lips of age. Answer me, without concealment, the truth--the
whole truth!"

"I have nought to conceal."

"Whose son is the boy I found in thy care?"

"My daughter's son."

"Who was his father?"

"Wulfnoth of Compton."

"Now thou liest; his features proclaim him Norman."

"He has no Norman blood."

"And thou dost persist in this story?"

"I have none other to tell."

"Then I must make the tormentor find thee speech. What ho! Coupe-gorge!"

The curtain was drawn back with a clang, and revealed the rack and a
brasier, containing pincers heated to a gray heat, and a man in leathern
jerkin with a pendent mask of black leather, with two holes cut therein
for the eyes, and two assistants similarly attired--one a black man, or
very swarthy Moor.

The old man did not turn his head.

"Look," said Brian.

"Why should I look? I have told thee the very truth; I have nought to
alter in my story. If thou dost in thy cruelty misuse the power which
God has given thee, and rend me limb from limb, I shall soon be beyond
thy cruelty. But I can tell thee nought."

"We will see," said Brian. "Place him on the rack!"

"It needs not force," said the aged Englishman. "I will walk to thy bed
of pain," and he turned to do so.

Again this calm courage turned Brian.

"Man," he said, "thou wouldst not lie before to save thy life; nor now,
I am convinced, to save thy quivering flesh, if it does quiver. Tell me
what thou hast to tell, without being forced to do so."

"I will. Thou didst once burn a house at Compton--the house of

"I remember it too well. The churl would not pay me tribute."

"Tribute to whom tribute is due," muttered the aged one; then, aloud,
"One child escaped the flames, in which my daughter and her other poor
children perished. A few days afterwards the father, who had escaped,
brought me this child and bade me rear it, in ignorance of the fate of
kith and kin, while he entered upon the life of a hunted but destroying
wolf, slaying Normans."

"And he said the boy was his own?"

"And why should he not be? He has my poor daughter's features in some
measure, I have thought."

"She must have been lovely, then," thought Brian, but only said--

"Tormentor, throw aside thy implements; they are for cowards. Old man,
ere thou ascend the stairs, know that thy life depends upon thy
grandson. Canst thou spare him to me?"

"Have I any choice?"

"Nay. But wilt thou bid him enter my service, and perchance win his

"Not for worlds."

"Why refuse so great an opening to fame?"

"I would sooner far follow him to his grave! Thou wouldst destroy the

"Fool! has he a soul? Have I or you got one? What is it? I do not know."
Then he repressed these dangerous words--dangerous to himself, even in
his stronghold.


Malebouche appeared.

"Take the grandsire away. Bring hither the boy."

He waited in a state of intense but subdued feeling.

The boy appeared at last--pale, not quite so free from apprehension as
his grandsire: how could any one expect a real boy, unless he were a
phenomenon, to enter a torture chamber as a prisoner without emotion?
What are all the switchings, birchings, and canings modern boys have
borne, compared with rack, pincer, and thumbscrew--to the hideous
sachentage, the scorching iron? The very enumeration makes the hair rise
in these days; only they are but a memory from the grim bad past now.

"Osric, whose son art thou?"

"The son of Wulfnoth."

"And who was thy mother?"

The boy flushed.

"I know not--save that she is dead."

"Does thy father live?"

"I know not."

"Art thou English or Norman?"


"Thou art not telling the truth."

"Not the truth!" cried the boy, evidently surprised.

"No, and I must force it from thee."

"Force it from me!" stammered the poor lad.


Again the curtain opened, and the grisly sight met the eyes of Osric. He
winced, then seemed to make a great effort at self-control, and at last
spoke with tolerable calmness--

"My lord, I have nought to tell if thou pull me in pieces. What should I
hide, and why? I have done thee no harm; why shouldst thou wish to
torture me--a poor helpless boy, who never harmed thee?"

The Baron gazed at him with a strange expression.

"Thou knowest thou art in my hands, to do as I please with thee."

"But God will protect or avenge me."

"And this is all thou hast to say? Dost thou not fear the rack, the

"Who can help fearing it?"

"Wouldst thou lie to escape it?"

"No, God helping me. That is, I would do my best."

The Baron drew a long breath. There was something in the youth which
fascinated him. He loved to hear him speak; he revelled in the tones of
his voice; he even liked to see the contest between his natural courage
and truthfulness and the sense of fear. But he could protract it no
longer, because it pained while it pleased.

"Boy, wilt thou enter my service?"

"I belong to my grandsire."

"Wouldst thou not wish to be a knight?"

"Nay, unless I could be a true knight."

"What is that?"

"One who keeps his vow to succour the oppressed, and never draw sword
save in the cause of God and right."

Again the Baron winced.

"Wilt thou be my page?"


Brian looked at him fixedly.

"Thou must!"


"Thy life is forfeit to the laws; it is the only avenue of escape."

"Then must I die."

"Wouldst thou sooner die than follow me?"

"I think so; I do not quite know."

"And thy grandsire, too? Ye are both deer-stealers, and I have hanged
many such."

"Oh, not my grandsire--not my poor grandfather!" and the boy knelt down,
and raised his hands joined in supplication. "Hang me, if thou wilt, but
spare him."

"My boy, neither shalt hang, if thou wilt but hear me--be my page, and
he shall be free to return to his hut, with permission to kill one deer
per month, and smaller game as he pleases."

"And if I will not promise?"

"Thou must rot in a dungeon till my return, when I will promise thou
wilt be glad to get out at any price, and _he_ must hang to-day--and
thou wilt know thou art his executioner."

The boy yielded.

"I _must_ give way. Oh! must I be thy page?"

"Yes, foolish boy--a good thing for thee, too."

"If I must, I will--but only to save his life. God forgive me!"

"God forgive thee? For what?"

"For becoming a Norman!"

"Malebouche!" called Brian.

The seneschal descended.

"Take this youth to the wardrobe, and fit him with a page's suit; he
rides with me to-day. Feed the old man, and set him free."

He sent for Alain, the chief and leader amongst his pages--a sort of
cock of the walk.

"Alain, that English boy we found in the woods rides with us to-day.
Mark me, neither tease, nor bully him thyself, nor allow thy fellows to
do so. Thou knowest that I will be obeyed."

"My lord," said the lad, "I will do my best. What is the name of our new

"'Fitz-urse'--that is enough."

"I should say Fitz-daim," muttered the youngster, as soon as he was



The scene was the bank of a large desolate pond or small lake in
Northamptonshire. It was on high table-land, for the distant country
might be seen through openings in the pine-trees on every side: here and
there a church tower, here and there a castle or embattled dwelling;
here and there a poverty-stricken assemblage of huts, clustering
together for protection. In the south extended the valley of the
Cherwell, towards the distant Thames; on the west the high table-land of
North Oxfordshire sank down into the valley of the Avon and Severn.

It was a cold windy autumnal morning, the ground yet crisp from an early
frost, the leaves hung shivering on the trees, waiting for the first
bleak blast of the winter wind to fetch them down to rot with their

On the edge of a pond stood two youths of some fifteen and thirteen
years. They had divested themselves of their upper garments--thick warm
tunics--and gazed into the water, here deep, dark, and slimy. There was
a look of fixed resolution, combined with hopeless despair, in their
faces, which marked the would-be suicides.

They raised their pale faces, their eyes swollen with tears, to heaven.

"O God," said the elder one, "and ye, ye Saints--if Saints there
be--take the life I can bear no longer: better trust to your mercies
than those of man--better Purgatory, nay, Hell, than earth. Come,
Richard, the rope!"

The younger one was pale as death, but as resolved as the elder. He
took up a rope, which he had thrown upon the grass, and gave it
mechanically, with hands that yet trembled, to his brother.

"One kiss, Evroult--the last!"

They embraced each other fervently.

"Let us commend ourselves to God; He will not be hard upon us, if He is
as good as the Chaplain says--He knows it all."

And they wound the rope around them, so as to bind both together.

"We shall not be able to change our minds, even if the water be cold,
and drowning hard."

The younger shivered, but did not falter in his resolution. What mental
suffering he must have gone through; for the young naturally cling to

But the dread secret was all too visible.

From the younger boy two fingers had fallen off--rotted away with the
disease. The elder had a covering over the cheek, a patch, for the
leprosy had eaten through it. There was none of the spring and gladness
of childhood or youth in either; they carried the tokens of decay with
them. They had the sentence of physical death in themselves.

Now they stood tottering on the brink. The wind sighed hoarsely around
them; a raven gave an ominous croak-croak, and flew flapping in the air.
One moment--and they leapt together.

There was a great splash.

Was all over?

No; one had seen them, and had guessed their intent, and now arrived
panting and breathless on the brink, with a long rope, terminated by a
large iron hook, in his hand. Behind him came a second individual in a
black cassock, but he had girded up his loins to run the better.

The man threw the rope just as the bodies rose to the surface--it missed
and they disappeared once more. He watched--a moment of suspense--again
they rose; he threw once more. Would the hook catch? Yes; it is
entangled in the cord with which they have bound themselves, and they
are saved! It is an easy task now to draw them to the land.

"My children! my children!" said the Chaplain, "why have ye attempted
self-murder; to rush unsummoned into the presence of your Judge? Had we
not been here ye had gone straight to eternal misery."

The boys struggled on the shore, but the taste of the cold water had
tamed them. The sense of suffocation was yet upon them; they could not
speak, but their immersion was too brief to have done them much harm,
and after a few minutes they were able to walk. No other words were
said, and their rescuers led them towards a low building of stone.

It was a building of great extent--a quadrangle enclosing half an acre,
with an inner cloister running all round. In the centre rose a simple
chapel of stern Norman architecture; opening upon the cloister were
alternate doors and unglazed windows, generally closed by shutters, in
the centre of which was a thin plate of horn, so that when the weather
necessitated their use, the interiors might not be quite destitute of
light. On one side of the square was the dining-hall, on the other the
common room; these had rude cavernous chimneys, and fires were kindled
on the hearths; there was no upper story. In each of the smaller
chambers was a central table and three or four rough wooden bedsteads.

In the cloisters were scores of hapless beings, men and boys, some
lounging about, some engaged in games now long forgotten; some talking
and gesticulating loudly. All races which were found in England had
their representatives--the Norman, the Saxon, the Celt.

It was the recreation hour, for they were not left in idleness through
the day; the community was mainly self-supporting. Men wrought at their
own trades, made their own clothes and shoes, baked their own bread,
brewed their own beer, worked in the fields and gardens within the
outer enclosure. The charity of the outside world did the rest, upon
condition that the lepers never strayed beyond their precincts to infect
the outer world of health.

The Chaplain, himself also enclosed, belonged to an order of brethren
who had devoted themselves to this special work throughout Europe--they
nearly always took the disease.[13] Father Ambrose quite understood,
when he entered upon his self-imposed task, that he would probably die
of the disease himself, but neither priests, physicians, nor sisters
were ever wanting to fulfil the law of Christ in ministering to their
suffering brethren, remembering His words: "Inasmuch as ye have done it
to the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."

The day was duly divided: there was the morning Mass, the service of
each of the "day hours" in the chapel, the hours of each meal, the time
of recreation, the time of work; all was fixed and appointed in due
rotation, and could the poor sufferers only have forgotten the world,
and resigned themselves to their sad fate, they were no worse off than
the monks in many a monastery.

But the hideous form of the disease was always there; here an arm in a
sling, to hide the fact the hand was gone; here a footless man, here an
eyeless one; here a noseless one, there another--like poor Evroult--with
holes through the cheek; here the flesh livid with red spots or circles
enclosing patches white as snow--so they carried the marks of the most
hideous disease of former days.

Generally they were the objects of pity, but also of abhorrence and
dread. The reader will hardly believe that in France, in the year 1341,
the lepers were actually burnt alive throughout the land, in the false
plea that they poisoned the waters, really in the cruel hope to stamp
out the disease.[14]

Outside the walls were all the outhouses, workshops, and detached
buildings, also an infirmary for the worst cases; within the enclosure
also the last sad home when the fell destroyer had completed his
work--the graveyard, God's acre; and in the centre rose a huge plain
cross, with the word PAX on the steps.

It was a law of the place that no one who entered on any pretence might
leave it again: people did not believe in cures; leprosy was
incurable--at least save by a miracle, as when the Saviour trod this
weary world.

The Chaplain took the poor boys to his own chamber, a little room above
the porch of the chapel, containing a bed, over which hung the crucifix,
a chair, a table, and a few MS. books, a gospel, an epistle, a
prophetical book, the offices, church services; little more.

He made them sit in the embrasure of the window, he did not let them
speak until he had given each a cup of hot wine, they sat sobbing there
a long time, he let nature have its way. At length the time came and he

"Evroult, my dear child, Richard, how could you attempt self-murder?
Know you not that your lives are God's, and that you may not lay them
down at your own pleasure."

"Oh, father, why did you save us? It would have been all over now."

"And where would you have been?"

The boy shuddered. The teaching about Hell, and the horrors of the
state of the wicked dead, was far too literal and even coarsely
material, at that time, for any one to escape its influence.

"Better a thousand times to be here, only bear up till God releases you,
and He will make up for all this. You will not think of the billows past
when you gain the shore."

"But, father, anything is better than this--these horrid sights, these
dreadful faces, and my father a baron."

"Thou art saved many sins," said and felt the priest; "war is a dreadful
thing, strife and bloodshed would have been thy lot."

"But I loved to hunt, to _fight_; I long to be a man, a knight, to win a
name in the world, to win my spurs. Oh, what shall I do, how can I bear

"And do _you_ feel like this, Richard," said the priest, addressing the
younger boy.

"Indeed I do, how can I help it? Oh, the green woods, the baying of the
hounds, the delightful gallop, the sweet, fresh air of our Berkshire
downs, the hall on winter nights, the gleemen and their songs, their
stories of noble deeds of prowess, the----"

"And the tilt-yard, the sword and the lance, the tournament, the
_melée_," added the other.

"And Evroult, so brave and expert; oh what a knight thou wouldst have
made, my brother."

"And our father loved to see us wrestle and fight, and ride, and jump,
and called us his brave boys; and our mother was proud of us--oh, how
can we bear the loss of all?"

What could be said: nature was too strong, the instincts of generations
were in the boys, the blood of the sea-kings of old ran in their veins.

"Oh, can you not help us? we know you are kind; shall we never get out?
is there no hope?"

The tears streamed down the venerable man's cheeks.

"We know you love us or you would not be here; they say you came of your
own accord."

He glanced at a glowing circle of red on his right hand, encircling a
spot of leprous flesh as white as snow.

"Ah, my dear boys," he said, "I had your feelings once; nay, I was a
knight too, and had wife and children."

"Do they live?"

"Yes, but not here; a neighbour, Robert de Belesme, you may have heard
of him----"

"As a cruel monster, a wicked knight."

"Stormed my castle in my absence, and burnt it with all therein."

"And did you not avenge them?"

"I was striving to do so, when the hand of God was laid upon me, and I
woke from a burning fever to learn that He has said, 'Vengeance is Mine,
I will repay.'"

"And then?"

"I came here."

"Poor Father Ambrose," said Richard.

"If I could get out _I_ would try to avenge him," said Evroult.

"The murderer has gone before his Judge; leave it," said the priest;
"there the hidden things shall be made clear, my boys, _noblesse
oblige_, the sons of a baron should keep their word."

"Have we ever broken it?"

"Not so far as I am aware, and I am sure you will not now."

"What are we to promise?"

"Promise me you will not strive to destroy yourselves again."

They looked at each other.

"It is cowardly, unworthy of gentlemen."

"_Cowardly!_" and the hot blood rose in their faces.

"Base cowardice."

"None ever called me coward before; but you are a priest."

"My children, will you not promise? Then you shall not be confined as
you otherwise must be----"

"Let them confine us; we can dash our heads against the walls!"

"For my sake, then; they hurt me when they hurt you."

They paused, looked at each other, and sighed.

"Yes, Evroult?" said Richard.

"Yes, be it then, father; we promise."

But there was another thought in Evroult's mind which he did not reveal.

The bell then rang for chapel, but we fear the boys did not take more
than their bodies there; and when they were alone in their own little
chamber--for they were treated with special distinction (their father
"subscribed liberally to the charity")--the hidden purpose came out.

"Richard," said Evroult, "we must escape."

"What shall we do? where can we go?"

"To Wallingford."

"But our father will slay us."

"Not he; he loves us too well. We shall recover then. Old Bartimoeus
here told me many do recover when they get away, and live, as some do,
in the woods. It is all infection _here_; besides, I _must_ see our
mother again, if it is only once more--MUST see her, I long for her so."

"But do you not know that the country people would slay us."

"They are too afraid of the disease to seize us."

"But they keep big dogs--mastiffs, and would hunt us if they knew we
were outside."

"We must escape in the night."

"The gates are barred and watched."

"A chance will come some evening, at the last hour of recreation before
dark, we will hide in the bushes, and as soon as the others go in make
for the wall; we can easily get over; now, Richard, are you willing?"

"Yes," said the younger, who always looked up to his elder brother with
great belief, "I am willing, but do not make the attempt yet; let us
wait a day or two; we are watched and suspected now."


[13] The disease of leprosy has been deemed incurable, and so
practically it was; but it was long before it proved fatal; it
ordinarily ran its course in a period not less than ten, nor exceeding
twenty, years.

The first symptoms were not unlike those of malarious disease; perhaps
leprosy was not so much contagious as endemic, bred of foul waters, or
the absence of drainage, or nourished in stagnant marshes; but all men
deemed it highly contagious.

The distinctive symptoms which next appeared were commonly reddish spots
on the limbs; these by degrees extended, until, becoming white as snow
in the centre, they resembled rings; then the interior became ulcerous,
and as the ulcer ate into the flesh, the latter presented the tuberous
or honey-combed appearance which led to the disease being called
_leprosa tuberosa_. Especially did the disease affect the joints of the
fingers, the wrists, and the elbows; and limbs would sometimes fall
away--or "slough off," as it is technically called.

By degrees it spread inward, and attacking the vital organs,
particularly the digestive functions, the sufferer died, not so much
from the primary as from the secondary effects of the disease--from
exhaustion and weakness.

[14] _Chronicle of St. Evroult_ in loco.



It was the day of St. Calixtus, the day on which, seventy-three years
earlier in the history of England, the Normans had stormed the heights
of Senlac, and the brave Harold had bitten the dust in the agonies of
death with the despairing cry, "Alas for England."

Of course it was ever a high day with the conquering race, that
fourteenth of October, and the reader will not be surprised that it was
observed with due observance at Dorchester Abbey, and that special
thanksgiving for the victory was offered at the chapter Mass, which took
place at nine of the clock.

Abbot Alured had just divested himself of the gorgeous vestments, in
which he had officiated at the high altar, when the infirmarer craved an
audience--it was granted.

"The wounded guest has partially recovered, his fever has abated, his
senses have returned, and he seems anxious to see thee."

"Why does he wish to see me particularly?"

"Because he has some secret to communicate."

"And why not to thee?"

"I know not, save that he knows that thou art our father."

"Dost think he will ever fight again?"

"He will lay lance in rest no more in this world."

"Nor in the next either, I presume, brother. I will arise and see him."

Passing through the cloister--which was full of the hum of boys, like
busy bees, learning their tasks--and ascending a flight of steps to the
"_dorture_," the Abbot followed the infirmarer to a pleasant and airy
cell, full of the morning sunlight, which streamed through the panes of
thin membrane--such as frequently took the place of glass.

There on a couch lay extended the form of the victim of the prowess of
Brian Fitz-Count, his giant limbs composed beneath the coverlet, his
face seamed with many a wrinkle and furrow, and marked with deep lines
of care, his eyes restless and wandering.

"Thou hast craved to speak with me, my son," said Abbot Alured.

"Alone," was the reply, in a deep hoarse voice.

"My brother, leave us till I touch the bell," said the Abbot, pointing
to a small handbell which stood on the table.

The infirmarer departed.

"And now, my son, what hast thou to tell me? First, who art thou? and

"I am in sanctuary here, and none can drag me hence; is it not so?"

"It is, my son, unless thou hast committed such crime as sacrilege,
which God forbid."

"Such crime can none lay to my charge. Tell me, father, dost thou think
it wrong for a man to slay those who have deprived him of his loved
ones, of all that made life worth living?"

"'Vengeance is Mine,' saith God."

"Well, I took mine into my own hand, and now my task is ended. I am
assured that I am a cripple, never to strike a fair blow again."

"The more time for repentance, the better for thy soul. Thou hast not
yet told me thy name and home?"

"I tell it thee in confidence, for thou wilt not betray me to mine

"Not unless justice should demand it."

"Well, I will tell thee my tale first. I was a husband and a father,
and a happy one, living in a home on the downs. In consequence of some
paltry dispute about black-mail or feudal dues, Brian Fitz-Count sent
men who burnt my house in my absence, and my wife and children perished
in the flames."


"Yes, I found not one alive, so I took to the life of a hunted wolf,
rending and destroying, and slew many foreigners, for I am Wulfnoth of
Compton; now I have told thee all."

"God's mercy is infinite, thy provocation was indeed great. I judge thee
not, poor man. I never had wife or child, but I can guess how they feel
who have had and lost them. My brother, thine has been a sad life, thy
misery perhaps justified, at least, excused thy life as a leader of
outlaws; I, who am a man in whose veins flows the blood of both races,
can feel for thee, and pardon thy errors."

"Errors! to avenge her and them."

"The Saviour forgave His murderers, and left us an example that we
should follow His steps. Listen, my brother, thou must live for
repentance, and to learn submission to God's will; tell thy secret to no
man, lest thy foe seek thee even here, and trouble our poor house."

"But I hoped to have seen him bite the dust."

"And God has denied thee the boon; he is a man of strife and blood, and
no well-wisher to Holy Church; he seldom hears a Mass, never is shriven,
at least, so I have been told in confidence, for in this neighbourhood
men speak with bated breath of Brian Fitz-Count, at least within sight
of the tall tower of his keep. We will leave him to God. He is a most
unhappy man; his children are lepers."

"No, at least not _one_."

"So I have heard; they are in the great Leper House at Byfield, poor
boys; my cousin is the Chaplain there."

"And now, father, I will tell thee more. Thou knowest I have been
delirious, yet my senses have been awake to other scenes than these.
Methought my dear wife came to me in my delirium, came to my bedside,
sat in that seat, bathed my fevered brow, nay, it was no dream, her
blest spirit was allowed to resume the semblance of throbbing flesh, and
there she sat, where thou sittest now."

The Abbot of course saw in this only a phase of delirium, but he said
nought; it was at least better than visions of imps and goblins.

"Alas, dear one," continued he, as in a soliloquy, "hadst thou lived, I
had not made this life one savage hunting scene, caring only to rush in,
knock down, and drag out the prey, and now I am unfit to be where thou
art, and may never meet thee again."

"My brother," said the sympathising Alured, "thou believest her to be in

"I do, indeed; I know they are there."

"And thou wouldst fain meet them?"

"I would."

"Repent then, confess, thou shall be loosed from thy sins; and since
thou art unfitted for the active walks of life, take upon thee the vows
of religion."

"May I? what order would admit me?"

"We will; and thus strive to restore thee to thy dear ones again."

"And Brian Fitz-Count will escape?"

"Leave him to God."

"Well, I will; doubtless he will die and be damned, and we shall never
see him; Heaven would not be Heaven if he were there."

The Abbot sighed.

"Ah, brother, thou hast much yet to learn ere thou becomest a true
follower of Him, Who at the moment of His supremest agony prayed for His

But the patient could bear no more, hot tears were streaming down his

"Brother, peace be with thee, from the Lord of peace, all good Saints
aid thee; say nought of this to any one but me and thou wilt be safe."

He touched the bell, the infirmarer came in.

"God hath touched his heart, he will join our order; as soon as possible
he shall take the vows of a novice and assume our garb, then neither
Brian Fitz-Count nor any other potentate, not the king himself, can drag
him forth."

The last words were uttered in a sort of soliloquy, the infirmarer, for
whom they were not meant, did not catch them.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so the days sped on towards the Feast of All Saints, darkening days
and long nights too, often reddened by the light of distant
conflagrations, for that terrible period of civil strife--nay, of worse
than civil strife--was approaching, when, instead of there being only
two parties in the land, each castle was to become its own centre of
strife--declaring war upon all its neighbours; when men should fear to
till the land for others to reap; when every man's hand should be
against every man; when men should fill their strongholds with human
devils, and torture for torture sake, when there was no longer wealth to
exact; when men should say that God and His Saints were asleep--to such
foul misery and distress did the usurpation of Stephen bring the land.

But those days were only beginning, as yet the tidings reached
Dorchester slowly that the Empress was the guest of her mother-in-law,
the Queen-Dowager, the widow of Henry the First, at Arundel Castle, in
Sussex, under the protection of only a hundred and forty horsemen; then,
that Robert, Earl of Gloucester, leaving his sister in comparative
safety, had proceeded through the hostile country to Bristol with only
twelve horsemen, until he was joined midway on his journey by Brian
Fitz-Count and his troop from Wallingford Castle; next, that Henry,
Bishop of Winchester, and brother of the king, had declared for her,
and brought her in triumph to Bristol. Lastly, that she had been
conducted by her old friend, Milo, Sheriff of Gloucester, in triumph to
that city, and there received the allegiance of the citizens.

Meanwhile, the storm of fire and sword had begun; wicked men took
advantage at once of the divided state of the realm, and the eclipse of
the royal authority.

They heard at Dorchester that Robert Fitz-Hubert, a savage baron, or
rather barbarian, had clandestinely entered the city of Malmesbury and
burnt it to the ground, so that divers of the wretched inhabitants
perished in the flames, of which the barbarian boasted as though he had
obtained a great triumph, declaring himself on the side of the Empress
Queen; and, further, that King Stephen, hearing of the deed, had come
after him, put him to flight, and retaken Malmesbury Castle.

So affairs progressed up to the end of October.


It was All Saints' Day, and they held high service at Dorchester Abbey;
the Chant of William of Fescamp was introduced, without any of the dire
consequences which followed it at Glastonbury.

It was a day never to be forgotten by our reclaimed outlaw, Wulfnoth of
Compton, he was that day admitted to the novitiate, and received the
tonsure; dire had been the conflict in his mind; again and again the old
Adam waxed strong within him, and he longed to take advantage, like
others, of the political disturbances, in the hope of avenging his own
personal wrongs; then the sweet teachings of the Gospel softened his
heart, and again and again his dear ones seemed in his dreams to visit
him, and bid him prepare for that haven of peace into which they had

"God hath done all things well," the sweet visitants of his dreams
seemed to say; "let the past be the past, and let not its black shadow
darken the glorious future--the parting was terrible, the meeting shall
be the sweeter."

The ceremony was over, Wulfnoth of Compton had become the Novice
Alphege of Dorchester, for, in accordance with custom, he had changed
his name on taking the vows.

After the long ceremony was over, he sat long in the church undisturbed,
a sensation of sweet peace came upon him, of rest at last found, the
throbbing heart seemed quiet, the stormy passions stilled.

And now, too, he no longer needed the protection of carnal weapons, he
was safe in the immunities of the church, none could drag him from the
cloister--he belonged to God.

What a refuge the monastic life afforded then! Without it men would have
been divided between beasts of burden and beasts of prey.

And when at last he took possession of his cell, through the narrow
window he could see Synodune rising over the Thames; it was a glorious
day, the last kiss of summer, when the "winter wind was as yet
suspended, although the fading foliage hung resigned."

Peace ineffable filled his mind.

The hills of Synodune for one moment caught his gaze, they had been
familiar landmarks in his days of war, rapine, and vengeance, the past
rose to his mind, but he longed not after it now.

But was the old Adam dead or only slumbering? We shall see.



Amidst a scene of great excitement, the party of Brian Fitz-Count left
Wallingford Castle, a hundred men, all armed to the teeth, being chosen
to accompany him, while at least five hundred were left behind, capable
of bearing arms, charged with the defence of the Castle, with orders,
that at least two hundred of their number should repair to a rendezvous,
when the progress of events should require their presence, and enable
the Baron to fix the place of meeting by means of a messenger.

The day was--as it will be remembered--the second of October, in the
year 1139; the season was late, that is, summer was loth to depart, and
the weather was warm and balmy. The wild cheers of their companions, who
envied them their lot, contrasted with the sombre faces of the
townsfolk, foreboding evil in this new departure.

By the Baron's side rode Milo of Gloucester, and they engaged in deep

Our young friend Osric was committed to the care of the senior page
Alain, who anticipated much sportive pleasure in catechising and
instructing his young companion--such a novice in the art of war.

And it may be added in equitation, for we need not say old Sexwulf kept
no horses, and Osric had much ado to ride, not gracefully, but so as to
avoid the jeers and laughter of his companions.

The young reader, who remembers his own first essay in horsemanship,
will appreciate poor Osric's difficulty, and will easily picture the
suppressed, hardly suppressed, laughter of Alain, at each uneasy jolt.
However, Osric was a youth of good sense, and instead of turning red, or
seeming annoyed, laughed heartily too at himself. His spirits were
light, and he soon shook off the depression of the morning under the
influence of the fresh air and smiling landscape, for the tears of youth
are happily--like an April shower--soon followed by sunshine.

They rode across Cholsey common, then a wide meadowed space, stretching
from Wallingford to the foot of the downs; they left the
newly-_restored_ or rather _rebuilt_ Church of St. Mary's of Cholsey on
their right, around which, at that time, clustered nearly all the houses
of the village, mainly built upon the rising ground to the north of the
church, avoiding the swampy common.[15]

Farther on to the left, across the clear and sparkling brook, they saw
the burnt and blackened ruins of the former monastery, founded by
Ethelred "the unready," in atonement for the murder of his half-brother,
Edward the Martyr, and burnt in the same terrible inroad; one more mile
brought them to the source of the Cholsey brook, which bubbled up from
the earth amidst a thicket of trees at the foot of a spur of the downs.

Here they all stopped to drink, for the spring was famous, and had
reputed medicinal properties, and, in sooth, the water was pleasant to
the taste of man and beast.

A little beyond was a moated grange belonging to the Abbot of Reading, a
pleasant summer residence in peaceful times; but the days were coming
when men should avoid lonely country habitations; there were a few
invalid monks there, they came forth and gazed upon the party, then
shook their tonsured heads as the burgesses of Wallingford had done.

Another mile, and they began to ascend the downs, where, according to
tradition, the battle of Æscendune had been fought, in the year of
grace, 871. Arriving at the summit, they looked back at the view:
Wallingford, the town and churches, dominated by the high tower of the
keep, was still in full view, and, beyond, the wavy line of the
Chilterns stretched into the misty distance, as described in the preface
to our tale.

But most interesting to Osric was the maze of woodland which filled the
country about Aston (East-tun) and Blewbery (Blidberia), for there lay
the hut of his grandfather; and the tears rose to the affectionate lad's
eyes at the thought of the old man's future loneliness, with none but
poor old Judith to console him for the loss of his boy.

Before them rose Lowbury Hill--dominated then by a watch-tower--which
they ascended and stood on the highest summit of the eastern division of
the Berkshire downs; before them on the south rose the mountainous range
of Highclere, and a thin line of smoke still ascended from the bale-fire
on the highest point.

Here a horseman was seen approaching, and when he came near enough, a
knight, armed _cap-a-pie_, was disclosed.

"Friend or foe?" said Alain to his companion.

"If a foe, I pity him."

"See, the Baron rides forth alone to meet him!"

They met about a furlong from the party; entered into long and amicable
conference, and soon returned to the group on the hill; the order
brought news which changed their course, they turned to the west, and
instead of riding for Sussex, followed the track of the Icknield Street
for Devizes and the west.

This brought them across the scene of the midnight encounter, and
Alain's quick eyes soon detected the traces of the combat.

"Look, there has been a fight here--see how the ground is trampled, and
here is a broken sword--ah! the ground is soaked with blood--there has
been a gallant tussle here--would I had seen it."

Osric was not yet so enthusiastic in the love of strife.

Alain's exclamations brought several of the riders around him; and they
scrutinised the ground closely, and they speculated on the subject.

The Baron smiled grimly, and thought--

"What has become of the corpse?" for he doubted not he had fed fat his
ancient grudge, and slain his foe.

"Look in yon thicket for the body," he cried.

They looked, but as our readers anticipate, found nought.

The Baron wondered, and said a few confidential words to his friend
Milo, which none around heard.

Shortly afterwards their route led them by Cwichelm's Hlawe, described
before; the Baron halted his party; and then summoning Osric to attend
him, rode into the thicket.

The reputed witch stood at the door of her cell.

"So thou art on thy way to battle; the dogs of war are unslipped."

"Even so, but dost thou know this boy?"

"Old Sexwulf's grandson, down in the woods; so thou hast got him, ha!
ha! he is in good hands, ha! ha!"

"What means thy laughter, like the noise of an old croaking crow?"

"Because thou hast caught him, and the decrees of fate are about to be

"Retire, Osric, and join the rest."

"Now, mother, tell me what thou dost mean?"

"That thy conjunction with this youth bodes thee and thine little
good--the stars have told me that much."

"Why, what harm can he do _me_, a mere boy?"

"The free people of old taught their children to sing, 'Tremble,
tyrants; we shall grow up.'"

"If he proved false, a blow would rid me of so frail an encumbrance."

"Which thou mightest hesitate to strike."

"Tell me why; I thought he might be my stolen child, but the lips of old
Sexwulf speak truth, and he swears the lad is his grandson."

"It is a wise grandfather who knows his own grandson."

"Thou knowest many things; the boy is so like my poor----" he hesitated,
and suppressed a name; "that, hard as my heart is, he has softened it:
his voice, his manner, his gestures, tell me----"

"I cannot as yet."

"Dost thou know?"

"Only that old Sexwulf would not wilfully deceive."

"And is that all thou hast to say?"

"No, wait, keep the boy near thee, thou shalt know in time; thy men are
calling for thee--hark thee, Sir Brian, the men of Donnington are out."

"That for them," and the Baron snapped his fingers.

When he rejoined his troop, he found them in a state of great
excitement, which was explained when they pointed to moving objects some
two or three miles away on the downs; the quick eye of the Baron
immediately saw that it was a troop which equalled his own in numbers.

"The witch spoke the truth," he said; and eager as a war-horse sniffing
the fray afar, he gave the word to ride towards the distant party, which
rapidly rose and became distinct to the sight.

"I see their pennons, they are the men of Donnington, and their lord is
for King Stephen; now, my men, to redden our bright swords. Osric, thou
art new to all this--Alain, thou art young--stay behind on that mound,
and join us when we have done our work."

Poor Alain looked grievously hurt.

"My lord!"


"Do let me share the fight!"

"Thou wilt be killed."

"I will take my chance."

"And Osric?"

"I am not afraid, my lord," said Osric.

"But thou canst hardly ride, nor knowest not yet the use of lance and
sword; here, old Raoul, stay with this lad."

"My lord!"

"And thou, too; well, boy, wilt thou pledge me thy word not (he lowered
his voice) to attempt to escape?"

He marked a slight hesitation.

"Remember thy grandfather."

"My lord, I will do as thou biddest--stay where thou shalt bid me, or
ride with thee."

"Stay on the crest of yonder hill."

All this time they had been riding forward, and now the enemy was within

Both parties paused.

Brian rode forward.

A knight on the other side did the same.

"For God and the Empress," said the former.

"For God and the King," cried the latter.

Instantly the two charged, and their followers waited to see the result:
the lance of the King's man broke; that of Sir Brian held firm, and
coming full on the breast, unhorsed the other, who fell heavily prone,
on his head, like one who, as old Homer hath it, "seeketh oysters in the
fishy sea."

The others waited no longer, but eager on either side to share their
leader's fortunes, charged too. Oh, the awful shock as spear met spear;
oh, the crash, the noise, the wild shouts, the splintering of lances,
then the ringing of swords upon armour; the horses caught the enthusiasm
of the moment and bit each other, and struck out with their fore-legs:
it was grand, at least so they said in that iron age.

But it was soon decided--fortune kept steadfast to her first
inclinations--the troops fared as their leaders had fared--and those
who were left alive of the Donnington men were soon riding southward for
bare life.

Brian ordered the trumpeter to recall his men from the pursuit.

"Let them go--I have their leader--he at least shall pay ransom; they
have been good company, and we feel sorry to see them go."

The poor leader, Sir Hubert of Donnington, the eldest son of the lord of
that ilk, was lifted, half-stunned, upon a horse behind another rider,
while Brian remembered Osric.

What had been the feelings of the latter?

Did the reader ever meet that story in St. Augustine's Confessions, of a
young Christian taken against his will to see the bloody sports of the
amphitheatre. His companions dragged him thither, he said they might
have his body, but he shut his eyes and stopped his ears until a louder
shout than usual pierced through the auricular protection--one moment of
curiosity, he opened his eyes, he saw the victor thrust the trident into
the palpitating body of the vanquished, the demon of blood-thirstiness
seized him, he shouted too, and afterwards sought those cruel scenes
from choice, until the grace of God stopped him.

So now with our Osric.

He felt no desire at first to join the _mêlée_, indeed, he knew how
helpless he was; but as he gazed a strange, wild longing came over him,
he felt inclined, nay, could hardly restrain himself from rushing in;
but his promise to stay on the hill prevailed over him: perhaps it was
hereditary inclination.

But after all was over, he saw Alain wiping his bloody sword as he
laughed with savage glee.

"Look, Osric, I killed one--see the blood."

Instead of being shocked, as a good boy should have been, Osric envied
him, and determined to spend all the time he possibly could in mastering
the art of jousting and fencing.

They now rode on, leaving twenty of their own dead on the plain, and
forty of the enemy; but, as Napoleon afterwards said--"You cannot make
an omelette without breaking eggs."

And now, alas, the eggs were human lives--men made in the image of
God--too little accounted of in those days.

They now passed Letcombe Castle,--a huge circular camp with trench and
vallum, capable of containing an army; it was of the old British times,
and the mediæval warriors grimly surveyed this relic of primæval war.
Below there lay the town of Wantage,--then strongly walled around,--the
birthplace of Alfred. Three more miles brought them to the Blowing
Stone, above Kingston Lisle, another relic of hoar antiquity; and Alain,
who had been there before, amused Osric by producing that deep hollow
roar, which in earlier days had served to alarm the neighbourhood, as he
blew into the cavity.

Now the ridgeway bore straight to the highest summit of the whole
range,--the White Horse Hill,--and here they all dismounted, and
tethering their horses, prepared to refresh man and beast. Poor Osric
was terribly sore and stiff, and could not even walk gracefully; he was
still able to join Alain in his laughter, but with less grace than at

But we must cut this chapter short; suffice it to say, that after a
brief halt they resumed their route; camped that night under the shelter
of a clump of trees on the downs, and the next day, at Devizes, effected
a junction with the troops of Earl Robert of Gloucester, who, having
left his sister safe in Arundel Castle, was on his way to secure
Bristol, attended by only twelve horsemen.


[15] It was a cruciform structure, a huge tower on the intersection of
the arms of the cross, the present chancel was not then in existence, a
smaller sanctuary of Norman architecture supplied its place. The old
church had been destroyed with the village in that Danish invasion of
which we have told in the tale of _Alfgar the Dane_, which took place in
1006, and the place had lain waste till the manor was given to Reading
Abbey, under whose fostering influence it had risen from its ashes.



For many days Evroult and Richard, the sons--unhappy, leprous sons--of
Brian Fitz-Count, bore their sad lot with apparent patience in the
lazar-house of Byfield; but their minds were determined, come weal or
woe, they would endeavour to escape.

"Where there is a will," says an old proverb, "there is a way,"--the
chance Evroult had spoken of soon came.

It was the hour of evening recreation, and in the spacious grounds
attached to the lazar-house, the lepers were walking listlessly around
the well-trodden paths, in all stages of leprous deformity; it was
curious to note how differently it affected different people; some
walked downcast, their eyes on the ground, studiously concealing their
ghastly wounds; some in a state of semi-idiotcy--no uncommon
result--"moped and mowed"; some, in hopeless despair, sighed and
groaned; and one cried "Lost, lost," as he wrung his hands.

There were keepers here and there amongst them, too often lepers
themselves. The Chaplain, too, was there, endeavouring to administer
peripatetic consolation first to one, then to another.

"Well, Richard, well, Evroult, my boys, how are you to-day?"

"As well as we ever shall be here."

"I want to get out of this place."

"And I."

"Oh will you not get us out? Can you not speak to the governor? see, we
are _nearly_ well." Then Richard looked at his hand, where two fingers
were missing, and sobbed aloud.

"It is no use, my dear boys, to dash yourselves against the bars of your
cage, like poor silly birds; I fear the time of release will never come,
till death brings it either for you or me--see, I share your lot."

"But you have had your day in the world, and come here of your own
accord; we are only boys, oh, perhaps with threescore and ten years here
before us, as you say in the Psalms."

"Nay, few here attain the age the Psalmist gives as the ordinary limit
of human life in his day, and, indeed, few outside in these days."[16]

"Well, we should have been out of it all, had you not interfered."

"And where?"

Echo answered "Where?"--the boys were silent.

The Chaplain saw that in their present mood he could do no good--he
turned elsewhere.

Nothing but an intense desire to alleviate suffering had brought him to
Byfield lazar-house. The Christianity of that age was sternly practical,
if superstitious; and with all its superstition it exercised a far more
beneficent influence on society than fifty Salvation Armies could have
done; it led men to remember Christ in all forms of loathsome and cruel
suffering, and to seek Him in the suffering members of His mystical
body; if it led to self-chosen austerities, it also had its heights of
heroic self-immolation for the good of others.

Such a self-immolation was certainly our Chaplain's. He walked amongst
these unfortunates as a ministering angel; where he could do good he did
it, where consolation found acceptance he gave it, and many a
despairing spirit he soothed with the hope of the sunny land of

And how he preached to them of Him Who sanctified suffering and made it
the path to glory; how he told them how He should some day change their
vile leprous bodies that He might make them like His own most glorious
Body, until the many, abandoning all hope here, looked forward simply
for that glorious consummation of body and soul in bliss eternal.

     "Oh! how glorious and resplendent
       Shall this body some day be;
     Full of vigour, full of pleasure,
       Full of health, and strong and free:
     When renewed in Christ's own image,
       Which shall last eternally."

But all this was lost on Evroult and Richard. The inherited instincts of
fierce generations of proud and ruthless ancestors were in them--as
surely as the little tigerling, brought up as a kitten, begins
eventually to bite and tear, so did these poor boys long for sword and
lance--for the life of the wild huntsman or the wilder robber baron.

Instincts worthy of condemnation, yet not without their redeeming
points; such were all our ancestors once, whether Angle, Saxon, Jute, or
Northman; and the fusion has made the Englishman what he is.

       *       *       *       *       *

The bell began to ring for Vespers; there was quite a quarter of an hour
ere they went into chapel.

It was a dark autumnal evening, the sun had just gone down suddenly into
a huge bank of dark clouds, and gloom had come upon the earth, as the
two boys slipped into the bushes, which bordered their path, unseen.

The time seemed ages until the bell ceased and they knew that all their
companions were in chapel, and that they must immediately be missed from
their places.

Prompt to the moment, Evroult cried "_Now_, Richard," and ran to the
wall; he had woven a rope from his bed-clothes, and concealed it about
his person; he had wrenched a bar from his window, and twisted it into
a huge hook; he now threw it over the summit of the lofty wall, and it

Up the wall the boys swarmed, at the very moment when the Chaplain
noticed their missing forms in their seats in chapel, and the keepers,
too, who counted their numbers as they went in, found "two short," and
went to search the grounds.

To search--but not to find. The boys were over the wall, and running for
the woods.

Oh, how dark and dismal the woods seemed in the gloom. But happily there
was a full moon to come that night, as the boys knew, and they felt also
that the darkness shielded them from immediate pursuit.

Onward they plunged--through thicket and brake, through firm ground and
swamp, hardly knowing which way they were going, until they came upon a
brook, and sat down on its bank in utter weariness.

"Oh, Evroult, how shall we find our way? And we have had no supper; I am
getting hungry already," cried the younger boy.

"Do you not know that all these brooks run to the Cherwell, and the
Cherwell into the Thames? We will keep down the brook till we come to
the river, and then to the river till we come to Oxnaford."

"Listen, there is the bay of a hound! Oh, Evroult, he will tear us in
pieces! It is that savage mastiff of theirs, 'Tear-'em.' The keepers are
after us. Oh, what shall we do?"

"Be men--like our father," said the sterner Evroult.

"But we have no weapons."

"I have my fist. If he comes at me I will thrust it down his foul
throat, or grasp his windpipe, and strangle him."

"Evroult, I have heard that they cannot track us in water. Let us walk
down the brook."

"Oh, there is a fire!"

"No, it is the moon rising over the trees; that is the light she sends
before her. You are right--now for the brook. Ah! it feels clear and
pebbly, no mud to stick in. Come, Richard! let us start. No, stay, I
remember that if the brute finds blood he will go no farther. Here is my
knife," and the desperate boy produced a little pocket-knife.

"What are you going to do?"

"Drop a little blood. There is a big blue vein in my arm."

And the reckless lad opened a vein in his arm, which bled freely.

"Let me do the same," cried the other.

"No; this is enough." And he scattered the blood all about, then looked
out for some "dock-leaf," and bound it over the wound with part of the
cord which had helped them over the wall.

"Now, that will do. Let us hurry down the brook, Richard, before they
come in sight."

Such determination had its reward; they left all pursuit behind them,
and heard no more of the hound.

Tired out at last, they espied with joy an old barn by the brook side,
turned in, found soft hay, and, reckless of all consequences, slept till
the sun was high in the heavens.

Then they awoke, and lo! a gruff man was standing over them.

"Who are you, boys?"

"The sons of the Lord of Wallingford."

"How came you here?"

"Lost in the woods."

"But Wallingford is far away to the south."

"We are on our road home; can you give us some food?"

"If you will come to my house, you shall have what I can give you. Why!
what is the matter with that hand, that cheek? Good heavens, ye are
lepers; keep off!"

The poor boys stood rooted to the spot with shame.

"And ye have defiled my hay--no one will dare touch it. I have a great
mind to shut you both in, and burn you and the hay together."

"That you shall not," said the fierce Evroult, and dashed through the
open door, almost upsetting the man, who was so afraid of touching the
lepers that he could offer no effective resistance, and the two got off.

"That was a narrow escape, but how shall we get food?"

A few miles down the brook they began to feel very faint.

"See, there is a farm; let us ask for some milk and bread."

"Richard, you are not marked as I am, you go first."

A poor sort of farm in the woods--farmhouse, ricks, stables, barns, of
rude construction. A woman was milking the cows in a hovel with open

"Please give us some milk," said Richard, standing in the doorway; "we
are very hungry and thirsty."

"Drink from the bowl. How came you in the woods?"


"And there is another--your brother, is he?--round the door. Drink and
pass it to him."

They both drank freely, Evroult turning away the bad cheek.

As Richard gave back the bowl, the woman espied his hands.

"Mother of mercy! why, where are your fingers? you are a leper, out!
out! John, turn out the dogs."

"Nay! nay! we will go; only throw us a piece of bread."

"Why are you not shut up? Good Saints!"

"Please do not be hard upon us--give us some bread."

"Will you promise to go away?"

"Yes, if you will give us some bread."

"Keep off, then;" and the good woman, a little softened, gave them some
oaten cakes, just as her husband appeared in the distance coming in from
the fields.

"Now off, before any harm come of it; go back to Byfield lazar-house."

"It was so dreadful; we have run away."

"Poor boys, so young too; but off, or my good man may set the dogs at

And they departed, much refreshed.

"Oh Evroult, how every one abhors us!"

"It is very hard to bear."

At midday, still following the brook, they were saluted with a stern
"Stand, and deliver!"

A fellow in forester's garb, with bow and arrow so adjusted that he
could send the shaft in a moment through any body, opposed their

"We are only poor boys."

"Whither bound?"

"For Wallingford."

"Why, that is three days' journey hence; come with me."

He led them into an open glade; there was a large fire over which a
cauldron hung, emitting a most savoury stew as it bubbled, and stretched
around the fire were some thirty men, evidently outlaws of the Robin
Hood type.

"What are these boys?"

"Wanderers in the woods, who say they want to go to Wallingford."

"Whose sons are ye?"

"Of Brian Fitz-Count, Lord of Wallingford."

"By all the Saints! then my rede is to hang them for their father's
sake, and have no more of the brood. Have you any brothers? Good
heavens! they are lepers."

"Send an arrow through each."

"For shame, Ulf, the hand of God hath touched them; but depart."

"Give us some food."

"Not unless you promise to go back to the lazar-house, from which we see
you have escaped."

Poor boys, even hungry as they were, they would not promise.

"Put some bread on that stump," said the leader, "and let them take it;
come not near: now off!"

It was the last food the poor boys got for many hours, for every one
abhorred their presence and drove them off with sticks and stones,
until, wearied out, Richard sank fainting on the ground on the eventide
of that weary day.

Evroult was at the end of his resources, and at last felt beaten; tears
were already trickling down his manly young face.

An aged man bent over them.

"Why do you weep, my son? what is the matter with your companion?"

It was an old man who spoke, in long coarse robe, and a rope around his
waist. Evroult recognised the hermit.

"We are lepers," said he despairingly.

The old man bent down and kissed their sores.

"I see Christ in you; come to my humble cell--there you shall have food,
fire, and shelter."

He helped them to ascend the rocky side of the valley, until they came
to a natural cave half concealed by herbage--an artificial front had
been built of stone, with door and window; a spring of water bubbled
down the rock, to find its destination in the brook below. Far over the
forest they could see a river, red in the light of the setting sun, and
the buildings of a town of some size in the dim distance. The river,
although they knew it not, was the Cherwell, the town, Banbury.

He led them and seated them by a fire, gave them food, then, after he
had heard their tale--

"My dear children," he said, "if you dread the lazar-house so much, ye
may stay with me while ye will; go not forth again into the cruel, cruel
world, poor wounded lambs."

And the good man put them to bed upon moss and leaves.


[16] Too true. Bad sanitary arrangements causing constant plague and
fever, ignorance of medicine, frequent famines, the constant casualties
of war, had brought men to think fifty years a ripe old age in the
twelfth century.



It is not our intention to follow Osric's career closely during the
early period of his pagehood under the fostering care of Brian
Fitz-Count and the influence of Alain, but we shall briefly dwell in
this chapter upon the great change which was taking place in his life
and character.

When we first met him, he was simple to a fault, but he had the sterling
virtues of truthfulness and obedience, purity and unselfishness,
sedulously cultivated in a congenial soil by his grandfather, one of
Nature's noblemen, although not ranked amongst the Norman _noblesse_.

But it was the virtue which had never yet met real temptation.
Courageous and brave he was also, but still up to the date of the
adventure with the deer, he had never struck a blow in anger, or harmed
a fellow-creature, save the beasts of the chase whom he slew for food,
not for sport.

Then came the great change in his life: the gentle, affectionate lad was
thrown into the utterly worldly and impure atmosphere of a Norman
castle--into a new world; thoughts and emotions were aroused to which he
had been hitherto a perfect stranger, and, strange to say, he felt
unsuspected traits in his own character, and desires in his own unformed
mind answering to them.

For instance, he who had never raised a hand in angry strife, felt the
homicidal impulse rush upon him during the skirmish we described in a
previous chapter. He longed to take part in the frays, to be where blows
were going; thenceforward he gave himself up with ardour to the study
of war; he spent all his spare time in acquiring the arts of fence and
the management of weapons; and Brian smiled grimly as he declared that
Osric would soon be a match for Alain.

But it was long before the Baron allowed him to take part in actual
bloodshed, and then only under circumstances which did not involve
needless risk, or aught more than the ordinary chances of mortal combat,
mitigated by whatsoever aid his elders could afford; for Brian loved the
boy with a strange attachment; the one soft point in his armour of proof
was his love for Osric--not a selfish love, but a parental one, as if
God had committed the boy to his charge in the place of those he had

Yet he did not believe Osric was his long-lost son: no, that child was
dead and gone,--the statements of the old man were too explicit to allow
of further doubt.

Osric was present when that brutal noble, Robert Fitz-Hubert, stormed
Malmesbury; there he beheld for the first time the horrors of a _sack_;
there he saw the wretched inhabitants flying out of their burning homes
to fall upon the swords of the barbarous soldiery. At the time he felt
that terrible thirst so like that of a wild beast,--which in some modern
sieges, such as Badajos, has turned even Englishmen into wild and
merciless savages,--and then when it was over, he felt sick and loathed

He was fond of Alain, who returned the preference, yet Alain was a bad
companion, for he was an adept in the vices of his day--not unlike our
modern ones altogether, yet developed in a different soil, and of ranker

Therefore Osric soon had many secrets he could not confide to his
grandfather, whom he was permitted to see from time to time,--a great
concession on the part of the Lord of Wallingford, who craved all the
boy's love for himself.

"Thou art changed, my dear Osric," said his grandfather on one of these
occasions, a fine Sunday morn when Osric had leave of absence.

They were on their way through the tangled wood to the old Saxon Church
of Aston Upthorpe, in which King Alfred was said to have heard Mass.[17]

     "The woods were God's first temples, ere man raised
     The architrave."

The very fountains babbled in His honour Who made them to laugh and
sing, the birds sang their matin songs in His praise--this happy
woodland was exempted from all those horrors of war which already
devastated the rest of England, for it was safe under the protection of
Brian, to whom, wiser than Wulfnoth of Compton, it paid tribute; and at
this juncture Maude and her party were supreme, for it was during
Stephen's captivity at Bristol.

"Thou art changed, my dear Osric."

"How, my grandsire?"

"Thy face is the same, yet not the same, even as Adam's face was the
same, yet not the same, after he learned the secret of evil, which drove
him from Paradise."

"And I too have been driven from Paradise: my Eden was here."

"Wouldst thou return if thou couldst; if Brian consented to release
thee." And the old man looked the youth full in the face.

Osric was transparently truthful.

"No, grandfather," he said, and then blushed.

"Ah, thou art young and lovest adventure and the gilded panoply of war:
what wonder! such was thy father, Wulfnoth of Compton, of whom thou art
the sole surviving child."

"Tell me, grandfather, is he dead--is my poor father dead?"

"That is a secret which may not be committed even to thee; were he
alive, he would curse thee, did he know thou wert fighting under Brian's

"It was to save thy life."

"I know it, my child, and would be the last to blame thee, yet I am
glad thy father knows it not. He has never inquired concerning thee."

"Then he is alive?"

"Did I say he was? I meant not to do so--seek not to know--knowledge is
sometimes dangerous."

"Well, if he is alive," said Osric, a little piqued, "he does not care
half so much for me as does my Lord of Wallingford. _He_ would have
asked about me."

"He treats thee well then."

"As if he loved me."

"It is strange--passing strange; as soon should I expect a wolf to
fondle a kid."

"I am not a kid, at least not now."

"What then, dear boy? a wolf?"

"More like one, I think, than a kid."

"And thou hast looked on bloodshed with unflinching eye and not

"I shuddered just at first; but I have got used to it: you have often
said war is lawful."

"Yes, for one's country, as when Alfred fought against the Danes or
Harold at Senlac. So it was noble to die as died my father,--your own
ancestor, Thurkill of Kingestun; so, had I been old enough to have gone
with him, should I have died."

"And you took part in the skirmishes which followed Senlac?"

"I fought under the hero Hereward."

"And did _you_ shudder to look upon war?"

"Only as a youth naturally does the first time he sees the blood of man
poured forth like water--it is not for that I would reproach thee, only
_we_ fought for liberty; and it is better to die than to live a life of
slavery,--happier far were they who fell around our noble Harold on the
hill of Senlac, than they who survived to see the desolation and misery,
the chains and slavery which awaited the land; but, my child, what are
you fighting for? surely one tyrant is no better than another, Maude or
Stephen, what does it matter?"

"Save, grandfather, that Maude is the descendant of our old English
kings--her great-grandfather was the Ironside of whose valiant deeds I
have often heard you boast."

"True, my son, and therefore of the _two_, I wish her success; but she
also is the grandchild of the Conqueror, who was the scourge of God to
this poor country."

"In that case God sent him."

"Deliver my soul from the ungodly, which is a sword of Thine," quoted
the pious old man, well versed in certain translations from the Psalms.

"My grandfather, I fought against it as long as I could, as thou
knowest; I would have died, and did brave the torture, rather than
consent to become a page of the Lord of Wallingford; and when I did so
become to save _thy_ life, I felt bound in honour to be faithful, and so
to the best of my power I have been."

"And now thou lovest the yoke, and wouldst not return?"

Again the youth coloured.

"Grandfather, I cannot help it--excitement, adventure, the glory of
victory, the joy even of combat, has that attraction for me of which our
bards have sung, in the old songs of the English Chronicles which you
taught me around the hearth."

"The lion's cub is a lion still; let him but taste blood, and the true
nature comes out."

"Better be a lion than a deer--better eat than be eaten, grandfather."

"I know not," said the old man pensively, "but, my child, never draw thy
sword to oppress thy poor countrymen, unless thou wouldst have thy
father curse thee."

"He is not dead then?"

"I said not so."

"Why not tell me whether my father lives?"

"Because in thy present position, which thou canst not escape, the
knowledge would be dangerous to thee."

"How came my father to leave me in thy care? how did my mother die? why
am I the only one left of my kin?"

"All this I am bound not to tell thee, my child; try and forget it all
until thou art of full age."

"And then?"

"Perchance even _then_ it were better to let the dead bury their dead."

Osric sighed.

"Why am I the child of mystery? why have I not a surname like my
compeers? they mock me now and then, and I have had two or three sharp
fights in consequence; at last the Baron found it out, for he saw the
marks upon my face, and he spoke so sternly to them that they ceased to

"My dear boy, commit it all to thy Heavenly Father; thou dost not forget
thy prayers?"

"Not when I am in the Castle chapel."

"And not at other times?"

"It is impossible. I sleep amidst other pages. I just cross myself when
I think of it, and say a Pater and an Ave."

"And how often dost thou go to Mass?"

"When we are not out on an expedition, each Sunday."

"Does the Baron go to church with you?"

"Yes, but he does not believe much in it."

"I feared not: and thy companions?"

"They often laugh and jest during Matins or Mass."

"And you?"

"I try not to join them, because it would grieve you."

"There should be a higher motive."

"I know it."

"And with regard to other trials and temptations, are your companions
good lads?"

Osric laughed aloud.

"No, grandfather, anything but that."

"And you?"

"I go to the good priest of St. Mary's to Confession, and that wipes it

"Nay, my child, not without penitence, and penitence is shown by
ceasing to sin."


Now they had arrived at the rustic church of East-town, or Aston, on the
slope of the old Roman camp, which uprose above the forest. Many
woodsmen and rustics of the humble village were there. It was a simple
service: rude village psalmody; primitive vestments and ritual, quite
unlike the gorgeous scenes then witnessed in cathedral or abbey church,
in that age of display. Osmund of Sarum had not made his influence felt
much here, although the church was in the diocese he once ruled. All was
of the old Anglo-Saxon type, as when Alfred was alive, and England free.
There was not a Norman there to criticise; they shunned the churches to
which the rustics resorted, and where the homilies were in the English
tongue, which they would not trouble to learn.

Poor Osric! his whole character and disposition may be plainly enough
traced in the conversation given above. The reader must not condemn the
grandfather, old Sexwulf, for his reticence concerning the mystery of
Osric's birth. When Wulfnoth of Compton brought the babe to his door, it
was with strict injunctions not to disclose the secret till he gave
permission. The old grandfather did not understand the reasons why so
much mystery was made of the matter, but he felt bound to obey the

Hence all that Osric knew was that he was the last survivor of his
family, and that all besides him had perished in the wars, save a father
of whom little was known, except that he manifested no interest
whatsoever in his son.

Perhaps the reader can already solve the riddle; we have given hints
enough. Only he must remember that neither Brian nor Sexwulf had his

The service of the village church sounded sweetly in the ears of Osric
that day. He was affected by the associations which cling about the
churches where we once knelt by a father or mother's side; and Osric
felt like a child again as he knelt by his grandfather--it might be for
the last time, for the possibility of sudden death on the battle-field,
of entering a deadly fray never to emerge alive, of succumbing beneath
the sword or lance of some stronger or more fortunate adversary, was
ever present to the mind; yet Osric did not fear death on the
battle-field. There was, and is, an unaccountable glamour about it: men
who would not enter a "pest-house" for the world, would volunteer for a
"forlorn hope."

But it is quite certain that on that day all the religious impulses
Osric had ever felt, were revived, and that he vowed again and again to
be a true knight, _sans peur et sans reproche_, fearing nought but God,
and afraid only of sin and shame, as the vow of chivalry imported, if
knight he was ever allowed to become.

_Ite missa est_[18]--it was over, and they left the rustic church.
Outside the neighbours clustered and chatted as they do nowadays. They
congratulated Sexwulf on his handsome grandson, and flattered the boy as
they commented on his changed appearance, but there always seemed
something they left unsaid.

Neither was their talk cheerful; it turned chiefly upon wars and rumours
of wars. They had been spared, but there were dismal tales of the
country around--of murder and arson, of fire and sword, of worse scenes
yet behind, and doom to come.

They hoped to gather in _that_ harvest, whether another would be theirs
to reap was very doubtful. And so at last they separated, and through
some golden fields of corn, for it was nearly harvest time, Sexwulf and
his grandson wended their way to their forest home. It was a day long
remembered, for it was the very last of a long series of peaceful
Sundays in the forest. Osric felt unusually happy that afternoon, as he
returned home with his grandfather, full of the strength of new
resolutions with which we are told the way to a place, unmentionable to
ears polite, is paved; and his manner to his grandfather was so sweet
and affectionate, that the dear old man was delighted with his boy.

The evening was spent at home, for there was no Vesper service at the
little chapel--amidst the declining shadows of the trees, the solemn
silence of the forest, the sweet murmuring of the brook. The old man
slept in the shade, seated upon a mossy bank. Osric slept too, with his
head pillowed upon his grandfather's lap; while in wakeful moments the
aged hands played with his graceful locks. Old Judith span in the
doorway and watched the lad.

"He is as bonny as he is brave, and as brave as he is bonny, the dear
lad," she said.

Then came the shadows of night. The old man brought forth his
dilapidated harp, and the three sang the evening hymn to its

     "Te lucis ante terminum,"

and repeated the psalm _Qui habitat_; then with a short prayer, not
unlike our "Lighten our darkness," indeed its prototype, they retired to
sleep, while the wind sighed a requiem about them through the arches of
the forest, and dewy odours stole through the crevices of the hut--

     "The torrent's smoothness ere it dash below."


[17] It still stands, one of the oldest of our old village churches.

[18] _Ite missa est_, _i.e._ the concluding words of the Mass.



Nothing is more incomprehensible to the Christians of the nineteenth
century than the lives of the hermits, and the general verdict passed
upon them is, that they were useless, idle men, who fled from the world
to avoid its work, or else were possessed with an unreasoning
superstition which turned them into mere fanatics.

But this verdict is one-sided and unjust, and founded upon ignorance of
the world of crime and violence from which these men fled,--a world
which seemed so utterly abandoned to cruelty and lust that men despaired
of its reformation; a world wherein men had no choice between a life of
strife and bloodshed, and the absolute renunciation of society; a world
wherein there was no way of escape but to flee to the deserts and
mountains, or enter the monastic life, for those, who, as ancient
Romans, might have committed suicide, but as Christians, felt they
_must_ live, till God in His mercy called them hence.

And so while the majority of those who sought God embraced what is
commonly called, _par excellence_, the religious life, others sought Him
in solitude and silence; wherein, however, they were followed by that
universal reverence which men, taught by the legends of the Church,
bestowed on the pious anchorite.

Poverty, celibacy, self-annihilation, were their watchwords; and in
contemplation of death, judgment, Hell, and Heaven, these lonely hours
were passed.

Such a man was Meinhold, with whom the youthful sons of Brian
Fitz-Count had found refuge. From childhood upwards he had loathed the
sin he saw everywhere around him, and thence he sought the monastic
life; but as ill-hap would have it, found a monastery in which the monks
were forgetful of their vows, and slaves of sin, somewhat after the
fashion of those described in Longfellow's "Golden Legend," for such
there were, although, we believe, they were but exceptions to the
general rule--

     "Corruptio optimi est pessima."

The corruption of that which is very good is commonly the worst of all
corruption: if monks did not rise above the world, they fell beneath it.
Meinhold sternly rebuked them; and, in consequence, when one day it was
his turn to celebrate the Eucharist, they poisoned the wine he should
have used. By chance he was prevented from saying the Mass that day, and
a poor young friar who took his place fell down dead on the steps of the
altar. Meinhold shook off the dust of his feet and left them, and they
in revenge said a Mass for the Dead on his behalf, with the idea that it
would hasten his demise; for if not religious they were superstitious.

Then he determined that he would have nought more to do with his
fellow-men, and sought God's first temples, the forests. In the summer
time he wandered in its glades, reciting his Breviary, until he found
out a place where he might lay his head.

A range of limestone hills had been cleft in the course of ages by a
stream, which had at length scooped out a valley, like unto the "chines"
in the Isle of Wight, and now rushed brawling into the river below,
adown the vale it had made. In the rock, on one side of the vale,
existed a large cave, formed by the agency of water, in the first place,
but now high and dry. It had not only one, but several apartments;
cavern opened out of cavern, and so dark and devious were their
windings, that men feared to penetrate them.

Hither, for the love of God, came Meinhold. He had found the place he
desired--a shelter from the storms of Heaven. In the outer cave he
placed a rude table and seat, which he made for himself; and in an inner
cavern he made a bed of flags and leaves.

In the corner of the cell he placed his crucifix. Wandering in the woods
he found the skeleton of some poor hapless wayfarer, long since denuded
of its flesh. He placed the skull beneath the crucifix as a _memento
mori_, not without breathing a prayer for the poor soul to whom it had
once belonged.

Here he read his Breviary, which, let the reader remember, was mainly
taken from the Word of God, psalms and lessons forming three-fourths of
the contents of the book, arranged, as in our Prayer Book, for the
Christian year. It was his sole possession,--a bequest of a deceased
friend, worth its weight in gold in the book market, but far more
valuable in Meinhold's eyes.

Here, then, he passed a blameless if monotonous existence, to which but
one objection could be made--it was a _selfish_ life. Even if the
selfishness were of a high order, man was not sent into the world simply
to save, each one, his own soul. The life of the Chaplain at Byfield
lazar-house showed how men could abjure self far more truly than in a

Sometimes thoughts of this kind passed through the mind of our hermit
and drove him distracted, until his cry became,

     "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"

And while he thus sought to know God's Will, the two poor fugitives,
Evroult and Richard, came into his way.

Poor wounded lambs! no fear had he of their terrible malady. The Lord
had sent them to him, and the hermit felt his prayers were answered.
Wearied out and tired by their long day's journey, the poor boys
passively accepted his hospitality; and they ate of his simple fare,
and slept on his bed of leaves as if it had been a couch of down; nor
did they awake till the sun was high in the heavens.

The hermit had been up since sunrise. He had long since said his Matins
and Lauds from his well-thumbed book; and then kindling a fire in a sort
of natural hearth beneath a hole in the rock, which opened to the upper
air, he roasted some oatmeal cakes, and went out to gather blackberries
and nuts, as a sort of dessert after meat, for the boys. It was all he
had to offer.

At last they awoke.

"Where are we, Evroult?"

It was some moments before they realised where they were--not an
uncommon thing when one awakes in the morning in a strange place.

Soon, however, they bethought themselves of the circumstances under
which they stood, and rising from their couch, arranged their apparel,
passed their fingers through their hair in lieu of comb, rubbed their
sleepy eyes, and came into the outer cave, where the hermit crouched
before the fire acting the part of cook.

He heard them, and stood up.

"_Pax vobiscum_, my children, ye look better this morning; here is your
breakfast, come and eat it, and then we will talk."

"Have you no meat?" Evroult was going to say, but the natural instinct
of a gentleman checked him. They had fed well at the lazar-house, but
better oaten cakes and liberty.

"Oh what nice nuts," said Richard; "and blackberries, too."

The hermit's eyes sparkled as he noted the sweet smile which accompanied
the words. The face of the younger boy was untouched by the leprosy.
They satisfied their hunger, and then began to talk.

"Father, how long may we stay here?"

"As long as you like--God has sent you hither."

"But we want to get to Wallingford Castle."

"No! no! brother: let us stay here," said the younger and milder boy;
"think how every one hates us; that terrible day yesterday--oh, it was a
terrible day! they treated us as if we had been mad dogs or worse."

"Yes, we will stay, father, at least for a while, if you will let us; we
are not a poor man's sons--not English, but Normans; our father is----"

"Never mind, my child--gentle or simple is all one to God, and all one
here. Did your father then send you to the lazar-house?"

"Yes, three years agone."

"And has he ever sought you since?"

"No, he has never been to see us--he has forgotten us; we were there for
life; we knew and felt it, and only a week ago strove to drown ourselves
in the deep pond."

"That was very wrong--no one may put down the burden of the flesh, till
God give him leave."

"Do you think you can cure us?"

"Life and death, sickness and health, are all in God's hands. I will

Their poor wan faces lit up with joy.

"And this hole in my cheek?"

"But my poor fingers, two are gone; you cannot give them me back," and
Richard burst into tears.

"Come, my child, you must not cry--God loves you and will never leave
nor forsake you. Every cloud has its bright side; what if you have
little part in the wicked world?"

"But I _love_ the world," said Evroult.

"Love the world! Do you really love fighting and bloodshed, fire and
sword? for they are the chief things to be found therein just now."

"Yes I do; my father is a warrior, and so would I be," said the
unblushing Evroult.

"And thou, Richard?"

"I hardly know," said he of the meeker spirit and milder mood.

"Come, ye children, and hearken unto me, and I will teach you the fear
of the Lord."

"Slaves fear."

"Ah, but it is not the fear of a _slave_, but a _son_ of which I
speak--that fear which is the beginning of wisdom; and which, indeed,
every true knight should possess if he fulfil the vows of chivalry. But
I will not say more now. Wander in the woods if you like, just around
the cave, or down in the valley; gather nuts or blackberries, but go not
far, for fear ye meet men who may ill-treat you."

Then the hermit went forth, and threw the crumbs out of his cave; the
birds came in flocks. Evroult caught up a stone.

"Nay, my child, they are _my_ birds; we hurt nothing here. See! come,
pet! birdie!" and a large blackbird nestled on his shoulder, and picked
at a crust which the hermit took in his hand.

"They all love me, as they love all who are kind to them. Birds and
beasts are alike welcome here; some wolves came in the winter, but they
did me no harm."

"I should have shot them, if I had had a bow."

"Nay, my child, you must not slay my friends."

"But may we not kill rabbits or birds to eat?"

"No flesh is eaten here; we sacrifice no life of living thing to sustain
our own wretched selves."

"No meat! not of any kind! not even on feast-days!"

"My boy, you will be better without it--it nourishes all sorts of bad
passions, pride, cruelty, impurity, all are born of the flesh; and
_see_, it is not needed. I am well and strong and never ill."

"But I should soon be," said Evroult.

"Nay, I like cakes, nuts, and blackberries better," said Richard.

"Quite right, my son; now go and play in the valley beneath, until
noonday, when you may take your noon meat."

They lay in the shade of a tree. It was one of the last days of summer,
and all seemed pleasant--the murmur of the brook and the like.

"I can never bear this long," said Evroult.

"I think it very pleasant," said Richard; "do not ask me to go away."

Evroult made no reply.

"It is no use, brother," said Richard, "_no_ use; we can never be
knights and warriors unless we recover of our leprosy; and so the good
God has given us a home and a kind friend, and it is far better than the

"But our father?"

"He has forsaken us, cast us off. We should never get out with his
permission. No! be content, let us stay here--yesterday frightened
me--we should never reach Wallingford alive."

And so Evroult gave way, and tried his best to be content--tried to
learn of Meinhold, tried to do without meat, to love birds and beasts,
instead of shooting them, tried to learn his catechism; yes, there was
always a form of catechetical instruction for the young, taught
generally _viva voce_, and the good hermit gave much time to the boys
and found delight therein.

Richard consented to learn to read and write; Evroult disdained it, and
would not learn.

So the year passed on; autumn deepened into winter. There was plenty of
fuel about, and the boys suffered little from cold; they hung up skins
and coverings over the entrances to the caves, and kept the draught out.

There was a mystery about those inner caves; the hermit would never let
them enter beyond the two or three outer ones--those dark and dismal
openings were, he assured them, untenanted; but their windings were such
that the boys might easily lose their way therein, and never get out
again--he thought there were precipitous gulfs into which they might

But sometimes at night, when all things were still, the strangest sounds
came from the caves, like the sobbings of living things, the plaintive
sigh, the hollow groan: and the boys heard and shuddered.

"It is only the wind in the hollows of the earth," said Meinhold.

"How does it get in?" asked the boys.

"There are doubtless many crevices which we know not."

"I thought there were ghosts there."

"Nay, my child. It is only the wind: sleep in peace."

But as the winter storms grew frequent, these deep sighs and hollow
groans seemed to increase, and the boys lay and shuddered, while
sometimes even the hermit was fain to cross himself, and say a prayer
for any poor souls who might be in unrest.

The winter was long and cold, but spring came at last. The change of air
had worked wonders in the general health of the boys, but the leprosy
had not gone: no, it could not really be said that there was any change
for the better.

Only the poor boys were far happier than at Byfield; they entered into
the ideas and ways of the hermit more and more. Evroult at last
consented to learn to read, and found time pass more rapidly in

But he could not do one thing--he could not subdue those occasional
bursts of passion which seemed to be rooted in the very depths of his
nature. When things crossed him he often showed his fierce disposition,
and terrified his brother; who, although brave enough,--how could one of
such a breed be a coward,--stood in awe of the hermit, and saw things
with the new light the Gospel afforded more and more each day.

One day the old hermit read to them the passage wherein it is written,
"If a man smite you on one cheek, turn to him the other." Evroult could
not restrain his dissent.

"If I did that I should be a coward, and my father, for one, would
despise me. If _that_ is the Gospel, I shall never be a real Christian,
nor are there many about."

"I would, my son, that you had grace, to think differently. These be
counsels of perfection, given by our Lord Himself to His disciples."

"I could not turn the other cheek to my enemy to save my life."

"Then let him smite you on the _same_ one."

"I could not do that either," said Evroult more sharply.

"If you cannot, at least do not return evil for evil."

"I should if I had the power."

"My child, it is the devil in you which makes you say that."

Evroult turned red with passion, and Richard began to cry.

"Nay, my child, do not cry; that is useless. Pray for him," said the

Another time Evroult craved flesh.

"No, my son," said Meinhold, "when a man fills himself with flesh,
straightway the great vices bubble out. I remember a monk who one Lent
went secretly and bought some venison from a wicked gamekeeper, and put
it in his wallet; when lo! as he was returning home, the dogs, smelling
the flesh, fell upon him, and tore him up as well as the meat."

"Why is it wrong to eat meat? The Chaplain at Byfield told me that the
Bible said it was lawful at proper times, and this is not Lent."

"It is always Lent here,--in a hermit's cell,--and it is a duty to be
contented with one's food. I knew a monk who grumbled at his fare and
said he would as soon eat toads; and lo! the just God did not disappoint
him of his desire. For a month and more his cell was filled with toads.
They got into his soup, they jumped upon his plate, they filled his bed,
until I think he would have died, had not all the brethren united in
prayer that he might be free from the scourge."

Evroult laughed merrily at this, and forgot his craving. In short, the
old man was so loving and kind, and so transparently sincere, that he
could not be angry long.

Another fault Evroult had was vanity. Once he was admiring himself in
the mirror of a stream, for he really was, but for the leprosy, a
handsome lad. "Ah, my child," said Meinhold, "thou art like a house
which has a gay front, but the thieves have got in by the back door."

"Nay," said poor Evroult, putting his hand to his hollowed cheek, "they
have broken through the front window."

"Ah, what of that; the house shall be set in order by and by, if thou
art a good lad."

He meant in Heaven. But Evroult only sighed. Heaven seemed to him far
off: his longings were of the earth.

And Richard: well, that supernatural influence we call "grace" had found
him in very deed. He grew less and less discontented with his lot;
murmured no more about the lost fingers; scarcely noticed the fact that
the others were going; but drank in all the hermit's talk about the life
beyond, with the growing conviction that there alone should he regain
even the perfection of the body. One effect of his touching resignation
was this, that the hermit conceived so much love towards him, that he
had to pray daily against idolatry, as he fancied the affection for an
earthly object must needs be, and so restrained it that there was little
fear of his spoiling the boy.

The hermit, who, as we have seen, was a priest, had hitherto been
restrained by the canons from saying Mass alone, and had sought some
rustic church for Communion. Of course he could not take the young
lepers there, so he celebrated the Holy Mysteries in a third cave,
fitted up as best it might be for a chapel, and the boys assisted. One
would think Nature had designed this third cave for a chapel. There was
a natural recess for the altar; there were fantastic pillars like those
in a cathedral, only more irregular, supporting the roof, which was
lofty; and stalactites, graceful as the pendants in an ice-cavern, hung
from above.

They never saw other human beings, save now and then some grief-stricken
soul came for spiritual advice and assistance, always given without
their dwelling, with the stream between the hermit and the seeker. For
leprosy was known to be in the cave, and it was commonly reported that
Meinhold had paid the natural penalty of his self-devotion.

It was too true.

One day Evroult saw him looking at a red burning spot on his palm.

He recognised it and burst into tears.

"Father, you have given yourself for us: I wish the dogs had torn me
before I came here."

"Christ gave Himself for me," said Meinhold quietly.

"Did you not know it, Evroult? I knew it long ago," said Richard
quietly. It seemed natural to him that one who loved the Good Shepherd
should give his life for the sheep. But the sweet smile with which he
looked into the hermit's face was quite as touching as Evroult's tears.

The hermit was quite indifferent to the fact.

"As well this as any other way," he said; yet the affection of the boys
was pleasant to him.

They lacked not for food. The people of the neighbouring farms, some
distance across the forest, sent presents of milk and eggs and fruit
from time to time, and of other necessaries. They had once been boldly
offered: now they were set down on the other side of the stream and

Occasionally hunters--the neighbouring barons--broke the silence with
hound and horn. They generally avoided the hermit's glen--conspicuously
devoted to the peace of God; but once a poor flying stag, pursued by the
hounds, came tearing down the vale. Evroult glistened with animation: he
would have rushed on in the train of the huntsmen, but the hermit
restrained him.

"They would bid their dogs tear you," he said, "when they saw you were
a leper." Then he continued, "Ah, my child, it is a sad sight: sin
brought all this into the world,--God's creatures delighting to rend
each other; so will the fiends hunt the souls of the wicked after death,
until they drive them into the lake of fire."

"Ah, here comes the poor deer," said Richard, who had caught the
hermit's love of all that moved. "See, he has turned: open the door,

The deer actually scaled the plateau, wild with terror,--its eyes
glaring, the sweat bedewing its limbs; and it rushed through the opened
door of the cave.

"Close the door--the dogs will be here."

The dogs came in truth, and raved about the closed door until the
huntsmen came up, when the hermit emerged upon a ledge above.

"Where is our deer? hast thou seen it, father?"

"It has taken sanctuary."

They looked at each other.

"Nay, father, sanctuary is not for such creatures: drive it forth."

"God forbid! the shadow of the Cross protects it. Call off your dogs and
go your way."

"Let us force the door," said a rough sportsman.

"Accursed be he who does so; his light shall be extinguished in
darkness," said the hermit.

"Come, there are more deer than one;" and the knight called off his dogs
with great difficulty.

"Thou hast done well: so shall it be for thy good in time of need, Sir

"I would sooner fight the deadliest fight I have ever fought than
violate that sanctuary," said the latter; "a curse would be sure to

When the hunters had at last taken themselves away, dogs and all, and
the discontented whines and howls of the hounds and the crack of the
huntsman's whip had ceased to disturb the silence of the dell, the
hermit and the boys went in to look at the deer: he had thrown himself
down, or fallen, panting, in the boys' bed of leaves, and turned piteous
yet confiding eyes on them, large and lustrous, which seemed to implore
pity, and to say, "I know you will not let them hurt me."

The better instinct of Evroult was touched.

"Well, my son," said the hermit, "dost thou still crave for flesh? Shall
we kill him and roast some venison collops?"

"No," said Evroult, with energy.

"Ah, I thought so, thou art learning compassion: 'Blessed are the
merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.'"

"Brother," said Richard, "let us try and get that blessing."

Evroult pressed his hand.

And when it was dark and all was quiet, they let the deer go. The poor
beast, as if it had reason, almost refused to depart, and licked their
hands as if it knew its protectors, as doubtless it did.

But we must close this chapter, having begun the sketch of a life which
continued uneventfully for two full years.


Here ends the first part of our tale. We must leave the boys with the
good hermit; Osric learning the usages of war, and other things, under
the fostering care of Brian Fitz-Count; Wulfnoth as a novice at
Dorchester; and so allow a period to pass ere our scattered threads



Two years had passed away, and it was the last week of Advent, in the
year of our Lord 1141.

The whole land lay under a covering of deep snow, the frost was keen and
intense, the streams were ice-bound when they could be seen, for
generally snow had drifted and filled their channels; only the ice on
the Thames, wind-swept, could be discerned.

Through the dense woods of Newenham, which overhung the river, about
three miles above the Abbey Town (Abingdon), at the close of the brief
winter's day, a youth might have been seen making his way (it was not
made for him) through the dense undergrowth towards the bed of the

He was one of Dame Nature's most favoured striplings,--tall and straight
as an arrow, with a bright smile and sunny face, wherein large blue eyes
glistened under dark eyebrows; his hair was dark, his features shapely,
his face, however, sunburnt and weather-beaten, although he only
numbered eighteen years.

Happily unseen, for in those days the probability was that every
stranger was a foe to be avoided, and for such foes our young friend was
not unprepared; it is true, he wore a simple woollen tunic, bound round
by a girdle, but underneath was a coat of the finest chain-armour, proof
against shafts, and in his hand he had a boar-spear, while a short sword
was suspended in its sheath, from his belt.

Fool indeed would one have been, whether gentle or simple, to traverse
that district, or indeed any other district of "Merrie" England, unarmed
in the year 1141, and our Osric was not such a simple one.

He has "aged" since we last saw him. He is quite the young warrior now.
The sweet simplicity, begotten of youth and seclusion, is no longer
there, yet there is nought to awaken distrust. He is not yet a knight,
but he is the favourite squire of Brian Fitz-Count--that terrible lord,
and has been the favourite ever since Alain passed over to the immediate
service of the Empress Queen.

We will not describe him further--his actions shall speak for him; and
if he be degenerate, tell of his degeneracy.

As he descended the hill towards the stream, a startling interruption
occurred; a loud snarl, and a wolf--yes, there were wolves in England
then--snapped at him: he had trodden on her lair.

Quick as thought the boar-spear was poised, and the animal slank away,
rejecting the appeal to battle. For why? She knew there were plenty of
corpses about unburied for her to eat, and if they were not quite so
sweet as Osric's fair young flesh, they would be obtained without
danger. Such was doubtless wolfish philosophy.

He passed on, not giving a second thought to an adventure which would
fill the mind of a modern youth for hours--but he was hardened to
adventures, and _blasé_ of them. So he took them as a matter of course
and as the ordinary incidents of life: it was a time of carnage, when
the "survival of the fittest" was being worked out amongst our

"Ah, here is the river at last," he said to himself, "and now I know my
way: the ice will bear me safely enough, and I shall have an easier
road; although I must be careful, for did I get in, I could hardly swim
in this mail-shirt."

So he stopped, and taking a pair of rude skates from his wallet, bound
them to his iron-clad shoes, and skated up stream--through a desolate

Anon the grim old castle of the Harcourts frowned down upon him from the
height where their modern mansion now stands. The sentinels saw him and
sent an arrow after him, but it was vain defiance--the river was beyond
arrow shot, and they only sent one, because it was the usual playful
habit of the day to shoot at strangers, young or old. Every man's hand
was against every man.

They did not think the dimly discerned stranger, scudding up stream,
worth pursuit, especially as it was getting dark, and the snow drifts
were dangerous. So they let him go, not exactly with a benediction.

And soon he was opposite the village of Sandford, or rather where the
village should have been; but it was burnt to the very ground--not a
house or hovel was standing; not a dog barked, for there were no dogs
left to bark; nor was any living creature to be seen. Soon Iffley,
another scene of desolation, was in sight; but here there were people.
The old Norman Church, the same the voyager still sees, and stops to
examine, was standing, and was indeed the only edifice to be seen: all
else was blackened ruin, or would have been did not the snow mercifully
cover it.

Here our young friend left the river, and taking off his rude skates,
ascended the bank to the church by a well-trodden path, and pushed open
the west door.

He gazed upon a scene to which this age happily affords no parallel. The
church was full, but not of worshippers; two or three fires blazed upon
the stone pavement, and the smoke, eddying upwards, made its exit
through holes purposely broken in the roof for that end; around each
fire sat or squatted groups of men, women, and children--hollow-eyed,
famine-pinched, plague-stricken, or the like. There was hardly a face
amongst them which distress had not deprived of any beauty it might once
have possessed. Many a household was there--father, mother, sons and
daughters, from the stripling to the babe. The altar and sanctuary were
alone respected: a screen then divided them from the nave, and the gate
was jealously locked, opened only each day when the parish priest, who
lived in the old tower above, still faithful to his duty, went in at
dawn, and said Mass; while the poor wretched creatures forgot their
misery for a while, and worshipped.

Osric passed, unquestioned, through the groups,--the church was a
sanctuary to all,--and at last he reached the chancel gate. A youth of
his own age leant against it.



They left the church together, and sought a solitary place on the brink
of the hill above.

Where the modern tourist often surveys the city from the ridge of Rose
Hill, our friends gazed. The city, great even then, lay within its
protecting rivers and its new walls, dominated by the huge keep of the
castle of Robert d'Oyley which the reader still may see from the line,
as he nears the city.

But what a different scene it looked down upon. The moon illumined its
gray walls, and the fires of the besiegers shone with a lurid glare
about the city and within its streets, while the white, ghostly country
environed it around.

"Thou hast kept thy tryst, Osric."

"And thou thine, Alain; but thine was the hardest. How didst thou get
out? by the way we agreed upon before I left Oxford?"

"It was a hard matter. The castle is beleaguered, the usurper is there,
and that treacherous priest, his brother, says a sort of black Mass
every day in the camp: the city is all their own, and only the castle
holds out."

"And how is our lady?"

"Poor Domina,[20] as she signs herself. Ah, well, she shall not starve
while there is a fragment of food in the neighbourhood, but, Oh, Osric!
hunger is hard to bear; fortunate wert thou to be chosen to accompany
our lord in that desperate sally a month agone which took you all safely
to Wallingford. But what news dost thou bring?"

"That the great Earl of Gloucester and Henry Plantagenet have landed in
England, and will await the Empress at Wallingford if she can escape
from Oxford."

"I can get out myself, as thou seest, and have been able to keep our
tryst, but the Empress--how can we risk her life so precious to us all?
Osric, she must descend by _ropes_, and to-day my hands were so frozen
by the cold that I almost let go, and should have fallen full fifty feet
had I done so; but for a woman--even if, like 'Domina,' she be more than
woman--it will be parlous difficult."

"It must be tried, for no more reinforcements have appeared: we are
wofully disappointed."

"And so are we: day by day we have hoped to see your pennons advancing
over the frozen snow to our rescue. Alas! it was nought we saw, save
bulrushes and sedges. Then day by day we hear the trumpets blow, and the
usurper summons us to surrender, without terms, to his discretion."

"We will see him perish first," said Osric. "Hear our plans. If thou
canst persuade the lady to descend from the tower, and cross the stream
at the midnight after to-morrow, we will have a troop on the outskirts
of Bagley wood, to escort the precious freight to Wallingford, in spite
of all her foes, or we will die in her defence."

"It is well spoken; and I think I may safely say that it shall be

"And the Baron advises that ye all wear white woollen tunics like mine,
as less likely to be distinguished in the snow, and withal warm."

"We have many such tunics in the castle. At midnight to-morrow the risk
will be run, you may depend upon it. See, the Domina has entrusted me
with her signet, that you may see that I am a sort of plenipotentiary."

"And now farewell. Canst thou find thy way through the darkness to
Wallingford? Oxford is near at hand."

"Nay, I shall rest in the church to-night, and depart at dawn: I should
lose my way in the snow."

"After Mass, I suppose," said Alain sarcastically.

"Yes," said Osric, blushing. He was getting ashamed of the relics of his
religious observances; "but Mass and meat, you know, hinder no man. I
shall be at Wallingford ere noon, and the horse will start about the
dusk of the evening. God speed thee." And they parted.

The Castle of Oxford was one of the great strongholds of the Midlands.
Its walls and bastions enclosed a large area, whereon stood the Church
of St. George. On one side was the Mound, thrown up in far earlier days
than those of which we write, by Ethelflæda, sister of Alfred, and near
it the huge tower of Robert d'Oyley, which still survives, a stern and
silent witness of the unquiet past. In an upper chamber of that tower
was the present apartment of the warlike lady, alike the descendant of
Alfred and the Conqueror, and the unlike daughter of the sainted Queen
Margaret of Scotland. And there she sat, at the time when Osric met
Alain at Iffley Church, impatiently awaiting the return of her favourite
squire, for such was Alain, whose youthful comeliness and gallant
bearing had won her heart.

"He tarries long: he cometh not," she said. "Tell me, my Edith, how long
has he been gone?"

"Scarce three hours, madam, and he has many dangers to encounter.
Perchance he may never return."

"Now the Saints confound thy boding tongue."


"Why, forsooth, should he be unfortunate? so active, so brave, so sharp
of wit."

"I only meant that he is mortal."

"So are we all--but dost thou, therefore, expect to die to-day?"

"Father Herluin says we all should live as if we did, madam."

"You will wear my life out. Well, yes, a convent will be the best place
for thee."

"Nay, madam."

"Hold thy peace, if thou canst say nought but 'nay,'" said the irascible

Her temper, her irritability and impatience, had alienated many from her
cause. Perchance it would have alienated Alain like the rest, only he
was a favourite, and she was seldom sharp with him.

How like her father she was in her bearing! even in her undress, for she
wore only a thick woollen robe, stained, by the art of the dyers, in
colours as various as those of the robe Jacob made for Joseph. Sometimes
it flew open, and displayed an inner vesture of rich texture, bound
round with a golden zone or girdle; and around her head, confining her
luxuriant hair, was a circlet of like precious metal, which did duty for
a diadem.

Little of her sainted mother was there in the Empress Queen; far more
of her stern grandfather, the Conqueror.

The chamber, of irregular dimensions, was lighted by narrow loopholes.
There was a hearth and a chimney, and a brazier of wood and charcoal
burned brightly. Even then the air was cold, for it was many degrees
below the freezing point, not that they as yet knew how to measure the

She sat and glowered at the grate, as the light departed, and the winter
night set in, dark and gloomy. More than once she approached the
windows, or loopholes, and looked upon the ruined city in the chill and
intermittent moonlight.

It was nearly _all_ in ruins. Here and there a church tower rose intact;
here and there a lordly dwelling; but fire and sword had swept it.
Neither party regarded the sufferings of the poor. Sometimes the
besiegers made a fire in sport, and warmed themselves by the blaze of a
burgher's dwelling, nor recked how far it spread. Sometimes, as we have
said, the besieged made a sally, and set fire to the buildings which
sheltered their foes. Whichever prevailed, the citizens suffered; but
little recked their oppressors.

From her elevated chamber Maude could see the watch-fires of the foe in
a wide circle around, but she was accustomed to the sight, tired of it,
in fact, and her one desire was to escape to Wallingford, a far more
commodious and stronger castle.

In Frideswide, of which she could discern the towers, which as yet had
escaped the conflagration, were the headquarters of her rival, who was
living there at ease on the fat of the land, such fat as was left, at
the expense of the monastic community. And while she gazed, she clenched
her dainty fist, and shook it at the unheeding Stephen, while she
muttered unwomanly imprecations.

And while she was thus engaged, they brought up her supper. It consisted
of a stew of bones, which had already been well stripped of their flesh
at "the noon-meat."

"We are reduced to bones, and shall soon be nought but bones ourselves;
but our gallant defenders, I fear, fare worse. Here, Edith, Hilda, bring
your spoons and take your share."

And with small wooden spoons they dipped into the royal dish.

A step on the stairs and the chamberlain knocked, and at her bidding
entered. "Lady, the gallant page has returned: how he entered I know

"He is unharmed?"

"Scatheless, by the favour of God and St. Martin."

"Let him enter at once."

And Alain appeared.

"My gallant squire, how hast thou fared? I feared for thee."

"They keep bad watch. A rope lowered me to the stream: I crossed, and
seeking covered ways, gat me to Iffley, and in like fashion returned. I
bear good news, lady! Thy gallant brother of Gloucester, and the Prince,
thy son, have landed in England, and will meet thee at Wallingford."

"Thank God!" said Maude. "My Henry, my royal boy, I shall see thee
again. With such hope to cheer a mother's heart, I can dare anything.
Well hast thou earned our thanks, my Alain, my gallant squire."

"The Lord of Wallingford will send a troop of horse to scout on the road
between Abingdon and Oxford to-morrow night, the Eve of St. Thomas."

"We will meet them if it be possible--if it be in human power."

"The river is free--all other roads are blocked."

"But hast thou considered the difficulties of descent?"

"They are great, lady: it was easy for me to descend by the rope, but
for thee, alas, that my queen should need such expedients!"

"It is better than starvation. We are reduced to the bones, as thou
seest; but thou art hungry and faint. Let me order a basin of this
_savoury_ stew for thee; it is all we have to offer."

"What is good enough for my Empress and Queen, is good enough for her
faithful servants; but I may not eat in thy presence."

"Nay, scruple not; famine effaces distinctions."

Thus encouraged, Alain did not allow his scruples to interfere further
with his appetite, and partook heartily of the stew of bones, in which,
forsooth, the water and meal were in undue proportion to the meat.

The meal despatched, the Empress sent Alain to summon the Earl of
Oxford, Robert d'Oyley, to her presence. He was informed of the arrival
of the Earl and the Prince, and the plan of escape was discussed.

All the ordinary avenues of the castle were watched so closely that
extraordinary expedients were necessary, and the only feasible mode of
escape appeared to be the difficult road which Alain had used
successfully, both in leaving and returning to the beleaguered fortress.

A branch of the Isis washed the walls of the tower. It was frozen hard.
To descend by ropes upon it in the darkness, and cross to the opposite
side of the stream, appeared the only mode of egress.

But for a lady--the Lady of England--was it possible? was it not utterly
unworthy of her dignity?

She put this objection aside like a cobweb.

"Canst thou hold out the castle much longer?"

"At the most, another week; our provisions are nearly exhausted. This
was our last meal of flesh, of which I see the bones before me," replied
the Lord of Oxford.

"Then if I remain, thou must still surrender?"

"Surrender is _inevitable_, lady."

"Then sooner would I infringe my dignity by dangling from a rope, than
become the prisoner of the foul usurper Stephen, and the laughing-stock
of his traitorous barons."

"Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe, and two other knights, besides thy gallant
page, volunteer to accompany thee, lady."

"And for thyself?"

"I must remain to the last, and share the fortunes of my vassals.
Without me, they would find scant mercy from the usurpers."

"Then, to-morrow night, ere the moon rise, the attempt shall be made."

And the conference broke up.


It was a night of wildering snow, dark and gloomy. The soft, dry,
powdery material found its way in at each crevice, and the wind made the
tapestry, which hung on the walls of the presence chamber of the "Lady
Maude," oscillate to and fro with each blast.

Robert d'Oyley was alone in deep consultation with his royal mistress.

"Then if I can escape, thou wilt surrender?"

"Nought else is to be done; we are starving."

"They will burn the castle."

"There is little to burn, and I hardly think they will attempt that: it
will be useful to them, when in their hands."

"It is near the midnight hour: the attempt must be made. Now summon
young Alain and my faithful knights."

They entered at the summons, each clothed in fine mail, with a white
tunic above it. The Empress bid adieu to her handmaidens, who had clad
her in a thick white cloak to match: they wept and wailed, but she
gently chid them--

"We have suffered worse things: the coffin and hearse in which we left
Devizes was more ghastly; and God will give an end to these troubles
also: fear not, we are prepared to go through with it."

A small door was opened in the thickness of the wall; it led to the
roof, over a lower portion of the buildings beneath the shadow of the
tower; and the knights, with Alain and their lady, stood on the
snow-covered summit.

Not long did they hesitate. The river beneath was frozen hard; it lay
silent and still in its ice-bound sepulchre. The darkness was penetrated
by the light of the watch-fires in all directions: they surrounded the
town on all sides, save the one they had not thought it necessary to
guard against. There was a fire and doubtless a watch over the bridge,
which stood near the actual site of the present Folly Bridge. There was
a watch across Hythe Bridge; there was another on the ruins of the
castle mill, which Earl Algar had held, under the Domesday survey;
another at the principal entrance of the castle, which led from the
city. But the extreme cold of the night had driven the majority of the
besiegers to seek shelter in the half-ruined churches, which, long
attuned to the sweet melody of bells and psalmody, had now become the
bivouacs of profane soldiers.

The Countess Edith, the wife of Robert d'Oyley, now appeared, shivering
in the keen air, and took an affectionate leave of the Empress, while
her teeth chattered the while. A true woman, she shared her husband's
fortunes for weal or woe, and had endured the horrors of the siege.
Ropes were brought--Alain glided down one to the ice, and held it firm.
Another rope was passed beneath the armpits of the Lady Maude. She
grasped another in her gloved hand, to steady her descent.

"Farewell, true and trusty friend," she said to Robert of Oxford; "had
all been as faithful as thou, I had never been brought to this pass; if
they hurt thy head, they shall pay with a life for every hair it

Then she stepped over the battlements.

For one moment she gave a womanly shudder at the sight of the blackness
below; then yielding herself to the care of her trusty knights and
shutting her eyes, she was lowered safely to the surface of the frozen
stream, while young Alain steadied the rope below. At last her feet
touched the ice.

"Am I on the ground?"

"On the ice, Domina."

One after another the three knights followed her, and they descended the
stream until it joined the main river at a farm called "The Wick," which
formerly belonged to one Ermenold, a citizen of Oxford, immortalised in
the abbey records of Abingdon for his munificence to that community.

Now they had crossed the main channel in safety, not far below the
present railway bridge, and landing, struck out boldly for the outskirts
of Bagley, where the promised escort was to have met them. But in the
darkness and the snow, they lost their direction, and came at last over
the frozen fields to Kennington, where they indistinctly saw two or
three lights through the fast-falling snow, but dared not approach them,
fearing foes.

Vainly they strove to recover the track. The country was all alike--all
buried beneath one ghastly winding-sheet. The snow still fell; the air
was calm and keen; the breath froze on the mufflers of the lady. Onward
they trudged, for to hesitate was death; once or twice that ghastly
inclination to lie down and sleep was felt.

"If I could only lie down for one half hour!" said Maude.

"You would never wake again, lady," said Bertram of Wallingford; "we
_must_ move on."

"Nay, I must sleep."

"For thy son's sake," whispered Alain; and she persevered.

"Ah! here is the river; take care."

They had nearly fallen into a diversion of the stream at Sandford; but
they followed the course of the river, until they reached Radley, and
then they heard the distant bell of the famous abbey ringing for Matins,
which were said in the small hours of the night.

Here they found some kind of track made by the passage of cattle, which
had been driven towards the town, and followed it until they saw the
lights of the abbey dimly through the gloom.

Spent, exhausted with their toil, they entered the precincts of the
monastery, on the bed of the stream which, diverging from the main
course a mile above the town, turned the abbey mills and formed one of
its boundaries. Thus they avoided detention at the gateway of the town,
for they ascended from the stream within the monastery "pleasaunce."

The grand church loomed out of the darkness; its windows were dimly
lighted. The Matins of St. Thomas were being sung, and the solemn
strains reached the ears of the weary travellers outside. The outer door
of the nave was unfastened, for the benefit of the laity, who cared more
for devotion than their beds, like the mother of the famous St. Edmund,
Archbishop of Canterbury, a century later, who used to attend these
Matins nightly.

Our present party entered from a different motive. It was a welcome
shelter, and they sank upon an oaken bench within the door, while the
solemn sound of the Gregorian psalmody rolled on in the choir. Alain
meanwhile hastened to the hospitium to seek aid for the royal guest;
which he was told he would find in a hostel outside the gates, for
although they allowed female attendance at worship, they could not
entertain women; it was contrary to their rule--royal although the guest
might be.


[19] The historical course of events during these two years may be
briefly summed up. The English at first embraced the cause of Maude with
alacrity, because of her descent from their ancient monarchs, and so did
most of the barons. A dire civil war followed, in which multitudes of
freebooters from abroad, under the name of "free lances," took part in
either side. Hereford, Gloucester, Bristol, Oxford, Wallingford--all
became centres of Maude's power; and at last, at the great battle of
Lincoln--the only great battle during the miserable chaos of
strife--Stephen became her prisoner.

Then she had nearly gained the crown: Henry, Bishop of Winchester, Papal
legate and brother of Stephen, joined her cause, and received her as
Queen at Winchester. The wife of King Stephen begged her husband's
liberty on her knees, promising that he should depart from the kingdom
and become a monk. But Maude was hard-hearted, and spurned her from her
presence, rejecting, to her own great detriment, the prayer of the
suppliant; and not only did she do this, but she also refused the
petition of Henry of Winchester, that the foreign possessions of Stephen
might pass to his son Eustace. In consequence, the Bishop abandoned her
cause, and Maude found that she had dashed the cup of fortune from her
hand by her harsh conduct, which at last became past bearing. She
refused the Londoners the confirmation of their ancient charters,
because they had submitted to the rule of Stephen; whereupon they rose,
_en masse_, against her, and drove her from the city. She hastened to
Winchester, but the Bishop followed, and drove her thence; and in the
flight Robert, Earl of Gloucester was captured. He was exchanged for
Stephen, both leaders were at liberty and the detestable strife began,
_de novo_.

Then Maude took up her abode at Oxford, where Stephen came and besieged
her, as related in the text.

[20] Maude did not venture to call herself Queen, but signed her deeds
Domina or Lady of England.



Meanwhile Brian Fitz-Count himself, with Osric by his side and a dozen
horsemen, rode to and fro on the road to Oxford, which passed through
the forest of Bagley; for to halt in the cold was impossible, and to
kindle a fire might attract the attention of foes, as well as of
friends. How they bore that weary night may not be told, but they were
more accustomed to such exposure than we are in these days.

Again and again did Brian question Osric concerning the interview with
Alain, but of course to no further purpose; and they might have remained
till daylight had not they taken a shepherd, who was out to look after
his sheep, and brought him before the Count, pale and trembling, for it
was often death to the rustics to be seized by the armed bands.

"Hast thou seen any travellers this night?"

"I have, my lord, but they were not of this earth."

"What then, fool?"

"They were the ghosts of the slain, five of them, all in white, coming
up from the river, where the fight was a month agone."

"And what didst thou do?"

"Hid myself."

"Where were they going?"

"Towards Abingdon."

"Men or women?"

"One was muffled up like a lady; the others were like men, but all in

"My lord," interrupted Osric, "I bore thy recommendation that they
should wear white garments, the better to escape observation in the
snow, and Alain promised me that such precaution should be taken: no
doubt the shepherd has seen them."

"Which way were the ghosts going, shepherd?"

"They were standing together, when all at once the boom of the abbey
bell came through the air from Abingdon, and then they made towards the
town, to seek their graves, for there many of the slain were buried."

"_Requiescant in pace_," said Osric.

"Peace, Osric; do not you know that if you pray for a living man or
woman as if they were dead, you hasten their demise?" said Brian
sarcastically. "Let the old fool go, and we will wend our weary way to
the abbey. They give sanctuary to either party."

The snow ceased to fall about this time, and a long line of vivid red
appeared low down in the east: the snow caught the tinge of the coming
day, and was reddened like blood.

"One would think there had been a mighty battle there, my squire."

"It reminds me of the field of Armageddon, of which I heard the Chaplain
talk. I wonder whether it will come soon."

"Dost thou believe in all those priestly pratings?"

"My grandfather taught me to do so."

"And the rough life of a castle has not yet made thee forget his

"No," sighed Osric.

The sigh touched the hardened man.

"If he has faith, why should I destroy it?" Then he added as if almost
against his will--

"Keep thy faith; I would I shared it."

The fortifications of the town, the castle on the Oxford road, the
gateway hard by, came in sight at the next turn of the road, but Brian
avoided them, and sought a gate lower down which admitted to the abbey
precincts, where he was not so likely to be asked inconvenient

He bade one of his men ring the bell.

The porter looked forth.

"What manner of men are ye?"

"Travellers lost in the snow come to seek the hospitality prescribed by
the rule of St. Benedict."

"Enter," and the portal yawned: no names were asked, no political
distinctions recognised.

They stood in the outer quadrangle of the hoar abbey, the stronghold of
Christianity in Wessex for five centuries past; and well had it
performed its task, and well had it deserved of England. Founded so long
ago that its origin was even then lost in conflicting traditions,
surviving wave after wave of war, burnt by the Danes, remodelled by the
Normans--yet this hoary island of prayer stood in the stream of time
unchanged in all its main features, and, as men thought, destined to
stand till the archangel's trump sounded the knell of time.

     "They built in marble, built as they
     Who thought these stones should see the day
     When Christ should come; and that these walls
     Should stand o'er them when judgment calls."

Alas, poor monks, and alas for the country which lost the most glorious
of her architectural riches, the most august of her fanes, through the
greed of one generation!

"Have any other travellers sought shelter here during the night?"

"Five--a lady and four knights."

"Where be they?"

"The lady is lodged in a house without the eastern gate; the others are
in the guest-house, where thou mayst join them."

Have my readers ever seen the outer quadrangle of Magdalene College? It
is not unlike the square of buildings in which the Baron and his
followers now stood. On three sides the monastic buildings, with
cloisters looking upon a green sward, wherein a frozen fountain was
surmounted by a cross; on the other, the noble church, of which almost
all trace is lost.

In the hospitium or guest-house Brian found Sir Ingelric of Huntercombe,
with Alain and the other attendants upon the lady's flight. They met
with joy, and seated before a bright fire which burned upon the hearth,
learned the story of each other's adventures on that gruesome night,
which, however, had ended well. Osric had gone in charge of the horses
to some stables outside the gates, which opened upon the market-place,
but he now returned, and Alain greeted him warmly.

Soon the _déjeûner_ or breakfast was served, of which the chief feature
was good warm soup, very acceptable after the night they had passed
through. Scarcely was it over when the bells rang for the High Mass of
St. Thomas's Day.

"Yes, we must all go," said Brian, "out of compliment to our hosts, if
for no better reason."

They entered the church, of which the nave and transepts were open to
the general public, while the choir, as large as that of a cathedral
church, was reserved for the monks alone. The service was grand and
solemn: it began with a procession, during which holy water was
sprinkled over the congregation, while the monks sang--

     "Asperges me hyssopo et mundabor,
     Lava me, et super nivem dealbabor."

Then followed the chanted Mass at the High Altar. There were gleaming
lights, gorgeous vestments, clouds of incense. All the symbolism of an
age when the worship of the English people was richer in ceremonial than
that of Continental nations was there. It impressed the minds of rude
warriors who could neither read nor write with the sense of a mysterious
world, other than their own--of dread realities and awful powers beyond
the reach of mortal warfare. If it appealed rather to the imagination
than the reason, yet it may be thought, it thereby reached its mark the
more surely. The Church was still the salt of the earth, which preserved
the whole mass from utter corruption, and in a world of violence and
wrong, pointed to a land of peace and joy beyond this transitory scene.

So felt Osric, and his eyes filled with tears as emotions he could
hardly analyse stirred his inmost soul.

And Brian--well, he was as a man who views his natural face in a glass,
and going away, forgets what manner of man he was.


After Mass the Empress Maude greeted her dear friend and faithful
follower Brian Fitz-Count with no stinted welcome. She almost fell upon
his shoulder, proud woman though she was, and wept, when assured she
should soon see her son, Prince Henry, at Wallingford, for she was but a
woman after all.

She insisted upon an interview with the Abbot, from which Brian would
fain have dissuaded her, but she took the bit in her teeth.

After a while that dignitary came, and bowed gracefully, but not low.

"Dost thou know, lord Abbot, whom thou hast entertained?"

"Perchance an Angel unawares: all mortals are equal within the Church's

"Thy true Queen, who will not forget thy hospitality."

"Nor would King Stephen, did he know that we had shown it, lady. I
reverence thy lofty birth, and wish thee well for the sake of thy
father, who was a great benefactor to this poor house: further I cannot
say; we know nought of earthly politics here--our citizenship is above."

She did not appreciate his doctrines, but turned to Brian.

"Have we any gold to leave as a benefaction in return for this
hospitality; it will purchase a Mass, which, doubtless, we need in these
slippery times, when it is difficult always to walk straight."

Brian drew forth his purse.

"Lady, it needs not," said the Abbot; "thou art welcome, so are all the
unfortunate, rich or poor, who suffer in these cruel wars, to which may
God soon give an end."

"Lay the blame, lord Abbot, on the usurper then, and pray for his
overthrow; but for him I should have ruled as my father did, with
justice and equity. If thou wishest for peace, pray for our speedy
restoration to our rightful throne. Farewell."


So the Empress and her train departed, and crossing the river at Culham,
made for the distant hills of Synodune, across a country where the snow
had obliterated nearly all the roads, and even covered the hedges and
fences. So that they were forced to travel very slowly, and at times
came to a "standstill."

However, they surmounted all difficulties; and travelling along the
crest of the hills, where the wind had prevented the accumulation of
much snow, they reached Wallingford in safety, amidst the loudest of
loud rejoicings, where they were welcomed by Maude d'Oyley, Lady of
Wallingford--the sister of the Lord of Oxford and wife of Brian.

How shall we relate the festivities of that night? it seems like telling
an old tale: how the tables groaned with the weight of the feast, as in
the old ballad of Imogene; how the minstrels and singers followed after,
and none recked of the multitude of captives who already crowded the
dismal dungeons beneath. Some prisoners taken in fair fight, some with
less justice prisoners held to ransom, their sole crime being wealth;
others from default of tribute paid to Brian, be it from ill-will or
only from want of means.

But of these poor creatures the gay feasters above thought not. The
contrast between the awful vaults and cells below, and the gay and
lighted chambers above, was cruel, but they above recked as little as
the giddy children who play in a churchyard think of the dead beneath
their feet.

"My lady," said Brian, "we shall keep our Christmas yet more merrily,
for on the Eve we hope to welcome thy right trusty brother of Gloucester
and thy gallant son."

The mother's eyes sparkled.

"My good and trusty subject," she said, "how thou dost place me under
obligations beyond my power to repay?"

"Nay, my queen, all I have is thine, for thy own and thy royal father's
sake, who was to me a father indeed."

The festivities were not prolonged to a very late hour; nature must have
its way, and the previous night had been a most trying one, as our
readers are well aware. That night was a night of deep repose.

On the following day came the news that Oxford Castle had surrendered,
and that Robert d'Oyley, lord thereof, was prisoner to Stephen; it was
at first supposed that the king would follow his rival to Wallingford,
but he preferred keeping his Christmas in the castle he had taken.
Wallingford was a hard nut to crack.


It was Christmas Eve, and the Empress stood by the side of the lord of
the castle, on the watch-towers; the two squires, Alain and Osric,
waited reverently behind.

The scenery around has already been described in our opening chapter.
The veil of winter was over it, but the sun shone brightly, and its
beams glittered on the ice of the river and the snow-clad country
beyond: one only change there was--the forts on the Crowmarsh side of
the stream, erected in a close of the parish of Crowmarsh--then and now
called Barbican; they were so strong as to be deemed impregnable, and
were now held against Brian by the redoubtable Ranulph, Earl of Chester.
The garrisons of the two fortresses, so near each other, preyed in turn
on the country around, and fought wherever they met--to keep their hands
in; but they were now keeping "The Truce of God," in honour of

"It is a lovely day. May it be the harbinger of better fortune," said
Maude. "When do you think they will arrive?"

"They slept at Reading Abbey last night, so there is little doubt they
will be here very soon."

"If they started early they might be in sight now: ah, God and St. Mary
be praised! there they be. Is not that their troop along the road?"

A band, with streamlets gay and pennons fair, was indeed approaching the
gates of the town from the south, by the road which led from Reading,
along the southern bank of the Thames.

"To horse! to horse!" said the Empress; "let us fly to meet them."

"Nay, my liege, they will be here anon--almost before our horses could
be caparisoned to appear in fit state before the citizens of my town."
The fact was, Brian had a soldier's dislike of a scene, and would fain
get the meeting over within the walls.

And the royal mother contented herself with standing on the steps of the
great hall to receive her gallant son, Henry Plantagenet, the future
King of England, destined to restore peace to the troubled land, but
whose sun was to set in such dark clouds, owing to his quarrel with the
Church, and the cruel misbehaviour of his faithless wife and rebellious

But we must not anticipate. The gallant boy was at hand, and his mother
clasped him to the maternal breast: "so greatly comforted," said the
chronicler, "that she forgot all the troubles and mortifications she had
endured, for the joy she had of his presence." Then she turned to her
right trusty brother, and wept on his neck.

The following day was the birthday of the "Prince of Peace," and these
children of war kept it in right honour. They attended Mass at the
Church of St. Mary's in the town in great state, and afterwards
banqueted in the Castle hall with multitudes of guests. Meanwhile
Ranulph, Earl of Chester, had returned home to keep the feast; but his
representatives kept it right well, and the two parties actually sent
presents to each other, and wished mutual good cheer.


The feast was over, and the maskers dropped their masks, and turned to
the business of life in right earnest--that was war, only war. The
Empress Maude, with her son, under the care of her brother, shortly left
Wallingford for Bristol, where the young prince remained for four years,
under the care of his uncle, who had brought him up.

But all around the flames of war broke out anew, and universal bloodshed
returned. It was a mere gory chaos: no great battles, no decisive blows;
only castle against castle, all through the land, as at Wallingford and
Crowmarsh. Each baron delved the soil for his dungeons, and raised his
stern towers to heaven. All was pillage and plunder; men fought wherever
they met; every man's hand was against every man; peaceful villages were
burnt daily; lone huts, isolated farms, were no safer; merchants
scarcely dared to travel, shops to expose their wares; men refused to
till the fields for others to reap; and they said that God and His
Saints were fast asleep. The land was filled with death; corpses rotted
by the sides of the roads; women and children took sanctuary in the
churches and churchyards, to which they removed their valuables. But the
bands of brigands and murderers, who, like vultures, scented the quarry
afar, and crowded from all parts of the Continent into England--unhappy
England--as to a prey delivered over into their hands, did not always
respect sanctuary. Famine followed; men had nought to eat; it was even
said that they ate the bodies of the dead like cannibals. Let us hope
this ghastly detail is untrue, but we do not feel _sure_ it is; the
pangs of hunger are so dreadful to bear.

Then came pestilence in the train of famine, and claimed its share of
victims. And so the weary years went on--twelve long years of misery and

Summer had come--hot and dry. There had been no rain for a month. It
was the beginning of July, in the year 1142. Fighting was going on in
England in general; at Wilton, near Salisbury, in particular. The king
was there: he had turned the nunnery of that place into a castle,
driving out the holy sisters, and all the flock of the wounded and poor
to whom, with earnest piety, they were ministering. The king put up
bulwark and battlement, and thought he had done well, when on the 1st of
July came Robert of Gloucester from Bristol, and sat down before the
place to destroy it.

The king and his brother--the Papal legate, the fighting Bishop of
Winchester, the turncoat--were both there, and after a desperate
defence, were forced to escape by a secret passage, and fly by night.
Their faithful seneschal, William Martel, Lord of Shirburne, and a great
enemy and local rival of Brian, remained behind to protract the defence,
and engage the attention of the besiegers until his king had had time to
get far enough away with his affectionate brother Henry; and his
self-devotion was not in vain, but he paid for it by the loss of his own
liberty. He was taken prisoner after a valiant struggle, and sent to
Wallingford, to be under the custody of Brian Fitz-Count, his enemy and



In sketching the life of a mediæval castle, we have dwelt too much upon
the brighter side of the picture. There was a darker one, contrasting
with the outward pomp and circumstance as the dungeons with the gay
halls above.

What then was the interior of those dark towers, which we contemplate
only in their ruined state? Too often, the surrounding peasants looked
at them with affright: the story of Blue-Beard is not a mere tale, it is
rather a veritable tradition: what was the lord to his vassals, whom his
own wife regarded with such great fear? We know one of the brood by the
civil process issued against him--Gilles de Retz--the torturer of
children. It has been said that the "Front de Boeuf" of Sir Walter Scott
is but a poor creature, a feeble specimen of what mediæval barons could
be. A more terrible portrait has been given in recent days by
Erckmann-Chatrian, in their story, _The Forest House_.

And such, we regret to say, by degrees did Brian Fitz-Count become. Few
men can stand the test of absolute power, and the power of a mediæval
lord was almost absolute in his own domain.

And the outbreak of civil war, by loosening the bonds of society, gave
him the power of doing this, so that it was soon said that Wallingford
Castle was little better than a den of brigands.

The very construction of these old castles, so far as one can see them,
tells us far more than books can: men-at-arms, pages, valets, all were
shut in for the night, sleeping in common in those vaulted apartments.
The day summoned them to the watch-towers and battlements, where they
resembled the eagle or hawk, soaring aloft in hope of seeing their
natural prey.

Nor was it often long before some convoy of merchandise passing along
the high road, some well appointed travellers or the like, tempted them
forth on their swift horses, lance in hand, to cry like the modern
robber, "Your money or your life," or in sober truth, to drag their
prisoners to their dungeons, and hold them to ransom, in default of
which they amused themselves by torturing them.

Such inmates of the castles were only happy when they got out upon their
adventures--and as in the old fable of "The Frogs and the Boys,"--what
was sport to them was death to their neighbours.

It was eventide, the work of the day was over, and Brian was taking
counsel with Malebouche, who had risen by degrees to high command
amongst the troopers, although unknighted. Osric was present, and sat in
an embrasure of the window.

"A good day's work, Malebouche," said Brian; "that convoy of merchandise
going from Reading to Abingdon was a good prize--our halls will be the
better for their gauds, new hangings of tapestry, silks, and the like;
but as we are deficient in women to admire them, I would sooner have had
their value in gold."

"There is this bag of rose nobles, which we took from the body of the
chief merchant."

"Well, it will serve as an example to others, who travel by by-roads to
avoid paying me tribute, and rob me of my dues. Merchants from Reading
have tried to get to Abingdon by that road over Cholsey Hill before."

"They will hardly try again if they hear of this."

"At least these will not--you have been too prompt with them; did any

"I think not; my fellows lanced them as they fled, which was the fate
of all, as we were well mounted, save a lad who stumbled and fell, and
they hung him in sport for the sake of variety. They laughed till the
tears stood in their eyes at his quaint grimaces."[21]

Brian did not seem to heed this pleasant story. Osric moved uneasily in
his seat, but strove to repress feelings which, after all, were less
troublesome than of yore; all at once he spied a sight which drove
merchants and all from his mind.

"My lord, here is Alain."


"Just dismounting in the courtyard."

"Call to him to come up at once; he will have news from Wilton."

Osric leant out of the narrow window, which in summer was always open.

"Alain! Alain!" he cried, "come up hither, my lord is impatient for your

Alain waved back a friendly greeting and hurried up the stairs.

"Joy, my Lord, joy; thine enemy is in thy hands."

"Which one, my squire? I have too many enemies to remember all."

"William Martel, Lord of Shirburne."

"Ah, now we shall get Shirburne!" cried Osric.

"Silence, boys!" roared Brian; "now tell me all: where he was taken, and
what has become of him."

"He was taken by Earl Robert at Wilton, and will be here in an hour; you
may see him from the battlements now. The good Earl has sent him to you
to keep in durance, and sent me to command the escort: I only left them
on the downs--they are descending the hills even now; I galloped forward
to 'bring the good news.'"

"By our Lady, I am indeed happy. Alain, here is a purse of rose nobles
for thee; poor as I am, thy news are all too good. Send the gaolers to
me; have a good dark dungeon prepared; we must humble his spirits."

"We are getting too full below, my lord."

"Orders are given for another set to be dug out at once, the architect
only left me to-day; it is to be called Cloere Brien--or Brian's Close,
and the first guest shall be William Martel; there shall he rot till he
deliver up Shirburne and all its lands to me in perpetuity. The Castle
of Shirburne is one of the keys of the Chilterns."

"Now, my lord, they are in sight--look!"

And from the windows they saw a troop of horse approaching Wallingford,
over Cholsey Common.

"Let us don our robes of state to meet them," said Brian; and he threw
on a mantle over his undress; then he descended, followed by his two
pages, and paced the battlements, till the trumpets were blown which
announced the arrival of the cortege.

Brian showed no womanly curiosity to feast his eyes with the sight of a
captive he was known to hate, but repaired to the steps of the great
hall, and stood there, Alain on one side, Osric on the other; and soon
the leading folk in the castle collected about them.

The troop of horse trotted over the three drawbridges, and drew rein in
front of the Baron; then wheeling to right and left, disclosed their

"I salute thee, William Martel, Lord of Shirburne; my poor castle is too
much honoured by thy presence."

"Faith, thou mayst well say so," said the equally proud and fierce
captive. "I take it thou hast had few prisoners before higher in rank
than the wretched Jews you torture for their gold; but I trust you know
how to treat a noble."

"That indeed we do, especially one like thyself; not that we are
overawed by thy grandeur; the castle which has entertained thy rightful
sovereign may be quite good enough for thee. Companions thou shalt have,
if but the toad and adder; light enough to make darkness visible, until
such time as thy ransom be paid, or thou submit to thy true Queen."

"To Henry's unworthy child--never. Name thy ransom."

"The Castle of Shirburne and all things pertaining thereto."

"Never shall it be thine."

"Then here shalt thou rot. Tustain, prepare a chamber--one of the
dungeons in the north tower, until a more suitable one be builded. And
meanwhile it may please thee to learn that we purpose a ride to look at
your Shirburne folk, and see the lands which shall be ours; this very
night we may light a bonfire or two to amuse them."

And they led the captive away.

Now lest this should be thought a gross exaggeration, it may as well be
said that the ungovernable savagery of this contest, the violent
animosities engendered, did lead the nobility so called, the very chief
of the land, to forget their chivalry, and treat their foes, not after
the fashion of the Black Prince and his captive, the King of France, but
in the brutal fashion we have described.

And probably Brian would have fared just as badly at William Martel's
hands, had their positions been reversed.

"Trumpeter, blow the signal to horse; let the Brabanters prepare to
ride, and the Black Troopers of Ardennes--the last comers. We will ride
to-night, Alain. Art thou too wearied to go with us?"

"Nay, my lord, ready and willing."

"And Osric--it will refresh thee; we start in half an hour--give the
horses corn."

In half an hour they all rode over a new bridge of boats lower down the
stream, and close under the ordnance of the castle,[22] for the forts at
Crowmarsh commanded the lower Bridge of Stone. They were full three
hundred in number--very miscellaneous in composition. There was a new
troop of a hundred Brabanters; another of so-called Free Companions,
numbering nearly the same. Scarce a hundred were Englishmen, in any
sense of the word, neither Anglo-Norman nor Anglo-Saxon--foreigners with
no more disposition to pity the unfortunate natives than the buccaneers
of later date had to pity the Spaniards, or even the shark to pity the
shrinking flesh he snaps at.

Just before reaching Bensington, which paid tribute to both sides, and
was exempt from fire and sword from either Wallingford or Crowmarsh, a
troop from the latter place came in sight.

Trumpets were blown on both sides, stragglers recalled into line, and
the two bodies of horsemen charged each other with all the glee of two
bodies of football players in modern times, and with little more thought
or care.

But the Wallingford men were strongest, and after a brief struggle the
Crowmarsh troopers were forced to fly. They were not pursued: Brian had
other business in hand; it was a mere friendly charge.

Only struggling on the ground were some fifty men and horses, wounded or
dying, and not a few dead.

Brian looked after Osric with anxiety.

The youth's bright face was flushed with delight and animation. He was
returning a reddened sword to the scabbard; he had brought down his man,
cleaving him to the chine, himself unhurt.

Brian smiled grimly.

"Now for Alain," he said; "ah, there he is pursuing these Crowmarsh
fellows. We have no time to waste--sound the recall, now onward, for the

Alain rejoined them.

"Thou art wasting time."

"My foe fled; Osric has beaten me to-day."

"Plenty of opportunity for redressing the wrong--now onward."

They passed through Bensington. The gates--for every large village had
its walls and gates as a matter of necessity--opened and shut for them
in grim silence; they did no harm there. They passed by the wood
afterwards called "Rumbold's Copse," and then got into the territory of
Shirburne, for so far as Britwell did William Martel exact tribute, and
offer such protection as he was able.

From this period all was havoc and destruction--all one grim scene of
fire and carnage. They fired every rick, every barn, every house; they
slew everything they met.

And Osric was as bad as the rest--we do not wonder at Alain.

Then they reached Watlington, "the wattled town," situated in a hollow
of the hills. Its gates were secured, and it was surrounded by a ditch,
a mound, and the old British defence of wattles, or stakes pointed

Here they paused.

"It is too strong to be taken by assault," said the Baron. "Osric, go to
the gate with just half a dozen, who have English tongues in their
heads, and ask for shelter and hospitality."

Osric, to his credit, hesitated.

Brian reddened--he could not bear the lad he loved to take a more moral
tone than himself.

"Must I send Alain?"

Osric went, and feigning to be belated, asked admittance, but he did not
act it well.

"Who are you? whence do ye come? what mean the fires we see?"

"Alain, go and help him; he cannot tell a fair lie," said Brian.

Alain arriving, made answer, "The men of Wallingford are out--we are
flying from Britwell for our lives--haste or they will overtake us--we
are only a score."

The poor fools opened, and were knocked on the head at once for their

The whole band now galloped up and rushed in.

"Fire every house. After you have plundered them all, if you find mayor
and burgesses, take them for ransom; slay the rest."

The scene which followed was shocking; but in this wretched reign it
might be witnessed again and again all over England. But many things
shocked Osric afterwards when he had time to think.

Enough of this. We have only told what we have told because it is
essential to the plot of our story, that the scenes should be understood
which caused so powerful a reaction in Osric--_afterwards_.

Laden with spoil, with shout and song, the marauders returned from their
raid. Along the road which leads from Watlington to the south, with the
range of the Chilterns looking down from the east, and the high land
which runs from Rumbold's Copse to Brightwell Salome on the west, they
drove their cattle and carried their plunder; whilst they recounted
their murderous exploits, and made night hideous with the defiant bray
of trumpets and their discordant songs.

And so in the fire and excitement of the moment the sufferings of the
poor natives were easily forgotten, or served to the more violent and
cruel as zest to their enjoyment.

Was it so with our Osric? Could the grandson of Sexwulf, the heir of a
line of true Englishmen, so forget the lessons of his boyhood? Alas, my
reader, such possibilities lurk in our fallen nature!

     "Ah, when shall come the time
       When war shall be no more?
     When lust, oppression, crime,
       Shall flee Thy Face before?"

We must wait until the advent of the Prince of Peace.

They got back to Wallingford at last. The gates were opened, there was a
scene of howling excitement, and then they feasted and drank until the
small hours of the night; after which they went to bed, three or four in
one small chamber, and upon couches of the hardest--in recesses of the
wall, or sometimes placed, like the berths of a ship, one over the
other--the robbers slept.

For in what respect were they better than modern highwaymen or pirates?

Osric and Alain lay in the same chamber.

"How hast thou enjoyed the day, Osric?"

"Capitally, but I am worn out."

"You will not sleep so soundly even now as the fellow you brought down
so deftly in that first skirmish. You have got your hand in at last."

Osric smiled with gratified vanity--he was young and craved such glory.

"Good-night, Alain." He could hardly articulate the words from fatigue,
and Alain had had even a harder day.

They slept almost as soundly as the dead they had left behind them; no
spectres haunted them and disturbed their repose; conscience was
hardened, scarred as with a hot iron, but her time was yet to come for


[21] Rien de plus gai que nos vieux contes--ils n'ont que trois
plaisanteries--le desespoir du mari, les cris du battu, la grimace du
pendu: au troisieme la gaiete est au comble, on se tient les

[22] _i.e._ Mangonels, arbalasts, and the like.



From the abode of strife and turmoil to the home of peace, from the
house of the world to the house of religion, from the Castle of
Wallingford to the Abbey of Dorchester, do we gladly conduct our
readers, satiated, we doubt not, with scenes of warfare.

What wonder, when the world was given up to such scenes, that men and
women, conscious of higher aspirations, should fly to the seclusion of
the monastic life, afar from

     "Unloving souls with deeds of ill,
     And words of angry strife."

And what a blessing for that particular age that there were such
refuges, thickly scattered throughout the land--veritable cities of
refuge. It was not the primary idea of these orders that they should be
benevolent institutions, justifying their existence by the service
rendered to the commonwealth. The primary idea was the service of God,
and the salvation of the particular souls, who fled from a world lying
in wickedness and the shadow of death, to take sweet counsel together,
and walk in the House of God as friends.

Later on came a _nobler_ conception of man's duty to man; and thence
sprang the active orders, such as the Friars or Sisters of Mercy, as
distinguished from the cloistered or contemplative orders.

Of course, in the buildings of such a society, the Church was the
principal object--as the ruins of Tintern or Glastonbury show,
overshadowing all the other buildings, dwarfing them into
insignificance. Upon this object all the resources of mediæval art were
expended. The lofty columns, the mysterious lights and shadows of a
Gothic fane, the sculptures, the statues, the shrines, the rich
vestments, the painted glass--far beyond aught we can produce, the
solemn music,--all this they lavished on the Church as the house of

     "It is the house of prayer,
       Wherein Thy servants meet;
     And Thou, O God, art there,
       Thy hallowed flock to greet."

Here they met seven times daily, to recite their offices, as also at the
midnight office, when only the professed brethren were present. In these
active times men may consider so much time spent in church a great waste
of time, but we cannot judge other generations by our own ideas. A very
sharp line was then drawn between the Church and the world, and they who
chose the former possessed a far greater love for Divine worship than we
see around us now, coupled with a most steadfast belief in its efficacy.
"Blessed are They who dwell in Thy house; they will be alway praising
Thee," was the language of their hearts.

Here men who had become the subjects of intense grief--from whom death,
perhaps, had removed their earthly solace--the partners of their sorrow
or joy--found refuge when the sun of this world was set. Here, also,
studious men, afar from the clamour and din of arms, preserved for us
the wisdom of the ancients. Here the arts and sciences lived on, when
nought save war filled the minds of men outside. Well has it been said,
that for the learning of the nineteenth century to revile the monastic
system is for the oak to revile the acorn from which it sprang.

But most of all, when the shadow of a great horror of himself and his
past fell upon a man, how blessed to have such an institution as a
mediæval monastery wherein to hide the stricken head, and to learn
submission to the Divine Will.

Such a home had Wulfnoth found at Dorchester Abbey.

The year of his novitiate had passed, and he had won the favour of his
monastic superiors. We do not say he had always been as humble as a
novice should, or that he never, like Lot's wife, looked back again to
Sodom, but the good had triumphed, and the day came for his election as
a brother.

Every day after the Chapter Mass which followed Terce, the daily
"Chapter" was held, wherein all matters of discipline were settled,
correction, if needed, administered, novices or brethren admitted by
common consent, and all other weighty business transacted. Here they met
four centuries later, when they affixed their reluctant seal to their
own dissolution, to avoid worse consequences.

It was here that, after the ordinary business was over, the novice
Alphege, the once sanguinary Wulfnoth, rose with a calm and composed
exterior, but with a beating heart, to crave admission into the order by
taking the life vows.

The Abbot signed to him to speak.

"I, Wulfnoth the novice, crave admission to the full privileges and
prayers of the order, by taking the vows for life, as a brother

There was silence for a space.

Then the Abbot spoke--

"Hast thou duly considered the solemn step? Canst thou leave the world
behind thee--its friendships and its enmities? and hast thou considered
what hard and stern things we endure?"

"I have, Father Abbot."

"And the yet harder and sterner discipline which awaits the

"None of these things move me: I am prepared to bear yet harsher and
sterner things, if so be I may save my soul."

"The Lord Jesus Christ so perform in you what for His love's sake you
promise, that you may have His grace and life eternal."

"Amen," said all present.

The rule of the order was then read aloud.

"Here," said the Abbot, "is the law under which thou desirest to serve:
if thou canst observe it, enter; but if thou canst not, freely depart."

"I will observe it, God being my helper."

"Doth any brother know any just cause or impediment why Alphege the
novice should not be admitted to our brotherhood?"

None was alleged.

"Do you all admit him to a share in your sacrifices and prayers?"

The hands were solemnly raised.

"It is enough: prepare with prayer and fasting for the holy rite," said
the Abbot.

For there was of course a solemn form of admission into the order yet to
be gone through in the Church, which we have not space to detail.

It was not necessary that a monk should take Holy Orders, yet it was
commonly done; and dismissing the subject in a few words, we will simply
say that Wulfnoth took deacon's orders after he had taken the life vows,
and later on was ordained priest by Bishop Alexander of Lincoln,

His lot in life was now fixed: no longer was he in any danger from the
Lord of Wallingford; nor could he execute vengeance with sword and woe
for the household stricken so sorely by that baron's hands at Compton on
the downs. It was over--he left it all to Him Who once said, "Vengeance
is Mine, I will repay." Nor mindful of his own sins, did he pray for
such vengeance. He _left it_, and strove to pray for Brian.

One bright day at the close of July the Abbot called him to ride with
him, for the order was not strictly a cloistered one, nor could it
indeed be; they had their landed estates, their tenantry, their farms to
look after. The offices were numerous, of necessity, and it was the
policy of the order to give each monk, if possible, some special duty or
office. Almost all they ate or drank was produced at home. The corn grew
on their own land; they had their own mill; the brethren brewed, baked,
or superintended lay brothers who did so. Other brethren were tailors,
shoemakers for the community; others gardeners; others, as we have seen,
scribes and illuminators; others kept the accounts--no small task.[23]
In short, none led the idle life commonly assigned in popular

They rode forth then, the Abbot Alured and Alphege, the new brother.
First into the town without the gates, far larger then than now, it was
partly surrounded by walls, partly protected by the Rivers Isis and
Tame; but within the space was a crowd of inhabitants dwelling in
houses, or rather huts; dwelling even in tents, like modern gypsies,
crowding the space within the walls, with good reason, for no man's life
was safe in the country, and here was sanctuary! Even Brian Fitz-Count
would respect Dorchester Abbey: even if some marauding baron assailed
the town, there was still the abbey church, or even the precincts for
temporary shelter.

But food was scarce, and here lay the difficulty. The abbey revenues
were insufficient, for many of the farms had been burnt in the nightly
raids, and rents were ill-paid. Everything was scarce: many a hapless
mother, many a new-born babe, died from sheer want of the things
necessary to save; the strong lived through it, the weak sank under it:
there may have been those who found comfort, and said it was "the
survival of the fittest."

Day by day was the dole given forth at the abbey gates; day by day the
hospitium was very crowded. The hospitaller was at his wits' end. And
the old infirmarer happening to die just then, folk said, "It was the

"Who is sufficient for these things?" said Abbot Alured to his
companion, as they rode through the throng and emerged upon the road
leading to the hamlet of Brudecott (Burcot) and Cliffton (Clifton

Their dress was a white cassock under a black cloak, with a hood
covering the head and neck and reaching to the shoulders, having under
it breeches, vest, white stockings and shoes; a black cornered cap, not
unlike the college cap of modern days, completed the attire.

"Tell me, brother," said the Abbot, "what is thy especial vocation? what
office wouldst thou most desire to hold amongst us?"

"I am little capable of discharging any weighty burden: thou knowest I
have been a man of war."

"And he who once gave wounds should now learn to heal them. Our brother
the infirmarer has lately departed this life, full of good works--would
not that be the office for thee?"

"I think I could discharge it better than I could most others."

"It is well, then it shall be thine; it will be onerous just now. Ah me,
when will these wars be over?"

"Methinks there was a great fire amongst the Chilterns last night--a
thick cloud of smoke lingers there yet."

"It is surely Watlington--yes it is Watlington; they have burned it.
What can have chanced? it is under the protection of Shirburne."

"I marvel we have had none of the people here, to seek hospitality and

They arrived now at Brudecott, a hamlet on the Thames. One Nicholas de
Brudecott had held a mansion here, one knight's fee of the Bishop of
Lincoln; but the house had been burnt by midnight marauders. The place
was desolate: on the fields untilled a few poor people lived in huts,
protected by their poverty.

They rode on to Cliffton, where the Abbot held three "virgates" of land,
with all the farm buildings and utensils for their cultivation; the
latter had escaped devastation, perhaps from the fact it was church
property, although even that was not always respected in those days.

Upon the rock over the river stood the rustic church. Wulfnoth had often
served it as deacon, attending the priestly monk who said Mass each
Sunday there, for Dorchester took the tithes and did the duty.

Here they crossed the river by a shallow ford where the bridge now
stands, and rode through Witeham (Wittenham), where the Abbot had
business connected with the monastery. The same desertion of the place
impressed itself upon their minds. Scarcely a living being was seen;
only a few old people, unable to bring themselves to forsake their
homes, lingered about half-ruined cottages. The parish priest yet lived
in the tower of the church, unwilling to forsake his flock, although
half the village was in ruins, and nearly all the able-bodied had taken
refuge in the towns.

They were on the point of crossing the ford beneath Synodune Hill,
situated near the junction of Tame and Isis, when the Abbot suddenly
conceived the desire of ascending the hills and viewing the scene of
last night's conflagration from thence. They did so, and from the summit
of the eastern hill, within the entrenchment which still exists, and has
existed there from early British times, marked the cloud of black smoke
which arose from the ruins of Watlington.

"What can have happened to the town--it is well defended with palisades
and trench?"

Just then a powerful horseman, evidently a knight at the least, attended
by two squires, rode over the entrance of the vallum, and ascended to
the summit of the hill. He saluted the Abbot with a cold salute, and
then entered into conversation with his squires.

"It is burning even yet, Osric; dost thou mark the black smoke?"

"Thatch smoulders a long time, my lord," replied the squire addressed.

The Abbot Alured happened to look round at Wulfnoth; he was quivering
with some suppressed emotion like an aspen leaf, and his hand
involuntarily sought the place where the hilt of his sword should have
been had he possessed one.

"What ails thee, brother?" he said.

"It is the destroyer of my home and family, Brian Fitz-Count," and
Wulfnoth drew the cowl over his head.

The Abbot rode down the hill; he felt as if he were on the edge of a
volcano, and putting his hand on his companion's rein, forced him to
accompany him.

It was strange that Wulfnoth did not also recognise his own _son_.


[23] Many monastic rolls of accounts remain, and their minuteness is
even startling.



The morning watch looked forth from the summit of the lofty keep, which
rose above Wallingford Castle, to spy the dawning day. From that
elevation of two hundred feet he saw the light of the summer dawn break
forth over the Chiltern Hills in long streaks of azure, and amber light
flecked with purple and scarlet. The stream below caught the rays, and
assumed the congenial hue of blood; the sleepy town began to awake
beyond the castle precincts; light wreaths of smoke to ascend from roof
after roof--we can hardly say of those days chimney after chimney; the
men of the castle began to move, for there was no idleness under Brian's
rule; boats arrived by the stream bearing stores from the dependent
villages above and below, or even down from Oxford and up from Reading,
for the river was a great highway in those days.

Ah, how like the distant view was to that we now behold from the
lessened height of the ruined keep! The everlasting hills were the same;
the river flowed in the same channel: and yet how unlike, for the
cultivated fields of the present day were mainly wood and marsh; dense
forests of bush clothed the Chilterns; Cholsey Common, naked and bare,
stretched on to the base of the downs; but on the west were the vast
forests which had filled the vale of White Horse in earlier times, and
now were but slightly broken into clearings, and diversified with

But still more unlike, the men who began to wake into life!

The gaolers were busy with the light breakfasts of their prisoners, or
attending to their cells, which they were forced sometimes to clean out,
to prevent a pestilence; the soldiers were busy attending to their
horses, and scouring their arms; the cooks were busy providing for so
many mouths; the butler was busy with his wines; the armourers and
blacksmiths with mail and weapons; the treasurer was busy with his
accounts, counting the value of last night's raid and assigning his
share of prize-money to each raider, for all had their share, each
according to rank, and so "moss-trooping" was highly popular.

Even the Chaplain, as he returned from his hastily said Mass, which few
attended--only, indeed, the Lady of the Castle, Maude d'Oyley, and her
handmaidens--received his "bonus" as a bribe to Heaven, and pocketed it
without reflecting that it was the price of blood. He was the laziest
individual in the castle. Few there confessed their sins, and fewer
still troubled him in any other spiritual capacity. Still Brian kept him
for the sake of "being in form," as moderns say, and had purposely
sought out an accommodating conscience.

In the terrace, which looked over the glacis towards the Thames, of
which the remains with one window _in situ_ may still be seen, was the
bower of Maude d'Oyley, wife of Brian Fitz-Count and sister of the Lord
of Oxford Castle, as we have before observed. It was called otherwise
"the solar chamber;" perhaps because it was best fitted with windows for
the admission of the sunlight, the openings in the walls being generally
rather loopholes than windows.

The passion for great reception-rooms was as strong in mediæval days as
in our own, and the family apartments suffered for it,--being generally
small and low,--while the banqueting-hall was lofty and spacious, and
the Gothic windows, which looked into the inner quadrangle, were of
ample proportions. But the "ladye's bower" on the second floor consisted
of, first an ante-chamber, where a handmaiden always waited within
hearing of the little silver hand-bell; then a bower or boudoir; then
the bedroom proper. All these rooms were hung with rich tapestry, worked
by the lady and her handmaidens. For in those days, when books were
scarce, and few could read, the work of the needle and the loom was the
sole alleviation of many a solitary hour.

The windows looked over the river, and were of horn, not very
transparent, only translucent; the outer world could but be dimly
discerned in daylight.

There was a hearth at one end of the bower, and "dog-irons" upon it for
the reception of the logs, of which fires were chiefly composed, for
there was as yet no coal in use.

There were two "curule" chairs, that is, chairs in the form of St.
Andrew's Cross, with cushions between the upper limbs, and no backs;
there were one or two very small round tables for the reception of
trifles, and "leaf-tables" between the windows. No one ever sat on these
"curule" chairs save those of exalted rank: three-legged stools were
good enough for ladies in waiting, and the like.

The hangings, which concealed the bare walls, were very beautiful. On
one set was represented Lazarus and Dives; Father Abraham appeared very
much in the style of a mediæval noble, and on his knee, many sizes
smaller, sat Lazarus. In uncomfortable proximity to their seats was a
great yawning chasm, and smoke looking very substantial, as represented
in wool-work, arose thence, while some batlike creatures, supposed to be
fiends, sported here and there. On the other side lay Dives in the midst
of rosy flames of crimson wool, and his tongue, which was stretched out
for the drop of water, was of such a size, that one wondered how it ever
could have found space in the mouth. But for all this, the lesson taught
by the picture was not a bad one for the chambers of barons, if they
would but heed it; it is to be feared it was little heeded just then in
Wallingford Castle.

There was no carpet on the floor, only rushes, from the marshes. The
Countess sat on her "curule" chair in front of the blazing fire. Three
maidens upon three-legged stools around her were engaged on embroidery.
They were all of high rank, entrusted to her guardianship, for she liked
to surround herself with blooming youth. _She_ was old,--her face was
wrinkled, her eyes were dull,--but she had a sweet smile, and was quite
an engaging old lady, although, of course, with the reserve which
became, or was supposed to become, her high rank.

A timid knock at the door, and another maiden entered.

"Jeannette, thou art late this evening."

"I was detained in Dame Ursula's room; she needed my help, lady."


"To attend to the wounded of last night's raid."

"Ah, yes, we have heard but few particulars, and would fain learn more.
Send and see whether either of the young squires Osric or Alain can come
and give us the details."

And shortly Osric entered, dressed in his handsomest tunic--the garb of
peace, and properly washed and combed for the presence of ladies.

He bowed reverently to the great dame, of whom he stood in more awe than
of her stern husband: he was of that awkward age when lads are always
shy before ladies.

But her kind manner cheered him.

"So thou didst ride last night, Osric?"

"I did, my lady."

"Come, tell us all about it."

"We started, as thou knowest, soon after the arrival of the prisoner
William Martel, to harry his lands."

"We all saw you start; and I hear the Crowmarsh people saw you too."

"And assailed us at Bensington."

"And now tell me, my Osric, didst thou not slay one of Lord Ranulph's

"I did, by my good fortune, and his ill-luck."

"And so thou shouldst receive the meed of valour from the fair. Come,
what sayest thou, ladies?"

"He should indeed; he is marvellous young to be so brave."

"We are short of means to reward our brave knights and squires, but take
this ring;" and she gave one containing a valuable gem; "and we only
grieve it is not of more worth."

So Osric, encouraged, continued his tale; and those fair ladies--and
fair they were--laughed merrily at his narration of the burning of
Watlington, and would have him spare no details.

"Thou hast done well, my Osric. Come, thou wilt be a knight; thou dost
not now pine for the forest?"

"Not now; I have grown to love adventures."

"And it is so exciting to ride by night, as thou didst last winter with
the Empress Queen."

"But I love the summer nights, with their sweet freshness, best."

"Thou dost not remember thy boyhood with regret now, and wish it back

"Not now." And Osric made his bow and departed.

"There is a mystery about that youth; he is not English, as my lord
thinks; there is not an atom of it about him," said the Countess, and
fell into a fit of musing.


From the halls of pleasure let us turn to the dungeons beneath; but
first a digression.

Even mediæval barons were forced to keep their accounts, or to employ,
more commonly, a "scrivener" or accountant for that purpose; and all
this morning Brian was closeted with his man of business, looking over
musty rolls and parchments, from which extract after extract was read,
bearing little other impression on the mind of the poor perplexed Baron
than that he was grievously behind in his finances. So he despatched the
scrivener to negotiate a farther advance--loan he called it--from the
mayor, while he summoned Osric, who was quick at figures, to his

"There is scarcely enough money to pay the Brabanters, and they will
mutiny if kept short: that raid last night was a god-send," said Brian
to himself.

Osric arrived. The Baron felt lighter of heart when the youth he loved
was with him. It was another case of Saul and David. And furthermore,
the likeness was not a superficial one. Often did Osric touch the harp,
and sing the lays of love and war to his patron, for so much had he
learned of his grandsire.

They talked of the previous evening's adventures, and Brian was
delighted to draw Osric out, and to hear him express sentiments so
entirely at variance with his antecedents, as he did under the Baron's
deft questions.

So they continued talking until the scrivener returned, and then the
Baron asked impatiently--

"Well, man! and what does the mayor say?"

"That their resources are exhausted, and that you are very much in their
debt already."

The reader need not marvel at this bold answer. Brian dared not use
violence to his own burghers; it would have been killing the goose who
laid the golden eggs. In our men of commerce began the first germs of
English liberty. Men would sometimes yield to all other kinds of
violence, but the freemen of the towns, even amidst the wild barons of
Germany, held their own; and so did the burgesses of Wallingford: they
had their charter signed and sealed by Brian, and ratified by Henry the

"The greedy caitiffs," he said; "well, we must go and see the dungeons.
Osric, come with me."

Osric had seldom been permitted to do this before. He had only once or
twice been "down below." Perhaps Brian had feared to shock him, and now
thought him seasoned, as indeed he seemed to be the night before, and in
his talk that day.

And here let me advise my gentler readers, who hate to read of violence
and cruelty, to skip the rest of this chapter, which may be read by
stronger-minded readers as essential to a complete picture of life at
Wallingford Castle. What men once had to bear, we may bear to read.

They went first to the dungeon in the north tower, where William, Lord
of Shirburne, was confined. Tustain the gaoler and two satellites
attended, and opened the door of the cell. It was a cold, bare room: a
box stuffed with leaves and straw, with a coverlet and pillow for a bed;
a rough bench; a rude table--that was all.

The prisoner could not enjoy the scenery; his only light was from a
grated window above, of too small dimensions to allow a man to pass
through, even were the bars removed.

"How dost thou like my hospitality, William of Shirburne?"

"I suppose it is as good as I should have shown thee."

"Doubtless: we know each other. Now, what wilt thou pay for thy ransom?"

"A thousand marks."

Brian laughed grimly.

"Thou ratest thyself at the price of an old Jew."

"What dost thou ask?"

"Ten thousand marks, or the Castle of Shirburne and its domains."

"Never! thou villain--robber!"

"Thou wilt change thy mind: thou mayst despatch a messenger for the
money, who shall have free conduct to come and go; and mark me, if thou
dost not pay within a week, thou shalt be manacled and removed to the
dungeons below, to herd with my defaulting debtors, and a week after to
a lower depth still."

Then he turned as if to depart, but paused and said, "It is a pity this
window is so high in the wall, otherwise thou mightst have seen a fine
blaze last night about Shirburne and its domains."

He laughed exultantly.

"Do thy worst, thou son of perdition; my turn may yet come," replied

And the Baron departed, accompanied still by Osric.

"Osric," said he, "thou hast often asked to visit the lower dungeons:
thou mayst have thy wish, and see how we house our guests there; and
also in a different capacity renew thine acquaintance with the
torture-chambers: thou shalt be the notary."

"My lord, thou dost recall cruel memories."

"Nay, it was for love of thee. I have no son, and my bowels yearned for
one; it was gentle violence for thine own good. I know not how it was,
but I could not even then have done more than frighten thee. Thou wilt
see I can hurt others without wincing. Say, wouldst thou fear to see
what torture is like? it may fall to thy duty to inflict it some day,
and in these times one must get hardened either to inflict or endure."

"I may as well learn all I have to learn; but I love it not. I do not
object to fighting; but in cold blood----"

"Well, here is the door which descends to the lower realms."

They descended through a yawning portal to the dungeons. The steps were
of gray stone: they went down some twenty or thirty, and then entered a
corridor--dark and gloomy--from which opened many doors on either side.

Dark, but not silent. Many a sigh, many a groan, came from behind those
doors, but neither Brian nor his squire heeded them.

"Which shall I open first?" said Tustain.

"The cell of Nathan, the Abingdon Jew."

The door was a huge block of stone, turning upon a pivot. It disclosed a
small recess, about six feet by four, paved with stone, upon which lay
some foul and damp litter. A man was crouched upon this, with a long,
matted beard, looking the picture of helpless misery.

"Well, Nathan, hast been my guest long enough? Will not change of air
do thee good?"

"I have no more money to give thee."

"Then I must bid the tormentor visit thee again. Thy race is accursed,
and I cannot offer a better burnt-offering to Heaven than a Jew."

"Mercy, Baron! I have borne so much already."

"Mercy is to be bought: the price is a thousand marks of gold."

"I have not a hundred."

"Osric," said Brian; and gave his squire instructions to fetch the

"We will spare thee the grate yet awhile; but I have another plan in
view. Coupe-gorge, canst thou draw teeth?"

"Yes," said the tormentor, grinning, who had come at Osric's bidding.

"Then bring me a tooth from the mouth of this Nathan every day until his
ransom arrive. Nathan, thou mayst write home--a letter for each tooth."
And with a merry laugh they passed on to the other dungeons.

There was one who shared his cell with toads and adders, introduced for
his discomfort; another round whose neck and throat a hideous thing
called a _sachentage_ was fastened. It was thus made: it was fastened to
a beam, and had a sharp iron to go round a man's neck and throat, so
that he might nowise sit or lie or sleep, but he bore all the iron.

In short, the castle was full of prisoners, and they were subjected to
daily tortures to make them disclose their supposed hidden treasures, or
pay the desired ransom. Here were many hapless Jews, always the first
objects of cruelty in the Middle Ages; here many usurers, paying
interest more heavy than they had ever charged others; here also many of
the noblest and purest mixed up with some of the vilest upon earth.

Well might the townspeople complain that they were startled in their
sleep by the cries and shrieks which came from the grim towers.

And the Baron, followed by Osric, went from dungeon to dungeon; in some
cases obtaining promises of ransom to be paid, in others hearing of
treasures, real or imaginary, buried in certain places, which he bid
Osric note, that search might be made.

"Woe to them who fool me," he said.

Then they came to a dungeon in which was a chest, sharp and narrow, in
which one poor tormented wight lay in company with sharp flints; as the
light of the torch they bore flashed upon him, his eyes, red and lurid,
gleamed through the open iron framework of the lid which fastened him

"This man was the second in command of a band of English outlaws, who
made much spoil at Norman expense. Now I slew his chief in fair combat
on the downs, and this man succeeded him, and waged war for a long time,
until I took him; and here he is. How now, Herwald, dost want to get out
of thy chest?"

A deep groan was the only reply.

"Then disclose to me the hidden treasures of thy band."

"We have none."

"Persevere then in that lie, and die in thy misery."

Osric felt very sick. He had not the nerves of his chief, and now he
felt as if he were helping the torture of his own countrymen; and,
moreover, there was a yet deeper feeling. Recollections were brought to
his mind in that loathsome dungeon which, although indistinct and
confused, yet had some connection with his own early life. What had his
father been? The grandfather had carefully hidden all those facts, known
to the reader, from Osric, but old Judith had dropped obscure hints.

He longed to get out of this accursed depth into the light of day, yet
felt ashamed of his own weakness. He heard the misery of these dens
turned into a joke by Alain and others every day. He had brought
prisoners into the castle himself--for the hideous receptacles--and been
complimented on his prowess and success; yet humanity was not quite
extinguished in his breast, and he felt sick of the scenes.

But he had not done. They came to the torture-chamber, where
recalcitrant prisoners, who would not own their wealth, were hanged up
by the feet and smoked with foul smoke: some were hanged up by the
thumbs, others by the head, and burning rings were put on their feet.
The torturers put knotted strings about men's heads, and writhed them
till they went into the brain. In short, the horrid paraphernalia of
cruelty was entered into that day with the utmost zest, and all for
gold, accursed gold--at least, that was the first object; but we fear at
last the mere love of cruelty was half the incitement to such doings.

And all this time Brian sat as judge, and directed the torturers with
eye or hand; and Osric had to take notes of the things the poor wretches
said in their delirium.

At last it was over, and they ascended to the upper day.

"How dost thou like it, Osric?" said Alain, whom they met on the

Osric shook his head.

"It is nothing when you are used to it; I used to feel squeamish at

"I never shall like it," whispered Osric.

The whisper was so earnest that Alain looked at him in surprise; Osric
only answered by something like a sigh. The Baron heard him not.

"Thou hast done well for a beginner," said Brian; "how dost thou like
the torture chamber?"

"I was there in another capacity once."

"And thou hast not forgot it. But we must remember these _canaille_ are
only made for such uses--only to disgorge their wealth for their
betters, or to furnish sport."

"How should we like it ourselves?"

"You might as well object to eating venison, and say how should we like
it if we were the deer?"

"But does not God look upon all alike?"

They were on the castle green. Upon the sward some ants had raised a
little hill.

"Look at these ants," said Brian; "I believe they have a sort of kingdom
amongst themselves--some are priests, some masters, some slaves, one is
king, and the like: to themselves they seem very important. Now I will
place my foot upon the hill, and ruin their republic. Just so are the
gods to us, if there be gods. They care as little about men as I about
the ants; our joys, our griefs, our good deeds, our bad deeds, are alike
to them. I was in deep affliction once about my poor leprous boys. I
prayed with all my might; I gave alms; I had Masses said--all in vain.
Now I go my own way, and you see I do not altogether fail of success,
although I buy it with the tears and blood of other men."

This seemed startling, nay, terrible to Osric.

"Yet, Osric, I can love, and I can reward fidelity; be true to me, and I
will be truer to you than God was to me--that is, if there be a God,
which I doubt."

Osric shuddered; and well he might at this impious defiance.

Then this strange man was seized with a remorse, which showed that after
all there was yet some good left in him.

"Nay, pardon me, my Osric; I wish not to shake thy faith; if it make
thee happy, keep it. Mine are perchance the ravings of disappointment
and despair. There are times when I think the most wretched of my
captives happier than I. Nay, _keep_ thy faith if thou canst."



We are loth to leave our readers too long in the den of tyranny: we pant
for free air; for the woods, even if we share them with hermits and
lepers--anything rather than the towers of Wallingford under Brian
Fitz-Count, his troopers and free lances.

So we will fly to the hermitage where his innocent sons have found
refuge for two years past, under the fostering care of Meinhold the
hermit, and see how they fare.

First of all, they had not been reclaimed to Byfield. It is true they
had been traced, and Meinhold had been "interviewed"; but so earnestly
had both he and the boys pleaded that they might be allowed to remain
where they were, that assent was willingly given, even Father Ambrose
feeling that it was for the best; only an assurance was required that
they would not stray from the neighbourhood of the cell, and it was
readily given.

Of course their father was informed, and he made no opposition,--the
poor boys were dead to him and the world. Leprosy was incurable: if they
were happy--"let them be."

So they enjoyed the sweet, simple life of the forest. They found
playmates in every bird and beast; they learned to read at last; they
joined the hermit in the recitation of two at least of the "hours" each
day--_Lauds_ and _Vespers_, the morning and evening offerings of praise.
They learned to sing, and chanted _Benedictus_ and _Magnificat_, as well
as the hymns _Ecce nunc umbræ_ and _Lucis Creator optime_.

"We sing very badly, do we not?"

"Not worse than the brethren of St. Bernard."

"Tell us about them."

"They settled in a wild forest,--about a dozen in number. They could not
sing their offices, for they lacked an ear for music; but they said God
should at least be honoured by the _Magnificat_ in song; so they did
their best, although it is said they frightened the very birds away.

"Now one day a wandering boy, the son of a minstrel, came that way and
craved hospitality. He joined them at Vespers, and when they came to the
_Magnificat_, he took up the strain and sang it so sweetly that the
birds all came back and listened, entranced; and the old monks were
silent lest they should spoil so sweet a chant with their croaking and
nasal tones.

"That evening an Angel flew straight from Heaven and came to the prior.

"'My lady hath sent me to learn why _Magnificat_ was not sung to-night?'

"'It was sung indeed--so beautifully.'

"'Nay, it ascended no farther than human ken; the singer was only
thinking of his own sweet voice.'

"Then they sent that boy away; and, doubtless, he found his consolation
amongst troubadours and trouveres. So you see, my children, the heart is
everything--not the voice."

"Yet I should not like to sing so badly as to frighten the birds away,"
said Richard.

So the months passed away; and meanwhile the leprosy made its insidious
progress. The red spot on the hermit's hand deepened and widened until
the centre became white as snow; and so it formed a ghastly ring, which
began to ulcerate in the centre, the ulcer eating deep into the flesh.

Richard's arm was now wholly infected, and the elbow-joint began to get
useless. Evroult's disease extended to the neighbouring regions of the
face, and disfigured the poor lad terribly.

Such were the stages of this terrible disease; but there was little
pain attending it--only a sense of uneasiness, sometimes feverish heats
or sudden chills, resembling in their nature those which attend marsh or
jungle fevers, ague, and the like. Happily these symptoms were not

And through these stages the unfortunate boys we have introduced to our
readers were slowly passing; but the transitions were so gradual that
the patient became almost hardened to them. Richard was so patient; he
had no longer a left hand, but he never complained.

"It is the road, dear child, God has chosen for us, and His Name is
'Love,'" said the hermit. "Every step of the way has been foreordained
by Him Who tasted the bitter cup for us; and when we have gained the
shore of eternity we shall see that infinite wisdom ordered it all for
the best."

"Is it really so? Can it be for the best?" said Evroult.

"Listen, my son: this is God's Word; let me read it to you." And from
his Breviary he read this extract from that wondrous Epistle to the

"'For we know that all things work together for good to them that love
God, who are the called according to His purpose.'"

"Now God has called you out of this wicked world: you might have spent
turbid, restless lives of fighting and bloodshed, chasing the phantom
called 'glory,' and then have died and gone where all hope is left
behind. Is it not better?"

"Yes, _it is_," said Richard; "_it is_, Evroult, is it not--better as it

"Nay, Richard, but had I been well, I had been a knight like my father.
Oh, what have we not lost!"

"An awful doom at the end perhaps," said Meinhold. "Let me tell you what
I saw with mine own eyes. A rich baron died near here who had won great
renown in the wars, in which, nevertheless, he had been as merciless as
barons too often are. Well, he left great gifts to the Church, and money
for many Masses for his soul: so he was buried with great pomp--brought
to be buried, I mean, in the priory church he had founded.

"Now when we came to the solemn portion of the service, when the words
are said which convey the last absolution and benediction of the Church,
the corpse sat upright in the bier and said, in an awful tone, 'By the
justice of God, I am condemned to Hell.' The prior could not proceed;
the body was left lying on the bier; and at last it was decided so to
leave it till the next day, and then resume the service.

"But the second day, when the same words were repeated, the corpse rose
again and said, 'By the justice of God, I am condemned to Hell.'

"We waited till the third day, determined if the interruption occurred
again to abandon the design of burying the deceased baron in the church
he had founded. A great crowd assembled around, but only the monks dared
to enter the church where the body lay. A third time we came to the same
words in the office, and we who were in the choir saw the body rise in
the winding-sheet, the dull eyes glisten into life, and heard the awful
words for the third time, 'By the justice of God, I am condemned to

"After a long pause, during which we all knelt, horror-struck, the prior
bade us take the body from the church, and bade his friends lay it in
unconsecrated ground, away from the church he had founded. So you see a
man of blood cannot always bribe Heaven with gifts."

"It is no use then to found churches and monasteries; I have heard my
father say the same," said Evroult.

"Yet in any case it is better than to build castles to become dens of
cruelty--to torture captives and spread terror through a neighbourhood."

"It is pleasant to be the lord of such a castle," said the incorrigible
Evroult, "and to be the master of all around."

"And, alas, my boy, if it end in like manner with you as with the baron
whose story I have just related, of what avail will it all be?"

"Yes, brother, we are better as we are; God meant it for our good, and
we may thank Him for it," said Richard quite sincerely.

Evroult only sighed as a wolf might were he told how much more
nutritious grass is than mutton; inherited instinct, unsubdued as yet by
grace, was too strong within him. But let us admire his truthfulness; he
would not say what he did not mean. Many in his place would have said
"yes" to please his brother and the kind old hermit, but Evroult scorned
such meanness.

There is little question that had he escaped this scourge he would have
made a worthy successor to Brian Fitz-Count, but--

     "His lot forbade, nor circumscribed alone
       His growing virtues but his crimes confined,
     Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
       Or shut the gates of mercy on mankind."

Still, let it be remembered, that in Stephen's days we see only the
worst side of the Norman nobility. In less than a century the barons
rallied around that man of God, Stephen Langton, and wrested Magna
Charta from the tyrant John, the worst of the Plantagenets. Proud by
that time of the name "Englishmen," they laid the foundations of our
greatness, and jealously guarded our constitutional liberties; and it
was not until after the Wars of the Roses, in which so many of the
ancient houses perished, that a Norman baron was said to be "as scarce
as a wolf," that the Bloodstained House of Tudor was enabled to trample
upon English liberty, and to reign as absolute monarchs over a prostrate

All through the summer our boys were very happy, in spite of Evroult's
occasional longings for the world. They cultivated a garden hard by
their cave, and they gathered the roots and fruits of the forest for
their frugal repast. They parched the corn; they boiled the milk and
eggs which the rustics spontaneously brought; they made the bread and
baked the oatcakes. They were quite vegetarians now, save the milk and
eggs; and throve upon their simple fare; but it took, as our readers
perceive, a long course of vegetable diet to take the fire out of

Then came the fall of the leaf, when the trees, like some vain mortals,
put on their richest clothing wherein to die; and damps and mists arose
around, driving them within the shelter of their cave; then winter with
its chilling frosts, keener then than now, and their stream was turned
into ice. And had they not, like the ants, laid by in summer, they would
have starved sadly in winter.

In the inner cave was a natural chimney, an orifice communicating with
the outer air. Fuel was plentiful in the forest, and as they sat around
the fire, Meinhold told them stories of the visible and invisible world,
more or less, of course, of a supernatural character, like those we have
already heard. His was an imaginary world, full of quaint superstitions
which were very harmless, for they left the soul even more reliant and
dependent upon Divine help; for was not this a world wherein Angels and
demons engaged in terrestrial warfare, man's soul the prize? and were
not the rites and Sacraments of the Church sent to counteract the spells
and snares of the phantom host?

And as they sat around their fire, the wind made wild and awful music in
the subterranean caves: sometimes it shrieked, then moaned, as if under
the current of earthly origin there was a perpetual wail of souls in

"Father, may not these passages lead down to Purgatory, or even to the
abode of the lost?"

"Nay, my child, I think it only the wind;" but he shuddered as he spoke.

"You think _they_ lie beneath the earth, Richard?"

"Yes, the heavens above the stars, which are like the golden nails of
its floor; the earth--our scene of conflict beneath; and the depths
below for those who fail and reject their salvation," said Meinhold,
replying for the younger boy.

"Then the burning mountains of which we have heard are the portals of

"So it is commonly supposed," said the hermit. The reader will laugh at
his simple cosmogony: he had no idea, poor man, that the earth is round.

"Please let me explore these caves," said Evroult.

"Art thou not afraid?" said Meinhold.

"No," said he; "I am never afraid."

"But I fear _for_ thee; there are dark chasms and a black gulf within,
and I fear, my child, lest they be tenanted by evil spirits, and that
the sounds we hear at night be not all idle winds."

"You once said they were winds."

"Yes, but do winds utter blasphemies?"


"Of course not. Is it not written, 'O all ye winds of God, bless ye the
Lord?' Now as I lay on my bed last night, methought the sounds took
articulate form, and they were words of cursing and blasphemy, such as
might have come from a lost soul."

A modern would say that the hermit had a sort of nightmare, but in those
credulous days the supernatural solution was always accepted.

"And, my son, if there be, as I fear, evil spirits who lurk in the
bowels of the earth, and lure men to their destruction, I would not
allow thee to rush into danger."

"No, brother, think no more of it," said Richard.

And Evroult promised not to do so, if he could help it.

"There be caves in the African deserts, of which I have heard, where
fiends do haunt, and terrify travellers even to death. One there was
which was, to look upon, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, but
they who passed a night there--and it was the only resting-place in the
desert for many weary miles--went mad, frightened out of their senses
by some awful vision which blasted those who gazed."

"But ought Christian men to fear such things?"

"No; neither ought they without a call to endanger themselves: 'He shall
give His Angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways.' Now our
way does not lie through these dark abodes."

So the caves remained unexplored.

But we must return to Wallingford Castle again, and the active life of
the fighting world of King Stephen's days. Suffice it for the present to
say, that the lives of the hermit and his two pupils, for such they
were, continued to roll on uneventfully for many months--indeed, until
the occurrence of totally unexpected events, which we shall narrate in
due course.



An excessive rainfall during the late summer of this year destroyed the
hopes of the harvest,--such hopes as there were, for tillage had been
abandoned, save where the protection of some powerful baron gave a fair
probability of gathering in the crops. In consequence a dreadful famine
succeeded during the winter, aggravated by the intense cold, for a frost
set in at the beginning of December and lasted without intermission till
February, so that the Thames was again frozen, and the ordinary passage
of man and horse was on the ice of the river.

The poor people, says the author of _The Acts of King Stephen_, died in
heaps, and so escaped the miseries of this sinful world,--a phrase of
more meaning then, in people's ears, than it is now, when life is
doubtless better worth living than it could have been then, in King
Stephen's days, when horrible and unexampled atrocities disgraced the
nation daily, and the misery of the poor was caused by the cruel tyranny
of the rich and powerful.

All this time our young friend Osric continued to be the favourite
squire of Brian Fitz-Count, and, we grieve to say, became habituated to
crime and violence. He no longer shuddered as of yore at the atrocities
committed in the dungeons of the castle, or in the constant raids: the
conscience soon became blunted, and he felt an ever-increasing delight
in strife and bloodshed, the joy of the combat, and in deeds of valour.

_Facilis descensus averno_, wrote the poet, or, as it has been

     "The gate of Hell stands open night and day,
     Smooth the descent, and easy is the way;
     But to return and view the upper skies,
     In this the toil, in this the labour lies."

For a long period he had not visited his grandfather--the reader will
easily guess why; but he took care that out of Brian's prodigal bounty
the daily wants of the old man should be supplied, and he thought all
was well there--he did not know that the recipient never made use of
Brian's bounty. He had become ashamed of his English ancestry: it needed
a thunder-clap to recall him to his better self.

There were few secrets Brian concealed from his favourite squire, now an
aspirant for knighthood, and tolerably sure to obtain his wish in a few
more months. The deepest dungeons in the castle were known to him, the
various sources of revenue, the claims for feudal dues, the tribute paid
for protection, the rentals of lands, the purchase of forest rights,
and, less creditable, the sums extracted by torture or paid for
ransom,--all these were known to Osric, whose keen wits were often
called on to assist the Baron's more sluggish intellect in such matters.

Alain was seldom at Wallingford; he had already been knighted by the
Empress Maude, and was high in her favour, and in attendance on her
person, so Osric lacked his most formidable rival in the Baron's graces.

He could come and go almost when he pleased; he knew the secret exit to
the castle, only known to a few chief confidants--two or three at the
most, who had been allowed to use it on special necessity.

It led to a landing-place on the bank of the river, and blindfolded
prisoners, to be kept in secret, were sometimes introduced to their
doleful lodgings through this entrance.

Active in war, a favourite in the bower, possessing a good hand at
games, a quick eye for business, Osric soon became a necessity to Brian
Fitz-Count: his star was in the ascendant, and men said Brian would
adopt him as his son.

Constitutionally fearless, a born lover of combat, a good archer who
could kill a bird on the wing, a fair swordsman, skilled in the
exercises of chivalry,--what more was needed to make a young man happy
in those days?

A quiet conscience? Well, Osric had quieted his: he was fast becoming a
convert to Brian's sceptical opinions, which alone could justify his
present course of action.

The castle was increasing: the dungeon aforementioned had been built,
called Brian's Close,[24] with surmounting towers. The unhappy William
Martel was its first inmate, and there he remained until his obstinacy
was conquered, and the Castle of Shirburne ceded to Brian, with the
large tract of country it governed and the right of way across the

Brian Fitz-Count was now at the height of his glory--the Empress was
mistress of half the realm; he was her chief favourite and
minister--when events occurred which somewhat disturbed his serene
self-complacency, and seemed to infer the existence of a God of justice
and vengeance.


It was early one fine day when a messenger from the woods reached the
castle, and with some difficulty found access to Osric, bringing the
tidings that his grandfather was dying, and would fain see him once more
before he died.

"Dying! well, he is very old; we must all die," was Osric's first
thought, coupled with a sense of relief, which he tried to disguise from
himself, that a troublesome Mentor was about to be removed. Now he might
feel like a _Norman_, but he had still a lingering love for the old man,
the kind and loving guardian of his early years; so he sought Brian, and
craved leave of absence.

"It is awkward," replied the Baron; "I was about to send thee to
Shirburne. We have conquered Martel's resolution at last. I threatened
that the rack should not longer be withheld, and that we would make him
a full foot longer than God created him. Darkness and scant food have
tamed him. Had we kept him in his first prison, with light and air, with
corn and wine, he would never have given way. After all, endurance is a
thing very dependent on the stomach."

"I will return to-morrow, my lord;" and Osric looked pleadingly at him.

"Not later. I cannot go to Shirburne myself, as I am expecting an
important messenger from _Queen_ Maude (of course _he_ called her
Queen), and can trust none other but thee."

"It is not likely that any other claim will come between me and thee, my
lord; this is passing away, and I shall be wholly thine."

The Baron smiled; his proud heart was touched.

"Go, then, Osric," he said, "and return to-morrow."

And so they parted.


Osric rode rapidly through the woods, up the course of the brook; we
described the road in our second chapter. He passed the Moor-towns, left
the Roman camp of Blewburton on the left, and was soon in the thick maze
of swamp and wood which then occupied the country about Blewbery.

As he drew near the old home, many recollections crowded upon him, and
he felt, as he always did there, something more like an Englishman. It
was for this very reason he so seldom came "home" to visit his

He found his way across the streams: the undergrowth had all been
renewed since the fire which the hunters kindled four years agone; the
birds were singing sweetly, for it was the happy springtide for them,
and they were little affected by the causes which brought misery to less
favoured mankind; the foliage was thick, the sweet hawthorn exhaled its
perfume, the bushes were bright with "May." Ah me, how lovely the woods
are in spring! how happy even this world might be, had man never sinned.

But within the hut were the unequivocal signs of the rupture between man
and his Maker--the tokens which have ever existed since by sin came

Upon the bed in the inner room lay old Sexwulf, in the last stage of
senile decay. He was dying of no distinct disease, only of general
breaking-up of the system. Man cannot live for ever; he wears out in
time, even if he escape disease.

The features were worn and haggard, the eye was yet bright, the mind
powerful to the last.

He saw the delight of his eyes, the darling of his old age, enter, and
looked sadly upon him, almost reproachfully. The youth took his passive
hand in his warm grasp, and imprinted a kiss upon the wrinkled forehead.

"He has had all he needed--nothing has been wanting for his comfort?"
said Osric inquiringly.

"We have been able to keep him alive, but he would not touch your gold,
or aught you sent of late."

"Why not?" asked Osric, deeply hurt.

"He said it was the price of blood, wrung, it might be, from the hands
of murdered peasants of your own kindred."

Ah! that shaft went home. Osric knew it was _just_. What else was the
greater portion of the Baron's hoard derived from, save rapine and

"It was cruel to let him starve."

"He has not starved; we have had other friends, but the famine has been
sore in the land."

"Other friends! who?"

"Yes; especially the good monks of Dorchester."

"What do they know of my grandfather?"

Judith pursed up her lips, as much as to say, "That is my secret, and if
you had brought the thumb-screws, of which you know the use too well,
you should not get it out of me."

"Osric," said a deep, yet feeble voice.

The youth returned to the bedside.

"Osric, I am dying. They say the tongues of dying men speak sooth, and
it may be because, as the gates of eternity open before them, the
vanities of earth disappear. Now I have a last message to leave for you,
a tale to unfold before I die, which cannot fail of its effect upon your
heart. It is the secret entrusted to me when you were brought an infant
to this hut, which I was forbidden to unfold until you had gained years
of discretion. It may be, my dear child, you have not yet gained them--I
trow not, from what I hear."

"What harm have mine enemies told of me?"

"_That_ thou shalt hear by and by; meanwhile let me unfold my tale, for
the sands of life are running out. It was some seventeen years ago this
last autumn, that thy father----"

"Who was he--thou hast ever concealed his name?"

"Wulfnoth of Compton."

Osric started.

"Doth he live?"

"He doth."


"He is a monk of Dorchester Abbey. I may tell the secret now; Brian
himself could not hurt him there."

"Why should he _wish_ to hurt him?"

"Listen, and your ears shall learn the truth. Thy father was my guest in
this hut. Seventeen years ago this last autumn he had been hunting all
day, and was on the down above, near the mound where Holy Birinus once
preached, as the sun set, when he perceived, a few miles away, the
flames of a burning house, and knew that it was his own, for he lived in
a recess of the downs far from other houses. He hurried towards the
scene, sick with fear, but it was miles away, and when he reached the
spot he saw a dark band passing along the downs, a short distance off,
in the opposite direction. His heart told him they were the
incendiaries, but he stopped not for vengeance. Love to his wife and
children hurried him on. When he arrived the roof had long since fallen
in; a few pitying neighbours stood around, and shook their heads as they
saw him, and heard his pitiful cries for his wife and children. Fain
would he have thrown himself into the flames, but they restrained him,
and told him he had one child yet to live for, accidentally absent at
the house of a neighbour.--It was thou, my son."

"But who had burnt the house? Who had slain my poor mother, and my
brothers and sisters, if I had any?"

"Brian Fitz-Count, Lord of Wallingford."

"Brian Fitz-Count!" said Osric in horror.

"None other."

Osric stood aghast--confounded.

"Because your father would not pay tribute, maintaining that the land
was his own freehold since it had been confirmed to his father, thy
paternal grandfather, by the Norman courts, which acknowledged no
tenure, no right of possession, dating before the Conquest; but Wigod of
Wallingford was thy grandfather's friend, and he had secured to him the
possession of the ancestral domains. This Brian denied, and claimed the
rent of his vassal, as he deemed thy father. Thy father refused to obey,
and appealed to the courts, and Brian's answer was this deed of murder."

Osric listened as one in a dream.

"Oh, my poor father! What did he do?"

"He brought thee here. 'Henceforth,' he said, 'I am about to live the
life of a hunted wolf, my sole solace to slay Normans: sooner or later I
shall perish by their hands, for Satan is on their side, and helps them,
and God and His Saints are asleep; but take care of my child; let him
not learn the sad story of his birth till he be of age; nor let him even
know his father's name. Only let him be brought up as an Englishman; and
if he live to years of discretion, thou mayst tell him all, if I return
not to claim him before then.'"

"And he has never returned--never?"

"Never: he became a captain of an outlawed band, haunting the forests
and slaying Normans, until, four years ago, he met Brian Fitz-Count
alone on these downs, and the two fought to the death."

"And Brian conquered?"

"He did, and left thy father for dead; but the good monks of Dorchester
chanced to be passing across the downs from their house at Hermitage,
and they found the body, and discovered that there was yet life therein.
They took him to Dorchester, and as he was unable to use sword or lance
again, he consented to take the vows, and become a novice. He found his
vocation, and is now, I am told, happy and useful, fervent in his
ministrations amongst the poor and helpless; but he has never yet been

"And now, Osric, my son," for the youth sat as one stunned, "what is it
that I hear of thee?--that thou art, like a cannibal,[25] preying upon
thine own people; that thy hand is foremost in every deed of violence
and bloodshed; that thou art a willing slave of the murderer of thy
kindred. Boy, I wonder thy mother has not returned from the grave to
curse thee!"

"Why--why did you let me become his man?"

The old man felt the justice of the words.

"Why did you not let me die first?"

"Thou forgettest I was not by thee when thou didst consent, or I might
have prevented thee by telling thee the truth even at that terrible
moment; but when thou wast already pledged to him, I waited for the time
when I might tell thee, never thinking thou wouldst become a _willing_
slave or join in such deeds of atrocity and crime as thou hast done."

"Oh, what shall I do? what shall I do?"

"Thou canst not return, now thou knowest all."

"Never; but he will seek me here."

"Then thou must fly the country."

"Whither shall I go? are any of my father's band left?"

"Herwald, his successor, fell into the power of Brian, and we know not
what was done with him; nor whether he is living or dead."

But Osric knew: he remembered the chest half filled with sharp stones
and its living victim.

"One Thorold succeeded, and they still maintain a precarious existence
in the forests."

"I will seek them; I will yet be true to my country, and avenge my
kindred upon Brian. But oh, grandfather, he has been so good to me! I am
his favourite, his confidant; he was about to knight me. Oh, how
miserable it all is! Would I had never lived--would I were dead."

"He has been thy worst foe. He has taught thee to slay thine own people,
nay, to torture them; he has taught thee--tell me, is it not true?--even
to deny thy God."

"It is true, he has; but not intentionally."

"Thou owest him nought."

"Yet I did love him, and would have died sooner than be faithless to

"So do sorcerers, as I have been told, love Satan, yet it is happy when
they violate that awful faith. Choose, my son, between thy God, thy
country, thy slaughtered kindred, and Brian."

"I do choose--I renounce him: he shall never see me again."

"Fly the country then; seek another clime; go on pilgrimage; take the
cross; and employ thy valour and skill against the Saracens--the
Moslems, the enemies of God."

"I will, God being my helper."

"Thou dost believe then in the God of thy fathers?"

"I think I always did, save when Brian was near. I tried not to believe,
happily in vain."

"_He_ will forgive thee--_He_ is all-merciful. The prodigal son has
returned. Now I am weary: let me rest--let me rest."

Osric wandered forth into the woods. Who shall describe his emotions? It
was as when S. Remigius said to the heathen Clovis, "Burn that thou hast
adored, and adore that thou hast burnt." But the terrible story of the
destruction of his kindred, familiar as he was with like scenes,
overcame him; yet he could not help blaming his father for his long
neglect. Why had he disowned his only surviving son? why had he not
trained him up in the ways of the woods, and in hatred of the Normans?
why had he left him to the mercies of Brian Fitz-Count?

Then again came the remembrance of that strange partiality, even
amounting to fondness, which Brian had ever shown him, and he could but
contrast the coldness and indifference of his own father with the
fostering care of the awful Lord of Wallingford.

But blood is thicker than water: he could no longer serve the murderer
of his kindred--Heaven itself would denounce such an alliance; yet he
did not even now wish to wreak vengeance. He could not turn so suddenly:
the old man's solution was the right one--he would fly the country and
go to the Crusades.

But how to get out of England? it was no easy matter. The chances were
twenty to one that he would either meet his death from some roving band
or be forcibly compelled to join them.

The solution suddenly presented itself.

He would seek his father, take sanctuary at Dorchester, and claim his
aid. Even Brian could not drag him thence; and the monks of all men
would and could assist him to join the Crusades.

Strong in this resolution, he returned to the cottage.

"Your grandfather is asleep; you must not disturb him, Osric, my dear

"Very well, my old nurse, I will sleep too; my heart is very heavy."

He lay down on a pile of leaves and rushes in the outer room, and slept
a troublous sleep. He had a strange dream, which afterwards became
significant. He thought that old Judith came to him and said--

"Boy, go back to Wallingford; '_Brian_,' not 'Wulfnoth,' is the name of
thy father."

The sands of old Sexwulf's life were running fast. The last rites of the
Church were administered to him by the parish priest of Aston Upthorpe
on the day following Osric's arrival. He made no further attempt to
enter into the subject of the last interview with his grandson. From
time to time he pressed the youth's hands, as if to show that he trusted
him now, and that all the past was forgiven; from time to time he looked
upon him with eyes in which revived affection beamed. He never seemed
able to rest unless Osric was in the room.

Wearied out, Osric threw himself down upon his couch that night for
brief repose, but in the still hours of early dawn Judith awoke him.

"Get up--he is passing away."

Osric threw on a garment and entered the chamber. His grandfather was
almost gone; he collected his dying strength for a last blessing,
murmured with dying lips, upon his beloved boy. Then while they knelt
and said the commendatory prayer, he passed away to rejoin those whom he
had loved and lost--the wife of his youth, the children of his early
manhood--passing from scenes of violence and wrong to the land of peace
and love, where all the mysteries of earth are solved.


[24] "The last trace of a dungeon answering the above description, with
huge iron rings fixed in the walls, disappeared about sixty or seventy
years ago."--_History of Wallingford_ (Hedges).

[25] It was a remark of this kind which turned Robert Bruce when
fighting against his own people. "See," said an Englishman, as he saw
Bruce eating with unwashed and reddened hands, "that Scotchman eating
his own blood!"



Sad and weary were the hours to Osric which intervened between the death
and burial of his grandfather. He gazed upon the dear face, where yet
the parting look of love seemed to linger. The sense of desolation
overwhelmed him--his earthly prospects were shattered, his dreams of
ambition ended; but the dead spake not to console him, and the very
heavens seemed as brass; his only consolation that he felt his lapse had
been forgiven, that the departed one had died loving and blessing him.

The only true consolation in such hour of distress is that afforded by
religion, but poor Osric could feel little of this; he had strayed so
far from the gentle precepts which had guarded his boyhood: if he
believed in religion, it was as when Satan looked into the gates of
Paradise from afar. It was not his. He seemed to have renounced his
portion and lot in it, to have sold himself to Satan, in the person of
Brian Fitz-Count.

Yet, he could not even now _hate_ the Baron, as he ought to have done,
according to all regulations laid down for such cases, made and
provided, ever since men began to write novels. Let the reader enter
into his case impartially. He had never known either paternal or
maternal love--the mother, who had perished, was not even a memory;
while, on the other hand, the destroyer had adopted him as a son, and
been as a father to him, distinguishing him from others by an affection
all the more remarkable as coming from a rugged nature, unused to tender
emotions. Again, the horror with which we moderns contemplate such a
scene as his dead grandfather had described, was far less vivid in one
to whom such casualties had been of constant experience, and were
regarded as the usual incidents of warfare. Our readers can easily
imagine the way in which he would have regarded it before he had fallen
under the training of Wallingford Castle.

But it was his own mother, and Brian was her murderer. Ah, if he had but
once known the gentle endearment of a fond mother's love, how different
would have been his feelings! There would have been no need then to
enforce upon him the duty of forsaking the life but yesterday opening so
brightly to his eyes, and throwing himself a waif and a stray upon the
world of strife.

He walked to and fro in the woods, and thought sometimes of all he was
leaving. Sometimes of the terrible fate of her who had borne him. At
another moment he felt half inclined to conceal all, and go back to
Wallingford, as if nothing had happened; the next he felt he could never
again grasp the hand of the destroyer of his kindred.

The hour came for the funeral. The corpse was brought forth on the bier
from the hut which had so long sheltered it in life. They used no
coffins in those days--it was simply wrapped in the "winding-sheet." He
turned back the linen, and gazed upon the still calm face for the last
time ere the bearers departed with their burden. Then he burst into a
passion of tears, which greatly relieved him: it is they who cannot
weep, who suffer most. His grandfather had been father, mother, and all
to him, until a very recent period: and the sweet remembrances and
associations of boyhood returned for a while.

The solemn burial service of our forefathers was unlike our own--perhaps
not so soothing to the mourners, for whom our service seems made; but it
bore more immediate reference to the departed: the service was for
_them_. The prayers of the Church followed them, as in all ancient
liturgies, into that world beyond the grave, as still members of
Christ's mystical body, one with us in the "Communion of Saints."

The procession was in those days commonly formed at the house of the
deceased, but as Sexwulf's earthly home was far from the Church, the
body was met at the lych gate, as in modern times. First went the
cross-bearer, then the mourners, then the priest preceding the bier,
around which lighted torches were borne.

Psalms were now solemnly chanted, particularly the _De Profundis_ and
the _Miserere_, and at the close of each the refrain--

     "Eternal rest give unto him, O Lord,
     And let perpetual light shine upon him."

Then followed the solemn requiem Mass, wherein the great Sacrifice, once
offered on Calvary, was pleaded for the deceased. When the last prayer
had been said, the corpse was sprinkled with hallowed water, and
perfumed with sweet incense, after which it was removed to its last
resting place. The grave was also sprinkled with the hallowed water,
emblematical of the cleansing power of the "Blood of Sprinkling"; and
the body of the ancient thane was committed to the earth, sown in
corruption, to be raised in joy unspeakable, and full of glory.

Around the grave were but few mourners. Famine, pestilence, and war had
removed from time to time those who had known the old thane in his
poverty (for thane he was by birth), but there stood two or three of a
different stamp from the care-worn peasants--men clad in jerkins of
leather, tall, rugged, resolute-looking fellows. One of these watched
Osric closely, and when the last rites were over and the grave-digger
commenced his final labour of filling up the grave, he followed the
funeral party on their homeward road, as they returned to the desolate
home. At last he approached Osric.

"I believe you are Osric, grandson of the true Englishman we have now
laid in the earth?"

"I am that unhappy man."

"Thou art the son of a line of patriots. Thy father died fighting
against the oppressor, and thou art the sole representative of his
family. Canst thou remain longer in the halls of the tyrant?"

"Who art thou?"

"A true Englishman."

"Thorold is thy name, is it not?"

"How didst thou know me?"

"Because my grandfather before he died revealed all to me."

"Then thou wilt cast in thy lot with us?"

"I think not. My father yet lives; you are mistaken in thinking him
dead. He is a monk in Dorchester Abbey."

"He is dead at least to the world; Brian's lance and spear slew him, so
far as that is concerned."

"But I go to ask his advice. I would fain leave this unhappy land and
join the Crusaders."

"And renounce the hope of vengeance upon the slayer of thy kindred?"

"I have eaten of his bread and salt."

"And thou knowest all the secrets of his prison-house. Tell us, hast
thou heard of one Herwald, a follower of thy father?"

"I may not tell thee;" and Osric shuddered.

"The Normans have spoilt thee then, in _deed_ and in _truth_. Wilt thou
not even tell us whether Herwald yet lives?"

"I may not for the present; if my father bid me tell thee, thou shalt
know. Leave me for the present; I have just buried my grandfather; let
me rest for the day at least."

The outlaw, for such he was, ceased to importune him at this plaintive
cry; then like a man who takes a sudden resolution, stepped aside, and
Osric passed on. When he reached home he half expected to find a
messenger from Wallingford chiding his delay; then he sat a brief while
as one who hardly knows what to do, while old Judith brought him a
savoury stew, and bade him eat. Several times she looked at him, like
one who is burning to tell a secret, then pursed up her lips, as if she
were striving to repress a strong inclination to speak.

At length Osric rose up.

"Judith," he said, "I may stay here no longer."

"Thou art going to Dorchester?"

"I am."

"What shall I say when the Lord of Wallingford sends for thee?"

"That I am gone to Dorchester."

"Will that satisfy them?"

"I know not. It must."

"I could tell thee all that thou wilt learn at Dorchester."

"Do so. It may save me the journey."

"I may not. I swore on the Gospels I would not tell the secret to
thy"--she paused--"to Wulfnoth."

"What! another secret?"

"Yes; and one thou dost not, canst not, suspect; but, I think, didst
thou know it, thou wouldst at once return to Wallingford Castle."

"Tell me--tell me all."

"Wouldst have me forsworn? No; seek thy _father_." She emphasised the
word, and then added, "Ask him to let me tell thee the whole truth, if
he will not do so himself; then return and learn more than thy dead
grandfather has told thee, or could have told thee, for he knew not the

"Judith, I will seek my father, and return at once after I have seen

"But the roads are dangerous; beware!"

Osric rose; put on his tunic over a coat of light chain mail; girded his
sword to his side; put on a leathern cap, padded inside with steel, for
in those days prudent men never travelled unarmed; then he bade Judith
farewell, and started for Dorchester, making for the Synodune Hills,
beyond which well-known landmarks Dorchester lay, and beneath the hills
was a ford across the Thames.

He had not gone far--not half a mile--when he heard a rustling of the
branches beyond the brook, and a stern voice cried--


"Who art thou?" he cried.

"Good men and true, and thou art our prisoner."

"If so, come and take me."

"Wilt thou yield thyself unharmed, on the pledge that no harm is
intended thee?"

"I will not. I know thee, Thorold: I seek Dorchester and my father."

"Thou wilt hardly reach it or him to-day. Stand, I say, or we must take
thee by force."

"No man shall make me go with him against my will," cried Osric, and
drew his sword.

Thorold laughed and clapped his hands. Quick as thought five or six men
dashed from the covers which had hidden them in all directions. Osric
drew his sword, but before he could wield it against a foe who met him
face to face, another mastered his arms from behind, and he was a

"Do him no harm; he is his father's son. We only constrain him for his
good. Bring him along."

They led, or rather bore, him through the woods for a long distance,
until they came to a tangled swamp, situated amidst bog and quagmire,
wherein any other men save those acquainted with the path might easily
have sunk up to the neck, or even lost their lives; but in the centre
was a spot of firm ground, and there, beneath the shade of a large tree,
was a fire, before which roasted a haunch of venison, and to the right
and left were sleeping hutches, of the most primitive construction.

"Canst thou eat?"

"I will not eat with thee."

"Thy father's son should not disdain thy father's friend. Listen; if we
have made thee a prisoner, it is to save thee from thyself. The son of a
true Englishman should not shed the blood of his countrymen, nor herd
with his oppressors. Has not thy grandfather taught thee as much?"

"He has indeed; and no longer will I do so, I promise thee."

"Then wilt thou go a little farther, and help us to deliver thy

"Can it be delivered? What can _you_ do?"

"Alas! little; but we do our best and wait better times. Look, my lad,
when things are at their worst the tide turns: the darkest hour is just
before the dawn. Think of this happy land--happy once--now the sport of
robbers and thieves! Think of the hideous dungeons where true Englishmen
rot! Think of the multitudes of innocent folk burnt, racked, tortured,
starved, driven to herd with the beasts! Think of the horrors of famine!
Think of the unburied dead--slain foully, and breeding a pestilence,
which oft destroys their murderers! Think, in short, of Wallingford
Castle and its lord----"

A deep murmur of assent from the recumbent outlaws stretched on the turf

Osric's features twitched; he felt the force of the appeal.

"What do you want of me?"

"Our leader is a miserable captive in the devil's hold you have quitted,
and of which you know the secrets."

"What can I do? They were told me in confidence. Can I break my honour?"

"Confidence! honour! If you had promised the Devil's dam to sell your
soul, would you feel bound to do so?"

"In short," said another, "we _will_ have the secret."

"Nay, Grimbald, patience; he will come right in time. Force is no good
with such as he. He must do what is right, because it _is_ right; and
when he sees it, he will join us heart and soul, or he is not the son of

"He has shown little paternal care for me; yet when you seized me I was
about to seek his direction. Why not let me go, and let him decide for

"A truce to folly. We know what Wulfnoth of old would have said, when
he was our leader. He gave himself heart and soul to the cause--to
avenge thy slaughtered kinsfolk. And now that one whom he trusted and
loved well is a prisoner in that hell which you have left, can we think
that he would hesitate about your duty? Why then waste time in
consulting him? I appeal to your conscience. Where is Herwald?"

Osric was silent.

"By the memory of thy grandfather."

Still silence.

"Of thy murdered mother, expiring in the flames which consumed thy
brothers and sisters."

Osric gave a loud cry.

"No more," he said, "no more; I will tell thee: Herwald lives."


"In the lowest dungeon of Wallingford Castle."

"Hast thou seen him?"


"Does he suffer torture?"


"Of what nature?"

"I hardly dare to tell thee."

"The sachentage?"

"As bad as that; the crucet-chest--the----"

"Stay--wilt thou help us to deliver him?"

"Save my honour."

"Honour! honour! honour!" and they laughed the word to scorn, till the
woods caught the echoes, and seemed to repeat it, "Honour! honour!"

"Get that delusion out of thy mind. To fight for one's country, nay, to
die for it, that is true honour; to deliver the outcast and poor, to
save them from the hands of the ungodly,--it is for this we have brought
thee here. Let me tell thee what I have seen, nay, thou hast seen as
much, and of the woes of thy bleeding country, bleeding at every pore.
If the memory of thy mother stir thee not up, then thou art NIDDERING."

At the sound of this word--this term of utter reproach to an English
ear, worse than "coward" a thousand times, suggesting a depth of
baseness beyond conception--Osric started.

"And deservest to die," said the outlaw who had just spoken.

Osric's pride took alarm at once; his downcast look changed.

"Slay me, then," he said; "the sooner the better."

"Nay, brother, that is not the way--thou wilt spoil it all; we would win
him by _conviction_, not by threats."

"Let me have an hour to think."

"Take some food."


They left him alone, but he knew he was watched, and could not escape,
nor did he wish to; he was yielding to his destiny.

One hour of such mental anguish--the boast of chivalry, the pomp of
power, the false glamour, all giving way to the _conviction_ that the
Englishmen were _right_, and their cause that of truth and justice, nay,
of God!

At the end of the hour he rose to his feet and looked around. The men
were seated at their repast. He approached them.

"Give me of your food."

They did so. Thorold's eyes sparkled with delight; he saw what it meant.

They waited for him to speak; but he satisfied hunger first, then he
drank, and afterwards said calmly--

"Is there any oath of admission to your band?"

"Only to swear to be true to England and Englishmen till death, and to
wage war against their oppressors, of whatsoever degree, with all your
powers. So help you God."

Osric repeated the oath solemnly and distinctly.

The outlaws shouted with joy.

"And now," he said, "let us talk of Herwald, and I will do all I can to
help you to deliver him; but it will be a difficult task. I must take
time to consider it."


Meanwhile old Judith sat at home in the lonely hut, as she had done on
the occasion recorded in the fourth chapter of our tale. Again she sat
by the fire which smoked on the hearth, again she sang quaint snatches
of old songs.

"It is a wise son which knows his own sire," she said, and going to a
corner of the hut, opened once more her poor old rickety chest, from
which she took the packet of musty parchment, containing a ring with a
seal, a few articles of infant attire, a little red shoe, a small frock,
and a lock of maiden's hair.

"Poor Ethra," she said, "how strange thy fate!" and she kissed the lock
of hair again and again. "And now thy boy may inherit his father's
honours and titles unchecked, for his supposed grandfather is here no
longer to claim him, and his half-brothers are lepers. Wulfnoth never
loved him--never. Why, then, should he not give him up to his true
father? Vengeance! to be sure, he should not desire this now. A monk,
fie! fie! Wulfnoth might seek it; Father Alphege cannot, may not. He
will tell Osric the whole truth, or refer him to me; and he may go back
with a clear conscience to Wallingford; and I shall have the proofs
ready, which the Lord of Wallingford would give all he has to possess.
Here they are, stripped from the dead attendants or found on the
helpless babe."

Just then she heard steps approaching; she jealously hid her treasures.

A page dismounted from his horse at the door of the hut.

"Is the squire Osric within?"


A youth of fourteen summers, just what Osric had been when he _began_,
entered the door, and looked curiously around. "What! was _this_ Osric's
home--Osric, the Baron's favourite?"

"He has gone to Dorchester Abbey."

"Dorchester Abbey! he was to have returned last night to Wallingford."

"He stayed for the funeral."

The boy looked amazed. What was an old man's funeral compared with
Brian's orders?

"And his grandfather, dying, bade him go to Dorchester, whence he will
speedily return, and bring, yes, bring with him that shall make full
atonement for his offence, if offence it be."

"It had need be something very valuable then. It might cost some of us
our heads, did we do the like."

"They will not hurt a hair of his, I am sure. You shall have him with
you soon. Ah, yes! very soon."

The boy shook his head, looked once more curiously at the old woman and
the hut, and departed, muttering--

"I should be sorry to stand in Osric's shoes; but then he is a
favourite;" and young Louis of Trouville, page to Brian for the good of
his education, rode down the brook.

"After all, he is no gentleman. Why did my lord choose a page from
amongst the peasants?"


Many had asked that question before.



The time had passed away slowly at the lazar-house at Byfield. Life was
tedious there to most people, least of all to the good Chaplain, Father
Ambrose; for he loved his poor lepers with a love which could only come
direct from Him Who loved us all. He did not feel time lag. Each day had
its appointed duties: in holy offices of prayer and praise, or in his
labour of love, the days sped on. He felt the strain, it is true, but he
bore it. He looked for no holiday here; it could never come. He was
cloistered and confined by that general belief in the contagion of
leprosy, which was so strong in the world that many would have slain a
leper had they met him outside the defined boundaries, or set their
mastiffs to tear him in pieces.

One day Father Ambrose was seated in his cell after Terce, when one of
the attendants came to him with a serious and anxious face.

"I should be glad for you to come and see Gaspard; he has been very ill
all night, and there are some strange symptoms about him."

The Chaplain rose, and followed the "keeper" into the chamber above,
where in a small "cubicle," separated by a screen from the other
couches, the sick man tossed.

"He is delirious; how long has he been so?"

"Nearly all the night."

"And in a raging fever?--but this blackness; I never saw one so dark

It was, alas, too true. The body was fast assuming a strange dark, yet
livid, hue, as if the blood were ink instead of red blood.

"Lift up the left arm," said the Chaplain.

Near the armpits were two or three swellings about the size of a
pigeon's egg. The Chaplain saw them and grew serious.

"It is the black fever--the plague!" almost screamed the horrified

"Keep cool, brother John; nothing is gained by excitement, and all is
lost by fear; put your trust in God."

"But I have _touched_ him--drawn in his infected breath--I am a dead

The Chaplain heeded him not.

"Brother, canst thou speak?" he said to the sick man.

A moan was the only reply.

"Brother, dost thou know that thou art dying?"

A moan again.

"And that the best of us have not lived as we should?"

Another sigh, so dolorous.

"And dost thou believe that God's dear Son died for thee?"

A faint gesture of assent.

"Say thou, brother, 'I put the pitiful Passion of Thy dear Son between
me and my sins.'"[26]

"I do, oh God. Sweet Jesus, save me."

And then he relapsed into an unconscious state, in which he continued
till he died.

"We must bury him directly, brother John."

The attendant shuddered.

"Yes, we two; we have been in danger, no one else need come. You go and
tell the grave-digger to have the grave ready directly, and the moment
it is ready we two will bury him."

"Oh God! I am a dead man," said poor brother John.

"Nay, we cannot die till our time come, and if so, the way HE chooses
is best. We all owe HIM a death, you know. Fear is the worst thing you
can entertain now; it brings on the very thing you dread. Overcome
_that_, at all events, if you can."

And the poor frightened fellow went out to do as he was bidden.

Then the brave and good man composed the corpse; placed a crucifix on
its breast; drew the bed-clothes round it to serve as a winding-sheet,
for they must be buried or burned; said the commendatory prayers; and
walked for a time in the fresh air.

He knew his own danger, but he heeded it not. All things, he was
persuaded, worked together for good to them that loved God; besides,
what had he to live for?--his poor sheep--the lepers? Yes; but God could
raise up a better man than he, so in his humility he thought; and if he
were--called home----

Did not the thought of that Purgatory, which was in the Creed of his
time, come between him and the notion of rest?

Not at all; he was content to leave all that; if his Father thought he
needed such correction, he was willing to pass through it; and like a
dear son to kiss the rod, as he had done on earth, safe in the hands of
his Father.

Neither did his thoughts turn much to the Saints. Of course he believed,
as every one did then, that it was right to invoke them--and he had done
so that day in the prescribed commendatory prayers for the dying; but,
as stars fade away in the presence of the sun, so did all these things
fade away before his love for the central sun of his soul--his crucified

The hours passed away in rapt emotion; he never felt so happy as that

Then came the grave-digger.

"The grave is ready."

"Tell brother John to come and help."

"I do not think he is able; he seems unwell himself."

"Then you and I must do it."

"Willingly--where you lead I follow."

"Come up the stairs."

They went to the dormitory; took the sad burden, wrapped in the
bed-clothing as it was, and bore it to the grave; the priest said the
burial office; the grave-digger filled up the grave; and all was over
with poor Gaspard.

But before that sun set the Chaplain was called to brother John, and
that same night the poor fellow died of the fever--fear, doubtless,
having been a predisposing cause.

The terror began; the facts could not long be concealed. At Evensong
that night the Chaplain spoke to them in a short address, so full of
vivid faith and Christian hope that those who heard it never forgot
it.--"Why should they fear death? They had led a living death, a dying
life, these many years. Their exile was over. The Father called them
home. They had long done with this wretched world. The Christian's true
fatherland was Heaven."

So he spoke rather like an Angel than a man. But they could not all rise
to it--how could it be expected? life clings to life. When Newgate was
on fire in the great riots, the most anxious to be saved were some
condemned criminals left for execution on the morrow.

But for a select few, all fear was gone.

Such men were needed: they had their senses about them; they could help
others to the last; they, and they alone, dared to attend the dying, to
bury the dead.

Now came the great trial--the confinement. The lepers mutinied against
being shut up with death, they longed for liberty, they panted for it;
they would not be imprisoned with the plague.

Then began positive fighting. The poor patients had to be restrained by
main force, until the Chaplain came, and by his great power over their
minds, persuaded them to stay.

Every one was asking, "How came it amongst us?" and the mystery was
explained when they were told of a bale of cloth for their tailor
consigned to the house from the _Levant, viâ_ Bristol, and which in all
the long tedious voyage had retained the infection ever living in the

Day by day fresh victims were carried to the grave. The plague was
probably simply a malignant form of typhus, nourished in some human
hotbed to the highest perfection. The _bacillus_ or germ is, we trust,
extinct, but otherwise enough might be bred in a bottle to poison a
county, as we have heard stated.

All at once the heaviest blow fell upon them.

Father Ambrose was walking in the grounds, taking rest of mind after
intense mental and bodily exertion, when he felt a sudden throb of
violent heat, followed by an intense chill and a sickening sensation
accompanied by faintness. He took off his cassock--he saw the fatal

"My summons is come," he said. "Oh, my Father, I thank Thee for calling
me home; but these poor sheep whom Thou hast committed to my care, what
shall they do?"

Then he walked quietly to his cell and lay down on his bed. He had
watched the disease in others; he entertained no hope of recovery. "In a
few hours I shall see Him face to face Whom I have loved," said he.

They came and found him. Never was man more patient; but that mediæval
idea of intense self-denial was with him to the last. He refused water:
they thought him delirious.

"HE would not drink," he said.

They saw his thoughts were on the Cross, and that he was treading the
pathway opened by the Crucified One, and they said no more.

He had received the Holy Communion that morning--his last Communion; the
usual rites could not be attempted now. Before he relapsed into the last
stage, they heard the words in his native tongue--

     "Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! ouvrez moi."

They were his last. The door was open and he had entered. Ah, who shall
follow even in imagination, and trace his progress to the gates of day?

     "Go wing thy flight from star to star,
     From world to luminous world, as far
       As the universe spreads its flaming hall:
     Take all the pleasures of all the spheres,
     And multiply each through endless years,
       One moment of Heaven is worth them all."

But those left behind in the lazar-house--ah me! deprived of the only
man who had gained an empire over their hearts, and could control
them--what of them?

They lost _all_ control, and broke through all discipline; they
overpowered their keepers, who indeed scarcely tried their best to
restrain them, sharing the common fear; they broke the gates open; they
poured forth and dispersed all through the country, carrying the
infection wherever they went.

Still this was not a very wide scope; the woods, the forests, were their
chief refuge. And soon the story was told everywhere. It was heard at
the lordly towers of Warwick; it was told at the stately pile of
Kenilworth; it was proclaimed at Banbury. It startled even those violent
men who played with death, to be told that a hundred lepers were loose,
carrying the double curse of plague and leprosy wherever they went.

"It must be stamped out," said the stern men of the day: "we must hunt
them down and slay them."

So they held a council at Banbury, where all the neighbouring
barons--who were generally of one party in that neighbourhood--took

They decided that proclamation should be everywhere made; that if the
lepers returned to the lazar-house at Byfield within three days, all
should be forgiven; but otherwise, that the barons should collect their
savage hounds, and hunt them down in the forest.

And this was the very forest where we left poor Evroult dying--the
forest of the hermitage which these poor lepers were tolerably sure to
find out, and to seek shelter.

And here we will leave our poor friends for a while, and return to
Wallingford Castle.


[26] This is an extant form of those ages for the reconciliation of a
penitent at the last gasp.



Great was the surprise and anger of Brian Fitz-Count that his favourite
page should dare to tarry, even to bury his grandfather, much less to
fulfil an idle vow, when he had bidden him return at once.

He cared so little for sacred things, whether the true gold of the mint,
or the false superstitions of the age, that he could not understand how
they should influence other men.

Yet he knew they did exercise a strong power over both the imagination
and the will, and sometimes had acknowledged that the world must have a
religion, and this was as good as any other.

"Let Osric believe as much or as little as he likes," he said, "only he
must remember that Brian Fitz-Count is the deity to be worshipped in
Wallingford Castle, and that he allows no other worship to interfere
with that due to him."

The next morning Osric reappeared, and at once sought the presence of
his lord.

"Thou art more than a day behind?"

"I tarried to bury my grandfather, and to execute a vow in his behalf."

"That is well; but remember, Osric, I permit none here to disobey my
orders, either for the sake of the living or the dead. He _is_ dead,

"He died the night I arrived."

"May he rest in peace," said Brian carelessly, feeling glad in his
heart that the old man was gone, and that there was no one left to
dispute his dominion over the heart of Osric.

"But for my grandfather's vow I had returned last night after the
funeral. I have discharged my debt to him, and beg pardon for my delay.
I now belong to you."

It was strange, however, the wooden tone in which he spoke, like a
schoolboy reciting a lesson.

"And thou shalt find in me a father, if thou always continuest to
deserve it--as by obedience thou hast hitherto done--save this lapse, in
place of him whom thou hast lost."

"Am I to go to Shirburne?"

"I have sent Malebouche. There are certain matters of business to talk
over. I want thee to turn scribe for the rest of the day, and write
letters for me. It is a thing I could never accomplish. All I can do is
to sign my name, or better still, affix my seal. My pen has been the
sword, my book the country around; wherein I write my black characters,
as men say."

Yes, he did indeed, and the fame remains till this day.

So all the rest of the day Osric wrote at his lord's dictation. There
was some especial correspondence with the leaders of the party, and that
night messengers were speeding north, south, east, and west with the
missives Osric had penned.

Late in the day, while Osric was walking on the ramparts, a page came
after him and bade him hasten to the bower of the Lady Maude. The manner
was urgent, and he went at once.

He found the lady in tears, surrounded by her handmaidens, who were
standing on each side of her "curule" chair, endeavouring in vain to
console her.

The Baron was striding up and down the spacious room, which, as we have
said, overlooked the river.

"Read this, Osric," he said, and put a letter into his hands. "I can but
half understand it."

Osric read. The letter came from the governor of the lazar-house, and
contained a succinct account of the terrible visitation we have recorded
in our last chapter.

"But our boys are at the hermitage, dame," said Brian; "they are safe;
you need not weep."

Osric read on--how that the lepers had broken loose and taken to the
woods. Then came the significant close: "So the neighbouring barons and
knights of all degrees are gathering together their dogs, to hunt them
in the woods; and I greatly fear lest harm happen to thy sons, who have
been, with thy permission, left to the care of the hermit Meinhold,
dwelling within the same forest."

It was a terrible thought to the poor mother: the affliction of her boys
was the great burden of her life. Yet the customs of the age had
required the sacrifice of her. She had been forbidden, perhaps it was
kind, to visit them, lest the sight of their state should but increase
her woe; but they were never long out of her thoughts.

"Husband! father! thou must go and protect them, or I will go myself."

"Enough, Maude, enough; I will start at once with a troop of a hundred
men, and whatever they do in the rest of the forest, methinks I shall
enforce respect for the hermit's cave--where we are told they are so
happy. Osric, send Osborne to me for orders at once."

"Am I to go, my lord?"

"No; you must remain here, I have special reasons. You will be in
attendance on the Lady Maude."

Osric's eyes glistened.

"You will see that certain orders I shall leave are carried out, in
reference to the business in which you are employed. If any question
your right to command, and refuse obedience, show them this ring. You
see how I trust you, my son."

"Would he were our son," sobbed the Lady Maude; "but I have none to
comfort me; my poor boys, torn from me--torn from me. Hasten, my lord;
it is far to Byfield--very far; you may not be in time."

"I will bring thee the hands and feet of any who have dared to harm


That same hour the Baron departed with his troop, and Osric was busy for
a while in executing his commission. He occupied his own little chamber
in the keep; it was at a great height above the hill on which the lofty
tower was raised, and the view of the country was most extensive.

When nightfall came, Osric was here alone, and he did a very singular

He lit a lamp, and placed it in his window; then he took it away in a
very undecided fashion; then he replaced it again; then he took it away,
and finally replaced it.

"The die is cast," he said.

Two roads lay before him,--it was an awful crisis in his life,--two
roads, utterly different, which could only lead to most opposite issues,
and the strife was _which_ to choose. The way was yet open.

But to enter either he must break his faith. Here lay the sting to his
generous heart.

The one road led to honour, to riches, to power, to glory even; and had
all which could delight a young warrior's mind, but coupled with the
support of foul tyranny, the uprooting of the memory of his kindred and
their woes, and the breaking of his newly-pledged faith to the outlaws.

The other road led to a life of obscurity and poverty, perhaps to a
death of ignominy, and certainly began with an act of treachery towards
one who, however cruel to others, had loved and trusted him, of which
the ring he bore was a token and a pledge.

It was when he thought of this that he withdrew the light.

Then came the remembrance of the sufferers in the foul dens below.

"It is the cause of God, and truth, and freedom, and justice, and all
that is holy;" and he replaced the light.

Then he knelt; he could pray now--

"Oh God, direct me--help me--show some token of Thine approval this
night. Even now I believe in Thee as my grandfather did. Oh save me, and
help Thy poor oppressed ones this night; deliver them from darkness and
the shadow of death, and break their bonds asunder."

Then he went to attend at the supper of the Lady Maude, where he was
received with marked attention. He had of course been trained in all the
etiquette exacted from pages and squires, and was expected to make
himself agreeable in a hundred ways, to carve the joints with elegance,
and to wait upon the ladies.

This part of his duty he had often delighted to execute, but to-night he
was "distrait." The poor lady was in so much grief herself at the danger
of her sons, whom she had not seen for five years, that she did not
notice his abstraction, as she otherwise certainly would have done.

Then it fell ordinarily to the province of the squires and pages to
amuse the party,--to sing songs, recite romaunts, play the troubadour,
or to join in such games as chess and draughts, lately imported from the
East, with the fair ladies of the little court,--when they dined, or
rather supped, in private as now. But no songs were sung this night--no
tales of valour or chivalry recited; and the party broke up early.
Compline was said by the chaplain who was present, for in the bower of
so great a lady there must be respect for forms; and then the fair ones
went to bed.

Osric was now at liberty.

"Art thou for a composing draught to-night, my squire?" said the
chaplain. "I can compound a fair night-cap for an aching head, if thou
wilt come to my cell."

"Nay, my calls are urgent now; I have been detained too long by my
duties as a squire of dames. I have orders for our worthy gaoler Tustain
and his sons."

"Not to put any prisoners on the rack to-night? it is late for that; let
the poor things rest till to-morrow."

"It is not to that effect that my orders run."

"They say you did not like that kind of thing at first."

"Neither do I now, but I have perforce got used to it."

"_Bon soir_;" and the chaplain sauntered off to drink mulled sack. It
was a shocking thing that the Church, in his person, should set her seal
of approbation on such tyranny as that of a Norman hold in Stephen's

Osric descended to the foot of the tower, crossed the greensward, and
entered the new dungeons of Brian's Close. On the ground-floor were the
apartments of Tustain the gaoler, extending over the whole basement of
the tower and full of the hateful implements of his office.

There were manacles, gyves, and fetters. There were racks and
thumbscrews, scourges, pincers, and other instruments of mediæval
cruelty. There were arms of various kinds--swords, axes, lances, bows
and arrows, armour for all parts of the body, siege implements, and the
like. There were lanterns and torches for the service of the dungeons.
There were rows of iron basons, plates, and cups for the food of the
prisoners. Lastly, there were many huge keys.

In the midst of all this medley stood a solid oak table, and thereat sat
Tustain the gaoler-in-chief--now advanced in years and somewhat impotent
on his feet, but with a heart as hard as the nether millstone--with his
three sons, all gaolers, like himself, eating their supper. A fairly
spread table was before them--very different from the fare they supplied
to their prisoners, you may be sure.

"We have locked up for the night, and are taking our ease, Master

"I grieve to disturb thy ease, but my lord has sent me to thee,

"He must be some leagues away at this moment."

"But he has left orders by me; see his ring."

Tustain recognised the token in a moment, and bowed before it.

"Wilt not take some food? Here is a noble haunch of venison, there some
good trout, there some wood-pigeons in a pie--fish, flesh, and fowl."

"Nay, I have just supped with our lady."

"Thou art fortunate. I remember when thou wert brought in here with thy
grandfather as a prisoner, and saw the torture-chamber for the first

"More startling changes have happened, and may yet; but my business--Art
tired, my men?"

"We have had little to do to-day--no raid, no convoy of goods to pursue,
no fighting, no hunting; it has been dull."

"But there is work afoot _now_, and stern work. You, Richard, must take
horse and bear this letter to Shirburne, where you must give it to
Malebouche, and wait his orders; you, Tristam, must carry this to
Faringdon Castle, and bring back a reply; you, Aubrey, to the Castle of
the Black Lady of Speen."

They looked astonished--as well they might--to be sent out for rides, of
some fifteen miles each, at that hour.

But the ring--like the genii who were the slaves of the Lamp, so were
they slaves of the Ring.

"And who will help me with the prisoners?" said Tustain.

"You are permitted to call in such of the men-at-arms as you please."

"Why did he not send men-at-arms? You are sure he said my sons were to
go? Why, if we were suddenly called to put any of my lambs to the
torture, these men-at-arms would hardly know how to do it."

"You could direct them," said Osric. Then to the sons, "Now, my men,
haste speed."

In half an hour they were gone.

"A cup of sack for consolation--the best wine from our lord's own
cellar. I have brought thee a flask."

"Wilt thou stay and help me discuss it?"

"For a few minutes only; I have much yet to do."

Osric produced the flask from the gypsire which hung from the belt of
his tunic.

Then the old man took down two goblets, and Osric poured the wine.

The old man drank freely; Osric but sparingly. Soon the former began to
talk incoherently, and at last he cried--

"What wine was that? Why, it was Old Nick's own brewing. I can't keep my
eyes open."

Half suspecting something amiss, the old man rose, as if going to the
door; but Osric threw his arms around him, and as he did so the old man
gave way to the influence of the powerful narcotic which the youth had
mingled with his drink, and fell like a log on the couch to which Osric
had dragged him.

"I hope I have not killed him; but if I have it is only half his
deserts. Now for my perilous task. How this ring has helped me!"

He went first and strongly barred the outer door, then traversed the
upper corridor till he came to a room in the new buildings, which was a
private den of the Baron. It was panelled with oak, and pressing a knob
on the panel, a secret door opened, disclosing a flight of steps. These
went down into the bowels of the earth; then a narrow passage opened at
right angles to the corridor above, which Osric traversed. It was damp
and slimy, and the air had a deathly odour; but it soon came to an end,
and Osric ascended a similar flight of steps to the one by which he had
descended; again he drew out the key and opened an iron door at the
summit. He stood upon a terrace at the edge of the river, and just upon
a level with the water.

The night was dark and stormy--not a star could be seen. The stream
rippled by as Osric stood and listened. The clock struck twelve, or
rather the man on duty with an iron hammer struck the bell in the tower
of St. Peter's Church twelve times with his hammer to tell the midnight
hour. A few minutes of feverish suspense--the night air fanned his
heated brow--when he heard muffled oars close by, heard rather the
splash of the water as it fell from the upraised blades. A large boat
was at hand.

"Who comes?" said Osric in a low voice.

"Englishmen, good and true."

The outlaws stood on the terrace.

"Follow me," said Osric.

In a few minutes they were all assembled in the heart of the stronghold
in the gaoler's room, where the gaoler himself lay snoring like a hog.

"Shall we slay him?" said they, naturally looking on the brute with

"No," said Osric; "remember our compact--no bloodshed save in
self-defence. He will sleep till this time to-morrow night, when I fear
Brian will do for him what he has done for thousands."

"What is that?"

"Hang him."

"He deserves it. Let the gaoler and the hangman hang."


"Now for the keys," said Thorold.

Osric knew them all, and taking them, led the liberators down below,
into the gloomy corridor from which the dungeons opened on either side.
The men shuddered as they stood between these dens of cruelty, from
which moans, faint and low, from time to time issued like the sighing of
the plaintive wind.

One by one they opened these dens, and took the prisoners out. Many were
too weak, from torture and privation, to stand, and had to be supported.
They hardly understood at first what it all meant; but when they knew
their deliverers, were delirious with joy.

At last they came to the cell where the "crucet-box" was placed, and
there they found Herwald. Osric opened the chest, of which the lid was
only a framework of iron bars. He was alive, and that was all; his hair
was white as snow, his mind almost gone.

"Are the angels come to take me out of Purgatory?" he said.

"Herwald, do you not know me?" said Thorold.

It was vain; they could evoke no memory.

Then they went to the torture-chamber, where a plaintive, whimpering
cry struck their ears. In the corner stood a boy on tiptoes; a thin cord
attached to a thumbscrew, imprisoning both his poor thumbs, was passed
over a pulley in the ceiling, and then tied to a peg in the wall, so
that the poor lad could only find firm footing at the expense of the
most exquisite pain; and so he had been left for the night, the accursed
iron eating into the flesh of his thumbs all the time.

"My boy! my boy!" said Thorold, and recognised his own son Ulric, whom
he had only lost that week, and traced to the castle--hence his anxiety
for Osric's immediate aid--and the poor father wept.

Happily Osric had the key of the thumbscrew, and the lad was soon set

"Break up all the instruments of torture," said Thorold.

Axes were at their girdles: they smashed all the hateful paraphernalia.
No sound could possibly be heard above; the depth of the dungeons and
the thickness of the walls gave security.

"Lock up all the cells, all the outer doors, and bring the keys; we will
throw them into the river."

It took a long time to get the poor disabled victims through the
passages--many had to be carried all the way; but they were safely
brought to the large boat, and placed on beds of straw or the like; not
one sentinel taking the alarm, owing to the darkness and the storm.

"Now for Dorchester Abbey," said Osric. "We must take sanctuary, before
daybreak, for all these poor captives, they are incapable of any other
mode of escape."

"And we will attend as an escort," said the outlaws. "Then for the

So Osric atoned for his residence in Wallingford Castle.



The heavily-laden boat ascended the stream with its load of rescued
captives, redeemed from their living death in the dungeons of Brian's

The night continued intensely dark, a drizzling rain fell; but all this
was in favour of the escape. Upon a moonlight night this large boat must
have been seen by the sentinels, and followed.

There was of course no "lock" at Bensington in those days, consequently
the stream was much swifter than now; and it was soon found that the
load they bore in their barge was beyond the strength of the rowers. But
this was easily remedied: a towing rope was produced, and half a dozen
of Thorold's band drew the bark up stream, while another half-dozen
remained on board, steered or rowed, or attended to the rope at the head
of the boat, as needed.

Osric was with them: he intended to go to Dorchester and see his father,
and obtain his approbation of the course he was pursuing and direction
for the future.

All that night the boat glided up stream; their progress was, of
necessity, slow. The groans of the poor sufferers, most of whom had
endured recent torture, broke the silence of the night, otherwise
undisturbed, save by the rippling of the water against the prow of the

That night ever remained fixed in the memory of Osric,--the slow ascent
of the stream; the dark banks gliding by; the occasional cry of the men
on the shore, or the man at the prow, as the rope encountered
difficulties in its course; the joy of the rescued, tempered with
apprehension lest they should be pursued and recaptured, for they were,
most of them, quite unable to walk, for every one was more or less
crippled; the splash of the rain; the moan of the wind; the occasional
dash of a fish,--all these details seemed to fix themselves, trifles as
they were, on the retina of the mind.

Osric meditated much upon his change of life, but he did not now wish to
recall the step he had taken. His better feelings were aroused by the
misery of those dungeons, and by the approbation of his better self, in
the contemplation of the deliverance he had wrought.

While he thus pondered a soft hand touched his; it was that of the boy,
the son of Thorold, who had been chained to the wall by means of the
thumbscrew locked upon his poor thumbs.[27]

"Do your thumbs pain you now?" asked Osric.

"Not so much; but the place where the bar crossed them yet burns--the
pain was maddening."

"Dip this linen in the stream, and bind it round them; they will soon be
well. Meanwhile you have the satisfaction that your brave endurance has
proved your faithfulness: not many lads had borne as much."

"I knew it was life or death to my father; how then could I give way to
the accursed Norman?"

"Pain is sometimes a powerful reasoner. How did they catch you?"

"I was sent on an errand by my father, and a hunting party saw and
chased me; they questioned me about the outlaws, till they convinced
themselves I was one, and brought me to the castle, where they put on
the thumbscrew, and told me there it should remain till I told them all
the secrets of the band--especially their hiding-places. I moaned with
the pain, but did not utter a word; and they left me, saying I should
soon confess or go mad; then God sent you."

"Yes, God had sent him." Osric longed no more for the fleshpots of

Just as the autumnal dawn was breaking they arrived at the junction of
Tame and Isis, and the Synodune Hills rose above them. They ascended the
former stream, and followed its winding course with some difficulty, as
the willows on the bank interfered with the proper management of the
boat, until they came to the abbey-wharf. They landed; entered the
precincts, bearing those who could neither walk nor limp, and supporting
those who limped, to the hospitium.

They were in sanctuary.

In the city of refuge, and safe while they remained there. Whatever
people may think of monasteries now, they thanked God for them then. It
is quite true that in those dreadful days even sanctuary was violated
from time to time, but it was not likely to be so in this instance.
Brian Fitz-Count respected the forms and opinions of the Church,
outwardly at least; although he hated them in his inward heart,
especially when they came between him and his prey.

The good monks of Dorchester were just emerging from the service of
Lauds, and great was their surprise to see the arrival of this multitude
of impotent folk. However, they enacted their customary part of good
Samaritans at once, under the direction of the infirmarer--Father
Alphege himself--who displayed unwonted sympathy and activity when he
learned that they were refugees from Wallingford dungeons; and promised
that all due care should be taken of the poor sufferers.

There had been one or two Jews amongst the captives, but they had not
entered the precincts, seeking refuge with a rabbi in the town.

When they had seen their convoy safe, the outlaws returned to their
haunts in the forest, taking Ulric, son of Thorold, with them, but
leaving poor Herwald in the hands of Father Alphege, secure of his
receiving the very best attention. Poor wretch! his sufferings had been
so great and so prolonged in that accursed den, or rather chest, that
his reason was shaken, his hair prematurely gray, his whole gait and
bearing that of a broken-down old man, trembling at the least thing that
could startle him, anon with piteous cries beseeching to be let out, as
if still in his "crucet-box."

"Thou art out, my poor brother, never to return," said Alphege. "Surely,
my Herwald, thou knowest me! thou hast ridden by my side in war and
slept beside me in peace many and many a time."

Herwald listened to the tones of his voice as if some chord were struck,
but shook his head.

"He will be better anon," said the Father; "rest and good food will do

While thus engaged the great bell rang for the Chapter Mass, which was
always solemnly sung, being the choral Mass of the day; and the brethren
and such guests as were able entered the hallowed pile. Osric was
amongst them. He had not gone with the outlaws; he had done his duty by
them; he now claimed to be at his father's disposal.

For the first time in a long period he felt all the old associations of
his childhood revive--all the influences of religion, never really
abjured, kindle again. He could hardly attend to the service. He did not
consciously listen to the music or observe the rites, but he felt it all
in his inmost soul; and as he knelt all the blackness of his sinful
participation in deeds of cruelty and murder--for it was little
else--all the baseness of his ingratitude in allowing, nay, nurturing,
unbelief in his soul, in trying, happily very successfully, _not_ to
believe in God, came upon him.

He had come to consult his natural father, as he thought, and to offer
himself to his direction as an obedient son: he now rather sought the
priest, and reconciliation as a prodigal to his Heavenly Father as the
first step necessary, for in those days penitence always found vent in
such confession.

But both father and priest were united in Alphege; and after the Chapter
Mass he sought the good infirmarer, and craved of his charity to make
his confession.

Will it be believed? his father did not know him. It was indeed years
since they had met, and it was perhaps difficult to recognise the child
in this young warrior, now come to man's estate--at least to man's
height and stature.

Alphege marked the tear-bedewed cheek, the choking voice; he knew the
signs of penitence; he hesitated not for a moment.

"My son, I am not the _pænitentiarius_ who ordinarily receives strangers
to Confession."

"But I wish to come to thee. Oh, father, I have fought against it, and
almost did Satan conquer in me: refuse me not."

"Nay, my son; I cannot refuse thee."

And they entered the church.

Father Alphege had composed himself in the usual way for the monotonous
recitation of human sin--all too familiar to his ears--but as he heard
he became agitated in himself. The revelation was clear, none could
doubt it: he recognised the penitent.

"My son," he said at the close, "thy sin has been great, very great.
Thou hast joined in ill-treating men made in the image of God; thou art
stained with blood; thy sin needs a heavy penance."

"Name it, let it be ever so heavy."

"Go thou to the Holy Land, take the Cross, and employ thy talents for
war in the cause of the Lord."

"I could desire nothing better, father."

"On that condition I absolve thee;" and the customary formula was

A hard "condition" indeed! a meet penance! Osric might still gratify his
taste for fighting, without sin.

They left the church--Osric as happy as he could be. A great weight was
lifted off his mind. It was only in such an age that a youth, loving
war, might still enjoy his propensity as a religious penance. _Similia
similibus curantur_, says the old proverb.

The two walked in the cloisters.

"My father--for thou knowest thy son now--I am wholly in thy hands.
Hadst thou bidden me, I had joined the outlaws, and fought for my
country. Now thou must direct me."

"Were there even a _chance_ of successful resistance, my son, I would
bid thee stay and fight the Lord's battle here; but it is hopeless. What
can such desultory warfare do? No, our true hope lies now in the son of
the Empress--the descendant of our old English kings, for such he is by
his mother's side--Henry Plantagenet. He will bridle these robbers, and
destroy their dens of tyranny."

"But Brian is fighting on that side."

"And when the victory is gained, as it will be, it will cut short such
license as the Lord of Wallingford now exercises,--destroy these robber
castles, the main of them, put those that remain under proper control,
drive these 'free lances' out of England, and restore the reign of

"May I not then assist the coming of that day?"

"How couldst thou? Thou canst never return to Wallingford, or take part
in the horrible warfare, which, nevertheless, is slowly working out
God's Will. No; go abroad, as thou art now _bound_ to do, and never
return to England until thou canst do so with honour."

"Thou biddest me go at once?"

"Without wasting a day."

"What steps must I take?"

"Dost thou know a moated grange called Lollingdune, in the parish of


"It is an infirmary for Reading Abbey, and the Abbot is expected
to-morrow; thou must go, furnished with credentials from our Abbot
Alured. The Abbot of Reading is a mitred abbot, and has power to accept
thy vows and make thee a knight of the Cross. I doubt if even Brian
would dare touch thee then; but keep out of his way till that time; go
not by way of Wallingford."

"That were madness. I will make across country."

"And now, dear son, come to noon-meat; I hear the refectory bell."


To the south-west of the village of Cholsey (Chelseye) the Berkshire
downs sink into the level plain of the valley of the Thames. Here,
therefore, there was that broken ground which always accompanies the
transition from a higher to a lower level, and several spurs of the
higher ranges stretch out into the plain like peninsulas; while in other
places solitary hills, like islands, which indeed they once were, stand
apart from the mainland of hills.

One of these hill islands was thickly clothed with wood in those days,
as indeed it is now. And to the north-west there lay a "moated grange."

A deep moat, fed by streams which arose hard by, enclosed half an acre
or less of ground. This had been laid out as a "pleasaunce," and in the
centre was placed a substantial house of stone, of ecclesiastical
design. It was a country residence of the monks of Reading Abbey, where
they sent sick brethren who needed change of air, to breathe the
refreshing breezes which blow off the downs.

Such a general sense of insecurity, however, was felt all over the
country by clericals and laics alike, that they dug this deep moat, and
every night drew up their drawbridge, leaving the enclosure under the
protection of huge and faithful mastiffs, who had been taught to
reverence a monk's cassock at night, but to distrust all parties wearing
lay attire, whether of mail or otherwise.

A level plain, between outlying spurs of the downs, lay to the west,
partly grazing land, partly filled with the primeval forest, and boggy
and dangerous in places. Here the cows of the abbey grazed, which
supplied the convalescents with the milk so necessary in their cases;
but every night each member of the "milky herd" was carefully housed
inside the moat.

There was great preparation going on at the grange of Lollingdune, so
called from its peculiar position at the foot of the hill. The Abbot of
Reading, as we have elsewhere learned, was expected on the morrow. He
was a mighty potentate; thrice honoured; had a seat in the great council
of the kingdom; wore a mitre; was as great and grand as a bishop, and so
was reverenced by all the lesser fry.

So the cooks were busy. The fatted calf was slain, several fowls had to
pay the debt of nature, carp were in stew; various wines were
broached--Malmsey, Osey, Sack, and such like; devices in pastry
executed, notably a pigeon-pie, with a superincumbent mitre in
pie-crust; and many kinds of sweets were curiously and wonderfully made.

At the close of the day sweet tinkling bells announced the approach of
the cavalcade over the ridge of the hill to the eastward; and soon a
dozen portly monks, mounted on sleek mules, with silver bells on their
trappings, for they did not affect the warlike horse, and accompanied
meetly by lay attendants, laden with furniture and provisions for the
Abbot's comfort, approached by the "under-down" road, which led from the
gorge of the Thames at Streatley. The whole community turned out to meet
them, and there was such an assembly of dark robes that the bailiff of
the farm jocosely called it "Rook-Fair."

"_Pax vobiscum fratres omnes, clerici atque laici._ I have come to
repose my weary limbs amongst you, but by St. Martin the air of these
downs is fresh, and will make us relish the venison pasty, or other
humble fare we may receive for the sustenance of our flesh. How are all
the invalids?"

"They be doing well," said Father Hieronymus, the senior of the monks at
Lollingdune; "and say that the sight of their Abbot will be a most
salutary medicament."

The Abbot smiled; he liked to think himself loved.

"But who is this youth in lay attire?" and he smiled sweetly, for he
liked to see a handsome youth.

"It is one Osric, who has brought letters commendatory from the Abbot of

"Our brother Alured--is he well?"

"He is well, my lord," replied Osric, as he bent the knee.

"And what dost thou seek, sweet son? dost wish to become a novice of our
poor house of St. Benedict?"

"Nay, my good lord, it is in another vocation I wish to serve God."

"And that,--ah, I guess thou wishest to take the Cross and go to the
Holy Land."

"I do with all my heart."

"And this letter assures me that thou art a fitting person, and skilled
in the use of carnal weapons."

"I trust I am."

"Then thou shalt share our humble fare this night, and then thou shalt
on the morrow take the vow and receive the Cross from my own hands,
after the Mass which follows Terce."

Osric bowed in joyful assent. And that night he dined at the monastic
table of Lollingdune Grange. The humble fare was the most sumptuous he
had ever known; for at Wallingford Castle they paid small attention to
the culinary art--quantity, not quality, was their motto; they ate of
meat half raw, thinking it increased their ferocity; and "drank the red
wine through the helmet barred."

But it was not so here; the weakness of the monastic orders, if it was a
weakness, was good cooking.

"Why should we waste or spoil the good things God has given us?" they

We wish our space permitted us to relate the conversation which had
place at that table. The Abbot of Reading was devoted more or less to
King Stephen, for Maude, in one of her progresses, had spoiled the abbey
and irritated the brethren by exacting heavy tribute. So they told many
stories of the misdeeds of the party of the Empress, and many more of
the cruelties of Brian Fitz-Count, whose lordly towers were visible in
the distance.

Osric sat at table next to the lord Abbot, which was meant for a great

"In what school, my son, hast thou studied the warlike art and the
science of chivalry?" asked the Abbot.

"In the Castle of Wallingford, my lord."

"I could have wished thee a better school, but doubtless thou art
leaving them in disgust with their evil deeds of which we hear daily; in
fact, we are told that the townspeople cannot sleep for the shrieks of
the captives in the towers."

"It is in order to atone for ever having shared in their deeds that I
have left them, and the very penance laid on me is to fight for the
Cross of Christ in atonement for my error."

"And what will Brian think of it?"

"I must not let him get hold of me."

"Then tarry here till I return to Reading, and assuming the palmer's
dress, travel in our train out of his country; he will not dare to
assail us."

It was wise counsel.

On the morrow Mass was said in the chapel, which occupied the upper
story of the house, over the dormitories, under a high arched roof,
which was the general arrangement in such country houses of the
monks;[28] and at the offertory Osric offered himself to God as a
Crusader, took the vow, and the Abbot bound the red cross on his arm.


[27] This cruelly ingenious contrivance of thumbscrew, lock, and steel
chain may be seen at the house of John Knox, at Edinburgh, amongst other
similar curiosities.

[28] The author has twice seen the remains of such chapels in the upper
stories of farmhouses--once monastic granges.



The reader may feel quite sure that such a nature as Evroult's was not
easily conquered by the gentle influences of Christianity; indeed,
humanly speaking, it might never have yielded had not the weapon used
against it been _Love_.

One day, as he sat rapt in thought on the sunny bank outside the
hermitage, the hermit and Richard talking quietly at a short distance,
he seemed to receive a sudden inspiration,--he walked up to Meinhold.

"Father, tell me, do you think you can recover of the leprosy you have
caught from us?"

"I do not expect to do so."

"And do you not wish we had never come here?"

"By no means; God sent you."

"And you give your life perhaps for us?"

"The Good Shepherd gave His life for me."

"Father, I have tried not to listen to you, but I can fight against it
no longer. You are right in all you say, and always have been,

A pause. The hermit waited in silent joy.

"Only it was so hard to flesh and blood."

"And can you yield yourself to His Will now?"

"I am trying--very hard; I do not even yet know whether I quite can."

"He will help you, dear boy; He knows how hard it is for us weak mortals
to overcome self."

"I knew if I had kept well I should have grown up violent, wicked, and
cruel, and no doubt have lost my soul. Do you not think so, father?"

"Very likely, indeed."

"And yet I have repined and murmured against Him Who brought me here to
save me."

"But He will forgive all that, now you truly turn to Him and submit to
His Will."

"I try to give myself to Him to do as He pleases."

"And you believe He has done all things well?"


"Even the leprosy?"

"Yes, even that."

"You are right, my dear son; we must all be purified through suffering,
for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not? and if we are not
partakers thereof, then are we bastards and not sons. All true children
of God have their Purgatory here or hereafter--far better here. He
suffered more for us."


A few days passed away after this conversation, and a rapid change for
the worse took place in poor Evroult's physical condition. The fell
disease, which had already disfigured him beyond recognition, attacked
the brain. His brother and the hermit could not desire his life to be
prolonged in such affliction, and they silently prayed for his release,
grievous although the pang of separation would be to them both--one out
of their little number of three.

One day he had been delirious since the morning, and at eventide they
stood still watching him. It had been a dark cloudy day, but now at
sunset a broad vivid glory appeared in the west, which was lighted up
with glorious crimson, azure, and gold, beneath the edge of the curtain
of cloud.

"'At eventide it shall be light,'" quoted Meinhold.

"See, he revives," said Richard.

He looked on their faces.

"Oh brother, oh dear father, I have seen Him; I have heard with the
hearing of the ear, but now mine eye hath seen Him."

They thought he spake of a vision, but it may have been, probably _was_,
but a revelation to the inward soul.

"And now, dear father, give me the Viaticum; I am going, and want my
provision for the way."

He spoke of the Holy Communion, to which this name was given when
administered to the dying.

Then followed the Last Anointing, and ere it was over they saw the great
change pass upon him. They saw Death, sometimes called the grim King of
Terrors, all despoiled of his sting; they saw the feeble hand strive to
make the Holy Sign, then fall back; while over his face a mysterious
light played as if the door of Paradise had been left ajar when the
redeemed soul passed in.

"_Beati qui in Domino morinutur_," said Meinhold; "his Purgatory was
here. Do not cry, Richard; the happy day will soon come when we shall
rejoin him."

They laid him out before the altar in their rude chapel, and prepared
for the last funeral rite.


Meanwhile disfigured forms were stealing through the woods, and finding
a shelter in various dens and caves, or sleeping round fires kindled in
the open or in woodcutters' huts, deserted through fear of them; as yet
they had not found the hermit's cave or entered the Happy Valley.

On the morrow Meinhold celebrated the Holy Eucharist, and afterwards
performed the burial service with simplest rites; they then committed
the body to the earth, and afterwards wandered together, discoursing
sweetly on the better life, into the forest, where the twilight was

     "Like the Truce of God
     With earthly pain and woe."

Never were they happier--never so full of joy and resignation--these
two unfortunates, as the world deemed them; bearing about the visible
sentence of death on themselves, but they had found the secret of a life
Death could not touch.

And in their walk they came suddenly upon a man, who reposed under the
shadow of a tree; he seemed asleep, but talked and moaned as if in a
feverish dream.

"Father, he is a leper like us, look."

"God has sent him, perhaps, in the place of Evroult."

They woke him.

"Where am I?"

"With friends. Canst walk to our home; it is not far?"

"Angels from Heaven. Yes, I can walk--see."

But without their assistance he could never have reached the cave.

They gave him food; he took little, but drank eagerly.

"How did you come here?"

He told them of the plague at Byfield, and of the death of the Chaplain.

"Happy man!" said Meinhold; "he laid down his life for the sheep the
Good Shepherd had committed to his care." And so may we, he thought.

That night the poor man grew worse; the dark livid hue overspread him.
Our readers know the rest.

Voices might have been heard in the cave the next day--sweet sounds
sometimes as if of hymns of praise.

The birds and beasts came to the hermit's cave, and marvelled that none
came out to feed them--that no crumbs were thrown to them, no food
brought forth. A bold robin even ventured in, but came out as if
affrighted, and flew right away.

They sang their sweet songs to each other. No human ear heard them; but
the valley was lovely still.

Who shall go into that cave and wake the sleepers? Who?

Then came discordant noises, spoiling nature's sweet harmony--the
baying of hounds, the cries of men sometimes loud and discordant,
sometimes of those who struggled, sometimes of those in pain.

Louder and louder--the hunt is up--the horse and hound invade the glen.

A troop of affrighted-looking men hasten down the valley.

Look, they are lepers.

They have cause to fear; the deep baying of the mastiffs is deepening,
drawing near.

They espy the cave--they rush towards it up the slope--in they dash.

Out again.

Another group of fugitives follow.

"The cave! the cave! we may defend the mouth."

"There are three there already," said the first.


"_Dead of the Plague._"

And they would have run away had not the hunters and dogs come upon
them, both ways, up and down the glen.

They are driven in--some two score in all.

The leaders of the pursuing party pause.

"I think," says a dark baron, "I see a way out of our difficulty without
touching a leper."

"Send the dogs in."

"In vain; they will not go; they scent something amiss."

"This cave has but one opening."

"I have heard that a hermit lived here with two young lepers."

"Call him."

"Meinhold! Meinhold!"

No reply.

"He is dead long ago, I daresay."

"If he does not come out it is his own fault."

"There were two young lepers who dwelt with him."

"What business had he with lepers?"

"All the world knew it, and he had caught it himself."

"Then we will delay no longer. God will know His own." And then he gave
the fatal order.

"Gather brushwood, sticks, reeds, all that will burn, and pile it in the
mouth of the cave."

They did so.

"Fire it."

The dense clouds of smoke arose, and as they hoped in their cruelty,
were sucked inward.

"There must be a through draught."

"Can they get out?"

"No, lord baron."

"Watch carefully lest there be other outlets. We must stamp this foul
plague out of the land."

Then they stood and watched.

The flames crackled and roared; dense volumes of smoke arose, now
arising above the trees, now entering the cave; the birds screamed
overhead; the fierce men looked on with cruel curiosity; but no sound
was heard from within.

At this moment the galloping of horsemen was heard. "Our brother of
Kenilworth, doubtless."

But it was not. A rider in dark armour appeared at the head of a hundred

"What are you doing?" cried a stern voice.

"Smoking lepers out."

"Charge them! cut them down! slay all!"

And the Wallingford men charged the incendiaries as one man. Like a
thunderbolt, slaying, hewing, hacking, chopping, cleaving heads and
limbs from trunks, with all the more deadly facility as their more
numerous antagonists lacked armour, having only come out to slay lepers.

The Baron of Hanwell Castle was a corpse; so was the knight of Cropredy
Towers; so was the young lord of Southam; others were writhing in mortal
agony, but within a quarter of an hour more, only the dead and dying
disputed the field with the Wallingford men. The rest had fled, finding
the truth of the proverb, "There be many that come out to shear and go
back shorn."

"Drag the branches away! pull out the faggots! extinguish the fire!
scatter it! fight fire as ye have fought men!"

That was done too. They dispersed the fuel, they scattered the embers;
and hardly was this done than Brian rushed in the cave, through the hot
ashes. But scarce could he stay in a moment, the smoke blinded--choked

Out again, almost beside himself with rage, fear for his boys, and

In again. Out again.

So three or four abortive attempts.

At last the smoke partially dispersed, and he could enter.

The outer cave was empty.

But in the next subterranean chamber lay a black corpse--a full-grown
man. Brian knew him not. He crossed this cave and entered the next one,
and by the altar knew it was their rude chapel.

Before the altar lay two figures; their hands clasped in the attitude of
prayer; bent to the earth; still--motionless.

Their faces, too, were of the same dark hue.

The one wore the dress of a hermit, the other was a boy of some sixteen

Brian recognised his younger son in the latter, rather by instinct and
by knowledge of the circumstances than otherwise.

"It is my Richard. But where is Evroult?"

"Here," said a voice,--"read."

Upon the wall was a rude inscription, scratched thereon by Meinhold, his
last labour of love--


Little as he possessed the power of reading, Brian recognised his son's
name, and understood all. The strong man fell before that altar, and
for the first time in many years recognised the Hand which had stricken

They dragged him away, as they felt that the atmosphere was dangerous to
them all--as indeed it was.

"Leave them where they are--better tomb could they not have; only wall
up the entrance."

And they set to work, and built huge stones into the mouth of the cave--

     "Leaving them to rest in hope--
     Till the Resurrection Day."

And what had become of the other lepers?

Driven by the smoke, they had wandered into the farthest recesses of the
cave--once forbidden to Evroult by the hermit.

Whether they perished in the recesses, or whether they found some other
outlet, and emerged to the upper day, we know not. No further
intelligence of the poor unfortunates reached the living, or has been
handed down to posterity.


And now, do my readers say this is a very melancholy chapter? Do they
pity, above all, the hermit and Richard, struck down by the pestilence
in an act of which Christ would have said, "Inasmuch as ye did it to the
least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me"?

The pestilence saved them from the lingering death of leprosy, and even
had they lived to grow old, they had been dust and ashes seven centuries
ago. What does it matter now whether they lived sixteen or sixty years?
The only point is, did they, through God's grace, merit to hear the
blessed words, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy
of your Lord"?

And we think they did.


[29] So called by St. Francis of Assisi.



Had the Abbot of Reading seen fit, or rather had the business on which
he came to Lollingdune allowed him to return home on the day in which he
had decorated Osric with the red cross, it had been well for all
parties, save the writer; for the entangled web of circumstance which
arose will give him scope for another chapter or two, he trusts, of some
interest to the reader.

As it was, Osric was thrown upon his own resources for the rest of that
day, after the Mass was over; and his thoughts not unnaturally turned to
his old home, where the innocent days of his childhood had been spent,
and to his old nurse Judith, sole relict of that hallowed past.

Could he not bid her farewell? He had an eye, and he could heed; he had
a foot, and he could speed--let Brian's spies watch ever so narrowly.

Yes, he _must_ see her. Besides, Osric loved adventure: it was to him
the salt of life. He loved the sensation of danger and of risk. So,
although he knew that there must be a keen hunt on foot from Wallingford
Castle after the fugitives, and that the old cottage might be watched,
he determined to risk it all for the purpose of saying good-bye to his
dear old nurse.

So, without confiding his purpose to any one, he started on foot. He
passed the old church of Aston Upthorpe, where his grandfather lay
buried, breathing a prayer for the old man, as also a thanksgiving for
the teaching which had at last borne fruit, for he felt that he was
reconciled to God and man, now that he had taken the Holy Vow, and
abandoned his godless life at Wallingford Castle. Then passing between
the outlying fort of Blewburton and the downs, he entered the maze of

But as he approached the spot, he took every precaution. He scanned each
avenue of approach from Wallingford; he looked warily into each glade;
anon, he paused and listened, but all was still, save the usual sounds
of the forest, never buried in absolute silence.

At length he crossed the stream and stood before the door of the hut. He
paused one moment; then he heard the well-known voice crooning a snatch
of an old ballad; he hesitated no longer.


"My darling," said the fond old nurse, "thou hast come again to see me.
Tell me, is it all right? Hast thou found thy father?"

"I have."

"Where? Tell me?"

"At Dorchester Abbey of course."

Judith sighed.

"And what did he say to thee?"

"Bade me go on the Crusades. And so I have taken the vow, and to-morrow
I leave these parts perhaps, for ever."

"Alas! it is too bad. Why has he not told thee the whole truth? Woe is
me! the light of mine eyes is taken from me. I shall never see thee

"That is in God's hands."

"How good thou hast grown, my boy! Thou didst not talk like this when
thou camest home from the castle."

"Well, perhaps I have learnt better;" and he sighed, for there was a
reproach, as if the old dame had said, "Is Saul also amongst the

"But, my boy," she continued, "is this all? Did not Wulfnoth--I mean
Father Alphege--tell thee more than this?"

"What more could he tell me?"

She rocked herself to and fro.

"I _must_ tell him; but oh, my vow----"

"Osric, my child, my bonnie boy, thou dost not even yet know all, and I
am bound _not_ to tell thee. But I was here when thou wast brought home
by Wulfnoth, a baby-boy; and--and I know what I found out--I saw--God
help me: but I swore by the Black Cross of Abingdon I would not tell."

"Judith, what can you mean?"

"If you only knew, perhaps you would not go on this crusade."

"Whither then? I _must_ go."

"To Wallingford."

"But _that_ I can never do. I have broken with them and their den of
darkness for ever."

"Nay, nay; it may be all thine own one day, and thou mayst let light
into it."

"What can you mean? You distract me."

"I cannot say. Ah!--a good thought. You may look--I didn't say I
wouldn't show. See, Osric, I will show thee what things were on thy
baby-person when thou wast brought home. Here--look."

She rummaged in her old chest and brought forth--a ring with a seal, a
few articles of baby attire, a little red shoe, a small frock, and a
lock of maiden's hair.

"Look at the ring."

It bore a crest upon a stone of opal.

_The crest was the crest of Brian Fitz-Count._

"Well, what does this mean?" said Osric. "How came this ring on my

"Dost thou not see? Blind! blind! blind!"

"And deaf too--deaf! deaf! deaf!" said a voice. "Dost thou not hear the
tread of horses, the bay of the hound, the clamour of men who seek thee
for no good?"

It was young Ulric who stood in the doorway.

"Good-bye, nurse; they are after me; I must go."

"What hast thou done?"

"Let all their captives loose. Farewell, dear nurse;" and he embraced

"Haste, Osric, haste," said the youthful outlaw, "or thou wilt be

They dashed from the hut.

"This way," said Ulric.

And they crossed the stream in the opposite direction to the advancing

"I lay hid in the forest and heard them say they would seek thee in
thine old home, as they passed my lurking-place."

"Now, away."

"But they may hurt Judith. Nay, Brian has not yet returned, _cannot_ yet
have come back, and without his orders they would not dare. He forbade
them once before even to _touch_ the cottage."

They pressed onward through the woods.

"Whither do we go?" said Osric, who had allowed his young preserver to

"To our haunt in the swamp."

"You have saved me, Ulric."

"Then it has been measure for measure, for didst thou not save me when
in direful dumps? Wilt thou not tarry with us, and be a merry man of the

"Nay, I am pledged to the Crusades."

Ulric was about to reply, when he stopped to listen.

"There is the bay of that hound again: it is one of a breed they have
trained to hunt men."

"I know him--it is old Pluto; I have often fed him: he would not hurt

"But he would _discover_ thee, nevertheless, and _I_ should not be safe
from his fangs."

"Well, we are as swift of foot as they--swifter, I should think. Come,
we must jump this brook."

Alas! in jumping, Osric's foot slipped from a stone on which he most
unhappily alighted, and he sank on the ground with a momentary thrill of
intense pain, which made him quite faint.

He had sprained his ankle badly.

Ulric turned pale.

Osric got up, made several attempts to move onward, but could only limp
painfully forward.

"Ulric, I should only destroy both thee and me by perseverance in this

"Never mind about me."

"But I do. See this umbrageous oak--how thick its branches; it is hollow
too. I know it well. I will hide in the tree, as I have often done when
a boy in mere sport. You run on."

"I will; and make the trail so wide that they will come after _me_."

"But will not this lead them to the haunt?"

"Water will throw them when I come to the swamps. I can take care."

"Farewell, then, my Ulric; the Saints have thee in their holy keeping."

The two embraced as those who might never meet again--but as those who
part in haste--and Ulric plunged into the thicket and disappeared.

Osric lay hidden in the branches of the hollow tree. There was a
comfortable seat about ten feet from the ground, the feet hidden in the
hollow of the oak, the head and shoulders by the thick foliage. He did
not notice that Ulric had divested himself of an upper garment he wore,
and left it accidentally or otherwise on the ground. All was now still.
The sound of the boy's passage through the thick bushes had ceased. The
scream of the jay, the tap of the woodpecker, the whirr of an occasional
flight of birds alone broke the silence of the forest day.

Then came a change. The crackling of dry leaves, the low whisper of
hunters, and that sound--that bell-like sound--the bay of the hound,
like a staunch murderer, steady to his purpose, pursuing his prey
relentlessly, unerringly, guided by that marvellous instinct of scent,
which to the pursued seemed even diabolical.

At last they broke through the bushes and passed beneath the
tree--seven mounted pursuers.

"See, here is the trail; it is as plain as it can be," cried Malebouche;
for it was he, summoned in the emergency from Shirburne, the Baron not
having yet returned--six men in company.

But the dog hesitated. They had given him a piece of Osric's raiment to
smell before starting, and he pointed at the tree.

Luckily the men did not see it; for they saw on the ground the tunic
Ulric had thrown off to run, with the unselfish intention that that
should take place which now happened, confident he could throw off the

The men thrust it to the dog's nose, thinking it Osric's,--they knew not
there were _two_--and old Pluto growled, and took the new scent with far
keener avidity than before, for now he was bidden to chase one he might
tear. Before it was a friend, the scent of whose raiment he knew full
well. They were off again.

All was silence once more around the hollow tree for a brief space, and
Osric was just about to depart and try to limp to Lollingdune, when
steps were heard again in the distance, along the brook, where the path
from the outlaws' cave lay.

Osric peered from his covert: they were passing about a hundred yards

Oh, horror! they had got Ulric.

"How had it chanced?"

Osric never knew whether the dog had overtaken him, or what accident had
happened; all he saw was that they had the lad, and were taking him, as
he judged, to Wallingford, when they halted and sat down on some fallen
trees, about a hundred yards from his concealment. They had wine, flesh,
and bread, and were going to enjoy a mediæval picnic; but first they
tied the boy carefully to a tree, so tightly and cruelly that he must
have suffered much unnecessary pain; but little recked they.

The men ate and drank, the latter copiously. So much the worse for
Ulric--drink sometimes inflames the passions of cruelty and violence.

"Why should we take him home? our prey is about here somewhere."

"Why not try a little torture, Sir Squire--a knotted string round the
brain? we will make him tell all he knows, or make the young villain's
eyes start out of his forehead."

The suggestion pleased Malebouche.

"Yes," he said, "we may as well settle his business here. I have a
little persuader in my pocket, which I generally carry on these errands;
it often comes useful;" and he produced a small thumbscrew.

Enough; we will spare the details. They began to carry out their
intention, and soon forced a cry from their victim--although, judging
from his previous constancy, I doubt whether they would have got
more--when they heard a sound--a voice--

"STOP! let the lad go; he shall not be tortured for me. I yield myself
in his place."

"Osric! Osric!"

And the men almost leapt for joy.

"Malebouche, I am he you seek--I am your prisoner; but let the boy go,
and take me to Wallingford."

"Oh, why hast thou betrayed thyself?" said Ulric.

"Not so fast, my young lord, for lord thou didst think thyself--thou
bastard, brought up as a falcon. Why should I let him go? I have you

But the boy had been partially untied to facilitate their late
operations, which necessitated that the hands cruelly bound behind the
back should be released; and while every eye was fixed on Osric, he
shook off the loosened cord which attached him to the tree, and was off
like a bird.

He had almost escaped--another minute and he had been beyond
arrow-shot--when Malebouche, snatching up a bow, sent a long arrow after
him. Alas! it was aimed with Norman skill, and it pierced through the
back of the unfortunate boy, who fell dead on the grass, the blood
gushing from mouth and nose.

Osric uttered a plaintive cry of horror, and would have hurried to his
assistance, but they detained him rudely.

"Nay, leave him to rot in the woods--if the wolves and wild cats do not
bury him first."

And they took their course for Wallingford, placing their prisoner
behind a horseman, to whom they bound him, binding also his legs beneath
the belly of the horse.

After a little while Malebouche turned to Osric--

"What dost thou expect when our lord returns?"

"Death. It is not the worst evil."

"But what manner of death?"

"Such as may chance; but thou knowest he will not torture _me_."

"He may hang thee."

"Wait and see. Thou art a murderer thyself, for whom hanging is perhaps
too good. God may have worse things in store for thee. Thou hast
committed murder and sacrilege to-day."


"Yes; thou hast seized a Crusader. Dost not see my red cross?"

"It is easy to bind a bit of red rag crossways upon one's shoulder. Who
took thy vows?"

"The Abbot of Reading; he is now at Lollingdune."

"Ah, ah! Brian Fitz-Count shall settle that little matter; he may not
approve of Crusaders who break open his castle. Take him to Wallingford,
my friends. I shall go back and get that deer we slew just before we
caught the boy; our larder is short."

So Malebouche rode back into the forest alone.

Let us follow him.

It was drawing near nightfall. The light fleecy clouds which floated
above were fast losing the hues of the departing sun, which had tinted
their western edges with crimson; the woods were getting dim and dark;
but Malebouche persisted in his course. He had brought down a fine
young buck with his bow, and had intended to send for it, being at that
moment eager in pursuit of his human prey; but now he had leisure, and
might throw it across his horse, and bring it home in triumph.

Before reaching the place the road became very ill-defined, and speedily
ceased to be a road at all; but Malebouche could still see the broken
branches and trampled ground along which they had pursued their prey
earlier in the day.

At last he reached the deer, and tying the horse to a branch of a tree,
proceeded to disembowel it ere he placed it across the steed, as was the
fashion; but as he was doing this, the horse made a violent plunge, and
uttered a scream of terror. Malebouche turned--a pair of vivid eyes were
glaring in the darkness.

It was a wolf, attracted by the scent of the butchery.

Malebouche rushed to the aid of his horse, but before he could reach the
poor beast it broke through all restraint in its agony of fear that the
wolf might prefer horse-flesh to venison, and tearing away the branch
and all, galloped for dear life away, away, towards distant Wallingford,
the wolf after it; for when man or horse runs, the savage beast, whether
dog or wolf, seems bound to follow.

So Malebouche was left alone with his deer in the worst possible humour.

It was useless now to think of carrying the whole carcass home; so he
cut off the haunch only, and throwing it over his shoulder, started.

A storm came drifting up and obscured the rising moon--the woods grew
very dark.

Onward he tramped--wearily, wearily, tramp! tramp! splash! splash!

He had got into a bog.

How to get out of it was the question. He had heard there was a quagmire
somewhere about this part of the forest, of bottomless depth, men said.

So he strove to get back to firm ground, but in the darkness went
wrong; and the farther he went the deeper he sank.

Up to the knees.

Now he became seriously alarmed, and abandoned his venison.

Up to the middle.

"Help! help!" he cried.

Was there none to hear?

Yes. At this moment the clouds parted, and the moon shone forth through
a gap in their canopy--a full moon, bright and clear.

Before him walked a boy, about fifty yards ahead.

"Boy! boy! stop! help me!"

The boy did not turn, but walked on, seemingly on firm ground.

But Malebouche was intensely relieved.

"Where he can walk I can follow;" and he exerted all his strength to
overtake the boy, but he sank deeper and deeper.

The boy seemed to linger, as if he heard the cry, and beckoned to
Malebouche to come to him.

The squire strove to do so, when all at once he found no footing, and
sank slowly.

He was in the fatal quagmire of which he had heard.

Slowly, slowly, up to the middle--up to the neck.

"Boy, help! help! for Heaven's sake!"

The boy stood, as it seemed, yet on firm ground. And now he threw aside
the hood that had hitherto concealed his features, and looked Malebouche
in the face.

_It was the face of the murdered Ulric_ upon which Malebouche gazed! and
the whole figure vanished into empty air as he looked.

One last despairing scream--then a sound of choking--then the head
disappeared beneath the mud--then a bubble or two of air breaking the
surface of the bog--then all was still. And the mud kept its secret for



Meanwhile Osric was brought back as a prisoner to the grim stronghold
where for years his position had been that of the chartered favourite of
the mighty Baron who was the lord thereof.

When the news had spread that he was at the gates, all the inmates of
the castle--from the grim troopers to the beardless pages--crowded to
see him enter, and perhaps to exult over the fallen favourite; for it is
not credible that the extraordinary partiality Brian had ever shown
Osric should have failed to excite jealousy, although his graceful and
unassuming bearing had done much to mollify the feeling in the hearts of

And there was nought common or mean in his behaviour; nor, on the other
hand, aught defiant or presumptuous. All was simple and natural.

"Think you they will put him to the torture?" said a youngster.

"They dare not till the Baron returns," said his senior.

"And then?"

"I doubt it."

"The rope, then, or the axe?"

"Perchance the latter."

"But he is not of gentle blood."

"Who knows?"

"If it were you or I?"

"Hanging would be too good for us."

In the courtyard the party of captors awaited the orders of the Lady
Maude, now regent in her stern husband's absence. They soon came.

"Confine him strictly, but treat him well."

So he was placed in the prison reserved for the captives of gentle
birth, or entitled to special distinction, in the new buildings of
Brian's Close; and Tustain gnashed his teeth, for he longed to have the
torturing of him.

Unexpected guests arrived at the castle that night--that is, unexpected
by those who were not in the secret of the letters Osric had written and
the Baron had sent out when Osric last played his part of
secretary--Milo, Earl of Hereford, and Sir Alain of St. Maur, some time
page at Wallingford.

At the banquet the Lady Maude, sorely distressed, confided her griefs to
her guests.

"We all trusted him. That he should betray us is past bearing."

"Have you not put him on the rack to learn who bought him?"

"I could not. It is as if my own son had proved false. We all loved

"Yet he was not of noble birth, I think."

"No. Do you not remember the hunt in which you took part when my lord
first found him? Well, the boy, for he was a mere lad of sixteen then,
exercised a wonderful glamour over us all; and, as Alain well knows, he
rose rapidly to be my lord's favourite squire, and would soon have won
his spurs, for he was brave--was Osric."

"Lady, may I see him? He knows me well; and I trust to learn the
secret," said Alain.

"Take this ring; it will ope the doors of his cell to thee."

"And take care _thou_ dost not make use of it to empty Brian's Close,"
said Milo ironically.

Alain laughed, and proceeded on his mission.


"Osric, my fellow-page and brother, what is the meaning of this? why art
thou here?"

He extended his hand. Osric grasped it.

"Dost thou not know I did a Christlike deed?"


"Yes. Did He not open the prison doors of Hell when He descended
thither, and let the captives out of Limbus? I daresay the Dragon did
not like it."

"Osric, the subject is too serious for jesting."

"I am not jesting."

"But what led thee to break thy faith?"

"My faith to a higher Master than even the Lord of Wallingford, to whom
I owed so much."

"The Church never taught me that much: if all we do is so wrong, why are
we not excommunicated? Why, we are allowed our chapel, our chaplain--who
troubles himself little about what goes on--our Masses! and we shall
easily buy ourselves out of Purgatory when all is over."

Too true, Alain; the Church did grievously neglect her duty at
Wallingford and elsewhere, and passively allow such dreadful dens of
tyranny to exist. But Osric had learnt better.

"I do not believe you will buy yourselves out. The old priest who served
our little church once quoted a Saint--I think they called him
'Augustine'--who said such things could only profit those whose lives
merited that they should profit them. But you did not come here to
discuss religion."

"No, indeed. Tell me what changed your mind?"

"Things that I heard at my grandfather's deathbed, which taught me I had
been aiding and abetting in the Devil's work."

"Devil's work, Osric! The tiger preys upon the deer, the wolf on the
sheep, the fox on the hen, the cat on the bird,--it is so all through
creation; and we do the same. Did the Devil ordain the laws of nature?"

"God forbid. But men are brethren."

"Brethren are we! Do you think I call the vile canaille my
brethren?--not I. The base fluid which circulates in their veins is not
like the generous blood which flows in the veins of the noble and
gallant. I have no more sympathy with such folk than the cat with the
mouse. Her nature, which God gave, teaches her to torture, much as we
torment our captives in Brian's Close or elsewhere; but knights, nobles,
gentlemen,--they are my brethren. We slay each other in generous
emulation,--in the glorious excitement of battle,--but we torture them
not. _Noblesse oblige._"

"I cannot believe in the distinction; and you will find out I am right
some day, and that the blood of your victims, the groans of your
captives, will be visited on your head."

"Osric, you are one of the conquered race,--is it not so? Sometimes I
doubted it."

"I am one of your victims; and I would sooner be of the sufferers than
of the tyrants."

"I can say no more; something has spoilt a noble nature. Do you not
dread Brian's return?"


"Why not? I should in your place. He loved you."

"I have a secret to tell him which, methinks, will explain all."

"Wilt not tell it me?"

"No; I may not yet."

And Alain took his departure sorrowfully, none the wiser.


The sound of trumpets--the beating of drums. The Baron returns. He
enters the proud castle, which he calls his own, with downcast head. The
scene in the woods near Byfield has sobered him.

One more grievous blow awaits him,--one to wound him in his tenderest
feelings, perhaps the only soft spot in that hard heart. What a mystery
was hidden in his whole relation to Osric! What could have made the
tiger love the fawn? Was it some deep mysterious working of nature?

Can the reader guess? Probably, or he has read our tale to little

Osric knows it is coming. He braces himself for the interview. He prays
for support and wisdom.

The door opens--Brian enters.

He stands still, and gazes upon Osric for full five minutes ere he

"Osric, what means this?"

"I have but done my duty. Pardon me, my lord, but the truth must be
spoken now."

"Thy duty! to break thy faith?"

"To man but not to God."

"Osric, what causes this change? I trusted thee, I loved thee, as never
I loved youth before. Thou hast robbed me of my confidence in man."

"My lord, I will tell thee. At my grandfather's dying bed I learnt a
secret I knew not before."

"And that secret?"

"I am the son of Wulfnoth of Compton."

"So thy grandfather told _me_--_I_ knew it."

"But I knew not that thou didst slay my kindred--that my mother perished
under thy hands in her burning house--and I alone escaped. Had I known
it, could I have loved and served thee?--NEVER."

"And yet repenting of that deed, I have striven to atone for it by my
conduct to thee."

"Couldst thou _hope_ to do so? nay, I acknowledge thy kindness."

"And thou wouldst open my castle to the foe and slay me in return?"

"No; we shed no blood--only delivered the helpless. Thou hadst made me
take part in the slaughter, the torture of mine own helpless countrymen,
whose blood God will surely require at our hands, if we repent not. I
have repented, but I could not harm thee. See, I had taken the Cross,
and was on my way to the Holy Wars, when thy minions seized me and
brought me back."

"Thou hast taken the Cross?"

"I have."

"I know not whether thou dost think that I can let thee go: it would
destroy all discipline in my castle. Right and left, all clamour for thy
life. The late-comers from Ardennes swear they will desert if such order
is kept as thy forgiveness would denote. Nay, Osric, thou must die; but
thy death shall be that of a noble, to which by birth thou art not

The choking of the voice, the difficulty of utterance which accompanied
this last speech, showed the deep sorrow with which Brian spoke. Brutus
sacrificing his sons may have shown less emotion. Osric felt it deeply.

"My lord, do what you think your duty, and behead your former favourite.
I forgive you all you have done, and may think it right yet to do. I die
in peace with you and the world."

And Osric turned his face to the wall.

The Baron left the cell, where he found his fortitude deserting him.

As he appeared on the ramparts he heard all round the muttered words--

"Death to the traitor! death!"

At last he spoke out fiercely.

"Stop your throats, ye hounds, barking and whining for blood. Justice
shall be done. Here, Alain, seek the doomster Coupe-gorge and the
priest; send the priest to your late friend, and tell the doomster to
get his axe ready; tell Osric thyself he dies at sundown."

A loud shout of exultation.

Brian gnashed his teeth.

"Bring forth my steed."

The steed was brought.

He turned to a pitying knight who stood by, the deputy-governor in his

"If I return not, delay not the execution after sunset. Let it be on the
castle green."

A choking sensation--he put his hand to his mouth; when he withdrew it,
it was tinged with blood.

He dashed the spurs into his steed; the drawbridges fell before him; he
rode at full gallop along the route by the brook described in our second
chapter. Whither was he bound?

_For Cwichelm's Hlawe._

It is a wonder that he was not thrown over and over again; but chance
often protects the reckless while the careful die. He rides through the
forest over loose stones--over protruding roots of trees--still he kept
his seat; he flew like the whirlwind, but he escaped projecting
branches. In an hour he was ascending the slope from Chiltune to the
summit of the hill.

He reined his panting steed at the foot of the barrow.

"Hag, come forth!"

No reply.

He tied up his steed to a tree and entered her dread abode--the ancient

She sat over the open stone coffin with its giant skeleton.

"Here thou art then, witch!"

"What does Brian Fitz-Count want of me?"

"I seek thee as Saul sought the Witch of Endor--in dire trouble. The
boy, old Sexwulf's grandson"--he could not frame his lips to say
Wulfnoth's son--"has proved false to me."

"Why hast thou not smitten him, and ridden thyself of '_so frail an

"I could not."

"Did I not tell thee so long syne? ah, ha!"

"Tell me, thou witch, why does the death of a peasant rend my very
heart? Tell me, didst thou not give me a philter, a potion or something,
when I was here? My heart burns--what is it?"

"Brian Fitz-Count, there is one who can solve the riddle--seek him."

"Who is he?"

"Ride at once to Dorchester Abbey--waste no time--ask to see Father
Alphege, he shall tell thee all. When is the boy to die?"

"At sundown."

"Then there is no time to be lost. It is now the ninth hour; thou hast
but three hours. Ride, ride, man! if he die before thy return, thy
heart-strings will crack. Ride, man, ride! if ever thou didst
ride--Dorchester first, Father Alphege, then Wallingford Castle."

Brian rushed from the cavern--he gave full rein to his horse--he drove
his spurs deep into the sides of the poor beast.

Upon the north-east horizon stood the two twin clumps of Synodune, about
ten miles off; he fixed his eyes upon them; beyond them lay Dorchester;
he descended the hill at a dangerous pace, and made for those landmarks.

He rode through Harwell--passed the future site of Didcot Station, where
locomotives now hiss and roar--he left the north Moor-town on the
right--he crossed the valley between the twin hills--he swam the river,
for the water was high at the ford--he passed the gates of the old
cathedral city. Every one trembled as they saw him, and hid from his
presence. He dismounted at the abbey gates.

The porter hesitated to open.

"I have come to see Father Alphege--open!"

"This is not Wallingford Castle," said the daring porter, strong in
monastic immunities.

Brian remembered where he was, and sobered down.

"Then I would fain see the Abbot at once: life or death hang upon it."

"Thou mayst enter the hospitium and wait his pleasure."

He waited nearly half an hour. They kept him on purpose, to show him
that he was not the great man at Dorchester he was at Wallingford. But
they were unwittingly cruel; they knew not his need.

Meanwhile the Abbot sought Father Alphege, and told him who sought him.

"Canst thou bear to see him?"

"I can; it is the will of Heaven."

"Then he shall see thee in the church; the sacred house of God will
restrain you both. Enter the confessional; he shall seek thee there."

Then the Abbot sought Brian.

"Come with me and I will show thee him thou seekest."

Brian was faint with exhaustion, but the dire need, the terrible
expectation of some awful secret, held him up. He had had no food that
day, but he recked not.

The Abbot Alured led him into the church.

The confessional was a stone cell[30] in the thickness of the wall,
entered by the priest from a side chapel. The penitent approached from
the opposite side of the wall from the nave of the church.

"I am not come to make a confession--yes I am, though, yet not an
ordinary one."

"Go to that aperture, and through it thou mayst tell your grief, or
whatever thou hast to say, to Father Alphege."

Brian went to the spot, but he knelt not.

"Father Alphege, is it thou?" he said.

"It is I. What does Brian Fitz-Count seek of me? Art thou a penitent?"

"I know not. A witch sent me to thee."

"A witch?"

"Yes--Hertha of Cwichelm's Hlawe."


"Listen. I adopted a boy, the son of a man I had slain, partly, I think,
to atone for a crime once committed, wherein I fired his house, and
burnt his kith and kin, save this one boy. I loved him; he won his way
to my heart; he seemed like my own son; and then he _betrayed_ me. And
now he is doomed to death."

"To die WHEN?" almost shrieked the priest.

"At sundown."

"God of Mercy! he must not die. Wouldst thou slay thy son?"

"He is not my son by blood--I only meant by adoption."

"Listen, Brian Fitz-Count, to words of solemn truth, although thou wilt
find them hard to believe. He is thine _own_ son--the son of thy

Brian felt as if his head would burst beneath the aching brain. A cold
sweat bedewed him.

"Prove it," he said.

"I will. Brian Fitz-Count, I am Wulfnoth of Compton."

"Thou? I slew thee on the downs in mortal combat."

"Nay, I yet breathed. The good monks of Dorchester passed by and brought
me _here_. I took the vows, and here I am. Now listen: thou didst slay
my loved and dearest ones, but I can forgive thee now. Canst thou in
turn forgive me?"

"Forgive thee what?"

"In my revenge, I robbed thee of thy son and brought him up as my own."

"But Sexwulf swore that the lad was his grandson."

"He believed it. I wilfully deceived him; but the old nurse Judith has
the proofs--a ring with thy crest, a lock of maiden's hair."

"Good God! they were his mother's, and hung about his little neck when
we lost him. Man, how couldst thou?"

"Thou didst slay all mine, and I made thee feel _like_ pangs. And when
the boy came to me after his deadly breach with thee, although I had
forgiven thee, I could not tell him the truth, lest I should send him to
be a murderer like unto thee; but I did my best for him. I sent him to
the Holy Wars, and----"

He discovered that he spake but to the empty air.

Brian was gone.


A crowd was on the green sward of the castle, which filled the interior
between the buildings. In the centre rose a scaffold, whereon was the
instrument of death, the block, the axe. A priest stood by the side of
the victim, and soothed him with holy rite and prayer. The executioner
leant on his axe.

From the courtyard--the green of the castle--the sun was no longer
visible; but the watchman on the top of the keep saw him from that giddy
height descending like a ball of fire towards Cwichelm's Hlawe. It was
his to give the signal when the sun sank behind the hill.

Every window was full--every coigne of vantage to see the sight. Alas!
human nature is ever the same. Witness the precincts of the Old Bailey
on hanging mornings in our grandfathers' days!

The man on the keep saw the sun actually touch the trees on the summit
of the distant hill, and bathe them in fiery light. Another minute and
all would be over.

In the intense silence, the galloping of a horse was heard--a horse
strong and powerful. Down went the drawbridges.

The man on the keep saw, and omitted to give the signal, as the sun

"Hold! hold!" cried a commanding voice.

It was Brian on his foaming steed. He looked as none had ever seen him
look before; but joy was on his face.

He was in time, and no more.

"Take him to my chamber, priest; executioner, put up thine axe, there
will be no work for it to-day. Men of Wallingford, Osric is my son--my
own son--the son of my bowels. I cannot spare you my son. Thank God, I
am in time."


Into that chamber we cannot follow them. The scene is beyond our power
of description. It was Nature which had all the time been speaking in
that stern father's heart, and now she had her way.


On the following morning a troop left Wallingford Castle for Reading
Abbey. The Baron rode at its head, and by his side rode Osric. Through
Moulsford, and Streatley, and Pangbourne--such are their modern
names--they rode; the Thames on their left hand, the downs on their
right. The gorgeous abbey, in the freshness of its early youth, rose
before them. Would we had space to describe its glories! They entered,
and Brian presented Osric to the Abbot.

"Here, my lord Abbot, is the soldier of the Cross whom thou didst
enroll. He is lame as yet, from an accident, but will soon be ready for
service. Meanwhile he would fain be thy guest."

The Abbot was astonished.

"What has chanced, my son? We wondered that thou didst not rejoin us,
and feared thou hadst faltered."

"He has found a father, who restrained his freedom."

"A father?"

"But who now gives his boy to thee. Osric is my son."

The Abbot was astonished; as well he might be.

"Go, my Osric, to the hospitium; let me speak to my lord Abbot alone."

And Brian told his story, not without strong emotion.

"What wilt thou do now, my Lord of Wallingford?"

"He shall fulfil his vow, for himself and for me. But, my lord, my sins
have come home to me. What shall I do? Would I could go with him! but my
duties, my plighted faith to my Queen, restrain me. Even to-morrow the
leaders of our cause meet at Wallingford Castle."

"Into politics we enter not here. But thy sin, if thou hast sinned, God
hath left the means of forgiveness. Repent--confess--thou shall be
loosed from all."

"I have not been shriven for a long time, but I will be now."

"Father Osmund is a meet confessor."

"Nay, the man whom I wronged shall shrive me both as priest and man--so
shall I feel forgiven."


They parted--the father and son--and Brian rode to Dorchester, and
sought Father Alphege again. Into the solemn secrets of that interview
we may not enter. No empty form was there; priest and penitent mingled
their tears, and ere the formal absolution was pronounced by the priest
they forgave each other as men, and then turned to Him of Whom it is

     "Yea, like as a father pitieth his own children,
     Even so is the Lord merciful unto them that fear Him."

And taught by adversity, Brian feared Him now.


[30] The like may be still seen in the great church at Warwick.



     "Last scene of all,
     Which ends this strange eventful history."

Our tale is all but told. Osric reached the Holy Land in safety, more
fortunate than many of his fellows; and there, hearing Brian's
recommendations and acknowledged as his son, joined the order of the
Knights Templars,--that splendid order which was astonishing the world
by its valour and its achievements, whose members were half monks, half
warriors, and wore the surplice over the very coat of mail; having their
chief church in the purified Mosque of Omar, on the site of the Temple
of Jerusalem, and their mission to protect pilgrims and defend the Holy

He was speedily admitted to knighthood, a distinction his valour fully
justified; and we leave him--gratifying both the old and the new man:
the old man in his love of fighting, the new man in his self-conquest--a
far nobler thing after all. It was a combination sanctioned by the
holiest, best men of that age; such as St. Bernard, whose hymns still
occupy a foremost place in our worship.[31]

Brian still continued his warlike career, but there was a great change
in his mode of warfare. Wallingford Castle was no longer sullied by
unnecessary cruelties. Coupe-gorge and Tustain had an easy time of it.

In 1152 Stephen again besieged Wallingford, but the skill and valour of
Brian Fitz-Count forced him to retreat. Again, having reduced the
Castle of Newbury, he returned, and strove to reduce the place by
famine, blocking them in on every side; so that they were forced to send
a message to Henry Plantagenet to come to their aid from Normandy. He
embarked in January 1153 with three thousand foot and a hundred and
forty horse. Most of the great nobles of the west joined his standard in
his passage through England, and he was in time to relieve Wallingford,
besieging the besiegers in their Crowmarsh fort. Stephen came in turn to
relieve them with the barons who adhered to his standard, accompanied by
his son, the heir presumptive, Eustace, animated with strong emulation
against Henry. On his approach, Henry made a sudden sally, and took by
storm the fort at the head of the bridge, which Stephen had erected the
year before, and following the cruel customs of the war, caused all the
defenders to be beheaded on the bridge. Then leaving a sufficient force
to bridle Crowmarsh, Henry marched out with great alacrity to offer
Stephen a pitched battle and decide the war. He had not gone far when he
found Stephen encamped on Cholsey Common, and both sides prepared for
battle with eagerness.

But the Earl of Arundel, assembling all the nobility and principal
leaders, addressed them.

"It is now fourteen years since the rage of civil war first infected the
kingdom. During that melancholy period what blood has been shed, what
desolation and misery brought on the people! The laws have lost their
force; the Crown its authority; this great and noble nation has been
delivered over as a prey to the basest of foreigners,--the abominable
scum of Flanders, Brabant, and Brittany,--robbers rather than soldiers,
restrained by no laws, Divine or human,--instruments of all tyranny,
cruelty, and violence. At the same time our cruel neighbours the Welsh
and the Scotch, taking advantage of our distress, have ravaged our
borders. And for what good? When Maude was Queen, she alienated all
hearts by her pride and violence, and made them regret Stephen. And when
Stephen returned to power, he made them regret Maude. He discharged not
his foreign hirelings; but they have lived ever since at free-quarters,
plundering our houses, burning our cities, preying upon the very bowels
of the land, like vultures upon a dying beast. Now, here are two new
armies of Angevins, Gascons, and what not. If Henry conquer, he must
confiscate our property to repay them, as the Conqueror that of the
English, after Senlac. If Stephen conquer, have we any reason to think
he will reign better than before? Therefore let us make a third
party--that of peace. Let Stephen reign (with proper restraint) for
life, and Henry, as combining the royal descent of both nations, succeed

The proposal was accepted with avidity, with loud shouts, "So be it: God
wills it."

Astonishment and rage seized Eustace, thus left out in the cold; but his
father, weary of strife, gave way, and Stephen and Henry met within a
little distance from the two camps, in a meadow near Wallingford, the
river flowing between the two armies--which had been purposely so
disposed to prevent collision--and the conditions of peace were
virtually settled on the river-bank.

Eustace went off in a great rage with the knights of his own household,
and ravaged the country right and left, showing what an escape England
had in his disappointment. His furious passion, coupled with violent
exertion, brought on a brain fever, of which he died. Alas, poor young
prince! But his death saved thousands of innocent lives, and brought
peace to poor old England. The treaty was finally concluded in November
1153, in the fourteenth year of the war. Stephen died the following
year, and Henry quietly succeeded; who sent the free-lances back to the
continent, and demolished one thousand one hundred and fifteen robbers'


     "Peace and no more from out its brazen portals
     The blasts of war's great organ shake the skies,
     But beautiful as songs of the immortals,
     The holy harmonies of peace arise."

And now Brian Fitz-Count could carry out his heart's desire, and follow
Osric to the Crusades. His wife, Maude of Wallingford, had before
retired into Normandy, weary of strife and turmoil, and taken the veil,
with his consent, in a convent connected with the great monastery of

In the chamber overlooking the south terrace, the river, and the glacis,
once the bower of Maude d'Oyley, sat the young King Henry. He was of
ruddy countenance and well favoured, like David of old. His chest was
broad but his stature short, his manners graceful and dignified.

Before him stood the lord of the castle.

"And so thou _wilt_ leave us! For the sake of thy long and great
services to our cause, I would fain have retained thee here."

"My liege, I wish to atone for a life of violence and bloodshed. I must
save my poor soul."

"Hast thou sinned more than other men?"

"I know not, only that I repent me of my life of violence: I have been a
man of blood from my youth, and I go to the tomb of Him Who bled for me
that I may lay my sins there."

"And who shall succeed thee here?"

"I care not. I have neither kith nor kin save one--a Knight Templar. A
noble soldier, but, by the rules of his stern order, he is pledged to
poverty, chastity, and obedience."

"I have heard that the Templars abound in those virtues, but they are a
monastic body, and can hold no property independently of their noble
order; and I have no wish to see Wallingford Castle a fief of theirs."

"I leave it all to thee, my liege, and only ask permission to say

"God be with thee, since go thou must."

Brian kissed the royal hand and was gone.

Once he looked back at the keep of Wallingford Castle from the summit of
Nuffield in the Chilterns, on his road to London _en route_ for the sea.
Ah! what a look was that!

He never saw it again.

And when he had gone one of the first acts of the king was to seize as
an "escheat" the Castle and honour of Wallingford which Brian Fitz-Count
and Maude his wife, having entered the religious life, had ceased to


The sun was setting in the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount
Gerizim--the mountains of blessing and cursing. In the entrance to the
gorge, thirty-four miles from Jerusalem and fifteen south of Samaria,
was the village of El Askar, once called Sychar.

An ancient well, surmounted by an alcove more than a hundred feet
deep--the gift of Jacob to his son Joseph--was to be seen hard by; and
many pilgrims paused and drank where the Son of God once slaked His
human thirst.

The rounded mass of Ebal lay to the south-east of the valley, of Gerizim
to the north-west; at the foot of the former lay the village.

As in that olden time, it yet wanted four months of harvest. The
corn-fields were still green; the foliage of leafy trees afforded
delicious shades, as when He sat weary by that well, old even then.

Oh what memories of blessing and cursing, of Jacob and Joseph, of Joshua
and Gideon, clung to that sacred spot! But, like stars in the presence
of a sun, their lustre paled at the remembrance that His sacred Feet
trod that hallowed soil.

In a whitewashed caravansary of El Askar lay a dying penitent,--a
pilgrim returning from Jerusalem, then governed by a Christian king. He
seemed prematurely old,--worn out by the toils of the way and the change
of climate and mode of life. He lacked not worldly wealth, which there,
as elsewhere, commanded attention; yet his feet were blistered and sore,
for he had of choice travelled barefoot to the Holy Sepulchre.

A military party was passing along the vale, bound from Acre to
Jerusalem, clad in flexible mail from head to foot; armed, for the rules
of their order forbade them ever to lay their arms aside. But over their
armour long monastic mantles of scarlet were worn, with a huge white
cross on the left shoulder. They were of the array of the Knights
Templars. Soldiers, yet monks! of such high renown that scarcely a great
family in Europe but was represented in their ranks. Their diet was
simple, their discipline exact; they shunned no hardship, declined no
combat; they had few ties to life, but were prepared to sacrifice all
for the sake of the holy warfare and the Temple of God. Their homes,
their churches, lacked ornament, and were rigidly simple, as became
their vow of poverty. Never yet had they disgraced their holy calling,
or neglected to bear their white banner into the heart of the foe; so
that the Moslem trembled at the war-cry of the Templars--"God and His

Such were the Templars in their early days.

The leader of this particular party was a knight in the prime of life,
of noble, prepossessing bearing; who managed his horse as if rider and
steed were one, like the Centaur of old.

They encamped for the night in the open, hard by the Sacred Well.

Scarcely were the camp-fires lit, when a villager sought an audience of
the commander, which was at once granted.

"Noble seigneur," he said, "a Christian pilgrim lies dying at the
caravansary hard by, and craves the consolations of religion. Thou art
both monk and soldier?"

"I am."

"And wilt visit the dying man?"

"At once."

And only draining a goblet of wine and munching a crust, the leader
followed the guide, retaining his arms, according to rule; first telling
his subordinate in command where he was going.

On the slopes of the eastern hill stood the caravansary, built in the
form of a hollow square; the courtyard devoted to horses and cattle,
chambers opening all round the inner colonnade, with windows looking
outward upon the country.

There the Templar was taken to a chamber, where, upon a rude pallet,
was stretched the dying man.

"Thou art ill, my brother; canst thou converse with me?"

"God has left me that strength."

"With what tongue dost thou adore the God of our fathers?"

"English or French. But who art thou?"

The dying man raised himself up on his elbows.


"My father!"

It was indeed Brian Fitz-Count who lay dying on that couch. They
embraced fervently.

"_Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine in pace_," he said. "Osric, my son,
is yet alive--I see him: God permits me to see him, to gladden my eyes.
Osric, thou shalt close them; and here shalt thou bury thy father."

"Tell me, my sire, hast thou long arrived? why have we not met before?"

"I have been to Jerusalem; I have wept on Calvary; I have prayed at the
Holy Sepulchre; and there I have received the assurance that He has cast
my sins behind my back, and blotted them out, nailing them to His Cross.
I then sought thee, and heard thou wert at Acre, at the commandery of
St. John. I sought thee, but passed thee on the road unwittingly. Then I
retraced my steps; but the malaria, which ever hangs about the ruins of
old cities, has prostrated me. My hours are numbered; but what have I
yet to live for? no, _Nunc dimittis, nunc dimittis, Domine; quia oculi
mei viderunt salutare Tuum_."

And he sank back as in ecstasy, holding still the hand of his son, and
covering it with kisses.

The setting sun cast a flood of glory on the vale beneath, on Jacob's

Once more the sick man rose on his bed, and gazed on the sacred spot
where once the Redeemer sat, and talked with the woman of Samaria.

"He sat there, weary, weary, seeking His sheep; and I am one. He has
found me. Oh my God, Thou didst thirst for my soul; let that thirst be

Then to Osric--

"Hast thou not a priest in thy troop, my son?"

"Our chaplain is with us."

"Let him bring me the Viaticum. I am starting on my last long journey, I
want my provision for the way."

The priest arrived; the last rites were administered.

"Like David of old, I have been a man of blood; like him, I have
repented that I have shed innocent blood," said the sick penitent.

"And like Nathan, I tell thee, my brother," said the priest, "that the
Lord hath put away thy sin."

"And my faith accepts the blessed assurance."

"Osric, my son, let me bless thee before I die; thou dost not know,
canst never know on earth, what thou didst for me."

"God bless thee too, my father. We shall meet before His throne when
time shall be no more."


He fell back as if exhausted, and for a long time lay speechless. At
last he raised himself on his elbow and looked steadfastly up.

"Hark! they are calling the roll-call above."

He listened intently for a moment, then, as if he had heard his own
name, he answered--


And Brian Fitz-Count was no more.


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh_.


[31] As the admirers of Captain Hedley Vicars and other military
Christians sanction the combination even now.



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Selected by H. L. Sidney Lear.

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The Night is far spent, the Day is at hand--Elijah, the Warner of the
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What the Church is, and when and how it was founded--Duty of the Church
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By Edward Meyrick Goulburn, D.D., D.C.L.,

_Dean of Norwich_.


VOLUME I. BOOK I. _Introductory._--On the Excellencies of the
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of Durham--Of the Collects, as representing the Genius of the English
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Prayer, for Peace--The Third at Evening Prayer, for Aid against all

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Newman's Selection from Sermons.

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Edited by the Rev. W. J. Copeland, B.D.,

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_Advent_:--Self-denial the Test of Religious Earnestness--Divine
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_New Year's Sunday_:--The Lapse of Time. _Epiphany_:--Remembrance of
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     SALES, Bishop and Prince of Geneva.


     THE SPIRITUAL COMBAT. Together with the Supplement and the Path of
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