Hereward, The Last of the English
Part 10 out of 10
sheriff and the king's writ, and arrested Hereward on a charge of speaking
evil of the king, breaking his peace, compassing the death of his faithful
lieges, and various other wicked, traitorous, and diabolical acts.
Hereward was minded at first to fight and die. But Gilbert, who--to do him
justice--wished no harm to his ancient squire, reasoned with him. Why
should he destroy not only himself, but perhaps his people likewise? Why
should he throw away his last chance? The king was not so angry as he
seemed; and if Hereward would but be reasonable, the matter might be
arranged. As it was, he was not to be put to strong prison. He was to be
in the custody of Robert of Herepol, Chatelain of Bedford, who, Hereward
knew, was a reasonable and courteous man. The king had asked him, Gilbert,
to take charge of Hereward.
"And what said you?"
"That I had rather have in my pocket the seven devils that came out of St.
Mary Magdalene; and that I would not have thee within ten miles of Lincoln
town, to be Earl of all the Danelagh. So I begged him to send thee to Sir
Robert, just because I knew him to be a mild and gracious man."
A year before, Hereward would have scorned the proposal; and probably, by
one of his famous stratagems, escaped there and then out of the midst of
all Gilbert's men. But his spirit was broken; indeed, so was the spirit of
every Englishman; and he mounted his horse sullenly, and rode alongside of
Gilbert, unarmed for the first time for many a year.
"You had better have taken me," said Sir Ascelin aside to the weeping
"I? helpless wretch that I am! What shall I do for my own safety, now he
"Let me come and provide for it."
"Out! wretch! traitor!" cried she.
"There is nothing very traitorous in succoring distressed ladies," said
Ascelin. "If I can be of the least service to Alftruda the peerless, let
her but send, and I fly to do her bidding."
So they rode off.
Hereward went through Cambridge and Potton like a man stunned, and spoke
never a word. He could not even think, till he heard the key turned on him
in a room--not a small or doleful one--in Bedford keep, and found an iron
shackle on his leg, fastened to the stone bench on which he sat.
Robert of Herepol had meant to leave his prisoner loose. But there were
those in Gilbert's train who told him, and with truth, that if he did so,
no man's life would be safe. That to brain the jailer with his own keys,
and then twist out of his bowels a line wherewith to let himself down from
the top of the castle, would be not only easy, but amusing, to the famous
So Robert consented to fetter him so far, but no further; and begged his
pardon again and again as he did it, pleading the painful necessities of
But Hereward heard him not. He sat in stupefied despair. A great black
cloud had covered all heaven and earth, and entered into his brain through
every sense, till his mind, as he said afterwards, was like hell, with the
fire gone out.
A jailer came in, he knew not how long after, bringing a good meal, and
wine. He came cautiously toward the prisoner, and when still beyond the
length of his chain, set the food down, and thrust it toward him with a
stick, lest Hereward should leap on him and wring his neck.
But Hereward never even saw him or the food. He sat there all day, all
night, and nearly all the next day, and hardly moved hand or foot. The
jailer told Sir Robert in the evening that he thought the man was mad, and
So good Sir Robert went up to him, and spoke kindly and hopefully. But all
Hereward answered was, that he was very well. That he wanted nothing. That
he had always heard well of Sir Robert. That he should like to get a
little sleep: but that sleep would not come.
The next day Sir Robert came again early, and found him sitting in the
"He was very well," he said. "How could he be otherwise? He was just where
he ought to be. A man could not be better than in his right place."
Whereon Sir Robert gave him up for mad.
Then he bethought of sending him a harp, knowing the fame of Hereward's
music and singing. "And when he saw the harp," the jailer said, "he wept;
but bade take the thing away. And so sat still where he was."
In this state of dull despair he remained for many weeks. At last he woke
There passed through and by Bedford large bodies of troops, going as it
were to and from battle. The clank of arms stirred Hereward's heart as of
old, and he sent to Sir Robert to ask what was toward.
Sir Robert, "the venerable man," came to him joyfully and at once, glad to
speak to an illustrious captive, whom he looked on as an injured man; and
told him news enough.
Taillebois's warning about Ralph Guader and Waltheof had not been
needless. Ralph, as the most influential of the Bretons, was on no good
terms with the Normans, save with one, and that one of the most
powerful,--Fitz-Osbern, Earl of Hereford. His sister Ralph was to have
married; but William, for reasons unknown, forbade the match. The two
great earls celebrated the wedding in spite of William, and asked Waltheof
as a guest. And at Exning, between the fen and Newmarket Heath,--
"Was that bride-ale
Which was man's bale."
For there was matured the plot which Ivo and others had long seen brewing.
William had made himself hateful to all men by his cruelties and
tyrannies; and indeed his government was growing more unrighteous day by
day. Let them drive him out of England, and part the land between them.
Two should be dukes, the third king paramount.
"Waltheof, I presume, plotted drunk, and repented sober, when too late.
The wittol! He should have been a monk."
"Repented he has, if ever he was guilty. For he fled to Archbishop
Lanfranc, and confessed to him so much, that Lanfranc declares him
innocent, and has sent him on to William in Normandy."
"O kind priest! true priest! To send his sheep into the wolf's mouth."
"You forget, dear sire, that William is our king."
"I can hardly forget that, with this pretty ring upon my ankle. But after
my experience of how he has kept faith with me, what can I expect for
Waltheof the wittol, save that which I have foretold many a time?"
"As for you, dear sire, the king has been misinformed concerning you. I
have sent messengers to reason with him again and again; but as long as
Taillebois, Warrenne, and Robert Malet had his ear, of what use were my
"And what said they?"
"That there would be no peace in England if you were loose."
"They lied. I am no boy, like Waltheof. I know when the game is played
out. And it is played out now. The Frenchman is master, and I know it
well. Were I loose to-morrow, and as great a fool as Waltheof, what could
I do, with, it may be, some forty knights and a hundred men-at-arms,
against all William's armies? But how goes on this fool's rebellion? If I
had been loose I might have helped to crush it in the bud."
"And you would have done that against Waltheof?"
"Why not against him? He is but bringing more misery on England. Tell that
to William. Tell him that if he sets me free, I will be the first to
attack Waltheof, or whom he will. There are no English left to fight
against," said he, bitterly, "for Waltheof is none now."
"He shall know your words when he returns to England."
"What, is he abroad, and all this evil going on?"
"In Normandy. But the English have risen for the King in Herefordshire,
and beaten Earl Roger; and Odo of Bayeux and Bishop Mowbray are on their
way to Cambridge, where they hope to give a good account of Earl Ralph;
and that the English may help them there."
"And they shall! They hate Ralph Guader as much as I do. Can you send a
message for me?"
"To Bourne in the Bruneswald; and say to Hereward's men, wherever they
are, Let them rise and arm, if they love Hereward, and down to Cambridge,
to be the foremost at Bishop Odo's side against Ralph Guader, or Waltheof
himself. Send! send! O that I were free!"
"Would to Heaven thou wert free, my gallant sir!" said the good man.
From that day Hereward woke up somewhat. He was still a broken man,
querulous, peevish; but the hope of freedom and the hope of battle woke
him up. If he could but get to his men! But his melancholy returned. His
men--some of them at least--went down to Odo at Cambridge, and did good
service. Guader was utterly routed, and escaped to Norwich, and thence to
Brittany,--his home. The bishops punished their prisoners, the rebel
Normans, with horrible mutilations.
"The wolves are beginning to eat each other," said Hereward to himself.
But it was a sickening thought to him, that his men had been fighting and
he not at their head.
After a while there came to Bedford Castle two witty knaves. One was a
cook, who "came to buy milk," says the chronicler; the other seemingly a
gleeman. They told stories, jested, harped, sang, drank, and pleased much
the garrison and Sir Robert, who let them hang about the place.
They asked next, whether it were true that the famous Hereward was there?
If so, might a man have a look at him?
The jailer said that many men might have gone to see him, so easy was Sir
Robert to him. But he would have no man; and none dare enter save Sir
Robert and he, for fear of their lives. But he would ask him of Herepol.
The good knight of Herepol said, "Let the rogues go in; they may amuse the
So they went in, and as soon as they went, he knew them. One was Martin
Lightfoot, the other Leofric the Unlucky.
"Who sent you?" asked he surlily, turning his face away.
"We know but one she, and she is at Crowland."
"She sent you? and wherefore?"
"That we might sing to you, and make you merry."
Hereward answered them with a terrible word, and turned his face to the
wall, groaning, and then bade them sternly to go.
So they went, for the time.
The jailer told this to Sir Robert, who saw all, being a kind-hearted man.
"From his poor first wife, eh? Well, there can be no harm in that. Nor if
they came from this Lady Alftruda either, for that matter; let them go in
and out when they will."
"But they may be spies and traitors."
"Then we can but hang them."
Robert of Herepol, it would appear from the chronicle, did not much care
whether they were spies or not.
So the men went to and fro, and often sat with Hereward. But he forbade
them sternly to mention Torfrida's name.
Alftruda sent to him meanwhile, again and again, messages of passionate
love and sorrow, and he listened to them as sullenly as he did to his two
servants, and sent no answer back. And so sat more weary months, in the
very prison, it may be in the very room, in which John Bunyan sat nigh six
hundred years after: but in a very different frame of mind.
One day Sir Robert was going up the stairs with another knight, and met
the two coming down. He was talking to that knight earnestly, indignantly:
and somehow, as he passed Leofric and Martin he thought fit to raise his
voice, as if in a great wrath.
"Shame to all honor and chivalry! good saints in heaven, what a thing is
human fortune! That this man, who had once a gallant army at his back,
should be at this moment going like a sheep to the slaughter, to
Buckingham Castle, at the mercy of his worst enemy, Ivo Taillebois, of all
men in the world. If there were a dozen knights left of all those whom he
used to heap with wealth and honor, worthy the name of knights, they would
catch us between here and Stratford, and make a free man of their lord."
So spake--or words to that effect, according to the Latin chronicler, who
must have got them from Leofric himself--the good knight of Herepol.
"Hillo, knaves!" said he, seeing the two, "are you here eavesdropping? out
of the castle this instant, on your lives."
Which hint those two witty knaves took on the spot.
A few days after, Hereward was travelling toward Buckingham, chained upon
a horse, with Sir Robert and his men, and a goodly company of knights
belonging to Ivo. Ivo, as the story runs, seems to have arranged with
Ralph Pagnel at Buckingham to put him into the keeping of a creature of
his own. And how easy it was to put out a man's eyes, or starve him to
death, in a Norman keep, none knew better than Hereward.
But he was past fear or sorrow. A dull heavy cloud of despair had settled
down upon his soul. Black with sin, his heart could not pray. He had
hardened himself against all heaven and earth, and thought, when he
thought at all, only of his wrongs: but never of his sins.
They passed through a forest, seemingly somewhere near what is Newport
Pagnel, named after Ralph, his would-be jailer.
Suddenly from the trees dashed out a body of knights, and at their head
the white-bear banner, in Ranald of Ramsey's hand.
"Halt!" shouted Sir Robert; "we are past the half-way stone. Earl Ivo's
and Earl Ralph's men are answerable now for the prisoner."
"Treason!" shouted Ivo's men, and one would have struck Hereward through
with his lance; but Winter was too quick for him, and bore him from his
saddle; and then dragged Hereward out of the fight.
The Normans, surprised while their helmets were hanging at their saddles,
and their arms not ready for battle, were scattered at once. But they
returned to the attack, confident in their own numbers.
They were over confident. Hereward's fetters were knocked off; and he was
horsed and armed, and, mad with freedom and battle, fighting like himself
Only as he rode to and fro, thrusting and hewing, he shouted to his men to
spare Sir Robert, and all his meinie, crying that he was the savior of his
life; and when the fight was over, and all Ivo's and Ralph's men who were
not slain had ridden for their lives into Stratford, he shook hands with
that venerable knight, giving him innumerable thanks and courtesies for
his honorable keeping; and begged him to speak well of him to the king.
And so these two parted in peace, and Hereward was a free man.
HOW EARL WALTHEOF WAS MADE A SAINT.
A few months after, there sat in Abbot Thorold's lodgings in Peterborough
a select company of Normans, talking over affairs of state after their
"Well, earls and gentlemen," said the Abbot, as he sipped his wine, "the
cause of our good king, which is happily the cause of Holy Church, goes
well, I think. We have much to be thankful for when we review the events
of the past year. We have finished the rebels; Roger de Breteuil is safe
in prison, Ralph Guader unsafe in Brittany, and Waltheof more than unsafe
in--the place to which traitors descend. We have not a manor left which is
not in loyal Norman hands; we have not an English monk left who has not
been scourged and starved into holy obedience; not an English saint for
whom any man cares a jot, since Guerin de Lire preached down St. Adhelm,
the admirable primate disposed of St. Alphege's martyrdom, and some other
wise man--I am ashamed to say that I forget who--proved that St. Edmund of
Suffolk was merely a barbarian knight, who was killed fighting with Danes
only a little more heathen than himself. We have had great labors and
great sufferings since we landed in this barbarous isle upon our holy
errand ten years since; but, under the shadow of the gonfalon of St.
Peter, we have conquered, and may sing 'Dominus illuminatio mea' with
humble and thankful hearts."
"I don't know that," said Ascelin, "my Lord Uncle; I shall never sing
'Dominus Illuminatio' till I see your coffers illuminated once more by
those thirty thousand marks."
"Or I," said Oger le Breton, "till I see myself safe in that bit of land
which Hereward holds wrongfully of me in Locton."
"Or I," said Ivo Taillebois, "till I see Hereward's head on Bourne gable,
where he stuck up those Norman's heads seven years ago. But what the Lord
Abbot means by saying that we have done with English saints I do not see,
for the villains of Crowland have just made a new one for themselves."
"A new one?"
"I tell you truth and fact; I will tell you all, Lord Abbot; and you shall
judge whether it is not enough to drive an honest man mad to see such
things going on under his nose. Men say of me that I am rough, and swear
and blaspheme. I put it to you, Lord Abbot, if Job would not have cursed
if he had been Lord of Spalding? You know that the king let these Crowland
monks have Waltheof's body?"
"Yes, I thought it an unwise act of grace. It would have been wiser to
leave him, as he desired, out on the down, in ground unconsecrate."
"Of course, of course; for what has happened?"
"That old traitor, Ulfketyl, and his monks bring the body to Crowland, and
bury it as if it had been the Pope's. In a week they begin to spread their
lies,--that Waltheof was innocent; that Archbishop Lanfranc himself said
"That was the only act of human weakness which I have ever known the
venerable prelate commit," said Thorold.
"That these Normans at Winchester were so in the traitor's favor, that the
king had to have him out and cut off his head in the gray of the morning,
ere folks were up and about; that the fellow was so holy that he past all
his time in prison in weeping and praying, and said over the whole Psalter
every day, because his mother had taught it him,--I wish she had taught
him to be an honest man;--and that when his head was on the block he said
all the Paternoster, as far as 'Lead us not into temptation,' and then off
went his head; whereon, his head being off, finished the prayer with--you
know best what comes next, Abbot?"
"Deliver us from evil, Amen! What a manifest lie! The traitor was not
permitted, it is plain, to ask for that which could never be granted to
him; but his soul, unworthy to be delivered from evil, entered instead
into evil, and howls forever in the pit."
"But all the rest may be true," said Oger; "and yet that be no reason why
these monks should say it."
"So I told them, and threatened them too; for, not content with making him
a martyr, they are making him a saint."
"Impious! Who can do that, save the Holy Father?" said Thorold.
"You had best get your bishop to look to them, then, for they are carrying
blind beggars and mad girls by the dozen to be cured at the man's tomb,
that is all. Their fellows in the cell at Spalding went about to take a
girl that had fits off one of my manors, to cure her; but that I stopped
with a good horse-whip."
"And gave the monks a piece of my mind, and drove them clean out of their
cell home to Crowland."
What a piece of Ivo's mind on this occasion might be, let Ingulf describe.
"Against our monastery and all the people of Crowland he was, by the
instigation of the Devil, raised to such an extreme pitch of fury, that he
would follow their animals in the marshes with his dogs, drive them to a
great distance down in the lakes, mutilate some in the tails, others in
the ears, while often, by breaking the backs and legs of the beasts of
burden, he rendered them utterly useless. Against our cell also (at
Spalding) and our brethren, his neighbors, the prior and monks, who dwelt
all day within his presence, he rages with tyrannical and frantic fury,
lamed their oxen and horses, daily impounded their sheep and poultry,
striking down, killing, and slaying their swine and pigs; while at the
same time the servants of the prior were oppressed in the Earl's court
with insupportable exactions, were often assaulted in the highways with
swords and staves, and sometimes killed."
"Well," went on the injured Earl, "this Hereward gets news of me,--and
news too, I don't know whence, but true enough it is,--that I had sworn to
drive Ulfketyl out of Crowland by writ from king and bishop, and lock him
up as a minister at the other end of England."
"You will do but right. I will send a knight off to the king this day,
telling him all, and begging him to send us up a trusty Norman as abbot of
Crowland, that we may have one more gentleman in the land fit for our
"You must kill Hereward first. For, as I was going to say, he sent word to
me 'that the monks of Crowland were as the apple of his eye, and Abbot
Ulfketyl to him as more than a father; and that if I dared to lay a finger
on them or their property, he would cut my head off.'"
"He has promised to cut my head off likewise," said Ascelin. "Earl,
knights, and gentlemen, do you not think it wiser that we should lay our
wits together once and for all, and cut off his."
"But who will catch the Wake sleeping?" said Ivo, laughing.
"That will I. I have my plans, and my intelligencers."
And so those wicked men took counsel together to slay Hereward.
HOW HEREWARD GOT THE BEST OF HIS SOUL'S PRICE.
In those days a messenger came riding post to Bourne. The Countess Judith
wished to visit the tomb of her late husband, Earl Waltheof; and asked
hospitality on her road of Hereward and Alftruda.
Of course she would come with a great train, and the trouble and expense
would be great. But the hospitality of those days, when money was scarce,
and wine scarcer still, was unbounded, and a matter of course; and
Alftruda was overjoyed. No doubt, Judith was the most unpopular person in
England at that moment; called by all a traitress and a fiend. But she was
an old acquaintance of Alftruda's; she was the king's niece; she was
immensely rich, not only in manors of her own, but in manors, as
Domesday-book testifies, about Lincolnshire and the counties round, which
had belonged to her murdered husband,--which she had too probably received
as the price of her treason. So Alftruda looked to her visit as to an
honor which would enable her to hold her head high among the proud Norman
dames, who despised her as the wife of an Englishman.
Hereward looked on the visit in a different light. He called Judith ugly
names, not undeserved; and vowed that if she entered his house by the
front door he would go out at the back. "Torfrida prophesied," he said,
"that she would betray her husband, and she had done it."
"Torfrida prophesied? Did she prophesy that I should betray you likewise?"
asked Alftruda, in a tone of bitter scorn.
"No, you handsome fiend: will you do it?"
"Yes; I am a handsome fiend, am I not?" and she bridled up her magnificent
beauty, and stood over him as a snake stands over a mouse.
"Yes; you are handsome,--beautiful: I adore you."
"And yet you will not do what I wish?"
"What you wish? What would I not do for you? what have I not done for
"Then receive Judith. And now, go hunting, and bring me in game. I want
deer, roe, fowls; anything and everything from the greatest to the
smallest. Go and hunt."
And Hereward trembled, and went.
There are flowers whose scent is so luscious that silly children will
plunge their heads among them, drinking in their odor, to the exclusion of
all fresh air. On a sudden sometimes comes a revulsion of the nerves. The
sweet odor changes in a moment to a horrible one; and the child cannot
bear for years after the scent which has once disgusted it by
And so had it happened to Hereward. He did not love Alftruda now: he
loathed, hated, dreaded her. And yet he could not take his eyes for a
moment off her beauty. He watched every movement of her hand, to press it,
obey it. He would have preferred instead of hunting, simply to sit and
watch her go about the house at her work. He was spell-bound to a thing
which he regarded with horror.
But he was told to go and hunt; and he went, with all his men, and sent
home large supplies for the larder. And as he hunted, the free, fresh air
of the forest comforted him, the free forest life came back to him, and he
longed to be an outlaw once more, and hunt on forever. He would not go
back yet, at least to face that Judith. So he sent back the greater part
of his men with a story. He was ill; he was laid up at a farm-house far
away in the forest, and begged the countess to excuse his absence. He had
sent fresh supplies of game, and a goodly company of his men, knights and
housecarles, who would escort her royally to Crowland.
Judith cared little for his absence; he was but an English barbarian.
Alftruda was half glad to have him out of the way, lest his now sullen and
uncertain temper should break out; and bowed herself to the earth before
Judith, who patronized her to her heart's content, and offered her slyly
insolent condolences on being married to a barbarian. She herself could
Alftruda might have answered with scorn that she was an Adeliza, and of
better English blood than Judith's Norman blood; but she had her ends to
gain, and gained them.
For Judith was pleased to be so delighted with her that she kissed her
lovingly, and said with much emotion that she required a friend who would
support her through her coming trial; and who better than one who herself
had suffered so much? Would she accompany her to Crowland?
Alftruda was overjoyed, and away they went.
And to Crowland they came; and to the tomb in the minster, whereof men
said already that the sacred corpse within worked miracles of healing.
And Judith, habited in widow's weeds, approached the tomb, and laid on it,
as a peace-offering to the manes of the dead, a splendid pall of silk and
A fierce blast came howling off the fen, screeched through the minster
towers, swept along the dark aisles; and then, so say the chroniclers,
caught up the pall from off the tomb, and hurled it far away into a
"A miracle!" cried all the monks at once; and honestly enough, like true
Englishmen as they were.
"The Holy heart refuses the gift, Countess," said old Ulfketyl in a voice
Judith covered her face with her hands, and turned away trembling, and
walked out, while all looked upon her as a thing accursed.
Of her subsequent life, her folly, her wantonness, her disgrace, her
poverty, her wanderings, her wretched death, let others tell.
But these Normans believed that the curse of Heaven was upon her from that
day. And the best of them believed likewise that Waltheof's murder was the
reason that William, her uncle, prospered no more in life.
"Ah, saucy sir," said Alftruda to Ulfketyl, as she went out, "there is one
waiting at Peterborough now who will teach thee manners,--Ingulf of
Fontenelle, Abbot, in thy room."
"Does Hereward know that?" asked Ulfketyl, looking keenly at her.
"What is that to thee?" said she, fiercely, and flung out of the minster.
But Hereward did not know. There were many things abroad of which she told
They went back and were landed at Deeping town, and making their way along
the King Street, or old Roman road, to Bourne. Thereon a man met them,
running. They had best stay where they were. The Frenchmen were out, and
there was fighting up in Bourne.
Alftruda's knights wanted to push on, to see after the Bourne folk;
Judith's knights wanted to push on to help the French; and the two parties
were ready to fight each other. There was a great tumult. The ladies had
much ado to still it.
Alftruda said that it might be but a countryman's rumor; that, at least,
it was shame to quarrel with their guests. At last it was agreed that two
knights should gallop on into Bourne, and bring back news.
But those knights never came back. So the whole body moved on Bourne, and
there they found out the news for themselves.
Hereward had gone home as soon as they had departed, and sat down to eat
and drink. His manner was sad and strange. He drank much at the midday
meal, and then lay down to sleep, setting guards as usual.
After a while he leapt up with a shriek and a shudder.
They ran to him, asking whether he was ill.
"Ill? No. Yes. Ill at heart. I have had a dream,--an ugly dream. I thought
that all the men I ever slew on earth came to me with their wounds all
gaping, and cried at me, 'Our luck then, thy luck now.' Chaplain! is there
not a verse somewhere,--Uncle Brand said it to me on his deathbed,--'Whoso
sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed'?"
"Surely the master is fey," whispered Gwenoch in fear to the chaplain.
"Answer him out of Scripture."
"Text? None such that I know of," quoth Priest Ailward, a graceless fellow
who had taken Leofric's place. "If that were the law, it would be but few
honest men that would die in their beds. Let us drink, and drive girls'
fancies out of our heads."
So they drank again; and Hereward fell asleep once more.
"It is thy turn to watch, Priest," said Gwenoch to Ailward. "So keep the
door well, for I am worn out with hunting," and so fell asleep.
Ailward shuffled into his harness, and went to the door. The wine was
heady; the sun was hot. In a few minutes he was asleep likewise.
Hereward slept, who can tell how long? But at last there was a bustle, a
heavy fall; and waking with a start, he sprang up. He saw Ailward lying
dead across the gate, and above him a crowd of fierce faces, some of which
he knew too well. He saw Ivo Taillebois; he saw Oger; he saw his
fellow-Breton, Sir Raoul de Dol; he saw Sir Ascelin; he saw Sir Aswa,
Thorold's man; he saw Sir Hugh of Evermue, his own son-in-law; and with
them he saw, or seemed to see, the Ogre of Cornwall, and O'Brodar of
Ivark, and Dirk Hammerhand of Walcheren, and many another old foe long
underground; and in his ear rang the text,--"Whoso sheddeth man's blood,
by man shall his blood be shed." And Hereward knew that his end was come.
There was no time to put on mail or helmet. He saw the old sword and
shield hang on a perch, and tore them down. As he girded the sword on
Winter sprang to his side.
"I have three lances,--two for me and one for you, and we can hold the
door against twenty."
"Till they fire the house over our heads. Shall Hereward die like a wolf
in a cave? Forward, all Hereward's men!"
And he rushed out upon his fate. No man followed him, save Winter. The
rest, disperst, unarmed, were running hither and thither helplessly.
"Brothers in arms, and brothers in Valhalla!" shouted Winter as he rushed
A knight was running to and fro in the Court, shouting Hereward's name.
"Where is the villain? Wake! We have caught thee asleep at last."
"I am out," quoth Hereward, as the man almost stumbled against him; "and
this is in."
And through shield, hauberk, and body, as says Gaima, went Hereward's
javelin, while all drew back, confounded for the moment at that mighty
"Felons!" shouted Hereward, "your king has given me his truce; and do you
dare break my house, and kill my folk? Is that your Norman law? And is
this your Norman honor?--To take a man unawares over his meat? Come on,
traitors all, and get what you can of a naked man; [Footnote: i. e.
without armor.] you will buy it dear--Guard my back, Winter!"
And he ran right at the press of knights; and the fight began.
"He gored them like a wood-wild boar,
As long as that lance might endure,"
"And when that lance did break in hand,
Full fell enough he smote with brand."
And as he hewed on silently, with grinding teeth and hard, glittering
eyes, of whom did he think? Of Alftruda?
Not so. But of that pale ghost, with great black hollow eyes, who sat in
Crowland, with thin bare feet, and sackcloth on her tender limbs,
watching, praying, longing, loving, uncomplaining. That ghost had been for
many a month the background of all his thoughts and dreams. It was so
clear before his mind's eye now, that, unawares to himself, he shouted
"Torfrida!" as he struck, and struck the harder at the sound of his old
And now he is all wounded and be-bled; and Winter, who has fought back to
back with him, has fallen on his face; and Hereward stands alone, turning
from side to side, as he sweeps his sword right and left till the forest
rings with the blows, but staggering as he turns. Within a ring of eleven
corpses he stands. Who will go in and make the twelfth?
A knight rushes in, to fall headlong down, cloven through the helm: but
Hereward's blade snaps short, and he hurls it away as his foes rush in
with a shout of joy. He tears his shield from his left arm, and with it,
says Gaimar, brains two more.
But the end is come. Taillebois and Evermue are behind him now; four
lances are through his back, and bear him down to his knees.
"Cut off his head, Breton!" shouted Ivo. Raoul de Dol rushed forward,
sword in hand. At that cry Hereward lifted up his dying head. One stroke
more ere it was all done forever.
And with a shout of "Torfrida!" which made the Bruneswald ring, he hurled
the shield full in the Breton's face, and fell forward dead.
The knights drew their lances from that terrible corpse slowly and with
caution, as men who have felled a bear, yet dare not step within reach of
the seemingly lifeless paw.
"The dog died hard," said Ivo. "Lucky for us that Sir Ascelin had news of
his knights being gone to Crowland. If he had had them to back him, we had
not done this deed to-day."
"I will make sure," said Ascelin, as he struck off the once fair and
"Ho, Breton," cried Ivo, "the villain is dead. Get up, man, and see for
yourself. What ails him?"
But when they lifted up Raoul de Dol his brains were running down his
face; and all men stood astonished at that last mighty stroke.
"That blow," said Ascelin, "will be sung hereafter by minstrel and maiden
as the last blow of the last Englishman. Knights, we have slain a better
knight than ourselves. If there had been three more such men in this
realm, they would have driven us and King William back again into the
So said Ascelin; those words of his, too, were sung by many a jongleur,
Norman as well as English, in the times that were to come.
"Likely enough," said Ivo; "but that is the more reason why we should set
that head of his up over the hall-door, as a warning to these English
churls that their last man is dead, and their last stake thrown and lost."
So perished "the last of the English."
It was the third day. The Normans were drinking in the hall of Bourne,
casting lots among themselves who should espouse the fair Alftruda, who
sat weeping within over the headless corpse; when in the afternoon a
servant came in, and told them how a barge full of monks had come to the
shore, and that they seemed to be monks from Crowland. Ivo Taillebois bade
drive them back again into the barge with whips. But Hugh of Evermue spoke
"I am lord and master in Bourne this day, and if Ivo have a quarrel
against St. Guthlac, I have none. This Ingulf of Fontenelle, the new abbot
who has come thither since old Ulfketyl was sent to prison, is a loyal
man, and a friend of King William's, and my friend he shall be till he
behaves himself as my foe. Let them come up in peace."
Taillebois growled and cursed: but the monks came up, and into the hall;
and at their head Ingulf himself, to receive whom all men rose, save
"I come," said Ingulf, in most courtly French, "noble knights, to ask a
boon and in the name of the Most Merciful, on behalf of a noble and
unhappy lady. Let it be enough to have avenged yourself on the living.
Gentlemen and Christians war not against the dead."
"No, no, Master Abbot!" shouted Taillebois; "Waltheof is enough to keep
Crowland in miracles for the present. You shall not make a martyr of
another Saxon churl. He wants the barbarian's body, knights, and you will
be fools if you let him have it."
"Churl? barbarian?" said a haughty voice; and a nun stepped forward who
had stood just behind Ingulf. She was clothed entirely in black. Her bare
feet were bleeding from the stones; her hand, as she lifted it, was as
thin as a skeleton's.
She threw back her veil, and showed to the knights what had been once the
famous beauty of Torfrida.
But the beauty was long past away. Her hair was white as snow; her cheeks
were fallen in. Her hawk-like features were all sharp and hard. Only in
their hollow sockets burned still the great black eyes, so fiercely that
all men turned uneasily from her gaze.
"Churl? barbarian?" she said, slowly and quietly, but with an intensity
which was more terrible than rage. "Who gives such names to one who was as
much better born and better bred than those who now sit here, as he was
braver and more terrible than they? The base wood-cutter's son? The
upstart who would have been honored had he taken service as yon dead man's
"Talk to me so, and my stirrup leathers shall make acquaintance with your
sides," said Taillebois.
"Keep them for your wife. Churl? Barbarian? There is not a man within this
hall who is not a barbarian compared with him. Which of you touched the
harp like him? Which of you, like him, could move all hearts with song?
Which of you knows all tongues from Lapland to Provence? Which of you has
been the joy of ladies' bowers, the counsellor of earls and heroes, the
rival of a mighty king? Which of you will compare yourself with him,--whom
you dared not even strike, you and your robber crew, fairly in front, but,
skulked round him till he fell pecked to death by you, as Lapland
Skratlings peck to death the bear. Ten years ago he swept this hall of
such as you, and hung their heads upon yon gable outside; and were he
alive but one five minutes again, this hall would be right cleanly swept
again! Give me his body,--or bear forever the name of cowards, and
And she fixed her terrible eyes first on one, and then on another, calling
them by name.
"Ivo Taillebois,--basest of all--"
"Take the witch's accursed eyes off me!" and he covered his face with his
hands. "I shall be overlooked,--planet struck. Hew the witch down! Take
"Hugh of Evermue,--the dead man's daughter is yours, and the dead man's
lands. Are not these remembrances enough of him? Are you so fond of his
memory that you need his corpse likewise?"
"Give it her! Give it her!" said he, hanging down his head like a rated
"Ascelin of Lincoln, once Ascelin of Ghent,--there was a time when you
would have done--what would you not?--for one glance of Torfrida's
eyes.--Stay. Do not deceive yourself, fair sir, Torfrida means to ask no
favor of you, or of living man. But she commands you. Do the thing she
bids, or with one glance of her eye she sends you childless to your
"Madam! Lady Torfrida! What is there I would not do for you? What have I
done now, save avenge your great wrong?"
Torfrida made no answer, but fixed steadily on him eyes which widened
"But, madam,"--and he turned shrinking from the fancied spell,--"what
would you have? The--the corpse? It is in the keeping of--of another
"So?" said Torfrida, quietly. "Leave her to me"; and she swept past them
all, and flung open the bower door at their backs, discovering Alftruda
sitting by the dead.
The ruffians were so utterly appalled, not only by the false powers of
magic, but by veritable powers of majesty and eloquence, that they let her
do what she would.
"Out!" cried she, using a short and terrible epithet. "Out, siren, with
fairy's face and tail of fiend, and leave the husband with his wife!"
Alftruda looked up, shrieked; and then, with the sudden passion of a weak
nature, drew a little knife, and sprang up.
Ivo made a coarse jest. The Abbot sprang in: "For the sake of all holy
things, let there be no more murder here!"
Torfrida smiled, and fixed her snake's eye upon her wretched rival.
"Out! woman, and choose thee a new husband among these French gallants,
ere I blast thee from head to foot with the leprosy of Naaman the Syrian."
Alftruda shuddered, and fled shrieking into an inner room.
"Now, knights, give me--that which hangs outside."
Ascelin hurried out, glad to escape. In a minute he returned.
The head was already taken down. A tall lay brother, the moment he had
seen it, had climbed the gable, snatched it away, and now sat in a corner
of the yard, holding it on his knees, talking to it, chiding it, as if it
had been alive. When men had offered to take it, he had drawn a battle-axe
from under his frock, and threatened to brain all comers. And the monks
had warned off Ascelin, saying that the man was mad, and had Berserk fits
of superhuman strength and rage.
"He will give it me!" said Torfrida, and went out.
"Look at that gable, foolish head," said the madman. "Ten years agone, you
and I took down from thence another head. O foolish head, to get yourself
at last up into that same place! Why would you not be ruled by her, you
foolish golden head?"
"Martin!" said Torfrida.
"Take it and comb it, mistress, as you used to do. Comb out the golden
locks again, fit to shine across the battle-field. She has let them get
all tangled into elf-knots, that lazy slut within."
Torfrida took it from his hands, dry-eyed, and went in.
Then the monks silently took up the bier, and all went forth, and down the
hill toward the fen. They laid the corpse within the barge, and slowly
And on by Porsad and by Asendyke,
By winding reaches on, and shining meres
Between gray reed-ronds and green alder-beds,
A dirge of monks and wail of women rose
In vain to Heaven for the last Englishman;
Then died far off within the boundless mist,
And left the Norman master of the land.
So Torfrida took the corpse home to Crowland, and buried it in the choir,
near the blessed martyr St. Waltheof; after which she did not die, but
lived on many years, [Footnote: If Ingulf can be trusted, Torfrida died
about A. D. 1085.] spending all day in nursing and feeding the Countess
Godiva, and lying all night on Hereward's tomb, and praying that he might
find grace and mercy in that day.
And at last Godiva died; and they took her away and buried her with great
pomp in her own minster church of Coventry.
And after that Torfrida died likewise; because she had nothing left for
which to live. And they laid her in Hereward's grave, and their dust is
mingled to this day.
And Leofric the priest lived on to a good old age, and above all things he
remembered the deeds and the sins of his master, and wrote them in a book,
and this is what remains thereof.
But when Martin Lightfoot died, no man has said; for no man in those days
took account of such poor churls and running serving-men.
And Hereward's comrades were all scattered abroad, some maimed, some
blinded, some with tongues cut out, to beg by the wayside, or crawl into
convents, and then die; while their sisters and daughters, ladies born and
bred, were the slaves of grooms and scullions from beyond the sea.
And so, as sang Thorkel Skallason,--
"Cold heart and bloody hand
Now rule English land." [Footnote: Laing's Heimskringla.]
And after that things waxed even worse and worse, for sixty years and
more; all through the reigns of the two Williams, and of Henry Beauclerc,
and of Stephen; till men saw visions and portents, and thought that the
foul fiend was broken loose on earth. And they whispered oftener and
oftener that the soul of Hereward haunted the Bruneswald, where he loved
to hunt the dun deer and the roe. And in the Bruneswald, when Henry of
Poitou was made abbot, [Footnote: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A. D. 1127.] men
saw--let no man think lightly of the marvel which we are about to relate,
for it was well known all over the country--upon the Sunday, when men
sing, "Exsurge quare, O Domine," many hunters hunting, black, and tall,
and loathly, and their hounds were black and ugly with wide eyes, and they
rode on black horses and black bucks. And they saw them in the very
deer-park of the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods to Stamford;
and the monks heard the blasts of the horns which they blew in the night.
Men of truth kept watch upon them, and said that there might be well about
twenty or thirty horn-blowers. This was seen and heard all that Lent until
Easter, and the Norman monks of Peterborough said how it was Hereward,
doomed to wander forever with Apollyon and all his crew, because he had
stolen the riches of the Golden Borough: but the poor folk knew better,
and said that the mighty outlaw was rejoicing in the chase, blowing his
horn for Englishmen to rise against the French; and therefore it was that
he was seen first on "Arise, O Lord" Sunday.
But they were so sore trodden down that they could never rise; for the
French [Footnote: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A. D. 1137.] had filled the land
full of castles. They greatly oppressed the wretched people by making them
work at these castles; and when the castles were finished, they filled
them with devils and evil men. They took those whom they suspected of
having any goods, both men and women, and they put them in prison for
their gold and silver, and tortured them with pains unspeakable, for never
were any martyrs tormented as these were. They hung some by their feet,
and smoked them with foul smoke; some by the thumbs, or by the head, and
put burning things on their feet. They put a knotted string round their
heads, and twisted it till it went into the brain. They put them in
dungeons wherein were adders, and snakes, and toads, and thus wore them
out. Some they put into a crucet-house,--that is, into a chest that was
short and narrow, and they put sharp stones therein, and crushed the man
so that they broke all his bones. There were hateful and grim things
called Sachenteges in many of the castles, which two or three men had
enough to do to carry. This Sachentege was made thus: It was fastened to a
beam, having a sharp iron to go round a man's throat and neck, so that he
might no ways sit, nor lie, nor sleep, but he must bear all the iron. Many
thousands they wore out with hunger.... They were continually levying a
tax from the towns, which they called truserie, and when the wretched
townsfolk had no more to give, then burnt they all the towns, so that well
mightest thou walk a whole day's journey or ever thou shouldest see a man
settled in a town, or its lands tilled....
"Then was corn dear, and flesh, and cheese, and butter, for there was none
in the land. Wretched men starved with hunger. Some lived on alms who had
been once rich. Some fled the country. Never was there more misery, and
never heathens acted worse than these."
For now the sons of the Church's darlings, of the Crusaders whom the Pope
had sent, beneath a gonfalon blessed by him, to destroy the liberties of
England, turned, by a just retribution, upon that very Norman clergy who
had abetted all their iniquities in the name of Rome. "They spared neither
church nor churchyard, but took all that was valuable therein, and then
burned the church and all together. Neither did they spare the lands of
bishops, nor of abbots, nor of priests; but they robbed the monks and
clergy, and every man plundered his neighbor as much as he could. If two
or three men came riding to a town, all the townsfolk fled before them,
and thought that they were robbers. The bishops and clergy were forever
cursing them; but this to them was nothing, for they were all accursed and
forsworn and reprobate. The earth bare no corn: you might as well have
tilled the sea, for all the land was ruined by such deeds, and it was said
openly that Christ and his saints slept."
And so was avenged the blood of Harold and his brothers, of Edwin and
Morcar, of Waltheof and Hereward.
And those who had the spirit of Hereward in them fled to the merry
greenwood, and became bold outlaws, with Robin Hood, Scarlet, and John,
Adam Bell, and Clym of the Cleugh, and William of Cloudeslee; and watched
with sullen joy the Norman robbers tearing in pieces each other, and the
Church who had blest their crime.
And they talked and sung of Hereward, and all his doughty deeds, over the
hearth in lone farm-houses, or in the outlaw's lodge beneath the hollins
green; and all the burden of their song was, "Ah that Hereward were alive
again!" for they knew not that Hereward was alive forevermore; that only
his husk and shell lay mouldering there in Crowland choir; that above
them, and around them, and in them, destined to raise them out of that
bitter bondage, and mould them into a great nation, and the parents of
still greater nations in lands as yet unknown, brooded the immortal spirit
of Hereward, now purged from all earthly dross, even the spirit of
Freedom, which can never die.
HOW DEEPING FEN WAS DRAINED.
Ill war and disorder, ruin and death, cannot last forever. They are by
their own nature exceptional and suicidal, and spend themselves with what
they feed on. And then the true laws of God's universe, peace and order,
usefulness and life, will reassert themselves, as they have been waiting
all along to do, hid in God's presence from the strife of men.
And even so it was with Bourne.
Nearly eighty years after, in the year of Grace 1155, there might have
been seen sitting, side by side and hand in hand, upon a sunny bench on
the Bruneswald slope, in the low December sun, an old knight and an old
lady, the master and mistress of Bourne.
Much had changed since Hereward's days. The house below had been raised a
whole story. There were fresh herbs and flowers in the garden, unknown at
the time of the Conquest. But the great change was in the fen, especially
away toward Deeping on the southern horizon.
Where had been lonely meres, foul watercourses, stagnant slime, there were
now great dikes, rich and fair corn and grass lands, rows of pure white
cottages. The newly-drained land swarmed with stocks of new breeds: horses
and sheep from Flanders, cattle from Normandy; for Richard de Rulos was
the first--as far as history tells--of that noble class of agricultural
squires, who are England's blessing and England's pride.
"For this Richard de Rulos," says Ingulf, or whoever wrote in his name,
"who had married the daughter and heiress of Hugh of Evermue, Lord of
Bourne and Deeping, being a man of agricultural pursuits, got permission
from the monks of Crowland, for twenty marks of silver, to enclose as much
as he would of the common marshes. So he shut out the Welland by a strong
embankment, and building thereon numerous tenements and cottages, in a
short time he formed a large 'vill,' marked out gardens, and cultivated
fields; while, by shutting out the river, he found in the meadow land,
which had been lately deep lakes and impassable marshes (wherefore the
place was called Deeping, the deep meadow), most fertile fields and
desirable lands, and out of sloughs and bogs accursed made quiet a garden
So there the good man, the beginner of the good work of centuries, sat
looking out over the fen, and listening to the music which came on the
southern breeze--above the low of the kine, and the clang of the wild-fowl
settling down to rest--from the bells of Crowland minster far away.
They were not the same bells which tolled for Hereward and Torfrida. Those
had run down in molten streams upon that fatal night when Abbot Ingulf
leaped out of bed to see the vast wooden sanctuary wrapt in one sheet of
roaring flame, from the carelessness of a plumber who had raked the ashes
over his fire in the bell-tower, and left it to smoulder through the
Then perished all the riches of Crowland; its library too, of more than
seven hundred volumes, with that famous Nadir, or Orrery, the like whereof
was not in all England, wherein the seven planets were represented, each
in their proper metals. And even worse, all the charters of the monastery
perished, a loss which involved the monks thereof in centuries of
lawsuits, and compelled them to become as industrious and skilful forgers
of documents as were to be found in the minsters of the middle age.
But Crowland minster had been rebuilt in greater glory than ever, by the
help of the Norman gentry round. Abbot Ingulf, finding that St. Guthlac's
plain inability to take care of himself had discredited him much in the
fen-men's eyes, fell back, Norman as he was, on the virtues of the holy
martyr, St. Waltheof, whose tomb he opened with due reverence, and found
the body as whole and uncorrupted as on the day on which it was buried:
and the head united to the body, while a fine crimson line around the neck
was the only sign remaining of his decollation.
On seeing which Ingulf "could not contain himself for joy: and
interrupting the response which the brethren were singing, with a loud
voice began the hymn 'Te Deum Laudamus,' on which the chanter, taking it
up, enjoined the rest of the brethren to sing it." After which Ingulf--who
had never seen Waltheof in life, discovered that it was none other than he
whom he had seen in a vision at Fontenelle, as an earl most gorgeously
arrayed, with a torc of gold about his neck, and with him an abbot, two
bishops, and two saints, the two former being Usfran and Ausbert, the
abbots, St. Wandresigil of Fontenelle, and the two saints, of course St.
Guthlac and St. Neot.
Whereon, crawling on his hands and knees, he kissed the face of the holy
martyr, and "perceived such a sweet odor proceeding from the holy body, as
he never remembered to have smelt, either in the palace of the king, or in
Syria with all its aromatic herbs."
_Quid plura?_ What more was needed for a convent of burnt-out monks?
St. Waltheof was translated in state to the side of St. Guthlac; and the
news of this translation of the holy martyr being spread throughout the
country, multitudes of the faithful flocked daily to the tomb, and
offering up their vows there, tended in a great degree "to resuscitate our
But more. The virtues of St. Waltheof were too great not to turn
themselves, or be turned, to some practical use. So if not in the days of
Ingulf, at least in those of Abbot Joffrid who came after him, St.
Waltheof began, says Peter of Blois, to work wonderful deeds. "The blind
received their sight, the deaf their hearing, the lame their power of
walking, and the dumb their power of speech; while each day troops
innumerable of other sick persons were arriving by every road, as to the
very fountain of their safety, ... and by the offerings of the pilgrims
who came flocking in from every part, the revenues of the monastery were
increased in no small degree."
Only one wicked Norman monk of St. Alban's, Audwin by name, dared to
dispute the sanctity of the martyr, calling him a wicked traitor who had
met with his deserts. In vain did Abbot Joffrid, himself a Norman from St.
Evroult, expostulate with the inconvenient blasphemer. He launched out
into invective beyond measure; till on the spot, in presence of the said
father, he was seized with such a stomach-ache, that he went home to St.
Alban's, and died in a few days; after which all went well with Crowland,
and the Norman monks who worked the English martyr to get money out of the
English whom they had enslaved.
And yet,--so strangely mingled for good and evil are the works of
men,--that lying brotherhood of Crowland set up, in those very days, for
pure love of learning and of teaching learning, a little school of letters
in a poor town hard by, which became, under their auspices, the University
So the bells of Crowland were restored, more melodious than ever; and
Richard of Rulos doubtless had his share in their restoration. And that
day they were ringing with a will, and for a good reason; for that day had
come the news, that Henry Plantagenet was crowned king of England.
"'Lord,'" said the good old knight, "'now lettest thou thy servant depart
in peace.' This day, at last, he sees an English king head the English
"God grant," said the old lady, "that he may be such a lord to England as
thou hast been to Bourne."
"If he will be,--and better far will he be, by God's grace, from what I
hear of him, than ever I have been,--he must learn that which I learnt
from thee,--to understand these Englishmen, and know what stout and trusty
prudhommes they are all, down to the meanest serf, when once one can humor
their sturdy independent tempers."
"And he must learn, too, the lesson which thou didst teach me, when I
would have had thee, in the pride of youth, put on the magic armor of my
ancestors, and win me fame in every tournament and battle-field. Blessed
be the day when Richard of Rulos said to me, 'If others dare to be men of
war, I dare more; for I dare to be a man of peace. Have patience with me,
and I will win for thee and for myself a renown more lasting, before God
and man, than ever was won with lance!' Do you remember those words,
The old man leant his head upon his hands. "It may be that not those
words, but the deeds which God has caused to follow them, may, by Christ's
merits, bring us a short purgatory and a long heaven."
"Amen. Only whatever grief we may endure in the next life for our sins,
may we endure it as we have the griefs of this life, hand in hand."
"Amen, Torfrida. There is one thing more to do before we die. The tomb in
Crowland. Ever since the fire blackened it, it has seemed to me too poor
and mean to cover the dust which once held two such noble souls. Let us
send over to Normandy for fair white stone of Caen, and let carve a tomb
worthy of thy grandparents."
"And what shall we write thereon?"
"What but that which is there already? 'Here lies the last of the
"Not so. We will write,--'Here lies the last of the old English.' But upon
thy tomb, when thy time comes, the monks of Crowland shall write,--'Here
lies the first of the new English; who, by the inspiration of God, began
to drain the Fens.'"
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