Hereward, The Last of the English
Part 6 out of 10
first of dozens!"
Hereward went into Torfrida's bower.
"This is an evil business. The Danes are here, where they have no
business, instead of being off Scheldtmouth, as I entreated them. But go
we must, or be forever shamed. Now, true wife, are you ready? Dare you
leave home and kin and friends, once and for all, to go, you know not
whither, with one who may be a gory corpse by this day week?"
"I dare," said she.
So they went down to Calais by night, with Torfrida's mother, and all
their jewels, and all they had in the world. And their housecarles went
with them, forty men, tried and trained, who had vowed to follow Hereward
round the world. And there were two long ships ready, and twenty good
mariners in each. So when the Danes made the South Foreland the next
morning, they were aware of two gallant ships bearing down on them, with a
great white bear embroidered on their sails.
A proud man was Hereward that day, as he sailed into the midst of the
Danish fleet, and up to the royal ships, and shouted: "I am Hereward the
Berserker, and I come to take service under my rightful lord, Sweyn, king
"Come on board, then; we know you well, and right glad we are to have
Hereward with us."
And Hereward laid his ship's bow upon the quarter of the royal ship (to
lay alongside was impossible, for fear of breaking oars), and came on
"And thou art Hereward?" asked a tall and noble warrior.
"I am. And thou art Swend Ulfsson, the king?"
"I am Earl Osbiorn, his brother."
"Then, where is the king?"
"He is in Denmark, and I command his fleet; and with me are Canute and
Harold, Sweyn's sons, and earls and bishops enough for all England."
This was spoken in a somewhat haughty tone, in answer to the look of
surprise and disappointment which Hereward had, unawares, allowed to pass
over his face.
"Thou art better than none," said Hereward. "Now, hearken, Osbiorn the
Earl. Had Swend been here, I would have put my hand between his, and said
in my own name, and that of all the men in Kesteven and the fens, Swend's
men we are, to live and die! But now, as it is, I say, for me and them,
thy men we are, to live and die, as long as thou art true to us."
"True to you I will be," said Osbiorn.
"Be it so," said Hereward. "True we shall be, whatever betide. Now,
whither goes Earl Osbiorn, and all his great meinie?"
"We purpose to try Dover."
"You will not take it. The Frenchman has strengthened it with one of his
accursed keeps, and without battering-engines you may sit before it a
"What if I asked you to go in thither yourself, and try the mettle and the
luck which, they say, never failed Hereward yet?"
"I should say that it was a child's trick to throw away against a paltry
stone wall the life of a man who was ready to raise for you in
Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, five times as many men as you will lose
in taking Dover."
"Hereward is right," said more than one Earl. "We shall need him in his
"If you are wise, to that country you yourselves will go. It is ready to
receive you. This is ready to oppose you. You are attacking the Frenchman
at his strongest point instead of his weakest. Did I not send again and
again, entreating you to cross from Scheldtmouth to the Wash, and send me
word that I might come and raise the Fen-men for you, and then we would
all go north together?"
"I have heard, ere now," said Earl Osbiorn, haughtily, "that Hereward,
though he be a valiant Viking, is more fond of giving advice than of
Hereward was about to answer very fiercely. If he had, no one would have
thought any harm, in those plain-spoken times. But he was wise; and
restrained himself, remembering that Torfrida was there, all but alone, in
the midst of a fleet of savage men; and that beside, he had a great deed
to do, and must do it as he could. So he answered,--
"Osbiorn the Earl has not, it seems, heard this of Hereward: that because
he is accustomed to command, he is also accustomed to obey. What thou wilt
do, do, and bid me do. He that quarrels with his captain cuts his own
throat and his fellows' too."
"Wisely spoken!" said the earls; and Hereward went back to his ship.
"Torfrida," said he, bitterly, "the game is lost before it is begun."
"God forbid, my beloved! What words are these?"
"Swend--fool that he is with his over-caution,--always the same!--has let
the prize slip from between his fingers. He has sent Osbiorn instead of
"But why is that so terrible a mistake?"
"We do not want a fleet of Vikings in England, to plunder the French and
English alike. We want a king, a king, a king!" and Hereward stamped with
rage. "And instead of a king, we have this Osbiorn,--all men know him,
greedy and false and weak-headed. Here he is going to be beaten off at
Dover; and then, I suppose, at the next port; and so forth, till the whole
season is wasted, and the ships and men lost by driblets. Pray for us to
God and his saints, Torfrida, you who are nearer to Heaven than I; for we
never needed it more."
And Osbiorn went in; tried to take Dover; and was beaten off with heavy
Then the earls bade him take Hereward's advice. But he would not.
So he went round the Foreland, and tried Sandwich,--as if, landing there,
he would have been safe in marching on London, in the teeth of the
_elite_ of Normandy.
But he was beaten off there, with more loss. Then, too late, he took
Hereward's advice,--or, rather, half of it,--and sailed north; but only to
commit more follies.
He dared not enter the Thames. He would not go on to the Wash; but he went
into the Orwell, and attacked Ipswich, plundering right and left, instead
of proclaiming King Sweyn, and calling the Danish folk around him. The
Danish folk of Suffolk rose, and, like valiant men, beat him off; while
Hereward lay outside the river mouth, his soul within him black with
disappointment, rage, and shame. He would not go in. He would not fight
against his own countrymen. He would not help to turn the whole plan into
a marauding raid. And he told Earl Osbiorn so, so fiercely, that his life
would have been in danger, had not the force of his arm been as much
feared as the force of his name was needed.
At last they came to Yarmouth. Osbiorn would needs land there, and try
Hereward was nigh desperate: but he hit upon a plan. Let Osbiorn do so, if
he would. He himself would sail round to the Wash, raise the Fen-men, and
march eastward at their head through Norfolk to meet him. Osbiorn himself
could not refuse so rational a proposal. All the earls and bishops
approved loudly; and away Hereward went to the Wash, his heart well-nigh
broken, foreseeing nothing but evil.
HOW HEREWARD GATHERED AN ARMY.
The voyage round the Norfolk coast was rough and wild. Torfrida was ill,
the little girl was ill; the poor old mother was so ill that she could not
even say her prayers. Packed uncomfortably under the awning on the poop,
Torfrida looked on from beneath it upon the rolling water-waste, with a
heart full of gloomy forebodings, and a brain whirling with wild fancies.
The wreaths of cloud were gray witches, hurrying on with the ship to work
her woe; the low red storm-dawn was streaked with blood; the water which
gurgled all night under the lee was alive with hoarse voices; and again
and again she started from fitful slumber to clasp the child closer to
her, or look up for comfort to the sturdy figure of her husband, as he
stood, like a tower of strength, steering and commanding, the long night
Yes; on him she could depend. On his courage, on his skill. And as for his
love, had she not that utterly? And what more did woman need?
But she was going, she scarce knew whither; and she scarce knew for what.
At least, on a fearful adventure, which might have a fearful end. She
looked at the fair child, and reproached herself for a moment; at the poor
old mother, whining and mumbling, her soft southern heart quite broken by
the wild chill northern sea-breeze; and reproached herself still more. But
was it not her duty? Him she loved, and his she was; and him she must
follow, over sea and land, till death; and if possible, beyond death again
forever. For his sake she would slave. For his sake she would be strong.
If ever there rose in her a homesickness, a regret for leaving Flanders,
and much more for that sunnier South where she was born, he at least
should never be saddened or weakened by one hint of her sadness and
weakness. And so it befell that, by the time they made the coast, she had
(as the old chronicler says) "altogether conquered all womanly softness."
And yet she shuddered at the dreary mud-creek into which they ran their
ships, at the dreary flats on which they landed shivering, swept over by
the keen northeast wind. A lonely land; and within, she knew not what of
danger, it might be of hideous death.
But she would be strong. And when they were all landed, men, arms,
baggage, and had pitched the tents which the wise Hereward had brought
with them, she rose up like a queen, and took her little one by the hand,
and went among the men, and spoke:--
"Housecarles and mariners! you are following a great captain upon a great
adventure. How great he is, you know as well as I. I have given him
myself, my wealth, and all I have, and have followed him I know not
whither, because I trust him utterly. Men, trust him as I trust him, and
follow him to the death."
"That will we!"
"And, men, I am here among you, a weak woman, trying to be brave for his
sake--and for yours. Be true to me, too, as I have been true to you. For
your sake have I worked hard day and night, for many a year. For you I
have baked and brewed and cooked, like any poor churl's wife. Is there a
garment on your backs which my hands have not mended? Is there a wound on
your limbs which my hands have not salved? O, if Torfrida has been true to
you, promise me this day that you will be true men to her and hers; that
if--which Heaven forbid!--aught should befall him and me, you will protect
this my poor old mother, and this my child, who has grown up among you
all,--a lamb brought up within the lions' den. Look at her, men, and
promise me, on the faith of valiant soldiers, that you will be lions on
her behalf, if she shall ever need you. Promise me, that if you have but
one more stroke left to strike on earth, you will strike it to defend the
daughter of Hereward and Torfrida from cruelty and shame"
The men answered by a shout which rolled along the fen, and startled the
wild-fowl up from far-off pools. They crowded round their lady; they
kissed her hands; they bent down and kissed their little playmate, and
swore--one by God and his apostles, and the next by Odin and Thor--that
she should be a daughter to each and every one of them, as long as they
could grip steel in hand.
Then (says the chronicler) Hereward sent on spies, to see whether the
Frenchmen were in the land, and how folks fared at Holbeach, Spalding, and
The two young Siwards, as knowing the country and the folk, pushed
forward, and with them Martin Lightfoot, to bring back news.
Martin ran back all the way from Holbeach, the very first day, with right
good news. There was not a Frenchman in the town. Neither was there, they
said, in Spalding. Ivo Taillebois was still away at the wars, and long
might he stay.
So forward they marched, and everywhere the landsfolk were tilling the
ground in peace; and when they saw that stout array, they hurried out to
meet the troops, and burdened them with food, and ale, and all they
And at Holbeach, and at Spalding, Hereward split up the war-arrow, and
sent it through Kesteven, and south into the Cambridge fens, calling on
all men to arm and come to him at Bourne, in the name of Waltheof and
Morcar the earls.
And at every farm and town he blew the war-horn, and summoned every man
who could bear arms to be ready, against the coming of the Danish host
from Norwich. And so through all the fens came true what the wild-fowl
said upon the meres, that Hereward was come again.
And when he came to Bourne, all men were tilling in peace. The terror of
Hereward had fallen on the Frenchmen, and no man had dared to enter on his
inheritance, or to set a French foot over the threshold of that ghastly
hall, over the gable whereof still grinned the fourteen heads; on the
floor whereof still spread the dark stains of blood.
Only Geri dwelt in a corner of the house, and with him Leofric the
Unlucky, once a roistering housecarle of Hereward's youth, now a monk of
Crowland, and a deacon, whom Lady Godiva had sent thither that he might
take care of her poor. And there Geri and Leofric had kept house, and told
sagas to each other over the beech-log fire night after night; for all
Leofric's study was, says the chronicler, "to gather together for the
edification of his hearers all the acts of giants and warriors out of the
fables of the ancients or from faithful report, and commit them to
writing, that he might keep England in mind thereof." Which Leofric was
afterwards ordained priest, probably in Ely, by Bishop Egelwin of Durham;
and was Hereward's chaplain for many a year.
Then Hereward, as he had promised, set fire to the three farms close to
the Bruneswold; and all his outlawed friends, lurking in the forest, knew
by that signal that Hereward was come again. So they cleansed out the old
house: though they did not take down the heads from off the gable; and
Torfrida went about it, and about it, and confessed that England was,
after all, a pleasant place enough. And they were as happy, it may be, for
a week or two, as ever they had been in their lives.
"And now," said Torfrida, "while you see to your army, I must be doing;
for I am a lady now, and mistress of great estates. So I must be seeing to
"But you cannot speak their tongue."
"Can I not? Do you think that in the face of coming to England and
fighting here, and plotting here, and being, may be, an earl's countess, I
have not made Martin Lightfoot teach me your English tongue, till I can
speak it as well as you? I kept that hidden as a surprise for you, that
you might find out, when you most needed, how Torfrida loved you."
"As if I had not found out already! O woman! woman! I verily believe that
God made you alone, and left the Devil to make us butchers of men."
Meanwhile went round through all the fens, and north into the Bruneswold,
and away again to Lincoln and merry Sherwood, that Hereward was come
again. And Gilbert of Ghent, keeping Lincoln Castle for the Conqueror, was
perplexed in mind, and looked well to gates and bars and sentinels; for
Hereward sent him at once a message, that forasmuch as he had forgotten
his warning in Bruges street, and put a rascal cook into his mother's
manors, he should ride Odin's horse on the highest ash in the Bruneswold.
On which Gilbert of Ghent, inquiring what Odin's horse might be, and
finding it to signify the ash-tree whereon, as sacred to Odin, thieves
were hanged by Danes and Norse, made answer,--
That he Gilbert had not put his cook into Bourne, nor otherwise harmed
Hereward or his. That Bourne had been seized by the king himself, together
with Earl Morcar's lands in those parts, as all men knew. That the said
cook so pleased the king with a dish of stewed eel-pout, which he served
up to him at Cambridge, and which the king had never eaten before, that
the king begged the said cook of him Gilbert and took him away; and that
after, so he heard, the said cook had begged the said manors of Bourne of
the king, without the knowledge or consent of him Gilbert. That he
therefore knew naught of the matter. That if Hereward meant to keep the
king's peace, he might live in Bourne till Doomsday, for aught he,
Gilbert, cared. But that if he and his men meant to break the king's
peace, and attack Lincoln city, he Gilbert would nail their skins to the
door of Lincoln Cathedral, as they used to do by the heathen Danes in old
time. And that, therefore, they now understood each other.
At which Hereward laughed, and said that they had done that for many a
And now poured into Bourne from every side brave men and true,--some great
holders dispossessed of their land; some the sons of holders who were not
yet dispossessed; some Morcar's men, some Edwin's, who had been turned out
by the king.
To him came "Guenoch and Alutus Grogan, foremost in all valor and
fortitude, tall and large, and ready for work," and with them their three
nephews, Godwin Gille, "so called because he was not inferior to that
Godwin Guthlacsson who is preached much in the fables of the ancients,"
"and Douti and Outi, [Footnote: Named in Domesday-book (?).] the twins,
alike in face and manners;" and Godric, the knight of Corby, nephew of the
Count of Warwick; and Tosti of Davenesse, his kinsman; and Azer Vass,
whose father had possessed Lincoln Tower; and Leofwin Moue, [Footnote:
Probably the Leofwin who had lands in Bourne.]--that is, the scythe, so
called, "because when he was mowing all alone, and twenty country folk set
on him with pitchforks and javelins, he slew and wounded almost every one,
sweeping his scythe among them as one that moweth"; and Wluncus the
Black-face, so called because he once blackened his face with coal, and
came unknown among the enemy, and slew ten of them with one lance; and
"Turbertin, a great-nephew (surely a mistake) of Earl Edwin"; and Leofwin
Prat (perhaps the ancestor of the ancient and honorable house of Pratt of
Ryston), so called from his "Praet" or craft, "because he had oft escaped
cunningly when taken by the enemy, having more than once killed his
keepers;" and the steward of Drayton; and Thurkill the outlaw, Hereward's
cook; and Oger, Hereward's kinsman; and "Winter and Linach, two very
famous ones;" and Ranald, the butler of Ramsey Abbey,--"he was the
standard-bearer"; and Wulfric the Black and Wulfric the White; and Hugh
the Norman, a priest; and Wulfard, his brother; and Tosti and Godwin of
Rothwell; and Alsin; and Hekill; and Hugh the Breton, who was Hereward's
chaplain, and Whishaw, his brother, "a magnificent" knight, which two came
with him from Flanders; and so forth;--names merely of whom naught is
known, save, in a few cases, from Domesday-book, the manors which they
held. But honor to their very names! Honor to the last heroes of the old
These valiant gentlemen, with the housecarles whom, more or fewer, they
would bring with them, constituted a formidable force, as after years
proved well. But having got his men, Hereward's first care was, doubtless,
to teach them that art of war of which they, like true Englishmen, knew
The art of war has changed little, if at all, by the introduction of
gunpowder. The campaigns of Hannibal and Caesar succeeded by the same
tactics as those of Frederic or Wellington; and so, as far as we can
judge, did those of the master-general of his age, William of Normandy.
But of those tactics the English knew nothing. Their armies were little
more than tumultuous levies, in which men marched and fought under local
leaders, often divided by local jealousies. The commissariats of the
armies seem to have been so worthless, that they had to plunder friends as
well, as foes as they went along; and with plunder came every sort of
excess: as when the northern men marching down to meet Harold Godwinsson,
and demand young Edwin as their earl, laid waste, seemingly out of mere
brute wantonness, the country round Northampton, which must have been in
Edwin's earldom, or at least in that of his brother Morcar. And even the
local leaders were not over-well obeyed. The reckless spirit of personal
independence, especially among the Anglo-Danes, prevented anything like
discipline, or organized movement of masses, and made every battle
degenerate into a confusion of single combats.
But Hereward had learned that art of war, which enabled the Norman to
crush, piecemeal, with inferior numbers, the vast but straggling levies of
the English. His men, mostly outlaws and homeless, kept together by the
pressure from without, and free from local jealousies, resembled rather an
army of professional soldiers than a country _posse comitatus_. And
to the discipline which he instilled into them; to his ability in marching
and manoeuvring troops; to his care for their food and for their
transport, possibly, also, to his training them in that art of fighting on
horseback in which the men of Wessex, if not the Anglo-Danes of the East,
are said to have been quite unskilled,--in short, to all that he had
learned, as a mercenary, under Robert the Frison, and among the highly
civilized warriors of Flanders and Normandy, must be attributed the fact,
that he and his little army defied, for years, the utmost efforts of the
Normans, appearing and disappearing with such strange swiftness, and
conquering against such strange odds, as enshrouded the guerilla captain
in an atmosphere of myth and wonder, only to be accounted for, in the mind
of Normans as well as English, by the supernatural counsels of his
But Hereward grew anxious and more anxious, as days and weeks went on, and
yet there was no news of Osbiorn and his Danes at Norwich. Time was
precious. He had to march his little army to the Wash, and then transport
it by boats--no easy matter--to Lynn in Norfolk, as his nearest point of
attack. And as the time went on, Earl Warren and Ralph de Guader would
have gathered their forces between him and the Danes, and a landing at
Lynn might become impossible. Meanwhile there were bruits of great doings
in the north of Lincolnshire. Young Earl Waltheof was said to be there,
and Edgar the Atheling with him; but what it portended, no man knew.
Morcar was said to have raised the centre of Mercia, and to be near
Stafford; Edwin to have raised the Welsh, and to be at Chester with
Alfgiva, his sister, Harold Godwinsson's widow. And Hereward sent spies
along the Roman Watling Street--the only road, then, toward the northwest
of England--and spies northward along the Roman road to Lincoln. But the
former met the French in force near Stafford, and came back much faster
than they went. And the latter stumbled on Gilbert of Ghent, riding out of
Lincoln to Sleaford, and had to flee into the fens, and came back much
slower than they went.
At last news came. For into Bourne stalked Wulfric the Heron, with axe and
bow, and leaping-pole on shoulder, and an evil tale he brought.
The Danes had been beaten utterly at Norwich. Ralph de Guader and his
Frenchmen had fought like lions. They had killed many Danes in the assault
on the castle. They had sallied out on them as they recoiled, and driven
them into the river, drowning many more. The Danes had gone down the Yare
again, and out to sea northward, no man knew whither. He, the Heron,
prowling about the fenlands of Norfolk to pick off straggling Frenchmen
and looking out for the Danes, had heard all the news from the landsfolk.
He had watched the Danish fleet along the shore as far as Blakeney. But
when they came to the isle, they stood out to sea, right northwest. He,
the Heron, believed that they were gone for Humber Mouth.
After a while, he had heard how Hereward was come again and sent round the
war-arrow, and thought that a landless man could be in no better company;
wherefore he had taken boat, and come across the deep fen. And there he
was, if they had need of him.
"Need of you?" said Hereward, who had heard of the deed at Wrokesham
Bridge. "Need of a hundred like you. But this is bitter news."
And he went in to ask counsel of Torfrida, ready to weep with rage. He had
disappointed, deceived his men. He had drawn them into a snare. He had
promised that the Danes should come. How should he look them in the face?
"Look them in the face? Do that at once--now--without losing a moment.
Call them together and tell them all. If their hearts are staunch, you may
do great things without the traitor earl. If their hearts fail them, you
would have done nothing with them worthy of yourself, had you had Norway
as well as Denmark at your back. At least, be true with them, as your only
chance of keeping them true to you."
"Wise, wise wife," said Hereward, and went out and called his band
together, and told them every word, and all that had passed since he left
"And now I have deceived you, and entrapped you, and I have no right to be
your captain more. He that will depart in peace, let him depart, before
the Frenchmen close in on us on every side and swallow us up at one
Not a man answered.
"I say it again: He that will depart, let him depart."
They stood thoughtful.
Ranald, the Monk of Ramsey, drove the White-Bear banner firm into the
earth, tucked up his monk's frock, and threw his long axe over his
shoulder, as if preparing for action.
Winter spoke at last.
"If all go, there are two men here who stay, and fight by Hereward's side
as long as there is a Frenchman left on English soil; for they have sworn
an oath to Heaven and to St. Peter, and that oath will they keep. What say
you, Gwenoch, knighted with us at Peterborough?"
Gwenoch stepped to Hereward's side.
"None shall go!" shouted a dozen voices. "With Hereward we will live and
die. Let him lead us to Lincoln, to Stafford, where he will. We can save
England for ourselves without the help of Danes."
"It is well for one at least of you, gentlemen, that you are in this
pleasant mind," quoth Ranald the monk.
"Well for all of us, thou valiant purveyor of beef and beer."
"Well for one. For the first man that had turned to go, I would have
brained him with this axe."
"And now, gallant gentlemen," said Hereward, "we must take new counsel, as
our old has failed. Whither shall we go? For stay here, eating up the
country, we must not do."
"They say that Waltheof is in Lindsay, raising the landsfolk. Let us go
and join him."
"We can, at least, find what he means to do. There can be no better
counsel. Let us march. Only we must keep clear of Lincoln as yet. I hear
that Gilbert has a strong garrison there, and we are not strong enough yet
to force it."
So they rode north, and up the Roman road toward Lincoln, sending out
spies as they went; and soon they had news of Waltheof,--news, too, that
he was between them and Lincoln.
"Then the sooner we are with him, the better, for he will find himself in
trouble ere long, if old Gilbert gets news of him. So run your best,
footmen, for forward we must get."
And as they came up the Roman road, they were aware of a great press of
men in front of them, and hard fighting toward.
Some of the English would have spurred forward at once. But Hereward held
them back with loud reproaches.
"Will you forget all I have told you in the first skirmish, like so many
dogs when they see a bull? Keep together for five minutes more, the pot
will not be cool before we get our sup of it. I verily believe that it is
Waltheof, and that Gilbert has caught him already."
As he spoke, one part of the combatants broke up, and fled right and left;
and a knight in full armor galloped furiously down the road right at them,
followed by two or three more.
"Here comes some one very valiant, or very much afeared," said Hereward,
as the horseman rode right upon him, shouting,--
"I am the King!"
"The King?" roared Hereward, and dropping his lance, spurred his horse
forward, kicking his feet clear of the stirrups. He caught the knight
round the neck, dragged him over his horse's tail, and fell with him to
The armor clashed; the sparks flew from the old gray Roman flints; and
Hereward, rolling over once, rose, and knelt upon his prisoner.
"William of Normandy, yield or die!"
The knight lay still and stark.
"Ride on!" roared Hereward from the ground. "Ride at them, and strike
hard! You will soon find out which is which. This booty I must pick for
myself. What are you at?" roared he, after his knights. "Spread off the
road, and keep your line, as I told you, and don't override each other!
Curse the hot-headed fools! The Normans will scatter them like sparrows.
Run on, men-at-arms, to stop the French if we are broken. And don't forget
Guisnes field and the horses' legs. Now, King, are you come to life yet?"
"You have killed him," quoth Leofric the deacon, whom Hereward had
beckoned to stop with him.
"I hope not. Lend me a knife. He is a much slighter man than I fancied,"
said Hereward, as they got his helmet off.
And when it was off, both started and stared. For they had uncovered, not
the beetling brow, Roman nose, and firm curved lip of the Ulysses of the
middle age, but the face of a fair lad, with long straw-colored hair, and
soft blue eyes staring into vacancy.
"Who are you?" shouted Hereward, saying very bad words, "who come here
aping the name of king?"
"Mother! Christina! Margaret! Waltheof Earl!" moaned the lad, raising his
head and letting it fall again.
"It is the Atheling!" cried Leofric.
Hereward rose, and stood over the boy.
"Ah! what was I doing to handle him so tenderly? I took him for the
Mamzer, and thought of a king's ransom."
"Do you call that tenderly? You have nigh pulled the boy's head off."
"Would that I had! Ah," went on Hereward, apostrophizing the unconscious
Atheling,--"ah, that I had broken that white neck once and for all! To
have sent thee feet foremost to Winchester, to lie by thy grandfathers and
great-grandfathers, and then to tell Norman William that he must fight it
out henceforth, not with a straw malkin like thee, which the very crows
are not afraid to perch on, but with a cock of a very different
hackle,--Sweyn Ulfsson, King of Denmark."
And Hereward drew Brain-biter.
"For mercy's sake! you will not harm the lad?"
"If I were a wise man now, and hard-hearted as wise men should be, I
should--I should--" and he played the point of the sword backwards and
forwards, nearer and nearer to the lad's throat.
"Master! master!" cried Leofric, clinging to his knees; "by all the
saints! What would the Blessed Virgin say to such a deed!"
"Well, I suppose you are right. And I fear what my lady at home might say;
and we must not do anything to vex her, you know. Well, let us do it
handsomely, if we must do it. Get water somewhere, in his helmet. No, you
need not linger. I will not cut his throat before you come back."
Leofric went off in search of water, and Hereward knelt with the
Atheling's head on his knee, and on his lip a sneer at all things in
heaven and earth. To have that lad stand between him and all his projects,
and to be forced, for honor's sake, to let him stand!
But soon his men returned, seemingly in high glee, and other knights with
"Hey, lads!" said he, "I aimed at the falcon and shot the goose. Here is
Edgar Atheling prisoner. Shall we put him to ransom?"
"He has no money, and Malcolm of Scotland is much too wise to lend him
any," said some one. And some more rough jokes passed.
"Do you know, sirs, that he who lies there is your king?" asked a very
tall and noble-looking knight.
"That do we not," said Hereward, sharply. "There is no king in England
this day, as far as I know. And there will be none north of the Watling
Street, till he be chosen in full husting, and anointed at York, as well
as Winchester or London. We have had one king made for us in the last
forty years, and we intend to make the next ourselves."
"And who art thou, who talkest so bold, of king-making?"
"And who art thou, who askest so bold who I am?"
"I am Waltheof Siwardsson, the Earl, and yon is my army behind me."
"And I am Hereward Leofricsson, the outlaw, and yon is my army behind me."
If the two champions had flown at each other's throats, and their armies
had followed their example, simply as dogs fly at each other, they know
not why, no one would have been astonished in those unhappy times.
But it fell not out upon that wise; for Waltheof, leaping from his horse,
pulled off his helmet, and seizing Hereward by both hands, cried,--
"Blessed is the day which sees again in England Hereward, who has upheld
throughout all lands and seas the honor of English chivalry!"
"And blessed is the day in which Hereward meets the head of the house of
Siward where he should be, at the head of his own men, in his own earldom.
When I saw my friend, thy brother Osbiorn, brought into the camp at
Dunsinane with all his wounds in front, I wept a young man's tears, and
said, 'There ends the glory of the White-Bear's house!' But this day I
say, the White-Bear's blood is risen from the grave in Waltheof
Siwardsson, who with his single axe kept the gate of York against all the
army of the French; and who shall keep against them all England, if he
will be as wise as he is brave."
Was Hereward honest in his words? Hardly so. He wished to be honest. As he
looked upon that magnificent young man, he hoped and trusted that his
words were true. But he gave a second look at the face, and whispered to
himself: "Weak, weak. He will be led by priests; perhaps by William
himself. I must be courteous; but confide I must not."
The men stood round, and looked with admiration on the two most splendid
Englishmen then alive. Hereward had taken off his helmet likewise, and the
contrast between the two was as striking as the completeness of each of
them in his own style of beauty. It was the contrast between the
slow-hound and the deer-hound; each alike high bred; but the former,
short, sturdy, cheerful, and sagacious; the latter tall, stately,
melancholy, and not over-wise withal.
Waltheof was a full head and shoulders taller than Hereward,--one of the
tallest men of his generation, and of a strength which would have been
gigantic, but for the too great length of neck and limb, which made him
loose and slow in body, as he was somewhat loose and slow in mind. An old
man's child, although that old man was as one of the old giants, there was
a vein of weakness in him, which showed in the arched eyebrow, the sleepy
pale blue eye, the small soft mouth, the lazy voice, the narrow and lofty
brain over a shallow brow. His face was not that of a warrior, but of a
saint in a painted window; and to his own place he went, and became a
saint, in his due time. But that he could outgeneral William, that he
could even manage Gospatrick and his intrigues Hereward expected as little
as that his own nephews Edwin and Morcar could do it.
"I have to thank you, noble sir," said Waltheof, languidly, "for sending
your knights to our rescue when we were really hard bestead,--I fear much
by our own fault. Had they told me whose men they were, I should not have
spoken to you so roughly as I fear I did."
"There is no offence. Let Englishmen speak their minds, as long as English
land is above sea. But how did you get into trouble, and with whom?"
Waltheof told him how he was going round the country, raising forces in
the name of the Atheling, when, as they were straggling along the Roman
road, Gilbert of Ghent had dashed out on them from a wood, cut their line
in two, driven Waltheof one way, and the Atheling another, and that the
Atheling had only escaped by riding, as they saw, for his life.
"Well done, old Gilbert!" laughed Hereward. "You must beware, my Lord
Earl, how you venture within reach of that old bear's paw!"
"Bear? By the by, Sir Hereward," asked Waltheof, whose thoughts ran
loosely right and left, "why is it that you carry the white bear on your
"Do you not know? Your house ought to have a blood-feud against me. I slew
your great-uncle, or cousin, or some other kinsman, at Gilbert's house in
Scotland long ago; and since then I sleep on his skin every night, and
carry his picture in my banner all day."
"Blood-feuds are solemn things," said Waltheof, frowning. "Karl killed my
grandfather Aldred at the battle of Settrington, and his four sons are
with the army at York now--"
"For the love of all saints and of England, do not think of avenging that!
Every man must now put away old grudges, and remember that he has but one
foe,--William and his Frenchmen."
"Very nobly spoken. But those sons of Karl--and I think you said you had
killed a kinsman of mine?"
"It was a bear, Lord Earl, a great white bear. Cannot you understand a
jest? Or are you going to take up the quarrels of all white bears that are
slain between here and Iceland? You will end by burning Crowland minster
then, for there are twelve of your kinsmen's skins there, which Canute
gave forty years ago."
"Burn Crowland minster? St. Guthlac and all saints forbid!" said Waltheof,
crossing himself devoutly.
"Are you a monk-monger into the bargain, as well as a dolt? A bad prospect
for us, if you are," said Hereward to himself.
"Ah, my dear Lord King!" said Waltheof, "and you are recovering?"
"Somewhat," said the lad, sitting up, "under the care of this kind
"He is a monk, Sir Atheling, and not a knight," said Hereward. "Our fenmen
can wear a mail-shirt as easily as a frock, and handle a twybill as neatly
as a breviary."
Waltheof shook his head. "It is contrary to the canons of Holy Church."
"So are many things that are done in England just now. Need has no master.
Now, Sir Earl and Sir Atheling, what are you going to do?"
Neither of them, it seemed, very well knew. They would go to York if they
could get there, and join Gospatrick and Marlesweyn. And certainly it was
the most reasonable thing to be done.
"But if you mean to get to York, you must march after another fashion than
this," said Hereward. "See, Sir Earl, why you were broken by Gilbert; and
why you will be broken again, if this order holds. If you march your men
along one of these old Roman streets--By St. Mary! these Romans had more
wits than we; for we have spoilt the roads they left us, and never made a
new one of our own--"
"They were heathens and enchanters,"--and Waltheof crossed himself.
"And conquered the world. Well,--if you march along one of these streets,
you must ride as I rode, when I came up to you. You must not let your
knights go first, and your men-at-arms straggle after in a tail a mile
long, like a scratch pack of hounds, all sizes but except each others'.
You must keep your footmen on the high street, and make your knights ride
in two bodies, right and left, upon the wold, to protect their flanks and
"But the knights won't. As gentlemen, they have a right to the best
"Then they may go to--whither they will go, if the French come upon them.
If they are on the flanks, and you are attacked then they can charge in
right and left on the enemy's flank, while the footmen make a stand to
cover the wagons."
"Yes,--that is very good; I believe that is your French fashion?"
"It is the fashion of common-sense, like all things which succeed."
"But, you see, the knights would not submit to ride in the mire."
"Then you must make them. What else have they horses for, while honester
men than they trudge on foot?"
"Make them?" said Waltheof, with a shrug and a smile. "They are all free
gentlemen, like ourselves."
"And, like ourselves, will come to utter ruin, because every one of them
must needs go his own way."
"I am glad," said Waltheof, as they rode along, "that you called this my
earldom. I hold it to be mine of course, in right of my father; but the
landsfolks, you know, gave it to your nephew Morcar."
"I care not to whom it is given. I care for the man who is on it, to raise
these landsfolk and make them fight. You are here: therefore you are
"Yes, the powers that be are ordained by God."
"You must not strain that text too far, Lord Earl; for the only power that
is, whom I see in England--worse luck for it!--is William the Mamzer."
"So I have often thought."
"You have? As I feared!" (To himself:) "The pike will have you next,
"He has with him the Holy Father at Rome, and therefore the blessed
Apostle St. Peter of course. And is a man right, in the sight of Heaven,
who resists them? I only say it. But where a man looks to the salvation of
his own soul, he must needs think thereof seriously, at least."
"O, are you at that?" thought Hereward. "_Tout est perdu_. The
question is, Earl," said he aloud, "simply this: How many men can you
raise off this shire?"
"I have raised--not so many as I could wish. Harold and Edith's men have
joined me fairly well; but your nephew, Morcar's--"
"I can command them. I have half of them here already."
"Then,--then we may raise the rest?"
"That depends, my Lord Earl, for whom we fight!"
"For whom?--I do not understand."
"Whether we fight for that lad, Child Edgar, or for Sweyn of Denmark, the
rightful king of England."
"Sweyn of Denmark! Who should be the rightful king but the heir of the
blessed St. Edward?"
"Blessed old fool! He has done harm to us enough on earth, without leaving
his second-cousins' aunts' malkins to harm us after he is in Heaven."
"Sir Hereward, Sir Hereward, I fear thou art not as good a Christian as so
good a knight should be."
"Christian or not, I am as good a one as my neighbors. I am Leofric's son.
Leofric put Harthacanute on the throne, and your father, who was a man,
helped him. You know what has befallen England since we Danes left the
Danish stock at Godwin's bidding, and put our necks under the yoke of
Wessex monks and monk-mongers. You may follow your father's track or not,
as you like. I shall follow my father's, and fight for Sweyn Ulfsson, and
no man else."
"And I," said Waltheof, "shall follow the anointed of the Lord."
"The anointed of Gospatrick and two or three boys!" said Hereward.
"Knights! Turn your horses' heads. Right about face, all! We are going
back to the Bruneswold, to live and die free Danes."
And to Waltheof's astonishment, who had never before seen discipline, the
knights wheeled round; the men-at-arms followed them; and Waltheof and the
Atheling were left to themselves on Lincoln Heath.
HOW ARCHBISHOP ALDRED DIED OF SORROW.
In the tragedies of the next few months Hereward took no part; but they
must be looked at near, in order to understand somewhat of the men who
were afterwards mixed up with him for weal or woe.
When William went back to the South, the confederates, Child Edgar the
Atheling, Gospatrick, and their friends, had come south again from Durham.
It was undignified; a confession of weakness. If a Norman had likened them
to mice coming out when the cat went away, none could blame him. But so
they did; and Osbiorn and his Danes, landing in Humber-mouth, "were met"
(says the Anglo-Saxon chronicle) "by Child Edgar and Earl Waltheof and
Marlesweyn, and Earl Gospatrick with the men of Northumberland, riding and
marching joyfully with an immense army"; not having the spirit of
prophecy, or foreseeing those things which were coming on the earth.
To them repaired Edwin and Morcar, the two young Earls, Arkill and Karl,
"the great Thanes," or at least the four sons of Karl,--for accounts
differ,--and what few else of the northern nobility Tosti had left
The men of Northumberland received the Danes with open arms. They would
besiege York. They would storm the new Norman Keep. They would proclaim
Edgar king at York.
In that Keep sat two men, one of whom knew his own mind, the other did
not. One was William Malet, knight, one of the heroes of Hastings, a noble
Norman, and chatelain of York Castle. The other was Archbishop Aldred.
Aldred seems to have been a man like too many more,--pious and virtuous
and harmless enough, and not without worldly prudence; but his prudence
was of that sort which will surely swim with the stream, and "honor the
powers that be," if they be but prosperous enough. For after all, if
success be not God, it is like enough to Him in some men's eyes to do
instead. So Archbishop Aldred had crowned Harold Godwinsson, when Harold's
star was in the ascendant. And who but Archbishop Aldred should crown
William, when his star had cast Harold's down from heaven? He would have
crowned Satanas himself, had he only proved himself king _de facto_--as he
asserts himself to be _de jure_--of this wicked world.
So Aldred, who had not only crowned William, but supported his power north
of Humber by all means lawful, sat in York Keep, and looked at William
Malet, wondering what he would do.
Malet would hold it to the last. As for the new keep, it was surely
impregnable. The old walls--the Roman walls on which had floated the flag
of Constantine the Great--were surely strong enough to keep out men
without battering-rams, balistas, or artillery of any kind. What mattered
Osbiorn's two hundred and forty ships, and their crews of some ten or
fifteen thousand men? What mattered the tens of thousands of Northern men,
with Gospatrick at their head? Let them rage and rob round the walls. A
messenger had galloped in from William in the Forest of Dean, to tell
Malet to hold out to the last. He had galloped out again, bearing for
answer, that the Normans could hold York for a year.
But the Archbishop's heart misgave him, as from north and south at once
came up the dark masses of two mighty armies, broke up into columns, and
surged against every gate of the city at the same time. They had no
battering-train to breach the ancient walls; but they had--and none knew
it better than Aldred--hundreds of friends inside, who would throw open to
them the gates.
One gate he could command from the Castle tower. His face turned pale as
he saw a mob of armed townsmen rushing down the street towards it; a
furious scuffle with the French guards; and then, through the gateway, the
open champaign beyond, and a gleaming wave of axes, helms, and spears,
pouring in, and up the street.
"The traitors!" he almost shrieked, as he turned and ran down the ladder
to tell Malet below.
Malet was firm, but pale as Aldred.
"We must fight to the last," said he, as he hurried down, commanding his
men to sally at once _en masse_ and clear the city.
The mistake was fatal. The French were entangled in the narrow streets.
The houses, shut to them, were opened to the English and Danes; and,
overwhelmed from above, as well as in front, the greater part of the
Norman garrison perished in the first fight. The remnant were shut up in
the Castle. The Danes and English seized the houses round, and shot from
the windows at every loophole and embrasure where a Norman showed himself.
"Shoot fire upon the houses!" said Malet.
"You will not burn York? O God! is it come to this?"
"And why not York town, or York minster, or Rome itself, with the Pope
inside it, rather than yield to barbarians?"
Archbishop Aldred went into his room, and lay down on his bed. Outside was
the roar of the battle; and soon, louder and louder, the roar of flame.
This was the end of his time-serving and king-making. And he said many
prayers, and beat his breast; and then called to his chaplain for
blankets, for he was very cold. "I have slain my own sheep!" he moaned,
"slain my own sheep!"
His chaplain hapt him up in bed, and looked out of the window at the
fight. There was no lull, neither was there any great advantage on either
side. Only from the southward he could see fresh bodies of Danes coming
across the plain.
"The carcass is here, and the eagles are gathered together. Fetch me the
holy sacrament, Chaplain, and God be merciful to an unfaithful shepherd."
The chaplain went.
"I have slain my own sheep!" moaned the archbishop. "I have given them up
to the wolves,--given my own minster, and all the treasures of the saints;
and--and--I am very cold."
When the chaplain came back with the blessed sacrament, Archbishop Aldred
was more than cold; for he was already dead and stiff.
But William Malet would not yield. He and his Normans fought, day after
day, with the energy of despair. They asked leave to put forth the body of
the archbishop; and young Waltheof, who was a pious man, insisted that
leave should be given.
So the archbishop's coffin was thrust forth of the castle-gate, and the
monks from the abbey came and bore it away, and buried it in the Cathedral
And then the fight went on, day after day, and more and more houses
burned, till York was all aflame. On the eighth day the minster was in a
light low over Archbishop Aldred's new-made grave. All was
burnt,--minster, churches, old Roman palaces, and all the glories of
Constantine the Great and the mythic past.
The besiegers, hewing and hammering gate after gate, had now won all but
the Keep itself. Then Malet's heart failed him. A wife he had, and
children; and for their sake he turned coward and fled by night, with a
few men-at-arms, across the burning ruins.
Then into what once was York the confederate Earls and Thanes marched in
triumph, and proclaimed Edgar king,--a king of dust and ashes.
And where were Edwin and Morcar the meanwhile? It is not told. Were they
struggling against William at Stafford, or helping Edric the Wild and his
Welshmen to besiege Chester? Probably they were aiding the
insurrection,--if not at these two points, still at some other of their
great earldoms of Mercia and Chester. They seemed to triumph for a while:
during the autumn of 1069 the greater part of England seemed lost to
William. Many Normans packed up their plunder and went back to France; and
those whose hearts were too stout to return showed no mercy to the
English, even as William showed none. To crush the heart of the people by
massacres and mutilations and devastations was the only hope of the
invader; and thoroughly he did his work whenever he had a chance.
HOW HEREWARD FOUND A WISER MAN IN ENGLAND THAN HIMSELF.
There have been certain men so great, that he who describes them in words,
much more pretends to analyze their inmost feelings, must be a very great
man himself, or incur the accusation of presumption. And such a great man
was William of Normandy,--one of those unfathomable master-personages who
must not be rashly dragged on any stage. The genius of a Bulwer, in
attempting to draw him, took care, with a wise modesty, not to draw him in
too much detail,--to confess always that there was much beneath and behind
in William's character which none, even of his contemporaries, could
guess. And still more modest than Bulwer is this chronicler bound to be.
But one may fancy, for once in a way, what William's thoughts were, when
they brought him the evil news of York. For we know what his acts were;
and he acted up to his thoughts.
Hunting he was, they say, in the forest of Dean, when first he heard that
all England, north of the Watling Street, had broken loose, and that he
was king of only half the isle.
Did he--as when, hunting in the forest of Rouen, he got the news of
Harold's coronation--play with his bow, stringing and unstringing it
nervously, till he had made up his mighty mind? Then did he go home to his
lodge, and there spread on the rough oak board a parchment map of England,
which no child would deign to learn from now, but was then good enough to
guide armies to victory, because the eyes of a great general looked upon
As he pored over the map, by the light of bog-deal torch or rush candle,
what would he see upon it?
Three separate blazes of insurrection, from northwest to east, along the
At Chester, Edric, "the wild Thane," who, according to Domesday-book, had
lost vast lands in Shropshire; Algitha, Harold's widow, and Blethwallon
and all his Welsh,--"the white mantles," swarming along Chester streets,
not as usually, to tear and ravage like the wild-cats of their own rocks,
but fast friends by blood of Algitha, once their queen on Penmaenmawr.
[Footnote: See the admirable description of the tragedy of Penmaenmawr, in
Bulwer's 'Harold.'] Edwin, the young Earl, Algitha's brother, Hereward's
nephew,--he must be with them too, if he were a man.
Eastward, round Stafford, and the centre of Mercia, another blaze of
furious English valor. Morcar, Edwin's brother, must be there, as their
Earl, if he too was a man.
Then in the fens and Kesteven. What meant this news, that Hereward of St.
Omer was come again, and an army with him? That he was levying war on all
Frenchmen, in the name of Sweyn, King of Denmark and of England? He is an
outlaw, a desperado, a boastful swash-buckler, thought William, it may be,
to himself. He found out, in after years, that he had mistaken his man.
And north, at York, in the rear of those three insurrections lay
Gospatrick, Waltheof, and Marlesweyn, with the Northumbrian host. Durham
was lost, and Comyn burnt therein. But York, so boasted William Malet,
could hold out for a year. He should not need to hold out for so long.
And last, and worst of all, hung on the eastern coast the mighty fleet of
Sweyn, who claimed England as his of right. The foe whom he had part
feared ever since he set foot on English soil, a collision with whom had
been inevitable all along, was come at last; but where would he strike his
William knew, it may be, that the Danes had been defeated at Norwich; he
knew, doubt it not (for his spies told him everything), that they had
purposed entering the Wash. To prevent a junction between them and
Hereward was impossible. He must prevent a junction between them and Edwin
and Morcar's men.
He determined, it seems--for he did it--to cut the English line in two,
and marched upon Stafford as its centre.
So it seems; for all records of these campaigns are fragmentary, confused,
contradictory. The Normans fought, and had no time to write history. The
English, beaten and crushed, died and left no sign. The only chroniclers
of the time are monks. And little could Ordericus Vitalis, or Florence of
Worcester, or he of Peterborough, faithful as he was, who filled up the
sad pages of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,--little could they see or
understand of the masterly strategy which was conquering all England for
Norman monks, in order that they, following the army like black ravens,
might feast themselves upon the prey which others won for them. To them,
the death of an abbot, the squabbles of a monastery, the journey of a
prelate to Rome, are more important than the manoeuvres which decided the
life and freedom of tens of thousands.
So all we know is, that William fell upon Morcar's men at Stafford, and
smote them with a great destruction; rolling the fugitives west and east,
toward Edwin, perhaps, at Chester, certainly toward Hereward in the fens.
At Stafford met him the fugitives from York, Malet, his wife, and
children, with the dreadful news that the Danes had joined Gospatrick, and
that York was lost.
William burst into fiendish fury. He accused the wretched men of treason.
He cut off their hands, thrust out their eyes, threw Malet into prison,
and stormed on north.
He lay at Pontefract for three weeks. The bridges over the Aire were
broken down. But at last he crossed and marched on York.
No man opposed him. The Danes were gone down to the Humber. Gospatrick and
Waltheof's hearts had failed them, and they had retired before the great
Florence, of Worcester, says that William bought Earl Osbiorn off, giving
him much money, and leave to forage for his fleet along the coast, and
that Osbiorn was outlawed on his return to Denmark.
Doubtless William would have so done if he could. Doubtless the angry and
disappointed English raised such accusations against the earl, believing
them to be true. But is not the simpler cause of Osbiorn's conduct to be
found in this plain fact? He had sailed from Denmark to put Sweyn, his
brother, on the throne. He found, on his arrival, that Gospatrick and
Waltheof had seized it in the name of Edgar Atheling. What had he to do
more in England, save what he did?--go out into the Humber, and winter
safely there, waiting till Sweyn should come with reinforcements in the
Then William had his revenge. He destroyed, in the language of Scripture,
"the life of the land." Far and wide the farms were burnt over their
owners' heads, the growing crops upon the ground; the horses were houghed,
the cattle driven off; while of human death and misery there was no end.
Yorkshire, and much of the neighboring counties, lay waste, for the next
nine years. It did not recover itself fully till several generations
The Danes had boasted that they would keep their Yule at York. William
kept his Yule there instead. He sent to Winchester for the regalia of the
Confessor; and in the midst of the blackened ruins, while the English, for
miles around, wandered starving in the snows, feeding on carrion, on rats
and mice, and, at last, upon each other's corpses, he sat in his royal
robes, and gave away the lands of Edwin and Morcar to his liegemen. And
thus, like the Romans, from whom he derived both his strategy and his
civilization, he "made a solitude and called it peace."
He did not give away Waltheof's lands; and only part of Gospatrick's. He
wanted Gospatrick; he loved Waltheof, and wanted him likewise.
Therefore, through the desert which he himself had made, he forced his way
up to the Tees a second time, over snow-covered moors; and this time St.
Cuthbert had sent no fog, being satisfied, presumably, with William's
orthodox attachment to St. Peter and Rome; so the Conqueror treated
quietly with Waltheof and Gospatrick, who lay at Durham.
Gospatrick got back his ancestral earldom from Tees to Tyne; and paid down
for it much hard money and treasure; bought it, in fact, he said.
Waltheof got back his earldom, and much of Morcar's. From the fens to the
Tees was to be his province. And then, to the astonishment alike of
Normans and English, and it may be, of himself, he married Judith, the
Conqueror's niece; and became, once more, William's loved and trusted
It seems inexplicable at first sight. Inexplicable, save as an instance of
that fascination which the strong sometimes exercise over the weak.
Then William turned southwest. Edwin, wild Edric, the dispossessed Thane
of Shropshire, and the wilder Blethwallon and his Welshmen, were still
harrying and slaying. They had just attacked Shrewsbury. William would
come upon them by a way they thought not of.
So over the backbone of England, by way, probably, of Halifax, or
Huddersfield, through pathless moors and bogs, down towards the plains of
Lancashire and Cheshire, he pushed over and on. His soldiers from the
plains of sunny France could not face the cold, the rain, the bogs, the
hideous gorges, the valiant peasants,--still the finest and shrewdest race
of men in all England,--who set upon them in wooded glens, or rolled
stones on them from the limestone crags. They prayed to be dismissed, to
"Cowards might go back," said William; "he should go on. If he could not
ride, he would walk. Whoever lagged, he would be foremost." And, cheered
by his example, the army at last debouched upon the Cheshire flats.
Then he fell upon Edwin, as he had fallen upon Morcar. He drove the wild
Welsh through the pass of Mold, and up into their native hills. He laid
all waste with fire and sword for many a mile, as Domesday-book testifies
to this day. He strengthened the walls of Chester, and trampled out the
last embers of rebellion; he went down south to Salisbury, King of England
Why did he not push on at once against the one rebellion left
alight,--that of Hereward and his fenmen?
It may be that he understood him and them. It may be that he meant to
treat with Sweyn, as he had done, if the story be true, with Osbiorn. It
is more likely that he could do no more; that his army, after so swift and
long a campaign, required rest. It may be that the time of service of many
of his mercenaries was expired. Be that as it may, he mustered them at Old
Sarum,--the Roman British burgh which still stands on the down side, and
rewarded them, according to their deserts, from the lands of the conquered
How soon Hereward knew all this, or how he passed the winter of 1070-71,
we cannot tell. But to him it must have been a winter of bitter
It was impossible to get information from Edwin; and news from York was
almost as impossible to get, for Gilbert of Ghent stood between him and
He felt himself now pent in, all but trapped. Since he had set foot last
in England ugly things had risen up, on which he had calculated too
little,--namely, Norman castles. A whole ring of them in Norfolk and
Suffolk cut him off from the south. A castle at Cambridge closed the south
end of the fens; another at Bedford, the western end; while Lincoln Castle
to the north, cut him off from York.
His men did not see the difficulty; and wanted him to march towards York,
and clear all Lindsay and right up to the Humber.
Gladly would he have done so, when he heard that the Danes were wintering
in the Humber.
"But how can we take Lincoln Castle without artillery, or even a
"Let us march past, it then, and leave it behind."
"Ah, my sons," said Hereward, laughing sadly, "do you suppose that the
Mamzer spends his time--and Englishmen's life and labor--in heaping up
those great stone mountains, that you and I may walk past them? They are
put there just to prevent our walking past, unless we choose to have the
garrison sallying out to attack our rear, and cut us off from home, and
carry off our women into the bargain, when our backs are turned."
The English swore, and declared that they had never thought of that.
"No. We drink too much ale this side of the Channel, to think of that,--or
of anything beside."
"But," said Leofwin Prat, "if we have no artillery, we can make some."
"Spoken like yourself, good comrade. If we only knew how."
"I know," said Torfrida. "I have read of such things in books of the
ancients, and I have watched them making continually,--I little knew why,
or that I should ever turn engineer."
"What is there that you do not know?" cried they all at once. And Torfrida
actually showed herself a fair practical engineer.
But where was iron to come from? Iron for catapult springs, iron for ram
heads, iron for bolts and bars?
"Torfrida," said Here ward, "yon are wise. Can you use the divining-rod?
"Why, my knight?"
"Because there might be iron ore in the wolds; and if you could find it by
the rod, we might get it up and smelt it."
Torfrida said humbly that she would try; and walked with the divining-rod
between her pretty fingers for many a mile in wood and wold, wherever the
ground looked red and rusty. But she never found any iron.
"We must take the tires off the cart-wheels," said Leofwin Prat.
"But how will the carts do without? For we shall want them if we march."
"In Provence, where I was born, the wheels of the carts are made out of
one round piece of wood. Could we not cut out wheels like them?" asked
"You are the wise woman, as usual," said Hereward.
Torfrida burst into a violent flood of tears, no one knew why.
There came over her a vision of the creaking carts, and the little sleek
oxen, dove-colored and dove-eyed, with their canvas mantles tied neatly on
to keep off heat and flies, lounging on with their light load of vine and
olive twigs beneath the blazing southern sun. When should she see the sun
once more? She looked up at the brown branches overhead, howling in the
December gale, and down at the brown fen below, dying into mist and
darkness as the low December sun died down; and it seemed as if her life
was dying down with it. There would be no more sun, and no more summers,
for her upon this earth.
None certainly for her poor old mother. Her southern blood was chilling
more and more beneath the bitter sky of Kesteven. The fall of the leaf had
brought with it rheumatism, ague, an many miseries. Cunning old
leech-wives treated the French lady with tonics, mugwort, and bogbean, and
good wine enow, But, like David of old, she got no heat; and before
Yule-tide came, she had prayed herself safely out of this world, and into
the world to come. And Torfrida's heart was the more light when she saw
She was absorbed utterly in Hereward and his plots. She lived for nothing
else; and clung to them all the more fiercely, the more desperate they
So that small band of gallant men labored on, waiting for the Danes, and
trying to make artillery and take Lincoln Keep. And all the while--so
unequal is fortune when God so wills--throughout the Southern Weald, from
Hastings to Hind-head, every copse glared with charcoal-heaps, every glen
was burrowed with iron diggings, every hammer-pond stamped and gurgled
night and day, smelting and forging English iron, wherewith the Frenchmen
might slay Englishmen.
William--though perhaps he knew it not himself--had, in securing Sussex
and Surrey, secured the then great iron-field of England, and an unlimited
supply of weapons; and to that circumstance, it may be, as much as to any
other, the success of his campaigns may be due.
It must have been in one of these December days that a handful of knights
came through the Bruneswold, mud and blood bespattered, urging on tired
horses, as men desperate and foredone. And the foremost of them all, when
he saw Hereward at the gate of Bourne, leaped down, and threw his arms
round his neck and burst into bitter weeping.
"Hereward, I know you, though you know me not. I am your nephew, Morcar
Algarsson; and all is lost."
As the winter ran on, other fugitives came in, mostly of rank and family.
At last Edwin himself came, young and fair, like Morcar; he who should
have been the Conqueror's son-in-law; for whom his true-love pined, as he
pined, in vain. Where were Sweyn and his Danes? Whither should they go
till he came?
"To Ely," answered Hereward.
Whether or not it was his wit which first seized on the military
capabilities of Ely is not told. Leofric the deacon, who is likely to know
best, says that there were men there already holding theirs out against
William, and that they sent for Hereward. But it is not clear from his
words whether they were fugitives, or merely bold Abbot Thurstan and his
It is but probable, nevertheless, that Hereward, as the only man among the
fugitives who ever showed any ability whatsoever, and who was, also, the
only leader (save Morcar) connected with the fen, conceived the famous
"Camp of Refuge," and made it a formidable fact. Be that as it may, Edwin
and Morcar went to Ely; and there joined them a Count Tosti (according to
Leofric), unknown to history; a Siward Barn, or "the boy," who had been
dispossessed of lands in Lincolnshire; and other valiant and noble
gentlemen,--the last wrecks of the English aristocracy. And there they sat
in Abbot Thurstan's hall, and waited for Sweyn and the Danes.
But the worst Job's messenger who, during that evil winter and spring,
came into the fen, was Bishop Egelwin of Durham. He it was, most probably,
who brought the news of Yorkshire laid waste with fire and sword. He it
was, most certainly, who brought the worse news still, that Gospatrick and
Waltheof were gone over to the king. He was at Durham, seemingly, when he
saw that; and fled for his life ere evil overtook him: for to yield to
William that brave bishop had no mind.
But when Hereward heard that Waltheof was married to the Conqueror's
niece, he smote his hands together, and cursed him, and the mother who
bore him to Siward the Stout.
"Could thy father rise from his grave, he would split thy craven head in
the very lap of the Frenchwoman."
"A hard lap will he find it, Hereward," said Torfrida. "I know
her,--wanton, false, and vain. Heaven grant he do not rue the day he ever
"Heaven grant he may rue it! Would that her bosom were knives and
fish-hooks, like that of the statue in the fairy-tale. See what he has
done for us! He is Earl not only of his own lands, but he has taken poor
Morcar's too, and half his earldom. He is Earl of Huntingdon, of
Cambridge, they say,--of this ground on which we stand. What right have I
here now? How can I call on a single man to arm, as I could in Morcar's
name? I am an outlaw here and a robber; and so is every man with me. And
do you think that William did not know that? He saw well enough what he
was doing when he set up that great brainless idol as Earl again. He
wanted to split up the Danish folk, and he has done it. The Northumbrians
will stick to Waltheof. They think him a mighty hero, because he held
York-gate alone with his own axe against all the French."
"Well, that was a gallant deed."
"Pish! we are all gallant men, we English. It is not courage that we want,
it is brains. So the Yorkshire and Lindsay men, and the Nottingham men
too, will go with Waltheof. And round here, and all through the fens,
every coward, every prudent man even,--every man who likes to be within
the law, and feel his head safe on his shoulders,--no blame to him--will
draw each from me for fear of this new Earl, and leave us to end as a
handful of outlaws. I see it all. As William sees it all. He is wise
enough, the Mamzer, and so is his father Belial, to whom he will go home
some day. Yes, Torfrida," he went on after a pause, more gently, but in a
tone of exquisite sadness, "you were right, as you always are. I am no
match for that man. I see it now."
"I never said that. Only--"
"Only you told me again and again that he was the wisest man on earth."
"And yet, for that very reason, I bade you win glory without end, by
defying the wisest man on earth."
"And do you bid me do it still?"
"God knows what I bid," said Torfrida, bursting into tears. "Let me go
pray, for I never needed it more."
Hereward watched her kneeling, as he sat moody, all but desperate. Then he
glided to her side, and said gently,--
"Teach me how to pray, Torfrida. I can say a Pater or an Ave. But that
does not comfort a man's heart, as far as I could ever find. Teach me to
pray, as you and my mother do."
And she put her arms round the wild man's neck, and tried to teach him,
like a little child.
HOW HEREWARD FULFILLED HIS WORDS TO THE PRIOR OF THE GOLDEN BOROUGH.
In the course of that winter died good Abbot Brand. Hereward went over to
see him, and found him mumbling to himself texts of Isaiah, and confessing
the sins of his people.
"'Woe to the vineyard that bringeth forth wild grapes. Woe to those that
join house to house, and field to field,'--like us, and the Godwinssons,
and every man that could, till we 'stood alone in the land.' 'Many houses,
great and fair, shall be without inhabitants.' It is all foretold in Holy
Writ, Hereward, my son. 'Woe to those who rise early to fill themselves
with strong drink, and the tabret and harp are in their feasts; but they
regard not the works of the Lord.' 'Therefore my people are gone into
captivity, because they have no knowledge.' Ah, those Frenchmen have
knowledge, and too much of it; while we have brains filled with ale
instead of justice. 'Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her
mouth without measure'; and all go down into it, one by one. And dost thou
think thou shalt escape, Hereward, thou stout-hearted?"
"I neither know nor care; but this I know, that whithersoever I go, I
shall go sword in hand."
"'They that take the sword shall perish by the sword,'" said Brand, and
blessed Hereward, and died.
A week after came news that Thorold of Malmesbury was coming to take the
Abbey of Peterborough, and had got as far as Stamford, with a right royal
Then Hereward sent Abbot Thorold word, that if he or his Frenchmen put
foot into Peterborough, he, Hereward, would burn it over their heads. And
that if he rode a mile beyond Stamford town, he should walk back into it
barefoot in his shirt.
Whereon Thorold abode at Stamford, and kept up his spirits by singing the
songs of Roland,--which some say he himself composed.
A week after that, and the Danes were come.
A mighty fleet, with Sweyn Ulfsson at their head, went up the Ouse toward
Ely. Another, with Osbiorn at their head, having joined them off the mouth
of the Humber, sailed (it seems) up the Nene. All the chivalry of Denmark
and Ireland was come. And with it, all the chivalry and the unchivalry of
the Baltic shores. Vikings from Jomsburg and Arkona, Gottlanders from
Wisby; and with them savages from Esthonia, Finns from Aland, Letts who
still offered in the forests of Rugen, human victims to the four-headed
Swantowit; foul hordes in sheep-skins and primeval filth, who might have
been scented from Hunstanton Cliff ever since their ships had rounded the
Hereward hurried to them with all his men. He was anxious, of course, to
prevent their plundering the landsfolk as they went,--and that the savages
from the Baltic shore would certainly do, if they could, however
reasonable the Danes, Orkneymen, and Irish Ostmen might be.
Food, of course, they must take where they could find it; but outrages
were not a necessary, though a too common, adjunct to the process of
emptying a farmer's granaries.
He found the Danes in a dangerous mood, sulky, and disgusted, as they had
good right to be. They had gone to the Humber, and found nothing but ruin;
the land waste; the French holding both the shores of the Humber; and
Osbiorn cowering in Humber-mouth, hardly able to feed his men. They had
come to conquer England, and nothing was left for them to conquer, but a
few peat-bogs. Then they would have what there was in them. Every one knew
that gold grew up in England out of the ground, wherever a monk put his
foot. And they would plunder Crowland. Their forefathers had done it, and
had fared none the worse. English gold they would have, if they could not
get fat English manors.
"No! not Crowland!" said Hereward; "any place but Crowland, endowed and
honored by Canute the Great,--Crowland, whose abbot was a Danish nobleman,
whose monks were Danes to a man, of their own flesh and blood. Canute's
soul would rise up in Valhalla and curse them, if they took the value of a
penny from St. Guthlac. St. Guthlac was their good friend. He would send
them bread, meat, ale, all they needed. But woe to the man who set foot
upon his ground."
Hereward sent off messengers to Crowland, warning all to be ready to
escape into the fens; and entreating Ulfketyl to empty his storehouses
into his barges, and send food to the Danes, ere a day was past. And
Ulfketyl worked hard and well, till a string of barges wound its way
through the fens, laden with beeves and bread, and ale-barrels in plenty,
and with monks too, who welcomed the Danes as their brethren, talked to
them in their own tongue, blessed them in St. Guthlac's name as the
saviors of England, and went home again, chanting so sweetly their thanks
to Heaven for their safety, that the wild Vikings were awed, and agreed
that St. Guthlac's men were wise folk and open-hearted, and that it was a
shame to do them harm.
But plunder they must have.
"And plunder you shall have!" said Hereward, as a sudden thought struck
him. "I will show you the way to the Golden Borough,--the richest minster
in England; and all the treasures of the Golden Borough shall be yours, if
you will treat Englishmen as friends, and spare the people of the fens."
It was a great crime in the eyes of men of that time. A great crime, taken
simply, in Hereward's own eyes. But necessity knows no law. Something the
Danes must have, and ought to have; and St. Peter's gold was better in
their purses than in that of Thorold and his French monks.
So he led them across the fens and side rivers, till they came into the
old Nene, which men call Catwater and Muscal now.
As he passed Nomanslandhirne, and the mouth of the Crowland river, he
trembled, and trusted that the Danes did not know that they were within
three miles of St. Guthlac's sanctuary. But they went on ignorant, and up
the Muscal till they saw St. Peter's towers on the wooded rise, and behind
them the great forest which now is Milton Park.
There were two parties in Peterborough minster: a smaller faction of
stout-hearted English, a larger one who favored William and the French
customs, with Prior Herluin at their head. Herluin wanted not for
foresight, and he knew that evil was coming on him. He knew that the Danes
were in the fen. He knew that Hereward was with them. He knew that they
had come to Crowland. Hereward could never mean to let them sack it.
Peterborough must be their point. And Herluin set his teeth, like a bold
man determined to abide the worst, and barred and barricaded every gate
That night a hapless churchwarden, Ywar was his name, might have been seen
galloping through Milton and Castor Hanglands, and on by Barnack quarries
over Southorpe heath, with saddlebags of huge size stuffed with "gospels,
mass-robes, cassocks, and other garments, and such other small things as
he could carry away." And he came before day to Stamford, where Abbot
Thorold lay at his ease in his inn with his _hommes d'armes_ asleep
in the hall.
And the churchwarden knocked them up, and drew Abbot Thorold's curtains
with a face such as his who
"drew Priam's curtains in the dead of night,
And would have told him, half his Troy was burned";
and told Abbot Thorold that the monks of Peterborough had sent him; and
that unless he saddled and rode his best that night, with his meinie of
men-at-arms, his Golden Borough would be even as Troy town by morning
"A moi, hommes d'armes!" shouted Thorold, as he used to shout whenever he
wanted to scourge his wretched English monks at Malmesbury into some
The men leaped up, and poured in, growling.
"Take me this monk, and kick him into the street for waking me with such
"But, gracious lord, the outlaws will surely burn Peterborough; and folks
said that you were a mighty man of war"
"So I am; but if I were Roland, Oliver, and Turpin rolled into one, how am
I to fight Hereward and the Danes with forty men-at-arms? Answer me that,
thou dunder-headed English porker. Kick him out."
And Ywar was kicked into the cold, while Thorold raged up and down his
chamber in mantle and slippers, wringing his hands over the treasure of
the Golden Borough, snatched from his fingers just as he was closing them
That night the monks of Peterborough prayed in the minster till the long
hours passed into the short. The poor corrodiers, and other servants of
the monastery, fled from the town outside into the Milton woods. The monks
prayed on inside till an hour after matin. When the first flush of the
summer's dawn began to show in the northeastern sky, they heard mingling
with their own chant another chant, which Peterborough had not heard since
it was Medehampstead, three hundred years ago,--the terrible
Yuch-hey-saa-saa-saa,--the war-song of the Vikings of the north.
Their chant stopped of itself. With blanched faces and trembling knees
they fled, regardless of all discipline, up into the minster tower, and
from the leads looked out northeastward on the fen.
The first rays of the summer sun were just streaming over the vast sheet
of emerald, and glittering upon the winding river; and on a winding line,
too, seemingly endless, of scarlet coats and shields, black hulls, gilded
poops and vanes and beak-heads, and the flash and foam of innumerable
And nearer and louder came the oar-roll, like thunder working up from the
northeast; and mingled with it that grim yet laughing Heysaa, which
bespoke in its very note the revelry of slaughter.
The ships had all their sails on deck. But as they came nearer, the monks
could see the banners of the two foremost vessels.
The one was the red and white of the terrible Dannebrog. The other, the
scarcely less terrible white bear of Hereward.
"He will burn the minster! He has vowed to do it. As a child he vowed, and
he must do it. In this very minster the fiend entered into him and
possessed him; and to this minster has the fiend brought him back to do
his will. Satan, my brethren, having a special spite (as must needs be)
against St. Peter, rock and pillar of the Holy Church, chose out and
inspired this man, even from his mother's womb, that he might be the foe
and robber of St. Peter, and the hater of all who, like my humility, honor
him, and strive to bring this English land into due obedience to that
blessed apostle. Bring forth the relics, my brethren. Bring forth, above
all things, those filings of St. Peter's own chains,--the special glory of
our monastery, and perhaps its safeguard this day."
Some such bombast would any monk of those days have talked in like case.
And yet, so strange a thing is man, he might have been withal, like
Herluin, a shrewd and valiant man.
They brought out all the relics. They brought out the filings themselves,
in a box of gold. They held them out over the walls at the ships, and
called on all the saints to whom they belonged. But they stopped that line
of scarlet, black, and gold as much as their spiritual descendants stop
the lava-stream of Vesuvius, when they hold out similar matters at them,
with a hope unchanged by the experience of eight hundred years. The Heysaa
rose louder and nearer. The Danes were coming. And they came.
And all the while a thousand skylarks rose from off the fen, and chanted
their own chant aloft, as if appealing to Heaven against that which man's
greed and man's rage and man's superstition had made of this fair earth of
The relics had been brought out. But, as they would not work, the only
thing to be done was to put them back again and hide them safe, lest they
should bow down like Bel and stoop like Nebo, and be carried, like them,
into captivity themselves, being worth a very large sum of money in the
eyes of the more Christian part of the Danish host.
Then to hide the treasures as well as they could; which (says the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) they hid somewhere in the steeple.
The Danes were landing now. The shout which they gave, as they leaped on
shore, made the hearts of the poor monks sink low. Would they be murdered,
as well as robbed? Perhaps not,--probably not. Hereward would see to that.
And some wanted to capitulate.
Herluin would not hear of it. They were safe enough. St. Peter's relic
might not have worked a miracle on the spot; but it must have done
something. St. Peter had been appealed to on his honor, and on his honor
he must surely take the matter up. At all events, the walls and gates were
strong, and the Danes had no artillery. Let them howl and rage round the
holy place, till Abbot Thorold and the Frenchmen of the country rose and
drove them to their ships.
In that last thought the cunning Norman was not so far wrong. The Danes
pushed up through the little town, and to the minster gates: but entrance
was impossible; and they prowled round and round like raging wolves about
a winter steading; but found no crack of entry.
Prior Herluin grew bold; and coming to the leads of the gateway tower,
looked over cautiously, and holding up a certain most sacred emblem,--not
to be profaned in these pages,--cursed them in the name of his whole
"Aha, Herluin! Are you there?" asked a short, square man in gay armor.
"Have you forgotten the peat-stack outside Bolldyke Gate, and how you bade
light it under me thirty years since?"
"Thou art Winter?" and the Prior uttered what would be considered, from
any but a churchman's lips, a blasphemous and bloodthirsty curse; but
which was, as their writings sufficiently testify, merely one of the
lawful weapons or "arts" of those Christians who were "forbidden to
fight,"--the other weapon or art being that of lying.
"Aha! That goes like rain off a duck's back to one who has been a minster
scholar in his time. You! Danes! Ostmen! down! If you shoot at that man
I'll cut your heads off. He is the oldest foe I have in the world, and the
only one who ever hit me without my hitting him again; and nobody shall
touch him but me. So down bows, I say."
The Danes--humorous all of them--saw that there was a jest toward, and
perhaps some earnest too, and joined in jeering the Prior.
Herluin had ducked his head behind the parapet; not from cowardice, but
simply because he had on no mail, and might be shot any moment. But when
he heard Winter forbid them to touch him, he lifted up his head, and gave
his old pupil as good as he brought.
With his sharp, swift Norman priest's tongue he sneered, he jeered, he
scolded, he argued; and then threatened, suddenly changing his tone, in
words of real eloquence. He appealed to the superstitions of his hearers.
He threatened them with supernatural vengeance.
Some of them began to slink away frightened. St. Peter was an ill man to
have a blood feud with.
Winter stood, laughing and jeering again, for full ten minutes. At last:
"I asked, and you have not answered: have you forgotten the peat-stack
outside Bolldyke Gate? For if you have, Hereward has not. He has piled it
against the gate, and it should be burnt through by this time. Go and
Herluin disappeared with a curse.
"Now, you sea-cocks," said Winter, springing up, "we'll to the Bolldyke
Gate, and all start fair."
The Bolldyke Gate was on fire; and more, so were the suburbs. There was no
time to save them, as Hereward would gladly have done, for the sake of the
poor corrodiers. They must go,--on to the Bolldyke Gate. Who cared to put
out flames behind him, with all the treasures of Golden Borough before
him? In a few minutes all the town was alight. In a few minutes more, the
A fire is detestable enough at all times, but most detestable by day. At
night it is customary, a work of darkness which lights up the dark,
picturesque, magnificent, with a fitness Tartarean and diabolic. But under
a glaring sun, amid green fields and blue skies, all its wickedness is
revealed without its beauty. You see its works, and little more. The flame
is hardly noticed. All that is seen is a canker eating up God's works,
cracking the bones of its prey,--for that horrible cracking is uglier than
all stage-scene glares,--cruelly and shamelessly under the very eye of the
great, honest, kindly sun.
And that felt Hereward, as he saw Peterborough burn. He could not put his
thoughts into words, as men of this day can: so much the better for him,
perhaps. But he felt all the more intensely--as did men of his day--the
things he could not speak. All he said was aside to Winter,--
"It is a dark job. I wish it had been done in the dark." And Winter knew
what he meant.
Then the men rushed into the Bolldyke Gate, while Hereward and Winter
stood and looked with their men, whom they kept close together, waiting
their commands. The Danes and their allies cared not for the great glowing
heap of peat. They cared not for each other, hardly for themselves. They
rushed into the gap; they thrust the glowing heap inward through the
gateway with their lances; they thrust each other down into it, and
trampled over them to fall themselves, rising scorched and withered, and
yet struggling on toward the gold of the Golden Borough. One savage Lett
caught another round the waist, and hurled him bodily into the fire,
crying in his wild tongue:--
"You will make a good stepping-stone for me."
"That is not fair," quoth Hereward, and clove him to the chine.
It was wild work. But the Golden Borough was won.
"We must in now and save the monks," said Hereward, and dashed over the
He was only just in time. In the midst of the great court were all the
monks, huddled together like a flock of sheep, some kneeling, most weeping
bitterly, after the fashion of monks.
Only Herluin stood in front of them, at bay, a lofty crucifix in his hand.
He had no mind to weep. But with a face of calm and bitter wrath, he
preferred words of peace and entreaty. They were what the time needed.
Therefore they should be given. To-morrow he would write to Bishop
Egelsin, to excommunicate with bell, book, and candle, to the lowest pit
of Tartarus, all who had done the deed.
But to-day he spoke them fair. However, his fair speeches profited little,
not being understood by a horde of Letts and Finns, who howled and bayed
at him, and tried to tear the crucifix from his hands; but feared "the
They were already gaining courage from their own yells; in a moment more
blood would have been shed, and then a general massacre must have ensued.
Hereward saw it, and shouting, "After me, Hereward's men! a bear! a bear!"
swung Letts and Finns right and left like corn-sheaves, and stood face to
face with Herluin.
An angry Finn smote him on the hind-head full with a stone axe. He
staggered, and then looked round and laughed.
"Fool! hast thou not heard that Hereward's armor was forged by dwarfs in
the mountain-bowels? Off, and hunt for gold, or it will be all gone."
The Finn, who was astonished at getting no more from his blow than a few
sparks, and expected instant death in return, took the hint and vanished
jabbering, as did his fellows.
"Now, Herluin, the Frenchman!" said Hereward.
"Now, Hereward, the robber of saints!" said Herluin.
It was a fine sight. The soldier and the churchman, the Englishman and the
Frenchman, the man of the then world, and the man of the then Church,
pitted fairly, face to face.
Hereward tried, for one moment, to stare down Herluin. But those terrible
eye-glances, before which Vikings had quailed, turned off harmless from
the more terrible glance of the man who believed himself backed by the
Maker of the universe, and all the hierarchy of heaven.
A sharp, unlovely face it was: though, like many a great churchman's face
of those days, it was neither thin nor haggard; but rather round, sleek,
of a puffy and unwholesome paleness. But there was a thin lip above a
broad square jaw, which showed that Herluin was neither fool nor coward.
"A robber and a child of Belial thou hast been from thy cradle; and a
robber and a child of Belial thou art now. Dare thy last iniquity, and
slay the servants of St. Peter on St. Peter's altar, with thy worthy
comrades, the heathen Saracens [Footnote: The Danes were continually
mistaken, by Norman churchmen, for Saracens, and the Saracens considered
to be idolaters. A maumee, or idol, means a Mahomet.], and set up Mahound
with them in the holy place."
Hereward laughed so jolly a laugh, that the Prior was taken aback.
"Slay St. Peter's rats? I kill men, not monks. There shall not a hair of
your head be touched. Here! Hereward's men! march these traitors and
their French Prior safe out of the walls, and into Milton Woods, to look
after their poor corrodiers, and comfort their souls, after they have
ruined their bodies by their treason!"
"Out of this place I stir not. Here I am, and here I will live or die, as
St. Peter shall send aid."
But as he spoke, he was precipitated rudely forward, and hurried almost
into Hereward's arms. The whole body of monks, when they heard Hereward's
words, cared to hear no more, but desperate between fear and joy, rushed
forward, bearing away their Prior in the midst.
"So go the rats out of Peterborough, and so is my dream fulfilled. Now for
the treasure, and then to Ely."
But Herluin burst himself clear of the frantic mob of monks, and turned
back on Hereward.
"Thou wast dubbed knight in that church!"
"I know it, man; and that church and the relics of the saints in it are
safe, therefore. Hereward gives his word."
"That,--but not that only, if thou art a true knight, as thou holdest,
Hereward growled savagely, and made an ugly step toward Herluin. That was
a point which he would not have questioned.
"Then behave as a knight, and save, save,"--as the monks dragged him
away,--"save the hospice! There are women,--ladies there!" shouted he, as
he was borne off.
They never met again on earth; but both comforted themselves in after
years, that two old enemies' last deed in common had been one of mercy.
Hereward uttered a cry of horror. If the wild Letts, even the Jomsburgers,
had got in, all was lost. He rushed to the door. It was not yet burst: but
a bench, swung by strong arms, was battering it in fast.
"Winter! Geri! Siwards! To me, Hereward's men! Stand back, fellows. Here
are friends here inside. If you do not, I'll cut you down."
But in vain. The door was burst, and in poured the savage mob. Hereward,
unable to stop them, headed them, or pretended to do so, with five or six
of his own men round him, and went into the hall.
On the rushes lay some half-dozen grooms. They were butchered instantly,
simply because they were there. Hereward saw, but could not prevent. He
ran as hard as he could to the foot of the wooden stair which led to the
"Guard the stair-foot, Winter!" and he ran up.
Two women cowered upon the floor, shrieking and praying with hands clasped
over their heads. He saw that the arms of one of them were of the most
exquisite whiteness, and judging her to be the lady, bent over her. "Lady!
you are safe. I will protect you. I am Hereward."
She sprang up, and threw herself with a scream into his arms.
"Hereward! Hereward! Save me. I am--"
"Alftruda!" said Hereward.
It was Alftruda; if possible more beautiful than ever.
"I have got you!" she cried. "I am safe now. Take me away,--out of this
horrible place! Take me into the woods,--anywhere. Only do not let me be
burnt here,--stifled like a rat. Give me air! Give me water!" And she
clung to him so madly, that Hereward, as he held her in his arms, and
gazed on her extraordinary beauty, forgot Torfrida for the second time.
But there was no time to indulge in evil thoughts, even had any crossed
his mind. He caught her in his arms, and commanding the maid to follow,
hurried down the stair.
Winter and the Siwards were defending the foot with swinging blades. The
savages were howling round like curs about a bull; and when Hereward
appeared above with the women, there was a loud yell of rage and envy.
He should not have the women to himself,--they would share the plunder
equally,--was shouted in half a dozen barbarous dialects.
"Have you left any valuables in the chamber?" whispered he to Alftruda.
"Yes, jewels,--robes. Let them have all, only save me!"
"Let me pass!" roared Hereward. "There is rich booty in the room above,
and you may have it as these ladies' ransom. Them you do not touch. Back,
I say, let me pass!"
And he rushed forward. Winter and the housecarles formed round him and the
women, and hurried down the hall, while the savages hurried up the ladder,
to quarrel over their spoil.
They were out in the court-yard, and safe for the moment. But whither
should he take her?
"To Earl Osbiorn," said one of the Siwards. But how to find him?
"There is Bishop Christiern!" And the Bishop was caught and stopped.
"This is an evil day's work, Sir Hereward."
"Then help to mend it by taking care of these ladies, like a man of God."
And he explained the case.
"You may come safely with me, my poor lambs," said the Bishop. "I am glad
to find something to do fit for a churchman. To me, my housecarles."
But they were all off plundering.
"We will stand by you and the ladies, and see you safe down to the ships,"
said Winter, and so they went off.
Hereward would gladly have gone with them, as Alftruda piteously entreated
him. But he heard his name called on every side in angry tones.
"Who wants Hereward?"
"Earl Osbiorn,--here he is."
"Those scoundrel monks have hidden all the altar furniture. If you wish to
save them from being tortured to death, you had best find it."
Hereward ran with him into the Cathedral. It was a hideous sight; torn
books and vestments; broken tabernacle work; foul savages swarming in and
out of every dark aisle and cloister, like wolves in search of prey; five
or six ruffians aloft upon the rood screen; one tearing the golden crown
from the head of the crucifix, another the golden footstool from its feet.
[Footnote: The crucifix was probably of the Greek pattern, in which the
figure stood upon a flat slab, projecting from the cross.]
As Hereward came up, crucifix and man fell together, crashing upon the
pavement, amid shouts of brutal laughter.
He hurried past them, shuddering, into the choir. The altar was bare, the
golden pallium which covered it, gone.
"It may be in the crypt below. I suppose the monks keep their relics
there," said Osbiorn.
"No! Not there. Do not touch the relics! Would you have the curse of all
the saints? Stay! I know an old hiding-place. It may be there. Up into the
steeple with me."
And in a chamber in the steeple they found the golden pall, and treasures
countless and wonderful.
"We had better keep the knowledge of this to ourselves awhile," said Earl
Osbiorn, looking with greedy eyes on a heap of wealth such as he had never
"Not we! Hereward is a man of his word, and we will share and share
alike." And he turned and went down the narrow winding stair.
Earl Osbiorn gave one look at his turned back; an evil spirit of
covetousness came over him; and he smote Hereward full and strong upon the
The sword turned upon the magic helm, and the sparks flashed out bright
Back to Full Books