Hereward, The Last of the English
Part 9 out of 10
Gone? Who was not gone, or going? He seemed to himself the last tree in
the forest. When should his time come, and the lightning strike him down
to rot beside the rest? But he tost the sad thoughts aside. He could not
afford to nourish them. It was his only chance of life, to be merry and
"Well!" said Hereward, ere they hapt themselves up for the night. "We owe
you thanks, Abbot Thorold, for an evening worthy of a king's court, rather
than a holly-bush."
"I have won him over," thought the Abbot.
"So charming a courtier,--so sweet a minstrel,--so agreeable a
newsmonger,--could I keep you in a cage forever, and hang you on a bough,
I were but too happy: but you are too fine a bird to sing in captivity. So
you must go, I fear, and leave us to the nightingales. And I will take for
Abbot Thorold's heart beat high.
"Thirty thousand silver marks."
"Thirty thousand fiends!"
"My beau Sire, will you undervalue yourself? Will you degrade yourself? I
took Abbot Thorold, from his talk, to be a man who set even a higher value
on himself than other men set on him. What higher compliment can I pay to
your vast worth, than making your ransom high accordingly, after the
spirit of our ancient English laws? Take it as it is meant, beau Sire; be
proud to pay the money; and we will throw you Sir Ascelin into the
bargain, as he seems a friend of Siward's."
Thorold hoped that Hereward was drunk, and might forget, or relent; but he
was so sore at heart that he slept not a wink that night. But in the
morning he found, to his sorrow, that Hereward had been as sober as
In fine, he had to pay the money; and was a poor man all his days.
"Aha! Sir Ascelin," said Hereward apart, as he bade them all farewell with
many courtesies. "I think I have put a spoke in your wheel about the fair
"Eh? How? Most courteous victor?"
"Sir Ascelin is not a very wealthy gentleman."
Ascelin laughed assent.
"Nudus intravi, nudus exeo--England; and I fear now, this mortal life
"But he looked to his rich uncle the Abbot, to further a certain
marriage-project of his. And, of course, neither my friend Gilbert of
Ghent, nor my enemy William of Normandy, are likely to give away so rich
an heiress without some gratification in return."
"Sir Hereward knows the world, it seems."
"So he has been told before. And, therefore, having no intention that Sir
Ascelin, however worthy of any and every fair lady, should marry this one;
he took care to cut off the stream at the fountain-head. If he hears that
the suit is still pushed, he may cut off another head beside the
"There will be no need," said Ascelin, laughing again. "You have very
sufficiently ruined my uncle, and my hopes."
"My head?" said he, as soon as Hereward was out of hearing. "If I do not
cut off thy head ere all is over, there is neither luck nor craft left
among Normans. I shall catch the Wake sleeping some day, let him be never
HOW ALFTRUDA WROTE TO HEREWARD.
The weary months ran on, from summer into winter, and winter into summer
again, for two years and more, and neither Torfrida nor Hereward were the
better for them. Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: and a sick heart is
but too apt to be a peevish one. So there were fits of despondency, jars,
mutual recriminations. "If I had not taken your advice, I should not have
been here." "If I had not loved you so well, I might have been very
differently off,"--and so forth. The words were wiped away the next hour,
perhaps the next minute, by sacred kisses; but they had been said, and
would be recollected, and perhaps said again.
Then, again, the "merry greenwood" was merry enough in the summer tide,
when shaughs were green, and
"The woodwele sang, and would not cease,
Sitting upon the spray.
So loud, it wakened Robin Hood
In the greenwood where he lay."
But it was a sad place enough, when the autumn fog crawled round the
gorse, and dripped off the hollies, and choked alike the breath and the
eyesight; when the air sickened with the graveyard smell of rotting
leaves, and the rain-water stood in the clay holes over the poached and
It was merry enough, too, when they were in winter quarters in friendly
farm-houses, as long as the bright sharp frosts lasted, and they tracked
the hares and deer merrily over the frozen snows; but it was doleful
enough in those same farm-houses in the howling wet weather, when wind and
rain lashed in through unglazed window, and ill-made roof, and there were
coughs and colds and rheumatisms, and Torfrida ached from head to foot,
and once could not stand upright for a whole month together, and every
cranny was stuffed up with bits of board and rags, keeping out light and
air as well as wind and water; and there was little difference between the
short day and the long night; and the men gambled and wrangled amid clouds
of peat-reek, over draughtboards and chessmen which they had carved for
themselves, and Torfrida sat stitching and sewing, making and mending, her
eyes bleared with peat-smoke, her hands sore and coarse from continual
labor, her cheek bronzed, her face thin and hollow, and all her beauty
worn away for very trouble. Then sometimes there was not enough to eat,
and every one grumbled at her; or some one's clothes were not mended, and
she was grumbled at again. And sometimes a foraging party brought home
liquor, and all who could got drunk to drive dull care away; and Hereward,
forgetful of all her warnings, got more than was good for him likewise;
and at night she coiled herself up in her furs, cold and contemptuous; and
Hereward coiled himself up, guilty and defiant, and woke her again and
again with startings and wild words in his sleep. And she felt that her
beauty was gone, and that he saw it; and she fancied him (perhaps it was
only fancy) less tender than of yore; and then in very pride disdained to
take any care of her person, and said to herself, though she dare not say
it to him, that if he only loved her for her face, he did not love her at
all. And because she fancied him cold at times, she was cold likewise, and
grew less and less caressing, when for his sake, as well as her own, she
should have grown more so day by day.
Alas for them! there are many excuses. Sorrow may be a softening medicine
at last, but at first it is apt to be a hardening one; and that savage
outlaw life which they were leading can never have been a wholesome one
for any soul of man, and its graces must have existed only in the brains
of harpers and gleemen. Away from law, from self-restraint, from
refinement, from elegance, from the very sound of a church-going bell,
they were sinking gradually down to the level of the coarse men and women
whom they saw; the worse and not the better parts of both their characters
were getting the upper hand; and it was but too possible that after a
while the hero might sink into the ruffian, the lady into a slattern and a
But in justice to them be it said, that neither of them had complained of
the other to any living soul. Their love had been as yet too perfect, too
sacred, for them to confess to another (and thereby confess to themselves)
that it could in any wise fail. They had each idolized the other, and been
too proud of their idolatry to allow that their idol could crumble or
And yet at last that point, too, was reached. One day they were wrangling
about somewhat, as they too often wrangled, and Hereward in his temper let
fall the words. "As I said to Winter the other day, you grow harder and
harder upon me."
Torfrida started and fixed on him wide, terrible, scornful eyes "So you
complain of me to your boon companions?"
And she turned and went away without a word. A gulf had opened between
them. They hardly spoke to each other for a week.
Hereward complained of Torfrida? What if Torfrida should complain of
Hereward? But to whom? Not to the coarse women round her; her pride
revolted from that thought;--and yet she longed for counsel, for
sympathy,--to open her heart but to one fellow-woman. She would go to the
Lady Godiva at Crowland, and take counsel of her, whether there was any
method (for so she put it to herself) of saving Hereward; for she saw but
too clearly that he was fast forgetting all her teaching, and falling back
to a point lower than that even from which she had raised him up.
To go to Crowland was not difficult. It was mid-winter. The dikes were all
frozen. Hereward was out foraging in the Lincolnshire wolds. So Torfrida,
taking advantage of his absence, proposed another foraging party to
Crowland itself. She wanted stuff for clothes, needles, thread, what not.
A dozen stout fellows volunteered at once to take her. The friendly monks
of Crowland would feast them royally, and send them home heaped with all
manner of good things; while as for meeting Ivo Taillebois's men, if they
had but three to one against them, there was a fair chance of killing a
few, and carrying off their clothes and weapons, which would be useful. So
they made a sledge, tied beef-bones underneath it, put Torfrida thereon,
well wrapped in deer and fox and badger skin, and then putting on their
skates, swept her over the fen to Crowland, singing like larks along the
And Torfrida went in to Godiva, and wept upon her knees; and Godiva wept
likewise, and gave her such counsel as she could,--how if the woman will
keep the men heroic, she must keep herself not heroic only, but devout
likewise; how she herself, by that one deed which had rendered her name
famous then, and famous (though she never dreamt thereof) now, and it may
be to the end of time,--had once for all, tamed, chained, and as it were
converted, the heart of her fierce young lord; and enabled her to train
him in good time into the most wise, most just, most pious, of all King
And Torfrida said yes, and yes, and yes, and felt in her heart that she
knew all that already. Had not she, too, taught, entreated, softened,
civilized? Had not she, too, spent her life upon a man, and that man a
wolf's-head and a landless outlaw, more utterly than Godiva could ever
have spent hers on one who lived lapped in luxury and wealth and power?
Torfrida had done her best, and she had failed, or at least fancied in her
haste that she had failed.
What she wanted was, not counsel, but love. And she clung round the Lady
Godiva, till the broken and ruined widow opened all her heart to her, and
took her in her arms, and fondled her as if she had been a babe. And the
two women spoke few words after that, for indeed there was nothing to be
said. Only at last, "My child, my child," cried Godiva, "better for thee,
body and soul, to be here with me in the house of God, than there amid
evil spirits and deeds of darkness in the wild woods."
"Not a cloister, not a cloister," cried Torfrida, shuddering, and half
struggling to get away.
"It is the only place, poor wilful child, the only place this side the
grave, in which, we wretched creatures, who for our sins are women born,
can find aught of rest or peace. By us sin came into the world, and Eve's
curse lies heavy on us to this day, and our desire is to our lords, and
they rule over us; and when the slave can work for her master no more,
what better than to crawl into the house of God, and lay down our crosses
at the foot of His cross and die? You too will come here, Torfrida, some
day, I know it well. You too will come here to rest."
"Never, never," shrieked Torfrida, "never to these horrid vaults. I will
die in the fresh air! I will be buried under the green hollies; and the
nightingales as they wander up from my own Provence, shall build and sing
over my grave. Never, never!" murmured she to herself all the more
eagerly, because something within her said that it would come to pass.
The two women went into the church to Matins, and prayed long and
fervently. And at the early daybreak the party went back laden with good
things and hearty blessings, and caught one of Ivo Taillebois's men by the
way, and slew him, and got off him a new suit of clothes in which the poor
fellow was going courting; and so they got home safe into the Bruneswald.
But Torfrida had not found rest unto her soul. For the first time in her
life since she became the bride of Hereward, she had had a confidence
concerning him and unknown to him. It was to his own mother,--true. And
yet she felt as if she had betrayed him: but then had he not betrayed her?
And to Winter of all men?
It might have been two months afterwards that Martin Lightfoot put a
letter into Torfrida's hand.
The letter was addressed to Hereward; but there was nothing strange in
Martin's bringing it to his mistress. Ever since their marriage, she had
opened and generally answered the very few epistles with which her husband
She was going to open this one as a matter of course, when glancing at the
superscription she saw, or fancied she saw, that it was in a woman's hand.
She looked at it again. It was sealed plainly with a woman's seal; and she
looked up at Martin Lightfoot. She had remarked as he gave her the letter
a sly significant look in his face.
"What doest thou know of this letter?" she inquired sharply.
"That it is from the Countess Alftruda, whomsoever she may be."
A chill struck through her heart. True, Alftruda had written before, only
to warn Hereward of danger to his life,--and hers. She might be writing
again, only for the same purpose. But still, she did not wish that either
Hereward, or she, should owe Alftruda their lives, or anything. They had
struggled on through weal and woe without her, for many a year. Let them
do so without her still. That Alftruda had once loved Hereward she knew
well. Why should she not? The wonder was to her that every woman did not
love him. But she had long since gauged Alftruda's character, and seen in
it a persistence like her own, yet as she proudly hoped of a lower temper;
the persistence of the base weasel, not of the noble hound: yet the
creeping weasel might endure, and win, when the hound was tired out by his
own gallant pace. And there was a something in the tone of Alftruda's last
letter which seemed to tell her that the weasel was still upon the scent
of its game. But she was too proud to mistrust Hereward, or rather, to
seem to mistrust him. And yet--how dangerous Alftruda might be as a rival,
if rival she choose to be. She was up in the world now, free, rich, gay,
beautiful, a favorite at Queen Matilda's court, while she--
"How came this letter into thy hands?" asked she as carelessly as she
"I was in Peterborough last night," said Martin, "concerning little
matters of my own, and there came to me in the street a bonny young page
with smart jacket on his back, smart cap on his head, and smiles and bows,
and 'You are one of Hereward's men,' quoth he."
"'Say that again, young jackanapes,' said I, 'and I'll cut your tongue
out,' whereat he took fright and all but cried. He was very sorry, and
meant no harm, but he had a letter for my master, and he heard I was one
of his men.
"Who told him that?"
"Well, one of the monks, he could not justly say which, or wouldn't, and
I, thinking the letter of more importance than my own neck, ask him
quietly into my friend's house. There he pulls out this and five silver
pennies, and I shall have five more if I bring an answer back: but to none
than Hereward must I give it. With that I calling my friend, who is an
honest woman, and nigh as strong in the arms as I am, ask her to clap her
back against the door, and pull out my axe."
"'Now,' said I, 'I must know a little more about this letter Tell me,
knave, who gave it thee, or I'll split thy skull.'
"The young man cries and blubbers; and says that it is the Countess
Alftruda, who is staying in the monastery, and that he is her serving man,
and that it is as much as my life is worth to touch a hair of his head,
and so forth,--so far so good.
"Then I asked him again, who told him I was my master's man?--and he
confessed that it was Herluin the prior,--he that was Lady Godiva's
chaplain of old, whom my master robbed of his money when he had the cell
of Bourne years agone. Very well, quoth I to myself, that's one more count
on our score against Master Herluin. Then I asked him how Herluin and the
Lady Alftruda came to know aught of each other? and he said that she had
been questioning all about the monastery without Abbot Thorold's
knowledge, for one that knew Hereward and favored him well. That was all I
could get from the knave, he cried so for fright. So I took his money and
his letter, warning him that if be betrayed me, there were those would
roast him alive before he was done with me. And so away over the town
wall, and ran here five-and-twenty miles before breakfast, and thought it
better as you see to give the letter to my lady first."
"You have been officious," said Torfrida, coldly. "'Tis addressed to your
master. Take it to him. Go."
Martin Lightfoot whistled and obeyed, while Torfrida walked away proudly
and silently with a beating heart.
Again Godiva's words came over her. Should she end in the convent of
Crowland? And suspecting, fearing, imagining all sorts of baseless
phantoms, she hardened her heart into a great hardness.
Martin had gone with the letter, and Torfrida never heard any more of it.
So Hereward had secrets which he would not tell to her. At last!
That, at least, was a misery which she would not confide to Lady Godiva,
or to any soul on earth.
But a misery it was. Such a misery as none can delineate, save those who
have endured it themselves, or had it confided to them by another. And
happy are they to whom neither has befallen.
She wandered on and into the wild-wood, and sat down by a spring. She
looked in it--her only mirror--at her wan, coarse face, with wild black
elf-locks hanging round it, and wondered whether Alftruda, in her luxury
and prosperity, was still so very beautiful. Ah, that that fountain were
the fountain of Jouvence, the spring of perpetual youth, which all
believed in those days to exist somewhere,--how would she plunge into it,
and be young and fair once more!
No! she would not! She had lived her life, and lived it well, gallantly,
lovingly, heroically. She had given that man her youth, her beauty, her
wealth, her wit. He should not have them a second time. He had had his
will of her. If he chose to throw her away when he had done with her, to
prove himself base at last, unworthy of all her care, her counsels, her
training,--dreadful thought! To have lived to keep that man for her own,
and just when her work seemed done, to lose him! No, there was worse than
that. To have lived that she might make that man a perfect knight, and
just when her work seemed done, to see him lose himself!
And she wept till she could weep no more. Then she washed away her tears
in that well. Had it been in Greece of old, that well would have become a
sacred well thenceforth, and Torfrida's tears have changed into
forget-me-nots, and fringed its marge with azure evermore.
Then she went back, calm, all but cold: but determined not to betray
herself, let him do what he would. Perhaps it was all a mistake, a fancy.
At least she would not degrade him, and herself, by showing suspicion. It
would be dreadful, shameful to herself, wickedly unjust to him, to accuse
him, were he innocent after all.
Hereward, she remarked, was more kind to her now. But it was a kindness
which she did not like. It was shy, faltering, as of a man guilty and
ashamed; and she repelled it as much as she dared, and then, once or
twice, returned it passionately, madly, in hopes--
But he never spoke a word of that letter.
After a dreadful month, Martin came mysteriously to her again. She
trembled, for she had remarked in him lately a strange change. He had lost
his usual loquacity and quaint humor; and had fallen back into that sullen
taciturnity, which, so she heard, he had kept up in his youth. He, too,
must know evil which he dared not tell.
"There is another letter come. It came last night," said he.
"What is that to thee or me? My lord has his state secrets. Is it for us
to pry into them? Go!"
"I thought--I thought--"
"Go, I say!"
"That your ladyship might wish for a guide to Crowland."
"Crowland?" almost shrieked Torfrida, for the thought of Crowland had
risen in her own wretched mind instantly and involuntarily. "Go, madman!"
Martin went. Torfrida paced madly up and down the farmhouse. Then she
settled herself into fierce despair.
There was a noise of trampling horses outside. The men were arming and
saddling, seemingly for a raid.
Hereward hurried in for his armor. When he saw Torfrida, he blushed
"You want your arms," said she, quietly; "let me fetch them."
"No, never mind. I can harness myself; I am going southwest, to pay
Taillebois a visit. I am in a great hurry, I shall be back in three days.
He snatched his arms off a perch, and hurried out again, dragging them on.
As he passed her, he offered to kiss her; she put him back, and helped him
on with his armor, while he thanked her confusedly.
"He was as glad not to kiss me, after all!"
She looked after him as he stood, his hand on his horse's withers. How
noble he looked! And a great yearning came over her. To throw her arms
round his neck once, and then to stab herself, and set him free, dying, as
she had lived, for him.
Two bonny boys were wrestling on the lawn, young outlaws who had grown up
in the forest with ruddy cheeks and iron limbs.
"Ah, Winter!" she heard him say, "had I had such a boy as that!--"
She heard no more. She turned away, her heart dead within her. She knew
all that these words implied, in days when the possession of land was
everything to the free man; and the possession of a son necessary, to pass
that land on in the ancestral line. Only to have a son; only to prevent
the old estate passing, with an heiress, into the hands of strangers, what
crimes did not men commit in those days, and find themselves excused for
them by public opinion. And now,--her other children (if she ever had any)
had died in childhood; the little Torfrida, named after herself, was all
that she had brought to Hereward; and he was the last of his house. In him
the race of Leofric, of Godiva, of Earl Oslac, would become extinct; and
that girl would marry--whom? Whom but some French conqueror,--or at best
some English outlaw. In either case Hereward would have no descendants for
whom it was worth his while to labor or to fight. What wonder if he longed
for a son,--and not a son of hers, the barren tree,--to pass his name down
to future generations? It might be worth while, for that, to come in to
the king, to recover his lands, to----She saw it all now, and her heart was
dead within her.
She spent that evening neither eating nor drinking, but sitting over the
log embers, her head upon her hands, and thinking over all her past life
and love, since she saw him, from the gable window, ride the first time
into St. Omer. She went through it all, with a certain stern delight in
the self-torture, deliberately day by day, year by year,--all its lofty
aspirations, all its blissful passages, all its deep disappointments, and
found in it--so she chose to fancy in the wilfulness of her misery--
nothing but cause for remorse. Self in all, vanity, and vexation of
spirit; for herself she had loved him; for herself she had tried to raise
him; for herself she had set her heart on man, and not on God. She had
sown the wind: and behold, she had reaped the whirlwind. She could not
repent; she could not pray. But oh! that she could die.
She was unjust to herself, in her great nobleness. It was not true, not
half, not a tenth part true. But perhaps it was good for her that it
should seem true, for that moment; that she should be emptied of all
earthly things for once, if so she might be filled from above.
At last she went into the inner room to lie down and try to sleep. At her
feet, under the perch where Hereward's armor had hung, lay an open letter.
She picked it up, surprised at seeing such a thing there, and kneeling
down, held it eagerly to the wax candle which was on a spike at the bed's
She knew the handwriting in a moment. It was Alftruda's.
This, then, was why Hereward had been so strangely hurried. He must have
had that letter, and dropped it.
Her eye and mind took it all in, in one instant, as the lightning flash
reveals a whole landscape. And then her mind became as dark as that
landscape, when the flash is past.
It congratulated Hereward on having shaken himself free from the
fascination of that sorceress. It said that all was settled with King
William. Hereward was to come to Winchester. She had the King's writ for
his safety ready to send to him. The King would receive him as his
liegeman. Alftruda would receive him as her husband. Archbishop Lanfranc
had made difficulties about the dissolution of the marriage with Torfrida:
but gold would do all things at Rome; and Lanfranc was her very good
friend, and a reasonable man,--and so forth.
Men, and beasts likewise, when stricken with a mortal wound, will run, and
run on, blindly, aimless, impelled by the mere instinct of escape from
intolerable agony. And so did Torfrida. Half undrest as she was, she fled
forth into the forest, she knew not whither, running as one does wrapt in
fire: but the fire was not without her, but within.
She cast a passing glance at the girl who lay by her, sleeping a pure and
"O that thou hadst but been a boy!" Then she thought no more of her, not
even of Hereward: but all of which she was conscious was a breast and
brain bursting; an intolerable choking, from which she must escape.
She ran, and ran on, for miles. She knew not whether the night was light
or dark, warm or cold. Her tender feet might have been ankle deep in snow.
The branches over her head might have been howling in the tempest, or
dripping with rain. She knew not, and heeded not. The owls hooted to each
other under the staring moon, but she heard them not. The wolves glared at
her from the brakes, and slunk off appalled at the white ghostly figure:
but she saw them not. The deer stood at gaze in the glades till she was
close upon them, and then bounded into the wood. She ran right at them,
past them, heedless. She had but one thought. To flee from the agony of a
soul alone in the universe with its own misery.
At last she was aware of a man close beside her. He had been following her
a long way, she recollected now; but she had not feared him, even heeded
him. But when he laid his hand upon her arm, she turned fiercely, but
She looked to see if it was Hereward. To meet him would be death. If it
were not he, she cared not who it was. It was not Hereward; and she cried
angrily, "Off! off!" and hurried on.
"But you are going the wrong way! The wrong way!" said the voice of Martin
"The wrong way! Fool, which is the right way for me, save the path which
leads to a land where all is forgotten?"
"To Crowland! To Crowland! To the minster! To the monks! That is the only
right way for poor wretches in a world like this. The Lady Godiva told you
you must go to Crowland. And now you are going. I too, I ran away from a
monastery when I was young; and now I am going back. Come along!"
"You are right! Crowland, Crowland; and a nun's cell till death. Which is
the way, Martin?"
"O, a wise lady! A reasonable lady! But you will be cold before you get
thither. There will be a frost ere morn. So, when I saw you run out, I
caught up something to put over you."
Torfrida shuddered, as Martin wrapped her in the white bearskin.
"No! Not that! Anything but that!" and she struggled to shake it off.
"Then you will be dead ere dawn. Folks that run wild in the forest thus,
for but one night, die!"
"Would God I could die!"
"That shall be as He wills; you do not die while Martin can keep you
alive. Why, you are staggering already."
Martin caught her up in his arms, threw her over his shoulder as if she
had been a child, and hurried on, in the strength of madness.
At last he stopped at a cottage door, set her down upon the turf, and
"Grimkel Tolison! Grimkel, I say!"
And Martin burst the door open with his foot.
"Give me a horse, on your life," said he to the man inside. "I am Martin,
Hereward's man, upon my master's business."
"What is mine is Hereward's, God bless him," said the man, struggling into
a garment, and hurrying out to the shed.
"There is a ghost against the gate!" cried he, recoiling.
"That is my matter, not yours. Get me a horse to put the ghost upon."
Torfrida lay against the gate-post, exhausted now; but quite unable to
think. Martin lifted her on to the beast, and led her onward, holding her
up again and again.
"You are tired. You had run four miles before I could make you hear me."
"Would I had run four thousand." And she relapsed into stupor.
They passed out of the forest, across open wolds, and at last down to the
river. Martin knew of a boat there. He lifted her from the horse, turned
him loose, put Torfrida into the boat, and took the oars.
She looked up, and saw the roofs of Bourne shining white in the moonlight.
And then she lifted up her voice, and shrieked three times:
"Lost! Lost! Lost!"
with such a dreadful cry, that the starlings whirred up from the reeds,
and the wild-fowl rose clanging off the meres, and the watch-dogs in
Bourne and Mainthorpe barked and howled, and folk told fearfully next
morning how a white ghost had gone down from the forest to the fen, and
wakened them with its unearthly cry.
The sun was high when they came to Crowland minster. Torfrida had neither
spoken nor stirred; and Martin, who in the midst of his madness kept a
strange courtesy and delicacy, had never disturbed her, save to wrap the
bear-skin more closely over her.
When they came to the bank, she rose, stepped out without his help, and
drawing the bear-skin closely round her, and over her head, walked
straight up to the gate of the house of nuns.
All men wondered at the white ghost; but Martin walked behind her, his
left finger on his lips, his right hand grasping his little axe, with such
a stern and serious face, and so fierce an eye, that all drew back in
silence, and let her pass.
The portress looked through the wicket.
"I am Torfrida," said a voice of terrible calm. "I am come to see the Lady
Godiva. Let me in."
The portress opened, utterly astounded.
"Madam?" said Martin eagerly, as Torfrida entered.
"What? What?" She seemed to waken from a dream. "God bless thee, thou good
and faithful servant"; and she turned again.
"Shall I go back and kill him?" And he held out the little axe.
Torfrida snatched it from his grasp with a shriek, and cast it inside the
"Mother Mary and all saints!" cried the portress, "your garments are in
"Never mind. Bring me garments of yours. I shall need none other till I
die!" and she walked in and on.
"She is come to be a nun!" whispered the portress to the next sister, and
she again to the next; and they all gabbled, and lifted up their hands and
eyes, and thanked all the saints of the calendar, over the blessed and
miraculous conversion of the Lady Torfrida, and the wealth which she would
probably bring to the convent.
Torfrida went straight on, speaking to no one, not even to the prioress;
and into Lady Godiva's chamber.
There she dropped at the countess's feet, and laid her head upon her
"I am come, as you always told me I should do. But it has been a long way
hither, and I am very tired."
"My child! What is this? What brings you here?"
"I am doing penance for my sins."
"And your feet all cut and bleeding."
"Are they?" said Torfrida, vacantly. "I will tell you all about it when I
And she fell fast asleep, with her head in Godiva's lap.
The countess did not speak or stir. She beckoned the good prioress, who
had followed Torfrida in, to go away. She saw that something dreadful had
happened; and prayed as she awaited the news.
Torfrida slept for a full hour. Then she woke with a start.
"Where am I? Hereward!"
Then followed a dreadful shriek, which made every nun in that quiet house
shudder, and thank God that she knew nothing of those agonies of soul,
which were the lot of the foolish virgins who married and were given in
marriage themselves, instead of waiting with oil in their lamps for the
"I recollect all now," said Torfrida. "Listen!" And she told the countess
all, with speech so calm and clear, that Godiva was awed by the power and
spirit of that marvellous woman.
But she groaned in bitterness of soul. "Anything but this. Rather death
from him than treachery. This last, worst woe had God kept in his quiver
for me most miserable of women. And now his bolt has fallen! Hereward!
Hereward! That thy mother should wish her last child laid in his grave!"
"Not so," said Torfrida, "it is well as it is. How better? It is his only
chance for comfort, for honor, for life itself. He would have grown a--I
was growing bad and foul myself in that ugly wilderness. Now he will be a
knight once more among knights, and win himself fresh honor in fresh
fields. Let him marry her. Why not? He can get a dispensation from the
Pope, and then there will be no sin in it, you know. If the Holy Father
cannot make wrong right, who can? Yes. It is very well as it is. And I am
very well where I am. Women! bring me scissors, and one of your nun's
dresses. I am come to be a nun like you."
Godiva would have stopped her. But Torfrida rose upon her knees, and
calmly made a solemn vow, which, though canonically void without her
husband's consent, would, she well knew, never be disputed by any there;
and as for him,--"He has lost me; and forever. Torfrida never gives
herself away twice."
"There's carnal pride in those words, my poor child," said Godiva.
"Cruel!" said she, proudly. "When I am sacrificing myself utterly for
"And thy poor girl?"
"He will let her come hither," said Torfrida with forced calm. "He will
see that it is not fit that she should grow up with--yes, he will send her
to me--to us. And I shall live for her--and for you. If you will let me be
your bower woman, dress you, serve you, read to you. You know that I am a
pretty scholar. You will let me, mother? I may call you mother, may I
not?" And Torfrida fondled the old woman's thin hands, "For I do want so
much something to love."
"Love thy heavenly bridegroom, the only love worthy of woman!" said
Godiva, as her tears fell fast on Torfrida's head.
She gave a half-impatient toss.
"That may come, in good time. As yet it is enough to do, if I can keep
down this devil here in my throat. Women, bring me the scissors."
And Torfrida cut off her raven locks, now streaked with gray, and put on
the nun's dress, and became a nun thenceforth.
On the second day there came to Crowland Leofric the priest, and with him
the poor child.
She had woke in the morning and found no mother. Leofric and the other men
searched the woods round, far and wide. The girl mounted her horse, and
would go with them. Then they took a bloodhound, and he led them to
Grimkel's hut. There they heard of Martin. The ghost must have been
Torfrida. Then the hound brought them to the river. And they divined at
once that she was gone to Crowland, to Godiva; but why, they could not
Then the girl insisted, prayed, at last commanded them to take her to
Crowland. And to Crowland they came.
Leofric left the girl at the nun's house door, and went into the
monastery, where he had friends enow, runaway and renegade as he was. As
he came into the great court, whom should he meet but Martin Lightfoot, in
a lay brother's frock.
"Aha? And are you come home likewise? Have you renounced the Devil and
this last work of his?"
"What work? What devil?" asked Leofric, who saw method in Martin's
madness. "And what do you here, in a long frock?"
"Devil? Hereward the devil. I would have killed him with my axe; but she
got it from me, and threw it in among the holy sisters, and I had work to
get it again. Shame on her, to spoil my chance of heaven! For I should
have surely won heaven, you know, if I had killed the devil."
After much beating, about, Leofric got from Martin the whole tragedy.
And when he heard it, he burst out weeping.
"O Hereward, Hereward! O knightly honor! O faith and troth and gratitude,
and love in return for such love as might have tamed lions, and made
tyrants mild! Are they all carnal vanities, works of the weak flesh,
bruised reeds which break when they are leaned upon? If so, you are right,
Martin, and there is naught left, but to flee from a world in which all
men are liars."
And Leofric, in the midst of Crowland Yard, tore off his belt and trusty
sword, his hauberk and helm also, and letting down his monk's frock, which
he wore trussed to the mid-knee, he went to the Abbot's lodgings, and
asked to see old Ulfketyl.
"Bring him up," said the good abbot, "for he is a valiant man and true, in
spite of all his vanities; and may be he brings news of Hereward, whom God
And when Leofric came in, he fell upon his knees, bewailing and confessing
his sinful life; and begged the abbot to take him back again into Crowland
minster, and lay upon him what penance he thought fit, and put him in the
lowest office, because he was a man of blood; if only he might stay there,
and have a sight at times of his dear Lady Torfrida, without whom he
should surely die.
So Leofric was received back, in full chapter, by abbot and prior and all
the monks. But when he asked them to lay a penance upon him, Ulfketyl
arose from his high chair and spoke.
"Shall we, who have sat here at ease, lay a penance on this man, who has
shed his blood in fifty valiant fights for us, and for St. Guthlac, and
for this English land? Look at yon scars upon his head and arms. He has
had sharper discipline from cold steel than we could give him here with
rod; and has fasted in the wilderness more sorely, many a time, than we
have fasted here."
And all the monks agreed, that no penance should be laid on Leofric. Only
that he should abstain from singing vain and carnal ballads, which turned
the heads of the young brothers, and made them dream of naught but
battles, and giants, and enchanters, and ladies' love.
Hereward came back on the third day, and found his wife and daughter gone.
His guilty conscience told him in the first instant why. For he went into
the chamber, and there, upon the floor, lay the letter which he had looked
for in vain.
No one had touched it where it lay. Perhaps no one had dared to enter the
chamber. If they had, they would not have dared to meddle with writing,
which they could not read, and which might contain some magic spell.
Letters were very safe in those old days.
There are moods of man which no one will dare to describe, unless, like
Shakespeare, he is Shakespeare, and like Shakespeare knows it not.
Therefore what Hereward thought and felt will not be told. What he did was
this. He raged and blustered. He must hide his shame. He must justify
himself to his knights; and much more to himself; or if not justify
himself, must shift some of the blame over to the opposite side. So he
raged and blustered. He had been robbed of his wife and daughter. They had
been cajoled away by the monks of Crowland. What villains were those, to
rob an honest man of his family while he was fighting for his country?
So he rode down to the river, and there took two great barges, and rowed
away to Crowland, with forty men-at-arms.
And all the while he thought of Alftruda, as he hai seen her at
And of no one else?
Not so. For all the while he felt that he loved Torfrida's little finger
better than Alftruda's whole body, and soul into the bargain.
What a long way it was to Crowland. How wearying were the hours through
mere and sea. How wearying the monotonous pulse of the oars. If tobacco
had been known then, Hereward would have smoked all the way, and been none
the wiser, though the happier, for it; for the herb that drives away the
evil spirits of anxiety, drives away also the good, though stern, spirits
But in those days a man could only escape facts by drinking; and Hereward
was too much afraid of what he should meet in Crowland, to go thither
Sometimes he hoped that Torfrida might hold her purpose, and set him free
to follow his wicked will. All the lower nature in him, so long crushed
under, leapt up chuckling and grinning and tumbling head over heels, and
cried,--Now I shall have a holiday!
Sometimes he hoped that Torfrida might come out to the shore, and settle
the matter in one moment, by a glance of her great hawk's eyes. If she
would but quell him by one look; leap on board, seize the helm, and assume
without a word the command of his men and him; steer them back to Bourne,
and sit down beside him with a kiss, as if nothing had happened. If she
would but do that, and ignore the past, would he not ignore it? Would he
not forget Alftruda, and King William, and all the world, and go up with
her into Sherwood, and then north to Scotland and Gospatrick, and be a man
No. He would go with her to the Baltic or the Mediterranean.
Constantinople and the Varangers would be the place and the men. Ay, there
to escape out of that charmed ring into a new life!
No. He did not deserve such luck; and he would not get it.
She would talk it all out. She must, for she was a woman.
She would blame, argue, say dreadful words,--dreadful, because true and
deserved. Then she would grow angry, as women do when they are most in the
right, and say too much,--dreadful words, which would be untrue and
undeserved. Then he should resist, recriminate. He would not stand it. He
could not stand it. No. He could never face her again.
And yet if he had seen a man insult her,--if he had seen her at that
moment in peril of the slightest danger, the slightest bruise, he would
have rushed forward like a madman, and died, saving her from that bruise.
And he knew that: and with the strange self-contradiction of human nature,
he soothed his own conscience by the thought that he loved her still; and
that, therefore--somehow or other, he cared not to make out how--he had
done her no wrong. Then he blustered again, for the benefit of his men. He
would teach these monks of Crowland a lesson. He would burn the minster
over their heads.
"That would be pity, seeing they are the only Englishmen left in England,"
said Siward the White, his nephew, very simply.
"What is that to thee? Thou hast helped to burn Peterborough at my
bidding; and thou shalt help to burn Crowland."
"I am a free gentleman of England; and what I choose, I do. I and my
brother are going to Constantinople to join the Varanger guard, and shall
not burn Crowland, or let any man burn it."
"Shall not let?"
"No," said the young man, so quietly, that Hereward was cowed.
"I--I only meant--if they did not do right by me."
"Do right thyself," said Siward.
Hereward swore awfully, and laid his hand on his sword-hilt. But he did
not draw it; for he thought he saw overhead a cloud which was very like
the figure of St. Guthlac in Crowland window, and an awe fell upon him
So they came to Crowland; and Hereward landed and beat upon the gates, and
spoke high words. But the monks did not open the gates for a while. At
last the gates creaked, and opened; and in the gateway stood Abbot
Ulfketyl in his robes of state, and behind him Prior, and all the
officers, and all the monks of the house.
"Comes Hereward in peace or in war?"
"In war!" said Hereward.
Then that true and trusty old man, who sealed his patriotism, if not with
his blood,--for the very Normans had not the heart to take that,--still
with long and bitter sorrows, lifted up his head, and said, like a valiant
Dane, as his name bespoke him: "Against the traitor and the adulterer--"
"I am neither," roared Hereward.
"Thou wouldst be, if thou couldst. Whoso looketh upon a woman to--"
"Preach me no sermons, man! Let me in to seek my wife."
"Over my body," said Ulfketyl, and laid himself down across the threshold.
Hereward recoiled. If he had dared to step over that sacred body, there
was not a blood-stained ruffian in his crew who dared to follow him.
"Rise, rise! for God's sake, Lord Abbot," said he. "Whatever I am, I need
not that you should disgrace me thus. Only let me see her,--reason with
"She has vowed herself to God, and is none of thine hence forth."
"It is against the canons. A wrong and a robbery."
Ulfketyl rose, grand as ever.
"Hereward Leofricsson, our joy and our glory once. Hearken to the old man
who will soon go whither thine Uncle Brand is gone, and be free of
Frenchmen, and of all this wicked world. When the walls of Crowland dare
not shelter the wronged woman, fleeing from man's treason to God's
faithfulness, then let the roofs of Crowland burn till the flame reaches
heaven, for a sign that the children of God are as false as the children
of this world, and break their faith like any belted knight."
Hereward was silenced. His men shrunk back from him. He felt as if God,
and the Mother of God, and St. Guthlac, and all the host of heaven, were
shrinking back from him likewise. He turned to supplications,
compromises,--what else was left?
"At least you will let me have speech of her, or of my mother?"
"They must answer that, not I."
Hereward sent in, entreating to see one, or both.
"Tell him," said Lady Godiva, "who calls himself my son, that my sons were
men of honor, and that he must have been changed at nurse."
"Tell him," said Torfrida, "that I have lived my life, and am dead. Dead.
If he would see me, he will only see my corpse."
"You would not slay yourself?"
"What is there that I dare not do? You do not know Torfrida. He does."
And Hereward did; and went back again like a man stunned.
After a while there came by boat to Crowland all Torfrida's wealth:
clothes, jewels: not a shred had Hereward kept. The magic armor came with
Torfrida gave all to the abbey, there and then. Only the armor she wrapped
up in the white bear's skin, and sent it back to Hereward, with her
blessing, and entreaty not to refuse that, her last bequest.
Hereward did not refuse, for very shame. But for very shame he never wore
that armor more. For very shame he never slept again upon the white bear's
skin, on which he and his true love had lain so many a year.
And Torfrida turned herself utterly to serve the Lady Godiva, and to teach
and train her child as she had never done before, while she had to love
Hereward, and to work day and night, with her own fingers, for all his
men. All pride, all fierceness, all care of self, had passed away from
her. In penitence, humility, obedience, and gentleness, she went on; never
smiling; but never weeping. Her heart was broken; and she felt it good for
herself to let it break.
And Leofric the priest, and mad Martin Lightfoot, watched like two dogs
for her going out and coming in; and when she went among the poor
corrodiers, and nursed the sick, and taught the children, and went to and
fro upon her holy errands, blessing and blessed, the two wild men had a
word from her mouth, or a kiss of her hand, and were happy all the day
after. For they loved her with a love mightier than ever Hereward had
heaped upon her; for she had given him all: but she had given those two
wild men naught but the beatific vision of a noble woman.
HOW HEREWARD LOST SWORD BRAIN-BITER.
"On account of which," says the chronicler, "many troubles came to
Hereward: because Torfrida was most wise, and of great counsel in need.
For afterwards, as he himself confessed, things went not so well with him
as they did in her time."
And the first thing that went ill was this. He was riding through the
Bruneswald, and behind him Geri, Wenoch, and Matelgar, these three. And
there met him in an open glade a knight, the biggest man he had ever seen,
on the biggest horse, and five knights behind him. He was an Englishman,
and not a Frenchman, by his dress; and Hereward spoke courteously enough
to him. But who he was, and what his business was in the Bruneswald,
Hereward thought that he had a right to ask.
"Tell me who thou art, who askest, before I tell thee who I am who am
asked, riding here on common land," quoth the knight, surlily enough.
"I am Hereward, without whose leave no man has ridden the Bruneswald for
many a day."
"And I am Letwold the Englishman, who rides whither he will in merry
England, without care for any Frenchman upon earth."
"Frenchman? Why callest thou me Frenchman, man? I am Hereward."
"Then thou art, if tales be true, as French as Ivo Taillebois. I hear that
thou hast left thy true lady, like a fool and a churl, and goest to
London, or Winchester, or the nether pit,--I care not which,--to make thy
peace with the Mamzer."
The man was a surly brute: but what he said was so true, that Hereward's
wrath arose. He had promised Torfrida many a time, never to quarrel with
an Englishman, but to endure all things. Now, out of very spite to
Torfrida's counsel, because it was Torfrida's, and he had promised to obey
it, he took up the quarrel.
"If I am a fool and a churl, thou art a greater fool, to provoke thine own
death; and a greater--"
"Spare your breath," said the big man, "and let me try Hereward, as I have
Whereon they dropped their lance-points, and rode at each other like two
mad bulls. And, by the contagion of folly common in the middle age, at
each other rode Hereward's three knights and Letwold's five. The two
leaders found themselves both rolling on the ground; jumped up, drew their
swords, and hewed away at each other. Geri unhorsed his man at the first
charge, and left him stunned. Then he turned on another, and did the same
by him. Wenoch and Matelgar each upset their man. The fifth of Letwold's
knights threw up his lance-point, not liking his new company. Geri and the
other two rode in on the two chiefs, who were fighting hard, each under
"Stand back!" roared Hereward, "and give the knight fair play! When did
any one of us want a man to help him? Kill or die single, has been our
rule, and shall be."
They threw up their lance-points, and stood round to see that great fight.
Letwold's knight rode in among them, and stood likewise; and friend and
foe looked on, as they might at a pair of game-cocks.
Hereward had, to his own surprise and that of his fellows, met his match.
The sparks flew, the iron clanged; but so heavy were the stranger's
strokes, that Hereward reeled again and again. So sure was the guard of
his shield, that Hereward could not wound him, hit where he would. At last
he dealt a furious blow on the stranger's head.
"If that does not bring your master down!" quoth Geri. "By--, Brain-biter
It was too true. Sword Brain-biter's end was come. The Ogre's magic blade
had snapt off short by the handle.
"Your master is a true Englishman, by the hardness of his brains," quoth
Wenoch, as the stranger, reeling for a moment, lifted up his head, and
stared at Hereward in the face, doubtful what to do.
"Will you yield, or fight on?" cried he.
"Yield?" shouted Hereward, rushing upon him, as a mastiff might on a lion,
and striking at his helm, though shorter than him by a head and shoulders,
such swift and terrible blows with the broken hilt, as staggered the tall
"What are you at, forgetting what you have at your side?" roared Geri.
Hereward sprang back. He had, as was his custom, a second sword on his
"I forget everything now," said he to himself angrily.
And that was too true. But he drew the second sword, and sprang at his man
The stranger tried, according to the chronicler, who probably had it from
one of the three by-standers, a blow which has cost many a brave man his
life. He struck right down on Hereward's head. Hereward raised his shield,
warding the stroke, and threw in that _coup de jarret_, which there
is no guarding, after the downright blow has been given. The stranger
dropped upon his wounded knee.
"Yield," cried Hereward in his turn.
"That is not my fashion." And the stranger fought on, upon his stumps,
like Witherington in Chevy Chase.
Hereward, mad with the sight of blood, struck at him four or five times.
The stranger's shield was so quick that he could not hit him, even on his
knee. He held his hand, and drew back, looking at his new rival.
"What the murrain are we two fighting about?" said he at last.
"I know not; neither care," said the other, with a grim chuckle. "But if
any man will fight me, him I fight, ever since I had beard to my chin."
"Thou art the best man that ever I faced."
"That is like enough."
"What wilt thou take, if I give thee thy life?"
"My way on which I was going. For I turn back for no man alive on land."
"Then thou hast not had enough of me?"
"Not by another hour."
"Thou must be born of fiend, and not of man."
"Very like. It is a wise son knows his own father."
Hereward burst out laughing.
"Would to heaven I had had thee for my man this three years since."
"Perhaps I would not have been thy man."
"Because I have been my own man ever since I was born, and am well content
with myself for my master."
"Shall I bind up thy leg?" asked Hereward, having no more to say, and not
wishing to kill the man.
"No. It will grow again, like a crab's claw."
"Thou art a fiend." And Hereward turned away, sulky, and half afraid.
"Very like. No man knows what a devil he is, till he tries."
"What dost mean?" and Hereward turned angrily back.
"Fiends we are all, till God's grace comes."
"Little grace has come to thee yet, by thy ungracious tongue."
"Rough to men, may be gracious to women."
"What hast thou to do with women'?" asked Hereward, fiercely.
"I have a wife, and I love her."
"Thou art not like to get back to her to-day."
"I fear not, with this paltry scratch. I had looked for a cut from thee,
would have saved me all fighting henceforth."
"What dost mean?" asked Hereward, with an oath.
"That my wife is in heaven, and I would needs follow her."
Hereward got on his horse, and rode away. Never could he find out who that
Sir Letwold was, or how he came into the Bruneswald. All he knew was, that
he never had had such a fight since he wore beard; and that he had lost
sword Brainbiter: from which his evil conscience augured that his luck had
turned, and that he should lose many things beside.
HOW HEREWARD CAME IN TO THE KING.
After these things Hereward summoned all his men, and set before them the
hopelessness of any further resistance, and the promises of amnesty,
lands, and honors which William had offered him, and persuaded them--and
indeed he had good arguments enough and to spare--that they should go and
make their peace with the King.
They were so accustomed to look up to his determination, that when it gave
way theirs gave way likewise. They were so accustomed to trust his wisdom,
that most of them yielded at once to his arguments. That the band should
break up, all agreed. A few of the more suspicious, or more desperate,
said that they could never trust the Norman; that Hereward himself had
warned them again and again of his treachery. That he was now going to do
himself what he had laughed at Gospatrick and the rest for doing; what had
brought ruin on Edwin and Morcar; what he had again and again prophesied
would bring ruin on Waltheof himself ere all was over.
But Hereward was deaf to their arguments. He had said as little to them as
he could about Alftruda, for very shame; but he was utterly besotted on
her. For her sake, he had determined to run his head blindly into the very
snare of which he had warned others. And he had seared--so he fancied--his
conscience. It was Torfrida's fault now, not his. If she left him,--if she
herself freed him of her own will,--why, he was free, and there was no
more to be said about it.
And Hereward (says the chronicler) took Gwenoch, Geri, and Matelgar, and
rode south to the King.
Where were the two young Siwards? It is not said. Probably they, and a few
desperadoes, followed the fashion of so many English in those sad
days,--when, as sings the Norse scald,
"Cold heart and bloody hand
Now rule English land,"--
and took ship for Constantinople, and enlisted in the Varanger guard, and
died full of years and honors, leaving fair-haired children behind them,
to become Varangers in their turn.
Be that as it may, Hereward rode south. But when he had gotten a long way
upon the road, a fancy (says the chronicler) came over him. He was not
going in pomp and glory enough. It seemed mean for the once great Hereward
to sneak into Winchester with three knights. Perhaps it seemed not over
safe for the once great Hereward to travel with only three knights. So he
went back all the way to camp, and took (says the chronicler) "forty most
famous knights, all big and tall of stature, and splendid,--if from
nothing else, from their looks and their harness alone."
So Hereward and those forty knights rode down from Peterborough, along the
Roman road. For the Roman roads were then, and for centuries after, the
only roads in this land; and our forefathers looked on them as the work of
gods and giants, and called them after the names of their old gods and
heroes,--Irmen Street, Watling Street, and so forth.
And then, like true Englishmen, our own forefathers showed their respect
for the said divine works, not by copying them, but by picking them to
pieces to pave every man his own court-yard. Be it so. The neglect of new
roads, the destruction of the old ones, was a natural evil consequence of
local self-government. A cheap price, perhaps, after all, to pay for that
power of local self-government which has kept England free unto this day.
Be that as it may, down the Roman road Hereward went; past Alconbury Hill,
of the old posting days; past Wimpole Park, then deep forest; past
Hatfield, then deep forest likewise; and so to St. Alban's. And there they
lodged in the minster; for the monks thereof were good English, and sang
masses daily for King Harold's soul. And the next day they went south, by
ways which are not so clear.
Just outside St. Alban's--Verulamium of the Romans (the ruins whereof were
believed to be full of ghosts, demons, and magic treasures)--they turned,
at St. Stephen's, to the left, off the Roman road to London; and by
another Roman road struck into the vast forest which ringed London round
from northeast to southwest. Following the upper waters of the Colne,
which ran through the woods on their left, they came to Watford, and then
turned probably to Rickmansworth. No longer on the Roman paved ways, they
followed horse-tracks, between the forest and the rich marsh-meadows of
the Colne, as far as Denham, and then struck into a Roman road again at
the north end of Langley Park. From thence, over heathy commons,--for that
western part of Buckinghamshire, its soil being light and some gravel, was
little cultivated then, and hardly all cultivated now,--they held on
straight by Langley town into the Vale of Thames.
Little they dreamed, as they rode down by Ditton Green, off the heathy
commons, past the poor, scattered farms, on to the vast rushy meadows,
while upon them was the dull weight of disappointment, shame, all but
despair; their race enslaved, their country a prey to strangers, and all
its future, like their own, a lurid blank,--little they dreamed of what
that vale would be within eight hundred years,--the eye of England, and it
may be of the world; a spot which owns more wealth and peace, more art and
civilization, more beauty and more virtue, it may be, than any of God's
gardens which make fair this earth. Windsor, on its crowned steep, was to
them but a new hunting palace of the old miracle-monger Edward, who had
just ruined England. Runnymede, a mile below them down the broad stream,
was but a horse-fen fringed with water-lilies, where the men of Wessex had
met of old to counsel, and to bring the country to this pass. And as they
crossed, by ford or ferry-boat, the shallows of old Windsor, whither they
had been tending all along, and struck into the moorlands of Wessex
itself, they were as men going into an unknown wilderness: behind them
ruin, and before them unknown danger.
On through Windsor Forest, Edward the Saint's old hunting-ground; its
bottoms choked with beech and oak, and birch and alder scrub; its upper
lands vast flats of level heath; along the great trackway which runs along
the lower side of Chobham Camp, some quarter of a mile broad, every rut
and trackway as fresh at this day as when the ancient Briton, finding that
his neighbor's essedum--chariot, or rather cart--had worn the ruts too
deep, struck out a fresh wandering line for himself across the dreary
Over the Blackwater by Sandhurst, and along the flats of Hartford Bridge,
where the old furze-grown ruts show the track-way to this day. Down into
the clayland forests of the Andredsweald, and up out of them again at
Basing, on to the clean crisp chalk turf; to strike at Popham Lane the
Roman road from Silchester, and hold it over the high downs, till they saw
far below them the royal city of Winchester.
Itchen, silver as they looked on her from above, but when they came down
to her, so clear that none could see where water ended and where air
began, hurried through the city in many a stream. Beyond it rose the
"White Camp,"' the "Venta Belgarum," the circular earthwork of white chalk
on the high down. Within the city rose the ancient minster church, built
by Ethelwold,--ancient even then,--where slept the ancient kings; Kennulf,
Egbert, and Ethelwulf the Saxons; and by them the Danes, Canute the Great,
and Hardicanute his son, and Norman Emma his wife, and Ethelred's before
him; and the great Earl Godwin, who seemed to Hereward to have died, not
twenty, but two hundred years ago;--and it may be an old Saxon hall upon
the little isle whither Edgar had bidden bring the heads of all the wolves
in Wessex, where afterwards the bishops built Wolvesey Palace. But nearer
to them, on the down which sloped up to the west, stood an uglier thing,
which they saw with curses deep and loud,--the keep of the new Norman
castle by the west gate.
Hereward halted his knights upon the down outside the northern gate. Then
he rode forward himself. The gate was open wide; but he did not care to go
So he rode into the gateway, and smote upon that gate with his lance-but.
But the porter saw the knights upon the down, and was afraid to come out;
for he feared treason.
Then Hereward smote a second time; but the porter did not come out.
Then he took the lance by the shaft, and smote a third time. And he smote
so hard, that the lance-but flew to flinders against Winchester Gate.
And at that started out two knights, who had come down from the castle,
seeing the meinie on the down, and asked,--
"Who art thou who knockest here so bold?"
"Who I am any man can see by those splinters, if he knows what men are
left in England this day."
The knights looked at the broken wood, and then at each other. Who could
the man be who could beat an ash stave to flinders at a single blow?
"You are young, and do not know me; and no shame to you. Go and tell
William the King, that Hereward is come to put his hands between the
King's, and be the King's man henceforth."
"You are Hereward?" asked one, half awed, half disbelieving at Hereward's
"You are--I know not who. Pick up those splinters, and take them to King
William; and say, 'The man who broke that lance against the gate is here
to make his peace with thee,' and he will know who I am."
And so cowed were these two knights with Hereward's royal voice, and royal
eye, and royal strength, that they went simply, and did what he bade them.
And when King William saw the splinters, he was as joyful as man could be,
"Send him to me, and tell him, Bright shines the sun to me that lights
Hereward into Winchester."
"But, Lord King, he has with him a meinie of full forty knights."
"So much the better. I shall have the more valiant Englishmen to help my
So Hereward rode round, outside the walls, to William's new entrenched
palace, outside the west gate, by the castle.
And then Hereward went in, and knelt before the Norman, and put his hands
between William's hands, and swore to be his man.
"I have kept my word," said he, "which I sent to thee at Rouen seven years
agone. Thou art King of all England; and I am the last man to say so."
"And since thou hast said it, I am King indeed. Come with me, and dine;
and to-morrow I will see thy knights."
And William walked out of the hall leaning on Hereward's shoulder, at
which all the Normans gnashed their teeth with envy.
"And for my knights, Lord King? Thine and mine will mix, for a while yet,
like oil and water; and I fear lest there be murder done between them."
So the knights were bestowed in a "vill" near by; "and the next day the
venerable king himself went forth to see those knights, and caused them to
stand, and march before him, both with arms, and without. With whom being
much delighted, he praised them, congratulating them on their beauty and
stature, and saying that they must all be knights of fame in war." After
which Hereward sent them all home except two; and waited till he should
marry Alftruda, and get back his heritage.
"And when that happens," said William, "why should we not have two
weddings, beausire, as well as one? I hear that you have in Crowland a
fair daughter, and marriageable."
"And I have found a husband for her suitable to her years, and who may
conduce to your peace and serenity."
Hereward bit his lip. To refuse was impossible in those days. But--
"I trust that your Grace has found a knight of higher lineage than him,
whom, after so many honors, you honored with the hand of my niece."
William laughed. It was not his interest to quarrel with Hereward. "Aha!
Ivo, the wood-cutter's son. I ask your pardon for that, Sir Hereward. Had
you been my man then, as you are now, it might have been different."
"If a king ask my pardon, I can only ask his in return."
"You must be friends with Taillebois. He is a brave knight, and a wise
"None ever doubted that."
"And to cover any little blots in his escutcheon, I have made him an earl,
as I may make you some day."
"Your Majesty, like a true king, knows how to reward. Who is this knight
whom you have chosen for my lass?"
"Sir Hugh of Evermue, a neighbor of yours, and a man of blood and
"I know him, and his lineage; and it is very well. I humbly thank your
"Can I be the same man?" said Hereward to himself, bitterly.
And he was not the same man. He was besotted on Alftruda, and humbled
HOW TORFRIDA CONFESSED THAT SHE HAD BEEN INSPIRED BY THE DEVIL.
After a few days, there came down a priest to Crowland, and talked with
Torfrida, in Archbishop Lanfranc's name.
Whether Lanfranc sent him, or merely (as is probable) Alftruda, he could
not have come in a more fit name. Torfrida knew (with all the world) how
Lanfranc had arranged William the Norman's uncanonical marriage, with the
Pope, by help of Archdeacon Hildebrand (afterwards Pope himself); and had
changed his mind deftly to William's side when he saw that William might
be useful to Holy Church, and could enslave, if duly managed, not only the
nation of England to himself, but the clergy of England to Rome. All this
Torfrida, and the world, knew. And therefore she answered:--
"Lanfranc? I can hardly credit you: for I hear that he is a good man,
though hard. But he has settled a queen's marriage suit; so he may very
well settle mine."
After which they talked together; and she answered him, the priest said,
so wisely and well, that he never had met with a woman of so clear a
brain, or of so stout a heart.
At last, being puzzled to get that which he wanted, he touched on the
matter of her marriage with Hereward.
She wished it, he said, dissolved. She wished herself to enter religion.
Archbishop Lanfranc would be most happy to sanction so holy a desire, but
there were objections. She was a married woman; and her husband had not
given his consent.
"Let him give it, then."
There were still objections. He had nothing to bring against her, which
could justify the dissolution of the holy bond: unless--"
"Unless I bring some myself?"
"There have been rumors--I say not how true--of magic and sorcery!--"
Torfrida leaped up from her seat, and laughed such a laugh, that the
priest said in after years, it rung through his head as if it had arisen
out of the pit of the lost.
"So that is what you want, Churchman! Then you shall have it. Bring me pen
and ink. I need not to confess to you. You shall read my confession when
it is done. I am a better scribe, mind you, than any clerk between here
She seized the pen and ink, and wrote; not fiercely, as the priest
expected, but slowly and carefully. Then she gave it the priest to read.
"Will that do, Churchman? Will that free my soul, and that of your French
And the priest read to himself.
How Torfrida of St. Omer, born at Aries in Provence, confest that from her
youth up she had been given to the practice of diabolic arts, and had at
divers times and places used the same, both alone and with Richilda, late
Countess of Hainault. How, wickedly, wantonly, and instinct with a
malignant spirit, she had compassed, by charms and spells, to win the love
of Hereward. How she had ever since kept in bondage him, and others whom
she had not loved with the same carnal love, but only desired to make them
useful to her own desire of power and glory, by the same magical arts; for
which she now humbly begged pardon of Holy Church, and of all Christian
folk; and, penetrated with compunction, desired only that she might retire
into the convent of Crowland. She asserted the marriage which she had so
unlawfully compassed to be null and void; and prayed to be released
therefrom, as a burden to her conscience and soul, that she might spend
the rest of her life in penitence for her many enormous sins. She
submitted herself to the judgment of Holy Church, only begging that this
her free confession might be counted in her favor and that she might hot
be put to death, as she deserved, nor sent into perpetual imprisonment;
because her mother-in-law according to the flesh, the Countess Godiva,
being old and infirm, had daily need of her; and she wished to serve her
menially as long as she lived. After which, she put herself utterly upon
the judgment of the Church. And meanwhile, she desired and prayed that she
might be allowed to remain at large in the said monastery of Crowland, not
leaving the precincts thereof, without special leave given by the Abbot
and prioress in one case between her and them reserved; to wear garments
of hair-cloth; to fast all the year on bread and water; and to be
disciplined with rods or otherwise, at such times as the prioress should
command, and to such degree as her body, softened with carnal luxury,
could reasonably endure. And beyond--that, being dead to the world, God
might have mercy on her soul.
And she meant what she said. The madness of remorse and disappointment, so
common in the wild middle age, had come over her; and with it the twin
madness of self-torture.
The priest read, and trembled; not for Torfrida: but for himself, lest she
should enchant him after all.
"She must have been an awful sinner," said he to the monks when he got
safe out of the room; "comparable only to the witch of Endor, or the woman
Jezebel, of whom St. John writes in the Revelations."
"I do not know how you Frenchmen measure folks, when you see them; but to
our mind she is,--for goodness, humility, and patience comparable only to
an angel of God," said Abbot Ulfketyl.
"You Englishmen will have to change your minds on many points, if you mean
to stay here."
"We shall not change them, and we shall stay here," quoth the Abbot.
"How? You will not get Sweyn and his Danes to help you a second time."
"No, we shall all die, and give you your wills, and you will not have the
heart to cast our bones into the fens?"
"Not unless you intend to work miracles, and set up for saints, like your
"Heaven forbid that we should compare ourselves with them! Only let us
alone till we die."
"If you let us alone, and do not turn traitor meanwhile."
Abbot Ulfketyl bit his lip, and kept down the rising fiend.
"And now," said the priest, "deliver me over Torfrida the younger,
daughter of Hereward and this woman, that I may take her to the King, who
has found a fit husband for her."
"You will hardly get her."
"Not get her?"
"Not without her mother's consent. The lass cares for naught but her."
"Pish! that sorceress? Send for the girl."
Abbot Ulfketyl, forced in his own abbey, great and august lord though he
was, to obey any upstart of a Norman priest who came backed by the King
and Lanfranc, sent for the lass.
The young outlaw came in,--hawk on fist, and its hood off, for it was a
pet,--short, sturdy, upright, brown-haired, blue-eyed, ill-dressed, with
hard hands and sun-burnt face, but with the hawk-eye of her father and her
mother, and the hawks among which she was bred. She looked the priest over
from head to foot, till he was abashed.
"A Frenchman!" said she, and she said no more.
The priest looked at her eyes, and then at the hawk's eyes. They were
disagreeably like each other. He told his errand as courteously as he
could, for he was not a bad-hearted man for a Norman priest.
The lass laughed him to scorn. The King's commands? She never saw a king
in the greenwood, and cared for none. There was no king in England now,
since Sweyn Ulfsson sailed back to Denmark. Who was this Norman William,
to sell a free English lass like a colt or a cow? The priest might go back
to the slaves of Wessex, and command them if he could; but in the fens,
men were free, and lasses too.
The priest was piously shocked and indignant; and began to argue.
She played with her hawk, instead of listening, and then was marching out
of the room.
"Your mother," said he, "is a sorceress."
"You are a knave, or set on by knaves. You lie, and you know you lie." And
she turned away again.
"She has confessed it."
"You have driven her mad between you, till she will confess anything. I
presume you threatened to burn her, as some of you did awhile back." And
the young lady made use of words equally strong and true.
The priest was not accustomed to the direct language of the greenwood, and
indignant on his own account, threatened, and finally offered to use,
force. Whereon there looked up into his face such a demon (so he said) as
he never had seen or dreamed of, and said:
"If you lay a finger on me, I will brittle you like any deer." And
therewith pulled out a saying-knife, about half as long again as the said
priest's hand, being very sharp, so he deposed, down the whole length of
one edge, and likewise down his little finger's length of the other.
Not being versed in the terms of English venery, he asked Abbot Ulfketyl
what brittling of a deer might mean; and being informed that it was that
operation on the carcass of a stag which his countrymen called
_eventrer_, and Highland gillies now "gralloching," he subsided, and
thought it best to go and consult the young lady's mother.
She, to his astonishment, submitted at once and utterly. The King, and he
whom she had called her husband, were very gracious. It was all well. She
would have preferred, and the Lady Godiva too, after their experience of
the world and the flesh, to have devoted her daughter to Heaven in the
minster there. But she was unworthy. Who was she, to train a bride for Him
who died on Cross? She accepted this as part of her penance, with
thankfulness and humility. She had heard that Sir Hugh of Evermue was a
gentleman of ancient birth and good prowess, and she thanked the King for
his choice. Let the priest tell her daughter that she commanded her to go
with him to Winchester. She did not wish to see her. She was stained with
many crimes, and unworthy to approach a pure maiden. Besides, it would
only cause misery and tears. She was trying to die to the world and to the
flesh; and she did not wish to reawaken their power within her. Yes. It
was very well. Let the lass go with him."
"Thou art indeed a true penitent," said the priest, his human heart
"Thou art very much mistaken," said she, and turned away.
The girl, when she heard her mother's command, wept, shrieked, and went.
At least she was going to her father. And from wholesome fear of that same
saying-knife, the priest left her in peace all the way to Winchester.
After which, Abbot Ulfketyl went into his lodgings, and burst, like a
noble old nobleman as he was, into bitter tears of rage and shame.
But Torfrida's eyes were as dry as her own sackcloth.
The priest took the letter back to Winchester, and showed it--it may be to
Archbishop Lanfranc. But what he said, this chronicler would not dare to
say. For he was a very wise man, and a very stanch and strong pillar of
the Holy Roman Church. Meanwhile, he was man enough not to require that
anything should be added to Torfrida's penance; and that was enough to
prove him a man in those days,--at least for a churchman,--as it proved
Archbishop or St. Ailred to be, a few years after, in the case of the nun
of Watton, to be read in Gale's "Scriptores Anglicaniae." Then he showed
the letter to Alftruda.
And she laughed one of her laughs, and said, "I have her at last!"
Then, as it befell, he was forced to shew the letter to Queen Matilda; and
she wept over it human tears, such as she, the noble heart, had been
forced to keep many a time before, and said, "The poor soul!--You,
Alftruda, woman! does Hereward know of this?"
"No, madam," said Alftruda, not adding that she had taken good care that
he should not know.
"It is the best thing which I have heard of him. I should tell him, were
it not that I must not meddle with my lord's plans. God grant him a good
delivery, as they say of the poor souls in jail. Well, madam, you have
your will at last. God give you grace thereof, for you have not given Him
much chance as yet."
"Your majesty will honor us by coming to the wedding?" asked Alftruda,
Matilda the good looked at her with a face of such calm, childlike
astonishment, that Alftruda dropped her "fairy neck" at last, and slunk
out of the presence like a beaten cur.
William went to the wedding; and swore horrible oaths that they were the
handsomest pair he had ever seen. And so Hereward married Alftruda. How
Holy Church settled the matter is not said. But that Hereward married
Alftruda, under these very circumstances, may be considered a "historic
fact," being vouched for by Gaimar, and by the Peterborough Chronicler.
And doubtless Holy Church contrived that it should happen without sin, if
it conduced to her own interest.
And little Torfrida--then, it seems, some sixteen years of age--was
married to Hugh of Evermue. She wept and struggled as she was dragged into
"But I do not want to be married. I want to go back to my mother."
"The diabolic instinct may have descended to her," said the priests, "and
attracts her to the sorceress. We had best sprinkle her with holy water."
So they sprinkled her with holy water, and used exorcisms. Indeed, the
case being an important one, the personages of rank, they brought out from
their treasures the apron of a certain virgin saint, and put it round her
neck, in hopes of driving out the hereditary fiend.
"If I am led with a halter, I must needs go," said she, with one of her
mother's own flashes of wit, and went. "But Lady Alftruda," whispered she,
half-way up the church, "I never loved him."
"Behave yourself before the King, or I will whip you till the blood runs."
And so she would, and no one would have wondered in those days.
"I will murder you if you do. But I never even saw him."
"Little fool! And what are you going through, but what I went through
"You to say that?" gnashed the girl, as another spark of her mother's came
out. "And you gaining what--"
"What I waited for for fifteen years," said Alftruda, coolly. "If you have
courage and cunning, like me, to wait for fifteen years, you too may have
your will likewise."
The pure child shuddered, and was married to Hugh of Evermue, who is not
said to have kicked her; and was, according to them of Crowland, a good
friend to their monastery, and therefore, doubtless, a good man. Once,
says wicked report, he offered to strike her, as was the fashion in those
chivalrous days. Whereon she turned upon him like a tigress, and bidding
him remember that she was the daughter of Hereward and Torfrida, gave him
such a beating that he, not wishing to draw sword upon her, surrendered at
discretion; and they lived all their lives afterwards as happily as most
other married people in those times.
HOW HEREWARD BEGAN TO GET HIS SOUL'S PRICE.
And now behold Hereward at home again, fat with the wages of sin, and not
knowing that they are death.
He is once more "Dominus de Brunune cum Marisco," (Lord of Bourne with the
fen), "with all returns and liberties and all other things adjacent to the
same vill which are now held as a barony from the Lord King of England."
He has a fair young wife, and with her farms and manors, even richer than
his own. He is still young, hearty, wise by experience, high in the king's
favor, and deservedly so.
Why should he not begin life again?
Why not? Unless it be true that the wages of sin are, not a new life, but
And yet he has his troubles. Hardly a Norman knight or baron round but has
a blood-feud against him, for a kinsman slain. Sir Aswart, Thorold the
abbot's man, was not likely to forgive him for turning him out of the
three Mainthorpe manors, which he had comfortably held for two years past,
and sending him back to lounge in the abbot's hall at Peterborough,
without a yard of land he could call his own. Sir Ascelin was not likely
to forgive him for marrying Alftruda, whom he had intended to marry
himself. Ivo Taillebois was not likely to forgive him for existing within
a hundred miles of Spalding, any more than the wolf would forgive the lamb
for fouling the water below him. Beside, had he (Ivo) not married
Hereward's niece? and what more grievous offence could Hereward commit,
than to be her uncle, reminding Ivo of his own low birth by his nobility,
and too likely to take Lucia's part, whenever it should please Ivo to beat
or kick her? Only "Gilbert of Ghent," the pious and illustrious earl, sent
messages of congratulation and friendship to Hereward, it being his custom
to sail with the wind, and worship the rising sun--till it should decline
But more: hardly one of the Normans round, but, in the conceit of their
skin-deep yesterday's civilization, look on Hereward as a barbarian
Englishman, who has his throat tattooed, and wears a short coat, and
prefers--the churl--to talk English in his own hall, though he can talk as
good French as they when he is with them, beside three or four barbarian
tongues if he has need.
But more still: if they are not likely to bestow their love on Hereward,
Hereward is not likely to win love from them of his own will. He is
peevish, and wrathful, often insolent and quarrelsome; and small blame to
him. The Normans are invaders and tyrants, who have no business there, and
should not be there, if he had his way. And they and he can no more
amalgamate than fire and water. Moreover, he is a very great man, or has
been such once, and he thinks himself one still. He has been accustomed to
command men, whole armies; and he will no more treat these Normans as his
equals, than they will treat him as such. His own son-in-law, Hugh of
Evermue, has to take hard words,--thoroughly well deserved, it may be; but
all the more unpleasant for that reason.
The truth was, that Hereward's heart was gnawed with shame and remorse;
and therefore he fancied, and not without reason, that all men pointed at
him the finger of scorn.
He had done a bad, base, accursed deed. And he knew it. Once in his
life--for his other sins were but the sins of his age--the Father of men
seems (if the chroniclers say truth) to have put before this splendid
barbarian good and evil, saying, Choose! And he knew that the evil was
evil, and chose it nevertheless.
Eight hundred years after, a still greater genius and general had the same
choice--as far as human cases of conscience can be alike--put before him.
And he chose as Hereward chose.
But as with Napoleon and Josephine, so it was with Hereward and Torfrida.
Neither throve after.
It was not punished by miracle. What sin is? It worked out its own
punishment; that which it merited, deserved, or earned, by its own labor.
No man could commit such a sin without shaking his whole character to the
root. Hereward tried to persuade himself that his was not shaken; that he
was the same Hereward as ever. But he could not deceive himself long. His
conscience was evil. He was discontented with all mankind, and with
himself most of all. He tried to be good,--as good as he chose to be. If
he had done wrong in one thing, he might make up for it in others; but he
All his higher instincts fell from him one by one. He did not like to
think of good and noble things; he dared not think of them. He felt, not
at first, but as the months rolled on, that he was a changed man; that God
had left him. His old bad habits began to return to him. Gradually he sank
back into the very vices from which Torfrida had raised him sixteen years
before, He took to drinking again, to dull the malady of thought; he
excused himself to himself; he wished to forget his defeats, his
disappointment, the ruin of his country, the splendid past which lay
behind him like a dream. True: but he wished to forget likewise Torfrida
fasting and weeping in Crowland. He could not bear the sight of Crowland
tower on the far green horizon, the sound of Crowland bells booming over
the flat on the south-wind. He never rode down into the fens; he never
went to see his daughter at Deeping, because Crowland lay that way. He
went up into the old Bruneswald, hunted all day long through the glades
where he and his merry men had done their doughty deeds, and came home in
the evening to get drunk.
Then he lost his sleep. He sent down to Crowland, to Leofric the priest,
that he might come to him, and sing his sagas of the old heroes, that he
might get rest. But Leofric sent back for answer that he would not come.
That night Alftruda heard him by her side in the still hours, weeping
silently to himself. She caressed him: but he gave no heed to her.
"I believe," said she bitterly at last, "that you love Torfrida still
better than you do me."
And Hereward answered, like Mahomet in like case, "That do I, by heaven.
She believed in me when no one else in the world did."
And the vain, hard Alftruda answered angrily; and there was many a fierce
quarrel between them after that.
With his love of drinking, his love of boasting came back. Because he
could do no more great deeds--or rather had not the spirit left in him to
do more--he must needs, like a worn-out old man, babble of the great deeds
which he had done; insult and defy his Norman neighbors; often talk what
might be easily caricatured into treason against King William himself.
There were great excuses for his follies, as there are for those of every
beaten man; but Hereward was spent. He had lived his life, and had no more
life which he could live; for every man, it would seem, brings into the
world with him a certain capacity, a certain amount of vital force, in
body and in soul; and when that is used up, the man must sink down into
some sort of second childhood, and end, like Hereward, very much where he
began; unless the grace of God shall lift him up above the capacity of the
mere flesh, into a life literally new, ever-renewing, ever-expanding, and
But the grace of God had gone away from Hereward, as it goes away from all
men who are unfaithful to their wives.
It was very pitiable. Let no man judge him. Life, to most, is very hard
work. There are those who endure to the end, and are saved; there are
those, again, who do not endure: upon whose souls may God have mercy.
So Hereward soon became as intolerable to his Norman neighbors as they
were intolerable to him.
Whereon, according to the simple fashion of those primitive times, they
sought about for some one who would pick a quarrel with Hereward, and slay
him in fair fight. But an Archibald Bell-the-Cat was not to be found on
But it befell that Oger the Breton, he who had Morcar's lands round
Bourne, came up to see after his lands, and to visit his friend and
fellow-robber, Ivo Taillebois.
Ivo thought the hot-headed Breton, who had already insulted Hereward with
impunity at Winchester, the fittest man for his purpose; and asked him,
over his cups, whether he had settled with that English ruffian about the
Now, King William had judged that Hereward and Oger should hold that land
between them, as he and Toli had done. But when "two dogs," as Ivo said,
"have hold of the same bone, it is hard if they cannot get a snap at each
Oger agreed to that opinion; and riding into Bourne, made inquisition into
the doings at Docton. And--scandalous injustice!--he found that an old
woman had sent six hens to Hereward, whereof she should have kept three
So he sent to demand formally of Hereward those three hens; and was
unpleasantly disappointed when Hereward, instead of offering to fight him,
sent him them in an hour, and a lusty young cock into the bargain, with
this message,--That he hoped they might increase and multiply; for it was
a shame of an honest Englishman if he did not help a poor Breton churl to
eat roast fowls for the first time in his life, after feeding on nothing
better than furze-toppings, like his own ponies.
To which Oger, who, like a true Breton, believed himself descended from
King Arthur, Sir Tristram, and half the knights of the Round Table,
replied that his blood was to that of Hereward as wine to peat-water; and
that Bretons used furze-toppings only to scourge the backs of insolent
To which Hereward replied, that there were gnats enough pestering him in
the fens already, and that one more was of no consequence.
Wherefrom the Breton judged, as at Winchester, that Hereward had no lust
The next day he met Hereward going out to hunt, and was confirmed in his
opinion when Hereward lifted his cap to him most courteously, saying that
he was not aware before that his neighbor was a gentleman of such high
"Blood? Better at least than thine, thou bare-legged Saxon, who has dared
to call me churl. So you must needs have your throat cut? I took you for a
"Many have taken me for that which I am not. If you will harness yourself,
I will do the same; and we will ride up into the Bruneswald, and settle
this matter in peace."
"Three men on each side to see fair play," said the Breton.
And up into the Bruneswald they rode; and fought long without advantage on
Hereward was not the man which he had been. His nerve was gone, as well as
his conscience; and all the dash and fury of his old onslaughts gone
He grew tired of the fight, not in body, but in mind; and more than once
"Let us stop this child's play," said he, according to the chronicler;
"what need have we to fight here all day about nothing?"
Whereat the Breton fancied him already more than half-beaten, and attacked
more furiously than ever. He would be the first man on earth who ever had
had the better of the great outlaw. He would win himself eternal glory, as
the champion of all England.
But he had mistaken his man, and his indomitable English pluck. "It was
Hereward's fashion, in fight and war," says the chronicler, "always to ply
the man most at the last." And so found the Breton; for Hereward suddenly
lost patience, and rushing on him with one of his old shouts, hewed at him
again and again, as if his arm would never tire.
Oger gave back, would he or not. In a few moments his sword-arm dropt to
his side, cut half through.
"Have you had enough, Sir Tristram the younger?" quoth Hereward, wiping
his sword, and walking moodily away.
Oger went out of Bourne with his arm in a sling, and took counsel with Ivo
Taillebois. Whereon they two mounted, and rode to Lincoln, and took
counsel with Gilbert of Ghent.
The fruit of which was this. That a fortnight after Gilbert rode into
Bourne with a great meinie, full a hundred strong, and with him the
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