Charlotte M. Yonge
Part 1 out of 4
Transcribed by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Price of Blood
The Cat of Cat Copse
De Facto and De Jure
The Beggar's Legacy
A Review of the Nieces
Come to Her Kingdom
THE PRICE OF BLOOD
Ab ira et odio, et omni mala voluntate,
Libera nos, Domine.
A fulgure et tempestate,
Libera nos, Domine.
A morte perpetua,
Libera nos, Domine.
So rang forth the supplication, echoing from rock and fell, as the
people of Claudiodunum streamed forth in the May sunshine to invoke
a blessing on the cornlands, olives, and vineyards that won vantage-
ground on the terraces carefully kept up on the slopes of the
wonderful needle-shaped hills of Auvergne.
Very recently had the Church of Gaul commenced the custom of going
forth, on the days preceding the Ascension feast, to chant Litanies,
calling down the Divine protection on field and fold, corn and wine,
basket and store. It had been begun in a time of deadly peril from
famine and earthquake, wild beast and wilder foes, and it had been
adopted in the neighbouring dioceses as a regular habit, as indeed
it continued throughout the Western Church during the fourteen
One great procession was formed by different bands. The children
were in two troops, a motley collection of all shades; the deep
olive and the rolling black eye betraying Ethiopian or Moorish slave
ancestry, the soft dark complexion and deep brown eye showing the
Roman, and the rufous hair and freckled skin the lower grade of
Cymric Kelt, while a few had the more stately pose, violet eye, and
black hair of the Gael. The boys were marshalled with extreme
difficulty by two or three young monks; their sisters walked far
more orderly, under the care of some consecrated virgin of mature
age. The men formed another troop, the hardy mountaineers still
wearing the Gallic trousers and plaid, though the artisans and
mechanics from the town were clad in the tunic and cloak that were
the later Roman dress, and such as could claim the right folded over
them the white, purple-edged scarf to which the toga had dwindled.
Among the women there was the same scale of decreasing nationality
of costume according to rank, though the culmination was in
resemblance to the graceful classic robe of Rome instead of the last
Parisian mode. The poorer women wore bright, dark crimson, or blue
in gown or wrapping veil; the ladies were mostly in white or black,
as were also the clergy, excepting such as had officiated at the
previous Eucharist, and who wore their brilliant priestly vestments,
heavy with gold and embroidery.
Beautiful alike to eye and ear was the procession, above all from a
distance, now filing round a delicate young green wheatfield, now
lost behind a rising hill, now glancing through a vineyard, or
contrasting with the gray tints of the olive, all that was
incongruous or disorderly unseen, and all that was discordant
unheard, as only the harmonious cadence of the united response was
wafted fitfully on the breeze to the two elderly men who, unable to
scale the wild mountain paths in the procession, had, after the
previous service in the basilica and the blessing of the nearer
lands, returned to the villa, where they sat watching its progress.
It was as entirely a Roman villa as the form of the ground and the
need of security would permit. Lying on the slope of a steep hill,
which ran up above into a fantastic column or needle piercing the
sky, the courts of the villa were necessarily a succession of
terraces, levelled and paved with steps of stone or marble leading
from one to the other. A strong stone wall enclosed the whole,
cloistered, as a protection from sun and storm. The lowest court
had a gateway strongly protected, and thence a broad walk with box-
trees on either side, trimmed into fantastic shapes, led through a
lawn laid out in regular flower-beds to the second court, which was
paved with polished marble, and had a fountain in the midst, with
vases of flowers, and seats around. Above was another broad flight
of stone steps, leading to a portico running along the whole front
of the house, with the principal chambers opening into it. Behind
lay another court, serving as stables for the horses and mules, as
farmyard, and with the quarters of the slaves around it, and higher
up there stretched a dense pine forest protecting the whole
establishment from avalanches and torrents of stones from the
mountain peak above.
Under the portico, whose pillars were cut from the richly-coloured
native marbles, reposed the two friends on low couches.
One was a fine-looking man, with a grand bald forehead, encircled
with a wreath of oak, showing that in his time he had rescued a
Roman's life. He also wore a richly-embroidered purple toga, the
token of high civic rank, for he had put on his full insignia as a
senator and of consular rank to do honour to the ceremonial. Indeed
he would not have abstained from accompanying the procession, but
that his guest, though no more aged than himself, was manifestly
unequal to the rugged expedition, begun fasting in the morning chill
and concluded, likewise fasting, in the noonday heat. Still, it
would scarcely have distressed those sturdy limbs, well developed
and preserved by Roman training, never permitted by him to
degenerate into effeminacy. And as his fine countenance and well-
knit frame testified, Marcus AEmilius Victorinus inherited no small
share of genuine Roman blood. His noble name might be derived
through clientela, and his lineage had a Gallic intermixture; but
the true Quirite predominated in his character and temperament. The
citizenship of his family dated back beyond the first establishment
of the colony, and rank, property, and personal qualities alike
rendered him the first man in the district, its chief magistrate,
and protector from the Visigoths, who claimed it as part of their
kingdom of Aquitania.
So much of the spirit of Vercingetorix survived among the remnant of
his tribe that Arvernia had never been overrun and conquered, but
had held out until actually ceded by one of the degenerate Augusti
at Ravenna, and then favourable terms had been negotiated, partly by
AEmilius the Senator, as he was commonly called, and partly by the
honoured friend who sat beside him, another relic of the good old
times when Southern Gaul enjoyed perfect peace as a favoured
province of the Empire. This guest was a man of less personal
beauty than the Senator, and more bowed and aged, but with care and
ill-health more than years, for the two had been comrades in school,
fellow-soldiers and magistrates, working simultaneously, and with
firm, mutual trust all their days.
The dress of the visitor was shaped like that of the senator, but of
somewhat richer and finer texture. He too wore the TOGA
PRAETEXTATA, but he had a large gold cross hanging on his breast and
an episcopal ring on his finger; and instead of the wreath of bay he
might have worn, and which encircled his bust in the Capitol, the
scanty hair on his finely-moulded head showed the marks of the
tonsure. His brow was a grand and expansive one; his gray eyes were
full of varied expression, keen humour, and sagacity; a lofty
devotion sometimes changing his countenance in a wonderful manner,
even in the present wreck of his former self, when the cheeks showed
furrows worn by care and suffering, and the once flexible and
resolute mouth had fallen in from loss of teeth. For this was the
scholar, soldier, poet, gentleman, letter-writer, statesman,
Sidonius Apollinaris, who had stood on the steps of the Imperial
throne of the West, had been crowned as an orator in the Capitol,
and then had been called by the exigences of his country to give up
his learned ease and become the protector of the Arvernii as a
patriot Bishop, where he had well and nobly served his God and his
country, and had won the respect, not only of the Catholic Gauls but
of the Arian Goths. Jealousy and evil tongues had, however,
prevailed to cause his banishment from his beloved hills, and when
he repaired to the court of King Euric to solicit permission to
return, he was long detained there, and had only just obtained
license to go back to his See. He had arrived only a day or two
previously at the villa, exhausted by his journey, and though
declaring that his dear mountain breezes must needs restore him, and
that it was a joy to inhale them, yet, as he heard of the
oppressions that were coming on his people, the mountain gales could
only 'a momentary bliss bestow,' and AEmilius justly feared that the
decay of his health had gone too far for even the breezes and baths
of Arvernia to reinvigorate him.
His own mountain estate, where dwelt his son, was of difficult
access early in the year, and AEmilius hoped to persuade him to rest
in the villa till after Pentecost, and then to bless the nuptials of
Columba AEmilia, the last unwedded daughter of the house, with Titus
Julius Verronax, a young Arvernian chief of the lineage of
Vercingetorix, highly educated in all Latin and Greek culture, and a
Roman citizen much as a Highland chieftain is an Englishman. His
home was on an almost inaccessible peak, or PUY, which the Senator
pointed out to the Bishop, saying--
"I would fain secure such a refuge for my family in case the tyranny
of the barbarians should increase."
"Are there any within the city?" asked the Bishop. "I rejoice to
see that thou art free from the indignity of having any quartered
"For which I thank Heaven," responded the Senator. "The nearest are
on the farm of Deodatus, in the valley. There is a stout old
warrior named Meinhard who calls himself of the King's Trust; not a
bad old fellow in himself to deal with, but with endless sons,
followers, and guests, whom poor Deodatus and Julitta have to keep
supplied with whatever they choose to call for, being forced to
witness their riotous orgies night after night."
"Even so, we are far better off than our countrymen who have the
heathen Franks for their lords."
"That Heaven forbid!" said AEmilius. "These Goths are at least
Christians, though heretics, yet I shall be heartily glad when the
circuit of Deodatus's fields is over. The good man would not have
them left unblest, but the heretical barbarians make it a point of
honour not to hear the Blessed Name invoked without mockery, such as
our youths may hardly brook."
"They are unarmed," said the Bishop.
"True; but, as none knows better than thou dost, dear father and
friend, the Arvernian blood has not cooled since the days of Caius
Julius Caesar, and offences are frequent among the young men. So
often has our community had to pay 'wehrgeld,' as the barbarians
call the price they lay upon blood, that I swore at last that I
would never pay it again, were my own son the culprit."
"Such oaths are perilous," said Sidonius. "Hast thou never had
cause to regret this?"
"My father, thou wouldst have thought it time to take strong
measures to check the swaggering of our young men and the foolish
provocations that cost more than one life. One would stick a
peacock's feather in his cap and go strutting along with folded arms
and swelling breast, and when the Goths scowled at him and called
him by well-deserved names, a challenge would lead to a deadly
combat. Another such fight was caused by no greater offence than
the treading on a dog's tail; but in that it was the Roman, or more
truly the Gaul, who was slain, and I must say the 'wehrgeld' was
honourably paid. It is time, however, that such groundless
conflicts should cease; and, in truth, only a barbarian could be
satisfied to let gold atone for life."
"It is certainly neither Divine law nor human equity," said the
Bishop. "Yet where no distinction can be made between the
deliberate murder and the hasty blow, I have seen cause to be
thankful for the means of escaping the utmost penalty. Has this
oath had the desired effect?"
"There has been only one case since it was taken," replied AEmilius.
"That was a veritable murder. A vicious, dissolute lad stabbed a
wounded Goth in a lonely place, out of vengeful spite. I readily
delivered him up to the kinsfolk for justice, and as this proved me
to be in earnest, these wanton outrages have become much more rare.
Unfortunately, however, the fellow was son to one of the widows of
the Church--a holy woman, and a favourite of my little Columba, who
daily feeds and tends the poor thing, and thinks her old father very
"Alas! from the beginning the doom of the guilty has struck the
innocent," said the Bishop.
"In due retribution, as even the heathen knew." Perfect
familiarity with the great Greek tragedians was still the mark of a
gentleman, and then Sidonius quoted from Sophocles--
Compass'd with dazzling light,
Throned on Olympus's height,
His front the Eternal God uprears
By toils unwearied, and unaged by years;
Far back, through ages past,
Far on, through time to come,
Hath been, and still must last,
Sin's never-changing doom.
AEmilius capped it from AEschylus--
But Justice holds her equal scales
With ever-waking eye;
O'er some her vengeful might prevails
When their life's sun is high;
On some her vigorous judgments light
In that dread pause 'twixt day and night,
Life's closing, twilight hour.
But soon as once the genial plain
Has drunk the life-blood of the slain,
Indelible the spots remain,
And aye for vengeance call.
"Yea," said the Bishop, "such was the universal law given to Noah
ere the parting of the nations--blood for blood! And yet, where
should we be did not Mercy rejoice against Justice, and the Blood of
Sprinkling speak better things than the blood of Abel? Nay, think
not that I blame thee, my dear brother. Thou art the judge of thy
people, and well do I know that one act of stern justice often, as
in this instance, prevents innumerable deeds of senseless violence."
"Moreover," returned the Senator, "it was by the relaxing of the
ancient Roman sternness of discipline and resolution that the
horrors of the Triumvirate began, and that, later on, spirit decayed
and brought us to our present fallen state."
By this time the procession, which had long since passed from their
sight, was beginning to break up and disperse. A flock of little
children first appeared, all of whom went aside to the slaves'
quarters except one, who came running up the path between the box-
trees. He was the eldest grandson and namesake of the Senator, a
dark-eyed, brown-haired boy of seven, with the golden bulla hanging
round his neck. Up he came to the old man's knee, proud to tell how
he had scaled every rock, and never needed any help from the
pedagogue slave who had watched over him.
"Sawest thou any barbarians, my Victorinus?" asked his grandfather.
"They stood thickly about Deodatus's door, and Publius said they
were going to mock; but we looked so bold and sang so loud that they
durst not. And Verronax is come down, papa, with Celer; and Celer
wanted to sing too, but they would not let him, and he was so good
that he was silent the moment his master showed him the leash."
"Then is Celer a hound?" asked the Bishop, amused.
"A hound of the old stock that used to fight battles for Bituitus,"
returned the child. "Oh, papa, I am so hungry."
He really did say 'papa,' the fond domestic name which passed from
the patriarch of the household to the Father of the Roman Church.
"Thy mother is watching for thee. Run to her, and she will give
thee a cake--aye, and a bath before thy dinner. So Verronax is
come. I am glad thou wilt see him, my father. The youth has grown
up with my own children, and is as dear to me as my own son. Ah,
here comes my Columba!"
For the maidens were by this time returning, and Columba, robed in
white, with a black veil, worn mantilla fashion over her raven hair,
so as to shade her soft, liquid, dark eyes, came up the steps, and
with a graceful obeisance to her father and the Bishop, took the
seat to which the former drew her beside them.
"Has all gone well, my little dove?" asked her father.
"Perfectly well so far, my father," she replied; but there was
anxiety in her eyes until the gate again opened and admitted the
male contingent of the procession. No sooner had she seen them
safely advancing up the box avenue than she murmured something about
preparing for the meal, and, desiring a dismissal from her father,
disappeared into the women's apartments, while the old man smiled at
her pretty maidenly modesty.
Of the three men who were advancing, one, Marcus AEmilius, about
seven or eight and twenty years of age, was much what the Senator
must have been at his age--sturdy, resolute, with keen eyes, and
crisp, curled, short black hair. His younger brother, Lucius, was
taller, slighter, more delicately made, with the same pensive
Italian eyes as his sister, and a gentle, thoughtful countenance.
The tonsure had not yet touched his soft, dark brown locks; but it
was the last time he would march among the laity, for, both by his
own desire and that of his dead mother, he was destined to the
priesthood. Beside these two brothers came a much taller figure.
The Arvernii seem to have been Gael rather than Cymri, and the
mountain chief, Titus Julius Verronax, as the Romans rendered his
name of Fearnagh, was of the purest descent. He had thick, wavy
chestnut hair, not cut so short as that of the Romans, though kept
with the same care. His eyebrows were dark, his eyes, both in hue
and brightness, like a hawk's, his features nobly moulded, and his
tall form, though large and stately, was in perfect symmetry, and
had the free bearing and light springiness befitting a mountaineer.
He wore the toga as an official scarf, but was in his national garb
of the loose trousers and short coat, and the gold torq round his
neck had come to him from prehistoric ages. He had the short Roman
sword in his belt, and carried in his hand a long hunting-spear,
without which he seldom stirred abroad, as it served him both as
alpenstock and as defence against the wolves and bears of the
mountains. Behind him stalked a magnificent dog, of a kind
approaching the Irish wolfhound, a perfect picture of graceful
outline and of strength, swiftness, and dignity, slightly shaggy,
and of tawny colouring--in all respects curiously like his master.
In language, learning, and manners Verronax the Arvernian was,
however, a highly cultivated Roman, as Sidonius perceived in the
first word of respectful welcome that he spoke when presented to the
All had gone off well. Old Meinhard had been on the watch, and had
restrained any insult, if such had been intended, by the other
Goths, who had stood watching in silence the blessing of the fields
and vineyards of Deodatus.
The peril over, the AEmilian household partook cheerfully of the
social meal. Marina, the wife of Marcus, and Columba sat on carved
chairs, the men of the family reclining on the couches constructed
to hold three. The bright wit of Sidonius, an eminent
conversationalist, shone the more brightly for his rejoicing at his
return to his beloved country and flock, and to the friend of his
youth. There were such gleams in the storms that were overwhelming
the tottering Empire, to which indeed these men belonged only in
heart and in name.
The meal was for a fast day, and consisted of preparations of eggs,
milk, flour, and fish from the mountain streams, but daintily
cooked, for the traditions of the old Roman gastronomy survived, and
Marina, though half a Gaul, was anxious that her housekeeping should
shine in the eyes of the Bishop, who in his secular days had been
known to have a full appreciation of the refinements of the table.
When the family rose and the benediction had been pronounced,
Columba was seen collecting some of the remnants in a basket.
"Thou surely dost not intend going to that widow of thine to-day,"
exclaimed her sister-in-law, Marina, "after such a walk on the
"Indeed I must, sister," replied Columba; "she was in much pain and
weakness yesterday, and needs me more than usual."
"And it is close to the farm of Deodatus," Marina continued to
object, "where, the slaves tell me, there are I know not how many
fresh barbarian guests!"
"I shall of course take Stentor and Athenais," said Columba.
"A pair of slaves can be of no use. Marcus, dost thou hear? Forbid
thy sister's folly."
"I will guard my sister," said Lucius, becoming aware of what was
"Who should escort her save myself?" said the graceful Verronax,
turning at the same moment from replying to some inquiries from the
"I doubt whether his escort be not the most perilous thing of all,"
"Come, Marina," said her husband good-humouredly, "be not always a
boder of ill. Thou deemest a Goth worse than a gorgon or hydra,
whereas, I assure you, they are very good fellows after all, if you
stand up to them like a man, and trust their word. Old Meinhard is
a capital hunting comrade."
Wherewith the worthy Marcus went off with his little son at his
heels to inspect the doings of the slaves in the farm-court in the
rear, having no taste for the occupation of his father and the
Bishop, who composed themselves to listen to a MS. of the letters of
S. Gregory Nazianzen, which Sidonius had lately acquired, and which
was read aloud to them by a secretary slave.
Some time had thus passed when a confused sound made the Senator
start up. He beheld his daughter and her escort within the lower
court, but the slaves were hastily barring the gates behind them,
and loud cries of "Justice! Vengeance!" in the Gothic tongue,
struck his only too well-accustomed ears.
Columba flung herself before him, crying--
"O father, have pity! It was for our holy faith."
"He blasphemed," was all that was uttered by Verronax, on whose
dress there was blood.
"Open the gates," called out the Senator, as the cry outside waxed
louder. "None shall cry for justice in vain at the gate of an
AEmilius. Go, Marcus, admit such as have a right to enter and be
heard. Rise, my daughter, show thyself a true Roman and Christian
maiden before these barbarians. And thou, my son, alas, what hast
thou done?" he added, turning to Verronax, and taking his arm while
walking towards the tribunal, where he did justice as chief
magistrate of the Roman settlement.
A few words told all. While Columba was engaged with her sick
widow, a young stranger Goth strolled up, one who had stood combing
his long fair hair, and making contemptuous gestures as the Rogation
procession passed in the morning. He and his comrades began
offensively to scoff at the two young men for having taken part in
the procession, uttering the blasphemies which the invocation of our
Blessed Lord was wont to call forth.
Verronax turned wrathfully round, a hasty challenge passed, a rapid
exchange of blows; and while the Arvernian received only a slight
scratch, the Goth fell slain before the hovel. His comrades were
unarmed and intimidated. They rushed back to fetch weapons from the
house of Deodatus, and there had been full time to take Columba
safely home, Verronax and his dog stalking statelily in the rear as
"Thou shouldst have sought thine impregnable crag, my son," said the
"To bring the barbarian vengeance upon this house?" responded
"Alas, my son, thou know'st mine oath."
"I know it, my father."
"It forbids not thy ransoming thyself."
Verronax smiled slightly, and touched the collar at his throat.
"This is all the gold that I possess."
The Senator rapidly appraised it with his eye. There was a regular
tariff on the lives of free Romans, free Goths, guests, and trusted
men of the King; and if the deceased were merely a LITE, or freeman
of the lowest rank, it was just possible that the gold collar might
purchase its master's life, provided he were not too proud to part
with the ancestral badge.
By this time the tribunal had been reached--a special portion of the
peristyle, with a curule chair, inlaid with ivory, placed on a
tesselated pavement, as in the old days of the Republic, and a
servant on each side held the lictor's axe and bundle of rods, which
betokened stern Roman justice, wellnigh a mockery now. The forum of
the city would have been the regular place, but since an earthquake
had done much damage there, and some tumults had taken place among
the citizens, the seat of judgment had by general consent been
placed in the AEmilian household as the place of chief security, and
as he was the accredited magistrate with their Gothic masters, as
Sidonius had been before his banishment.
As Sidonius looked at the grave face of the Senator, set like a
rock, but deadly pale, he thought it was no unworthy representative
of Brutus or Manlius of old who sat on that seat.
Alas! would he not be bound by his fatal oath to be only too true a
representative of their relentless justice?
On one side of the judgment-seat stood Verronax, towering above all
around; behind him Marina and Columba, clinging together, trembling
and tearful, but their weeping restrained by the looks of the
Senator, and by a certain remnant of hope.
To the other side advanced the Goths, all much larger and taller men
than any one except the young Gaulish chieftain. The foremost was a
rugged-looking veteran, with grizzled locks and beard, and a
sunburnt face. This was Meinhard, the head of the garrison on
Deodatus's farm, a man well known to AEmilius, and able to speak
Latin enough to hold communication with the Romans. Several younger
men pressed rudely behind him, but they were evidently impressed by
the dignity of the tribunal, though it was with a loud and fierce
shout that they recognised Verronax standing so still and unmoved.
"Silence!" exclaimed the Senator, lifting his ivory staff.
Meinhard likewise made gestures to hush them, and they ceased, while
the Senator, greeting Meinhard and inviting him to share his seat of
authority, demanded what they asked.
"Right!" was their cry. "Right on the slayer of Odorik, the son of
Odo, of the lineage of Odin, our guest, and of the King's trust."
"Right shall ye have, O Goths," returned AEmilius. "A Roman never
flinches from justice. Who are witnesses to the deed? Didst thou
behold it, O Meinhard, son of Thorulf?"
"No, noble AEmilius. It had not been wrought had I been present;
but here are those who can avouch it. Stand forth, Egilulf, son of
"It needs not," said Verronax. "I acknowledge the deed. The Goth
scoffed at us for invoking a created Man. I could not stand by to
hear my Master insulted, and I smote him, but in open fight, whereof
I bear the token."
"That is true," said Meinhard. "I know that Verronax, the
Arvernian, would strike no coward blow. Therefore did I withhold
these comrades of Odorik from rushing on thee in their fury; but
none the less art thou in feud with Odo, the father of Odorik, who
will require of thee either thy blood or the wehrgeld."
"Wehrgeld I have none to pay," returned Verronax, in the same calm
"I have sworn!" said AEmilius in a clear low voice, steady but full
of suppressed anguish. A shriek was heard among the women, and
Sidonius stepped forth and demanded the amount of wehrgeld.
"That must be for King Euric to decide," returned Meinhard. "He
will fix the amount, and it will be for Odo to choose whether he
will accept it. The mulct will be high, for the youth was of high
Baltic blood, and had but lately arrived with his father from the
"Enough," said Verronax. "Listen, Meinhard. Thou knowest me, and
the Arvernian faith. Leave me this night to make my peace with
Heaven and my parting with man. At the hour of six to-morrow
morning, I swear that I will surrender myself into thine hands to be
dealt with as it may please the father of this young man."
"So let it be, Meinhard," said AEmilius, in a stifled voice.
"I know AEmilius, and I know Verronax," returned the Goth.
They grasped hands, and then Meinhard drew off his followers,
leaving two, at the request of Marcus, to act as sentinels at the
The Senator sat with his hands clasped over his face in unutterable
grief, Columba threw herself into the arms of her betrothed, Marina
tore her hair, and shrieked out--
"I will not hold my peace! It is cruel! It is wicked! It is
"Silence, Marina," said Verronax. "It is just! I am no ignorant
child. I knew the penalty when I incurred it! My Columba,
remember, though it was a hasty blow, it was in defence of our
The thought might comfort her by and by; as yet it could not.
The Senator rose and took his hand.
"Thou dost forgive me, my son?" he said.
"I should find it hard to forgive one who lessened my respect for
the AEmilian constancy," returned Verronax.
Then he led Marcus aside to make arrangements with him respecting
his small mountain estate and the remnant of his tribe, since Marina
was his nearest relative, and her little son would, if he were cut
off, be the sole heir to the ancestral glories of Vercingetorix.
"And I cannot stir to save such a youth as that!" cried the Senator
in a tone of agony as he wrung the hand of Sidonius. "I have bound
mine own hands, when I would sell all I have to save him. O my
friend and father, well mightest thou blame my rashness, and doubt
the justice that could be stern where the heart was not touched."
"But I am not bound by thine oath, my friend," said Sidonius. "True
it is that the Master would not be served by the temporal sword, yet
such zeal as that of this youth merits that we should strive to
deliver him. Utmost justice would here be utmost wrong. May I send
one of your slaves as a messenger to my son to see what he can
raise? Though I fear me gold and silver is more scarce than it was
in our younger days."
This was done, and young Lucius also took a summons from the Bishop
to the deacons of the Church in the town, authorising the use of the
sacred vessels to raise the ransom, but almost all of these had been
already parted with in the time of a terrible famine which had
ravaged Arvernia a few years previously, and had denuded all the
wealthy and charitable families of their plate and jewels. Indeed
Verronax shrank from the treasure of the Church being thus applied.
Columba might indeed weep for him exultingly as a martyr, but, as he
well knew, martyrs do not begin as murderers, and passion,
pugnacity, and national hatred had been uppermost with him. It was
the hap of war, and he was ready to take it patiently, and prepare
himself for death as a brave Christian man, but not a hero or a
martyr; and there was little hope either that a ransom so
considerable as the rank of the parties would require could be
raised without the aid of the AEmilii, or that, even if it were, the
fierce old father would accept it. The more civilised Goths, whose
families had ranged Italy, Spain, and Aquitaine for two or three
generations, made murder the matter of bargain that had shocked
AEmilius; but this was an old man from the mountain cradle of the
race, unsophisticated, and but lately converted.
In the dawn of the summer morning Bishop Sidonius celebrated the
Holy Eucharist for the mournful family in the oratory, a vaulted
chamber underground, which had served the same purpose in the days
of persecution, and had the ashes of two tortured martyrs of the
AEmilian household, mistress and slave, enshrined together beneath
the altar, which had since been richly inlaid with coloured marble.
Afterwards a morning meal was served for Verronax and for the elder
AEmilius, who intended to accompany him on his sad journey to
Bordigala, where the King and the father of Odorik were known to be
at the time. Sidonius, who knew himself to have some interest with
Euric, would fain have gone with them, but his broken health
rendered a rapid journey impossible, and he hoped to serve the
friends better by remaining to console the two women, and to
endeavour to collect the wehrgeld in case it should be accepted.
The farewells, owing to the Roman dignity of AEmilius and the proud
self-respect of the Arvernian, were more calm than had been feared.
Even thus, thought Sidonius, must Vercingetorix have looked when he
mounted his horse and rode from his lines at Alesia to save his
people, by swelling Caesar's triumph and dying beneath the Capitol.
Oh, ABSIT OMEN! Columba was borne up by hopes which Verronax would
not dash to the ground, and she received his embrace with steadfast,
though brimming eyes, and an assurance that she would pray without
Lucius was not to be found, having no doubt gone forward, intending
to direct his friend on his journey, and there part with him; but
the saddest part of the whole was the passionate wailings and
bemoanings of the remnants of his clan. One of his attendants had
carried the tidings; wild Keltic men and women had come down for one
last sight of their Fearnagh MacFearccadorigh, as they called him by
his true Gaulish name--passionately kissing his hands and the hem of
his mantle, beating their breasts amid howls of lamentation, and
throwing themselves in his path, as, with the high spirit which
could not brook to be fetched as a criminal, he made his way to the
Mounted on two strong mules, the only animals serviceable in the
mountain paths, the Senator and Verronax passed the gate, Marcus
walking beside them.
"We are beforehand with the Goth," said Verronax, as he came out.
"Lazy hounds!" said Marcus. "Their sentinels have vanished. It
would serve them right if thou didst speed over the border to the
"I shall have a laugh at old Meinhard," said Verronax. "Little he
knows of discipline."
"No doubt they have had a great lyke wake, as they barbarously call
their obsequies," said the Senator, "and are sleeping off their
"We will rouse them," said the Arvernian; "it will be better than
startling poor Columba."
So on they moved, the wildly-clad, barefooted Gauls, with locks
streaming in the wind, still keeping in the rear. They reached the
long, low farm-buildings belonging to Deodatus, a half-bred Roman
Gaul, with a large vineyard and numerous herds of cattle. The place
was wonderfully quiet. The Goths seemed to be indulging in very
sound slumbers after their carouse, for nothing was to be seen but
the slaves coming in with bowls of milk from the cattle. Some of
them must have given notice of the approach of the Senator, for
Deodatus came to his door with the salutation, "AVE CLARISSIME!" and
then stood staring at Verronax, apparently petrified with wonder;
and as the young chief demanded where was Meinhard, he broke forth--
"Does his nobility ask me? It is two hours since every Goth quitted
the place, except the dead man in the house of the widow Dubhina,
and we are breathing freely for once in our lives. Up they went
towards the AEmilian villa with clamour and threats enough to make
one's blood run cold, and they must be far on their way to Bordigala
Gergovia by this time."
"His nobility must have passed through their midst unseen and
unheard!" cried old Julitta, a hardworking, dried-up woman, clasping
her sinewy, wrinkled hands; "a miracle, and no wonder, since our
holy Bishop has returned."
The excitable household was on the point of breaking out into
acclamation, but Verronax exclaimed: "Silence, children! Miracles
are not for the bloodguilty. If it be, as I fear, they have met
Lucius and seized him in my stead, we must push on at once to save
"Meinhard could not mistake your persons," returned AEmilius; but
while he was speaking, a messenger came up and put into his hand one
of the waxen tablets on which notes were written--
L. AEM. VIC. TO M. AEM. VIC. S. Q.,--Pardon and bless thy son.
Meinhard assures me that I shall be accepted as equal in birth and
accessory to the deed. Remember Columba and the value of Verronax's
life, and let me save him. Consent and hold him back. Greet all
the dear ones.--VALE.
The little tablet could hold no more than this--almost every word
curtailed. The Senator's firm lip quivered at last as he exclaimed,
"My brave son. Thus does he redeem his father's rash oath!"
Verronax, whose Roman breeding had held his impulsive Keltic nature
in check as long as it was only himself that was in danger, now
broke into loud weeping--
"My Lucius! my brother beloved! and didst thou deem Arvernian honour
fallen so low that I could brook such a sacrifice? Let us hasten on
instantly, my father, while yet it is time!"
It would have been impossible to withhold him, and Marcus returned
with the strange tidings, while his father and Verronax set forth
with a few servants, mounted like themselves on mules, to reach the
broad Roman road that led from Gergovia to Bordigala. Three wild,
barefooted Gauls of Verronax's clan shook their heads at all his
attempts to send them home, and went running along after him with
the same fidelity as poor Celer, whom he had left tied up at the
villa as his parting gift to little Victorinus, but who had broken
loose, and came bounding to his master, caressing him with nose and
tongue at their first halt.
There had been, as in all Roman roads, regular posting stations at
intervals along the way, where horses and mules could be hired, but
the troubles of the Empire, invasion, and scarcity had greatly
disturbed the system. Many of the stations were deserted, and at
others either the whole of the animals, or all the fleeter ones, had
been taken up by Meinhard and his convoy. Indeed it almost seemed
that not only Lucius was anxious not to be overtaken, but that
Meinhard was forwarding his endeavours to consummate his sacrifice
before the Arvernian could prevent it.
Hotly did Verronax chafe at each hindrance. He would have dashed
onwards with feverish head-long speed, using his own fleet limbs
when he could not obtain a horse, but AEmilius feared to trust him
alone, lest, coming too late to rescue Lucius, he should bring on
himself the fury of the Goths, strike perhaps in revenge, and not
only lose his own life and render the sacrifice vain, but imperil
So, while making all possible speed, he bound the young Arvernian,
by all the ties of paternal guardianship and authority, to give his
word not to use his lighter weight and youthful vigour to outstrip
the rest of the party.
The Senator himself hardly knew what was his own wish, for if his
fatherly affection yearned over his gentle, dutiful, studious
Lucius, yet Columba's desolation, and the importance of Verronax as
a protector for his family, so weighed down the other scale, that he
could only take refuge in 'committing his way unto the Lord.'
The last halting-place was at a villa belonging to a Roman, where
they heard that an assembly was being held in the fields near
Bordigala for judgment on the slaughter of a young Goth of high
rank. On learning how deeply they were concerned, their host lent
them two horses, and rode with them himself, as they hastened on in
These early Teutonic nations all had their solemn assemblies in the
open air, and the Goths had not yet abandoned the custom, so that as
the Senator and the chieftain turned the summit of the last low hill
they could see the plain beneath swarming like an ant-hill with
people, and as they pressed onward they could see a glittering tent,
woven with cloth of gold, a throne erected in front, and around it a
space cleared and guarded by a huge circle of warriors (LITES),
whose shields joined so as to form a wall.
Near the throne stood the men of higher degree, all alike to join
the King in his judgment, like the Homeric warriors of old, as
indeed Sidonius had often said that there was no better comment on
the ILIAD than the meetings of the barbarians.
By the time AEmilius and Verronax had reached the spot, and gained
an entrance in virtue of their rank and concern in the matter, Euric
sat enthroned in the midst of the assembly. He was far removed from
being a savage, though he had won his crown by the murder of his
brother. He and the counts (comrades) around him wore the Roman
garb, and used by preference the Latin speech, learning, arms, and
habits, just as European civilisation is adopted by the Egyptian or
Japanese of the present day. He understood Roman jurisprudence, and
was the author of a code for the Goths, but in a case like this he
was obliged to conform to national customs.
There he sat, a small, light-complexioned man, of slighter make than
those around him, holding in his hand a scroll. It was a letter
from Sidonius, sent beforehand by a swift-footed mountaineer, and
containing a guarantee for 1200 soldi, twice the price for a Goth of
ordinary rank. On the one side stood, unbound and unguarded, the
slender form of Lucius; on the other a gigantic old Visigoth, blind,
and with long streaming snowy hair and beard, his face stern with
grief and passion, and both his knotted hands crossed upon the
handle of a mighty battle-axe.
The King had evidently been explaining to him the terms of the
Bishop's letter, for the first words that met the ear of AEmilius
"Nay, I say nay, King Euric. Were I to receive treble the weight of
gold, how should that enable me to face my son in the halls of Odin,
with his blood unavenged?"
There was a murmur, and the King exclaimed--
"Now, now, Odo, we know no more of Odin."
"Odin knows us no more," retorted the old man, "since we have washed
ourselves in the Name of another than the mighty Thor, and taken up
the weakly worship of the conquered. So my son would have it! He
talked of a new Valhal of the Christian; but let him meet me where
he will, he shall not reproach me that he only of all his brethren
died unavenged. Where is the slayer? Set him before me that I may
strike him dead with one blow!"
Lucius crossed himself, looked upwards, and was stepping forwards,
when Verronax with a shout of 'Hold!' leapt into the midst, full
before the avenger's uplifted weapon, crying--
"Slay me, old man! It was I who killed thy son, I, Fearnagh the
"Ho!" said Odo. "Give me thine hand. Let me feel thee. Yea, these
be sinews! It is well. I marvelled how my Odorik should have
fallen by the soft Roman hand of yonder stripling; but thou art a
worthy foe. What made the priestling thrust himself between me and
"His generous love," returned Verronax, as Lucius flung himself on
his neck, crying--
"O my Verronax, why hast thou come? The bitterness of death was
past! The gates were opening."
Meanwhile AEmilius had reached Euric, and had made him understand
the substitution. Old Odo knew no Latin, and it was the King, an
able orator in both tongues, who expounded all in Gothic, showing
how Lucius AEmilius had offered his life in the stead of his friend,
and how Verronax had hurried to prevent the sacrifice, reiterating,
almost in a tone of command, the alternative of the wehrgeld.
The lites all burst into acclamations at the nobility of the two
young men, and some muttered that they had not thought these Romans
had so much spirit.
Euric made no decision. He did full justice to the courage and
friendship of the youths, and likewise to the fact that Odorik had
provoked the quarrel, and had been slain in fair fight; but the
choice lay with the father, and perhaps in his heart the politic
Visigoth could not regret that Arvernia should lose a champion sure
to stand up for Roman or national claims.
Odo listened in silence, leaning on his axe. Then he turned his
face to the bystanders, and demanded of them--
"Which of them is the bolder? Which of them flinched at my axe?"
The spectators were unanimous that neither had blenched. The
slender lad had presented himself as resolutely as the stately
"It is well," said Odo. "Either way my son will be worthily
avenged. I leave the choice to you, young men."
A brief debate ended in an appeal to the Senator, who, in spite of
all his fortitude, could not restrain himself from groaning aloud,
hiding his face in his hands, and hoarsely saying, "Draw lots."
"Yes," said Euric; "commit the judgment to Heaven."
It was hailed as a relief; but Lucius stipulated that the lots
should be blessed by a Catholic priest, and Verronax muttered
"What matters it? Let us make an end as quickly as may be!"
He had scarcely spoken when shouts were heard, the throng made way,
the circle of lites opened, as, waving an olive branch, a wearied,
exhausted rider and horse appeared, and staggering to the foot of
the throne, there went down entirely spent, the words being just
audible, "He lives! Odorik lives!"
It was Marcus AEmilius, covered with dust, and at first unable to
utter another word, as he sat on the ground, supported by his
brother, while his father made haste to administer the wine handed
to him by an attendant.
"Am I in time?" he asked.
"In time, my son," replied his father, repeating his announcement in
Gothic. "Odorik lives!"
"He lives, he will live," repeated Marcus, reviving. "I came not
away till his life was secure."
"Is it truth?" demanded the old Goth. "Romans have slippery ways."
Meinhard was quick to bear testimony that no man in Arvernia doubted
the word of an AEmilius; but Marcus, taking a small dagger from his
belt, held it out, saying--
"His son said that he would know this token."
Odo felt it. "It is my son's knife," he said, still cautiously;
"but it cannot speak to say how it was taken from him."
"The old barbarian heathen," quoth Verronax, under his breath; "he
would rather lose his son than his vengeance."
Marcus had gathered breath and memory to add, "Tell him Odorik said
he would know the token of the red-breast that nested in the winged
helm of Helgund."
"I own the token," said Odo. "My son lives. He needs no
vengeance." He turned the handle of his axe downwards, passed it to
his left hand, and stretched the right to Verronax, saying, "Young
man, thou art brave. There is no blood feud between us. Odo, son
of Helgund, would swear friendship with you, though ye be Romans."
"Compensation is still due according to the amount of the injury,"
said the Senator scrupulously. "Is it not so, O King?"
Euric assented, but Odo exclaimed--
"No gold for me! When Odo, son of Helgund, forgives, he forgives
outright. Where is my son?"
Food had by this time been brought by the King's order, and after
swallowing a few mouthfuls Marcus could stand and speak.
Odorik, apparently dead, had been dragged by the Goths into the hut
of the widow Dubhina to await his father's decision as to the
burial, and the poor woman had been sheltered by her neighbour,
Julitta, leaving the hovel deserted.
Columba, not allowing her grief and suspense to interfere with her
visits of mercy to the poor woman, had come down as usual on the
evening of the day on which her father and her betrothed had started
on their sad journey. Groans, not likely to be emitted by her
regular patient, had startled her, and she had found the floor
occupied by the huge figure of a young Goth, his face and hair
covered with blood from a deep wound on his head, insensible, but
his moans and the motion of his limbs betraying life.
Knowing the bitter hatred in Claudiodunum for everything Gothic, the
brave girl would not seek for aid nearer than the villa. Thither
she despatched her male slave, while with her old nurse she did all
in her power for the relief of the wounded man, with no
inconsiderable skill. Marcus had brought the Greek physician of the
place, but he had done nothing but declare the patient a dead man by
all the laws of Galen and Hippocrates. However, the skull and
constitution of a vigorous young Goth, fresh from the mountains,
were tougher than could be imagined by a member of one of the
exhausted races of the Levant. Bishop Sidonius had brought his
science and sagacity to the rescue, and under his treatment Odorik
had been restored to his senses, and was on the fair way to
On the first gleam of hope, Marcus had sent off a messenger, but so
many of his household and dependents were absent that he had no
great choice; so that as soon as hope had become security, he had
set forth himself; and it was well he had done so, for he had
overtaken the messenger at what was reckoned as three days' journey
from Bordigala. He had ridden ever since without rest, only
dismounting to change his steed, scarcely snatching even then a
morsel of food, and that morning neither he nor the horse he rode
had relaxed for a moment the desperate speed with which he rode
against time; so that he had no cause for the shame and vexation
that he felt at his utter collapse before the barbarians. King
Euric himself declared that he wished he had a Goth who could
perform such a feat of endurance.
While Marcus slept, AEmilius and the two young men offered their
heartfelt thanks in the Catholic church of Bordigala, and then Euric
would not be refused their presence at a great feast of
reconciliation on the following day, two of Verronax's speedy-footed
followers having been sent off at once to bear home tidings that his
intelligence had been in time.
The feast was served in the old proconsular house, with the Roman
paraphernalia, arranged with the amount of correct imitation that is
to be found at an English dinner-party in the abode of an Indian
Rajah. It began with Roman etiquette, but ended in a Gothic revel,
which the sober and refined AEmilii could hardly endure.
They were to set off on their return early on the morrow, Meinhard
and Odo with them; but when they at length escaped from the
barbarian orgies, they had little expectation that their companions
would join them in the morning.
However, the two Goths and their followers were on the alert as soon
as they, and as cool-headed as if they had touched no drop of wine.
Old Odo disdained a mule, and would let no hand save his own guide
his horse. Verronax and Lucius constituted themselves his guides,
and whenever he permitted the slightest assistance, it was always
from the Arvernian, whom he seemed to regard as a sort of adopted
He felt over his weapons, and told him long stories, of which
Verronax understood only a word or two here and there, though the
old man seemed little concerned thereat. Now and then he rode along
chanting to himself an extemporary song, which ran somewhat thus--
Maids who choose the slain,
The Hawk of the Mountain,
The Wolf of the West,
Meet in fierce combat.
Sinks the bold Wolf-cub,
Folds his wing the Falcon!
Shall the soft priestling
Step before him to Valhal,
Cheating Lok's daughter
Of weak-hearted prey?
Lo! the Wolf wakens.
Waits for a battlefield,
Wolf-cub to claim.
Friendly the Falcon,
Friendly the Gray-Wolf.
So it ran on, to the great scandal of Lucius, who longed for better
knowledge of the Gothic tongue to convince the old man of the folly
of his heathen dreams. Meinhard, who was likewise rather shocked,
explained that the father and son had been recent arrivals, who had
been baptized because Euric required his followers to embrace his
faith, but with little real knowledge or acceptance on the part of
the father. Young Odorik had been a far more ardent convert; and,
after the fashion of many a believer, had taken up the distinctions
of sect rather than of religion, and, zealous in the faith he knew,
had thought it incumbent on him to insult the Catholics where they
seemed to him idolatrous.
A message on the road informed the travellers that they would find
Odorik at the villa. Thither then they went, and soon saw the whole
household on the steps in eager anticipation. A tall young figure,
with a bandage still round his fair flowing locks, came down the
steps as Verronax helped the blind man to dismount; and Odo, with a
cry of 'My son!' with a ring of ecstasy in the sound, held the youth
to his breast and felt him all over.
"Are we friends?" said Odorik, turning to Verronax, when his father
"That is as thou wiliest," returned the Arvernian gravely.
"Know then," said Odorik, "that I know that I erred. I knew not thy
Lord when I mocked thine honour to Him. Father, we had but half
learnt the Christian's God. I have seen it now. It was not thy
blow, O Arvernian! that taught me; but the Master who inspired
yonder youth to offer his life, and who sent the maiden there to
wait upon her foe. He is more than man. I own in him the Eternal
Creator, Redeemer, and Lord!"
"Yea," said Sidonius to his friend AEmilius, "a great work hath been
wrought out. Thus hath the parable of actual life led this zealous
but half-taught youth to enter into the higher truth. Lucius will
be none the worse priest for having trodden in the steps of Him who
was High-priest and Victim. Who may abide strict Divine Justice,
had not One stood between the sinner and the Judge? Thus 'Mercy and
Truth have met together; Righteousness and Peace have kissed each
THE CAT OF CAT COPSE
A HAMPSHIRE TRADITION
The Dane! the Dane! The heathen Dane
Is wasting Hampshire's coast again--
From ravaged church and plundered farm
Flash the dread beacons of alarm--
Fly, helpless peasants, fly!
Ytene's green banks and forest shades,
Her heathery slopes and gorse-clad glades
Re-echo to the cry--
Where is the King, whose strong right hand
Hath oft from danger freed the land?
Nor fleet nor covenant avails
To drive aloof those pirate sails,
In vain is Alfred's sword;
Vain seems in every sacred fane
The chant--'From fury of the Dane,
Deliver us, good Lord.'
The long keels have the Needles past,
Wight's fairest bowers are flaming fast;
From Solent's waves rise many a mast,
With swelling sails of gold and red,
Dragon and serpent at each head,
Havoc and slaughter breathing forth,
Steer on these locusts of the north.
Each vessel bears a deadly freight;
Each Viking, fired with greed and hate,
His axe is whetting for the strife,
And counting how each Christian life
Shall win him fame in Skaldic lays,
And in Valhalla endless praise.
For Hamble's river straight they steer;
Prayer is in vain, no aid is near--
Hopeless and helpless all must die.
Oh, fainting heart and failing eye,
Look forth upon the foe once more!
Why leap they not upon the shore?
Why pause their keels upon the strand,
As checked by some resistless hand?
The sail they spread, the oars they ply,
Yet neither may advance nor fly.
Who is it holds them helpless there?
'Tis He Who hears the anguished prayer;
'Tis He Who to the wave
Hath fixed the bound--mud, rock, or sand--
To mark how far upon the strand
Its foaming sweep may rave.
What is it, but the ebbing tide,
That leaves them here, by Hamble's side,
So firm embedded in the mud
No force of stream, nor storm, nor flood,
Shall ever these five ships bear forth
To fiords and islets of the north;
A thousand years shall pass away,
And leave those keels in Hamble's bay.
Ill were it in my rhyme to tell
The work of slaughter that befell;
In sooth it was a savage time--
Crime ever will engender crime.
Each Viking, as he swam to land,
Fell by a Saxon's vengeful hand;
Turn we from all that vengeance wild--
Where on the deck there cowered a child,
And, closely to his bosom prest,
A snow-white kitten found a nest.
That tender boy, with tresses fair,
Was Edric, Egbert's cherished heir;
The plaything of the homestead he,
Now fondled on his grandame's knee;
Or as beside the hearth he sat,
Oft sporting with his snow-white cat;
Now by the chaplain taught to read,
And lisp his Pater and his Creed;
Well nurtured at his mother's side,
And by his father trained to ride,
To speak the truth, to draw the bow,
And all an English Thane should know,
His days had been as one bright dream--
As smooth as his own river's stream!
Until, at good King Alfred's call,
Thane Egbert left his native hall.
Then, five days later, shout and yell,
And shrieks and howls of slaughter fell,
Upon the peaceful homestead came.
'Mid flashing sword, and axe, and flame,
Snatched by a Viking's iron grasp,
From his slain mother's dying clasp,
Saved from the household's flaming grave,
Edric was dragged, a destined slave,
Some northern dame to serve, or heed
The flocks that on the Saeter feed.
Still, with scarce conscious hold he clung
To the white cat, that closely hung
Seeking her refuge in his arm,
Her shelter in the wild alarm--
And who can tell how oft his moan
Was soothed by her soft purring tone?
Time keeping with retracted claw,
Or patting with her velvet paw;
Although of home and friends bereft,
Still this one comforter was left,
So lithe, so swift, so soft, so white,
She might have seemed his guardian sprite.
The rude Danes deemed her such;
And whispered tales of 'disir' bound
To human lords, as bird or hound.
Nor one 'mid all the fleet was found
To hurt one tender paw.
And when the captive knelt to pray
None would his orisons gainsay;
For as they marked him day by day,
Increased their wondering awe.
Crouched by the mast, the child and cat,
Through the dire time of slaughter sat,
By terror both spellbound;
But when night came, a silence drear
Fell on the coast; and far or near,
No voice caught Edric's wakeful ear,
Save water's lapping sound.
He wandered from the stern to prow,
Ate of the stores, and marvelled how
He yet might reach the ground;
Till low and lower sank the tide,
Dark banks of mud spread far and wide
Around that fast-bound wreck.
Then the lone boy climbed down the ship,
To cross the mud by bound and skip,
His cat upon his neck.
Light was his weight and swift his leap,
Now would he softly tread, now creep,
For treacherous was the mud, and deep
From stone to weed, from weed to plank,
Leaving a hole where'er he sank;
With panting breath and sore taxed strength
The solid earth he felt at length.
Sheltered within the copse he lay,
When dawn had brightened into day,
For when one moment there was seen,
His red cap glancing 'mid the green,
A fearful cry arose--
"Here lurks a Dane!" "The Dane seek out"
With knife and axe, the rabble rout
Made the copse ring with yell and shout
To find their dreaded foes.
And Edric feared to meet a stroke,
Before they knew the tongue he spoke.
Hid 'mid the branches of an oak,
He heard their calls and blows.
Of food he had a simple store,
And when the churls the chase gave o'er,
And evening sunk upon the vale,
With rubbing head and upright tail,
Pacing before him to and fro,
Puss lured him on the way to go--
Coaxing him on, with tender wile,
O'er heath and down for many a mile.
Ask me not how her course she knows.
He from Whom every instinct flows
Hath breathed into His creatures power,
Giving to each its needful dower;
And strive and question as we will,
We cannot trace the inborn skill,
Nor fathom how, where'er she roam,
The cat ne'er fails to find her home.
What pen may dare to paint the woe,
When Egbert saw his home laid low?
Where, by the desolated hearth,
The mother lay who gave him birth,
And, close beside, his fair young wife,
And servants, slain in bootless strife--
Mournful the King stood near.
Alfred, who came to be his guest,
And deeply rued that his behest
Had all unguarded left that nest,
To meet such ruin drear.
With hand, and heart, and lip, he gave
All king or friend, both true and brave,
Could give, one pang of grief to save,
To comfort, or to cheer--
As from the blackened walls they drew
Each corpse, and laid with reverence due;
And then it was that Egbert knew
All save the child were here.
King Alfred's noble head was bent,
A monarch's pain his bosom rent;
Kindly he wrung Thane Egbert's hand--
"Lo! these have won the blissful land,
Where foeman's shout is heard no more,
Nor wild waves beat upon the shore;
Brief was the pang, the strife is o'er--
They are at peace, my friend!
Safe, where the weary are at rest;
Safe, where the banish'd and opprest
Find joys that never end."
Thane Egbert groaned, and scarce might speak
For tears that ploughed his hardy cheek,
As his dread task was done.
And for the slain, from monk and priest
Rose requiems that never ceased,
While still he sought his son.
"Oh, would to Heaven!" that father said,
"There lay my darling calmly dead,
Rather than as a thrall be bred--
His Christian faith undone."
"Nay, life is hope!" bespake the King,
"God o'er the child can spread His wing
And shield him in the Northman's power
Safe as in Alswyth's guarded bower;
Treaty and ransom may be found
To win him back to English ground."
The funeral obsequies were o'er,
But lingered still the Thane,
Hanging around his home once more,
Feeding his bitter pain.
The King would fain with friendly force
Urge him anew to mount his horse,
Turn from the piteous sight away,
And fresh begin life's saddened day,
His loved ones looking yet to greet,
Where ne'er shall part the blest who meet.
Just then a voice that well he knew,
A sound that mixed the purr and mew,
Went to the father's heart.
On a large stone King Alfred sat
Against his buskin rubbed a cat,
Snow-white in every part,
Though drenched and soiled from head to tail.
The poor Thane's tears poured down like hail--
"Poor puss, in vain thy loving wail,"
Then came a joyful start!
A little hand was on his cloak--
"Father!" a voice beside him spoke,
Emerging from the wood.
All travel-stained, and marked with mire,
With trace of blood, and toil, and fire,
Yet safe and sound beside his sire,
Edric before them stood.
And as his father wept for joy,
King Alfred blessed the rescued boy,
And thanked his Maker good!
Who doth the captive's prayer fulfil,
Making His creatures work His will
By means not understood.
NOTE.--The remains of the five Danish vessels still lie embedded in
the mud of the Hamble River near Southampton, though parts have been
carried off and used as wood for furniture in the farm-houses. The
neighbouring wood is known as Cat Copse, and a tradition has been
handed down that a cat, and a boy in a red cap, escaped from the
Danish ships, took refuge there.
DE FACTO AND DE JURE
I. DE FACTO
The later summer sunbeams lay on an expanse of slightly broken
ground where purple and crimson heather were relieved by the golden
blossoms of the dwarf gorse, interspersed with white stars of
stitch-wort. Here and there, on the slopes, grew stunted oaks and
hollies, whose polished leaves gleamed white with the reflection of
the light; but there was not a trace of human habitation save a
track, as if trodden by horses' feet, clear of the furze and heath,
and bordered by soft bent grass, beginning to grow brown.
Near this track--for path it could hardly be called--stood a slender
lad waiting and watching, a little round cap covering his short-cut
brown hair, a crimson tunic reaching to his knee, leggings and shoes
of deerhide, and a sword at his side, fastened by a belt of the like
skin, guarded and clasped with silver. His features were delicate,
though sunburnt, and his eyes were riveted on the distance, where
the path had disappeared amid the luxuriant spires of ling.
A hunting-horn sounded, and the youth drew himself together into an
attitude of eager attention; the baying of hounds and trampling of
horses' hoofs came nearer and nearer, and by and by there came in
view the ends of boar-spears, the tall points of bows, a cluster of
heads of men and horses--strong, sturdy, shaggy, sure-footed
creatures, almost ponies, but the only steeds fit to pursue the
chase on this rough and encumbered ground.
Foremost rode, with ivory and gold hunting-horn slung in a rich
Spanish baldrick, and a slender gilt circlet round his green
hunting-cap, a stout figure, with a face tanned to a fiery colour,
keen eyes of a dark auburn tint, and a shock of hair of the same
At sight of him, the lad flung himself on his knees on the path,
with the cry, "Haro! Haro! Justice, Sir King!"
"Out of my way, English hound!" cried the King. "This is no time
for thy Haro."
"Nay, but one word, good fair King! I am French--French by my
father's side!" cried the lad, as there was a halt, more from the
instinct of the horse than the will of the King. 'Bertram de
Maisonforte! My father married the Lady of Boyatt, and her
inheritance was confirmed to him by your father, brave King William,
my Lord; but now he is dead, and his kinsman, Roger de Maisonforte,
hath ousted her and me, her son and lawful heir, from house and
home, and we pray for justice, Sir King?'
'Ha, Roger, thou there! What say'st thou to this bold beggar!'
shouted the Red King.
'I say,' returned a black, bronzed hunter, pressing to the front,
'that what I hold of thee, King William, on tenure of homage, and of
two good horses and staunch hounds yearly, I yield to no English
mongrel churl, who dares to meddle with me.'
'Thou hear'st, lad,' said Rufus, with his accustomed oath, 'homage
hath been done to us for the land, nor may it be taken back. Out of
our way, or--'
'Sir! sir!' entreated the lad, grasping the bridle, 'if no more
might be, we would be content if Sir Roger would but leave my mother
enough for her maintenance among the nuns of Romsey, and give me a
horse and suit of mail to go on the Holy War with Duke Robert.'
'Ho! ho! a modest request for a beggarly English clown!' cried the
King, aiming a blow at the lad with his whip, and pushing on his
horse, so as almost to throw him back on the heath. 'Ho! ho! fit
him out for a fool's errand!'
'We'll fit him! We'll teach him to take the cross at other men's
expense!' shouted the followers, seizing on the boy.
'Nay; we'll bestow his cross on him for a free gift!' exclaimed
Roger de Maisonforte.
And Bertram, struggling desperately in vain among the band of
ruffians, found his left arm bared, and two long and painful
slashes, in the form of the Crusader's cross, inflicted, amid loud
laughter, as the blood sprang forth.
'There, Sir Crusader,' said Roger, grinding his teeth over him. 'Go
on thy way now--as a horse-boy, if so please thee, and know better
than to throw thy mean false English pretension in the face of a
Men, horses, dogs, all seemed to trample and scoff at Bertram as he
fell back on the elastic stems of the heath and gorse, whose
prickles seemed to renew the insults by scratching his face. When
the King's horn, the calls, the brutal laughter, and the baying of
the dogs had begun to die away in the distance, he gathered himself
together, sat up, and tried to find some means of stanching the
blood. Not only was the wound in a place hard to reach, but it had
been ploughed with the point of a boar-spear, and was grievously
torn. He could do nothing with it, and, as he perceived, he had
further been robbed of his sword, his last possession, his father's
The large tears of mingled rage, grief, and pain might well spring
from the poor boy's eyes in his utter loneliness, as he clenched his
hand with powerless wrath, and regained his feet, to retrace, as
best he might, his way to where his widowed mother had found a
temporary shelter in a small religious house.
The sun grew hotter and hotter, Bertram's wound bled, though not
profusely, the smart grew upon him, his tongue was parched with
thirst, and though he kept resolutely on, his breath came panting,
his head grew dizzy, his eyes dim, his feet faltered, and at last,
just as he attained a wider and more trodden way, he dropped
insensible by the side of the path, his dry lips trying to utter the
cry, "Lord, have mercy on me!"
II. DE JURE
When Bertram de Maisonforte opened his eyes again cold waters were
on his face, wine was moistening his lips, the burning of his wound
was assuaged by cooling oil, while a bandage was being applied, and
he was supported on a breast and in arms, clad indeed in a hauberk,
but as tenderly kind as the full deep voice that spoke in English,
"He comes round. How now, my child?"
"Father," murmured Bertram, with dreamy senses.
"Better now; another sup from the flask, David," again said the kind
voice, and looking up, he became aware of the beautiful benignant
face, deep blue eyes, and long light locks of the man in early
middle age who had laid him on his knee, while a priest was binding
his arm, and a fair and graceful boy, a little younger than himself,
was standing by with the flask of wine in his hand, and a face of
such girlish beauty that as he knelt to hold the wine to his lips,
"Am I among the Angels?"
"Not yet," said the elder man. "Art thou near thine home?"
"Alack! I have no home, kind sir," said Bertram, now able to raise
himself and to perceive that he was in the midst of a small hand of
armed men, such as every knight or noble necessarily carried about
with him for protection. There was a standard with a dragon, and
their leader himself was armed, all save his head, and, as Bertram
saw, was a man of massive strength, noble stature, and kingly
"What shall we do for thee?" he asked. "Who hath put thee in this
Bertram gave his name, and at its Norman sound there was a start of
repulsion from the boy. "French after all!" he exclaimed.
"Nay, David," said the leader, "if I mind me rightly, the Lady
Elftrud of Boyatt wedded a brave Norman of that name. Art thou her
son? I see something of her face, and thou hast an English tongue."
"I am; I am her only son!" exclaimed Bertram; and as he told of his
wrongs and the usage he had met with, young David cried out with
"Uncle, uncle, how canst thou suffer that these things should be?
Here are our faithful cnihts. Let us ride to the forest. Wherefore
should it not be with Red William and his ruffians as with Scottish
Duncan and Donald?"
"Hush thee, David, my nephew. Thou knowest that may not be. But
for thee, young Bertram, we will see what can be done. Canst sit a
"Yea, my lord, full well. I know not what came over me, even now,"
said Bertram, much ashamed of the condition in which he had been
A sumpter horse was found for him, the leader of the party saying
that they would go on to his own home, where the youth's wound
should be looked to, and they could then decide what could be done
Bertram was still so far faint, suffering, weak, and weary, that he
was hardly awake to curiosity as to his surroundings, and had quite
enough to do to keep his seat in the saddle, and follow in the wake
of the leader's tall white horse, above which shone his bright chain
mail and his still brighter golden locks, so that the exhausted boy
began in some measure to feel as if he were following St. Michael on
his way to some better world.
Now and then the tall figure turned to see how it was with him, and
as he drooped more with fatigue and pain, bade one of the retainers
keep beside him and support him.
Thus at length the cavalcade left the heathery expanse and reached a
valley, green with meadow-land and waving corn, with silvery beards
of barley rippling in the evening light, and cows and sheep being
gathered for the night towards a dwelling where the river had been
trained to form a moat round low green ramparts enclosing a number
of one-storied thatched houses and barns, with one round tower, a
strong embattled gateway, and at a little distance a square church
tower, and other cottages standing outside.
A shout of ecstasy broke out from the village as the advancing party
was seen and recognised. Men, women, and children, rudely but
substantially clad, and many wearing the collar of the thrall, ran
out from their houses, baring their heads, bowing low, and each in
turn receiving some kind word or nod of greeting from the lord whom
they welcomed, while one after another of his armed followers turned
aside, and was absorbed into a happy family by wife or parent. A
drawbridge crossed the moat, and there was a throng of joyful
servants in the archway--foremost a priest, stretching out his hands
in blessing, and a foreign-looking old woman, gray-haired and dark-
eyed, who gathered young David into her embrace as he sprang from
his horse, calling him her heart's darling and her sunshine, and
demanding, with a certain alarm, where were his brothers.
"In Scotland, dear Nurse Agnes--even where they should be," was
David's answer. "We are conquerors, do you see! Edgar is a crowned
and anointed King--seated on the holy stone of Scone, and Alexander
is beside him to fight for him!"
"It is even so, nurse," said the elder man, turning from the priest,
to whom he had more briefly spoken; "God hath blessed our arms, and
young Edgar has his right. God shield him in it! And now, nurse,
here is a poor youth who needs thy care, after one of Red William's
III. KING AT HOME
Weary, faint, and feverish as Bertram de Maisonforte was, he was
past caring for anything but the relief of rest, cool drink, and the
dressing of his wound; nor did he even ask where he was until he
awoke in broad daylight the next morning, to the sound of church
bells, to the sight of a low but spacious chamber, with stone walls,
deerskins laid on the floor, and the old nurse standing by him with
a cup of refreshing drink, and ready to attend to his wound.
It was then that, feeling greatly refreshed, he ventured upon asking
her in whose house he was, and who was the good lord who had taken
pity on him.
"Who should it be save him who should be the good lord of every
Englishman," she replied, "mine own dear foster-son, the princely
Atheling--he who takes up the cause of every injured man save his
Bertram was amazed, for he had only heard Normans speak of Edgar
Atheling, the heir of the ancient race, as a poor, tame-spirited,
wretched creature, unable to assert himself, and therefore left
unmolested by the conquerors out of contempt. He proceeded to ask
what the journey was from which the Atheling was returning, and the
nurse, nothing loth, beguiled the tendance on his arm by explaining
how she had long ago travelled from Hungary with her charges, Edgar,
Margaret, and Christina; how it had come about that the crown, which
should have been her darling's, had been seized by the fierce duke
from beyond the sea; how Edgar, then a mere child, had been forced
to swear oaths of fealty by which he held himself still bound; how
her sweetest pearl of ladies, her jewel Margaret, had been wedded to
the rude wild King of Scots, and how her gentle sweetness and
holiness had tamed and softened him, so that she had been the
blessing of his kingdom till he and his eldest son had fallen at
Alnwick while she lay a-dying; how the fierce savage Scots had risen
and driven forth her young children; and how their uncle the
Atheling had ridden forth, taken them to his home, bred them in all
holiness and uprightness and good and knightly courage, and when
Edgar and Alexander, the two eldest, were full grown, had gone
northward with them once more, and had won back, in fair field, the
throne of their father Malcolm.
Truly there might well be rejoicing and triumph on the estate where
the Atheling ruled as a father and had been sorely missed. He was
at his early mass of thanksgiving at present, and Bertram was so
much better that Nurse Agnes did not withstand his desire to rise
and join the household and villagers, who were all collected in the
building, low and massive, but on which Edgar Atheling had lavished
the rich ornamental work introduced by the Normans. The round
arched doorway was set in a succession of elaborate zigzags, birds'
heads, lions' faces, twists and knots; and within, the altar-
hangings and the priest's robes were stiff with the exquisite and
elaborate embroidery for which the English nunneries were famed.
The whole building, with its low-browed roof, circular chancel arch
still more richly adorned, and stout short columns, was filled with
kneeling figures in rough homespun or sheepskin garments, and with
shaggy heads, above which towered the shining golden locks of the
Atheling, which were allowed to grow to a much greater length than
was the Norman fashion, and beside him was the still fairer head of
his young nephew, David of Scotland. It was a thanksgiving service
for their victory and safe return; and Bertram was just in time for
the TE DEUM that followed the mass.
The Atheling, after all was over, came forth, exchanging greetings
with one after another of his franklins, cnihts, and thralls, all of
whom seemed to be equally delighted to see him back again, and whom
he bade to a feast in the hall, which would be prepared in the
course of the day. Some, meantime, went to their homes near at
hand, others would amuse themselves with games at ball, archery,
singlestick, and the like, in an open space within the moat--where
Bertram was not neglected. The Atheling inquired after his health,
heard his story in more detail, and after musing on it, said that
after setting affairs in order at home, he meant to visit his sister
and niece in the Abbey at Romsey, and would then make some
arrangement for the Lady of Maisonforte; also he would endeavour to
see the King on his return to Winchester, and endeavour to plead
"William will at times hearken to an old comrade," he said; "but it
is an ill time to take him when he is hot upon the chase. Meantime,
thou art scarce yet fit to ride, and needest more of good Agnes's
Bertram was indeed stiff and weary enough to be quite content to lie
on a bearskin in the wide hall of the dwelling, or under the eaves
without, and watch the doings with some amusement.
He had been bred in some contempt of the Saxons. His father's
marriage had been viewed as a MESALLIANCE, and though the knight of
Maisonforte had been honourable and kindly, and the Lady Elftrud had
fared better than many a Saxon bride, still the French and the
Breton dames of the neighbourhood had looked down on her, and the
retainers had taught her son to look on the English race as swine,
boors, and churls, ignorant of all gentle arts, of skill and grace.
But here was young David among youths of his own age, tilting as
gracefully and well as any young Norman could--making Bertram long
that his arm should cease to be so heavy and burning, so that he
might show his prowess.
Here was a contention with bow and arrow that would not have
disgraced the best men-at-arms of Maisonforte--here again, later in
the day, was minstrelsy of a higher order than his father's ears had
cared for, but of which his mother had whispered her traditions.
Here, again, was the chaplain showing his brother-priests with the
greatest pride and delight a scroll of Latin, copied from a MS.
Psalter of the holy and Venerable Beda by the hand of his own dear
pupil, young David.
Bertram, who could neither read nor write, and knew no more Latin
than his Paternoster, Credo, and Ave, absolutely did not believe his
eyes and ears till he had asked the question, whether this were
indeed the youth's work. How could it be possible to wield pen as
well as lance?
But the wonder of all was the Atheling. After an absence of more
than a year, there was much to be adjusted, and his authority on his
own lands was thoroughly judicial even for life or death, since even
under Norman sway he held the power of an earl.
Seated in a high-backed, cross-legged chair--his majestic form
commanding honour and respect--he heard one after another causes
that came before him, reserved for his judgment, questions of
heirship, disputes about cattle, complaints of thievery,
encroachments on land; and Bertram, listening with the interest that
judgment never fails to excite, was deeply impressed with the clear-
headedness, the ready thought, and the justice of the decision, even
when the dispute lay between Saxon and Norman, always with reference
to the laws of Alfred and Edward which he seemed to carry in his
Indeed, ere long, two Norman knights, hearing of the Atheling's
return, came to congratulate him, and lay before him a dispute of
boundaries which they declared they would rather entrust to him than
to any other. And they treated him far more as a prince than as a
They willingly accepted his invitation to go in to the feast of
welcome, and a noble one it was, with music and minstrelsy,
hospitality to all around, plenty and joy, wassail bowls going
round, and the Atheling presiding over it, and with a strange and
quiet influence, breaking up the entertainment in all good will, by
the memory of his sweet sister Margaret's grace-cup, ere mirth had
become madness, or the English could incur their reproach of coarse
"And," as the Norman knight who had prevailed said to Bertram, "Sir
Edgar the Atheling had thus shown himself truly an uncrowned King."
IV. WHO SHALL BE KING?
The noble cloisters of Romsey, with the grand church rising in their
midst, had a lodging-place, strictly cut off from the nunnery, for
Into this Edgar Atheling rode with his armed train, and as they
entered, some strange expression in the faces of the porters and
guards met them.
"Had my lord heard the news?" demanded a priest, who hastened
forward, bowing low.
"No, Holy Father. No ill of my sister?" anxiously inquired the
"The Mother Abbess is well, my Lord Atheling; but the King--William
the Red--is gone to his account. He was found two eves ago pierced
to the heart with an arrow beneath an oak in Malwood Chace."
"God have mercy on his poor soul!" ejaculated Edgar, crossing
himself. "No moment vouchsafed for penitence! Alas! Who did the
deed, Father Dunstan?"
"That is not known," returned the priest, "save that Walter Tyrrel
is fled like a hunted felon beyond seas, and my Lord Henry to
Young David pressed up to his uncle's side.
"Sir, sir," he said, "what a time is this! Duke Robert absent, none
know where; our men used to war, all ready to gather round you.
This rule will be ended, the old race restored. Say but the word,
and I will ride back and raise our franklins as one man. Thou wilt,
"With all mine heart!" cried Bertram. "Let me be the first to do
And as Edgar Atheling stood in the outer court, with lofty head and
noble thoughtful face, pure-complexioned and high-browed, each who
beheld him felt that there stood a king of men. A shout of "King
Edgar! Edgar, King of England," echoed through the buildings; and
priests, men-at-arms, and peasants began to press forward to do him
homage. But he raised his hand--
"Hold, children," he said. "I thank you all; but much must come ere
ye imperil yourselves by making oaths to me that ye might soon have
to break! Let me pass on and see my sister."
Abbeys were not strictly cloistered then, and the Abbess Christina
was at the door, a tall woman, older than her brother, and somewhat
hard-featured, and beside her was a lovely fair girl, with peach-
like cheeks and bright blue eyes, who threw herself into David's
arms, full of delight.
"Brother," said Christina, "did I hear aright? And have they hailed
thee King? Are the years of cruel wrong ended at last? Victor for
others, wilt thou be victor for thyself?"
"What is consistent with God's will, and with mine oaths, that I
hope to do," was Edgar's reply.
But even as he stood beside the Abbess in the porch, without having
yet entered, there was a clattering and trampling of horse, and
through the gate came hastily a young man in a hauberk, with a ring
of gold about his helmet, holding out his hands as he saw the
"Sire Edgar," he said, "I knew not I should find you here, when I
came to pay my first DEVOIRS as a King to the Lady Mother Abbess"
(he kissed her unwilling hand) "and the Lady Edith."
Edith turned away a blushing face, and the Abbess faltered--
"As a King?"
"Yea, lady. As such have I been owned by all at Winchester. I
should be at Westminster for my Coronation, save that I turned from
my course to win her who shall share my crown."
"Is it even thus, Henry?" said Edgar. "Hast not thought of other
"Of that crazed fellow Robert's?" demanded Henry. "Trouble not
thine head for him! Even if he came back living from this Holy War
in the East, my father had too much mercy on England to leave it to
the like of him."
"There be other and older rights, Sir Henry," said the Abbess.
Henry looked up for a moment in some consternation. "Ho! Sir
Edgar, thou hast been so long a peaceful man that I had forgotten.
Thou knowest thy day went by with Hereward le Wake. See, fair Edith
and I know one another--she shall be my Queen."
"Veiled and vowed," began the Abbess.
"Oh, not yet! Tell her not yet!" whispered Edith in David's ear.
"Thou little traitress! Wed thy house's foe, who takes thine
uncle's place? Nay! I will none of thee," said David, shaking her
off roughly; but her uncle threw his arm round her kindly.
At that moment a Norman knight spurred up to Henry with some
communication that made him look uneasy, and Christina, laying her
hand on Edgar's arm, said: "Brother, we have vaults. Thy troop
outnumbers his. The people of good old Wessex are with thee! Now
is thy time! Save thy country. Restore the line and laws of Alfred
"Thou know'st not what thou wouldst have, Christina," said Edgar.
"One sea of blood wherever a Norman castle rises! I love my people
too well to lead them to a fruitless struggle with all the might of
Normandy unless I saw better hope than lies before me now! Mind
thee, I swore to Duke William that I would withstand neither him nor
any son of his whom the English duly hailed. Yet, I will see how it
is with this young man," he added, as she fell back muttering,
"Craven! Who ever won throne without blood?"
Henry had an anxious face when he turned from his knight, who, no
doubt, had told him how completely he was in the Atheling's power.
"Sir Edgar," he said, "a word with you. Winchester is not far off--
nor Porchester--nor my brother William's Free companies, and his
treasure. Normans will scarce see Duke William's son tampered with,
nor bow their heads to the English!"
"Belike, Henry of Normandy," said Edgar, rising above him in his
grave majesty. "Yet have I a question or two to put to thee. Thou
art a graver, more scholarly man than thy brother, less like to be
led away by furies. Have the people of England and Normandy sworn
to thee willingly as their King?"
"Even so, in the Minster," Henry began, and would have said more,
but Edgar again made his gesture of authority.
"Wilt thou grant them the charter of Alfred and Edward, with copies
spread throughout the land?"
"Wilt thou do equal justice between English and Norman?"
"To the best of my power."
"Wilt thou bring home the Archbishop, fill up the dioceses, do thy
part by the Church?"
"So help me God, I will."
"Then, Henry of Normandy, I, Edgar Atheling, kiss thine hand, and
become thy man; and may God deal with thee, as thou dost with
The noble form of Edgar bent before the slighter younger figure of
Henry, who burst into tears, genuine at the moment, and vowed most
earnestly to be a good King to the entire people. No doubt, he
And now--far more humbly, he made his suit to the Atheling for the
hand of his niece.
Edgar took her apart. "Edith, canst thou brook this man?"
"Uncle, he was good to me when we were children together at the old
King's Court. I have made no vows, I tore the veil mine aunt threw
over me from mine head. Methinks with me beside him he would never
be hard to our people."
"So be it then, Edith. If he holds to this purpose when he hath
been crowned at Westminster, he shall have thee, though I fear thou
hast chosen a hard lot, and wilt rue the day when thou didst quit
these peaceful walls."
And one more stipulation was made by Edgar the Atheling, ere he rode
to own Henry as King in the face of the English people at
Westminster--namely, that Boyatt should be restored to the true
heiress the Lady Elftrud. And to Roger, compensation was secretly
made at the Atheling's expense, ere departing with Bertram in his
train for the Holy War. For Bertram could not look at the scar
without feeling himself a Crusader; and Edgar judged it better for
England to remove himself for awhile, while he laid all earthly
aspirations at the Feet of the King of kings.
The little English troop arrived just in time to share in the
capture of the Holy City, to join in the eager procession of
conquerors to the Holy Sepulchre, and to hear Godfrey de Bouillon
elected to defend the sacred possession, refusing to wear a crown
where the King of Saints and Lord of Heaven and Earth had worn a
Crown of Thorns.
A feudal castle, of massive stone, with donjon keep and high
crenellated wall, gateway tower, moat and drawbridge, was a strange,
incongruous sight in one of the purple-red stony slopes of
Palestine, with Hermon's snowy peak rising high above. It was
accounted for, however, by the golden crosses of the kingdom of
Jerusalem waving above the watch-tower, that rose like a pointing
finger above the keep, in company with a lesser ensign bearing a
couchant hound, sable.
It was a narrow rocky pass that the Castle of Gebel-Aroun guarded,
overlooking a winding ravine between the spurs of the hills,
descending into the fertile plain of Esdraelon from the heights of
Galilee Hills, noted in many an Israelite battle, and now held by
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