Brian Fitz-Count - Augustine David Crake - ebook

Brian Fitz-Count: A Story of Wallingford Castle and Dorchester Abbey written by Augustine David Crake who was an English cleric and author, known for devotional works, and for juvenile historical fiction. This book was published in 1887. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.

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Brian Fitz-Count

A Story of Wallingford Castle and Dorchester Abbey


Augustine David Crake

Table of Contents
































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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. D. C.

Christmas 1887.


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

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

"Great his houses, lands, and castles,

Written in the Domesday Book."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"As well he may on this day!"

"Why on this day?"

"Dost thou not know that he is childless?"

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

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

"And did not they make due search?"

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

"Did not they try the 'question,' the 'peine forte et dure?'"

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

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

"Nought, my lord."

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

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

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

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

"How many in number?"

"About twenty."

"Where are they?"

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

"Canst thou make out their cognisance?"

"The light doth not serve."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

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

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


"Hail, smiling morn,

That tips the hills with gold."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But you fought against the Norman."

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

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

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

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

Just then a rustling in the branches attracted their attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


"It was a stag, a stag of ten,

Bearing his branches sturdily."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the old man restrained the youth.

At length they heard such words as these—

"He cannot be far off."

"He is hidden amongst the reeds."

"Turn in the dogs."

"They have tasted blood and are useless."

"Fire the reeds."

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

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

"Look! They have fired the reeds."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"He has escaped the other side."

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

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

"They will do their best."

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

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

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

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

"The deer-slayer lurketh within."

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

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

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

"They had tasted blood, my lord."

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

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

"It was a stag of ten branches."

"And he gave us good sport."

"We will hang his slayer in his honour."

"A fine acorn for a lusty oak."

"When we catch him."

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

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

"Has anybody got a rope?"

"Has anybody found the poacher?"

A general laugh.

"Silence, listen."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It can be endured no longer!"

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

"But to lay hands upon two anointed prelates."

"The Bishops of Sarum and Lincoln."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A loud shout of exultation.

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

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

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

"Ye have no proof that we have offended."

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

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

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

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

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

"And meanwhile fire the house."

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


"What shall he have who killed the deer?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Whose serfs are ye?"

"We were never in bondage to any man."

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

"Time will deliver them."

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

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

"Your names?"

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

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

"He is my grandson."

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

"The pathless morass concealed us."

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