Mars the Red: referring to the ruddy colour of the planet, to which was doubtless due the transference to it of the name of the God of War. Either the building was sixty paces high; or, more probably, there were sixty of the steps or benches. Yellow goldes: The sunflower, turnsol, or girasol, which turns with and seems to watch the sun, as a jealous lover his mistress.
It need not be said that Chaucer pays slight heed to chronology in this passage, where the deeds of Turnus, the glory of King Solomon, and the fate of Croesus are made memories of the far past in the time of fabulous Theseus, the Minotaur-slayer. Champartie: divided power or possession; an old law-term, signifying the maintenance of a person in a law suit on the condition of receiving part of the property in dispute, if recovered.
The picke-purse: The plunderers that followed armies, and gave to war a horror all their own. The shippes hoppesteres: The meaning is dubious. Puella and Rubeus were two figures in geomancy, representing two constellations-the one signifying Mars retrograde, the other Mars direct. Calistope: or Callisto, daughter of Lycaon, seduced by Jupiter, turned into a bear by Diana, and placed afterwards, with her son, as the Great Bear among the stars.
Dane: Daphne, daughter of the river-god Peneus, in Thessaly; she was beloved by Apollo, but to avoid his pursuit, she was, at her own prayer, changed into a laurel-tree. As the goddess of Light, or the goddess who brings to light, Diana — as well as Juno — was invoked by women in childbirth: so Horace, Odes iii.
When Robert Bruce had escaped from England to assume the Scottish crown, he stabbed Comyn before the altar at Dumfries; and, emerging from the church, was asked by his friend Kirkpatrick if he had slain the traitor. In her hour: in the hour of the day two hours before daybreak which after the astrological system that divided the twenty-four among the seven ruling planets, was under the influence of Venus. Adon: Adonis, a beautiful youth beloved of Venus, whose death by the tusk of a boar she deeply mourned. The third hour unequal: In the third planetary hour; Palamon had gone forth in the hour of Venus, two hours before daybreak; the hour of Mercury intervened; the third hour was that of Luna, or Diana.
See the quotation from Horace, note Made an O: Ho! Heart-spoon: The concave part of the breast, where the lower ribs join the cartilago ensiformis. He through the thickest of the throng etc.. With sluttery beard, and ruggy ashy hairs: With neglected beard, and rough hair strewn with ashes. Emily applied the funeral torch. With the Greeks, however, their augurs facing the north, it was just the contrary.
But I say not therefore that thou art one; There be full goode wives many one. Why art thou angry with my tale now? Blame not me, if that ye choose amiss. Pilate, an unpopular personage in the mystery-plays of the middle ages, was probably represented as having a gruff, harsh voice. With him there was dwelling a poor scholer, Had learned art, but all his fantasy Was turned for to learn astrology.
A brooch she bare upon her low collere, As broad as is the boss of a bucklere. Now was there of that church a parish clerk, The which that was y-cleped Absolon. She was so proper, and sweet, and likerous. That of no wife took he none offering; For courtesy he said he woulde none. From day to day this jolly Absolon So wooeth her, that him is woebegone. He waketh all the night, and all the day, To comb his lockes broad, and make him gay. But what availeth him as in this case? How may ye sleepen all the longe day?
An hole he found full low upon the board, Where as the cat was wont in for to creep, And at that hole he looked in full deep, And at the last he had of him a sight. But yet, by Saint Thomas! And shall she drench? This asketh haste, and of an hasty thing Men may not preach or make tarrying. Go now thy way, and speed thee hereabout. How, John? Go now thy way, I have no longer space To make of this no longer sermoning: Men say thus: Send the wise, and say nothing: Thou art so wise, it needeth thee nought teach.
Go, save our lives, and that I thee beseech. Help us to scape, or we be dead each one. I am thy true and very wedded wife; Go, deare spouse, and help to save our life. Men may die of imagination, So deeply may impression be take. And friars in the chancel went to sing. And dwellen at the Grange a day or two: For he is wont for timber for to go, Or else he is at his own house certain. When he was ware of this, Aback he start, and thought it was amiss; For well he wist a woman hath no beard.
Absolon, what? I warrant him a thief.
Off went the skin an handbreadth all about. But stand he must unto his owen harm, For when he spake, he was anon borne down With Hendy Nicholas and Alisoun. The folk gan laughen at his phantasy. With oathes great he was so sworn adown, That he was holden wood in all the town.
Almagest: The book of Ptolemy the astronomer, which formed the canon of astrological science in the middle ages. Harow and Alas: Haro! His shoes were ornamented like the windows of St. Shot window: A projecting or bow window, whence it was possible shoot at any one approaching the door. Parish-clerks, like Absolon, had leading parts in the mysteries or religious plays; Herod was one of these parts, which may have been an object of competition among the amateurs of the period.
Saint Frideswide was the patroness of a considerable priory at Oxford, and held there in high repute. Shem and his brothers got her shipped by main force; and Noah, coming forward to welcome her, was greeted with a box on the ear. The two lines within brackets are not in most of the editions: they are taken from Urry; whether he supplied them or not, they serve the purpose of a necessary explanation.
Gay girl: As applied to a young woman of light manners, this euphemistic phrase has enjoyed a wonderful vitality. He had more tow on his distaff: a proverbial saying: he was playing a deeper game, had more serious business on hand. The stream of life now droppeth on the chimb. It were high time thy tale to begin. Right in his churlish termes will I speak, I pray to God his necke might to-break. He can well in mine eye see a stalk, But in his own he cannot see a balk. With olde folk, save dotage, is no more: Dotage is all that is left them; that is, they can only dwell fondly, dote, on the past.
Half past prime: half-way between prime and tierce; about half-past seven in the morning. A thief he was, for sooth, of corn and meal, And that a sly, and used well to steal. With her he gave full many a pan of brass, For that Simkin should in his blood ally. One daughter hadde they betwixt them two Of twenty year, withouten any mo, Saving a child that was of half year age, In cradle it lay, and was a proper page.
Therefore he would his holy blood honour Though that he holy Churche should devour. For theretofore he stole but courteously, But now he was a thief outrageously. This Alein he made ready all his gear, And on a horse the sack he cast anon: Forth went Alein the clerk, and also John, With good sword and with buckler by their side. What will ye do while that it is in hand? Lo where they go! Weary and wet, as beastes in the rain, Comes silly John, and with him comes Alein. Mine house is strait, but ye have learned art; Ye can by arguments maken a place A mile broad, of twenty foot of space.
Let see now if this place may suffice, Or make it room with speech, as is your guise.
S. Thompson. Motif-index of folk-literature
I have heard say, man shall take of two things, Such as he findes, or such as he brings. This miller to the town his daughter send For ale and bread, and roasted them a goose, And bound their horse, he should no more go loose: And them in his own chamber made a bed. Aboute midnight went they all to rest. The cradle at her beddes feet was set, To rock, and eke to give the child to suck.
There was no more; needed them no dwale. The wenche routed eke for company. Heardest thou ever such a song ere now? And up he rose, and by the wench he crept. This wenche lay upright, and fast she slept, Till he so nigh was, ere she might espy, That it had been too late for to cry: And, shortly for to say, they were at one.
Now play, Alein, for I will speak of John. Benedicite, then had I foul y-sped. This jolly life have these two clerkes had, Till that the thirde cock began to sing. The day is come, I may no longer bide, But evermore, where so I go or ride, I is thine owen clerk, so have I hele. And goode leman, God thee save and keep.
I die. The incidents of this tale were much relished in the Middle Ages, and are found under various forms. Soler Hall: the hall or college at Cambridge with the gallery or upper storey; supposed to have been Clare Hall. Manciple: steward; provisioner of the hall. See also note 47 to the prologue to the Tales. Chaucer has given the scholars a dialect that may have belonged to either district, although it more immediately suggests the more northern of the two. Transcribers note: later commentators have identified it with a now vanished village near Kirknewton in Northumberland.
Ferly: strange. Holy cross of Bromeholm: A common adjuration at that time; the cross or rood of the priory of Bromholm, in Norfolk, was said to contain part of the real cross and therefore held in high esteem. That they have eaten in thy stubble goose: For in thy shop doth many a fly go loose. Jack of Dover: an article of cookery. It may be remembered that each pilgrim was bound to tell two stories; one on the way to Canterbury, the other returning.
He was as full of love and paramour, As is the honeycomb of honey sweet; Well was the wenche that with him might meet. Cheapside, where jousts were sometimes held, and which was the great scene of city revels and processions. Now for the love of God and of Saint John Lose no time, as farforth as ye may.
Lordings, the time wasteth night and day, And steals from us, what privily sleeping, And what through negligence in our waking, As doth the stream, that turneth never again, Descending from the mountain to the plain. Well might Senec, and many a philosopher, Bewaile time more than gold in coffer. Let us not moulde thus in idleness. Behest is debt, and I would hold it fain, All my behest; I can no better sayn. For such law as a man gives another wight, He should himselfe usen it by right.
Why should I telle them, since they he told? But of my tale how shall I do this day? It is characteristic that the somewhat pompous Sergeant of Law should couch his assent in the semi-barbarous French, then familiar in law procedure. Not the Muses, who had their surname from the place near Mount Olympus where the Thracians first worshipped them; but the nine daughters of Pierus, king of Macedonia, whom he called the nine Muses, and who, being conquered in a contest with the genuine sisterhood, were changed into birds.
O scatheful harm, condition of poverty, With thirst, with cold, with hunger so confounded; To aske help thee shameth in thine hearte; If thou none ask, so sore art thou y-wounded, That very need unwrappeth all thy wound hid. Hearken what is the sentence of the wise: Better to die than to have indigence. If thou be poor, thy brother hateth thee, And all thy friendes flee from thee, alas! But that a merchant, gone in many a year, Me taught a tale, which ye shall after hear.
For in the starres, clearer than is glass, Is written, God wot, whoso could it read, The death of every man withoute dread. In starres many a winter therebeforn Was writ the death of Hector, Achilles, Of Pompey, Julius, ere they were born; The strife of Thebes; and of Hercules, Of Samson, Turnus, and of Socrates The death; but mennes wittes be so dull, That no wight can well read it at the full.
What needeth greater dilatation? The same accord is sworn on either side; Now, fair Constance, Almighty God thee guide! Bishops be shapen with her for to wend, Lordes, ladies, and knightes of renown, And other folk enough, this is the end. Imprudent emperor of Rome, alas! Was there no philosopher in all thy town?
They sworen and assented every man To live with her and die, and by her stand: And every one, in the best wise he can, To strengthen her shall all his friendes fand. O serpent under femininity, Like to the serpent deep in hell y-bound! O feigned woman, all that may confound Virtue and innocence, through thy malice, Is bred in thee, as nest of every vice! O Satan envious! The Soudan came himself soon after this, So royally, that wonder is to tell, And welcomed her with all joy and bliss.
And thus in mirth and joy I let them dwell. The time is come that this old Soudaness Ordained hath the feast of which I told, And to the feast the Christian folk them dress In general, yea, bothe young and old. There may men feast and royalty behold, And dainties more than I can you devise; But all too dear they bought it ere they rise. This olde Soudaness, this cursed crone, Had with her friendes done this cursed deed, For she herself would all the country lead.
Men mighten aske, why she was not slain? Eke at the feast who might her body save? Well may men know, it was no wight but he That kept the Hebrew people from drowning, With drye feet throughout the sea passing. Soothly the commander of that was he That from the tempest aye this woman kept, As well when she awoke as when she slept. Where might this woman meat and drinke have? She said, she was so mazed in the sea, That she forgot her minde, by her truth. For very woe her wit was all away. Constance, thou has no champion, Nor fighte canst thou not, so well-away!
So stood Constance, and looked her about. Her thought her cursed heart would burst in two; She would not that her son had done so; Her thought it a despite that he should take So strange a creature unto his make. What should I tellen of the royalty Of this marriage, or which course goes beforn, Who bloweth in a trump or in an horn? The fruit of every tale is for to say; They eat and drink, and dance, and sing, and play. The time is come, a knave child she bare; Mauricius at the font-stone they him call.
So full of sin is many a creature. Wept bothe young and old in all that place, When that the king this cursed letter sent; And Constance, with a deadly pale face, The fourthe day toward her ship she went. The hand was known that had the letter wrote, And all the venom of the cursed deed; But in what wise, certainly I know not. The sorrow that this Alla night and day Made for his wife, and for his child also, There is no tongue that it telle may.
Under an heathen castle, at the last, Of which the name in my text I not find, Constance and eke her child the sea upcast. O foul lust of luxury! How may this weake woman have the strength Her to defend against this renegate? O Goliath, unmeasurable of length, How mighte David make thee so mate?
Who gave Judith courage or hardiness To slay him, Holofernes, in his tent, And to deliver out of wretchedness The people of God? I say for this intent That right as God spirit of vigour sent To them, and saved them out of mischance, So sent he might and vigour to Constance. This senator repaired with victory To Rome-ward, sailing full royally, And met the ship driving, as saith the story, In which Constance sat full piteously: And nothing knew he what she was, nor why She was in such array; nor she will say Of her estate, although that she should dey.
He brought her unto Rome, and to his wife He gave her, and her younge son also: And with the senator she led her life. And, after noon, home with the senator. Went Alla, for to see this wondrous chance. This senator did Alla great honor, And hastily he sent after Constance: But truste well, her liste not to dance.
I pray you all my labour to release, I may not tell all their woe till to-morrow, I am so weary for to speak of sorrow. Who can the piteous joye tellen all, Betwixt them three, since they be thus y-met? But of my tale make an end I shall, The day goes fast, I will no longer let. In the prologue, the references to the stories of Canace, and of Apollonius Tyrius, seem to be an attack on Gower, who had given these tales in his book; whence Tyrwhitt concludes that the friendship between the two poets suffered some interruption in the latter part of their lives.
Gower was not the inventor of the story, which he found in old French romances, and it is not improbable that Chaucer may have gone to the same source as Gower, though the latter undoubtedly led the way. According to Middle Age writers there were two motions of the first heaven; one everything always from east to west above the stars; the other moving the stars against the first motion, from west to east, on two other poles.
Him and her on which thy limbes faithfully extend: those who in faith wear the crucifix. The four spirits of tempest: the four angels who held the four winds of the earth and to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea Rev. But that I aske, why the fifthe man Was not husband to the Samaritan?
How many might she have in marriage? Eke well I wot, he said, that mine husband Should leave father and mother, and take to me; But of no number mention made he, Of bigamy or of octogamy; Why then should men speak of it villainy? Welcome the sixth whenever that he shall. For since I will not keep me chaste in all, When mine husband is from the world y-gone, Some Christian man shall wedde me anon. I pray you tell it me; Or where commanded he virginity? Paul durste not commanden, at the least, A thing of which his Master gave no hest.
God calleth folk to him in sundry wise, And each one hath of God a proper gift, Some this, some that, as liketh him to shift. Glose whoso will, and say both up and down, That they were made for the purgatioun Of urine, and of other thinges smale, And eke to know a female from a male: And for none other cause?
Experience wot well it is not so. Then were they made upon a creature To purge urine, and eke for engendrure. I was about to wed a wife, alas! Now, Sirs, then will I tell you forth my tale. The bacon was not fetched for them, I trow, That some men have in Essex at Dunmow. Is she so fair? And yet also of our prentice Jenkin, For his crisp hair, shining as gold so fine, And for he squireth me both up and down, Yet hast thou caught a false suspicioun: I will him not, though thou wert dead to-morrow. I trow thou wouldest lock me in thy chest.
And yet, — with sorrow! Thou likenest it also to wild fire; The more it burns, the more it hath desire To consume every thing that burnt will be. O Lord! For all such wit is given us at birth; Deceit, weeping, and spinning, God doth give To women kindly, while that they may live. Ye be to blame, by God, I say you sooth. Now will I speaken of my fourth husband. Metellius, the foule churl, the swine, That with a staff bereft his wife of life For she drank wine, though I had been his wife, Never should he have daunted me from drink: And, after wine, of Venus most I think.
For all so sure as cold engenders hail, A liquorish mouth must have a liquorish tail. But age, alas! The flour is gon, there is no more to tell, The bran, as I best may, now must I sell. But yet to be right merry will I fand. By God, in earth I was his purgatory, For which I hope his soul may be in glory. For, God it wot, he sat full oft and sung, When that his shoe full bitterly him wrung. It is but waste to bury them preciously. Let him fare well, God give his soule rest, He is now in his grave and in his chest. Now of my fifthe husband will I tell: God let his soul never come into hell.
Whatever thing we may not lightly have, Thereafter will we cry all day and crave. Forbid us thing, and that desire we; Press on us fast, and thenne will we flee. She knew my heart, and all my privity, Bet than our parish priest, so may I the. He woulde suffer nothing of my list. I hate them that my vices telle me, And so do more of us God wot than I.
And every night and day was his custume When he had leisure and vacation From other worldly occupation To readen in this book of wicked wives. He knew of them more legends and more lives Than be of goodde wives in the Bible. Who painted the lion, tell it me, who? Mercury loveth wisdom and science, And Venus loveth riot and dispence. But now to purpose, why I tolde thee That I was beaten for a book, pardie. Lo here express of women may ye find That woman was the loss of all mankind. Then read he me how Samson lost his hairs Sleeping, his leman cut them with her shears, Through whiche treason lost he both his eyen.
Then read he me, if that I shall not lien, Of Hercules, and of his Dejanire, That caused him to set himself on fire. Nothing forgot he of the care and woe That Socrates had with his wives two; How Xantippe cast piss upon his head. Of Clytemnestra, for her lechery That falsely made her husband for to die, He read it with full good devotion. Of Luna told he me, and of Lucie; They bothe made their husbands for to die, That one for love, that other was for hate.
And therewithal he knew of more proverbs, Than in this world there groweth grass or herbs. Better quoth he high in the roof abide, Than with an angry woman in the house, They be so wicked and contrarious: They hate that their husbands loven aye. Ere I be dead, yet will I kisse thee. I made him burn his book anon right tho. God help me so, I was to him as kind As any wife from Denmark unto Ind, And also true, and so was he to me: I pray to God that sits in majesty So bless his soule, for his mercy dear.
Now will I say my tale, if ye will hear. At Dunmow prevailed the custom of giving, amid much merry making, a flitch of bacon to the married pair who had lived together for a year without quarrel or regret. The same custom prevailed of old in Bretagne. Gat-toothed: gap-toothed; goat-toothed; or cat- or separate toothed. See note 41 to the prologue to the Tales. The Children of Mercury and Venus: those born under the influence of the respective planets. She swore him, nay, for all the world to win, She would not do that villainy or sin, To make her husband have so foul a name: She would not tell it for her owen shame.
Now is mine heart all whole; now is it out; I might no longer keep it, out of doubt. The remnant of the tale, if ye will hear, Read in Ovid, and there ye may it lear. This knight, of whom my tale is specially, When that he saw he might not come thereby, That is to say, what women love the most, Within his breast full sorrowful was his ghost.
Paraventure it may the better be: These olde folk know muche thing. Full many a noble wife, and many a maid, And many a widow, for that they be wise, — The queen herself sitting as a justice, — Assembled be, his answer for to hear, And afterward this knight was bid appear. To every wight commanded was silence, And that the knight should tell in audience, What thing that worldly women love the best. This is your most desire, though ye me kill, Do as you list, I am here at your will. And with that word up start that olde wife Which that the knight saw sitting on the green.
I taughte this answer unto this knight, For which he plighted me his trothe there, The firste thing I would of him requere, He would it do, if it lay in his might. I know right well that such was my behest. But all for nought; the end is this, that he Constrained was, that needs he muste wed, And take this olde wife, and go to bed.
Is this the law of king Arthoures house? Is every knight of his thus dangerous? Why fare ye thus with me this firste night? Ye fare like a man had lost his wit.
What is my guilt? He that coveteth is a poore wight For he would have what is not in his might But he that nought hath, nor coveteth to have, Is rich, although ye hold him but a knave. Now there ye say that I am foul and old, Then dread ye not to be a cokewold. But natheless, since I know your delight, I shall fulfil your wordly appetite.
How to Use This Resource
Now choose yourselfe whether that you liketh. And eke I pray Jesus to short their lives, That will not be governed by their wives. It is not clear whence Chaucer derived this tale. Chaucer has condensed and otherwise improved the fable, especially by laying the scene, not in Sicily, but at the court of our own King Arthur. Where he had been hawking after waterfowl. Claw us on the gall: Scratch us on the sore place. Odibile bonum; sanitas mater; remotio Curarum; sapientae repertrix; negotium sine damno; possessio absque calumnia; sine sollicitudinae felicitas.
A hateful good; a mother of health; a putting away of cares; a discoverer of wisdom; business without injury; ownership without calumny; happiness without anxiety. The ill-humour which shows itself between these two characters is quite natural, as no two professions at that time were at more constant variance. The regular clergy, and particularly the mendicant friars, affected a total exemption from all ecclesiastical jurisdiction, except that of the Pope, which made them exceedingly obnoxious to the bishops and of course to all the inferior officers of the national hierarchy.
And so befell, that once upon a day. He durste not for very filth and shame Say that he was a Sompnour, for the name. I am unknowen, as in this country. Of thine acquaintance I will praye thee, And eke of brotherhood, if that thee list. Right in this meane while This yeoman gan a little for to smile. I am a fiend, my dwelling is in hell, And here I ride about my purchasing, To know where men will give me any thing.
I weened ye were a yeoman truly. As most is able our prey for to take. And if that any of us have more than other, Let him be true, and part it with his brother. Now is my cart out of the slough, pardie. Here may ye see, mine owen deare brother, The churl spake one thing, but he thought another. Let us go forth abouten our voyage; Here win I nothing upon this carriage. As for to give a penny of her good. But for thou canst not, as in this country, Winne thy cost, take here example of me.
Come off, and let me ride hastily; Give me twelvepence, I may no longer tarry. Unto the devil rough and black of hue Give I thy body and my pan also. And with that word the foule fiend him hent. Hearken this word, beware as in this case. Disposen aye your heartes to withstond The fiend that would you make thrall and bond; He may not tempte you over your might, For Christ will be your champion and your knight; And pray, that this our Sompnour him repent Of his misdeeds ere that the fiend him hent.
Small tithers: people who did not pay their full tithes. There might astert them no pecunial pain: they got off with no mere pecuniary punishment. Ribibe: the name of a musical instrument; applied to an old woman because of the shrillness of her voice. Wariangles: butcher-birds; which are very noisy and ravenous, and tear in pieces the birds on which they prey; the thorn on which they do this was said to become poisonous. Liart: grey; elsewhere applied by Chaucer to the hairs of an old man.
Trot; a contemptuous term for an old woman who has trotted about much, or who moves with quick short steps. In less than half a furlong way of space: immediately; literally, in less time than it takes to walk half a furlong yards. Lordings, there is in Yorkshire, as I guess, A marshy country called Holderness, In which there went a limitour about To preach, and eke to beg, it is no doubt. I saw you not this fortenight and more. And there I saw our dame; where is she? I will go thereabout. I am a man of little sustenance. The cleanness and the fasting of us freres Maketh that Christ accepteth our prayeres.
From Paradise first, if I shall not lie, Was man out chased for his gluttony, And chaste was man in Paradise certain. I them defy. What needest thou diverse friars to seech? Your inconstance is your confusioun. Hold ye then me, or elles our convent, To praye for you insufficient? Nay, nay, Thomas, it may no thing be so. What is a farthing worth parted on twelve? There is no wine bereaveth me my might Of hand, nor foot, nor of mine eyen sight. Hath wine bereaved me mine eyen sight?
His son was slain, there is no more to say. Needeth no more to speak of it, saith he, But if me list of mine humility. For whoso from this world would us bereave, So God me save, Thomas, by your leave, He would bereave out of this world the sun For who can teach and worken as we conne? Now, Thomas, help for sainte charity.
Friar John, what manner world is this? I see well that there something is amiss; Ye look as though the wood were full of thieves. Who shoulde make a demonstration, That every man should have alike his part As of the sound and savour of a fart? To every man alike?
It is impossible, it may not be. Now eat your meat, and let the churl go play, Let him go hang himself a devil way! The lord, the lady, and each man, save the frere, Saide, that Jankin spake in this mattere As well as Euclid, or as Ptolemy. If you have small children, or if you are only 3 people, you can take the leftovers to the office the next day to enjoy as lunch. We chose not to include desserts because most of us simply eat a piece of fruit or perhaps some ice cream after dinner; and many of us like to leave our sweeter indulgences for the weekends.
View the interview here. Listen here. Read the interview here. Another great novel from a master storyteller, says the Associated Press. Read the review here. Baldacci may be an old hand at this but his grasp has never been stronger. View the segment here. Alfred is at Chippenham. Thither let us ride at speed. Their bands were mustered, their arms examined, and food for the expedition prepared, and then to horse and away!
Headlong over the narrow and forest-bordered roads of that day rode the host of Danes, in triumphant expectation of victory and spoil. In his study sat Alfred, on the night of January 6, poring over an illuminated page; or mayhap he was deep in learned consultation with some monkish scholar, mayhap presiding at a feast of his thanes: we may fancy what we will, for history or legend fails to tell us how he was engaged on that critical evening of his life. But we may imagine a wide-eyed Saxon sentinel, seared and hasty, breaking upon the monarch's leisure with the wild alarm-cry,—.
Hardly had he spoken before the hoof-beats of the advancing foe were heard. On they came, extending their lines as they rode at headlong speed, hoping to surround the villa and seize the king before the alarm could be given. They were too late. Alfred was quick to hear, to heed, and to act.
Forest bordered the villa; into the forest he dashed, his followers following in tumultuous haste. The Danes made what haste the obstructions in their way permitted. In a few minutes they had swept round the villa, with ringing shouts of triumph. In a few minutes more they were treading its deserted halls, Guthrum at their head, furious to find that his hoped-for prey had vanished and left him but the empty shell of his late home. This place is full of signs of life.
He has fled into the forest. After him! A king's prize for the man who seizes him. In vain their search, the flying king knew his own woods too well to be overtaken by the Danes. Yet their far cries filled his ears, and roused him to thoughts of desperate resistance. He looked around on his handful of valiant followers. Let us meet these baying hounds!
They are twenty—a hundred, mayhap—to our one. Let us fly now, that we may fight hereafter. All is not lost while our king is free, and we to aid him. Alfred was quick to see the wisdom of this advice. He must bide his time. To strike now might be to lose all. To wait might be to gain all. He turned with a meaning look to his faithful thanes.
We must part here. The land for the time is the Danes'. We cannot hinder them. They will search homestead and woodland for me. Before a fortnight's end they will have swarmed over all Wessex, and Guthrum will be lord of the land. I admire that man; he is more than a barbarian, he knows the art of war. He shall learn yet that Alfred is his match. We must part. There are not enough of you to help me; there are enough to betray me to suspicion. Go your ways, good friends. Save yourselves. We will meet again before many weeks to strike a blow for our country.
But the time is not yet. History speaks not from the depths of that wood [Pg 25] land whither Alfred had fled with his thanes. We cannot say if just these words were spoken, but such was the purport of their discourse. They separated, the thanes and their followers to seek their homes; Alfred, disguised as a peasant, to thread field and forest on foot towards a place of retreat which he had fixed upon in his mind.
Not even to the faithfulest of his thanes did he tell the secret of his abode. For the present it must be known to none but himself. Meanwhile, the cavalry of Guthrum were raiding the country far and wide. Alfred had escaped, but England lay helpless in their grasp. News travelled slowly in those days. Everywhere the Saxons first learned of the war by hearing the battle-cry of the Danes. The land was overrun.
England seemed lost. Its only hope of safety lay in a man who would not acknowledge defeat, a monarch who could bide his time. The lonely journey of the king led him to the centre of Somersetshire. Here, at the confluence of the Tone and the Parret, was a small island, afterwards known as Ethelingay, or Prince's Island.
Around it spread a wide morass, little likely to be crossed by his pursuers. Here, still disguised, the fugitive king sought a refuge from his foes. For several months Alfred remained in this retreat, his place of refuge during part of the time being in the hut of a swineherd; and thereupon hangs a tale. Whether or not the worthy herdsman knew his king, certainly the weighty secret was not [Pg 26] known to his wife. One day, while Alfred sat by the fire, his hands busy with his bow and arrows, his head mayhap busy with plans against the Danes, the good woman of the house was engaged in baking cakes on the hearth.
Having to leave the hut for a few minutes, she turned to her guest, and curtly bade him watch the cakes, to see that they did not get overdone. She left the room. The cakes smoked on the hearth, yet he saw them not. The goodwife returned in a brief space, to find her guest buried in a deep study, and her cakes burned to a cinder. What the king said in reply the tradition which has preserved this pleasant tale fails to relate. Doubtless it needed some of the swineherd's eloquence to induce his irate wife to bake a fresh supply for their careless guest.
It had been Guthrum's main purpose, as we may be assured, in his rapid ride to Chippenham, to seize the king. In this he had failed; but the remainder of his project went successfully forward. Through Dorset, Berkshire, Wilts, and Hampshire rode his men, forcing the people everywhere to submit. The country was thinly settled, none knew the fate of the king, resistance would have been [Pg 27] destruction, they bent before the storm, hoping by yielding to save their lives and some portion of their property from the barbarian foe.
Those near the coast crossed with their families and movable effects to Gaul. Elsewhere submission was general, except in Somersetshire, where alone a body of faithful warriors, lurking in the woods, kept in arms against the invaders. Alfred's secret could not yet be safely revealed. Guthrum had not given over his search for him.
Yet some of the more trusty of his subjects were told where he might be found, and a small band joined him in his morass-guarded isle. Gradually the news spread, and others sought the isle of Ethelingay, until a well-armed and sturdy band of followers surrounded the royal fugitive. This party must be fed. The island yielded little subsistence. The king was obliged to make foraging raids from his hiding-place. Now and then he met and defeated straggling parties of Danes, taking from them their spoils.
At other times, when hard need pressed, he was forced to forage on his own subjects. Day by day the news went wider through Saxon homes, and more warriors sought their king. As the strength of his band increased, Alfred made more frequent and successful forays. The Danes began to find that resistance was not at an end. By Easter the king felt strong enough to take a more decided action. He had a wooden bridge thrown from the island to the shore, to facilitate the movements of his followers, while at its entrance [Pg 28] was built a fort, to protect the island party against a Danish incursion.
Such was the state of Alfred's fortunes and of England's hopes in the spring of Three months before, all southern England, with the exception of Gloucester and its surrounding lands, had been his. Now his kingdom was a small island in the heart of a morass, his subjects a lurking band of faithful warriors, his subsistence what could be wrested from the strong hands of the foe. While matters went thus in Somerset, a storm of war gathered in Wales. Another of Ragnar's sons, Ubbo by name, had landed on the Welsh coast, and, carrying everything before him, was marching inland to join his victorious brother.
He was too strong for the Saxons of that quarter to make head against him in the open field. Odun, the valiant ealderman who led them, fled, with his thanes and their followers, to the castle of Kwineth, a stronghold defended only by a loose wall of stones, in the Saxon fashion. But the fortress occupied the summit of a lofty rock, and bade defiance to assault.
Ubbo saw this. He saw, also, that water must be wanting on that steep rock. He pitched his tents at its foot, and waited till thirst should compel a surrender of the garrison. He was to find that it is not always wise to cut off the supplies of a beleaguered foe. Despair aids courage. A day came in the siege in which Odun, grown desperate, left his defences before dawn, glided silently down the hill with his men, and fell [Pg 29] so impetuously upon the Danish host that the chief and twelve hundred of his followers were slain, and the rest driven in panic to their ships.
The camp, rich with the spoil of Wales, fell into the victors' hands, while their trophies included the great Raven standard of the Danes, said to have been woven in one noontide by Ragnar's three daughters. This was a loss that presaged defeat to the Danes, for they were superstitious concerning this standard. If the raven appeared to flap its wings when going into battle, victory seemed to them assured. If it hung motionless, defeat was feared. Its loss must have been deemed fatal. Tidings of this Saxon victory flew as if upon wings throughout England, and everywhere infused new spirit into the hearts of the people, new hope of recovering their country from the invading foe.
To Alfred the news brought a heart-tide of joy. The time for action was at hand. Recruits came to him daily; fresh life was in his people; trusty messengers from Ethelingay sought the thanes throughout the land, and bade them, with their followers, to join the king at Egbert, on the eastern border of Selwood forest, in the seventh week after Easter. Guthrum, meanwhile, was not idle. The frequent raids in mid-Somersetshire had taught him where his royal enemy might be found. Action, immediate and decisive, was necessary, or Alfred would be again in the field with a Saxon army, and the fruits of the successful midwinter raid be lost.
Messengers were sent in haste to call in the scattered [Pg 30] Danish bands, and a fortified camp was formed in a strong place in the vicinity of Ethelingay, whence a concerted movement might be made upon the lurking foe. The time fixed for the gathering of the Saxon host was at hand. It was of high importance that the numbers and disposition of the Danes should be learned. The king, if we may trust tradition, now undertook an adventure that has ever since been classed among the choicest treasures of romance.
The duty demanded was too important to trust to any doubtful hands. Alfred determined himself to venture within the camp of the Danes, observe how they were fortified and how arranged, and use this vital information when the time for battle came. The enterprise was less desperate than might seem. Alfred's form and face were little known to his enemies. He was a skilful harper. The glee-man in those days was a privileged person, allied to no party, free to wander where he would, and to twang his harp-strings in any camp.
He might look for welcome from friend and foe. Dressed in Danish garb, and bearing the minstrel's harp, the daring king boldly sought and entered the camp of the invaders, his coming greeted with joy by the Danish warriors, who loved martial music as they loved war. Songs of Danish prowess fell from the disguised minstrel's lips, to the delight of his audience. In the end Guthrum and his chiefs heard report of the [Pg 31] coming of this skilled glee-man, and ordered that he should be brought to the great tent, where they sat carousing, in hopeful anticipation of coming victory.
Alfred, nothing loath, sought Guthrum's tent, where, with stirring songs of the old heroes of their land, he flattered the ears of the chiefs, who applauded him to the echo, and at times broke into wild refrains to his warlike odes. All that passed we cannot say. The story is told by tradition only, and tradition is not to be trusted for details. Doubtless, when the royal spy slipped from the camp of his foes he bore with him an accurate mind-picture of the numbers, the discipline, and the arrangement of the Danish force, which would be of the highest value in the coming fray.
Meanwhile, the Saxon hosts were gathering. When the day fixed by the king arrived they were there: men from Hampshire, Wiltshire, Devonshire, and Somerset; men in smaller numbers from other counties; all glad to learn that England was on its feet again, all filled with joy to see their king in the field. Their shouts filled the leafy alleys of the forest, they hailed the king as the land's avenger, every heart beat high with assurance of victory. Before night of the day of meeting the woodland camp was overcrowded with armed men, and at dawn of the next day Alfred led them to a place named Icglea, where, on the forest's edge, a broad plain spread with a morass on its front.
All day long volunteers came to the camp; by night Alfred had an army in open field, in place of the guerilla [Pg 32] band with which, two days before, he had lurked in the green aisles of Selwood forest, like a Robin Hood of an earlier day, making the verdant depths of the greenwood dales his home. At dawn of the next day the king marshalled his men in battle array, and occupied the summit of Ethandune, a lofty eminence in the vicinity of his camp. The Danes, fiery with barbaric valor, boldly advanced, and the two armies met in fierce affray, shouting their war-cries, discharging arrows and hurling javelins, and rushing like wolves of war to the closer and more deadly hand-to-hand combat of sword and axe, of the shock of the contending forces, the hopes and fears of victory and defeat, the deeds of desperate valor, the mighty achievements of noted chiefs, on that hard-fought field no Homer has sung, and they must remain untold.
All we know is that the Danes fought with desperate valor, the English with a courage inspired by revenge, fear of slavery, thirst for liberty, and the undaunted resolution of men whose every blow was struck for home and fireside. In the end patriotism prevailed over the baser instinct of piracy; the Danes were defeated, and driven in tumultuous hosts to their intrenched camp, falling in multitudes as they fled, for the incensed English laid aside all thought of mercy in the hot fury of pursuit.
Only when within the shelter of his works was Guthrum able to make head against his victorious foe. The camp seemed too strong to be taken by [Pg 33] assault, nor did Alfred care to immolate his men while a safer and surer expedient remained. He had made himself fully familiar with its formation, knew well its weak and strong points and its sparseness of supplies, and without loss of time spread his forces round it, besieging it so closely that not a Dane could escape.
- Plays and Musicals;
- Gods Guide to Wealth;
- The Madhouse?
- Forthcoming Lunchtime Lectures.
- Manual The Tale of Lancasters Folly (Tales of the Word Smith)?
- Lean on Me: Ten Powerful Steps to Moving Beyond Your Diagnosis and Taking Back Your Life?
- How to Protect Your Ideas Before Spending Money on a Patent;
For fourteen days the siege went on, Alfred's army, no doubt, daily increasing, that of his foe wasting away before the ceaseless flight of arrows and javelins. Guthrum was in despair. Famine threatened him. Escape was impossible. Hardly a bird could have fled unseen through the English lines. At the end of the fortnight he yielded, and asked for terms of surrender. The war was at an end. England was saved. In his moment of victory Alfred proved generous. He gave the Danes an abiding-place upon English soil, on condition that they should dwell there as his vassals.
To this they were to bind themselves by oath and the giving of hostages. Another condition was that Guthrum and his leading chiefs should give up their pagan faith and embrace Christianity. To these terms the Danish leader acceded. A few weeks after the fight Aubre, near Athelney, was the scene of the baptizing of Guthrum and thirty of his chiefs. To his heathen title was added the Saxon name of Athelstan, Alfred standing sponsor to the new convert to the Christian faith.
Eight days afterwards Guthrum laid off the white robe and chrysmal fillet of his new faith, and in twelve days bade [Pg 34] adieu to his victorious foe, now, to all seeming, his dearest friend. What sum of Christian faith the baptized heathen took with him to the new lands assigned him it would be rash to say, but at all events he was removed from the circle of England's foes. The treaty of Wedmore freed southern England from the Danes. The shores of Wessex were teased now and then by after-descents, but these incursions were swept away like those of stinging hornets.
In a fleet of three hundred ships invaded the realm, but they met a crushing defeat. The king was given some leisure to pursue those studies to which his mind so strongly inclined, and to carry forward measures for the education of his people by the establishment of schools which, like those of Charlemagne in France, vanished before he was fairly in the grave. This noble knight died in , nearly a thousand years ago, after having proved himself one of the ablest warriors and most advanced minds that ever occupied the English throne. Of all the many fair maidens of the Saxon realm none bore such fame for beauty as the charming Elfrida, daughter of the earl of Devonshire, and the rose of southern England.
She had been educated in the country and had never been seen in London, but the report of her charms of face and person spread so widely that all the land became filled with the tale. It soon reached the court and came to the ears of Edgar, the king, a youthful monarch who had an open ear for all tales of maidenly beauty. He was yet but little more than a boy, was unmarried, and a born lover.
The praises of this country charmer, therefore, stirred his susceptible heart. She was nobly born, the heiress to an earldom, the very rose of English maidens,—what better consort for the throne could be found? If report spoke true, this was the maiden he should choose for wife, this fairest flower of the Saxon realm. But rumor grows apace, and common report is not to be trusted. Edgar thought it the part of discretion to make sure of the beauty of the much-lauded Elfrida before making a formal demand for her hand in marriage.
Devonshire was far away, roads few and poor in Saxon England, travel slow and wearisome, and the king had no taste for the journey to the castle of [Pg 36] Olgar of Devon. Nor did he deem it wise to declare his intention till he made sure that the maiden was to his liking. He, therefore, spoke of his purpose to Earl Athelwold, his favorite, whom he bade to pay a visit, on some pretence, to Earl Olgar of Devonshire, to see his renowned daughter, and to bring to the court a certain account concerning her beauty. Athelwold went to Devonshire, saw the lady, and proved faithless to his trust.
Love made him a traitor, as it has made many before and since his day. So marvellously beautiful he found Elfrida that his heart fell prisoner to the most vehement love, a passion so ardent that it drove all thoughts of honor and fidelity from his soul, and he determined to have this charming lass of Devonshire for his own, despite king or commons. Athelwold's high station had secured him a warm welcome from his brother earl. He acquitted himself of his pretended mission to Olgar, basked as long as prudence permitted in the sunlight of his lady's eyes, and, almost despite himself, made manifest to Elfrida the sudden passion that had filled his soul.
The maiden took it not amiss. Athelwold was young, handsome, rich, and high in station, Elfrida susceptible and ambitious, and he returned to London not without hope that he had favorably impressed the lady's heart, and filled with the faithless purpose of deceiving the king. Has report spoken truly? Is she indeed the marvellous beauty that rumor tells, or has fame, the liar, played us one of his old tricks? Certainly, if she had been of low birth, her charms would never have been heard of outside her native village. Some might go mad over this Elfrida, but to my taste London affords fairer faces.
I speak but for myself. Should you see her you might think differently. Confess, Athelwold, you are trying to overpaint this woman; you found only an ordinary face. I can only speak for myself. As I take it, Elfrida's noble birth and her father's wealth, which will come to [Pg 38] her as sole heiress, have had their share in painting this rose. The woman may have beauty enough for a countess; hardly enough for a queen. I leave her for a lower-born lover. Several days passed.
Athelwold had succeeded in his purpose; the king had evidently been cured of his fancy for Elfrida. The way was open for the next step in his deftly-laid scheme. He took it by turning the conversation, in a later interview, upon the Devon maiden. I must confess that the birth and fortune of the lady added no beauty to her in my eyes, as it seems to have done in those of others; yet I cannot but think that the woman would make a suitable match for me. She is an earl's daughter, and she will inherit great wealth; these are advantages which fairly compensate some lack of beauty.
I have decided, therefore, sire, if I can gain your approbation, to ask Olgar for his daughter's hand. I fancy I can gain her consent if I have his. I will give you letters to the earl and his [Pg 39] lady, recommending the match. You must trust to yourself to make your way with the maiden. What followed few words may tell. The passion of love in Athelwold's heart had driven out all considerations of honor and duty, of the good faith he owed the king, and of the danger of his false and treacherous course. Warm with hope, he returned with a lover's haste to Devonshire, where he gained the approval of the earl and countess, won the hand and seemingly the heart of their beautiful daughter, and was speedily united to the lady of his love, and became for the time being the happiest man in England.
But before the honey-moon was well over, the faithless friend and subject realized that he had a difficult and dangerous part to play. He did not dare let Edgar see his wife, for fear of the instant detection of his artifice, and he employed every pretence to keep her in the country.
His duties at the court brought him frequently to London, but with the skill at excuses he had formerly shown he contrived to satisfy for the time the queries of the king and the importunities of his wife, who had a natural desire to visit the capital and to shine at the king's court. Athelwold was sailing between Scylla and Charybdis. He could scarcely escape being wrecked on the rocks of his own falsehood. The enemies who always surround a royal favorite were not long in [Pg 40] surmising the truth, and lost no time in acquainting Edgar with their suspicions.
Confirmation was not wanting. There were those in London who had seen Elfrida. The king's eyes were opened to the treacherous artifice of which he had been made the victim. Edgar was deeply incensed, but artfully concealed his anger. Reflection, too, told him that these men were Athelwold's enemies, and that the man he had loved and trusted ought not to be condemned on the insinuations of his foes.
He would satisfy himself if his favorite had played the traitor, and if so would visit him with the punishment he deserved. Surely the woman, if she is true woman, must crave to come. The woman is homely and home-loving, and I should be sorry to put new ideas in her rustic pate. Moreover, I fear my little candle would shine too poorly among your courtly stars to offer her in contrast. If you will not bring her here, then I must pay you a visit in your castle; I like you too well not to know and like your wife.
This proposition of the king filled Athelwold with terror and dismay. He grew pale, and hesitatingly sought to dissuade Edgar from his project, but in [Pg 41] vain. The king had made up his mind, and laughingly told him that he could not rest till he had seen the homely housewife whom Athelwold was afraid to trust in court. In all haste the traitor sought his castle, quaking with fear, and revolving in his mind schemes for avoiding the threatened disclosure. He could think of but one that promised success, and that depended on the love and compliance of Elfrida.
He had deceived her. He must tell her the truth. With her aid his faithless action might still be concealed. Entering his castle, he sought Elfrida and revealed to her the whole measure of his deceit, how he had won her from the king, led by his overpowering love, how he had kept her from the king's eyes, and how Edgar now, filled, he feared, with suspicion, was on his way to the castle to see her for himself.
In moving accents the wretched man appealed to her, if she had any regard for his honor and his life, to conceal from the king that fatal beauty which had lured him from his duty to his friend and monarch, and led him into endless falsehoods. He had [Pg 42] but his love to offer as a warrant for his double faithlessness, and implored Elfrida, as she returned his affection, to lend her aid to his exculpation. If she loved him as she seemed, she would put on her homliest attire, employ the devices of the toilette to hide her fatal beauty, and assume an awkward and rustic tone and manner, that the king might be deceived.
Elfrida heard him in silence, her face scarcely concealing the indignation which burned in her soul on learning the artifice by which she had been robbed of a crown. In the end, however, she seemed moved by his entreaties and softened by his love, and promised to comply with his wishes and do her utmost to conceal her charms.
Gratified with this compliance, and full of hope that all would yet be safe, Athelwold completed his preparations for the reception of the king, and met him on his appearance with every show of honor and respect. Edgar seemed pleased by his reception, entered the castle, but was not long there before he asked to see its lady, saying merrily that she had been the loadstone that had drawn him thither, and that he was eager to behold her charming face.
He turned to a servant and bade him ask his mistress to come to the castle hall, where the king expected her. Athelwold waited with hopeful eyes; the king with curious expectation. The husband knew how unattractive a toilet his wife could make if she would; Edgar was impatient to test for himself the various reports he had received concerning this wild rose of Devonshire.
The lady entered. The hope died from Athelwold's eyes; the pallor of death overspread his face. A sudden light flashed into the face of the king, a glow made up of passion and anger. For instead of the ill-dressed and awkward country housewife for whom Athelwold looked, there beamed upon all present a woman of regal beauty, clad in her richest attire, her charms of face and person set off with all the adornment that jewels and laces could bestow, her face blooming into its most engaging smile as she greeted the king.
She had deceived her trusting husband. His story of treachery had driven from her heart all the love for him that ever dwelt there. He had robbed her of a throne; she vowed revenge in her soul; it might be hers yet; with the burning instinct of ambition she had adorned herself to the utmost, hoping to punish her faithless lord and win the king. She succeeded. While Athelwold stood by, biting his lips, striving to bring back the truant blood to his face, making hesitating remarks to his guest, and turning eyes of deadly anger on his wife, the scheming woman was using her most engaging arts of conversation and manner to win the king, [Pg 44] and with a success greater than she knew.
Edgar beheld her beauty with surprise and joy, his heart throbbing with ardent passion. She was all and more than he had been told. Athelwold had basely deceived him, and his new-born love for the wife was mingled with a fierce desire for revenge upon the husband. But the artful monarch dissembled both these passions. He was, to a certain extent, in Athelwold's power.
His train was not large, and those were days in which an angry or jealous thane would not hesitate to lift his hand against a king. He, therefore, affected not to be struck with Elfrida's beauty, was gracious as usual to his host, and seemed the most agreeable of guests. But passion was burning in his heart, the double passion of love and revenge. A day or two of this play of kingly clemency passed, then Athelwold and his guests went to hunt in the neighboring forest, and in the heat of the chase Edgar gained the opportunity he desired.
He stabbed his unsuspecting host in the back, left him dead on the field, and rode back to the castle to declare his love to the suddenly-widowed wife. Elfrida had won the game for which she had so heartlessly played. Ambition in her soul outweighed such love as she bore for Athelwold, and she received with gracious welcome the king whose hands were still red from the murder of her late spouse.
No long time passed before Edgar and Elfrida were publicly married, and the love romance [Pg 45] which had distinguished the life of the famed beauty of Devonshire reached its consummation. This romantic story has a sequel which tells still less favorably for the Devonshire beauty. She had compassed the murder of her husband. It was not her last crime. Edgar died when her son Ethelred was but seven years of age.
The king had left another son, Edward, by his first wife, now fifteen years old. The ambitious woman plotted for the elevation of her son to the throne, hoping, doubtless, herself to reign as regent. The people favored Edward, as the rightful heir, and the nobility and clergy, who feared the imperious temper of Elfrida, determined to thwart her schemes. To put an end to the matter, Dunstan the monk, the all-powerful king-maker of that epoch, had the young prince anointed and crowned.
The whole kingdom supported his act, and the hopes of Elfrida were seemingly at an end. But she was a woman not to be easily defeated. She bided her time, and affected warm regard for the youthful king, who loved her as if he had been her own son, and displayed the most tender affection for his brother. Edward, indeed, was a character out of tone with those rude tenth-century days, when might was right, and murder was often the first step to a throne. He was of the utmost innocence of heart and amiability of manners, so pure in his own thoughts that suspicion of others found no place in his soul.
One day, four years after his accession, he was [Pg 46] hunting in a forest in Dorsetshire, not far from Corfe-castle, where Elfrida and Ethelred lived. The chances of the chase led him to the vicinity of the castle, and, taking advantage of the opportunity to see its loved inmates, he rode away from his attendants, and in the evening twilight sounded his hunting-horn at the castle gates.
This was the opportunity which the ambitious woman had desired. The rival of her son had put himself unattended within her reach. Hastily preparing for the reception she designed to give him, she came from the castle, smiling a greeting. I pray you give me a cup of wine, that I may drink in the saddle to you and my little brother. I would stay longer, but may not linger. Elfrida returned for the wine, and as she did so whispered a few words to an armed man in the castle hall, one of her attendants whom she could trust.
As she went on, this man slipped out in the gathering gloom and placed himself close behind the king's horse. In a minute more Elfrida reappeared, wine-cup in hand. The king took the cup and raised it to his lips, looking down with smiling face on his step-mother and her son, who smiled their love-greeting back to him. At this instant the lurking villain in the rear sprang up and buried his fatal knife in the king's back.
Filled with pain and horror, Edward involuntarily dropped the cup and spurred his horse. The startled animal sprang forward, Edward clinging to his saddle for a few minutes, but soon, faint with loss of blood, falling to the earth, while one of his feet remained fast in the stirrup. The frightened horse rushed onward, dragging him over the rough ground until death put an end to his misery. The hunters, seeking the king, found the track of his blood, and traced him till his body was discovered, sadly torn and disfigured.
Meanwhile, the child Ethelred cried out so pitifully at the frightful tragedy which had taken place before his eyes, that his heartless mother turned her rage against him. She snatched a torch from one of the attendants and beat him unmercifully for his uncontrollable emotion. The woman a second time had won her game,—first, by compassing the murder of her husband; second, by ordering the murder of her step-son. It is pleasant to say that she profited little by the latter base deed.
The people were incensed by the murder of the king, and Dunstan resolved that Ethelred should not have the throne. He offered it to Edgitha, the daughter of Edgar. But that lady wisely preferred to remain in the convent where she lived in peace: so, in default of any other heir, Ethelred was put upon the throne,—Ethelred the Unready, as he came afterwards to be known. Elfrida at first possessed great influence over her [Pg 48] son; but her power declined as he grew older, and in the end she retired from the court, built monasteries and performed penances, in hopes of providing a refuge for her pious soul in heaven, since all men hated her upon the earth.
As regards Edward, his tragical death so aroused the sympathy of the people that they named him the Martyr, and believed that miracles were wrought at his tomb. It cannot be said that his murder was in any sense a martyrdom, but the men of that day did not draw fine lines of distinction, and Edward the Martyr he remains. We have two pictures to draw, preliminary scenes to the fatal battle of Hastings Hill.
The first belongs to the morning of September 25, With him was Tostig, rebel brother of King Harold of England, who had brought this army of strangers into the land. On the river near by lay their ships.