Chapter 1




Thus communed these; while to their lowly dome,
The full-fed swine return'd with evening home;
Compell'd, reluctant, to the several sties,
With din obstreperous, and ungrateful cries.
Pope's Odyssey


In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by
the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest,
covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys
which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.
The remains of this extensive wood are still to be seen at the
noble seats of Wentworth, of Warncliffe Park, and around
Rotherham. Here haunted of yore the fabulous Dragon of Wantley;
here were fought many of the most desperate battles during the
Civil Wars of the Roses; and here also flourished in ancient
times those bands of gallant outlaws, whose deeds have been
rendered so popular in English song.

Such being our chief scene, the date of our story refers to a
period towards the end of the reign of Richard I., when his
return from his long captivity had become an event rather wished
than hoped for by his despairing subjects, who were in the
meantime subjected to every species of subordinate oppression.
The nobles, whose power had become exorbitant during the reign of
Stephen, and whom the prudence of Henry the Second had scarce
reduced to some degree of subjection to the crown, had now
resumed their ancient license in its utmost extent; despising the
feeble interference of the English Council of State, fortifying
their castles, increasing the number of their dependants, reducing
all around them to a state of vassalage, and striving by every
means in their power, to place themselves each at the head of such
forces as might enable him to make a figure in the national
convulsions which appeared to be impending.

The situation of the inferior gentry, or Franklins, as they were
called, who, by the law and spirit of the English constitution,
were entitled to hold themselves independent of feudal tyranny,
became now unusually precarious. If, as was most generally the
case, they placed themselves under the protection of any of the
petty kings in their vicinity, accepted of feudal offices in
his household, or bound themselves by mutual treaties of alliance
and protection, to support him in his enterprises, they might
indeed purchase temporary repose; but it must be with the
sacrifice of that independence which was so dear to every English
bosom, and at the certain hazard of being involved as a party in
whatever rash expedition the ambition of their protector might
lead him to undertake. On the other hand, such and so multiplied
were the means of vexation and oppression possessed by the great
Barons, that they never wanted the pretext, and seldom the will,
to harass and pursue, even to the very edge of destruction, any
of their less powerful neighbours, who attempted to separate
themselves from their authority, and to trust for their
protection, during the dangers of the times, to their own
inoffensive conduct, and to the laws of the land.

A circumstance which greatly tended to enhance the tyranny of the
nobility, and the sufferings of the inferior classes, arose from
the consequences of the Conquest by Duke William of Normandy.
Four generations had not sufficed to blend the hostile blood of
the Normans and Anglo-Saxons, or to unite, by common language and
mutual interests, two hostile races, one of which still felt the
elation of triumph, while the other groaned under all the
consequences of defeat. The power had been completely placed in
the hands of the Norman nobility, by the event of the battle of
Hastings, and it had been used, as our histories assure us, with
no moderate hand. The whole race of Saxon princes and nobles had
been extirpated or disinherited, with few or no exceptions; nor
were the numbers great who possessed land in the country of their
fathers, even as proprietors of the second, or of yet inferior
classes. The royal policy had long been to weaken, by every
means, legal or illegal, the strength of a part of the population
which was justly considered as nourishing the most inveterate
antipathy to their victor. All the monarchs of the Norman race
had shown the most marked predilection for their Norman subjects;
the laws of the chase, and many others equally unknown to the
milder and more free spirit of the Saxon constitution, had been
fixed upon the necks of the subjugated inhabitants, to add
weight, as it were, to the feudal chains with which they were
loaded. At court, and in the castles of the great nobles, where
the pomp and state of a court was emulated, Norman-French was the
only language employed; in courts of law, the pleadings and
judgments were delivered in the same tongue. In short, French
was the language of honour, of chivalry, and even of justice,
while the far more manly and expressive Anglo-Saxon was abandoned
to the use of rustics and hinds, who knew no other. Still,
however, the necessary intercourse between the lords of the soil,
and those oppressed inferior beings by whom that soil was
cultivated, occasioned the gradual formation of a dialect,
compounded betwixt the French and the Anglo-Saxon, in which they
could render themselves mutually intelligible to each other; and
from this necessity arose by degrees the structure of our present
English language, in which the speech of the victors and the
vanquished have been so happily blended together; and which has
since been so richly improved by importations from the classical
languages, and from those spoken by the southern nations of
Europe.

This state of things I have thought it necessary to premise for
the information of the general reader, who might be apt to
forget, that, although no great historical events, such as war or
insurrection, mark the existence of the Anglo-Saxons as a
separate people subsequent to the reign of William the Second;
yet the great national distinctions betwixt them and their
conquerors, the recollection of what they had formerly been, and
to what they were now reduced, continued down to the reign of
Edward the Third, to keep open the wounds which the Conquest had
inflicted, and to maintain a line of separation betwixt the
descendants of the victor Normans and the vanquished Saxons.

The sun was setting upon one of the rich grassy glades of that
forest, which we have mentioned in the beginning of the chapter.
Hundreds of broad-headed, short-stemmed, wide-branched oaks,
which had witnessed perhaps the stately march of the Roman
soldiery, flung their gnarled arms over a thick carpet of the
most delicious green sward; in some places they were intermingled
with beeches, hollies, and copsewood of various descriptions, so
closely as totally to intercept the level beams of the sinking
sun; in others they receded from each other, forming those long
sweeping vistas, in the intricacy of which the eye delights to
lose itself, while imagination considers them as the paths to yet
wilder scenes of silvan solitude. Here the red rays of the sun
shot a broken and discoloured light, that partially hung upon the
shattered boughs and mossy trunks of the trees, and there they
illuminated in brilliant patches the portions of turf to which
they made their way. A considerable open space, in the midst of
this glade, seemed formerly to have been dedicated to the rites
of Druidical superstition; for, on the summit of a hillock, so
regular as to seem artificial, there still remained part of a
circle of rough unhewn stones, of large dimensions. Seven stood
upright; the rest had been dislodged from their places, probably
by the zeal of some convert to Christianity, and lay, some
prostrate near their former site, and others on the side of the
hill. One large stone only had found its way to the bottom, and
in stopping the course of a small brook, which glided smoothly
round the foot of the eminence, gave, by its opposition, a feeble
voice of murmur to the placid and elsewhere silent streamlet.

The human figures which completed this landscape, were in number
two, partaking, in their dress and appearance, of that wild and
rustic character, which belonged to the woodlands of the
West-Riding of Yorkshire at that early period. The eldest of
these men had a stern, savage, and wild aspect. His garment was
of the simplest form imaginable, being a close jacket with
sleeves, composed of the tanned skin of some animal, on which the
hair had been originally left, but which had been worn of in so
many places, that it would have been difficult to distinguish
from the patches that remained, to what creature the fur had
belonged. This primeval vestment reached from the throat to the
knees, and served at once all the usual purposes of
body-clothing; there was no wider opening at the collar, than was
necessary to admit the passage of the head, from which it may be
inferred, that it was put on by slipping it over the head and
shoulders, in the manner of a modern shirt, or ancient hauberk.
Sandals, bound with thongs made of boars' hide, protected the
feet, and a roll of thin leather was twined artificially round
the legs, and, ascending above the calf, left the knees bare,
like those of a Scottish Highlander. To make the jacket sit yet
more close to the body, it was gathered at the middle by a broad
leathern belt, secured by a brass buckle; to one side of which
was attached a sort of scrip, and to the other a ram's horn,
accoutred with a mouthpiece, for the purpose of blowing. In the
same belt was stuck one of those long, broad, sharp-pointed, and
two-edged knives, with a buck's-horn handle, which were
fabricated in the neighbourhood, and bore even at this early
period the name of a Sheffield whittle. The man had no covering
upon his head, which was only defended by his own thick hair,
matted and twisted together, and scorched by the influence of the
sun into a rusty dark-red colour, forming a contrast with the
overgrown beard upon his cheeks, which was rather of a yellow or
amber hue. One part of his dress only remains, but it is too
remarkable to be suppressed; it was a brass ring, resembling a
dog's collar, but without any opening, and soldered fast round
his neck, so loose as to form no impediment to his breathing, yet
so tight as to be incapable of being removed, excepting by the
use of the file. On this singular gorget was engraved, in Saxon
characters, an inscription of the following purport:---"Gurth,
the son of Beowulph, is the born thrall of Cedric of Rotherwood."

Beside the swine-herd, for such was Gurth's occupation, was
seated, upon one of the fallen Druidical monuments, a person
about ten years younger in appearance, and whose dress, though
resembling his companion's in form, was of better materials, and
of a more fantastic appearance. His jacket had been stained of a
bright purple hue, upon which there had been some attempt to
paint grotesque ornaments in different colours. To the jacket he
added a short cloak, which scarcely reached half way down his
thigh; it was of crimson cloth, though a good deal soiled, lined
with bright yellow; and as he could transfer it from one shoulder
to the other, or at his pleasure draw it all around him, its
width, contrasted with its want of longitude, formed a fantastic
piece of drapery. He had thin silver bracelets upon his arms,
and on his neck a collar of the same metal bearing the
inscription, "Wamba, the son of Witless, is the thrall of Cedric
of Rotherwood." This personage had the same sort of sandals with
his companion, but instead of the roll of leather thong, his legs
were cased in a sort of gaiters, of which one was red and the
other yellow. He was provided also with a cap, having around it
more than one bell, about the size of those attached to hawks,
which jingled as he turned his head to one side or other; and as
he seldom remained a minute in the same posture, the sound might
be considered as incessant. Around the edge of this cap was a
stiff bandeau of leather, cut at the top into open work,
resembling a coronet, while a prolonged bag arose from within it,
and fell down on one shoulder like an old-fashioned nightcap, or
a jelly-bag, or the head-gear of a modern hussar. It was to this
part of the cap that the bells were attached; which circumstance,
as well as the shape of his head-dress, and his own half-crazed,
half-cunning expression of countenance, sufficiently pointed him
out as belonging to the race of domestic clowns or jesters,
maintained in the houses of the wealthy, to help away the tedium
of those lingering hours which they were obliged to spend within
doors. He bore, like his companion, a scrip, attached to his
belt, but had neither horn nor knife, being probably considered
as belonging to a class whom it is esteemed dangerous to intrust
with edge-tools. In place of these, he was equipped with a sword
of lath, resembling that with which Harlequin operates his
wonders upon the modern stage.

The outward appearance of these two men formed scarce a stronger
contrast than their look and demeanour. That of the serf, or
bondsman, was sad and sullen; his aspect was bent on the ground
with an appearance of deep dejection, which might be almost
construed into apathy, had not the fire which occasionally
sparkled in his red eye manifested that there slumbered, under
the appearance of sullen despondency, a sense of oppression, and
a disposition to resistance. The looks of Wamba, on the other
hand, indicated, as usual with his class, a sort of vacant
curiosity, and fidgetty impatience of any posture of repose,
together with the utmost self-satisfaction respecting his own
situation, and the appearance which he made. The dialogue which
they maintained between them, was carried on in Anglo-Saxon,
which, as we said before, was universally spoken by the inferior
classes, excepting the Norman soldiers, and the immediate
personal dependants of the great feudal nobles. But to give
their conversation in the original would convey but little
information to the modern reader, for whose benefit we beg to
offer the following translation:

"The curse of St Withold upon these infernal porkers!" said the
swine-herd, after blowing his horn obstreperously, to collect
together the scattered herd of swine, which, answering his call
with notes equally melodious, made, however, no haste to remove
themselves from the luxurious banquet of beech-mast and acorns on
which they had fattened, or to forsake the marshy banks of the
rivulet, where several of them, half plunged in mud, lay
stretched at their ease, altogether regardless of the voice of
their keeper. "The curse of St Withold upon them and upon me!"
said Gurth; "if the two-legged wolf snap not up some of them ere
nightfall, I am no true man. Here, Fangs! Fangs!" he ejaculated
at the top of his voice to a ragged wolfish-looking dog, a sort
of lurcher, half mastiff, half greyhound, which ran limping about
as if with the purpose of seconding his master in collecting the
refractory grunters; but which, in fact, from misapprehension of
the swine-herd's signals, ignorance of his own duty, or malice
prepense, only drove them hither and thither, and increased the
evil which he seemed to design to remedy. "A devil draw the
teeth of him," said Gurth, "and the mother of mischief confound
the Ranger of the forest, that cuts the foreclaws off our dogs,
and makes them unfit for their trade!*

* Note A. The Ranger of the Forest, that cuts the
* fore-claws off our dogs.

Wamba, up and help me an thou beest a man; take a turn round the
back o' the hill to gain the wind on them; and when thous't got
the weather-gage, thou mayst drive them before thee as gently as
so many innocent lambs."

"Truly," said Wamba, without stirring from the spot, "I have
consulted my legs upon this matter, and they are altogether of
opinion, that to carry my gay garments through these sloughs,
would be an act of unfriendship to my sovereign person and royal
wardrobe; wherefore, Gurth, I advise thee to call off Fangs, and
leave the herd to their destiny, which, whether they meet with
bands of travelling soldiers, or of outlaws, or of wandering
pilgrims, can be little else than to be converted into Normans
before morning, to thy no small ease and comfort."

"The swine turned Normans to my comfort!" quoth Gurth; "expound
that to me, Wamba, for my brain is too dull, and my mind too
vexed, to read riddles."

"Why, how call you those grunting brutes running about on their
four legs?" demanded Wamba.

"Swine, fool, swine," said the herd, "every fool knows that."

"And swine is good Saxon," said the Jester; "but how call you the
sow when she is flayed, and drawn, and quartered, and hung up by
the heels, like a traitor?"

"Pork," answered the swine-herd.

"I am very glad every fool knows that too," said Wamba, "and
pork, I think, is good Norman-French; and so when the brute
lives, and is in the charge of a Saxon slave, she goes by her
Saxon name; but becomes a Norman, and is called pork, when she is
carried to the Castle-hall to feast among the nobles; what dost
thou think of this, friend Gurth, ha?"

"It is but too true doctrine, friend Wamba, however it got into
thy fool's pate."

"Nay, I can tell you more," said Wamba, in the same tone; there
is old Alderman Ox continues to hold his Saxon epithet, while he
is under the charge of serfs and bondsmen such as thou, but
becomes Beef, a fiery French gallant, when he arrives before the
worshipful jaws that are destined to consume him. Mynheer Calf,
too, becomes Monsieur de Veau in the like manner; he is Saxon
when he requires tendance, and takes a Norman name when he
becomes matter of enjoyment."

"By St Dunstan," answered Gurth, "thou speakest but sad truths;
little is left to us but the air we breathe, and that appears to
have been reserved with much hesitation, solely for the purpose
of enabling us to endure the tasks they lay upon our shoulders.
The finest and the fattest is for their board; the loveliest is
for their couch; the best and bravest supply their foreign
masters with soldiers, and whiten distant lands with their bones,
leaving few here who have either will or the power to protect the
unfortunate Saxon. God's blessing on our master Cedric, he hath
done the work of a man in standing in the gap; but Reginald
Front-de-Boeuf is coming down to this country in person, and we
shall soon see how little Cedric's trouble will avail him.
---Here, here," he exclaimed again, raising his voice, "So ho! so
ho! well done, Fangs! thou hast them all before thee now, and
bring'st them on bravely, lad."

"Gurth," said the Jester, "I know thou thinkest me a fool, or
thou wouldst not be so rash in putting thy head into my mouth.
One word to Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, or Philip de Malvoisin, that
thou hast spoken treason against the Norman, ---and thou art but
a cast-away swineherd,---thou wouldst waver on one of these trees
as a terror to all evil speakers against dignities."

"Dog, thou wouldst not betray me," said Gurth, "after having led
me on to speak so much at disadvantage?"

"Betray thee!" answered the Jester; "no, that were the trick of a
wise man; a fool cannot half so well help himself---but soft,
whom have we here?" he said, listening to the trampling of
several horses which became then audible.

"Never mind whom," answered Gurth, who had now got his herd
before him, and, with the aid of Fangs, was driving them down one
of the long dim vistas which we have endeavoured to describe.

"Nay, but I must see the riders," answered Wamba; "perhaps they
are come from Fairy-land with a message from King Oberon."

"A murrain take thee," rejoined the swine-herd; "wilt thou talk
of such things, while a terrible storm of thunder and lightning
is raging within a few miles of us? Hark, how the thunder
rumbles! and for summer rain, I never saw such broad downright
flat drops fall out of the clouds; the oaks, too, notwithstanding
the calm weather, sob and creak with their great boughs as if
announcing a tempest. Thou canst play the rational if thou wilt;
credit me for once, and let us home ere the storm begins to rage,
for the night will be fearful."

Wamba seemed to feel the force of this appeal, and accompanied
his companion, who began his journey after catching up a long
quarter-staff which lay upon the grass beside him. This second
Eumaeus strode hastily down the forest glade, driving before him,
with the assistance of Fangs, the whole herd of his inharmonious
charge.



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