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    Chapter 1

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    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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