Charles W. (Charles Watts) Whistler.

A prince of Cornwall : a story of Glastonbury and the West in the days of Ina of Wessex online

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strangely around the walls. Both ends of this house
were of the living rock of the sides of the gorge, and
at one end seemed to be a sort of cave with a
narrow entrance.

The man who had bidden me in stood yet at the
open door looking out on his staircase, but he did
not bide there long. With a sigh he turned and
closed the door and came in, hardly looking at me,
but turning toward the cave I had just noticed. He


was an old man, very old indeed, with a long white
beard and pale face lined with countless wrinkles,
and he stooped a little as he walked. But his face
was calm and kind, though he did not smile at me,
and I felt that here I was safe with one of no
common sort.

" Come, my son," he said, " it is the hour of prime.
Glad am I to have one with me after many days."

He waited for no answer, and I followed him
for the few steps that led to the rock cavern ; and
there was a tiny oratory with its altar and cross,
and wax lights already burning.

The old man knelt in his place and I knelt with
him, and as he began the office straightway I knew
how worn out I was, and of a sudden the lights
danced before me and I reeled and fell with a
clatter and clash of arms on the rocky floor. I
seemed to know that the old man turned and looked
and rose up from his knees hastily, and I tried to
say that I was sorry that I had broken the peace of
this holy place ; but he answered in his soft voice :
" Why, poor lad, I should have seen that you were
spent ere this. The fault is mine."

He raised me gently, and seemed to search me
for some wound. And as he did so I came more to
myself, and begged him to go on with his office.

" First comes care of the afflicted, my son, and
after that may be prayer. In truth, to help the
fainting is in itself a prayer, as I think. Come to
the fireside and tell me what is amiss."

" Fasting and fighting and freezing, father," I said,
trying to laugh.

" Are you wounded ? " he asked quickly.


" No, not at all."

" That is well. It is a brave heart that will jest
in such a case as yours, for you are ice from head to
foot. Well, I had better hear your story, if you will
tell it me, in the daylight. Now get those wet
garments off you and put on this. I will get you
food, and you shall sleep."

This was surely the last place where my foes
would think of looking for me, and the snow would
hide every trace of my path. So I made no delay,
but took off my byrnie and garments. There was a
pool on the floor where I stood, for it was true
enough that I had been ice covered. Then I put
on a rough warm brown frock with a cord round the
waist, so that I looked like a lay-brother at Glaston-
bury, and all the while I waxed more and more
sleepy with the comfort of the place. But I wiped
my arms carefully while the old priest was busy
with a cauldron over the fire, and we were ready at
the same time. Then I had a meal of some sort of
stew that seemed the best I ever tasted, and a long
draught of good mead, while the host looked on in
grave content. And then he spread a heap of dry
seaweed in a corner near the fire, and blessed me
and bid me sleep. Nor did I need a second bid-
ding, and I do not think that I can have stirred
from the time that I lay down to the moment when
I woke with a feeling on me that it was late in the
daylight. So it was, and I looked round for my
kind host, but he was not to be seen. Outside the
wind was still strong, but not what it had been, for
the gale was sinking suddenly as it rose, and into
the one little window the sun shone brightly enough


now and then as the clouds fled across it. There
was a bright fire on the hearth, and over it hung a
cauldron, whence steam rose merrily, and it was
plain that my friend of last night was not far off, so
I lay still and waited his return. Then my eyes
fell on my clothes and arms as they hung from pegs
in the walls over against me, and it seemed as if the
steel of mail and helm and sword had been newly
burnished. Then I saw also that a rent in my
tunic, made when my horse fell, had been carefully
mended, and that no speck of the dust and mire I
had gathered on my garments from collar to hose
was left. All had been tended as carefully as if I
had been at home, and I saw Elfrida's little brooch
shining where I had pinned it.

That took me back to Glastonbury in a moment,
but I had to count before I could be sure that it was
but a matter of hours since I took that gift in the
orchard, rather than of months. And I wondered
if Owen knew yet that I was lost, or if my men
sought me still. Then my mind went to Evan,
the chapman outlaw, and I thought that by this
time he would have given me up, and would be
far away by now, beyond the reach of Thorgils
and his wrath.

Now the seaward door opened, and a swirl of
spray from the breakers on the rocks came in with
my host, who set a great armful of drift wood on
the floor, closed it, and so turned to me.

" Good-morrow, my son," he said. " How fare
you after rest ? "

"Well as can be, father," I answered, sitting up.
" Stiff I am, and maybe somewhat black and blue,


but that is all. I have no hurt. But surely I have
slept long ? "

" A matter of ten hours, my son, and that with-
out stirring. You needed it sorely, so I let you
be. Now it is time for food, but first you shall
have a bath, and that will do wonders with the

Thankful enough was I of the great tub of hot
water he had ready for me, and after it and a good
meal I was a new man. My host said nought till
I had finished, and then it was I who broke the
silence between us.

" Father," I said, " I have much to thank you for.
What may I call you ? "

" They name me Govan the Hermit, my son."

" I do not know how to say all I would, Father
Govan," I went on, " but I was in a sore strait
last night, and but for your bell I think I must have
perished in the snow, or in some of the clefts of
these cliffs."

" I rang the bell for you, my son, though I knew
not why. It came on me that one was listening
for some sign of help in the storm."

" How could you know ? " I asked in wonder.

Govan shook his head.

" I cannot tell. Men who bide alone as I bide
have strange bodings in their solitude. I have
known the like come over me before, and it has
ever been a true warning."

Now it was my turn to be silent, for all this was
beyond me. I had heard of hermits before, but had
never seen one. If all were like this old man, too
much has not been said of their holiness and nearness


to unseen things. So for a little while we sat and
looked into the fire, each on a three-legged stool,
opposite one another. Then at last he asked, almost
shyly, and as if he deemed himself overbold, how
it was that I had come to be on the cliffs. That
meant in the end that he heard all my story, of
course, but my Welsh halted somewhat for want
of use, and it was troublesome to tell it. However,
he heard me with something more than patience,
and when I ended he said : " Now I know how it
is that a Saxon speaks the tongue of Cornwall here
in Dyfed. You have had a noble fostering, Thane,
for even here we lamented for the loss of Owen the
prince. We have seen him in Pembroke in past
years. You will be most welcome there with this
news, for Howel, our prince, loved him well. They
are akin, moreover. It will be well that you should
go to him for help."

He rose up and went to the seaward door again,
and I followed him out. The sea was but just
below us, for the tide was full, and the breakers
were yet thundering at the foot of the cliffs on
either hand. But I did not note that at first, for
the thing which held my eyes at once was a ship
which was wallowing and plunging past us eastward,
under close reefed sail, and I knew her for the
vessel in which I had crossed. Thorgils had left
the cove, and was making for Tenby while he might.
I should have to seek him there.

" How far is it to the Danes' town, Father Go van ? "
I asked. "Yonder goes my friend's ship."

" Half a day's ride, my son, and with peril for
you all the way. Our poor folk would take you


for a Dane in those arms, and you have no horse.
Needs must that you seek Howel, and he will
give you a guard willingly."

Then he turned toward a great rock that lay
on the beach, as if it had fallen from the cliffs
that towered above us.

" Here is the bell that you heard last night,"
he said.

He took a rounded stone that lay on the rock
and struck it, and I knew that the clear bell-note
that it gave out was indeed that which had been
my saving.

" Once I had a bell in the cote on the roof
yonder," he said, " but the Danes caught sight of
it when they first passed this way, and took it
from me. Then as I sorrowed that the lonely
shepherds and fishers might no more hear its call,
I seemed to see a vision of an angel who bade me
see what had been sent me instead. And when I
went out as the vision bade me, I could see nought
but this rock newly fallen, and was downcast. And
so, from the cliff rolled a little stone and smote it,
and it rang, and I knew the gift. To my hearing
it has a sweeter voice than the bell made with

Then he showed me his well, roofed in with flat
stones because the birds would wash in it, and so
close to the sea salt that it seemed altogether
wonderful that the water was fresh and sweet.
And then I saw that the cell did indeed stretch
from side to side of the narrow cleft down which
I had come, so that each end of the building was
of living rock.


" I built it with my own hands, my son," he said.
" I cannot tell how long ago that was, for time is
nought to me, but it was many years. Once I
wore arms and had another name, but that also
I care not to recall."

Then there came footsteps from above us, and
looking up I saw a man in a rough fisher's dress
coming in haste down the long flight of rock-hewn
steps that led from the cliff top down the cleft to
the door that I had found last night, and soon we
heard him calling to the hermit.

Govan left me, and went through the cell to
speak with him, but was back very shortly.

" Howel the prince is coming hither," he said.
" The man you saw has seen him on the way,
and came to warn me to be at hand for him. It
is well for you, my son, as I am sure."

So we went together into the house, and I
thought to arm myself, but Govan smiled and asked
me not to do so, saying that hither even Howel
would come without his weapons, in all likelihood.

I understood him, and did but see that my sword
was in reach before I sat down and waited for the
coming of the Welsh prince, and I thought that all
I need ask him was for help to reach Tenby, whither
Thorgils must have gone. It was quite likely that
Evan might have raised the country against me in
hopes of taking me again. And maybe I would
ask for justice on the said Evan. Also I wanted
to hear what had happened after my going. It was
not long that I had to wait. There came the tramp
of horses at the top of the gorge, and the sound of
a voice or two, and then the tread of an armed man


came slowly down the stair, and Govan went to meet
him. I rose and waited for his entry.

Now there came in, following Govan, unhelmed
as he had greeted the holy man, a handsome,
middle-aged warrior, black haired and eyed and
active looking. He wore the short heavy sword
of the Roman pattern, gold hiked and scabbarded,
at his side, and the helm he carried had a high
plumed crest and hanging side pieces that seemed
like those pictured on the walls of Cerent's palace.
He had no body armour on, and his dress was plain
enough, of white woollen stuff with broad crimson
borders, but round his neck was a wonderful twisted
collar of gold, and heavy golden bracelets rang as
his arms moved. I saw that his first glance went
to me, and that his face changed when he saw that
I was not one of his own people, but a foreigner,
as he would hold me. I saw too that he noted
my arms as they hung on the wall behind me.
Govan saw it also, and made haste to tell him
who I was.

" This is one who should be welcome to you,
Prince, for the sake of old days, for he has come
by mischance from Dyvnaint, being foster-son of
one of the princes of Gerent's court, though a
Saxon by birth. Nevertheless he speaks our
tongue well. He will tell you all that presently,
and I think that he needs your help."

" I thought you one of our troublesome neighbours,
the Danes," he said, with a smile now in place of
the look of doubt. " But if you are from Dyvnaint
there are many things that you can tell me. But
I have come here to see that all is well with Father


Govan, for there is talk of a mad Norseman who is
roving the country, unless the cold has ended him
in the night. It is good to see that nought is wrong

Now I stood apart, and Govan and his guest
spoke together for a few moments before my turn to
tell Howel of my plight should come, and almost the
next thing that the prince said made me wonder
that I had not thought who he was at once. Of
course, he was the father of the kindly princess
who had crossed the sea with Thorgils, and had so
nearly been the means of my earlier rescue.

" Nona, my daughter, is here at the clifftop,
Father Govan," Howel said. " She came home in
the Norse ship last night, as we planned ; but tide
failed for Tenby, and it chanced that the ship had
to put in at the old landing-place. Now she wants
to thank you for your prayers for her, and also to
beg them for some sick man about whom she is
troubling herself some poor hurt knave of a trader
who crossed in the ship with her."

" I will go out and speak with her," Govan said,
smiling. " It is ever her way to think of the

" Tell her that I will not keep her long in the
cold," Howel said. " Bid her keep her horse
walking, lest he take chill, if I may ask as much,

Govan threw his cowl over his head, and answered

" I will tell her. Now, Prince, this friend of mine
has come here in a strange way, and I think he
needs help that you can give him."

He passed out of the cliffward door and went his


way up the long stairway. Then Howel asked me
how he could help me.

" Tell me about Dyvnaint also, for when I was a
boy I was long at Cerent's court. Did not Govan
say that you were fostered by one of the princes ?
It is likely that I knew your foster-father well, if so ;
was he Morgan ? "

" Not Morgan, but Owen," I answered, and at that
Howel almost started to his feet.

" Owen ! " he cried. " Does he yet live ? Surely
we all thought him dead, or else he had come hither
to us when he was banished. I loved him well in
the old days, and glad I am that you are not
Morgan's charge. Tell me all about Owen. Is he
home again ? "

" Morgan is dead," I answered, feeling that here
I had met with a friend in all certainty. " And
because of that, Owen is in his place again, and I
am here. It has all happened in this week, and
to tell you of it is to tell you all my trouble."

Now he was all impatience to hear, and I told
him all that needed to be told, until I came to the
time when Owen was back at Norton with the old
king. Then he asked me some questions about
matters there, and in the midst of my answers
sprang up.

" Why," he cried, " here I have forgotten the girl,
and she ought to be hearing all this, instead of
sitting in the cold on the cliff. She is Owen's
god-daughter, moreover, and he was here only a
little time before he was banished. She can
remember him well."

" Stay, though," he said, sitting down again.


" There is your own tale yet. Let us hear it.
Maybe that is not altogether so pleasant"

My own thought was that I was glad I might tell
it without the wondering eyes of the fair princess
on me, being afraid in a sort of way of having her
think of me as the helpless sick man she had pitied.
So I hastened to tell all that story.

And when I came to the way in which Evan
brought me, Howel's eyes flashed savagely, and a
black scowl came over his handsome face, sudden as
a thunderstorm in high summer.

"It will be a short shrift and a long rope for that
Evan when I catch him," he said. " He comes here
every year, and I suppose that the goods I have had
from him at times have been plunder. I would that
you had ended him last night. Now he has got
away in peace, and is out of my reach, maybe, by
this time. Well, how went it ? "

Then I told him the end of the tale, wondering
how it was that Thorgils had let him go. I asked
the prince if he could explain that for me.

" Not altogether," he said. " Evan sent to me to
ask me for men to guard the ship presently, after
we began the feast, saying that he was going ashore
with his goods, and was responsible to the shipmaster.
I told Thorgils, and he said it was well. So I sent
a guard, and presently Evan came and spoke with
Thorgils for a little while, and drank a cup of wine,
and so went his way. Next morning, before he
sailed, Thorgils came and grumbled about the loss
of his boat, saying that Evan had taken some sick
friend of his ashore in her, and that she had not
come back. I paid him for it too, because I like


the man, and so does my daughter. He sailed, and
then I heard of the fight for the first time."

Howel laughed a little to himself.

" Master Evan must have paid my rascals well to
keep up the story of the sick man to Thorgils, for
he said nothing to me of any fight. Maybe, however,
he never spoke to any of them, and it is likely that
they would not say much to him. And now, by the
Round Table ! if you are not the mad Norseman
they prated of to me when I wanted to know
who slew the two men, and if you are not the sick
man that Nona is so anxious about ! Here, she
must come and see you ! "

With that he got up and went to the door before
I could stay him, and called gaily to the princess,
whose horse I could hear stamping high above
us. " Ho, Nona, here is a friend of yours whom
you will be glad to see. Ask Father Govan to
let you come hither, and bid the men take your

So I must make the best of it, and I will say
that I felt foolish enough. It was in my mind,
though, that I owed many thanks to the princess
for all her kind thought for me as sick man. I
had already said as much to Howel. So I began
to try to frame some sort of speech for her. One
never remembers how such speeches always fail at
the pinch.

The light footsteps came down the steps in no
long time, and then the princess entered, dressed
much as yesterday, with a bright colour from the
wind, and looking round to see the promised


" I have kept you long, daughter," Hovvel said,
taking her hand, " but I have been hearing good
news. Here is Oswald of VVessex, a king's thane,
but more than that to us, for he is the adopted son
of your own god-father, Owen of Cornwall, and he
brings the best of tidings of him."

Now the maiden's face flushed with pleasure, and
she held out her hand to me in frank welcome.
Yet I saw a little wondering look on her face as
she let her eyes linger on mine for a moment, and
that puzzled me.

" You are most welcome, Thane," she said. "It
is a wonderful thing that here I should learn that
my lost god-father yet lives. You will come to
Pembroke with us, and tell me of him there ? "

Then Howel laughed as if he had a jest that would
not keep, and he cried : " Why, Nona, that is a
mighty pretty speech, but surely one asks a sick
man of his health first."

She blushed a little, and glanced again at me.

" Surely the thane is not hurt ? " she said.

" Yesterday he was, and that sorely. What was
it, Thane? Slipped shoulder, broken thigh, and
broken jaw ? All of which a certain maiden pitied
most heartily, even to lending a blanket to the poor

Then Nona blushed red, and I made haste to get
rid of some of the thanks that were heartfelt enough
if they came unreadily to my lips, and Howel laughed
at both of us. I think that the princess found her
way out of the little constraint first, for she began
to smile merrily.

" There must be a story for me to hear about all


this," she said. " But I was sure that I had seen
your eyes before. I was wondering where it could
have been."

" Well," said Howel, " I have sat with the thane
for close on an hour, and now 1 do not know what
colour his eyes are."

" They were all that I could see of him, father,"
laughed the princess, and then she put the matter
aside. " Now we have been here long enough, and
good Govan shivers on the hilltop. Surely the
thane will ride home with us, and we can talk on
the way."

Howel added at once that this was the best
plan for me, and what he was about to ask me

" I know you will want to get home again as
soon as may be," he said. " No doubt Thorgils
will take you at once. I will have word sent to
him at Tenby to stay for you."

" Father, you have forgotten," the princess said,
somewhat doubtfully, as I thought.

" Nay, but I have not," answered Howel grimly.
" But honest Thorgils is a white heathen, and those
Tenby men are black heathen. He does not come
into our quarrels, and will heed me, if they will

I minded that I had heard of trouble between
the Tenby Danes and this prince, and it seemed
that he spoke of it again. However, that I might
hear by and by. So I thanked him, and said that I
could wish for nothing better than to be his guest
until I could go on my way hence.

Now the princess went to the clifftop and


called Govan, while I armed myself. The hermit
came back, and I bade him farewell, with many
thanks for his kindnesses during the hours I had
been with him ; and so I went from the little
cell with the blessing of Govan the Hermit on me,
and that was a bright ending to hours which had
been dark enough. Govan the Saint, men call
him, now that he has gone from among them,
and rightly do they give him that name, as I

Howel dismounted one of his men, and set me
on the horse in his place, and then we rode to the
camp at the landing-place by the track which had
led me hither, passing the head of the rift from
which I had escaped, so that I saw its terrors in
full daylight. And they were even more awesome
to me than as I hung on the brink with the depths
unknown below me. Then Howel told me how
once a hunter had come suddenly on that gulf with
his horse at full gallop, and had been forced to leap
or court death by checking the steed. He had
cleared it in safety, but the terror of what he had
done bided with him, so that he died in no long
time ; I could well believe it.

Then the princess told me many things of
Govan, and among others that the poor folk
held that when the Danes came and stole the
bell from him he had been hidden from them
in the rock wall of the chapel, which had gaped
to take him in, closing on him and setting
him free when danger was past. Certainly there
was a cleft in the rock wall of the chapel wall that
had markings as of the ribs of a man in its sides,


and was just the height and width for one to stand
in, but Govan said nought to me about it when he
told of the taking of the bell. Danes also slew
all these cattle whose bones I had passed among.
Then we came in sight of the camp, over which the
red dragon banner of Wales floated, and Howel
told me how it was that he had met us there with
his guards. " Men saw Thorgils' ship from the
lookout, and so I came here, for they said that she
could not make Tenby on this tide and must needs
come in here. Nona has been for three months
with her mother's folk in Cornwall ay, she is
half Cornish, and kin to Cerent and Owen. I was
married over there, at Isca, and Owen was at the
wedding as my best man, though he is ten years
younger than I. That is how he came to be the
girl's god-father, you see. Now I wanted her back,
for it is lonely at Pembroke without her, and I am apt
to wax testy with folk if she is not near to keep things
straight. So I sent word by Thorgils six weeks
ago that she was to come back, and he was to bring
her. I have had the men watching for the ship
ever since. Good it is to see her again, and she
has brought good news also, with yourself. I have
a mind to keep you with us awhile, and let the
Norseman take back word of your safety,"

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Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Watts) WhistlerA prince of Cornwall : a story of Glastonbury and the West in the days of Ina of Wessex → online text (page 10 of 25)