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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was at Glastonbury. It would be hard to see him
at all in the coming days, for not often was Gerent
here. However, partings must needs be, and we
made the least of it, and so at last we rode together
to the old bridge that crosses the Parrett, and there


bade our last farewells, and went our ways, not
looking back. It was a lonesome ride onward for
me after all these days with him, and I had not a
word for my house-carles, who had ridden from
Glastonbury hither to meet me, for the first few
miles. Then I bethought myself, and drew rein a
little and let them come up with me, for I had ridden
alone at their head for a while, and so heard all the
news of the court and whatever talk was going
about the place, and my mind left Norton and went
on, as it were, before me to Glastonbury and all
that I should see there.

There was a warm welcome waiting for me from
the many friends, and best of all from the king
himself. With him I sat long in his chamber telling
of my doings and of Owen, and hearing also of what
had been going on. At the last, when I was about
to leave his presence, he said

" There is one matter that we must speak of to-
morrow, for it is weighty and needs thought. Let it
bide now, for it is nought unhappy, and so come to me
at noon and we will speak thereof. Now your friends
will seek you, and I will not say more."

I left him then with a little wonder as to what
this business might be, but thought little of it, as it
would very likely be a matter of taking some men
on some errand or the like house-carle work, and
then I bethought me that I would even go and see
how fared Elfrida. It was not unpleasant to think
of taking her by surprise, for I did not suppose that
she had heard of my return yet. At all events, she
would have no chance of making up some stiff
greeting for me. Wherefore I went down the street


with my head in the air, making up my mind how
I would greet her, and maybe I thought of a dozen
ways before I reached the ealdorman's door.

His welcome was hearty enough at all events,
but before I could make up my mind to ask for
Elfrida, who was not to be seen at first, though I
had counted on finding her at her wheel in the great
hall of the house, as was her wont in the afternoon,
he had wasted a long hour in hearing all that he
could of my affairs, as may be supposed. There
had been some strange rumours flying about since
I was lost. I began to wish that I had brought Thor-
gils home with me, for it was plain that I should
have to go over all this too often, and he cared not
at all how many times he told the same tale.

At last I was able to find a chance of asking how
fared the lady Elfrida, and at that the ealdorman

" What, has not all this put that foolishness out
of your head ? " he said.

" No, it has not," I answered pretty shortly. But
all the same, the old thought that I had remembered
her less than I would have it known did flash across
me for a moment.

" Well, I will send for her, and she will tell you
for herself how she fares."

He sent, and then in about half an hour she
came, just as I was thinking I would wait no longer.
And if she had been stiff with me in the orchard it
was even more so now, and I did not seem to get
on with her at all. She said, indeed, that she was
glad to see me back, but in no way could I think
that she looked more so than any one else I had met.


So we talked a little, and then all of a sudden her
father said

" Ho ! Here comes that South Saxon again."

Then at once a blush crept slowly over her fair
face, and she tried not to look toward the great
door in vain, though no one came in, and presently
she was gone with but a few words to me. I did
not like this at all, but the ealdorman laughed at
her and then at me, the more that he saw that I was
put out.

" Never mind, Oswald," he said. " That vow of
yours pledged you to no more than duty to any fair

" Maybe it is just as well that it did not," I
answered, trying to laugh also.

" Ay, that is right. You were bound to say
somewhat, and you did it well. But it has not
pleased the girl, nevertheless."

" I did think, at least, she would have been more
glad to see me."

" Trouble yourself not at all about the ways of
damsels for the next five years, or maybe ten,
Oswald, my friend," said the ealdorman. " So will
you have an easier life, and maybe a longer one."

Discontented enough I went away, and that same
discontent lasted for a full half-hour. At the end
of that time I found myself laughing at the antics
of two boys who were sporting on a flooded meadow
in a great brew-tub, while their mother threatened
them with a stick from the bank. It was my
thought that a cake would have fetched them back
sooner than the stick, but maybe she knew best. It
was like a hen with ducklings.


Then I grew tired of loitering outside the town
and nursing my wounded pride, and when it began
to rain I forgot it, and went back to the palace and
talked about the British warriors with Nunna and
some of the other young thanes until supper-time.

Next morning I waited on the king as he had
bidden me, finding him in his chamber with a pile
of great parchments and the like before him. He
bade me be seated, and I sat in the window-seat
opposite him.

" It is no light matter that I have to speak of,"
he said, " but I will get to the point straightway.
What do you remember ot your old home,
Eastdean ? "

Now the thoughts of old days there that had
sprung afresh in my mind in the parting with Owen,
made me ready to answer that at once.

" Little, my King. I was but ten years old when
we fled," I answered therefore.

" That is likely. But would you go back there ?
As the Thane of Eastdean, I mean ; for I know that
you would wish to see the place where your father

I could not answer him this at once, for it was
indeed a matter that needed thought. So I said,
and he turned to his writings with a nod and left
me to myself.

In all these thoughts of mine, pleasant as they
were with some memories, it had never come to me
to wish that the lands were mine again. Save for
that one thing of which Ina spoke, and for the
pleasantness of seeing old scenes again, I had never
cared to go back. Owen had not spoken of the


lands that should have been mine for years, and
even as he talked with me and Gerent he had not
seemed to remember that old loss at all. Gerent
had done so, saying that I should be back there, but
even that did not stir me now. I was of the court,
and here I had my place, and all my life was knit
with the ways of the atheling guard and the order-
ing of the house-carles under Owen. If I were to
turn from all this to become a forest thane it would
be banishment. And then I thought of Owen, and
how this would take me yet farther from him. I
would sooner, if I must be sent from Ina, go to him
and find what home I might on the lands of Tregoz
in wild Dartmoor. And then the thought of leaving
Ina, who had cared for me since I was a child, was
almost as terrible.

" I would not leave you, my King," I said at last.

Ina looked up at me with a smile, but was silent,
stroking his beard as was his way when thinking,
looking past me out of the narrow window to the
great Tor that towered beyond the new abbey

" Think ! " he said at last, " partings must come,
and lands are not to be had lightly. Erpwald's
brother, who held Eastdean, is dead."

" I need no lands," I answered. " The ways of a
captain of your house-carles are good to me, and I
need no more. If I took those lands from your
hand, my King, needs must that I gave up all the
life with you. Sooner would I let the land go and
bide with you. Yet if I must needs take them, be
it as you will."

" It is a great thing that you speak so lightly of


giving up," he answered gravely ; " Erpwald, the
heathen, was willing to risk his life for those lands,
and he held them dear. And a captain of the
king's house-carles will always look to be rewarded
for service with lands. In time you will seek the

" That time has not yet come to me, King Ina."

" Eastdean lies in my hand here," he said, taking
up a parchment with a great seal on it. " I may
give it to whom I will, but you are the lawful heir
who should hold it from me. If it goes not to
you, it may be that one whom you would not shall
have it."

Then I said, not seeing at all what the king would
have me do, but thinking that he deemed me foolish
for not taking the lands straightway

41 Let me bide with you even yet for a while.
When the time comes that I must leave you I must
go to Owen, and neither he nor I care for aught but
to be here. He must leave you because of duty,
and if this is indeed choice with me, let me choose
to stay. It is nought to me who holds the lands,
save only that it might be one who will tend the
grave of my father."

Then said Ina, looking into my face and smiling,
as if well pleased

14 The choice is free, my Thane, and I should be
wrong if I did not say that I am glad to hear you
choose thus. I have missed you in these days, and
I have work here for you yet. It was in my mind
that thus you would choose, and I am glad. Let it
be so. I need one to take the place of Owen, as
second in command of the household, as one may


say, and that you must do for me henceforward.
Nay," he said quickly, raising his hand as I tried to
find some words of thanks for this honour ; " you
know the ways of Owen, and men know you, and it
will be as if there had been no change, and that will
mean that we shall have no grumbling in the palace,
and the right men will be sent to do what they are
best fitted for and all that, so that there will be
quiet about the court as ever. It is a matter off my
mind, let me tell you, and no thanks are needed."

So he laughed and let me kiss his hand, patting
me on the shoulder as I rose, and then bade me sit
down again. He had yet more to say.

" With Erpwald who is dead, men would hold
that you had a blood feud. That is done with ; but
his son yet lives. I do not think it is your way, or
Owen's, to hold that a feud must be carried on in
the old heathen way of our forefathers."

" Most truly not," I said. " What ill has a son
of Erpwald done to me or mine ? "

" None ! Nay, rather has he done well, for I know
that he has honoured the grave of your father, and
even now is ready to do what he can to make
amends for the old wrong. He brought me this."

He took up the parchment that he had shewn me
before. It was a grant of the manors of Eastdean
to Erpwald, gained by those means of utmost
craft whereby the king thought that indeed the
last of our line had perished by other hands than
those of the heathen thane.

" Honest and straightforward and Christianlike is
this young Erpwald," the king said. " Well brought
up by his Christian mother, if not very ready or


brilliant in his ways. Now he has learned how his
father came into the lands, and though he might
well have held them after his uncle on this grant,
he has come hither to set the matter in my hands.
' It is not fair,' quoth he, ' that I should hold them
if one is left of the line of Ella. I should not sleep
easily in my bed. Nevertheless, I will buy them if
so be that one is left to sell them to me.' So
he sighed, for the place is his home."

" All these years it has been no trouble to me
that Erpwald's brother has held the place,' my King.
It will be no trouble to think that a better Erpwald
holds them yet."

" I do not think that he will be happy unless he
deems that he has paid some price some weregild, 1
as one may say ; for slow minds as his hang closely
to their thoughts when they are formed. See,
Oswald, I have thought of all this, and the young
man has been here for a fortnight. I brought him
here from Winchester, where he joined me. Let
me tell you what I think."

" The matter is in your hands altogether, my

" As you have set it there," he said, smiling
gently. " Now all seems plain to me, and I will
say that this is even what I thought you would wish
to do. How shall it be if we bid Erpwald, for the
deed of his father, to build a church in Eastdean
and there to keep a priest, that all men shall know
how that the martyr is honoured, and the land be
the better for his death ? "

1 Weregild the fine to be paid in amends for an onen " man-
slaying " in quarrel or feud.


Nought better than this could be, as I thought,
and I told the king so.

" Why, then," he said, " that is well. I shall have
pleased both parties, as I hope. I know you will
meet him in all friendliness."

Then he let me go, and it was with a light heart
that I parted from him. Now I knew that my
father's grave and memory would be held in more
than common honour, and I was content.

Men would miss Owen sorely here, but, save for
that, I had so often acted for him in these last two
years that my being altogether in his place made
little difference to any one, or even to myself in a
few days. That last was as well for myself, as it
seems to me, for I was not over proud, as I might
have been had the post been new to me. As it
was, I do not think that there was any jealousy
over it, or at least I never found it out. My
friends rejoiced openly, and if any one wondered
that the king should so trust a man of my age, the
answer that I had saved Ina's life was enough to
satisfy all. My men drank my health in their
quarters that night, and after I got over the little
strangeness of sitting on the high place next to
Nunna, things went on, save for the want of Owen
about the court, even as when he was the marshal
and I but his squire, as it were.

I saw young Erpwald for the first time soon after
the king had spoken of him to me, and I liked the
look of him well enough. He was some few years
older than I, square and strong, with a round red
face and light hair, pleasant in smile, if not over wise
looking. One would say that he might be a good


friend, but one could hardly think of him as willingly
the enemy of any man. Some one made me known
to him as the son of Owen, as was usual, and as
such would I be known to him for a while ; but for
some time I saw little of him, not caring to seek
his company, as indeed there was no reason for me
to do so.

The next thing that I heard of him was that he
had made a great friend of the ealdorman since he
came here, being often at his house. It was not
so long before I met him there, though my pride,
which would not let me risk another rebuff, kept me
away for some days. I had an uneasy feeling that
I should fare no better, and I could find good
reason enough to justify the thought in some ways,
as any one may see from what had happened before.
Maybe that was a token that my first feelings were
cooling off, and I do not think that there is much
wonder if they were. It would have been strange,
and not altogether complimentary to the fair damsel
if, after the deed at the feast and the vow that I had
to make, I had not thought myself desperately in
love with her at last, after a good many years of
friendship. But now there had befallen the long
days of peril and anxiety which had set her in the
background altogether, and I had had time to come
to more sober thoughts, as it were. Men have said
that I aged more in that short time than in the
next ten years of my life, and it is likely. Never-
theless, it needed but a word or two of kindness to
bring me to Elfrida's feet once for all, and but a
little more coldness to send me from her altogether.

So at last I went to her home to find out how I


should fare, thinking less of the matter than last
time, and there she sat in the hall, chatting merrily
with Erpwald. That pleasantness stopped when I
came in, and after the first needful greetings Elfrida
froze again, and Erpwald fell silent, as if I was by
no means welcome. I could see that I was
the third who spoils company. However, the
ealdorman came in directly, and I talked to him,
and as we paid no heed to those two they took up
their talk once more, and presently their words
waxed low. Whereon the ealdorman glanced at
them with a sly grin and wink to me, and I

So I went away, for that was enough. Of course,
I was very angry, by reason of the scratch to my
pride ; for it does hurt to think that one is not
wanted, and for a while I brooded over it just as I
had done the other day. Then it came to me that
at least I had no reason to be angry with Erpwald,
who could know little or anything about me, being
a new-comer, and it was not his fault if the girl
made a tool of him to scare me away, and after
that I found my senses again, rather sooner than
before, perhaps. It was plain that the ealdorman
took it for granted that I had no feeling now in
that direction, and so others would do the same,
which was comforting. So I supposed that there
was no more to be said on the subject by any one,
unless Elfrida chose to have the matter out, and
set things on the old footing of frank friendliness
again. There I found that I was mistaken at once.
Some one was coming down the lane after me
quickly, and then calling my name. I turned, and


there was Erpwald, with a very red face, trying to
overtake me, and I waited for him.

" A word with you, Thane," he said, out of breath.

" As many as you will. What is it ? "

" Wait until I get my breath," he said. " One
would think that you were in a desperate hurry,
by the pace you go. Plague on all such fast
walkers ! "

That made me laugh, and he smiled across his
broad face in return.

" It is all very well to grin," he said, straightening
his face suddenly to a blankness ; " but what I have
to say concerns a mighty serious matter."

" Well, then, get it done with," I answered, trying
not to smile yet more.

" I don't rightly know how to begin," he said in a
hesitating kind of way. " Words are as hard to
manage as a drove of forest swine, and I am a bad
hand at talking. Can you not tell what I have to
say ? "

" Not in the least," I answered. It flashed
across me that he might have found out who I
was, however, and wanted to speak of the old

" Well," he said at last, growing yet redder, " the
Lady Elfrida is angry that her name has been
coupled with yours pretty much lately."

He stopped with a long breath, and I knew what
he was driving at.

" She has told me as much herself already," 1
said solemnly.

He heaved a sigh of relief. " But she did not
tell me that," he said in a puzzled sort of way.


" Well, it must not go on, or or else, that is, I shall
have to see that it does not."

" The worst of it is that I cannot help it," said I.
" Did the lady ask you to speak to me of the

"Why, no; she did not. Only, I thought that
some one must. Of course, I mean that I will fight
you if it goes on."

" Of course," I said. " But I can in no wise stop
it. Do you know how it began ? "

" Not altogether. How was it ? "

" Really, that you had better ask some one else,"
I said, keeping a grave face. " I think that it
would have been fairer to me to have done so first.
But if there was any real blame to me, do you think
that the ealdorman would have been glad to see
me just now? I think that it was plain that he
was so."

" I am an owl," Erpwald said. " Of course, he
would not have been. But did you come to see
the ealdorman, or the lady ? "

" Why, both of them, of course. I have known
them for years."

He looked relieved when he heard that, and I
thought that he must be badly smitten already.

" Well, I will go and ask the ealdorman all about
it," he said. " Where shall I find you in an hour's
time ? "

" In my quarters," I answered ; " but, of course, if
you want to fight me you will have to send a friend
to talk to me."

" I will send the ealdorman himself."

" Best not, for he is the man who is charged with


the stopping of these affairs if he hears of them.
Any atheling you meet will help you in such a
matter. It is an honour to be asked to do so.
But don't ever ask me to be your second if you
have another affair, for I also have to hinder these
meetings if I can."

" Is there any one else I must not ask ? " he said
in a bewildered way.

" Best not ask the abbot," I said, and I could not
help smiling.

" Now you are laughing at me, and that is too
bad. How am I to know your court ways ? "

" Well, you will not have to fight me unless you
really want to pick a quarrel. So it does not
matter. Get to the bottom of the question, and
then come and talk it over, and we will see what is
to be done."

He nodded and left me, and I had a good chuckle
over the whole business. It was not likely that
Elfrida had set him on me, in the least; but I
suppose he had heard some jest of her father's,
who was one of those who will work anything that
pleases them to the last.

So I went my way, and saw to one or two things,
and sat me down in the room off the hall that had
been Owen's, and presently Erpwald came in, and I
saw that he was in trouble.

" Well," I said, " how goes the quarrel ? "

" I am a fool," he replied promptly. " The lady
should be proud of the affair, and the more it is
talked of the better she should like it. You are
right in saying that it cannot be stopped. Why,
there is a gleeman down the street this minute


singing the deeds of Os\vald and Elfrida. As for
the vow you made, the ealdorman says that it
could not have been better done, Forgive me for
troubling you about it at all."

He held out his broad hand, and for a moment
I hesitated about taking it. He bore his father's
name, but in a flash it came to me that I was
wrong. We were both children when the ill deed
was wrought, and I was no heathen to hold a blood
feud against all the family of the wrong-doer. He
did not even know that one of us lived, and, as the
king had told me, I knew that he was prepared to
make amends.

So I took his hand frankly, and he had not
noticed the moment's slowness or, if he did, took it
for the passing of vexation from my mind.

" You will laugh at me again," he said, " but now
I am in hot water in all sooth. The lady will not
speak to me at all."

I did laugh. I sat down on the edge of the
table and tried to stop it, but his red face was so
rueful that I could not, and at last he had to smile

" Why, what have you done ? " I asked. " Now
it is my turn to know reasons why. Here is a new
offence to be seen into."

" I only told her that I had spoken to you on
the subject, and was going to talk to the ealdorman,
her father, if she would not save me the trouble by
telling me herself all about it."

" And then ? "

" She got up and went away, tossing her head,
without a word. So I had a talk with the ealdor-


man, and learnt all ; but after that I tried to see
her, and that black-haired Welsh maiden of hers
told me that she would not see me."

" It seems to me that you have had a bad day,"
I said. " But what does it matter ? You have
done what seemed right, and if it is taken in the
wrong way you cannot help it."

" It does matter," he said. " If she is wroth with
me, I don't mind telling you that I am fit to hang
myself. Could you not set things right for me,
somehow ? You are an old friend."

" No, hardly ; for I am not in favour there just

" Well, I shall go and try to get round the Welsh
girl to speak for me."

Now, that was a servant I had never heard of,
and I thought I knew all the household. So I could
not tell him if that would be of use, and he left
me in some sort of desperation to try what he could.
He was very much in love.

Next day he came back beaming. Somehow
the Welshwoman had managed things for him, and
all was .well again. I had my own thought that
Elfrida was by no means unwilling to meet him
half-way, but I did not say so. I think I had fairly
got over my feelings by this time, but I must say
that I felt a sort of half-jealousy about it. But
the more I came to look on the South Saxon's
round face, and to think of him as Elfrida's favoured
lover, the less I felt it. It became a jest to watch
the going of the affair, and I was not the only one
who found it so in a very short time. Erpwald

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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 14 of 25)