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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it, but he would not say more then. Maybe he
could not. So he turned to me.

" It is all right, Oswald, for Elfrida is herself
again, and she saw nothing after she looked into
the gulf below her. I have told her nothing."

" Do not tell her anything, Ealdorman," Erpwald
said. " No need to say what a near thing it was,
or that I handled her like a sack of oats. She
would never forgive me. But Oswald says it was
all that I could have done. It was a good thing
that he was there to take her."



A STRANGE BIRDS'-NESTING 259

" How are you going to account for the broken
head, then ? "

" Say I was thrown from my horse afterward, or
somewhat of that kind," he said. " Or, stay, these
will do it. I have been birds'-nesting. I thought
these would please her. One gets falls while
scrambling after the like."

He put his hand into his pouch as he spoke.

" Plague on it, one is broken," he said, bringing
out a raven's egg. " There were two in that place
where I stopped falling."

The ealdorman and I stared at him in wonder.
It amazed us that in such a moment a man should
think of this trifle. And now he was turning
his soiled pouch inside out and wiping it with
a tuft of grass, grumbling the while. It was
plain that the danger had made no impression on
him.

" Were not you frightened when you found how
nearly you had fallen from the cliff?" I asked
him.

" No ; why should I be ? I did not fall from it.
I was feared enough when I thought that I was going,
and I thought I was at the bottom when I came to
myself. But as I had not gone so far, there was an
end."

I minded the story of the Huntsman's Leap, and
how I had felt when I knew my escape. It was
plain that this forest-bred Erpwald, with his cool
head, and lack of power to picture what might have
been, would make a good warrior, so far as dogged
fearlessness goes, and that is a long way.

Now the ealdorman kept what else he might have



260 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

to say until we were at home, for it was time for us
to be off. So we brushed Erpwald down and hid
his cut under a cap that the good franklin of the
house lent him, for his own was gone, as he said,
to make a bird's nest somewhere on the cliffs ; and
then Elfrida came from the cottage, looking a little
white and shaken with her fright, but otherwise none
the worse, and we started. Erpwald kept out of
her sight for a little while, but as we were fairly on
the way home it was not long before he found his
way to her side, and we let those two have their
say out together.

One by one the friends who had joined us dropped
out of the party as their way led them aside, until
by the time we reached the ealdorman's house only
half a dozen of us were left. Then Herewald
would have us come in for some cheer after the
long day, but we were tired and stained, and I
must be back at the guard-room, and so he bade
his folk bring somewhat out here to us. There
was a cask of ale already set on the low wall by
the gate for the men, and we sat on our horses
waiting, with a little crowd of thralls and children
round us, looking at the two good deer that we
brought back. Then the steward and some of the
women of the house brought horns of ale from the
house for us.

One of the women came to me, and without
seeing who she was, or thinking of doing so, I
reached out my hand for the horn that she held
up, and at that moment some one from behind
seemed to run against my horse's flank, and he
lashed out and reared as if he was hurt. My rein



THE THRALL WHO SQUINTED 261

was loose, and I was bending carelessly over to
take the horn, and it was all that I could do to
keep my seat for the moment. As for the girl, she
dropped the horn and ran from the plunging horse
into the doorway for safety.

Then I heard the sharp crack of a whip, and
the voice of the head huntsman speaking
angrily

" Out on you for a silly oaf ! What mean you
by going near the thane at all ? " The whip
cracked again, and the long lash curled round the
shoulders of a ragged thrall, who tried in vain to
escape it.

" On my word, I believe you did it on purpose ! "
the huntsman cried, with a third shrewd lash that
found its lodgment rightly.

" Mercy, Master," mumbled the man, writhing ; " it
is this terrible crossing of the eyes. I do not rightly
see where I go."

I had quieted the horse by this time, and I held
up ,my hand to stay the lash from the thrall.
Some one picked up the horn that the girl had let
fall.

" Let him be," I said. " It could but have been a
chance, and he is lucky not to have been kicked.
See, he does squint most amazingly."

" Ay," growled the huntsman, " so he does ; but I
never knew a cross-eyed man before who had any
trouble in walking straight enough."

The thrall slunk away among his fellows. He
was a round-shouldered man with hay-coloured hair
and a stubby beard of the same, and he rubbed his
shoulders with his elbows lifted as he went. Then



262 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

the steward gave me a fresh horn, and we said
farewell to our host and hostess, and Erpwald and
I went our way.

" I thought that the horse would have knocked
the Welsh girl over," he said presently. " She was
pretty nimble, however. That churl must have
kicked your horse sharply to make him plunge as
he did."

" Trod on his fetlock most likely," I answered.
" Clumsy knave."

" Well, that huntsman knows how to use a lash,
at all events, and he will have a care in future.
But how my head does ache ! "

" That is likely enough," I said, laughing. " It
was a shrewd knock, and it kept you in that hole
for the longest hour and a half I have ever
known."

" It does take somewhat out of the common to
hurt me much," he said simply.

" Well, by to-morrow you will be famed all over
Glastonbury as the man who fell over Cheddar cliffs
and escaped by reason of lighting on the thickest
part of him," I answered.

It was a poor jest enough, but it set him laughing.
I did not wish him to say more of what had just
happened, for I was puzzled about it, and wanted to
get my thoughts to work. He had spoken of the
very thing that I had been warned of, for almost
had I taken the horn from the hand of a Briton
the Welsh girl of whom he spoke once before. I
had forgotten her, for I do not think that I had
ever seen her since she came here, until now. But
at this moment I seemed to have a feeling that her



A BLACKTHORN SPUR 263

face was in some way familiar to me, though only
in that half-formed way that troubles one, and I
was trying to recall how this might be.

Erpwald went off to the guest chamber where he
was lodged, and presently I found our old leech and
took him to see after him. He went comfortably to
sleep after his hurt had been dressed, and so I left
him. I will say at once that he felt no more trouble
from it.

Then I went to the stables to see how fared my
horse after the day's work, and found him enjoying
his feed after grooming. I looked him over, but I
could see no mark to show where the man might
have hurt him. But as I was running my hand
along the smooth hock to feel for any bruise, my
groom said to me

" Have you had a roll in a thorn-bush, Master ? "

" No. What makes you think I might have had
one ? "

" 1 found this in his flank when I rubbed him
down, and it was run thus far into him."

He held out a long stiff blackthorn spine, marking
a full inch on its length with his thumb - nail.
" Enough to set a horse wild for a moment," he
went on. " And unless you had fallen, I could not
think how it got there."

" In which flank was it ? " I asked, taking the
thorn from him.

" The near flank, Master."

That was where the thrall ran against him, and
surely the huntsman was not so far wrong when he
said that he did so on purpose. If so, it was done
at the right moment to give me a heavy fall, save



264 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

for a bit of luck, or maybe horsemanship. It was a
strange business.

" I was through a thicket or two to-day," I said
carelessly. " Maybe I hit a branch in just the right
way to drive it in. If we were galloping he would
not have noticed it. These little things happen
oddly sometimes."

Then the man began to tell me some other little
mishaps to horses that could not be explained, bustling
about the while. And before long I left the stables
and went to my own quarters, with the thorn yet in
my hand. It had been cut from the bush, and not
broken, just as if it had been chosen. Now, if these
hidden plotters wanted to frighten me, I am bound
to say that they succeeded more or less. Was the
giving of the horn by the Welsh girl to be a signal
to the thrall in some way? If there is one thing
that a man need not be ashamed to say that he
fears, it is treachery, and I seemed to be surrounded
by it. Hardly could a house-carle come to my door
but it seemed to me that he must needs bring one
of these unlucky notes. It was just as well that I
had some unknown friend to write them to me,
though I cannot say that I had profited by them
so far.

Now I sent two of my men to see if they could
find the cross-eyed thrall, but of course he was not
to be laid hands on. Only the people who had been
at the ealdorman's door seemed to have seen him, and
they could not tell who or whence he was. He was
so easily known, however, that I thought I should
be certain to have him sooner or later. Such a
squint as he had is not to be hidden, and that made



TROUBLE AT HEREWALD'S 265

the wonder that he had dared to do this all the
greater.

I slept on it all, and woke with fewer fears on me,
for I was overwrought yesterday after all the terrible
waiting on the cliff and what went before. It was
Sunday, moreover, and the early services in the new
church helped mightily to set a new face on things.
So when I had seen to the few duties of the morning,
I went down the street to ask after Elfrida, being
anxious to hear that her fright had done her no hurt.
Erpwald had been there before me, but I had missed
him since.

Elfrida was well, and glad to see me. We sat and
talked of yesterday, and I found that Erpwald had
said nothing of how he saved her, and it was pleasant
to tell her of it, while she listened with eyes that
sparkled. It was plain that I could have found
nothing that would please her better than to talk of
him. So I even told her how he had gone over the
edge into the cleft, but without saying that we feared
for his life for so long. Then her father came in, and
at once she asked after some sick person.

" How goes it with him now," she said.

" Well enough, says the leech; but he had well-nigh
died in the night."

" What is it that ails him ? Can the leech tell
that yet ? "

" He has taken somewhat that has poisoned him,"
the ealdorman answered. " The leech asked if he
had eaten of mushrooms, or rather toadstools, by
mistake."

" But there are none about as yet."

Now I asked who the sick man was, and Herewald



266 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

told me that he was such an one who was with us
yesterday. I minded him as one who stood near me
at the door when my horse reared. I thought that
he was the man who picked up my dropped horn, and
I was sorry for him. However, that was not much
concern of mine, so we passed to other talk for a
little, and then Elfrida said

" Are there any tidings of my maiden ? I fear
for her."

" None at all," the ealdorman said. " Here is a
strange thing, Oswald ; for that girl whom you so
nearly rode over last evening is as clean gone as if
she had never been. None saw her go, but when
supper-time came she was nowhere to be found.
Nor is there any trace of her now."

I felt as if I had expected to hear that the
Welsh girl had gone as well as the thrall, and I
cannot say that I was surprised ; though as they had
failed in whatever they meant to compass this time,
1 could not see why they should not have tried
again.

" Whence came she," I asked as carelessly as I
could. " Maybe she has only gone home, fearing
blame for dropping that horn."

" She has no home to go to, that we ken. She
came from Jago at Norton only a little while ago, and
she would hardly try to get back there across the
hills alone. She is an orphan serf of his, and I fear
that she has been stolen away."

" She has not been here long, then ? "

" She came when you were with Owen. Jago
sent to ask if Elfrida would take her in, she being
worth having as a maid. His wife had no place



MARA'S HANDMAID 267

for her, but would that she was well cared for. So
she came with the first chapman who travelled this
way."

Now as I thought of this girl, in a moment it
flashed across me where I had seen her before. It
was on board the ship at Tenby, and she came with
Dunwal and his daughter Mara. I was certain of it,
though I had only seen her that once, for there I was
in a strange land, and so noticed things and people
at which I should hardly have glanced elsewhere.
The Danish and British dress over there was strange
to me also.

Then, as soon as I had a chance I asked the
ealdorman for a few moments of private speech, and
we went into his own chamber that opened on the high
place of the hall where we had been sitting. There
I told him all the trouble, for surely I needed all
help that I could find, and at the last I said : " Mara,
the daughter of Dunwal, was at guest-quarters with

Jago."

Then I saw the face of my friend paling slowly
under its ruddy tan, and he rose and walked across
the room once or twice, biting his lip as though in
wrath or sore trouble. I could not tell which it was,
but I thought that he was putting some new thought
together in his mind.

" It is plain enough," he said at last, staying his
walk at a side-table. " I saw my sick man pick up
that horn the girl dropped, and he looked into it
and laughed and drank from it, saying that it was
a pity to waste good stuff. See, here it is. The
curl of it may have kept a fair draught in it for
him."



268 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

There were several horns standing in their silver
or gilded rests on the table at his elbow, and he held
up that one which had been brought to me, and then
dropped it.

It fell with its mouth upward, rocking on the bend
in its midst, so that it might well have had a gill or
two left in it, for it had a twist as well as the
curve in its length, which was somewhat longer than
usual.

" Poison ! " he said in a low voice. " That
a friend should be thus treated at my own
door, by my own servant ! What shall I say to
you ? "

" It is hard on you as on any one, Ealdorman," I
answered. " But the girl did not come from Jago.
Mara sent her in some way. I am sure it was she
whom I saw at Tenby."

" Ay," he said, " one could not dream that a
message seeming to come from honest Jago was not
in truth from him. The trick was sure to be found
out, and that soon, though."

" Not until the deed was done, maybe. This is
the first chance that the Welsh girl has had to hand
me aught."

The ealdorman held his peace for a moment, and
then he broke out suddenly : " By all the relics in
Glastonbury, that thrall saved your life ! He is no
fool either, for he knew that the horn must be spilt
in one way or the other, and it was worth while for
you to run the risk of a fall rather than that you
should drink it. How had he knowledge of what
was to be done ? "

" Whoever wrote the warning told him. It was



AN UNKNOWN FRIEND 269

a chance, however, that we did not come into the
house."

" There is some friend watching these traitors,"
said Herewald. " I did not know the thrall, but so
often men from the hill who have followed us come
here for the ale that they know will be going, that
I thought nothing of a stranger more or less. But
why choose my house for this deed ? "

I knew well enough, and it was plain when I
minded the ealdorman that my vow was well known,
and told, moreover, by Thorgils in Mara's hearing.
This was a house where I should often be, and when
Mara found out that Jago was a friend of Herewald
of Glastonbury the rest was easy.

" Well, I will send to Jago to-day, and find out
what he knows. That Cornish damsel must be
better watched. Come, let us go and tell the
king."

So we went, and when Ina heard what we had
to say he grew very grave, and asked many
questions before he told us what his thoughts
were.

" They have struck at Owen through you, my
Thane, even as I feared," he said. " I think that the
matter of the land of Tregoz has saved you, for I
seem to see in this thrall one of his men who hates
him and will thwart his plans. There are yet men
who will carry out what he planned ere he died.
Now I am glad that we soon shall be gone from
hence, and that is the first time that I have been
ready to leave Glastonbury."

Now I will say that when Herewald's messenger
came back from Norton it was even as we thought.



270 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

Jago had no knowledge of the Welsh girl, or her
sending. But Mara was gone a fortnight or more
since, for Cerent had sent her father for safer keeping
to the terrible old castle of Tintagel on the wild shore,
and she had followed to be as near him as she
might. Doubtless the girl might be found there
also in time.

So I had no more warnings, and in a few days
the strain on my mind wore off. I sent a message
through Jago to Owen to tell him what had happened,
so that he should have less anxiety for his own
comfort, while he knew that I was shortly to be far
hence.

Before that came about, however, Erpwald and
Elfrida were betrothed with all solemnity in the new
church, for their wedding was to be held here also
in the summer, when all was ready for a new
mistress at Eastdean. So Erpwald rode with us to
Winchester a proud man, and by that time I thought
I had forgotten that I ever held myself entitled to the
place he had won.

But I did not forget the plotting, and as the days
wore on, and my thoughts of it grew a little clearer,
I began to wonder if the thrall who saved me from
the poisoned horn might not be the man who slew
Tregoz on the ramparts at Norton in the moonlight.
I must say that it went against the grain for me to
believe that Mara had aught to do with contriving
my end through her maid, but unless there was some
crafty hand at work in the background, all un-
suspected, it seemed that there could be none else.
And then one day I found the little letter that
Nona had sent me. In that I was warned against



CONFESSION 271

Morfed the Cornish priest, and I had forgotten
him.

Now I will confess that two days after the Cheddar
business I took that little brooch that Elfrida had
given me, and dropped it into three fathoms of water
as I rode by the mere one day. There are foolish-
nesses one does not care to be reminded of.



18



CHAPTER XII

OF THE MESSAGE BROUGHT BY JAGO, AND
A MEETING IN DARTMOOR

As one may be sure, there was no danger for me at
Winchester, and if I had any anxiety at all it was
for Owen, who had dangers round him which I did
not know. I had sent him word by that old friend
of his, Jago of Norton, how the last warning was
justified, and had heard from him that with the
imprisonment of Dunwal his last enemies seemed
to have been removed or quieted. So I was more
at ease concerning him, and presently rode with
Erpwald to Eastdean in the fair May weather to
see the beginning of that church which should keep
the memory of my father.

And all I will say concerning that is that when I
came to visit the old home once more I knew that
I had chosen right. The life of a forest thane was
not for me, and Eastdean seemed to have nought of
pleasure for me, save in a sort of wonderment in
seeing how my dreams had kept so little of aught
of the true look of the place. In them it had grown
and grown, as it were, and now I was disappointed
with it. I suppose that it is always so with what
one has not seen since childhood, and for me it was

272



A DREAMLAND VALLEY 273

as well. I felt no shadow of regret for the choice I
had made.

So after the foundation was laid with all due rites,
I went back to the king and found him at Chippen-
ham, for he was passing hither and thither about his
realm, as was his wont, biding for weeks or maybe
months here, and so elsewhere, to see that all
went well. And I knew that in Erpwald and his
mother I left good and firm friends behind me, and
that all would be done as I should have wished.
Ay, and maybe better than I could have asked, for
what Erpwald took in hand in his plain single-
heartedness was carried through without stint.

Through Chippenham come the western chapmen
and tin traders, and so we had news from the court
at Exeter that all was well and quiet, and so I
deemed that there was no more trouble to be feared.
It seemed as if Owen had taken his place, and that
every foe was stilled.

And yet there grew on me an uneasiness that
arose from a strange dream, or vision, if you will,
that came to me one night and haunted me there-
after, so soon as ever my eyes closed, so that I grew
to fear it somewhat. And yet there seemed nothing
in it, as one may say. It was a vision of a place,
and no more, though it was a place the like of
which I had never seen.

I seemed to stand in a deep hollow in wild hills,
and round me closed high cliffs that shut out all but
the sky, so that they surrounded a lawn of fair turf,
boulder - strewn here and there, and bright with
greener patches that told of bog beneath the grass.
In the very midst of this lawn was a round pool of



274 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

black, still water, and across on the far side of that
was set a menhir, one of those tall standing stones
that forgotten men of old were wont to rear for rites
that are past. It was on the very edge of the pool,
as it seemed, and was taller than any I had seen on
our hills.

And when in my dream I had seen this strange
place, always I woke with the voice of Owen in my
ears calling me. That was the thing which made me
uneasy more than that a dream should come often.

Three times that dream and voice came to me,
but I said nought of it to any man. Then one day
into the courtyard of the king's hall rode men in
haste from the westward, and when I was called out
to meet them the first man on whom my eyes rested
was Jago of Norton, and my heart fell. Dusty and
stained he was with riding, and his face was worn
and hard, as with trouble, and he had no smile
for me.

" What news, friend ? " I said, coming close to him
as he dismounted.

" As they took you, so have they taken Owen.
We have lost him."

" Is he slain ? "

" We think not. He was wounded and borne
away. We cannot trace him or his captors.
Cerent needs you, and I have a letter to your
king."

1 asked him no more at this time, but I took him
straightway to Ina, travel-stained as he was. He
had but two men with him, and they were Saxons
he had asked for from Herewald the ealdorman as
he passed through Glastonbury in haste.



GERENT'S MESSAGE 275

So Ina took the letter, and opened it, and as he
read it his face grew troubled, so that my fear that
I had not yet heard the worst grew on me. Then
he handed it to me without a word.

" Gerent of the Britons, to Ina of Wessex. I
pray you send me Oswald, Owen's foster-son, for
I need him sorely. On my head be it if a hair of
him is harmed. He who bears this is Jago, whom
you know, and he will tell my need and my loneli-
ness. I pray you speed him whom I ask for."

That was all written, and it seemed to me that
more was not needed. One could read between the
lines, after what Jago had said.

" What is the need for you ? " Ina asked, as I
gave him back the letter.

"To seek for Owen, my father," I said. "Jago
must tell what we have to hear."

Then he told us, speaking in his own tongue, so
that I had to translate for the king now and then,
and it was a heavy tale he brought.

Owen had gone to some house that belonged to
Tregoz, in the wild edge of Dartmoor north of
Exeter, and there men unknown had set on the
house and burnt it over him, slaying his men and
sorely wounding himself. Only one man had
escaped to tell the tale, and he was wounded and
could tell little. And the deed was wrought in the
night, and into the night he had seen the men
depart, bearing the prince with them. But who
and whence they were he could neither tell nor
guess.



276 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

Then Cerent had ridden in all haste to the house,
and found even as the wounded man had told, for
all was still as the burners left it. But no man of
all the village, nor the shepherds on the hills, could
tell more. Owen was lost without trace left.

Then said Ina : " What more could be done by


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