Our Little Saxon Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

From Abbey to Army

Nearly two years had passed since Turgar had come to Crowland Abbey.

At first the life had seemed very quiet to him, but he became deeply interested in his studies, he loved the Prior Theodore devotedly, and his admiration for Friar Joly knew no bounds.

He had learned to read the Saxon language, and was making good progress with his Latin.

Practically all the books in the monastery were written in Latin, but the monks devoted much of their time to translating these into Saxon and making copies of them in their own tongue. All books of that time were really manuscripts written by hand upon parchment, and the copying of a single book took many, many weeks. The monks tried to make their work as perfect as possible, and the letters of titles, or at the beginning of chapters or paragraphs, were often illuminated in rich colors. Sometimes these illuminated letters were embellished with very small heads, sometimes with landscapes, or figures or flowers. Gold was used with the rich colors, and the work was often very beautiful.

This hand process of making books, as well as their great scarcity, gave to each one a value which we of to-day can scarcely comprehend. A book was one of the rarest gifts that one friend could give to another, and only the nobles and families of great wealth had so much as one.

After Turgar had learned to read there were not many books in the monastery which were of any use to him, since only those that had been translated into Saxon had any meaning for him. But these few he read as often as possible, and from them and the tales told him by the monks he gained a very good idea of the history of his country and the deeds of his forefathers.

The works on theology he found rather hard to understand, but he read eagerly the poems and psalms, and found much of interest in the books of the law. The book that he loved best of all, however, was the book of psalms, which seemed to him to contain all the beautiful thoughts of the world.

He had not been long in the monastery when his friend, the good Joly, permitted him to use some of his paints and brushes, for no one in all the monastery could do more beautiful illuminating than the soldier-priest. Turgar was delighted. Painting was a wholly new occupation to him, but he was fascinated by it, even though his first efforts were poor and crude. In spite of this fact, Friar Joly saw that the lad had a latent talent, and he encouraged him to keep on. Within a few weeks Turgar was illuminating letters with greater skill and taste than some of the monks had ever been able to do.

The various studies, and the daily services in the chapel, together with the hours given to recreation, filled Turgar's days so full that he had little time for loneliness. There were other boys in the monastery, too, and with them he spent his recreation hours in outdoor games and contests that developed his physical strength. Their sports consisted in games of ball, discus throwing, and foot races.

Crowland Abbey


Turgar was a favorite with all. He was not only studious, which pleased the monks, but he was strong, athletic, and full of a fine courage that made him a leader among the boys.

One day as Turgar sat beside Friar Joly, bending over a Latin manuscript and trying to translate some of its unfamiliar phrases, they heard a sound of rapid hoof beats, and then some one pounded heavily upon the outer door.

In a moment all work within the monastery ceased. Friar Joly slipped the precious book back within its case, and all waited with suspended breath.

The prior answered the summons in person. A little later he returned, his face set and stern, and very white.

"The Danes are to the north of us," he said. "King Ethelred is sorely pressed, and has need of reinforcements."

Instantly the sober band of monks was transformed.

"I beg of you, give me a band of men to lead out!" cried Friar Joly. And a chorus of voices shouted, "Take me! Take me!"

In less than an hour's time there issued from the monastery gates an orderly company of soldiers, although still clad in the garb of monks. Friar Joly was in command.

Turgar's blood tingled as he saw them march away, and his heart beat fast. He would have been glad to form one of the band under the leadership of his beloved friar, for he felt that it would be a glorious thing to help even a little in battling against the cruel Danes.

"Oh, I wish I were a few years older!" he exclaimed to Heribert, one of his boy friends. "Nothing could hold me back then."

"Indeed," answered Heribert, "it would be much easier to go than to stay. I wonder how near the Danes are to Crowland."

But their conversation was interrupted by the bell calling them to prayer in the chapel.

The following days passed slowly to the thirty or forty inmates of the abbey. Their thoughts were with their comrades rather than upon parchments or the singing of psalms. They well knew that if conditions had not been desperate with the army of King Ethelred, he would not have asked for reinforcements from the abbey. But there were no means of communication. They could only wait and hope.

In the midst of his anxiety the good Prior Theodore did not forget Turgar, for he knew how greatly the lad would miss his friend, Friar Joly, and how distressed he would be regarding him.

Theodore had well kept his promise to Wulstan, that Turgar should be to him as his own son. He truly loved the lad, and his love was warmly returned.

On the second morning following the departure of the monks he sought Turgar out. "Come," he said, "I will hear your lesson in Latin to-day. Bring me your book."

Turgar took the manuscript to the prior and began to read. But try as he would to keep his mind upon his lesson, he made sad work of it.

"I do not always read so badly," he said at length, looking up into the prior's face. But he saw at once that the prior had not heard either his bad Latin or his apology for it. The eyes of Theodore were filled with a look of anxious dread, and it was evident that his thoughts were many leagues away.

With a start he came to himself, as he felt Turgar's gaze upon him. He took the manuscript and replaced it in its case. Then he laid his hand upon Turgar's shoulder with an affectionate clasp, and with a gentle smile he said, "We will try it again another day."

But little the kind old prior dreamed what another day would bring to his beloved abbey.