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

Turgar's Escape

Turgar, sick at heart, and full of wrath, nevertheless kept close to Count Sidroc.

From one part of the abbey to another the Danes went, searching for the treasures they believed were hidden. Finding little of value, their wrath knew no bounds, for they well knew that not an abbey in the country was reputed to hold as great treasure as Crowland.

"To the tombs, then!" cried the leader. "No doubt there is treasure there."

At this the men grasped their weapons and used them to beat, and pry, and hammer, until they had broken open the tombs of the monastery, and rifled them of such ornaments and treasures as had been buried there.

Turgar reeled with sickening horror at the scene.

"Who is this?" cried one of the Danes, stopping for a moment in his work to look into Turgar's face. He raised his weapon; then he hesitated for a moment as he noted the Danish cloak.

At that moment Sidroc wheeled about. "Hold!" he shouted. "He is a Dane, and my attendant."

The fellow muttered a word of apology, though he still looked with unconvinced eyes at Turgar. But, in another moment, he turned to snatch up a jeweled bracelet which had been stolen from one of the tombs and dropped by the plunderer, and so the boy was forgotten.

At last the marauding band was convinced that they had found all that there was of value, and prepared to leave. But their lust for cruelty and revenge was not yet satisfied. Piling together the bodies of the slain monks, they set fire to the monastery and marched away to the sound of the crackling flames.

Turgar had hoped that he might at the last slip away from Sidroc and hide, but Sidroc seemed never to forget him for a moment.

As he marched away with the hated Danes and looked back at the burning abbey his heart cried out, "Oh, my prior! Your fate is far happier than mine."

From Crowland the Danes marched to another abbey, which was also famed for its treasure, and there they repeated their terrifying attack. The inmates here had not been warned in advance, and the marauders were richly rewarded. They carried away great stores of gold and silver, rich vestments an'1 robes, and these they loaded into wagons.

When they at last marched away, Count Sidroc was placed in charge of the rear wagon, into which the heaviest and richest of the plunder had been piled.

Across the marshes and through the forest roads they marched, the men singing wild snatches of songs of the Northland, stopping now and then to put their shoulder to a wagon which was mired, or to repair a broken harness which had given way under the tugging of the horses, for the roads were rough and stony in places, and soft and miry in others.

The men seemed never to tire, and to Turgar, unused to traveling long distances on foot, the way seemed endless. But he clenched his fists and kept up, for he would not prove less hardy than these hated Danes—though he had had no food that day.

At length the line of march was halted long enough to eat a hasty meal, and Count Sidroc saw that Turgar was given his full share, so that when they again went on he felt much stronger and able to think more clearly.

Presently there was a great shouting ahead, and once more they stopped. Word was sent back that those in advance were crossing a stream, and that the bottom was rocky and the water deep. The men could wade or swim, but it was difficult to get the horses and wagons across.

Slowly the lines moved forward, until just as dusk began to creep upon them the wagon under Sidroc's care, the last of the line, reached the edge of the stream.

"We must hasten on or night will overtake us before we reach our boats," said Sidroc to the driver, who urged his horses forward.

Then, turning to a companion, Sidroc added, "The boats are just beyond the point of land which separates this troublesome stream from the main river. We must get this booty on board our ships to-night. It is too valuable to run any risk of losing."

"You are right," his companion answered. "The prating priests cheated us at Crowland, or we would have had twice as much."

The wagon was now in the stream, and the men were just entering the water when they heard a sudden bump, and then a sound of grinding and wrenching, and the breaking of heavy wood.

Sidroc sprang forward with a great oath and splashed through the water. His companion followed. Turgar, who was just entering the water at Sidroc's side, looked up just in time to see the wagon lurch and throw the driver into the stream.

In a moment all was confusion. One of the wagon wheels had struck a boulder and been wrenched off, breaking the heavy axle. The men shouted and called to those ahead, and the men nearest came back to help. They swarmed into the water, trying to prop the wagon so that its treasure should not be lost in the stream. Each man was intent on trying to avert a worse disaster to the precious load. Sidroc was in command, floundering here and there in the water, shouting orders, and hurrying the men, for darkness was settling down upon them.

"Now is my time," muttered Turgar under his breath.

He ran along the edge of the water as others were doing in their search for stones and timber with which to prop up the broken wagon. A little farther up the stream a great branch of a tree hung almost to the water's edge. Turgar reached it and hid behind its shelter for a moment to see whether his action had been noticed. But no one had thought of the boy in the excitement and turmoil.

Seeing this, he turned, and, still sheltered from sight by the branch, clambered up the bank and slipped in among the trees. Then he began to run, back, back, anywhere, away from the cruel Danes.

He knew nothing of the country he was in. He dared not make his way back to the road. It was rapidly growing dark.

He ran on and on, with nothing to guide his course except that as he ran the noise and shouting of the Danes grew less and less distinct, until at last he could hear it no more.

Exhausted, he at last dropped to the ground, weary, hungry, and footsore, and somewhat sheltered by the trunk of a great tree, he laid his head upon a hummock of earth and fell asleep.