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




Turgar's Home

It was a rude sort of home, yet strongly built. The stones which formed its walls had been torn away from the ruined turrets of an old Roman watch tower. The thralls of Wulstan had laid them.

The walls of the house were solid and heavy. All the light that made its way into the rooms came through narrow spaces left for the purpose between some of the stones. But rude though it was, it was a home of unusual comfort and refinement for the time. The ends of the wooden benches about the fireplace were carved with the figures and heads of animals; skins were thrown across the benches and upon the floor; and pieces of fine embroidery covered the cushions.

The home was in Saxon England, in the year 868, when Ethelred was King, and the young Prince Alfred had yet to earn his title of Alfred the Great.

Upon one of the skins spread upon the floor a boy lay stretched at full length, his chin propped in his hands, and his eyes gazing dreamily into the glowing fire. It was plainly to be seen that his thoughts were far away.

Presently he brought himself to a sitting posture, and, swaying his strong lithe body in time to the cadence of the music, he began to sing:

Once on a time it happened that we, on our vessel, Ventured to ride o'er the billows, the high dashing surges.

As the notes of the stirring song rang out, the great dog, which had been lying beside him, stirred, stretched himself, then sat upon his haunches as though ready to bound forth at a word.

The boy gave a sympathetic nod to the dog and continued his song:

Full of danger to us were the paths of the ocean—

But just as he finished the third line a gust of wind came through the hole in the roof above the fireplace, carrying with it a swirling cloud of smoke, which, for the moment, filled the room and threatened to choke both boy and dog.

"Ugh, what a way for the wind to treat us," spluttered the boy. "It must be a wild night outside."

As he spoke, a hand drew aside the heavy tapestry in the doorway, and a stately, graceful woman entered the room. She was tall, and her gown of rich blue was embroidered with threads of gold, while a wide mantle was drawn about her waist and over her left shoulder, its ends falling almost to the hem of her dress. Upon her shoulder a jeweled clasp held the mantle in place.

"Mother," said the boy, jumping to his feet as she entered, "sit on this side of the fire-place, where the smoke is not so bad. It is a wild night, and father will have a hard ride to the castle."

"You are right, Turgar," replied Gyneth. "I wish he might have put off going till the morning; but it was the King's business, and that brooks no delay."

"The Danes are not fighting, are they?" questioned Turgar anxiously.

"No," answered his mother, "the Danes are quiet and in their camps; but the young Prince Alfred is soon to wed, and King Ethelred has matters to bring before his thanes."

"And are you not going to the wedding of the Prince?" asked Turgar.

"Yes," was the reply, "your father and I are asked, and so is your brother Withgar, but the wedding will not take place for a number of days. Your father will return for me."

"Oh, I wish I could see the wedding of the Prince!" exclaimed Turgar, with sparkling eyes. And then he added more quietly, and. with a slight flush, "He is my hero, mother! Did you know that he was my hero?"

"He may well be," answered Gyneth, laying her hand lovingly upon Turgar's head. "Your father thinks him a wonderful youth. He is both honorable in his dealings and wise in counsel. I am glad he is your hero."

Turgar dropped upon his knee before his mother and was about to ask for a story of his. hero, when there was a sudden commotion outside.

The dogs in the yard began barking; the servants cried, "Hi, hi, who comes?"

Gyneth's face grew pale. Turgar jumped to his feet with clenched fists, and the great dog beside him, though he made no sound, drew back his lips in an ugly snarl, while the hair along his spine stood erect with bristling fierceness.

"The Danes!" This was the thought which shot through every mind—even the dogs seemed to know the word—for a band of these pirates and free-booters from the north was encamped in the country to the south, near the coast, where they proposed to spend the winter. They had promised to leave the Saxons in peace, but the promise of a Dane was easily broken, and the people were in constant dread of a sudden raid.

Turgar and Gyneth
TURGAR JUMPED TO HIS FEET WITH CLENCHED FISTS.


But as the little group in the home of Wulstan stood with suspended breath, waiting to know the cause of the sudden outcry, they heard a shout of welcome, a friendly calling and answering, and their tense attitudes relaxed. It proved to be a belated band of hunters returning from the chase. Among them was Withgar, Turgar's older brother. He had killed a wild boar in the forest and was dragging it home.

Turgar dashed out to meet him, and a few moments later the two brothers entered the room where Gyneth sat.

"Oh, Withgar, do tell us of the hunt," cried Turgar. "I shall be so glad when I am old enough to go with you!"

Withgar smiled at the boy's eagerness as he said, "We had rare sport, though for a time I was not sure whether I was to get the boar, or the boar was to get me.

"I came upon it suddenly, and the horse that I was riding was not used to the hunt. Then my spear broke when I thrust at the boar and he turned and charged me. But luckily Acca was near, and a better thrall it would be hard to find. I shouted for his spear, when mine broke, and, balancing it well, he threw it to me and I caught it, though my horse was plunging badly. In a trice I gave the boar another thrust and made an end of him. And now," he added lightly, "we shall have plenty of meat, and you will be glad of that, Turgar, I know."

Turgar's eyes shone like twin stars when Withgar finished, and it was clear that he was not thinking then of the boar's meat.

"Good! Good!" he cried.

To himself he said, "Oh, I do hope that I, too, may have great adventures, when I grow up.

And Turgar's wish was to be fulfilled in generous measure.