There is something more horrible than hoodlums, churls and vipers, and that is knaves with moral justification for their cause. — Thomas More

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




Leaving Home

Long before the time of our story the Saxons had given up the worship of Thor and of Odin, and had accepted the Christian religion; but in those days all the Christians in England were Romanists, and their teachers were bishops and priests.

There were those among the older or the more ignorant of the people who still clung to the old Norse religion with its many gods and heroes; but even they were in a sad state of doubt when they realized that this was the religion of the hated Danes, whom they called savages and barbarians.

The monasteries and abbeys of Saxon England were the seats of learning. The monks could read both Saxon and Latin, and when any man determined to learn to read and to write he entered a monastery as a pupil. Those who intended to devote their lives to the service of the church became priests; but others went to the monastery to study for a time only, expecting to take their place again in the world when their services were needed by the King, or for private duties. In this way the monasteries took the place of schools; indeed, they were the only schools the Saxons had.

Most of the people, however, were too busy fighting, or getting ready to fight, the Danes, to think or care much whether they could read or write. If it were necessary for them to sign a document, some priest could write the name for them and beneath that they could place their mark, which answered the same purpose. Few even of the kings, up to this time, could write their own names.

Wulstan and Gyneth had noticed Turgar's eagerness to learn, and his interest in all the historical tales that were told him, and they had at length decided to place him in an abbey where he could study under the monks, and learn at least how to read and to write.

When the news was told to Turgar he was at first quite overwhelmed. He was delighted at the prospect of knowing for himself how to read, and yet he wondered how, with all his restlessness and love of activity, he could ever adapt himself to the quiet life of a monastery.

"They will not require too much of you, my son," said Wulstan, when Turgar spoke of this. "The monks are men like ourselves, and some of them have been active warriors. They will give you the freedom that you need, if you win their approval. And you are not going with the idea of becoming a priest, but only as a pupil."

So Turgar was reassured, and when the time came for him to accompany his father he was very happy, except for the sorrow of parting from his mother.

Withgar rode with them, and a body-guard followed, made up of soldiers and servants, or thralls. It was scarcely safe even for two or three to venture off to a distance alone, since they might be overtaken by a party of marauding Danes at any time. No outrages had been committed recently, but the Saxons never knew when there might be a raid.

The Saxons had become a quiet people, and they had little love for fighting; but they were often forced to fight in order to protect their homes and those that they loved.

Nothing was sacred to the wild, fierce Danes. They burned houses and churches, they tortured and killed not only men, but women and children, till men shuddered to hear of their cruel and blood-thirsty deeds. They carried away the treasures of homes which they plundered, and then set fire to the buildings. The Saxons had repeatedly defeated them in battle, but new hordes kept coming from the north until, to the more thoughtful of the thanes, the struggle began to seem endless.

"Tell me more about Crowland, Father," said Turgar, as they rode along a quiet road—for Crowland was the name of the abbey in which he was to study.

"Crowland Abbey lies between two rivers," replied Wulstan, "and it is a very large stone building. There are several hundred monks living there, and it is one of the greatest abbeys in the land."

"It has had many rich gifts," added Withgar, "and it has great quantities of gold and silver plate, of jeweled robes and vestments. There is one table in the church, used in the service of the altar, which is covered with gold. And there are relics and treasures of priceless worth within its walls."

"Is there any one there that you know?" asked Turgar, struggling against a sudden feeling of homesickness which seized him.

"Oh, yes, indeed," answered his father. "The Abbot Theodore has been my friend from boyhood. He is prior of the abbey, and he will be like a father to you."

"Then there is Friar Joly, whom you are sure to like. He is a warrior as well as a priest, and he can tell you scores of stories such as you like to hear. Besides, he will teach you how to read such stories from books."

"It will all seem very strange," said Turgar, "but I think I shall like it."

"I am sure you will, my son," replied Wulstan. Then he drew rein and pointed some distance ahead. "Do you see the gray turrets yonder between the trees?" he asked, and when Turgar nodded he said, "That is your first view of Crowland Abbey. We will soon be there."

Turgar sat very erect upon his horse. It was the first time he had taken a long journey away from home, and he was filled with conflicting emotions. He would be glad to study, he was quite sure of that, although it was a great mystery, this learning how the strange marks upon a piece of white parchment could say things to you. But they surely could, for a priest who visited at their home had shown him a small volume and had read to him what the marks said.

He wished that he had brought Wulf, his great dog, for he felt just now as though Wulf would be a great comfort after his father and Withgar had gone.

Suddenly he turned to Withgar and said, "I hope you will bring home another boar soon, Withgar. I wanted to go with you hunting some day, but now I shall not have a chance."

"Oh, yes, you will!" replied Withgar. "You will be home again one of these days, and then we will go hunting together. And you may not find life at Crowland as quiet, perhaps, as you think. With so many men and boys here you will have plenty of company."

"Oh, I am going to like it," exclaimed Turgar sturdily, "but don't forget the boar hunt we are going to have together."