Our Little Saxon Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles
It was late in the evening. The monks were assembled once more in the little chapel to engage in prayer. The psalms had been chanted to the accompaniment of the pipes, and Theodore and the diminished company of monks had knelt, when suddenly there came a pounding upon the door. It was burst open, and three men, cut and bleeding and weary, staggered over the threshold.
"May the Lord have mercy!" cried Theodore, as he rose and hurried down the chapel aisle.
The monks scrambled to their feet, they cried out in dismay, and then they crowded about the three men.
Turgar mounted a bench that he might see them more plainly,—then he covered his face in horror. One was Friar Joly, but so pale and haggard that he hardly knew him, and with a cut across his face that told how desperately near he had come to death.
But what was it that the men were saying?
"Fly! Fly! The Danes are close at hand! They will soon be upon us. They have learned of the rich treasures of Crowland, and they care nothing for the cross. Gold and booty are what they are after, and they hate the Christ, for they worship Woden. We are all that remain of the two hundred who marched away from Crowland!"
There was little time for lament. "What shall we do?" was the one question asked.
Weary and weak as he was, Joly was the one to suggest a plan of action, and the prior at once gave commands to carry it out.
"A boat is at the nearest point on the river," he said. "It is dark, but you know the way, and it is close by. Take all the treasures that can be carried and put them in the boat."
Swiftly, and as silently as possible, all the inmates of the monastery set to work. Gold and silver, jeweled ornaments, and embroidered fabrics were carried to the river. The golden cup which Friar Joly had said once belonged to King Arthur was put into Turgar's hand, and with his other he caught up a massive silver candlestick and bore them swiftly to the boat. Heribert ran with him, carrying two jeweled cups which had been standing before the altar.
"I know all the woods and paths about here," Heribert said in an undertone, as they hurried back for other treasure. "My home is not far away, and I have always hunted and trapped small game. Keep with me if you can, should the Danes come."
Presently the voice of Theodore rang out. "Hear me!" he called. "If any treasure is left we will conceal it afterward in the woods, or by dropping it into the water of the well. The boat must be taken down the river to the hermitage of Gyrth. He knows all the secret places, and will conceal both men and treasure. I will remain here with the older men and some of the boys. We could not defend ourselves against the Danish horde even if all were to stay. If we attempt no defense we may be spared."
A cry of protest went up from all the monks. They could not leave the prior without defense! They would not save themselves and leave him unprotected!
But Theodore was like adamant. The younger men and treasures must be saved for the future good of the church. If he must, he would gladly give his life; but he could not leave his abbey. His very defencelessness would save him.
The monks protested, plead, rebelled; but the prior was firm, and as their superior he commanded that they obey.
Slowly and sadly the strong men of the abbey filed down to the river-bank, boarded the boats, and glided away down the river. The three who had returned weary and bleeding were taken with them, although Friar Joly had resisted with all his remaining strength, and only the solemn command of the prior had reduced him to submission.
"The church and the country have need of you. Go!" And Friar Joly bowed his head and was led away.
"Of what use can we be?" whispered Heribert, with white lips, to Turgar.
The prior, a few old men, and four or five boys were all that were left in defense of Crowland.
"Come," said Heribert, laying hold upon Turgar's tunic. "I know all the ways of the woods hereabout. We can slip away unseen."
The Danes were coming. He had not even a knife with which to defend himself. He could be of no use to any one. These were the thoughts that went like a series of lightning flashes through Turgar's mind. Then he looked toward the altar where the Prior Theodore knelt.
In an instant Turgar's head was thrown back. "Go, if you will," he cried. And then, in a softer tone, he continued: "It is not in my heart to blame you; but whether I can help him or not, I shall not desert my prior."
A moment later Heribert had gone.
A few treasures and relics had been left behind or dropped in the hurry of departure, and those who remained busied themselves in carrying these to the well and dropping them into the water. Two or three forgotten manuscripts were hastily buried at the foot of a shattered oak.
Daylight was beginning to break, and the feeling of relief, which always comes with the approach of light, was stealing over the little group in the abbey when they heard a far-away shout, then another. Then came a chorus of horrid yells, the tramp of many feet.
The Danes were descending upon Crowland.
Turgar sprang to the side of the prior, not for protection, but—if there were a possibility of such a thing—to protect; and with blazing eyes he stood there.
"Save yourself, if you can," said Theodore. "Your country has need of such as you."
The prior had thought to speak to the leader of the Danes and throw his helpless band upon his mercy. But there was no time for speech or protestation. The merciless Danes poured into the building, searched in vain for the treasure they had hoped to find in such abundance, and in their frenzied anger at being thwarted, turned upon the little band and thrust them through with their spears.
Turgar, standing with clenched hands beside the prior, saw him stricken, and, tearing aside his own tunic, he took a step forward with bared breast and blazing eyes, saying: "You have killed my prior; kill me, too."
The hand of the Dane was already raised to thrust, but for an instant he paused and looked into the handsome, fearless face of the boy.
His arm dropped. "You are brave enough to be a Dane," he said, and with a quick motion he drew him beneath his own mantle.
"Follow me," he said, "wherever I go."
HE TOOK A STEP FORWARD WITH BARED BREAST.
A moment later the Dane drew him to one side, stripped off his torn tunic and threw about him a Danish cloak. "Keep close to me," he repeated. "I am Count Sidroc. I will save you, and make you a Dane."
At the words, "I will make you a Dane," Turgar was about to tear off the cloak and bare himself once more for a thrust, but at the instant he remembered the words of his prior—the last command which he could ever give—"Save yourself, if you can. Your country has need of such as you."