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After a time, the grandfather died, and in the time of his son troubles became greater, for the next generation of Normans was more exacting and cruel than the former; so that at the time of that Saxon farmer's death, he was an impoverished man. Then came the troublous days of King Stephen, when no man cared to cultivate the ground, because others were sure to reap what they had sown; and though things are a little better at the time of which we are writing, and labour is again bestowed upon the land, a Saxon farmer feels that the hand of oppression is laid very heavily upon him by his lord. No wonder, therefore, that in his heart he calls the Normans by such opprobrious names as“ bloated flies," and "human bloodsuckers,” and “tyrants.”
So he goes back to his labour with a heavy heart, and has just taken his reaping-hook in hand, when a loud hallooing is heard from the brow of a neighbouring hill. Then looking up, the farmer and his men see flying high up in the air almost directly over them, two or three heavy-looking, long-necked, long-legged, and long-winged birds, with long bills also; and the farmer, forgetting for a moment his troubles, cries out that they are herns or herons, and if he had but a falcon
But then he stops short, remembering that, however it might be in old times, scarcely any but Normans are permitted now to indulge in the noble sport, as it is called, of falconry. So he mutters to himself some unintelligible words, but still looks on as the herons fly over his harvest-field, for he judges from their flight, and from the halloos which he still hears, and which sound louder and louder as they come nearer and nearer, that others are enjoying themselves in the sport forbidden to him.
And so they are. See! following in the track of the frightened herons, are several smaller birds, which an experienced eye readily sees to be falcons. Swift and steady on the wing, they speedily overtake the fugitives, which now rise still higher in the air, to escape, if possible, their deadly enemies. But the falcons rise too, and then comes a struggle as to which shall soar the highest, until both herons and falcons are almost lost to sight.
While this is going on, and the farmer and his men are gazing into the clouds, the shouts and halloos they had first heard fall upon their ears more clearly, and on turning to the quarter from which they appear to come, they see a number of horsemen galloping down the hill, and across the valley, until they have entered the harvest-field. They are accompanied or followed by men on foot, who break through the hedges and fences over which the horsemen have leaped ; and both horsemen and footmen are now, in their eagerness to follow the chase, trampling down the uncut corn, overturning the sheaves which stand in their way, and showering down curses upon the poor Saxons for not getting fast enough out of their road. Indeed, one of the farmer's men has been struck down and ridden over by one of the Norman horses, and another has had a whip laid across his shoulders by a Norman horseman. There are a great many men on horseback, and still more on foot; for it is a grand day of falconry at the great house which has been recently built in the neighbourhood, and the master of that house is the most ardent of all the company in the sport.
Presently there is a cry raised, and all are looking upward at the little specks in the sky, which rapidly become larger and more distinct. Then it is seen that one of the falcons has overcome its quarry, as the hunted heron is called, by soaring above it, and then dropping suddenly down and attacking it with its cruel, sharp talons and hooked beak. Faster and faster the two birds come fluttering downwards till they reach the ground, the falcon uppermost, and the heron wildly shrieking with fear and pain. Then the falconer rides up and releases the captive quarry, soon putting it out of its misery, and handing it to an attendant, while he secures his falcon by fastening it to his wrist with leathern jesses or strings.
All this time, the poor Saxon farmer's wheat is being trodden under foot by horses and men, who only laugh at the mischief they are doing, if they think of it at all. But probably they do not think, for the chase is still hot after the other herons and falcons who have flown farther away ; so the horsemen gallop across the uncut corn, with footmen after them, and soon they are out of sight and hearing
“Never mind, master, what must be, must; and what can't be cured must be endured," we fancy we hear one of the reapers say, in a clumsy attempt
at consolation, to the disconsolate farmer, who is looking very sadly or savagely.
If they had all been Normans, I would not care so much about it,” we may suppose the former to reply, between his half-closed teeth ; "for it is what we have to look for from them. But to think of this, that Saxon should trample down Saxon!”
"Saxon, master ?"
“ Yes, said I not Saxon ?-or say Englishman if you will : it is the same thing.”
“But the Englishman or Saxon you were speaking of, master, which of them is he?”
“The archdeacon himself, as they call him; or Thomas Becket, as I call him. Was not old Gilbert Becket his father; and was not Gilbert a true Saxon? Answer me that, Ethelred,"
Now let us take another picture.
It is near midday in winter time. The snow lies deep on the low marshy land round the royal palace of Westminster, as it does, indeed, over the whole country; and the monks of the neighbouring convent of St. Peter's are glad to warm themselves at the blazing wood fire of their refectory (or dining-room), after having passed the morning lonelily in their cold cheerless cells.
It is not the convent, however, nor the palace, with which we have now do; but a large new house, at no great distance from them, which we shall take the liberty of entering. But first let us look about us, and admire how skilful the Norman builders are, and how much they have improved the style of domestic architecture. In former times, the houses or castles of the richest Saxon lords were built principally of massive, rough-hewn timber; and were low, straggling edifices, not at all handsome in their outsides, nor comfortable within. The wind whistled through them shrilly, for not many of them had closely-shutting windows; and, in cold weather, the great wood fires kindled in the halls and kitchens sent out as much smoke as heat, for want of proper chimneys. Now, the Normans have improved upon all this, as we see. This grand new house is built in squared stones, well secured with good mortar ; the windows, though narrow and deeply set in the thick walls, are sometimes even glazed ; and the smoke is curling out of the chimneys, which we see rising above the battlemented roof.
The house is enclosed with high stone walls, with a porter's lodge at the great gates, which are of thick oak, strengthened with iron bands and bosses, or large thick-headed nails; and besides the house, they enclose a large space of ground also. And so they have need to do; for a garden is wanted for the supply of the household with such vegetables or pot-herbs as are at present cultivated for food; and there are large stables required also, for the horses belonging to the lord of that mansion.
Let us go into the stables. Outside, they look like a long street; within will be found as many as seven hundred horses, strong and active, and ready