| Our Little Norman Cousin of Long Ago|
|by Evaleen Stein|
|A story of Normandy in the time of William the Conqueror, giving a vivid picture of manners and customs through the eyes of two boys of the court. Describes castle life, dress, amusements, training for knighthood, and other aspects of feudal life. Also relates stories of William's early days, as well as tales of his Northmen forefathers, Duke Robert the Magnificent, Little Duke Richard, and Rolf the Ganger. Ages 8-10 |
THE DUCHESS MATILDA'S GIFT
 "Dear me!" said Alan one day, while still the ships waited
for the wind, "won't it seem tame to go back to Noireat
after being here so long?"
"Yes, indeed!" said Henri, with a sigh. "We surely will
miss seeing all these knights and soldiers every day,
and all the horses and ships! And then at night, the
fire in the castle won't be half so much fun as the
camp-fires here, even if they are put out early. And
the stories the men have to tell about the wars they
have been in beat old Herve's!"
"No," said Alan, "I don't think they are better than
Master Herv's, but they are different. And then the
minstrels here, what good songs they sing! I didn't
expect though to find any of them in camp! I
didn't know they ever went to war!"
"Oh, yes!" said Henri, "I heard one of the
 knights say
that the minstrels, when they wanted to, could fight as
well as anybody. But Duke William's minstrel, Talifer,
is going along just to sing his war songs so as to
cheer on the men. And the knight said that Talifer is
so brave and that he sings so well that he will
probably ride right in front of everybody!"
"He certainly sings well!" agreed Alan. "You know the
other day when we passed Duke William's house, what a
beautiful song we heard Talifer singing!"
Here the talk of the boys was cut short as Count
Bertram called them to do some errand and they quickly
sprang up to obey him.
The next morning Henri awakened with a sigh; for there
was a gusty sound without and the flap of the tent had
"Do you hear that?" he asked, nudging Alan who slept
"Yes," said Alan, dolefully rubbing his eyes, "it's
that old wind!"
Soon it was blowing strongly, and though not quite in
the direction wanted, Duke William decided to go along
the Norman coast to a point a little nearer Britain; so
off the ships sailed to the seaport town of Saint
 Alan and Henri were very disconsolate as they watched
the last sail fade away at the rim of the sky.
"Oh, don't you wish we were on one of those ships!"
cried Alan longingly.
"Indeed I do!" answered Henri. "It seems lonesome
already! It wouldn't be half so much fun staying here
with the soldiers all gone, and I'd just as soon go
"Yes," said Alan, "but we can't right away, for one of
the squires of the party we are to go with told me a
while ago that his brother, Jean, is sick and they
don't want to leave him alone here, so we are all to
wait a few days till he gets better."
"Well," said Henri, "I don't see where we will stay,
for the camps are all broken up."
"Oh," said Alan, "I forgot to say the squire has
arranged for us all to go over to Duke William's house.
There are a couple of small rooms the care-taker will
let us have, and his wife will get our meals."
"Who will pay for us?" asked Henri.
"Oh, I don't know," answered Alan, "But I suppose Count
Bertram will fix it all right when he comes back."
 So the little party moved over to Duke William's house,
where the sick squire, Jean, was made comfortable and
soon began to improve under the nursing of the
As Henri had said, everything seemed very quiet and
deserted after the sailing of the fleet. But though at
first the boys hardly knew what to do with themselves,
they soon found plenty of entertainment in wandering
about the old town and along the edge of the sea, which
was a never ending wonder to them.
Thus several days passed; and then one morning word
came to Dives that the fleet was again becalmed at
Saint Valery, waiting vainly for favoring winds. At
this news one of the young squires exclaimed, "Let us
ride over to Saint Valery! I don't believe it is so
very far away, and I think by hard riding we could
reach it in a day. Let us go over and see what they are
"All right!" cried the others eagerly, and "May we go,
too?" Henri made haste to ask.
"Yes," said the squire, "we'll all go! Jean is better,
and the care-takers will look after him till we get
 So, getting their horses and ponies ready as quickly as
possible, off they started for Saint Valery.
It proved to be a three days' ride instead of one, but
youth and good spirits, and a little money they managed
to muster, carried them through, and it was a tired but
happy little party that reached Saint Valery at
nightfall the third day. Wrapping their riding cloaks
about them, they lay down on the ground and slept
soundly till morning.
When they awakened, they found much the same scene as
had been at Dives. Tents and soldiers, knights and
war-horses and ships, and great numbers of the people
of Saint Valery coming and going among the throng.
The two pages had some trouble finding Count Bertram
and Hugh among so many, but at last they did.
"Ho!" said Count Bertram, staring at them in surprise,
"where did you young rascals drop from? I though you
were home by this time!"
He smiled when the boys hurriedly explained to him how
they had come. "Well, well," he said, "I am glad enough
to see you and only
 wish I could take you along!
Meantime you can make yourselves useful here."
And he and Hugh between them soon found a number of
things for them to do.
So ten days more passed. Then at last the east wind
Oh, what rejoicing there was then among all those
warriors! And what a hurrying and scurrying to get back
in the ships everything that has been taken ashore
during the long wait! Horses neighed and whinnied and
pranced as they were being led aboard, silken banners
and pennons were set flying from every mast, men in
armor, men with cross-bows, glittering spears and
lances and shining battle-axes, all were crowded on the
long ships, as the sun shone and sparkled and the
people on shore ran to and fro bringing this and that
thing to the water's edge.
Then all at once some one noticed a strange ship on the
horizon. Its curving, gayly colored sails gleamed
bright and billowy in the brilliant morning light as
faster and faster it sped into the harbour of Saint
Valery. And then, nearing the fleet, proudly it came to
shore just as everything was ready and Duke William was
about to embark on the ship he had chosen for his own.
 As the people gazed at the beautiful new vessel, so
much finer that any there, a great shout of admiration
went up. "The Mora!" they cried, reading the
name painted in bright colors on the side of the ship.
And then on the flag, waving from the top of the mast,
they saw embroidered the three lions of Normandy, and
"The duke's ship!" everybody shouted.
But Duke William himself was staring at it in utter
bewilderment. He stared at its beautiful shape, as its
lion flag, and, most of all, he stared at the carved
and gilded figure-head at its high prow. For this was
the image of no other than his own little son William,
his name-sake and favorite child. The golden boy
grasped in one hand a bow and arrow, and with the other
held to his lips an ivory trumpet which he seemed in
the act of blowing.
As Duke William stood, the picture of amazement, a
richly clad lady was seen near the mast of the ship,
and in another moment his lips parted in a joyful smile
as "The Duchess Matilda! Hurrah, hurrah!" burst from a
thousand throats about him.
It was indeed the Duchess Matilda, who as a surprise
for the duke, had ordered the beautiful
 new ship built
for his special use, and she had come
with it because she wanted to have the pleasure of
presenting it to him herself.
As for Duke William, he was overjoyed, and declared the
gallant way in which the Mora had sailed into
harbor was a good omen for his undertaking. At once he
ordered all his own things taken from the ship he had
meant to use and placed on the fine new one.
When once more all was ready, and Duke William had
taken leave of Duchess Matilda, and every one had said
good-by to their friends, the anchors were drawn up,
the sails set for Britain, music played, people cheered
and shouted, and away went the fleet and the fearless
army which was to help Duke William earn the name of
"the Conqueror" and win for him the crown of Britain.
Alan and Henri, standing at the edge of the water,
shaded their eyes with their hands and looked and
looked as the countless swelling sails fluttered out to
sea. And as the last gleam from the Mora faded
from sight, they fancied that from the ivory horn of
the golden boy upon its prow there echoed back a brave
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