| 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 |
ROLF THE GANGER
 After dinner the two heralds took their leave. Alan and
Henri followed them to the gate, and when it was shut
they loitered awhile in the small rood under the
watch-tower where Master Herve, the gate-keeper, lived.
He was an old man, and the boys liked to hear the
stories he was always ready to tell.
"Well, lads," he said, as they seated themselves n a
bench by the door, " 'tis lucky for you that you will
get to see one more tourney before our noble ruler,
Duke William, sets sail for Britain, for 'tis likely
times will be dull enough with all the good knights
following him across the sea!"
"Master Herve," said Henri, "why is Duke William going
to fight in Britain?"
"Why, child," answered Master Herve, "the blood of Rolf
the Ganger runs in his veins, and every true Northman
loves a good ship and a
 good fight!—especially if there is a good prize at the
end of it!"
"Tell us about Rolf the Ganger!" put in Alan; for
though the boys had heard the story often before, they
always liked to listen to tales of their Northmen
Master Herve smiled approvingly, and began: "Rolf, you
know, was the great-great-great-grandfather of our Duke
William, and was born nearly two hundred years ago on
an isle off the coast of Norway. When he grew up he
was so big and tall that he scorned to ride any of the
little horses they have in Norway, and because he
always walked instead people called him Rolf the
Ganger, which means Rolf the Walker."
"And afterwhile he was outlawed!" said Henri.
"Yes," said Master Herve, "he was a wild blade, and for
some deed he did he was made an outlaw by the King of
Norway. But that didn't daunt Rolf the Ganger! He
just got together a band of men and some dragon ships,
for the men of Norway have always been famous rovers
and more at home on sea than on land."
"I wish I could see a dragon ship!" exclaimed
 Alan longingly. "Do you think there will be some at
Dives when Duke William sails for Britain next fall?
You know when Count Bertram goes to join him we are to
go, too, as far as Dives."
"Well," answered Herve, "the ships now are a good deal
the same, only larger, and not so gay and fine looking.
Rolf's were long and narrow with a high prow of wood
carved like a dragon and gilded and painted in brave
colors. And each had a sail of red and blue, and at
the top of the mast flew a flag with a big black raven
worked on it; there were dozens of long oars, too, and
the shields of the warriors all glittering with red and
blue and gold hung over the sides of the ships. It
must have been a gallant sight to see their sails
spread and the great gold dragons gliding over the
curling green waves!" Here old Herve's eyes kindled as
he went on, "The isle where Rolf was born was cold and
bleak; so, when he started off he set his sails for the
south and by and by he came to the mouth of the river
Seine in the French country. Many of the Northmen
sea-rovers had come to the French country before Rolf
and fought the people and carried off rich booty."
 And here old Herve's eyes flashed again; for though
to-day we would call such doings the work of pirates,
in the days of our story everybody thought it very fine
and brave to get property by fighting other people and
taking theirs away.
"So," went on Herve, "when the French fold saw the
ships of Rolf the Ganger, they were terribly
frightened, and the French Kind, --you remember his
name, lads?" asked Herve.
"Yes," laughed the boys, "he was called Charles the
"Right!" said Herve, "he was a very silly king, and
silliest of all if he thought he could drive out the
Northmen if they had once made up their minds to stay.
And this they had, for Rolf's men had brought their
wives and children with them, and Rolf himself had
conquered the French Count of Bayeaus and married his
daughter Popa and was quite ready to settle down in our
beautiful Norman land, --though it wasn't called
"Master Herve," interrupted Henri, "didn't Rolf's wife
have any other name but Popa? You know that is just a
little doll!" (For
 so the word means in the Norman language.)
"I daresay she did," answered Herve, "but nobody knows
what it was. She must have been a pretty little thing,
and a great pet to get a nickname like that, and nobody
will ever call her anything but Popa, if she was
Duke William's great-great-great-grandmother! –Well, as
I was saying, Rolf's plan to settle down in the French
country, while it suited him exactly, didn't suit
Charles the Simple at all; and he got an army together
and fought Rolf, but Rolf beat him.
"After this King Charles thought best to try and make
friends with the Northmen. So he sent word to Rolf
that if he would stop making war on him, and would be
his friend and vassal and become a Christian (for the
Northmen all worshiped old heathen gods then), he would
give him all the land he had over-run, and that Rolf
should be the ruler and called Duke of the Northmen, or
Normans, as they soon came to be known.
"Rolf decided that he would agree to the King's terms,
and in token of his promise knelt down and put his
hands between the hands of King Charles and vowed he
would be his
faith-  ful vassal and friend. But when he was told that at the
end of the ceremony it was the custom for a vassal to
kiss the foot of the King, Rolf said nothing."
Here Alan and Henri, who had been listening
attentively, went off into bursts of laughter, for they
knew what was coming next in the story; and old Herve's
eyes twinkled as he went on, "Rolf just beckoned to one
of his followers, a big fair-haired Northman, to come
and do it for him. And the big Northman stepped up to
King Charles and seized his foot with such a jerk that
Charles tumbled over backward and that was an end to
the ceremony. The French folk were afraid to do
anything to the bold strangers, so they just picked up
Charles the Simple, and Rolf and his followers went
off, laughing as hard as they could, to the country
Rolf was to rule and which soon came to be called
"Rolf was a good duke," went on Herve, "and made
Normandy a fairly peaceful and prosperous country.
There has been plenty of quarreling and fighting since
then," added the old man, "but our Duke William, who is
the fifth ruler since Rolf, has got things very
 well under control and is all the while making Normandy
more prosperous and powerful."
"But you haven't told us yet why he is going to fight
the British!" said Henri.
"Oh, yes," answered Master Herve, "that is because,—let
me see," said he, thinking hard,—"it is
because,—Oh, I have it now! The British King, Edward,
who died a while ago, had no children to inherit the
kingdom, so he had promised it to our Duke William.
But when King Edward died, Harold, one of the powerful
British nobles, got an army together and had himself
made King. So our Duke William is having ships built
near the mouth of the river Dives, which flows into the
sea, and is getting all his soldiers ready, and in the
autumn he will said for Britain and fight for his
rights. Nearly all the Norman nobles are going with
him and it will be lonesome and quiet enough when our
Count Bertram and all the rest are gone!"
Here Master Herve gave a deep sigh, and just at that
moment "Boo!" cried a merry voice, and in danced the
two little girls hand in hand.
 The old gate-keeper started, and smiled in spite of
himself, as Marie, taking his hand, said gaily, "Well,
you needn't put on such a long face, Master Herve! I
guess we'll still be here!" and she smiled
saucily at the old man who was a great favorite with
all the children about the castle.
Alan and Henri jumped up laughing, and "Wait, Marie!"
called out the latter, for the girls had already
scampered off again.
At this they stopped and waited till the boys came up,
for all four were near the same age and great
playmates. "We're going to play 'turn the trencher,' "
said Blanchette. "You go get one, Alan, and be
It to start!" she coaxed.
"All right!" said Alan good-naturedly, and he ran off
to the kitchen and soon came back with the trencher.
By this time little Josef and several more pages had
joined the group, and Alan started the game which they
played exactly as children play it now ; and if you do
not know how that is, ask some of them to tell you.
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