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BY THE HOAR APPLE TREE.
Once upon a time I, Chuang Tzu, dreamed I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither. To all intents and purposes I was a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my senses as a butterfly. I was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly I awoke, and then I was myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.
So wrote the famous “Butterfly” Chuang, the Chinese philosopher of the fifth and fourth centuries before Christ, and so do I now write the following, wondering if I be John Nye, a gunner of the Cinque Ports Artillery, dreaming of the Great Conquest, or if I be John Nye the lame Saxon of the Sussex Weald, dreaming I am an artilleryman of the twentieth century. The hoar apple tree still stands on Telham Down, and the great Roman road to London still passes through Silver Hill, and here lie I, Nye the Saxon, dreaming I am an artilleryman, or I Nye the artilleryman dreaming I am the Saxon peasant. If I be Nye the peasant, I spent last night sleeping by the gorse on Telham Down, and if I be the gunner, I lay out in bivouac alongside the forty-pounder train halfway from Silver Hill to Battle. . . . And this is what Nye the Saxon saw, musing under the gorse on the open down, looking over to Peofvensea and Bulverhythe, too lame to serve the Godwinsson as a soldier, so employed as a silent watch. It was mid-October, and the heavy dew that was almost frost glistened on his fair beard and on the hair of his woollen jerkin. And this is what he mused on, staring into the violet haze and the mist from off the sea. How for six dull months that summer had he seen King Harold keep his militia together on the Saxon shore, lest the Norman find wind to cross the Channel. For these same six months of western and northerly winds the English fleet had swept that Channel, and the militia had murmured, as militia will, at the time spent away from home and harvest, with never a fight to hearten them. How, weary at heart, King Harold had dismissed them to their crops, had set out himself to London by the Roman road, and had ordered his fleet to the Thames. Then as he got to London, lo! Harold Haardrada, the Norseman, another claimant to the throne of England, with Tostig Godwinsson, the King's own brother, had landed in the North—so ran the news— no man quite knew where. Since the prior evil is usually the more pressing, away north had tramped the King and his household troops, praying always that no south wind should blow till they marched down again, and all the time the Roman high street slipping away behind them. The day after the town of York had surrendered to Harold of Norway, the victor at Fulford Fields, Harold of England and his South Saxons, with half the English Danes of the Danelagh, swept through York, to find the Norseman mustering his men on Stamford Flats to enter in triumph the surrendered town. As both the armies struggled into line, there came the parley from brother Tostig Godwinsson, the outlaw, that drew forth the answer that rang through the length and breadth of Merrie England : . . . ‘The terms that Harold of England offers his cousin Harold Sigurdsson of Norway . . . seven foot of English soil, or since he be a tall man, as much more as he be taller than other men.” Taking the invaders in some surprise, the English fell on them by the Derwent and Stamford Bridge, till the fight rolled up to the Landwaster, the ruthless banner of Harold of Norway, beneath which he fell, for all his pains, and with him outlaw Tostig. And such of the Norsemen who escaped the English anger fled away to their ships at Recal, and were chased up and down the high seas by the English cruisers. Then, as Harold of England sat at banquet a day or two later in York, in honour of his victory and to rest his tired troops, news came that the wind had shifted south, and that William the Norman had landed on the Saxon shore, three days after the battle of Stamford Bridge. So back to London, down the Roman road, hurried Harold and his housecarles and such of his levies as had enough discipline to follow him, and as he marched the local militia tailed in to his call. As he came south to London, with Gurth and Leofwine, stopping by the way to pray to his Holy Rood, many a tale of woe and alarm was brought to him. How the invaders, shipload on shipload, galley-crew on galley-crew, Breton and Norman, Frenchman and freelance, with all the borrowed trappings of Europe, had landed on the old flats at Peofvensea, where Julius Caesar himself perhaps had landed over a thousand years before. Where, after him, had landed, men said, AElle and Cissa and every Jute and Saxon raider that had now become the English.
Fast from Peofvensea had ridden an English thegn, with tales of the countless hordes of French and of all the ravaging of fair Sussex and the burning of the newly garnered crops. But Harold in London tarried perforce, tarried and swore—swore again by his Holy Rood, while his tardy militia gathered and his housecarles rested, too old a soldier to be tempted to the coast ere he was ready. And since Harold would not come, and William dared not leave his base and his entrenchment on Hastings heights, the Norman must needs try and draw the English down to him. And draw them he did, by more rape and raid and fire, till at last Harold, and Cedric and Gurth his brothers, marched south before their time for very anger. But the little Englanders Edwin and Morcar, the Eorles of the North, sat and sulked at home, so that the men of Kent and Sussex and the Danelagh alone met the storm—which was exactly as William had planned. Sore tried had been Harold the King, whom William and his enemies called Harold Godwinsson—though Godwinsson he was and lawful King as well—by a summons to vacate the throne, by specious offers of arbitration, and finally by tempting challenge to single combat. The which was so enticing that Harold near forgot his kingship.
So it had come about that by Friday, the 13th of October, the King and his South Saxons formed up on the heights on Senlac Down, which some men call Saint-lache, athwart the narrow isthmus followed by the Roman road, hard by the hoar apple tree that every south-west wind had swept year in, year out, for a hundred years and more. Then and there the English dug themselves in with ditch and fence and wattle. Seven miles away, the invaders sat in their fortified camp on Hastings Bluff, their way to march out and forage afield barred and blocked by the English across the Roman highway, whose flanks rested on the Peofvensea marsh to the west and the Rother fens to the east. Each leader had manoeuvred for the best grip, and the Englishman had won it, thanks to Harold's knowledge of war and country, so that the Norman could but attack an entrenched line or starve.
All this and more, or less, floated through the mind of Saxon Nye, too lame to join the Telham levy, but active and acute enough to be left to lie out the night through on Telham Down to watch for the coming Norman. And so Nye sat a-dreaming, a dream within a dream, in the hoar frost on the down, that early morning of the 14th of October, 1066. Away to the west and below stretched the white cliffs of Bulverhythe, as they stretch to this day, and where men say William gave a soldier all the land he could cover with a bull's hide. Out beyond the marshes of Saxon Peofvensea and Roman Anderida, lay ship on ship and galley on galley, beached high on the fore-shore, glistening white in the rising sun of the crisp October morning. All seemed well with the land, from the great grey moor and marsh below to the sun-flushed coppice atop the down. As Nye stretched himself, he looked over across to Senlac, and saw the long line of wattle and earth entrenchment, and high on the mound by the hoar apple tree, that some said the British of old had planted, the flag of England. Bitterly he cursed his lame leg, that he too could not be there by the standard, and then, turning south to Silver Hill, cursed himself that could not even keep his watch aright. While he had slumbered through the frosty hours of dawn, the Norman had filed from his camp, and was even now deploying over Telham Down, so that the watcher by the patch of gorse and broom had no course but to stay where his own carelessness had caught him, like many another foolish sentry before and since. And, as he watched, the great French host broke and formed by companies and troops and squadrons, while Duke William himself rode to the front and donned his hauberk before all his force. Backsey-fore he donned it too, for an omen, and swore that it was right, ay, and that black was white too, if he, Duke William * Par le splendeur Dex' so willed it, and none should say him nay. By him rode Bishop Odo his brother, armed and swinging his mace, Taillefer who sang so well, and close behind him Count Rollo, with Toustain the White, and the consecrated banner. He on the Flemish horse must be Ralph of Couchies, and with him famous Walter Gifford of Langueville, and many another too of whom Nye had heard the white pilgrim speak in the village of Saxe a fortnight before. A goodlie company in all truth, to commit high trespass in Merrie England and burn honest Saxon homesteads ! And all the while Harold the King and his housecarles and the cheery English militia looked down from their palisade on Senlac Heights, every man from King to kern afoot like sturdy Englishmen who hated foreign fashion. Then Nye saw the Norman form his host in three solid divisions, archers and crossbows in front, then the pikemen, and lastly the mailed squadrons. Away on the left by the lower ground pressed the Bretons; in the centre, towards the high ground where waved the English standard and the dragon of Wessex, headed the Norman column itself; and on the right along the road the French company. As he watched, he saw young Aluric, a fellow watcher, dart from a forward tuft of broom and hurry back to tell his King the latest news, and as he looked again and swore in impotence the whole line moved down from Telham to the swamp below and up the Senlac rise. Then as the challengers breasted the rise and arrows flew, the din of battle came across to him. “Aie Dex Aie Dex' ' from the Norman, ‘Ut Ut ' ' from the English, who jeered again at the fierce flushed faces that pressed up to the palisade. Axe on hauberk, mace and morning star, javelin echoing on metalled shield, sword ringing on helm, hammer and cut and thrust, die and be damned, and the devil take the hindmost . . . and the Norman-French recoiled from the high palisade and the wall of English shields, till Nye near shouted for joy, and a frightened hare squealed past him. Again and again he saw the knights press on, in riot of chargers and revel of blows, and ill went the day for the strangers, while William sat and watched and waited his chance to come, as come it does to every man. Ay, and come it had too, for as the Breton broke before the English, the militia louts must needs break theirs too, and rush forward in unrestrained pursuit. A smile played on the face of the Norman duke. ‘Bid the Breton reserve charge again,’ quoth he, ‘and half-way up the slope let them break and flee untouched.” Then the Breton horse swung out and up as the English militia straggled back and re-formed. The sun rose high on the autumn sky and beat on the polished armour, while again the exultant English ‘Ut Ut came down on the northern breeze. Then as Duke William had planned, so it came about, for the Bretons turned and fled and the militia again rushed out to chase them. Right across the ground at them charged the Norman mounted reserve, and, taking the broken militia in flank, pressed up and through and over the English line and its half-defended palisade. After them poured the débris of the earlier battle. Once through the palisade, the Normans turned right-handed against the English centre, and what was once a battle now became a series of combats. Charge and counter-charge, blow and quick return, and the dead and dying thick below the shields in the unshorn grass, and still the Gonfanon over all. Till now the stern grey eyes of the King had watched the stress of battle unmoved, as a reliant leader should : but now with a shout of “Holy Cross, Holy Cross of Waltham ' ' he