Page 1206


the peasantry remained and were reduced to

an ignominious servitude by their Danish


In the county of Somerset, a heroic band

still upheld the banners of the king; but when

Alfred came among them he was obliged,

for fear of treachery, to hide himself. He found a lurking place in the

forests of Prince's Island, which was then the

haunt of wild beasts and the home of outlaws.

Here the king was obliged to maintain himself as best he could by fishing and the chase.

Sometimes he and his companions would sally

forth by night, and, falling secretly upon the

Danes, plunder some exposed camp and then

return to covert. To this epoch of extreme

hardship belongs the story of Alfred's visit to

the hut of the swineherd, where he lodged for

some time unknown to the peasant and his

wife. One day, while the king sat moody

by the hearthstone, and the woman of the

hovel was baking bread, he noticed not that

the loaves were burning. The housewife, at

length discovering the ruin of her bread,

rushed upon him with angry gesture and exclaimed: "You man! you will not turn the

bread you see burning, but you will be glad

enough to eat it!"

In this extremity of his fortunes the

king was discovered by others of his faithful

friends. Many rallied around him as the

hope of Saxon England. The islet where

they gathered, was fortified, and Alfred began to look forward to an escape from his

shameful subjection. His spirit was also

strengthened by a vision of St. Cuthbert, who

came to him in the guise of a pilgrim, begging

alms. With him the king divided his only

loaf, and the pilgrim went away; but here turned by night and comforted the king with

assurances of success. Such is a pious tradition of the times.

Meanwhile, the men of Somersetshire,

Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, and Hampshire took

heart against the Danes and flocked to the

camp of Alfred, now no longer concealed.

The courage of the gathering army was still

further kindled by an event in Devon. Hubba,

one of the Danish chiefs, had landed with

a large force in that province; but the men

of Devon rose upon them in great might,

slew the king with nine hundred of his followers, and captured their banner, embroidered

with the terrible raven of Denmark.

Already the king ventured forth and skirmished with the enemy. Determining to