Page:15 decisive battles of the world (New York).djvu/200

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194 BATTLE OF HASTINGS.


he slipped, and fell forward upon his two hands. Forthwith all raised a loud cry of distress. "An evil sign," said they, "is here." But he cried out lustily, "See, my lords, by the splendor of God,* I have taken possession of England with both my hands. It is now mine, and what is mine is yours."

The next day they marched along the sea-shore to Hastings. Near that place the duke fortified a camp, and set up the two other wooden castles. The foragers, and those who looked out for booty, seized all the clothing and provisions they could find, lest what had been brought by the ships should fail them. And the English were to be seen fleeing before them, driving off their cattle, and quitting their houses. Many took shelter in burying-places, and even there they were in grievous alarm.

Besides the marauders from the Norman camp, strong bodies of cavalry were detached by William into the country, and these, when Harold and his army made their rapid march from London southward, fell back in good order upon the main body of the Normans, and reported that the Saxon king was rushing on like a madman. But Harold, when he found that his hopes of surprising his adversary were vain, changed his tactics, and halted about seven miles from the Norman lines. He sent some spies, who spoke the French language, to examine the number and preparations of the enemy, who, on their return, related with astonishment that there were more priests in William's camp than there were fighting men in the English army. They had mistaken for priests all the Norman soldiers who had short hair and shaven chins, for the English laymen were then accustomed to wear long hair and mustachios. Harold, who knew the Norman usages, smiled at their words, and said, "Those whom you have seen in such numbers are not priests, but stout soldiers, as they will soon make us feel."

Harold's army was far inferior in number to that of the Normans, and some of his captains advised him to retreat upon London, and lay waste the country, so as to starve down the strength of the invaders. The policy thus recommended was unquestionably the wisest, for the Saxon fleet had now reassembled, and intercepted all William's communications with Normandy; and as soon as his stores of provisions were exhausted, he must have moved forward upon London, where Harold, at the head of the

  • William's customary oath.