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CASTLES AND THEIR HEROES.
FEW years ago, before railway communication had as closely united the rural districts to the metropolis as they do in the present day, there resided in a retired and secluded part of England a clergyman, whose family consisted of two boys and two girls. Like many of our clergy, his income was a very limited one, and would have been wholly inadequate to his expenses, had it not been that he possessed in his wife a companion ready to share and lighten all his anxieties, and able to assist him in the education of his family.
Their vicarage garden opened on to a large common, on one side of which ran the high-road leading to the village of Castle Compton, which lay in a lovely valley beneath the church and vicarage house; on the opposite side was a wood, intersected by paths, and which the children delighted to visit and explore.
This wood was close to a second piece of waste land; and there, merely enclosed by a few hurdles, without any guardian to preserve them from further decay, were the ruins of a castle, but little known, nor remarkable in history, and which, even in its best days, could never have been distinguished by any architectural beauty. It had probably once been the stronghold of some petty chieftain; and the only marvel was, that its remains were still standing in the present century.
Rude as the fortress might have been, and little as it possessed any interest for the lover of old buildings beyond the fact of its antiquity, to the children it was a point of the highest interest; and whenever they were permitted to visit it, they would try to imagine how it had looked in days of old, when it had been inhabited by the Anglo
Norman race, whose descendants still owned it, while often they would entreat their mother to tell them the few scanty legends connected with its
The living was named after the old fortress. Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence had had it many years; and though not rich, had contrived to give their children a good education, and to implant in their minds the only thing that can make a quiet life a happy one, and that was contentment.
It was Mrs. Lawrence's custom to assemble her family round her sofa every evening (for she was a great invalid, and but rarely left it); and for years the children had looked forward to that social hour as the time when she would tell them not only fairy tales of the most enthralling interest, but tales of adventure by sea and land, while her narratives got to be called 'Fireside Tales.'
As they grew older, their mother tried to interest their minds in all that was noble and good, by anecdotes of chivalry, or tales of heroic deeds done in the cause of goodness and right.
At the time I am alluding to now, the eldest boy, Willie, was nearly fourteen. One evening the con
versation turned on the old ruins near them, and he asked his mother if the castle had a 'keep;' for he said he had found an old book in his father's library about castles.
'It has no "keep," said his mother; 'but if you will lend me the book you mention, I will try and tell your brothers and sisters more about castles in general, as the book you mention is too dull a one for them to study; and as we live so near a castle, you should all know the names of the different portions of the building. Do you all know why castles were built?'
The children gave their mother the right answer, when they replied that castles were places erected for the purpose of defence in ancient times.
'Yes,' said their mother; and a castle may be "defensible" either by nature or by art. Our ruins are but small and poor: a complete ancient castle consisted of a fortress surrounded by a "moat" or ditch; an outwork called a "barbican," intended to guard the gate or drawbridge; then there was an artificial mound of green turf, an outer and inner enclosure called "vallium ;" and lastly the "keep," in which the lord of the castle generally
lived, and beneath whose strong walls were dark and gloomy prisons, called "dungeons," where prisoners were confined. Castles are very ancient. The Persians are said to have first erected them; the Romans without doubt did so; and the Gauls are thought by Cæsar to have instructed the early Britons in the art of encamping and fortifying themselves in such strongholds. The Persians are said to have constructed their fortresses of wood; the Romans of earthworks thrown up to a great height.'
One of the children asked if there were any Roman castles still in existence in England.
'None, I believe,' replied their mother; although there are traces of Roman architecture in some of our ancient castles. The early Britons fortified themselves in their castles against the Roman invaders. The Saxons called them "cester" and "caster;" the Scots named them "Loncastel" and "Doncastel;" while the word "burgh" evidently meant the same thing. Doncaster and Lancaster are evidently named after the Saxon "caster." The capitol of Rome is thought to have originated our earlier castles; for it had a round tower, with an inner court surrounded by a deep ditch. One