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their boats in the night, when the affrighted people were awakened by a cry of, “The Danes ! the Danes !” and, starting up, perhaps, beheld the villages in flames; and, as they ran in terror from their cottages, were either killed or dragged away to the pirate vessels, with the cattle and anything else that could be found, and made slaves of.
Egbert had fought a battle with them in Cornwall, and forced them to depart; but, during the reign of Ethelwulf, the next king, and three of his sons, they not only attacked the towns and villages on the sea-coast, but used to seize the horses and ride about the country in search of plunder. They broke into the monasteries, where the people often put their money and jewels for safety ; and if the inmates made any resistance they would set the building on fire. Then they set up fortified camps in many places; that is, a number of tents, close together, like a town, surrounded with a wall or ditch; and thus a great many of the Danes established themselves in the country, and conquered all the northern part of it. This was the sad state of affairs when Alfred the Great came to the throne.
I dare say you have heard of this good prince, who was the youngest and favourite son of Ethelwulf, for he was the cleverest and the best. His mother, being an accomplished lady, tried to teach all her sons to read; but none of them would learn except Alfred, who afterwards went to Rome to study Latin, and learn to write, so that he was a good scholar for those times. His three brothers had all reigned in turn, and were all dead by the time he was twenty-two years old, therefore he was then heir to the crown : but insead of being able to think about the best way of governing the country, he was obliged to get together as many soldiers as he could, and go out with them to fight the Danes. There was no regular army then, as there is now; but, when the king wanted soldiers, he sent to all the noblemen and landholders in the kingdom, who were obliged to come themselves and bring so many men with them, according to the size of their estates; some on horseback, some on foot, and all well armed.
You must remember that people could not buy land then for money, nor have it for paying rents; but large estates were given to the thanes and nobles by the king, on condition that they should perform certain services for him; and you have already seen how the vassals of the nobles held their little farms on similar terms. This was called the feudal system, which means, holding land for services, instead of rent; and the person holding the land was called the vassal of him to whom it belonged, whether rich or poor; so the nobles were the vassals of the king, and the ceorls were the vassals of the nobles.
N ass whose shallow head had become elated
from living in a beautiful green meadow for some weeks, with nothing to do, and who had not only grown very sleek and fat, but also very proud, began at last to
think there was no person so clever, so great, or so good as he, and quite forgot his ugly ears, which would show themselves, however he might try to hide them and to appear
clever. One day, when he had been thinking himself much greater than usual, and rolling over and over in the enjoyment of the idea, a lion, who was taking a quiet walk, crossed the meadow, and seeing Master Jack, he thought it very fortunate to have met with a person with whom he could hold a little conversation,
“Good morning, Master Jack," said the lion, “I hope I see you in such good health and spirits as to fully enjoy this beautiful day.
“ Thank you, Master Lion, I believe I am pretty well,
but as to the weather, I seldom trouble myself abqut that, being engaged in things of more importance ; ” saying which he endeavoured to look great and thoughtful and to fill the lion with the awe of his presence.
Indeed!” said the lion, not at all overawed by his man. ner, but, on the contrary, when he found him so conceited, promised himself some fun, “pray, what may your thoughts be engaged upon, then ?'
“That is my business,” replied he, and, stretching his neck, he brayed very loudly; in order to prevent the lion's asking any more questions, for like most boastful persons, he feared his ability of answering them, and for that reason endeavoured to intimidate him.
"You need not be so pert or impudent,” replied the lion, “for, whatever your thoughts may be, that bray of your's does not promise much for their beauty.”
“Bray, indeed!” said the jackass, “if you call that a bray, I should like to know what you would call a roar; and he began to wag his tail and to fancy that he looked very awful, for he was indeed very angry, and having lived only with his own fellows, who were not more sensible than he, had not met with his superior until that day, with whose nobility of thought and great strength he was unacquainted, and the lion, seeing his insignificance, was inclined to hide it for the present, in order to teach him a better lesson by and by.
“ Bray, I repeat, it is only a pray, and a very ugly noise it is. You must surely be trying to impose upon me,
and be making that noise only in joke; pray do oblige me with
I will frighten him now, thought the simple fellow, and planting himself firmly upon his legs and dilating his nostrils, he gave one of his loudest he-haws, and, after exhausting his breath, looked at the lion and asked what he thought of that.
A most horrible and detestable bray, and very bad of its kind; come now, a roar, long ears, let me hear a roar ?"
Long ears! I'll teach you to insult me,” screamed the donkey, “my long ears are as handsome as your long beard, at any rate.
“That may be, my simple friend,”: calmly replied the lion, “you commenced by pretending to roar, and I shall not be satisfied until you do ; would you like to hear me