CHAPTER XI (Continuation)

Harris proposed that we should have scrambled eggs for breakfast. He said he would cook them. It seemed, from his account, that he was very good at doing scrambled eggs. He often did them at picnics and when out on yachts. He was quite famous for them. People who had once tasted his scrambled eggs, so we gathered from his conversation, never cared for any other food afterwards, but pined away and died when they could not get them.
It made our mouths water to hear him talk about the things, and we handed him out the stove and the frying-pan and all the eggs that had not smashed and gone over everything in the hamper, and begged him to begin.
He had some trouble in breaking the eggs - or rather not so much trouble in breaking them exactly as in getting them into the frying-pan when broken, and keeping them off his trousers, and preventing them from running up his sleeve; but he fixed some half-a-dozen into the pan at last, and then squatted down by the side of the stove and chivvied them about with a fork.
It seemed harassing work, so far as George and I could judge. Whenever he went near the pan he burned himself, and then he would drop everything and dance round the stove, flicking his fingers about and cursing the things. Indeed, every time George and I looked round at him he was sure to be performing this feat. We thought at first that it was a necessary part of the culinary arrangements.
We did not know what scrambled eggs were, and we fancied that it must be some Red Indian or Sandwich Islands sort of dish that required dances and incantations for its proper cooking. Montmorency went and put his nose over it once, and the fat spluttered up and scalded him, and then he began dancing and cursing. Altogether it was one of the most interesting and exciting operations I have ever witnessed. George and I were both quite sorry when it was over.
The result was not altogether the success that Harris had anticipated. There seemed so little to show for the business. Six eggs had gone into the frying-pan, and all that came out was a teaspoonful of burnt and unappetizing looking mess.
Harris said it was the fault of the frying-pan, and thought it would have gone better if we had had a fish-kettle and a gas-stove; and we decided not to attempt the dish again until we had those aids to housekeeping by us.
The sun had got more powerful by the time we had finished breakfast, and the wind had dropped, and it was as lovely a morning as one could desire. Little was in sight to remind us of the nineteenth century; and, as we looked out upon the river in the morning sunlight, we could almost fancy that the centuries between us and that ever-to-be-famous June morning of 1215 had been drawn aside, and that we, English yeomen\'s sons in homespun cloth, with dirk at belt, were waiting there to witness the writing of that stupendous page of history, the meaning whereof was to be translated to the common people some four hundred and odd years later by one Oliver Cromwell, who had deeply studied it.
It is a fine summer morning - sunny, soft, and still. But through the air there runs a thrill of coming stir. King John has slept at Duncroft Hall, and all the day before the little town of Staines has echoed to the clang of armed men, and the clatter of great horses over its rough stones, and the shouts of captains, and the grim oaths and surly jests of bearded bowmen, billmen, pikemen, and strange-speaking foreign spearmen.
Gay-cloaked companies of knights and squires have ridden in, all travel-stained and dusty. And all the evening long the timid townsmen\'s doors have had to be quick opened to let in rough groups of soldiers, for whom there must be found both board and lodging, and the best of both, or woe betide the house and all within; for the sword is judge and jury, plaintiff and executioner, in these tempestuous times, and pays for what it takes by sparing those from whom it takes it, if it pleases it to do so.
Round the camp-fire in the market-place gather still more of the Barons' troops, and eat and drink deep, and bellow forth roystering drinking songs, and gamble and quarrel as the evening grows and deepens into night. The firelight sheds quaint shadows on their piled-up arms and on their uncouth forms. The children of the town steal round to watch them, wondering; and brawny country wenches, laughing, draw near to bandy ale-house jest and jibe with the swaggering troopers, so unlike the village swains, who, now despised, stand apart behind, with vacant grins upon their broad, peering faces. And out from the fields around, glitter the faint lights of more distant camps, as here some great lord\'s followers lie mustered, and there false John\'s French mercenaries hover like crouching wolves without the town.
And so, with sentinel in each dark street, and twinkling watch-fires on each height around, the night has worn away, and over this fair valley of old Thame has broken the morning of the great day that is to close so big with the fate of ages yet unborn.
Ever since grey dawn, in the lower of the two islands, just above where we are standing, there has been great clamour, and the sound of many workmen. The great pavilion brought there yester eve is being raised, and carpenters are busy nailing tiers of seats, while `prentices from London town are there with many-coloured stuffs and silks and cloth of gold and silver.
And now, lo! down upon the road that winds along the river\'s bank from Staines there come towards us, laughing and talking together in deep guttural bass, a half-a-score of stalwart halbert-men - Barons' men, these - and halt at a hundred yards or so above us, on the other bank, and lean upon their arms, and wait.
And so, from hour to hour, march up along the road ever fresh groups and bands of armed men, their casques and breastplates flashing back the long low lines of morning sunlight, until, as far as eye can reach, the way seems thick with glittering steel and prancing steeds. And shouting horsemen are galloping from group to group, and little banners are fluttering lazily in the warm breeze, and every now and then there is a deeper stir as the ranks make way on either side, and some great Baron on his war-horse, with his guard of squires around him, passes along to take his station at the head of his serfs and vassals.
And up the slope of Cooper\'s Hill, just opposite, are gathered the wondering rustics and curious townsfolk, who have run from Staines, and none are quite sure what the bustle is about, but each one has a different version of the great event that they have come to see; and some say that much good to all the people will come from this day\'s work; but the old men shake their heads, for they have heard such tales before.
And all the river down to Staines is dotted with small craft and boats and tiny coracles - which last are growing out of favour now, and are used only by the poorer folk. Over the rapids, where in after years trim Bell Weir lock will stand, they have been forced or dragged by their sturdy rowers, and now are crowding up as near as they dare come to the great covered barges, which lie in readiness to bear King John to where the fateful Charter waits his signing.
It is noon, and we and all the people have been waiting patient for many an hour, and the rumour has run round that slippery John has again escaped from the Barons' grasp, and has stolen away from Duncroft Hall with his mercenaries at his heels, and will soon be doing other work than signing charters for his people\'s liberty.
Not so! This time the grip upon him has been one of iron, and he has slid and wriggled in vain. Far down the road a little cloud of dust has risen, and draws nearer and grows larger, and the pattering of many hoofs grows louder, and in and out between the scattered groups of drawn-up men, there pushes on its way a brilliant cavalcade of gay-dressed lords and knights. And front and rear, and either flank, there ride the yeomen of the Barons, and in the midst King John.
He rides to where the barges lie in readiness, and the great Barons step forth from their ranks to meet him. He greets them with a smile and laugh, and pleasant honeyed words, as though it were some feast in his honour to which he had been invited. But as he rises to dismount, he casts one hurried glance from his own French mercenaries drawn up in the rear to the grim ranks of the Barons' men that hem him in.
Is it too late? One fierce blow at the unsuspecting horseman at his side, one cry to his French troops, one desperate charge upon the unready lines before him, and these rebellious Barons might rue the day they dared to thwart his plans! A bolder hand might have turned the game even at that point. Had it been a Richard there! the cup of liberty might have been dashed from England\'s lips, and the taste of freedom held back for a hundred years.
But the heart of King John sinks before the stern faces of the English fighting men, and the arm of King John drops back on to his rein, and he dismounts and takes his seat in the foremost barge. And the Barons follow in, with each mailed hand upon the sword-hilt, and the word is given to let go.
Slowly the heavy, bright-decked barges leave the shore of Runningmede. Slowly against the swift current they work their ponderous way, till, with a low grumble, they grate against the bank of the little island that from this day will bear the name of Magna Charta Island. And King John has stepped upon the shore, and we wait in breathless silence till a great shout cleaves the air, and the great cornerstone in England\'s temple of liberty has, now we know, been firmly laid.
VOCABULARY:
ale: (old-fashioned) beer
ale-house: pub
anticipate: (anticipating, anticipated) expect
arms: weapons
bill: a proposal of a new law
bowman: łucznik
brawny: strong
clamour: scream
cleave: (cleaving, cleaved) cut
cornerstone: foundation stone
dismount: (dismounting, dismounted) get off (the horse)
fish-kettle: a long, deep dish used for cooking whole fish
flick: (flicking, flicked) prztykać palcami
gay-cloaked: cheerful
grumble: complaint
guttural: harsh, deep
halbert (should be ‘halberd’): a weapon with a blade on a long handle
halt: (halting, halted) stop
harassing: troublesome
hoof: kopyto
incantation: chant
June morning of 1215: the day when King John signed the "Magna Carta\", a document which became a symbol of political freedom. The document was signed outside London at Runnymede, a few miles up the river.
mercenaries: private army
mustered: gathered
perform a feat: sth that sb does that is very impressive because it requires a lot of skill, wyczyn
pike: pika
pine away: (pining, pined) gradually become weaker and less attractive
plaintiff: complainant, powód (w sądzie)
prance: (prancing, pranced) to walk moving your body in a confident way, paradować
prentice (apprentice): trainee, learner
ranks: members of the armed force who are not officers, szeregowcy
roystering (contemporary spelling ‘roistering’): (old-fashioned) behave in a cheerful, noisy and rough way
scald: (scalding, scalded) injury
scrambled eggs: jajecznica
sentinel: guard
serf: poddany
spearman: włócznik
squat down: (squatting, squatted) to sit with your knees bent under you, kucać
squire: a young man who learned to be a knight by serving one, wasal
stalwart: strong
steed: (poetic) a strong horse
stir: commotion
stupendous: astonishing
swain: (poetic) a young man from the country who loves a girl
tempestuous: stormy, passionate
troop: oddział
twinkle: (twinkling, twinkled) glimmer, shine
uncouth: uncivilized, bad-mannered
wench: (old use) a girls or a young woman, especially a servant
woe betide you: (humorous) used to say that sb will be in trouble if they do sth
yeoman: a farmer who owned and worked on his own land


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