Of how I, Nigel de Bessin, was brought up by the monks of the Vale in Guernsey Island, and how on a certain day the abbot gave me choice of two lives, and which I chose.
This is the chronicle of me, Nigel de Bessin, of good Norman stock, being a cadet of the great house, whose elder branch is even to-day settled at St. Sauveur, in the Cotentin. And I write it for two reasons. First, for the sake of these grandchildren, Geoffrey, Guy, and William, who gather round me in the hall here at Newton, asking for the story of great deeds of old days, such as were the deeds of Tancred and Duke Rollo, and him I loved and fought for—loved, though stern he was and rude—William, who by his mighty conquest gave us our place in this fair realm. And second, since the winter days are long, and I go no more out to hunt or to fight as of old, to recall all this and more will have much sweetness, and delight my old heart with gentle memories, like the smell of lavender laid between robes or napery in the oak press yonder, as one takes this or that from the store.
And first, how came I to write it in such clerkly wise? Ay, that was through the foresight of my uncle, the Vicomte de Bessin, since I knew not then my father, and the good care of the monks of the Vale, and chiefly of Brother Bernard, a ripe scholar and a good, with whom I progressed so well in learning, that at fifteen I was more like to have put this grissled head under a cowl than under a soldier’s helm. A fair place was L’Ancresse in the days of Abbot Michael, false Maugher, and the Grand Sarrasin. And a good school of manners and of learning of books and piety, that may aid men in their earthly life, was the Vale Cloister. I see it now—the quiet, sober place, with its great round arches, and its seats of stone, pleasant and cool in summer, bitter cold in winter, when the wind came in sharp from the Eastern sea, so that we wrapt our Norway furs about us, and shivered as we sat, till Brother Bernard said, “Up, lads; catch who catch can up to the Viking’s tomb!” or “Haste ye now, and run to meet the pirates in Bordeaux Bay, and bring them to me to shrive, ere ye do them to death, as Normans should!” The blood ran free and warm then, and the limbs grew straight and strong, and the muscles of arms and legs like whipcord, and brown we were as the brown rocks of L’Ancresse Bay, as we played at war on those salt-breathed plains—Guy, Rainauld, Gwalkelyn. Alas! they are all passed to their account! There were no aches or pains of back or shoulder; there were no mean jealousies, no bitter hatreds, no discourtesies, no words that suit not the sons of good knights or lords, but wrestle or tussle and mock battle, and tourney, and race by land or water in summer, when our bodies gleamed white beneath the calm waves as we played like young dolphins in the bay. And ever and anon would Brother Hugo be amongst us, his