CHAPTER I A HERO OF ANCIENT BRITAIN
There was a time, many years ago, when this England of ours was a savage country.
The oldest stories that we read about our island happened so long ago, that the English had not yet come to the land where we live. In those days, the country was not called England but Britain; and the people were the ancient Britons.
In the time of the Britons, the greater part of the country was covered with moors and swamps, and with great forests, where dangerous wild animals lived: wolves and bears and wild cats; where herds of deer wandered, and droves of wild cattle.
The ancient Britons lived in huts built of branches of trees plastered with mud, very low in the roof, and dark, having no windows; and there were no chimneys to let out the smoke. Their villages were only collections of huts surrounded by a fence or stockade, and a ditch to keep out the wild animals, as well as other Britons who were enemies of the tribe, for these wild people were always fighting among themselves.
The Britons had blue eyes, and yellow or reddish hair, which both men and women wore long, and hanging over their shoulders. In summer they went about with their chests and shoulders almost bare, and in winter they clothed themselves in the skins of animals killed in the chase.
They were a wild people, but so brave that we like to hear stories about them.
About two thousand years ago, when the Britons were living their savage life, there lived in the country which is now Italy another people called the Romans. These Romans were one of the greatest and wisest nations that have ever lived.
It seems strange that they should have left their own beautiful country to come to Britain, with its cold climate and savage inhabitants, but they were a very ambitious people, who would not be content until they had subdued every other nation of the earth.
The Romans had already conquered all the nations round about their own country when the Emperor Claudius became their chief; but Claudius wished to win glory by making fresh conquests, and he determined to subdue the wild northern island of Britain.
Knowing that the Britons were a very fierce and brave people, he sent against them an army of forty thousand men under the command of two skilful generals.
When the inhabitants of southern Britain saw the sea about their coasts covered with Roman vessels, while more vessels were always appearing above the horizon, their anger and dismay knew no bounds. They knew that the Romans were the bravest and most skilful soldiers in the world, and that they had come to conquer them if they could, and to take their country away from them.
As the soldiers, wearing their glittering breast-plates and helmets of polished steel, and with the sun flashing upon the gold and silver eagles which they carried for standards, landed from their vessels and marched on their way to the place where they were going to make their camp, the Britons watched them from their hiding-places with both rage and terror....