Part 2 out of 5
One of the principal domestics returned with haste, and whispered some
words into the ear of Ethelgiva--which seemed to discompose her.
"What can this mean?" she said. "A guard of soldiers demand admittance
in the king's name?"
A louder knocking attested the fact.
"You must admit them, or they will batter the door down. Edwy, Elfric!
here, hide yourselves behind that curtain, it veils a deep recess."
They had scarcely concealed themselves when Dunstan entered, attended by
a guard of the royal hus-carles.
"What means this insolence?" said Ethelgiva.
"No insolence is intended, royal lady, nor could be offered to the widow
of the Etheling, by me," replied Dunstan, "but I seek to discharge a
sacred trust committed to me. Where are my pupils, the Prince Edwy and
"In their beds, at the palace, I should suppose."
"Nay, be not so perfidious; they are here, lady, and probably within
hearing; they must come forth, or I must order the guard to search the
house, which I should regret."
"By whose authority?"
"By that of the king, whose signet is on my hand."
"They are not here; they left half-an-hour ago."
"Pardon me, madam, if I observe that we have watched the house for an hour.
"Had not this scene better terminate?" he added, with icy coldness.
At this moment a favourite dog, which Edwy had often petted, and which
had entered with the guard, found him out behind the curtain, and in its
vociferous joy betrayed the whole secret.
Confusion or smiles sat on every face save that of the imperturbable
"Your dog, madam, is more truthful than its mistress," he said, bluntly
yet quietly; and then, advancing to the recess, he drew aside the
curtain and gazed upon the discovered couple.
"Will you kindly return to the palace with me?"
"How dare you, insolent monk, intrude upon the pleasures of your future
"I dare by the orders of the present king, your royal uncle, who has
committed the whole matter into my hands; and, Prince Edwy, in the
discharge of my duty 'dare' is a superfluous word. Will you, as I said
before, both follow me, if you are sufficiently masters of yourselves to
The import of all this was seen at a glance, but there was no course but
submission, and Edwy well knew how utterly indefensible his conduct was;
so, with crestfallen gait, he and Elfric followed their captor to the
river, where was another large boat by the side of their own. They
entered it, and returned to the palace stairs much more sober than on
CHAPTER VII. "THE KING IS DEAD!--LONG LIVE THE KING!"
The unhappy Elfric passed the night in a most unenviable frame of mind.
He felt distinctly how utterly he was in the power of Dunstan, and that
he could only expect to return home in disgrace; yet there was no real
repentance in all this: he had sinned and suffered, but although he
dreaded punishment he no longer hated sin.
He scarcely slept at all, and early in the morning he rose to seek an
interview with Edwy, when he found that he was a prisoner. One of the
hus-carles posted at his door forbade all communication.
Early in the morning the bell sounded for the early service, still he
was not released, and later his breakfast was brought to him, after
which he heard a heavy step approaching, and Dunstan appeared at the
door of the sleeping chamber.
He entered, and gazed at Elfric for a moment without speaking, as if he
would read his very heart by his face; it was hardly comfortable.
"Elfric," he said at last, "do you remember the warning I gave you six
"No," said Elfric, determined, in desperation, to deny everything.
"I fear you are hardly telling me the truth; you must remember it,
unhappy boy! Why were you not warned in time? Why did you refuse the
advice which might have saved you from all this?"
"Because it was my fate, I suppose."
"Men make their own fates, and as they make their beds so must they lie
upon them; however, I have not come here to reproach you, but to bid you
prepare to return home."
"Home?--so soon?" said Elfric.
"Yes, you must leave tomorrow, when a messenger will be prepared to
accompany you, and to explain the cause of your dismissal from court to
your father, whom I most sincerely pity; and let me hope that you will
find leisure to repent of your grievous sin in the solitude of your
"Must my father be told everything?"
"I fear he must: you have left us no choice; and it is the better thing,
both for him and for you; he will understand better what steps are
necessary for your reformation--a reformation, I trust, which will be
accomplished in good time, whereat no one will rejoice more than I."
A pert answer rose to Elfric's lips, but he dared not give utterance to
it; the speaker was too great in his wrath to be defied with impunity.
"Farewell," said Dunstan, "would that I could say the word with brighter
hopes; but should you ever repent of your sin, as I trust you may, it
will gladden me to hear of it. I fear you may have done great harm to
England in the person of her future king, but God forgive you in that
Elfric felt the injustice of the last accusation; he coloured, and an
indignant denial had almost risen to his lips, but he repressed it for
Edwy's sake--faithful, even in his vice, to his friend.
"Am I to consider myself a prisoner? you have posted a sentinel, as if I
were a criminal."
"You must be confined to your apartment, but you may have books and
anything else you desire. The prince is forbidden to see you again. Your
confinement will only be for one day; tomorrow you will be free enough;
let me beg you to use the occasion for calm reflection, and, I hope,
Dunstan left the room, and Elfric heard his retreating steps go heavily
down the stairs, when a sudden and almost unaccountable feeling came
over him--a feeling that he had thrown himself away, and that he was
committed to evil, perhaps never to be able to retrace his course, never
to all eternity; the retreating steps sounded as if his sentence were
passed and the door of mercy shut. He shook off the strange feeling;
yet, could he have seen the future which lay undiscovered before him, and
which must intervene before he should see that face again, or hear those
steps, he might have been unable thus to shake off the nameless dread.
The day wore away, night drew on; he laid himself down and tried to
sleep, when he heard voices conversing outside, and recognised Edwy's
tones; immediately after the prince entered.
"What a shame, Elfric," he said, "to make you a prisoner like this, and
to send you away--for they say you are to go tomorrow--you shall not
be forgotten if ever I become king, and I don't think it will be long
first. The first thing I shall do will be to send for you; you will
come; won't you?"
"I will be yours for life or death."
"I knew it, and this is the faithful friend from whom they would
separate me; well, we will have this last evening together in peace; old
Dunstan has gone out, and Redwald has put a man as your guard who never
sees anything he is not wanted to see."
"What a convenient thing!"
"But you seem very dull; is anything on your mind which I do not know?
What did Dunstan say to you?"
"He is going to write home to my father all particulars. It will make
"Perhaps we may find a remedy for that," said Edwy, and left the room
Shortly he returned in company with Redwald.
"Come with us, Elfric," said the prince "there is no one in the palace
to interfere with us. Old Dunstan received a sudden message, and has
gone out hastily; we will go and see what he has written."
Somewhat startled at the audacity of the proposal, Elfric followed the
prince, and Redwald accompanied them. After passing through a few
passages, they arrived at the cell, or rather study, usually occupied by
Dunstan when at court, and entered it, not without a slight feeling of
dread, or rather of reluctance.
"Here it is," said Edwy, and held up a parchment, folded, sealed, and
directed to "Ella, Thane of Aescendune."
"I should like to know what he has written," said the prince. "Redwald,
you understand these things; can you open the letter without breaking
"There is no need of that," replied the captain of the hus-carles, "I
can easily seal it again; see, there is the signet, and here the wax."
So he broke the letter open and extended it to the prince, whose liberal
education had given him the faculty of reading the monkish Latin, in
which Dunstan wrote, at a glance, and he read aloud:
"TO MY BROTHER IN CHRIST,
"ELLA, THANE OF AESCENDUNE--
"It grieveth me much, most beloved brother, to be under the necessity of
sending your son Elfric home in some little disgrace; but it is, alas a
necessity that I should do so, in virtue of the authority our good lord
and king, Edred, hath entrusted to me. The lad was bright, and, I think,
innocent of aught like deadly sin, when he came to this huge Babel,
where the devil seems to lead men even as he will, and he hath fallen
here into evil company--nay, into the very company most evil of all in
this wicked world, that of designing and shameless women, albeit of
noble birth. It hath been made apparent to me that there is great danger
to both the prince and your son in any further connection, therefore I
return Elfric to your care, sincerely hoping that, by God's help, you
will be enabled to take such measures as will lead to his speedy
reformation, for which I devoutly pray. The bearer will give such
further information as you may desire.
"Wishing you health, and an abiding place in the favour of God and His
saints--Your brother in the faith of Christ,
Edwy read the letter aloud with many a vindictive comment, and then said
to Redwald--"What can be done? Must this letter go?"
"Does your father know the Saint's handwriting, Elfric?"
"He never heard from him before, I believe."
"Well, then, I will venture to enclose a different message," and he sat
down at the table, and wrote--"TO MY BROTHER IN CHRIST,
"ELLA, THANE OF AESCENDUNE--
"It rejoiceth me much, most beloved brother, to send you good tidings of
the good behaviour and growth in grace of your son, whom the king hath
concluded to send home for the benefit of his health, since London hath
in some degree destroyed the ruddy hue of his countenance, and he
needeth a change, as his paleness sufficiently declareth.
"The king hath bidden me express his great satisfaction with the lad's
conduct, and the prince mourneth his enforced departure. Wishing you
health and an abiding place in the favour of God and His saints--Your
brother in the faith of Christ,
The boys laughed aloud as they read the forgery.
"But about the messenger--will he not tell the truth?"
"Oh, I will see to him, he is not above a bribe, and knows it is his
interest to serve his future king, although Dunstan thinks him so trusty."
All at once the booming of a heavy bell smote their ears.
"It is the bell of St. Paul's, it tolls for the death of some noble,"
said Redwald; "what can it mean? has any member of the royal family been
They listened to the solemn dirge-like sound as it floated through the
air, calling upon all good Christians to pray for the repose of the
departed or departing soul. No prayer rose to their lips, and they soon
returned to the subject in hand.
"When is the letter to be despatched?"
"Early in the morning the messenger will await you; and now, I should
recommend some sleep to prepare for a fatiguing journey."
Elfric and the prince returned to their chamber, but they did not take
Redwald's hint, and remained talking till just before daybreak, when
they were aroused by the hasty step of an armed heel, and Redwald stood
before them. His demeanour was very strange; he bent down on one knee,
took the hand of Edwy, who resigned it passively to him, kissed it and
cried aloud--"God save the king!"
"What can you mean, Redwald?" exclaimed both the youths.
"Heard you not the passing bell last night? Edred sleeps with his
fathers; he died at Frome on St. Clement's day."
For a moment they were both silent.
"And Edwy, the great grandson of Alfred, is king of England."
At first the young prince was deeply shocked at the sudden news of the
death of his uncle, to whom, in spite of appearances, he was somewhat
attached. He turned pale, and was again silent for some minutes; at
last, he gulped down a cup of water, and asked--"But how did Dunstan
"Why, it is a strange tale. Three days ago, at the very hour the king
must have died, he says that he saw a bright light, and beheld a vision
of angels, who said, 'Edred hath died in the Lord,' but he treated it as
a dream, and last night a messenger came with the news of the sudden
illness of the king, bidding Dunstan hasten to his side. He left
everything, and started immediately, but in a few miles met another
messenger, bearing the news of the death. He has gone on, but sent the
messenger forward to the Bishop of London, who caused the great bell to
"We must all die some day," said Edwy, musingly; "but it is very very
"And I trust he has obtained a better kingdom," added Redwald; "he must,
you know, if the monks tell the truth, so why should we weep for him?"
"At least," said Edwy, looking up, "Elfric need not go home now."
"No, certainly not, but he had better disappear from court for a time.
The lady Ethelgiva might afford him hospitality, or he might stay at the
royal palace at Kingston. I will tell the messenger to keep out of the
way, and Dunstan may suppose that his orders have been obeyed to the
"Why should we trouble what he may think or say?"
"Because the Witan has not yet met, and until it has gone through the
form, the mere form, of recognising your title, you are not actually
king. Dunstan has some influence. Suppose he should use it for Edgar?"
"Edgar, the pale-faced little priestling!"
"All the better for that in Dunstan's eyes. Nay, be advised, my king;
keep all things quiet until the coronation is over, then let Dunstan
know who you are and who he is."
"Indeed I will. He shall have cause to rue his insolent behaviour the
"Bide your time, my liege; and now the great officers of state require
your presence below."
A few days later a sorrowful procession entered the old city of
Winchester, the capital of Wessex, and once a favourite residence of
Edred, now to be his last earthly resting place. Much had the citizens
loved him; and as the long train defiled into the open space around the
old minster--old, even then--the vast assemblage, grouped beneath
the trees around the sacred precincts, lifted up their voices and joined
in the funeral hymn, while many wept tears of genuine sorrow. It was awe
inspiring, that burst of tuneful wailing, as the monks entered the
sacred pile, and it made men's hearts thrill with the sense of the
unseen world into which their king had entered, and where, as they
believed, their supplications might yet follow him.
There were the chief mourners--Edwy and Edgar--and they followed the
royal corpse, the latter greatly afflicted, and shedding genuine tears
of sorrow--and the royal household. All the nobility of Wessex, and
many of the nobles from Mercia and other provinces, were gathered
together, and amidst the solemn silence of the vast crowd, Dunstan
performed the last sad and solemn rites with a broken voice; while the
archbishop--Odo the Good, as he was frequently called--assisted in
the dread solemnity.
It was over; the coffin was lowered to the royal vaults to repose in
peace, the incenses had ceased to float dreamily beneath the lofty
roof,[xi] the various lights which had borne part in the
ceremony were extinguished, the choral anthem had ceased, for Edred
slept with his fathers.
And outside, the future king was welcomed with loud cries of "God save
King Edwy, and make him just as Alfred, pious as Edred, and warlike as
"Long live the heir of Cerdic's ancient line!"
Thus their cries anticipated the decision of the Witan, and without all
was noise and clamour; while within the sacred fane the ashes of him who
had so lately ruled England rested in peace by the side of his royal
father Edward, the son of Alfred, three of whose sons--Athelstane,
Edmund, Edred--had now reigned in succession.
It must not be supposed that Edwy was as yet king by the law of the
land. The early English writers all speak of their kings as elected; it
was not until the Witan had recognised them, that they were crowned and
assumed the royal prerogatives.
Edwy had followed Redwald's advice: he had kept Elfric out of the way,
and meant to do so until his coronation day. And meanwhile he
condescended to disguise his real feelings, and to affect sorrow for his
past failings when in the presence of Dunstan.
Yet he took advantage of the greater liberty he now enjoyed to renew his
visits to the mansion up the Thames, and to spend whole days in the
society of Elgiva. In their simplicity and deep love they thought all
the obstacles to their happy union now removed. Alas! ill-fated pair!
CHAPTER VIII. THE CORONATION.
Nothing could exceed in solemnity the "hallowing of the king," as the
coronation ceremony was termed in Anglo-Saxon times. It was looked upon
as an event of both civil and ecclesiastical importance, and therefore
nothing was omitted which could lend dignity to the occasion.
The Witan, or parliament, had already met and given its consent to the
coronation of Edwy. It was not, as we have already remarked, a mere
matter of course that the direct heir should occupy the throne. Edred
had already ascended, while Edwy, the son of his elder brother, was an
infant, not as regent, but as king; and in any case of unfitness on the
part of the heir apparent, it was in the power of the Witan to pass him
over, and to choose for the public good some other member of the royal
house. The same Witan conferred upon Edgar the title of sub-king of
Mercia under his brother.
Solemn and imposing was the meeting of the Witenagemot, or "assembly of
the wise." It was divided into three estates. The first consisted of the
only class who, as a rule, had any learning in those days--the clergy,
represented by the bishop, abbot, and their principal officials: the
second consisted of the vassal kings of Scotland, Cumbria, Wales, Mona,
the Hebrides, and other dependent states, the great earls, as of Mercia
or East Anglia, and other mighty magnates: the third, of the lesser
thanes, who were the especial vassals of the king, or the great
landholders, for the possession of land was an essential part of a title
Amongst these sat Ella of Aescendune, who, in spite of his age, had come
to the metropolis to testify his loyalty and fealty to the son of the
murdered Edmund, his old friend and companion in arms, and to behold his
own eldest son once more.
It was the morning of a beautiful day in early spring, one of those days
of which the poet has written--
"Sweet day, so calm, so pure, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky"
--when winter seems to have loosed its stern hold upon the frozen
earth, and the songs of countless birds welcome the bright sunlight, the
harbinger of approaching summer.
The roads leading to Kingston-on-Thames were thronged with travellers of
every degree--the ealdorman or earl with his numerous attendants, the
bishop with rude ecclesiastical pomp, the peasant in his rough jerkin--
all hastening to the approaching ceremony, which, as it had been
definitely fixed, was to take place at that royal city.
There Athelstane had been crowned with great pomp and splendour, for it
was peculiarly "_Cynges tun_" or the King's Town, and after the
coronation it was customary for the newly-crowned monarch to take formal
possession of his kingdom by standing on a great stone in the churchyard.
The previous night, Archbishop Odo had arrived from Canterbury, and his
bosom friend and brother, Dunstan, from Glastonbury, as also Cynesige,
Bishop of Lichfield, a man in every way like-minded with them; while
nearly all the other prelates, abbots, and nobles, arrived in the early
morn of the eventful day.
The solemn service of the coronation mass was about to commence, and the
people were assembling in the great church of St. Mary, filling every
inch of available room. Every figure was bent forward in earnest gaze,
and every heart seemed to beat more quickly, as the faint and distant
sound of deep solemn music, the monastic choirs chanting the
processional psalms, drew near.
Suddenly the jubilant strains filled the whole church, as the
white-robed train entered the sacred building while they sang:
"_Quoniam praevenisti eum in benedictionibus dulcedinis, posuisti in
capiti ejus coronam de lapide pretioso_." [xii]
Incense ascended in clouds to the lofty roof; torches were uplifted,
banners floated in the air, every eye was now strained to catch a
glimpse of the youthful monarch.
He came at last. Oh, how lovely the ill-fated boy looked that day! His
beauty was of a somewhat fragile character, his complexion almost too
fair, his hair shone around his shoulders in waves of gold, for men then
wore their hair long, his eyes blue as the azure vault on that sweet
spring morning: alas, that his spiritual being should not have been
Elfric stood by his father, amidst the crowd of thanes, near the rood
screen, for he had spent the last few days at Kingston, and there his
father had found him, and had embraced him with joy, little dreaming of
the change which had come over his darling boy.
"Look, father, is he not every inch a king?" Elfric could not help
exclaiming, forgetting the place and the occasion in his pride in his
king and his friend.
He would have been one of the four boys who bore the royal train, but it
had not seemed advisable on such a day to offend Dunstan too seriously.
The mass proceeded after the royal party had all taken their places, and
the coronation service was incorporated into the rite, following the
Nicene Creed and preceding the canon.
Kneeling before the altar, the young prince might well tremble with
emotion. Before him stood the archbishop, clad in full pontifical
vestments; around were the most noted prelates and wisest abbots of
England; behind him the nobility, gentry, and commonalty of the whole
country--all gazing upon him, as the archbishop dictated the solemn
words of the oath, which Edwy repeated with trembling voice after him.
"In the name of the ever-blessed Trinity, I promise three things to the
Christian people, my subjects:
"First, that the Church of God within my realm shall enjoy peace, free
from any molestation."
"Second, that I will prevent, to the utmost of my power, theft and every
fraud in all ranks of men."
"Thirdly, that I will preserve and maintain justice and mercy in all
judicial proceedings, so that the good and merciful God may, according
to His mercy, forgive us all our sins, Who liveth and reigneth for ever
and ever. Amen."
Then followed a most solemn charge from "Odo the Good," setting forth
all the deep responsibilities of the oath Edwy had taken, and of the
awful account to be rendered to God of the flock committed to his
youthful charge, at the great and awful day of judgment.
Then the holy oil was solemnly poured upon the head of the kneeling boy,
after which he made the usual offertory of "gold, frankincense, and
myrrh," at the altar, emblematical of the visit of the three kings of
old, who from Sheba bore their gold and incense to the Lord.
Then was the sacred bracelet put upon his arm, the crown on his head,
the sceptre in his hand, after which the mass proceeded.
It is touching to recall the worship of those far-off days, when all the
surrounding circumstances differed so widely from those of the present
hour; yet the Church, in her holy conservatism, has kept intact and
almost changeless all that is hers; that day the "Nicene Creed,"
"Sanctus," "Agnus Dei," "Gloria in Excelsis," rolled as now in strains
of melody towards heaven, and the "Te Deum" which concluded the jubilant
service is our Te Deum still, albeit in the vulgar tongue.
The sacred rites concluded, the royal procession left the church and
proceeded to the churchyard, when Edwy took formal possession of Wessex,
by the ceremony of standing upon a large rock called the King's Stone,
whence the town derived its name.
The feast was spread in the palace hard by, and all the nobles and
thanes (if the words are not synonymous) flocked thither, while the
multitude had their liberal feast spread at various tables throughout
the town, at the royal expense.
Elfric followed his father to the palace, and was about to take his
place at the board, when a page appeared and summoned him to the
presence of Edwy.
"I shall keep a vacant place for you by my side," said Ella, "so that we
may feast together, my son, when the king releases you; it is a great
honour that he should think of you now."
Elfric followed the messenger, who led him into the interior of the
palace, where he found Edwy impatiently awaiting him in the royal
Elfric had expected to find the newly-crowned king deeply impressed, but
if such had been the case, at the moment it had passed away.
"Thanks to all the saints, including St. George, and especially the
dragon, that I can look into your jolly face again, Elfric, it is a
relief after all the grim-beards who have surrounded me today. I shudder
when I think of them."
Elfric had been about to kneel and kiss the royal hand, in token of
homage, but Edwy saw the intention and prohibited him.
"No more of that an thou lovest me, Elfric; my poor hand is almost worn
"The day must have tired you, the scene was so exciting."
Edwy yawned as he replied, "Thank God it is over; I thought Odo was
going to preach to me all day, and the incense almost stifled me; the
one good thing is that it is done now, and all England--Kent, Sussex,
Wessex, Essex, Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia--have all
acknowledged me as their liege lord, the Basileus of Britain. What is
done can't be undone, and Dunstan may eat his leek now, and go to fight
Elfric looked up in some surprise.
"What do you think, my friend; who do you suppose is here in the palace,
in the royal apartments?"
"Elgiva, the fair Elgiva, the lovely Elgiva, dear Elgiva, and her
mother. Oh, but I shall love to look upon her face when the feast is
done, and the grim-beards have gone!"
"Dunstan may go and hang himself; he can't scrape off the consecrated
oil, or carry away crown, bracelet, and sceptre, to hide with the other
royal treasures at Glastonbury; but the feast is beginning, and you must
come and sit on my right hand."
"No, no," said Elfric, who saw at once what an impropriety this would
be, "not yet; besides, my old father is here, and has kept a seat beside
himself for me."
"Well, goodbye for the present; I shall expect you after the feast.
Elgiva will be glad to see you."
Elfric returned to his father, but a feeling of sadness had taken
possession of him, an apprehension of coming evil.
The feast began; the clergy and the nobility of the land were assembled
in the great hail of the palace, and there was that profusion of good
cheer which befitted the day, for the English were, like their German
ancestors, in the habit of considering the feast an essential part of
How much was eaten and drunk upon the occasion it would be dangerous to
say, for it would probably exceed all modern experience, but it seemed
to the impatient Edwy that the feast and the subsequent drinking of
pledges and healths would never end, and he was impatient the whole time
to get away and be in the company of the charmer.
An opportunity seemed at last to offer itself to his immature judgment.
Gleemen had sung, harpers had harped, but the excitement culminated when
Siward, a Northumbrian noble, who was a great musician, and skilful in
improvisation, did not disdain, like the royal Alfred, to take the harp
and pour forth an extemporary ode of great beauty, whereupon the whole
multitude rose to their feet and waved their wine cups in the air, in
ardent appreciation of the patriotic sentiments he had uttered, and the
beauty of the music and poetry.
During the full din of their heated applause, when all eyes were fixed
upon the accomplished musician, Edwy rose softly from his chair; a door
was just behind him, and he took advantage of it to leave the hail and
thread the passages quickly, till he came to the room where he had left
Elgiva, when he threw aside his royal mantle and all his restraint at
the same time.
It was not for a few moments that the company in the hall discovered the
absence of their king, but when they did there was a sudden hush, and
men looked at each other in mute astonishment; it appeared to all, with
scarce an exception, a gross insult to the assembled majesty of the
Poor Edwy, in his thoughtlessness and want of proper feeling, little
knew the deep anger such a proceeding would cause; in his lack of a
reverential spirit he was constantly, as we have seen, offending against
the respect due to the Church, the State, or himself--first as heir
presumptive, then as king.
Men stood mute, as we have said, then murmurs of indignation at the
slight arose, and all looked at Dunstan.
He beckoned to Cynesige of Lichfield, who came to his side.
"We must bring this thoughtless boy back," he said, "or great harm will
"By persuasion, if possible. Follow me."
The two prelates entered the interior of the palace, and sought the
king's private chamber.
As they drew near they heard the sound of merry laughter, and each of
them frowned as men might do who were little accustomed to condone the
weakness of human flesh. Entering the chamber very unceremoniously, they
paused, as if aghast, when they beheld the king in the company of
Elgiva, his royal diadem cast upon the ground.
He started in surprise, and for a moment in fear; then, remembering who
he was, he exclaimed, angrily--"How dare you, sir monk, intrude upon
the privacy of your king, unbidden?"
"We do so as the ambassadors of the King of kings."
It is out of our power to describe the scene which followed, the fiery
words of Edwy, the stern yet quiet rejoinders of the churchmen, the
tears of the mother and daughter; but it is well known how the scene
ended. Edwy absolutely refused to return to the assembled guests, saying
he would forfeit his kingdom first; and Dunstan replied that for his
(Edwy's) own sake he should then be compelled to use force, and suiting
the action to the word, he and Cynesige took each an arm of the youthful
king, and led him back by compulsion to the assembled nobles and clergy.
Before condemning Dunstan, we must remember that Elgiva could not stand
in the relation of the affianced bride of the king; that Edwy really
seemed to set the laws of both Church and State at defiance, those very
laws which but that day he had sworn solemnly to maintain; and that but
recently he had stood in the relation of pupil to Dunstan, so that in
his zeal for Church and State, the abbot forgot the respect due to the
king. He saw only the boy, and forgot the sovereign.
The guests assembled in the banqueting hall had seen the desertion of
their royal master with murmurs both loud and deep; but when they saw
him return escorted by Dunstan and Cynesige, their unanimous approval
showed that in their eyes the churchmen had taken a proper step.
Yet, although Edwy tried to make a show of having returned of his own
free will, an innocent device at which his captors connived when they
entered the hall with him, the bitterest passions were rankling in his
heart, and he determined to take a terrible revenge, should it ever be
in his power, upon Dunstan.
There was comparatively little show of merriment during the rest of the
feast, and the noble company separated earlier than was usual on such
"If this be the way King Edwy treats his guests," said the Earl of
Mercia, "he will find scant loyalty north of the Thames."
"Nor in East Anglia," said another.
"There is another of the line of Cerdic living."
"Yes, Edgar, his brother."
"Dunstan and Cynesige brought him back with some difficulty, I'll be
"Yes; although he tried to smile, I saw the black frown hidden beneath."
"He will take revenge for all this."
"Why, upon Dunstan to be sure."
"But how can he? Dunstan is too powerful for that."
"Wait and see."
Such was the general tone of the conversation, from which the sentiments
of the community might be inferred.
Elfric went, as he had been bidden to do, at the conclusion of the
feast, to seek Edwy, and found him, it is needless to state, in a
"Elfric," he said, "am I a king? or did I dream I was crowned today?"
"You certainly were."
"And yet these insolent monks have dared to force me from the company of
Elgiva to return to that sottish feast, and what is worse, I find they
have dared to send her and her mother home under an escort, so that I
cannot even apologise to them. As I live, if I am a king I will have
"I trust so, indeed," said Elfric, "they deserve death."
"I would it were in my power to inflict it; but this accursed monk--I
go mad when I mention his name--is all too powerful. I believe Satan
"Still there may be ways, if you only wait till you can look around you."
"There may indeed."
"Only have patience; all will be in your hands some day."
"And if it be in my power I will restore the worship of Woden and Thor,
and burn every monk's nest in the land."
"They were at least the gods of warriors."
"Elfric, you will stand by me, will you not?"
"With my life."
"Come to the window, now; see the old sots departing. There a priest,
there a thane, there an earl--all drunk, I do believe; don't you think
"Yes, yes," said Elfric, disregarding the testimony of both his eyes
that they were all perfectly sober.
Just then his eye caught a very disagreeable object, and he turned
"What are you looking at?" said Edwy.
"There is that old fox, Dunstan, talking with my father; he will learn
that I am here."
"What does it matter?"
"Only that he will easily persuade my father to take me home."
"Then the commands of a king must outweigh those of a father. I have
heard Dunstan say a king is the father of all his people, and I command
you to stay."
"I want to stay with all my heart."
"Then you shall, even if I have to make a pretence of detaining you by
The anticipations of Elfric were not far wrong. Dunstan had found out
the truth. He had sought out the old thane to condole with him upon the
pain he supposed he must recently have inflicted by his letter.
"I cannot express to you, my old friend and brother," he said, "the
great pain with which I sent your poor boy Elfric home, but it was a
"Sent him home?" said Ella.
"Yes, at the time our lamented Edred died."
"Sent him home!" repeated Ella, in such undisguised amazement that
Dunstan soon perceived something was amiss, and in a few short minutes
became possessed of the whole facts, while Ella learnt his son's disgrace.
They conferred long and earnestly. The father's heart was sorely
wounded, but he could not think that Elfric would resist his commands,
and he promised to take him back at once to Aescendune, where he hoped
all would soon be well--"soon, very soon," he said falteringly.
So the old thane went to his lodgings, hard by the palace, where he
awaited his son.
Late in the evening Elfric arrived, his countenance flushed with wine:
he had been seeking courage for the part he had to play in the wine cup.
Long and painful, most painful, was the interview that followed.
Hardened in his rebellion, the unhappy Elfric defied his father's
authority and justified his sin, flatly refusing to return home, in
which he pretended to be justified by "the duty a subject owed to his
Thus roused to energy, Ella solemnly adjured his boy to remember the
story of his uncle Oswald, and the sad fate he had met with. It was very
seldom indeed that Ella alluded to his unhappy brother, the story was
too painful; but now that Elfric seemed to be commencing a similar
course of disobedience, the example of the miserable outlaw came too
forcibly to his mind to be altogether suppressed.
"Beware, my son," added Ella, "lest the curse which fell upon Oswald
fall upon you, and your younger brother succeed to your inheritance."
"It is not a large one," said Elfric, "and in that case, the king whom I
serve will find me a better one."
"Is it not written, 'Put not your trust in princes?' O my son, my son;
you will bring my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave!"
It was of no avail. The old thane arose in the morning with the
intention of taking Elfric home even by force, such force as Dunstan had
used, if necessary, but found that the youth had disappeared in the
night; neither could he learn what had become of him, but he shrewdly
guessed that the young king could have told him.
Broken-hearted by his son's cruel desertion, the thane of Aescendune
returned home alone.
CHAPTER IX. GLASTONBURY ABBEY.
Rich in historical associations and reputed sanctity, the abbey of
Glastonbury was the ecclesiastical centre of western England. Here grew
the holy thorn which Joseph of Arimathea had planted when, fatigued with
travel, he had struck his staff into the ground, and lo! a goodly tree;
here was the holy well of which he had drunk, and where he baptized his
converts, so that its waters became possessed of miraculous power to
Here again were memorials, dear to the vanquished Welsh; for did not
Arthur, the great King Arthur, the hero of a thousand fights, the
subject of gleeman's melody and of the minstrel's praise, lie buried
here? if indeed he were dead, and not spirited away by magic power.
A Welsh population still existed around the abbey, for it was near the
borders of West Wales, as a large portion of Devon and Cornwall was then
called, and Exeter had not long become an English town. [xiv] The
legends of Glastonbury were nearly all of that distant day when the
Saxons and Angles had not yet discovered Britain, and she reposed safe
under the protection of mighty Rome; hence, it was the object of
pilgrimage and of deep veneration to all those of Celtic blood, while
the English were unwilling to be behind in their veneration.
Here, in the first year of the great English king Athelstane, Dunstan
was born, the son of Herstan and Kynedred, both persons of rank--a man
destined to influence the Anglo-Saxon race first in person and then in
spirit for generations--the greatest man of his time, whether, as his
contemporaries thought, mighty for good, or, as men of narrower minds
have thought, mighty for evil.
In his early youth, Glastonbury lay, as it lies now, in ruin and decay;
the Danes had ravaged it, and its holy walls were no longer eloquent
with prayer and praise. Yet the old inhabitants still talked with regret
of the departed glories of the fane; the pilgrim and the stranger still
visited the consecrated well, hoping to gain strength from its healing
wave, for the soil had been hallowed by the blood of martyrs and the
holy lives of saints; here kings and nobles, laying aside their
greatness, had retired to prepare for the long and endless home, and in
the calm seclusion of the cloister had found peace.
Here the mind of the young Dunstan was moulded for his future work;
here, weak in body, but precocious in intellect, he drew in, as if with
his vital breath, legend and tradition; here, from a body of Scottish
missionaries, or, as we should now call them, Irish,[xv]
he learned with rapidity all that a boy could acquire of civil or
ecclesiastical lore, and both in Latin and in theology his progress
amazed his tutors.
Up to this time the world had held possession of his heart, and,
balancing the advantages of a religious and a secular life, he chose, as
most young people would choose, the attractions of court, to which his
parents' rank entitled him, and leaving Glastonbury he repaired to the
court of Edmund.
There his extraordinary talents excited envy, and he was accused of
magical arts: his harp had been heard to pour forth strains of ravishing
beauty when no human hand was near, and other like prodigies, savouring
of the black art, were said to attend him, so that he fled the court,
and took refuge with his uncle, Elphege, the Bishop of Winchester.
A long illness followed, during which the youth, disgusted with the
world, and startled by his narrow escape from death, reversed the choice
he had previously made, and renounced the world and its pleasures.
Ordained priest at Winchester, he was sent back with a monk's attire to
Glastonbury, where he gave himself up to austerities, such as, in a
greater or less degree, always accompanied a conversion in those days;
here miracles were reported to attend him, and stories of his personal
conflicts with the Evil One were handed from mouth to mouth, until his
fame had filled the country round.[xvi]
The influence he rapidly acquired enabled him to commence the great work
of rebuilding Glastonbury, in which he was only interrupted by the
frequent calls which he had to court, to become the adviser of King
Edmund; where indeed he was often in the discharge of the office of
prime minister of the kingdom, and showed as much aptitude in civil as
in ecclesiastical affairs.
Glastonbury being rebuilt, the Benedictine rule [xvii]
was introduced, and Dunstan himself became abbot. It was far the noblest
and best monastic code of the day, being peculiarly adapted to prevent
the cloister from becoming the abode of either idleness or profligacy.
But this was not done without much opposition; the secular priests--as
the married clergy and those who lived amongst their flocks (as English
clergy do now) were called--opposed the introduction of the
Benedictine rule with all their might, and were always thorns in
The unfortunate Edmund, after the sad event at Pucklechurch, on the
feast of St. Augustine, was buried at Glastonbury by the abbot, and his
two sons, Edwy and Edgar, were put under Dunstan's especial care by the
new king Edred. The rest of the story is tolerably well known to our
The first steps of Edwy's reign were all taken with a view to one great
end--to revenge himself and to destroy Dunstan, who, aware of the
royal enmity, and of his inability to restrain the sovereign, withdrew
himself quietly to Glastonbury, and confined himself to the discharge of
his duties as its abbot.
But this did not satisfy Edwy, who, panting for the ruin of the monk he
hated, sought occasion for a quarrel, and soon found it. Dunstan had
been the royal almoner, and had had the disposal of large sums of money,
for purposes connected with the Church, on which they had been strictly
expended. Now Edwy required a strict account of all these disbursements,
which Dunstan refused to give, saying it had already been given to
Edred, and that no person had any right to investigate the charities of
the departed king.
His stout resistance gained the day in the first instance, but Edwy
never felt at rest while Dunstan lived at peace in the land, and
Ethelgiva and her fair daughter were ever inciting him to fresh acts of
hostility, little as he needed such incitement.
The first measures were of a very dishonourable kind. Evil reports were
spread abroad to destroy the character of the great abbot, and prepare
people's minds for his disgrace: then disaffection was stirred up
amongst the secular clergy surrounding Glastonbury--a very easy thing;
and attempts were made in vain to create a faction against him in his
own abbey; then at last the neighbouring thanes, many of Danish
extraction and scarcely Christian, were stirred up to invade the
territory of the abbey, and were promised immunity and secure possession
of their plunder. They liked the pleasant excitement of galloping over
Dunstan's ecclesiastical patrimony, of plundering the farms and driving
away the cattle, and there was scarcely a night in which some fresh
outrage was not committed. At this point the action of our tale recommences.
It will be remembered that the father of Ella had found relief from his
grief, after the death of his unhappy son Oswald, in building and
endowing the monastery of St. Wilfred, situate on the river's bank, at a
short distance from the hall.
The completion of the work had, however, been reserved for his son, and,
everything being now done, it became the earnest desire of Ella, with
the consent of the brethren who had been gathered into the incomplete
building, to place it under the Benedictine rule.
For this end he determined to send a messenger to negotiate with Dunstan
at Glastonbury, and, yielding to Alfred's most earnest request, he
consented to send him, in company with Father Cuthbert, who was to be
the future prior, upon the mission.
Since the desertion of Elfric, his brother Alfred had been as a
ministering angel to his father, so tender had been his affection, yet
so manly and pure. He was by nature gifted with great talents, and his
progress in ecclesiastical lore, almost the only lore of the day, would
have well fitted him for the Church; but if this idea had ever been in
the mind of the thane, he put it aside after the departure of Elfric.
But it must not be supposed that the only literature of the period was
in Latin. Alfred, the great King Alfred, skillful in learning as in war,
had translated into English (as we have mentioned earlier in our tale)
the _History of the World_, by Orosius, and other works, which formed a
part of the royal library in the palace of Edred. All these works were
known to his young namesake, Alfred, far better than they had been
either to Edwy or Elfric, in their idleness, and he was well informed
beyond the average scope of his time. But his imagination had long been
fired by the accounts he had received of Glastonbury and its sanctuary,
so that he eagerly besought his father to allow him to go thither.
But the poor old thane felt much like Jacob when he was begged to send
Benjamin into Egypt. Elfric was not, so far as home ties were concerned,
they had never heard of him since the coronation day, and now they would
take Alfred from him.
It may seem strange to our readers that Ella should regard a journey
from the Midlands to Glastonbury in so serious a light; but Wessex and
Mercia had long been independent states, communication infrequent, and
it would certainly be many weeks before Alfred could return; while
inexperience magnified the actual dangers of the way.
Coaches and carriages were not in use, neither would the state of the
roads have rendered such use practicable. All travellers were forced to
journey on horseback, and, like Elfric when he departed from home, to
carry all their baggage in a similar manner.
The navigation of the Avon, which would have opened the readiest road to
the southwest, was impeded by sandbanks and rapids; there were as yet no
locks, no canals.
Once the Romans had made matchless roads, as in other parts of their
empire, but not a stone had been laid thereon since the days of Hengist
and Horsa, and many a stone had been taken away for building purposes,
or to pave the courtyards of Saxon homes.[xviii]
Still the ancient Foss Way, which once extended from Lincolnshire to
Devonshire, formed the best route, and it was decided to travel by it,
making a brief detour, so as to enable the party to pass the first night
at the residence of an old friend of the family who dwelt on the high
borderland which separates the counties of Oxford and Warwick, in old
times the frontier between the two Celtic tribes, the Dobuni and the
So Father Cuthbert and Alfred, with three attendant serfs, left
Aescendune early on a fine summer morning, and followed a byroad through
the forest, until, after a few difficulties, arising from entanglement
in copse or swamp, they reached the Foss Way. Wide and spacious, this
grand old road ran through the dense forest in an almost unbroken line;
huge trees overshadowed it on either side, and the growth of underwood
was so dense that no one could penetrate it without difficulty.
Sometimes the scene changed, and a dense swamp, amidst which the timber
of former generations rotted away, succeeded, but the grand old road
still offered, even in its decay, a firm and sure footing. Built with
consummate skill, the lower strata of which it was composed remained so
firm and unyielding, that, could the Romans but have returned for a few
years, they might have restored it to its ancient perfection, when the
traveller might post rapidly upon it from Lincoln even to Totness in
Little, however, did our travellers think of the grand men of old who
had built this mighty causeway six or seven centuries earlier. Their
chief feeling, when they reached it, was one of relief; the change was
so acceptable from the tangled and miry bypath through the forest.
"Holy St. Wilfred," exclaimed Father Cuthbert, "but my steed hath
wallowed like a hog. I have sunk in the deep mire where was no footing."
"A little grooming will soon make him clean again, father."
"But verily we have passed through a slough and a wilderness, and my
inner man needeth refreshment; let us even partake of the savoury pies
wherewith the provident care of thy father hath provided us."
The suggestion was by no means a bad one, and the party sat down on a
green and sloping bank, overshadowed by a mighty oak which grew by the
wayside. It was noontide, and the shelter from the heat was not at all
unpleasant. Their wallets were overhauled, and choice provision found
against famine by the road. There were few, very few inns where
travellers could obtain decent accommodation, and every preparation had
been made for a camp out when necessary.
So they ate their midday meal with thankfulness of heart, and reclined
awhile ere courting more fatigue. The day was lovely, and the silence of
the woods almost oppressive; nought save the hum of insects broke its
Fatigued by the exertions of the morning, the whole party fell asleep;
the gentle breeze, the quiet rustling of the leaves, all combined to
lull the senses. While they thus slept, the day wore on, and the sun was
declining when they awoke and wondered that they had wasted their time
for so long a period.
Starting again with renewed energy, they travelled onward through the
mighty forest till sunset, when they approached the high ground which
now runs along the northern boundary of Oxfordshire and of which
Edgehill forms a portion. Though progress had been slow, for the road,
although secure, was yet in so neglected a state as to form an obstacle
to rapid travelling, and they had met no fellow travellers. Leaving the
Foss Way, which followed the valley, and slowly ascending the hill by a
well-marked track, they looked back from its summit upon a glorious
view. Far as the eye could reach stretched the forest to the northward,
one huge unbroken expanse save where the thin wreaths of smoke showed
some village or homestead, where English farmers already wrestled with
the obstacles nature had formed. But westward the view was more
home-like; the setting sun was sinking behind the huge heights now known
as the Malvern Hills, which reared their forms proudly in the distant
The western sky was rich in the hues of the departing sun, which cast
its declining beams upon village and homestead, thinly scattered in the
fertile vale through which the Foss Way pursued its course.
But our travellers did not stay long to contemplate the beauty of the
scene; they were yet ten miles from the hospitable roof where they had
purposed spending the night, and they had overslept themselves so long
at their noontide halt, that they found darkness growing apace, while
their weary animals could scarcely advance farther.
"Is there no inn, no Christian dwelling near, where we may repose?
Verily my limbs bend beneath me with fatigue," said Father Cuthbert.
"There is no dwelling of Christian men nearer than the halls of the
Thane of Rollrich, and we shall scarcely reach them for a couple of
hours," said Oswy, the serf.
"Thou art a Job's comforter. What sayest thou, Anlac?"
"There are the remains of an old temple of heathen times not far from
here, a little on the right hand of the road, but they say the place is
"Has it a roof to shelter us?"
"Part of the ruins are well covered."
"Then thither we will go. Peradventure it will prove a safe abiding
place against wolves or evil men, and if there be demons we must even
When they had emerged from the forest, they had, as we have seen,
ascended the high tableland which formed the northern frontier of the
territory of the Dobuni--passing over the very ground where, seven
hundred years later, the troops of the King and the Parliament were
arrayed against each other in deadly combat for the first time.
But at this remote period the country where the Celts had once lived,
and whence their civilised descendants had been driven by the English,
had become a barren moorland. Scarce a tree grew on the heights, but a
wild common, with valley and hill alternating, much as on Dartmoor at
the present day, stretched before the travellers, and was traversed by
the old Roman trackway. Dreary indeed it looked in the darkening
twilight; here and there some huge crag overtopped the road, and then
the track lay along a flat surface. It was after passing some huge
misshapen atones, which spoke of early Celtic worship, that suddenly, in
the distance on the right, the ruined temple lay before them.
Pillars of beautiful workmanship, evidently reared by Roman skill,
surrounded a paved quadrangle raised upon a terrace approached on all
sides by steps. These steps and the pavement were alike of stone, but
where weeds could grow they had grown, and the footing was damp and
slippery with rank vegetation and fungus growth.
At the extremity of the quadrangle the roof still partly covered the
adytum or shrine from the sky, the platform reared itself upon its
flight of massive steps where early British Christianity had demolished
the idol, and beneath were chambers once appropriated to the use of the
priests, which, by the aid of fire, could shortly be made habitable.
There was plenty of brushwood and underwood near, and our travellers
speedily made a large fire, which expelled the damp from the place,
albeit, as the smoke could only escape by an aperture in the roof,
which, it is needless to say, was not embraced in the original design of
the architect, it was not till the blaze had subsided and the glowing
embers alone warmed the chamber, that mortal lungs could bear the
stifling atmosphere, so charged had it been with smoke.
Still it was very acceptable shelter to the travellers, who must
otherwise have camped out on the exposed moorland, and they made a
hearty and comfortable meal, which being concluded, Father Cuthbert made
a very brief address.
"My brethren," he said, "we have travelled, like Abraham from Ur of the
Chaldees, not '_sine numine_,' that is not without God's protection; and
as we are about to sleep in a place where devils once deluded Christian
people, it will not be amiss to say the night song, and commend
ourselves '_in manus Altissimi_,' that is to say, to God's care."
The compline service was familiar to each one present, and Father
Cuthbert intoned it in a stentorian voice, particularly those portions
of the 91st Psalm which seemed to defy the Evil One, and he recited just
as if he were sure Satan was listening:
"Thou shalt go upon the lion and the adder; the young lion and the
dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet."
All the company seemed to feel comfort in the words, and, first posting
a sentinel, to be relieved every three hours, they commended themselves
Alfred found his couch very pleasant at first, but before he had been
long asleep his rest became disturbed by singular dreams. He thought he
was standing within a grassy glade in a deep forest; it was darkening
twilight, and he felt anxious to find his way from the spot, when his
guardian angel appeared to him, and pointed out a narrow track between
two huge rocks. He followed until he heard many voices, and saw a
strange light reflected on the tree tops, as if from beneath, when
amidst the din of voices he recognised Elfric's tones.
"Wouldst thou save thy brother, then proceed," his guardian angel seemed
He strove, in his dream, to proceed, when he awoke so vividly impressed
that he felt convinced coming events were casting their shadows before.
He could not drive the thought of Elfric from his mind; he slept, but
again in wild dreams his brother seemed to appear; once he seemed to
oppose Elfric's passage over a plank which crossed a roaring torrent;
then he seemed as if he were falling, falling, amidst rushing waters,
when he awoke.
"I can sleep no longer. I will look out at the night," he said.
A faint moon had arisen, and lent an uncertain light to the outlines of
hill, crag, and moorland, while it gilded the cornice above, where the
wind seemed to linger and moan over departed greatness. The Druidical
worship of olden days, the deluded worshippers now turned into dust, and
the cruel rites of their bloodstained worship, older even than those of
the ruined temple, rose before his imagination, until fancy seemed to
people the silent wastes before him with those who had once crowded
round that circle of misshapen stones which stood out vividly on the
verge of the plain.
He felt that nameless fear which such thoughts excite so strongly, that
he sought the company of the sentinel whom they had posted to guard
their slumbers, and found not one but two at the post.
"Oswy and Anlac! both watching?"
"It was too lonesome for one," said Oswy.
"Have you seen or heard aught amiss?"
"Yes. About an hour ago, there were cries such as men make when they die
in torture, smothered by other sounds like the beating of drums, blowing
of horns, and I know not what."
"You were surely dreaming?"
"No; it came from yonder circle of stones, and a light like that of a
great fire seemed to shine around."
Alfred made no reply; but he remembered that they had talked of the
Druidical rites the night before, and thought that the idea had taken
such hold upon the minds of his followers as to suggest the sounds to
their fancy. Still he watched with them till the first red streak of day
appeared in the east.
CHAPTER X. ELFRIC AND ALFRED.
Early in the morning our travellers arose and took their way through an
open country which abounded with British and Roman remains; no fewer
than three entrenched camps, once fortifying the frontier of the Dobuni,
lying within sight or hard by the road, which, skirting the summit of
the watershed between the Thames and the Avon, afforded magnificent views.
About an hour after starting they came upon a singular monument of
Druidical times, consisting of sixty huge stones arranged in a circular
form, with an entrance at the northeast, while a single rock or large
stone, the largest of all, stood apart from the circle, as if looking
down into the valley beneath.[xix]
"What can be the origin of this circle?" said Alfred.
"It belongs to the old days of heathenesse; before the Welsh were
conquered by the Romans, perhaps before our Blessed Lord came into the
world, these stones were placed as you now see them," replied Father
"What purpose could they serve?"
"For their devil worship, I suppose; you see those five stones which
stand at some little distance?"
"They are the Five Whispering Knights," said Oswy.
"They are the remains of a cromlech or altar whereon they offered their
sons and daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, wherefore the
Lord brought the Romans upon them."
"But the Romans were idolatrous, too."
"Yet their religion was milder than the one it superseded. Jupiter
required no human sacrifices; and even otherwise, God has said that the
wicked man is often His sword to avenge Him of His adversaries."
"Oswy looks as if he had a tale to tell."
"Speak out, Oswy, and let us all hear," said the good father.
"Well, then," said Oswy, "these were not once stones at all, but living
men--a king, five knights, and sixty soldiers--who came to take Long
Compton, the town down there, in the valley; but it so happened that a
great enchanter dwelt there, and being out that morning he saw them
coming, muttered his spells, and while the king--that stone yonder--
was in front looking down on his prey, the five knights all whispering
together, and the sixty soldiers behind in a circle, they were all
suddenly changed into stone."
They all laughed heartily at this, and leaving the Rholdrwyg Stones,
turned aside to the hospitable hall where they ought to have spent the
previous night. So delighted was the Thane of Rholdrwyg or Rollrich to
receive his guests that he detained them almost by force all that day,
and it was only on the morrow that he permitted them to continue their
They joined the Foss Way again after a few miles at Stow on the Wold;
the road was so good that they succeeded in reaching Cirencester, the
ancient Corinium, that night, a distance of nearly thirty miles. Here
they found a considerable population, for the town had been one of great
importance, and was still one of the chief cities of southern Mercia,
full of the remains of her departed Roman greatness, with shattered
column and shapely arch yet diversifying the thatched hovels of the
Two more days brought them to Bath, but the old Roman city had been
utterly destroyed, and long subsequently the English town had been
founded upon its site, so that there seemed no identity between Bath and
Aqua Solis, such as prevailed between Cirencester and Corinium.
One day's journey from Bath brought them at eventide within an easy day
of Glastonbury, so that they paused in their journey for the last time
at a well-known hostelry, chiefly occupied by pilgrims bound for
Glastonbury, for the morrow was a high festival, or rather the
commencement of one, and Dunstan was expected to conduct the ceremonies
So crowded was the hostelry that Alfred and his revered tutor could only
obtain a small chamber for their private accommodation, while their
servants were forced to content themselves with such share of the straw
of the outbuildings as they could obtain, in company with many others.
It was still early when they stopped at the inn, for one of their
horses, which they had purchased by the way, had broken down so
completely that they could not well proceed, and they were about to
enter a dark and dangerous forest, full of ravenous bears and wolves,
which had already cast its shade upon their path.
But this was not an uncommon feature in English travelling of that
century, when there were no horses to be hired at the inns, and
travellers could only purchase the animals they needed (if there were
any to be sold); the forest, too, was reported to be the haunt of
freebooters, and men dared to affirm that they were encouraged by the
king to prey upon the fraternity at Glastonbury.
Still the dangers of the forest did not deter Alfred, who dearly loved
woodland scenery and sport, from strolling therein when their hasty meal
had been despatched, weary of the continuous objurgations and smalltalk
of the crowded inn.
He had wandered some distance, lost in thought, when all at once he
started in some surprise, for the spot on which he was seemed familiar
to him, although he had never been in Wessex before.
Yes, he certainly knew the glade, with the fine beech trees surrounding
it: where could he have seen it before? All at once he remembered his
dream in the ruined temple, and started to discover the secret
foreknowledge he had thus possessed.
He wandered up and down the glade till it became dusk, and then shook
off the thoughts to which he had been a prey, and started to return to
the inn, when, to his dismay, he found he had forgotten in which
direction it lay.
While seeking to find the path by which he had entered the glade, he
suddenly noticed a beaten track between two huge rocks, which seemed to
point in the direction he had come, and yet which he recognised as the
path he had been bidden to follow in his dream. He hesitated not, but
committed himself to it, while darkness seemed to increase each moment.
He was beginning to fear the dangers of a night in the woods, when he
was startled by a sound as of many low voices, and at the same moment
became conscious that a light was tinging with red the upper branches of
the trees at no little distance, as if proceeding from some fire, hidden
by the formation of the ground.
At first he thought that he was in the neighbourhood of outlaws, and
tried to retire, but, as in his dream, he felt so strong an impulse to
discover the party whom the woods concealed that he persevered.
Suddenly he stopped short, for he had come to the edge of a kind of
natural amphitheatre, a deep hollow in the earth, the sides of which
were covered with bushes and trees, while the area at the bottom might
perhaps have covered a hundred square yards, and was clothed with
verdant turf. Not one, but several fires were burning, and around them
were reclining small groups of armed men, while some were walking about
chatting with each other.
Alfred gazed in much surprise, for the party did not at all realise his
conception of a body of freebooters or robbers; they all seemed to wear
the same uniform, and to resemble each other in their accoutrements and
characteristics; they rather resembled, in short, a detachment of
regular forces than a body of men whom chance might have thrown
together, or the fortune of predatory war.
While he gazed upon them, two of their number, whose attire was rich and
costly, and who seemed to be of higher rank than the rest, perhaps their
officers, attracted his attention as they walked near the spot where,
clinging to a tree, he overlooked the encampment from above.
One of them was a tall, dark warrior, whose whole demeanour was that of
the professional soldier, whose dress was plain yet rich, and who might
easily be guessed to be the commander of the party. He was talking
earnestly, but in a subdued tone, to his younger companion, whom he
seemed to be labouring to convince of the propriety of some course of
Alfred watched them eagerly; the form of the younger--for so he
appeared by his slender frame--seemed familiar to him, and when at
last they turned their faces and walked towards him, the light of a
neighbouring fire showed him the face of his brother Elfric.
"My dream!" he mentally exclaimed.
They were evidently talking about some very important subject, and it
was also evident that the objections of the younger, whatever they might
be, were becoming rapidly overruled, when, as chance, if it were chance,
would have it, they paused in their circuit of the little camp just
beneath the tree where Alfred was posted.
"You see," said the elder, "that our course is clear, so definitely
clear that we have but to do our duty to the king, while we avenge a
thousand little insults we have ourselves received from this insolent
monk--such insults as warriors wash out with blood."
"Yet he is a churchman, and it would be called utter sacrilege."
"Sacrilege! is a churchman's blood redder than that of layman, and is he
not doomed as a traitor by a judgment as righteous as ever English law
pronounced! did he not keep Edwy from his throne during the lifetime of
the usurper Edred!"
"That was the sentence of the Witan, and you served Edred."
"I did not owe the allegiance of an Englishman to either, being of
foreign birth, and so was no traitor; as for the Witan, it is well known
Dunstan influenced their decision at the death of the royal Edmund."
"I never heard the assertion before."
"You have many things still to learn; you are but young as yet. But let
it pass. Does not his conduct to Queen Elgiva merit death!"
"I think it does. But still not without sentence of law."
"That sentence has been in fact pronounced, for in such cases as these,
where the subject is too powerful for the direct action of the law to
reach him, the decision of the king and council must pass for law, and
they have decided that Dunstan must die, and have left the execution of
the sentence--to us."
He did not add that the council in question consisted of the giddy young
nobles who had surrounded Edwy from the first, aided by a few hoary
sinners whose lives of plunder and rapine had given them a personal
hatred of the Church.
Elfric heaved a sigh, and said:
"If so, I suppose I must obey; but I wish I had not been sent on the
"It is to test your loyalty."
"Then it shall be proved. I have no personal motives of gratitude
"Rather the contrary."
"Rather the contrary, as you say. But what sound was that? Surely
something stirred the bush!"
"A rabbit or a hare. You are becoming fanciful and timid. Well, you will
remember that tomorrow there must be no timidity, no yielding to what
some would call conscience, but wise men the scruples of superstition.
We shall not reach the monastery till dark, most of the visitors will
then have quitted it, and we shall take the old fox in a trap."
"You will not slay him in cold blood!"
"No. I shall bid him follow me to the king, and if he and his resist, as
probably they will, then their blood be on their own heads. But surely--"
At that moment a large stone, which Alfred had most inopportunely
dislodged, rolled down the bank, and made Elfric, who was in its path,
leap aside. Alfred, whose foot had rested upon it, slipped, and for a
moment seemed in danger of following the stone, but he had happily time
to grasp the tree securely, and by its aid he drew himself back and
darted into the wood.
Luckily there was moonlight enough to guide him by the track he had
hitherto followed, and he ran forward, dreading nothing so much as to
fall into the hands of the friends of his brother, and trusting that he
might prevent the execution of the foul deed he had heard meditated. He
ran for a long distance before he paused, when he became aware that
pursuers were on his track. Luckily his life had been spent so much in
the open air that he was capable of great exertion, and could run well.
So he resumed his course, although he knew not where it would lead him,
and soon had the pleasure of feeling that he was distancing his
pursuers. Yet every time he ran over a piece of smooth turf he fancied
he could hear them in his rear, and it was with the greatest feeling of
relief that he suddenly emerged from the wood upon the Foss Way, and saw
the lights of the hostelry at no great distance below him.
His pursuers did not follow him farther, probably unwilling to betray
their presence to the neighbourhood, and perhaps utterly unconscious
that the intruder upon their peace was possessed of any dangerous
secrets, or other than some rustic woodman belated on his homeward way,
who would be unable in any degree to interfere with them or to guess
But it was not till the ardour of his flight had abated, that Alfred
could fully realise that his unhappy brother was committed to a deed of
scandalous atrocity, and the discovery was hard for him to bear. The
strong impression which his dream had made upon him--an impression
that he was to be the means of saving his brother from some great sin--
came upon him now with greater force than ever, and was of great
comfort. The identity of the scenery he had seen in dreamland with the
actual scenery he had gone through, made him feel that he was under the
special guidance of Providence.
Returning to the inn he sought Father Cuthbert, and found him somewhat
uneasy at his long absence, and to him he communicated all that he had
seen and heard.
The good father was a man of sound sense but of much affection, and at
first he could not credit that the boy he had loved so well, Elfric of
Aescendune, should have grown to be the associate of murderers, for such
only could either he or Alfred style the agents of Edwy's wrath.
But, once fully convinced, he was equal to the emergency.
"We will not start at once, we should but break down on the road, and
defeat our own object. We must rest quietly, and sleep soundly if
possible, and start with the earliest dawn. We shall reach Glastonbury
by midday, and be able to warn the holy abbot of his danger in good time."
So Alfred was forced to curb his impatience and to try to sleep soundly.
Father Cuthbert soon gave good assurance that he was asleep; but the
noisy manner in which the assurance was given banished sleep from the
eyelids of his anxious pupil. At length he yielded to weariness both of
mind and body, and the overwrought brain was still.
He was but little refreshed when he heard Father Cuthbert's morning
salutation, "_Benedicamus Domino_," and could hardly stammer out the
customary reply, "_Deo gratias_."
Every one rose early in those days, and the timely departure of the
party from Aescendune excited no special comment. Hundreds of pilgrims
were on the road, and Alfred expressed his conviction that there would
be force enough at Glastonbury to protect Dunstan, to which Father
Cuthbert replied--"If he would accept such protection."
On former days their journey had been frequently impeded by broken
bridges and dangerous fords; but as they drew near Glastonbury the
presence of a mighty civilising power became manifest. The fields were
well tilled, for the possessions for miles around the abbey were let to
tenant farmers by the monks, who had first reclaimed them from the
wilderness. The farm houses and the abodes of the poor were better
constructed, and the streams were all bridged over, while the old Roman
road was kept in tolerable repair.
A short distance before they reached the city, the pilgrims, who were a
space in advance of the party, came in sight of the towers of the
monastery, whereupon they all paused for one moment, and raised the
solemn strain then but recently composed--
Founded on the Rock of Ages,
Salem, city of the blest,
Built of living stones most precious,
Vision of eternal rest,
Angel hands, in love attending,
Thee in bridal robes invest.
Down from God all new descending
Thee our joyful eyes behold,
Like a bride adorned for spousals,
Decked with radiant wealth untold;
All thy streets and walls are fashioned,
All are bright with purest gold!
Gates of pearl, for ever open,
Welcome there the loved, the lost;
Ransomed by their Saviour's merits;
This the price their freedom cost:
City of eternal refuge,
Haven of the tempest-tost.
Fierce the blow, and firm the pressure,
Which hath polished thus each stone:
Well the Mastermind hath fitted
To his chosen place each one.
When the Architect takes reck'ning,
He will count the work His Own.
Glory be to God, the Father;
Glory to th' Eternal Son;
Glory to the Blessed Spirit:
One in Three, and Three in One.
Glory, honour, might, dominion,
While eternal ages run.
The grand strains seemed to bring assurance of Divine aid to Alfred, and
he could but imitate Father Cuthbert, who lifted up his stentorian voice
and thundered out in chorus, as they drew near the pilgrims.
Here they left the Foss Way for the side road leading to the monastery,
now only a short distance from them.
CHAPTER XI. THE FLIGHT OF DUNSTAN.
It was the day of St. Alban, the protomartyr of England, and the saint
was greatly honoured at Glastonbury, where, as we have seen, Dunstan was
in residence, and, as a natural consequence, every department of the
monastic life was quickened by his presence. The abbey was full of monks
who had professed the Benedictine rule, and having but recently been
rebuilt, it possessed many improvements hardly yet introduced into
English architecture in general. The greater part of the building was of
stone, and it was not, in its general features, unlike some of the older
colleges at Oxford or Cambridge, although the order of the architecture
was, of course, exclusively that of the Saxon period, characterised by
the heavy and massive, yet imposing, circular arch.
But upon the church or abbey chapel all the skill of the architect had
been concentrated, and it seemed worthy alike of its founder and of its
object. Seen upon the morning in question, when the bright summer sun
filled every corner with gladsome light, just as the long procession of
white-robed priests, and monks in their sombre garb, with their hoods
thrown back, were entering for high mass, and the choral psalm arose, it
was peculiarly imposing.
The procession had not long entered the church, when the party of
pilgrims we have described, closely followed by our friends from
Aescendune, entered the quadrangle, and crossed it to the great porch of
the church. It was with the greatest difficulty they could enter, for
the whole floor of the huge building was crowded with kneeling
worshippers. The portion of Scripture appointed for the epistle was
being chanted, and the words struck Alfred's ears as he entered--"He
pleased God, and was beloved of Him, so that, living among sinners, he
The words seemed to come upon him with special application to the danger
the great abbot was in, and the thought that the martyr's day might be
stained by a deed of blood, or, as some might say, hallowed by another
martyrdom, added to his agitation.
And now he had gained a position where the high altar was in full view,
illuminated by its countless tapers, and fragrant with aromatic odours.
There, in the centre of the altar, his face turned to the people as the
sequence was ended, and the chanting of the gospel from the rood loft
began, stood the celebrant, and Alfred gazed for the first time upon the
face of Dunstan, brought out in strong relief by the glare of the
He strove earnestly to concentrate his thoughts upon the sacred words.
They were from the sixteenth of St. Matthew, beginning at the words:
"Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let
him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
"For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it and whosoever will lose
his life for My sake, shall find it."
He could not but feel the strange coincidence that words such as these
should come to strengthen him, when he felt he had most need to shelter
himself under the shadow of the Cross. The service proceeded, the creed,
sanctus, and other choral portions being sung by the whole monastic body
in sonorous strains; and for a time Alfred was able to make a virtue of
necessity, and to give himself wholly to the solemnity; but when it was
over and the procession left the church, he sought an immediate
interview with the abbot, in company with Father Cuthbert.
Dunstan had removed his sacerdotal garments, and had returned to his own
cell, which only differed in size from the cells of his brethren. The
furniture was studiously plain: hard wooden chairs; an unvarnished
table; a wooden bedstead, with no bed, and only a loose coverlet of
sackcloth; the walls uncovered by tapestry; the floor unfurnished with
rushes;--such was the chamber of the man who had ruled England, and
still exercised the most unbounded spiritual influence in the land.
There was no ostentation in this; every monk in the monastery lived in
similar simplicity. Precious books and manuscripts, deeply laden with
gold and colours, were deposited on coarse wooden shelves, while the
Benedictine Breviary lay on the table, written by some learned and
painstaking scribe, skilful in illumination.
The appearance of the abbot was little changed since we last beheld him;
perhaps care had traced a few more lines in his countenance, and his
general manner was more prompt and decided, now that danger menaced him,
for menace him he knew it did, although he hardly knew from what quarter
the bolt would fall.
A lay brother brought him some slight refreshment, the first he had
taken during the day.
The humility inculcated by each precept of the order forbade the brother
in question to speak until his superior gave him leave to do so; but
Dunstan read at once the desire of his subordinate, and said:
"What hast thou to tell me, Brother Osgood?"
"Many people are without, seeking speech of thee."
"This is the case each day; are there any whose business appears pressing?"
"A company has arrived from Aescendune, or some such place in Mercia,
and two of the party--a priest and a young layman--seek an immediate
interview, saying their business is of life and death."
"Aescendune!--admit them first."
The brother left the cell at once, and soon returned, ushering in Father
Cuthbert and Alfred, who saluted the great churchman with all due
humility, and waited for him to speak, not without much evident
uneasiness; perhaps some little impatience was also manifest.
"Are you of the house of Aescendune, my son?" enquired Dunstan of
Alfred. "Methinks I know you by your likeness to your brother Elfric."
"I am the son of Ella, father; we have been sent on pressing business,
which is notified by this parchment" (presenting the formal request on
the part of the brethren of Aescendune, which was the original cause of
their journey) "but we have yet a more pressing matter to bring before
you: wicked men seek your life, my father."
"I am well aware of that; surely you do not dream, my son, that my eyes
are closed to a fact known throughout unhappy England."
"But, my father, I speak of immediate danger, which God in His great
mercy enabled me to discover but last night; this very night the abbey
will be attacked, and your life or liberty in danger."
"This night!" said Dunstan, in surprise; "and how have you discovered
this? Do not hesitate, my son tell me all."
Thus adjured, Alfred repeated the whole story of his discovery of the
"You saw the leaders closely then?" said Dunstan, when he had finished;
"describe the elder one to me."
"A tall dark man, like a foreign soldier, in plain but rich apparel, a
scar on the right cheek."
"Stay, my son, I know him; his name is Redwald, and he is the captain of
the king's bodyguard. Now describe the other with whom he held converse."
"Father, I cannot."
"My son--" but Dunstan paused, for he saw that poor Alfred had covered
his face with his hands, and he at once divined the truth, with full
conviction, at the same time, of the truth and earnestness of Alfred's
"My son, God can dispose and turn the hearts of all men as seemeth best
to His wisdom; and I doubt not, in answer to our fervent prayers, He
will turn the heart of your poor brother. Meanwhile, we ourselves will
take such precautions as shall spare him the guilt of sacrilege.
"Brother Osgood, summon the prior to my presence, and cause the brethren
to assemble, one and all, in the chapter house: we have need of instant
The lay brother departed, and Dunstan, whose cheerfulness did not desert
him for one moment, chatted familiarly with Father Cuthbert, or perused
the parchment the good father had just presented through Alfred.
"It is a great and pleasing thing," he said, "to behold how our Order is
spreading through this benighted land, and how spiritual children arise
everywhere to our holy father Benedict; surely the time is near at hand
when the wilderness shall blossom as the rose."
The prior, Father Guthlac, entered at this moment, and Dunstan talked
apart with him for some moments with extreme earnestness, but only the
last words which passed between them were audible.
"Yes, my brother, you have the words of Scripture," said Dunstan, "to
support your proposal: 'When they persecute you in one city, flee ye
"Yet it is hard to leave a spot one has reared with such tender care."
"There was One Who left more for us; and I do not think they will
destroy the place, or even attempt to destroy it: they will fill it with
those 'slow bellies, those evil beasts,' the secular clergy, with their
"Fitter it should be a stye for hogs." [xxi]
"Nay, they are men after all; yet there is some reason to fear that,
like hogs, they wallow in the mire of sensuality; but their day will be
but a short one."
"But a short one; it hath been foreshown me in visions of the night that
the Evil One will triumph indeed, but that his triumph will be very
short; and, alas a green tree which standeth in the pride of its youth
and might must, ere the close of that triumph, be hewn down."
"By our hands, father?"
"God forbid! by the Hand of God, I speak but as it has been revealed to me."
It was a well-known fact that Dunstan either was subject to marvellous
hallucinations, and was a monomaniac on that one point, while so wise in
all other matters, or that he was the object of special revelations, and
was favoured with spiritual visions, as well as temptations, which do
not ordinarily fall within the observation or experience of men.
So Father Guthlac and the rest of the company listened with the greatest
reverence to his declaration, as to the words of an inspired oracle.
"But let us go to our brethren; they await us," said Dunstan, speaking
to the prior. "Brother Osgood, take these our guests to the
refectorarius, and ask him to see that they and all their company taste
our bounty at least this day; tomorrow we may have nought to offer them."
In the famous chapter of the whole house of Glastonbury which followed,
and which became historical, prompt resolution was taken on Dunstan's
report, which did honour to the brotherhood, as evincing both their
resignation and their trust in God, Who they believed would, to use the
touching phrase of the Psalmist, "turn their captivity as the rivers in
the south;" so that they "who went forth weeping, bearing good seed,
should come again with joy, and bring their sheaves with them."
So it was at once agreed that the whole community should break up
immediately; that within the next hour all the monks should depart for
the various monasteries of the Benedictine order; and that Dunstan
himself, with but two companions, should take refuge across the sea,
sailing from the nearest port on the Somersetshire coast.
A dozen of the brethren were to return with Father Cuthbert and Alfred
to Aescendune at once, and to bear with them all the necessary powers
for the accomplishment of the good thane's wishes in regard to the
monastery of St. Wilfred, while Father Cuthbert was then and there
admitted by Dunstan to the order of St. Benedict--the necessity of the
case justifying some departure from the customary formalities.
All being completely ordered and arranged, the chapter broke up, and
within an hour the monks were leaving as rapidly as boys leave school
when breaking-up day comes, but not quite so joyously. They strove to
attract as little attention as possible, and, in most cases, travelled
in the ordinary dress of the country.
Father Cuthbert and the Benedictines who were to accompany him on his
return---so much more speedy than had been anticipated--were already
prepared to start, when, to their surprise, Alfred could not be found.
Alfred was at that moment in the cell of Dunstan, with whom he had
obtained, not without great trouble, another brief interview.
"God bless you, my son," said Dunstan, "and render unto you according to
all you have done for His glory this day, and restore you your brother
safe in body and soul!"
But it was not merely for a blessing that Alfred had sought the abbot.
"Father," he said, "if I have happily been of service to you, I ask but
one favour in return; one brother has sought your life, let the other
remain with you as a bodyguard."
"But your father?"
"I am satisfied that I am but speaking as he would have me speak."
"But you will become an exile."
"Gladly, if I can but serve you, father."
"But, my child, I have no means of support for you abroad; as monks we
shall find hospitality in every Benedictine house, but you are only a
"Then, father, I but ask you to allow me to accompany you to the coast."
"I grant it, my son, for I believe God inspires the wish. Be it as you
desire, but one of your serfs must accompany you; it would not be safe
to travel home alone."
So Father Cuthbert and the Benedictines started back to Aescendune
without Alfred, bearing Dunstan's explanation of the matter to the
half-bereaved father whose faith, they feared, would be sorely tried,
and leaving Oswy to be his companion.
It was now drawing near nightfall, and the abbey was almost deserted;
all the pilgrims had left with the monks, although many of them would
willingly have put their trust in the arm of flesh and remained to fight
for Dunstan against his temporal foes, even as he--so they piously
believed--routed their spiritual enemies. In that vast abbey there
were now but six persons--Dunstan, Guthlac, Alfred, the lay brother
Osgood, Oswy, and a guide who knew all the bypaths of the country.
Desolate and solitary indeed seemed the huge pile of untenanted
buildings as the evening breeze swept through them. The last straggler
had gone; Dunstan was still in his cell arranging or destroying certain
papers, the guide and lay brothers held six strong and serviceable
horses in the courtyard below, near the open gate, impatient to start,
and blaming secretly the dilatoriness of their great chieftain. They
watched the sun as he sank lower and lower in the western sky, and
thought of the woods and forests they must traverse, frequented by
wolves, and sometimes by outlaws whom they dreaded far more. Still
Dunstan did not appear.
Alfred and Guthlac, on a watchtower above, gazed on the plain stretched
before them. Mile after mile it extended towards that forest where the
enemy was now known to lurk, and they watched each road, nay, each copse
and field, with jealous eye, lest it should conceal an enemy. Ofttimes
the shadow of some passing cloud, as it swept over moor or mere, was
taken for an armed host; ofttimes the wind, as it sighed amongst the
trees and blew the dried leaves hither and thither, seemed to carry the
warning "An enemy is near."
At length danger seemed to show itself plainly: just as the sun set, a
dark shadow moved from a distant angle of the forest on the plain
beneath, and the words "The enemy!" escaped simultaneously from Alfred
and Guthlac as the setting sun seemed reflected upon spear and sword,
flashing in a hundred points as they caught the reflection of the
Alfred, at the prior's desire, hurried to the chamber of Dunstan.
"Father," he said, "the enemy are near. They have left the forest."
"That is four miles in distance: there will be time for me to finish
this letter to my brother of Abingdon."
"But, father, their horses may be fleeter than ours."
"We are under God's protection: I am sure we shall not be overtaken: be
at peace, my son."
Poor Alfred felt as if his faith were very sorely tried indeed, but he
strove to acquiesce.
It was now quite dark, and the ears of the would-be fugitives were
strained to catch the sounds which should warn them of approaching danger.
At length they fancied they heard sounds arise from the plain before
them: suppressed noises, such as must unavoidably be made by a force on
its passage; and Alfred again sought the cell of Dunstan, yet dared not
enter, urgent though the emergency seemed.
At this moment he was startled by a demoniacal burst of laughter, which
seemed to fill the corridor in which he waited with exultant joy.
What could it be? he felt as if he had never heard such laughter before
--so terrible, yet so boisterous.
A moment of dread silence, and then it began again, and filled each
corridor and chamber.
At that moment Dunstan came forth, and saw the pale face of Alfred.
"It is only the devil," he said "we are not ignorant of his devices.
"O Satan! thou that wert once an angel in heaven, art thou reduced to
bray like a jackass?" [xxii]
Again the exultant peal resounded.
"Be at peace," said the abbot; "thou rejoicest at my departure; I shall
soon return to defy thee and thy allies."
And the laughter ceased.
"We must lose no time," he said; "the moment is at hand."
Locking each door behind him, he reached the party in the courtyard, and
each person mounted in a moment; then they passed under the great
archway. Oswy had remained behind one moment to lock the great gates,
and then they all rode forth boldly into the darkness.
They passed rapidly in a direction at right angles to that in which
their pursuers were approaching, and at the distance of a mile they
halted for one moment to ascertain the cause of a great uproar which
suddenly arose. It was not difficult to divine its cause: it was the
heating of axes and hammers on the great outer door of the monastery.