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MacMillan's Reading Books eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 236 pages of information about MacMillan's Reading Books.

The blood from the first blow was trickling down his face in a thin streak; he wiped it with his arm, and when he saw the stain, he said, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”  At the third blow, he sank on his knees—­his arms falling, but his hands still joined as if in prayer.  With his face turned towards the altar of St. Benedict, he murmured in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus, and the defence of the Church, I am willing to die.”  Without moving hand or foot, he fell fiat on his face as he spoke, and with such dignity that his mantle, which extended from head to foot, was not disarranged.  In this posture he received a tremendous blow, aimed with such violence that the scalp or crown of the head was severed from the skull, and the sword snapped in two on the marble pavement.  Hugh of Horsea planted his foot on the neck of the corpse, thrust his sword into the ghastly wound, and scattered the brains over the pavement.  “Let us go—­let us go,” he said, in conclusion, “the traitor is dead; he will rise no more.”

DEAN STANLEY.

[Note:  Thomas Becket (1119-1170).  Chancellor and afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry II.; maintained a heroic, though perhaps ambitious and undesirable struggle with that king for the independence of the clergy; and ended his life by assassination at the hands of certain of Henry’s servants.]

* * * * *

THE DEATH OF ELIZABETH

The triumph of her lieutenant, Mountjoy, flung its lustre over the last days of Elizabeth, but no outer triumph could break the gloom which gathered round the dying queen.  Lonely as she had always been, her loneliness deepened as she drew towards the grave.  The statesmen and warriors of her earlier days had dropped one by one from her council board; and their successors were watching her last moments, and intriguing for favour in the coming reign.  The old splendour of her court waned and disappeared.  Only officials remained about her, “the other of the council and nobility estrange themselves by all occasions.”  As she passed along in her progresses, the people, whose applause she courted, remained cold and silent.  The temper of the age, in fact, was changing and isolating her as it changed.  Her own England, the England which had grown up around her, serious, moral, prosaic, shrank coldly from this child of earth, and the renascence, brilliant, fanciful, unscrupulous, irreligious.  She had enjoyed life as the men of her day enjoyed it, and now that they were gone she clung to it with a fierce tenacity.  She hunted, she danced, she jested with her young favourites, she coquetted, and scolded, and frolicked at sixty-seven as she had done at thirty.  “The queen,” wrote a courtier, a few months before her death, “was never so gallant these many years, nor so set upon jollity.”  She persisted, in spite of opposition, in her gorgeous progresses from country-house to country-house. 

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