Then, five days later, shout and yell,
And shrieks and howls of slaughter fell,
Upon the peaceful homestead came.
’Mid flashing sword, and axe, and flame,
Snatched by a Viking’s iron grasp,
From his slain mother’s dying clasp,
Saved from the household’s flaming grave,
Edric was dragged, a destined slave,
Some northern dame to serve, or heed
The flocks that on the Saeter feed.
Still, with scarce conscious hold he clung
To the white cat, that closely hung
Seeking her refuge in his arm,
Her shelter in the wild alarm—
And who can tell how oft his moan
Was soothed by her soft purring tone?
Time keeping with retracted claw,
Or patting with her velvet paw;
Although of home and friends bereft,
Still this one comforter was left,
So lithe, so swift, so soft, so white,
She might have seemed his guardian sprite.
The rude Danes deemed her such;
And whispered tales of ‘disir’ bound
To human lords, as bird or hound.
Nor one ’mid all the fleet was found
To hurt one tender paw.
And when the captive knelt to pray
None would his orisons gainsay;
For as they marked him day by day,
Increased their wondering awe.
Crouched by the mast, the child and cat,
Through the dire time of slaughter sat,
By terror both spellbound;
But when night came, a silence drear
Fell on the coast; and far or near,
No voice caught Edric’s wakeful ear,
Save water’s lapping sound.
He wandered from the stern to prow,
Ate of the stores, and marvelled how
He yet might reach the ground;
Till low and lower sank the tide,
Dark banks of mud spread far and wide
Around that fast-bound wreck.
Then the lone boy climbed down the ship,
To cross the mud by bound and skip,
His cat upon his neck.
Light was his weight and swift his leap,
Now would he softly tread, now creep,
For treacherous was the mud, and deep
From stone to weed, from weed to plank,
Leaving a hole where’er he sank;
With panting breath and sore taxed strength
The solid earth he felt at length.
Sheltered within the copse he lay,
When dawn had brightened into day,
For when one moment there was seen,
His red cap glancing ’mid the green,
A fearful cry arose—
“Here lurks a Dane!” “The Dane seek out”
With knife and axe, the rabble rout
Made the copse ring with yell and shout
To find their dreaded foes.
And Edric feared to meet a stroke,
Before they knew the tongue he spoke.
Hid ’mid the branches of an oak,
He heard their calls and blows.
Of food he had a simple store,
And when the churls the chase gave o’er,
And evening sunk upon the vale,
With rubbing head and upright tail,
Pacing before him to and fro,
Puss lured him on the way to go—
Coaxing him on, with tender wile,