Ask me not how her course she knows.
He from Whom every instinct flows
Hath breathed into His creatures power,
Giving to each its needful dower;
And strive and question as we will,
We cannot trace the inborn skill,
Nor fathom how, where’er she roam,
The cat ne’er fails to find her home.
What pen may dare to paint the woe,
When Egbert saw his home laid low?
Where, by the desolated hearth,
The mother lay who gave him birth,
And, close beside, his fair young wife,
And servants, slain in bootless strife—
Mournful the King stood near.
Alfred, who came to be his guest,
And deeply rued that his behest
Had all unguarded left that nest,
To meet such ruin drear.
With hand, and heart, and lip, he gave
All king or friend, both true and brave,
Could give, one pang of grief to save,
To comfort, or to cheer—
As from the blackened walls they drew
Each corpse, and laid with reverence due;
And then it was that Egbert knew
All save the child were here.
King Alfred’s noble head was bent,
A monarch’s pain his bosom rent;
Kindly he wrung Thane Egbert’s hand—
“Lo! these have won the blissful land,
Where foeman’s shout is heard no more,
Nor wild waves beat upon the shore;
Brief was the pang, the strife is o’er—
They are at peace, my friend!
Safe, where the weary are at rest;
Safe, where the banish’d and opprest
Find joys that never end.”
Thane Egbert groaned, and scarce might speak
For tears that ploughed his hardy cheek,
As his dread task was done.
And for the slain, from monk and priest
Rose requiems that never ceased,
While still he sought his son.
“Oh, would to Heaven!” that father said,
“There lay my darling calmly dead,
Rather than as a thrall be bred—
His Christian faith undone.”
“Nay, life is hope!” bespake the King,
“God o’er the child can spread His wing
And shield him in the Northman’s power
Safe as in Alswyth’s guarded bower;
Treaty and ransom may be found
To win him back to English ground.”
The funeral obsequies were o’er,
But lingered still the Thane,
Hanging around his home once more,
Feeding his bitter pain.
The King would fain with friendly force
Urge him anew to mount his horse,
Turn from the piteous sight away,
And fresh begin life’s saddened day,
His loved ones looking yet to greet,
Where ne’er shall part the blest who meet.
Just then a voice that well he knew,
A sound that mixed the purr and mew,
Went to the father’s heart.
On a large stone King Alfred sat
Against his buskin rubbed a cat,
Snow-white in every part,
Though drenched and soiled from head to tail.