It was now determined that the interment should take place on the morrow, and the intelligence was communicated rapidly to all the tenantry.
Hourly they expected the forces of Mercia to appear, and exact a heavy account from Redwald for his offences. He was supposed to be the instigator of the expedition which had failed so utterly; it was not likely that he would be allowed to retain Aescendune a long time. The only surprise people felt was that he should have dared to remain at the post when all hope of successful resistance had ceased. He had his own reasons, which they knew not.
Under these circumstances it seemed desirable to hurry forward the interment, lest it should be interfered with from without, in the confusion of hostile operations against the hall.
The priory church was a noble but irregular structure, of great size for those days. The cunning architect from the Continent, who had designed it, had far surpassed the builders of ordinary churches in the grandeur of his conception. The lofty roof, the long choir beyond the transept, gave the idea of magnitude most forcibly, and added dignity to the design. In the south transept was a chapel dedicated especially to St. Cuthbert, where the aged Offa reposed, and the mother of Ella. There they had removed the body to await the last solemn rites. Six large wax tapers burned around it, and watchers were there day and night— mourners who had loved him well, and felt that in him they had lost a dear friend.
The wife, the son, or the daughter, were ever there, but seldom alone. For when the monks in the choir were not saying the canonical hours, or the low mass was not being said at one of the side altars, still the voice of intercession arose, with its burden:
“Eternal rest give unto him, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon him.”
At length the morning came, the second only after death. The neighbouring thanes whom the troubled times did not detain at home, the churls of the estate, the thralls, crowded the precincts of the minster, as the solemn bell tolled the deep funeral knell. At length the monks poured into the church, while the solemn “Domino refugium” arose from their lips—the same grand words which for these thousand years past have told of the eternity of God and the destiny of the creature; speaking as deeply to the heart then as in these days of civilisation.
The mourners entered, Alfred supporting his widowed mother, who had summoned all her fortitude to render the last sad offices to her dear lord; her daughter, a few distant relations—there were none nearer of kin. The bier, with its precious burden, was placed in the centre before the high altar. Six monks, bearing torches, knelt around it. A pall, beautifully embroidered, covered the coffin, a wreath of flowers surmounting a cross was placed upon it.