The solemn requiem mass commenced, and the great Sacrifice once offered upon Calvary was pleaded for the soul of the deceased thane. When the last prayer had been said, the coffin was sprinkled with hallowed water, and perfumed with sweet incense, after which it was removed to its last resting place. The grave was already prepared. Again the earthly cavern was sprinkled with the hallowed water, emblematical of the blood of sprinkling which speaketh better things than that of Abel, and the body —the sacred dust for which Christ had died, in which God had dwelt as in a temple—was lowered, to be sown in corruption, that hereafter it might be raised in incorruption and joy unspeakable.
All crowded to take the last sad look. Alfred felt his dear mother’s arm tremble as she leant on him, yet gazed firmly into that last resting place, while the solemn strain arose:
“Ego sum resurrectio et vita. Qui credit in Me, etiam si mortuus fuerit vivet; et omnis qui vivit, et credit in Me, non morietur in aeternum.” [xxx]
CHAPTER XX. “AND THE DOOR WAS SHUT.”
The reader is, we trust, somewhat impatient to learn what had really been the fate of the unhappy Elfric of Aescendune—whether he had indeed been cut off with the work of repentance incomplete, or whether he yet survived to realise the calamity which had fallen upon his household.
He lived. When the blow of his adversary, as we have seen, crushed him to the earth, and he lay there with his head on the ground, prostrate, amidst kicking and plunging hoofs, and the roar and confusion of deadly strife, Providence, without which not one sparrow falleth to the ground, watched over him, and averted the iron hoofs from his forehead. Could one have concentrated his gaze upon that little spot of earth and have seen the furious hoofs graze, without injuring, that tender forehead, could he have beheld the gallop of the retreating steeds over and around that senseless form, for it now lay senseless, he would have realised that there is One Whose Eye is observant of each minute detail which concerns the life of His beloved ones—nay, Who knows the movements of the tiniest insect, while His Hand directs the rolling spheres. And his care preserved Elfric for His Own wise ends, until the fight receded, leaving its traces behind it, as when the tide of ocean recedes after a storm and the beach is strewn with wreck—bodies of men, of horses, mutilated, dismembered, dead or dying, disabled or desperately wounded.
Hours had passed, during which the sounds of the combat still maintained at the entrenched camp came freshly on the ear, and then died away, until the solemn night fell upon the scene, and the only sound which smote the ear were faint, faint moans—cries of “Water! water!” incessantly repeated from hundreds of feeble lips.
It was then that Elfric awoke from the insensibility which had resulted from exhaustion and the stunning blow he had received in his fall. Every limb seemed in pain, for the loss of blood had not left the vital powers strength for the maintenance of the due circulation through the body, and the cold night air chilled the frame. He did not at first comprehend where he was, but as his senses returned he perceived all too well that he was left for dead.