“It is for him!” she said. She imprinted her last kiss on his sleeping forehead, she gazed upon him with fond, fond love; love had been her all, her heaven: and then she opened the door noiselessly.
Athelwold waited without.
“Well done, noble girl!” he said; “thou keepest thy word right faithfully.”
She strove to speak, but could not; her pale bloodless lips would not frame the words. Silently they descended the stairs; the dawn reddened the sky; a horse with a lady’s equipments waited without, and a guide.
The old thane slipped a purse of gold into her hands.
“You will need it,” he said. “Where are you going? you have not told us.”
“It is better none should know,” she said; “I will decide my route when without the city.”
They never heard of her again.[xxxii]
When Edwy awoke and found her gone he was at first frantic, and sent messengers in all directions to bring her back; but when one after another came back unsuccessful, he accepted the heroic sacrifice and submitted.
Wessex, therefore, remained faithful to him, at least for a time, but Mercia was utterly lost; and Edgar was recognised as the lawful king north of the Thames, by all parties; friends and foes, even by Edwy himself.
CHAPTER XXV. “FOR EVER WITH THE LORD.”
Many months had passed away since the destruction of the hall of Aescendune and the death of the unhappy Ragnar, and the spring of 958 had well-nigh ended. During the interval, a long and hard winter had grievously tried the shattered constitution of Elfric. He had recovered from the fever and the effects of his wound in a few weeks, yet only partially recovered, for the severe shock had permanently injured his once strong health, and ominous symptoms showed themselves early in the winter. His breathing became oppressed, he complained of pains in the chest, and seemed to suffer after any exertion.
These symptoms continued to increase in gravity, until his friends were reluctantly compelled to recognise the symptoms of that insidious disease, so often fatal in our English climate, which we now call consumption.
It was long before they would admit as much; but when they saw how acutely he suffered in the cold frosts; how he, who had once been foremost in every manly exercise, was compelled to forego the hunt, and to allow his brother to traverse the woods and enjoy the pleasures of the chase without him; how he sought the fireside and shivered at the least draught; how a dry painful cough continually shook his frame, they could no longer disguise the fact that his days on earth might be very soon ended.
There was one fact which astonished them. Although he had returned with avidity to all the devotional habits in which he had been trained, yet he always expressed himself unfit to receive the Holy Communion, and delayed to make that formal confession of his sins, which the religious habits of the age imposed on every penitent.