Once or twice his fond mother, anxious for his spiritual welfare, pressed this duty upon him; and Alfred, whom he loved, as well he might, most dearly, urged the same thing, yet he always evaded the subject, or, when pressed, replied that he fully meant to do so; in short, it was a matter of daily preparation, but he could not come to be shriven yet.
When the winter at last yielded, and the bright spring sun spoke of the resurrection, when Lent was over, they hoped at least to see him make his Easter communion, and their evident anxiety upon the subject at last brought from him the avowal of the motives which actuated his conduct.
It was Easter Eve, and Alfred had enticed him out to enjoy the balmy air of a bright April afternoon. Close by the path they took, the hall was rapidly rising to more than its former beauty, for not only had the theows and ceorls all shown great alacrity in the work, but all the neighbouring thanes had lent their aid.
“It will be more beautiful than ever,” said Alfred, “but not quite so homelike. Still, when you come of age, Elfric, it will be a happy home for you.”
“It will never be my home, Alfred.”
“You must not speak so despondently. The bright springtide will soon restore all your former health and vigour.”
“No, Alfred, no; the only home I look for is one where my poor shattered frame will indeed recover its vigour, but it will not be the vigour or beauty of this world. Do you remember the lines Father Cuthbert taught us the other night?
“’Oh, how glorious and resplendent,
Fragile body, shalt thou be,
When endued with so much beauty,
Full of health, and strong and free,
Full of vigour, full of pleasure.
That shall last eternally.’
“It will not be of earth, though, my brother.”
Alfred was silent; his emotions threatened to overcome him. He could not bear to think that he should lose Elfric, although the conviction was gradually forcing itself upon them all.
“Alfred,” continued the patient, “it is of no use deceiving ourselves. I have often thought it hard to leave this beautiful world, for it is beautiful after all, and to leave you who have almost given your life for me, and dear mother, little Edgitha, and Father Cuthbert; but God’s Will must be done, and what He wills must be best for us. No; this bright Easter tide is the last I shall see on earth; but did not Father Cuthbert say that heaven is an eternal Easter?”
So the repentant prodigal spoke, according to the lessons the Church had taught him. Superstitious in many points that Church of our forefathers may have been, yet how much living faith had its home therein will never be fully known till the judgment.
“And when I look at that castle,” Elfric continued, “our own hall of Aescendune, rising from its ashes, I picture to myself how you will marry some day and be happy there; how our dear mother will see your children growing up around her knee, and teach them as she taught you and me; how, perhaps, you will name one after me, and there shall be another Elfric, gay and happy as the old one, but, I hope, ten times as good; and you will not let him go to court, I am sure, Alfred.”