“You are out of spirits. Father Cuthbert’s tales are not so bad, after all you seemed to like the legend he told us the other night.”
“Yes, about our ancestor Sebbald and his glorious death; there was something in that tale worth hearing; it stirred the blood—none of your moping saints, that Sebbald.”
“I once heard another legend from Father Cuthbert, about the burning of Croyland Abbey, and how the abbot stood, saying mass at the altar, without flinching or even turning his head, when the Danes, having fired the place, broke into the chapel. Do you not think it wanted more bravery to do that in cold blood than to stand firm in all the excitement of a battle?”
“You are made to be a monk, Alfred, and I daresay, if you get the chance, will be a martyr, and get put in the calendar by-and-by. I suppose they will keep your relics here in the priory church, and you will be St. Alfred of Aescendune; for me, I would sooner die as the old sea kings loved to die, surrounded by heaps of slain, with my sword broken in my hand.”
It was at this moment that their conversation was suddenly interrupted by a loud crashing of boughs in the adjacent underwood, a rush as of some wild beast, a loud cry in boyish tones—“Help! help! the wolf! the wolf!”
Elfric jumped up in an instant, and rushed forward heedless of danger, followed closely by his younger brother, who was scarcely less eager to render immediate assistance.
The cries for help became more and more piercing, as if some pressing danger menaced the utterer. Elfric, who, in spite of his flippant speech, was by no means destitute of keen sympathies and self devotion, hurried forward, fearless of danger, bounding through thicket and underwood, until, arriving upon a small clearing, the whole scene flashed upon him.
A huge grey wolf, wounded and bleeding, was about to rush for the second time upon a youth in hunting costume, whose broken spear, broken in the first encounter with the beast he had disturbed, seemed to deprive him of all chance of success in the desperate encounter evidently impending. His trembling limbs showed his extreme apprehension, and the sweat stood in huge drops on his forehead; his eyes were fixed upon the beast as if he were fascinated, while the shaft of his spear, presented feebly against the coming onslaught, showed that he had lost his self possession, for he neglected the bow and arrows which were slung at his side—if indeed there was time to use them.
The beast sprang, but as he did so another spear was stoutly presented to meet him, and he literally impaled himself in his eager spring on the weapon of Elfric.
Still, such was his weight that the boy fell backward beneath the mighty rush, and such the tenacity of life that, though desperately wounded, even to death, the beast sought the prostrate lad with teeth and claws, in frantic fury, until a blow from the hunting knife, which Elfric well knew how to use, laid the wolf lifeless at his side.