Pillars of beautiful workmanship, evidently reared by Roman skill, surrounded a paved quadrangle raised upon a terrace approached on all sides by steps. These steps and the pavement were alike of stone, but where weeds could grow they had grown, and the footing was damp and slippery with rank vegetation and fungus growth.
At the extremity of the quadrangle the roof still partly covered the adytum or shrine from the sky, the platform reared itself upon its flight of massive steps where early British Christianity had demolished the idol, and beneath were chambers once appropriated to the use of the priests, which, by the aid of fire, could shortly be made habitable.
There was plenty of brushwood and underwood near, and our travellers speedily made a large fire, which expelled the damp from the place, albeit, as the smoke could only escape by an aperture in the roof, which, it is needless to say, was not embraced in the original design of the architect, it was not till the blaze had subsided and the glowing embers alone warmed the chamber, that mortal lungs could bear the stifling atmosphere, so charged had it been with smoke.
Still it was very acceptable shelter to the travellers, who must otherwise have camped out on the exposed moorland, and they made a hearty and comfortable meal, which being concluded, Father Cuthbert made a very brief address.
“My brethren,” he said, “we have travelled, like Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, not ‘sine numine,’ that is not without God’s protection; and as we are about to sleep in a place where devils once deluded Christian people, it will not be amiss to say the night song, and commend ourselves ‘in manus Altissimi,’ that is to say, to God’s care.”
The compline service was familiar to each one present, and Father Cuthbert intoned it in a stentorian voice, particularly those portions of the 91st Psalm which seemed to defy the Evil One, and he recited just as if he were sure Satan was listening:
“Thou shalt go upon the lion and the adder; the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet.”
All the company seemed to feel comfort in the words, and, first posting a sentinel, to be relieved every three hours, they commended themselves to sleep.
Alfred found his couch very pleasant at first, but before he had been long asleep his rest became disturbed by singular dreams. He thought he was standing within a grassy glade in a deep forest; it was darkening twilight, and he felt anxious to find his way from the spot, when his guardian angel appeared to him, and pointed out a narrow track between two huge rocks. He followed until he heard many voices, and saw a strange light reflected on the tree tops, as if from beneath, when amidst the din of voices he recognised Elfric’s tones.
“Wouldst thou save thy brother, then proceed,” his guardian angel seemed to whisper.
He strove, in his dream, to proceed, when he awoke so vividly impressed that he felt convinced coming events were casting their shadows before. He could not drive the thought of Elfric from his mind; he slept, but again in wild dreams his brother seemed to appear; once he seemed to oppose Elfric’s passage over a plank which crossed a roaring torrent; then he seemed as if he were falling, falling, amidst rushing waters, when he awoke.