Returning to the inn he sought Father Cuthbert, and found him somewhat uneasy at his long absence, and to him he communicated all that he had seen and heard.
The good father was a man of sound sense but of much affection, and at first he could not credit that the boy he had loved so well, Elfric of Aescendune, should have grown to be the associate of murderers, for such only could either he or Alfred style the agents of Edwy’s wrath.
But, once fully convinced, he was equal to the emergency.
“We will not start at once, we should but break down on the road, and defeat our own object. We must rest quietly, and sleep soundly if possible, and start with the earliest dawn. We shall reach Glastonbury by midday, and be able to warn the holy abbot of his danger in good time.”
So Alfred was forced to curb his impatience and to try to sleep soundly. Father Cuthbert soon gave good assurance that he was asleep; but the noisy manner in which the assurance was given banished sleep from the eyelids of his anxious pupil. At length he yielded to weariness both of mind and body, and the overwrought brain was still.
He was but little refreshed when he heard Father Cuthbert’s morning salutation, “Benedicamus Domino,” and could hardly stammer out the customary reply, “Deo gratias.”
Every one rose early in those days, and the timely departure of the party from Aescendune excited no special comment. Hundreds of pilgrims were on the road, and Alfred expressed his conviction that there would be force enough at Glastonbury to protect Dunstan, to which Father Cuthbert replied—“If he would accept such protection.”
On former days their journey had been frequently impeded by broken bridges and dangerous fords; but as they drew near Glastonbury the presence of a mighty civilising power became manifest. The fields were well tilled, for the possessions for miles around the abbey were let to tenant farmers by the monks, who had first reclaimed them from the wilderness. The farm houses and the abodes of the poor were better constructed, and the streams were all bridged over, while the old Roman road was kept in tolerable repair.
A short distance before they reached the city, the pilgrims, who were a space in advance of the party, came in sight of the towers of the monastery, whereupon they all paused for one moment, and raised the solemn strain then but recently composed—
Founded on the Rock of Ages,
Salem, city of the blest,
Built of living stones most precious,
Vision of eternal rest,
Angel hands, in love attending,
Thee in bridal robes invest.
Down from God all new descending
Thee our joyful eyes behold,
Like a bride adorned for spousals,
Decked with radiant wealth untold;
All thy streets and walls are fashioned,
All are bright with purest gold!
Gates of pearl, for ever open,