And now he had gained a position where the high altar was in full view, illuminated by its countless tapers, and fragrant with aromatic odours. There, in the centre of the altar, his face turned to the people as the sequence was ended, and the chanting of the gospel from the rood loft began, stood the celebrant, and Alfred gazed for the first time upon the face of Dunstan, brought out in strong relief by the glare of the artificial light.
He strove earnestly to concentrate his thoughts upon the sacred words. They were from the sixteenth of St. Matthew, beginning at the words:
“Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
“For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it and whosoever will lose his life for My sake, shall find it.”
He could not but feel the strange coincidence that words such as these should come to strengthen him, when he felt he had most need to shelter himself under the shadow of the Cross. The service proceeded, the creed, sanctus, and other choral portions being sung by the whole monastic body in sonorous strains; and for a time Alfred was able to make a virtue of necessity, and to give himself wholly to the solemnity; but when it was over and the procession left the church, he sought an immediate interview with the abbot, in company with Father Cuthbert.
Dunstan had removed his sacerdotal garments, and had returned to his own cell, which only differed in size from the cells of his brethren. The furniture was studiously plain: hard wooden chairs; an unvarnished table; a wooden bedstead, with no bed, and only a loose coverlet of sackcloth; the walls uncovered by tapestry; the floor unfurnished with rushes;—such was the chamber of the man who had ruled England, and still exercised the most unbounded spiritual influence in the land.
There was no ostentation in this; every monk in the monastery lived in similar simplicity. Precious books and manuscripts, deeply laden with gold and colours, were deposited on coarse wooden shelves, while the Benedictine Breviary lay on the table, written by some learned and painstaking scribe, skilful in illumination.
The appearance of the abbot was little changed since we last beheld him; perhaps care had traced a few more lines in his countenance, and his general manner was more prompt and decided, now that danger menaced him, for menace him he knew it did, although he hardly knew from what quarter the bolt would fall.
A lay brother brought him some slight refreshment, the first he had taken during the day.
The humility inculcated by each precept of the order forbade the brother in question to speak until his superior gave him leave to do so; but Dunstan read at once the desire of his subordinate, and said:
“What hast thou to tell me, Brother Osgood?”
“Many people are without, seeking speech of thee.”