It was indeed the ruin of a basilica wherein they stood, but no trace survived to show whether Dunstan’s conjecture was correct.
“It seems strange that God should have permitted them to fall before the sword of our heathen ancestors.”
“Their own historian Gildas, who lies buried at Glastonbury, explains it. He tells us that such was the corruption of faith and of morals towards the close of their brief day, that had not the Saxon sword interposed; plague, pestilence, or famine, or some similar calamity, must have done the fatal work. God grant that we, now that in turn we have received the message of the Gospel, may be more faithful servants, or similar ruin may, at no distant period, await the Englishman also, as it did the Welshman.”
He sighed deeply, and Alfred echoed the sigh in his heart; he read the abbot’s thoughts.
“Do you believe,” said he, after a pause, “that their spirits ever revisit the earth?”
“I know not; many wise men have thought it possible, and that they may haunt the places where they sinned, ever bearing their condemnation within them, even while they clothe themselves in semblance of the mortal flesh they once wore.”
The whole party shuddered, and Father Guthlac said, deprecatingly:
“My father, let us not talk of this now. We are too weak to bear it, and the place is so awful!”
By this time the wind had made a huge rent in the black clouds overhead, and the moon came suddenly in sight, sailing tranquilly in the azure void above, and casting her beams on the ruins, as she had once cast them on the beauteous city; its basilicas, palaces, and temples yet standing.
At this moment their guide came hastily to them.
“We are in some danger, father. Horsemen, twelve of them, are galloping along the Foss Way in spite of the storm.”
Dunstan left the shelter, which was no longer needed, the rain having ceased, and followed the guide to the summit of the huge mound which marked the fall of some giant bastion of early days. From that position they could see the Foss Way, now about half-a-mile distant in the bright moonlight, and Dunstan’s eye at once caught twelve figures—horsemen —sweeping down it like the wind, which brought the sound of their passage faintly to the ear.
“Wait,” he said, “and see whether they pass the bypath; in that case we are safe.”
The whole party was now on the mound, their persons carefully concealed from the view of the horsemen, while they watched their passage with intense anxiety. The enemy reached the bypath; eleven of them passed over it, but the twelfth reined his horse suddenly, almost upon its haunches, and pointed to the ground. He had evidently seen the tracks of the fugitives upon the soft turf.
The next moment they all turned their horses into the bypath.
“Follow,” said the guide; and they all rushed eagerly down the mound and mounted at once.