“Follow me closely; I think I can save you from them; only lose not a moment.”
The guide led them by a wandering path amongst the ruins, where their tracks would leave the least trace, until he passed through a gap in the external fortifications on the opposite side. Then he rode rapidly along a descending path in the woods, until the sound of rushing water greeted their ears, and they arrived on the brink of a small river which was swollen by the violent rain, and which dashed along an irregular and stony bed with fearful impetuosity.
There was but one mode of crossing it: a bridge constructed of planks was thrown over, which one horseman might pass at a time. The whole party rode over in safety, although the crazy old bridge bent terribly beneath the weight of each rider.
But when all were over, the guide motioned to Alfred and Oswy to remain behind for one moment, while the monks proceeded. He threw himself from his horse, and taking the axe which he had slung behind him, commenced hacking away at the bridge. But although the bridge was old, yet it was tough; and although Alfred, and Oswy who was armed with a small battle-axe, assisted with all their might, the work seemed long.
Before it was completed, they heard the voices of their pursuers calling to each other amongst the ruins. They had evidently lost the track, and were separating to find it.
Crash went one huge plank into the raging torrent, then a second, and but one beam remained, when a horseman emerged from the trees opposite, and by the light of the moon Alfred recognised his brother.
Desperate in the excitement of the chase, Elfric leapt from his horse, and drawing his sword rushed upon the bridge.
Alfred, who felt it tremble, cried:
“Back, Elfric! Back if you value your life!” while at the same moment, true to his duty, without raising his axe or any other attempt at offence, he opposed his own body in passive resistance to Elfric’s passage over the beam.
Elfric knew the voice, and drew back in utter amazement. He had already stepped from the half-severed beam, when he saw it bend, break, and roll, with Alfred, who had advanced to the middle of the bridge, into the torrent beneath, which swept both beam and man away with resistless force.
The reader is, we trust, somewhat impatient to learn the fate of Alfred of Aescendune, whom we left in so critical a position.
The fall of the bridge was so sudden and unexpected, that he scarcely knew where he was, till he found himself sucked rapidly down stream by the raging waters, when he struck out like a man, and battled for dear life. But the only result seemed to be that he was bruised and battered against the rocks and stones, until, exhausted, he was on the point of succumbing to his fate, as the current bore him into a calm deep