“God can change his heart,” said Alfred to himself, “and bring him home like the prodigal son about whom Father Cuthbert talks so often.”
So he prayed earnestly every day for his brother, and many a supplication on his behalf arose from the altar of St. Wilfred. Time will show whether they were lost.
Edwy, King of England, and Elgiva, his queen, gave a great feast at their royal palace in London, a month after the events recorded in our last chapter; and a numerous company had assembled to do honour to their hospitality. Yet the company was very different from that which had assembled round the same hospitable board in the days of King Edred. First, the Churchmen were conspicuous by their absence; and secondly, all the old grey-headed counsellors, who had been the pride and ornament of the reigns of Edmund and Edred, were not seen; for, after the rumour of their marriage had reached Odo, he had pronounced the sentence of the lesser excommunication upon them, severing them from the sacraments; and this was felt by the old counsellors of Edred to be a most serious stigma, yet one which they could not call undeserved: hence they deserted the court.
In their place were the young and giddy, the headstrong sons of wiser fathers, the spendthrifts, the young fops of the period, those who went in for a fast life, to use a modern phrase—who spent the night, if not the day, over the wine cup, and consumed their substance in riotous living—such were they who gathered around Edwy the Fair and the yet fairer Elgiva.
And truly king and queen more beautiful in person had never sat upon a throne; and it was difficult to look upon them and feel aught but admiration, save when one knew all their history, and then pity and sorrow might supply the place of admiration, at least with the sober minded.
Fish, flesh, and fowl; nought was wanting. The earth the air, and the water, all yielded their tribute; for was it not the anniversary of the marriage—the uncanonical marriage, alas!—of the royal pair, if marriage it had truly been?
Eels of enormous size, fine as the Roman lamprey, pike roasted with puddings in their bellies, tench and carp stewed; while the sea yielded its skate, its sturgeon, and its porpoise, which the skill of the cook had so curiously dressed with fragrant spices that it won him great renown. The very smell, said a young gourmand, was a dinner in itself; and the wild buck supplied its haunch, and the boar its head, while fowl of all kinds were handed round on spits.
The drinking was of like sumptuous character, and Rhenish wine contended with the wines of sunny France for precedence, as they were passed round in silver cups and gold-mounted horns; for glass was seldom, if ever, used for such purposes then.
The floor was strewed with the sweetest summer flowers, and exhaled an odour balmy as the breath of eastern climes, where the breeze plays with the orange blossoms. The tapestry was beautifully woven by foreign artists, and represented the loves of the gods; while there was nothing in keeping with the olden style throughout the whole apartment.