“Goodnight, Elfric,” said Edwy, as they reached the camp on their return; “goodnight. I hope you will be in better spirits in the morning.”
Edwy retired within the folds which concealed the entrance to his own tent. Close by was the tent appointed for Elfric, who acted as his page; and the latter entered also, and sat down on a camp stool.
His bed did not seem to invite him; he sat on the seat, his face buried in his hands; then he suddenly rose, threw himself on his knees, only for a moment, rose up again:
“I can’t, I can’t pray; if my fate be death, then come death and welcome the worst. There will at least be nothing hidden then, nothing behind the scenes. I will not be a coward.”
The phrase was not yet written—“Conscience makes cowards of us all;” yet how true the principle then as now—true before Troy’s renown had birth, true in these days of modern civilisation.
He could not sleep peacefully, although he laid himself down; his hands moved in the air, as if to drive off some unseen enemy, as if the danger whose presence was impalpable to the waking mind revealed itself in sleep.
“No, no” he muttered; “let the blow fall on me, on me, on me alone!” then he rose as if he would defend some third person from the attack of an enemy, and the word “Father” once or twice escaped his lips; yet he was only dreaming.
“Father!” again he cried, in the accents of warning, as if some imminent danger menaced the loved one.
He awoke, stared about, hardly recognising where he was.
“What can I have been dreaming about?” he cried; “what can it all mean? I thought I was at Aescendune;” and he strove vainly to recall the scenes of his dream.
The tread of the passing guard was the only sound which broke the stillness of the camp.
“I cannot sleep,” said Elfric, and walked forth.
The night was waning, and in the east a red glow was creeping upwards; the stars were, however, still brilliant. Opposite, at the distance of less than a mile, the reflection of the camp fires, now low, revealed the presence of the enemy; before him the mist slowly arose in white thin smoke-like wreaths, from the grass whereon many should soon sleep their last sleep, now in unconsciousness of their fate.
“I wonder where I shall lie?” thought Elfric, as if it were certain he would fall.
He felt cooler now, as the hour drew near; he watched the red light creeping upward, and saw the light clouds above catch the glow, until the birds began their songs, the glorious orb arose to gild the coming strife, and the shrill trumpet in the camp was answered by the distant notes in the camp of the foe, like an echo afar off.