“Father, awake,” he said; “the night is coming on; you will take cold.”
But there was no answering voice, and the sleeper stirred not. Alfred became seriously alarmed, but his alarm changed suddenly into dread certainty. The feathered shaft of an arrow met his eye, dimly seen in the darkness, as it stuck in the left side of the sleeping Ella. Sleeping, indeed. But the sleep was eternal.
Horrified at the sight, refusing to believe his eyes, the son first continued his vain attempts to awake his sire, then fell on his knees, and wrung his hands while he cried piteously, “O father, speak to me!” as if he could not accept the fact that those lips would never salute him more. The moonbeams fell on that calm face, calm as if in sleep, without a spasm of pain, without the contraction of a line of the countenance. The weapon had pierced through the heart; death had been instantaneous, and the sleeper had passed from the sleep of this earth to that which is sweetly called “sleep in the Lord,” without a struggle or a pang.
His heart full of joy and thanksgiving, he had gone to carry his tribute of praise to the very throne of God.
When the first paroxysm of pain and grief was over, the necessity of summoning some further aid, of bearing the sad news to his home, pressed itself upon the mind of Alfred, and he took his homeward road alone, as if he hardly knew what he was doing, but simply obeyed instinct. Arrived there, he could not tell his mother or sister; he only sought the chamberlain and the steward, and begged them to come forth with him, and said something had happened to his father. They went forth.
“We must carry something to bear him home,” he said, and they took a framework of wood upon which they threw some bearskins.
Alfred did not speak during the whole way, save that in answer to the anxious inquiries of his companions he replied, “You will see!” and they could but infer the worst from his manner, without giving him the pain of telling the fatal truth.
At length they reached the glade where the dead body lay. The moon was bright, and in her light they saw the fatal truth at once.
“Alas, my master! alas, my dear lord! Who has done this? Who could have done it?” was their cry. “Was there one who did not love and revere him?”
More demonstrative than Alfred had been were they in their lamentations, for the deepest grief is often the most silent.
At length they raised the body, the temple of so pure and holy a spirit, which had now returned to the God Who gave it, reverently as men would have handled the relics of some martyr saint, and placed it on the bier which they had prepared. Then they began their homeward route, and ere a long time had passed they stood before the great gate of the castle with their burden.
It now became a necessity for Alfred to announce the sad news to his widowed mother; and here the power of language fails us—the shock was so sudden, so unexpected. The half of her life was so suddenly torn from the bereaved one, that the pang was well-nigh insupportable. But God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, and has promised that the strength of His beloved ones shall be even as their day. So He strengthened the sensitive frame to bear a shock which otherwise might have slain it.