The sounds of lamentation and woe were heard all over the castle as they slowly bore the body to the domestic chapel, while some drew near, impelled by an irresistible desire to gaze upon it, and then cried aloud in excess of woe. Amongst the others, Redwald approached, and gazed fixedly upon the corpse; and Eric the steward often declared, in later days, that he saw the wound bleed afresh under the glance of the ruthless warrior, but perhaps this was an afterthought.
Father Cuthbert, who had now been elected prior of the monastic house below, on the banks of the river, soon heard the sad news, and hastened up to tender the sweet consolations of religion—the only solace at such a time, for it is in seasons of suffering that we best comprehend the Cross.
When he entered he saw the corpse in the chapel, where they had placed it before the altar, and he could only say, “Alas, my lord! alas, my dear friend!” until he knelt down to pray, and rose up somewhat calmed.
Then he sought the chamber where the lady Edith hid her woe, and there he showed her that God was love, hard though it was sometimes for the frail flesh to see it; and he bade her look to the Divine Sufferer of Whom it is said, “In all their afflictions He was afflicted;” and so by his gentle ministrations he brought calm to the troubled breast, and it seemed as if one had said to the waves of grief, “Peace, be still.”
And then he gathered the household to prayer, and while they prayed many a “Requiescat” for the faithful soul, as they said the dirge commending to the Fathers Hands a sheep of His fold, so they also prayed for strength to see the love which was hidden behind all this sad, sad visitation, and to know the meaning of the words “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
And then he bade them rest—those, at least, who were able to do so— while he watched by the body, as was then the custom, all through the deep night.
And so the stars which had looked down from heaven so peacefully upon the house of Aescendune the night before, of which we wrote, now looked down as coldly bright as if no change had occurred, shining alike upon weal or woe, upon crime or holy deed of saint. Yet as the kneeling friar saw them through the chapel window, he thought they were but the golden lights which lay about the confines of that happy region where the faithful live in unspeakable felicity for ever with their Lord, and he found consolation in the thought of the Eternal and the Infinite.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE BATTLE.
The early morn, as we have already seen, broke upon the adverse hosts of Edwy and Edgar as the trumpet sounded to arouse them from their slumbers, in many instances from the last slumber they should ever enjoy.
Every soldier was on his legs in a moment, and, in the first place, preparations were made for breakfast: for it was a recognised fact amongst our ancestors that if you wanted a man to fight or do anything else well, you must feed him well first. So the care of the body was never neglected, however pressing the danger.