There was the usual gathering that evening. Did Edric remember the place, and the bloody event which only he and one other present connected with the spot?—for Edmund had been far away, and the matter had been hushed up, as far as was possible, by all the power and influence Ethelred could exert in his favourite’s cause, or rather his own, for he, the royal villain, shared the ill-gotten spoil.
If he did remember it, he took care not to show it that night. He was as calm and self-possessed as a man could be—as a smiling sea under the summer sky—smiling so that the heedless voyager knows not what hideous trophies or past storms the smiling depths conceal.
So was it with this treacherous penitent.
His presence, however, somewhat chilled the conversation, and they broke up early; the more so as it was a vigil, the vigil of St. Andrew, and men strictly observed the law of the Church on such subjects in those days.
When he bade Edmund goodnight, Edric said:
“You cannot tell how true a peace has found its home in my breast since our reconciliation, which I feel I owe greatly to the intercession of your patron St. Edmund, to whose tomb I made a pilgrimage, where I besought this one grace—our reconciliation.”
Edmund thought of the holy thorn; but Edric continued:
“And you will be glad to hear that the bishop has decided upon my penance. It is to be a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.”
“I am heartily glad to hear it,” said Edmund, speaking the very truth, although he did try to forgive as he hoped to be forgiven.
And they separated.
Meanwhile happiness and expectation were high in the breasts of the happy lovers, Alfgar and Ethelgiva. The morrow was to unite them. The ladies sat up nearly all night making the wedding robes complete, and richly adorning them—Hilda, Bertha, and Ethelgiva, with many skilful handmaidens.
They had almost finished their task, and were about to separate, when St. Frideswide’s bell tolled the first hour of the morning (one o’clock).
“We are very late,” said the lady Hilda, as well she might, for our ancestors generally retired early, as they rose early; and they bade each other goodnight.
“Happy, happy Ethelgiva!” said the mother as she kissed her darling, not without a maternal sigh, for she felt as if she were losing her only child, who had for so many a year been the light of their woodland home—her only child, who had filled not simply her own place in their affections, but as far as she might the place of the loved Bertric.
But the kiss was suspended. The whole party stood silent and breathless; for a loud and bitter cry, as of one in extreme anguish, broke upon the silence of the night.
Ethelgiva uttered but one word as she bounded towards the staircase, for she knew the voice: