“We do, we do,” cried all but Elfwyn and Herstan; but they were utterly outvoted, and the order was given to the captain of the hus-carles to arrest Alfgar.
Alfgar, desolate and almost distracted, not heeding that he was not summoned to the council, as he might so naturally have expected to be, wandered mechanically about the palace until the bell summoned him to the early mass. The bishop was the celebrant, for Father Cuthbert was to have officiated at the celebration of the marriage of his son in the faith. The solemn pealing of the bell for the mass at the hour of daybreak fell upon Alfgar’s ears, and he turned almost mechanically to the cathedral, yet with vague desire to communicate all his griefs and troubles to a higher power than that of man, and to seek aid from a diviner source.
He entered, knelt in a mental attitude easier to imagine than describe, but felt some heavenly dew fall upon his bleeding wounds; he left without waiting to speak to any one at the conclusion of the service, and was crossing the quadrangle to the palace which occupied a portion of the site of modern Christ Church, when a heavy hand was laid upon his shoulder.
He turned and saw the captain of the guard; two or three of his officers were beside him.
“It is my painful duty to arrest you and make you my prisoner.”
“On what charge?” said the astonished Alfgar.
“The murder of the king.”
CHAPTER XXIV. THE ORDEAL.
The news of the murder of Edmund spread far and wide, and awakened deep sorrow and indignation, not only amongst his friends and subjects, but even amongst his former enemies, the Danes, now rapidly yielding to the civilising and softening influences of Christianity, following therein the notable example of their king, Canute, who was everywhere restoring the churches and monasteries he and his had destroyed, and saying, with no faltering voice, albeit, perhaps, with a very inadequate realisation of all the words implied, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Ealdorman and thane came flocking into Oxenford from all the neighbouring districts of Wessex and Mercia. The body of the lamented monarch was laid in state in St. Frideswide’s; there wax tapers shed a hallowed light on the sternly composed features of him who had been the bulwark of England; and there choking sobs and bitter sighs every hour rent the air, and bore witness to a nation’s grief. And there, two heartbroken ladies, a mother and a daughter, came often to pray, not only for the soul of the departed king, but also for the discovery of his murderers and the clearing of the innocent, for neither Hilda nor Ethelgiva for one moment doubted the spotless innocence of Alfgar.
They were refused admittance to the cell wherein he was confined by Edric, who had assumed the direction of all things, and whose claim, such is the force of impudence, seemed to be tacitly allowed by the thanes and ealdormen of Wessex.