“If he could not swim, it would be easy to drown,” said Alfgar, and there was such a despairing utterance in his tone, that his father was checked.
The quarters of Anlaf were in the northwestern angle of the camp; they consisted of huts hastily constructed from the material which the neighbouring woods supplied, and one or two tents, the best of which, stolen property, appertained to the chieftain.
Over a wide extent of desolated land, beautiful in its general outline, where the eye could not penetrate to details, looked the prospect. The round gently-swelling Sussex downs rose on the southern horizon, guarding the sea, while around them were once cultivated fields which the foe had reaped, while quick streams wound in between the gentle elevations, crowned with wood, and here and there the mere spread its lake-like form. The sun was now sinking behind the huge rounded forms of some chalk hills in the west, when the camp became gradually illuminated by the light of numberless fires, whereat oxen were roasted whole, and partridges and hares by the dozen, for the Danes were voracious in their appetites.
In Anlaf’s quarters one huge fire blazed for all. Alfgar seemed the only silent member of the company; the warriors related their successes, and boasted of their exploits, and the bards sang their ferocious ditties, until all were tired, and the quiet moon looked down upon the sleeping camp.
O the contrast—the calm passionless aspect of the heaven and the human pandemonium beneath.
CHAPTER VIII. FATHER CUTHBERT’S DIARY.
St. Matthew’s Day, 1006.—
It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write the events of the last few days. They have been so calamitous, so unexpected. We have heard of such things afar off, we had prayed for our brethren in Wessex, exposed to similar calamities, and now they have fallen upon us personally. May God, who alone is sufficient for these things, give us strength to bear all for His name’s sake.
It was a fortnight ago, and our harvest was all gathered in. God had blessed our increase, and our garners were full with all manner of store; women and children had mainly been the reapers, but the Lady Hilda herself had been present amongst them, and so had her daughter, my niece, Ethelgiva, even sometimes labouring with their own hands.
Alfgar and Bertric had worked like common serfs, and did themselves honour thereby, for true nobility lies not in being idle, save in the field of battle, as the bloody Northmen vainly think.
Well, the work was over, and we had a mass of thanksgiving, after which Bertric and Alfgar went hunting in the forest. In the evening there was a harvest home; it was of course a strange one without the men, who were afar off, fighting for their country, but we tried to be thankful for mercies vouchsafed, and I and Father Adhelm were there to bless the food.