In this manner days lengthened into weeks. He tried in vain to open any intercourse with his ferocious jailor, whose ward was sometimes shared by a comrade, when there was much ungodly revelry below, and snatches of Danish war songs mingled with profane oaths. The deep, deep bay of the mastiff sometimes gave warning of the advent of a stranger, or of the step heard from the distance, in the still deep night; but this was all that Alfgar could learn of the outer world, from which he was banished at so critical a moment.
SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT.—
The evening, after the Vesper service in the church was over, and darkness had closed in, we all sat down to our evening meal. The doors were shut to keep out the storm, and I had already said grace, when the Etheling suddenly appeared.
His manner struck us all. He looked wild and agitated, and his first words cast a chill over us.
“Where is Alfgar?”
“Is he not with you, what has happened?” said I and Herstan, speaking in the same breath.
“No, I have lost him. I had hoped to find him here; they must have murdered him,” he cried.
“Yes, he was too dangerous to Edric to be suffered to live. I might have foreseen it; and they have put him out of the way by cowardly assassination,” insisted the Etheling.
There was too much reason in his words.
“Besides,” said he, “if he were well and uninjured, would he not have come here, where he was sure of a welcome?”
“I will go to Dorchester at once,” said Herstan.
“It is useless,” said Edmund; but my brother, having learnt all that the prince could tell him, mounted and rode into the town.
Meanwhile Edmund evidently needed our care; we found he had not eaten all day.
“I have risked my life for my country,” he said, “and now that I bring tidings which ought to circulate through the land like the wind, and rouse every man to action, I am disbelieved. Nay, it is hinted that I drank too much Danish wine and mead, and misunderstood what I heard. I could brain the man who dared say so to my face. I could—and would. Meanwhile no steps are taken, no levies called out; but I will myself alarm the country. The innocent blood shall not be on my head.”
“Surely they must heed your warning,” said we all together.
“Not they. The fox, Edric, pretended that it was all moonshine.”
“But did you not expose his treachery?” asked I.
“I tried to do so; but he pulled out a bit of some hedge, which he said was a holy thorn from St. Joseph’s tree at Glastonbury, and that he was there on pilgrimage when Alfgar saw him—saw him, mark you—at the Danish camp on the borders of Sussex; and I saw men, I won’t mention names, who had more than once taken reward to slay the innocent, look as if they would go down on their knees to this holy thorn, which wasn’t a holy thorn at all, but plucked from some hedge hard at hand. Did not Edric mock them in his heart! I should like to strangle him.”