So it happened one day as we rode thus that while the thane had crossed a stream, beating up the far bank for a heron, we fell into talk of the journey and its ending.
“What is amiss with it all?” she asked. “The good queen seems terribly downcast about it. Is not the princess her choice?”
“Altogether so, as the king tells me. Perhaps the queen has mother-like fears for the safety of this only son of hers, and lets them get on her mind overmuch.”
“That would be hardly like our queen,” she answered, laughing; “she is above that foolishness. No, but there is somewhat more.”
“Then,” said I, thinking that this was fancy, “it will be some trouble of state which is at the bottom of her anxiety. That none of us can mend.”
“It may be that,” she said; “but it is some heavy trouble. I have never seen her so downcast until yesterday. It is a sudden thing.”
There we left the subject, and I thought little more of it until the next morning, which was that of the day before we started. It had become a custom that I should wait on the king at his first rising, when he had most leisure to talk with me, and this time I found the queen with him in his chamber. She looked sad and anxious, as I thought.
“Wilfrid,” she said to me when the fitting greetings were over, “you are a stranger here, and no thought of policy will come into your mind. Tell me truly what you think of this; it may be that your word will have some weight with my son.”
Ethelbert smiled, but it was not quite his usual untroubled smile at all.
“It is not fair to ask Wilfrid,” he said; “maybe he puts much faith in these omens.”
“No, but he is of Wessex,” she said. “He cares naught for alliance or court, or for any of those things which blind our eyes. I want him to answer me as if I were just a franklin’s wife who is in doubt.
“Listen, then, if you will.”
She turned to me with a sort of appeal, and spoke quietly, though I saw that she was almost weeping.
“Last night I dreamed a dream, and in it I waited in the church here for the bells to ring for the wedding of my son and Etheldrida, whom he loves. It was in my mind that all the good folk would come in their best array, and that so we should sing a great ‘Te Deum’ for the happiness of all. And indeed there was a voice from the belfry—but it was of the great bell alone, as of a knell for the dead. And indeed it seemed that the people came—but they came softly and weeping, and they were clad all in black. And then they sang—but it was the psalm ‘De Profundis.’”
I think that I paled, for I minded those other things which Erling had told me. The lady, who looked in my face, saw it, and she grew white also—whiter than she had been before.
“Lady,” I stammered, “I have no wit to read these things. It were well to ask the good bishop, for he is wise.”