King Edred dined that day, as one might say, in the bosom of his family; only Dunstan was present, besides the boys Edwy, Edgar his younger brother, and Elfric. It was then that Elfric first saw the younger prince, a pale studious-looking boy of twelve, but with a very firm and intellectual expression of countenance. He was a great favourite with Dunstan, whom the boy, unlike his brother, regarded with the greatest respect and reverence.
The conversation was somewhat stiff; Edred spoke a few kind words to the young stranger, and then conversed in an undertone with Dunstan, the whole dinner time; the princes themselves were awed by the presence of their uncle and his spiritual guide.
But at last, like all other things, it was over, and with feelings of joy the boys broke forth from the restraint. The whole afternoon was spent in seeing the sights of London, and they all three, for Edgar accompanied them, returned to the evening meal, fatigued in body, but in high spirits. Compline in the royal chapel terminated the day, as mass had begun it.
But a few days had passed before Elfric learned the secret of Redwald’s influence over the young prince.
The household of Edred was conducted with the strictest propriety.[ix] All rose with the lark, and the first duty was to attend at the early mass in the royal chapel. Breakfast followed, and then the king on ordinary days gave the whole forenoon to business of state, and he thought it his duty to see that each member of the royal household had some definite employment, knowing that idleness was the mother of many evils. So the young princes had their tasks assigned them by their tutor, as we have already seen, and the spare hours which were saved from their studies were given to such practice in the use of the national weapons as seemed necessary to those who might hereafter lead armies, or to gymnastic exercises which strengthened nerve and muscle for a time of need.
In the afternoon they might ride or walk abroad, but a strict interdict was placed upon certain haunts where temptation might perchance be found, and they had to return by evensong, which the king generally attended in person when at home. Then, in winter, indoor recreations till compline, for it was a strict rule of the king that his nephews should not leave the palace after sundown.
He further caused their tutor, who directed their education under the supervision of Dunstan—Father Benedict—whom we have already introduced, to see that they properly discharged all the duties of public and private devotion.
But he did not see, in the excess of his zeal, that he was really destroying the prospects which were nearest his heart, and that there can be no more fatal mistake than to compel the performance of religious duties which exceed the measure of the youthful capacity or endurance.