With Edgar, who was naturally pious, the system produced no evil result; but with Edwy the effect was most sad. He had become, as we have seen, deceitful; and a character, naturally fair, was undermined to an extent which neither the king nor Dunstan suspected.
The reader may naturally ask how could Dunstan, so astute as he was, make this mistake, or at least suffer Edred to make it?
The fact was that Dunstan understood the affairs of state better than those of the heart, and although well fitted for a guide to men of sincere piety, and capable of opposing to the wicked an iron will and inflexible resolution, he did not understand the young, and seemed to have forgotten his own youth. Sincerely truthful and straightforward, he hardly knew whether to feel more disgust or surprise at Edwy’s evident unfaithfulness. He little knew that unfaithfulness was only one of his failings, and not the worst.
A few nights after Elfric’s arrival, when the palace gates had been shut for the night, the compline service said, the household guard posted, and the boys had retired to their sleeping apartments, he heard a low knock at his door. He opened it, and Edwy entered.
“Are you disposed for a pleasant evening, Elfric?”
“Such pleasure as there is in sleep.”
“No, I do not mean that. We cannot sleep, like bears in winter, during all the hours which should be given to mirth. I am going out this evening, and I want you to go with me.”
“Yes. Don’t stand staring there, as if I was talking Latin or something harder; but get your shoes on again—
“No; you had better come down without shoes; it will make less noise.”
“But how can we get out? I have not the least idea where you are going?”
“All in good time. We shall get out easily enough. Are you coming?”
Half fearful, yet not liking to resist the prince, and his curiosity pressing him to solve the secret, Elfric followed Edwy down the stairs to the lower hall, where Redwald was on guard. He seemed to await the lads, for he bowed at once to the prince and proceeded to the outer door, where, at an imperious signal from him, the warder threw the little inner portal open, and the three passed out.
“Is the boat ready?” said Edwy.
“It is; and trusty rowers await you.”
Redwald led the way to the river’s brink, and there pointed out a skiff lying at a short distance from the shore. At a signal, the men who manned it pulled in and received the two youths on board, then pulled at once out into the stream.
“How do you like an evening on the river?” said Edwy.
“It is very beautiful, and the stars are very bright tonight; but where are we going?”
“You will soon find out.”
Finding his royal companion so uncommunicative, Elfric remained silent, trusting that a few minutes would unravel the mystery.