So the home authorities knew little of the absent one, for whom they offered up many a fervent prayer, and of whom they constantly spoke and thought. And yet, so mysterious are the ways of Providence, it seemed as if these prayers were unanswered—seemed indeed, yet they were not forgotten before God.
Seemed forgotten; for Elfric was rapidly becoming reckless. Many subsequent scenes of indulgence had followed the first one, and other haunts, residences of licentious young nobles, or taverns, had been sought out by the youths, and always by Redwald’s connivance.
He was Edwy’s evil genius, and always seemed at hand whensoever the prince sought occasion to sin. Still, he was not at all suspected by Edred, before whom he kept up an appearance of the strictest morality— always punctual in his attendance at mass, matins, and evensong, and with a various stock of phrases of pious import ready at tongue in case of need or opportunity of using them to advantage.
To Elfric, his behaviour was always reserved, yet he seemed even more ready to lend him a helping hand downward than did the prince.
So time passed on; weeks became months; and Christmas with all its hallowed associations had passed; it had been Elfric’s first Christmas away from home, and he was sad at heart, in spite of the boisterous merriment of his companions. The spring of the year 955 came on, and Lent drew near, a season to which Edwy looked forward with great dread, for, as he said, there would be nothing in the whole palace to eat until Easter, and he could not even hope to bribe the cook.
The canons of the church required all persons to make confession, and so enter upon the fast tide, having “thus purified their minds;” [x] it may, alas! be easily guessed how the guilty lads performed this duty, how enforced confession only led to their adding the sin of further deceit, and that of a deadly kind.
Thus they entered upon Lent: their abstinence was entirely compulsory, not voluntary; and although they made up for it in some degree when they could get away from the palace, yet even this was difficult, for it was positively unlawful for butchers to sell or for people to buy meat at the prohibited seasons, and the law was not easily evaded. But it was a prayerless Lent also to Elfric, for he had, alas! even discontinued his habit of daily prayer, a habit he had hitherto maintained from childhood, a habit first learned at his mother’s knee.
Holy Week came, and was spent with great strictness; the king seemed to divide his whole time between the business of state and the duties of religion.
Dunstan was absent at Glastonbury, but other ecclesiastics thronged the palace, and there were few, save the guilty boys and Redwald, who seemed uninfluenced by the solemn commemoration.
But it must not be supposed that Elfric was wholly uninfluenced: after the preaching of the Passion by a poor simple monk on Good Friday, he retired to his own little room, where he wept as if his heart would break. Had Dunstan been then in town, the whole story would have been told, and much misery saved, for Elfric felt he could trust him if he could trust anybody; but unhappily Dunstan was, as we have seen, keeping Passiontide at his abbey.