He came back after an interview with Redwald on the subject, and found Elfric in their common study. There was an alcove in the room, and it was covered by a curtain.
“O Elfric,” said the prince, “is it not delightful? The two tyrants, the king and the monk, will soon be gone. I wish the Evil One would fly off with them both, and when the cat is away will not the mice play? I have made all the arrangements; we shall have such a night at the lady Ethelgiva’s.”
“How is the fair Elgiva?”
It was now Edwy’s turn to blush and look confused.
“I wish I had the power of teasing you, Elfric. But if you have a secret you keep it close. Remember old Dunstan vanishes on the fifteenth, and the same evening, oh, won’t it be joyful? But I am tired of work. Come and let us take some fresh air.”
They left the room, when the curtain parted, and the astonished countenance of Father Benedict, who had been quietly reading in the deep embrasure of the window, presently appeared. He looked like a man at whose feet a thunderbolt had fallen, and hastily left the room.
The week passed rapidly away, and at its close Dunstan took his departure. A train of horses awaited him, and he bade the young princes Edwy and Edgar farewell, with the usual charge to work diligently and obey Father Benedict.
That same night, after the clerks had sung compline in the chapel, and the chamberlain had seen to the safety of the palace, Edwy came quietly to the room of his page, and the two left as on the first occasion. Redwald attended them, and just before the boat left the bank he spoke a word of caution.
“I fear,” he said, in a low tone, “that all is not quite right. That old fox Dunstan is up to some trick; he has not really left town.”
“Perhaps he has a similar appointment tonight,” said Edwy, sarcastically. “I should keep mine though he and all his monks from Glastonbury barred the way.”
They reached the castellated mansion of Ethelgiva in due course, and the programme of the former evening was repeated, save that, if there was any change, the conversation was more licentious, and the wine cup passed more freely.
It was midnight, and one of the company was favouring them with a song of questionable propriety, when a heavy knock was heard at the door. The servants went to answer it, and all the company awaited the issue in suspense.
One of the principal domestics returned with haste, and whispered some words into the ear of Ethelgiva—which seemed to discompose her.
“What can this mean?” she said. “A guard of soldiers demand admittance in the king’s name?”
A louder knocking attested the fact.
“You must admit them, or they will batter the door down. Edwy, Elfric! here, hide yourselves behind that curtain, it veils a deep recess.”
They had scarcely concealed themselves when Dunstan entered, attended by a guard of the royal hus-carles.