He entered, and gazed at Elfric for a moment without speaking, as if he would read his very heart by his face; it was hardly comfortable.
“Elfric,” he said at last, “do you remember the warning I gave you six months ago?”
“No,” said Elfric, determined, in desperation, to deny everything.
“I fear you are hardly telling me the truth; you must remember it, unhappy boy! Why were you not warned in time? Why did you refuse the advice which might have saved you from all this?”
“Because it was my fate, I suppose.”
“Men make their own fates, and as they make their beds so must they lie upon them; however, I have not come here to reproach you, but to bid you prepare to return home.”
“Home?—so soon?” said Elfric.
“Yes, you must leave tomorrow, when a messenger will be prepared to accompany you, and to explain the cause of your dismissal from court to your father, whom I most sincerely pity; and let me hope that you will find leisure to repent of your grievous sin in the solitude of your native home.”
“Must my father be told everything?”
“I fear he must: you have left us no choice; and it is the better thing, both for him and for you; he will understand better what steps are necessary for your reformation—a reformation, I trust, which will be accomplished in good time, whereat no one will rejoice more than I.”
A pert answer rose to Elfric’s lips, but he dared not give utterance to it; the speaker was too great in his wrath to be defied with impunity.
“Farewell,” said Dunstan, “would that I could say the word with brighter hopes; but should you ever repent of your sin, as I trust you may, it will gladden me to hear of it. I fear you may have done great harm to England in the person of her future king, but God forgive you in that case.”
Elfric felt the injustice of the last accusation; he coloured, and an indignant denial had almost risen to his lips, but he repressed it for Edwy’s sake—faithful, even in his vice, to his friend.
“Am I to consider myself a prisoner? you have posted a sentinel, as if I were a criminal.”
“You must be confined to your apartment, but you may have books and anything else you desire. The prince is forbidden to see you again. Your confinement will only be for one day; tomorrow you will be free enough; let me beg you to use the occasion for calm reflection, and, I hope, penitence.”
Dunstan left the room, and Elfric heard his retreating steps go heavily down the stairs, when a sudden and almost unaccountable feeling came over him—a feeling that he had thrown himself away, and that he was committed to evil, perhaps never to be able to retrace his course, never to all eternity; the retreating steps sounded as if his sentence were passed and the door of mercy shut. He shook off the strange feeling; yet, could he have seen the future which lay undiscovered before him, and which must intervene before he should see that face again, or hear those steps, he might have been unable thus to shake off the nameless dread.