“O Satan! thou that wert once an angel in heaven, art thou reduced to bray like a jackass?” [xxii]
Again the exultant peal resounded.
“Be at peace,” said the abbot; “thou rejoicest at my departure; I shall soon return to defy thee and thy allies.”
And the laughter ceased.
“We must lose no time,” he said; “the moment is at hand.”
Locking each door behind him, he reached the party in the courtyard, and each person mounted in a moment; then they passed under the great archway. Oswy had remained behind one moment to lock the great gates, and then they all rode forth boldly into the darkness.
They passed rapidly in a direction at right angles to that in which their pursuers were approaching, and at the distance of a mile they halted for one moment to ascertain the cause of a great uproar which suddenly arose. It was not difficult to divine its cause: it was the heating of axes and hammers on the great outer door of the monastery.
“It will occupy them nearly an hour,” said Dunstan, “and we shall be far far away before they have succeeded in effecting an entrance.”
So they rode on rapidly into the night. Before them lay the Foss Way, the road was good and well known to them, the moon was shining brightly, and their spirits rose with the excitement and the exertion. Onward! Onward!
CHAPTER XII. AT HIS WORST.
The unhappy Elfric had indeed fallen from his former self before he reached the depth at which our readers have just seen him, joining with Redwald in the unhallowed enterprise so happily frustrated, if indeed it were yet frustrated, by his own brother.
But when his father had returned to Aescendune alone, Elfric felt that home ties were shattered, and that he had nothing but the royal favour to depend upon, so he yielded to the wishes of King Edwy in all points.
Immediately after his coronation, the reckless and ill-advised Edwy had married Elgiva, [xxiii] in defiance of the ban of the Church, and then had abandoned himself to the riotous society and foolish counsels of young nobles vainer than those who cost Rehoboam so large a portion of his kingdom. Amongst these Elfric was soon conspicuous and soon a leader. His spirit and physical courage far beyond his years excited their admiration, and in return they taught him all the mysteries of evil which were yet unknown to him.
Under such influences both the king and his favourite threw off all outward semblance even of religion, and only sought the means of enjoyment. Redwald ministered without reserve or restraint to all their pleasures, and under his evil influence Edwy even found occasion to rob and plunder his own grandmother, a venerable Saxon princess, in order that he might waste the ill-gotten substance in riotous living.