Yet there was a refinement in his vice: he did not care for coarse sensual indulgence to any great extent; his wickedness was that of a sensitive cultivated intellect, of a highly-wrought nervous temperament. Unscrupulous—careless of truth—contemptuous of religion—yet he had all that attraction in his person which first endeared him to Elfric, whom he really loved. Alas! his love was deadly as the breath of the upas tree to his friend and victim. When the first measures of vengeance were taken against Dunstan, with the concurrence of wicked but able ministers of state, Redwald was selected as the agent who should bribe the thanes, and begin the course of conduct which should eventually lead to the destruction of the enemy of the king. He had only waited till the temper of the times seemed turned against Dunstan (he judged it wrongly); and the king seemed secure against every foe ere he planned the expedition we have introduced to our readers.
We will now resume the thread of our narrative.
When the band of soldiers, headed by Redwald, had gained the gates of the monastery, they found them, as we have seen, firmly locked and barred.
“Blow your horns; rouse up these sleepy monks to some purpose,” said Redwald. “Why, they have not a light about the place.”
A loud and vigorous blast of horns was blown, while the greater part of the troop dismounted and paused impatiently for an answer from within.
“Two or three of you step forward with your axes,” exclaimed Redwald.
They did so, and thundered on the gate without any success, so stoutly was it made.
“What can it mean?” said Redwald. “All is silent as the grave.”
“No; there is some one laughing at us,” said Elfric.
A peal of merry laughter was heard within.
Redwald was thoroughly enraged, and seizing an axe with his own hand, he set the example of applying it to the gate, but without any result save to split a few planks, while the iron framework, designed by Dunstan himself, who was clever at such arts, held as firmly as ever.
Unprovided with other means of forcing it, the besiegers had recourse to fire, and gathering fuel with some difficulty, they piled it against the gate. Shortly the woodwork caught, and the whole gate presently yielded to the action of the fire; the iron bars, loosened by the destruction of the woodwork, gave way, and the besiegers rushed into the quadrangle. Here, all was dark and silent, not a sound to be heard or a light seen.
“What can it mean? Have they fled? You all heard the laughter!”
“There it is again.”
The boisterous and untimely mirth had begun just within the abbot’s lodgings, and the doorway at the foot was immediately attacked. It presently yielded, and Redwald, who had obtained a good notion of the place, rushed with his chief villains to the chamber he knew to be Dunstan’s; yet he began to fear failure, for the absence of all the inmates was disheartening. No, not all, for there was the loud laughter within the very chamber of the abbot.