“But what will Dunstan say?”
“Oh, he must fight it out with Sigebert the leech, and Sigebert knows which side his bread is buttered.”
The whole tone of Edwy indicated plainly that the headache was but a pretence, but he spoke with such sly simplicity that the boys could not help joining in his contagious laughter; sympathising, doubtless, in his love of a holiday in the woods.
“Your headache is not gone yet, I trust, my prince,” said Elfric.
“Why?” said Edwy, turning his eyes upon him with a smile.
“Because we have splendid woods near here for hunting, and I must have” (he whispered these words into Edwy’s ear) “a headache, too.”
Edwy quite understood the request conveyed in these words, and turning to the old thane requested him to allow his boys to join the sport on the morrow as a kind of bodyguard, adding some very complimentary words on the subject of Elfric’s courage shown in the rescue that afternoon.
“Why, yes,” said the old thane, “I have always tried to bring up the boys so as to fear neither man nor beast, and Elfric did indifferently well in the tussle. So he has earned a holiday for himself and brother, with Father Cuthbert’s leave,” and Ella turned to the ecclesiastic.
“They are good boys,” said the priest, “only, my lord, Elfric is somewhat behind in his studies.”
Elfric’s looks expressed his contempt of the “studies,” but he dared not express the feeling before his father.
“But I trust, my prince,” said Ella, “that we shall not keep you from your duties at court. Dunstan is a severe, although a holy man.”
“Oh, he is gone to have another encounter with the Evil One at Glastonbury, and is fashioning a pair of tongs for the purpose,” said Edwy, alluding to the legend already current amongst the credulous populace; “and I wish,” he muttered, “the Evil One would get the best of it and fly away with him. But” (in a louder tone) “he cannot return for a month, which means a month’s holiday for me.”
Ella could interpose no further objection, although scarcely satisfied with the programme.
The conversation here became general. It turned upon the subject of hunting and war, and the enthusiasm of young Edwy quite captivated the thane, who seemed to see Edmund, the father of the young prince, before his eyes, as he had known him in his own impetuous youth. Dear, indeed, had that prince been to Ella, both before and after his elevation to the throne, and as he heard the sweet boyish voice of Edwy, his thoughts were guided by memory to that ill-omened feast at Pucklechurch, where the vindictive outlaw Leolf had murdered his king. The sword of Ella had been amongst those which avenged the crime on the murderer, but they could not call back the vital spark which had fled. “Edmund the Magnificent,” as they loved to call him, was dead. [v]
So, as Ella listened, he could hardly help condoning the wild speeches of the young prince in deference to the memory of the past.