“As a soldier and a man, my son,” she drew him closer to her as she spoke; “as one who, knowing and feeling the worth of the contemned one, is conscious that the foul tongues of evil men can do no ill, but fling back the shame upon themselves. Arouse thee, my beloved son. Alas! when I look on thee, on thy bright face, on those graceful limbs, so supple now in health and life, and feel to what my deed may have devoted thee, my child, my child, I need not slanderous tongues to grieve me!”
“And doth the Countess of Buchan repent that deed?” asked the rich sonorous voice of the Bruce, who, unobserved, had heard their converse. “Would she recall that which she hath done?”
“Sire, not so,” she answered; “precious as is my child to this lone heart—inexpressibly dear and precious—yet if the liberty of his country demand me to resign him, the call shall be obeyed.”
“Speak not thus, noble lady,” returned the king, cheerily. “He is but lent, Scotland asks no more; and when heaven smiles on this poor country, smiles in liberty and peace, trust me, such devotedness will not have been in vain. Our youthful knight will lay many a wreath of laurel at his mother’s feet, nor will there then be need to guard her name from scorn. See what new zest and spirit have irradiated the brows of our warlike guests; we had scarce deemed more needed than was there before, yet the visit of Sir Henry Seymour, bearing as it did a challenge to strife and blood, hath given fresh lightness to every step, new joyousness to every tone. Is not this as it should be?”
“Aye, as it must be, sire, while loyal hearts and patriot spirits form thy court. Nobly and gallantly was the answer given to Pembroke’s challenge. Yet pardon me, sire, was it wise—was it well?”
“Its wisdom, lady, rests with its success in the hands of a higher power,” answered the king, gravely, yet kindly. “Other than we did we could not do; rashly and presumptuously we would not have left our quarters. Not for the mere chase of, mad wish for glory would we have risked the precious lives of our few devoted friends, but challenged as we were, the soul of Bruce could not have spoken other than he did; nor do we repent, nay, we rejoice that the stern duty of inaction is over. Thine eye tells me thou canst understand this, lady, therefore we say no more, save to beseech thee to inspire our consort with the necessity of this deed; she trembles for the issue of our daring. See how grave and sad she looks, so lately as she was all smiles.”
The countess did not reply, but hastened to the side of the amiable, but yet too womanly Queen Margaret, and gently, but invisibly sought to soothe her fears; and she partially succeeded, for the queen ever seemed to feel herself a bolder and firmer character when in the presence and under the influence of Isabella of Buchan.