‘Hush, Sir!’ said Esclairmonde. ’I can believe that as a child you mistook your vocation, and the secular life may be blest to you; but with me it can never be so; and if any friendship were shown to you on my part, it was when I deemed that we were brother and sister in our vows. If I unwittingly inspired any false hopes, I must do penance for the evil.’
‘Call it not evil, lady,’ entreated Malcolm. ’It cannot be evil to have wakened me to life and hope and glory.’
’What should you call it in him who should endeavour to render Lady Joan Beaufort faithless to your king, Lord Malcolm? What then must it be to tempt another to break troth-plight to the King of Heaven?’
‘Nay, madame,’ faltered Malcolm; ’but if such troth were forbidden and impossible?’
‘None has the right or power to cancel mine,’ replied the lady.
‘Yet,’ he still entreated, ‘your kindred are mighty.’
‘But my Bridegroom is mightier,’ she said.
‘O lady, yet—Say, at least,’ cried Malcolm, eagerly, ’that were you free in your own mind to wed, at least you would less turn from me than from the others proposed to you.’
‘That were saying little for you,’ said Esclairmonde, half smiling. ’But, Sir,’ she added gravely, ’you have no right to put the question; and I will say nothing on which you can presume.’
‘You were kinder to me in England,’ sighed Malcolm, with tears in his eyes.
‘Then you seemed as one like-minded,’ she answered.
‘And,’ he cried, gathering fresh ardour, ’I would be like-minded again. You would render me so, sweetest lady. I would kiss your every step, pray with you, bestow alms with you, found churches, endow your Beguines, and render our change from our childish purpose a blessing to the whole world; become your very slave, to do your slightest bidding. O lady, could I but give you my eyes to see what it might be!’
‘It could not be, if we began with a burthened conscience,’ said Esclairmonde. ’We have had enough of this, Sieur de Glenuskie. You know that with me it is no matter of likes or dislikes, but that I am under a vow, which I will never break! Make way, Sir.’
He could but obey: she was far too majestic and authoritative to be gainsaid. And Malcolm, in an access of misery, stood lost to all the world, kneeling in the window-seat, where she had left him resting his head against the glass, when suddenly a white plump hand was laid on his shoulder, and a gay voice cried:
’All a la mort, my young damoiseau! What, has our saint been unpropitious? Never mind, you shall have her yet. We will see her like the rest of the world, ere we have done within her!’
And Malcolm found himself face to face with the free-spoken Jaqueline of Hainault.
‘You are very good, madame,’ he stammered.