‘But,’ said Esclairmonde, replying to the easiest part of the disclosure, ‘the King of Scots is in love with the Demoiselle of Somerset.’
‘What matters that, silly maid?’ said Marguerite ’he does not displease me; and Anne is welcome to that melancholy duke.’
‘Oh, Lady Anne!’ exclaimed Esclairmonde, ’if such be your lot, it would be well indeed.’
‘What, the surly brother, of whom Catherine tells such tales!’ continued Marguerite.
‘Credit them not,’ said Esclairmonde. ’He never crosses her but when he would open her eyes to his brother’s failing health.’
‘Yes,’ interrupted Marguerite; ’my lord brother swears that this king will not live a year; and if Catherine have no better luck with her child than poor Michelle, then there will be another good Queen Anne in England.’
‘If so,’ said Esclairmonde, looking at her friend with swimming eyes, ‘she will have the best of husbands—as good as even she deserves!’
Anne held her hand fast, and would have said many tender words on Esclairmonde’s own troubles; but the other ladies were arrayed, and Esclairmonde would not for worlds have been left behind in the Hotel de Bourgogne.
Privacy was not an attainable luxury, and Esclairmonde could not commune with her throbbing heart, or find peace for her aching head, till night. This must be a matter unconfided to any, even Alice Montagu. And while the maiden lay smiling in her quiet sleep, after having fondly told her friend that Sir Richard Nevil had really noticed her new silken kirtle, she knelt on beneath the crucifix, mechanically reciting her prayers, and, as the beads dropped from her fingers, fighting out the fight with her own heart.
Her mind was made up; but her sense of the loss, her craving for the worthy affection which lay within her grasp—these dismayed her. The life she had sighed for had become a blank; and she passionately detested the obligation that held her back from affection, usefulness, joy, and excellence—not ambition, for the greatest help to her lay in Bedford’s position, his exalted rank, and nearness to the crown. Indeed, she really dreaded and loathed worldly pomp so much that the temptation would have been greater had he not been a prince.
It was this sense of renunciation that came to her aid. She had at least a real sacrifice to offer; till now, as she became aware, she had made none. She folded her hands, and laid her offering to be hallowed by the One all-sufficient Sacrifice. She offered all those capacities for love that had been newly revealed to her; she offered up the bliss, whose golden dawn she had seen; she tried to tear out the earthliness of her heart and affections by the roots, and lay them on the altar, entreating that, come what might, her spirit might never stray from the Heavenly Spouse of her betrothal.
Therewith came a sense of His perfect sufficiency—of rest, peace, support, ineffable love, that kept her kneeling in a calm, almost ecstatic state, in which common hopes, fears, and affections had melted away.