He was then reminded how, in the winter, Henry had lost the ring, and after having caused another to be made at Paris, had found it in the finger of his gauntlet. Very few knew of the existence of this duplicate. Bedford himself was not aware of it till it had been mentioned by James and Lord Fitzhugh the chamberlain; and then search was made for it, without effect, so that it evidently had been left with the Queen. These private signets were of the utmost importance, far more so than even the autograph; for, though signatures were just acquiring individuality enough to become the best authentication, yet up to this very reign the seal was the only valid affirmation. Such signets were always destroyed on a prince’s death, and it was of the utmost importance that the duplicate should not be left in Queen Catherine’s hands—above all, while she was with her mother and her party, who were quite capable of affixing it to forgeries.
Bedford, James, and Fitzhugh were all required at Vincennes; the two latter at the lying-in-state in the chapel. Most of the other trusty nobles had repaired to the army; and, indeed, Bedford, aware of the terrible jealousies that were sure to break out in the headless realm, did not choose to place a charge that might hereafter prove invidious in the hands of any Englishman, or to extend the secret any further than could be helped; since who could tell what suspicion might not be thus cast on any paper sealed by Henry?
In his perplexity, James had suggested young Malcolm, who had assisted in the search for the lost ring, and been witness to its discovery; and whom he could easily send as bearer of his condolences to the widowed Queen; who had indeed the entree of the palace, but had no political standing, was neither French nor English, and had shown himself discreet enough with other secrets to deserve confidence.
Bedford caught at the proposal. And Malcolm now received orders to take horse, with a sufficient escort, and hasten at once to Paris, where he should try if possible to obtain the ring from the Queen herself; but if he could not speak to her in private, he might apply to Sir Lewis Robsart. No other person was to be informed of the real object of the mission, and he was to get back to Vincennes as soon as possible.
Neither prince could understand the scared, distressed looks with which Malcolm listened to commands showing so much confidence in a youth of his years. They encouraged him by assurances that Sir Lewis Robsart, who had a curious kind of authority, half fatherly, half nurselike, over the Queen, would manage all for him. And King James, provoked by his reluctance, began, as they left Bedford’s chamber, to chide him for ungraciousness in the time of distress, and insensibility to the honour conferred on him.
‘Nay, nay,’ disclaimed Malcolm, almost ready to weep, ’but I have a whole world of penance!’
’Penance! Plague on the boy’s perverseness! What penance is so good as obedience?’ said James, much displeased.