‘Sir, Sir,’ panted Malcolm, ’’tis not only that. Could any one but be sent in my stead? My returning alone is what Madame of Hainault bade—for—for some scheme on—’
His voice was choked, and his face was burning.
‘Is the lad gone daft?’ cried James, in great anger. ’If Madame of Hainault were so lost to decorum as to hatch such schemes at such a moment, I trow you are neither puppet nor fool in her hands for her to do what she will with. I’ll have no more fooling!’
Malcolm could only obey.
In the brief space while the horses were preparing, and he had to equip and take food, he sped in search of Dr. Bennet, hoping, he knew not what, from his interference, or trusting, at any rate, to explain his own sudden absence.
But, looking into the chapel, he recognized the chaplain as one of the leading priests in one of the lengthiest of masses, which was just commencing. It was impossible to wait for the conclusion. He could but kneel down, find himself too much hurried and confused to recollect any prayer, then dash back again to don his riding-gear, before King James should miss him, and be angered again.
‘Unabsolved—unvowed!’ he thought. ’Sent off thither against my will. Whatever may fall out, it is no fault of mine!’
Trembling and awed, the ladies waited at Paris. It was well known how the King’s illness must end. No one, save the Queen, professed to entertain any hope of his amendment; but Catherine appeared to be too lethargic to allow herself to be roused to any understanding of his danger; and as to the personal womanly tendance of wife to suffering husband, she seemed to have no notion of it. Her mother had never been supposed to take the slightest care of King Charles; and Catherine, after her example, regarded the care either of husband or child as no more required of a royal lady than of a queen bee.
The little Lady Montagu, as Alice was now to be called, who had been scheming that her Richard should be wounded just enough to learn to call her his good little nurse-tender, was dreadfully scandalized, as indeed were wives of more experience, when they found all their endeavours to make their mistress understand how ill the King really was, and how much he wished for her, fall upon uncomprehending ears, and at last were desired by her mother Isabeau not to torment the poor Queen, or they would make her ill.
‘Make her ill! I wish I could!’ muttered Lady Warwick, as she left the presence-chamber; ’but it is like my little Nan telling her apple-stock baby that all her kin were burnt alive in one castle. She heeds as much!’
But when at late evening Sir Lewis Robsart rode up to the hotel, and a hush went along with him, for all knew that he would never have left his King alive, Catherine’s composure gave way. She had not imagination enough for apprehension of what was out of sight; but when she knew that she had lost her king, to whom she had owed the brief splendour of an otherwise dreary and neglected life, she fell into a passion of cries and tears, even at the mere sight of Sir Lewis, and continued to bewail her king, her lord, her husband, her light, her love, with the violence of an utterly unexpected bereavement.