Then Malcolm had spoken in private with Sir Lewis Robsart, who knew the ring was among her jewels, and promised to get it for him as soon as was possible; and it was while waiting for this that Malcolm had been summoned to the Countess of Hainault’s apartments.
But ere Sir Lewis could get the ear of the Queen, as he now told Malcolm, her mother had been with her. Catherine was dull, jealous, unwilling to part with anything, but always easily coaxed over. Her mother Isabeau had, on the other hand, a good deal of low cunning and selfishness, and understood how valuable an instrument might be a duplicate seal of a deceased monarch. Therefore she instigated her daughter to deny that she possessed it, and worked her up into a state of impracticability, in which Sir Lewis Robsart was unable to deal with her, and only produced so wild a tempest of passion as perfectly to appal both him and her ladies.
That the Duke of Bedford had sent for a ring, which she would not give up, was known over the whole palace; the only matter still not perhaps known was, what was the value of that individual ring.
Robsart, however, promised to exonerate Malcolm from having shown any indiscretion; he charged it all on himself for having left his Queen for an instant to Isabeau.
Meanwhile, Malcolm and he, with other nobles and ladies, waited, waited in the outer chamber, listening to the fearful storm of shrieks and cries, till they began to spend themselves and die away; and then they heard Esclairmonde’s low voice singing her lullaby, and every one breathed freer, as though relieved, and murmurs of conversation rose again. Malcolm moved across to greet the Lady Montagu; and though she looked at him with all the disdain her little gentle face could accomplish, he had somehow a spring and strength in him that could not now be brow-beaten.
He bent over her, and said, ’Lady, I see you know all. It is but a trust.’
‘If you so treat it, Sir, you will do well,’ responded the young matron, with as much stern gravity as she could assume; the fact being that she longed to break down and cry heartily, that Esclairmonde should so far have failed, and become like other people.
Long, long they waited—Malcolm with a strange dreamy feeling at his heart, neither triumph nor disappointment, but something between both, and peace above all. Dinner was served in the hall; the company returned to the outer apartment, yet still all was silent within; till at last, late in the afternoon, there came a black figure forth from under the black hangings, and Esclairmonde, turning to Lady Warwick, said, ’The Queen is awake, and desires her ladies’ presence.’ And then coming towards Malcolm, who was standing near Sir Lewis Robsart, she placed in his hand the signet-ring.
Both, while the attendants of the Queen filed back into her chamber, eagerly demanded how the ring had been obtained.