‘Poor lady!’ said Esclairmonde, ’she was too much spent to withhold anything. She was weak and exhausted with cries and tears; and when she had slept, she was as meek as a lamb; and there was no more ado but to bid her remember that the blessed King her lord would have bidden her let the ring be broken up at once, lest it should be used so as to harm her son.’
That Esclairmonde had prevailed by that gentle force of character which no one could easily resist, could not, however, be doubted for a moment; and a fresh thrill of amazement, and almost of joy, came over Malcolm at the sense that he had become the protector of such a being, and that in a sort she belonged to him, and was in his power, having trusted herself to him.
Robsart advised, and Esclairmonde concurred in the counsel, that Lord Glenuskie should set forth for Vincennes immediately, before there should be time for any more cabals, or for Queen Isabeau to have made her daughter repent of having delivered up the signet-ring.
Malcolm therefore at once took leave of his affianced, venturing to kiss her hand as he looked wistfully in her face, and said, ’Dear lady, how shall I thank you for this trust?’
Esclairmonde gave her sweet grave smile, as she said, ’To God’s keeping I commend you, Sir.’ She would not even bid him be true to his trust; it would have seemed to her to insult him in whom her confidence was placed, and she only added: ’I shall ever bless you for having saved me. Farewell! Now am I bound for ever to pray for you and your sister.’
And it would be impossible to tell how the sense of Esclairmonde’s trust, and of the resolute self-denial it would require of him, elevated Malcolm’s whole tone, and braced his mind. The taking away of his original high purpose had rendered him as aimless and pleasure-loving as any ordinary lad; but the situation in which he now stood—guarding this saintly being for her chosen destiny, at the expense of all possible earthly projects for his own happiness or ambition—was such as to bring out that higher side of his nature that had well-nigh collapsed. As he stood alone in the ante-room, waiting until his horse and escort should be ready for his return, a flood of happiness seemed to gush over him. Esclairmonde was no more his own, indeed, than was King Henry’s signet; but the trust was very precious, and gave him at least the power of thinking of her as joined by a closer link than even his sister Lilias. And towards her his conscience was again clear, for this very betrothal put marriage out of the question for him, and was a real seal of his dedication. He only felt as if his heart ought not to be so light and peaceful, while his penance was still unsaid, his absolution not yet pronounced.