James of Scotland and John of Bedford sat together in the twilight of a long and weary day, spent by the one in standing like a statue at the head of his deceased friend as a part of the pageant of the lying-in-state in the chapel, whither multitudes had crowded throughout the day to see the ’mighty victor, mighty lord, lie low on his funeral couch;’ the nobles gazing with a certain silent and bitter satisfaction at him who had not only broken the pride of their country, but had with his iron hand repressed their own private exactions, while the poor and the peasants openly bewailed him as the father and the friend who had stood between them and their harsh feudal lords. By the other, the hours had passed in the press of toil and perplexity that had fallen on him as the yet unaccredited representative of English power in France, and in writing letters to those persons at home from whom he must derive his authority. The hour of rest and relaxation was welcome to both, though they chiefly spent it each leaning back in his chair in silence.
‘Your messenger is not come back,’ said Bedford, presently, rousing himself.
‘It may have been no easy task,’ replied James, not however without uneasiness.
‘I would,’ said Bedford, presently, ’that I had writ the matter straight to Robsart. The lad is weak, and may be tampered with.’
‘He knows that I have pledged my honour for him,’ said James.
Bedford’s thin lips moved at the corners.
‘Nay,’ said James, not angrily, ’the youth hath in some measure disappointed me. The evil in him shot forth faster than the good under this camp life; but methinks there is in him a certain rare quality of soul that I loved him for at the first, and though it hath lain asleep all this time, yet what he hath now seen seemed to me about to work the change in him.’
‘It may be so,’ said Bedford; ’and yet I would I had not consented to his going where that woman of Hainault might work on him to fret the Lady Esclairmonde.’
James started somewhat as he remembered overruling this objection of Malcolm’s own making. ‘She cannot have the insolence,’ he said.
At that moment a hasty step approached; the door was opened with scant ceremony, and Ralf Percy, covered from head to foot with blood, hurried in breathless and panting.
’My lord Duke, your license! Here is Malcolm Stewart set upon in the forest by robbers and stabbed!’
‘Slain? Dead?’ cried both princes, springing up in horror.
‘Alive still—in the chapel—asking for you, my lord,’ said Percy. ’He bade us lay him there at the King’s feet; and as it was the readiest way to a priest, we did his bidding.’
‘My poor Malcolm!’ sighed James; and he and Bedford hastened to obey the summons.