‘He is the best judge of that,’ returned Sir James.
‘And,’ added Sir David, ’I tell you, lad, that I shall never be as I was before, and that were I a whole man and sain, riding back to Glenuskie the morn, I should still bless the saints and bid you gang.’
Rarely did the youth of the fifteenth century venture to question the authority of an elder, but Malcolm was only silenced for a moment, and though by no means understanding that his guardian believed his injuries mortal, he threw himself upon the advice of the Prior, whom he entreated to allow him to judge for himself, and to remain to protect his sister—he talked boldly of protecting her after this day’s exploit. But Prior Akecliff gave him no more encouragement than did his uncle. The Benedictine vows were out of the question till he should be eighteen, and the renunciation of the world they involved would be ruinous to Lilias, since she would become his heiress. Moreover, the Prior himself was almost in a state of siege, for the Regent was endeavouring to intrude on the convent one Brother William Drake, or Drax, by his own nomination, instead of the canonical appointment emanating from Durham, and as national feeling went with the Regent’s nominee, it was by no means certain that the present Prior would be able to maintain his position.
‘Oh, go! yes, go, dear brother,’ entreated Lilias. ’I should be far happier to know you in safety. They cannot hurt me while you are safe.’
‘But you, Lily! What if this villain Drax have his way?’
‘He could not harm her in St. Ebba’s fold,’ returned the Prior. ’The Abbess herself could not yield her; and, as you have so often been told, my young Lord, your absence is a far greater protection to your sister than your presence. Moreover, were the Tutor’s mind at rest, there would be far better hope of his recovery.’
There was no alternative, and Malcolm could not but submit. Lilias was to be conducted before daybreak to the monastery of St. Abbs, about six miles off, whence she could be summoned at any time to be with her uncle in Coldingham; and Malcolm was to set off at daybreak with the captive knight, whose return to England could no longer be delayed.
Poor children! while Sir James Stewart was in the Prior’s chamber, they sat silent and mournful by the bedside where their guardian lay dozing, even till the bell for Matins summoned them in common with all the other inmates of the convent; they knelt on the floor of the candle-lit church, and held each other’s hands as they prayed; Lilias still the stronger and more hopeful, while Malcolm, as he looked up at those dear familiar vaultings, felt as if he were a bird driven from its calm peaceful nest to battle with the tossing winds and storms of ocean, without one near him whom he had learnt to love.
It was still dark when the service had ended, and Prior Akecliff came towards them. ‘Daughter,’ he said to Lilias, ’we deem it safer that you should ride to St. Abbs ere daylight. Your palfrey is ready, the Mother Abbess is warned, and I will myself conduct you thither.’