‘Dark eyes—swart locks!’ interrupted the King. ’His wits have gone wool-gathering.’
‘Indeed, Sir!’ exclaimed Malcolm, ’I thought you meant the lady who stood by the Queen’s table, with the grand turn of the neck and the white wimple and veil.’
‘Pshaw!’ said James; ’the foolish callant! he hath taken that great brown Luxemburg nun of Dame Jac’s for the Rose of Somerset.’
However, James, seeing how confounded the boy was by this momentary displeasure, explained to him who the other persons he had seen were—Jaqueline, the runaway Countess of Hainault in her own right, and Duchess of Brabant by marriage; Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, the King’s young, brilliant brother; the grave, melancholy Duke of Orleans, who had been taken captive at Agincourt, and was at present quartered at Pontefract; the handsome, but stout and heavy-looking Earl of March; brave Lord Warwick; Sir Lewis Robsart, the old knight to whose charge the Queen had been specially committed from the moment of her betrothal; and a young, bold, gay-looking lad, of Malcolm’s own age, but far taller and stouter, and with a merry, half-defiant, half-insouciant air, who had greatly taken his fancy, was, he was told, Ralf Percy, the second son of Sir Harry Percy.
’Of him they called Hotspur?—who was taken captive at Otterburn, who died a rebel!’ exclaimed Malcolm.
‘Ay,’ said James; ’but King Harry had learnt the art of war as a boy, first under Hotspur, in Wales; nor doth he love that northern fashion of ours of keeping up feud from generation to generation. So hath he restored the eldest son to his barony, and set him to watch our Borders; and the younger, Ralf, he is training in his own school of chivalry.’
More wonders for Malcolm Stewart, who had learnt to believe it mere dishonour and tameness to forgive the son for his father’s deeds. A cloistered priest could hardly do so: pardon to a hostile family came only with the last mortal throe; and here was this warlike king forgiving as a mere matter of course!
‘But,’ added James, ’you had best not speak of your bent conventwards in the Court here. I should not like to have you called the monkling!’
Malcolm crimsoned, with the resolution never to betray himself.
The next day the royal train set forth from Pontefract, and ere mounting, James presented his young kinsman to the true Joan Beaufort—fair-haired, soft-featured, blue-eyed, and with a lovely air of graciousness, as she greeted him with a sweet, blushing, sunny smile, half that of the queen in anticipation, half that of the kindly maiden wishing to set a stranger at ease. So beautiful was she, that Malcolm felt annihilated at the thought of his blunder of last night.