’Monks and friars are no such holy beings, that I should greatly concern me about keeping an innocent had out of their company,’ said James.
‘Nor do I say they are,’ said Henry; ’but it is ill to cross a vow of devotion, and to bring a man back to the world is apt to render him not worth the having. You may perchance get him down lower than you intended.’
‘This boy never had any real vocation at all,’ said James; ’it was only the timidity born of ill-health, and the longing for food for the mind.’
‘Maybe so,’ replied the English king, ’and you may be in the right; but why fix on that grand Luxemburg wench, who ought to be a Lady Abbess of Fontainebleau at least, or a very St. Hilda, to rule monks and nuns alike?’
’Because they have fixed on each other. Malcolm needs a woman like her to make a man of him; and with her spirit and fervent charity, we should have them working a mighty change in Scotland.’
‘If you get her there!’
‘Have I your consent, Harry?’
’Mine? It’s no affair of mine! You must settle it with Madame of Hainault; but you had best take care. You are more like to make your tame lambkin into a ravening wolf, than to get that Deborah the prophetess to herd him.’
James in sooth viewed this warning as another touch of Lancastrian superstition, and only considered how to broach the question. Malcolm, meantime, was balancing between the now approaching decision between Oxford and France. He certainly felt something of his old horror of warlike scenes; but even this was lessening; he was aware that battles were not every-day occurrences, and that often there was no danger at all. He would not willingly be separated from his king; and if the female part of the Court were to accompany the campaign, it would be losing sight of all he cared for, if he were left among a set of stranger shavelings at Oxford. Yet he was reluctant to break with the old habits that had hitherto been part of his nature; he felt, after every word of Esclairmonde—nay, after every glance towards her—as though it were a blessed thing to have, like her, chosen the better part; he knew she would approve his resort to the home of piety and learning; he was aware that when with Ralf Percy and the other youths of the Court he was ashamed of his own scrupulousness, and tempted to neglect observances that they might call monkish and unmanly; and he was not at all sure that in face of the enemy a panic might not seize him and disgrace him for ever! In effect he did not know what he wished, even when he found that the Queen had decided against going across the sea, and that therefore all the ladies would remain with her at Shene or Windsor.
He should probably never again see Esclairmonde, the guiding star of his recent life, the embodiment of all that he had imagined when conning the quaint old English poems that told the Legend of Seynct Katharine; and as he leant musingly against a lattice, feeling as if the brightness of his life was going out, King James merrily addressed him:—