Nor did Malcolm find boldness enough to do more than haunt Esclairmonde’s steps, trembling if she glanced towards him, and almost shrinking from her gaze. He had now no doubts about going on the campaign, and was in full course of being prepared with equipments, horses, armour, and attendants, as became a young prince attending on his sovereign as an adventurer in the camp. It was not even worth while to name such scruples to the English friar who shrived him on the last day before the departure, and who knew nothing of his past history. He knew all priests would say the same things, and as he had never made a binding vow, he saw no need of consulting any one on the subject; it would only vex him again, and fill him with doubts. The suspicion that Dr. Bennet was aware of his previous intention made him shrink from him. So the last day had come, and all was farewell. King Henry had persuaded the Queen to seclude herself for one evening from Madame of Hainault, for his sake. King James was pacing the gardens on the Thames banks, with Joan Beaufort’s hand for once allowed to repose in his; many a noble gentleman was exchanging last words with his wife—many a young squire whispering what he had never ventured to say before—many a silver mark was cloven—many a bright tress was exchanged. Even Ralf Percy was in the midst of something very like a romp with the handsome Bessie Nevil for a knot of ribbon to carry to the wars.
Malcolm felt a certain exaltation in being enough like other people to have a lady-love, but there was not much comfort otherwise; indeed, he could so little have addressed Esclairmonde that it was almost a satisfaction that she was the centre of a group of maidens whose lovers or brothers either had been sent off beforehand, or who saw their attentions paid elsewhere, and who all alike gravitated towards the Demoiselle de Luxemburg for sympathy. He could but hover on the outskirts, conscious that he must cut a ridiculous figure, but unable to detach himself from the neighbourhood of the magnet. As he looked back on the happy weeks of unconstrained intercourse, when he came to her as freely as did these young girls with all his troubles, he felt as if the King had destroyed all his joy and peace, and yet that these flutterings of heart and agonies of shame and fits of despair were worth all that childish calm.
He durst say nothing, only now and then to gaze on her with his great brown wistful eyes, which he dropped whenever she looked towards him; until at last, when the summer evening was closing in, and the last signal was given for the break-up of the party, Malcolm ventured on one faltering murmur, ‘Lady, lady, you are not offended with me?’
‘Nay,’ said Esclairmonde, kindly; ’nothing has passed between us that should offend me.’
His eye lighted. ‘May I still be remembered in your prayers, lady?’
‘As I shall remember all who have been my friends here,’ she said.