Esclairmonde slightly coloured as she made answer:
’I saw some one fall, and came to offer my poor skill, Sir; but as the Sieur de Glenuskie is fast recovering, if you will permit Sir Nigel Baird to attend me, Sir, I will at once return.’
‘I am ready—I am not hurt. Oh, let us go together!’ panted Malcolm, leaping up.
‘Eh, gentlemen!’ exclaimed the hospitable cutler’s wife; ’you will not away so fast! This gallant knight will permit you to remain. And the fair lady, she will do me the honour to drink a cup of wine to the recovery of her betrothed.’
‘Not so, good woman,’ said Esclairmonde, a little apart, ’I am the betrothed of Heaven. I only assisted because I feared the youth’s fall was more serious than it proves.’
The bourgeoise begged pardon, and made a curtsey; there was nothing unusual in the avowal the lady had made, when the convent was a thoroughly recognized profession; but Esclairmonde could not carry out her purpose of departing separately with old Sir Nigel Baird; Malcolm was on his feet, quite ready to mount, and there was no avoiding the being assisted to her saddle by any but the King, who was in truth quite as objectionable a companion, as far as appearances went, for a young solitary maiden, as was Malcolm himself. Esclairmonde felt that her benevolence might have led her into a scrape. When she had seen the fall, knowing that to the unprepared the ghastly pageant must seem reality, she had obeyed the impulse to hurry to the rescue, to console and aid in case of injury, and she had not even perceived that her female companions did not attempt to accompany her. However, the mischance could best be counteracted by simplicity and unconsciousness; so, as she found herself obliged to ride by the King, she unconcernedly observed that these fantastic dances might perhaps arouse sinners, but that they were a horrible sight for the unprepared.
‘Very like a dream becoming flesh and blood,’ said James. ’We in advance were slow to perceive what it was, and then the King merely thought whether it would alarm the Queen.’
‘I trow it did not.’
’No; the thing has not been found that will stir her placid face. She merely said it was very lugubrious, and an ill turn in the Parisians thus to greet her, but they were always senseless betes; and he, being relieved of care for her, looked with all his eyes, with a strange mixture of drollery at the antics and the masques, yet of grave musing at the likeness to this present life.’
‘I think,’ said Esclairmonde, ’that King Henry is one of the few men to whom the spectacle is a sermon. He laughs even while he lays a thing to heart.’
These few sentences had brought them to the concourse around the gateway of the great Hotel de St. Pol, in whose crowded courtyard Esclairmonde had to dismount; and, after being handed through the hall by King James, to make her way to the ladies’ apartments, and there find out, what she was most anxious about, how Alice, who had been riding at some distance from her with her father, had fared under the alarm.