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- OF THE CAGED LION - 30/59 -


the oldest man-at-arms.

CHAPTER X: THE WHITSUNTIDE FESTIVAL

'Lady, fairest lady! Ah, suffer your slave to fall at your feet with his thanks!'

'No thanks are due, Sir. I knew not who had fallen.'

'Cruel coyness! Take not away the joy that has fed a hungry heart.'

'Lord Glenuskie's heart was wont to hunger for better joys.'

'Lady, I have ceased to be a foolish boy.'

'Such foolishness was better than some men's wisdom.'

'Listen, belle demoiselle. I have been forth into the world, and have learnt to see that monasteries have become mere haunts for the sluggard, who will not face the world; and that honour, glory, and all that is worth living for, lie beyond. Ah, lady! those eyes first taught me what life could give.'

'Hush, Sir!' said Esclairmonde. 'I can believe that as a child you mistook your vocation, and the secular life may be blest to you; but with me it can never be so; and if any friendship were shown to you on my part, it was when I deemed that we were brother and sister in our vows. If I unwittingly inspired any false hopes, I must do penance for the evil.'

'Call it not evil, lady,' entreated Malcolm. 'It cannot be evil to have wakened me to life and hope and glory.'

'What should you call it in him who should endeavour to render Lady Joan Beaufort faithless to your king, Lord Malcolm? What then must it be to tempt another to break troth-plight to the King of Heaven?'

'Nay, madame,' faltered Malcolm; 'but if such troth were forbidden and impossible?'

'None has the right or power to cancel mine,' replied the lady.

'Yet,' he still entreated, 'your kindred are mighty.'

'But my Bridegroom is mightier,' she said.

'O lady, yet-- Say, at least,' cried Malcolm, eagerly, 'that were you free in your own mind to wed, at least you would less turn from me than from the others proposed to you.'

'That were saying little for you,' said Esclairmonde, half smiling. 'But, Sir,' she added gravely, 'you have no right to put the question; and I will say nothing on which you can presume.'

'You were kinder to me in England,' sighed Malcolm, with tears in his eyes.

'Then you seemed as one like-minded,' she answered.

'And,' he cried, gathering fresh ardour, 'I would be like-minded again. You would render me so, sweetest lady. I would kiss your every step, pray with you, bestow alms with you, found churches, endow your Beguines, and render our change from our childish purpose a blessing to the whole world; become your very slave, to do your slightest bidding. O lady, could I but give you my eyes to see what it might be!'

'It could not be, if we began with a burthened conscience,' said Esclairmonde. 'We have had enough of this, Sieur de Glenuskie. You know that with me it is no matter of likes or dislikes, but that I am under a vow, which I will never break! Make way, Sir.'

He could but obey: she was far too majestic and authoritative to be gainsaid. And Malcolm, in an access of misery, stood lost to all the world, kneeling in the window-seat, where she had left him resting his head against the glass, when suddenly a white plump hand was laid on his shoulder, and a gay voice cried:

'All a la mort, my young damoiseau! What, has our saint been unpropitious? Never mind, you shall have her yet. We will see her like the rest of the world, ere we have done within her!'

And Malcolm found himself face to face with the free-spoken Jaqueline of Hainault.

'You are very good, madame,' he stammered.

'You shall think me very good yet! I have no notion of being opposed by a little vassal of mine; and we'll succeed, if it were but for the fun of the thing! Monseigneur de Therouenne is on your side, or would be, if he were sure of the Duke of Burgundy. You see, these prelates hate nothing so much as the religious orders; and all the pride of the Luxemburgs is in arms against Clairette's fancy for those beggarly nursing Sisters; so it drives him mad to hear her say she only succoured you for charity. He thinks it a family disgrace, that can only be wiped off by marrying her to you; and he would do it bon gre, mal gre, but that he waits to hear what Burgundy will say. You have only to hold out, and she shall be yours, if I hold her finger while you put on the ring. Only let us be sure of Burgundy.'

This was not a very flattering way of obtaining a bride; but Malcolm was convinced that when once married to Esclairmonde, his devotion would atone to her for all that was unpleasant in obtaining her. At least, she loved no one else; she had even allowed that she had once thought him like-minded; she had formerly distinguished him; and nothing lay between them but her scruples; and when they were overcome, by whatever means, his idol would be his, to adore, to propitiate, to win by the most intense devotion. All now must, however, turn upon the Duke of Burgundy, without whose sanction Madame of Hainault would be afraid to act openly.

The Duke was expected at Paris for the Whitsuntide festival, which was to be held with great state. The custom was for the Kings of France to feast absolutely with all Paris, with interminable banquet tables, open to the whole world without question. And to this Henry had conformed on his first visit to the city; but he had learnt that the costly and lavish feast had been of very little benefit to the really distressed, who had been thrust aside by loud-voiced miscreants and sturdy beggars, such as had no shame in driving the feeble back with blows, and receiving their own share again and again.

By the advice of Dr. Bennet, his almoner, he was resolved that this should not happen again; that the feast should be limited to the official guests, and that the cost of the promiscuous banquet should be distributed to those who really needed it, and who should be reached through their parish priests and the friars known to be most charitable.

Dr. Bennet, as almoner, with the other chaplains, was to arrange the matter; and horrible was the distress that he discovered in the city, that had for five-and-twenty years been devastated by civil fury, as well as by foreign wars; and famines, pestilences, murders, and tyrannies had held sway, so as to form an absolute succession of reigns of terror. The poor perished like flies in a frost; the homeless orphans of the parents murdered by either faction roamed the streets, and herded in the corners like the vagrant dogs of Eastern cities; and meantime, the nobles and their partisans revelled in wasteful pomp.

Scholar as he was, Dr. Bennet was not familiar enough with Parisian ways not to be very grateful for aid from Esclairmonde in some of his conferences, and for her explanations of the different tastes and needs of French and English poor.

What she saw and heard, on the other hand, gave form and purpose to her aspirations. The Dutch Sisters of St. Bega, the English Bedeswomen of St. Katharine, were sorely needed at Paris. They would gather up the sufferers, collect the outcast children, feed the hungry, follow with balm wherever a wound had been. To found a Beguinage at Paris seemed to her the most befitting mode of devoting her wealth; and her little admirer, Alice, gave up her longing desire that the foundation should be in England, when she learned that, as the wife of Nevil, her abode was likely to be in France as long as that country required English garrisons.

To the young heiress of Salisbury, her own marriage, though close at hand, seemed a mere ordinary matter compared with Esclairmonde's Beguinage, to her the real romance. Never did she see a beggar crouching at the church door, without a whisper to herself that there was a subject for the Beguines; and, tender-hearted as she was, she looked quite gratified at any lamentable tale which told the need.

If Esclairmonde had a climax to her visions of her brown-robed messengers of mercy, it was that the holy Canon of St. Agnes should be induced to come and act the part of master to her bedeswomen, as did Master Kedbesby at home.

She had even dared to murmur her design to Dr. Bennet; and when he, under strict seal of secrecy, had sounded King Henry, the present real master of Paris, he reported that the tears had stood in the King's eyes for a moment, as he said, 'Blessings on the maiden! Should she be able to do this for this city, I shall know that Heaven hath indeed sent a blessing by my arms!'

For one brief week, Esclairmonde and Alice were very happy in this secret hope; but at the end of that time the Bishop of Therouenne appeared. Esclairmonde had ventured to hope that the King's influence, and likewise the fact that her intention was not to enrich one of the regular monastic orders, might lead him to lend a favourable ear to her scheme; but she was by no means prepared to find him already informed of the affair of the Dance of Death, and putting his own construction on it.

'So, my fair cousin, this is the end of your waywardness. The tokens were certainly somewhat strong; but the young gentleman's birth being equal to yours, after the spectacle you have presented, your uncle of St. Pol, and I myself, must do our utmost to obtain the consent of the Duke of Burgundy.'

'Monseigneur is mistaken,' said Esclairmonde.

'Child, we will have no more folly. You have flown after this young Scot in a manner fitted only for the foolish name your father culled for you out of his books of chivalry. You have given a lesson to the whole Court and city on the consequences of a damsel judging for


OF THE CAGED LION - 30/59

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