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- OF THE CAGED LION - 40/59 -
pardon me, Patie!'
And Malcolm, in his agitation, poured forth the whole story of his having shifted from his old cherished purpose of devoting himself to the service of Heaven, and leaving lands and vassals to the stronger hands of Patrick and Lilias; how, having thus given himself to the world, he had fallen into temptation; how he had let himself be led to persecute with his suit a noble lady, vowed like himself; how he had almost agreed to marry her by force: and how he had been running into the ordinary dissipations of the camp, abstaining from confession, avoiding mass; disobeying orders, plunging into scenes of plunder, till he had almost been the death of Patrick, whom he had already so cruelly wronged.
So felt the boy. Fresh from that death-bed, the evils his conscience had protested against from the first appeared to him frightfully heinous, and his anguish of self-reproach was such, that Patrick listened in the greatest anxiety lest he should hear of some deadly stain on his young kinsman's scutcheon; but when the tale was told, and he had demanded 'Is that all?' and found that no further overt act was alleged against Malcolm, he breathed a long sigh, and muttered, 'You daft laddie! you had fairly startled me! So this is the coil, is it? Who ever told you to put on a cowl, I should like to know? Why, 'twas what my poor father ever declared against. I take your lands! By my troth! 'twould be enough to make me break faith with your sister, if I COULD!'
'The vow was in my heart,' faltered Malcolm.
'In a fule's head!' said Patrick. 'What right have babes to be talking of vows? 'Twould be the best tidings I've heard for many a long day, that you were wedded to a lass with a good tocher, and fit to guide your silly pate. What's that? Her vows! If they are no better than yours, the sooner they are forgot the better. If she had another love, 'twould be another matter, but with a bishop on your side, you've naught to fear.'
Malcolm turned away, sick at heart. To him his present position had become absolute terror. His own words had worked him up to an alarming sense of having lapsed from high aims to mere selfishness; of having profaned vows, consented to violence, and fallen away from grace; and he was in an almost feverish passion to utter something that would irrevocably bind him to his former intentions; but here were the King and Patrick both conspiring to silence him, and hold him back to his fallen and perilous state. Nay, Patrick even derided his penitence. Patrick was an honourable knight, a religious man, as times went, but he had been brought up in a much rougher and more unscrupulous school than Malcolm, and had been hardened by years of service as a soldier of fortune. The Armagnac camp was not like that of England. Warriors of such piety and strictness as Henry and Bedford had never come within his ken; and that any man, professing to be a soldier, should hesitate at the license of war, was incomprehensible to him. The discipline of Henry's army had been scoffed at in the French camp, and every infraction of it hailed as a token of hypocrisy; and to the stout Scot Malcolm's grief for the rapine at Meaux, which after all he had not committed, seemed a simple absurdity. Even his own danger, on the second occasion, did not make him alter his opinion; it was all the fortune of war. And he was not sure that he had not best have been stifled at once, since his hands were tied from warfare. And as for Lily--how was he to win her now? Then, as Malcolm opened his mouth, Patrick sharply charged him to hold his tongue as to that folly, unless he wanted to drive him to make a vow on his side, that he would turn Knight of Rhodes, and never wed.
Malcolm, wearied out with excitement, came at last to weeping that no one would hear or understand him; but the scene was ended by Bairdsbrae, who, returning, brought a leech with him, who at once took the command of Patrick, and ordered him to his bed.
Malcolm could not rest. He was feverish with the shock of grief and awe, and absorbed in the thought which had mastered him, and which was much dwelt on in the middle ages: --the monastic path, going towards heaven straight as a sunbeam; the secular, twining its way through a tortuous difficult course--the 'broad way,' tending downward to the abyss. To his terrified apprehension, he had abandoned the direct and narrow path for the fatal road, and there might at any moment be captured, and whirled away by the grisly phantom Death, who had just snatched the mightiest in his inevitable clutch; and with something of the timidity of his nature, he was in absolute terror, until he should be able to set himself back on the shining road from which he had swerved, and be rid of the load of transgression which seemed ready to sink him into the gulf.
Those few and perfunctory confessions to a courtly priest who knew nothing about him, and was sure not to be hard on a king's cousin, now seemed to add to his guilt: and, wandering down-stairs towards the chapel, he met a train of ecclesiastics slowly leaving it, having just been relieved by a bevy of monks from a neighbouring convent, who took up the chants where they had left them.
Looking up at them, he recognized Dr. Bennet's bent head, and throwing himself before him on his knee, he gasped, 'O father, father! hear me! Take me back! Give me hope!'
'What means this, my young lord?' said Dr. Bennet, pausing, while his brethren passed on. 'Are you sick?' he added, kindly, seeing the whiteness of Malcolm's face, and his startled eye.
'Oh, no, no! only sick at heart at my own madness, and the doom on it! O Sir, hear me! Take my vow again! give me absolution once more to a true shrift. Oh, if you will hear me, it shall be honest this time! Only put me in the way again.'
The chaplain was sorely sad and weary. He it was whose ministrations had chiefly comforted the dying King. To him it had been the loss of a deeply-loved son and pupil, as well as of almost unbounded hopes for the welfare of the Church; and he had had likewise, in the freshness of his sorrow, to take the lead in the ecclesiastical ceremonies that ensued, so that both in body and mind he was well- nigh worn out, and longed for peace in which to face his own private sorrow; but the wild words and anguished looks of the young Scot showed him that his case was one for immediate hearing, and he drew the lad into the confessional, authoritatively calmed his agitation, and prepared to hear the outpouring of the boy's self-reproach.
He heard it all--sifting facts from fancies, and learning the early purpose, the terror at the cruel world, the longing for peace and shelter; the desire to smooth his sister's way, which had led him to devote himself in heart to the cloister, though never permitted openly to pledge himself. Then the discovery that the world was less thorny than he had expected; the allurement of royal favour and greatness; the charm of amusement, and activity in recovered health; the cowardly dread of scorn, leading him not merely into the secular life, but into the gradual dropping of piety and devotion; the actual share he had taken in forbidden diversions; his attempts at plunder; his ill-will to King Henry; and, above all, his persecution of Esclairmonde, which he now regarded as sacrilegious; and he even told how he lay under a half engagement to Countess Jaqueline to return alone to the Court, and bear his part in the forcible marriage she projected.
He told all, with no extenuation; nay, rather with such outbursts of opprobrium on himself, that Dr. Bennet could hardly understand of what positive evils he had been guilty; and he ended by entreating that the almoner would at once hear his vow to become a Benedictine monk, ere -
But Dr. Bennet would not listen. He silenced the boy by saying he had no more right to hear it than Malcolm as yet to make it. Nay, that inner dedication, for which Malcolm yearned as a sacred bond to his own will, the priest forbade. It was no moment to make such a promise in his present mood, when he did not know himself. If broken, he would only be adding sin to sin; nor was Malcolm, with all his errors fresh upon him, in any state to dedicate himself worthily. The errors--which in Ralf Percy, or in most other youths, might have seemed slight--were heavy stains on one who, like Malcolm, had erred, not thoughtlessly, but with a conscience of them all, in wilful abandonment of his higher principles. On these the chaplain mostly dwelt; on these he tried to direct Malcolm's repentance; and, finding that the youth was in perpetual extremes of remorse, and that his abject submission was a sort of fresh form of wilfulness, almost passion at being forbidden to bind himself by the vow, he told him that the true token of repentance was steadiness and constancy; and that therefore his absolution must be deferred until he had thus shown that his penitence was true and sincere--by perseverance, firstly, in the devotions that the chaplain appointed for him, and, secondly, in meeting whatever temptations might be in store for him. Nay, the cruel chaplain absolutely forbade the white, excited, eager boy to spend half the night in chapel over the first division of these penitential psalms and prayers, but on his obedience sent him at once to his bed.
Malcolm could have torn his hair. Unabsolved! Still under the weight of sin; still unpledged; still on dangerous ground; still left to a secular life--and that without Esclairmonde! Why had he not gone to a French Benedictine, who would have caught at his vow, and crowned his penitence with some magnificent satisfying asceticism?
Yet something in his heart, something in the father's own authority, made him submit; and in a tumult of feeling, more wretched even than before his confession, he threw himself on his bed, expecting to charge the tossings of a miserable night on Dr. Bennet, and to creep down barefoot to the chapel in the early morning to begin his Misereres.
Instead of which, his first wakening was in broad daylight, by King James standing over him. 'Malcolm,' he said, 'I have answered for you that you are discreet and trusty. A message of weight is to be placed in your hands. Come with me to the Duke of Bedford.'
Malcolm could only dress himself, and obediently follow to the chamber, where sat the Duke, his whole countenance looking as if the light of his life had gone out, but still steadfastly set to bear the heavy burden that had been placed on his shoulders.
He called Malcolm to him, and showed him a ring, asking whether he knew it.
'The King's signet--King Harry's,' said Malcolm.
He was then reminded how, in the winter, Henry had lost the ring, and after having caused another to be made at Paris, had found it in the finger of his gauntlet. Very few knew of the existence of this duplicate. Bedford himself was not aware of it till it had been mentioned by James and Lord Fitzhugh the chamberlain; and then search was made for it, without effect, so that it evidently had been left with the Queen. These private signets were of the utmost importance, far more so than even the autograph; for, though signatures were just acquiring individuality enough to become the best authentication, yet
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