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   Chapter 5 V WHITTINGTON S FEAST

The Caged Lion By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 48115

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The next day the royal train set forth from Pontefract, and ere mounting, James presented his young kinsman to the true Joan Beaufort-fair-haired, soft-featured, blue-eyed, and with a lovely air of graciousness, as she greeted him with a sweet, blushing, sunny smile, half that of the queen in anticipation, half that of the kindly maiden wishing to set a stranger at ease. So beautiful was she, that Malcolm felt annihilated at the thought of his blunder of last night.

As they rode on, James was entirely occupied with the lady, and Malcolm was a good deal left to himself; for, though the party was numerous, he knew no one except the Duke of Bedford, who was riding with the King and Lord Warwick, in deep consultation, while Sir Nigel Baird, Lord Marmion, and the rest were in the rear. He fell into a mood of depression such as had not come upon him since he passed the border, thinking himself despised by all for being ill-favoured and ill-dressed, and chafing, above all, at the gay contempt he fancied in young Ralf Percy's eye. He became constantly more discontented with this noisy turmoil, and more resolved to insist on returning to the peaceful cloister where alone he could hide his head and be at rest.

The troop halted for what they called their noon meat at the abode of a hospitable Yorkshire knight; but King Henry, in order that the good gentleman's means should not be overtasked, had given directions that only the ladies and the princes should enter the house, while the rest of the suite should take their meal at the village inn.

King James, in attending to Joan, had entirely forgotten his cousin; and Malcolm, doubtful and diffident, was looking hesitatingly at the gateway, when Ralf Percy called out, 'Ha! you there, this is our way. That is only for the royal folk; but there's good sack and better sport down here! I'll show you the way,' he added, good-naturedly, softened, as most were, by the startled, wistful, timid look.

Malcolm, ashamed to say he was royal, but surprised at the patronage, was gratefully following, when old Bairdsbrae indignantly laid his hand on the rein. 'Not so, Sir; this is no place for you!'

'Let me alone!' entreated Malcolm, as he saw Percy's amazed look and whistle of scorn. 'They don't want me.'

'You will never have your place if you do not take it,' said the old gentleman; and leading the trembling, shrinking boy up to the door, he continued, 'For the honour of Scotland, Sir!' and then announcing Malcolm by his rank and title, he almost thrust him in.

Fancying he detected a laugh on Ralf Percy's face, and a sneer on that of the stout English porter, Malcolm felt doubly wretched as he was ushered into the hall and the buzz of talk and the confusion made by the attendance of the worthy knight and his many sons, one of whom, waiting with better will than skill, had nearly run down the shy limping Scotsman, who looked wildly for refuge at some table. In his height of distress, a kindly gesture of invitation beckoned to him, and he found himself seated and addressed, first in French, and then in careful foreign English, by the same lady whom he had yesterday taken for Joan of Somerset, namely, Esclairmonde de Luxemburg.

He was too much confused to look up till the piece of pasty and the wine with which the lady had caused him to be supplied were almost consumed, and it was not till she had made some observations on the journey that he became at ease enough to hazard any sort of answer, and then it was in his sweet low Scottish voice, with that irresistibly attractive look of shy wistful gratitude in his great soft brown eyes, while his un-English accent caused her to say, 'I am a stranger here, like yourself, my Lord;' and at the same moment he first raised his eyes to behold what seemed to him perfect beauty and dignity, an oval face, richly-tinted olive complexion, dark pensive eyes, a sweet grave mouth smiling with encouraging kindness, and a lofty brow that gave the whole face a magnificent air, not so much stately as above and beyond this world. It might have befitted St. Barbara or St. Katherine, the great intellectual virgin visions of purity and holiness of the middle ages; but the kindness of the smile went to Malcolm's heart, and emboldened him to answer in his best French, 'You are from Holland, lady?'

'Not from the fens,' she answered. 'My home lies in the borders of the forest of Ardennes.'

And then they found that they understood each other best when she spoke French, and Malcolm English, or rather Scotch; and their acquaintance made so much progress, that when the signal was again given to mount, the Lady Esclairmonde permitted Malcolm to assist her to her saddle; and as he rode beside her he felt pleased with himself, and as if Ralf Percy were welcome to look at him now.

On Esclairmonde's other hand there rode a small, slight girl, whom Malcolm took for quite a child, and paid no attention to; but presently old Sir Lewis Robsart rode back with a message that my Lady of Westmoreland wished to know where the Lady Alice Montagu was. A gentle, timid voice answered, 'O Sir, I am well here with Lady Esclairmonde. Pray tell my good lady so.'

And therewith Sir Lewis smiled, and said, 'You could scarcely be in better hands, fair damsel,' and rode back again; while Alice was still entreating, 'May I stay with you, dear lady? It is all so strange and new!'

Esclairmonde smiled, and said, 'You make me at home here, Mademoiselle. It is I who am the stranger!'

'Ah! but you have been in Courts before. I never lived anywhere but at Middleham Castle till they fetched me away to meet the Queen.'

For the gentle little maiden, a slender, fair-haired, childish-faced creature, in her sixteenth year, was the motherless child and heiress of the stout Earl of Salisbury, the last of the Montacutes, or Montagues, who was at present fighting the King's battles in France, but had sent his commands that she should be brought to Court, in preparation for fulfilling the long-arranged contract between her and Sir Richard Nevil, one of the twenty-two children of the Earl of Westmoreland.

She was under the charge of the Countess-a stately dame, with all the Beaufort pride; and much afraid of her she was, as everything that was shy or forlorn seemed to turn towards the maiden whose countenance not only promised kindness but protection.

Presently the cavalcade passed a gray building in the midst of green fields and orchards, where, under the trees, some black-veiled figures sat spinning.

'A nunnery!' quoth Esclairmonde, looking eagerly after it as she rode past.

'A nunnery!' said Malcolm, encouraged into the simple confidingness of a young boy. 'How unlike the one where my sister is! Not a tree is near it; it is perched upon a wild crag overhanging the angry sea, and the winds roar, and the gulls and eagles scream, and the waves thunder round it!'

'Yet it is not the less a haven of peace,' replied Esclairmonde.

'Verily,' said Malcolm, 'one knows what peace is under that cloister, where all is calm while the winds rave without.'

'You know how to love a cloister,' said the lady, as she heard his soft, sad tones.

'I had promised myself to make my home in one,' said Malcolm; 'but my King will have me make trial of the world first. And so please you,' he added, recollecting himself, 'he forbade me to make my purpose known; so pray, lady, be so good as to forget what I have said.'

'I will be silent,' said Esclairmonde; 'but I will not forget, for I look on you as one like myself, my young lord. I too am dedicated, and only longing to reach my cloistered haven.'

She spoke it out with the ease of those days when the monastic was as recognized a profession as any other calling, and yet with something of the desire to make it evident on what ground she stood.

Lady Alice uttered an exclamation of surprise.

'Yes,' said Esclairmonde, 'I was dedicated his my infancy, and promised myself in the nunnery at Dijon when I was seven years old.'

Then, as if to turn the conversation from herself, she asked of Malcolm if he too had made any vow.

'Only to myself,' said Malcolm. 'Neither my Tutor nor the Prior of Coldingham would hear my vows.' And he was soon drawn into telling his whole story, to which the ladies both listened with great interest and kindness, Esclairmonde commending his resolution to leave the care of his lands and vassals to one whom he represented as so much better fitted to bear them as Patrick Drummond, and only regretting the silence King James had enjoined, saying she felt that there was safety and protection in being avowed as a destined religious.

'And you are one,' said Lady Alice, looking at her in wonder. 'And yet you are with that lady-' And the girl's innocent face expressed a certain wonder and disgust that no one could marvel at who had heard the Flemish Countess talk in the loudest, broadest, most hoydenish style.

'She has been my very good lady,' said Esclairmonde; 'she has, under the saints, saved me from much.'

'Oh, I entreat you, tell us, dear lady!' entreated Alice. It was not a reticent age. Malcolm Stewart had already avowed himself in his own estimation pledged to a monastic life, and Esclairmonde of Luxemburg had reasons for wishing her position and intentions to be distinctly understood by all with whom she came in contact; moreover, there was a certain congeniality in both her companions, their innocence and simplicity, that drew out confidence, and impelled her to defend her lady.

'My poor Countess,' she said, 'she has been sorely used, and has suffered much. It is a piteous thing when our little imperial fiefs go to the spindle side!'

'What are her lands?' asked Malcolm.

'Hainault, Holland, and Zealand,' replied the lady. 'Her father was Count of Hainault, her mother the sister of the last Duke of Burgundy-him that was slain on the bridge of Montereau. She was married as a mere babe to the Duke of Touraine, who was for a brief time Dauphin, but he died ere she was sixteen, and her father died at the same time. Some say they both were poisoned. The saints forfend it should be true; but thus it was my poor Countess was left desolate, and her uncle, the Bishop of Liége-Jean Sans Pitié, as they call him-claimed her inheritance. You should have seen how undaunted she was!'

'Were you with her then?' asked Alice Montagu.

'Yes. I had been taken from our convent at Dijon, when my dear brothers, to whom Heaven be merciful! died at Azincourt. My oncles à la mode de Bretagne-how call you it in English?'

'Welsh uncles,' said Alice.

'They are the Count de St. Pol and the Bishop of Thérouenne. They came to Dijon. In another month I should have been seventeen, and been admitted as a novice; but, alack! there were all the lands that came through my grandmother, in Holland and in Flanders, all falling to me, and Monseigneur of Thérouenne, like almost all secular clergy, cannot endure the religious orders, and would not hear of my becoming a Sister. They took me away, and the Bishop declared my dedication null, and they would have bestowed me in marriage at once, I believe, if Heaven had not aided me, and they could not agree on the person. And then my dear Countess promised me that she would never let me be given without my free will.'

'Then,' said Alice, 'the Bishop did cancel your dedication?'

'Yes,' said Esclairmonde; 'but none can cancel the dedication of my heart. So said the holy man at Zwoll.'

'How, lady?' anxiously inquired Malcolm; 'has not a bishop power to bind and unloose?'

'Yea,' said Esclairmonde, 'such power that if my childish promise had been made without purpose or conscience thereof, or indeed if my will were not with it, it would bind me no more, there were no sin in wedlock for me, no broken vow. But my own conscience of my vow, and my sense that I belong to my Heavenly Spouse, proved, he said, that it was not my duty to give myself to another, and that whereas none have a parent's right over me, if I have indeed chosen the better part, He to whom I have promised myself will not let it be taken from me, though I might have to bear much for His sake. And when I said in presumption that such would lie light on me, he bade me speak less and pray more, for I knew not the cost.'

'He must have been a very holy man,' said Alice, 'and strict withal. Who was he?'

'One Father Thomas, a Canon Regular of the chapter of St. Agnes, a very saint, who spends his life in copying and illuminating the Holy Scripture, and in writing holy thoughts that verily seem to have been breathed into him by special inspiration of God. It was a sermon of his in Lent, upon chastening and perplexity, that I heard when first I was snatched from Dijon, that made me never rest till I had obtained his ghostly counsel. If I never meet him again, I shall thank Heaven for those months at Zwoll all my life-ere the Duke of Burgundy made my Countess resign Holland for twelve years to her uncle, and we left the place. Then, well-nigh against her will, they forced her into a marriage with the Duke of Brabant, though he be her first cousin, her godson, and a mere rude boy. I cannot tell you how evil were the days we often had then. If he had been left to himself, Madame might have guided him; but ill men came about him; they maddened him with wine and beer; they excited him to show that he feared her not; he struck her, and more than once almost put her in danger of her life. Then, too, his mother married the Bishop of Liége, her enemy-

'The Bishop!'

'He had never been consecrated, and had a dispensation. That marriage deprived my poor lady of even her mother's help. All were against her then; and for me too it went ill, for the Duke of Burgundy insisted on my being given to a half-brother of his, one they call Sir Bo?mond of Burgundy-a hard man of blood and revelry. The Duke of Brabant was all for him, and so was the Duchess-mother; and though my uncles would not have chosen him, yet they durst not withstand the Duke of Burgundy. I tried to appeal to the Emperor Sigismund, the head of our house, but I know not if he ever heard of my petition. I was in an exceeding strait, and had only one trust, namely, that Father Thomas had told me that the more I threw myself upon God, the more He would save me from man. But oh! they seemed all closing in on me, and I knew that Sir Bo?mond had sworn that I should pay heavily for my resistance. Then one night my Countess came to me. She showed me the bruises her lord had left on her arms, and told me that he was about to banish all of us, her ladies, into Holland, and to keep her alone to bear his fury, and she was resolved to escape, and would I come with her? It seemed to me the message of deliverance. Her nurse brought us peasant dresses, high stiff caps, black boddices, petticoats of many colours, and therein we dressed ourselves, and stole out, ere dawn, to a church, where we knelt till the Sieur d'Escaillon-the gentleman who attends Madame still-drove up in a farmer's garb, with a market cart, and so forth from Bruges we drove. We cause to Valenciennes, to her mother; but we found that she, by persuasion of the Duke, would give us both up; so the Sieur d'Escaillon got together sixty lances, and therewith we rode to Calais, where never were weary travellers more courteously received than we by Lord Northumberland, the captain of Calais.'

'Oh, I am glad you came to us English!' cried Alice. 'Only I would it had been my father who welcomed you. And now?'

'Now I remain with my lady, as the only demoiselle she has from her country; and, moreover, I am waiting in the trust that my kinsmen will give up their purpose of bestowing me in marriage, now that I am beyond their reach; and in time I hope to obtain sufficient of my own goods for a dowry for whatever convent I may enter.'

'Oh, let it be an English one!' cried Alice.

'I have learnt to breathe freer since I have been on English soil,' said Esclairmonde, smiling; 'but where I may rest at last, Heaven only knows!'

'This is a strange country,' said Malcolm. 'No one seems afraid of violence and wrong here.'

'Is that so strange?' asked Alice, amazed. 'Why, men would be hanged if they did violence!'

'I would we were as sure of justice at my home,' sighed Esclairmonde. 'King Henry will bring about a better rule.'

'Never doubt,' cried Salisbury's daughter. 'When France is once subdued, there will be no more trouble, he will make your kinsmen do you right, dear demoiselle, and oh! will you not found a beauteous convent?'

'King Henry has not conquered France yet,' was all Esclairmonde said.

'Ha!' cried the buxom Countess Jaqueline, as the ladies dismounted, 'never speak to me more, our solemn sister. When have I done worse than lure a young cavalier, and chain him all day with my tongue?'

'He is a gentle boy!' said Esclairmonde, smiling.

'Truly he looked like a calf turned loose among strange cattle! How gat he into the hall?'

'He is of royal Scottish blood,' said Esclairmonde 'cousin-german to King James.'

'And our grave nun has a fancy to tame the wild Scots, like a second St. Margaret! A king's grandson! fie, fie! what, become ambitious, Clairette? Eh? you were so occupied, that I should have been left to no one but Monseigneur of Gloucester, but that I was discreet, and rode with my Lord Bishop of Winchester. How he chafed! but I know better than to have tête-à-têtes with young sprigs of the blood royal!'

Esclairmonde laughed good-humouredly, partly in courtesy to her hoyden mistress, but partly at the burning, blushing indignation she beheld in the artless face of Alice Montagu.

The girl was as shy as a fawn, frightened at every word from knight or lady, and much in awe of her future mother-in-law, a stiff and stately dame, with all the Beaufort haughtiness; so that Lady Westmoreland gladly and graciously consented to the offer of the Demoiselle de Luxemburg to attend to the little maiden, and let her share her chamber and her bed. And indeed Alice Montagu, bred up in strictness and in both piety and learning, as was sometimes the case with the daughters of the nobility, had in all her simplicity and bashfulness a purity and depth that made her a congenial spirit with the grave votaress, whom she regarded on her side with a young girl's enthusiastic admiration for a grown woman, although in point of fact the years between them were few.

The other ladies of the Court were a little in awe of the Demoiselle de Luxemburg, and did not seek her when they wished to indulge in the gossip whose malice and coarseness she kept in check; but if they were anxious, or in trouble, they always came to her as their natural consoler; and the Countess Jaqueline, bold and hoydenish as she was, kept the license of her tongue and manners under some shadow of restraint before her, and though sometimes bantering her, often neglecting her counsel, evidently felt her attendance a sort of safeguard and protection.

The gentlemen were mostly of the opinion of the Duke of Gloucester, who said that the Lady Esclairmonde was so like Deborah, come out of a Mystery, that it seemed to be always Passion-tide where she was; and she, moreover, was always guarded in her manner towards them, keeping her vocation in the recollection of all by her gravely and coldly courteous demeanour, and the sober hues and fashion of her dress; but being aware of Malcolm's destination, perceiving his loneliness, and really attracted by his pensive gentleness, she admitted him to far more friendly intercourse than any other young noble, while he revered and clung to her much as Lady Alice did, as protector and friend.

King James was indeed so much absorbed in his own lady-love as to have little attention to bestow on his young cousin, and he knew, moreover, that to be left to such womanly training as ladies were bound to bestow on young squires and pages was the best treatment for the youth, who was really thriving and growing happier every day, as he lost his awkwardness and acquired a freedom and self-confidence such as he could never have imagined possible in his original brow-beaten state, though without losing the gentle modesty and refinement that gave him such a charm.

A great sorrow awaited him, however, at Leicester, where Easter was to be spent. A messenger came from Durham, bringing letters from Coldingham to announce the death of good Sir David Drummond, which had taken place two days after Malcolm had left him, all but the youth himself having well known that his state was hopeless.

In his grief, Malcolm found his chief comforter in Esclairmonde, who kindly listened when he talked of the happy old times at Glenuskie, and of the kindness and piety of his guardian; while she lifted his mind to dwell on the company of the saints; and when he knew that her thoughts went, like his, to his fatherly friend in the solemn services connected with the departed, he was no longer desolate, and there was almost a sweetness in the grief of which his fair saint had taken up a part. She showed him likewise some vellum pages on which her ghostly father, the Canon of St. Agnes, had written certain dialogues between the Divine Master and His disciple, which seemed indeed to have been whispered by heavenly inspiration, and which soothed and hallowed his mourning for the guide and protector of his youth. He loved to dwell on her very name, Esclairmonde-'light of the world.' The taste of the day hung many a pun and conceit upon names, and to Malcolm this-which had, in fact, been culled out of romance-seemed meetly to express the pure radiance of consolation and encouragement that seemed to him to shine from her, and brighten the life that had hitherto been dull and gloomy-nay, even to give him light and joy in the midst of his grief.

At that period Courts were not much burdened with etiquette. No feudal monarch was more than the first gentleman, and there was no rigid line of separation of ranks, especially where, as among the kings of the Red Rose, the boundaries were so faint between the princes and the nobility; and as Catherine of Valois was fond of company, and indolently heedless of all that did not affect her own dignity or ease, the whole Court, including some of the princely captives, lived as one large family, meeting at morning Mass in church or chapel, taking their meals in common, riding, hunting, hawking, playing at bowls, tennis, or stool-ball, or any other pastime, in such parties as suited their inclinations; and spending the evening in the great hall, in conversation varied by chess, dice, and cards, recitals of romance, and music, sometimes performed by the choristers of the Royal chapel, or sometimes by the company themselves, and often by one or other of the two kings, who were both proficients as well with the voice as with the lute and organ.

Thus Malcolm had many opportunities of being with the Demoiselle of Luxemburg: and almost a right was established, that when she sat in the deep embrasure of a window with her spinning, he should be on the cushioned step beneath; when she mounted, he held the stirrup; and when the church bells were ringing, he led her by her fair fingers to her place in the nave, and back again to the hall; and when the manchet and rere supper were brought into the hall, he mixed her wine and water, and held the silver basin and napkin to her on bended knee, and had become her recognized cavalier. He was really thriving. Even the high-spirited son of Hotspur could not help loving and protecting him.

'Have a care,' said Ralf to a lad of ruder mould; 'I'll no more see that lame young Scot maltreated than a girl.'

'He is no better than a girl,' growled his comrade; 'my little brother Dick would be more than a match for him!'

'I wot not that,' said Percy; 'there's a drop of life and spirit at the bottom; and for the rest, when he lo

oks up with those eyes of his, and smiles his smile, it is somehow as if it were beneath a man to vex him wilfully. And he sees so much meaning in everything, too, that it is a dozen times better sport to hear him talk than one of you fellows, who have only wit enough to know a hawk from a heron-schaw.'

After a grave Easter-tide spent at Leicester, the Court moved to Westminster, where Henry had to meet his parliament, and obtain supplies for the campaign which was to revenge the death of Clarence.

There was no great increase of gaiety even here, for Henry was extremely occupied, both with regulating matters for government during his absence, and in training the troops who began to flock to his standard; so that the Queen complained that his presence in England was of little service to her, since he never had any leisure, and there were no pastimes.

'Well, Dame,' said Henry, gaily, 'there is one revel for you. I have promised to knight the Lord Mayor, honest Whittington, and I hear he is preparing a notable banquet in the Guild Hall.'

'A city mayor!' exclaimed Queen Catherine, with ineffable disgust. 'My brothers would sooner cut off his roturier head than dub him knight!'

'Belike,' said Henry, dryly; 'but what kind of friends have thy brothers found at Paris? Moreover, this Whittington may content thee as to blood. Rougedragon hath been unfolding to me his lineage of a good house in Gloucestershire.'

'More shame that he should soil his hands with trade!' said the Queen.

'See what you say when he has cased those fair hands in Spanish gloves. You ladies should know better than to fall out with a mercer.'

'Ah!' said Duke Humfrey, 'they never saw the silks and samites wherewith he fitted out my sister Philippa for the Swedes! Lucky the bride whose wardrobe is purveyed by honest Dick!'

'Is it not honour enough for the mechanical hinds that we wear their stuffs,' said Countess Jaqueline, 'without demeaning ourselves to eat at their boards? The outrecuidance of the rogues in the Netherlands would be surpassing, did we feed it in that sort.'

''Tis you that will be fed, Dame Jac,' laughed Henry. 'I can tell you, their sack and their pasties, their march-pane and blanc-manger, far exceed aught that a poor soldier can set before you.'

'Moreover,' observed Humfrey, 'the ladies ought to see the romaunt of the Cat complete.'

'How!' cried Jaqueline, 'is it, then, true that this Vittentone is the miller's son whose cat wore boots and made his fortune?'

'I have heard my aunt of Orleans divert my father with that story,' murmured Catherine. 'How went the tale? I thought it folly, and marked it not. What became of the cat?'

'The cat desired to test his master's gratitude, so tells Straparola,' said the Duke of Orleans, in his dry satirical tone; 'and whereas he had been wont to promise his benefactor a golden coffin and state funeral, Puss feigned death, and thereby heard the lady inform her husband that the old cat was dead. "A la bonne heure!" said the Marquis. "Take him by the tail, and fling him on the muck-heap beneath the window!"'

'Thereof I acquit Whittington, who never was thankless to man or brute,' said King Henry. 'Moreover, his cat, or her grandchildren, must be now in high preferment at the King of Barbary's Court.'

'A marvellous beast is that cat,' said James. 'When I was a child in Scotland, we used to tell the story of her exchange for a freight of gold and spices, only the ship sailed from Denmark,'

'Maybe,' said Henry; 'but I would maintain the truth of Whittington's cat with my lance, and would gladly have no worse cause! You'll see his cat painted beside him in the Guild Hall, and may hear the tale from him, as I loved to hear him when I was a lad.

"Turn again, Whittington,

Thrice Lord Mayor of London town!"

I told my good old friend I must have come over from France on purpose to keep his third mayoralty. So I am for the City on Thursday; and whoever loves good wine, good sturgeon, good gold, or good men, had best come with me.'

Such inducements were not to be neglected, and though Queen Catherine minced and bridled, and apologized to Duchess Jaqueline for her husband's taste for low company, neither princess wished to forego the chance of amusement; and a brilliant cavalcade set forth in full order of precedence. The King and Queen were first; then, to his great disgust, the King of Scots, with Duchess Jaqueline; Bedford, with Lady Somerset; Gloucester, with the Countess of March; the Duke of Orleans, with the Countess of Exeter; and Malcolm of Glenuskie found himself paired off with his sovereign's lady-love, Joan Beaufort, and a good deal overawed by the tall horned tower that crowned her flaxen locks, as well as by knowing that her uncle, the Bishop of Winchester, the stateliest, stiffest, and most unapproachable person in all the Court, was riding just behind him, beside the Demoiselle de Luxemburg.

Temple Bar was closed, and there was a flourish of trumpets and a parley ere the gate was flung open to admit the royal guests; but Malcolm, in his place, could not see the aldermen on horseback, in their robes of scarlet and white, drawn up to receive the King. All that way up Holborn, every house was hung with tapestry, and the citizens formed a gorgeously-apparelled lane, shouting in unison, their greetings attuned to bursts of music from trumpets and nakers.

Beautiful old St. Paul's, with the exquisite cross for open-air preaching in front, rose on their view; and before the lofty west door the princely guests dismounted, each gentleman leading his lady up the nave to the seat prepared in such manner that he might be opposite to her. The clergy lined the stalls, and a magnificent mass was sung, and was concluded by the advance of the King to the altar step, followed by a fine old man in scarlet robes bordered with white fur, the collar of SS. round his neck, and his silvery hair and lofty brow crowning a face as sagacious as it was dignified and benevolent.

It seemed a reversal of the ordinary ceremonial when the slender agile young man took in hand the sword, and laid the honour of knighthood on the gray-headed substantial senior, whom he bade to arise Sir Richard Whittington. Jaqueline of Hainault had the bad taste to glance across to Humfrey and titter, but the Duke valued popularity among the citizens, and would not catch her eye; and in the line behind the royal ladies there was a sweet elderly face, beautiful, though time-worn, with blue eyes misty with proud glad tears, and a mouth trembling with tender exultation.

After the ceremony was concluded, King Henry offered his hand to the Lady Mayoress, Dame Alice Whittington, making her bright tears drop in glad confusion at his frank, hearty congratulation and warm praise of her husband; and though the fair Catherine could have shuddered when Sir Richard advanced to lead her, she was too royal to compromise her dignity by visible scorn, and she soon found that the merchant could speak much better French than most of the nobles.

Malcolm felt as averse as did the French princesses to burgher wealth and splendour, and his mind had not opened to understand burgher worth and weight; and when he saw the princes John and Humfrey, and even his own king, seeking out city dames and accosting them with friendly looks, it seemed to him a degrading truckling to riches, from which he was anxious to save his future queen; but when he would have offered his arm to Lady Joan, he saw her already being led away by an alderman measuring at least a yard across the shoulders; and the good-natured Earl of March, seeing him at a loss, presented him to a round merry wife in a scarlet petticoat and black boddice, its plump curves wreathed with geld chains, who began pitying him for having been sent to the wars so young, being, as usual, charmed into pity by his soft appealing eyes and unconscious grace; would not believe his assertions that he was neither a captive nor a Frenchman;-'don't tell her, when he spoke like a stranger, and halted from a wound.'

Colouring to the ears, he explained that he had never walked otherwise; whereupon her pity redoubled, and she by turns advised him to consult Master Doctor Caius, and to obtain a recipe from Mistress-she meant Dame-Alice Whittington, the kindest soul living, and, Lady Mayoress as she was, with no more pride than the meanest scullion. Pity she had no child-yet scarce pity either, since she and the good Lord Mayor were father and mother to all orphans and destitute-nay, to all who had any care on their minds.

Malcolm was in extreme alarm lest he should be walked up to the Lady Mayoress for inspection before all the world when they entered the Guild Hall, a building of grand proportions, which, as good Mistress Bolt informed him, had lately been paved and glazed at Sir Richard Whittington's own expense. The bright new red and yellow tiles, and the stained glass of the tall windows high up, as well as the panels of the wainscot, were embellished with trade-marks and the armorial bearings of the guilds; and the long tables, hung with snowy napery, groaned with gold and silver plate, such as, the Duke of Orleans observed to Catherine, no citizens would dare exhibit in France to any prince or noble, at peril of being mulcted of all, with or without excuse.

On an open hearth beneath the louvre, or opening for smoke, burnt a fire diffusing all around an incense-like fragrance, from the logs, composed of cinnamon and other choice woods and spices, that fed the flame. The odour and the warmth on a bleak day of May were alike delicious; and King Henry, after heading Dame Alice up to it, stood warming his hands and extolling the choice scent, adding: 'You spoil us, Sir Richard. How are we to go back to the smoke of wood and peat, and fires puffed with our own mouths, after such pampering as this-the costliest fire I have seen in the two realms?'

'It shall be choicer yet, Sir,' said Sir Richard Whittington, who had just handed the Queen to her seat.

'Scarce possible,' replied Henry, 'unless I threw in my crown, and that I cannot afford. I shall be pawning it ere long.'

Instead of answering, the Lord Mayor quietly put his hand into his furred pouch, and drawing out a bundle of parchments tied with a ribbon, held them towards the King, with a grave smile.

'Lo you now, Sir Richard,' said Henry, with a playful face of disgust; 'this is to save your dainty meats, by spoiling my appetite by that unwelcome sight. What, man! have you bought up all the bonds I gave in my need to a whole synagogue of Jews and bench of Loin-bards? I shall have to send for my crown before you let me go; though verily,' he added, with frank, open face, 'I'm better off with a good friend like you for my creditor-only I'm sorry for you, Sir Richard. I fear it will be long ere you see your good gold in the stead of your dirty paper, even though I gave you an order on the tolls. How now! What, man, Dick Whittington! Art raving? Here, the tongs!'

For Sir Richard, gently smiling, had placed the bundle of bonds on the glowing bed of embers.

Henry, even while calling for the tongs, was raking them out with his sword, and would have grasped them in his hand in a moment, but the Lord Mayor caught his arm.

'Pardon, my lord, and grant your new knight's boon.'

'When he is not moon-struck!' said Henry, still guarding the documents. 'Why, my Lady Mayoress, know you what is here?'

'Sixty thousand, my liege,' composedly answered Dame Alice. 'My husband hath his whims, and I pray your Grace not to hinder what he hath so long been preparing.'

'Yea, Sir,' added Whittington, earnestly. 'You wot that God hath prospered us richly. We have no child, and our nephews are well endowed. How, then, can our goods belong to any save God, our king, and the poor?'

Henry drew one hand over his eyes, and with the other wrung that of Whittington. 'Had ever king such a subject?' he murmured.

'Had ever subject such a king?' was Whittington's return.

'Thou hast conquered, Whittington,' said the King, presently looking up with a sunny smile. 'To send me over the seas a free man, beholden to you in heart though not by purse, is, as I well believe, worth all that sum to thy loyal heart. Thou art setting me far on my way to Jerusalem, my dear friend! Thank him, Kate-he hath done much for thine husband!'

Catherine looked amiable, and held out a white hand to be kissed, aware that the King was pleased, though hardly understanding why he should be glad that an odour of singed parchment should overpower the gums and cinnamon. This was soon remedied by the fresh handful of spices that were cast into the flame, and the banquet began, magnificent with peacocks, cranes, and swans in full plumage; the tusky bear crunched his apple, deer's antlers adorned the haunch, the royal sturgeon floated in wine, fountains of perfumed waters sprang up from shells, towers of pastry and of jelly presented the endless allegorical devices of medi?val fancy, and, pre-eminent over all, a figure of the cat, with emerald eyes, fulfilled, as Henry said, the proverb, 'A cat might look at a king;' and truly the cat and her master had earned the right; therefore his first toast was, 'To the Cat!'

Each guest found at his or her place a beautiful fragrant pair of gloves, in Spanish leather, on the back of which was once more embroidered, in all her tabby charms, the cat's face. Therewith began a lengthy meal; and Malcolm Stewart rejoiced at finding himself seated next to the Lady Esclairmonde, but he grudged her attention to her companion, a slender, dark, thoughtful representative of the Goldsmiths' Company, to whom she talked with courtesy such as Malcolm had scorned to show his city dame.

'Who,' said Esclairmonde, presently, 'was a dame in a religious garb whom I marked near the door here? She hooked like one of the Béguines of my own country.'

'We have no such order here, lady,' said the goldsmiths, puzzled.

'Hey, Master Price,' cried Mistress Bolt, speaking across Malcolm, 'I can tell the lady who it was. 'Twas good Sister Avice Rodney, to whom the Lady Mayoress promised some of these curious cooling drinks for the poor shipwright who hath well-nigh cloven off his own foot with his axe.'

'Yea, truly,' returned the goldsmith; 'it must have been one of the bedeswomen of St. Katharine's whom the lady has seen.'

'What order may that be?' asked Esclairmonde. 'I have seen nothing so like my own country since I came hither.'

'That may well be, madam,' said Mistress Belt, 'seeing that these bedeswomen were first instituted by a countrywoman of your own-Queen Philippa, of blessed memory.'

'By your leave, Mistress Bolt,' interposed Master Price, 'the hospital of St. Katharine by the Tower is of far older foundation.'

'By your leave, sir, I know what I say. The hospital was founded I know not when, but these bedeswomen were especially added by the good Queen, by the same token that mine aunt Cis, who was tirewoman to the blessed Lady Joan, was one of the first.'

'How was it? What is their office?' eagerly inquired Esclairmonde. And Mistress Bolt arranged herself for a long discourse.

'Well, fair sirs and sweet lady, though you be younger than I, you have surely heard of the Black Death. Well named was it, for never was pestilence more dire; and the venom was so strong, that the very lips and eyelids grew livid black, and then there was no hope. Little thought of such disease was there, I trow, in kings' houses, and all the fair young lords and ladies, the children of King Edward, as then was, were full of sport and gamesomeness as you see these dukes be now. And never a one was blither than the Lady Joan-she they called Joan of the Tower, being a true Londoner born-bless her! My aunt Cis would talk by the hour of her pretty ways and kindly mirth. But 'twas even as the children have the game in the streets-

"There come three knights all out of Spain,

Are come to fetch your daughter Jane."

'Twas for the King of Castille, that same Peter for whom the Black Prince of Wales fought, and of whom such grewsome tales were told. The pretty princess might almost have had a boding what sort of husband they had for her, for she begged and prayed, even on her knees, that her father would leave her; but her sisters were all espoused, and there was no help for it. But, as one comfort to her, my aunt Cis, who had been about her from her cradle, was to go with her; and oft she would tell of the long journey in litters through France, and how welcome were the English tongues they heard again at Bordeaux, and how when poor Lady Joan saw her brother, the Prince, she clung about his neck and sobbed, and how he soothed her, and said she would soon laugh at her own unwillingness to go to her husband. But even then the Black Death was in Bordeaux, and being low and mournful at heart, the sweet maid contracted it, and lay down to die ere she had made two days' journey, and her last words were, "My God hath shown me more pity than father or brother;" and so she died like a lamb, and mine aunt was sent by the Prince to bear home the tidings to the good Queen, who was a woeful woman. And therewith, here was the pestilence in London, raging among the poor creatures that lived in the wharves and on the river bank, in damp and filth, so that whole households lay dead at once, and the contagion, gathering force, spread into the city, and even to the nobles and their ladies. Then my good aunt, having some knowledge of the sickness already, and being without fear, went among the sick, and by her care, and the food, wine, and clothing she brought, saved a many lives. And from whom should the bounties come, save from the good Queen, who ever had a great pity for those touched like her own fair child? Moreover, when she heard from my aunt how the poor things lived in uncleanness and filth, and how, what with many being strangers coming by sea, and others being serfs fled from home, they were a nameless, masterless sort, who knew not where to seek a parish priest, and whom the friars shunned for their poverty, she devised a fresh foundation to be added to the hospital of St. Katharine's in the Docks, providing for a chapter of ten bedeswomen, gentle and well-nurtured, who should both sing in choir, and likewise go forth constantly among the poor, to seek out the children, see that they learn their Credo, Ave, and Pater Noster, bring the more toward to be further taught in St. Katharine's school, and likewise to stir poor folk up to go to mass and lead a godly life; to visit the sick, feed and tend them, and so instruct them, that they may desire the Sacraments of the Church.'

'Ah! good Flemish Queen!' cried Esclairmonde. 'She learnt that of our Béguines!'

'If your ladyship will have it so,' said Mrs. Bolt; 'but my aunt Cicely began!'

'Who nominates these bedeswomen?' asked Esclairmonde.

'That does the Queen,' said Mistress Bolt. 'Not this young Queen, as yet, for Queen Joan, the late King's widow, holds the hospital till her death, unless it should be taken from her for her sorceries, from which Heaven defend us!'

'Can it be visited?' said Esclairmonde. 'I feel much drawn thither, as I ever did to the Béguines.'

'Ay, marry may it!' cried delighted Mrs. Bolt. 'I have more than one gossip there, foreby Sister Avice, who was godchild to Aunt Cis; and if the good lady would wish to see the hospital, I would bear her company with all my heart.'

To Malcolm's disgust, Esclairmonde caught at the proposal, which the Scottish haughtiness that lay under all his gentleness held somewhat degrading to the cousin of the Emperor. He fell into a state of gloom, which lasted till the loving-cup had gone round and been partaken of in pairs.

After hands had been washed in rose-water, the royal party took their seats in barges to return to Westminster by the broad and beautiful highway of the Thames.

Here at once Alice Montagu nestled to Esclairmonde's side, delighted with her cat gloves, and further delighted with an old captain of trained bands, to whose lot she had fallen, and who, on finding that she was the daughter of the Earl of Salisbury, under whom he had served, had launched forth by the hour into the praises of that brave nobleman, both for his courage and his kindness to his troops.

'No wonder King Henry loves his citizens so well!' cried Esclairmonde. 'Would that our Netherlandish princes and burghers could take pride and pleasure in one another's wealth and prowess, instead of grudging and fearing thereat!'

'To my mind,' said Malcolm, 'they were a forward generation. That city dame will burst with pride, if you, lady, go with her to see those bedeswomen.'

'I trust not,' laughed Esclairmonde, 'for I mean to try.'

'Nay, but,' said Malcolm, 'what should a mere matter of old rockers and worn-out tirewomen concern a demoiselle of birth?'

'I honour them for doing their Master's work,' said Esclairmonde, 'and would fain be worthy to follow in their steps.'

'Surely,' said Malcolm, 'there are houses fit for persons of high and princely birth to live apart from gross contact with the world.'

'There are,' said Esclairmonde; 'but I trust I may be pardoned for saying that such often seem to me to play at humility when they stickle for birth and dower with the haughtiest. I never honoured any nuns so much as the humble Sisters of St. Begga, who never ask for sixteen quarterings, but only for a tender hand, soft step, pure life, and pious heart.'

'I deemed,' said Malcolm, 'that heavenly contemplation was the purpose of convents.'

'Even so, for such as can contemplate like the holy man I have told you of,' said Esclairmonde; 'but labour hath been greatly laid aside in convents of late, and I doubt me if it be well, or if their prayers be the better for it.'

'And so,' said Alice, 'I heard my Lord of Winchester saying how it were well to suppress the alien priories, and give their wealth to found colleges like that founded by Bishop Wykeham.'

For in truths the spirit of the age was beginning to set against monasticism. It was the period when perhaps there was more of license and less of saintliness than at any other, and when the long continuance of the Great Schism had so injured Church discipline that the clergy and ecclesiastics were in the worst state of all, especially the monastic orders, who owned no superior but the Pope, and between the two rivals could avoid supervision altogether. Such men as Thomas à Kempis, or the great Jean Gerson, were rare indeed; and the monasteries had let themselves lose their missionary character, and become mere large farms, inhabited by celibate gentlemen and their attendants, or by the superfluous daughters of the nobles and gentry. Such devotion as led Esclairmonde to the pure atmosphere of prayer and self-sacrifice had well-nigh died out, and almost every other lady of the time would have regarded her release from the vows made for her its her babyhood a happy escape.

Still less, at a time when no active order of Sisters, save that of the Béguines in Holland, had been invented, and when no nun ever dreamt of carrying her charity beyond the quadrangle of her own convent, could any one be expected to enter into Esclairmonde's admiration and longing for out-of-door works; but the person whom she had chiefly made her friend was the King's almoner and chaplain, sometimes called Sir Martin Bennet, at others Dr. Bennet, a great Oxford scholar, bred up among William of Wykeham's original seventy at Winchester and New College, and now much trusted and favoured by the King, whom he everywhere accompanied. That Sir Martin was a pluralist must be confessed, but he was most conscientious in providing substitutes, and was a man of much thought and of great piety, in whom the fair pupil of the Canon of St. Agnes found a congenial spirit.

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