Two Penniless Princesses by J. M. Synge
Chapter 4. St. Helen's
'I thought King Henry had resembled thee, In courage, courtship, and proportion: But all his mind is bent to holiness, To number Ave-Maries on his beads: His champions are the prophets and apostles; His weapons, holy saws of sacred writ.' King Henry VI.
George Douglas's chivalrous venture in defence of the falcon of his lady-love had certainly not done much for him hitherto, as Davie observed. The Lady Joanna, as every one now called her, took it as only the bounden duty and natural service of one of her suite, and would have cared little for his suffering for it personally, except so far as it concerned her own dignity, which she understood much better than she had done in Scotland, where she was only one of 'the lassies,' an encumbrance to every one.
The York retainers had dropped all idea of visiting his offence upon Douglas when they found that he had acted in the service of an honoured guest of their lord, but they did not look with much favour on him or on any other of the Scottish troop, whom their master enjoined them to treat as guests and comrades.
The uniting of so many suites of the mighty nobles of the fifteenth century formed quite a little army, amounting to some two or three hundred horsemen, mostly armed, and well appointed, with their masters' badges on their sleeves,--falcon and fetterlock, dun cow, bear and ragged staff and the cross of Durham, while all likewise wore in their caps the white rose. Waggons with household furniture and kitchen needments had been sent in advance with the numerous 'black guard,' and a provision of cattle for slaughter accompanied these, since it was one of the considerate acts that already had won affection to Richard of York that, unlike many of the great nobles, he always avoided as much as possible letting his train be oppressive to the country-people.
David Drummond had been seeing that all his father's troop were duly provided with the Drummond badge, the thyme, which was requisite as showing them accepted of the Duke of York's company, but as George and his follower had never submitted to wear it, he was somewhat surprised to find the gray blossom prominent in George's steel-guarded cap, and to hear him saying--
'Don it, Ringan, as thou wouldst obey me.'
'His father's son is not his own father,' said Ringan sulkily.
'Then tak' thy choice of wearing it, or winning hame as thou canst--most like hanging on the nearest oak.'
'And I'd gey liefer than demean myself in the Drummond thyme!' replied Ringan, half turning away. 'But then what would come of Gray Meg wi' only the Master to see till her,' muttered he, caressing the mare's neck. 'Weel, aweel, sir'--and he held out his hand for the despised spray.
'Is yon thy wild callant, Geordie?' said David in some surprise, for Ringan was not only provided with a pony, but his thatch of tow-like hair had been trimmed and covered with a barret cap, and his leathern coat and leggings were like those of the other horse-boys.
'Ay,' said George, 'this is no place to be ower kenspeckle.'
'I was coming to ask,' said David, 'if thou wouldst not own thyself to my father, and take thy proper place ere ganging farther south. It irks me to see some of the best blood in Scotland among the grooms.'
'It must irk thee still, Davie,' returned George. 'These English folk might not thole to see my father's son in their hands without winning something out of him, and I saw by what passed the other day that thou and thy father would stand by me, hap what hap, and I'll never embroil him and peril the lady by my freak.'
'My father kens pretty well wha is riding in his companie,' said David.
'Ay, but he is not bound to ken.'
'And thou winna write to the Yerl, as ye said ye would when ye were ower the Border? There's a clerk o' the Bishop of Durham ganging back, and my father is writing letters that he will send forward to the King, and thou couldst get a scart o' the pen to thy father.'
'And what wad be thought of a puir man-at-arms sending letters to the Yerl?' said George. 'Na, na; I may write when we win to France, a friendly land, but while we are in England, the loons shall make naething out of my father's son.'
'Weel, gang thine ain gait, and an unco strange one it is,' said David. 'I marvel what thou count'st on gaining by it!'
'The sicht of her at least,' said George. 'Nay, she needed a stout hand once, she may need it again.'
Whereat David waved his hands in a sort of contemptuous wonder.
'If it were the Duchess of York now!' he said. 'She is far bonnier and even prouder, gin that be what tak's your fancy! And as to our Jeanie, they are all cockering her up till she'll no be content with a king. I doot me if the Paip himself wad be good enough for her!'
It was true that the brilliant and lively Lady Joanna was in high favour with the princely gallants of the cavalcade. The only member of the party at all equal to her in beauty was the Duchess of York, who travelled in a whirlicote with her younger children and her ladies, and at the halting-places never relaxed the stiff dignity with which she treated every one. Eleanor did indeed accompany her sister, but she had not Jean's quick power of repartee, and she often answered at haphazard, and was not understood when she did reply; nor had she Jean's beauty, so that in the opinion of most of the young nobles she was but a raw, almost dumb, Scotswoman, and was left to herself as much as courtesy permitted, except by the young King of the Isle of Wight, a gentle, poetical personage, in somewhat delicate health, with tastes that made him the chosen companion of the scholarly King Henry. He could repeat a great deal of Chaucer's poetry by heart, the chief way in which people could as yet enjoy books, and there was an interchange between them of "Blind Harry "and of the "Canterbury Tales", as they rode side by side, sometimes making their companions laugh, and wonder that the youthful queen was not jealous. Dame Lilias found her congenial companion in the Countess Alice of Salisbury, who could talk with her of that golden age of the two kings, Henry and James, of her brother Malcolm, and of Esclairmonde de Luxembourg, now Sister Clare, whom they hoped soon to see in the sisterhood of St. Katharine's.
'Hers hath been the happy course, the blessed dedication,' said Countess Alice.
'We have both been blessed too, thanks to the saints,' returned Lilias.
'That is indeed sooth,' replied the other lady. 'My lord hath ever been most good to me, and I have had joy of my sons. Yet there is much that my mind forbodes and shrinks back from in dread, as I watch my son Richard's overmastering spirit.'
'The Cardinal and the Duke of Gloucester have long been at strife, as we heard,' said Lady Drummond, 'but sure that will be appeased now that the Cardinal is an old man and your King come to years of discretion.'
'The King is a sweet youth, a very saint already,' replied the Countess, 'but I misdoubt whether he have the stout heart and strong hand of his father, and he is set on peace.'
'Peace is to be followed,' said Lilias, amazed at the tone in which her friend mentioned it.
'Peace at home! Ay, but peace at home is only to be had by war abroad. Peace abroad without honour only leaves these fiery spirits to fume, and fly at one another's throats, or at those who wrought it. My mind misgives me, mine old friend, lest wrangling lead to blows. I had rather see my Richard spurring against the French than against his cousins of Somerset, and while they advance themselves and claim to be nearer in blood to the King than our good host of York, so long will there be cause of bitterness.'
'Our kindly host seems to wish evil to no man.'
'Nay, he is content enough, but my sister his wife, and alas! my son, cannot let him forget that after the Duke of Gloucester he is highest in the direct male line to King Edward of Windsor, and in the female line stands nearer than this present King.'
'In Scotland he would not forget that his father suffered for that very cause.'
'Ah, Lilias, thou hast seen enow of what such blood-feuds work in Scotland to know how much I dread and how I pray they may never awaken here. The blessed King Harry of Monmouth kept them down by the strong hand, while he won all hearts to himself. It is my prayer that his young son may do the like, and that my Lord of York be not fretted out of his peaceful loyalty by the Somerset "outrecuidance", and above all that my own son be not the make-bate; but Richard is proud and fiery, and I fear--I greatly fear, what may be in store for us.'
Lilias thought of Eleanor's vision, but kept silence respecting it.
Forerunners had been sent on by the Duke of York to announce his coming, and who were in his company; and on the last stage these returned, bringing with them a couple of knights and of clerks on the part of the Cardinal of Winchester to welcome his great- nieces, whom he claimed as his guests.
'I had hoped that the ladies of Scotland would honour my poor house,' said the Duke.
'The Lord Cardinal deems it thus more fitting,' said the portly priest who acted as Beaufort's secretary, and who spoke with an authority that chafed the Duke.
Richard Nevil rode up to him and muttered--'He hath divined our purpose, and means to cross it.'
The clerk, however, spoke with Sir Patrick, and in a manner took possession of the young ladies. They were riding between walled courts, substantially built, with intervals of fields and woods, or sometimes indeed of morass; for London was still an island in the middle of swamps, with the great causeways of the old Roman times leading to it. The spire of St. Paul's and the square keep of the Tower had been pointed out to them, and Jean exclaimed--
'My certie, it is a braw toon!'
But Eleanor, on her side, exclaimed--
''Tis but a flat! Mine eye wearies for the sea; ay, and for Arthur's Seat and the Castle! Oh, I wadna gie Embro' for forty of sic toons!'
Perhaps Jean had guessed enough to make her look on London with an eye of possession, for her answer was--
'Hear till her; and she was the first to cry out upon Embro' for a place of reivers and land-loupers, and to want to leave it.'
There was so much that was new and wonderful that the sisters pursued the question no further. They saw the masts of the shipping in the Thames, and what seemed to them a throng of church towers and spires; while, nearer, the road began to be full of market-folk, the women in hoods and mantles and short petticoats, the men in long frocks, such as their Saxon forefathers had worn, driving the rough ponies or donkeys that had brought in their produce. There were begging friars in cowl and frock, and beggars, not friars, with crutch and bowl; there were gleemen and tumbling women, solid tradesfolk going out to the country farms they loved, troops of 'prentices on their way to practice with the bow or cudgel, and parties of gaily- coloured nobles, knights, squires, and burgesses, coming, like their own party, to the meeting of Parliament.
There were continual greetings, the Duke of York showing himself most markedly courteous to all, his dark head being almost continuously uncovered, and bending to his saddle-bow in response to the salutations that met him; and friendly inquiries and answers being often exchanged. The Earl of Salisbury and his son were almost equally courteous; but in the midst of all the interest of these greetings, soon after entering the city at Bishopsgate, the clerk caused the two Scottish sisters to draw up at an arched gateway in a solid- looking wall, saying that it was here that my Lord Cardinal wished his royal kinswomen to be received, at the Priory of St. Helen's. A hooded lay-sister looked out at a wicket, and on his speaking to her, proceeded to unbar the great gates, while the Duke of York took leave in a more than kindly manner, declaring that they would meet again, and that he knew 'My Lady of St. Helen's would make them good cheer.'
Indeed, he himself and the King of Wight rode into the outer court, and lifted the two ladies down from horseback, at the inner gate, beyond which they might not go. Jean, crossed now for the first time since she had left home, was in tears of vexation, and could hardly control her voice to respond to his words, muttering--
'As if I looked for this. Beshrew the old priest!'
None but female attendants could be admitted. Sir Patrick, with his sons and the rest of the train, was to be lodged at the great palace of the Bishop of Winchester at Southwark, and as he came up to take leave of Jean, she said, with a stamp of her foot and a clench of her hand--
'Let my uncle know that I am no cloister-bird to be mewed up here. I demand to be with the friends I have made, and who have bidden me.'
Shrewd Sir Patrick smiled a little as he said--
'I will tell the Lord Cardinal what you say, lady; but methinks you will find that submission to him with a good grace carries you farther here than does ill-humour.'
He said something of the same kind to his wife as he took leave of her, well knowing who were predominant with the King, and who were in opposition, the only link being the King of Wight, or rather Earl of Warwick, who, as the son of Henry's guardian, had been bred up in the closest intimacy with the monarch, and, indeed, had been invested with his fantastic sovereignty that he might be treated as a brother and on an equality.
Jean, however, remained very angry and discontented. After her neglected and oppressed younger days, the courtesy and admiration she had received for the last ten days had the effect of making her like a spoilt child; and when they entered the inner cloistered court within, and were met by the Lady Prioress, at the head of all her sisters in black dresses, she hardly vouchsafed an inclination of the head in reply to the graceful and courtly welcome with which the princesses, nieces to the great Cardinal, were received. Eleanor, usually in the background, was left in surprise and confusion to stammer out thanks in broad Scotch, seconded by Lady Drummond, who could make herself far more intelligible to these south-country ears.
There was a beautiful cloister, a double walk with clustered columns running down the centre and a vaulted roof, and with a fountain in the midst of the quadrangle. There was a chapel on one side, the buildings of the Priory on the others. It was only a Priory, for the parent Abbey was in the country; but the Prioress was a noble lady of the house of Stafford, a small personage as to stature, but thoroughly alert and business-like, and, in fact, the moving spring, not only of the actual house, but of the parent Abbey, manager of the property it possessed in the city, and of all its monastic politics.
Without apparent offence, she observed that no doubt the ladies were weary, and that Sister Mabel should conduct them to the guest-chamber. Accordingly one of the black figures led the way, and as soon as they were beyond ear-shot there were observations that would not have gratified Jean.
'The ill-nurtured Scots!' cried one young nun. ''Tis ever the way with them,' returned a much older one. 'I mind when one was captive in my father's castle who was a mere clown, and drank up the water that was meant to wash his fingers after meat. The guest-chamber will need a cleaning after they are gone!'
'Methinks it was less lack of manners than lack of temper,' said the Prioress. 'She hath the Beaufort face and the Beaufort spirit.'
The chapel bell began to ring, and the black veils and white filed in long procession to the pointed doorway, while the two Scottish damsels, with Lady Drummond, her daughter, and Christie, were conducted to three chambers looking out on the one side on the cloistered court, on the other over a choicely- kept garden, walled in, but planted with trees shading the turf walks. The rooms were, as Sister Mabel explained with some complacency, reserved for the lodging of the noble ladies who came to London as guests of my Lord Cardinal, or with petitions to the King; and certainly there was nothing of asceticism about them; but they were an advance even on those at Fotheringay. St. Helena discovering the Cross was carved over the ample chimney, and the hangings were of Spanish leather, with all the wondrous history of Santiago's relics, including the miracle of the cock and hen, embossed and gilt upon them. There was a Venetian mirror, in which the ladies saw more of themselves than they had ever done before, and with exquisite work around; there were carved chests inlaid with ivory, and cushions, perfect marvels of needlework, as were the curtains and coverlets of the mighty bed, and the screens to be arranged for privacy. There were toilette vessels of beautifully shaped and brightly polished brass, and on a silver salver was a refection of manchet bread, comfits, dried cherries, and wine.
Sister Mabel explained that a lay-sister would be at hand, in case anything was needed by the noble ladies, and then hurried away to vespers.
Jean threw herself upon the cross-legged chair that stood nearest.
'A nunnery forsooth! Does our uncle trow that is what I came here for? We have had enow of nunneries at home.'
'Oh, fie for shame, Jeanie!' cried Eleanor.
''Twas thou that saidst it,' returned Jean. 'Thou saidst thou hadst no call to the veil, and gin my Lord trows that we shall thole to be shut up here, he will find himself in the wrong.'
'Lassie, lassie,' exclaimed Lady Drummond, 'what ails ye? This is but a lodging, and sic a braw chamber as ye hae scarce seen before. Would you have your uncle lodge ye among all his priests and clerks? Scarce the place for douce maidens, I trow.'
'Leddy of Glenuskie, ye're not sae sib to the bluid royal of Scotland as to speak thus! Lassie indeed!'
Again Eleanor remonstrated. 'Jeanie, to speak thus to our gude kinswoman!'
'I would have all about me ken their place, and what fits them,' said the haughty young lady, partly out of ill-temper and disappointment, partly in imitation of the demeanour of Duchess Cicely. 'As to the Cardinal, I would have him bear in mind that we are a king's own daughters, and he is at best but the grandson of a king! And if he deems that he has a right to shut us up here out of sight of the King and his court, lest we should cross his rule over his King and disturb his French policy and craft, there are those that will gar him ken better!'
'Some one else will ken better,' quietly observed Dame Lilias. 'Gin ye be no clean daft, Leddy Joanna, since naething else will serve ye, canna ye see that to strive with the Cardinal is the worst gait to win his favour with the King, gin that be what ye be set upon?'
'There be others that can deal with the King, forbye the Cardinal,' said Jean, tossing her head.
Just then arrived a sister, sent by the Mother Prioress, to invite the ladies to supper in her own apartments.
Her respectful manner so far pacified Jean's ill-humour that a civil reply was returned; the young ladies bestirred themselves to make preparations, though Jean grumbled at the trouble for 'a pack of womenfolk'--and supposed they were to make a meal of dried peas and red herrings, like their last on Lammermuir.
It was a surprise to be conducted, not to the refectory, where all the nuns took their meal together, but to a small room opening into the cloister on one side, and with a window embowered in vines on the other, looking into the garden. It was by no means bare, like the typical cells of strict convents. The Mother, Margaret Stafford, was a great lady, and the Benedictines of the old foundation of St. Helen's in the midst of the capital were indeed respectable and respected, but very far from strict observers of their rule--and St. Helen's was so much influenced by the wealth and display of the city that the nuns, many of whom were these great merchants' daughters, would have been surprised to be told that they had departed from Benedictine simplicity. So the Prioress's chamber was tapestried above with St. Helena's life, and below was enclosed with drapery panels. It was strewed with sweet fresh rushes, and had three cross-legged chairs, besides several stools; the table, as usual upon trestles, was provided with delicate napery, and there was a dainty perfume about the whole; a beautiful crucifix of ivory and ebony, with images of Our Lady and St. John on either side, and another figure of St. Helena, cross in hand, presiding over the holy water stoup, were the most ecclesiastical things in the garniture, except the exquisitely illuminated breviary that lay open upon a desk.
Mother Margaret rose to receive her guests with as much dignity as Jean herself could have shown, and made them welcome to her poor house, hoping that they would there find things to their mind.
Something restrained Jean from bursting out with her petulant complaint, and it was Eleanor who replied with warm thanks. 'My Lord Cardinal would come to visit them on the morn,' the Prioress said; 'and in the meantime, she hoped,' looking at Jean, 'they would condescend to the hospitality of the poor daughters of St. Helen.'
The hospitality, as brought in by two plump, well-fed lay- sisters, consisted of 'chickens in cretyne,' stewed in milk, seasoned with sugar, coloured with saffron, of potage of oysters, butter of almond-milk, and other delicate meats, such as had certainly never been tasted at Stirling or Dunbar. Lady Drummond's birth entitled her and Annis to sit at table with the Princesses and the Prioress, and she ventured to inquire after Esclairmonde de Luxembourg, or, as she was now called, Sister Clare of St. Katharine's.
'I see her at times. She is the head of the sisters,' said the Prioress; 'but we have few dealings with uncloistered sisters.'
'They do a holy work,' observed Lady Lilias.
'None ever blamed the Benedictines for lack of alms-deeds,' returned the Prioress haughtily, scarcely attending to the guest's disclaimer. 'Nor do I deem it befitting that instead of the poor coming to us our sisters should run about to all the foulest hovels of the Docks, encountering men continually, and those of the rudest sort.'
'Yet there are calls and vocations for all,' ventured Lady Drummond. 'And the sick are brethren in need.'
'Let them send to us for succour then,' answered Mother Margaret. 'I grant that it is well that some one should tend them in their huts, but such tasks are for sisters of low birth and breeding. Mine are ladies of noble rank, though I do admit daughters of Lord Mayors and Aldermen.'
'Our Saint Margaret was a queen, Reverend Mother,' put in Eleanor.
'She was no nun, saving your Grace,' said the Prioress. 'What I speak of is that which beseems a daughter of St. Bennet, of an ancient and royal foundation! The saving of the soul is so much harder to the worldly life, specially to a queen, that it is no marvel if she has to abase herself more--even to the washing of lepers--than is needful to a vowed and cloistered sister.'
It was an odd theory, that this Benedictine seclusion saved trouble, as being actually the strait course; but the young maidens were not scholars enough to question it, and Dame Lilias, though she had learnt more from her brother and her friend, would have deemed it presumptuous to dispute with a Reverend Mother. So only Eleanor murmured, 'The holy Margaret no saint'--and Jean, 'Weel, I had liefer take my chance.'
'All have not a vocation,' piously said the Mother. 'Taste this Rose Dalmoyne, Madame; our lay-sister Mold is famed for making it. An alderman of the Fishmongers' Company sent to beg that his cook might know the secret, but that was not to be lightly parted with, so we only send them a dish for their banquets.'
Rose Dalmoyne was chiefly of peas, flavoured with almonds and milk, but the guests grew weary of the varieties of delicacies, and were very glad when the tables were removed, and Eleanor asked permission to look at the illuminations in the breviary on the desk.
And exquisite they were. The book had been brought from Italy and presented to the Prioress by a merchant who wished to place his daughter in St. Helen's, and the beauty was unspeakable. There were natural flowers painted so perfectly that the scattered violets seemed to invite the hand to lift them up from their gold-besprinkled bed, and flies and beetles that Eleanor actually attempted to drive away; and at all the greater holy days, the type and the antitype covering the two whole opposite pages were represented in the admirable art and pure colouring of the early Cinquecento.
Eleanor and Annis were entranced, and the Prioress, seeing that books had an attraction for her younger guest, promised her on the morrow a sight of some of the metrical lives of the saints, especially of St. Katharine and of St. Cecilia. It must be owned that Jean was not fretted as she expected by chapel bells in the middle of the night, nor was even Lady Drummond summoned by them as she intended, but there was a conglomeration of the night services in the morning, with beautiful singing, that delighted Eleanor, and the festival mass ensuing was also more ornate than anything to be seen in Scotland. And that the extensive almsgiving had not been a vain boast was evident from the swarms of poor of all kinds who congregated in the outer court for the attention of the Sisters Almoner and Infirmarer, attended by two or three novices and some lay-sisters.
There were genuine poor, ragged forlorn women, and barefooted, almost naked children, and also sturdy beggars, pilgrims and palmers on their way to various shrines, north or south, and many more for whom a dole of broth or bread sufficed; but there were also others with heads or limbs tied up, sometimes injured in the many street fights, but oftener with the terrible sores only too common from the squalid habits and want of vegetable diet of the poor. These were all attended to with a tenderness and patience that spoke well for the charity of Sister Anne and her assistants, and indeed before long Dame Lilias perceived that, however slack and easy-going the general habits might be, there were truly meek and saintly women among the sisterhood.
The morning was not far advanced before a lay-sister came hurrying in from the portress's wicket to announce that my Lord Cardinal was on his way to visit the ladies of Scotland. There was great commotion. Mother Margaret summoned all her nuns and drew them up in state, and Sister Mabel, who carried the tidings to the guests, asked whether they would not join in receiving him.
'We are king's daughters,' said Jean haughtily.
'But he is a Prince of the Church and an aged man,' said Lady Drummond, who had already risen, and was adjusting that headgear of Eleanor's that never would stay in its place. And her matronly voice acted upon Jean, so as to conquer the petulant pride, enough to make her remember that the Lady of Glenuskie was herself a Stewart and king's grandchild, and moreover knew more of courts and their habits than herself.
So down they went together, in time to join the Prioress on the steps, as the attendants of the great stately, princely Cardinal Bishop began to appear. He did not come in state, so that he had only half a dozen clerks and as many gentlemen in attendance, together with Sir Patrick and his two sons.
Few of the Plantagenet family had been long-lived, and Cardinal Beaufort was almost a marvel in the family at seventy. Much evil has been said and written of him, and there is no doubt that he was one of those mediaeval prelates who ought to have been warriors or statesmen, and that he had been no model for the Episcopacy in his youth. But though far from having been a saint, it would seem that his unpopularity in his old age was chiefly incurred by his desire to put an end to the long and miserable war with France, and by his opposition to a much worse man, the Duke of Gloucester, whose plausible murmurs and amiable manners made him a general favourite. At this period of his life the old man had lived past his political ambitions, and his chief desire was to leave the gentle young king freed from the wasting war by a permanent peace, to be secured by a marriage with a near connection of the French monarch, and daughter to the most honourable and accomplished Prince in Europe. That his measures turned out wretchedly has been charged upon his memory, and he has been supposed guilty of a murder, of which he was certainly innocent, and which probably was no murder at all.
He had become a very grand and venerable old man, when old men were scarce, and his white hair and beard (a survival of the customs of the days of Edward III) contrasted well with his scarlet hat and cape, as he came slowly into the cloistered court on his large sober-paced Spanish mule; a knight and the chaplain of the convent assisted him from it, and the whole troop of the convent knelt as he lifted his fingers to bestow his blessing, Jean casting a quick glance around to satisfy her proud spirit. The Prioress then kissed his hand, but he raised and kissed the cheeks of his two grand-nieces, after which he moved on to the Prioress's chamber, and there, after being installed in her large chair, and waving to the four favoured inmates to be also seated, he looked critically at the two sisters, and observed, 'So, maidens! one favours the mother, the other the father! Poor Joan, it is two-and-twenty years since we bade her good-speed, she and her young king--who behoved to be a minstrel--on her way to her kingdom, as if it were the land of Cockayne, for picking up gold and silver. Little of that she found, I trow, poor wench. Alack! it was a sore life we sent her to. And you are mourning her freshly, my maidens! I trust she died at peace with God and man.'
'That reiver, Patrick Hepburn, let the priest from Haddington come to assoilzie and housel her,' responded Jean.
'Ah! Masses shall be said for her by my bedesmen at St. Cross, and at all my churches,' said the Cardinal, crossing himself. 'And you are on your way to your sister, the Dolfine, as your knight tells me. It is well. You may be worthily wedded in France, and I will take order for your safe going. Meantime, this is a house where you may well serve your poor mother's soul by prayers and masses, and likewise perfect yourselves in French.'
This was not at all what Jean had intended, and she pouted a little, while the Cardinal asked, changing his language, 'Ces donzelles, ont elles appris le Francais?'
Jean, who had tried to let Father Romuald teach her a little in conversation during the first part of the journey, but who had dropped the notion since other ideas had been inspired at Fotheringay, could not understand, and pouted the more; but Eleanor, who had been interested, and tried more in earnest, for Margaret's sake, answered diffidently and blushing deeply, 'Un petit peu, beau Sire Oncle.'
He smiled, and said, 'You can be well instructed here. The Reverend Mother hath sisters here who can both speak and write French of Paris.'
'That have I truly, my good Lord,' replied the Prioress. 'Sisters Isabel and Beata spent their younger days, the one at Rouen, the other at Bordeaux, and have learned many young ladies in the true speaking of the French tongue.'
'It is well!' said the Cardinal, 'my fair nieces will have good leisure. While sharing the orisons that I will institute for the repose of your mother, you can also be taught the French.'
Jean could not help speaking now, so far was this from all her hopes. 'Sir, sir, the Duke and Duchess of York, and the Countess of Salisbury, and the Queen of the Isle of Wight all bade us to be their guests.'
'They could haply not have been aware of your dool,' said the Cardinal gravely.
'But, my Lord, our mother hath been dead since before Martinmas,' exclaimed Jean.
'I know not what customs of dool be thought befitting in a land like Scotland,' said the Cardinal, in such a repressive manner that Jean was only withheld by awe from bursting into tears of disappointment and anger at the slight to her country.
Lady Drummond ventured to speak. 'Alack, my Lord,' she said, 'my poor Queen died in the hands of a freebooter, leaving her daughters in such stress and peril that they had woe enough for themselves, till their brother the King came to their rescue.'
'The more need that they should fulfil all that may be done for the grace of her soul,' replied the uncle; but just at this crisis of Jean's mortification there was a knocking at the door, and a sister breathlessly entreated--
'Pardon! Merci! My Lord, my Lady Mother! Here's the King, the King himself--and the King and Queen of the Isle of Wight asking licence to enter to visit the ladies of Scotland.'
Kings were always held to be free to enter anywhere, even far more dangerous monarchs than the pious Henry VI. Jean's heart bounded up again, with a sense of exultation over the old uncle, as the Prioress went out to receive her new guest, and the Cardinal emitted a sort of grunting sigh, without troubling himself to go out to meet the youth, whom he had governed from babyhood, and in whose own name he had, as one of the council, given permission for wholesome chastisements of the royal person.
King Henry entered. He was then twenty-four years old, tall, graceful, and with beautiful features and complexion, almost feminine in their delicacy, and with a wonderful purity and sweetness in the expression of the mouth and blue eyes, so that he struck Eleanor as resembling the angels in the illuminations that she had been studying, as he removed his dark green velvet jewelled cap on entering, and gave a cousinly, respectful kiss lightly to each of the young ladies on her cheek, somewhat as if he were afraid of them. Then after greeting the Cardinal, who had risen on his entrance, he said that, hearing that his fair cousins were arrived, he had come to welcome them, and to entreat them to let him do them such honour as was possible in a court without a queen.
'The which lack will soon be remedied,' put in his grand-uncle.
'Truly you are in holy keeping here,' said the pious young King, crossing himself, 'but I trust, my sweet cousins, that you will favour my poor house at Westminster with your presence at a supper, and share such entertainment as is in our power to provide.'
'My nieces are keeping their mourning for their mother, from which they have hitherto been hindered by the tumults of their kingdom,' said the Cardinal.
'Ah!' said the King, crossing himself, and instantly moved, 'far be it from me to break into their holy retirement for such a purpose.' (Jean could have bitten the Cardinal.) 'But I will take order with my Lord Abbot of Westminster for a grand requiem mass for the good Queen Joanna, at which they will, I trust, be present, and they will honour my poor table afterwards.'
To refuse this was quite impossible, and the day was to be fixed after reference to the Abbess. Meantime the King's eye was caught by the illuminated breviary. He was a connoisseur in such arts, and eagerly stood up to look at it as it lay on the desk. Eleanor could not but come and direct him to the pages with which she had been most delighted. She found him looking at Jacob's dream on the one side, the Ascension on the other.
'How marvellous it is!' she said. 'It is like the very light from the sky!'
'Light from heaven,' said the King; 'Jacob has found it among the stones. Wandering and homelessness are his first step in the ladder to heaven!'
'Ah, sir, did you say that to comfort and hearten us?' said Eleanor.
There was a strange look in the startled blue eyes that met hers. 'Nay, truly, lady, I presumed not so far! I was but wondering whether those who are born to have all the world are in the way of the stair to heaven.'
Meantime the King of Wight had made his request for the presence of the ladies at a supper at Warwick House, and Jean, clasping her hands, implored her uncle to consent.
'I am sure our mother cannot be the better for our being thus mewed up,' she cried, 'and I'll rise at prime, and tell my beads for her.'
She looked so pretty and imploring that the old man's heart was melted, all the more that the King was paying more attention to the book and the far less beautiful Eleanor, than to her and the invitation was accepted.
The convent bell rang for nones, and the King joined the devotions of the nuns, though he was not admitted within the choir; and just as these were over, the Countess of Salisbury arrived to take the Lady of Glenuskie to see their old friend, the Mother Clare at St. Katharine's, bringing a sober palfrey for her conveyance.
'A holy woman, full of alms-deeds,' said the King. 'The lady is happy in her friendship.'
Which words were worth much to Lady Drummond, for the Prioress sent a lay-sister to invite Mother Clare to a refection at the convent.