'I know no remedy,' said Sidney, gravely, 'save the two enchanted founts of love and hate. They cannot be far away, since it was at the siege of Paris that Rinaldo and Orlando drank thereof.'
Another question that Berenger would fain have asked Sidney, but could not for very shame and dread of mockery, was, whether he himself were so dangerously handsome as the lady had given him to understand. With a sense of shame, he caught up the little mirror in his casket, and could not but allow to himself that the features he there saw were symmetrical—the eyes azure, the complexion of a delicate fairness, such as he had not seen equaled, except in those splendid Lorraine princes; nor could he judge of the further effect of his open-faced frank simplicity and sweetness of expression—contemptible, perhaps, to the astute, but most winning to the world-weary. He shook his head at the fair reflection, smiled as he saw the colour rising at his own sensation of being a fool, and then threw it aside, vexed with himself for being unable not to feel attracted by the first woman who had shown herself struck by his personal graces, and yet aware that this was the very thing he had been warned against, and determined to make all the resistance in his power to a creature whose very beauty and enchantment gave him a sense of discomfort.
CHAPTER V. THE CONVENT BIRD
Young knight, whatever that dost armes professe, And through long labours huntest after fame, Beware of fraud, beware of ficklenesse, In choice and change of thy beloved dame. Spenser, FAERY QUEENE
Berenger' mind was relieved, even while his vanity was mortified, when the Chevalier and his son came the next day to bring him the formal letter requesting the Pope's annulment of his marriage. After he had signed it, it was to be taken to Eustacie, and so soon as he should attain his twenty-first year he was to dispose of Chateau Leurre, as well as of his claim to the ancestral castle in Picardy, to his cousin Narcisse, and thus become entirely free to transfer his allegiance to the Queen of England.
It was a very good thing—that he well knew; and he had a strong sense of virtue and obedience, as he formed with his pen the words in all their fullness, Henri Beranger Eustache, Baron de Ribaumont et Seigneur de Leurre. He could not help wondering whether the lady who looked at him so admiringly really preferred such a mean-looking little fop as Narcisse, whether she were afraid of his English home and breeding, or whether all this open coquetry were really the court manners of ladies towards gentlemen, and he had been an absolute simpleton to be flattered. Any way, she would have been a most undesirable wife, and he was well quit of her; but he did feel a certain lurking desire that, since the bonds were cut and he was no longer in danger from her, he might see her again, carry home a mental inventory of the splendid beauties he had renounced, and decide what was the motive that actuated her in rejecting his own handsome self. Meantime, he proceeded to enjoy the amusements and advantage of his sojourn at Paris, of which by no means the least was the society of Philip Sidney, and the charm his brilliant genius imparted to every pursuit they shared. Books at the University, fencing and dancing from the best professors, Italian poetry, French sonnets, Latin epigrams; nothing came amiss to Sidney, the flower of English youth: and Berenger had taste, intelligence, and cultivation enough to enter into all in which Sidney led the way. The good tutor, after all his miseries on the journey, was delighted to write to Lord Walwyn, that, far from being a risk and temptation, this visit was a school in all that was virtuous and comely.
If the good man had any cause of dissatisfaction, it was with the Calvinistic tendencies of the Ambassador's household. Walsingham was always on the Puritanical side of Elizabeth's court, and such an atmosphere as that of Paris, where the Roman Catholic system was at that time showing more corruption than it has ever done before or since in any other place, naturally threw him into sympathy with the Reformed. The reaction that half a century later filled the Gallican Church with saintliness had not set in; her ecclesiastics were the tools of a wicked and bloodthirsty court, who hated virtue as much as schism in the men whom they persecuted. The Huguenots were for the most part men whose instincts for truth and virtue had recoiled from the popular system, and thus it was indeed as if piety and morality were arrayed on one side, and superstition and debauchery on the other. Mr. Adderley thus found the tone of the Ambassador's chaplain that of far more complete fellowship with the Reformed pastors than he himself was disposed to admit. There were a large number of these gathered at Paris; for the lull in persecution that had followed the battle of Moncontour had given hopes of a final accommodation between the two parties, and many had come up to consult with the numerous lay nobility who had congregated to witness the King of Navarre's wedding. Among them, Berenger met his father's old friend Isaac Gardon, who had come to Paris for the purpose of giving his only surviving son in marriage to the daughter of a watchmaker to whom he had for many years been betrothed. By him the youth, with his innocent face and gracious respectful manners, was watched with delight, as fulfilling the fairest hopes of the poor Baron, but the old minister would have been sorely disappointed had he known how little Berenger felt inclined towards his party.
The royal one of course Berenger could not love, but the rigid bareness, and, as he thought, irreverence of the Calvinist, and the want of all forms, jarred upon one used to a ritual which retained much of the ancient form. In the early years of Elizabeth, every possible diversity prevailed in parish churches, according to the predilections of rector and squire; from forms scarcely altered from those of old times, down to the baldest, rudest neglect of all rites; and Berenger, in his country home, had been used to the first extreme. He could not believe that what he heard and saw among the Sacrementaires, as they were called, was what his father had prized; and he greatly scandalized Sidney, the pupil of Hubert Languet, by openly expressing his distaste and dismay when he found their worship viewed by both Walsingham and Sidney as a model to which the English Protestants ought to be brought.
However, Sidney excused all this as more boyish distaste to sermons and love of externals, and Berenger himself reflected little on the subject. The aspect of the venerable Coligny, his father's friend, did far more towards making him a Huguenot than any discussion of doctrine. The good old Admiral received him affectionately, and talked to him warmly of his father, and the grave, noble countenance and kind manner won his heart. Great projects were on foot, and were much relished by the young King, for raising an army and striking a blow at Spain by aiding the Reformed in the Netherlands; and Coligny was as ardent as a youth in the cause, hoping at once to aid his brethren, to free the young King from evil influences, and to strike one good stroke against the old national enemy. He talked eagerly to Sidney of alliances with England, and then lamented over the loss of so promising a youth as young Ribaumont to the Reformed cause in France. If the marriage with the heiress could have taken effect, he would have obtained estates near enough to some of the main Huguenot strongholds to be very important, and these would now remain under the power of Narcisse de Ribaumont, a determined ally of the Guise faction. It was a pity, but the Admiral could not blame the youth for obeying the wish of his guardian grandfather; and he owned, with a sigh, that England was a more peaceful land than his own beloved country. Berenger was a little nettled at this implication, and began to talk of joining the French standard in a campaign in their present home and described the conversation, Walsingham said,—
'The Admiral's favourite project! He would do wisely not to brag of it so openly. The King of Spain has too many in his interest in this place not to be warned, and to be thus further egged on to compass the ruin of Coligny.'
'I should have thought,' said Sidney. 'that nothing could add to his hatred of the Reformed.'
'Scarcely,' said Walsingham; 'save that it is they who hinder the Duke of Guise from being a good Frenchman, and a foe to Spain.'
Politics had not developed themselves in Berenger's mind, and he listened inattentively while Walsingham talked over with Sidney the state of parties in France, where natural national enmity to Spain was balanced by the need felt by the Queen-mother of the support of that great Roman Catholic power against the Huguenots; whom Walsingham believed her to dread and hate less for their own sake than from the fear of loss of influence over her son. He believed Charles IX. himself to have much leaning towards the Reformed, but the late victories has thrown the whole court entirely into the power of the Guises, the truly unscrupulous partisans of Rome. They were further inflamed against the Huguenots by the assassination of the last Duke of Guise, and by the violences that had been committed by some of the Reformed party, in especial a massacre of prisoners at Nerac.
Sidney exclaimed that the Huguenots had suffered far worse cruelties.
'That is true,' replied Sir Francis, 'but, my young friend, you will find, in all matters of reprisals, that a party has no memory for what it may commit, only for what it may receive.'
The conversation was interrupted by an invitation to the Ambassador's family and guests to a tilting-match and subsequent ball at the Louvre. In the first Berenger did his part with credit; to the second he went feeling full of that strange attraction of repulsion. He knew gentlemen enough in Coligny's suite for it to be likely that he might remain unperceived among them, and he knew this would be prudent, but he found himself unexpectedly near the ranks of ladies, and smile and gesture absolutely drew him towards his semi-spouse, so that he had no alternative but to lead her out to dance.
The stately measure was trod in silence as usual, but he felt the dark eyes studying him all the time. However, he could bear it better now that the deed was done, and she had voluntarily made him less to her than any gallant parading or mincing about the room.
'So you bear the pearls, sir?' she said, as the dance finished.
'The only heirloom I shall take with me,' he said.
'Is a look at them too great a favour to ask from their jealous guardian?' she asked.
He smiled, half ashamed of his own annoyance at being obliged to place them in her hands. He was sure she would try to cajole him out of them, and by way of asserting his property in them he did not detach them from the band of his black velvet cap, but gave it with them into her hand. She looked at each one, and counted them wistfully.
'Seventeen!' she said;' and how beautiful! I never saw them so near before. They are so becoming to that fair cheek that I suppose no offer from my—my uncle, on our behalf, would induce you to part with them?'
An impulse of open-handed gallantry would have made him answer, 'No offer from your uncle, but a simple request from you;' but he thought in time of the absurdity of returning without them, and merely answered, 'I have no right to yield them, fair lady. They are the witness to my forefather's fame and prowess.'
'Yes, sir, and to those of mine also,' she replied. 'And you would take them over to the enemy from whom that prowess extorted them?'
'The country which honoured and rewarded that prowess!' replied Berenger.
She looked at him with an interrogative glance of surprise at the readiness of his answer; then, with half a sigh, said, 'There are your pearls, sir; I cannot establish our right, though I verily believe it was the cause of our last quarrel;' and she smiled archly.
'I believe it was,' he said, gravely; but added, in the moment of relief at recovering the precious heirloom, 'though it was Diane who inspired you to seize upon them.'
'Ah! poor Diane! you sometimes recollect her then? If I remember right, you used to agree with her better than with your little spouse, cousin!'
'If I quarrelled with her less, I liked her less,' answered Berenger—who, since the act of separation, had not been so guarded in his demeanour, and began to give way to his natural frankness.
'Indeed! Diane would be less gratified than I ought to be. And why, may I ask?'
'Diane was more caressing, but she had no truth.'
'Truth! that was what feu M. le Baron ever talked of; what Huguenots weary one with.'
'And the only thing worth seeking, the real pearl,' said Berenger, 'without which all else is worthless.'
'Ah!' she said, 'who would have thought that soft, youthful face could be so severe! You would never forgive a deceit?'
'Never,' he said, with the crystal hardness of youth; 'or rather I might forgive; I could never esteem.'
'What a bare, rude world yours must be,' she said, shivering. 'And no weak ones in it! Only the strong can dare to be true.'
'Truth is strength!' said Berenger. 'For example: I see yonder a face without bodily strength, perhaps, but with perfect candour.'
'Ah! some Huguenot girl of Madame Catherine's, no doubt—from the depths of Languedoc, and dressed like a fright.'
'No, no; the young girl behind the pale, yellow-haired lady.'
'Comment, Monsieur. Do you not yet know the young Queen?'
'But who is the young demoiselle!—she with the superb black eyes, and the ruby rose in her black hair?'
'Take care, sir, do you not know I have still a right to be jealous?' she said, blushing, bridling, and laughing.
But this pull on the cords made him the more resolved; he would not be turned from his purpose. 'Who is she?' he repeated; 'have I ever seen her before? I am sure I remember that innocent look of espieglerie.'
'You may see it on any child's face fresh out of the convent; it does not last a month!' was the still displeased, rather jealous answer. 'That little thing—I believe they call her Nid-de-Merle—she has only just been brought from her nunnery to wait on the young Queen. Ah! your gaze was perilous, it is bringing on you one of the jests of Madame Marguerite.'
With laughter and gaiety, a troop of gentlemen descended on M. de Ribaumont, and told him that Madame Marguerite desired that he should be presented to her. The princess was standing by her pale sister-in-law, Elizabeth of Austria, who looked grave and annoyed at the mischievous mirth flashing in Marguerite's dark eyes.
'M. de Ribaumont,' said the latter, her very neck heaving with suppressed fun, 'I see I cannot do you a greater favour than by giving you Mademoiselle de Nid-de-Merle for your partner.'
Berenger was covered with confusion to find that he had been guilty of such a fixed stare as to bring all this upon the poor girl. He feared that his vague sense of recognition had made his gaze more open than he knew, and he was really and deeply ashamed of this as his worst act of provincial ill-breeding.
Poor little convent maid, with crimson cheeks, flashing eyes, panting bosom, and a neck evidently aching with proud dignity and passion, she received his low bow with a sweeping curtsey, as lofty as her little person would permit.
His cheeks burnt like fire, and he would have found words to apologize, but she cut him short by saying, hastily and low, 'Not a word, Monsieur! Let us go through it at once. No one shall make game of us.'
He hardly durst look at her again; but as he went through his own elaborate paces he knew that the little creature opposite was swimming, bending, turning, bounding with the fluttering fierceness of an angry little bird, and that the superb eyes were casting flashes on him that seemed to carry him back to days of early boyhood.
Once he caught a mortified, pleading, wistful glance that made him feel as if he had inflicted a cruel injury by his thoughtless gaze, and he resolved to plead the sense of recognition in excuse; but no sooner was the performance over than she prevented all conversation by saying, 'Lead me back at once to the Queen, sir; she is about to retire.' They were already so near that there was no time to say anything; he could only hold as lightly as possible the tiny fingers that he felt burning and quivering in his hand, and then, after bringing her to the side of the chair of state, he was forced to release her with the mere whisper of 'Pardon, Mademoiselle;' and the request was not replied to, save by the additional stateliness of her curtsey.
It was already late, and the party was breaking up; but his head and heart were still in a whirl when he found himself seated in the ambassadorial coach, hearing Lady Walsingham's well-pleased rehearsal of all the compliments she had received on the distinguished appearance of both her young guests. Sidney, as the betrothed of her daughter, was property of her own; but she also exulted in the praises of the young Lord de Ribaumont, as proving the excellence of the masters whom she had recommended to remove the rustic clownishness of which he had been accused.
'Nay,' said Sir Francis; 'whoever called him too clownish for court spake with design.'
The brief sentence added to Berenger's confused sense of being in a mist of false play. Could his kinsman be bent on keeping him from court? Could Narcisse be jealous of him? Mademoiselle de Ribaumont was evidently inclined to seek him, and her cousin might easily think her lands safer in his absence. He would have been willing to hold aloof as much as his uncle and cousin could wish, save for an angry dislike to being duped and cajoled; and, moreover, a strong curiosity to hear and see more of that little passionate bird, fresh from the convent cage. Her gesture and her eyes irresistibly carried him back to old times, though whether to an angry blackbird in the yew-tree alleys at Leurre, or to the eager face that had warned him to save his father, he could not remember with any distinctness. At any rate, he was surprised to find himself thinking so little in comparison about the splendid beauty and winning manners of his discarded spouse, though he quite believed that, now her captive was beyond her grasp, she was disposed to catch at him again, and try to retain him, or, as his titillated vanity might whisper, his personal graces might make her regret the family resolution which she had obeyed.
CHAPTER VI. FOULLY COZENED
I was the more deceived.—HAMLET
The unhappy Charles IX. had a disposition that in good hands might have achieved great nobleness; and though cruelly bound and trained to evil, was no sooner allowed to follow its natural bent than it reached out eagerly towards excellence. At this moment, it was his mother's policy to appear to leave the ascendancy to the Huguenot party, and he was therefore allowed to contract friendships which deceived the intended victims the more completely, because his admiration and attachment were spontaneous and sincere. Philip Sidney's varied accomplishment and pure lofty character greatly attracted the young King, who had leant on his arm conversing during great part of the ball, and the next morning sent a royal messenger to invite the two young gentlemen to a part at pall-mall in the Tuileries gardens.
Pall-mall was either croquet or its nearest relative, and was so much the fashion that games were given in order to keep up political influence, perhaps, because the freedom of a garden pastime among groves and bowers afforded opportunities for those seductive arts on which Queen Catherine placed so much dependence. The formal gardens, with their squares of level turf and clipped alleys, afforded excellent scope both for players and spectators, and numerous games had been set on foot, from all of which, however, Berenger contrived to exclude himself, in his restless determination to find out the little Demoiselle de Nid-de-Merle, or, at least, to discover whether any intercourse in early youth accounted for his undefined sense of remembrance.
He interrogated the first disengaged person he could find, but it was only the young Abbe de Mericour, who had been newly brought up from Dauphine by his elder brother to solicit a benefice, and who knew nobody. To him ladies were only bright phantoms such as his books had taught him to regard like the temptations of St. Anthony, but whom he actually saw treated with as free admiration by the ecclesiastic as by the layman.
Suddenly a clamour of voices arose on the other side of the closely-clipped wall of limes by which the two youths were walking. There were the clear tones of a young maiden expostulating in indignant distress, and the bantering, indolent determination of a male annoyer.
'Hark!' exclaimed Berenger; 'this must be seen to.'
'Have a care,' returned Mericour; 'I have heard that a man needs look twice are meddling.'
Scarcely hearing, Berenger strode on as he had done at the last village wake, when he had rescued Cis of the Down from the impertinence of a Dorchester scrivener. It was a like case, he saw, when breaking through the arch of clipped limed he beheld the little Demoiselle de Nid-de-Merle, driven into a corner and standing at bay, with glowing cheeks, flashing eyes, and hands clasped over her breast, while a young man, dressed in the extreme of foppery, was assuring her that she was the only lady who had not granted him a token—that he could not allow such pensionnaire airs, and that now he had caught her he would have his revenge, and win her rose-coloured break-knot. Another gentleman stood by, laughing, and keeping guard in the walk that led to the more frequented part of the gardens.
'Hold!' thundered Berenger.
The assailant had just mastered the poor girl's hand, but she took advantage of his surprise to wrench it away and gather herself up as for a spring, but the Abbe in dismay, the attendant in anger, cried out, 'Stay—it is Monsieur.'
'Monsieur; be he who he may,' exclaimed Berenger, 'no honest man can see a lady insulted.'
'Are you mad? It is Monsieur the Duke of Anjou,' said Mericour, pouncing on his arm.
'Shall we have him to the guardhouse?' added the attendant, coming up on the other side; but Henri de Valois waved them both back, and burst into a derisive laugh. 'No, no; do you not see who it is? Monsieur the English Baron still holds the end of the halter. His sale is not yet made. Come away, D'O, he will soon have enough on his hands without us. Farewell, fair lady, another time you will be free of your jealous giant.'
So saying, the Duke of Anjou strolled off, feigning indifference and contempt, and scarcely heeding that he had been traversed in one of the malicious adventures which he delighted to recount in public before the discomfited victim herself, often with shameful exaggeration.
The girl clasped her hands over her brow with a gesture of dismay, and cried, 'Oh! if you have only not touched your sword.'
'Let me have the honour of reconducting you, Mademoiselle,' said Berenger, offering his hand; but after the first sigh of relief, a tempestuous access seized her. She seemed about to dash away his hand, her bosom swelled with resentment, and with a voice striving for dignity, though choked with strangled tears, she exclaimed, 'No, indeed! Had not M. le Baron forsaken me, I had never been thus treated!' and her eyes flashed through their moisture.
'Eustacie! You are Eutacie!'
'Whom would you have me to be otherwise? I have the honour to wish M. le Baron a good morning.'
'Eustacie! Stay! Hear me! It concerns my honour. I see it is you—but whom have I seen? Who was she?' he cried, half wild with dismay and confusion. 'Was it Diane?'
'You have seen and danced with Diane de Ribaumont,' answered Eustacie, still coldly; 'but what of that? Let me go, Monsieur; you have cast me off already.'
'I! when all this has been of your own seeking?'
'Mine?' cried Eustacie, panting with the struggle between her dignity and her passionate tears. 'I meddled not. I heard that M. le Baron was gone to a strange land, and had written to break off old ties.' Her face was in a flame, and her efforts for composure absolute pain.
'I!' again exclaimed Berenger. 'The first letter came from your uncle, declaring that it was your wish!' And as her face changed rapidly, 'Then it was not true! He has not had your consent?'
'What! would I hold to one who despised me—who came here and never even asked to see this hated spouse!'
I did! I entreated to see you. I would not sign the application till—Oh, there has been treachery! And have they made you too sign it!'
When they showed me your name they were welcome to mine.'
Berenger struck his forehead with wrath and perplexity, then cried, joyfully, 'It will not stand for moment. So foul a cheat can be at once exposed. Eutacie, you know—you understand, that it was not you but Diane whom I saw and detested; and no wonder, when she was acting such a cruel treason!'
'Oh no, Diane would never so treat me,' cried Eustacie. 'I see how it was! You did not know that my father was latterly called Marquis de Nid-de-Merle, and when they brought me here, they WOULD call me after him: they said a maid of honour must be Demoiselle, and my uncle said there was only one way in which I could remain Madame de Ribaumont! And the name must have deceived you. Thou wast always a great dull boy,' she added, with a sudden assumption of childish intimacy that annihilated the nine years since their parting.
'Had I seen thee, I had not mistaken for an instant. This little face stirred my heart; hers repelled me. And she deceived me wittingly, Eustacie, for I asked after her by name.'
'Ah, she wished to spare my embarrassment. And then her brother must have dealt with her.'
'I see,' exclaimed Berenger, 'I am to be palmed off thus that thou mayest be reserved for Narcisse. Tell me, Eustacie, wast thou willing?'
'I hate Narcisse!' she cried. 'But oh, I am lingering too long. Monsieur will make some hateful tale! I never fell into his way before, my Queen and Madame la Comtesse are so careful. Only to-day, as I was attending her alone, the King came and gave her his arm, and I had to drop behind. I must find her; I shall be missed,' she added, in sudden alarm. 'Oh, what will they say?'
'No blame for being with thy husband,' he answered, clasping her hand. 'Thou art mine henceforth. I will soon cut our way out of the web thy treacherous kindred have woven. Meantime—-'
'Hush! There are voices,' cried Eustacie in terror, and, guided by something he could not discern, she fled with the swiftness of a bird down the alley. Following, with the utmost speed that might not bear the appearance of pursuit, he found that on coming to the turn she had moderated her pace, and was more tranquilly advancing to a bevy of ladies, who sat perched on the stone steps like great butterflies sunning themselves, watching the game, and receiving the attentions of their cavaliers. He saw her absorbed into the group, and then began to prowl round it, in the alleys, in a tumult of amazement and indignation. He had been shamefully deceived and cheated, and justice he would have! He had been deprived of a thing of his own, and he would assert his right. He had been made to injure and disown the creature he was bound to protect, and he must console her and compensate to her, were it only to redeem his honour. He never even thought whether he loved her; he merely felt furious at the wrong he had suffered and been made to commit, and hotly bent on recovering what belonged to him. He might even have plunged down among the ladies and claimed her as his wife, if the young Abbe de Mericour, who was two years older than he, and far less of a boy for his years, had not joined him in his agitated walk. He then learnt that all the court knew that the daughter of the late Marquis de Nid-de-Merle, Comte de Ribaumont, was called by his chief title, but that her marriage to himself had been forgotten by some and unknown to others, and thus that the first error between the cousins had not been wonderful in a stranger, since the Chevalier's daughter had always been Mdlle. de Ribaumont. The error once made, Berenger's distaste to Diane had been so convenient that it had been carefully encouraged, and the desire to keep him at a distance from court and throw him into the background was accounted for. The Abbe was almost as indignant as Berenger, and assured him both of his sympathy and his discretion.
'I see no need for discretion,' said Berenger. 'I shall claim my wife in the face of the sun.'
'Take counsel first, I entreat,' exclaimed Mericour. 'The Ribaumonts have much influence with the Guise family, and now you have offended Monsieur.'
'Ah! Where are those traitorous kinsmen?' cried Berenger.
'Fortunately all are gone on an expedition with the Queen-mother. You will have time to think. I have heard my brother say no one ever prospered who offended the meanest follower of the house of Lorraine.'
'I do not want prosperity, I only want my wife. I hope I shall never see Paris and its deceivers again.'
'Ah! But is it true that you have applied to have the marriage annulled at Rome?'
'We were both shamefully deceivers. That can be nothing.'
'A decree of his Holiness: you a Huguenot; she an heiress. All is against you. My friend, be cautions, exclaimed the young ecclesiastic, alarmed by his passionate gestures. 'To break forth now and be accused of brawling in the palace precincts would be fatal—fatal—most fatal!'
'I am as calm as possible,' returned Berenger. 'I mean to act most reasonably. I shall stand before the King and tell him openly how I have been tamperes with, demanding my wife before the whole court.'
'Long before you could get so far the ushers would have dragged you away for brawling, or for maligning an honour-able gentlemen. You would have to finish your speech in the Bastille, and it would be well if even your English friends could get you out alive.'
'Why, what a place is this!' began Berenger; but again Mericour entreated him to curb himself; and his English education had taught him to credit the house of Guide with so much mysterious power and wickedness, that he allowed himself to be silenced, and promised to take no open measures till he had consulted the Ambassador.
'He could not obtain another glimpse of Eustacie, and the hours passed tardily till the break up of the party. Charles could scarcely release Sidney from his side, and only let him go on condition that he should join the next day in an expedition to the hunting chateau of Montpipeau, to which the King seemed to look forward as a great holiday and breathing time.
When at length the two youths did return, Sir Francis Walsingham was completely surprised by the usually tractable, well-behaved stripling, whose praises he had been writing to his old friend, bursting in on him with the outcry, 'Sir, sir, I entreat your counsel! I have been foully cozened.'
'Of how much?' said Sir Francis, in a tone of reprobation.
'Of my wife. Of mine honour. Sir, your Excellency, I crave pardon, if I spoke too hotly,' said Berenger, collecting himself; 'but it is enough to drive a man to frenzy.'
'Sit down, my Lord de Ribaumont. Take breath, and let me know what is this coil. What hath thus moved him, Mr. Sidney?'
'It is as he says, sir,' replied Sidney, who had beard all as they returned; 'he has been greatly wronged. The Chevalier de Ribaumont not only writ to propose the separation without the lady's knowledge, but imposed his own daughter on our friend as the wife he had not seen since infancy.'
'There, sir,' broke forth Berenger; 'surely if I claim mine own in the face of day, no man can withhold her from me!'
'Hold!' said Sir Francis. 'What mean this passion, young sir? Methought you came hither convinced that both the religion and the habits in which the young lady had been bred up rendered your infantine contract most unsuitable. What hath fallen out to make this change in your mind?'
'That I was cheated, sir. The lady who palmed herself off on me as my wife was a mere impostor, the Chevalier's own daughter!'
'That may be; but what known you of this other lady? Has she been bred up in faith or manners such as your parents would have your wife?'
'She is my wife,' reiterated Berenger. 'My faith is plighted to her. That is enough for me.'
Sir Francis made a gesture of despair. 'He has seen her, I suppose,' said he to Sidney.
'Yes truly, sir,' answered Berenger; 'and found that she had been as greatly deceived as myself.'
'Then mutual consent is wanting,' said the statesman, gravely musing.
'That is even as I say,' began Berenger, but Walsingham help up his hand, and desired that he would make his full statement in the presence of his tutor. Then sounding a little whistle, the Ambassador despatched a page to request the attendance of Mr. Adderley, and recommended young Ribaumont in the meantime to compose himself.
Used to being under authority as Berenger was, the somewhat severe tone did much to allay his excitement, and remind him that right and reason were so entirely on his side, that he had only to be cool and rational to make them prevail. He was thus able to give a collected and coherent account of his discovery that the part of his wife had been assumed by her cousin Diane, and that the signature of both the young pair to the application to the Pope had been obtained on false pretences. That he had, as Sidney said, been foully cozened, in both senses of the word, was as clear as daylight; but he was much angered and disappointed to find that neither the Ambassador nor his tutor could see that Eustacie's worthiness was proved by the iniquity of her relation, or that any one of the weighty reasons for the expediency of dissolving the marriage was remove. The whole affair had been in such good train a little before, that Mr. Adderley was much distressed that it should thus have been crossed, and thought the new phase of affairs would be far from acceptable at Combe Walwyn.
'Whatever is just and honourable must be acceptable to my grandfather,' said Berenger.
'Even so,' said Walsingham; 'but it were well to consider whether justice and honour require you to overthrow the purpose wherewith he sent you hither.'
'Surely, sir, justice and require me to fulfil a contract to which the other party is constant,' said Berenger, feeling very wise and prudent for calling that wistful, indignant creature the other party.
'That is also true,' said the Ambassador, 'provided she be constant; but you own that she signed the requisition for the dissolution.'
'She did so, but under the same deception as myself, and further mortified and aggrieved at my seeming faithlessness.'
'So it may easily be represented,' muttered Walsingham.
'How, sir?' cried Berenger, impetuously; 'do you doubt her truth?'
'Heaven forefend,' said Sir Francis, 'that I should discuss any fair lady's sincerity! The question is how far you are bound. Have I understood you that you are veritably wedded, not by a mere contract of espousal?'
'Berenger could produce no documents, for they had been left at Chateau Leurre, and on his father's death the Chevalier had claimed the custody of them; but he remembered enough of the ceremonial to prove that the wedding had been a veritable one, and that only the papal intervention could annul it.
Indeed an Englishman, going by English law, would own no power in the Pope, nor any one on earth, to sever the sacred tie of wedlock; but French courts of law would probably ignore the mode of application, and would certainly endeavour to separate between a Catholic and a heretic.
'I am English, sir, in heart and faith,' said Berenger, earnestly. 'Look upon me as such, and tell me, am I married or single at this moment?'
'Married assuredly. More's the pity,' said Sir Francis.
'And no law of God or man divides us without our own consent.' There was no denying that the mutual consent of the young pair at their present age was all that was wanting to complete the inviolability of their marriage contract.
Berenger was indeed only eighteen, and Eustacie more than a year younger, but there was nothing in their present age to invalidate their marriage, for persons of their rank were usually wedded quite as young or younger. Walsingham was only concerned at his old friend's disappointment, and at the danger of the young man running headlong into a connection probably no more suitable than that with Diane de Ribaumont would have been. But it was not convenient to argue against the expediency of a man's loving his own wife; and when Berenger boldly declared he was not talking of love but of justice, it was only possible to insist that he should pause and see where true justice lay.
And thus the much-perplexed Ambassador broke up the conference with his hot and angry young guest.
'And Mistress Lucy—-?' sighed Mr. Adderley, in rather an inapropos fashion it must be owned; but then he had been fretted beyond endurance by his pupil striding up and down his room, reviling Diane, and describing Eustacie, while he was trying to write these uncomfortable tidings to Lord Walwyn.
'Lucy! What makes you bring her up to me?' exclaimed Berenger. 'Little Dolly would be as much to the purpose!'
'Only, sir, no resident at Hurst Walwyn could fail to know that has been planned and desired.'
'Pshaw!' cries Berenger; 'have you not heard that it was a mere figment, and that I could scarce have wedded Lucy safely, even had this matter gone as you wish? This is the luckiest chance that could have befallen her.'
'That may be,' said Mr. Adderley; 'I wish she may think so—sweet young lady!'
'I tell you, Mr. Adderley, you should know better! Lucy has more sense. My aunt, whom she follows more than any other creature, ever silenced the very sport or semblance of love passages between us even as children, by calling them unseemly in one wedded as I am. Brother and sister we have ever been, and have loved as such—ay, and shall! I know of late some schemes have crossed my mother's mind—-'
'Yea, and that of others.'
'But they have not ruffled Lucy's quiet nature—trust me! And for the rest? What doth she need me in comparison of this poor child? She—like a bit of her own gray lavender in the shadiest nook of the walled garden, tranquil there—sure not to be taken there, save to company with fine linen in some trim scented coffer, whilst this fresh glowing rosebud has grown up pure and precious in the very midst of the foulest corruption Christendom can show, and if I snatch her not from it, I, the innocence and sweetness, what is to be her fate? The very pity of a Christian, the honour of a gentleman, would urge me, even if it were not my most urgent duty!'
'Mr. Adderley argued no more. When Berenger came to his duty in the matter he was invincible, and moreover all the more provoking, because he mentioned it with a sort of fiery sound of relish, and looked so very boyish all the time. Poor Mr. Adderley!' feeling as if his trust were betrayed, loathing the very idea of a French court lady, saw that his pupil had been allured into a headlong passion to his own misery, and that of all whose hopes were set on him, yet preached to by this stripling scholar about duties and sacred obligations! Well might he rue the day he ever set foot in Paris.
Then, to his further annoyance, came a royal messenger to invite the Baron de Ribaumont to join the expedition to Montpipeau. Of course he must go, and his tutor must be left behind, and who could tell into what mischief he might not be tempted!
Here, however, Sidney gave the poor chaplain some comfort. He believed that no ladies were to be of the party, and that the gentlemen were chiefly of the King's new friends among the Huguenots, such as Coligny, his son-in-law Teligny, Rochefoucauld, and the like, among whom the young gentleman could not fall into any very serious harm, and might very possibly be influenced against a Roman Catholic wife. At any rate, he would be out of the way, and unable to take any dangerous steps.
This same consideration so annoyed Berenger that he would have declined the invitation, if royal invitations could have been declined. And in the morning, before setting out, he dressed himself point device, and with Osbert behind him marched down to the Croix de Larraine, to call upon the Chevalier de Ribaumont. He had a very fine speech at his tongue's end when he set out, but a good deal of it had evaporated when he reached the hotel, and perhaps he was not very sorry not to find the old gentleman within.
On his return, he indited a note to the Chevalier, explaining that he had now seen his wife, Madame la Baronne de Ribaumont, and had come to an understanding with her, by which he found that it was under a mistake that the application to the Pope had been signed, and that they should, therefore, follow it up with a protest, and act as if no such letter had been sent.
Berenger showed this letter to Walsingham, who, though much concerned, could not forbid his sending it. 'Poor lad,' he said to the tutor; ''tis an excellently writ billet for one so young. I would it were in a wiser cause. But he has fairly the bit between his teeth, and there is no checking him while he has this show of right on his side.'
And poor Mr. Adderley could only beseech Mr. Sidney to take care of him.
CHAPTER VII. THE QUEEN'S PASTORAL
Either very gravely gay, Or very gaily grave, —W. M. PRAED
Montpipeau, though in the present day a suburb of Paris, was in the sixteenth century far enough from the city to form a sylvan retreat, where Charles IX, could snatch a short respite from the intrigues of his court, under pretext of enjoying his favourite sport. Surrounded with his favoured associates of the Huguenot party, he seemed to breathe a purer atmosphere, and to yield himself up to enjoyment greater than perhaps his sad life had ever known.
He rode among his gentlemen, and the brilliant cavalcade passed through poplar-shaded roads, clattered through villages, and threaded their way through bits of forest still left for the royal chase. The people thronged out of their houses, and shouted not only 'Vive le Roy,' but 'Vive l'Amiral,' and more than once the cry was added, 'Spanish war, or civil war!' The heart of France was, if not with the Reformed, at least against Spain and the Lorrainers, and Sidney perceived, from the conversation of the gentlemen round him, that the present expedition had been devised less for the sake of the sport, than to enable the King to take measures for emancipating himself from the thraldom of his mother, and engaging the country in a war against Philip II. Sidney listened, but Berenger chafed, feeling only that he was being further carried out of reach of his explanation with his kindred. And thus they arrived at Montpipeau, a tower, tall and narrow, like all French designs, but expanded on the ground floor by wooden buildings capable of containing the numerous train of a royal hunter, and surrounded by an extent of waste land, without fine trees, though with covert for deer, boars, and wolves sufficient for sport to royalty and death to peasantry. Charles seemed to sit more erect in his saddle, and to drink in joy with every breath of the thyme-scented breeze, from the moment his horse bounded on the hollow-sounding turf; and when he leapt to the ground, with the elastic spring of youth, he held out his hands to Sidney and to Teligny, crying 'Welcome, my friends. Here I am indeed a king!'
It was a lovely summer evening, early in August, and Charles bade the supper to be spread under the elms that shaded a green lawn in front of the chateau. Etiquette was here so far relaxed as to permit the sovereign to dine with his suite, and tables, chairs, and benches were brought out, drapery festooned in the trees to keep off sun and wind, the King lay down in the fern and let his happy dogs fondle him, and as a hers-girl passed along a vista in the distance, driving her goats before her, Philip Sidney marvelled whether it was not even thus in Arcadia.
Presently there was a sound of horses trampling, wheels moving, a party of gaily gilded archers of the guard jingled up, and in their midst was a coach. Berenger's heart seemed to leap at once to his lips, as a glimpse of ruffs, hats, and silks dawned on him through the windows.
The king rose from his lair among the fern, the Admiral stood forward, all heads were bared, and from the coach-door alighted the young Queen; no longer pale, subdued, and indifferent, but with a face shining with girlish delight, as she held out her hand to the Admiral. 'Ah! This is well, this is beautiful,' she exclaimed; 'it is like our happy chases in the Tyrol. Ah, Sire!' to the King, 'how I thank you for letting me be with you.'
After her Majesty descended her gentleman-usher. Then came the lady-in-waiting, Madame de Sauve, the wife of the state secretary in attendance on Charles, and a triumphant, coquettish beauty, than a fat, good-humoured Austrian dame, always called Madame la Comtesse, because her German name was unpronounceable, and without whom the Queen never stirred, and lastly a little figure, rounded yet slight, slender yet soft and plump, with a kitten-like alertness and grace of motion, as she sprang out, collected the Queen's properties of fan, kerchief, pouncet-box, mantle, &c., and disappeared in to the chateau, without Berenger's being sure of anything but that her little black hat had a rose-coloured feather in it.
The Queen was led to a chair placed under one of the largest trees, and there Charles presented to her such of his gentlemen as she was not yet acquainted with, the Baron de Ribaumont among the rest.
'I have heard of M. de Ribaumont,' she said, in a tone that made the colour mantle in his fair cheek; and with a sign of her hand she detained him at her side till the King had strolled away with Madame la Sauve, and no one remained near but her German countess. Then changing her tone to one of confidence, which the high-bred homeliness of her Austrian manner rendered inexpressibly engaging, she said, 'I must apologize, Monsieur, for the giddiness of my sister-in-law, which I fear caused you some embarrassment.'
'Ah, Madame,' said Berenger, kneeling on one knee as she addressed him, and his heart bounding with wild, undefined hope, 'I cannot be grateful enough. It was that which led to my being undeceived.'
'It was true, then, that you were mistaken?' said the Queen.
'Treacherously deceived, Madame, by those whose interest it is to keep us apart,' said Berenger, colouring with indignation; 'they imposed my other cousin on me as my wife, and caused her to think me cruelly neglectful.'
'I know,' said the Queen. 'Yet Mdlle. de Ribaumont is far more admired than my little blackbird.'
'That may be, Madame, but not by me.'
'Yet is it true that you came to break off the marriage?'
'Yes, Madame,' said Berenger, honestly, 'but I had not seen her.'
'And now?' said the Queen, smiling.
'I would rather die than give her up,' said Berenger. 'Oh, Madame, help us of your grace. Every one is trying to part us, every one is arguing against us, but she is my own true wedded wife, and if you will but give her to me, all will be well.'
'I like you, M. de Ribaumont,' said the Queen, looking him full in the face. 'You are like our own honest Germans at my home, and I think you mean all you say. I had much rather my dear little Nid de Merle were with you than left here, to become like all the others. She is a good little Liegling,—how do you call it in French? She has told me all, and truly I would help you with all my heart, but it is not as if I were the Queen-mother. You must have recourse to the King, who loves you well, and at my request included you in the hunting-party.'
Berenger could only kiss her hand in token of earnest thanks before the repast was announced, and the King came to lead her to the table spread beneath the trees. The whole party supped together, but Berenger could have only a distant view of his little wife, looking very demure and grave by the side of the Admiral.
But when the meal was ended, there was a loitering in the woodland paths, amid healthy openings or glades trimmed into discreet wildness fit for royal rusticity; the sun set in parting glory on one horizon, the moon rising in crimson majesty on the other. A musician at intervals touched the guitar, and sang Spanish or Italian airs, whose soft or quaint melody came dreamily through the trees. Then it was that with beating heart Berenger stole up to the maiden as she stood behind the Queen, and ventured to whisper her name and clasp her hand.
She turned, their eyes met, and she let him lead her apart into the wood. It was not like a lover's tryst, it was more like the continuation of their old childish terms, only that he treated her as a thing of his own, that he was bound to secure and to guard, and she received him as her own lawful but tardy protector, to be treated with perfect reliance but with a certain playful resentment.
'You will not run away from me now,' he said, making full prize of her hand and arm.
'Ah! is not she the dearest and best of queens?' and the large eyes were lifted up to him in such frank seeking of sympathy that he could see into the depths of their clear darkness.
'It is her doing then. Though, Eustacie, when I knew the truth, not flood nor fire should keep me long from you, my heart, my love, my wife.'
'What! wife in spite of those villainous letter?' she said, trying to pout.
'Wife for ever, inseparably! Only you must be able to swear that you knew nothing of the one that brought me here.'
'Poor me! No, indeed! There was Celine carried off at fourteen, Madame de Blanchet a bride at fifteen; all marrying hither and thither; and I—' she pulled a face irresistibly droll—'I growing old enough to dress St. Catherine's hair, and wondering where was M. le Baron.'
'They thought me too young,' said Berenger, 'to take on me the cares of life.'
'So they were left to me?'
'Cares! What cares have you but finding the Queen's fan?'
'Little you know!' she said, half contemptuous, half mortified.
'Nay, pardon me, ma mie. Who has troubled you?'
'Ah! you would call it nothing to be beset by Narcisse; to be told one's husband is faithless, till one half believes it; to be looked at by ugly eyes; to be liable to be teased any day by Monsieur, or worse, by that mocking ape, M. d'Alecon, and to have nobody who can or will hinder it.'
She was sobbing by this time, and he exclaimed, 'Ah, would that I could revenge all! Never, never shall it be again! What blessed grace has guarded you through all?'
'Did I not belong to you?' she said exultingly. 'And had not Sister Monique, yes, and M. le Baron, striven hard to make me good? Ah, how kind he was!'
'My father? Yes, Eustacie, he loved you to the last. He bade me, on his deathbed, give you his own Book of Psalms, and tell you he had always loved and prayed for you.'
'Ah! his Psalms! I shall love them! Even at Bellaise, when first we came there, we used to sing them, but the Mother Abbess went out visiting, and when she came back she said they were heretical. And Soeur Monique would not let me say the texts he taught me, but I WOULD not forget them. I say them often in my heart.'
'Then,' he cried joyfully, 'you will willingly embrace my religion?'
'Be a Huguenot?' she said distastefully.
'I am not precisely a Huguenot; I do not love them,' he answered hastily; 'but all shall be made clear to you at my home in England.'
'England!' she said. 'Must we live in England? Away from every one?'
'Ah, they will love so much! I shall make you so happy there,' he answered. 'There you will see what it is to be true and trustworthy.'
'I had rather live at Chateau Leurre, or my own Nid de Merle,' she replied. 'There I should see Soeur Monique, and my aunt, the Abbess, and we would have the peasants to dance in the castle court. Oh! if you could but see the orchards at Le Bocage, you would never want to go away. And we could come now and then to see my dear Queen.
'I am glad at least you would not live at court.'
'Oh, no, I have been more unhappy here than ever I knew could be borne.'
And a very few words from him drew out all that had happened to her since they parted. Her father had sent her to Bellaise, a convent founded by the first of the Angevin branch, which was presided over by his sister, and where Diane was also educated. The good sister Monique had been mistress of the pensionnaires, and had evidently taken much pains to keep her charge innocent and devout. Diane had been taken to court about two years before, but Eustacie had remained at the convent till some three months since, when she had been appointed maid of honour to the recently-married Queen; and her uncle had fetched her from Anjou, and had informed her at the same time that her young husband had turned Englishman and heretic, and that after a few formalities had been complied with, she would become the wife of her cousin Narcisse. Now there was no person whom she so much dreaded as Narcisse, and when Berenger spoke of him as a feeble fop, she shuddered as though she knew him to have something of the tiger.
'Do you remember Benoit?' she said; 'poor Benoit, who came to Normandy as my laquais? When I went back to Anjou he married a girl from Leurre, and went to aid his father at the farm. The poor fellow had imbibed the Baron's doctrine—he spread it. It was reported that there was a nest of Huguenots on the estate. My cousin came to break it up with his gens d'armes O Berenger, he would hear no entreaties, he had no mercy; he let them assemble on Sunday, that they might be all together. He fired the house; shot down those who escaped; if a prisoner were made, gave him up to the Bishop's Court. Benoit, my poor good Benoit, who used to lead my palfrey, was first wounded, then tried, and burnt—burnt in the PLACE at Lucon! I heard Narcisse laugh—laugh as he talked of the cries of the poor creatures in the conventicler. My own people, who loved me! I was but twelve years old, but even then the wretch would pay me a half-mocking courtesy, as one destined to him; and the more I disdained him and said I belonged to you, the more both he and my aunt, the Abbess, smiled, as though they had their bird in a cage; but they left me in peace till my uncle brought me to court, and then all began again: and when they said you gave me up, I had no hope, not even of a convent. But ah, it is all over now, and I am so happy! You are grown so gentle and so beautiful, Berenger, and so much taller than I ever figured you to myself, and you look as if you could take me up in your arms, and let no harm happen to me.'
'Never, never shall it!' said Berenger, felling all manhood, strength, and love stir within him, and growing many years in heart in that happy moment. 'My sweet little faithful wife, never fear again now you are mine.'
Alas! poor children. They were a good way from the security they had begun to fancy for themselves. Early the next morning, Berenger went in his straightforward way to the King, thanked him, and requested his sanction for at once producing themselves to the court as Monsieur le Baron and Madame la Baronne de Ribaumont.
At this Charles swore a great oath, as one in perplexity, and bade him not go so fast.
'See here,' said he, with the rude expletives only too habitual with him; 'she is a pretty little girl, and she and her lands are much better with an honest man like you than with that pendard of a cousin; but you see he is bent on having her, and he belongs to a cut-throat crew that halt at nothing. I would not answer for your life, if you tempted him so strongly to rid himself of you.'
'My own sword, Sire, can guard my life.'
'Plague upon your sword! What does the foolish youth think it would do against half-a-dozen poniards and pistols in a lane black as hell's mouth?'
The foolish young WAS thinking how could a king so full of fiery words and strange oaths bear to make such an avowal respecting his own capital and his own courtiers. All he could do was to bow and reply, 'Nevertheless, Sire, at whatever risk, I cannot relinquish my wife; I would take her at one to the Ambassador's.'
'How, sir!' interrupted Charles, haughtily and angrily, 'if you forget that you are a French nobleman still, I should remember it! The Ambassador may protect his own countrymen-none else.'
'I entreat your Majesty's pardon,' said Berenger, anxious to retract his false step. 'It was your goodness and the gracious Queen's that made me hope for your sanction.'
'All the sanction Charles de Valois can give is yours, and welcome,' said the King, hastily. 'The sanction of the King of France is another matter! To say the truth, I see no way out of the affair but an elopement.' 'Sire!' exclaimed the astonished Berenger, whose strictly-disciplined education had little prepared him for such counsel.
'Look you! if I made you known as a wedded pair, the Chevalier and his son would not only assassinate you, but down on me would come my brother, and my mother, and M. de Guise and all their crew, veritably for giving the prize out of the mouth of their satellite, but nominally for disregarding the Pope, favouring a heretical marriage, and I know not what, but, as things go here, I should assuredly get the worst of it; and if you made safely off with your prize, no one could gainsay you—I need know nothing about it—and lady and lands would be your without dispute. You might ride off from the skirts of the forest; I would lead the hunt that way, and the three days' riding would bring you to Normady, for you had best cross to England immediately. When she is one there, owned by your kindred, Monsieur le cousin may gnash his teeth as he will, he must make the best of it for the sake of the honour of his house, and you can safely come back and raise her people and yours to follow the Oriflamme when it takes the field against Spain. What! you are still discontented? Speak out! Plain speaking is a treat not often reserved for me.'
'Sire, I am most grateful for your kindness, but I should greatly prefer going straightforward.'
'Peste! Well is it said that a blundering Englishman goes always right before him! There, then! As your King on the one hand, as the friend who has brought you and your wife together, sir, it is my command that you do not compromise me and embroil greater matters than you can understand by publicly claiming this girl. Privately I will aid you to the best of my ability; publicly, I command you, for my sake, if you heed not your own, to be silent!'
Berenger sought out Sidney, who smiled at his surprise.
'Do you not see,' he said, 'that the King is your friend, and would be very glad to save the lady's lands from the Guisards, but that he cannot say so; he can only befriend a Huguenot by stealth.'
'I would not be such a king for worlds!'
However, Eustacie was enchanted. It was like a prince and princess in Mere Perinne's fairy tales. Could they go like a shepherd and shepherdess? She had no fears-no scruples. Would she not be with her husband? It was the most charming frolic in the world. So the King seemed to think it, though he was determined to call it all the Queen's doing—the first intrigue of her own, making her like all the rest of us—the Queen's little comedy. He undertook to lead the chase as far as possible in the direction of Normandy, when the young pair might ride on to an inn, meet fresh horses, and proceed to Chateau Leurre, and thence to England. He would himself provide a safe-conduct, which, as Berenger suggested, would represent them as a young Englishman taking home his young wife. Eustacie wanted at least to masquerade as an Englishwoman, and played off all the fragments of the language she had caught as a child, but Berenger only laughed at her, and said they just fitted the French bride. It was very pretty to laugh at Eustacie; she made such a droll pretence at pouting with her rosebud lips, and her merry velvety eyes belied them so drolly.
Such was to be the Queen's pastoral; but when Elisabeth found the responsibility so entirely thrown on her, she began to look grave and frightened. It was no doubt much more than she had intended when she brought about the meeting between the young people, and the King, who had planned the elopement, seemed still resolved to make all appear her affair. She looked all day more like the grave, spiritless being she was at court than like the bright young rural queen of the evening before, and she was long in her little oratory chapel in the evening. Berenger, who was waiting in the hall with the other Huguenot gentlemen, thought her devotions interminable since they delayed all her ladies. At length, however, a page came up to him, and said in a low voice, 'The Queen desires the presence of M. le Baron de Ribaumont.'
He followed the messenger, and found himself in the little chapel, before a gaily-adorned altar, and numerous little shrines and niches round. Sidney would have dreaded a surreptitious attempt to make him conform, but Berenger had no notion of such perils,—he only saw that Eustacie was standing by the Queen's chair, and a kindly-looking Austrian priest, the Queen's confessor, held a book in his hand.
The Queen came to meet him. 'For my sake,' she said, with all her sweetness, 'to ease my mind, I should like to see my little Eustacie made entirely your own ere you go. Father Meinhard tells me it is safer that, when the parties were under twelve years old, the troth should be again exchanged. No other ceremony is needed.'
'I desire nothing but to have her made indissolubly my own,' said Berenger, bowing.
'And the King permits,' added Elisabeth.
The King growled out, 'It is your comedy, Madame; I meddle not.'
The Austrian priest had no common language with Berenger but Latin. He asked a few questions, and on hearing the answers, declared that the sacrament of marriage had been complete, but that—as was often done in such cases—he would once more hear the troth-plight of the young pair. The brief formula was therefore at once exchanged—the King, when the Queen looked entreatingly at him, rousing himself to make the bride over to Berenger. As soon as the vows had been made, in the briefest manner, the King broke in boisterously: 'There, you are twice marred, to please Madame there; but hold your tongues all of you about this scene in the play.'
Then almost pushing Eustacie over to Berenger, he added, 'There she is! Take your wife, sir; but mind, she was as much yours before as she is now.'
But for all Berenger had said about 'his wife,' it was only now that he really FELT her his own, and became husband rather than lover-man instead of boy. She was entirely his own now, and he only desired to be away with her; but some days' delay was necessary. A chase on the scale of the one that was to favour their evasion could not be got up without some notice; and, moreover, it was necessary to procure money, for neither Sidney nor Ribaumont had more than enough with them for the needful liberalities to the King's servants and huntsmen. Indeed Berenger had spent all that remained in his purse upon the wares of an Italian pedlar whom he and Eustacie met in the woods, and whose gloves 'as sweet as fragrant posies,' fans, scent-boxes, pocket mirrors, Genoa wire, Venice chains, and other toys, afforded him the mean of making up the gifts that he wished to carry home to his sisters; and Eustacie's counsel was merrily given in the choice. And when the vendor began with a meaning smile to recommend to the young pair themselves a little silver-netted heart as a love-token, and it turned out that all Berenger's money was gone, so that it could not be bought without giving up the scented casket destined for Lucy, Eustacie turned with her sweetest, proudest smile, and said, 'No, no; I will not have it; what do we two want with love-tokens now?'
Sidney had taken the youthful and romantic view of the case, and considered himself to be taking the best possible bare of is young friend, by enabling him to deal honourably with so charming a little wife as Eustacie. Ambassador and tutor would doubtless be very angry; but Sidney could judge for himself of the lady, and he therefore threw himself into her interests, and sent his servant back to Paris to procure the necessary sum for the journey of Master Henry Berenger and Mistress Mary, his wife. Sidney was, on his return alone to Paris, to explain all to the elders, and pacify them as best he could; and his servant was already the bearer of a letter from Berenger that was to be sent at once to England with Walsingham's dispatches, to prepare Lord Walwyn for the arrival of the runaways. The poor boy laboured to be impressively calm and reasonable in his explanation of the misrepresentation, and of his strong grounds for assuming his rights, with his persuasion that his wife would readily join the English church—a consideration that he knew would greatly smooth the way for her. Indeed, his own position was impregnable: nobody could blame him for taking his own wife to himself, and he was so sure of her charms, that he troubled himself very little about the impression she might make on his kindred. If they loved her, it was all right; if not, he could take her back to his own castle, and win fame and honour under the banner of France in the Low Countries. As the Lucy Thistlewood, she was far too discreet to feel any disappointment or displeasure; or if she should, it was her own fault and that of his mother, for all her life she had known him to be married. So he finished his letter with a message that the bells should be ready to ring, and that when Philip heard three guns fired on the coast, he might light the big beacon pile above the Combe.
Meantime 'the Queen's Pastoral' was much relished by all the spectators. The state of things was only avowed to Charles, Elisabeth, and Philip Sidney, and even the last did not know of the renewed troth which the King chose to treat as such a secret; but no one had any doubt of the mutual relations of M. de Ribaumont and Mdlle. de Nid de Merle, and their dream of bliss was like a pastoral for the special diversion of the holiday of Montpipeau. The transparency of their indifference in company, their meeting eyes, their trysts with the secrecy of an ostrich, were the subjects of constant amusement to the elders, more especially as the shyness, blushes, and caution were much more on the side of the young husband than on that of the lady. Fresh from her convent, simple with childishness and innocence, it was to her only the natural completion of her life to be altogether Berenger's, and the brief concealment of their full union added a certain romantic enchantment, which added to her exultation in her victory over her cruel kindred. She had been upon her own mind, poor child, for her few weeks of court life. She had been upon her own mind, poor child, for her few weeks of court life, but not long enough to make her grow older, though just so long as to make the sense of her having her own protector with her doubly precious. He, on the other hand, though full of happiness, did also feel constantly deepening on him the sense of the charge and responsibility he had assumed, hardly knowing how. The more dear Eustacie became to him, the more she rested on him and became entirely his, the more his boyhood and INSOUCIANCE drifted away behind him; and while he could hardly bear to heave his darling a moment out of his sight, the less he could endure any remark or jest upon his affection for her. His home had been a refined one, where Cecile's convent purity seemed to diffuse an atmosphere of modest reserve such as did not prevail in the court of the Maiden Queen herself, and the lad of eighteen had not seem enough of the outer world to have rubbed off any of that grace. His seniority to his little wife seemed to show itself chiefly in his being put out of countenance for her, when she was too innocent and too proud of her secret matronhood to understand or resent the wit.
Little did he know that this was the ballet-like interlude in a great and terrible tragedy, whose first act was being played out on the stage where they schemed and sported, like their own little drama, which was all the world to them, and noting to the others. Berenger knew indeed that the Admiral was greatly rejoiced that the Nid de Merle estates should go into Protestant hands, and that the old gentleman lost no opportunity of impressing on him that they were a heavy trust, to be used for the benefit of 'the Religion,' and for the support of the King in his better mind. But it may be feared that he did not give a very attentive ear to all this. He did not like to think of those estates; he would gladly have left them all the Narcisse, so that he might have their lady, and though quite willing to win his spurs under Charles and Coligny against the Spaniard, his heart and head were far too full to take in the web of politics. Sooth to say, the elopement in prospect seemed to him infinitely more important than Pope or Spaniard, Guise or Huguenot, and Coligny observed with a sigh to Teligny that he was a good boy, but nothing but the merest boy, with eyes open only to himself.
When Charles undertook to rehearse their escape with them, and the Queen drove out in a little high-wheeled litter with Mne. la Comtesse, while Mme. De Sauve and Eustacie were mounted on gay palfreys with the pommelled side-saddle lately invented by the Queen-mother, Berenger, as he watched the fearless horsemanship and graceful bearing of his newly-won wife, had no speculations to spend on the thoughtful face of the Admiral. And when at the outskirts of the wood the King's bewildering hunting-horn—sounding as it were now here, now there, now low, now high—called every attendant to hasten to its summons, leaving the young squire and damsel errant with a long winding high-banked lane before them, they reckoned the dispersion to be all for their sakes, and did not note, as did Sidney's clear eye, that when the entire company had come straggling him, it was the King who came up with Mme. De Sauve almost the last; and a short space after, as if not to appear to have been with him, appeared the Admiral and his son-in-law.
Sidney also missed one of the Admiral's most trusted attendants, and from this and other symptoms he formed his conclusions that the King had scattered his followers as much for the sake of an unobserved conference with Coligny as for the convenience of the lovers, and that letters had been dispatched in consequence of that meeting.
Those letters were indeed of a kind to change the face of affairs in France. Marshal Strozzi, then commanding in the south-west, was bidden to embark at La Rochelle in the last week of August, to hasten to the succour of the Prince of Orange against Spain, and letters were dispatched by Coligny to all the Huguenot partisans bidding them assemble at Melun on the third of September, when they would be in the immediate neighbourhood of the court, which was bound for Fontainebleau. Was the star of the Guises indeed waning? Was Charles about to escape from their hands, and commit himself to an honest, high-minded policy, in which he might have been able to purify his national Church, and wind back to her those whom her corruptions had driven to seek truth and morality beyond her pale?
Alas! there was a bright pair of eyes that saw more than Philip Sidney's, a pair of ears that heard more, a tongue and pen less faithful to guard a secret.
CHAPTER VIII. 'LE BROUILON'
But never more the same two sister pearls Ran down the silken thread to kiss each other. —Tennyson
Berenger was obliged to crave permission from the King to spend some hours in riding with Osbert to the first hostel on their way, to make arrangements for the relay of horses that was to meet them there, and for the reception of Veronique, Eustacie's maid, who was to be sent off very early in the morning on a pillion behind Osbert, taking with her the articles of dress that would be wanted to change her mistress from the huntress maid of honour to the English dame.
It was not long after he had been gone that a sound of wheels and trampling horses was heard in one of the forest drives. Charles, who was amusing himself with shooting at a mark together with Sidney and Teligny, handed his weapon to an attendant, and came up with looks of restless anxiety to his Queen, who was placed in her chair under the tree, with the Admiral and her ladies round her, as judges of the prize.
'Here is le brouillon,' he muttered. 'I thought we had been left in peace too long.'
Elisabeth, who Brantome says was water, while her husband was fire, tried to murmur some hopeful suggestion; and poor little Eustacie, clasping her hands, could scarcely refrain from uttering the cry, 'Oh, it is my uncle! Do not let him take me!'
The next minute there appeared four horses greatly heated and jaded, drawing one of the court coaches; and as it stopped at the castle gate, two ladies became visible within it—the portly form of Queen Catherine, and on the back seat the graceful figure of Diane de Ribaumont.
Charles swore a great oath under his breath. He made a step forward, but then his glance falling on Eustacie's face, which had flushed to the rosiest hue of the carnation, he put his finger upon his lip with a menacing air, and then advanced to greet his mother, followed by his gentlemen.
'Fear not, my dear child,' said the young Queen, taking Eustacie's arm as she rose for the same purpose. 'Obey the King, and he will take care that all goes well.'
The gentle Elisabeth was, however, the least regarded member of the royal family. Her mother-in-law had not even waited to greet her, but had hurried the King into his cabinet, with a precipitation that made the young Queen's tender heart conclude that some dreadful disaster had occurred, and before Mademoiselle de Ribaumont had had time to make her reverence, she exclaimed, breathlessly, 'Oh, is it ill news? Not from Vienna?'
'No, no, Madame; reassure yourself,' replied Diane; 'it is merely that her Majesty, being on the way to Monceaux with Mesdames, turned out of her road to make a flying visit to your graces, and endeavour to persuade you to make her party complete.'
Elisabeth looked as if questioning with herself if this would possibly be the whole explanation. Monceaux was a castle belonging to the Queen Dowager at no great distance from Montpipeau, but there had been no intention of leaving Paris before the wedding, which was fixed for the seventeenth of August, and the bridegroom was daily expected. She asked who was the party at Monceaux, and was told that Madame de Nemours had gone thither the evening before, with her son, M. de Guise, to make ready; and that Monsieur was escorting thither his two sisters, Madame de Lorraine and Madame Marguerite. The Queen-mother had set out before them very early in the morning.
'You must have made great speed,' said Elisabeth; 'it is scarcely two o'clock.'
'Truly we did, Madame; two of our horses even died upon the road; but the Queen was anxious to find the King ere he should set off on one of his long chases.'
Diane, at every spare moment, kept her eyes interrogatively fixed on her cousin, and evidently expected that the taciturn Queen, to whom a long conversation, in any language but Spanish, was always a grievance, would soon dismiss them both; and Eustacie did not know whether to be thankful or impatient, as Elisabeth, with tardy, hesitating, mentally-translated speech, inquired into every circumstance of the death of the poor horses, and then into all the court gossip, which she was currently supposed neither to hear nor understand; and then bethought herself that this good Mademoiselle de Ribaumont could teach her that embroidery stitch she had so long wished to learn. Taking her arm, she entered the hall, and produced her work, so as effectually to prevent any communication between the cousins; Eustacie, meanwhile her heart clinging to her friend, felt her eyes filling with tears at the thoughts of how unkind her morrow's flight would seem without one word of farewell or of confidence, and was already devising tokens of tenderness to be left behind for Diane's consolation, when the door of the cabinet opened, and Catherine sailed down the stairs, with her peculiar gliding step and sweep of dignity. The King followed her with a face of irresolution and distress. He was evidently under her displeasure; but she advanced to the young Queen with much graciousness, and an air of matronly solicitude.
'My daughter,' she said, 'I have just assured the King that I cannot leave you in these damp forests. I could not be responsible for the results of the exposure any longer. It is for him to make his own arrangements, but I brought my coach empty on purpose to transport you and your ladies to Monceaux.
The women may follow with the mails. You can be ready as soon as the horses are harnessed.'
Elisabeth was used to passiveness. She turned one inquiring look to her husband, but he looked sullen, and, evidently cowed by his mother, uttered not a word. She could only submit, and Catherine herself add that there was room for Madame de Sauve and Mademoiselle de Nid de Merle. Madame la Comtesse should follow! It was self-evident that propriety would not admit of the only demoiselle being left behind among the gentlemen. Poor Eustacie, she looked mutely round as if she hoped to escape! What was the other unkindness to this? And ever under the eyes of Diane too, who followed her to their chamber, when she went to prepare, so that she could not even leave a token for him where he would have been most certain to find it. Moments were few; but at the very last, while the queens were being handed in the carriage, she caught the eye of Philip Sidney. He saw the appealing look, and came near. She tried to laugh. 'Here is my gage, Monsieur Sidney,' she said, and held out a rose-coloured knot of ribbon; then, as he came near enough, she whispered imploringly three of her few English words—
'Give to HIM.'
'I take the gage as it is meant,' said Sidney, putting a knee to the ground, and kissing the trembling fingers, ere he handed her into the carriage. He smiled and waved his hand as he met her earnest eyes. One bow contained a scrap of paper pricked with needle-holes. Sidney would not have made out those pricks for the whole world, even had he been able to do more than hastily secure the token, before the unhappy King, with a paroxysm of violent interjections, demanded of him whether the Queen of England, woman though she were, ever were so beset, and never allowed a moment to herself; then, without giving time for an answer, he flung away to his cabinet, and might be heard pacing up and down there in a tempest of perplexity. He came forth only to order his horse, and desire M. de Sauve and a few grooms to be ready instantly to ride with him. His face was full of pitiable perplexity—the smallest obstacle was met with a savage oath; and he was evidently in all the misery of a weak yet passionate nature, struggling with impotent violence against a yoke that evidently mastered it.
He flung a word to his guests that he should return ere night, and they thus perceived that he did not intend their dismissal.
'Poor youth,' said Coligny, mildly, 'he will be another being when we have him in our camp with the King of Navarre for his companion.'
And then the Admiral repaired to his chamber to write one of his many fond letters to the young wife of his old age; while his son-in-law and Philip Sidney agreed to ride on, so as to met poor young Ribaumont, and prepare him for the blow that had befallen him personally, while they anxiously debated what this sudden descent of the Queen-mother might portend. Teligny was ready to believe in any evil intention on her part, but he thought himself certain of the King's real sentiments, and in truth Charles had never treated any man with such confidence as this young Huguenot noble, to whom he had told his opinion of each of his counsellors, and his complete distrust of all. That pitying affection which clings to those who cling to it, as well as a true French loyalty of heart, made Teligny fully believe that however Catherine might struggle to regain her ascendancy, and whatever apparent relapses might be caused by Charles's habitual subjection to her, yet the high aspirations and strong sense of justice inherent in the King were asserting themselves as his youth was passing into manhood; and that the much-desired war would enable him to develop all his higher qualities. Sidney listened, partially agreed, talked of caution, and mused within himself whether violence might not sometimes be mistaken for vigour.
Ere long, the merry cadence of an old English song fell with a homelike sound upon Sidney's ear, and in another moment they were in sight of Berenger, trotting joyously along, with a bouquet of crimson and white heather-blossoms in his hand, and his bright young face full of exultation in his arrangements. He shouted gaily as he saw them, calling out, 'I thought I should meet you! but I wondered not to have heard the King's bugle-horn. Where are the rest of the hunters?'
'Unfortunately we have had another sort of hunt to-day,' said Sidney, who had ridden forward to meet him; 'and one that I fear, will disquiet you greatly.'
'How! Not her uncle?' exclaimed Berenger.
'No, cheer up, my friend, it was not she who was the object of the chase; it was this unlucky King,' he added, speaking English, 'who has been run to earth by his mother.'
'Nay, but what is that to me?' said Berenger, with impatient superiority to the affairs of the nation. 'How does it touch us?'
Sidney related the abstraction of the young Queen and her ladies, and then handed over the rose-coloured token, which Berenger took with vehement ardour; then his features quivered as he read the needle-pricked words-two that he had playfully insisted on her speaking and spelling after him in his adopted tongue, then not vulgarized, but the tenderest in the language, 'Sweet heart.' That was all, but to him they conveyed constancy to him and his, whatever might betide, and an entreaty not to leave her to her fate.