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The Chaplet of Pearls
by Charlotte M. Yonge
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'The King would have saved my husband, Madame,' returned Eustacie. 'He bade him to his room. It was I, unhappy I, who detained him, lest our flight should have been hindered.'

The Queen in her turn kissed Eustacie's forehead with eager gratitude. 'Oh, little one, you have brought a drop of comfort to a heavy heart. Alas! I could sometimes feel you to be a happier wife than I, with your perfect trust in the brave pure-spirited youth, unwarped by these wicked cruel advisers. I loved to look at his open brow; it was so like our bravest German Junkers. And, child, we thought, both of us, to have brought about your happiness; but, ah! it has but caused all this misery.'

'No, no, dearest Queen,' said Eustacie, 'this month with all its woe has been joy—life! Oh! I had rather lie here and die for his loss than be as I was before he came. And NOW—now, you have given him to me for all eternity—if but I am fit to be with him!'

Eustacie had revived so much during the interview that the Queen could not believe her to be in a dying state; but she continued very ill, the low fever still hanging about her, and the faintness continual. The close room, the turmoil of its many inhabitants, and the impossibility of quiet also harassed her greatly, and Elisabeth had little or no power of making any other arrangements for her in the palace. Ladies when ill were taken home, and this poor child had no home. The other maids of honour were a gentler, simpler set than Catherine's squadron, and were far from unkind; but between them and her, who had so lately been the brightest child of them all, there now lay that great gulf. 'Ich habe gelebt und geliebet.' That the little blackbird, as they used to call her, should have been on the verge of running away with her own husband was a half understood, amusing mystery discussed in exaggerating prattle. This was hushed, indeed, in the presence of that crushed, prostrate, silent sorrow; but there was still an utter incapacity of true sympathy, that made the very presence of so many oppressive, even when they were not in murmurs discussing the ghastly tidings of massacres in other cities, and the fate of acquaintances.

On that same day, the Queen sent for Diane to consult her about the sufferer. Elisabeth longed to place her in her own cabinet and attend on her herself; but she was afraid to do this, as the unhappy King was in such a frenzied mood, and so constantly excited by his brother and Guise, that it was possible that some half-delirious complaint from poor Eustacie might lead to serious consequences. Indeed, Elisabeth, though in no state to bear agitation, was absorbed in her endeavour to prevent him from adding blood to blood, and a few days later actually saved the lives of the King of Navarre and Prince of Conde, by throwing herself before him half-dressed, and tearing his weapon from his hand. Her only hope was that if she should give him a son, her influence for mercy would revive with his joy. Meantime she was powerless, and she could only devise the sending the poor little sufferer to a convent, where the nuns might tend her till she was restored to health and composure. Diane acquiesced, but proposed sending for her father, and he was accordingly summoned. Diane saw him first alone, and both agreed that he had better take Eustacie to Bellaise, where her aunt would take good care of her, and in a few months she would no doubt be weary enough of the country to be in raptures to return to Paris on any terms.

Yet even as Diane said this, a sort of longing for the solitude of the woods of Nid-de-Merle came over her, a recollection of the good Sister Monique, at whose knee she had breathed somewhat of the free pure air that her murdered cousin had brought with him; a sense that there she could pour forth her sorrow. She offered herself at once to go with Eustacie.

'No, no, my daughter,' said the Chevalier, 'that is unnecessary. There is pleasanter employment for you. I told you that your position was secured. Here is a brilliant offer—M. de Selinville,'

'Le bonhomme de Selinville!' exclaimed Diane, feeling rather as if the compensation were like the little dog offered to Eustacie.

'Know ye not that his two heretic nephews perished the other night. He is now the head of his name, the Marquis, the only one left of his house.'

'He begins early,' said Diane.

'An old soldier, my daughter, scarce stays to count the fallen. He has no time to lose. He is sixty, with a damaged constitution. It will be but the affair of a few years, and then will my beautiful Marquise be free to choose for herself. I shall go from the young Queen to obtain permission from the Queen-mother.'

No question was asked. Diane never even thought objection possible. It was a close to that present life which she had begun to loathe; it gave comparative liberty. It would dull and confuse her heart-sick pain, and give her a certain superiority to her brother. Moreover, it would satisfy the old father, whom she really loved. Marriage with a worn-out old man was a simple step to full display for young ladies without fortune.

The Chevalier told Queen Elisabeth his purpose of placing his niece in the family convent, under the care of her aunt, the Abbess, in a foundation endowed by her own family on the borders of her own estate. Elisabeth would have liked to keep her nearer, but could not but own that the change to the scenes of her childhood might be more beneficial than a residence in a nunnery at Paris, and the Chevalier spoke of his niece with a tender solicitude that gained the Queen's heart. She consented, only stipulating that Eustacie's real wishes should be ascertained, and herself again made the exertion of visiting the patient for the purpose.

Eustacie had been partly dressed, and was lying as near as she could to the narrow window. The Queen would not let her move, but took her damp languid hand, and detailed her uncle's proposal. It was plain that it was not utterly distasteful. 'Soeur Monique,' she said, 'Soeur Monique would sing hymns to me, and then I should not see the imps at night.'

'Poor child! And you would like to go? You could bear the journey?'

'It would be in the air! And then I should not smell blood—blood!' And her cheeks became whiter again, if possible.

'Then you would not rather be at the Carmelites, or Maubuisson, near me?'

'Ah! Madame, there would not be Soeur Monique. If the journey would only make me die, as soon as I came, with Soeur Monique to hush me, and keep off dreadful images!'

'Dear child, you should put away the thought of dying. Maybe you are to live, that your prayers may win salvation for the soul of him you love.'

'Oh, then! I should like to go into a convent so strict—so strict, cried Eustacie, with renewed vigour. 'Bellaise is nothing like strict enough. Does your Majesty indeed think that my prayers will aid him?'

'Alas! what hope could we have but in praying?' said Elisabeth, with tears in her eyes. 'Little one, we will be joined at least in our prayers and intercessions: thou wilt not forget in thine one who yet lives, unhappier than all!'

'And, oh, my good, my holy Queen, will you indeed pray for him—my husband? He was so good, his faith can surely not long be reckoned against him. He did not believe in Purgatory! Perhaps——' Then frowning with a difficulty far beyond a fever-clouded brain, she concluded—'At least, orisons may aid him! It is doing something for him! Oh, where are my beads?—I can begin at once.'

The Queen put her arm round her, and together they said the De profundis,—the Queen understood every word far more for the living than the dead. Again Elisabeth had given new life to Eustacie. The intercession for her husband was something to live for, and the severest convent was coveted, until she was assured that she would not be allowed to enter on any rule till she had time to recover her health, and show the constancy of her purpose by a residence at Bellaise.

Ere parting, however, the Queen bent over her, and colouring, as if much ashamed of what she said, whispered—'Child, not a word of the ceremony at Montpipeau!—you understand? The King was always averse; it would bring him and me into dreadful trouble with THOSE OTHERS, and alas! It makes no difference now. You will be silent?'

And Eustacie signed her acquiescence, as indeed no difficulty was made in her being regarded as the widow of the Baron de Ribaumont, when she further insisted on procuring a widow's dress before she quitted her room, and declared, with much dignity, that she should esteem no person her friend who called her Mademoiselle de Nid-de-Merle. To this the Chevalier de Ribaumont was willing to give way; he did not care whether Narcisse married her as Berenger's widow or as the separated maiden wife, and he thought her vehement opposition and dislike would die away the faster the fewer impediments were placed in her way. Both he and Diane strongly discouraged any attempt on Narcisse's widow part at a farewell interview; and thus unmolested, and under the constant soothing influence of reciting her prayers, in the trust that they were availing her husband, Eustacie rallied so much that about ten day after the dreadful St. Batholomew, in the early morning, she was half-led half-carried down the stairs between her uncle and Veronique. Her face was close muffled in her thick black veil, but when she came to the foot of the first stairs where she had found Berenger's cap, a terrible shuddering came on her; she again murmured something about the smell of blood, and fell into a swoon.

'Carry her on at once,' said Diane, who was following,—'there will be not end to it if you do not remove her immediately.'

And thus shielded from the sight of Marcisse's intended passionate gesture of farewell at the palace-door, Eustecie was laid at full length on the seat of the great ponderous family coach, where Veronique hardly wished to revive her till the eight horses should have dragged her beyond the streets of Paris, with their terrible associations, and the gibbets still hung with the limbs of the murdered.



CHAPTER XIII. THE BRIDEGROOM'S ARRIVAL



The starling flew to his mother's window stane, It whistled and it sang, And aye, the ower word of the tune Was 'Johnnie tarries lang.' —JOHNNIE OF BREDISLEE

There had been distrust and dissatisfaction at home for many a day past. Berenger could hardly be censured for loving his own wife, and yet his family were by not means gratified by the prospect of his bringing home a little French Papist, of whom Lady Thistlewood remembered nothing good.

Lucy was indignantly fetched home by her stepmother, who insisted on treating her with extreme pity as a deserted maiden, and thus counteracting Aunt Cecily's wise representations, that there never should, and therefore never could, have been anything save fraternal affection between the young people, and that pity was almost an insult to Lucy. The good girl herself was made very uncomfortable by there demonstrations, and avoided them as much as possible, chiefly striving in her own gentle way to prepare her little sisters to expect numerous charms in brother Berenger's wife, and heartily agreeing with Philip that Berenger knew his own mind best.

'And at any rate,' quoth Philip, 'we'll have the best bonfire that ever was seen in the country! Lucy, you'll coax my father to give us a tar-barrel!'

The tar-barrel presided over a monstrous pile of fagots, and the fisher-boys were promised a tester to whoever should first bring word to Master Philip that the young lord and lady were in the creek.

Philip gave his pony no rest, between the lock-out on the downs and the borders of the creek; but day after day passed, and still the smacks from Jersey held no person worth mentioning; and still the sense of expectation kept Lucy starting at every sound, and hating herself for her own folly.

At last Philip burst into Combe Manor, fiery red with riding and consternation. 'Oh! father, father, Paul Duval's boat is come in, and he says that the villain Papists have butchered every Protestant in France.'

Sir Marmaduke's asseveration was of the strongest, that he did not believe a word of it. Nevertheless, he took his horse and rode down to interrogate Paul Duval, and charge him not to spread the report was in the air. He went to the Hall, and the butler met him with a grave face, and took him to the study, where Lord Walwyn was sitting over letter newly received from London, giving hints from the Low Countries of bloody work in France. And when he returned to his home, his wife burst out upon him in despair. Here had they been certainly killing her poor buy. Not a doubt that he was dead. All from this miserable going to France, that had been quite against her will.

Stoutly did Sir Marmaduke persevere in his disbelief; but every day some fresh wave of tidings floated in. Murder wholesale had surely been perpetrated. Now came stories of death-bells at Rouen from the fishermen on the coast; now markets and petty sessions discussed the foul slaughter of the Ambassador and his household; truly related how the Queen had put on mourning, and falsely that she had hung the French Ambassador, La Mothe Feneon. And Burleigh wrote to his old friend from London, that some horrible carnage had assuredly taken place, and that no news had yet been received of Sir Francis Walsingham or of his suite.

All these days seems so many years taken from the vital power of Lord Walwyn. Not only had his hopes and affections would themselves closely around his grandson, but he reproached himself severely with having trusted him in his youth and inexperience among the seductive perils of Paris. The old man grieved over the promising young life cut off, and charged on himself the loss and grief to the women, whose stay he had trusted Berenger would have been. He said little, but his hand and head grew more trembling; he scarcely ate or slept, and seemed to waste from a vigorous elder to a feeble being in the extremity of old age, till Lady Walwyn had almost ceased to think of her grandson in her anxiety for her husband.

Letters came at last. The messenger despatched by Sir Francis Walsingham had not been able to proceed till the ways had become safe, and he had then been delayed; but on his arrival his tidings were sent down. There were letters both from Sir Francis Walsingham and from heart-broken Mr. Adderley, both to the same effect, with all possible praises of the young Baron de Ribaumont, all possible reproach to themselves for having let him be betrayed, without even a possibility of recovering his remains for honourable burial. Poor Mr. Adderley further said that Mr. Sidney, who was inconsolable for the loss of his friend, had offered to escort him to the Low Countries, whence he would make his way to England, and would present himself at Hurst Walwyn, if his Lordship could endure the sight of his creature who had so miserably failed in his trust.

Lord Walwyn read both letters twice through before he spoke. Then he took off his spectacles, laid them down, and said calmly, 'God's will be done. I thank God that my boy was blameless. Better they slew him than sent him home tainted with their vices.'

The certainty, such as it was, seemed like repose after the suspense. They knew to what to resign themselves, and even Lady Thistlewood's tempestuous grief had so spent itself that late in the evening the family sat round the fire in the hall, the old lord dozing as one worn out with sorrow, the others talking in hushed tones of that bright boyhood, that joyous light quenched in the night of carnage.

The butler slowly entered the hall, and approached Sir Marmaduke, cautiously. 'Can I speak with you, sir?'

'What is it, Davy?' demanded the lady, who first caught the words. 'What did you say?'

'Madam, it is Humfrey Holt!'

Humfrey Holt was the head of the grooms who had gone with Berenger; and there was a general start and suppressed exclamation. 'Humfrey Hold!' said Lord Walwyn, feebly drawing himself to sit upright, 'hath he, then, escaped?'

'Yea, my Lord,' said Davy, 'and he brings news of my young Lord'

'Alack! Davy,' said Lady Walwyn, 'such news had been precious a while ago.'

'Nay, so please your Ladyship, it is better than you deem. Humfley says my young Lord is yet living.'

'Living! shrieked Lady Thistlewood, starting up. 'Living! My son! and where?'

'They are bearing him home, my Lady,' said the butler; 'but I fear me, by what Humfley says, that it is but in woeful case.'

'Bringing him home! Which way?' Philip darted off like an arrow from the bow. Sir Marmaduke hastily demanded if aid were wanted; and Lady Walwyn, interpreting the almost inaudible voice of her husband, bade that Humfley should be called in to tell his own story.

Hands were held out in greeting, and blessings murmured, as the groom entered, looking battered and worn, and bowing low in confusion at being thus unusually conspicuous, and having to tell his story to the head and body, and slashed about the face so as it is a shame to see. Nor hath he done aught these three weary weeks but moan from time to time so as it is enough to break one's heart to hear him; and I fear me 'tis but bringing him home to die.'

'Even so, God be thanked; and you too, honest Humfley,' said Lady Walwyn.' 'Let us hear when and how this deed was done.'

'Why, that, my Lord, I can't so well say, being that I was not with him; more's the pity, or I'd have known the reason why, or even they laid a finger on him. But when Master Landry, his French foster-brother, comes, he will resolve you in his own tongue. I can't parleyvoo with him, but he's an honest rogue for a Frenchman, and 'twas he brought off my young Lord. You see we were all told to be abroad the little French craft.

Master Landry took me down and settled it all with the master, a French farmer fellow that came a horse-dealing to Paris. I knew what my young Lord was after, but none of the other varlets did; and I went down and made as decent a place as I could between decks. My Lord and Master Landry were gone down to the court meantime, and we were to lie off till we heard a whistle like a mavis on the bank, then come and take them aboard. Well, we waited and waited, and all the lights were out, and not a sound did we hear till just an hour after midnight. Then a big bell rang out, not like a decent Christianable bell, but a great clash, then another, and a lot of strokes enough to take away one's breath. Then half the windows were lighted up, and we heard shots, and screeches, and splashes, till, as I said to Jack Smithers, 'twas as if one half the place was murthering the other. The farmer got frightened, and would have been off; but when I saw what he was at, "No," says I, "not an inch do we budge without news of my Lord." So Jack stood by the rope, and let them see that 'twas as much as their life was worth to try to unmoor. Mercy, what a night it was! Shrieks and shouts, and shots and howls, here, there, and everywhere, and splashes into the rive; and by and by we saw the poor murthered creatures come floating by. The farmer, he had some words with one of the boats near, and I heard somewhat of Huguenot and Hereteek, and I knew that was what they called good Protestants. Then up comes the farmer with his sons looking mighty ugly at us, and signing that unless we let them be off 'twould be set ashore for us; and we began to think as how we had best be set ashore, and go down the five of us to see if we could stand by my young Lord in some strait, or give notice to my Lord Ambassador.'

'God reward you!' exclaimed Lady Walwyn.

'Twas only our duty, my Lady,' gruffly answered Humfrey; 'but just as Hal had got on the quay, what should I see but Master Landry coming down the street with my young Lord in his back! I can tell you he was well-nigh spent; and just then half a dozen butcherly villains came out on him, bawling, "Tu-y! tu-y!" which it seems means "kill, kill." He turned about and showed them that he had got a white sleeve and white cross in his bonnet, like them, the rascals, giving them to understand that he was only going to throw the corpse into the river. I doubted him then myself; but he caught sight of us, and in his fashion of talk with us, called out to us to help, for there was life still. So two of us took my Lord, and the other three gave the beggarly French cut-throats as good as they meant for us; while Landry shouted to the farmer to wait, and we got aboard, and made right away down the river. But never a word has the poor young gentleman spoken, though Master Landry has done all a barber or a sick-nurse could do; and he got us past the cities by showing the papers in my Lord's pocket, so that we got safe to the farmer's place. There we lay till we could get a boat to Jersey, and thence again home; and maybe my young Lord will mend now Mistress Cecily will have the handing of him.'

'That is it the wisest Hands, good Humfrey,' said Lord Walwyn, as the tears of feeble age flowed down his cheeks. 'May He who hath brought the lad safely so far spare him yet, and raise him up. But whether he live or die, you son and daughter Thistlewood will look that the faithfulness of Humfrey Holt and his comrades be never forgotten or unrewarded.'

Humfrey again muttered something about no more than his duty; but by this time sounds were heard betokening the approach of the melancholy procession, who, having been relieved by a relay of servants sent at once from the house, were bearing home the wounded youth. Philip first of all dashed in hurrying and stumbling. He had been unprepared by hearing Humfrey's account, and, impetuous and affectionate as he was, was entirely unrestrained, and flinging himself on his knees with the half-audible words, 'Oh! Lucy! Lucy! He is as good as dead!' hid his face between his arms on his sister's lap, and sobbed with the abandonment of a child, and with all his youthful strength; so much adding to the consternation and confusion, that, finding all Lucy's gentle entreaties vain, his father at last roughly pulled up his face by main force, and said, 'Philip, hold your tongue! Are we to have you on our hands as well as my Lady? I shall send you home this moment! Let your sister go.'

This threat reduced the boy to silence. Lucy, who was wanted to assist in preparing Berenger's room, disengaged herself; but he remained in the same posture, his head buried on the seat of the chair, and the loud weeping only forcibly stifled by forcing his handkerchief into his mouth, as if he had been in violent bodily pain. Nor did he venture again to look up as the cause of all his distress was slowly carried into the hall, corpse-like indeed. The bearers had changed several times, all but a tall, fair Norman youth, who through the whole transit had supported the head, endeavouring to guard it from shocks. When the mother and the rest came forward, he made a gesture to conceal the face, saying in French, 'Ah! Mesdames; this is no sight for you.'

Indeed the head and face were almost entirely hidden by bandages, and it was not till Berenger had been safely deposited on a large carved bed that the anxious relatives were permitted to perceive the number and extent of his hurts; and truly it was only by the breath, the vital warmth, and the heavy moans when he was disturbed, or the dressings of the wounds were touched, that showed him still to be a living man. There proved to be no less than four wounds—a shot through the right shoulder, the right arm also broken with a terrible blow with a sword, a broad gash from the left temple to the right ear, and worse than all, 'le baiser d'Eustacie,' a bullet wound where the muzzle of the pistol had absolutely been so close as to have burnt and blackened the cheek; so that his life was, as Osbert averred, chiefly owing to the assassin's jealousy of his personal beauty, which had directed his shot to the cheek rather than the head; and thus, though the bullet had terribly shattered the upper jaw and roof of the mouth, and had passed out through the back of the head, there was a hope that it had not penetrated the seat of life or reason. The other gash on the face was but a sword-wound, and though frightful to look at, was unimportant, compared with the first wound with the pistol-shot in the shoulder, with the arm broken and further injured by having served to suspend him round Osbert's neck; but it was altogether so appalling a sight, that it was no wonder that Sis Marmaduke muttered low but deep curses on the cowardly ruffians; while his wife wept in grief as violent, though more silent, than her stepson's, and only Cecily gathered the faintest ray of hope. The wounds had been well cared for, the arm had been set, the hair cut away, and lint and bandages applied with a skill that surprised her, till she remembered that Landry Osbert had been bred up in preparation to be Berenger's valet, and thus to practise those minor arts of surgery then required in a superior body-servant. For his part, though his eyes looked red, and his whole person exhausted by unceasing watching, he seemed unable to relinquish the care of his master for a moment, and her nunnery French would not have perceived her tender touch and ready skill. These were what made him consent to leave his post even for a short meal, and so soon as he had eaten it he was called to Lord Walwyn to supply the further account which Humfley had been unable to give. He had waited, he explained, with a lackey, a friend of his in the palace, till he became alarmed by the influx of armed men, wearing white crosses and shirt-sleeves on their left arms, but his friend had assured him that his master had been summoned to the royal bedchamber, where he would be as safe as in church; and obtaining from Landry Osbert himself a perfectly true assurance of being a good Catholic, had supplied him with the badges that were needful for security. It was just then that Madame's maid crept down to his waiting-place with the intelligence that her mistress had been bolted in, and after a short consultation they agreed to go and see whether M. le Baron were indeed waiting, and, if he were, to warn him of the suspicious state of the lower regions of the palace.

They were just in time to see, but not to prevent the attack upon their young master; and while Veronique fled, screaming, Landry Osbert, who had been thrown back on the stairs in her sudden flight, recovered himself and hastened to his master. The murderers, after their blows had been struck, had hurried along the corridor to join the body of assassins, whose work they had in effect somewhat anticipated. Landry, full of rage and despair, was resolved at least to save his foster-brother's corpse from further insult, and bore it down-stairs in his arms. On the way, he perceived that life was not yet extinct, and resolving to become doubly cautious, he sought in the pocket for the purse that had been well filled for the flight, and by the persuasive argument of gold crowns, obtained egress from the door-keeper of the postern, where Berenger hoped to have emerged in a far different manner. It was a favourable moment, for the main body of the murderers were at that time being poster in the court by the captain of the guard, ready to massacre the gentlemen of the King of Navarre's suite, and he was therefore unmolested by any claimant of the plunders of the apparent corpse he bore on his shoulders. The citizens of Paris who had been engaged in their share of the murders for more than an hour before the tragedy began in the Louvre, frequently beset him on his way to the quay, and but for the timely aid of his English comrades, he would hardly have brought off his foster-brother safely.

The pass with which King Charles had provided Berenger for himself and his followers when his elopement was first planned, enabled Osbert to carry his whole crew safely past all the stations where passports were demanded. He had much wished to procure surgical aid at Rouen, but learning from the boatmen on the river that the like bloody scenes were there being enacted, he had decide on going on to his master's English home as soon as possible, merely trusting to his own skill by the way; and though it was the slightest possible hope, yet the healthy state of the wounds, and the mere fact of life continuing, had given him some faint trust that there might be a partial recovery.

Lord Walwyn repeated his agitated thanks and praises for such devotion to his grandson.

Osbert bower, laid his hand on his heart, and replied—'Monseigneur is good, but what say I? Monsieur le Baron is my foster-brother! Say that, and all is said in one word.'

He was then dismissed, with orders to take some rest, but he obstinately refused all commands in French or English to go to bed, and was found some time after fast asleep.



CHAPTER XIV. SWEET HEART



Ye hae marred a bonnier face than your ain. DYING WORDS OF THE BONNIE EARL OF MORAY

One room at Hurst Walwyn, though large, wainscoted, and well furnished, bore as pertinaciously the air of a cell as the appearance of Sister Cecily St. John continued like that of a nun. There was a large sunny oriel, in which a thrush sang merrily in a wicker cage; and yet the very central point and leading feature of the room was the altar-like table, covered with rich needlework, with a carved ebony crucifix placed on it, and on the wall above, quaint and stiff, but lovely-featured, delicately tinted pictures of Our Lady in the centre, and of St. Anne and St. Cecilia on either side, with skies behind of most ethereal blue, and robes tenderly trimmed with gold. A little shrine of purple spar, with a crystal front, contained a fragment of sacred bone; a silver shell help holy water, perpetuated from some blessed by Bishop Ridley.

'With velvet bound and broidered o'er, Her breviary book'

Lay open at 'Sext,' and there, too, lay with its three marks at the Daily Lessons, the Bishop's Bible, and the Common Prayer beside it.

The elder Baron de Ribaumont had never pardoned Cecily his single glance at that table, and had seriously remonstrated with his father-in-law for permitting its existence, quoting Rachel, Achan, and Maachah. Yet he never knew of the hair-cloth smock, the discipline, the cord and sack-cloth that lay stored in the large carved awmry, and were secretly in use on every fast or vigil, not with any notion of merit, but of simple obedience, and with even deeper comprehension and enjoyment of their spiritual significance, of which, in her cloister life, she had comprehended little.

It was not she, however, who knelt with bowed head and clasped hands before the altar-table, the winter sunbeams making the shadows of the ivy sprays dance upon the deep mourning dress and pale cheek. The eyelashes were heavy with tear-drops, and veiled eyes that had not yet attained to the region of calm, like the light quivering of the lips showed that here was the beginning of the course of trial through which serenity might be won, and for ever.

By and by the latch was raise, and Cecily came forward. Lucy rose quickly to her feet, and while giving and returning a fond embrace, asked with her eyes the question that Cecily answered, 'Still in the same lethargy. The only shade of sense that I have seen is an unclosing of the eyes, a wistful look whenever the door opened, and a shiver through all his frame whenever the great bell rings, till my Lord forbade it to be sounded.'

'That frightful bell that the men told us of,' said Lucy, shuddering; 'oh, what a heart that murderess must have had!'

'Hold, Lucy! How should we judge her, who may at this moment be weeping in desolation?'

Lucy looked up astonished. 'Aunt,' she said, 'you have been so long shut up with him that you hardly can have heard all-how she played fast and loose, and for the sake of a mere pageant put off the flight from the time when it would have been secure even until that dreadful eve!'

'I know it,' said Cecily. 'I fear me much that her sin has been great; yet, Lucy, it were better to pray for her than to talk wildly against her.'

'Alas!' murmured Lucy, 'I could bear it and glory in it when it seemed death for the faith's sake, but,' and the tears burst out, 'to find he was only trapped and slain for the sake of a faithless girl—and that he should love her still.'

'She is his wife,' said Cecily. 'Child, from my soul I grieve for you, but none the less must I, if no other will, keep before your eyes that our Berenger's faith belongs solely to her.'

'You—you never would have let me forget it,' said Lucy. 'Indeed I am more maidenly when not alone with you! I know verily that he is loyal, and that my hatred to her is more than is meet. I will—I will pray for her, but I would that you were in your convent still, and that I could hide me there.'

'That were scarce enough,' said Cecily. 'One sister we had who had fled to our house to hide her sorrows for her betrothed had wedded another. She took her sorrows for her vocation, strove to hurry on her vows, and when they were taken, she chafed and fretted under them. It was she who wrote to the commissioner the letter that led to the visitation of our house, and, moreover, she was the only one of us who married.'

'To her own lover?'

'No, to a brewer at Winchester! I say not that you could ever be like poor sister Bridget, but only that the cloister has no charm to still the heart—prayer and duty can do as much without as within.'

'When we deemed her worthy, I was glad of his happiness,' said Lucy, thoughtfully.

'You did, my dear, and I rejoiced. Think now how grievous it must be with her, if she, as I fear she may, yielded her heart to those who told her that to ensnare him was her duty, or if indeed she were as much deceived as he.'

'Then she will soon be comforted,' said Lucy, still with some bitterness in her voice; bitterness of which she herself was perhaps conscious, for suddenly dropping in her knees, she hid her face, and cried. 'Oh, help me to pray for her, Aunt Cecily, and that I may do her wrong no more!'

And Cecily, in her low conventual chant, sang, almost under her breath, the noonday Latin hymn, the words of which, long familiar to Lucy, had never as yet so come home to her.

'Quench Thou the fires of heat and strife, The wasting fever of the heart; From perils guard our feeble life, And to our souls Thy help impart.'

Cecily's judgment would have been thought weakly charitable by all the rest of the family. Mr. Adderley had been forwarded by Sir Francis Walsingham like a bale of goods, and arriving in a mood of such self-reproach as would be deemed abject, by persons used to the modern relations between noblemen and their chaplains, was exhilarated by the unlooked-for comfort of finding his young charge at least living, and in his grandfather's house. From his narrative, Walsingham's letter, and Osbert's account, Lord Walwyn saw no reason to doubt that the Black Ribaumonts had thought that massacre a favourable moment for sweeping the only survivor of the White or elder branch away, and that not only had royalty lent itself to the cruel project, but that as Diane de Ribaumont had failed as a bait, the young espoused wife had herself been employed to draw him into the snare, and secure his presence at the slaughter-house, away from his safe asylum at the Ambassador's or even in the King's garde-robe. It was an unspeakably frightful view to take of the case, yet scarcely worse than the reality of many of the dealings of those with whom the poor young girl had been associated: certainly not worse than the crimes, the suspicion of which was resting on the last dowager Queen of France; and all that could be felt by the sorrowing family, was comfort that at least corruption of mind had either not been part of the game, or had been unsuccessful, and, by all testimony, the victim was still the same innocent boy. This was all their relief, while for days, for weeks, Berenger de Ribaumont lay in a trance or torpor between life and death. Sometimes, as Cecily had said, his eyes turned with a startled wistfulness towards the door, and the sound of a bell seemed to thrill him with a start of agony; but for the most part he neither appeared to see or hear, and a few moans were the only sounds that escaped him. The Queen, in her affection for her old friend, and her strong feeling for the victims of the massacre, sent down the court physician, who turned him about, and elicited sundry heavy groans, but could do no more than enjoin patient waiting on the beneficent powers of nature in early youth. His visit produced one benefit, namely, the strengthening of Cecily St. John's hands against the charms, elixirs, and nostrums with which Lady Thistlewood's friends supplied her,—plasters from the cunning women of Lyme Regis, made of powder of giant's bones, and snakes prayed into stone by St. Aldhelm, pills of live woodlice, and fomentations of living earthworms and spiders. Great was the censure incurred by Lady Walwyn for refusing to let such remedies be tried on HER grandson. And he was so much more her child than his mother's, that Dame Annora durst do no more than maunder.

In this perfect rest, it seemed as if after a time 'the powers of nature' did begin to rally, there were appearances of healing about the wounds, the difference between sleeping and waking became more evident, the eyes lost the painful, half-closed, vacant look, but were either shut or opened with languid recognition. The injuries were such as to exclude him from almost every means of expression, the wound in his mouth made speech impossible, and his right arm was not available for signs. It was only the clearness of his eyes, and their response to what was said, that showed that his mind was recovering tone, and then he seemed only alive to the present, and to perceive nothing but what related to his suffering and its alleviations. The wistfulness that had shown itself at first was gone, and even when he improved enough to establish a language of signs with eye, lip, or left hand, Cecily became convinced that he has little or no memory of recent occurrences, and that finding himself at home among familiar faces, his still dormant perceptions demanded no further explanation.

This blank was the most favourable state for his peace and for his recovery, and it was of long duration, lasting even till he had made so much progress that he could leave his bed, and even speak a few words, though his weakness was much prolonged by the great difficulty with which he could take nourishment. About two winters before, Cecily had successfully nursed him through a severe attack of small-pox, and she thought that he confounded his present state with the former illness, when he had had nearly the same attendants and surroundings as at present; and that his faculties were not yet roused enough to perceive the incongruity.

Once or twice he showed surprise at visits from his mother or Philip, who had then been entirely kept away from him, and about Christmas he brightened so much, and awoke to things about him so much more fully, that Cecily thought the time of recollection could not be much longer deferred. Any noise, however, seemed so painful to him, that the Christmas festivities were held at Combe Manor instead of Hurst Walwyn; only after church, Sir Marmaduke and Lady Thistlewood came in to make him a visit, as he sat in a large easy-chair by his bedroom-fire, resting after having gone through as much of the rites of the day as he was able for, with Mr. Adderlay. The room looked very cheerful with the bright wood-fire on the open hearth, shining on the gay tapestry hangings, and the dark wood of the carved bed. The evergreen-decked window shimmered with sun shine, and even the patient, leaning back among crimson cushions, though his face and head were ghastly enough wherever they were not covered with patches and bandages, still had a pleasant smile with lip and eye to thank his stepfather for his cheery wishes of 'a merry Christmas, at least one better in health.'

'I did not bring the little wenches, Berenger, lest they should weary you,' said his mother.

Berenger looked alarmed, and said with the indistinctness with which he always spoke, 'Have they caught it? Are they marked?'

'No, no, not like you, may boy,' said Sir Marmaduke, sufficiently aware of Berenger's belief to be glad to keep it up, and yet obliged to walk to the window to hide his diversion at the notion of his little girls catching the contagion of sword-gashes and bullet-wounds. Dame Annora prattled on, 'But they have sent you their Christmas gifts by me. Poor children, they have long been busied with them, and I fancy Lucy did half herself. See, this kerchief is hemmed by little Dolly, and here are a pair of bands and cuffs to match, that Nanny and Bessy have been broidering with their choicest stitchery.'

Berenger smile, took, expressed admiration by gesture, and then said in a dreamy, uncertain manner, 'Methought I had some gifts for them;' then looking round the room, his eye fell on a small brass-bound casket which had travelled with him to hold his valuables; he pointed to it with a pleased look, as Sir Marmaduke lifted it and placed it on a chair by his side. The key, a small ornamental brass one, was in his purse, not far off, and Lady Thistlewood was full of exceeding satisfaction at the unpacking not only of foreign gifts, but, as she hoped, of the pearls; Cecily meantime stole quietly in, to watch that her patient was not over-wearied.

He was resuming the use of his right arm, though it was still weak and stiff, and he evidently had an instinct against letting any one deal with that box but himself; he tried himself to unlock it, and though forced to leave this to Sir Marmaduke, still leant over it when opened, as if to prevent his mother's curious glances from penetrating its recesses, and allowed no hands near it but his own. He first brought out a pretty feather fan, saying as he held it to his mother, 'For Nan, I promised it. It was bought at the Halles,' he added, more dreamily.

Then again he dived, and brought out a wax medallion of Our Lady guarded by angels, and made the sign that always brought Cecily to him. He held it up to her with a puzzled smile, saying, 'They thought me a mere Papist for buying it—M. de Teligny, I think it was.'

They had heard how the good and beloved Teligny had been shot down on the roof of his father-in-law's house, by rabid assassins, strangers to his person, when all who knew him had spared him, from love to his gentle nature; and the name gave a strange thrill.

He muttered something about 'Pedlar,—Montpipeau,'—and still continued. Then came a small silver casket, diffusing an odour of attar of roses—he leant back in his chair—and his mother would have taken it from him, supposing him overcome by the scent, but he held it fast and shook his head, saying, 'For Lucy,—but she must give it herself. She gave up any gift for herself for it—she said we needed no love-tokens.' And he closed his eyes. Dame Annora plunged into the unpacking, and brought out a pocket-mirror with enamelled cupids in the corner, addressed to herself; and then came upon Berenger's own.

Again came a fringed pair of gloves among the personal jewellery such as gentlemen were wont to wear, the rings, clasps and brooches he had carried from home. Dame Annora's impatience at last found vent in the exclamation, 'The pearls, son; I do not see the chaplet of pearls.'

'She had them, 'answered Berenger, in a matter-of-fact tone, 'to wear at the masque.'

'She——'

Sir Marmaduke's great hand choked, as it were, the query on his wife's lips, unseen by her son, who, as if the words had touched some chord, was more eagerly seeking in the box, and presently drew out a bow of carnation ribbon with a small piece of paper full of pin-holes attached to it. At once he carried it to his lips, kissed it fervently, and then, sinking back in his chair, seemed to be trying to gather up the memory that had prompted the impulse, knitted his brows together, and then suddenly exclaimed, 'Where is she?'

His mother tried the last antecedent. 'Lucy? She shall come and thank you to-morrow.'

He shook his head with a vehement negative, beckoned Cecily impatiently, and said earnestly, 'Is it the contagion? Is she sick? I will go to her.'

Cecily and Sir Marmaduke both replied with a 'No, no!' and were thankful, though in much suspense at the momentary pause, while again he leant back on the cushions, looked steadily at the pin-holes, that formed themselves into the word 'Sweet heart,' then suddenly began to draw up the loose sleeve of his wrapping-gown and unbutton the wristband of his right sleeve. His mother tried to help him, asking if he had hurt or tired his arm. They would have been almost glad to hear that it was so, but he shook her off impatiently, and the next moment had a view of the freshly skinned over, but still wide and gaping gash on his arm. He looked for a brief space, and said, 'It is a sword-cut.'

'Truly it is, lad,' said Sir Marmaduke, 'and a very bad one, happily whole! Is this the first time you have seen it?'

He did not answer, but covered his eyes with his hand, and presently burst out again, 'Then it is no dream? Sir—have I been to France?'

'Yes, my son, you have,' said Sir Marmaduke, gently, and with more tenderness than could have been looked for; 'but what passed there is much better viewed as a dream, and cast behind your back.'

Berenger had, while he spoke, taken up the same little mirror where he had once admired himself; and as he beheld the scar and plaster that disfigured his face, with a fresh start of recollection, muttered over, '"Barbouiller ce chien de visage"—ay, so he said. I felt the pistol's muzzle touch! Narcisse! Has God had mercy on me? I prayed Him. Ah! "le baiser d'Eustacie"—so he said. I was waiting in the dark. Why did he come instead of her? Oh! father, where is she?'

It was a sore task, but Sir Marmaduke went bravely and bluntly, though far from unkindly, to the point: 'She remains with her friends in France.'

There the youth's look of utter horror and misery shocked and startled them all, and he groaned rather than said, 'Left there! Left to them! What have I done to leave her there?'

'Come, Berenger, this will not serve,' said his mother, trying to rouse and cheer him. 'You should rather be thankful that when you had been so foully ensnared by their wiles, good Osbert brought you off with your life away from those bloody doings. Yes, you may thank Heaven and Osbert, for you are the only one of them living now.'

'Of whom, mother?'

'Of all the poor Protestants that like you were deluded by the pack of murderers over there. What,'—fancying it would exhilarate him to hear of his own escape—'you knew not that the bloody Guise and the Paris cut-throats rose and slew every Huguenot they could lay hands on? Why, did not the false wench put off your foolish runaway project for the very purpose of getting you into the trap on the night of the massacre?'

He looked with a piteous, appealing glance from her to Cecily and Sir Marmaduke, as if in hopes that they would contradict.

'Too true, my lad,' said Sir Marmaduke. 'It is Heaven's good mercy that Osbert carried you out alive. No other Protestant left the palace alive but the King of Navarre and his cousin, who turned renegades.'

'And she is left there?' he repeated.

'Heed her not, my dear boy,' began his mother; 'you are safe, and must forget her ill-faith and——'

Berenger seemed scarcely to hear this speech—he held out his hands as if stunned and dizzied, and only said, or rather indicated, 'Let me lie down.'

His stepfather almost carried him across the room, and laid him on his bed, where he turned away from the light and shut his eyes; but the knot of ribbon and the pin-pricked word was still in his hand, and his mother longed to take away the token of this false love, as she believed it. The great clock struck the hour for her to go. 'Leave him quiet,' said Cecily, gently; 'he can bear no more now. I will send over in the evening to let you know how he fares.'

'But that he should be so set on the little bloodthirsty baggage,' sighed Lady Thistlewood; and then going up to her son, she poured out her explanation of being unable to stay, as her parents were already at the Manor, with no better entertainers than Lucy, Philip, and the children. She thanked him for the gifts, which she would take to them with his love. All this passed by him as though he heard it not, but when leaning down, she kissed his forehead, and at the same time tried to withdraw the knot of ribbon: his fingers closed on it with a grasp like steel, so cold were they, yet so fast.

Sir Masmaduke lingered a few moments behind her, and Berenger opening his eyes, as if to see whether solitude had been achieved, found the kind-hearted knight gazing at him with eyes full of tears. 'Berry, my lad,' he said, 'bear it like a man. I know how hard it is. There's not a woman of them all that an honest, plain Englishman has a chance with, when a smooth-tongued Frenchman comes round her! But a man may live a true and honest life however sore his heart may be, and God Almighty makes it up to him if he faces it out manfully.'

Good Sir Marmaduke in his sympathy had utterly forgotten both Berenger's French blood, and that he was the son of the very smooth-tongued interloper who had robbed his life of its first bloom. Berenger was altogether unequal to do more than murmur, as he held out his hand in response to the kindness, 'You do not know her.'

'Ah! Poor lad.' Sir Marmaduke shook his head and left him to Cecily.

After the first shock, Berenger never rested till he had made Osbert, Mr. Adderley, and Cecily tell him all they knew, and asked by name after those whom he had known best at Paris. Alas! of all those, save such as had been in the Ambassador's house, there was but one account to give. Venerable warrior, noble-hearted youth, devoted pastor, all alike had perished!

This frightful part of the story was altogether new to him. He had been probably the earliest victim in the Louvre, as being the special object of private malice, which had contrived to involve him in the general catastrophe; and his own recollections carried him only to the flitting of lights and ringing of bells, that has made him imagine that an alarm of fire would afford a good opportunity of escape if SHE would but come. A cloaked figure had approached,—he had held out his arms—met that deadly stroke—heard the words hissed in his ear.

He owned that for some time past strange recollections had been flitting though his mind—a perpetual unsatisfied longing for and expectation of his wife, and confused impressions of scenes and people had harassed him perpetually, even when he could not discern between dreams and reality; but knowing that he had been very ill, he had endeavoured to account for everything as delirious fancies, but had become increasingly distressed by their vividness, confusion, and want of outward confirmation. At last these solid tokens and pledges from that time had brought certainty back, and with it the harmony and clearness of his memory: and the strong affection, that even his oblivion had not extinguished, now recurred in all its warmth to its object.

Four months had passed, as he now discovered, since that night when he had hoped to have met Euctacie, and she must be believing him dead. His first measure on the following day when he had been dressed and seated in his chair was to send for his casket, and with his slow stiff arm write thus:—

'Mon Coeur, My own sweetheart,—Hast thou thought me dead, and thyself deserted? Osbert will tell thee all, and why I can scarce write. Trust thyself to him to bring to me. I shall be whole seeing thee. Or if thou canst not come with him, write or send me the least token by him, and I will come and bear thee home so soon as I can put foot in stirrup. Would that I could write all that is in my heart!

'Thy Husband.'

It was all that either head or hand would enable him to say, but he had the fullest confidence in Landry Osbert, who was one of the few who understood him at half a word. He desired Osbert to seek the lady out wherever she might be, whether still at court or in a convent, convey the letter to her if possible, and, if she could by any means escape, obtain from Chateau Leurre such an escort as she could come to England with. If, as was too much to be feared, she was under too close restraint, Osbert should send intelligence home, as he could readily do through the Ambassador's household, and Berenger trusted by that time to be able to take measures for claiming her in person.

Osbert readily undertook everything, but supplies for his journey were needed, and there was an absolute commotion in the house when it was known that Berenger had been writing to his faithless spouse, and wishing to send for her. Lord Walwyn came up to visit his grandson, and explain to him with much pity and consideration that he considered such a step as vain, and only likely to lead to further insult. Berenger's respect forced him to listen without interruption, and though he panted to answer, it was a matter of much difficulty, for the old lord was becoming deaf, and could not catch the indistinct, agitated words—

'My Lord, she is innocent as day.'

'Ah! Anan, boy.'

'I pledge my life on her love and innocence.'

'Love! Yes, my poor boy; but if she be unworthy?—Eh? Cecily, what says he?'

'He is sure of her innocence, sir?'

'That is of course. But, my dear lad, you will soon learn that even a gentle, good woman who has a conscience-keeper is too apt to think her very sense of right ought to be sacrificed to what she calls her religion.—What is it, what is he telling you, Cecily?'

'She was ready to be one of us,' Berenger said, with a great effort to make it clear.

'Ah, a further snare. Poor child! The very softest of them become the worst deceivers, and the kindred who have had the charge of her all their life could no doubt bend her will.'

'Sir,' said Berenger, finding argument impossible, 'if you will but let me dispatch Osbert, her answer will prove to you what she is.'

'There is something in that,' said Lord Walwyn, when he had heard it repeated by Cecily. 'It is, of course, needful that both she and her relations should be aware of Berenger's life, and I trow nothing but the reply will convince him.'

'Convince him!' muttered Berenger. 'Oh that I could make him understand. What a wretch I am to have no voice to defend her!'

'What?' said the old lord again.

'Only that I could speak, sir; you should know why it is sacrilege to doubt her.'

'Ah! well, we will not wound you, my son, while talk is vain. You shall have the means of sending your groom, if thus you will set your mind at rest, though I had rather have trusted to Walsingham's dealing. I will myself give him a letter to Sir Francis, to forward him on his way; and should the young lady prove willing to hold to her contract and come to you here, I will pray him to do everything to aid her that may be consistent with his duty in his post.'

This was a great and wonderful concession for Lord Walwyn, and Berenger was forced to be contented with it, though it galled him terribly to have Eustacie distrusted, and be unable to make his vindication even heard or understood, as well as to be forced to leave her rescue, and even his own explanation to her, to a mere servant.

This revival of his memory had not at all conduced to his progress in recovery. His brain was in no state for excitement or agitation, and pain and confusion were the consequence, and were counteracted, after the practice of the time, by profuse bleedings, which prolonged his weakness. The splintered state of the jaw and roof of the moth likewise produced effects that made him suffer severely, and deprived him at times even of the small power of speech that he usually possessed; and though he had set his heart upon being able to start for Paris so soon as Osbert's answer should arrive, each little imprudence he committed, in order to convince himself of his progress, threw him back so seriously, that he was barely able to walk down-stairs to the hall, and sit watching—watching, so that it was piteous to see him—the gates of the courtyard, but the time that, on a cold March day, a booted and spurred courier (not Osbert) entered by them.

He sprang up, and faster than he had yet attempted to move, met the man in the hall, and demanded the packet. It was a large one, done up in canvas, and addressed to the Right Honourable and Worshipful Sir William, Baron Walwyn of Hurst Walwyn, and he had further to endure the delay of carrying it to his grandfather's library, which he entered with far less delay and ceremony than was his wont. 'Sit down, Berenger,' said the old man, while addressing himself to the fastenings; and the permission was needed, for he could hardly have stood another minute. The covering contained a letter to Lord Walwyn himself, and a packet addressed to the Baron de Ribaumont which his trembling fingers could scarcely succeed in cutting and tearing open.

How shall it be told what the contents of the packet were? Lord Walwyn reading on with much concern, but little surprise, was nevertheless startled by the fierce shout with which Berenger broke out:

'A lie! A lie forged in hell!' And then seizing the parchment, was about to rend it with all the force of passion, when his grandfather, seizing his hand, said, in his calm, authoritative voice, 'Patience, my poor son.'

'How, how should I have patience when they send me such poisoned lies as these of my wife, and she is in the power of the villains? Grandfather, I must go instantly—-'

'Let me know what you have heard,' said Lord Walwyn, holding him feebly indeed, but with all the impressive power and gravity of his years.

'Falsehoods,' said Berenger, pushing the whole mass of papers over to him, and then hiding his head between his arms on the table.

Lord Walwyn finished his own letter first. Walsingham wrote with much kind compassion, but quite decisively. He had no doubt that the Ribaumont family had acted as one wheel in the great plot that had destroyed all the heads of Protestant families and swept away among others, as they had hoped, the only scion of the rival house. The old Chevalier de Ribaumont had, he said, begun by expressing sorrow for the mischance that had exposed his brave young cousin to be lost in the general catastrophe, and he had professed proportionate satisfaction on hearing of the young man's safety. But the Ambassador believed him to have been privy to his son's designs; and whether Mdlle. de Nid de Merle herself had been a willing agent or not, she certainly had remained in the hands of the family. The decree annulling the marriage had been published, the lady was in a convent in Anjou, and Narcisse de Ribaumont had just been permitted to assume the title of Marquis de Nid de Merle, and was gone into Anjou to espouse her. Sir Francis added a message of commiseration for the young Baron, but could not help congratulating his old friend on having his grandson safe and free from these inconvenient ties.

Berenger's own packet contained, in the first place, a copy of the cassation of the marriage, on the ground of its having been contracted when the parties were of too tender age to give their legal consent, and its having been unsatisfied since they had reached ecclesiastical years for lawful contraction of wedlock.

The second was one of the old Chevalier's polite productions. He was perfectly able to ignore Berenger's revocation of his application for the separation, since the first letter had remained unanswered, and the King's peremptory commands had prevented Berenger from taking any open measures after his return from Montpipeau. Thus the old gentleman, after expressing due rejoicing at his dear young cousin's recovery, and regret at the unfortunate mischance that had led to his confounded with the many suspected Huguenots, proceeded as if matters stood exactly as they had been before the pall-mall party, and as if the decree that he enclosed were obtained in accordance with the young Baron's intentions. He had caused it to be duly registered, and both parties were at liberty to enter upon other contracts of matrimony. The further arrangements which Berenger had undertaken to sell his lands in Normandy, and his claim on the ancestral castle in Picardy, should be carried out, and deeds sent for his signature so soon as he should be of age. In the meantime, the Chevalier courteously imparted to his fair cousin the marriage of his daughter, Mademoiselle Diane de Ribaumont with M. le Comte de Selinville, which had taken place on the last St. Martin's day, and of his niece, Mademoiselle Eustacie de Ribaumont de Nid de Merle with his son, who had received permission to take her father's title of Marquis de Nid de Merle. The wedding was to take place at Bellaise before the end of the Cardinal, and would be concluded before this letter came to hand.

Lastly, there was an ill written and spelt letter, running somewhat thus—

'Monseigneur,—Your faithful servant hopes that Monsieur le Baron will forgive him for not returning, since I have been assured by good priests that it is not possible to save my soul in a country of heretics. I have done everything as Monsieur commanded, I have gone down into Anjou, and have had the honour to see the young lady to whom Monsieur le Baron charged me with a commission, and I delivered to her his letter, whereupon the lady replied that she thanked M. le Baron for the honour he had done her, but that being on the point of marriage to M. le Marquis de Nid de Merle, she did not deem it fitting to write to him, nor had she any tokens to send him, save what he had received on the St. Barthelemy midnight; they might further his suit elsewhere. These, Monsieur, were her words, and she laughed as she said them, so gaily that I thought her fairer than ever. I have prevailed with her to take me into her service as intendant of the Chateau de Nid de Merle, knowing as she does my fidelity to the name of Ribaumont. And so, trusting Monseigneur will pardon me for what I do solely for the good of my soul, I will ever pray for his welfare, and remain,

'His faithful menial and valet, 'LANDRY OSBERT.'

The result was only what Lord Walwyn had anticipated, but he was nevertheless shocked at the crushing weight of the blow. His heart was full of compassion for the youth so cruelly treated in these his first years of life, and as much torn in his affections as mangled in person. After a pause, while he gathered up the sense of the letters, he laid his hand kindly on his grandson's arm, and said, 'This is a woeful budget, my poor son; we will do our best to help you to bear it.'

'The only way to bear it,' said Berenger, lifting up his face, 'is for me to take horse and make for Anjou instantly. She will hold out bravely, and I may yet save her.'

'Madness,' said his grandfather; 'you have then not read your fellow's letter?'

'I read no letter from fellow of mine. Yonder is a vile forgery. Narcisse's own, most likely. No one else would have so profaned her as to put such words into her mouth! My dear faithful foster-brother—have they murdered him?'

'Can you point to any proof that it is forged?' said Lord Walwyn, aware that handwriting was too difficult an art, and far too crabbed, among persons of Osbert's class, for there to be any individuality of penmanship.

'It is all forged,' said Berenger. 'It is as false that she could frame such a message as that poor Osbert would leave me.'

'These priests have much power over the conscience,' began Lord Walwyn; but Berenger, interrupting his grandfather for the first time in his life, cried, 'No priest could change her whole nature. Oh! my wife! my darling! what may they not be inflicting on her now! Sir, I must go. She may be saved! The deadly sin may be prevented!'

'This is mere raving, Berenger,' said Lord Walwyn, not catching half what he said, and understanding little more than his resolution to hasten in quest of the lady. 'You, who have not mounted a horse, nor walked across the pleasance yet!'

'My limbs should serve me to rescue her, or they are worth nothing to me.'

Lord Walwyn would have argued that he need not regret his incapacity to move, since it was no doubt already too late, but Berenger burst forth—'She will resist; she will resist to the utmost, even if she deems me dead. Tortures will not shake her when she knows I live. I must prepare.' And he started to his feet.

'Grandson,' said Lord Walwyn, laying a hand on his arm, 'listen to me. You are in not state to judge for yourself. I therefore command you to desist from this mad purpose.'

He spoke gravely, but Berenger was disobedient for the first time. 'My Lord,' he said, 'you are but my grandfather. She is my wife. My duty is to her.'

He had plucked his sleeve away and was gone, before Lord Walwyn had been able to reason with him that there was no wife in the case, a conclusion at which the old statesman would not have arrived had he known of the ceremony at Montpipeau, and all that had there passed; but not only did Berenger deem himself bound to respect the King's secret, but conversation was so difficult to him that he had told very little of his adventures, and less to Lord Walwyn than any one else. In effect, his grandfather considered this resolution of going to France as mere frenzy, and so it almost was, not only on the score of health and danger, but because as a ward, he was still so entirely under subjection, that his journey could have been hindered by absolutely forcible detention; and to this Lord Walwyn intended to resort, unless the poor youth either came to a more rational mind, or became absolutely unable to travel.

The last—as he had apprehended—came to pass only too surely. The very attempt to argue and to defend Eustacie was too much for the injured head; and long before night Berenger full believed himself on the journey, acted over its incidents, and struggled wildly with difficulties, all the time lying on his bed, with the old servants holding him down, and Cecily listening tearfully to his ravings.

For weeks longer he was to lie there in greater danger than ever. He only seemed soothed into quiet when Cecily chanted those old Latin hymns of her Benedictine rule, and then—when he could speak at all—he showed himself to be in imagination praying in Eustacie's convent chapel, sure to speak to her when the service should be over.



CHAPTER XV. NOTRE-DAME DE BELLAISE*



There came a man by middle day, He spied his sport and went away, And brought the king that very night, And brake my bower and slew my knight. The Border Widow's Lament

*[footnote: Bellaise is not meant for a type of all nunneries, but of the condition to which many of the lesser ones had come before the general reaction and purification of the seventeenth century.]

That same Latin hymn which Cecily St. John daily chanted in her own chamber was due from the choir of Cistercian sisters in the chapel of the Convent of Our Lady at Bellaise, in the Bocage of Anjou; but there was a convenient practice of lumping together the entire night and forenoon hours at nine o'clock in the morning, and all the evening ones at Compline, so that the sisters might have undisturbed sleep at night and entertainment by day. Bellaise was a very comfortable little nunnery, which only received richly dowered inmates, and was therefore able to maintain them in much ease, though without giving occasion to a breath of scandal. Founded by a daughter of the first Angevin Ribaumont, it had become a sort of appanage for the superfluous daughters of the house, and nothing would more have amazed its present head, Eustacie Barbe de Ribaumont,—conventually known as La Mere Marie Seraphine de St.-Louis, and to the world as Madame de Bellaise,—than to be accused of not fulfilling the intentions of the Bienheureuse Barbe, the foundress, or of her patron St. Bernard.

Madame de Bellaise was a fine-looking woman of forty, in a high state of preservation, owing to the healthy life she had led. Her eyes were of brilliant, beautiful black her complexion had a glow, her hair—for she wore it visibly—formed crisp rolls of jetty ringlets on her temples, almost hiding her close white cap. The heavy thick veil was tucked back beneath the furred purple silk hood that fastened under her chin. The white robes of her order were not of serge, but of the finest cloth, and were almost hidden by a short purple cloak with sleeves, likewise lined and edged with fur, and fastened on the bosom with a gold brooch. Her fingers, bearing more rings than the signet of her house, were concealed in embroidered gauntlets of Spanish leather. One of them held an ivory-handled riding-rod, the other the reins of the well-fed jennet, on which the lady, on a fine afternoon, late in the Carnival, was cantering home through the lanes of the Bocage, after a successful morning's hawking among the wheat-ears. She was attended by a pair of sisters, arrayed somewhat in the same style, and by a pair of mounted grooms, the falconer with his charge having gone home by a footway.

The sound of horses' feet approaching made her look towards a long lane that came down at right angles to that along which she was riding, and slacken her pace before coming to its opening. And as she arrived at the intersection, she beheld advancing, mounted on a little rough pony, the spare figure of her brother the Chevalier, in his home suit, so greasy and frayed, that only his plumed hat (and a rusty plume it was) and the old sword at his side showed his high degree.

He waved his hand to her as a sign to halt, and rode quickly up, scarcely giving time for a greeting ere he said, 'Sister the little one is not out with you.'

'No, truly, the little mad thing, she is stricter and more head-strong than ever was her preceptress. Poor Monique! I had hoped that we should be at rest when that cass-tete had carried off her scruples to Ste.-Claire, at Lucon, but here is this little droll far beyond her, without being even a nun!'

'Assuredly not. The business must be concluded at once. She must be married before Lent.'

'That will scarce be—in her present frame.'

'It must be. Listen, sister. Here is this miserable alive!'

'Her spouse!'

'Folly about her spouse! The decree from Rome has annulled the foolish mummery of her infancy. It came a week after the Protestant conspiracy, and was registered when the Norman peasants at Chateau Leurre showed contumacy. It was well; for, behold, our gallant is among his English friends, recovering, and even writing a billet. Anon he will be upon our hands in person. By the best fortune, Gillot fell in with his messenger this morning, prowling about on his way to the convent, and brought him to me to be examined. I laid him fat in ward, and sent Gillot off to ride day and night to bring my son down to secure the girl at once.'

'You will never obtain her consent. She is distractedly in love with his memory! Let her guess at his life, and—-'

'Precisely. Therefore must we be speedy. All Paris knows it by this time, for the fellow went straight to the English Ambassador; and I trust my son has been wise enough to set off already; for should we wait till after Lent, Monsieur le Baron himself might be upon us.'

'Poor child! You men little heed how you make a woman suffer.'

'How, Reverend Mother! you pleading for a heretic marriage, that would give our rights to a Huguenot—what say I?—an English renegade!'

'I plead not, brother. The injustice towards you must be repaired; but I have a certain love for my niece, and I fear she will be heartbroken when she learns the truth, the poor child.'

'Bah! The Abbess should rejoice in thus saving her soul! How if her heretic treated Bellaise like the convents of England?'

'No threats, brother. As a daughter of Ribaumont and a mother of the Church will I stand by you,' said the Abbess with dignity.

'And now tell me how it has been with the child. I have not seen her since we agreed that the request did but aggravate her. You said her health was better since her nurse had been so often with her, and that she had ceased from her austerities.'

'Not entirely; for when first she came, in her transports of despair and grief on finding Soeur Monique removed, she extorted from Father Bonami a sort of hope that she might yet save her husband's, I mean the Baron's soul. Then, truly, it was a frenzy of fasts and prayers. Father Bonami has made his profit, and so have the fathers of Chollet—all her money has gone in masses, and in alms to purchase the prayers of the poor, and she herself fasting on bread and water, kneeling barefooted in the chapel till she was transfixed with cold. No chaufferette, not she! Obstinate to the last degree! Tell her she would die—it was the best news one could bring; all her desire, to be in a more rigid house with Soeur Monique at Lucon. At length, Mere Perrine and Veronique found her actually fainting and powerless with cold on the chapel-floor; and since that time she has been more reasonable. There are prayers as much as ever; but the fancy to kill herself with fasting has passed. She begins to recover her looks, nay, sometimes I have thought she had an air of hope in her eyes and lips; but what know I? I have much to occupy me, and she persists in shutting herself up with her woman.'

'You have not allowed her any communication from without?'

'Mere Perrine has come and gone freely; but she is nothing. No, the child could have no correspondence. She did, indeed, write a letter to the Queen, as you know, brother, six weeks ago; but that has never been answered, nor could any letters have harmed you, since it is only now that this young man is known to be living.'

'You are right, sister. No harm can have been done. All will go well. The child must be wearied with her frenzy of grief and devotion! She will catch gladly at an excuse for change. A scene or two, and she will readily yield!'

'It is true,' said the Abbess, thoughtfully, 'that she has walked and ridden out lately. She has asked questions about her Chateaux, and their garrisons. I have heard nothing of the stricter convent for many weeks; but still, brother, you must go warily to work.'

'And you, sister, must show no relenting. Let her not fancy she can work upon you.'

By this time the brother and sister were at the gateway of the convent; a lay sister presided there, but there was no cloture, as the strict seclusion of a nunnery was called, and the Chevalier rode into the cloistered quadrangle as naturally as if he had been entering a secular Chateau, dismounted at the porch of the hall, and followed Madame de Bellaise to the parlour, while she dispatched a request that her niece would attend her there.

The parlour had no grating to divide it, but was merely a large room furnished with tapestry, carved chests, chairs, and cushions, much like other reception-rooms. A large, cheerful wood-fire blazed upon the hearth, and there was a certain air of preparation, as indeed an ecclesiastical dignity from Saumur was expected to sup with the ladies that evening.

After some interval, spent by the Chevalier in warming himself, a low voice at the door was heard, saying, 'Deus vobiscum.' The Abbess answered, 'Et cum spiritu tuo;' and on this monastic substitute for a knock and 'come in,' there appeared a figure draped and veiled from head to foot in heavy black, so as to look almost like a sable moving cone. She made an obeisance as she entered, saying, 'You commanded my presence, Madame?'

'Your uncle would speak to you, daughter, on affairs of moment.'

'At his service. I, too, would speak to him.'

'First, then, my dear friend,' said the Chevalier, 'let me see you. That face must not be muffled any longer from those who love you.'

She made no movement of obedience, until her aunt peremptorily bade her turn back her veil. She did so, and disclosed the little face, so well known to her uncle, but less childish in its form, and the dark eyes sparkling, though at once softer and more resolute.

'Ah! my fair niece,' said the Chevalier, 'this is no visage to be hidden! I am glad to see it re-embellished, and it will be lovelier than ever when you have cast off this disguised.'

'That will never be,' said Eustacie.

'Ah! we know better! My daughter is sending down a counterpart of her own wedding-dress for your bride of the Mardi-Gras.'

'And who may that bride be?' said Eustacie, endeavouring to speak as though it were nothing to her.

'Nay, ma petite! it is too long to play the ignorant when the bridegroom is on his way from Paris.'

'Madame,' said Eustacie, turning to her aunt, 'you cannot suffer this scandal. The meanest peasant may weep her first year of widowhood in peace.'

'Listen, child. There are weighty reasons. The Duke of Anjou is a candidate for the throne of Poland, and my son is to accompany him thither. He must go as Marquis de Nid de Merle, in full possession of your estates.'

'Let him take them,' began Eustacie, 'who first commits a cowardly murder, and then forces himself on the widow he has made?'

'Folly, child, folly,' said the Chevalier, who supposed her ignorant of the circumstances of her husband's assassination; and the Abbess, who was really ignorant, exclaimed—'Fid donc niece; you know not what you say.'

'I know, Madame—I know from an eye-witness,' said Eustacie, firmly. 'I know the brutal words that embittered my husband's death; and were there no other cause, they would render wedlock with him who spoke them sacrilege.' Resolutely and steadily did the young wife speak, looking at them with the dry fixed eye to which tears had been denied ever since that eventful night.'

'Poor child,' said the Chevalier to his sister. 'She is under the delusion still. Husband! There is none in the case.' Then waving his hand as Eustacie's face grew crimson, and her eyes flashed indignation, while her lips parted, 'It was her own folly that rendered it needful to put an end to the boy's presumption. Had she been less willful and more obedient, instead of turning the poor lad's head by playing at madame, we could have let him return to his island fogs; but when SHE encouraged him in contemplating the carrying her away, and alienating her and her lands from the true faith, there was but one remedy—to let him perish with the rest. My son is willing to forgive her childish pleasure in a boy's passing homage, and has obtained the King's sanction to an immediate marriage.'

'Which, to spare you, my dear,' added the aunt, 'shall take place in our chapel.'

'It shall never take place anywhere,' said Eustacie, quietly, though with a quiver in her voice; 'no priest will wed me when he has heard me.'

'The dispensation will overcome all scruples,' said the Abbess. 'Hear me, niece. I am sorry for you, but it is best that you should know at once that there is nothing in heaven or earth to aid you in resisting your duty.'

Eustacie made no answer, but there was a strange half-smile on her lip, and a light in her eye which gave her an air not so much of entreaty as of defiance. She glanced from one to the other, as if considering, but then slightly shook her head. 'What does she mean?' asked the Chevalier and the Abbess one of another, as, with a dignified gesture, she moved to leave the room.

'Follow her. Convince her that she has no hope,' said the uncle; and the Abbess, moving faster than her wont, came up with her at the archway whence one corridor led to the chapel, another to her own apartments. Her veil was down again, but her aunt roughly withdrew it, saying, 'Look at me, Eustacie. I come to warn you that you need not look to tamper with the sisters. Not one will aid you in your headstrong folly. If you cast not off ere supper-time this mockery of mourning, you shall taste of that discipline you used to sigh for. We have borne with your fancy long enough—you, who are no more a widow than I—nor wife.'

'Wife and widow am I in the sight of Him who will protect me,' said Eustacie, standing her ground.

'Insolent! Why, did I not excuse this as a childish delusion, should I not spurn one who durst love—what say I—not a heretic merely, but the foe of her father's house?'

'He!' cried Eustacie; 'what had he ever done?'

'He inherited the blood of the traitor Baron,' returned her aunt. 'Ever have that recreant line injured us! My nephew's sword avenged the wrongs of many generations.'

'Then,' said Eustacie, looking at her with a steady, fixed look of inquire, 'you, Madame l'Abbesse, would have neither mercy nor pity for the most innocent offspring of the elder line?'

'Girl, what folly is this to talk to me of innocence. That is not the question. The question is—obey willingly as my dear daughter, or compulsion must be used.'

'My question is answered,' said Eustacie, on her side. 'I see that there is neither pity nor hope from you.'

And with another obeisance, she turned to ascend the stairs. Madame paced back to her brother.

'What,' he said; 'you have not yet dealt with her?'

'No, brother, I never saw a like mood. She seems neither to fear nor to struggle. I knew she was too true a Ribaumont for weak tears and entreaties; but, fiery little being as once she was, I looked to see her force spend itself in passion, and that then the victory would have been easy; but no, she ever looks as if she had some inward resource—some security—and therefore could be calm. I should deem it some Huguenot fanaticism, but she is a very saint as to the prayers of the Church, the very torment of our lives.'

'Could she escape?' exclaimed the Chevalier, who had been considering while his sister was speaking.

'Impossible! Besides, where could she go? But the gates shall be closed. I will warn the portress to let none pass out without my permission.'

'The Chevalier took a turn up and down the room; then exclaimed, 'It was very ill-advised to let her women have access to her! Let us have Veronique summoned instantly.'

At that moment, however, the ponderous carriage of Monseigneur, with out-riders, both lay and clerical, came trampling up to the archway, and the Abbess hurried off to her own apartment to divest herself of her hunting-gear ere she received her guest; and the orders to one of the nuns to keep a watch on her niece were oddly mixed with those to the cook, confectioner, and butterer.

La Mere Marie Saraphine was not a cruel or an unkind woman. She had been very fond of her pretty little niece in her childhood, but had deeply resented the arrangement which had removed her from her own superintendence to that of the Englishwoman, besides the uniting to the young Baron one whom she deemed the absolute right of Narcisse. She had received Eustacie on her first return with great joy, and had always treated her with much indulgence, and when the drooping, broken-hearted girl came back once more to the shelter of her convent, the good-humoured Abbess only wished to make her happy again.

But Eustacie's misery was far beyond the ken of her aunt, and the jovial turn of these consolations did but deepen her agony. To be congratulated on her release from the heretic, assured of future happiness with her cousin, and, above all, to hear Berenger abused with all the bitterness of rival family and rival religion, tore up the lacerated spirit. Ill, dejected, and broken down, too subdued to fire up in defence, and only longing for the power of indulging in silent grief, Eustacie had shrunk from her, and wrapped herself up in the ceaseless round of masses and prayers, in which she was allowed to perceive a glimmering of hope for her husband's soul. The Abbess, ever busy with affairs of her convent or matters of pleasure, soon relinquished the vain attempt to console where she could not sympathize, trusted that the fever of devotion would wear itself out, and left her niece to herself. Of the seven nuns, two were decorously gay, like their Mother Abbess; one was a prodigious worker of tapestry, two were unrivalled save by one another as confectioners. Eustacie had been their pet in her younger days; now she was out of their reach, they tried in turn to comfort her; and when she would not be comforted, they, too, felt aggrieved by the presence of one whose austerity reproached their own laxity; they resented her disappointment at Soeur Monique's having been transferred to Lucon, and they, too, left her to the only persons whose presence she had ever seemed to relish,—namely, her maid Veronique, and Veronique's mother, her old nurse Perrine, wife of a farmer about two miles off. The woman had been Eustacie's foster-mother, and continued to exert over her much of the caressing care of a nurse.

After parting with her aunt, Eustacie for a moment looked towards the chapel, then, clasping her hands, murmured to herself, 'No! no! speed is my best hope;' and at once mounted the stairs, and entered a room, where the large stone crucifix, a waxen Madonna, and the holy water font gave a cell-like aspect to the room; and a straw pallet covered with sackcloth was on the floor, a richly curtained couch driven into the rear, as unused.

She knelt for a moment before the Madonna; 'Ave Maria, be with me and mine. Oh! blessed Lady, thou hadst to fly with thy Holy One from cruel men. Have thou pity on the fatherless!'

Then going to the door, she clapped her hands; and, as Veronique entered, she bade her shut and bolt the door, and at the same moment began in nervous haste to throw off her veil and unfasten her dress.

'Make haste, Veronique. A dress of thine—-'

'All is known, then!' cried Veronique, throwing up her arms.

'No, but he is coming—Narcisse—to marry me at once—Marde-Gras—-'

'Et quoi? Madame has but to speak the word, and it is impossible.'

'And after what my aunt has said, I would die a thousand deaths ere speaking that word. I asked her, Veronique! She would have vengeance on the most guiltless—the most guiltless—do you hear?—of the Norman house. Never, never shall she have the chance! Come, thy striped petticoat!'

'But, oh! what will Madame do? Where would she go? Oh! it is impossible.'

'First to thy father's. Yes, I know. He has once called it a madness to think of rallying my vassals to protect their lady. That was when he heard of it from thee—thou faint of heart—and thy mother. I shall speak to him in person now. Make haste, I tell thee, girl. I must be out of this place before I am watched or guarded,' she added breathlessly. 'I feel as if each moment I lost might have death upon it;' and she looked about her like a startled deer.

'To my father's. Ah! there it is not so ill! But the twilights, the length of way,' sobbed Veronique, in grievous distress and perplexity. 'Oh! Madame, I cannot see you go. The Mother Abbess is good. She must have pity. Oh, trust to her!'

'Trust! Did I not trust to my cousin Diane? Never! Nothing will kill me but remaining in their hands.'

Veronique argued and implored in vain. Ever since, in the height of those vehement austerities by which the bereaved and shattered sufferer strove to appease her wretchedness by the utmost endeavour to save her husband's soul, the old foster-mother had made known to her that she might thus sacrifice another than herself. Eustacie's elastic heart had begun to revive, with all its dauntless strength of will. What to her women seemed only a fear, was to her only a hope.

Frank and confiding as was her nature, however, the cruel deceptions already practiced on her by her own kindred, together with the harsh words with which the Abbess spoke of Berenger, had made her aware that no comfort must be looked for in that quarter. It was, after all, perhaps her won instinct, and the aunt's want of sympathy, that withheld her from seeking counsel of any save Perrine and her daughter, at any rate till she could communicate with the kind young Queen. To her, then, Eustacie had written, entreating that a royal mandate would recall her in time to bestow herself in some trustworthy hands, or even in her husband's won Norman castle, where his heir would be both safe and welcome. But time has passed—the whole space that she had reckoned as needful for the going and coming of her messenger—allowing for all the obstructions of winter roads—nay, he had come back; she knew letter was delivered, but answer there was none. It might yet come—perhaps a royal carriage and escort—and day after day had she waited and hoped, only tardily admitting the conviction that Elisabeth of Austria was as powerless as Eustacie de Ribaumont, and meantime revolving and proposing many a scheme that could only have entered the brain of a brave-spirited child as she was. To appeal to her vassals, garrison with them a ruinous old tower in the woods, and thence send for aid to the Montmorencys; to ride to Saumur, and claim the protection of the governor of the province; to make her way to the coast and sail for England; to start for Paris, and throw herself in person on the Queen's protection,—all had occurred to her, and been discussed with her two confidantes; but the hope of the Queen's interference, together with the exceeding difficulty of acting, had hitherto prevented her from taking any steps, since no suspicion had arisen in the minds of those about her. Veronique, caring infinitely more for her mistress's health and well-being than for the object of Eustacie's anxieties, had always secretly trusted that delay would last till action was impossible, and that the discovery would be made, only without her being accused of treason. In the present stress of danger, she could but lament and entreat, for Eustacie's resolution bore her down; and besides, as she said to herself, her Lady was after all going to her foster-father and mother, who would make her hear reason, and bring her back at once, and then there would be no anger nor disgrace incurred. The dark muddy length of walk would be the worst of it—and, bah! most likely Madame would be convinced by it, and return of her own accord.

So Veronique, though not intermitting her protests, adjusted her own dress upon her mistress,—short striped petticoat, black bodice, winged turban-like white cap, and a great muffling gray cloth cloak and hook over the head and shoulders—the costume in which Veronique was wont to run to her home in the twilight on various errands, chiefly to carry her mistress's linen; for starching Eustacie's plain bands and cuffs was Mere Perrine's special pride. The wonted bundle, therefore, now contained a few garments, and the money and jewels, especially the chaplet of pearls, which Eustacie regarded as a trust.

Sobbing, and still protesting, Veronique, however, engaged that if her Lady succeeded in safely crossing the kitchen in the twilight, and in leaving the convent, she would keep the secret of her escape as long as possible, reporting her refusal to appear at supper, and making such excuses as might very probably prevent the discovery of her flight till next day.

'And then,' said Eustacie, 'I will send for thee, either to Saumur or to the old tower! Adieu, dear Veronique, do not be frightened. Thou dost not know how glad I am that the time for doing something is come! To-morrow!'

'To-morrow!' thought Veronique, as she shut the door; 'before that you will be back here again, my poor little Lady, trembling, weeping, in dire need of being comforted. But I will make up a good fire, and shake out the bed. I'll let her have no more of that villainous palliasse. No, no, let her try her own way, and repent of it; then, when this matter is over, she will turn her mind to Chevalier Narcisse, and there will be no more languishing in this miserable hole.'



CHAPTER XVI. THE HEARTHS AND THICKETS OF THE BOCAGE.



I winna spare for his tender age, Nor yet for his hie kin; But soon as ever he born is, He shall mount the gallow's pin.—Fause Foodrage.

Dusk was closing in, but lamps had not yet been lighted, when with a trembling, yet almost a bounding heart, Eustacie stole down the stone staircase, leading to a back-door—an utterly uncanonical appendage to a nunnery, but one much used among the domestic establishment of Bellaise.

A gleam of red light spread across the passage from the half-open kitchen door, whence issued the savoury steam of the supper preparing for Monseigneur. Eustacie had just cautiously traversed it, when the voice of the presiding lay-sister called out, 'Veronique, is that you?'

'Sister!' returned Eustacie, with as much of the Angevin twang as she could assume.

'Where are you going?'

'To the Orchard Farm with this linen.'

'Ah! it must be. But there are strict orders come from Madame about nobody going out unreported, and you may chance to find the door locked if you do not come back in good time. Oh! and I had well-night forgot; tell your mother to be here early to-morrow, Madame would speak with her.'

Eustacie assented, half stifled by the great throb of her fluttering heart at the sense that she had indeed seized the last moment. Forth then she stepped. How dark, waste, and lonely the open field looked! But her heart did not fail her; she could only feel that a captivity was over, and the most vague and terrible of her anxieties soothed, as she made her way into one of the long shady lanes of the Bocage. It was nearly dark, and very muddy, but she had all the familiarity of a native with the way, and the farm, where she had trotted about in her infancy like a peasant's child, always seemed like home to her. It had been a prime treat to visit it during her time of education at the convent, and there was an association of pleasure in treading the path that seemed to bear her up, and give her enjoyment in the mere adventure and feeling of escape and liberty. She had no fear of the dark, nor of the distant barking of dogs, but the mire was deep, and it was plodding work in those heavy sabots, up the lane that led from the convent; and the poor child was sorely weary long before she came to the top of the low hill that she used scarcely to know to be rising round at all. The stars had come out; and as she sat for a few moments to rest on a large stone, she saw the lights of the cottage fires in the village below, and looking round could also see the many gleams in the convent windows, the read fire-light in her own room among them. She shivered a little as she thought of its glowing comfort, but turned her back resolutely, tightened her cloak over her head, looked up to a glimmer in the watch-tower of her own castle far above her on the hill and closed against her; and then smiled to herself with hope at the sparkle of a window in a lonely farmhouse among the fields.

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