CHAPTER XX. THE ABBE.
By the day and night her sorrows fall Where miscreant hands and rude Have stained her pure, ethereal pall With many a martyr's blood. And yearns not her maternal heart To hear their secret sighs, Upon whose doubting way apart Bewildering shadows rise?—KEBLE
It was in the summer twilight that Eustacie, sitting on the doorstep between the two rooms, with her baby on her knees, was dreamily humming to her a tune, without even words, but one that she loved, because she had first learnt to sing it with Berenger and his friend Sidney to the lute of the latter; and its notes always brought before her eyes the woods of Montpipeau. Then it was that, low and soft as was the voice, that befell which Noemi had feared: a worn, ragged-looking young man, who had been bargaining at the door for a morsel of bread in exchange for a handkerchief, started at the sound, and moved so as to like into the house.
Noemi was at the moment not attending, being absorbed in the study of the handkerchief, which was of such fine, delicate texture that an idea of its having been stolen possessed her; and she sought the corner where, as she expected, a coat-of-arms was embroidered. Just as she was looking up to demand explanation, the stranger, with a sudden cry of 'Good heavens, it is she!' pushed past her into the house, and falling on his knee before Eustacie, exclaimed, 'O Lady, Lady, is it thus that I see you?'
Eustacie had started up in dismay, crying out, 'Ah! M. l'Abbe, as you are a gentleman, betray me not. Oh! have they sent you to find me? Have pity on us! You loved my husband!'
'You have nothing to fear from me, Lady,' said the young man, still kneeling; 'if you are indeed a distressed fugitive—so am I. If you have shelter and friends—I have none.'
'Is it indeed so?' said Eustacie, wistfully, yet scarce reassured. 'You are truly not come from my uncle. Indeed, Monsieur, I would not doubt you, but you see I have so much at stake. I have my little one here, and they mean so cruelly by her.'
'Madame, I swear by the honour of a nobleman—nay, by all that is sacred—that I know nothing of your uncle. I have been a wanderer for many weeks past; proscribed and hunted down because I wished to seek into the truth.'
'Ah!' said Eustacie, with a sound of relief, and of apology, 'pardon me, sir; indeed, I know you were good. You loved my husband;' and she reached out her hand to raise him, when he kissed it reverently. Little bourgeoise and worn mendicant as they were in dress, the air of the Louvre breathed round them; and there was all its grace and dignity as the lady turned round to her astonished hosts, saying, 'Good sir, kind mother, this gentleman is, indeed, what you took me for, a fugitive for the truth. Permit me to present to you, Monsieur l'Abbe de Mericour—at least, so he was, when last I had the honour to see him.'
The last time HE had seen her, poor Eustacie had been incapable of seeing anything save that bloody pool at the foot of the stairs.
Mericour now turned and explained. 'Good friends,' he said courteously, but with the fierete of the noble not quite out of his tone, 'I beg your grace. I would not have used so little ceremony, if I had not been out of myself at recognizing a voice and a tune that could belong to none but Madame—-'
'Sit down, sir,' said Noemi, a little coldly and stiffly—for Mericour was a terrible name to Huguenots ears; 'a true friend to this lady must needs be welcome, above all if he comes in Heaven's name.'
'Sit down and eat, sir,' added Gardon, much more heartily; 'and forgive us for not having been more hospitable—but the times have taught us to be cautious, and in that lady we have a precious charge. Rest; for you look both weary and hungry.'
Eustacie added an invitation, understanding that he would not sit without her permission, and then, as he dropped into a chair, she exclaimed, 'Ah! sir, you are faint, but you are famished.'
'It will pass,' he said; 'I have not eaten to-day.'
Instantly a meal was set before him, and ere long he revived; and as the shutters were closed, and shelter for the night promised to him by a Huguenot family lodging in the same house, he began to answer Eustacie's anxious questions, as well as to learn from her in return what had brought her into her present situation.
Then it was that she recollected that it had been he who, at her cousin Diane's call, had seized her when she was rushing out of the palace in her first frenzy of grief, and had carried her back to the women's apartments.
'It was that day which brought me here,' he said.
And he told how, bred up in his own distant province, by a pious and excellent tutor, he had devoutly believed in the extreme wickedness of the Reformers; but in his seclusion he had been trained to such purity of faith and morals, that, when his brother summoned him to court to solicit a benefice, he had been appalled at the aspect of vice, and had, at the same time, been struck by the pure lives of the Huguenots; for truly, as things then were at the French court, crime seemed to have arrayed itself on the side of the orthodox party, all virtue on that of the schismatics.
De Mericour consulted spiritual advisers, who told him that none but Catholics could be truly holy, and that what he admired were merely heathen virtues that the devil permitted the Huguenots to display in order to delude the unwary. With this explanation he had striven to be satisfied, though eyes unblended by guilt and a pure heart continued to be revolted at the practices which his Church, scared at the evil times, and forgetful of her own true strength, left undenounced in her partisans. And the more that the Huguenot gentlemen thronged the court, and the young Abbe was thrown into intercourse with them, and the more he perplexed himself how the truth, the faith, the uprightness, the forbearance, the purity that they evinced could indeed be wanting in the zeal that made them acceptable. Then came the frightful morning when carnage reigned in every street, and the men who had been treated as favourite boon companions were hunted down like wild beasts in every street. He had endeavoured to save life, but would have speedily been slaughtered himself except for his soutane; and in all good faith he had hurried to the Louvre, to inform royalty of the horrors that, as he thought, a fanatic passion was causing the populace to commit.
He found the palace become shambles—the King himself, wrought up to frenzy, firing on the fugitives. And the next day, while his brain still seemed frozen with horror, he was called on to join in the procession of thanksgiving for the King's deliverance from a dangerous plot. Surely, if the plot were genuine, he thought, the procession should have savoured of penance and humiliation rather than of barbarous exultation! Yet these might be only the individual crimes of the Queen-mother, and of the Guises seeking to mask themselves under the semblance of zeal; and the infallible head of the visible Church would disown the slaughter, and cast it from the Church with loathing as a blood-stained garment. Behold, Rome was full of rejoicing, and sent sanction and commendation of the pious zeal of the King! Had the voice of Holy Church become indeed as the voice of the bloodhound? Was this indeed her call?
The young man, whose life from infancy had been marked out for the service of the Church—so destined by his parents as securing a wealthy provision for a younger son, but educated by his good tutor with more real sense of his obligations—felt the question in its full import. He was under no vows; he had, indeed, received the tonsure, but was otherwise unpledged, and he was bent on proving all things. The gaieties in which he had at first mingled had become abhorrent to him, and he studied with the earnestness of a newly-awakened mind in search of true light. The very face of study and inquiry, in one of such a family as that of his brother the Duke de Mericour, was enough to excite suspicion of Huguenot inclinations. The elder brother tried to quash the folly of the younger, by insisting on his sharing the debaucheries which, whether as priest or monk, or simply as Christian man, it would be his duty to abjure; and at length, by way of bringing things to a test, insisted on his making one of a party who were about to break up and destroy a Huguenot assembly. Unable, in his present mood, to endure the thought of further cruelty, the young Abbe fled, gave secret warning to the endangered congregation, and hastened to the old castle in Brittany, where he had been brought up, to pour out his perplexities, and seek the counsel of the good old chaplain who had educated him. Whether the kind, learned, simple-hearted tutor could have settled his mind, he had no time to discover, for he had scarcely unfolded his troubles before warnings came down that he had better secure himself—his brother, as head of the family, had obtained the royal assent to the imprisonment of the rebellious junior, so as to bring him to a better mind, and cure him of the Huguenot inclinations, which in the poor lad were simply undeveloped. But in all the Catholic eyes he was a tainted man, and his almost inevitable course was to take refuge with some Huguenot relations. There he was eagerly welcome; instruction was poured in on him; but as he showed a disposition to inquire and examine, and needed time to look into what they taught him, as one who feared to break his link with the Church, and still longed to find her blameless and glorious, the righteous nation that keepeth the truth, they turned on him and regarded him as a traitor and a spy, who had come among them on false pretences.
All the poor lad wanted was time to think, time to examine, time to consult authorities, living and dead. The Catholics called this treason to the Church, the Huguenots called it halting between two opinions; and between them he was a proscribed, distrusted vagabond, branded on one side as a recreant, and on the other as a traitor. He had asked for a few months of quiet, and where could they be had? His grand-mother had been the daughter of a Scottish nobleman in the French service, and he had once seen a nephew of hers who had come to Paris during the time of Queen Mary's residence there. He imagined that if he were once out of this distracted land of France, he might find respite for study, for which he longed; and utterly ignorant of the real state of Scotland, he had determined to make his way to his kindred there; and he had struggled on the way to La Rochelle, cheated out of the small remains of his money, selling his last jewels and all the clothing that was not indispensable, and becoming so utterly unable to pay his passage to England, that he could only trust to Providence to find him some means of reaching his present goal.
He had been listened to with kindness, and a sympathy such as M. Gardon's large mind enable him to bestow, where his brethren had been incapable of comprehending that a man could sincerely doubt between them and Rome. When the history was finished, Eustacie exclaimed, turning to Maitre Gardon, 'Ah! sir, is not this just what we sought? If this gentleman would but convey a letter to my mother-in-law—-'
M. Gardon smiled. 'Scotland and England are by no means the same place, Lady,' he said.
'Whatever this lady would command, wherever she would send me, I am at her service,' cried the Abbe, fervently.
And, after a little further debate, it was decided that it might really be the best course, for him as for Madame de Ribaumont, to become the bearer of a letter and token from her, entreating her mother-in-law to notify her pleasure whether she should bring her child to England. She had means enough to advance a sufficient sum to pay Mericour's passage, and he accepted it most punctiliously as a loan, intending, so soon as her despatches were ready, to go on to La Rochelle, and make inquiry for a ship.
Chance, however, seemed unusually propitious, for the next day there was an apparition in the streets of La Sablerie of four or five weather-beaten, rollicking-looking men, their dress profusely adorned with ribbons, and their language full of strange oaths. They were well known at La Sablerie as sailors belonging to a ship of the fleet of the Count de Montgomery, the unfortunate knight whose lance had caused the death of King Henry II., and who, proscribed by the mortal hatred of Catherine de Medicis, had become the admiral of a piratical fleet in the Calvinist interest, so far winked at the Queen Elizabeth that it had its head-quarters in the Channel Islands, and thence was a most formidable foe to merchant vessels on the northern and eastern coasts of France; and often indulged in descents on the coast, when the sailors—being in general the scum of the nation—were apt to comport themselves more like American buccaneers than like champions of any form of religion.
La Sablerie was a Huguenot town, so they used no violence, but only swaggered about, demanding from Bailli La Grasse, in the name of their gallant Captain Latouche, contributions and provisions, and giving him to understand that if he did not comply to the uttermost it should be the worse for him. Their ship, it appeared, had been forced to put into the harbour, about two miles off, and Maitre Gardon and the young Abbe decided on walking thither to see it, and to have an interview with the captain, so as to secure a passage for Mericour at least. Indeed Maitre Gardon had, in consultation with Eustacie, resolved, if he found things suitable, to arrange for their all going together. She would be far safer out of France; and, although the Abbe alone could not have escorted her, yet Maitre Gardon would gladly have secured for her the additional protection of a young, strong, and spirited man; and Eustacie, who was no scribe, was absolutely relieved to have the voyage set before her as an alternative to the dreadful operation of composing a letter to the belle-mere, whom she had not seen since she had been seven years old, and of whose present English name she had the most indistinct ideas.
However, the first sight of the ship overthrew all such ideas. It was a wretched single-decked vessel, carrying far more sail than experienced nautical eyes would have deemed safe, and with no accommodation fit for a woman and child, even had the aspect of captain or crew been more satisfactory—for the ruffianly appearance and language of the former fully rivaled that of his sailors. It would have been mere madness to think of trusting the lady in such hands; and, without a word to each other, Gardon and Mericour resolved to give no hint even that she and her jewels were in La Sablerie. Mericour, however, made his bargain with the captain, who understood to transport him as far as Guernsey, whence he might easily make his way to Dorsetshire, where M. Gardon knew that Berenger's English home had been.
So Eustacie, with no small trouble and consideration, indited her letter—telling of her escape, the birth of her daughter, the dangers that threatened her child—and begging that its grand-mother would give it a safe home in England, and love it for the sake of its father. An answer would find her at the Widow Noemi Laurent's, Rue des Trois Fees, La Sablerie. She could not bring herself to speak of the name of Eserance Gardon which had been saddled upon her; and even M. de Mericour remained in ignorance of her bearing this disguise. She recommended him to the kindness of her mother-in-law; and M. Gardon added another letter to the lady, on behalf of the charge to whom he promised to devote himself until he should see them safe in friendly hands. Both letters were addressed, as best they might be, between Eustacie's dim comprehension of the word Thistlewood, and M. Gardon's notion of spelling. 'Jadis, Baronne de Ribaumont' was the securest part of the direction.
And for a token, Eustacie looked over her jewels to find one that would serve for a token; but the only ones she knew would be recognized, were the brooch that had fastened the plume in Berenger's bloody cap, and the chaplet of pearls. To part with the first, or to risk the second in the pirate-ship, was impossible, but Eustacie at last decided upon detaching the pear-shaped pearl which was nearest the clasp, and which was so remarkable in form and tint that there was no doubt of its being well known.
CHAPTER XXI. UNDER THE WALNUT-TREE
Mistress Jean was making the elder-flower wine— 'And what brings the Laird at sic a like time?' LADY NAIRN, THE LAIRD OF COCKPEN
Summer was nearly ended, and Lucy Thistlewood was presiding in the great kitchen of the Manor-house, standing under the latticed window near the large oak-table, a white apron over her dress, presiding over the collecting of elder-berries for the brew of household-wine for the winter. The maids stood round her with an array of beechen bowls or red and yellow crocks, while barefooted, bareheaded children came thronging in with rush or wicker baskets of the crimson fruit, which the maids poured in sanguine cascades into their earthenware; and Lucy requited with substantial slices of bread and cheese, and stout homely garment mostly of her own sewing.
Lucy was altogether an inmate of her father's house. She had not even been at Hurst Walwyn for many months; for her step-mother's reiterated hopes that Berenger would make her his consolation for all he had suffered from his French spouse rendered it impossible to her to meet him with sisterly unconsciousness; and she therefore kept out of the way, and made herself so useful at home, that Dame Annora only wondered how it had been possible to spare her so long, and always wound up her praises by saying, that Berenger would learn in time how lucky he had been to lose the French puppet, and win the good English housewife.
If only tidings would have come that the puppet was safe married. That was the crisis which all the family desired yet feared for Berenger, since nothing else they saw would so detach his thoughts from the past as the leave him free to begin life again. The relapse brought on by the cruel reply to Osbert's message had been very formidable: he was long insensible or delirious and then came a state of annihilated thought, then of frightfully sensitive organs, when light, sound, movement, or scent were alike agony; and when he slowly revived, it was with such sunken spirits, that his silence was as much from depression as from difficulty of speech. His brain was weak, his limbs feeble, the wound in his mouth never painless; and all this necessarily added to his listless indifference and weariness, as though all youthful hope and pleasure were extinct in him. He had ceased to refer to the past. Perhaps he had thought it over, and seen that the deferred escape, the request for the pearls, the tryst at the palace, and detention from the king's chamber, made an uglier case against Eustacie than he could endure to own even to himself. If his heart trusted, his mind could not argue out her defence, and his tongue would not serve him for discussion with his grandfather, the only person who could act for him. Perhaps the stunned condition of his mind made the suspense just within the bounds of endurance, while trust in his wife's innocence rendered his inability to come to her aid well-nigh intolerable; and doubt of her seemed both profanity and misery unspeakable. He could do nothing. He had shot his only shaft by sending Landry Osbert, and had found that to endeavour to induce his grandfather to use further measures was worse than useless, and was treated as mere infatuation. He knew that all he had to do was to endeavour for what patience he could win from Cecily's sweet influence and guidance, and to wait till either certainty should come—that dreadful, miserable certainty that all looked for, and his very helplessness might be bringing about—or till he should regain strength to be again effective.
And miserably slow work was this recovery. No one had surgical skill to deal with so severe a wound as that which Narcisse had inflicted; and the daily pain and inconvenience it caused led to innumerable drawbacks that often—even after he had come as far as the garden—brought him back to his bed in a dark room, to blood-letting, and to speechlessness. No one knew much of his mind—Cecily perhaps the most; and next to her, Philip—who, from the time he had been admitted to his step-brother's presence, had been most assiduous in tending him—seemed to understand his least sign, and to lay aside all his boisterous roughness in his eager desire to do him service. The lads had loved each other from the moment they had met as children, but never so apparently as now, when all the rude horse-play of healthy youths was over—and one was dependent, the other considerate. And if Berenger had made on one else believe in Eustacie, he had taught Philip to view her as the 'Queen's men' viewed Mary of Scotland. Philip had told Lucy the rough but wholesome truth, that 'Mother talks mere folly. Eustacie is no more to be spoken of with you than a pheasant with old brown Partlet; and Berry waits but to be well to bring her off from all her foes. And I'll go with him.'
It was on Philip's arm that Berenger first crept round the bowling-green, and with Philip at his rein that he first endured to ride along the avenue on Lord Walwyn's smooth-paced palfrey; and it was Philip who interrupted Lucy's household cares by rushing in and shouting, 'Sister, here! I have wiled him to ride over the down, and he is sitting under the walnut-tree quite spent, and the three little wenches are standing in a row, weeping like so many little mermaids. Come, I say!'
Lucy at once followed him through the house, through the deep porch to the court, which was shaded by a noble walnut-tree, where Sir Marmaduke loved to sit among his dogs. There not sat Berenger, resting against the trunk, overcome by the heat and exertion of his ride. His cloak and hat lay on the ground; the dogs fawned round him, eager for the wonted caress, and his three little sisters stood a little aloof, clinging to one another and crying piteously.
It was their first sight of him; and it seemed to them as if he were behind a frightful mask. Even Lucy was not without a sensation of the kind, of this effect in the change from the girlish, rosy complexion to extreme paleness, on which was visible, in ghastly red and purple, the great scar left by Narcisse, from the temple on the one side to the ear on the other.
The far more serious would on the cheek was covered with a black patch, and the hair had almost entirely disappeared from the head, only a few light brown locks still hanging round the neck and temples, so that the bald brow gave a strange look of age; and the disfigurement was terrible, enhanced as it was by the wasting effect of nearly a year of sickness. Lucy was so much shocked, that she could hardly steady her voice to chide the children for not giving a better welcome to their brother. They would have clung round her, but she shook them off, and sent Annora in haste for her mother's fan; while Philip arriving with a slice of diet-bread and a cup of sack, the one fanned him, and the other fed him with morsels of the cake soaked in the wine, till he revived, looked up with eyes that were unchanged, and thanked them with a few faltering words, scarcely intelligible to Lucy. The little girls came nearer, and curiously regarded him but when he held out his hand to his favourite Dolly, she shrank back in reluctance.
'Do not chide her,' he said wearily. 'May she never become used to such marks!'
'What, would you have her live among cowards?' exclaimed Philip; but Berenger, instead of answering, looked up at the front of the house, one of those fine Tudor facades that seem all carved timber and glass lattice, and asked, so abruptly that Lucy doubted whether she heard him alright,—'How many windows are there in this front?'
'I never counted,' said Philip.
'I have,' said Annora; 'there are seven and thirty, besides the two little ones in the porch.'
'None shall make them afraid,' he muttered. 'Who would dare build such a defenceless house over yonder?'—pointing south.
'Our hearts are guarded now,' said Philip, proudly. Berenger half smiled, as he was wont to do when he meant more than he could conveniently utter, and presently he asked, in the same languid, musing tone, 'Lucy, were you ever really affrighted?'
Lucy questioned whether he could be really in his right mind, as if the bewilderment of his brain was again returning; and while she paused, Annora exclaimed, 'Yes, when we were gathering cowslips, and the brindled cow ran at us, and Lucy could not run because she had Dolly in her arm. Oh! we were frightened then, till you came, brother.'
'Yes,' added Bessie; 'and last winter too, when the owl shrieked at the window—-'
'And,' added Berenger, 'sister, what was your greatest time of revelry?'
Annora again put in her word. 'I know, brother; you remember the fair-day, when my Lady Grandame was angered because you and Lucy went on dancing when we and all then gentry had ceased. And when Lucy said she had not seen that you were left alone, Aunt Cecily said it was because the eyes of discretion were lacking.'
'Oh, the Christmas feast was far grander,' said Bessie. 'Then Lucy had her first satin farthingale, and three gallants, besides my brother, wanted to dance with her.'
Blushing deeply, Lucy tried to hush the little ones, much perplexed by the questions, and confused by the answers. Could he be contrasting the life where a vicious cow had been the most alarming object, a greensward dance with a step-brother the greatest gaiety, dye of the elder juice the deepest stain, with the temptations and perils that had beset one equally young? Resting his head on his hand, his elbow on his knee, he seemed to be musing in a reverie that he could hardly brook, as his young brow was knitted by care and despondency.
Suddenly, the sounds in the village rose from the quiet sleepy summer hum into a fierce yell of derisive vituperation, causing Philip at once to leap up, and run across the court to the entrance-gate, while Lucy called after him some vain sisterly warning against mingling in a fray.
It seemed as if his interposition had a good effect, for the uproar lulled almost as soon as he had hurried to the scene of action; and presently he reappeared, eager and breathless. 'I told them to bring him up here,' he said; 'they would have flogged him at the cart's-tail, the rogues, just because my father is out of the way. I could not make out his jargon, but you can, brother; and make that rascal Spinks let him go.'
'What should I have to do with it?' said Berenger, shrinking from the sudden exposure of his scarred face and maimed speech. 'I am no magistrate.'
'But you can understand him; he is French, the poor rogue something abut a letter, and wanting to ask his way. Ah! I thought that would touch you, and it will cost you little pains, and slouching it over his face, rose, and, leaning upon Annora's shoulder, stepped forward, just as the big burly blacksmith-constable and small shriveled cobbler advanced, dragging along, by a cord round the wrists, a slight figure with a red woolen sailor's shirt, ragged black hosen, bare head, and almost bare feet.
Doffing their caps, the men began an awkward salutation to the young Lord on his recovery, but he only touched his beaver in return, and demanded, 'How now! what have you bound him for?'
'You see, my Lord,' began the constable, 'there have been a sort of vagrants of late, and I'll be bound' twas no four-legged fox as took Gaffer Shepherd's lamb.'
The peroration was broken off, for with a start as if he had been shot, Berenger cried aloud, 'Mericour! the Abbe!'
'Ah, Monsieur, if you know me,' cried the young man, raising his head, 'free me from this shame—aid me in my mission!'
'Loose him, fellows,' shouted Berenger; 'Philip, a knife—Lucy, those scissors.'
'Tis my duty, my Lord,' said Spinks, gruffly. 'All vagabonds to be apprehended and flogged at the cart's-tail, by her Grace's special commands. How is it to be answered to his Honour, Sir Marmaduke?'
'Oaf!' cried Philip, 'you durst not have used such violence had my father been at home! Don't you see my brother knows him?'
With hands trembling with haste, Berenger had seized the scissors that, house-wife like, hung at Lucy's waist, and was cutting the rope, exclaiming in French, 'Pardon, pardon, friend, for so shameful a reception.'
'Sir,' was the reply, without a sign of recognition, 'if, indeed, you know my name, I entreat you to direct me to the chateau of Le Sieur Tistefote, whose lady was once Baronne de Ribaumont.'
'My mother! Ah, my friend, my friend! what would you?' he cried in a tone of tremulous hope and fear, laying one hand on Mericour's shoulder, and about to embrace him.
Mericour retreated from him; but the high-spirited young man crossed his arms on his breast, and gazing at the group with indignant scorn, made answer, 'My message is from her who deems herself a widow, to the mother of the husband whom she little imagines to be not only alive, but consoled.'
'Faithful! Faithful!' burst out Berenger, with a wild, exultant, strangely-ringing shout. 'Woe, woe to those who would have had me doubt her! Philip—Lucy—hear! Her truth is clear to all the world!' Then changing back again to French, 'Ten thousand blessings on you, Mericour! You have seen her! Where—how?'
Mericour still spoke with frigid politeness. 'I had the honour to part with Madame la Baronne de Ribaumont in the town of La Sablerie, among humble, Huguenot guardians, to whom she had fled, to save her infant's life—when no aid came.'
He was obliged to break off, for Berenger, stunned by the sudden rush of emotion, reeled as he stood, and would have fallen but for the prompt support of Lucy, who was near enough to guide him back to rest upon the bench, saying resentfully in French as she did so, 'My brother is still very ill. I pray you, sir, have a care.'
She had not half understood the rapid words of the two young men, Philip comprehended them far less, and the constable and his crew of course not at all; and Spinks pushed forward among the group as he saw Berenger sink back on the bench; and once more collaring his prisoner, exclaimed almost angrily to Philip, 'There now, sir, you've had enough of the vagabond. We'll keep him tight ere he bewitches any more of you.'
This rude interference proved an instant restorative. Berenger sprang up at once, and seizing Spink's arm, exclaimed, 'Hands off, fellow! This is my friend—a gentleman. He brings me tidings of infinite gladness. Who insults him, insults me.'
Spinks scarcely withdrew his hand from Mericour's neck; and scowling, said, 'Very odd gentleman—very queer tidings, Master Berenger, to fell you like an ox. I must be answerable for the fellow till his Honour comes.'
'Ah! Eh quoi, wherefore not show the canaille your sword?' said Mericour, impatiently.
'It may not be here, in England,' said Berenger (who fortunately was not wearing his weapon). 'And in good time here comes my step-father,' as the gate swung back, and Sir Marmaduke and Lady Thistlewood rode through it, the former sending his voice far before him to demand the meaning of the hurly-burly that filled his court.
Philip was the first to spring to his rein, exclaiming, 'Father, it is a Frenchman whom Spinks would have flogged at the cart's-tail; but it seems he is a friend of Berenger's, and has brought him tidings. I know not what—about his wife, I believe—any way he is beside himself with joy.'
'Sir, your Honour,' shouted Spinks, again seizing Mericour, and striving to drag him forward, 'I would know whether the law is to be hindered from taking its course because my young Lord there is a Frenchman and bewitched.'
'Ah,' shrieked Lady Thistlewood, 'I knew it. They will have sent secret poison to finish him. Keep the fellow safe. He will cast it in the air.'
'Ay, ay, my Lady,' said Spinks, 'there are plenty of us to testify that he made my young Lord fall back as in a swoon, and reel like one distraught. Pray Heaven it have not gone further.'
'Sir,' exclaimed Berenger, who on the other side held his friend's hand tight, 'this is a noble gentleman—the brother of the Duke de Mericour. He has come at great risk to bring me tidings of my dear and true wife. And not one word will these demented rascals let me hear with their senseless clamour.'
'Berenger! You here, my boy!' exclaimed Sir Marmaduke, more amazed by this than all the rest.
'He touches him—he holds him! Ah! will no one tear him away?' screamed Lady Thistlewood. Nor would Spinks have been slow in obeying her if Sir Marmaduke had not swung his substantial form to the ground, and stepping up to the prisoner, rudely clawed on one side by Spinks, and affectionately grasped on the other side by Berenger, shouted—
'Let go, both!' does he speak English? Peace, dame! If the lad be bewitched, it is the right way. He looks like the other man. Eh, lad, what does your friend say for himself?'
'Sir,' said Berenger, interpreting Mericour's words as they were spoken, 'he has been robbed and misused at sea by Montgomery's pirate crews. He fled from court for the religion's sake; he met her—my wife' (the voice was scarcely intelligible, so tremulously was it spoken), 'in hiding among the Huguenots—he brings a letter and a token from her to my mother.'
'Ha! And you know him? You avouch him to be what he represents himself?'
'I knew him at court. I know him well. Father, make these fellows cease their insults! I have heard nothing yet. See here!' holding out what Mericour had put into his hand; 'this you cannot doubt, mother.'
'Parted the pearls! Ah, the little minx!' cried the lady, as she recognized the jewels.
'I thought he had been robbed?' added Sir Marmaduke.
'The gentleman doubts?' said Mericour, catching some of the words. 'He should know that what is confided in a French gentleman is only taken from him with his life. Much did I lose; but the pearl I kept hidden in my mouth.'
Therewith he produced the letter. Lady Thistlewood pronounced that no power on earth should induce her to open it, and drew off herself and her little girls to a safe distance from the secret poison she fancied it contained; while Sir Marmaduke was rating the constables for taking advantage of his absence to interpret the Queen's Vagrant Act in their own violent fashion; ending, however, by sending them round to the buttery-hatch to drink the young Lord's health. For the messeger, the good knight heartily grasped his hand, welcoming him and thanking him for having 'brought comfort to you poor lad's heart.'
But there Sir Marmaduke paused, doubting whether the letter had indeed brought comfort; for Berenger, who had seized on it, when it was refused by his mother, was sitting under the tree—turning away indeed, but not able to conceal that his tears were gushing down like rain. The anxious exclamation of his step-father roused him at length, but he scarce found power or voice to utter, as he thrust the letter into the knight's hand, 'Ah! see what has she not suffered for me! me, whom you would have had believed her faithless!'
He then grasped his friend's arm, and with him disappeared into the house, leaving Sir Marmaduke holding the letter in a state of the utmost bewilderment, and calling by turns on his wife and daughter to read and explain it to him.
And as Lucy read the letter, with her mother could not yet prevail on herself to touch, she felt at each word more grateful to the good Aunt Cecily, whose influence had taught her always to view Berenger as a brother, and not to condemn unheard the poor young wife. If she had not been thus guarded, what distress might not this day of joy to Berenger have brought to Lucy! Indeed, Lady Thistlewood was vexed enough as it was, and ready to carry her incredulity to the most inconsistent lengths. 'It was all a trick for getting the poor boy back, that they might make an end of him altogether. Tell her they thought him dead.—'Tilley-valley! It was a mere attempt on her own good-nature, to get a little French impostor on her hands. Let Sir Duke look well to it, and take care that her poor boy was not decoyed among them. The Frenchman might be cutting his throat at that moment! Where was he? Had Sir Duke been so lost as to let them out of sight together? No one had either pity or prudence now that her poor father was gone;' and she began to weep.
'No great fear on that score, dame,' laughed the knight. 'Did you not hear the lad shouting for 'Phil, Phil!' almost in a voice like old times? It does one good to hear it.'
Just at twilight, Berenger came down the steps, conducting a graceful gentleman in black, to whom Lady Thistlewood's instinct impelled her to make a low courtesy, before Berenger had said, 'Madam, allow me to present to you my friend, the Abbe de Mericour.'
'Is it the same?' whispered Bessie to Annora. 'Surely he is translated!'
'Only into Philip's old mourning suit. I know it by the stain on the knee.
'Then it is translated too. Never did it look so well on Philip! See, our mother is quite gracious to him; she speaks to him as though he were some noble visitor to my Lord.'
Therewith Sir Marmaduke came forward, shook Mericour with all his might by the hand, shouted to him his hearty thanks for the good he had done his poor lad and assured him of a welcome from the very bottom of his heart. The good knight would fain have kept both Berenger and his friend at the Manor, but Berenger was far too impatient to carry home his joy, and only begged the loan of a horse for Mericour. For himself, he felt as if fatigue or dejection would never touch him again, and he kissed his mother and his sisters, including Lucy, all round, with an effusion of delight.
'Is that indeed your step-father?' said Mericour, as they rode away together. 'And the young man, is he your half-brother?'
'Brother wholly in dear love,' said Berenger; 'no blood relation. The little girls are my mother's children.'
'Ah! so large a family all one? All at home? None in convents?'
'We have no convents.'
'Ah, no, but all at home! All at peace! This is a strange place, your England.'
CHAPTER XXII. DEPARTURE
It is my mistress! Since she is living, let the time run on To good or bad.—CYMBELINE
Mericour found the welcome at Hurst Walwyn kindly and more polished than that at Combe Manor. He was more readily understood, and found himself at his natural element. Lord Walwyn, in especial, took much notice of him, and conversed with him long and earnestly; while Berenger, too happy and too weary to exert himself to say many words, sat as near Cecily as he could, treating her as though she, who had never contradicted in his trust in Eustacie, were the only person who could worthily share his infinite relief, peace, and thankfulness.
Lord Walwyn said scarcely anything to his grandson that night, only when Berenger, as usual, bent his knee to ask his blessing on parting for the night, he said, gravely, 'Son, I am glad of your joy; I fear me you have somewhat to pardon your grandsire. Come to my library so soon as morning prayers be over; we will speak then. Not now, my dear lad,' he added, as Berenger, with tears in his eyes, kissed his hand, and would have begun; 'you are too much worn and spent to make my dear ears hear. Sleep, and take my blessing with you.'
It was a delight to see the young face freed from the haggard, dejected expression that had been sadder than the outward wound; and yet it was so questionable how far the French connection was acceptable to the family, that when Berenger requested Mr. Adderley to make mention of the mercy vouch-safed to him in the morning devotions, the chaplain bowed, indeed, but took care to ascertain that his so doing would be agreeable to my Lord and my Lady.
He found that if Lady Walwyn was still inclined to regret that the Frenchwoman was so entirely a wife, and thought Berenger had been very hasty and imprudent, yet that the old Lord was chiefly distressed at the cruel injustice he had so long been doing this poor youth thing. A strong sense of justice, and long habit of dignified self-restraint, alone prevented Lord Walwyn from severely censuring Mr. Adderley for misrepresentations; but the old nobleman recollected that Walsingham had been in the same story, and was too upright to visit his own vexation on the honestly-mistaken tutor.
However, when Berenger made his appearance in the study, looking as if not one right, but weeks, had been spent in recovering health and spirit, the old man's first word was a gentle rebuke for his having been left unaware of how far matters had gone; but he cut short the attempted reply, but saying he knew it was chiefly owing to his own over-hasty conclusion, and fear of letting his grandson injure himself by vainly discussing the subject. Now, however, he examined Berenger closely on all the proceedings Paris and at Montpipeau, and soon understood that the ceremony had been renewed, ratifying the vows taken in infancy. The old statesman's face cleared up at once; for, as he explained, he had now no anxieties as to the validity of the marriage by English law, at least, in spite of the decree from Rome, which, as he pointed out to his grandson, was wholly contingent on the absence of subsequent consent, since the parties had come to an age for free-will. Had he known of this, the re-marriage, he said, he should certainly have been less supine. Why had Berenger been silent?
'I was commanded, sir. I fear I have transgressed the command by mentioning it now. I must pray you to be secret.'
'Secret, foolish lad. Know you not that the rights of your wife and your children rest upon it?' and as the change in Berenger's looks showed that he had not comprehended the full importance of the second ceremony as nullifying the papal sentence, which could only quash the first on the ground of want of mutual consent, he proceeded, 'Command, quotha? Who there had any right to command you, boy?'
'Only one, sir.'
'Come, this no moment for lover's folly. It was not the girl, then? Then it could no other than the miserable King—was it so?'
'Yes, sir,' said Berenger. 'He bade me as king, and requested me as the friend who gave her to me. I could do no otherwise, and I thought it would be but a matter of a few days, and that our original marriage was the only important one.'
'Have you any parchment to prove it?'
'No, sir. It passed but as a ceremony to satisfy the Queen's scruples ere she gave my wife to me to take home. I even think the King was displeased at her requiring it.'
'Was Mr. Sidney a witness?'
'No, sir. None was present, save the King and Queen, her German countess, and the German priest.'
'The 1st of August of the year of grace 1572. I will write to Walsingham to obtain the testimony, if possible, of king or of priest; but belike they will deny it all. It was part of the trick. Shame upon it that a king should dig pits for so small a game as you, my poor lad!'
'Verily, my Lord,' said Berenger, 'I think the King meant us kindly, and would gladly have sped us well away. Methought he felt his bondage bitterly, and would fain have dared to be a true king. Even at the last, he bade me to his garde-robe, and all there were unhurt.'
'And wherefore obeyed you not?'
'The carouse would have kept me too late for our flight.'
'King's behests may not lightly be disregarded,' said the old courtier, with a smile. 'However, since he showed such seeming favour to you, surely you might send a petition to him privately, through Sir Francis Walsingham, to let the priest testify to your renewal of contract, engaging not to use it to his detriment in France.'
'I will do so, sir. Meanwhile,' he added, as one who felt he had earned a right to be heard in his turn, 'I have your permission to hasten to bring home my wife?'
Lord Walwyn was startled at this demand from one still so far from recovered as Berenger. Even this talk, eager as the youth was, had not been carried on without much difficulty, repetitions, and altered phrases, when he could not pronounce distinctly enough to be understood and the effort brought lines of pain into his brow. He could take little solid food, had hardly any strength for walking or riding; and, though all his wounds were whole, except that one unmanageable shot in the mouth, he looked entirely unfit to venture on a long journey in the very country that had sent him home a year before scarcely alive. Lord Walwyn had already devised what he thought a far more practicable arrangement; namely, to send Mr. Adderley and some of my Lady's women by sea, under the charge of Master Hobbs, a shipmaster at Weymouth, who traded with Bordeaux for wine, and could easily put in near La Sablerie, and bring off the lady and child, and, if she wished it, the pastor to whom such a debt of gratitude was owing.
Berenger was delighted with the notion of the sea rather than the land journey; but he pointed out at once that this would remove all objection to his going in person. He had often been out whole nights with the fishermen, and knew that a sea-voyage would be better for his health than anything,—certainly better than pining and languishing at home, as he had done for months. He could not bear to think of separation from Eustacie an hour longer than needful; nay, she had been cruelly entreated enough already; and as long as he could keep his feet, it was absolutely due to her that he should not let others, instead of himself, go in search of her. It would be almost death to him to stay at home.
Lord Walwyn looked at the pallid, wasted face, with all its marks of suffering and intense eagerness of expression, increased by the difficulty of utterance and need of subduing agitation. He felt that the long-misunderstood patience and endurance had earned something; and he knew, too, that for all his grandson's submission and respect, the boy, as a husband and father, had rights and duties that would assert themselves manfully if opposed. It was true that the sea-voyage obviated many difficulties, and it was better to consent with a good grace than drive one hitherto so dutiful to rebellion. He did then consent, and was rewarded by the lightning flash of joy and gratitude in the bright blue eyes, and the fervent pressure and kiss of his hand, as Berenger exclaimed, 'Ah! sir, Eustacie will be such a daughter to you. You should have seen how the Admiral liked her!'
The news of Lord Walwyn's consent raised much commotion in the family. Dame Annora was sure her poor son would be murdered outright this time, and that nobody cared because he was only HER son; and she strove hard to stir up Sir Marmaduke to remonstrate with her father; but the good knight had never disputed a judgment of 'my Lord's' in his whole life, and had even received his first wife from his hands, when forsaken by the gay Annora. So she could only ride over the Combe, be silenced by her father, as effectually as if Jupiter had nodded, and bewail and murmur to her mother till she lashed Lady Walwyn up into finding every possible reason why Berenger should and must sail. Then she went home, was very sharp with Lucy, and was reckoned by saucy little Nan to have nineteen times exclaimed 'Tilley-valley' in the course of one day.
The effect upon Philip was a vehement insistence on going with his brother. He was sure no one else would see to Berry half as well; and as to letting Berry go to be murdered again without him, he would not hear of it; he must go, he would not stay at home; he should not study; no, no, he should be ready to hang himself for vexation, and thinking what they were doing to his brother. And thus he extorted from his kind-hearted father an avowal that he should be easier a bout the lad if Phil were there, and that he might go, provided Berry would have him, and my Lord saw no objection. The first point was soon settled; and as to the second, there was no reason at all that Philip should not go where his brother did. In fact, excepting for Berenger's state of health, there was hardly any risk about the matter. Master Hobbs, to whom Philip rode down ecstatically to request him to come and speak to my Lord, was a stout, honest, experienced seaman, who was perfectly at home in the Bay of Biscay, and had so strong a feudal feeling for the house of Walwyn, that he placed himself and his best ship, the THROSTLE, entirely at his disposal. The THROSTLE was a capital sailer, and carried arms quite sufficient in English hands to protect her against Algerine corsairs or Spanish pirates. He only asked for a week to make her cabin ready for the reception of a lady, and this time was spent in sending a post to London, to obtain for Berenger the permit from the Queen, and the passport from the French Ambassador, without which he could not safely have gone; and, as a further precaution, letters were requested from some of the secret agents of the Huguenots to facilitate his admission into La Sablerie.
In the meantime, poor Mr. Adderley had submitted meekly to the decree that sentenced him to weeks of misery on board the THROSTLE, but to his infinite relief, an inspection of the cabins proved the space so small, that Berenger represented to him grandfather that the excellent tutor would be only an incumbrance to himself and every one else, and that with Philip he should need no one. Indeed, he had made such a start into vigour and alertness during the last few days that there was far less anxiety about him, though with several sighs for poor Osbert. Cecily initiated Philip into her simple rules for her patient's treatment in case of the return of his more painful symptoms. The notion of sending female attendants for Eustacie was also abandoned: her husband's presence rendered them unnecessary, or they might be procured at La Sablerie; and thus it happened that the only servants whom Berenger was to take with him were Humfrey Holt and John Smithers, the same honest fellows whose steadiness had so much conduced to his rescue at Paris.
Claude de Mericour had in the meantime been treated as an honoured guest at Combe Walwyn, and was in good esteem with its master. He would have set forth at once on his journey to Scotland, but that Lord Walwyn advised him to wait and ascertain the condition of his relatives there before throwing himself on them. Berenger had, accordingly, when writing to Sidney by the messenger above mentioned, begged him to find out from Sir Robert Melville, the Scottish Envoy, all he could about the family whose designation he wrote down at a venture from Mericour's lips.
Sidney returned a most affectionate answer, saying that he had never been able to believe the little shepherdess a traitor and was charmed that she had proved herself a heroine; he should endeavour to greet her with all his best powers as a poet, when she should brighten the English court; but his friend, Master Spenser, alone was fit to celebrate such constancy. As to M. l'Abbe de Mericour's friends, Sir Robert Melville had recognized their name at once, and had pronounced them to be fierce Catholics and Queensmen, so sorely pressed by the Douglases, that it was believed they would soon fly the country altogether; and Sidney added, what Lord Walwyn had already said, that to seek Scotland rather than France as a resting-place in which to weigh between Calvinism and Catholicism, was only trebly hot and fanatical. His counsel was that M. de Mericour should so far conform himself to the English Church as to obtain admission to one of the universities, and, through his uncle of Leicester, he could obtain for him an opening at Oxford, where he might fully study the subject.
There was much to incline Mericour to accept this counsel. He had had much conversation with Mr. Adderley, and had attended his ministrations in the chapel, and both satisfied him far better than what he had seen among the French Calninists; and the peace and family affection of the two houses were like a new world to him. But he had not yet made up his mind to that absolute disavowal of his own branch of the Church, which alone could have rendered him eligible for any foundation at Oxford. His attainments in classics would, Mr. Adderley thought, reach such a standard as to gain one of the very few scholarships open to foreigners; and his noble blood revolted at becoming a pensioner of Leicester's, or of any other nobleman.
Lord Walwyn, upon this, made an earnest offer of his hospitality, and entreated the young man to remain at Hurst Walwyn till the return of Berenger and Philip, during which time he might study under the directions of Mr. Adderley, and come to a decision whether to seek reconciliation with his native Church and his brother, or to remain in England. In this latter case, he might perhaps accompany both the youths to Oxford, for, in spite of Berenger's marriage, his education was still not supposed to be complete. And when Mericour still demurred with reluctance to become a burden on the bounty of the noble house, he was reminded gracefully of the debt of gratitude that the family owed to him for the relief he had brought to Berenger; and, moreover, Dame Annora giggled out that, 'if he would teach Nan and Bess to speak and read French and Italian, it would be worth something to them.' The others of the family would have hushed up this uncalled-for proposal; but Mericour caught at it as the most congenial mode of returning the obligation. Every morning he undertook to walk or ride over to the Manor, and there gave his lessons to the young ladies, with whom he was extremely popular. He was a far more brilliant teacher than Lucy, and ten thousand times preferable to Mr. Adderley, who had once begun to teach Annora her accidence with lamentable want of success.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE EMPTY CRADLE
Eager to know The worst, and with that fatal certainty To terminate intolerable dread, He spurred his courser forward—all his fears Too surely are fulfilled.—SOUTHEY
Contrary winds made the voyage of the THROSTLE much more tardy than had been reckoned on by Berenger's impatience; but hope was before him, and he often remembered his days in the little vessel as much happier than he had known them to be at the time.
It was in the calm days of right October that Captain Hobbs at length was putting into the little harbour nearest to La Sablerie. Berenger, on that morning, had for the first time been seized by a fit of anxiety as to the impression his face would make, with its terrible purple scar, great patch, and bald forehead, and had brought out a little black velvet mask, called a tour de nez, often used in riding to protect the complexion, intending to prepare Eustacie for his disfigurement. He had fastened on a carnation-coloured sword-knot, would a scarf of the same colour across his shoulder, clasped a long ostrich plume into his broad Spanish hat, and looked out his deeply-fringed Spanish gloves; and Philip was laughing merrily, not to say rudely, at him, for trying to deck himself out so bravely.
'See, Master Hobbs,' cried the boy in his high spirits, as he followed his brother on deck, 'you did not know you had so fine a gallant on board. Here be braveries for my Lady.'
'Hush, Phil,' broke in Berenger, who had hitherto taken all the raillery in perfect good part. 'What is amiss, Master Hobbs?'
'I cannot justly say, sir,' returned Master Hobbs, without taking his gaze off the coast, 'but by yonder banks and creeks this should be the Sables d'Olonne; and I do not see the steeple of La Sablerie, which has always been the landmark for the harbour of St. Julien.'
'What do you understand by that?' asked Berenger, more struck by his manner than his words.
'Well, sir, if I am right, a steeple that has stood three or four hundred years does not vanish out of sight like a cloud of smoke for nothing. I may be lightning, to be sure; or the Protestants may have had it down for Popery; but methinks they would have too much Christian regard for poor mariners than to knock down the only landmark on this coast till you come to Nissard spire.' Then he hailed the man at the mast-head, demanding if he saw the steeple of La Sablerie. 'No, no, sir.' But as other portions of the land became clearer, there was no doubt that the THROSTLE was right in her bearings; so the skipper gave orders to cast anchor and lower a boat. The passengers would have pressed him with inquiries as to what he thought the absence of his landmark could portend; but he hurried about, and shouted orders, with the deaf despotism of a nautical commander; and only when all was made ready, turned round and said, 'Now, sir, maybe you had best let me go ashore first, and find out how the land lies.'
'Never!' said Berenger, in an agony of impatience.
'I thought so,' said the captain. 'Well, then, sir, are your fellows ready? Armed? All right.'
So Berenger descended to the boat, followed by Philip; next came the captain, and then the two serving-men. Six of the crew were ready to row them to the shore, and were bidden by their captain to return at once to the vessel, and only return on a signal from him. the surging rush of intense anxiety, sure to precede the destined moment of the consummation of hope long deferred, kept Berenger silent, choked by something between fear and prayer; but Philip, less engrossed, asked Master Hobbs if it were not strange that none of the inhabitants of the squalid little huts on the shore had not put out to greet them in some of the boats that were drawn up on the beach.
'Poor wretches,' said Hobbs; 'they scarce know friend from foe, and are slow to run their heads into the lion's mouth. Strange fellows have the impudence to sail under our flag at times.'
However, as they neared the low, flat, sandy shore, a few red caps peeped out at the cottage-doors, and then, apparently gaining confidence from the survey, some wiry, active figures appeared, and were hailed by Hobbs. His Bordeaux trade had rendered him master of the coast language; and a few incomprehensible shouts between him and the natives resulted in a line being thrown to them, and the boat dragged as near as possible to the landing-place, when half a dozen ran up, splashing with their bare legs, to offer their shoulders for the transport of the passengers, both of whom were seized upon before they were aware, Philip struggling with all his might, till a call from Captain Hobbs warned him to resign himself; and then he became almost helpless with laughter at the figure cut by the long-legged Berenger upon a small fisherman's back.
They were landed. Could it be that Berenger was only two miles—only half an hour's walk form Eustacie? The bound his heart gave as he touched the shore seemed to stifle him. He could not believe it. Yet he knew how fully he had believed it, the next moment, when he listened to what the fishermen were saying to Captain Hobbs.
'Did Monsieur wish to go to La Sablerie? Ah! then he did not know what had happened. The soldiers had been there; there had been a great burning. They had been out in their boats at sea, but they had seen the sky red—red as a furnace, all night; and the steeple was down. Surely, Monsieur had missed the steeple that was a guide to all poor seafarers; and now they had to go all the way to Brancour to sell their fish.'
'And the townspeople?' Hobbs asked.
'Ah! poor things; 'twas pity of them, for they were honest folk to deal with, even if they were heretics. They loved fish at other seasons if not in Lent; and it seemed but a fair return to go up and bury as many of them as were not burnt to nothing in their church; and Dom Colombeau, the good priest of Nissard, has said it was a pious work; and he was a saint, if any one was.'
'Alack, sir,' said Hobbs, laying his hand on the arm of Berenger, who seemed neither to have breathed nor moved while the man was speaking: 'I feared that there had been some such bloody work when I missed the steeple. But take heart yet: your lady is very like to have been out of the way. We might make for La Rochelle, and there learn!' Then, again to the fisherman, 'None escaped, fellow?'
'Not one,' replied the man. 'They say that one of the great folks was in a special rage with them for sheltering the lady he should have wedded, but who had broken convent and turned heretic; and they had victualled Montgomery's pirates too.'
'And the lady?' continued Hobbs, ever trying to get a more supporting hold of his young charge, in case the rigid tension of his limbs should suddenly relax.'
'I cannot tell, sir. I am a poor fisher; but I could guide you to the place where old Gillot is always poking about. He listened to their preachings, and knows more than we do.'
'Let us go,' said Berenger, at once beginning to stride along in his heavy boots through the deep sand. Philip, who had hardly understood a word of the patois, caught hold of him, and begged to be told what had happened; but Master Hobbs drew the boy off, and explained to him and to the two men what were the dreadful tidings that had wrought such a change in Berenger's demeanour. The way over the shifting sands was toilsome enough to all the rest of the party; but Berenger scarcely seemed to feel the deep plunge at every step as they almost ploughed their way along for the weary two miles, before a few green bushes and half-choked trees showed that they were reaching the confines of the sandy waste. Berenger had not uttered a word the whole time, and his silence hushed the others. The ground began to rise, grass was seen still struggling to grow, and presently a large straggling mass of black and gray ruins revealed themselves, with the remains of a once well-trodden road leading to them. But the road led to a gate-way choked by a fallen jamb and barred door, and the guide led them round the ruins of the wall to the opening where the breach had been. The sand was already blowing in, and no doubt veiled much; for the streets were scarcely traceable through remnants of houses more or less dilapidated, with shreds of broken or burnt household furniture within them.
'Ask him for la rue des Trois Fees,' hoarsely whispered Berenger.
The fisherman nodded, but soon seemed at fault; and an old man, followed by a few children, soon appearing, laden with piece of fuel, he appealed to him as Father Gillot, and asked whether he could find the street. The old man seemed at home in the ruins, and led the way readily. 'Did he know the Widow Laurent's house?'
'Mademoiselle [footnote: This was the title of bourgeoise wives, for many years, in France.] Laurent! Full well he knew her; a good pious soul was she, always ready to die for the truth,' he added, as he read sympathy in the faces round; 'and no doubt she had witnessed a good confession.'
'Knew he aught of the lady she had lodged?'
'He knew nothing of ladies. Something he had heard of the good widow having sheltered that shining light, Isaac Gardon, quenched, no doubt, in the same destruction; but for his part, he had a daughter in one of the isles out there, who always sent for him if she suspected danger here on the mainland, and he had only returned to his poor farm a day or two after Michael-mas.' So saying, he led them to the threshold of a ruinous building, in the very centre, as it were, of the desolation, and said, 'That, gentlemen, is where the poor honest widow kept her little shop.'
Black, burnt, dreary, lay the hospitable abode. The building had fallen, but the beams of the upper floor had fallen aslant, so as to shelter a portion of the lower room, where the red-tile pavement, the hearth with the gray ashes of the harmless home-fire, some unbroken crocks, a chain, and a sabot, were still visible, making the contrast of dreariness doubly mournful.
Berenger had stepped over the threshold, with his hat in his hand, as if the ruin were a sacred place to him, and stood gazing in a transfixed, deadened way. The captain asked where the remains were.
'Our people,' said the old man and the fisher, 'laid them by night in the earth near the church.'
Just then Berenger's gaze fell on something half hidden under the fallen timbers. He instantly sprang forward, and used all his strength to drag it out in so headlong a manner that all the rest hurried to prevent his reckless proceedings from bringing the heavy beams down on his head. When brought to light, the object proved to be one of the dark, heavy, wooden cradles used by the French peasantry, shining with age, but untouched by fire.
'Look in,' Berenger signed to Philip, his own eyes averted, his mouth set.
The cradle was empty, totally empty, save for a woolen covering, a little mattress, and a string of small yellow shells threaded.
Berenger held out his hand, grasped the baby-play thing convulsively, then dropped upon his knees, clasping his hands over his ashy face, the string of shells still wound among his fingers. Perhaps he had hitherto hardly realized the existence of his child, and was solely wrapped up in the thought of his wife; but the wooden cradle, the homely toy, stirred up fresh depths of feelings; he saw Eustacie wither tender sweetness as a mother, he beheld the little likeness of her in the cradle; and oh! that this should have been the end! Unable to repress a moan of anguish from a bursting heart, he laid his face against the senseless wood, and kissed it again and again, then lay motionless against it save for the long-drawn gasps and sobs that shook his frame. Philip, torn to the heart, would have almost forcibly drawn him away; but Master Hobbs, with tears running down his honest cheeks, withheld the boy. 'Don't ye, Master Thistlewood, 'twill do him good. Poor young gentleman! I know how it was when I came home and found our first little lad, that we had thought so much on, had been take. But then he was safe laid in his own churchyard, and his mother was there to meet me; while your poor brother—-Ah! God comfort him!'
'Le pauvre Monsieur!' exclaimed the old peasant, struck at the sight of his grief, 'was it then his child? And he, no doubt, lying wounded elsewhere while God's hand was heavy on this place. Yet he might hear more. They said the priest came down and carried off the little ones to be bred up in convents.'
'Who?—where?' asked Berenger, raising his head as if catching at a straw in this drowning of all his hopes.
''Tis true,' added the fisherman. 'It was the holy priest of Nissard, for he send down to St. Julien for a woman to nurse the babes.'
'To Nissard, then,' said Berenger, rising.
'It is but a chance,' said the old Huguenot; 'many of the innocents were with their mothers in yonder church. Better for them to perish like the babes of Bethlehem than to be bred up in the house of Baal; but perhaps Monsieur is English, and if so he might yet obtain the child. Yet he must not hope too much.'
'No, for there was many a little corpse among those we buried,' said the fisher. 'Will the gentleman see the place?'
'Oh, no!' exclaimed Philip, understanding the actions, and indeed many of the words; 'this place will kill him.'
'To the grave,' said Berenger, as if he heard nothing.
'See,' added Philip, 'there are better things than graves,' and he pointed to a young green sucker of a vine, which, stimulated by the burnt soil, had shot up between the tiles of the floor. 'Look, there is hope to meet you even here.'
Berenger merely answered by gathering a leaf from the vine and putting it into his bosom; and Philip, whom only extreme need could have thus inspired, perceived that he accepted it as the augury of hope.
Berenger turned to bid the two men bear the cradle with them, and then followed the old man out into the PLACE, once a pleasant open paved square, now grass-grown and forlorn. On one side lay the remains of the church. The Huguenots had been so predominant at La Sablerie as to have engrossed the building, and it had therefore shared the general destruction, and lay in utter, desolate ruin, a mere shell, and the once noble spire, the mariner's guiding star, blown up with gun-cruel that ever desolated the country. Beyond lay the burial-ground, in unspeakable dreariness. The crossed of the Catholic dead had been levelled by the fanaticism of the Huguenots, and though a great dominant stone cross raised on steps had been re-erected, it stood uneven, tottering and desolate among nettles, weeds, and briers. There seemed to have been a few deep trenches dug to receive the bodies of the many victims of the siege, and only rudely and slightly filled in with loose earth, on which Philippe treading had nearly sunk in, so much to his horror that he could hardly endure the long contemplation in which his brother stood gazing on the dismal scene, as if to bear it away with him. Did the fair being he had left in a king's palace sleep her last sleep her last sleep amid the tangled grass, the thistles and briers that grew so close that it was hardly possible to keep from stumbling over them, where all memorials of friend or foe were alike obliterated? Was a resting-place among these nameless graves the best he could hope for the wife whose eyes he had hoped by this time would be answering his own—was this her shelter from foe, from sword, famine, and fire?
A great sea-bird, swooping along with broad wings and wild wailing cry, completed the weird dismay that had seized on Philip, and clutching at his brother's cloak, he exclaimed, 'Berry, Berry, let us be gone, or we shall both be distraught!'
Berenger yielded passively, but when the ruins of the town had been again crossed, and the sad little party, after amply rewarding the old man, were about to return to St. Julien, he stood still, saying, 'Which is the way to Nissard?' and, as the men pointed to the south, he added, 'Show me the way thither.'
Captain Hobbs now interfered. He knew the position of Nissard, among dangerous sandbanks, between which a boat could only venture at the higher tides, and by daylight. To go the six miles thither at present would make it almost impossible to return to the THROSTLE that night, and it was absolutely necessary that he at least should do this. He therefore wished the young gentleman to return with him on board, sleep there, and be put ashore at Nissard as soon as it should be possible in the morning. But Berenger shook his head. He could not rest for a moment till he had ascertained the fate of Eustacie's child. Action alone could quench the horror of what he had recognized as her own lot, and the very pursuit of this one thread of hope seemed needful to him to make it substantial. He would hear of nothing but walking at once to Nissard; and Captain Hobbs, finding it impossible to debate the point with one so dazed and crushed with grief, and learning from the fishermen that not only was the priest one of the kindest and most hospitable men living, but that there was a tolerable caberet not far from the house, selected from the loiterers who had accompanied them from St. Julien a trustworthy-looking, active lad as a guide, and agreed with the high tide on the morrow, either to concert measures for obtaining possession of the lost infant, or, if all were in vain, to fetch them off. Then he, with the mass of stragglers from St. Julien, went off direct for the coast, while the two young brothers, their two attendants, and the fishermen, turned southwards along the summit of the dreary sandbanks.
CHAPTER XXIV. THE GOOD PRIEST OF NISSARD
Till at the set of sun all tracks and ways In darkness lay enshrouded. And e'en thus The utmost limit of the great profound At length we reach'd, where in dark gloom and mist Cimmeria's people and their city lie Enveloped ever.—ODYSSEY (MUSGROVE)
The October afternoon had set in before the brothers were the way to Nissard; and in spite of Berenger's excited mood, the walk through the soft, sinking sand could not be speedily performed. It was that peculiar sand-drift which is the curse of so many coasts, slowly, silently, irresistibly flowing, blowing, creeping in, and gradually choking all vegetation and habitation. Soft and almost impalpable, it lay heaped in banks yielding as air, and yet far more than deep enough to swallow up man and horse. Nay, tops of trees, summits of chimneys, told what it had already swallowed. The whole scene far and wide presented nothing but the lone, tame undulations, liable to be changed by every wind, and solitary beyond expression—a few rabbits scudding hither and thither, or a sea-gull floating with white, ghostly wings in the air, being the only living things visible. On the one hand a dim, purple horizon showed that the inhabited country lay miles inland; on the other lay the pale, gray, misty expanse of sea, on which Philip's eyes could lovingly discern the THROSTLE'S masts.
That view was Philip's chief comfort. The boy was feeling more eerie and uncomfortable than ever he had been before as he plodded along, sinking deep with every step almost up to his ankles in the sand, on which the bare-footed guide ran lightly, and Berenger, though sinking no less deeply, seemed insensible to all inconveniences. This desolateness was well-nigh unbearable; no one dared to speak while Berenger thus moved on in the unapproachableness of his great grief, and Philip presently began to feel a dreamy sense that they had all thus been moving for years, that this was the world's end, the land of shadows, and that his brother was a ghost already. Besides vague alarms like these, there was the dismal English and Protestant prejudice in full force in Philip's mind, which regarded the resent ground as necessarily hostile, and all Frenchmen, above all French priests, as in league to cut off every Englishman and Protestant. He believed himself in a country full of murderers, and was walking on with the one determination that his brother should not rush on danger without him, and that the Popish rogues should be kept in mind that there was an English ship in sight. Alas! that consolation was soon lost, for a dense gray mist was slowly creeping in from the sea, and blotted out the vessel, then gathered in closer, and obliterated all landmarks. Gradually it turned to a heavy rain, and about the same time the ground on which they walked became no longer loose sand-hills, but smooth and level. It was harder likewise from the wet, and this afforded better walking, but there lay upon it fragments of weed and shell, as though it were liable to be covered by the sea, and there was a low, languid plash of the tide, which could not be seen. Twilight began to deepen the mist. The guide was evidently uneasy; he sidled up to Philip, and began to ask what he—hitherto obstinately deaf and contemptuous to French—was very slow to comprehend. At last he found it was a question how near it was to All Soul's day; and then came an equally amazing query whether the gentlemen's babe had been baptized; for it appeared that on All Soul's day the spirits of unchristened infants had the power of rising from the sands in a bewildering mist, and leading wayfarers into the sea. And the poor guide, white and drenched, vowed he never would have undertaken this walk if he had only thought of this. These slaughters of heretics must so much have augmented the number of the poor little spirits; and no doubt Monsieur would be specially bewildered by one so nearly concerned with him. Philip, half frightened, could not help stepping forward and pulling Berenger by the cloak to make him aware of this strange peril; but he did not get much comfort. 'Baptized? Yes; you know she was, by the old nurse. Let me alone, I say. I would follow her wherever she called me, the innocent, and glad—the sooner the better.'
And he shook his brother off with a sadness and impatience so utterly unapproachable, that Philip, poor boy, could only watch his tall figure in the wide cloak and slouched hat, stalking on ever more indistinct in the gloom, while his much confused mind tried to settle the theological point whether the old nurse's baptism were valid enough to prevent poor little Berangere from becoming one of these mischievous deluders; and all this was varied by the notion of Captain Hobbs picking up their corpses on the beach, and of Sir Marmaduke bewailing his only son.
At last a strange muffled sound made him start in the dead silence, but the guide hailed the sound with a joyful cry—-
'Hola! Blessings on Notre-Dame and holy Father Colombeau, now are we saved!' and on Philip's hasty interrogation, he explained that it was from the bells of Nissard, which the good priest always caused to be rung during these sea-fogs, to disperse all evil beings, and guide the wanderers.
The guide strode on manfully, as the sound became clearer and nearer, and Philip was infinitely relived to be free from all supernatural anxieties, and to have merely to guard against the wiles of a Polish priest, a being almost as fabulously endowed in his imagination as poor little Berangere's soul could be in that of the fisherman.
The drenching Atlantic mist had wetted them all to the skin, and closed round them so like a solid wall, that they had almost lost sight of each other, and had nothing but the bells' voices to comfort them, till quite suddenly there was a light upon the mist, a hazy reddish gleam—a window seemed close to them. The guide, heartily thanking Our Lady and St. Julian, knocked at a door, which opened at once into a warm, bright, superior sort of kitchen, where a neatly-dressed elderly peasant woman exclaimed, 'Welcome, poor souls! Enter, then. Here, good Father, are some bewildered creatures. Eh! wrecked are you, good folks, or lost in the fog?'
At the same moment there came from behind the screen that shut off the fire from the door, a benignant-looking, hale old man in a cassock, with long white hair on his shoulders, and a cheerful face, ruddy from sea-wind.
'Welcome, my friends,' he said. 'Thanks to the saints who have guided you safely. You are drenched. Come to the fire at once.'
And as they moved on into the full light of the fire and the rude iron lamp by which he had been reading, and he saw the draggled plumes and other appurtenances that marked the two youths as gentlemen, he added, 'Are you wrecked, Messieurs? We will do our poor best for your accommodation;' and while both mechanically murmured a word of thanks, and removed their soaked hats, the good man exclaimed, as he beheld Berenger's ashy face, with the sunken eyes and deep scars, 'Monsieur should come to bed at once. He is apparently recovering from a severe wound. This way, sir; Jolitte shall make you some hot tisane.'
'Wait, sir,' said Berenger, very slowly, and his voice sounding hollow from exhaustion; 'they say that you can tell me of my child. Let me hear.'
'Monsieur's child!' exclaimed the bewildered curate, looking from him to Philip, and then to the guide, who poured out a whole stream of explanation before Philip had arranged three words of French.
'You hear, sir,' said Berenger, as the man finished: 'I came hither to seek my wife, the Lady of Ribaumont.'
'Eh!' exclaimed the cure, 'do I then see M. le Marquis de Nid de Merle?'
'No!' cried Berenger; 'no, I am not that scelerat! I am her true husband, the Baron de Ribaumont.'
'The Baron de Ribaumont perished at the St. Bartholomew,' said the cure, fixing his eyes on him, as though to confute an impostor.
'Ah, would that I had!' said Berenger. 'I was barely saved with the life that is but misery now. I came to seek her—I found what you know. They told me that you saved the children. Ah, tell me where mine is!—all that is left me.'
'A few poor babes I was permitted to rescue, but very few. But let me understand to whom I speak,' he added, much perplexed. 'You, sir—-'
'I am her husband, married at five years old—contract renewed last year. It was he whom you call Nid de Merle who fell on me, and left me for dead. A faithful servant saved my life, but I have lain sick in England till now, when her letter to my mother brought me to La Sablerie, to find—to find THIS. Oh, sir, have pity on me! Tell me if you know anything of her, or if you can give me her child.'
'The orphans I was able to save are—the boys at nurse here, the girls with the good nuns at Lucon,' said the priest, with infinite pity in his look. 'Should you know it, sir?'
'I would—I should,' said Berenger. 'But it is a girl. Ah, would that it were here! But you—you, sir—you know more than these fellows. Is there no—no hope of herself?'
'Alas! I fear I can give you none,' said the priest; 'but I will tell all I know; only I would fain see you eat, rest, and be dried.'
'How can I?' gasped he, allowing himself, however, to sink into a chair; and the priest spoke:
'Perhaps you know, sir, that the poor lady fled from her friends, and threw herself upon the Huguenots. All trace had been lost, when, at a banquet given by the mayor of Lucon, there appeared some patisseries, which some ecclesiastic, who had enjoyed the hospitality of Bellaise, recognized as peculiar to the convent there, where she had been brought up. They were presented to the mayor by his friend, Bailli la Grasse, who had boasted of the excellent confitures of the heretic pastor's daughter that lodged in the town of La Sablerie. The place was in disgrace for having afforded shelter and supplies to Montgomery's pirate crews, and there were narrations of outrages committed on Catholics. The army were enraged by their failure before La Rochelle; in effect, it was resolved to make an example, when, on M. de Nid de Merle's summons, all knowledge of the lady was denied. Is it possible that she was indeed not there?'
Berenger shook his head. 'She was indeed there,' he said, with an irrepressible groan. 'Was there no mercy—none?'
'Ask not, sir,' said the compassionate priest; 'the flesh shrinks, though there may be righteous justice. A pillaged town, when men are enraged, is like a place of devils unchained. I reached it only after it had been taken by assault, when all was flame and blood. Ask me no more; it would be worse for you to hear than me to tell,' he concluded, shuddering, but laying his hand kindly on Berenger's arm. 'At least it is ended now and God is more merciful than men. Many died by the bombs cast into to city, and she for whom you ask certainly fell not alive into the hands of those who sought her. Take comfort, sir; there is One who watches and takes count of our griefs. Sir, turning to Philip, 'this gentleman is too much spent with sorrow to bear this cold and damp. Aid me, I entreat, to persuade him to lie down.'
Philip understood the priest's French far better than that of the peasants, and added persuasions that Berenger was far too much exhausted and stunned to resist. To spend a night in a Popish priest's house would once have seemed to Philip a shocking alternative, yet here he was, heartily assisting in removing the wet garments in which his brother had sat only too long, and was heartily relieved to lay him down in the priest's own bed, even though there was an image over the head, which, indeed, the boy never saw. He only saw his brother turn away from the light with a low, heavy moan, as if he would fain be left alone with his sorrow and his crushed hopes.
Nothing could be kinder than Dome Colombeau, the priest of Nissard. He saw to the whole of his guests being put into some sort of dry habiliments before they sat round his table to eat of the savoury mess in the great pot-au-feu, which had, since their arrival, received additional ingredients, and moreover sundry villagers had crept into the house. Whenever the good Father supped at home, any of his flock were welcome to drop in to enjoy his hospitability. After a cup of hot cider round, they carried off the fisherman to ledge in one of their cottages. Shake-downs were found for the others, and Philip, wondering what was to become of the good host himself, gathered that he meant to spend such part of the night on the kitchen floor as he did not pass in prayer in the church for the poor young gentleman, who was in such affliction. Philip was not certain whether to resent this as an impertinence or an attack on their Protestant principles; but he was not sure, either, that the priest was aware what was their religion, and was still less certain of his own comprehension of these pious intentions: he decided that, any way, it was better not to make a fool of himself. Still, the notion of the mischievousness of priests was so rooted in his head, that he consulted Humfrey on the expedience of keeping watch all night, but was sagaciously answered that 'these French rogues don't do any hurt unless they be brought up to it, and the place was as safe as old Hurst.'
In fact, Philip's vigilance would have been strongly against nature. He never awoke till full daylight and morning sun were streaming through the vine-leaves round the window, and then, to his dismay, he saw that Berenger had left his bed, and was gone. Suspicions of foul play coming over him in full force as he gazed round on much that he considered as 'Popish furniture,' he threw on his clothes, and hastened to open the door, when, to his great relief, he saw Berenger hastily writing at a table under the window, and Smithers standing by waiting for the billet.
'I am sending Smithers on board, to ask Hobbs to bring our cloak bags,' said Berenger, as his brother entered. 'We must go on to Lucon.'
He spoke briefly and decidedly, and Philip was satisfied to see him quite calm and collected—white indeed, and with the old haggard look, and the great scar very purple instead of red, which was always a bad sign with him. He was not disposed to answer questions; he shortly said, 'He had slept not less than usual,' which Philip knew meant very little; and he had evidently made up his mind, and was resolved not to let himself give way. If his beacon of hope had been so suddenly, frightfully quenched, he still was kept from utter darkness by straining his eyes and forcing his steps to follow the tiny, flickering spark that remained.
The priest was at his morning mass; and so soon as Berenger had given his note to Smithers, and sent him off with a fisherman to the THROSTLE, he took up his hat, and went out upon the beach, that lay glistening in the morning sun, then turned straight towards the tall spire of the church, with had been their last night's guide. Philip caught his cloak.
'You are never going there, Berenger?'
'Vex me not now,' was all the reply he got. 'There the dead and living meet together.'
'But, brother, they will take you for one of their own sort.'
Philip was right that it was neither a prudent nor consistent proceeding, but Berenger had little power of reflection, and his impulse at present bore him into the church belonging to his native faith and land, without any defined felling, save that it was peace to kneel there among the scattered worshippers, who came and went with their fish-baskets in their hands, and to hear the low chant of the priest and his assistant from within the screen.
Philip meantime marched up and down outside in much annoyance, until the priest and his brother came out, when the first thing he heard the good Colombeau say was, 'I would have called upon you before, my son, but that I feared you were a Huguenot.'
'I am an English Protestant,' said Berenger; 'but, ah! sir, I needed comfort too much to stay away from prayer.'
Pere Colombeau looked at him in perplexity, thinking perhaps that here might be a promising convert, if there were only time to work on him; but Berenger quitted the subject at once, asking the distance to Lucon.
'A full day's journey,' answered Pere Colombeau, and added, 'I am sorry you are indeed a Huguenot. It was what I feared last night, but I feared to add to your grief. The nuns are not permitted to deliver up children to Huguenot relations.'
'I am her father!' exclaimed Berenger, indignantly.
'That goes for nothing, according to the rules of the Church,' said the priest. 'The Church cannot yield her children to heresy.'
'But we in England and not Calvinists,' cried Berenger. 'We are not like your Huguenots.'
'The Church would make no difference,' said the priest. 'Stay, sir,' as Berenger stuck his own forehead, and was about to utter a fierce invective. 'Remember that if your child lives, it is owing to the pity of the good nuns. You seem not far from the bosom of the Church. Did you but return—-'
'It is vain to speak of that,' said Berenger, quickly. 'Say, sir, would an order from the King avail to open these doors?'
'Of course it would, if you have the influence to obtain one.'
'I have, I have,' cried Berenger, eagerly. 'The King has been my good friend already. Moreover, my English grandfather will deal with the Queen. The heiress of our house cannot be left in a foreign nunnery. Say, sir,' he added, turning to the priest, 'if I went to Lucon at once know your name, and refuse all dealings with you.'
'She could not do so, if I brought an order from the King.'
'Then to Paris!' And laying his hand on Philip's shoulder, he asked the boy whether he had understood, ad explained that he must go at once to Paris—riding post—and obtain the order from the King.
'To Paris—to be murdered again!' said Philip, in dismay.
'They do not spend their time there in murder,' said Berenger. 'And now is the time, while the savage villain Narcisse is with his master in Poland. I cannot but go, Philip; we both waste words. You shall take home a letter to my Lord.'
'I—I go not home without you,' said Philip, doggedly.
'I cannot take you, Phil; I have no warrant.'
'I have warrant for going, though. My father said he was easier about you with me at your side. Where you go, I go.'
The brothers understood each other's ways so well, that Berenger knew the intonation in Philip's voice that meant that nothing should make him give way. He persuaded no more, only took measures for the journey, in which the kind priest gave him friendly advice. There was no doubt that the good man pitied him sincerely, and wished him success more than perhaps he strictly ought to have done, unless as a possible convert. Of money for the journey there was no lack, for Berenger had brought a considerable sum, intending to reward all who had befriended Eustacie, as well as to fit her out for the voyage; and this, perhaps, with his papers, he had brought ashore to facilitate his entrance into La Sablerie,—that entrance which, alas! he had found only too easy. He had therefore only to obtain horses and a guide, and this could be done at la Motte-Achard, where the party could easily be guided on foot, or conveyed in a boat if the fog should not set in again, but all the coast-line of Nissard was dangerous in autumn and winter; nay, even this very August an old man, with his daughter, her infant, and a donkey, had been found bewildered between the creeks on a sandbank, where they stood still and patient, like a picture of the Flight into Egypt, when an old fisherman found them, and brought them to the beneficent shelter of the Presbytere.
Stories of this kind were told at the meal that was something partaking of the nature of both breakfast and early dinner, but where Berenger ate little and spoke less. Philip watched him anxiously; the boy thought the journey a perilous experiment every way, but, boyishly, was resolved neither to own his fears of it nor to leave his brother. External perils he was quite ready to face, and he fancied that his English birth would give him some power of protecting Berenger, but he was more reasonably in dread of the present shock bringing on such an illness as the last relapse; and if Berenger lost his senses again, what should they do? He even ventured to hint at this danger, but Berenger answered, 'That will scarce happen again. My head is stronger now. Besides, it was doing nothing, and hearing her truth profaned, that crazed me. No one at least will do that again. But if you wish to drive me frantic again, the way would be to let Hobbs carry me home without seeking her child.'
Philip bore this in mind, when, with flood-tide, Master Hobbs landed, and showed himself utterly dismayed at the turn affairs had taken. He saw the needlessness of going to Lucon without royal authority; indeed, he thought it possible that the very application there might give the alarm, and cause all tokens of the child's identity to be destroyed, in order to save her from her heretic relations. But he did not at all approve of the young gentlemen going off to Paris at once. It was against his orders. He felt bound to take them home as he has brought them, and they might then make a fresh start if it so pleased them; but how could he return to my Lord and Sir Duke without them? 'Mr. Ribaumont might be right—it was not for him to say a father ought not to look after his child—yet he was but a stripling himself, and my Lord had said, 'Master Hobbs, I trust him to you.'' He would clearly have liked to have called in a boat's crew, mastered the young gentlemen, and carried them on board as captives; but as this was out of his power, he was obliged to yield the point. He disconsolately accepted the letters in which Berenger had explained all, and in which he promised to go at once to Sir Francis Walsingham's at Paris, to run into no needless danger, and to watch carefully over Philip; and craved pardon, in a respectful but yet manly and determined tone, for placing his duty to his lost, deserted child above his submission to his grandfather. Then engaging to look out for a signal on the coast if he should said to Bordeaux in January, to touch and take the passengers off, Captain Hobbs took leave, and the brothers were left to their own resources.