CHAPTER XXV. THE VELVET COACH
No, my good Lord, Diana— ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
A late autumn journey from the west coast to Paris was a more serious undertaking in the sixteenth century than the good seaman Master Hobbs was aware of, or he would have used stronger dissuasive measures against such an undertaking by the two youths, when the elder was in so frail a state of health; but there had been a certain deceptive strength and vigour about young Ribaumont while under strong excitement and determination, and the whole party fancied him far fitter to meet the hardships than was really the case. Philip Thistlewood always recollected that journey as the most distressing period of his life.
They were out of the ordinary highways, and therefore found the hiring of horses often extremely difficult. They had intended to purchase, but found no animals that, as Philip said, they would have accepted as a gift, though at every wretched inn where they had to wait while the country was scoured for the miserable jades, their proposed requirements fell lower and lower. Dens of smoke, dirt, and boorishness were the great proportion of those inns, where they were compelled to take refuge by the breaking down of one or other of the beasts, or by stress of weather. Snow, rain, thaw and frost alternated, each variety rendering the roads impassable; and at the best, the beasts could seldom be urged beyond a walk, fetlock-deep in mire or water. Worse than all, Berenger, far from recovered, and under the heavy oppression of a heartrending grief, could hardly fail to lose the ground that he had gained under the influence of hope. The cold seemed to fix itself on the wound on his cheek, terrible pain and swelling set in, depriving him entirely of sleep, permitting him to take no nourishment but fragments of soft crumbs soaked in wine or broth—when the inns afforded any such fare—and rendering speech excessively painful, and at last unintelligible.
Happily this was not until Philip and Humfrey both had picked up all the most indispensable words to serve their needs, and storming could be done in any language. Besides, they had fallen in at La Motte-Achard with a sharp fellow named Guibert, who had been at sea, and knew a little English, was a Norman by birth, knew who the Baron de Ribaumont was, and was able to make himself generally useful, though ill supplying the place of poor Osbert, who would have been invaluable in the present predicament. Nothing was so much dreaded by any of the party as that their chief should become utterly unable to proceed. Once let him be laid up at one of these little auberges, and Philip felt as if all would be over with him; and he himself was always the most restlessly eager to push on, and seemed to suffer less even in the biting wind and sleet than on the dirty pallets or in the smoky, noisy kitchens of the inns. That there was no wavering of consciousness was the only comfort, and Philip trusted to prevent this by bleeding him whenever his head seemed aching or heated; and under this well-meant surgery it was no wonder that he grew weaker every day, in spite of the most affectionate and assiduous watching on his brother's part.
Nearly six weeks had been spent in struggling along the cross-roads, or rather in endless delays; and when at last they came on more frequented ways, with better inns, well-paved chaussees, and horses more fit for use, Berenger was almost beyond feeling the improvement. At their last halt, even Philip was for waiting and sending on to Paris to inform Sir Francis Walsingham of their situation; but Berenger only shook his head, dressed himself, and imperatively signed to go on. It was a bright morning, with a clear frost, and the towers and steeples of Paris presently began to appear above the poplars that bordered the way; but by this time Berenger was reeling in his saddle, and he presently became so faint and dizzy, that Philip and Humfrey were obliged to lift him from his horse, and lay him under an elm-tree that stood a little back from the road.
'Look up, sir, it is but a league further,' quoth Humfrey; 'I can see the roof of the big church they call Notre-Dame.'
'He does not open his eyes, he is swooning,' said Philip. 'He must have some cordial, ere he can sit his horse. Can you think of no lace where we could get a drop of wine or strong waters?'
'Not I, Master Philip. We passed a convent wall but now, but 'twas a nunnery, as good as a grave against poor travelers. I would ride on, and get some of Sir Francis's folk to bring a litter or coach, but I doubt me if I could get past the barrier without my young Lord's safe-conduct.'
Berenger, hearing all, here made an effort to raise himself, but sank back against Philip's shoulder. Just then, a trampling and lumbering became audible, and on the road behind appeared first three horsemen riding abreast, streaming with black and white ribbons; then eight pair of black horses, a man walking at the crested heads of each couple, and behind these a coach, shaped like an urn reversed, and with a coronet on the top, silvered, while the vehicle itself was, melon-like, fluted, alternately black, with silver figures, and white with black landscapes; and with white draperies, embroidered with black and silver, floating from the windows. Four lacqueys, in the same magpie-colouring, stood behind, and outriders followed; but as the cavalcade approached the group by the road-side, one of the horsemen paused, saying lightly, 'Over near the walls from an affair of honour! Has he caught it badly? Who was the other?'
Ere Guibert could answer, the curtains were thrust aside, the coach stopped, a lady's head and hand appeared, and a female voice exclaimed, in much alarm, 'Halt! Ho, you there, in our colours, come here. What is it? My brother here? Is he wounded?'
'It is no wound, Madame,' said Guibert, shoved forward by his English comrades, 'it is M. le Baron de Ribaumont who is taken ill, and—ah! here is Monsieur Philippe.'
For Philip, seeing a thick black veil put back from the face of the most beautiful lady who had ever appeared to him, stepped forward, hat in hand, as she exclaimed, 'Le Baron de Ribaumont! Can it be true? What means this? What ails him?'
'It is his wound, Madame,' said Philip, in his best French; 'it has broken out again, and he has almost dropped from his horse from defaillance.'
'Ah, bring him here—lay him on the cushions, we will have the honour of transporting him,' cried the lady; and, regardless of the wet road, she sprang out of the coach, with her essences in her hand, followed by at least three women, two pages, and two little white dogs which ran barking towards the prostrate figure, but were caught up by their pages. 'Ah, cousin, how dreadful,' she cried, as she knelt down beside him, and held her essences towards him. Voice and scent revived him, and with a bewildered look and gesture half of thanks, half of refusal, he gazed round him, then rose to his feet without assistance, bent his head, and making a sign that he was unable to speak, turned towards his horse.
'Cousin, cousin,' exclaimed the lady, in whose fine black eyes tears were standing, 'you will let me take you into the city—you cannot refuse.'
'Berry, indeed you cannot ride,' entreated Philip; 'you must take her offer. Are you getting crazed at last?'
Berenger hesitated for a moment, but he felt himself again dizzy; the exertion of springing into his saddle was quite beyond him, and bending his head he submitted passively to be helped into the black and white coach. Humfrey, however, clutched Philip's arm, and said impressively, 'Have a care, sir; this is no other than the fine lady, sister to the murderous villain that set upon him. If you would save his life, don't quit him, nor let her take him elsewhere than to our Ambassador's. I'll not leave the coach-door, and as soon as we are past the barriers, I'll send Jack Smithers to make known we are coming.'
Philip, without further ceremony, followed the lady into the coach, where he found her insisting that Berenger, who had sunk back in a corner, should lay his length of limb, muddy boots and all, upon the white velvet cushions richly worked in black and silver, with devices and mottoes, in which the crescent moon, and eclipsed or setting suns, made a great figure. The original inmates seemed to have disposed of themselves in various nooks of the ample conveyance, and Philip, rather at a loss to explain his intrusion, perched himself awkwardly on the edge of the cushions in front of his brother, thinking that Humfrey was an officious, suspicious fellow, to distrust this lovely lady, who seemed so exceedingly shocked and grieved at Berenger's condition. 'Ah! I never guessed it had been so frightful as this. I should not have known him. Ah! had I imagined—-' She leant back, covered her face, and wept, as one overpowered; then, after a few seconds, she bent forward, and would have taken the hand that hung listlessly down, but it was at once withdrawn, and folded with the other on his breast.
'Can you be more at ease? Do you suffer much?' she asked, with sympathy and tenderness that went to Philip's heart, and he explained. 'He cannot speak, Madame; the shot in his cheek' (the lady shuddered, and put her handkerchief to her eyes) 'from time to time cases this horrible swelling and torture. After that he will be better.'
'Frightful, frightful,' she sighed, 'but we will do our best to make up. You, sir, must be his trucheman.'
Philip, not catching the last word, and wondering what kind of man that might be, made answer, 'I am his brother, Madame.'
'Eh! Monsieur son frere. Had Madame sa mere a son so old?'
'I am Philip Thistlewood, her husband's son, at your service, Madame,' said Philip, colouring up to the ears; 'I came with him for he is too weak to be alone.'
'Great confidence must be reposed in you, sir,' she said, with a not unflattering surprise. 'But whence are you come? I little looked to see Monsieur here.'
'We came from Anjou, Madame. We went to La Sablerie,' and he broke off.
'I understand. Ah! let us say no more! It rends the heart;' and again she wiped away tear. 'And now—-'
'We are coming to the Ambassador's to obtain'—he stopped, for Berenger gave him a touch of peremptory warning, but the lady saved his embarrassment by exclaiming that she could not let her dear cousin go to the Ambassador's when he was among his own kindred. Perhaps Monsieur did not know her; she must present herself as Madame de Selinville, nee de Ribaumont, a poor cousin of ce cher Baron, 'and even a little to you, M. le frere, if you will own me,' and she held out a hand, which he ought to have kissed, but not knowing how, he only shook it. She further explained that her brother was at Cracow with Monsieur, now King of Poland, but that her father lived with her at her hotel, and would be enchanted to see his dear cousin, only that he, like herself, would be desolated at the effects of that most miserable of errors. She had been returning from her Advent retreat at a convent, where she had been praying for the soul of the late M. de Selinville, when a true Providence had made her remark the colours of her family. And now, nothing would serve her, but that this dear Baron should be carried at once to their hotel, which was much nearer than that of the Ambassador, and where every comfort should await him. She clasped her hands in earnest entreaty, and Philip, greatly touched by her kindness and perceiving that every jolt of the splendid by springless vehicle caused Berenger's head a shoot of anguish, was almost acceding to her offer, when he was checked by one of the most imperative of those silent negatives. Hitherto, Master Thistlewood had been rather proud of his bad French, and as long as he could be understood, considered trampling on genders, tenses, and moods as a manful assertion of Englishry, but he would just now have given a great deal for the command of any language but a horseboy's, to use to this beautiful gracious personage. 'Merci, Madame, nous ne fallons pas, nous avons passe notre parole d'aller droit a l'Ambassadeur's et pas ou else,' did not sound very right to his ears; he coloured up to the roots of his hair, and knew that if Berry had had a smile left in him, poor fellow, he would have smiled now. But this most charming and polite of ladies never betrayed it, if it were ever such bad French; she only bowed her head, and said something very pretty—if only he could make it out—of being the slave of one's word, and went on persuading. Nor did it make the conversation easier, that she inquired after Berenger, and mourned over his injuries as if he were unconscious, while Philip knew, nay, was reminded every instant, that he was aware of all that was passing, most anxious that as little as possible should be said, and determined against being taken to her hotel. So unreasonable a prejudice did this seem to Philip, that had it not been for Humfrey's words, he would have doubted whether, in spite of all his bleeding, his brother's brain were not wandering.
However, what with Humfrey without, and Berenger within, the turn to the Ambassador's hotel was duly taken, and in process of time a hearty greeting passed between Humfrey and the porter; and by the time the carriage drew up, half the household were assembled on the steps, including Sir Francis himself, who had already heard more than a fortnight back from Lord Walwyn, and had become uneasy at the non-arrival of his two young guests. On Smithers's appearance, all had been made ready; and as Berenger, with feeble, tardy movements, made courteous gestures of thanks to the lady, and alighted form the coach, he was absolutely received into the dignified arms of the Ambassador. 'Welcome, my poor lad, I am glad to see you here again, though in such different guise. Your chamber is ready for you, and I have sent my secretary to see if Maitre Par be at home, so we will, with God's help, have you better at ease anon.'
Even Philip's fascination by Madame de Selinville could not hold out against the comfort of hearing English voices all round him, and of seeing his brother's anxious brow expand, and his hand and eyes return no constrained thanks. Civilities were exchanged on both sides; the Ambassador thanked the lady for the assistance she had rendered to his young friend and guest; she answered with a shade of stiffness, that she left her kinsman in good hands, and said she should send to inquire that evening, and her father would call on the morrow; then, as Lady Walsingham did not ask her in, the black and white coach drove away.
The lady threw herself back in one corner, covered her face, and spoke no word. Her coach pursued its way through the streets, and turned at length into another great courtyard, surrounded with buildings, where she alighted, and stepped across a wide but dirty hall, where ranks of servants stoop up and bowed as she passed; then she ascended a wide carved staircase, opened a small private door, and entered a tiny wainscoted room hardly large enough for her farthingale to turn round in. 'You, Veronique, come in—only you,' she said, at the door; and a waiting-woman, who had been in the carriage, obeyed, no longer clad in the Angevin costume, but in the richer and less characteristic dress of the ordinary Parisian femme de chambre.
'Undo my mantle in haste!' gasped Madame de Selinville. 'O Veronique—you saw—what destruction!'
'Ah! if my sweet young lady only known how frightful he had become, she had never sacrificed herself,' sighed Veronique.
'Frightful! What, with the grave blue eyes that seem like the steady avenging judgment of St. Michael in his triumph in the picture at the Louvre?' murmured Madame de Selinville; then she added quickly, 'Yes, yes, it is well. She and you, Veronique, may see him frightful and welcome. There are other eyes—make haste, girl. There—another handerchief. Follow me not.'
And Madame de Selinville moved out of the room, past the great state bedroom and the salle beyond, to another chamber where more servants waited and rose at her entrance.
'Is any one with my father?'
'No, Madame;' and a page knocking, opened the door and announced, 'Madame la Comtesse.'
The Chevalier, in easy deshabille, with a flask of good wine, iced water, and delicate cakes and confitures before him, a witty and licentious epigrammatic poem close under his hand, sat lazily enjoying the luxuries that it had been his daughter's satisfaction to procure for him ever since her marriage. He sprang up to meet her with a grace and deference that showed how different a person was the Comtesse de Selinville from Diane de Ribaumont.
'Ah! ma belle, my sweet,' as there was a mutual kissing of hands, 'thou art returned. Had I known thine hour, I had gone down for thy first embrace. But thou lookest fair, my child; the convent has made thee lovelier than ever.'
'Father, who think you is here? It is he—the Baron.'
'The Baron? Eh, father!' she cried impetuously. 'Who could it be but one?'
'My child, you are mistaken! That young hot-head can never be thrusting himself here again.'
'But he is, father; I brought him into Paris in my coach! I left him at the Ambassador's.'
'Thou shouldest have brought him here. There will be ten thousand fresh imbroglios.'
'I could not; he is as immovable as ever, though unable to speak! Oh, father, he is very ill, he suffers terribly. Oh, Narcisse! Ah! may I never see him again!'
'But what brings him blundering her again?' exclaimed the Chevalier. 'Speak intelligibly, child! I thought we had guarded against that! He knows nothing of the survivance.'
'I cannot tell much. He could not open his mouth, and his half-brother, a big dull English boy, stammered out a few words of shocking French against his will. But I believe they had heard of la pauvre petite at La Sablerie, came over for her, and finding the ruin my brother makes wherever he goes, are returning seeking intelligence and succour for HIM.'
'That may be,' said the Chevalier, thoughtfully. 'It is well thy brother is in Poland. I would not see him suffer any more; and we may get him back to England ere my son learns that he is here.'
'Father, there is a better way! Give him my hand.'
'Eh quoi, child; if thou art tired of devotion, there are a thousand better marriages.'
'No, father, none so good for this family. See, I bring him all—all that I was sold for. As the price of that, he resigns for ever all his claims to the ancestral castle—to La Leurre, and above all, that claim to Nid de Merle as Eustacie's widower, which, should he ever discover the original contract, will lead to endless warfare.'
'His marriage with Eustacie was annulled. Yet—yet there might be doubts. There was the protest; and who knows whether they formally renewed their vows when so much went wrong at Montpipeau. Child, it is a horrible perplexity. I often could wish we had had no warning, and the poor things had made off together. We could have cried shame till we forced out a provision for thy brother; and my poor little Eustacie—-' He had tears in his eyes as he broke off.
Diane made an impatient gesture. 'She would have died of tedium in England, or broken forth so as to have a true scandal. That is all over, father, now; weigh my proposal! Nothing else will save my brother from all that his cruel hand merits! You will win infinite credit at court. The King loved him more than you thought safe.'
'The King has not a year to live, child, and he has personally offended the King of Poland. Besides, this youth is heretic.'
'Only by education. Have I not heard you say that he had by an abjuration. And as to Monsieur's enmity, if it be not forgotten, the glory of bringing about a conversion would end that at once.'
'Then, daughter, thou shouldst not have let him bury himself among the English.'
'It was unavoidable, father, and perhaps if he were here he would live in an untamable state of distrust, whereas we may now win him gradually. You will go and see him to-morrow, my dear father.'
'I must have time to think of this thy sudden device.'
'Nay, he is in no condition to hear of it at present. I did but speak now, that you might not regard it as sudden when the fit moment comes. It is the fixed purpose of my mind. I am no girl now, and I could act for myself if I would; but as it is for your interest and that of my brother thus to dispose of me, it is better that you should act for me.'
'Child, headstrong child, thou wilt make no scandal,' said the Chevalier, looking up at his daughter's handsome head drawn up proudly with determination.
'Certainly not, sir, if you will act for me.' And Diane sailed away in her sweeping folds of black brocade.
In a few moments more she was kneeling with hands locked together before a much-gilded little waxem figure of St. Eustacie with his cross-bearing stag by his side, which stood in a curtained recess in the alcove where her stately bed was placed.
'Monseigneur St. Eustache, ten wax candles everyday to your shrine at Bellaise, so he recovers; ten more if he listen favourably and loves me. Nay, all—all the Selinville jewels to make you a shrine. All—all, so he will only let me love him;' and then, while taking up the beads, and pronouncing the repeated devotions attached to each, her mind darted back to the day when, as young children, she had played unfairly, defrauded Landry Osbert, and denied it; how Berenger, though himself uninjured, had refused to speak to her all that day—how she had hated him then—how she had thought she had hated him throughout their brief intercourse in the previous year; how she had played into her brother's hands; and when she thought to triumph over the man who had scorned her, found her soul all blank desolation, and light gone out from the earth! Reckless and weary, she had let herself be united to M. de Selinville, and in her bridal honours and amusements had tried to crowd out the sense of dreariness and lose herself in excitement. Then came the illness and death of her husband, and almost at the same time the knowledge of Berenger's existence. She sought excitement again that feverish form of devotion then in vogue at Paris, and which resulted in the League. She had hitherto stunned herself as it were with penances, processions, and sermons, for which the host of religious orders then at Paris had given ample scope; and she was constantly devising new extravagances. Even at this moment she wore sackcloth beneath her brocade, and her rosary was of death's heads. She was living on the outward husk of the Roman Church not penetrating into its living power, and the phase of religion which fostered Henry III. and the League offered her no more.
All, all had melted away beneath the sad but steadfast glance of those two eyes, the only feature still unchanged in the marred, wrecked countenance. That honest, quiet refusal, that look which came from a higher atmosphere, had filled her heart with passionate beatings and aspirations once more, and more consciously than ever. Womanly feeling for suffering, and a deep longing to compensate to him, and earn his love, nay wrest it from him by the benefits she would heap upon him, were all at work; but the primary sense was the longing to rest on the only perfect truth she had ever known in man, and thus with passionate ardour she poured forth her entreaties to St. Eustache, a married saint, who had known love, and could feel for her, and could surely not object to the affection to which she completely gave way for one whose hand was now as free as her own.
But St. Eustache was not Diane's only hope. That evening she sent Veronique to Rene of Milan, the court-perfumer, but also called by the malicious, l'empoisonneur de le Reine, to obtain from him the most infallible charm and love potion in his whole repertory.
CHAPTER XXVI. THE CHEVALIER'S EXPIATION
Next, Sirs, did he marry? And whom, Sirs, did he marry? One like himself, Though doubtless graced with many virtues, young, And erring, and in nothing more astray Than in this marriage.—TAYLOR, EDWIN THE FAIR.
Nothing could be kinder than the Ambassador's family, and Philip found himself at once at home there, at least in his brother's room, which was all the world to him. fortunately, Ambroise Pare, the most skillful surgeon of his day, had stolen a day from his attendance of King Charles, at St. Germain, to visit his Paris patients, and, though unwilling to add to the list of cases, when he heard from Walsingham's secretary who the suffer was, and when injured, he came at once to afford his aid.
He found, however, that there was little scope for present treatment, he could only set his chief assistant to watch the patient and to inform him when the crisis should be nearer; but remarking the uneasy, anxious expression in Berenger's eyes, he desired to know whether any care on his mind might be interfering with his recovery. A Huguenot, and perfectly trustworthy, he was one who Walsingham knew might safely hear the whole, and after hearing all, he at once returned to his patient, and leaning over him, said, 'Vex not yourself, sir; your illness is probably serving you better than health could do.'
Sir Francis thought this quite probable, since Charles was so unwell and so beset with his mother's creatures that no open audience could be obtained from him, and Pare, who always had access to him, might act when no one else could reach him. Meantime the Ambassador rejoiced to hear of the instinctive caution that had made Berenger silence Philip on the object of the journey to Paris, since if the hostile family guessed at the residence of the poor infant, they would have full opportunity for obliterating all the scanty traces of her. Poor persecuted little thing! the uncertain hope of her existence seemed really the only thread that still bound Berenger to life. He had spent eighteen months in hope deferred, and constant bodily pain; and when the frightful disappointment met him at La Sablerie, it was not wonder that his heart and hope seemed buried in the black scorched ruins where all he cared for had perished. He was scarcely nineteen, but the life before him seemed full of nothing but one ghastly recollection, and, as he said in the short sad little letter which he wrote to his grandfather from his bed, he only desired to live long enough to save Eustacie's child from being a nameless orphan maintained for charity in a convent, and to see her safe in Aunt Cecily's care; and then he should be content to have done with this world for ever.
The thought that no one except himself could save the child, seemed to give him the resolution to battle for life that often bears the patient through illness, though now he as suffering more severely and consciously than ever he had done before; and Lady Walsingham often gave up hopes of him. He was tenderly cared for by her and her women; but Philip was the most constant nurse, and his unfailing assiduity and readiness amazed the household, who had begun by thinking him ungainly, loutish, and fit for nothing but country sports.
The Chevalier de Ribaumont came daily to inquire; and the first time he was admitted actually burst into tears at the sight of the swollen disfigured face, and the long mark on the arm which lay half-uncovered. Presents of delicacies, ointments, and cooling drinks were frequently sent from him and from the Countess de Selinville; but Lady Walsingham distrusted these, and kept her guest strictly to the regimen appointed by Pare. Now and then, billets would likewise come. The first brought a vivid crimson into Berenger's face, and both it and all its successors he instantly tore into the smallest fragments, without letting any one see them.
On the day of the Carnival, the young men of the household had asked Master Thistlewood to come out with them and see the procession of the Boeuf Gras; but before it could take place, reports were flying about that put the city in commotion, caused the Ambassador to forbid all going out, and made Philip expect another Huguenot massacre. The Duke of Alencon and the King of Navarre had been detected, it was said, in a conspiracy for overthrowing the power of the Queen-mother, bringing in the Huguenots, and securing the crown to Alencon on the King's death. Down-stairs, the Ambassador and his secretaries sat anxiously striving to sift the various contradictory reports; up-stairs, Philip and Lady Walsingham were anxiously watching Berenger in what seemed the long-expected crisis, and Philip was feeling as if all the French court were welcome to murder one another so that they would only let Ambroise Pare come to his brother's relief. And it was impossible even to send!
At last, however, when Ash-Wednesday was half over, there was a quiet movement, and a small pale man in black was at the bedside, without Philip's having ever seen his entrance. He looked at his exhausted patient, and said, 'It is well; I could not have done you any good before.'
And when he had set Berenger more at ease, he told how great had been the confusion at St. Germain when the plot had become known to the Queen-mother. The poor King had been wakened at two o'clock in the morning, and carried to his litter, when Pare and his old nurse had tended him. He only said, 'Can they not let me die in peace?' and his weakness had been so great on arriving, that the surgeon could hardly have left him for M. de Ribaumont, save by his own desire. 'Yes, sir,' added Pare, seeing Berenger attending to him, 'we must have you well quickly; his Majesty knows all about you, and is anxious to see you.'
In spite of these good wishes, the recovery was very slow; for, as the surgeon had suspected, the want of skill in those who had had the charge of Berenger at the first had been the cause of much of his protracted suffering. Pare, the inventor of trephining, was, perhaps, the only man in Europe who could have dealt with the fracture in the back of the head, and he likewise extracted the remaining splinters of the jaw, though at the cost of much severe handling and almost intolerable pain: but by Easter, Berenger found the good surgeon's encouragement verified, and himself on the way to a far more effectual cure than he had hitherto thought possible. Sleep had come back to him, he experienced the luxury of being free from all pain, he could eat without difficulty; and Pare, always an enemy to wine, assured him that half the severe headaches for which he had been almost bled to death, were the consequence of his living on bread soaked in sack instead of solid food; and he was forbidden henceforth to inflame his brain with anything stronger than sherbet. His speech, too, was much improved; he still could not utter all the consonants perfectly, and could not speak distinctly without articulating very slowly, but all the discomfort and pain were gone; and though still very weak, he told Philip that now all his course seemed clear towards his child, instead of being like a dull, distraught dream. His plan was to write to have a vessel sent from Weymouth, to lie off the coast till his signal should be seen from la Motte-Achard, and then to take in the whole party and the little yearling daughter, whom he declared he should trust to no one but himself. Lady Walsingham remonstrated a little at the wonderful plans hatched by the two lads together, and yet she was too glad to see a beginning of brightening on his face to make many objections. It was only too sand to think how likely he was again to be disappointed.
He was dressed, but had not left his room, and was lying on cushions in the ample window overlooking the garden, while Frances and Elizabeth Walsingham in charge of their mother tried to amuse him by their childish airs and sports, when a message was brought that M. le Chevalier de Ribaumont prayed to be admitted to see him privily.
'What bodes that?' he languidly said.
'Mischief, no doubt,' said Philip Walsingham. 'Send him word that you are seriously employed.'
'Nay, that could scarce be, when he must have heard the children's voices,' said Lady Walsingham. 'Come away, little ones.'
The ladies took the hint and vanished, but Philip remained till the Chevalier had entered, more resplendent than ever, in a brown velvet suit slashed with green satin, and sparkling with gold lace-a contrast to the deep mourning habit in which Berenger was dressed. After inquiries for his health, the Chevalier looked at Philip, and expressed his desire of speaking with his cousin alone.
'If it be of business,' said Berenger, much on his guard, 'my head is still weak, and I would wish to have the presence of the Ambassador or one of his secretaries.'
'This is not so much a matte of business as of family,' said the Chevalier, still looking so uneasily at Philip that Berenger felt constrained to advise him to join the young ladies in the garden; but instead of doing this, the boy paced the corridors like a restless dog waiting for his master, and no sooner heard the old gentleman bow himself out than he hurried back again, to find Berenger heated, panting, agitated as by a sharp encounter.
'Brother, what is it—what has the old rogue done to you?'
'Nothing,' said Berenger, tardily and wearily; and for some minutes he did not attempt to speak, while Philip devoured his curiosity as best he might. At last he said, 'He was always beyond me. What think you? Now he wants me to turn French courtier and marry his daughter.'
'His daughter!' exclaimed Philip, 'that beautiful lady I saw in the coach?'
A nod of assent.
'I only wish it were I.'
'Philip,' half angrily, 'how can you be such a fool?'
'Of course, I know it can't be,' said Philip sheepishly, but a little offended. 'But she's the fairest woman my eyes ever beheld.'
'And the falsest.'
'My father says all women are false; only they can't help it, and don't mean it.'
'Only some do mean it,' said Berenger, dryly.
'Brother!' cried Philip, fiercely, as if ready to break a lance, 'what right have you to accuse that kindly, lovely dame of falsehood?'
'It skills not going through all,' said Berenger, wearily. 'I know her of old. She began by passing herself off on me as my wife.'
'And you were not transported?'
'I am not such a gull as you.'
'How very beautiful your wife must have been!' said Philip, with gruff amazement overpowering his consideration.
'Much you know about it,' returned Berenger, turning his face away.
There was a long silence, first broken by Philip, asking more cautiously, 'And what did you say to him?'
'I said whatever could show it was most impossible. Even I said the brother's handwriting was too plain on my face for me to offer myself to the sister. But it seems all that is to be passed over as an unlucky mistake. I wish I could guess what the old fellow is aiming at.'
'I am sure the lady looked at you as if she loved you.'
'Simpleton! She looked to see how she could beguile me. Love! They do nothing for love here, you foolish boy, save par amour. If she loved me, her father was the last person she would have sent me. No, no; 'tis a new stratagem, if I could only seen my way into it. Perhaps Sir Francis will when he can spend an hour on me.'
Though full of occupation, Sir Francis never failed daily to look in upon his convalescent guest, and when he heard of the Chevalier's interview, he took care that Berenger should have full time to consult him; and, of course, he inquired a good deal more into the particulars of the proposal than Philip had done. When he learnt that the Chevalier had offered all the very considerable riches and lands that Diane enjoyed in right of her late husband as an equivalent for Berenger's resignation of all claims upon the Nid-de-Merle property, he noted it on his tables, and desired to know what these claims might be. 'I cannot tell,' said Berenger. 'You may remember, sir, the parchments with our contract of marriage had been taken away from Chateau Leurre, and I have never seen them.'
'Then,' said the Ambassador, 'you may hold it as certain that those parchments give you some advantage which he hears, since he is willing to purchase it at so heavy a price. Otherwise he himself would be the natural heir of those lands.'
'After my child,' said Berenger, hastily.
'Were you on your guard against mentioning your trust in your child's life?' said Sir Francis.
The long scar turned deeper purple than ever. 'Only so far as that I said there still be rights I had no power to resign,' said Berenger. 'And then he began to prove to me—-what I had no mind to hear' (and his voice trembled) '—-all that I know but too well.'
'Hum! you must not be left alone again to cope with him,' said Walsingham. 'Did he make any question of the validity of your marriage?'
'No, sir, it was never touched on. I would not let him take her name into his lips.'
Walsingham considered for some minutes, and then said, 'It is clear, then, that he believes that the marriage can be sufficiently established to enable you to disturb him in his possession of some part, at least, of the Angevin inheritance, or he would not endeavour to purchase your renunciation of it by the hand of a daughter so richly endowed.'
'I would willingly renounce it if that were all! I never sought it; only I cannot give up her child's rights.'
'And that you almost declared,' proceeded Walsingham; 'so that the Chevalier has by his negotiation gathered from you that you have not given up hope that the infant lives. Do your men know where you believe she is?'
'My Englishmen know it, of course,' said Berenger; 'but there is no fear of them. The Chevalier speaks no English, and they scarcely any French; and, besides, I believe they deem him equally my butcher with his son. The other fellow I only picked up after I was on my way to Paris, and I doubt his knowing my purpose.'
'The Chevalier must have had speech with him, though,' said Philip; 'for it was he who brought word that the old rogue wished to speak with you.'
'It would be well to be quit yourself of the fellow ere leaving Paris,' said Walsingham.
'Then, sir,' said Berenger, with an anxious voice, 'do you indeed think I have betrayed aught that can peril the poor little one?'
Sir Francis smiled. 'We do not set lads of your age to cope with old foxes,' he answered; 'and it seems to me that you used far discretion in the encounter. The mere belief that the child lives does not show him where she may be. In effect, it would seem likely to most that the babe would be nursed in some cottage, and thus not be in the city of La Sablerie at all. He might, mayhap, thus be put on a false scent.'
'Oh no,' exclaimed Berenger, startled; 'that might bring the death of some other person's child on my soul.'
'That shall be guarded against,' said Sir Francis. 'In the meantime, my fair youth, keep your matters as silent as may be—-do not admit the Chevalier again in my absence; and, as to this man Guibert, I will confer with my steward whether he knows too much, and whether it be safer to keep of dismiss him!'
'If only I could see the King, and leave Paris,' sighed Berenger.
And Walsingham, though unwilling to grieve the poor youth further, bethought himself that this was the most difficult and hopeless matter of all. As young Ribaumont grew better, the King grew worse; he himself only saw Charles on rare occasions, surrounded by a host of watchful eyes and ears, and every time he marked the progress of disease; and though such a hint could be given by an Ambassador, he thought that by far the best chance of recovery of the child lay in the confusion that might probably follow the death of Charles IX. in the absence of his next heir.
Berenger reckoned on the influence of Elisabeth of Austria, who had been the real worker in his union with Eutacie; but he was told that it was vain to expect assistance from her. In the first year of her marriage, she had fondly hoped to enjoy her husband's confidence, and take her natural place in his court; but she was of no mould to struggle with Catherine de Medicis, and after a time had totally desisted. Even at the time of the St. Bartholomew, she had endeavoured to uplift her voice on the side of mercy, and had actually saved the lives of the King of Navarre and Prince of Conde; and her father, the good Maximilian II., had written in the strongest terms to Charles IX. expressing his horror of the massacre. Six weeks later, the first hour after the birth of her first and only child, she had interceded with her husband for the lives of two Huguenots who had been taken alive, and failing then either through his want of will or want of power, she had collapsed and yielded up the endeavour. She ceased to listen to petitions from those who had hoped for her assistance, as if to save both them and herself useless pain, and seemed to lapse into a sort of apathy to all public interests. She hardly spoke, mechanically fulfilled her few offices in the court, and seemed to have turned her entire hope and trust into prayer for her husband. Her German confessor had been sent home, and a Jesuit given her in his stead, but she had made no resistance; she seemed to the outer world a dull, weary stranger, obstinate in leading a conventual life; but those who knew her best—and of these few was the Huguenot surgeon Pare—knew that her heart had been broken two guilty lives, or to make her husband free himself from his bondage to bloody counsels. To pray for him was all that remained to her—and unwearied had been those prayers. Since his health had declined, she had been equally indefatigable in attending on him, and did not seem to have a single interest beyond his sick chamber.
As to the King of Navarre, for whose help Berenger had hoped, he had been all these months in the dishonouable thraldom of Catherine de Medicis, and was more powerless than ever at this juncture, having been implicated in Alencon's plot, and imprisoned at Vincennes.
And thus, the more Berenger heard of the state of things, the less hopeful did his cause appear, till he could almost have believed his best chance lay in Philip's plan of persuading the Huguenots to storm the convent.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE DYING KING
Die in terror of thy guiltiness, Dream on, dream on of bloody deeds and death, Fainting, despair, despairing yield thy breath KING RICHARD III.
A few days later, when Berenger had sent out Philip, under the keeping of the secretaries, to see the Queen-mother represent Royalty in one of the grand processions of Rogation-tide, the gentle knock came to his door that always announced the arrival of his good surgeon.
'You look stronger, M. le Baron; have you yet left your room?'
'I have walked round the gallery above the hall,' said Berenger. 'I have not gone down-stairs; that is for to-morrow.'
'What would M. le Baron say if his chirurgeon took him not merely down-stairs, but up on flight at the Louvre?'
'Ha!' cried Berenger; 'to the King?'
'It is well-nigh the last chance, Monsieur; the Queen-mother and all her suite are occupied with services and sermons this week; and next week private access to the King will be far more difficult. I have waited as long as I could that you might gain strength to support the fatigue.'
'Hope cancels fatigue,' said Berenger, already at the other end of the room searching for his long-disused cloak, sword, gloves, hat, and mask.
'Not the sword,' said Pare, 'so please you. M. le Baron must condescend to obtain entrance as my assistant—the plain black doublet—yes, that is admirable; but I did not know that Monsieur was so tall,' he added, in some consternation, as, for the first time, he saw his patient standing up at his full height—unusual even in England, and more so in France. Indeed, Berenger had grown during his year of illness, and being, of course, extremely thin, looked all the taller, so as to be a very inconvenient subject to smuggle into to palace unobserved.
However, Ambroise had made up his mind to the risk, and merely assisted Berenger in assuming his few equipments, then gave him his arm to go down the stairs. Meeting Guibert on the way, Berenger left word with him that he was going out to take the air with Maitre Pare; and on the man's offering to attend him, refused the proposal.
Pare carriage waited in the court, and Berenger, seated in its depths, rolled unseen through the streets, till he found himself at the little postern of the Louvre, the very door whence he was to have led off his poor Eustacie. Here Ambroise made him take off his small black mask, in spite of all danger of his scars being remarked, since masks were not etiquette in the palace, and, putting into his arms a small brass-bound case of instruments, asked his pardon for preceding him, and alighted from the carriage.
This was Ambroise's usual entrance, and it was merely guarded by a Scottish archer, who probably observed nothing. They then mounted the stone stair, the same where Osbert had dragged down his insensible master; and as, at the summit, the window appeared where Berenger had waited those weary hours, and heard the first notes of the bell of St.-Germain-l'Auxerrois, his breath came in such hurried sobs, that Pare would fain have given him time to recover himself, but he gasped, 'Not here—not here;' and Pare, seeing that he could still move on, turned, not to the corridor leading to the King's old apartments, now too full of dreadful associations for poor Charles, but towards those of the young Queen. Avoiding the ante-room, where no doubt waited pages, users, and attendants, Pare presently knocked at a small door, so hidden in the wain-scoting of the passage that only a habitue could have found it without strict search. It was at once opened, and the withered, motherly face of an old woman, with keen black eyes under a formal tight white cap, looked out.
'Eh! Maitre Pare,' she said, 'you have brought the poor young gentleman? On my faith, he looks scarcely able to walk! Come in, sir, and rest a while in my chamber while Maitre Ambroise goes on to announce you to the King. He is more at ease to-day, the poor child, and will relish some fresh talk.
Berenger knew this to be Philippe, the old Huguenot nurse, whom Charles IX. loved most fondly, and in whom he found his greatest comfort. He was very glad to sink into the seat she placed for him, the only one is her small, bare room and recover breath there while Pare passed on to the King, and she talked as one delighted to have a hearer.
'Ah, yes, rest yourself—stay; I will give you a few spoonfuls of the cordial potage I have here for the King; it will comfort your heart. Ah! you have been cruelly mauled—but he would have saved you if he could.
'Yes, good mother, I know that; the King has been my very good lord.
'Ah! blessings on you if you say so from your heart, Monsieur; you know me for one of your poor Reformed. And I tell you—I who saw him born, who nursed him from his birth—that, suffer as you may, you can never suffer as he does. Maitre Ambroise may talk of his illness coming from blowing too much on his horn; I know better. But, ah! to be here at night would make a stone shed tears of blood. The Queen and I know it; but we say nothing, we only pray.
The sight of a Huguenot was so great a treat to the old woman in her isolated life, that her tongue ran thus freely while Berenger sat, scarce daring to speak or breathe in the strange boding atmosphere of the palace, where the nurse and surgeon moved as tolerated, privileged persons, in virtue of the necessity of the one to the King—of the other to all the world. After all brief interval Pare returned and beckoned to Berenger, who followed him across a large state-bedroom to a much smaller one, which he entered from under a heavy blue velvet curtain, and found himself in an atmosphere heavy with warmth and perfume, and strangely oppressed besides. On one side of the large fire sat the young Queen, faded, wan, and with all animation or energy departed, only gazing with a silent, wistful intentness at her husband. He was opposite to her in a pillowed chair, his feet on a stool, with a deadly white, padded, puffy cheek, and his great black eyes, always prominent, now with a glassy look, and strained wide, as though always gazing after some horrible sight. 'Madame la Comtesse stood in her old, wooden, automaton fashion behind the Queen; otherwise, no one was present save Pare, who, as he held up the curtain, stood back to let M. de Ribaumont advance. He stood still, however, merely bowing low, awaiting an invitation to come forward, and trying to repress the startled tear called up by the very shock of pity at the mournful aspect of the young King and Queen.
Elisabeth, absorbed in her husband, and indifferent to all besides, did not even turn her head as he entered; but Charles signed to him to approach, holding out a yellow, dropsical-looking hand; and as he dropped on one knew and kissed it fervently, the King said, 'Here he is, Madame, the Baron de Ribaumont, the same whose little pleasure-boat was sucked down in our whirlpool.
All Elisabeth's memories seemed to have been blotted out in that whirlpool, for she only bowed her head formally, and gave no look of recognition, though she, too, allowed Berenger to salute her listless, dejected hand. 'One would hardly have known him again, continued the King, in a low husky voice; 'but I hope, sir, I see you recovering.
'Thanks, Sire, to Heaven's goodness, and to your goodness in sparing to me the services of Maitre Pare.
'Ah! there is none like Pare for curing a wound OUTSIDE,' said Charles, then leant back silent; and Berenger, still kneeling, was considering whether he ought to proffer his petition, when the King continued, 'How fares your friend Sidney, M. le Baron?
'Right well, Sire. The Queen has made him one of her gentlemen.
'Not after this fashion,' said Charles, as with his finger he traced the long scar on Berenger's face. 'Our sister of England has different badges of merit from ours for her good subjects. Ha! what say they of us in England, Baron?
'I have lain sick at home, Sire, and have neither seen nor heard, said Berenger.
'Ah! one day more at Montpipeau had served your turn,' said the King; 'but you are one who has floated up again. One—one at least whose blood is not on my head.
The Queen looked up uneasy and imploring, as Charles continued: 'Would that more of you would come in this way! They have scored you deep, but know you what is gashed deeper still? Your King's heart! Ah! you will not come, as Coligny does, from his gibbet, with his two bleeding hands. My father was haunted to his dying day by the face of one Huguenot tailor. Why, I see a score, night by night! You are solid; let me feel you, man.
'M. Pare,' exclaimed the poor Queen, 'take him away.
'No, Madame,' said the King, holding tight in his hot grasp Berenger's hand, which was as pale as his own, long, thin, and wasted, but cold from strong emotion; 'take not away the only welcome sight I have seen for well-nigh two years.' He coughed, and the handkerchief he put to his lips had blood on it; but he did not quit his hold of his visitor, and presently said in a feeble whisper, 'Tell me, how did you escape?
Pare, over the King's head, signed to him to make his narrative take time; and indeed his speech was of necessity so slow, that by the time he had related how Osbert had brought him safely to England, the King had recovered himself so as to say, 'See what it is to have a faithful servant. Which of those they have left me would do as much for me? And now, being once away with your life, what brings you back to this realm of ours, after your last welcome?
'I left my wife here, Sire.
'Ha! and the cousin would have married her—obtained permission to call himself Nid de Merle—but she slipped through his clumsy fingers; did she not? Did you know anything of her, Madame?
'No,' said the Queen, looking up. 'She wrote to me once from her convent; but I knew I could do nothing for her but bring her enemies' notice on her; so I made no answer.
Berenger could hardly conceal his start of indignation—less at the absolute omission, than at the weary indifference of the Queen's confession. Perhaps the King saw it, for he added, 'So it is, Ribaumont; the kindest service we can do our friends is to let them alone; and, after all, it was not the worse for her. She did evade her enemies?
'Yes, Sire,' said Berenger, commanding and steadying his voice with great difficulty, 'she escaped in time to give birth to our child in the ruined loft of an old grange of the Templars, under the care of a Huguenot farmer, and a pastor who had known my father. Then she took refuge in La Sablerie, and wrote to my mother, deeming me dead. I was just well enough to go in quest of her. I came—ah! Sire, I found only charred ruins. Your Majesty knows how Huguenot bourgs are dealt with.
Berenger answered but by a look.
'Why did you come to tell me this?' said the King, passionately. 'Do you not know that they have killed me already? I thought you came because there was still some one I could aid.
'There is, there is, Sire,' said Berenger, for once interrupting royalty. 'None save you can give me my child. It is almost certain that a good priest saved it; but it is in a convent, and only with a royal order can one of my religion either obtain it, or even have my questions answered.
'Nor with one in Paris,' said the King dryly; 'but in the country the good mothers may still honour their King's hand. Here, Ambroise, take pen and ink, and write the order. To whom?
'To the Mother Prioress of the Ursulines at Lucon, so please our Majesty,' said Berenger, 'to let me have possession of my daughter.
'Eh! is it only a little girl?
'Yes, Sire; but my heart yearns for her all the more,' said Berenger, with glistening eyes.
'You are right,' said the poor King. 'Mine, too, is a little girl; and I bless God daily that she is no son—to be the most wretched thing the France. Let her come in, Madame. She is little older than my friend's daughter. I would show her to him.
The Queen signed to Madame la Comtesse to fetch the child, and Berenger added, 'Sire, you could do a further benefit to my poor little one. One more signature of yours would attest that ratification of my marriage which took place in your Majesty's presence.
'Ah! I remember,' said Charles. 'You may have any name of mine that can help you to oust that villain Narcisse; only wait to use it—spare me any more storms. It will serve your turn as well when I am beyond they, and you will make your claim good. What,' seeing Berenger's interrogative look, 'do you not know that by the marriage-contract the lands of each were settled on the survivor?
'No, Sire; I have never seen the marriage-contract.
'Your kinsman knew it well,' said Charles.
Just then, Madame la Comtesse returned, leading the little Princess by the long ribbons at her waist; Charles bent forward, calling, 'Here, ma petite, come here. Here is one who loves thy father. Look well at him, that thou mayest know him.
The little Madame Elisabeth so far understood, that, with a certain lofty condescension, she extended her hand for the stranger to kiss, and thus drew from the King the first smile that Berenger had seen. She was more than half a year older than the Berangere on whom his hopes were set, and whom he trusted to find not such a pale, feeble, tottering little creature as this poor young daughter of France, whose round black eyes gazed wonderingly at his scar; but she was very precocious, and even already too much of a royal lady to indulge in any awkward personal observation.
By the time she had been rewarded for her good behaviour by one of the dried plums in her father's comfit-box, the order had been written by Pare, and Berenger had prepared the certificate for the King's signature, according to the form given him by his grandfather.
'Your writing shakes nearly as much as mine,' said the poor King, as he wrote his name to this latter. 'Now, Madame, you had better sign it also; and tell this gentleman where to find Father Meinhard in Austria. He was a little too true for us, do you see—would not give thanks for shedding innocent blood. Ah!'—and with a gasp of mournful longing, the King sank back, while Elisabeth, at his bidding, added her name to the certificate, and murmured the name of a convent in Vienna, where her late confessor could be found.
'I cannot thank you Majesty enough,' said Berenger; 'My child's rights are now secure in England at least, and this'—as he held the other paper for the King—'will give her to me.
'Ah! take it for what it is worth,' said the King, as he scrawled his 'CHARLES' upon it. 'This order must be used promptly, or it will avail you nothing. Write to Ambroise how you speed; that is, if it will bring me one breath of good news.' And as Berenger kissed his hand with tearful, inarticulate thanks, he proceeded, 'Save for that cause, I would ask you to come to me again. It does me good. It is like a breath from Montpipeau—the last days of hope—before the frenzy—the misery.
'Whenever your Majesty does me the honour—-' began Berenger, forgetting all except the dying man.
'I am not so senseless,' interrupted the King sharply; 'it would be losing the only chance of undoing one wrong. Only, Ribaumont,' he added fervently, 'for once let me hear that one man has pardoned me.
'Sire, Sire,' sobbed Berenger, totally overcome, 'how can I speak the word? How feel aught but love, loyalty, gratitude?
Charles half smiled again as he said in sad meditation—'Ah! it was in me to have been a good king if they had let me. Think of me, bid your friend Sidney think of me, as I would have been—not as I have been—and pray, pray for me.' Then hiding his face in his handkerchief, in a paroxysm of grief and horror, he murmured in a stifled tone, 'Blood, blood, deliver me, good Lord!
In effect, there was so sudden a gush of blood from mouth and nose that Berenger sprang to his feet in dismay, and was bona fide performing the part of assistant to the surgeon, when, at the Queen's cry, not only the nurse Philippe hurried in, but with her a very dark, keen-looking man, who at once began applying strong essences to the King's face, as Berenger supported his head. In a few moments Pare looked up at Berenger, and setting him free, intimated to him, between sign and whisper, to go into Philippe's room and wait there; and it was high time, for though the youth had felt nothing in the stress of the moment, he was almost swooning when he reached the little chamber, and lay back in the nurse's chair, with closed eyes, scarcely conscious how time went, or even where he was, till he was partly aroused by hearing steps returning.
'The poor young man,' said Philippe's kind voice, 'he is fainting. Ah! no wonder it overcame any kind heart.
'How is the King?' Berenger tried to say, but his own voice still sounded unnatural and far away.
'He is better for the time, and will sleep,' said Pare, administering to his other patient some cordial drops as he spoke. 'There, sir; you will soon be able to return to the carriage. This has been a sore trial to your strength.
'But I have gained all—all I could hope,' said Berenger, looking at his precious papers. 'But, alas! the poor King!
'You will never, never let a word of blame pass against him,' cried Philippe earnestly. 'It is well that one of our people should have seen how it really is with him. All I regret is that Maitre Rene thrust himself in and saw you.
'Who?' said Berenger, who had been too much engrossed to perceive any one.
'Maitre Rene of Milan, the Queen-mother's perfume. He came with some plea of bringing a pouncet-box from her, but I wager it was as a spy. I was doing my best to walk him gently off, when the Queen's cry called me, and he must needs come in after me.
'I saw him not,' said Berenger; 'perhaps he marked not me in the confusion.
'I fear,' said Pare gravely, 'he was more likely to have his senses about him than you. M. le Baron; these bleedings of the King's are not so new to us familiars to the palace. The best thing now to be done is to have you to the carriage, if you can move.
Berenger, now quite recovered, stood up, and gave his warm thanks to the old nurse for her kindness to him.
'Ah! sir,' she said, 'you are one of us. Pray, pray that God will have mercy on my poor child! He has the truth in his heart. Pray that it may save him at the last.
Ambroise, knowing that she would never cease speaking while there was any one to hear her, almost dragged Berenger out at the little secret door, conveyed him safely down the stairs, and placed him again in the carriage. Neither spoke till the surgeon said, 'You have seen a sad sight, Monsieur le Baron: I need not bid you be discreet.
'There are some things that go too deep for speech,' sighed the almost English Berenger; then, after a pause, 'Is there no hope for him? Is he indeed dying?
'Without a miracle, he cannot live a month. He is as truly slain by the St. Bartholomew as ever its martyrs were,' said Pare, moved out of his usual cautious reserve towards one who had seen so much and felt so truly. 'I tell you, sir, that his mother hath as truly slain her sons, as if she had sent Rene there to them with his drugs. According as they have consciences and hearts, so they pine and perish under her rule.
Berenger shuddered, and almost sobbed, 'And hath he no better hope, no comforter?' he asked.
'None save good old Flipote. As you heard, the Queen-mother will not suffer his own Church to speak to him in her true voice. No confessor but one chosen by the Cardinal of Lorraine may come near him; and with him all is mere ceremony. But if at the last he opens his ear and heart to take in the true hope of salvation, it will be from the voice of poor old Philippe.
And so it was! It was Philippe, who heard him in the night sobbing over the piteous words, 'My God, what horrors, what blood!' and, as she took from his tear-drenched handkerchief, spoke to him of the Blood that speakth better things than the blood of Abel; and it was she who, in the final agony, heard and treasured these last words, 'If the Lord Jesus will indeed receive me into the company of the blest!' Surely, never was repentance deeper than that of Charles IX.—and these, his parting words, were such as to inspire the trust that it was not remorse.
All-important as Berenger's expedition had been, he still could think of little but the poor King; and, wearied out as he was, he made very little reply to the astonished friends who gathered round him on his return. He merely told Philip that he had succeeded, and then lay almost without speaking on his bed till the Ambassador made his evening visit, when he showed him the two papers. Sir Francis could hardly believe his good fortune in having obtained this full attestation of the marriage, and promised to send to the English Ambassador in Germany, to obtain the like from Father Meinhard. The document itself he advised Berenger not to expose to the dangers of the French journey, but to leave it with him to be forwarded direct to Lord Walwyn. It was most important, both as obviating any dispute on the legitimacy of the child, if she lived; or, if not, it would establish those rights of Berenger to the Nid de Merle estates, of which he had heard from the King. This information explained what were the claims that the Chevalier was so anxious to hush up by a marriage with Madame de Selinville. Berenger, as his wife's heir, was by this contract the true owner of the estates seized by the Chevalier and his son, and could only be ousted, either by his enemies proving his contract to Eustacie invalid and to be unfulfilled, or by his own voluntary resignation. The whole scheme was clear to Walsingham, and he wasted advice upon unheeding ears, as to how Berenger should act to obtain restitution so soon as he should be of age, and how he should try to find out the notary who had drawn up the contract. If Berenger cared at all, it was rather for the sake of punishing and balking Narcisse, than with any desire of the inheritance; and even for righteous indignation he was just now too weary and too sad. He could not discuss his rights to Nid de Merle, if they passed over the rights of Eustacie's child, round whom his affection were winding themselves as his sole hope.
The next evening Pare came in quest of Berenger, and after a calm, refreshing, hopeful Ascension-day, which had been a real balm to the weary spirit, found him enjoying the sweet May sunshine under a tree in the garden. 'I am glad to find you out of doors,' he said; 'I fear I must hasten your departure.
'I burn to lose no time,' cried Berenger. 'Prithee tell them I may safely go! They all call it madness to think of setting out.
'Ordinarily it would be,' said Pare; 'but Rene of Milan has sent his underlings to see who is my new, tall assistant. He will report all to the Queen-mother; and though in this house you could scarcely suffer personal harm, yet the purpose of your journey might be frustrated, and the King might have to undergo another of those bourrasques which he may well dread.
'I will go this very night,' said Berenger, starting up; 'where is Philip?—where is Sir Francis?
Even that very night Pare thought not too soon, and the Ascension-tide illuminations brought so many persons abroad that it would be easy to go unnoticed; and in the general festivity, when every one was coming and going from the country to gaze or worship at the shrines and the images decked in every church, it would be easy for the barriers to be passed without observation. Then the brothers would sleep at a large hostel, the first on the road to England, where Walsingham's couriers and guest always baited, and the next morning he would send out to them their attendants, with houses for their further journey back into Anjou. If any enemies were on the watch, this would probably put them off the scent, and it only remained further to be debated, whether the Norman Guibert had better be dismissed at once or taken with them. There was always soft place in Berenger's heart for a Norman, and the man was really useful; moreover, he would certainly be safer employed and in their company, than turned loose to tell the Chevalier all he might have picked up in the Hotel d'Angleterre. It was therefore decided that he should be the attendant of the two young men, and he received immediate orders that night to pack up their garments, and hold himself ready.
Nevertheless, before the hour of departure, Guibert had stolen out, had an interview with the Chevalier de Ribaumont at the Hotel de Selinville, and came back with more than one good French crown in his pocket, and hopes of more.
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE ORPHANS OF LA SABLERIE
The cream tarts with pepper in them.—ARABIAN NIGHTS.
Hope, spring, and recovery carried the young Baronde Ribaumont on his journey infinitely better than his companions had dared to expect. He dreaded nothing so much as being overtaken by those tidings which would make King Charles's order mere waste paper; and therefore pressed on with little regard to his own fatigue, although happily with increasing strength, which carried him a further stage every day.
Lucon was a closely-guarded, thoroughly Catholic city, and his safe-conduct was jealously demanded; but the name of Ribaumont silenced all doubt. 'A relation, apparently, of M. de Nid de Merle,' said the officer on guard, and politely invited him to dinner and bed at the castle; but these he thought it prudent to decline, explaining that he brought a letter from the King to the Mother Prioress.
The convent walls were pointed out to him, and he only delayed at the inn long enough to arrange his dress as might appear to the Abbess most respectful, and, poor boy, be least likely to startle the babe on whom his heart was set. At almost every inn, the little children had shrieked and run from his white and gashed face, and his tall, lank figure in deep black; and it was very sadly that he said to Philip, 'You must come with me. If she turns from me as an ogre, your bright ruddy face will win her.
The men were left at the inn with charge to let Guibert speak for them, and to avoid showing their nationality. The three months of Paris, and the tailors there, had rendered Philip much less conspicuous than formerly; but still people looked at him narrowly as he followed his brother along the street. The two lads had made up their minds to encumber themselves with no nurses, or womanfolk. The child should be carried, fondled, and fed by her boy-father alone. He believed that, when he once held her in his arms, he should scarcely even wish to give her up to any one else; and, in his concentration of mind, had hardly thought of all the inconveniences and absurdities that would arise; but, really, was chiefly occupied by the fear that she would not at first let him take her in his arms, and hold her to his heart.
Philip, a little more alive to the probabilities, nevertheless was disposed to regard them as 'fun and pastime.' He had had many a frolic with his baby-sisters, and this would be only a prolonged one; besides, it was 'Berry's' one hope, and to rescue any creature from a convent was a good work, in his Protestant eyes, which had not become a whit less prejudiced at Paris. So he was quite prepared to take his full share of his niece, or more, if she should object to her father's looks, and he only suggested halting at an old woman's stall to buy some sweetmeats by way of propitiation—a proceeding which much amazed the gazing population of Lucon. Two reports were going about, one that the King had vowed a silver image of himself to St. Ursula, if her Prioress would obtain his recovery by their prayers; the other that he was going to translate her to the royal Abbey of Fontevrault to take charge of his daughter, Madame Elisabeth. Any way, high honour by a royal messenger must be intended to the Prioress, Mere Monique, and the Luconnais were proud of her sanctity.
The portress had already heard the report, and opened her wicket even before the bell could be rung, then eagerly ushered him into the parlour, the barest and most ascetic-looking of rooms, with a boarded partition across, unenlivened except by a grated hollow, and the outer portion empty, save of a table, three chairs, and a rugged woodcut of a very tall St. Ursula, with a crowd of pigmy virgins, not reaching higher than the ample hem of her petticoat.
'Did Aunt Cecily live in such a place as this?' exclaimed Philip, gazing round; 'or do they live on the fat among down cushions inside there?
'Hush—sh,' said Berenger, frowning with anxiety; for a rustling was heard behind the screen, and presently a black veil and white scapulary appeared, and a sweet calm voice said, 'Peace be with you, sir; what are your commands?
Berenger bowed low, and replied, 'Thanks, reverend Lady; I bring a letter from the King, to request your aid in a matter that touches me nearly.
'His Majesty shall be obeyed. Come you from him?
He was forced to reply to her inquiries after the poor King's health before she opened the letter, taking it under her veil to read it; so that as he stood, trembling, almost sickening with anxiety, and scarcely able to breathe, he could see nothing but the black folds; and at her low murmured exclamation he started as if at a cannon-shot.
'De Ribaumont!' she said; 'can it be—the child—of—of—out poor dear little pensionnaire at Bellaise?
'It is—it is!' cried Berenger. 'O Madame, you knew her at Bellaise?
'Even so,' replied the Prioress, who was in fact the Soeur Monique so loved and regretted by Eustacie. 'I loved and prayed for her with all my heart when she was claimed by the world. Heaven's will be done; but the poor little thing loved me, and I have often thought that had I been still at Bellaise when she returned she would not have fled. But of this child I have no knowledge.
'You took charge of the babes of La Sablerie, Madame,' said Berenger, almost under his breath.
'Her infant among those poor orphans!' exclaimed the Prioress, more and more startled and amazed.
'If it be anywhere in this life, it is in your good keeping, Madame,' said Berenger, with tears in his eyes. 'Oh! I entreat, withhold her no longer.
'But,' exclaimed the bewildered nun, 'who would you then be, sir?
'I—her husband—widower of Eustacie—father of her orphan!' cried Berenger. 'She cannot be detained from me, either by right or law.
'Her husband,' still hesitated Monique. 'But he is dead. The poor little one—Heaven have mercy on her soul—wrote me a piteous entreaty, and gave large alms for prayers and masses for his soul.
The sob in his throat almost strangled his speech. 'She mourned me to the last as dead. I was borne away senseless and desperately wounded; and when I recovered power to seek her it was too late! O Madame! have pity—let me see all she has left to me.
'Is it possible?' said the nun. 'We would not learn the parentage of our nurslings since all alike become children of Mother Church. Then, suddenly bethinking herself, 'But, surely, Monsieur cannot be a Huguenot.
It was no doubt the first time she had been brought in contact with a schismatic, and she could not believe that such respectful courtesy could come from one. He saw he must curb himself, and explain. 'I am neither Calvinist nor Sacrementaire, Madame. I was bred in England, where we love our own Church. My aunt is a Benedictine Sister, who keeps her rule strictly, though her convent is destroyed; and it is to her that I shall carry my daughter. Ah, Lady, did you but know my heart's hunger for her!
The Prioress, better read in the lives of the saints than in the sects of heretics, did not know whether this meant that he was of her own faith or not; and her woman's heart being much moved by his pleadings, she said, 'I will heartily give your daughter to you, sir, as indeed I must, if she be here; but you have never seen her?
'No; only her empty cradle in the burnt house. But I MUST know her. She is a year old.
'We have two babes of that age; but I fear me you will scarce see much likeness in either of them to any one you knew,' said the Prioress, thoughtfully. 'However, there are two girls old enough to remember the parentage of their companions, though we forbade them to mention it. Would you see them, sir?
'And the infants, so please you, reverend Mother,' exclaimed Berenger.
She desired him to wait, and after an interval of suspense there was a pattering of little sabots behind the partition, and through the grating he beheld six little girls in blue serge frocks and tight white caps. Of the two infants, one with a puny, wizen, pinched face was in the arms of the Prioress; the other, a big, stout, coarse child, with hard brown cheeks and staring black-eyes, was on its own feet, but with a great basket-work frame round its head to save it from falls. There were two much more prepossessing children of three or four, and two intelligent-looking girls of perhaps eight and ten, to the elder of whom the Prioress turned, saying, 'Agathe, I release you from my command not to speak of your former life, and desire you to tell this gentleman if you know who were the parents of these two little ones.
'Yes, reverend Mother,' said Agathe, readily; 'the old name of Claire' (touching the larger baby) 'was Salome Potier: her mother was the washerwoman; and Nannonciade, I don't know what her name was, but her father worked for Maitre Brassier who made the kettles.
Philip felt relieved to be free from all doubt about these very uninviting little ones, but Berenger, though sighing heavily, asked quickly, 'Permit me, Madame, a few questions.—Little maid, did you ever hear of Isaac Gardon?
'Maitre Isaac! Oh yes, sir. We used to hear him preach at the church, and sometimes he catechized us,' she said, and her lip quivered.
'He was a heretic, and I abjure him,' added the other girl, perking up her head.
'Was he in the town? What became of him?' exclaimed Berenger.
'He would not be in the town,' said the elder girl. 'My poor father had sent him word to go away.
'Our father was Bailli la Grasse,' interposed the younger girl, consequentially. 'Our names were Marthe and Lucie la Grasse, but Agathe and Eulalie are much prettier.
'But Maitre Gardon?' still asked Berenger.
'He ought to be take and burnt,' said the new Eulalie; 'he brought it all on us.
'How was it? Was my wife with him—Madame de Ribaumont? Speak, my child.
'That was the name,' said one girl.
'But Maitre Gardon had no great lady with him,' said the other, 'only his son's widow and her baby, and they lodged with Noemi Laurent, who made the patisserie.
'Ah!' cried Berenger, lighting up with the new ray of hope. 'Tell me, my dear, that they fled with him, and where.
'I do not know of their going,' said Agathe, confused and overborne by his eagerness.
'Curb yourself, sir,' said the Prioress, 'they will recollect themselves and tell you what they can.
'It was the little cakes with lemoned sugar,' suggested the younger girl. 'Maitre Tressan always said there would be a judgment on us for our daintiness. Ah! he was very cross about them, and after all it was the Maitre of Lucon who ate fifteen of them all at once; but then he is not a heretic.
Happily for Berenger, Agathe unraveled this speech.
'Mademoiselle Gardon made the sugar-lemoned cakes, and the Mayor of Lucon, one day when he supped with us, was so delighted with them that he carried one away to show his wife, and afterwards he sent over to order some more. Then, after a time, he sent secretly to my father to ask him if Maitre Gardon was there; for there was a great outcry about the lemon cakes, and the Duke of Alencon's army were coming to demand his daughter-in-law; because it seems she was a great lady, and the only person who could make the cakes.
'Agathe!' exclaimed the Prioress.
'I understand,' said Berenger. 'The Cure of Nissard told me that she was traced through cakes, the secret of which was only known at Bellaise.
'That might be,' said Mere Monique. 'I remember there was something of pride in the cakes of Bellaise, though I always tried to know nothing of them.
'Well, little one, continue,' entreated Berenger. 'You are giving me life and hope.
'I heard my father and mother talk about it,' said Agathe, gaining courage. 'He said he knew nothing of great people, and would give nobody up to the Catholics, but as to Maitre Isaac, he should let him know that the Catholic army were coming, and that it would be the better for us if we had no pastor within our walls; and that there was a cry that his daughter's lemon cakes were made by the lady that was lost.
'And they escaped! Ah! would that I could thank the good man!
'Surely yes, sir, I never saw them again. Maitre Tressan the elder prayed with us. And when the cruel soldiers came and demanded the lady and Maitre Isaac, and all obstinate Calvinists, our mayor and my father and the rest made answer that they had no knowledge of the lady, and did not know where Maitre Gardon was; and as to Huguenots, we were all one as obstinate as the other, but that we would pay any fine within our means so they would spare our lives. Then the man in the fine coat said, it was the lady they wanted, not the fine; and a great deal he said besides, I know not what but my father said, 'It is our life's blood that they want,' and he put on his breastplate and kissed us all, and went away. Then came horrible noises and firing of cannon, and the neighbours ran in and said that the enemy were battering down the old crumbly bit of wall where the monastery was burnt; and just then our man Joseph ran back all pale, and staring, to tell us my father was lying badly hurt in the street. My mother hurried out, and locked the door to keep us from following.
The poor child broke down in tears, and her sister went on. 'Oh, we were so frightened—such frightful sounds came close, and people ran by all blood and shrieking—and there was a glare in the sky—and nobody came home—till at last it grew so dreadful that we hid in the cellar to hear and see nothing. Only it grew hotter and hotter, and the light through the little grating was red. And at last there was a noise louder than thunder, and, oh, such a shaking—for it was the house falling down. But we did not know that; we tried to open the door, and could not; then we cried and called for father and mother—and no one heard—and we sat still for fear, till we slept—and then it was all dark, and we were very hungry. I don't know how time went, but at last, when I was daylight again, there was a talking above, a little baby crying, and a kind voice too; and then we called out, 'Oh, take us out and give us bread.' Then a face looked down the grating. Oh, it was like the face of an angel to us, with all the white hair flying round. It was the holy priest of Nissard; and when one of the cruel men said we were only little heretics who ought to die like rats in a hole, he said we were but innocents who did not know the difference.
'Ah! we did,' said the elder girl. 'You are younger, sister, you forget more;' and then, holding out her hands to Berenger, she exclaimed, 'Ah! sir, take us away with you.
'My child!' exclaimed the Prioress, 'you told me you were happy to be in the good course.
'Oh yes!' cried the poor child; 'but I don't want to be happy! I am forgetting all my poor father and mother used to say. I can't help it, and they would be so grieved. Oh, take me away, sir!
'Take care, Agathe, you will be a relapsed heretic,' said her sister, solemnly. 'For me, I am a true Catholic. I love the beautiful images and the processions.
'Ah! but what would our mother have said!' cried poor Agathe, weeping more bitterly.
'Poor child, her old recollections have been renewed,' said the Prioress, with unchanged sweetness; 'but it will pass. My dear, the gentleman will tell you that it is as impossible for him to take you as it is for me to let you go.
'It is so, truly, little one,' said Berenger. 'The only little girl I cold have taken with me would have been my own;' and as her eyes looked at him wistfully, he added, 'No doubt, if your poor mother could, she would thank this good Mother-prioress for teaching you to serve God and be a good child.
'Monsieur speaks well and kindly,' said the Prioress; 'and now, Agathe, make your curtsey, and take away the little ones.
'Let me ask one question more, reverend Mother,' said Berenger. 'Ah! children, did you ever see her whom you call Isaac Gardon's daughter-in-law?
'No, sir,' said the children; 'but mother did, and she promised one day to take us to see the baby, for it was so pretty—so white, that she had never seen the like.
'So white!' repeated Berenger to himself; and the Prioress, struck, perhaps, by the almost flaxen locks that sparsely waved on his temples, and the hue of the ungloved hand that rested on the edge of the grille, said, smiling, 'You come of a fair family, Monsieur.
'The White Ribaumonts,' said Berenger, 'and, moreover, my mother was called the Swan of England; my little sisters have skins like snow. Ah! Madame, though I have failed, I go away far happier than if I had succeeded.
'And reveal the true faith,' began the nun; but Philip in the meantime was nudging his brother, and whispering in English, 'No Popish prayers, I say! Stay, give these poor little prisoners one feast of the sweetmeats we brought.
Of this last hint Berenger was glad, and the Prioress readily consented to a distribution of the dainties among the orphans. He wished to leave a more lasting token of his gratitude to the little maiden whose father had perhaps saved Eustacie's life, and recollecting that he had about him a great gold coin, bearing the heads of Philip and Mary, he begged leave to offer it to Agathe, and found that it was received by good Mere Monique almost in the light of a relic, as bearing the head of so pious a queen.
Then, to complete Philip's disgust he said, 'I took with me my aunt's blessing when I set out; let me take yours with me also, reverend Mother.
When they were in the street again, Philip railed at him as though he had subjected himself to a spell.
'She is almost a saint,' answered Berenger.
'And have we not saints enough of our own, without running after Popish ones behind grates? Brother, if ever the good old days come back of invading France, I'll march straight hither, and deliver the poor little wretches so scandalously mewed up here, and true Protestants all the time!
'Hush! People are noticing the sound of your English.
'Let them! I never thanked Heaven properly before that I have not a drop of French—-' Here Berenger almost shook him by the shoulder, as men turned at his broad tones and foreign words, and he walked on in silence, while Berenger at his side felt as one treading on air, so infinite was the burden taken off his mind. Though for the present absolutely at sea as to where to seek Eustacie, the relief from acquiescence in the horrible fate that had seemed to be hers was such, that a flood of unspeakable happiness seemed to rush in on him, and bear him up with a new infusion of life, buoyancy, and thankfulness.
CHAPTER XXIX. IN THE KING'S NAME
'Under which king, Bezonian? speak or die.
'Under King Harry. —KING HENRY IV.
'One bird in the hand is not always worth two in the bush, assuredly,' said Philip, when Berenger was calm enough to hold council on what he called this most blessed discovery; 'but where to seek them?
'I have no fears now,' returned Berenger. 'We have not been bore through so much not to be brought together at last. Soon, soon shall we have her! A minister so distinguished as Isaac Gardon is sure to be heard of either at La Rochelle, Montauban, or Nimes, their great gathering places.
'For Rochelle, then?' said Philip.
'Even so. We will be off early to-morrow, and from thence, if we do not find her there, as I expected, we shall be able to write the thrice happy news to those at home.
Accordingly, the little cavalcade started in good time, in the cool of the morning of the bright long day of early June, while apple petal floated down on them in the lanes like snow, and nightingales in every hedge seemed to give voice and tune to Berenger's eager, yearning hopes.
Suddenly there was a sound of horse's feet in the road before them, and as they drew aside to make way, a little troop of gendarmes filled the narrow lane. The officer, a rough, harsh-looking man, laid his hand on Berenger's bridle, with the words, 'In the name of the King!
Philip began to draw his sword with one hand, and with the other to urge his horse between the officer and his brother, but Berenger called out, 'Back! This gentleman mistakes my person. I am the Baron de Ribaumont, and have a safe-conduct from the King.
'What king?' demanded the officer.
'From King Charles.
'I arrest you,' said the officer, 'in the name of King Henry III, and of the Queen Regent Catherine.
'The King dead?' Exclaimed Berenger.
'On the 30th of May. Now, sir.
'Your warrant—your cause?' still demanded Berenger.
'There will be time enough for that when you are safely lodged, said the captain, roughly pulling at the rein, which he had held all the time.
'What, no warrant?' shouted Philip, 'he is a mere robber!' and with drawn sword he was precipitating himself on the captain, when another gendarme, who had been on the watch, grappled with him, and dragged him off his horse before he could strike a blow. The other two English, Humfrey Holt and John Smithers, strong full-grown men, rode in fiercely to the rescue, and Berenger himself struggled furiously to loose himself from the captain, and deliver his brother. Suddenly there was the report of a pistol: poor Smithers fell, there was a moment of standing aghast, and in that moment the one man and the two youths were each pounced on by three or four gendarmes, thrown down and pinioned.
'Is this usage for gentlemen?' exclaimed Berenger, as he was roughly raised to his feet.
'The King's power has been resisted,' was all the answer; and when he would have been to see how it was with poor Smithers, one of the men-at-arms kicked over the body with sickening brutality, saying, 'Dead enough, heretic and English carrion!
Philip uttered a cry of loathing horror, and turned white; Berenger, above all else, felt a sort of frenzied despair as he thought of the peril of the boy who had been trusted to him.
'Have you had enough, sir?' said the captain. 'Mount and come.
They could only let themselves be lifted to their horses, and their hands were then set free to use their bridles, each being guarded by a soldier on each side of him. Philip attempted but once to speak, and that in English: 'Next time I shall take my pistol.
He was rudely silenced, and rode on with wide-open stolid eyes and dogged face, steadfastly resolved that no Frenchman should see him flinch, and vexed that Berenger had his riding mask on so that his face could not be studied; while he, on his side, was revolving all causes possible for his arrest, and all means of enforcing he liberation, if not of himself at least of Philip and Humfrey. He looked round for Guibert, but could not see him.
They rode on through the intricate lanes till the sun was high and scorching, and Berenger felt how far he was from perfect recovery. At last, however, some little time past noon, the gendarmes halted at a stone fountain, outside a village, and disposing a sufficient guard around his captives, the officer permitted them to dismount and rest, while he, with the rest of the troop and the horses, went to the village CABARET. Philip would have asked his brother what it meant, and what was to be done, but Berenger shook his head, and intimated that silence was safest as present, since they might be listened to; and Philip, who so much imagined treachery and iniquity to be the order of the day in France that he was scarcely surprised at the present disaster, resigned himself to the same sullen endurance. Provisions and liquor were presently sent up from the inn, but Berenger could taste nothing but the cold water of the fountain, which trickled out cool and fresh beneath an arch surmounted by a figure of Our Lady. He bathed his face and head in the refreshing spring, and lay down on a cloak in the shade, Philip keeping a constant change of drenched kerchiefs on his brow, and hoping that he slept, till at the end to two or three hours the captain returned, gave the word to horse, and the party rode on through intricate lanes, blossoming with hawthorn, and ringing with songs of birds that spoke a very different language now to Berenger's heart from what they had said in the hopeful morning.
A convent bell was ringing to evensong, when passing its gateway; the escort turned up a low hill, on the summit of which stood a chateau, covering a considerable extent of ground, with a circuit of wall, whitewashed so as perfectly to glare in the evening sun; at every angle a round, slim turret, crowned by a brilliant red-tiled extinguisher-like cap; and the whole surmounted by a tall old keep in the centre. There was a square projection containing an arched gateway, with heavy doorways, which were thrown open as the party approached. Philip looked up as he rode in, and over the doorway beheld the familiar fretted shield, with the leopard in the corner, and 'A moi Ribaumont' round it. Could it then be Berenger's own castle, and was it thus that he was approaching it? He himself had not looked up; he was utterly spent with fatigue, dejection, and the severe headache brought on by the heat of the sun, and was only intent on rallying his powers for the crisis of fate that was probably approaching; and thus scarcely took note of the court into which he rode, lying between the gateway and the corps de logis, a building erected when comfort demanded more space than was afforded by the old keep, against which one end leant; but still, though inclosed in a court, the lower windows were small and iron-barred, and all air of luxury was reserved for the mullioned casements of the upper storey. The court was flagged, but grass shot up between the stones, and the trim air of ease and inhabited comfort to which the brothers were used at home was utterly wanting. Berenger was hustled off his horse, and roughly pushed through a deep porch, where the first thing he heard was the Chevalier de Ribaumont's voice in displeasure.
'How now, sir; hands off! Is this the way you conduct my nephew?
'He resisted, sir.
'Sir,' said Berenger, advancing into the hall, 'I know not the meaning of this. I am peacefully traveling with a passport from the King, when I am set upon, no warrant shown me, my faithful servant slain, myself and my brother, an English subject, shamefully handled.
'The violence shall be visited on whatever rascal durst insult a gentleman and my nephew,' said the Chevalier. 'For release, it shall be looked to; but unfortunately it is too true that there are orders from the Queen in Council for your apprehension, and it was only on my special entreaty for the honour of the family, and the affection I bear you, that I was allowed to receive you here instead of your being sent to an ordinary prison.
'On what pretext?' demanded Berenger.
'It is known that you have letters in your possession from escaped traitors now in England, to La Noue, Duplessis Mornay, and other heretics.
'That is easily explained,' said Berenger. 'You know well, sir, that they were to facilitate my search at La Sablerie. You shall see them yourself, sir.
'That I must assuredly do,' replied the Chevalier, 'for it is the order of her Majesty, I regret to say, that your person and baggage be searched;' then, as indignant colour rushed into Berenger's face, and an angry exclamation was beginning, he added, 'Nay, I understand, my dear cousin, it is very painful, but we would spare you as much as possible. It will be quite enough if the search is made by myself in the presence of this gentleman, who will only stand by for form's sake. I have no doubt it will enable us quickly to clear up matters, and set you free again. Do me the honour to follow me to the chamber destined for you.