'Let me see the order for my arrest,' said Berenger, holding his head high.
'The English scruple must be gratified,' said the Chevalier. And accordingly the gendarme captain unfolded before him a paper, which was evidently a distinct order to arrest and examine the person of Henri Beranger Eustache, Baron de Ribaumont and Sieur de Leurre, suspected of treasonable practices—and it bore the signature of Catherine.
'There is nothing here said of my step-father's son, Philip Thistlewood, nor of my servant, Humfrey Holt,' said Berenger, gathering the sense with his dizzy eyes as best he could. 'They cannot be detained, being born subjects of the Queen of England.
'They intercepted the justice of the King,' said the captain, laying his hand on Philip's shoulder. 'I shall have them off with me to the garrison of Lugon, and deal with them there.
'Wait!' said the Chevalier, interposing before Berenger's fierce, horror-struck expostulation could break forth; 'this is an honourable young gentleman, son of a chevalier of good reputation in England, and he need not be so harshly dealt with. You will not separate either him or the poor groom from my nephew, so the Queen's authority be now rightly acknowledged.
The captain shrugged his shoulders, as if displeased; and the Chevalier, turning to Berenger, said, 'You understand, nephew, the lot of you all depends on your not giving umbrage to these officers of her Majesty. I will do my poor best for you; but submission is first needed.
Berenger knew enough of his native country to be aware that la justice du Roi was a terrible thing, and that Philip's resistance had really put him in so much danger that it was needful to be most careful not further to offend the functionary of Government; and abhorrent as the proposed search was to him, he made no further objection, but taking Philip's arm, lest they should be separated, he prepared to follow wherever he was to be conducted. The Chevalier led the way along a narrow stone passage, with loophole-windows here and there; and Philip, for all his proud, indifferent bearing, felt his flesh creep as he looked for a stair descending into the bowels of the earth. A stair there was, but it went up instead of down, and after mounting this, and going through a sort of ante-room, a door was opened into a tolerably spacious apartment, evidently in the old keep; for the two windows on opposite sides were in an immensely massive wall, and the floor above and vaulting below were of stone; but otherwise there was nothing repulsive in the appearance of the room. There was a wood fire on the hearth; the sun, setting far to the north, peeped in aslant at one window; a mat was on the floor, tapestry on the lower part of the walls; a table and chairs, and a walnut chest, with a chess-board and a few books on it, were as much furniture as was to be seen in almost any living-room of the day. Humfrey and Guibert, too, were already there, with the small riding valises they and poor Smithers had had in charge. These were at one opened, but contained merely clothes and linen, nothing else that was noticed, except three books, at which the captain looked with a stupid air; and the Chevalier did not seem capable of discovering more than that all three were Latin—one, he believed, the Bible.
'Yes, sir, the Vulgate—a copy older than the Reformation, so not liable to be called an heretical version,' said Berenger, to whom a copy had been given by Lady Walwyn, as more likely to be saved if his baggage were searched. 'The other is the Office and Psalter after our English rite; and this last is not mine, but Mr. Sidney's—a copy of Virgilius Maro, which he had left behind at Paris.
The Chevalier, not willing to confess that he had taken the English Prayer-book for Latin, hastily said, 'Nothing wrong there—no, no, nothing that will hurt the State; may it only be so with what you carry on your person, fair cousin. Stand back, gentleman, this is gear for myself alone. Now, fair nephew,' he added, 'not a hand shall be laid on you, if you will give me your honourable word, as a nobleman, that you are laying before me all that you carry about you.
An instant's thought convinced Berenger that resistance would save nothing, and merely lead to indignity to himself and danger to Philip; and therefore he gave the promise to show everything about him, without compulsion. Accordingly, he produced his purse for current expenses, poor King Charles's safe-conduct, and other articles of no consequence, from his pockets; then reluctantly opened his doublet, and took off the belt containing his store of gold, which had been replenished at Walsingham's. This was greedily eyed by the captain, but the Chevalier at once made it over to Philip's keeping, graciously saying, 'We do no more than duty requires;' but at the same time he made a gesture towards another small purse that hung round Berenger's neck by a black ribbon.
'On my sacred word and honour,' said Berenger, 'it contains nothing important to any save myself.
'Alas! my bounden duty,' urged the Chevalier.
An angry reply died on Berenger's lip. At the thought of Philip, he opened the purse, and held out the contents on his palm: a tiny gold ring, a tress of black hair, a fragment of carnation-ribbon pricked with pin-holes, a string of small worthless yellow shells, and, threaded with them, a large pear-shaped pearl of countless price. Even the Chevalier was touched at the sight of this treasury, resting on the blanched palm of the thin, trembling hand, and jealously watched by eyes glistening with sudden moisture, though the lips were firm set. 'Alas! my poor young cousin,' he said, 'you loved her well.
'Not loved, but love,' muttered Berenger to himself, as if having recourse to the only cordial that could support him through the present suffering; and he was closing his fingers again over his precious hoard, when the Chevalier added, 'Stay! Nephew—that pearl?
'Is one of the chaplet; the token she sent to England,' he answered.
'Pauvre petite! Then, at least a fragment remains of the reward of our ancestor's courage,' said the Chevalier.
And Berenger did not feel it needful to yield up that still better possession, stored within his heart, that la petite and her pearls were safe together. It was less unendurable to produce the leather case from a secret pocket within his doublet, since, unwilling as he was that any eye should scan the letters it contained, there was nothing in them that could give any clue towards tracing her. Nothing had been written or received since his interview with the children at Lucon. There was, indeed, Eustacie's letter to his mother, a few received at Paris from Lord Walwyn, reluctantly consenting to his journey in quest of his child, his English passport, the unfortunate letters to La Noue; and what evidently startled the Chevalier more than all the rest, the copy of the certificate of the ratification of the marriage; but his consternation was so arranged as to appear to be all on behalf of his young kinsman. 'This is serious!' he said, striking his forehead; 'you will be accused of forging the late King's name.
'This is but a copy,' said Berenger, pointing to the heading; 'the original has been sent with our Ambassador's dispatches to England.
'It is a pity,' said the Chevalier, looking thoroughly vexed, 'that you should have brought fresh difficulties on yourself for a mere piece of waste paper to be affected by the validity of your marriage. Dear cousin,'—he glanced at the officer and lowered his voice,—'let me tear this paper; it would only do you harm, and the Papal decree annuls it.
'I have given my word,' said Berenger, 'that all that could do me harm should be delivered up! Besides,' he added, 'even had I the feeling for my own honour and that of my wife and child, living or dead, the harm, it seems to me, would be to those who withhold her lands from me.
'Ah, fair nephew! you have fallen among designing persons who have filled your head with absurd claims; but I will not argue the point now, since it becomes a family, not a State matter. These papers'—and he took them into his hand—'must be examined, and to-morrow Captain Delarue will take them to Paris, with any explanation you may desire to offer. Meantime you and your companions remain my guest, at full liberty, provided you will give me your parole to attempt no escape.
'No, sir,' said Berenger, hotly, 'we will not become our own jailers, nor acquiesce in this unjust detention. I warn you that I am a naturalized Englishman, acknowledged by the Queen as my grandfather's heir, and the English Ambassador will inform the court what Queen Elizabeth thinks of such dealings with her subjects.
'Well said,' exclaimed Philip, and drawing himself up, he added, 'I refuse my parole, and warn you that it is at your peril that you imprison an Englishman.
'Very well, gentlemen,' said the Chevalier; 'the difference will be that I shall unwillingly be forced to let Captain Delarue post guards at the outlets of this tower. A room beneath is prepared for your grooms, and the court is likewise free to you. I will endeavour to make your detention as little irksome as you will permit, and meantime allow me to show you your sleeping chamber. He then politely, as if he had been ushering a prince to his apartment, led the way, pointing to the door through which they had entered the keep, and saying, 'This is the only present communication with the dwelling-house. Two gendarmes will always be on the outside.' He conducted the young men up a stone spiral stair to another room, over that which they had already seen, and furnished as fairly as ordinary sleeping chambers were wont to be.
Here, said their compulsory host, he would leave them to prepare for supper, when they would do him the honour to join him in the eating-hall on their summons by the steward.
His departing bow was duly returned by Berenger, but no sooner did his steps die away on the stairs than the young man threw himself down on his bed, in a paroxysm of suffering both mental and bodily.
'Berry, Berry, what is this? Speak to me. What does it all mean? cried Philip.
'How can I tell?' said Berenger, showing his face for a moment, covered with tears; 'only that my only friend is dead, and some villainous trick has seized me, just—just as I might have found her. And I've been the death of my poor groom, and got you into the power of these vile dastards! Oh, would that I had come alone! Would that they had had the sense to aim direct!
'Brother, brother, anything but this!' cried Philip. 'The rogues are not worth it. Sir Francis will have us out in no time, or know the reason why. I'd scorn to let them wring a tear from me.
'I hope they never may, dear Phil, nor anything worse.
'Now,' continued Philip, 'the way will be to go down to supper, since they will have it so, and sit and eat at one's ease as if one cared for them no more than cat and dog. Hark! there's the steward speaking to Guibert. Come, Berry, wash your face and come.
'I—my head aches far too much, were there nothing else.
'What! it is nothing but the sun,' said Philip. 'Put a bold face on it, man, and show them how little you heed.
'How LITTLE I heed!' bitterly repeated Berenger, turning his face away, utterly unnerved between disappointment, fatigue, and pain; and Philip at that moment had little mercy. Dismayed and vaguely terrified, yet too resolute in national pride to betray his own feelings, he gave vent to his vexation by impatience with a temperament more visibly sensitive than his own: 'I never thought you so mere a Frenchman,' he said contemptuously. 'If you weep and wail so like a sick wench, they will soon have their will of you! I'd have let them kill me before they searched me.
''Tis bad enough without this from you, Phil,' said Berenger, faintly, for he was far too much spent for resentment or self-defence, and had only kept up before the Chevalier by dint of strong effort. Philip was somewhat aghast, both at the involuntary gesture of pain, and at finding there was not even spirit to be angry with him: but his very dismay served at the moment only to feed his displeasure; and he tramped off in his heavy boots, which he chose to wear as a proof of disdain for his companions. He explained that M. de Ribaumont was too much fatigued to come to supper, and he was accordingly marched along the corridor, with the steward before him bearing a lighted torch, and two gendarmes with halberds behind him. And in his walk he had ample time for, first, the resolution that illness, and not dejection, should have all the credit of Berenger's absence; then for recollecting of how short standing had been his brother's convalescence; and lastly, for a fury of self-execration for his own unkindness, rude taunts, and neglect of the recurring illness. He would have turned about and gone back at once, but the two gendarmes were close behind, and he knew Humfrey would attend to his brother; so he walked on to the hall—a handsome chamber, hung with armour and spoils of hunting, with a few pictures on the panels, and a great carved music-gallery at one end. The table was laid out somewhat luxuriously for four, according to the innovation which was beginning to separate the meals of the grandees from those of their household.
Great concern was expressed by the Chevalier, as Philip, in French, much improved since the time of his conversation with Madame de Selinville, spoke of his brother's indisposition, saying with emphasis, as he glared at Captain Delarue, that Maitre Pare had forbidden all exposure to mid-day heat, and that all their journeys had been made in morning or evening coolness. 'My young friend,' as his host called him, 'should, he was assured, have mentioned this, since Captain Delarue had no desire but to make his situation as little painful as possible.' And the Chevalier sent his steward at once to offer everything the house contained that his prisoner could relish for supper; and then anxiously questioned Philip on his health and diet, obtaining very short and glum answers. The Chevalier and the captain glanced at each other with little shrugs; and Philip, becoming conscious of his shock hair, splashed doublet, and dirty boots, had vague doubts whether his English dignity were not being regarded as English lubberliness; but, of course, he hated the two Frenchmen all the more, and received their civility with greater gruffness. They asked him the present object of his journey—though, probably, the Chevalier knew it before, and he told of the hope that they had of finding the child at Lucon.
'Vain, of course?' said the Chevalier. 'Poor infant! It is well for itself, as for the rest of us, that its troubles were ended long ago.'
Philip started indignantly.
'Does your brother still nurture any vain hope?' said the Chevalier.
'Not vain, I trust,' said Philip.
'Indeed! Who can foolishly have so inspired him with a hope that merely wears out his youth, and leads him into danger?'
Philip held his tongue, resolved to be impenetrable; and he was so far successful, that the Chevalier merely became convinced that the brothers were not simply riding to La Rochelle to embark for England, but had some hope and purpose in view; though as to what that might be, Philip's bluff replies and stubborn silence were baffling.
After the meal, the Chevalier insisted on coming to see how his guest fared; and Philip could not prevent him. They found Berenger sitting on the side of his bed, having evidently just started up on hearing their approach. Otherwise he did not seem to have moved since Philip left him; he had not attempted to undress; and Humfrey told Philip that not a word had been extracted from him, but commands to let him alone.
However, he had rallied his forces to meet the Chevalier, and answered manfully to his excuses for the broiling ride to which he had been exposed, that it mattered not, the effect would pass, it was a mere chance; and refused all offers of medicaments, potions, and TISANES, till his host at length left the room with a most correct exchange of good nights.
'Berry, Berry, what a brute I have been!' cried Philip.
'Foolish lad!' and Berenger half smiled. 'Now help me to bed, for the room turns round!'
CHAPTER XXX. CAGED IN THE BLACKBIRD'S NEST
Let him shun castles; Safer shall he be on the sandy plain Than where castles mounted stand.—KING HENRY VI.
While Berenger slept a heavy morning's sleep after a resless night, Philip explored the narrow domain above and below. The keep and its little court had evidently been the original castle, built when the oddly-nicknamed Fulkes and Geoffreys of Anjou had been at daggers drawn with the Dukes of Normandy and Brittany, but it had since, like most other such ancient feudal fortresses, become the nucleus of walls and buildings for use, defence, or ornament, that lay beneath him like a spider's web, when he had gained the roof of the keep, garnished with pepper-box turrets at each of the four angles. Beyond lay the green copses and orchards of the Bocage, for it was true, as he had at first suspected, that this was the chateau de Nid de Merle, and that Berenger was a captive in his wife's own castle.
Chances of escape were the lad's chief thought, but the building on which he stood went sheer down for a considerable way. Then on the north side there came out the sharp, high-pitched, tiled roof of the corps du logis; on the south, another roof, surmounted by a cross at the gable, and evidently belonging to the chapel; on the other two sides lay courts—that to the east, a stable-yard; that to the west, a small narrow, chilly-looking, paved inclosure, with enormously-massive walls, the doorway walled up, and looking like a true prison-yard. Beyond this wall—indeed, on every side—extended offices, servants' houses, stables, untidy desolate-looking gardens, and the whole was inclosed by the white wall with flanking red-tiled turrets, whose gaudy appearance had last night made Philip regard the whole as a flimsy, Frenchchified erection, but he now saw it to be of extremely solid stone and lime, and with no entrance but the great barbican gateway they had entered by; moreover, with a yawning dry moat all round. Wherever he looked he saw these tall, pointed red caps, resembling, he thought, those worn by the victims of an auto-de-fe, as one of Walsingham's secretaries had described them to him; and he ground his teeth at them, as thought they grinned at him like emissaries of the Inquisition.
Descending, he found Berenger dressing in haste to avoid receiving an invalid visit from the Chevalier, looking indeed greatly shaken, but hardly so as would have been detected by eyes that had not seen him during his weeks of hope and recovery. He was as resolved as Philip could wish against any sign of weakness before his enemy, and altogether disclaimed illness, refusing the stock of cooling drinks, cordials, and febrifuges, which the Chevalier said had been sent by his sister the Abbess of Bellaise. He put the subject of his health aside, only asking if this were the day that the gendarme-captain would return to Paris, and then begging to see that officer, so as to have a distinct understanding of the grounds of his imprisonment. The captain had, however, been a mere instrument; and when Philip clamoured to be taken before the next justice of the peace, even Berenger smiled at him for thinking that such a being existed in France. The only cause alleged was the vague but dangerous suspicion of conveying correspondence between England and the heretics, and this might become extremely perilous to one undeniably half English, regarded as whole Huguenot, caught on the way to La Rochelle with a letter to La Noue in his pocket; and, moreover, to one who had had a personal affray with a king famous for storing up petty offences, whom the last poor king had favoured, and who, in fine, had claims to estates that could not spared to the Huguenot interest.
He was really not sure that there was not some truth in the professions of the Chevalier being anxious to protect him from the Queen-mother and the Guises; he had never been able to divest himself of a certain trust in his old kinsman's friendliness, and he was obliged to be beholden to him for the forms in which to couch his defence. At the same time he wrote to Sir Francis Walsingham, and to his grandfather, but with great caution, lest his letters should be inspected by his enemies, and with the less hope of their availing him because it was probable that the Ambassador would return home on the king's death. No answer could be expected for at least a fortnight, and even then it was possible that the Queen-mother might choose to refer the cause to King Henry, who was then in Poland.
Berenger wrote these letters with much thought and care, but when they were once sealed, he collapsed again into despair and impatience, and frantically paced the little court as if he would dash himself against the walls that detained him from Eustacie; then threw himself moodily into a chair, hid his face in his crossed arms, and fell a prey to all the wretched visions called up by an excited brain.
However, he was equally alive with Philip to the high-spirited resolution that his enemies should not perceive or triumph in his dejection. He showed himself at the noon-day dinner, before Captain Delarue departed, grave and silent, but betraying no agitation; and he roused himself from his sad musings at the supper-hour, to arrange his hair, and assume the ordinary dress of gentlemen in the evening; though Philip laughed at the roses adorning his shoes, and his fresh ruff, as needless attentions to an old ruffian like the Chevalier. However, Philip started when he entered the hall, and beheld, not the Chevalier alone, but with him the beautiful lady of the velvet coach, and another stately, extremely handsome dame, no longer in her first youth, and in costly black and white garments. When the Chevalier called her his sister, Madame de Bellaise, Philip had no notion that she was anything but a widow, living a secular life; and though a couple of nuns attended her, their dress was so much less conventual than Cecily's that he did not at first find them out. It was explained that Madame de Selinville was residing with her aunt, and that, having come to visit her father, he had detained the ladies to supper, hoping to enliven the sojourn of his beaux cousins.
Madame de Selinville, looking anxiously at Berenger, hoped she saw him in better health. He replied, stiffly, that he was perfectly well; and then, by way of safety, repaired to the society of the Abbess, who immediately began plying him with questions about England, its court, and especially the secret marriage of Queen Elisabeth and 'ce Comte de Dudley,' on which she was so minutely informed as to put him to the blush. Then she was very curious about the dispersed convents, and how many of the nuns had married; and she seemed altogether delighted to have secured the attention of a youth from the outer world. His soul at first recoiled from her as one of Eustacie's oppressors, and from her unconvent-like talk; and yet he could not but think her a good-natured person, and wonder if she could rally have been hard upon his poor little wife. And she, who had told Eustacie she would strangle with her own hands the scion of the rival house!—she, like most women, was much more bitter against an unseen being out of reach, than towards a courteously-mannered, pale, suffering-looking youth close beside her. She had enough affection for Eustacie to have grieved much at her wanderings and at her fate; and now the sorrow-stricken look that by no effort could be concealed really moved her towards the youth bereaved husband. Besides, were not all feuds on the point of being made up by the excellent device concocted between her brother and her niece?
Meantime, Philip was in raptures with the kindness of the beautiful Madame de Selinville. He, whom the Mistresses Walsingham treated as a mere clumsy boy, was promoted by her manner to be a man and a cavalier. He blushed up to the roots of his hair and looked sheepish whenever one of her entrancing smiles lit upon him; but then she inquired after his brother so cordially, she told him so openly how brilliant had been Berenger's career at the court, she regretted so heartily their present danger and detention, and promised so warmly to use her interest with Queen Catherine, that in the delight of being so talked to, he forgot his awkwardness and spoke freely and confidentially, maybe too confidentially, for he caught Berenger frowning at him, and made a sudden halt in his narrative, disconcerted but very angry with his brother for his distrust.
When the ladies had ridden away to the convent in the summer evening, and the two brothers had returned to their prison, Philip would have begun to rave about Madame de Selinville, but his mouth was stopped at once with 'Don't be such a fool, Phil!' and when Perrine shut his eyes, leant back, and folded his arms together, there was no more use in talking to him.
This exceeding defection continued for a day or two, while Berenger's whole spirit chafed in agony at his helplessness, and like demons there ever haunted him the thoughts of what might betide Eustacie, young, fair, forsaken, and believing herself a widow. Proudly defiant as he showed himself to all eyes beyond his tower, he seemed to be fast gnawing and pining himself away in the anguish he suffered through these long days of captivity.
Perhaps it was Philip's excitement about any chance of meeting Madame de Selinville that first roused him from the contemplation of his own misery. It struck him that if he did not rouse himself to exert his influence, the boy, left to no companionship save what he could make for himself, might be led away by intercourse with the gendarmes, or by the blandishments of Diane, whatever might be her game. He must be watched over, and returned to Sir Marmaduke the same true-hearted honest lad who had left home. Nor had Berenger lain so long under Cecily St. John's tender watching without bearing away some notes of patience, trust, and dutifulness that returned upon him as his mind recovered tone after the first shock. The whispers that had bidden him tarry the Lord's leisure, be strong, and commit his way to Him who could bring it to pass, and could save Eustacie as she had already been saved, returned to him once more: he chid himself for his faintness of heart, rallied his powers, and determined that cheerfulness, dutifulness, and care for Philip should no longer fail.
So he reviewed his resources, and in the first place arranged for a brief daily worship with his two English fellow-prisoners, corresponding to the home hours of chapel service. Then he proposed to Philip to spend an hour every day over the study of the Latin Bible; and when Philip showed himself reluctant to give up his habit of staring over the battlements, he represented that an attack on their faith was not so improbable but that they ought to be prepared for it.
'I'm quite prepared,' quoth Philip; 'I shall not listen to a word they say.'
However, he submitted to this, but was more contumacious as to Berenger's other proposal of profiting by Sidney's copy of Virgil. Here at least he was away from Mr. Adderley and study, and it passed endurance to have Latin and captivity both at once. He was more obliged for Berenger's offer to impart to him the instruction in fencing he had received during his first visit to Paris; the Chevalier made no difficulty about lending them foils, and their little court became the scene of numerous encounters, as well as of other games and exercises. More sedentary sports were at their service, chess, tables, dice, or cards, but Philip detested these, and they were only played in the evening, or on a rainy afternoon, by Berenger and the Chevalier.
It was clearly no part of the old gentleman's plan to break their health or spirits. He insisted on taking them out riding frequently, though always with four gendarmes with loaded arquebuses, so as to preclude all attempt at escape, or conversation with the peasants. The rides were hateful to both youths, but Berenger knew that so many hours of tedium were thus disposed of, and hoped also to acquire some knowledge of the country; indeed, he looked at every cottage and every peasant with affectionate eyes, as probably having sheltered Eustacie; and Philip, after one visit paid to the convent at Bellaise, was always in hopes of making such another. His boyish admiration of Madame de Selinville was his chief distraction, coming on in accesses whenever there was a hope of seeing her, and often diverting Berenger by its absurdities, even though at other times he feared that the lad might be led away by it, or dissension sown between them. Meetings were rare—now and then Madame de Selinville would appear at dinner or at supper as her father's guest; and more rarely, the Chevalier would turn his horse's head in the direction of Bellaise, and the three gentlemen would be received in the unpartitioned parlour, and there treated to such lemon cakes as had been the ruin of La Sablerie; but in general the castle and the convent had little intercourse, or only just enough to whet the appetite of the prisoners for what constituted their only variety.
Six weeks had lagged by before any answer from Paris was received, and then there was no reply from Walsingham, who had, it appeared, returned home immediately after King Charles's funeral. The letter from the Council bore that the Queen-mother was ready to accept the Baron de Ribaumont's excuses in good part, and to consider his youth; and she had no doubt of his being treated with the like indulgence by the King, provided he would prove himself a loyal subject, by embracing the Catholic faith, renouncing all his illegitimate claims to the estates of Nid de Merle, and, in pledge of his sincerity, wedding his cousin, the Countess de Selinville, so soon as a dispensation should have been procured. On no other consideration could he be pardoned or set at liberty.
'Then,' said Berenger, slowly, 'a prisoner I must remain until it be the will of Heaven to open the doors.'
'Fair nephew!' exclaimed the Chevalier, 'make no rash replies. Bethink you to what you expose yourself by obstinacy; I may no longer be able to protect you when the King returns. And he further went on to represent that, by renouncing voluntarily all possible claims on the Nid de Merle estates, the Baron would save the honour of poor Eustacie (which indeed equally concerned the rest of the family), since they then would gladly drop all dispute of the validity of the marriage; and the lands of Selinville would be an ample equivalent for these, as well as for all expectations in England.
'Sir, it is impossible!' said Berenger. 'My wife lives.'
'Comment! when you wear mourning for her.'
'I wear black because I have been able to procure nothing else since I have been convinced that she did not perish at La Sablerie. I was on my way to seek her when I was seized and detained here.'
'Where would you have sought her, my poor cousin?' compassionately asked the Chevalier.
'That I know not. She may be in England by this time; but that she escaped from La Sablerie, I am well assured.'
'Alas! my poor friend, you feed on delusion. I have surer evidence—you shall see the man yourself—one of my son's people, who was actually at the assault, and had strict orders to seek and save her. Would that I could feel the least hope left!'
'Is the man here? Let me see him,' said Berenger, hastily.
He was at once sent for, and proved to be one of the stable servants, a rough, soldierly-looking man, who made no difficulty in telling that M. de Nid de Merle had bidden his own troop to use every effort to reach the Widow Laurent's house, and secure the lady. They had made for it, but missed the way, and met with various obstacles; and when they reached it, it was already in flames, and he had seen for a moment Mademoiselle de Nid de Merle, whom he well knew by sight, with an infant in her arms at an upper window. He had called to her by name, and was about to send for a ladder, when recognizing the Ribaumont colours, she had turned back, and thrown herself and her child into the flames. M. de Nid de Merle was frantic when he heard of it, and they had searched for the remains among the ruins; but, bah! it was like a lime-kiln, nothing was to be found—all was calcined.
'No fragment left?' said Berenger; 'not a corner of tile or beam?'
'Not so much wood as you could boil an egg with; I will swear it on the Mass.'
'That is needless,' said Berenger. 'I have seen the spot myself. That is all I desired to ask.'
The Chevalier would have taken his hand and condoled with him over the horrible story; but he drew back, repeating that he had seen Widow Laurent's house, and that he saw that some parts of the man's story were so much falsified that he could not believe the rest. Moreover, he knew that Eustacie had not been in the town at the time of the siege.
Now the Chevalier bona fide believed the man's story, so far as that he never doubted that Eustacie had perished, and he looked on Berenger's refusal to accept the tale as the mournful last clinging to a vain hope. In his eyes, the actual sight of Eustacie, and the total destruction of the house, were mere matters of embellishment, possibly untrue, but not invalidating the main fact. He only said, 'Well, my friend, I will not press you while the pain of this narration is still fresh.'
'Thank you, sir; but this is not pain, for I believe not a word of it; therefore it is impossible for me to entertain the proposal, even if I could forsake my faith or my English kindred. You remember, sir, that I returned this same answer at Paris, when I had no hope that my wife survived.'
'True, my fair cousin, but I fear time will convince you that this constancy is unhappily misplaced. You shall have time to consider; and when it is proved to you that my poor niece is out of the reach of your fidelity, and when you have become better acquainted with the claims of the Church to your allegiance, then may it only prove that your conversion does not come too late. I have the honour to take my leave.'
'One moment more, sir. Is there no answer as to my brother?'
'None, cousin. As I told you, your country has at present no Ambassador; but, of course, on your fulfillment of the conditions, he would be released with you.'
'So,' said Philip, when the old knight had quitted the room, 'of course you cannot marry while Eustacie lives; but if—-'
'Not another word, profane boy!' angrily cried Berenger.
'I was only going to say, it is a pity of one so goodly not to bring her over to the true faith, and take her to England.'
'Much would she be beholden to you!' said Berenger. 'So!' he added, sighing, 'I had little hope but that it would be thus. I believe it is all a web of this old plotter's weaving, and that the Queen-mother acts in it at his request. He wants only to buy me off with his daughter's estates from asserting my claim to this castle and lands; and I trow he will never rise up here till—till—-'
'Till when, Berry?'
'Till mayhap my grandfather can move the Queen to do something for us; or till Madame de Selinville sees a face she likes better than her brother's carving; or, what can I tell? till malice is tired out, and Heaven's will sets us free. May Eustacie only have reached home! But I'm sorry for you, my poor Phil.'
'Never heed, brother,' said Philip; 'what is prison to me, so that I can now and then see those lovely eyes?'
And the languishing air of the clumsy lad was so comical as to beguile Berenger into a laugh. Yet Berenger's own feeling would go back to his first meeting with Diane; and as he thought of the eyes then fixed on him, he felt that he was under a trial that might become more severe.
CHAPTER XXXI. THE DARK POOL OF THE FUTURE
Triumph, triumph, only she That knit his bonds can set him free. —SOUTHEY
No change was made in the life of the captives of Nid de Merle after the answer from Paris, except that Pere Bonami, who had already once or twice dined at the Chevalier's table, was requested to make formal exposition of the errors of the Reformers and of the tenets of his own Church to the Baron de Ribaumont.
Philip took such good care not to be deluded that, though he sat by to see fair play, yet it was always with his elbows on the table and his fingers in his ears, regardless of appearing to the priest in the character of the deaf adder. After all, he was not the object, and good Pere Bonami at first thought the day his own, when he found that almost all his arguments against Calvinism were equally impressed upon Berenger's mind, but the differences soon revealed themselves; and the priest, though a good man, was not a very happily-chosen champion, for he was one of the old-fashioned, scantily-instructed country priests, who were more numerous before the Jesuit revival of learning, and knew nothing of controversy save that adapted to the doctrines of Calvin; so that in dealing with an Anglican of the school of Ridley and Hooker, it was like bow ad arrow against sword. And tin those days of change, controversial reading was one of the primary studies even of young laymen, and Lord Walwyn, with a view to his grandson's peculiar position, had taken care that he should be well instructed, so that he was not at all unequal to the contest. Moreover, apart from argument, he clung as a point of honour to the Church as to the wife that he had accepted in his childhood; and often tried to recall the sketch that Philip Sidney had once given him of a tale that a friend of his designed to turn into a poem, like Ariosto's, in terza rima, of a Red Cross knight separated from his Una as the true faith, and tempted by a treacherous Duessa, who impersonated at once Falsehood and Rome. And he knew so well that the last relaxation of his almost terrified resistance would make him so entirely succumb to Diane's beauty and brilliancy, that he kept himself stiffly frigid and reserved.
Diane never openly alluded to the terms on which he stood, but he often found gifts from unknown hands placed in his room. The books which he had found there were changed when he had had time to study them; and marks were placed in some of the most striking passages. They were of the class that turned the brain of the Knight of La Mancha, but with a predominance of the pastoral, such as Diane of George of Montemayor and his numerous imitators—which Philip thought horrible stuff—enduring nothing but a few of the combats of Amadis de Gaul or Palmerin of England, until he found that Madame de Selinville prodigiously admired the 'silly swains more silly than their sheep,' and was very anxious that M. le Baron should be touched by their beauties; whereupon honest Philip made desperate efforts to swallow them in his brother's stead, but was always found fast asleep in the very middle of arguments between Damon and Thyrsis upon the devoirs of love, or the mournings of some disconsolate nymph over her jealousies of a favoured rival.
One day, a beautiful ivory box, exhaling sweet perfume, appeared in the prison chamber, and therewith a sealed letter in verse, containing an affecting description of how Corydon had been cruelly torn by the lions in endeavouring to bear away Sylvie from her cavern, how Sylvie had been rent from him and lost, and how vainly he continued to bewail her, and disregard the loving lament of Daphne, who had ever mourned and pined for him as she kept her flock, made the rivulets, the brooks, the mountains re-echo with her sighs and plaints, and had wandered through the hills and valleys, gathering simples wherewith she had compounded a balsam that might do away with the scars that the claws of the lions had left, so that he might again appear with the glowing cheeks and radiant locks that had excited the envy of the god of day.
Berenger burst out laughing over the practical part of this poetical performance, and laughed the more at Philip's hurt, injured air at his mirth. Philip, who would have been the first to see the absurdity in any other Daphne, thought this a passing pleasant device, and considered it very unkind in his brother not even to make experiment of the balsam of simples, but to declare that he had much rather keep his scars for Eustacie's sake than wear a smooth face to please Diane.
Still Berenger's natural courtesy stood in his way. He could not help being respectful and attentive to the old Chevalier, when their terms were, apparently at least, those of host and guest; and to a lady he COULD not be rude and repellant, though he could be reserved. So, when the kinsfolk met, no stranger would have discovered that one was a prisoner and the others his captors.
One August day, when Madame de Selinville and her lady attendants were supping at the castle at the early hour of six, a servant brought in word that an Italian pedlar craved leave to display his wares. He was welcome, both for need's sake and for amusement, and was readily admitted. He was a handsome olive-faced Italian, and was followed by a little boy with a skin of almost Moorish dye—and great was the display at once made on the tables, of
'Lawn as white as driven snow, Cyprus, black as e'er was crow; Gloves as sweet as fragrant posies, Masks for faces and for noses;'
and there was a good deal of the eager, desultory bargaining that naturally took place where purchasing was an unusual excitement and novelty, and was to form a whole evening's amusement. Berenger, while supplying the defects of his scanty traveling wardrobe, was trying to make out whether he had seen the man before, wondering if he were the same whom he had met in the forest of Montipipeau, though a few differences in dress, hair, and beard made him somewhat doubtful.
'Perfumes? Yes, lady, I have store of perfumes: ambergris and violet dew, and the Turkish essence distilled from roses; yea, and the finest spirit of the Venus myrtle-tree, the secret known to the Roman dames of old, whereby they secured perpetual beauty and love—though truly Madame should need no such essence. That which nature has bestowed on her secures to her all hearts—and one valued more than all.'
'Enough,' said Diane, blushing somewhat, though with an effort at laughing off his words; 'these are the tricks of your trade.'
'Madame is incredulous; yet, lady, I have been in the East. Yonder boy comes from the land where there are spells that make known the secrets of lives.'
The old Chevalier, who had hitherto been taken up with the abstruse calculation—derived from his past days of economy—how much ribbon would be needed to retrim his murrey just-au-corps, here began to lend an ear, though saying nothing. Philip looked on in open-eyed wonder, and nudged his brother, who muttered in return, 'Jugglery!'
'Ah, the fair company are all slow to believe,' said the pedlar. 'Hola, Alessio!' and taking a glove that Philip had left on the table, he held it to the boy. A few unintelligible words passed between them; then the boy pointed direct to Philip, and waved his hand northwards. 'He says the gentleman who owns this glove comes from the North, from far away,' interpreted the Italian; then as the boy made the gesture of walking in chains, 'that he is a captive.'
'Ay,' cried Philip, 'right, lad; and can he tell how long I shall be so?'
'Things yet to come,' said the mountebank, 'are only revealed after long preparation. For them must he gaze into the dark poor of the future. The present and the past he can divine by the mere touch of what has belonged to the person.'
'It is passing strange,' said Philip to Madame de Selinville. 'You credit it, Madame?'
'Ah, have we not seen the wonders come to pass that a like diviner fortold to the Queen-mother?' said Diane: 'her sons should be all kings—that was told her when the eldest was yet Dauphin.'
'And there is only one yet to come,' said Philip, awe-struck. 'But see, what has he now?'
'Veronique's kerchief,' returned Madame de Selinville, as the Italian began to interpret the boy's gesture.
'Pretty maidens, he says, serve fair ladies—bear tokens for them. This damsel has once been the bearer of a bouquet of heather of the pink and white, whose bells were to ring hope.'
'Eh, eh, Madame, it is true?' cried Veronique, crimson with surprise and alarm. 'M. le Baron knows it is true.'
Berenger had started at this revelation, and uttered an inarticulate exclamation; but at that moment the boy, in whose hand his master had placed a crown from the money newly paid, began to make vehement gestures, which the main interpreted. 'Le Balafre, he says, pardon me, gentlemen, le Balafre could reveal even a deeper scar of the heart than of the visage'—and the boy's brown hand was pressed on his heart—'yet truly there is yet hope (esperance) to be found. Yes'—as the boy put his hand to his neck—'he bears a pearl, parted from its sister pearls. Where they are, there is hope. Who can miss Hope, who has sought it at a royal death-bed?'
'Ah, where is it?' Berenger could not help exclaiming.
'Sir,' said the pedlar, 'as I told Messieurs and Mesdames before, the spirits that cast the lights of the future on the dark pool need invocation. Ere he can answer M. le Baron's demands, he and I must have time and seclusion. If Monsieur le Chevalier will grant us an empty room, there will we answer all queries on which the spirits will throw light.'
'And how am I to know that you will not bring the devil to shatter the castle, my friend?' demanded the Chevalier. 'Or more likely still, that you are not laughing all the time at these credulous boys and ladies?'
'Of that, sir, you may here convince yourself,' said the mountebank, putting into his hand a sort of credential in Italian, signed by Renato di Milano, the Queen's perfumer, testifying to the skill of his compatriot Ercole Stizzito both in perfumery, cosmetics, and in the secrets of occult sciences.
The Chevalier was no Italian scholar, and his daughter interpreted the scroll to him, in a rapid low voice, adding, 'I have had many dealings with Rene of Milan, father. I know he speaks sooth. There can be no harm in letting the poor man play out his play—all the castle servants will be frantic to have their fortunes told.'
'I must speak with the fellow first, daughter,' said the Chevalier. 'He must satisfy me that he has no unlawful dealings that could bring the Church down on us.' And he looked meaningly at the mountebank, who replied by a whole muster-roll of ecclesiastics, male and female, who had heard and approved his predictions.
'A few more words with thee, fellow,' said the Chevalier, pointing the way to one of the rooms opening out of the hall. 'As master of the house I must be convinced of his honesty,' he added. 'If I am satisfied, then who will may seek to hear their fortune.'
Chevalier, man and boy disappeared, and Philip was the first to exclaim, 'A strange fellow! What will he tell us? Madame, shall you hear him?'
'That depends on my father's report,' she said. 'And yet,' sadly and pensively, 'my future is dark and void enough. Why should I vex myself with hearing it?'
'Nay, it may brighten,' said Philip.
'Scarcely, while hearts are hard,' she murmured with a slight shake of the head, that Philip thought indescribably touching; but Berenger was gathering his purchases together, and did not see. 'And you, brother,' said Philip, 'you mean to prove him?'
'No,' said Berenger. 'Have you forgotten, Phil, the anger we met with, when we dealt with the gipsy at Hurst Fair?'
'Pshaw, Berry, we are past flogging now.'
'Out of reach, Phil, of the rod, but scarce of the teaching it struck into us.'
'What?' said Philip, sulkily.
'That divining is either cozening manor forsaking God, Phil. Either it is falsehood, or it is a lying wonder of the devil.'
'But, Berry, this man is not cheat.'
'Then he is worse.'
'Only, turn not away, brother. How should he have known things that even I know not?—the heather.'
'No marvel in that,' said Berenger. 'This is the very man I bought Annora's fan from; he was prowling round Montpipeau, and my heather was given to Veronique with little secrecy. And as to the royal deathbed, it was Rene, his master, who met me there.'
'Then you think it mere cozeing? If so, we should find it out.'
'I don't reckon myself keener than an accomplished Italian mountebank,' said Berenger, dryly.
Further conference was cut short by the return of the Chevalier, saying, in his paternal genial way, 'Well, children, I have examined the fellow and his credentials, and for those who have enough youth and hope to care to have the future made known to them, bah! it is well.'
'Is it sorcery, sir?' asked Philip, anxiously.
The Chevalier shrugged his shoulders. 'What know I?' he said. 'For those who have a fine nose for brimstone there may be, but he assures me it is but the white magic practiced in Egypt, and the boy is Christian!'
'Did you try this secret, father?' inquired Madame de Selinville.
'I, my daughter? An old man's fortune is in his children. What have I to ask?'
'I—I scarcely like to be the first!' said the lady, eager but hesitating. 'Veronique, you would have your fortune told?'
'I will be the first,' said Philip, stepping forward manfully. 'I will prove him for you, lady, and tell you whether he be a cozener or not, or if his magic be fit for you to deal with.'
And confident in the inherent intuition of a plain Englishman, as well as satisfied to exercise his resolution for once in opposition to Berenger's opinion, Master Thistlewood stepped towards the closet where the Italian awaited his clients, and Berenger knew that it would be worse than useless to endeavour to withhold him. He only chafed at the smile which passed between father and daughter at this doughty self-assertion.
There was a long silence. Berenger sat with his eyes fixed on the window where the twilight horizon was still soft and bright with the pearly gold of the late sunset, thinking with an intensity of yearning what it would be could he truly become certain of Eustacie's present doings; questioning whether he would try to satisfy that longing by the doubtful auguries of the diviner, and then recollecting how he had heard from wrecked sailors that to seek to delude their thirst with sea-water did but aggravate their misery. He knew that whatever he might hear would be unworthy of confidence. Either it merely framed to soothe and please him—or, were it a genuine oracle, he had no faith in the instinct that was to perceive it, but what he HAD faith in was the Divine protection over his lost ones. 'No,' he thought to himself, 'I will not by a presumptuous sin, in my own impatience, risk incurring woes on them that deal with familiar spirits and wizards that peep and mutter. If ever I am to hear of Eustacie again, it shall be by God's will, not the devil's.'
Diane de Selinville had been watching his face all the time, and now said, with that almost timid air of gaiety that she wore when addressing him: 'You too, cousin, are awaiting Monsieur Philippe's report to decide whether to look into the pool of mystery.'
'Not at all, Madame,' said Berenger, gravely. 'I do not understand white magic.'
'Our good cousin has been too well bred among the Reformers to condescend to our little wickednesses, daughter,' said the Chevalier; and the sneer-much like that which would await a person now who scrupled at joining in table-turning or any form of spiritualism—purpled Berenger's scar, now his only manner of blushing; but he instantly perceived that it was the Chevalier's desire that he should consult the conjurer, and therefore became the more resolved against running into a trap.
'I am sure,' said Madame de Selinville, earnestly, though with an affectation of lightness, 'a little wickedness is fair when there is a great deal at stake. For my part, I would not hesitate long, to find out how soon the King will relent towards my fair cousin here!'
'That, Madame,' said Berenger, with the same grave dryness, 'is likely to be better known to other persons than this wandering Greek boy.'
Here Philip's step was heard returning hastily. He was pale, and looked a good deal excited, so that Madame de Selinville uttered a little cry, and exclaimed, 'Ah! is it so dreadful then?'
'No, no, Madame,' said Philip, turning round, with a fervour and confidence he had never before shown. 'On my word, there is nothing formidable. You see nothing—nothing but the Italia and the boy. The boy gazes into a vessel of some black liquid, and sees—sees there all you would have revealed. Ah!'
'Then you believe?' asked Madame de Selinville.
'It cannot be false,' answered Philip; 'he told me everything. Things he could not have known. My very home, my father's house, passed in review before that strange little blackamoor's eyes; where I—though I would have given worlds to see it—beheld only the lamp mirrored in the dark pool.'
'How do you know it was your father's house?' said Berenger.
'I could not doubt. Just to test the fellow, I bade him ask for my native place. The little boy gazed, smiled, babbled his gibberish, pointed. The man said he spoke of a fair mansion among green fields and hills, "a grand cavalier embonpoint,"—those were his very words,—at the door, with a tankard in one hand. Ah! my dear father, why could not I see him too? But who could mistake him or the Manor?'
'And did he speak of future as well as past?' said Diane.
'Yes, yes, yes,' said Philip, with more agitation. 'Lady, that will you know for yourself.'
'It was not dreadful?' she said, rising.
'Oh no!' and Philip had become crimson, and hesitated; 'certes, not dreadful. But—-I must not say more.'
'Save good night,' said Berenger, rising; 'See, our gendarmes are again looking as if we had long exceeded their patience. It is an hour later than we are wont to retire.'
'If it be your desire to consult this mysterious fellow now you have heard your brother's report, my dear Baron,' said the Chevalier, 'the gendarmes may devour their impatience a little longer.'
'Thanks, sir,' said Berenger; 'but I am not tempted,' and he gave the usual signal to the gendarmes, who, during meals, used to stand as sentries at the great door of the hall.
'It might settle your mind,' muttered Philip, hesitating. 'And yet—yet—-'
But he used no persuasions, and permitted himself to be escorted with his brother along the passages to their own chamber, where he threw himself into a chair with a long sigh, and did not speak. Berenger meantime opened the Bible, glanced over the few verses he meant to read, found the place in the Prayer-book, and was going to the stairs to call Humfrey, when Philip broke forth: 'Wait, Berry; don't be in such haste.'
'What, you want time to lose the taste of your dealings with the devil?' said Berenger, smiling.
'Pshaw! No devil in the matter,' testily said Philip. 'No, I was only wishing you had not had a Puritan fit, and seen and heard for yourself. Then I should not have had to tell you,' and he sighed.
'I have no desire to be told,' said Berenger, who had become more fixed in the conviction that it was an imposture.
'No desire! Ah! I have none when I knew what it was. But you ought to know.'
'Well,' said Berenger, 'you will burst anon if I open not my ears.'
'Dear Berry, speak not thus. It will be the worse for you when you do hear. Alack, Berenger, all ours have been vain hopes. I asked for HER—and the boy fell well-nigh into convulsions of terror as he gazed; spoke of flames and falling houses. That was wherefore I pressed you not again—it would have wrung your heart too much. The boy fairly wept and writhed himself, crying out in his tongue for pity on the fair lady and the little babe in the burning house. Alack! brother,' said Philip, a little hurt that his brother had not changed countenance.
'This is the lying tale of the man-at-arms which our own eyes contradicted,' said Berenger; 'and no doubt was likewise inspired by the Chevalier.'
'See the boy, brother! How should he have heard the Chevalier? Nay, you might hug your own belief, but it is hard that we should both be in durance for your mere dream that she lives.'
'Come, Phil, it will be the devil indeed that sows dissension between us,' said Berenger. 'You know well enough that were it indeed with my poor Eustacie as they would fain have us believe, rather than give up her fair name I would not in prison for life. Or would you have me renounce my faith, or wed Madame de Selinville upon the witness of a pool of ink that I am a widower?' he added, almost laughing.
'For that matter,' muttered Philip, a good deal ashamed and half affronted, 'you know I value the Protestant faith so that I never heard a word from the will old priest. Nevertheless, the boy, when I asked of our release, saw the gates set open by Love.'
'What did Love look like in the pool? Had he wings like the Cupids in the ballets at the Louvre?' asked Berenger provokingly.
'I tell you I saw nothing,' said Philip, tartly: 'this was the Italian's interpretation of the boy's gesture. It was to be by means of love, he said, and of a lady who—-he made it plain enough who she was,' added the boy, colouring.
'No doubt, as the Chevalier have instructed him to say that I—I—' he hesitated, 'that my—my love—I mean that he saw my shield per pale with the field fretty and the sable leopard.'
'Oh! it is to be my daughter, is it?' said Berenger, laughing; 'I am very happy to entertain your proposals for her.'
'Berenger, what mocking fiend has possessed you?' cried Philip, half angrily, half pitifully. 'How can you so speak of that poor child?'
'Because the more they try to force on me the story of her fate, the plainer it is to me that they do not believe it. I shall find her yet, and then, Phil, you shall have the first chance.'
'Well, Phil,' said his brother, good-humouredly, 'any way, till this Love comes that is to let us out, don't let Moor or fiend come between us. Let me keep my credence for the honest Bailli's daughters at Lucon; and remember I would give my life to free you, but I cannot give away my faith.' Philip bent his head. He was of too stubborn a mould to express contrition or affection, but he mused for five minutes, then called Humfrey, and at the last moment, as the heavy tread came up-stairs, he turned round and said, 'You're in the right on't there, Berry. Hap what hap, the foul fiend may carry off the conjurer before I murmur at you again! Still I wish you had seen him. You would know 'tis sooth.'
While Berenger, in his prison chamber, with the lamplight beaming on his high white brow and clear eye, stood before his two comrades in captivity, their true-hearted faces composed to reverence, and as he read, 'I have hated them that hold of superstitious vanities, and my trust hath been in the Lord. I will be glad and rejoice in Thy mercy, for Thou hast considered my trouble and hast known my soul in adversities,' feeling that here was the oracle by which he was willing to abide—Diane de Selinville was entering the cabinet where the secrets of the future were to be unveiled.
There she stood—the beautiful court lady—her lace coif (of the Mary of Scotland type) well framed the beautiful oval of her face, and set of the clear olive of her complexion, softened by short jetty curls at the temples, and lighted splendid dark eyes, and by the smiles of a perfect pair of lips. A transparent veil hung back over the ruff like frostwork-formed fairy wings, and over the white silk bodice and sleeves laced with violet, and the violet skirt that fell in ample folds on the ground; only, however, in the dim light revealing by an occasional gleam that it was not black. It was a stately presence, yet withal there was a tremor, a quiver of the downcast eyelids, and a trembling of the fair hand, as though she were ill at ease; even though it was by no means the first time she had trafficked with the dealers in mysterious arts who swarmed around Catherine de Medicis. There were words lately uttered that weighed with her in their simplicity, and she could not forget them in that gloomy light, as she gazed on the brown face of the Italian, Ercole, faultless in outline as a classical mask, but the black depths of the eyes sparkling with intensity of observation, as if they were everywhere at once and gazed through and through. He wore his national dress, with the short cloak over one shoulder; but the little boy, who stood at the table, had been fantastically arrayed in a sort of semi-Albanian garb, a red cap with a long tassel, a dark, gold-embroidered velvet jacket sitting close to his body, and a white kilt over his legs, bare except for buskins stiff with gold. The poor little fellow looked pale in spite of his tawny hue, his enormous black eyes were heavy and weary, and he seemed to be trying to keep aloof from the small brazen vessel formed by the coils of two serpents that held the inky liquid of which Philip had spoken.
No doubt of the veritable nature of the charm crossed Diane; her doubt was of its lawfulness, her dread of the supernatural region she was invading. She hesitated before she ventured on her first question, and started as the Italian first spoke,—'What would the Eccelentissima? Ladies often hesitate to speak the question nearest their hearts. Yet is it ever the same. But the lady must be pleased to form it herself in words, or the lad will not see her vision.'
'Where, then, is my brother?' said Diane, still reluctant to come direct to the point.
The boy gazed intently into the black pool, his great eyes dilating till they seemed like black wells, and after a long time, that Diane could have counted by the throbs of her heart, he began to close his fingers, perform the action over the other arm of one playing on the lute, throw his head back, close his eyes, and appear to be singing a lullaby. Then he spoke a few words to his master quickly.
'He see,' said Ercole, 'a gentleman touching the lute, seated in a bedroom, where lies, on a rich pillow, another gentleman,'—and as the boy stroked his face, and pointed to his hands—'wearing a mask and gloves. It is, he says, in my own land, in Italy,' and as the boy made the action of rowing, 'in the territory of Venice.'
'It is well,' said Madame de Selinville, who knew that nothing was more probable than that her brother should be playing the King to his sleep in the medicated mask and gloves that cherished the royal complexion, and, moreover, that Henry was lingering to take his pastime in Italy to the great inconvenience of his kingdom.
Her next question came nearer her heat—'You saw the gentleman with a scar. Will he leave this castle?'
The boy gazed, then made gestures of throwing his arms wide, and of passing out; and as he added his few words, the master explained: 'He sees the gentleman leaving the castle, through open gate, in full day, on horseback; and—and it is Madame who is with them,' he added, as the lad pointed decidedly to her, 'it is Madame who opens their prison.'
Diane's face lighted with gladness for a moment; then she said, faltering (most women of her day would not have been even thus reserved), 'Then I shall marry again?'
The boy gazed and knitted his brow; then, without any pantomime, looked up and spoke. 'The Eccellentissima shall be a bride once more, he says,' explained the man, 'but after a sort he cannot understand. It is exhausting, lady, thus to gaze into the invisible future; the boy becomes confused and exhausted ere long.'
'Once more—I will only ask of the past. My cousin, is he married or a widower?'
The boy clasped his hands and looked imploringly, shaking his head at the dark pool, as he murmured an entreating word to his master. 'Ah! Madame,' said the Italian, 'that question hath already been demanded by the young Inglese. The poor child has been so terrified by the scene it called up, that he implored he may not see it again. A sacked and burning town, a lady in a flaming house—-'
'Enough, enough,' said de; 'I could as little bear to hear as he to see. It is what we have ever known and feared. And now'—she blushed as she spoke—'sir, you will leave me one of those potions that Signor Renato is wont to compound.'
'Capisco!' said Ercole; 'but the Eccellentissima shall be obeyed if she will supply the means, for the expense will be heavy.'
The bargain was agreed upon, and a considerable sum advanced for a philter, compounded of strange Eastern plants and mystic jewels; and then Diane, with a shudder of relief, passed into the full light of the hall, bade her father good night, and was handed by him into the litter that had long been awaiting her at the door.
The Chevalier, then, with care on his brow, bent his steps towards the apartment where the Italian still remained counting the money he had received.
'So!' he said as he entered, 'so, fellow, I have not hindered your gains, and you have been true to your agreement?'
'Illustrissimo, yes. The pool of vision mirrored the flames, but nothing beyond—nothing—nothing.'
'They asked you then no more of those words you threw out of Esperance?'
'Only the English youth, sir; and there were plenty of other hopes to dance before the eyes of such a lad! With M. le Baron it will be needful to be more guarded.'
'M. le Baron shall not have the opportunity,' said the Chevalier. 'He may abide by his decision, and what the younger one may tell him. Fear not, good man, it shall be made good to you, if you obey my commands. I have other work for you. But first repeat to me more fully what you told me before. Where was it that you saw this unhappy girl under the name of Esperance?'
'At a hostel, sir, at Charente, where she was attending on an old heretic teacher of the name of Gardon, who had fallen sick there, being pinched by the fiend with rheumatic pains after his deserts. She bore the name of Esperance Gardon, and passed for his son's widow.'
'And by what means did you know her not to be the mean creature she pretended?' said the Chevalier, with a gesture of scornful horror.
'Illustrissimo, I never forget a face. I had seen this lady with M. le Baron when they made purchases of various trinkets at Montpipeau; and I saw her full again. I had the honour to purchase from her certain jewels, that the Eccellenza will probably redeem; and even—pardon, sir—I cut off and bought of her, her hair.'
'Her hair!' exclaimed the Chevalier, in horror. 'The miserable girl to have fallen so low! Is it with you, fellow?'
'Surely, Illustrissimo. Such tresses—so shining, so silky, so well kept,—I reserved to adorn the heads of Signor Renato's most princely customers', said the man, unpacking from the inmost recesses of one of his most ingeniously arranged packages, a parcel which contained the rich mass of beautiful black tresses. 'Ah! her head looked so noble,' he added, 'that I felt it profane to let my scissors touch those locks; but she said that she could never wear them openly more, and that they did but take up her time, and were useless to her child and her father—as she called him; and she much needed the medicaments for the old man that I gave her in exchange.'
'Heavens! A daughter of Ribaumont!' sighed the Chevalier, clenching his hand. 'And now, man, let me see the jewels with which the besotted child parted.'
The jewels were not many, nor remarkable. No one but a member of the family would have identified them, and not one of the pearls was there; and the Chevalier refrained from inquiring after them, lest, by putting the Italian on the scent of anything so exceptionally valuable, he should defeat his own object, and lead to the man's securing the pearls and running away with them. But Ercole understood his glance, with the quickness of a man whose trade forced him to read countenances. 'The Eccellenza is looking for the pearls of Ribaumont? The lady made no offer of them to me.'
'Do you believe that she has them still?'
'I am certain of it, sir. I know that she has jewels—though she said not what they were—which she preserved at the expense of her hair. It was thus. The old man had, it seems, been for weeks on the rack with pains caught by a chill when they fled from La Sablerie, and, though the fever had left him, he was still so stiff in the joints as to be unable to move. I prescribed for him unguents of balm and Indian spice, which, as the Eccellenza knows, are worth far more than their weight in gold; nor did these jewels make up the cost of these, together with the warm cloak for him, and the linen for her child that she had been purchasing. I tell you, sir, the babe must have no linen but the finest fabric of Cambrai—yes, and even carnation-coloured ribbons—though, for herself, I saw the homespun she was sewing. As she mused over what she could throw back, I asked if she had no other gauds to make up the price, and she said, almost within herself, "They are my child's, not mine." Then remembering that I had been buying the hair of the peasant maidens, she suddenly offered me her tresses. But I could yet secure the pearls, if Eccellenza would.'
'Do you then believe her to be in any positive want or distress?' said the Chevalier.
'Signor, no. The heretical households among whom she travels gladly support the families of their teachers, and at Catholic inns they pay their way. I understood them to be on their way to a synod of Satan at the nest of heretics, Montauban, where doubtless the old miscreant would obtain an appointment to some village.'
'When did you thus full in with them?'
'It was on one of the days of the week of Pentecost,' said Ercole. 'It is at that time I frequent fairs in those parts, to gather my little harvest on the maidens' heads.'
'Parbleu! class not my niece with those sordid beings, man,' said the Chevalier, angrily. 'Here is your price'—tossing a heavy purse on the table—'and as much more shall await you when you bring me sure intelligence where to find my niece. You understand; and mark, not one word of the gentleman you saw here. You say she believes him dead?'
'The Illustrissimo must remember that she never dropped her disguise with me, but I fully think that she supposed herself a widow. And I understand the Eccellenza, she is still to think so. I may be depended on.'
'You understand,' repeated the Chevalier, 'this sum shall reward you when you have informed me where to find her—as a man like you can easily trace her from Montauban. If you have any traffickings with her, it shall be made worth your while to secure the pearls for the family; but, remember, the first object is herself, and that she should be ignorant of the existence of him whom she fancied her husband.'
'I see, Signor; and not a word, of course, of my having come from you. I will discover her, and leave her noble family to deal with her. Has the Illustrissimo any further commands?'
'None,' began the Chevalier; then, suddenly, 'This unhappy infant—is it healthy? Did it need any of your treatment?'
'Signor, no. It was a fair, healthy bambina of a year old, and I heard the mother boasting that it had never had a day's illness.'
'Ah, the less a child has to do in the world, the more is it bent on living,' said the Chevalier with a sigh; and then, with a parting greeting, he dismissed the Italian, but only to sup under the careful surveillance of the steward, and then to be conveyed by early morning light beyond the territory where the affairs of Ribaumont were interesting.
But the Chevalier went through a sleepless night. Long did he pace up and down his chamber, grind his teeth, clench his fist and point them at his head, and make gestures of tearing his thin gray locks; and many a military oath did he swear under his breath as he thought to what a pass things had come. His brother's daughter waiting on an old Huguenot bourgeois, making sugar-cakes, selling her hair! And what next? Here was she alive after all, alive and disgracing herself; alive—yes, both she and her husband—to perplex the Chevalier, and force him either to new crimes or to beggar his son! Why could not the one have really died on the St. Bartholomew, or the other at La Sablerie, instead of putting the poor Chevalier in the wrong by coming to live again?
What had he done to be thus forced to peril his soul at his age? Ah, had he but known what he should bring on himself when he wrote the unlucky letter, pretending that the silly little child wished to dissolve the marriage! How should he have known that the lad would come meddling over? And then, when he had dexterously brought about that each should be offended with the other, and consent to the separation, why must royalty step in and throw them together again? Yes, and he surely had a right to feel ill-used, since it was in ignorance of the ratification of the marriage that he had arranged the frustration of the elopement, and that he had forced on the wedding with Narcisse, so as to drive Eustacie to flight from the convent—in ignorance again of her life that he had imprisoned Berenger, and tried to buy off his clams to Nid de Merle with Diane's hand. Circumstances had used him cruelly, and he shrank from fairly contemplating the next step.
He knew well enough what it must be. Without loss of time a letter must be sent to Rome, backed by strong interest, so as to make it appear that the ceremony at Montpipeau, irregular, and between a Huguenot and Catholic, had been a defiance of the Papal decree, and must therefore be nullified. This would probably be attainable, though he did not feel absolutely secure of it. Pending this, Eustacie must be secluded in a convent; and, while still believing herself a widow, must immediately on the arrival of the decree and dispensation, be forced into the marriage with Narcisse before she heard of Berenger's being still alive. And then Berenger would have no longer any excuse for holding out. His claims would be disposed of, and he might be either sent to England, or he might be won upon by Madame de Selinville's constancy.
And this, as the Chevalier believed, was the only chance of saving a life that he was unwilling to sacrifice, for his captive's patience and courtesy had gained so much upon his heart that he was resolved to do all that shuffling and temporizing could do to save the lad from Narcisse's hatred and to secure him Diane's love.
As to telling the truth and arranging his escape, that scarcely ever crossed the old man's mind. It would have been to resign the lands of Nid de Merle, to return to the makeshift life he knew but too well, and, what was worse, to ruin and degrade his son, and incur his resentment. It would probably be easy to obtain a promise from Berenger, in his first joy and gratitude, of yielding up all pretensions of his own or his wife's; but, however honourably meant, such a promise would be worth very little, and would be utterly scorned by Narcisse. Besides, how could he thwart the love of his daughter and the ambition of his son both at once?
No; the only security for the possession of Nid de Merle lay in either the death of the young baron and his child or else in his acquiescence in the invalidity of his marriage, and therefore in the illegitimacy of the child.
And it was within the bounds of possibility that, in his seclusion, he might at length learn to believe in the story of the destruction at La Sablerie, and, wearying of captivity, might yield at length to the persuasions of Diane and her father, and become so far involved with them as to be unable to draw back, or else be so stung by Eustacie's desertion as to accept her rival willingly.
It was a forlorn hope, but it was the only medium that lay between either the death or the release of the captive; and therefore the old man clung to it as almost praiseworthy, and did his best to bring it about by keeping his daughter ignorant that Eustacie lived, and writing to his son that the Baron was on the point of becoming a Catholic and marrying his sister: and thus that all family danger and scandal would be avoided, provided the matter were properly represented at Rome.
CHAPTER XXXII. 'JAM SATIS'
You may go walk, and give me leave a while, My lessons make no music in three parts. TAMING OF THE SHREW
Whether the dark pool really showed Sir Marmaduke Thistlewood or not, at the moment that his son desired that his image should be called up, the good knight was, in effect, sitting nodding over the tankard of sack with which his supper was always concluded, while the rest of the family, lured out of the sunny hall by the charms of a fresh summer evening, had dispersed into the gardens or hall.
Presently a movement in the neighbourhood made him think it incumbent on him to open his eyes wide, and exclaim, 'I'm not asleep.'
'Oh no! you never are asleep when there's anything you ought to see!' returned Dame Annora, who was standing by him with her hand on his chair.
'How now? Any tidings of the lads?' he exclaimed.
'Of the lads? No, indeed; but there will be bad tidings for the lads if you do not see to it! Where do you think your daughter is, Sir Duke?'
'Where? How should I know? She went out to give her sisters some strawberries, I thought.'
'See here,' said Lady Thistlewood, leading the way to the north end of the hall, where a door opened into what was called the Yew-tree Grove. This consisted of five rows of yew-trees, planted at regular intervals, and their natural mode of growth so interfered with by constant cutting, that their ruddy trunks had been obliged to rise branchless, till about twelve feet above ground they had been allowed to spread out their limbs in the form of ordinary forest trees; and, altogether, their foliage became a thick, unbroken, dark, evergreen roof, impervious to sunshine, and almost impervious to rain, while below their trunks were like columns forming five arcades, floored only by that dark red crusty earth and green lichen growth that seems peculiar to the shelter of yew-trees. The depth of the shade and the stillness of the place made it something peculiarly soothing and quiet, more especially when, as now, the sunset light came below the branches, richly tinted the russet pillars, cast long shadows, and gleamed into all the recesses of the interlacing boughs and polished leafage above.
'Do you see, Sir Duke?' demanded his lady.
'I see my little maids making a rare feast under the trees upon their strawberries set out on leaves. Bless their little hearts! what a pretty fairy feast they've made of it, with the dogs looking on as grave as judges! It takes me young again to get a smack of the haut-bois your mother brought from Chelsea Gardens.'
'Haut-bois! He'd never see if the house ere afire overhead. What's that beyond?'
'No fire, my dear, but the sky all aglow with sunset, and the red cow standing up against the light, chewing her cud, and looking as well pleased as though she knew there wasn't her match in Dorset.'
Lady Thistlewood fairly stamped, and pointed with her fan, like a pistol, down a side aisle of the grove, where two figures were slowly moving along.
'Eh! what? Lucy with her apron full of rose-leaves, letting them float away while she cons the children's lesson for the morrow with Merrycourt? They be no great loss, when the place is full of roses. Or why could you not call to the wench to take better heed of them, instead of making all this pother?'
'A pretty sort of lesson it is like to be! A pretty sort of return for my poor son, unless you take the better heed!'
'Would that I saw any return at all for either of the poor dear lads,' sighed the knight wearily; 'but what you may be driving at I cannot perceive.'
'What! When 'tis before your very eyes, how yonder smooth-tongued French impostor, after luring him back to his ruin beyond seas, is supplanting him even here, and your daughter giving herself over to the wily viper!'
'The man is a popish priest,' said Sir Marmaduke; 'no more given to love than Mr. Adderley or Friar Rogers.'
The dame gave a snort of derision:' Prithee, how many popish priests be now wedded parsons? Nor, indeed, even if his story be true, do I believe he is a priest at all. I have seen many a young abbe, as they call themselves, clerk only in name, loitering at court, free to throw off the cassock any moment they chose, and as insolent as the rest. Why, the Abbe de Lorraine, cardinal that is now, said of my complexion—-'
'No vows, quotha!' muttered Sir Marmaduke, well aware of the Cardinal de Lorraine's opinion of his lady's complexion. 'So much the better; he is too good a young fellow to be forced to mope single, and yet I hate men's breaking their word.'
'And that's all you have to say!' angrily cried her ladyship. 'No one save myself ever thinks how it is to be with my poor dear wounded, heart-broken son, when he comes home, to find himself so scurvily used by that faithless girl of yours, ready—-'
'Hold, madam,' said Sir Marmaduke, with real sternness; 'nothing rash against my daughter. How should she be faithless to a man who has been wedded ever since she knew him?'
'He is free now,' said Lady Thistlewood, beginning to cry (for the last letters received from Berenger had been those from Paris, while he still believed Eustacie to have perished at La Sablerie); 'and I do say it is very hard that just when he is rid of the French baggage, the bane of his life, and is coming home, maybe with a child upon his hands, and all wounded, scarred, and blurred, the only wench he would or should have married should throw herself away on a French vagabond beggar, and you aiding and abetting.'
'Come, come, Dame Nan,' said Sir Marmaduke, 'who told you I was aiding and abetting?'
'Tell me not, Sir Duke, you that see them a courting under your very eyes, and will not stir a finger to hinder it. If you like to see your daughter take up with a foreign adventurer, why, she's no child of mine, thank Heaven! And I've nought to do with it.'
'Pshaw, dame, there's no taking up in the case; and if there were, sure it is not you that should be hard on Lucy.'
Whereupon Annora fell into such a flood of tears at the cruelty of casting such things up to her, that Sir Marmaduke was fain in his blundering way to declare that he only meant that an honest Englishman had no chance where a Frenchman once came in, and then very nearly to surrender at discretion. At any rate, he escaped from her tears by going out at the door, and calling to Lucy to mind her rose-leaves; then, as she gazed round, dismayed at the pink track along the ground, he asked her what she had been doing. Whereto she answered with bright face and honest eyes, that Mr. Mericour had been going over with her the ode 'Jam satis,' of Horatius, wherewith to prepare little Nan for him to-morrow, and then she ran hurriedly away to secure the remainder of the rose-leaves, while her companion was already on his knees picking up the petals she had dropped.
'Master Merrycourt,' said Sir Marmaduke, a little gruffly, 'never heed the flower-leaves. I want a word with you.'
Claude de Mericour rose hastily, as if somewhat struck by the tone.
'The matter is this,' said the knight, leading him from the house, and signing back the little girls who had sprung towards them—'it has been brought to my mind that you are but a youth, and, pardon me, my young master, but when lads and lasses have their heads together over one book, tongues wag.'
The colour rushed hotly into young Mericour's face, and he answered quickly, 'My rank—I mean my order—should answer that.'
'Stay, young man, we are not in France; your order, be it what it may, has not hindered many a marriage in England; though, look you, no man should ever wed with my consent who broke his word to God in so doing; but they tell me your vows are not always made at your age.'
'Nor are they,' exclaimed Mericour, in a low voice, but with a sudden light on his countenance. 'The tonsure was given me as a child, but no vow of celibacy has passed my lips.'
Sir Marmaduke exclaimed, 'Oh!—' with a prolongation of the sound that lasted till Mericour began again.
'But, sir, let tongues wag as they will, it is for nought. Your fair daughter was but as ever preparing beforehand with me the tasks with which she so kindly indoctrinates her little sisters. I never thought of myself as aught but a religious, and should never dream of human love.'
'I thought so! I said so!' said Sir Marmaduke, highly gratified. 'I knew you were an honourable man that would never speak of love to my daughter by stealth, nor without means to maintain her after her birth.'
The word 'birth' brought the blood into the face of the son of the peer of France, but he merely bowed with considerable stiffness and pride, saying, 'You did me justice, sir.'
'Come, don't be hurt, man,' said Sir Marmaduke, putting his hand on his shoulder. 'I told you I knew you for an honourable man! You'll be over here to-morrow to hear the little maids their Jam satis, or whatever you call it, and dine with us after to taste Lucy's handiwork in jam cranberry, a better thing as I take it.'
Mericour had recovered himself, smiled, shook the good Sir Marmaduke proffered hand, and, begging to excuse himself from bidding good night to the ladies on the score of lateness, he walked away to cross the downs on his return to Combe Walwyn, where he was still resident, according to the arrangement by which he was there to await Berenger's return, now deferred so much beyond all reasonable expectation.
Sir Marmaduke, with a free heart, betook himself to the house, dreading to find that Lucy had fallen under the objurgations of her step-mother, but feeling impelled to stand her protector, and guided to the spot by the high key of Dame Annora's voice.
He found Lucy—who, on the race occasions when good-natured Lady Thistlewood was really angry with her, usually cowered meekly—now standing her ground, and while the dame was pausing for breath, he heard her gentle voice answering steadily, 'No, madam, to him I could never owe faith, nor troth, nor love, save such as I have for Philip.'
'Then it is very unfeeling and ungrateful of you. Nor did you think so once, but it is all his scars and—-'
By this time Sir Marmaduke had come near enough to put his arm round his daughter, and say, 'No such thing, dame. It had been unseemly in the lass had it been otherwise. She is a good girl and a discreet; and the Frenchman, if he has made none of their vows, feels as bound as though he had. He's an honest fellow, thinking of his studies and not of ladies or any such trumpery. So give me a kiss, Lucy girl, and thou shalt study Jam satis, or any other jam he pleases, without more to vex thee.'
Lucy, now that the warfare was over, had begun to weep so profusely that so soon as her father released her, she turned, made a mute gesture to ask permission to depart, and hurried away; while Lady Thistlewood, who disliked above all that her husband should think her harsh to her step-children, began to relate the exceeding tenderness of the remonstrance which had been followed with such disproportionate floods of tears.
Poor Sir Marmaduke hoped at least that the veil of night had put an end to the subject which harassed him at a time when he felt less capable than usual of bearing vexation, for he was yearning sadly after his only son. The youths had been absent ten months, and had not been heard of for more than three, when they were just leaving Paris in search of the infant. Sir Francis Walsingham, whose embassy had ended with the death of Charles IX., knew nothing of them, and great apprehensions respecting them were beginning to prevail, and, to Sir Marmaduke especially, seemed to be eating out the peace and joy of his life. Philip, always at his father's side ever since he could run alone, was missed at every visit to stable or kennel; the ring of his cheery voice was wanting to the house; and the absence of his merry whistle seemed to make Sir Marmaduke's heart sink like lead as he donned his heavy boots, and went forth in the silver dew of the summer morning to judge which of his cornfields would soonest be ready for the sickle. Until this expedition of his sons he had, for more than fourteen years never been alone in those morning rounds on his farm; and much as he loved his daughters, they seemed to weigh very light in the scale compared with the sturdy heir who loved every acre with his own ancestral love. Indeed, perhaps, Sir Marmaduke had deeper, fonder affection for the children of his first marriage, because he had barely been able to give his full heart to their mother before she was taken from him, and he had felt almost double tenderness to be due to them, when he at length obtained his first and only true love. Now, as he looked over the shinning billows of the waving barley, his heart was very sore with longing for Philip's gladsome shout at the harvest-field, and he thought with surprise and compunction how he had seen Lucy leave him struggling with a flood of tears. While he was still thus gazing, a head appeared in the narrow path that led across the fields, and presently he recognized the slender, upright form of the young Frenchman.
'A fair good morrow to you, Master Merrycourt! You come right early to look after your ode?'
'Sir,' said Mericour, gravely saluting him, 'I come to make you my confession. I find that I did not deal truly with you last night, but it was all unwittingly.'
'How?' exclaimed Sir Marmaduke, recollecting Lucy's tears and looking much startled. 'You have not—-' and there he broke off, seeing Mericour eager to speak.
'Sir,' he said, 'I was bred as one set apart from love. I had never learnt to think it possible to me,—I thought so even when I replied to you last evening; but, sir, the words you then spoke, the question you asked me set my heart burning, and my senses whirling—-' And between agitation and confusion he stammered and clasped his hands passionately, trying to continue what he was saying, but muttering nothing intelligible.
Sir Marmaduke filled up the interval with a long whistle of perplexity; but, too kind not to pity the youth's distress, he laid his hand on his shoulder, saying, 'You found out you were but a hot-blooded youth after all, but an honest one. For, as I well trust, my lass knows nought of this.'
'How should she know, sir, what I knew not myself?'
'Ha! ha!' chuckled Sir Duke to himself, 'so 'twas all Dame Nan's doing that the flame has been lighted! Ho! ho! But what is to come next is the question?' and he eyed the French youth from head to foot with the same considering look with which he was wont to study a bullock.
'Sir, sir,' cried Mericour, absolutely flinging himself on his knee before him with national vehemence, 'do give me hope! Oh! I will bless you, I will—-'
'Get up, man,' said the knight, hastily; 'no fooling of this sort. The milkmaids will be coming. Hope—why, what sort of hope can be given you in the matter?' he continued; 'you are a very good lad, and I like you well enough, but you are not the sort of stuff one gives one's daughter to. Ay, ay, I know you are a great man in your own country, but what are you here?'
'A miserable fugitive and beggar, I know that,' said Mericour, vehemently, 'but let me have but hope, and there is nothing I will not be!'
'Pish!' said Sir Marmaduke.
'Hear me,' entreated the youth, recalled to common sense: 'you know that I have lingered at the chateau yonder, partly to study divinity and settle my mind, and partly because my friend Ribaumont begged me to await his return. I will be no longer idle; my mind is fixed. To France I cannot return, while she gives me no choice between such doctrine and practice as I saw at court, and such as the Huguenots would have imposed on me. I had already chosen England as my country before—before this wild hope had awakened in me. Here, I know my nobility counts for nothing, though, truly, sir, few names in France are prouder. But it shall be no hindrance. I will become one of your men of the robe. I have heard that they can enrich themselves and intermarry with your country noblesse.'
'True, true,' said Sir Marmaduke, 'there is more sense in that notion than there seemed to be in you at first. My poor brother Phil was to have been a lawyer if he had lived, but it seems to me you are a long way off from that yet! Why, our Templars be mostly Oxford scholars.'
'So it was explained to me,' said Mericour, 'but for some weeks past the Lady Burnet, to whose sons, as you know, I have been teaching French, has been praying me to take the charge of them at Oxford, by which means I should at least be there maintained, and perchance obtain the means for carrying on my studies at the Temple.'
'Not ill thought of,' said the knight; 'a fair course enough for you; but look you, you must have good luck indeed to be in a state to marry within ten or fifteen years,—very likely not then—having nothing of your own, and my wench but little, for Lucy's portion cannot be made equal to her sisters', her mother having been no heiress like Dame Nan. And would you have me keep the maid unwedded till she be thirty or thirty-five years old, waiting for your fortune?'
Mericour looked terribly disconcerted at this.
'Moreover,' added the knight, 'they will all be at me, so soon as those poor lads come home—Heaven grant they do—to give her to Berenger.'
'Sir,' said Mericour, looking up with a sudden smile, 'all that I would ask is, what you are too good a father to do, that you would not put any force on her inclinations.'
'How now? you said you had never courted her!'
'Nor have I, sir. But I see the force of your words. Should she love another man, my dream were, of course, utterly vain, but if not—-' He broke off.
'Well, well, I am no man to force a girl to a match against her will; but never trust to that, man. I know what women are; and let a fantastic stranger come across them, there's an end of old friends. But yours is an honest purpose, and you are a good youth; and if you had anything to keep her with, you should have Lucy to-morrow, with all my heart.'
Then came the further question whether Mericour should be allowed an interview with Lucy. Sir Marmaduke was simple enough to fancy that she need not be made aware of the cause of Mericour's new arrangement, and decided against it. The young man sorrowfully acquiesced, but whether such a secret could be kept was another thing. To him it would have been impossible to renew their former terms of intercourse without betraying his feelings, and he therefore absented himself. Lady Thistlewood triumphed openly in Sir Marmaduke's having found him out and banished him from the house; Lucy looked white and shed silent tears. Her father's soft heart was moved, and one Sunday evening he whispered into her ear that Dame Nan was all wrong, and Mericour only kept away because he was an honourable man. Then Lucy smiled and brightened, and Sir Duke fondly asked her if she were fool enough to fancy herself in love with the man.
'Oh no, how should she, when he had never named love to her? She was only glad her father esteemed him.'
So then foolish, fond Sir Marmaduke told her all that had passed, and if it had not been too late, he would have sent for Mericour from Lady Burnet's; but his own story did almost as well in bringing back Lucy's soft pink color. She crept up into Cecily's room one day, and found that she knew all about it, and was as kind and sympathizing as she could be—when a vocation had been given up, though no vows had been taken. She did not quite understand it, but she would take it on trust.
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE SCANDAL OF THE SYNOD OF MONTAUBAN
O ye, wha are sae guid yourself, Sae pious and sae holy, Ye've naught to do but mark and tell Your neebour's fauts and folly. —BURNS
The old city of Montauban, once famous as the home of Ariosto's Rinaldo and his brethren, known to French romance as 'Les Quatre Fils Aymon,' acquired in later times a very diverse species of fame,—that, namely, of being one of the chief strong-holds of the Reformed. The Bishop Jean de Lettes, after leading a scandalous life, had professed a sort of Calvinism, had married, and retired to Geneva, and his successor had not found it possible to live at Montauban from the enmity of the inhabitants. Strongly situated, with a peculiar municipal constitution of its own, and used to Provencal independence both of thought and deed, the inhabitants had been so unanimous in their Calvinism, and had offered such efficient resistance, as to have wrung from Government reluctant sanction for the open observance of the Reformed worship, and for the maintenance of a college for the education of their ministry.
There then was convoked the National Synod, answering to the Scottish General Assembly, excepting that the persecuted French Presbyterians met in a different place every year. Delegated pastors there gathered from every quarter. From Northern France came men used to live in constant hazard of their lives; from Paris, confessors such as Merlin, the chaplain who, leaving Coligny's bedside, had been hidden for three days in a hayloft, feeding on the eggs that a hen daily laid beside him; army-chaplains were there who had passionately led battle-psalms ere their colleagues charged the foe, and had striven with vain endeavours to render their soldiers saints; while other pastors came from Pyrenean villages where their generation had never seen flames lighted against heresy, nor knew what it was to disperse a congregation in haste and secrecy for hear of the enemy.