The Chaplet of Pearls
by Charlotte M. Yonge
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


By Charlotte M. Yonge















































It is the fashion to call every story controversial that deals with times when controversy or a war of religion was raging; but it should be remembered that there are some which only attempt to portray human feelings as affected by the events that such warfare occasioned. 'Old Mortality' and 'Woodstock' are not controversial tales, and the 'Chaplet of Pearls' is so quite as little. It only aims at drawing certain scenes and certain characters as the convulsions of the sixteenth century may have affected them, and is, in fact, like all historical romance, the shaping of the conceptions that the imagination must necessarily form when dwelling upon the records of history. That faculty which might be called the passive fancy, and might almost be described in Portia's song,—

'It is engendered in the eyes, By READING fed—and there it dies,'—

that faculty, I say, has learnt to feed upon character and incident, and to require that the latter should be effective and exciting. Is it not reasonable to seek for this in the days when such things were not infrequent, and did not imply exceptional wickedness or misfortune in those engaged in them? This seems to me one plea for historical novel, to which I would add the opportunity that it gives for study of the times and delineation of characters. Shakespeare's Henry IV. and Henry V., Scott's Louis XI., Manzoni's Federigo Borromeo, Bulwer's Harold, James's Philip Augustus, are all real contributions to our comprehension of the men themselves, by calling the chronicles and memoirs into action. True, the picture cannot be exact, and is sometimes distorted—nay, sometimes praiseworthy efforts at correctness in the detail take away whatever might have been lifelike in the outline. Yet, acknowledging all this, I must still plead for the tales that presumptuously deal with days gone by, as enabling the young to realize history vividly—and, what is still more desirable, requiring an effort of the mind which to read of modern days does not. The details of Millais' Inquisition or of his Huguenot may be in error in spite of all his study and diligence, but they have brought before us for ever the horrors of the auto-da-fe, and the patient, steadfast heroism of the man who can smile aside his wife's endeavour to make him tacitly betray his faith to save his life. Surely it is well, by pen as by picture, to go back to the past for figures that will stir the heart like these, even though the details be as incorrect as those of the revolt of Liege or of La Ferrette in 'Quentin Durward' and 'Anne of Geierstein.'

Scott, however, willfully carved history to suit the purposes of his story; and in these days we have come to feel that a story must earn a certain amount of credibility by being in keeping with established facts, even if striking events have to be sacrificed, and that the order of time must be preserved. In Shakespeare's days, or even in Scott's, it might have been possible to bring Henry III. and his mignons to due punishment within the limits of a tale beginning with the Massacre of St. Bartholomew; but in 1868 the broad outlines of tragedy must be given up to keep within the bounds of historical verity.

How far this has been done, critics better read than myself must decide. I have endeavoured to speak fairly, to the best of my ability, of such classes of persons as fell in with the course of the narrative, according to such lights as the memoirs of the time afford. The Convent is scarcely a CLASS portrait, but the condition of it seems to be justified by hints in the Port Royal memoirs, respecting Maubuisson and others which Mere Angelique reformed. The intolerance of the ladies at Montauban is described in Madame Duplessis-Mornay's life; and if Berenger's education and opinions are looked on as not sufficiently alien from Roman Catholicism, a reference to Froude's 'History of Queen Elizabeth' will show both that the customs of the country clergy, and likewise that a broad distinction was made by the better informed among the French between Calvinism and Protestantism or Lutheranism, in which they included Anglicanism. The minister Gardon I do not consider as representing his class. He is a POSSIBILITY modified to serve the purposes of the story.

Into historical matters, however, I have only entered so far as my story became involved with them. And here I have to apologize for a few blunders, detected too late for alteration even in the volumes. Sir Francis Walsingham was a young rising statesman in 1572, instead of the elderly sage he is represented; his daughter Frances was a mere infant, and Sir Philip Sidney was not knighted till much later. For the rest, I have tried to show the scenes that shaped themselves before me as carefully as I could; though of course they must not be a presentiment of the times themselves, but of my notion of them.

C. M. Yonge

November 14th, 1868





Small was the ring, and small in truth the finger: What then? the faith was large that dropped it down. Aubrey De Vere, INFANT BRIDAL

Setting aside the consideration of the risk, the baby-weddings of the Middle Ages must have been very pretty sights.

So the Court of France thought the bridal of Henri Beranger Eustache de Ribaumont and of Marie Eustacie Rosalie de Rebaumont du Nid-de-Merle, when, amid the festivals that accompanied the signature of the treaty of Cateau-Cabresis, good-natured King Henri II. presided merrily at the union of the little pair, whose unite ages did not reach ten years.

There they stood under the portal of Notre-Dame, the little bridegroom in a white velvet coat, with puffed sleeves, slashed with scarlet satin, as were the short, also puffed breeches meeting his long white knitted silk stockings some way above the knee; large scarlet rosettes were in his white shoes, a scarlet knot adorned his little sword, and his velvet cap of the same colour bore a long white plume, and was encircled by a row of pearls of priceless value. They are no other than that garland of pearls which, after a night of personal combat before the walls of Calais, Edward III. of England took from his helmet and presented to Sir Eustache de Ribaumont, a knight of Picardy, bidding him say everywhere that it was a gift from the King of England to the bravest of knights.

The precious heirlooms were scarcely held with the respect due to an ornament so acquired. The manly garb for the first time assumed by his sturdy legs, and the possession of the little sword, were evidently the most interesting parts of the affair to the youthful husband, who seemed to find in them his only solace for the weary length of the ceremony. He was a fine, handsome little fellow, fair and rosy, with bright blue eyes, and hair like shining flax, unusually tall and strong-limbed for his age; and as he gave his hand to his little bride, and walked with her under a canopy up to kneel at the High Altar, for the marriage blessing and the mass, they looked like a full-grown couple seen through a diminishing-glass.

The little bride was perhaps a less beautiful child, but she had a splendid pair of black eyes, and a sweet little mouth, both set into the uncomprehending solemnity of baby gravity and contentment in fine clothes. In accordance with the vow indicated by her name of Marie, her dress was white and blue, turquoise forget-me-nots bound the little lace veil on her dark chestnut hair, the bosom of her white satin dress was sprinkled with the same azure jewel, and turquoises bordered every seam of the sweeping skirt with a train befitting a count's daughter, and meandered in gorgeous constellations round the hem. The little thing lisped her own vows forth without much notion of their sense, and indeed was sometimes prompted by her bridesmaid cousin, a pretty little girl a year older, who thrust in her assistance so glibly that the King, as well as others of the spectators, laughed, and observed that she would get herself married to the boy instead of her cousin.

There was, however, to be no doubt nor mistake about Beranger and Eustacie de Ribaumont being man and wife. Every ceremony, religious or domestic, that could render a marriage valid, was gone through with real earnestness, although with infinite gaiety, on the part of the court. Much depended on their union, and the reconcilement of the two branches of the family had long been a favourite scheme of King Henri II.

Both alike were descended from Anselme de Ribaumont, renowned in the first Crusade, and from the brave Picard who had received the pearls; but, in the miserable anarchy of Charles VI.'s reign, the elder brother had been on the Burgundian side—like most of the other nobles of Picardy—and had thus been brought into the English camp, where, regarding Henry V. as lawfully appointed to the succession, and much admiring him and his brother Nedford, he had become an ardent supporter of the English claim. He had married an English lady, and had received the grant if the castle of Leurre in Normandy by way of compensation for his ancestral one of Ribaumont in Picardy, which had been declared to be forfeited by his treason, and seized by his brother.

This brother had always been an Armagnac, and had risen and thriven with his party,—before the final peace between France and England obliged the elder line to submit to Charles VII. Since that time there had been a perpetual contention as to the restitution of Chateau Ribaumont, a strife which under Louis XI. had become an endless lawsuit; and in the days of dueling had occasioned a good many insults and private encounters. The younger branch, or Black Ribaumonts, had received a grant from Louis XI. of the lands of Nid-de-Merle, belonging to an unfortunate Angevin noble, who had fallen under the royal displeasure, and they had enjoyed court favour up to the present generation, when Henri II., either from opposition to his father, instinct for honesty, or both, had become a warm friend to the gay and brilliant young Baron de Ribaumont, head of the white or elder branch of the family.

The family contention seemed likely to wear out of its own accord, for the Count de Ribaumont was an elderly and childless man, and his brother, the Chevalier de Ribaumont, was, according to the usual lot of French juniors, a bachelor, so that it was expected that the whole inheritance would centre upon the elder family. However, to the general surprise, the Chevalier late in life married, and became the father of a son and daughter; but soon after calculations were still more thrown out by the birth of a little daughter in the old age of the Count.

Almost from the hour in which her sex was announced, the King had promised the Baron de Ribaumont that she should be the wife of his young son, and that all the possessions of the house should be settled upon the little couple, engaging to provide for the Chevalier's disappointed heir in some commandery of a religious order of knighthood.

The Baron's wife was English. He had, when on a visit to his English kindred, entirely turned the head of the lovely Annora Walwyn, and finding that her father, one of the gravest of Tudor statesmen, would not hear of her breaking her engagement to the honest Dorset squire Marmaduke Thistlewood, he had carried her off by a stolen marriage and coup de main, which, as her beauty, rank, and inheritance were all considerable, had won him great reputation at the gay court of Henri II.

Infants as the boy and girl were, the King had hurried on their marriage to secure its taking place in the lifetime of the Count. The Countess had died soon after the birth of the little girl, and if the arrangement were to take effect at all, it must be before she should fall under the guardianship of her uncle, the Chevalier. Therefore the King had caused her to be brought up from the cottage in Anjou, where she had been nursed, and in person superintended the brilliant wedding. He himself led off the dance with the tiny bride, conducting her through its mazes with fatherly kindliness and condescension; but Queen Catherine, who was strongly in the interests of the Angevin branch, and had always detested the Baron as her husband's intimate, excused herself from dancing with the bridegroom. He therefore fell to the share of the Dauphiness Queen of Scots, a lovely, bright-eyed, laughing girl, who so completely fascinated the little fellow, that he convulsed the court by observing that he should not have objected to be married to some one like her, instead of a little baby like Eustacie.

Amid all the mirth, it was not only the Chevalier and the Queen who bore displeased looks. In truth, both were too great adepts in court life to let their dissatisfaction appear. The gloomiest face was that of him whose triumph it was—the bridegroom's father, the Baron de Ribaumont. He had suffered severely from the sickness that prevailed in St. Quentin, when in the last August the Admiral de Coligny had been besieged there by the Spaniards, and all agreed that he had never been the same man since, either in health or in demeanour. When he came back from his captivity and found the King bent on crowning his return by the marriage of the children, he had hung back, spoken of scruples about such unconscious vows, and had finally only consented under stress of the personal friendship of the King, and on condition that he and his wife should at once have the sole custody of the little bride. Even then he moved about the gay scene with so distressed and morose an air that he was evidently either under the influence of a scruple of conscience or of a foreboding of evil.

No one doubted that it had been the latter, when, three days later, Henri II., in the prime of his strength and height of his spirits, encountered young Des Lorges in the lists, received the splinter of a lance in his eye, and died two days afterwards.

No sooner were his obsequies over than the Baron de Ribaumont set off with his wife and the little bridal pair for his castle of Leurre, in Normandy, nor was he ever seen at court again.


Parted without the least regret, Except that they had ever met. * * * * Misses, the tale that I relate, This lesson seems to carry: Choose not alone a proper mate, But proper time to marry! COWPER, PAIRING TIME ANTICIPATED

'I will have it!'

'Thou shalt not have it!'

'Diane says it is mine.'

'Diane knows nothing about it.'

'Gentlemen always yield to ladies.'

'Wives ought to mind their husbands.'

'Then I will not be thy wife.'

'Thou canst not help it.'

'I will. I will tell my father what M. le Baron reads and sings, and then I know he will.'

'And welcome.'

Eustacie put out her lip, and began to cry.

The 'husband and wife,' now eight and seven years old, were in a large room hung with tapestry, representing the history of Tobit. A great state bed, curtained with piled velvet, stood on a sort of dais at the further end; there was a toilet-table adorned with curiously shaped boxes, and coloured Venetian glasses, and filagree pouncet-boxes, and with a small mirror whose frame was inlaid with gold and ivory. A large coffer, likewise inlaid, stood against the wall, and near it a cabinet, of Dutch workmanship, a combination of ebony, ivory, wood, and looking-glass, the centre retreating, and so arranged that by the help of most ingenious attention to perspective and reflection, it appeared like the entrance to a magnificent miniature cinque-cento palace, with steps up to a vestibule paved in black and white lozenges, and with three endless corridors diverging from it. So much for show; for use, this palace was a bewildering complication of secret drawers and pigeon-holes, all depending indeed upon one tiny gold key; but unless the use of that key were well understood, all it led to was certain outer receptacles of fragrant Spanish gloves, knots of ribbon, and kerchiefs strewn over with rose leaves and lavender. However, Eustacie had secured the key, and was now far beyond these mere superficial matters. Her youthful lord had just discovered her mounted on a chair, her small person decked out with a profusion of necklaces, jewels, bracelets, chains, and rings; and her fingers, as well as they could under their stiffening load, were opening the very penetralia of the cabinet, the inner chamber of the hall, where lay a case adorned with the Ribaumont arms and containing the far-famed chaplet of pearls. It was almost beyond her reach, but she had risen on tip-toe, and was stretching out her hand for it, when he, springing behind her on the chair, availed himself of his superior height and strength to shut the door of this Arcanum and turn the key. His mortifying permission to his wife to absent herself arose from pure love of teasing, but the next moment he added, still holding his hand on the key—'As to telling what my father reads, that would be treason. How shouldst thou know what it is?'

'Does thou think every one is an infant but thyself?'

'But who told thee that to talk of my father's books would get him into trouble?' continued the boy, as they still stood together on the high heavy wooden chair.

She tossed her pretty head, and pretended to pout.

'Was it Diane? I will know. Didst thou tell Diane?'

Instead of answering, now that his attention to the key was relaxed, Eustacie made a sudden dart, like a little wild cat, at the back of the chair and at the key. They chair over-balanced; Beranger caught at the front drawer of the cabinet, which, unlocked by Eustacie, came out in his hand, and chair, children, drawer, and curiosities all went rolling over together on the floor with a hubbub that brought all the household together, exclaiming and scolding. Madame de Ribaumont's displeasure at the rifling of her hoards knew no bounds; Eustacie, by way of defence, shrieked 'like twenty demons;' Beranger, too honourable to accuse her, underwent the same tempest; and at last both were soundly rapped over the knuckles with the long handle of Madame's fan, and consigned to two separate closets, to be dealt with on the return of M. le Baron, while Madame returned to her embroidery, lamenting the absence of that dear little Diane, whose late visit at the chateau had been marked by such unusual tranquility between the children.

Beranger, in his dark closet, comforted himself with the shrewd suspicion that his father was so employed as not to be expected at home till supper-time, and that his mother's wrath was by no means likely to be so enduring as to lead her to make complaints of the prisoners; and when he heard a trampling of horses in the court, he anticipated a speedy release and summons to show himself to the visitors. He waited long, however, before he heard the pattering of little feet; then a stool scraped along the floor, the button of his door was undone, the stool pushed back, and as he emerged, Eustacie stood before him with her finger to her lip. 'CHUT, Beranger! It is my father and uncle, and Narcisse, and, oh! so many gens d'armes. They are come to summon M. le Baron to go with them to disperse the preche by the Bac de l'Oie. And oh, Beranger, is he not there?'

'I do not know. He went out with his hawk, and I do not think he could have gone anywhere else. Did they say so to my mother?'

'Yes; but she never knows. And oh, Beranger, Narcisse told me—ah, was it to tease me?—that Diane has told them all they wanted to know, for that they sent her here on purpose to see if we were not all Huguenots.

'Very likely, the little viper! Le me pass, Eustacie. I must go and tell my father.'

'Thou canst not get out that way; the court is full of men-at-arms. Hark, there's Narcisse calling me. He will come after me.'

There was not a moment to lose. Berenger flew along a corridor, and down a narrow winding stair, and across the kitchen; then snatching at the arm of a boy of his own age whom he met at the door, he gasped out, 'Come and help me catch Follet, Landry!' and still running across an orchard, he pulled down a couple of apples from the trees, and bounded into a paddock where a small rough Breton pony was feeding among the little tawny Norman cows. The animal knew his little master, and trotted towards him at his call of 'Follet, Follet. Now be a wise Follet, and play me no tricks. Thou and I, Follet, shall do good service, if thou wilt be steady.'

Follet made his advances, but with a coquettish eye and look, as if ready to start away at any moment.

'Soh, Follet. I have no bread for thee, only two apples; but, Follet, listen. There's my beau-pere the Count, and the Chevalier, all spite, and their whole troop of savage gens d'armes, come out to fall upon the poor Huguenots, who are doing no harm at all, only listening to a long dull sermon. And I am much afraid my father is there, for he went out his hawk on his wrist, and he never does take Ysonde for any real sport, as thou and I would do, Follet. He says it is all vanity of vanities. But thou know'st, if they caught him at the preche they would call it heresy and treason, and all sorts of horrors, and any way they would fall like demons on the poor Huguenots, Jacques and all—thine own Jacques, Follet. Come, be a loyal pony, Follet. Be at least as good as Eustacie.'

Follet was evidently attentive to this peroration, turning round his ear in a sensible attitude, and advancing his nose to the apples. As Beranger held them out to him, the other boy clutched his shaggy forelock so effectually that the start back did not shake him off, and the next moment Beranger was on his back.

'And I, Monsieur, what shall I do?'

'Thou, Landry? I know. Speed like a hare, lock the avenue gate, and hide the key. That will delay them a long time. Off now, Follet.'

Beranger and Follet understood one another far too well to care about such trifles as saddle and bridle, and off they went through green grassy balks dividing the fields, or across the stubble, till, about three miles from the castle, they came to a narrow valley, dipping so suddenly between the hills that it could hardly have been suspected by one unaware of its locality, and the sides were dotted with copsewood, which entirely hid the bottom. Beranger guided his pony to a winding path that led down the steep side of the valley, already hearing the cadence of a loud, chanting voice, throwing out its sounds over the assembly, whence arose assenting hums over an undercurrent of sobs, as though the excitable French assembly were strongly affected.

The thicket was so close that Beranger was almost among the congregation before he could see more than a passing glimpse of a sea of heads. Stout, ruddy, Norman peasants, and high white-capped women, mingled with a few soberly-clad townsfolk, almost all with the grave, steadfast cast of countenance imparted by unresisted persecution, stood gathered round the green mound that served as a natural pulpit for a Calvinist minister, who more the dress of a burgher, but entirely black. To Beranger's despair, he was in the act of inviting his hearers to join with him in singing one of Marot's psalms; and the boy, eager to lose not a moment, grasped the skirt of the outermost of the crowd. The man, an absorbed-looking stranger, merely said, 'Importune me not, child.'

'Listen!' said Beranger; 'it imports—-'

'Peace,' was the stern answer; but a Norman farmer looked round at that moment, and Beranger exclaimed, 'Stop the singing! The gens d'armes!' The psalm broke off; the whisper circulated; the words 'from Leurre' were next conveyed from lip to lip, and, as it were in a moment, the dense human mass had broken up and vanished, stealing through the numerous paths in the brushwood, or along the brook, as it descended through tall sedges and bulrushes. The valley was soon as lonely as it had been populous; the pulpit remained a mere mossy bank, more suggestive or fairy dances than of Calvinist sermons, and no one remained on the scene save Beranger with his pony, Jacques the groom, a stout farmer, the preacher, and a tall thin figure in the plainest dark cloth dress that could be worn by a gentleman, a hawk on his wrist.

'Thou here, my boy!' he exclaimed, as Beranger came to his side; and as the little fellow replied in a few brief words, he took him by the hand, and said to the minister, 'Good Master Isaac, let me present my young son to you, who under Heaven hath been the means of saving many lives this day.'

Maitre Isaac Gardon, a noted preacher, looked kindly at the boy's fair face, and said, 'Bless thee, young sir. As thou hast been already a chosen instrument to save life, so mayest thou be ever after a champion of the truth.'

'Monsieur le Baron,' interposed Jacques, 'it were best to look to yourself. I already hear sounds upon the wind.'

'And you, good sir?' said the Baron.

'I will see to him,' said the farmer, grasping him as a sort of property. 'M. le Baron had best keep up the beck. Out on the moor there he may fly the hawk, and that will best divert suspicion.'

'Farewell, then,' said the Baron, wringing the minister's hand, and adding, almost to himself, 'Alas! I am weary of these shifts!' and weary indeed he seemed, for as the ground became so steep that the beck danced noisily down its channel, he could not keep up the needful speed, but paused, gasping for breath, with his hand on his side. 'Beranger was off his pony in an instant, assuring Follet that it ought to be proud to be ridden by his father, and exhaling his own exultant feelings in caresses to the animal as it gallantly breasted the hill. The little boy had never been so commended before! He loved his father exceedingly; but the Baron, while ever just towards him, was grave and strict to a degree that the ideas even of the sixteenth century regarded as severe. Little Eustacie with her lovely face, her irrepressible saucy grace and audacious coaxing, was the only creature to whom he ever showed much indulgence and tenderness, and even that seemed almost against his will and conscience. His son was always under rule, often blamed, and scarcely ever praised; but it was a hardy vigorous nature, and respectful love throve under the system that would have crushed or alienated a different disposition. It was not till the party had emerged from the wood upon a stubble field, where a covey of partridges flew up, and to Beranger's rapturous delight furnished a victim for Ysonde, that M. de Ribaumont dismounted from the pony, and walking towards home, called his son to his side, and asked him how he had learnt the intentions of the Count and the Chevalier. Beranger explained how Eustacie had come to warn him, and also told what she had said of Diane de Ribaumont, who had lately, by her father's request, spent a few weeks at the chateau with her cousins.

'My son,' said the Baron, 'it is hard to ask of babes caution and secrecy; but I must know from thee what thy cousin may have heard of our doings?'

'I cannot tell, father,' replied Beranger; 'we played more than we talked. Yet, Monsieur, you will not be angry with Eustacie if I tell you what she said to me to-day?'

'Assuredly not, my son.'

'She said that her father would take her away if he knew what M. le Baron read, and what he sung.'

'Thou hast done well to tell me, my son. Thinkest thou that this comes from Diane, or from one of the servants?'

'Oh, from Diane, my father; none of the servants would dare to say such a thing.'

'It is as I suspected then,' said the Baron. 'That child was sent amongst us as a spy.' Tell me, Beranger, had she any knowledge of our intended journey to England?'

'To England! But no, father, I did not even know it was intended. To England—to that Walwyn which my mother takes such pains to make us speak rightly. Are we then, going?'

'Listen, my son. Thou hast to-day proved thyself worthy of trust, and thou shalt hear. My son, ere yet I knew the truth I was a reckless disobedient youth, and I bore thy mother from her parents in England without their consent. Since, by Heaven's grace, I have come to a better mind, we have asked and obtained their forgiveness, and it has long been their desire to see again their daughter and her son. Moreover, since the accession of the present Queen, it has been a land where the light is free to shine forth; and though I verily believe what Maitre Gardon says, that persecution is a blessed means of grace, yet it is grievous to expose one's dearest thereto when they are in no state to count the cost. Therefore would I thither convey you all, and there amid thy mother's family would we openly abjure the errors in which we have been nurture. I have already sent to Paris to obtain from the Queen-mother the necessary permission to take my family to visit thy grand-father, and it must now be our endeavour to start immediately on the receipt of the reply, before the Chevalier's information can lead to any hindrance or detention of Eustacie.'

'Then Eustacie will go with us, Monsieur?'

'Certainly. Nothing is more important than that her faith should be the same as yours! But discretion, my son: not a word to the little one.'

'And Landry, father? I had rather Landry went than Eustacie. And Follet, dear father, pray take him.'

After M. de Ribaumont's grave confidence to his son and heir, he was a little scandalized at the comparative value that the boy's voice indicated for wife, foster-brother, and pony, and therefore received it in perfect silence, which silence continued until they reached the chateau, where the lady met them at the door with a burst of exclamations.

'Ah, there you are, safe, my dear Baron. I have been in despair. Here were the Count and his brother come to call on you to join them in dispersing a meeting of those poor Huguenots and they would not permit me to send out to call you in! I verily think they suspected that you were aware of it.'

M. de Ribaumont made no answer, but sat wearily down and asked for his little Eustacie.

'Little vixen!' exclaimed the Baroness, 'she is gone; her father took her away with him.' And as her husband looked extremely displeased, she added that Eustacie had been meddling with her jewel cabinet and had been put in penitence. Her first impulse on seeing her father had been to cling to him and poor out her complaints, whereupon he had declared that he should take her away with him at once, and had in effect caused her pony to be saddled, and he had ridden away with her to his old tower, leaving his brother, the Chevalier, to conduct the attack on the Huguenot conventicle.

'He had no power or right to remove her,' said the Baron. 'How could you let him do so in my absence? He had made over her wardship to me, and has no right to resume it!'

'Well, perhaps I might have insisted on his waiting till your return; but, you see, the children have never done anything but quarrel and fight, and always by Eustacie's fault; and if ever they are to endure each other, it must be by being separated now.'

'Madame,' said the Baron, gravely, 'you have done your utmost to ruin your son's chances of happiness.'

That same evening arrived the King's passport permitting the Baron de Ribaumont and his family to pay a visit to his wife's friends in England. The next morning the Baron was summoned to speak to one of his farmers, a Huguenot, who had come to inform him that, through the network of intelligence kept up by the members of the persecuted faith, it had become known that the Chevalier de Ribaumont had set off for court that night, and there was little doubt that his interference would lead to an immediate revocation of the sanction to the journey, if to no severer measures. At best, the Baron knew that if his own absence were permitted, it would be only on condition of leaving his son in the custody of either the Queen-mother or the Count. It had become impossible to reclaim Eustacie. Her father would at once have pleaded that she was being bred up in Huguenot errors. All that could be done was to hasten the departure ere the royal mandate could arrive. A little Norman sailing vessel was moored two evenings after in a lonely creek on the coast, and into it stepped M. de Ribaumont, with his Bible, Marot's Psalter, and Calvin's works, Beranger still tenderly kissing a lock of Follet's mane, and Madame mourning for the pearls, which her husband deemed too sacred an heirloom to carry away to a foreign land. Poor little Eustacie, with her cousin Diane, was in the convent of Bellaise in Anjou. If any one lamented her absence, it was her father-in-law.


He counsels a divorce Shakespeare, KING HENRY VIII.

In the spring of the year 1572, a family council was assembled in Hurst Walwyn Hall. The scene was a wainscoted oriel chamber closed off by a screen from the great hall, and fitted on two sides by presses of books, surmounted the one by a terrestrial, the other by a celestial globe, the first 'with the addition of the Indies' in very eccentric geography, the second with enormous stars studding highly grotesque figures, regarded with great awe by most beholders.

A solid oaken table stood in the midst, laden with books and papers, and in a corner, near the open hearth, a carved desk, bearing on one slope the largest copy of the 'Bishops' Bible'; on the other, one of the Prayer-book. The ornaments of the oaken mantelpiece culminated in a shield bearing a cross boutonnee, i.e. with trefoil terminations. It was supported between a merman with a whelk shell and a mermaid with a comb, and another like Siren curled her tail on the top of the gaping baronial helmet above the shield, while two more upheld the main weight of the chimney-piece on either side of the glowing wood-fire.

In the seat of honour was an old gentleman, white-haired, and feeble of limb, but with noble features and a keen, acute eye. This was Sir William, Baron of Hurst Walwyn, a valiant knight at Guingate and Boulogne, a statesman of whom Wolsey had been jealous, and a ripe scholar who had shared the friendship of More and Erasmus. The lady who sat opposite to him was several years younger, still upright, brisk and active, though her hair was milk-white; but her eyes were of undimmed azure, and her complexion still retained a beauteous pink and white. She was highly educated, and had been the friend of Margaret Roper and her sisters, often sharing their walks in the bright Chelsea garden. Indeed, the musk-rose in her own favourite nook at Hurst Walwyn was cherished as the gift of Sir Thomas himself.

Near her sat sister, Cecily St. John, a professed nun at Romsey till her twenty-eight year, when, in the dispersion of convents, her sister's home had received her. There had she continued, never exposed to tests of opinion, but pursuing her quiet course according to her Benedictine rule, faithfully keeping her vows, and following the guidance of the chaplain, a college friend of Bishop Ridley, and rejoicing in the use of the vernacular prayers and Scriptures. When Queen Mary had sent for her to consider of the revival of convents, her views had been found to have so far diverged from those of the Queen that Lord Walwyn was thankful to have her safe at home again; and yet she fancied herself firm to old Romsey doctrine. She was not learned, like Lady Walwyn, but her knowledge in all needlework and confectionery was consummate, so that half the ladies in Dorset and Wilts longed to send their daughters to be educated at Hurst Walwyn. Her small figure and soft cheeks had the gentle contour of a dove's form, nor had she lost the conventual serenity of expression; indeed it was curious that, let Lady Walwyn array her as she would, whatever she wore bore a nunlike air. Her silken farthingales hung like serge robes, her ruffs looked like mufflers, her coifs like hoods, even necklaces seemed rosaries, and her scrupulous neatness enhanced the pure unearthly air of all belonging to her.

Eager and lively, fair and handsome, sat the Baronne de Ribaumont, or rather, since the higher title had been laid aside, Dame Annora Thistlewood. The health of M. de Ribaumont had been shattered at St. Quentin, and an inclement night of crossing the Channel had brought on an attack on the lungs, from which he only rallied enough to amaze his English friends at finding the gay dissipated young Frenchman they remembered, infinitely more strict and rigid than themselves. He was never able to leave the house again after his first arrival at Hurst Walwyn, and sank under the cold winds of the next spring, rejoicing to leave his wife and son, not indeed among such strict Puritans as he preferred, but at least where the pure faith could be openly avowed without danger.

Sir Marmaduke Thistlewood, the husband to whom Annora Walwyn had been destined before M. de Ribaumont had crossed her path, was about the same time left a widower with one son and daughter, and as soon as a suitable interval had passed, she became a far happier wife than she had been in either the Baron's gay or grave days. Her son had continued under the roof of his grandfather, to whose charge his father had specially committed him, and thus had been scarcely separated from his mother, since Combe Manor was not above three miles across the downs from Hurst Walwyn, and there was almost daily intercourse between the families. Lucy Thistlewood had been brought to Hurst Walwyn to be something between a maid of honour and a pupil to the ladies there, and her brother Philip, so soon as he was old enough, daily rode thither to share with Berenger the instructions of the chaplain, Mr. Adderley, who on the present occasion formed one of the conclave, sitting a little apart as not quite familiar, though highly esteemed.

With an elbow on the table, and one hand toying with his long riding-whip, sat, booted and spurred, the jovial figure of Sir Marmaduke, who called out, in his hearty voice, 'A good riddance of an outlandish Papist, say I! Read the letter, Berenger lad. No, no, no! English it! I know nothing of your mincing French! 'Tis the worst fault I know in you, boy, to be half a Frenchman, and have a French name'—a fault that good Sir Marmaduke did his best to remedy by always terming his step-son Berenger or Berry Ribmount, and we will so far follow his example as henceforth to give the youth the English form of his Christian name. He was by this time a tall lad of eighteen, with straight features, honest deep blue eyes, very fair hair cut short and brushed up to a crest upon the middle of his head, a complexion of red and white that all the air of the downs and the sea failed to embrown, and that peculiar openness and candour of expression which seems so much an English birthright, that the only trace of his French origin was, that he betrayed no unbecoming awkwardness in the somewhat embarrassing position in which he was placed, literally standing, according to the respectful discipline of the time, as the subject of discussion, before the circle of his elders. His colour was indeed, deepened, but his attitude was easy and graceful, and he used no stiff rigidity nor restless movements to mask his anxiety. At Sir Marmaduke's desire, he could not but redden a good deal more, but with a clear, unhesitating voice, he translated, the letter that he had received from the Chevalier de Ribaumont, who, by the Count's death, had become Eustacie's guardian. It was a request in the name of Eustacie and her deceased father, that Monsieur le Baron de Ribaumont—who, it was understood, had embraced the English heresy—would concur with his spouse in demanding from his Holiness the Pope a decree annulling the childish marriage, which could easily be declared void, both on account of the consanguinity of the parties and the discrepancy of their faith; and which would leave each of them free to marry again.

'Nothing can be better,' exclaimed his mother. 'How I have longed to free him from that little shrew, whose tricks were the plague of my life! Now there is nothing between him and a worthy match!'

'We can make an Englishman of him now to the backbone,' added Sir Marmaduke, 'and it is well that it should be the lady herself who wants first to be off with it, so that none can say he has played her a scurvy trick.'

'What say you, Berenger?' said Lord Walwyn. 'Listen to me, fair nephew. You know that all my remnant of hope is fixed upon you, and that I have looked to setting you in the room of the son of my own; and I think that under our good Queen you will find it easier to lead a quiet God-fearing life than in your father's vexed country, where the Reformed religion lies under persecution. Natheless, being a born liegeman of the King of France, and heir to estates in his kingdom, meseemeth that before you are come to years of discretion it were well that you should visit them, and become better able to judge for yourself how to deal in this matter when you shall have attained full age, and may be able to dispose of them by sale, thus freeing yourself from allegiance to a foreign prince. And at the same time you can take measures, in concert with this young lady, for loosing the wedlock so unhappily contracted.'

'O sir, sir!' cried Lady Thistlewood, 'send him not to France to be burnt by the Papists!'

'Peace, daughter,' returned her mother. 'Know you not that there is friendship between the court party and the Huguenots, and that the peace is to be sealed by the marriage of the King's sister with the King of Navarre? This is the most suitable time at which he could go.'

'Then, madam,' proceeded the lady, 'he will be running about to all the preachings on every bleak moor and wet morass he can find, catching his death with rheums, like his poor father.'

There was a general smile, and Sir Marmaduke laughed outright.

'Nay, dame,' he said, 'have you marked such a greed of sermons in our Berry that you should fear his so untowardly running after them?'

'Tilly-vally, Sir Duke,' quoth Dame Annora, with a flirt of her fan, learnt at the French court. 'Men will run after a preacher in a marshy bog out of pure forwardness, when they will nod at a godly homily on a well-stuffed bench between four walls.'

'I shall commit that matter to Mr. Adderley, who is good enough to accompany him,' said Lord Walwyn, 'and by whose counsel I trust that he will steer the middle course between the pope and Calvin.'

Mr. Adderley bowed in answer, saying he hoped that he should be enable to keep his pupil's mind clear between the allurements of Popery and the errors of the Reformed; but meanwhile Lady Thistlewood's mind had taken a leap, and she exclaimed,—

'And, son, whatever you do, bring home the chaplet of pearls! I know they have set their minds upon it. They wanted me to deck Eustacie with it on that unlucky bridal-day, but I would not hear of trusting her with it, and now will it rarely become our Lucy on your real wedding-day.'

'You travel swiftly, daughter,' said Lord Walwyn. 'Nor have we yet heard the thoughts of one who ever thinks wisely. Sister,' he added, turning to Cecily St. John, 'hold not you with us in this matter?'

'I scarce comprehend it, my Lord,' was the gentle reply. 'I knew not that it was possible to dissolve the tie of wedlock.'

'The Pope's decree will suffice,' said Lord Walwyn.

'Yet, sir,' still said the ex-nun, 'methought you had shown me that the Holly Father exceeded his power in the annulling of vows.'

'Using mine own lessons against me, sweet sister?' said Lord Walwyn, smiling; 'yet, remember, the contract was rashly made between two ignorant babes; and, bred up as they have severally been, it were surely best for them to be set free from vows made without their true will or knowledge.'

'And yet,' said Cecily, perplexed, 'when I saw my niece here wedded to Sir Marmaduke, was it not with the words, 'What God hath joined let no man put asunder'?'

'Good lack! aunt,' cried Lady Thistlewood, 'you would not have that poor lad wedded to a pert, saucy, ill-tempered little moppet, bred up that den of iniquity, Queen Catherine's court, where my poor Baron never trusted me after he fell in with the religion, and had heard of King Antony's calling me the Swan of England.'

At that moment there was a loud shriek, half-laugh, half-fright, coming through the window, and Lady Thistlewood, starting up, exclaimed, 'The child will be drowned! Box their ears, Berenger, and bring them in directly.'

Berenger, at her bidding, hurried out of the room into the hall, and thence down a flight of steps leading into a square walled garden, with a couple of stone male and female marine divinities accommodating their fishy extremities as best they might on the corners of the wall. The square contained a bowling-green of exquisitely-kept turf, that looked as if cut out of green velvet, and was edged on its four sides by a raised broad-paved walk, with a trimming of flower-beds, where the earliest blossoms were showing themselves. In the centre of each side another paved path intersected the green lawn, and the meeting of these two diameters was at a circular stone basin, presided over by another merman, blowing a conch on the top of a pile of rocks. On the gravelled margin stood two distressed little damsels of seven and six years old, remonstrating with all their might against the proceedings of a roguish-looking boy of fourteen of fifteen, who had perched their junior—a fat, fair, kitten-like element of mischief, aged about five—en croupe on the merman, and was about, according to her delighted request, to make her a bower of water, by extracting the plug and setting the fountain to play; but as the fountain had been still all the winter, the plug was hard of extraction, especially to a young gentleman who stood insecurely, with his feet wide apart upon pointed and slippery point of rock-work; and Berenger had time to hurry up, exclaiming, 'Giddy pate! Dolly would Berenger drenched to the skin.'

'And she has on her best blue, made out of mother's French farthingale,' cried the discreet Annora.

'Do you know, Dolly, I've orders to box your ears, and send you in?' added Berenger, as he lifted his half-sister from her perilous position, speaking, as he did so, without a shade of foreign accent, though with much more rapid utterance than was usual in England. She clung to him without much alarm, and retaliated by an endeavour to box his ears, while Philip, slowly making his way back to the mainland, exclaimed, 'Ah there's no chance now! Here comes demure Mistress Lucy, and she is the worst mar-sport of all.'

A gentle girl of seventeen was drawing near, her fair delicately-tinted complexion suiting well with her pale golden hair. It was a sweet face, and was well set off by the sky-blue of the farthingale, which, with her white lace coif and white ruff, gave her something the air of a speedwell flower, more especially as her expression seemed to have caught much of Cecily's air of self-restrained contentment. She held a basketful of the orange pistils of crocuses, and at once seeing that some riot had taken place, she said to the eldest little girl, 'Ah, Nan, you had been safer gathering saffron with me.'

'Nay, brother Berry came and made all well,' said Annora; 'and he had been shut up so long in the library that he must have been very glad to get out.'

'And what came of it?' cried Philip. 'Are you to go and get yourself unmarried?'

'Unmarried!' burst out the sisters Annora and Elizabeth.

'What, laughed Philip, 'you knew not that this is an ancient husband, married years before your father and mother?'

'But, why? said Elizabeth, rather inclined to cry. 'What has poor Lucy done that you should get yourself unmarried from her?'

There was a laugh from both brothers; but Berenger, seeing Lucy's blushes, restrained himself, and said. 'Mine was not such good luck, Bess, but they gave me a little French wife, younger than Dolly, and saucier still; and as she seems to wish to be quit of me, why, I shall be rid of her.'

'See there, Dolly,' said Philip, in a warning voice, 'that is the way you'll be served if you do not mend your ways.'

'But I thought,' said Annora gravely, 'that people were married once for all, and it could not be undone.'

'So said Aunt Cecily, but my Lord was proving to her out of all law that a contract between such a couple of babes went for nought,' said Berenger.

'And shall you, indeed, see Paris, and all the braveries there?' asked Philip. 'I thought my Lord would never have trusted you out of his sight.'

'And now it is to be only with Mr. Adderley,' said Berenger; 'but there will be rare doings to be seen at this royal wedding, and maybe I shall break a lance there in your honour, Lucy.'

'And you'll bring me a French fan?' cried Bess.

'And me a pouncet-box?' added Annora.

'And me a French puppet dressed Paris fashion?' said Dolly.

'And what shall he bring Lucy?' added Bess.

'I know,' said Annora; 'the pearls that mother is always talking about! I heard her say that Lucy should wear them on her wedding-day.'

'Hush!' interposed Lucy, 'don't you see my father yonder on the step, beckoning to you?'

The children flew towards Sir Marmaduke, leaving Berenger and Lucy together.

'Not a word to wish me good speed, Lucy, now I have my wish?' said Berenger.

'Oh, yes,' said Lucy, 'I am glad you should see all those brave French gentlemen of whom you used to tell me.'

'Yes, they will be all at court, and the good Admiral is said to be in high favour. He will surely remember my father.'

'And shall you see the lady?' asked Lucy, under her breath.

'Eustacie? Probably; but that will make no change. I have heard too much of l'escadron de la Reine-mere to endure the thought of a wife from thence, were she the Queen of Beauty herself. And my mother says that Eustacie would lose all her beauty as she grew up—like black-eyed Sue on the down; nor did I ever think her brown skin and fierce black eyes to compare with you, Lucy. I could be well content never to see her more; but,' and here he lowered his voice to a tone of confidence, 'my father, when near his death, called me, and told me that he feared my marriage would be a cause of trouble and temptation to me, and that I must deal with it after my conscience when I was able to judge in the matter. Something, too, he said of the treaty of marriage being a burthen on his soul, but I know not what he meant. If ever I saw Eustacie again, I was to give her his own copy of Clement Marot's Psalter, and to tell her that he had ever loved and prayed for her as a daughter; and moreover, my father added,' said Berenger, much moved at the remembrance it brought across him, 'that if this matter proved a burthen and perplexity to me, I was to pardon him as one who repented of it as a thing done ere he had learnt to weigh the whole world against a soul.'

'Yes, you must see her,' said Lucy.

'Well, what more were you going to say, Lucy?'

'I was only thinking,' said Lucy, as she raised her eyes to him, 'how sorry she will be that she let them write that letter.'

Berenger laughed, pleased with the simplicity of Lucy's admiration, but with modesty and common sense enough to answer, 'No fear of that, Lucy, for an heiress, with all the court gallants of France at her feet.'

'Ah, but you!'

'I am all very well here, when you have never seen anybody but lubberly Dorset squires that never went to London, nor Oxford, nor beyond their own furrows,' said Berenger; 'but depend upon it, she has been bred up to care for all the airs and graces that are all the fashion at Paris now, and will be as glad to be rid of an honest man and a Protestant as I shall to be quit of a court puppet and a Papist. Shall you have finished my point-cuffs next week, Lucy? Depend upon it, no gentleman of them all will wear such dainty lace of such a fancy as those will be.'

And Lucy smiled, well pleased.

Coming from the companionship of Eustacie to that of gentle Lucy had been to Berenger a change from perpetual warfareto perfect supremacy, and his preference to his little sister, as he had been taught to call her from the first, had been loudly expressed. Brother and sister they had ever since considered themselves, and only within the last few months had possibilities been discussed among the elders of the family, which oozing out in some mysterious manner, had become felt rather than known among the young people, yet without altering the habitual terms that existed between them. Both were so young that love was the merest, vaguest dream to them; and Lucy, in her quiet faith that Berenger was the most beautiful, excellent, and accomplished cavalier the earth could afford, was little troubled about her own future share in him. She seemed to be promoted to belong to him just as she had grown up to curl her hair and wear ruffs and farthingales. And to Berenger Lucy was a very pleasant feature in that English home, where he had been far happier than in the uncertainties of Chateau Leurre, between his naughty playfellow, his capricious mother, and morose father. If in England his lot was to be cast, Lucy was acquiesced in willingly as a portion of that lot.


A youth came riding towards a palace gate, And from the palace came a child of sin And took him by the curls and led him in! Where sat a company with heated eyes. Tennyson, A VISION OF SIN

It was in the month of June that Berenger de Ribaumont first came in sight of Paris. His grandfather had himself begun by taking him to London and presenting him to Queen Elizabeth, from whom the lad's good mien procured him a most favourable reception. She willingly promised that on which Lord Walwyn's heart was set, namely, that his title and rank should be continued to his grandson; and an ample store of letter of recommendation to Sir Francis Walsingham, the Ambassador, and all others who could be of service in the French court, were to do their utmost to provide him with a favourable reception there.

Then, with Mr. Adderley and four or five servants, he had crossed the Channel, and had gone first to Chateau Leurre, where he was rapturously welcomed by the old steward Osbert. The old man had trained up his son Landry, Berenger's foster-brother, to become his valet, and had him taught all the arts of hair-dressing and surgery that were part of the profession of a gentleman's body-servant; and the youth, a smart, acuter young Norman, became a valuable addition to the suite, the guidance of which, through a foreign country, their young master did not find very easy. Mr. Adderley thought he knew French very well, through books, but the language he spoke was not available, and he soon fell into a state of bewilderment rather hard on his pupil, who, though a very good boy, and crammed very full of learning, was still nothing more than a lad of eighteen in all matters of prudence and discretion.

Lord Walwyn was, as we have seen, one of those whose Church principles had altered very little and very gradually; and in the utter diversity of practice that prevailed in the early years of Queen Elizabeth, his chaplain as well as the rector of the parish had altered no more than was absolutely enjoined of the old ceremonial. If the poor Baron de Ribaumont had ever been well enough to go to church on a Sunday, he would perhaps have thought himself still in the realms of what he considered as darkness; but as he had never openly broken with the Gallic Church, Berenger had gone at once from mass at Leurre to the Combe Walwyn service. Therefore when he spent a Sunday at Rouen, and attended a Calvinist service in the building that the Huguenots were permitted outside the town, he was much disappointed in it; he thought its very fervour familiar and irreverent, and felt himself much more at home in the cathedral into which he strayed in the afternoon. And, on the Sunday he was at Leurre, he went, as a part of his old home-habits, to mass at the old round-arched church, where he and Eustacie had played each other so many teasing tricks at his mother's feet, and had received so many admonitory nips and strokes of her fan. All he saw there was not congenial to him, but he liked it vastly better than the Huguenot meeting, and was not prepared to understand or enter into Mr. Adderley's vexation, when the tutor assured him that the reverent gestures that came naturally to him were regarded by the Protestants as idolatry, and that he would be viewed as a recreants from his faith. All Mr. Adderley hoped was that no one would hear of it: and in this he felt himself disappointed, when, in the midst of his lecture, there walked into the room a little, withered, brown, dark-eyed man, in a gorgeous dress of green and gold, who doffing a hat with an umbrageous plume, precipitated himself, as far as he could reach, towards Berenger's neck, calling him fair cousin and dear baron. The lad stood taken by surprise for a moment, thinking that Tithonus must have looked just like this, and skipped like this, just as he became a grasshopper; then he recollected that this must be the Chevalier de Ribaumont, and tried to make up for his want of cordiality. The old man had, it appeared, come out of Picardy, where he lived on soupe maigre in a corner of the ancestral castle, while his son and daughter were at court, the one in Monsieur's suite, the other in that of the Queen-mother. He had come purely to meet his dear young cousin, and render him all the assistance is his power, conduct him to Paris, and give him introductions.

Berenger, who had begun to find six Englishmen a troublesome charge in France, was rather relieved at not being the only French scholar of the party, and the Chevalier also hinted to him that he spoke with a dreadful Norman accent that would never be tolerated at court, even if it were understood by the way. Moreover, the Chevalier studied him all over, and talked of Paris tailors and posture-masters, and, though the pink of politeness, made it evident that there was immensely too much of him. 'It might be the custom in England to be so tall; here no one was of anything like such a height, but the Duke of Guise. He, in his position, with his air, could carry it off, but we must adapt ourselves as best we can.'

And his shrug and look of concern made Berenger for a moment almost ashamed of that superfluous height of which they were all so proud at home. Then he recollected himself, and asked, 'And why should not I be tall as well as M. de Guise?'

'We shall see, fair cousin,' he answered, with an odd satirical bow; 'we are as Heaven made us. All lies in the management and if you had the advantages of training, PERHAPS you could even turn your height into a grace.'

'Am I such a great lubber?' wondered Berenger; 'they did not think so at home. No; nor did the Queen. She said I was a proper stripling! Well, it matters the less, as I shall not stay long to need their favour; and I'll show them there is some use in my inches in the tilt-yard. But if they think me such a lout, what would they say to honest Philip?'

The Chevalier seemed willing to take on him the whole management of his 'fair cousin.' He inquired into the amount of the rents and dues which old Osbert had collected and held ready to meet the young Baron's exigencies; and which would, it seemed, be all needed to make his dress any way presentable at court. The pearls, too, were inquired for, and handed over by Osbert to his young Lord's keeping, with the significant intimation that they had been demanded when the young Madame la Baronne went to court; but that he had buried them in the orchard, and made answer that they were not in the chateau. The contract of marriage, which Berenger could just remember signing, and seeing signed by his father, the King, and the Count, was not forthcoming; and the Chevalier explained that it was in the hands of a notary at Paris. For this Berenger was not sorry. His grandfather had desired him to master the contents, and he thought he had thus escaped a very dry and useless study.

He did not exactly dislike the old Chevalier de Ribaumont. The system on which he had been brought up had not been indulgent, so that compliments and admiration were an agreeable surprise to him; and rebuffs and rebukes from his elders had been so common, that hints, in the delicate dressing of the old knight, came on him almost like gracious civilities. There was no love lost between the Chevalier and the chaplain, that was plain; but how could there be between an ancient French courtier and a sober English divine? However, to Mr. Adderley's great relief, no attempts were made on Berenger's faith, his kinsman even was disposed to promote his attendance at such Calvinist places of worship as they passed on the road, and treated him in all things as a mere guest, to be patronized indeed, but as much an alien as if he had been born in England. And yet there was a certain deference to him as head of the family, and a friendliness of manner that made the boy feel him a real relation, and all through the journey it came naturally that he should be the entire manager, and Berenger the paymaster on a liberal scale.

Thus had the travellers reached the neighbourhood of Paris, when a jingling of chains and a trampling of horses announced the advance of riders, and several gentlemen with a troop of servants came in sight.

All were gaily dressed, with feathered hats, and short Spanish cloaks jauntily disposed over one shoulder; and their horses were trapped with bright silvered ornaments. As they advanced, the Chevalier exclaimed: 'Ah! It is my son! I knew he would come to meet me.' And, simultaneously, father and son leapt from their horses, and rushed into each other's arms. Berenger felt it only courteous to dismount and exchange embraces with his cousin, but with a certain sense of repulsion at the cloud of perfume that seemed to surround the younger Chevalier de Ribaumont; the ear-rings in his ears; the general air of delicate research about his riding-dress, and the elaborate attention paid to a small, dark, sallow face and figure, in which the only tolerable feature was an intensely black and piercing pair of eyes.

'Cousin, I am enchanted to welcome you.'

'Cousin, I thank you.'

'Allow me to present you.' And Berenger bowed low in succession several times in reply to salutations, as his cousin Narcisse named M. d'O, M. de la Valette, M. de Pibrac, M. l'Abbe de Mericour, who had done him the honour to accompany him in coming out to meet his father and M. le Baron. Then the two cousins remounted, something was said to the Chevalier of the devoirs of the demoiselles, and they rode on together bandying news and repartee so fast, that Berenger felt that his ears had become too much accustomed to the more deliberate English speech to enter at once into what caused so much excitement, gesture, and wit. The royal marriage seemed doubtful—the Pope refused his sanction; nay, but means would be found—the King would not be impeded by the Pope; Spanish influence—nay, the King had thrown himself at the head of the Reformed—he was bewitched with the grim old Coligny—if order were not soon taken, the Louvre itself would become a temple.

Then one of the party turned suddenly and said, 'But I forget, Monsieur is a Huguenot?'

'I am a Protestant of the English Church,' said Berenger, rather stiffly, in the formula of his day.

'Well, you have come at the right moment, 'Tis all for the sermon now. If the little Abbe there wished to sail with a fair wind, he should throw away his breviary and study his Calvin.'

Berenger's attention was thus attracted to the Abbe de Mericour, a young man of about twenty, whose dress was darker than that of the rest, and his hat of a clerical cut, though in other respects he was equipped with the same point-device elegance.

'Calvin would never give him the rich abbey of Selicy,' said another; 'the breviary is the safer speculation.'

'Ah! M. de Ribaumont can tell you that abbeys are no such securities in these days. Let yonder Admiral get the upper hand, and we shall see Mericour, the happy cadet of eight brothers and sisters, turned adrift from their convents. What a fatherly spectacle M. le Marquis will present!'

Here the Chevalier beckoned to Berenger, who, riding forward, learnt that Narcisse had engaged lodgings for him and his suite at one of the great inns, and Berenger returned his thanks, and a proposal to the Chevalier to become his guest. They were by this time entering the city, where the extreme narrowness and dirt of the streets contrasted with the grandeur of the palatial courts that could be partly seen through their archways. At the hostel they rode under such an arch, and found themselves in a paved yard that would have been grand had it been clean. Privacy had scarcely been invented, and the party were not at all surprised to find that the apartment prepared for them was to serve both day and night for Berenger, the Chevalier, and Mr. Adderley, besides having a truckle-bed on the floor for Osbert. Meals were taken in public, and it was now one o'clock—just dinner-time; so after a hasty toilette the three gentlemen descended, the rest of the party having ridden off to their quarters, either as attendants of Monsieur or to their families. It was a sumptuous meal, at which a great number of gentlemen were present, coming in from rooms hired over shops, &c—all, as it seemed, assembled at Paris for the marriage festivities; but Berenger began to gather that they were for the most part adherents of the Guise party, and far from friendly to the Huguenot interest. Some of them appeared hardly to tolerate Mr. Adderley's presence at the table; and Berenger, though his kinsman's patronage secured civil treatment, felt much out of his element, confused, unable to take part in the conversation, and sure that he was where those at home did not wish to see him.

No sooner was the dinner over than he rose and expressed his intention of delivering his letters of introduction in person to the English ambassador and to the Admiral de Coligny, whom, as his father's old friend and the hero of his boyhood, he was most anxious to see. The Chevalier demurred to this. Were it not better to take measures at once for making himself presentable, and Narcisse had already supplied him with directions to the fashionable hair-cutter, &c. It would be taken amiss if he went to the Admiral before going to present himself to the King.

'And I cannot see my cousins till I go to court?' asked Berenger.

'Most emphatically No. Have I not told you that the one is in the suite of the young Queen, the other in that of the Queen-mother? I will myself present you, if only you will give me the honour of your guidance.'

'With all thanks, Monsieur,' said Berenger; 'my grandfather's desire was that I should lose no time in going to his friend Sir Francis Walsingham, and I had best submit myself to his judgment as to my appearance at court.'

On this point Berenger was resolute, though the Chevalier recurred to the danger of any proceeding that might be unacceptable at court. Berenger, harassed and impatient, repeated that he did not care about the court, and wished merely to fulfil his purpose and return, at which his kinsman shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, and muttered to himself, 'Ah, what does he know! He will regret it when too late; but I have done my best.'

Berenger paid little attention to this, but calling Landry Osbert, and a couple of his men, he bade them take their swords and bucklers, and escort him in his walk through Paris. He set off with a sense of escape, but before he had made many steps, he was obliged to turn and warn Humfrey and Jack that they were not to walk swaggering along the streets, with hand on sword, as if every Frenchman they saw was the natural foe of their master.

Very tall were the houses, very close and extremely filthy the streets, very miserable the beggars; and yet here and there was to be seen the open front of a most brilliant shop, and the thoroughfares were crowded with richly-dressed gallants. Even the wider streets gave little space for the career of the gay horsemen who rode along them, still less for the great, cumbrous, though gaily-decked coaches, in which ladies appeared glittering with jewels and fan in hand, with tiny white dogs on their knees.

The persons of whom Berenger inquired the way all uncapped most respectfully, and replied with much courtesy; but when the hotel of the English ambassador had been pointed out to him, he hardly believed it, so foul and squalid was the street, where a large nail-studded door occupied a wide archway. Here was a heavy iron knocker, to which Osbert applied himself. A little door was at once opened by a large, powerful John Bull of a porter, whose looks expanded into friendly welcome when he heard the English tongue of the visitor. Inside, the scene was very unlike that without. The hotel was built round a paved court, adorned with statues and stone vases, with yews and cypresses in them, and a grand flight of steps led up to the grand centre of the house, around which were collected a number of attendants, wearing the Walsingham colours. Among these Berenger left his two Englishmen, well content to have fallen into an English colony. Landry followed him to announce the visitor, Berenger waiting to know whether the Ambassador would be at liberty to see him.

Almost immediately the door was re-opened, and a keen-looking gentleman, about six-and-thirty years of age, rather short in stature, but nevertheless very dignified-looking, came forward with out-stretched hands—'Greet you well, my Lord de Ribaumont. We expected your coming. Welcome, mine honoured friend's grandson.'

And as Berenger bent low in reverent greeting, Sir Francis took his hand and kissed his brow, saying, 'Come in, my young friend; we are but sitting over our wine and comfits after dinner. Have you dined?'

Berenger explained that he had dined at the inn, where he had taken lodgings.

'Nay, but that must not be. My Lord Walwyn's grandson here, and not my guest! You do me wrong, sir, in not having ridden hither at once.'

'Truly, my Lord, I ventured not. They sent me forth with quite a company—my tutor and six grooms.'

'Our chaplain will gladly welcome his reverend brother,' said Sir Francis; and as to the grooms, one of my fellows shall go and bring them and their horses up. What!' rather gravely, as Berenger still hesitated. 'I have letters for you here, which methinks will make your grandfather's wish clear to you.'

Berenger saw the Ambassador was displeased with his reluctance, and answered quickly, 'In sooth, my Lord, I would esteem myself only too happy to be thus honoured, but in sooth——' he repeated himself, and faltered.

'In sooth, you expected more freedom than in my grave house,' said Walsingham, displeased.

'Not so, my Lord: it would be all that I could desire; but I have done hastily. A kinsman of mine has come up to Paris with me, and I have made him my guest. I know not how to break with him—the Chevalier de Ribaumont.'

'What, the young ruffler in Monsieur's suite?'

'No, my Lord; his father. He comes on my business. He is an old man, and can ill bear the cost, and I could scarce throw him over.'

Berenger spoke with such earnest, bright, open simplicity, and look so boyish and confiding, that Sir Francis's heart was won, and he smiled as he said, 'Right, lad, you are a considerate youth. It were not well to cast off your kinsman; but when you have read your letters, you may well plead your grandfather's desires, to say nothing of a hint from her Grace to have an eye to you. And for the rest, you can acquit yourself gracefully to the gentleman, by asking him to occupy the lodging that you had taken.'

Berenger's face brightened up in a manner that spoke for his sincerity; and Sir Francis added, 'And where be these lodgings?'

'At the Croix de Lorraine.'

'Ha! Your kinsman has taken you into a nest of Guisards. But come, let me present you to my wife and my other guests, then will I give you your letters, and you shall return and make your excuses to Monsieur le Chevalier.'

Berenger seemed to himself to be on familiar ground again as his host thus assumed the direction of him and ushered him into a large dining-hall, where the table had been forsaken in favour of a lesser table placed in the ample window, round which sat assembled some six or eight persons, with fruit, wine, and conserves before them, a few little dogs at their feet or on their laps, and a lute lying on the knee of one of the young gentlemen. Sir Francis presented the young Lord de Ribaumont, their expected guest, to Lady Walsingham, from whom he received a cordial welcome, and her two little daughter, Frances and Elizabeth, and likewise to the gentleman with the lute, a youth about a year older than Berenger, and of very striking and prepossessing countenance, who was named as Mr. Sidney, the son of the Lord Deputy of Ireland. A couple of gentlemen who would in these times have been termed attaches, a couple of lady attendants upon Lady Walsingham, and the chaplain made up the party, which on this day chanced only to include, besides the household, the young traveller, Sidney. Berenger was at once seated, and accepted a welcoming-cup of wine (i.e. a long slender glass with a beautifully twisted stem), responded to friendly inquiries about his relatives at home, and acknowledged the healths that were drunk in honour of their names; after which Lady Walsingham begged that Mr. Sidney would sing the madrigal he had before promised: afterwards a glee was sung by Sidney, one of the gentlemen, and Lady Walsingham; and it was discovered that Mr. de Ribaumont had a trained ear, and the very voice that was wanting to the Italian song they were practising. And so sped a happy hour, till a booted and spurred messenger came in with letters for his Excellency, who being thus roused from his dreamy enjoyment of the music, carried young Ribaumont off with him to his cabinet, and there made over to him a packet, with good news from home, and orders that made it clear that he could do no other than accept the hospitality of the Embassy. Thus armed with authority, he returned to the Croix de Lorraine, where Mr. Adderley could not contain his joy at the change to quarters not only so much more congenial, buts so much safer; and the Chevalier, after some polite demur, consented to remain in possession of the rooms, being in fact well satisfied with the arrangement.

'Let him steep himself up to the lips among the English,' said Tithonus to his son. 'Thus will he peaceably relinquish to you all that should have been yours from the first, and at court will only be looked on as an overgrown English page.'

The change to the Ambassador's made Berenger happy at once. He was not French enough in breeding, or even constitution, to feel the society of the Croix de Lorraine congenial; and, kind as the Chevalier showed himself, it was with a wonderful sense of relief that Berenger shook himself free from both his fawning and his patronizing. There was a constant sense of not understanding the old gentleman's aims, whereas in Walsingham's house all was as clear, easy, and open as at home.

And though Berenger had been educated in the country, it had been in the same tone as that of his new friends. He was greatly approved by Sir Francis as a stripling of parts and modesty. Mr. Sidney made him a companion, and the young matron, Lady Walsingham, treated him as neither lout nor lubber. Yet he could not be at ease in his state between curiosity and repulsion towards the wife who was to be discarded by mutual consent. The sight of the scenes of his early childhood had stirred up warmer recollections of the pretty little playful torment, who through the vista of years assumed the air of a tricksy elf rather than the little vixen he used to think her. His curiosity had been further stimulated by the sight of his rival, Narcisse, whose effeminate ornaments, small stature, and seat on horseback filled Sir Marmaduke's pupil with inquisitive disdain as to the woman who could prefer anything so unmanly.

Sidney was to be presented at the after-dinner reception at the Louvre the next day, and Sir Francis proposed to take young Ribaumont with him. Berenger coloured, and spoke of his equipment, and Sidney good-naturedly offered to come and inspect. That young gentleman was one of the daintiest in apparel of his day; but he was amazed that the suit in which Berenger had paid his devoir to Queen Elizabeth should have been set aside—it was of pearl-grey velvet, slashed with rose-coloured satin, and in shape and fashion point-device—unless, as the Ambassador said good-humouredly, 'my young Lord Ribaumont wished to be one of Monsieur's clique.' Thus arrayed, then, and with the chaplet of pearls bound round the small cap, with a heron-plume that sat jauntily on one side of his fair curled head, Berenger took his seat beside the hazel-eyed, brown-haired Sidney, in his white satin and crimson, and with the Ambassador and his attendants were rolled off in the great state-coach drawn by eight horses, which had no sinecure in dragging the ponderous machine through the unsavoury debris of the streets.

Royalty fed in public. The sumptuous banqueting-room contained a barrier, partitioning off a space where Charles IX. sat alone at his table, as a State spectacle. He was a sallow, unhealthy-looking youth, with large prominent dark eyes and a melancholy dreaminess of expression, as if the whole ceremony, not to say the world itself, were distasteful. Now and then, as though endeavouring to cast off the mood, he would call to some gentleman and exchange a rough jest, generally fortified with a tremendous oath, that startled Berenger's innocent ears. He scarcely tasted what was put on his plate, but drank largely of sherbet, and seemed to be trying to linger through the space allotted for the ceremony.

Silence was observed, but not so absolute that Walsingham could not point out to his young companions the notabilities present. The lofty figure of Henri, Duke of Guise, towered high above all around him, and his grand features, proud lip, and stern eye claimed such natural superiority that Berenger for a moment felt a glow on his cheek as he remembered his challenge of his right to rival that splendid stature. And yet Guise was very little older than himself; but he walked, a prince of men, among a crowd of gentlemen, attendants on him rather than on the King. The elegant but indolent-looking Duke de Montmorency had a much more attractive air, and seemed to hold a kind of neutral ground between Guise on the one hand, and the Reformed, who mustered at the other end of the apartment. Almost by intuition, Berenger knew the fine calm features of the gray-haired Admiral de Coligny before he heard him so addressed by the King's loud, rough voice. When the King rose from table the presentations took place, but as Charles heard the name of the Baron de Ribaumont, he exclaimed, 'What, Monsieur, are you presented here by our good sister's representative?'

Walsingham answered for him, alluding to the negotiations for Queen Elizabeth's marriage with one of the French princes—'Sire, in the present happy conjuncture, it needs not be a less loyal Frenchman to have an inheritance in the lands of my royal mistress.'

'What say you, Monsieur?' sharply demanded the King: 'are you come here to renounce your country, religion—and love, as I have been told?'

'I hope, Sire, never to be unfaithful where I owe faith,' said Berenger, heated, startled, and driven to extremity.

'Not ill answered for the English giant,' said Charles aside to an attendant: then turning eagerly to Sidney, whose transcendent accomplishments had already become renowned, Charles welcomed him to court, and began to discuss Ronsard's last sonnet, showing no small taste and knowledge of poetry. Greatly attracted by Sidney, the King detained the whole English party by an invitation to Walsingham to hear music in the Queen-mother's apartments; and Berenger, following in the wake of his friends, found himself in a spacious hall, with a raised gallery at one end for the musicians, the walls decorated with the glorious paintings collected by Francois I., Greek and Roman statues clustered at the angles, and cabinets with gems and antiques disposed at intervals. Not that Berenger beheld much of this: he was absolutely dazzled with the brilliant assembly into which he was admitted. There moved the most beautiful women in France, in every lovely-coloured tint that dress could assume: their bosoms, arms, and hair sparkling with jewels; their gossamer ruffs surrounding their necks like fairy wings; their light laugh mingling with the music, as they sat, stood, or walked in graceful attitudes conversing with one another or with the cavaliers, whose brilliant velvet and jewels fifty mixed with their bright array. These were the sirens he had heard of, the 'squadron of the Queen-mother,' the dangerous beings against whom he was to steel himself. And which of them was the child he had played with, to whom his vows had been plighted? It was like some of the enchanting dreams of romance merely to look at these fair creatures; and he stood as if gazing into a magic-glass till Sir Francis Walsingham, looking round for him, said, 'Come, then, my young friend, you must do your devoirs to the Queens. Sidney, I see, is as usual in his element; the King has seized upon him.'

Catherine de Medicis was seated on a large velvet chair, conversing with the German ambassador. Never beautiful, she appeared to more advantage in her mature years than in her girlhood, and there was all the dignity of a lifetime of rule in demeanour and gestures, the bearing of her head, and motion of her exquisite hands. Her eyes were like her son's, prominent, and gave the sense of seeing all round at once, and her smile was to the highest degree engaging. She received the young Baron de Ribaumont far more graciously than Charles has done, held out her hand to be kissed, and observed 'that the young gentleman was like Madame sa mere whom she well remembered as much admired. Was it true that she was married in England?'

Berenger bowed assent.

'Ah! You English make good spouses,' she said, with a smile. 'Ever satisfied with home! But, your Excellency,' added she, turning to Walsingham, 'what stones would best please my good sister for the setting of the jewel my son would send her with his portrait? He is all for emeralds, for the hue of hope; but I call it the colour of jealousy.'

Walsingham made a sign that Berenger had better retreat from hearing the solemn coquetting carried on by the maiden Queen through her gravest ambassadors. He fell back, and remained watching the brilliant throng, trying in vain to discover the bright merry eyes and velvet cheek he remembered of old. Presently a kind salutation interrupted him, and a gentleman who perceived him to be a stranger began to try to set him at ease, pointed out to him the handsome, foppishly-dressed Duke of Anjou, and his ugly, spiteful little brother of Alengon, then designated as Queen Elizabeth's future husband, who was saying something to a lady that made her colour and bite her lips. 'Is that the younger Queen?' asked Berenger, as his eye fell on a sallow, dark-complexioned, sad-looking little creature in deep mourning, and with three or four such stately-looking, black-robed, Spanish-looking duennas round her as to prove her to be a person of high consequence.

'That? Oh no; that is Madame Catherine of Navarre, who has resided here ever since her mother's death, awaiting her brother, our royal bridegroom. See, here is the bride, Madame Marguerite, conversing with M. de Guise.'

Berenger paid but little heed to Marguerite's showy but already rather coarse beauty, and still asked where was the young Queen Elizabeth of Austria. She was unwell, and not in presence. 'Ah! then,' he said, 'her ladies will not be here.'

'That is not certain. Are you wishing to see any one of them?'

'I would like to see——' He could not help colouring till his cheeks rivaled the colour of his sword-knot. 'I want just to know if she is here. I know not if she be called Madame or Mademoiselle de Ribaumont.'

'The fair Ribaumont! Assuredly; see, she is looking at you. Shall I present you?'

A pair of exceedingly brilliant dark eyes were fixed on Berenger with a sort of haughty curiosity and half-recognition. The face was handsome and brilliant, but he felt indignant at not perceiving a particle of a blush at encountering him, indeed rather a look of amusement at the deep glow which his fair complexion rendered so apparent. He would fain have escaped from so public an interview, but her eye was upon him, and there was no avoiding the meeting. As he moved nearer he saw what a beautiful person she was, her rich primrose-coloured dress setting off her brunette complexion and her stately presence. She looked older than he had expected; but this was a hotbed where every one grew up early, and the expression and manner made him feel that an old intimacy was here renewed, and that they were no strangers.

'We need no introduction, cousin,' she said, giving a hand to be saluted. 'I knew you instantly. It is the old face of Chateau Leurre, only gone up so high and become so handsome.'

'Cousins,' thought he. 'Well, it makes things easier! but what audacity to be so much at her ease, when Lucy would have sunk into the earth with shame.' His bow had saved him the necessity of answering in words, and the lady continued:

'And Madame votre mere. Is she well? She was very good to me.'

Berenger did not think that kindness to Eustacie had been her chief perfection, but he answered that she was well and sent her commendations, which the young lady acknowledged by a magnificent curtsey. 'And as beautiful as ever?' she asked.

'Quite as beautiful,' he said, 'only somewhat more embonpoint.'

'Ah!' she said, smiling graciously, and raising her splendid eyes to his face, 'I understand better what that famous beauty was now, and the fairness that caused her to be called the Swan.'

It was so personal that the colour rushed again into his cheek. No one had ever so presumed to admire him; and with a degree gratified and surprised, and sensible more and more of the extreme beauty of the lady, there was a sort of alarm about him as if this were the very fascination he had been warned against, and as if she were casting a net about him, which, wife as she was, it would be impossible to him to break.

'Nay, Monsieur,' she laughed, 'is a word from one so near too much for your modesty? Is it possible that no one has yet told you of your good mien? Or do they not appreciate Greek noses and blue eyes in the land of fat Englishmen? How have you ever lived en province? Our princes are ready to hang themselves at the thought of being in such banishment, even at court—indeed, Monsieur has contrived to transfer the noose to M. d'Alengon. Have you been at court, cousin?'

'I have been presented to the Queen.'

She then proceeded to ask questions about the chief personages with a rapid intelligence that surprised him as well as alarmed him, for he felt more and more in the power of a very clever as well as beautiful woman, and the attraction she exercised made him long the more to escape; but she smiled and signed away several cavaliers who would have gained her attention. She spoke of Queen Mary of Scotland, then in the fifth years of her captivity, and asked if he did not feel bound to her service by having been once her partner. Did not he remember that dance?

'I have heard my mother speak of it far too often to forget it,' said Berenger, glowing again for her who could speak of that occasion without a blush.

'You wish to gloss over your first inconstancy, sir,' she said, archly; but he was spared from further reply by Philip Sidney's coming to tell him that the Ambassador was ready to return home. He took leave with an alacrity that redoubled his courtesy so much that he desired to be commended to his cousin Diane, whom he had not seen.

'To Diane?' said the lady, inquiringly.

'To Mademoiselle Diane de Ribaumont,' he corrected himself, ashamed of his English rusticity. 'I beg pardon if I spoke too familiarly of her.'

'She should be flattered by M. le Baron's slightest recollection,' said the lady, with an ironical tone that there was no time to analyze, and with a mutual gesture of courtesy he followed Sidney to where Sir Francis awaited them.

'Well, what think you of the French court?' asked Sidney, so soon as the young men were in private.

'I only know that you may bless your good fortune that you stand in no danger from a wife from thence.'

'Ha!' cried Sidney, laughing, 'you found your lawful owner. Why did you not present me?'

'I was ashamed of her bold visage.'

'What!—was she the beauteous demoiselle I found you gallanting,' said Philip Sidney, a good deal entertained, 'who was gazing at you with such visible admiration in her languishing black eyes?'

'The foul fiend seize their impudence!'

'Fie! for shame! thus to speak of your own wife,' said the mischievous Sidney, 'and the fairest——'

'Go to, Sidney. Were she fairer than Venus, with a kingdom to her dower, I would none of a woman without a blush.'

'What, in converse with her wedded husband,' said Sidney. 'Were not that over-shamefastness?'

'Nay, now, Sidney, in good sooth give me your opinion. Should she set her fancy on me, even in this hour, am I bound in honour to hold by this accursed wedlock—lock, as it may well be called?'

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse