MEMOIRS OF MARGARET DE RIBAUMONT
VISCOUNTESS OF BELLAISE
No one can be more aware than the author that the construction of this tale is defective. The state of French society, and the strange scenes of the Fronde, beguiled me into a tale which has become rather a family record than a novel.
Formerly the Muse of the historical romance was an independent and arbitrary personage, who could compress time, resuscitate the dead, give mighty deeds to imaginary heroes, exchange substitutes for popular martyrs on the scaffold, and make the most stubborn facts subservient to her purpose. Indeed, her most favoured son boldly asserted her right to bend time and place to her purpose, and to make the interest and effectiveness of her work the paramount object. But critics have lashed her out of these erratic ways, and she is now become the meek hand maid of Clio, creeping obediently in the track of the greater Muse, and never venturing on more than colouring and working up the grand outlines that her mistress has left undefined. Thus, in the present tale, though it would have been far more convenient not to have spread the story over such a length of time, and to have made the catastrophe depend upon the heroes and heroines, instead of keeping them mere ineffective spectators, or only engaged in imaginary adventures for which a precedent can be found, it has been necessary to stretch out their narrative, so as to be at least consistent with the real history, at the entire sacrifice of the plot. And it may be feared that thus the story may partake of the confusion that really reigned over the tangled thread of events. There is no portion of history better illustrated by memoirs of the actors therein than is the Fronde; but, perhaps, for that very reason none so confusing.
Perhaps it may be an assistance to the reader to lay out the bare historical outline like a map, showing to what incidents the memoirs of the Sisters of Ribaumont have to conform themselves.
When Henry IV. succeeded in obtaining the throne of France, he found the feudal nobility depressed by the long civil war, and his exchequer exhausted. He and his minister Sully returned to the policy of Louis XI., by which the nobles were to be kept down and prevented from threatening the royal power. This was seldom done by violence, but by giving them employment in the Army and Court, attaching them to the person of the King, and giving them offices with pensions attached to them.
The whole cost of these pensions and all the other expenses of Government fell on the townspeople and peasantry, since the clergy and the nobles to all generations were exempt from taxation. The trade and all the resources of the country were taking such a spring of recovery since the country had been at peace, and the persecution of the Huguenots had ceased, that at first the taxation provoked few murmurs. The resources of the Crown were further augmented by permitting almost all magistrates and persons who held public offices to secure the succession to their sons on the payment of a tariff called LA PAULETTE, from the magistrate who invented it.
In the next reign, however, an effort was made to secure greater equality of burthens. On the meeting of the States-General—the only popular assembly possessed by France—Louis XIII., however, after hearing the complaints, and promising to consider them, shut the doors against the deputies, made no further answer, and dismissed them to their houses without the slightest redress. The Assembly was never to meet again till the day of reckoning for all, a hundred and seventy years later.
Under the mighty hand of Cardinal Richelieu the nobles were still more effectually crushed, and the great course of foreign war begun, which lasted, with short intervals, for a century. The great man died, and so did his feeble master; and his policy, both at home and abroad, was inherited by his pupil Giulio Mazarini, while the regency for the child, Louis XIV., devolved on his mother, Anne of Austria—a pious and well-meaning, but proud and ignorant, Spanish Princess—who pinned her faith upon Mazarin with helpless and exclusive devotion, believing him the only pilot who could steer her vessel through troublous waters.
But what France had ill brooked from the high-handed son of her ancient nobility was intolerable from a low-born Italian, of graceful but insinuating manners. Moreover, the war increased the burthens of the country, and, in the minority of the King, a stand was made at last.
The last semblance of popular institutions existed in the Parliaments of this was the old feudal Council of the Counts of Paris, consisting of the temporal and spiritual peers of the original county, who had the right to advise with their chief, and to try the causes concerning themselves. The immediate vassals of the King had a right to sit there, and were called Paris De France, in distinction from the other nobles who only had seats in the Parliament in whose province their lands might lie. To these St. Louis, in his anxiety to repress lawlessness, had added a certain number of trained lawyers and magistrates; and these were the working members of these Parliaments, which were in general merely courts of justice for civil and criminal causes. The nobles only attended on occasions of unusual interest. Moreover, a law or edict of the King became valid on being registered by a Parliament. It was a moot question whether the Parliament had the power to baffle the King by refusing to register an edict, and Henry IV. had avoided a refusal from the Parliament of Paris, by getting his edict of toleration for the Huguenots registered at Nantes.
The peculiarly oppressive house-tax, with four more imposts proposed in 1648, gave the Parliament of Paris the opportunity of trying to make an effectual resistance by refusing the registration. They were backed by the municipal government of the city at the Hotel de Ville, and encouraged by the Coadjutor of the infirm old Archbishop of Paris, namely, his nephew, Paul de Gondi, titular Bishop of Corinth in partibus infidelium, a younger son of the Duke of Retz, an Italian family introduced by Catherince de Medici. There seemed to be a hope that the nobility, angered at their own systematic depression, and by Mazarin's ascendency, might make common cause with the Parliament and establish some effectual check to the advances of the Crown. This was the origin of the party called the Fronde, because the speakers launched their speeches at one another as boys fling stones from a sling (fronde) in the streets.
The Queen-Regent was enraged through all her despotic Spanish haughtiness at such resistance. She tried to step in by the arrest of the foremost members of the Opposition, but failed, and only provoked violent tumults. The young Prince of Conde, coming home from Germany flushed with victory, hated Mazarin extremely, but his pride as a Prince of the Blood, and his private animosities impelled him to take up the cause of the Queen. She conveyed her son secretly from Paris, and the city was in a state of siege for several months. However, the execution of Charles I. in England alarmed the Queen on the one hand, and the Parliament on the other as to the consequences of a rebellion, provisions began to run short, and a vague hollow peace was made in the March of 1649.
Conde now became intolerably overbearing, insulted every one, and so much offended the Queen and Mazarin that they caused him, his brother, and the Duke of Bouillon, to be arrested and imprisoned at Vincennes. His wife, though a cruelly-neglected woman whom he had never loved, did her utmost to deliver him, repaired to Bordeaux, and gained over the Parliament there, so that she held out four months against the Queen. Turenne, brother to Bouillon, and as great a general as Conde, obtained the aid of Spaniards, and the Coadjutor prevailed on the King's uncle, Gaston, Duke of Orleans, to represent that the Queen must give way, release the Princes, part with Mazarin, and even promise to convoke the States-General. Anne still, however, corresponded with the Cardinal, and was directed by him in everything. Distrust and dissension soon broke out, Conde and the Coadjutor quarrelled violently, and the royal promises made to both Princes and Parliament were eluded by the King, at fourteen, being declared to have attained his majority, and thus that all engagements made in his name became void.
Conde went of to Guienne and raised an army; Mazirin returned to the Queen; Paris shut its gates and declared Mazarin an outlaw. The Coadjutor (now become Cardinal de Retz) vainly tried to stir up the Duke of Orleans to take a manly part and mediate between the parties; but being much afraid of his own appanage, the city of Orleans, being occupied by either army, Gaston sent his daughter to take the charge of it, as she effectually did—but she was far from neutrality, being deluded by a hope that Conde would divorce his poor faithful wife to marry her. Turenne, on his brother's release, had made his peace with the Court, and commanded the royal army. War and havoc raged outside Paris; within the partisans of the Princes stirred the populace to endeavour to intimidate the Parliament and municipality into taking their part. Their chief leader throughout was the Duke of Beaufort, a younger son of the Duke of Vendome, the child of Gabrille d'Estrees. He inherited his grandmother's beauty and his grandfather's charm of manner; he was the darling of the populace of Paris, and led them, in an aimless sort of way, whether there was mischief to be done; and the violence and tumult of this latter Fronde was far worse than those of the first.
A terrible battle in the Faubourg St. Antoine broke Conde's force, and the remnant was only saved by Mademoiselle's insisting on their being allowed to pass through Paris. After one ungrateful attempt to terrify the magistrates into espousing his cause and standing a siege on his behalf, Conde quitted Paris, and soon after fell ill of a violent fever.
His party melted away. Mazarin saw that tranquillity might be restored if he quitted France for a time. The King proclaimed an amnesty, but with considerable exceptions and no relaxation of his power; and these terms the Parliament, weary of anarchy, and finding the nobles had cared merely for their personal hatreds, not for the public good, were forced to accept.
Conde, on his recovery, left France, and for a time fought against his country in the ranks of the Spaniards. Beaufort died bravely fighting against the Turks at Cyprus. Cardinal de Retz was imprisoned, and Mademoiselle had to retire from Court, while other less distinguished persons had to undergo the punishment for their resistance, though, to the credit of the Court party be it spoken, there were no executions, only imprisonments; and in after years the Fronde was treated as a brief frenzy, and forgotten.
Perhaps it may be well to explain that Mademoiselle was Anne Genevieve de Bourbon, daughter of Gaston, Duke of Orleans, by his first wife, the heiress of the old Bourbon branch of Montpensier. She was the greatest heiress in France, and an exceedingly vain and eccentric person, aged twenty-three at the beginning of the Fronde.
It only remains to say that I have no definite authority for introducing such a character as that of Clement Darpent, but it is well known that there was a strong under-current of upright, honest, and highly-cultivated men among the bourgeoisie and magistrates, and that it seemed to me quite possible that in the first Fronde, when the Parliament were endeavouring to make a stand for a just right, and hoping to obtain further hopes and schemes, and, acting on higher and purer principles than those around him, be universally misunderstood and suspected.
C. M. YONGE.
CHAPTER I. WHITEHALL BEFORE THE COBWEBS
CHAPTER II. A LITTLE MUTUAL AVERSION
CHAPTER III. CELADON AND CHLOE
CHAPTER IV. THE SALON BLEU
CHAPTER V. IN GARRISON
CHAPTER VI. VICTORY DEARLY BOUGHT
CHAPTER VII. WIDOW AND WIFE
CHAPTER VIII. MARGUERITE TO THE RESCUE
CHAPTER IX. THE FIREBAND OF THE BOCAGE
CHAPTER X. OLD THREADS TAKEN UP
CHAPTER XI. THE TWO QUEENS
CHAPTER XII. CAVALIERS IN EXILE
CHAPTER XIII. MADEMOISELLE'S TOILETTE
CHAPTER XIV. COURT APPOINTMENTS
CHAPTER XV. A STRANGE THANKGIVING DAY
CHAPTER XVI. THE BARRICADES
CHAPTER XVII. A PATIENT GRISEL
CHAPTER XVIII. TWELFTH NIGHT, OR WHAT YOU WILL
CHAPTER XIX. INSIDE PARIS (Annora's Narrative)
CHAPTER XX. CONDOLENCE (By Margaret)
CHAPTER XXI. ST. MARGARET AND THE DRAGON
CHAPTER XXII. ST. MARGARET AND THE DRAGON (By Annora)
CHAPTER XXIII. THE LION AND THE MOUSE
CHAPTER XXIV. FAMILY HONOUR
CHAPTER XXV. THE HAGUE
CHAPTER XXVI. HUNKERSLUST
CHAPTER XXVII. THE EXPEDIENT (Annora's Narrative)
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE BOEUF GRAS (Annora's Narrative)
CHAPTER XXIX. MADAME'S OPPORTUNITY (Annora's Narrative)
CHAPTER XXX. THE NEW MAID OF ORLEAN (Margaret's Narrative)
CHAPTER XXXI. PORTE ST. ANTOINE (Margaret's Narrative)
CHAPTER XXXII. ESCAPE (Annora's Narrative)
CHAPTER XXXIII. BRIDAL PEARLS
CHAPTER XXXIV. ANNORA'S HOME
MEMOIRS OF MARGARET DE RIBAUMONT
VISCOUNTESS OF BELLAISE
WHITEHALL BEFORE THE COBWEBS.
I have long promised you, my dear grandchildren, to arrange my recollections of the eventful years that even your father can hardly remember. I shall be glad thus to draw closer the bonds between ourselves and the English kindred, whom I love so heartily, though I may never hope to see them in this world, far less the dear old home where I grew up.
For, as perhaps you have forgotten, I am an English woman by birth, having first seen the light at Walwyn House, in Dorsetshire. One brother had preceded me—my dear Eustace—and another brother, Berenger, and my little sister, Annora, followed me.
Our family had property both in England and in Picardy, and it was while attending to some business connected with the French estate that my father had fallen in love with a beautiful young widow, Madame la Baronne de Solivet (nee Cheverny), and had brought her home, in spite of the opposition of her relations. I cannot tell whether she were warmly welcomed at Walwyn Court by any one but the dear beautiful grandmother, a Frenchwoman herself, who was delighted again to hear her mother tongue, although she had suffered much among the Huguenots in her youth, when her husband was left for dead on the S. Barthelemi.
He, my grandfather, had long been dead, but I perfectly remember her. She used to give me a sugar-cake when I said 'Bon soir, bonne maman,' with the right accent, and no one made sugar-cake like hers. She always wore at her girdle a string of little yellow shells, which she desired to have buried with her. We children were never weary of hearing how they had been the only traces of her or of her daughter that her husband could find, when he came to the ruined city.
I could fill this book with her stories, but I must not linger over them; and indeed I heard no more after I was eight years old. Until that time my brother and I were left under her charge in the country, while my father and mother were at court. My mother was one of the Ladies of the Bedchamber of Queen Henrietta Maria, who had been enchanted to find in her a countrywoman, and of the same faith. I was likewise bred up in their Church, my mother having obtained the consent of my father, during a dangerous illness that followed my birth, but the other children were all brought up as Protestants. Indeed, no difference was made between Eustace and me when we were at Walwyn. Our grandmother taught us both alike to make the sign of the cross, and likewise to say our prayers and the catechism; and oh! we loved her very much.
Eustace once gave two black eyes to our rude cousin, Harry Merricourt, for laughing when he said no one was as beautiful as the Grandmother, and though I am an old woman myself, I think he was right. She was like a little fairy, upright and trim, with dark flashing eyes, that never forgot how to laugh, and snowy curls on her brow.
I believe that the dear old lady made herself ill by nursing us two children day and night when we had the smallpox. She had a stroke, and died before my father could be fetched from London; but I knew nothing of all that; I only grieved, and wondered that she did not come to me, till at last the maid who was nursing me told me flatly that the old lady was dead. I think that afterwards we were sent down to a farmer's house by the sea, to be bathed and made rid of infection; and that the pleasure of being set free from our sick chambers and of playing on the shore drove from our minds for the time our grief for the good grandma, though indeed I dream of her often still, and of the old rooms and gardens at Walwyn, though I have never seen them since.
When we were quite well and tolerably free from pock-marks, my father took us to London with him, and there Eustace was sent to school at Westminster; while I, with little Berry, had a tutor to teach us Latin and French, and my mother's waiting-maid instructed me in sewing and embroidery. As I grew older I had masters in dancing and the spinnet, and my mother herself was most careful of my deportment. Likewise she taught me such practices of our religion as I had not learnt from my grandmother, and then it was I found that I was to be brought up differently from Eustace and the others. I cried at first, and declared I would do like Eustace and my father. I did not think much about it; I was too childish and thoughtless to be really devout; and when my mother took me in secret to the queen's little chapel, full of charming objects of devotion, while the others had to sit still during sermons two hours long, I began to think that I was the best off.
Since that time I have thought much more, and talked the subject over both with my dear eldest brother and with good priests, both English and French, and I have come to the conclusion, as you know, my children, that the English doctrine is no heresy, and that the Church is a true Church and Catholic, though, as my home and my duties lie here, I remain where I was brought up by my mother, in the communion of my husband and children. I know that this would seem almost heresy to our good Pere Chavand, but I wish to leave my sentiments on record for you, my children.
But how I have anticipated my history! I must return, to tell you that when I was just sixteen I was told that I was to go to my first ball at Whitehall. My hair was curled over my forehead, and I was dressed in white satin, with the famous pearls of Ribaumont round my neck, though of course they were not to be mine eventually.
I knew the palace well, having often had the honour of playing with the Lady Mary, who was some years younger than I, so that I was much less alarmed than many young gentlewomen there making their first appearance. But, as my dear brother Eustace led me into the outer hall, close behind my father and mother, I heard a strange whistle, and, looking up, I saw over the balustrade of the gallery a droll monkey face looking out of a mass of black curls, and making significant grimaces at me.
I knew well enough that it was no other than the Prince of Wales. He was terribly ugly and fond of teasing, but in a good-natured way, always leaving off when he saw he was giving real pain, and I liked him much better than his brother, the Duke of York, who was proud and sullen. Yet one could always trust the Duke, and that could not be said for the Prince.
By the time we had slowly advanced up the grand staircase into the banqueting-hall, and had made our reverences to the king and queen— ah, how stately and beautiful they looked together!—the Prince had stepped in some other way, and stood beside me.
'Well, Meg,' he said, in an undertone—'I beg pardon, Mrs. Margaret— decked out in all her splendour, a virgin for the sacrifice!'
'What sacrifice, sir?' I asked, startled.
'Eh!' he said. 'You do not know that le futur is arrived!'
'She knows nothing, your Highness,' said Eustace.
'What, oh, what is there to know?' I implored the Prince and my brother in turn to inform me, for I saw that there was some earnest in the Prince's jests, and I knew that the queen and my mother were looking out for a good match for me in France.
'Let me show him to you,' presently whispered the Prince, who had been called off by his father to receive the civilities of an ambassador. Then he pointed out a little wizened dried-up old man, who was hobbling up to kiss Her Majesty's hand, and whose courtly smile seemed to me to sit most unnaturally on his wrinkled countenance. I nearly screamed. I was forced to bite my lips to keep back my tears, and I wished myself child enough to be able to scream and run away, when my mother presently beckoned me forward. I hardly had strength to curtsey when I was actually presented to the old man. Nothing but terror prevented my sinking on the floor, and I heard as through falling waters something about M. le Marquis de Nidemerle and Mrs. Margaret Ribmont, for so we were called in England.
By and by I found that I was dancing, I scarcely knew how or with whom, and I durst not look up the whole time, nor did my partner address a single word to me, though I knew he was near me; I was only too thankful that he did not try to address me.
To my joy, when we had made our final reverences, he never came near me again all the evening. I found myself among some young maidens who were friends of mine, and in our eager talk together I began to forget what had passed, or to hope it was only some teasing pastime of the Prince and Eustace.
When we were seated in the coach on the way to our house my father began to laugh and marvel which had been the most shy, the gallant or the lady, telling my mother she need never reproach the English with bashfulness again after this French specimen.
'How will he and little Meg ever survive to-morrow's meeting!' he said.
Then I saw it was too true, and cried out in despair to beg them to let me stay at home, and not send me from them; but my mother bade me not be a silly wench. I had always known that I was to be married in France and the queen and my half-brother, M. de Solivet, had found an excellent parti for me. I was not to embarrass matters by any folly, but I must do her credit, and not make her regret that she had not sent me to a convent to be educated.
Then I clung to my father. I could hold him tight in the dark, and the flambeaux only cast in a fitful flickering light. 'Oh, sir,' said I, 'you cannot wish to part with your little Meg!'
'You are your mother's child, Meg,' he said sadly. 'I gave you up to her to dispose of at her will.'
'And you will thank me one of these days for your secure home,' said my mother. 'If these rogues continue disaffected, who knows what they may leave us in England!'
'At least we should be together,' I cried, and I remember how I fondled my father's hand in the dark, and how he returned it. We should never have thought of such a thing in the light; he would have been ashamed to allow such an impertinence, and I to attempt it.
Perhaps it emboldened me to say timidly: 'If he were not so old—-'
But my mother declared that she could not believe her ears that a child of hers should venture on making such objections—so unmaidenly, so undutiful to a parti selected by the queen and approved by her parents.
As the coach stopped at our own door I perceived that certain strange noises that I had heard proceeded from Eustace laughing and chuckling to himself all the way. I must say I thought it very unkind and cruel when we had always loved each other so well. I would hardly bid him good-night, but ran up to the room I shared with nurse and Annora, and wept bitterly through half the night, little comforted by nurse's assurance that old men were wont to let their wives have their way far more easily than young ones did.
A LITTLE MUTUAL AVERSION.
I had cried half the night, and when in the morning little Nan wanted to hear about my ball, I only answered that I hated the thought of it. I was going to be married to a hideous old man, and be carried to France, and should never see any of them again. I made Nan cry too, and we both came down to breakfast with such mournful faces that my mother chid me sharply for making myself such a fright.
Then she took me away to the still-room, and set me for an hour to make orange cakes, while she gave orders for the great dinner that we were to give that day, I knew only too well for whose sake; and if I had only known which orange cake was for my betrothed, would not it have been a bitter one! By and by my mother carried me off to be dressed. She never trusted the tiring-woman to put the finishing touches with those clumsy English fingers; and, besides, she bathed my swollen eyelids with essences, and made me rub my pale cheeks with a scarlet ribbon, speaking to me so sharply that I should not have dared to shed another tear.
When I was ready, all in white, and she, most stately in blue velvet and gold, I followed her down the stairs to the grand parlour, where stood my father, with my brothers and one or two persons in black, who I found were a notary and his clerk, and there was a table before them with papers, parchment, a standish, and pens. I believe if it had been a block, and I had had to lay my head on it, like poor Lady Jane Grey, I could not have been much more frightened.
There was a sound of wheels, and presently the gentleman usher came forward, announcing the Most Noble the Marquis de Nidemerle, and the Lord Viscount of Bellaise. My father and brothers went half-way down the stairs to meet them, my mother advanced across the room, holding me in one hand and Annora in the other. We all curtsied low, and as the gentlemen advanced, bowing low, and almost sweeping the ground with the plumes in their hats, we each had to offer them a cheek to salute after the English fashion. The old marquis was talking French so fast that I could not understand him in the least, but somehow a mist suddenly seemed to clear away from before me, and I found that I was standing before that alarming table, not with him, but with something much younger—not much older, indeed, than Eustace.
I began to hear what the notary was reading out, and behold it was— 'Contract of marriage on the part of Philippe Marie Francois de Bellaise, Marquis de Nidermerle, and Eustace de Ribaumont, Baron Walwyn of Walwyn, in Dorset, and Baron de Ribaumont in Picardy, on behoof of Gaspard Henri Philippe, Viscount de Bellaise, nephew of the Marquis de Nidemerle, and Margaret Henrietta Maria de Ribaumont, daughter of the Baron de Ribaumont.'
Then I knew that I had been taken in by the Prince's wicked trick, and that my husband was to be the young viscount, not the old uncle! I do not think that this was much comfort to me at the moment, for, all the same, I was going into a strange country, away from every one I had ever known.
But I did take courage to look up under my eye-lashes at the form I was to see with very different eyes. M. de Ballaise was only nineteen, but although not so tall as my father or brother, he had already that grand military bearing which is only acquired in the French service, and no wonder, or he had been three years in the Regiment de Conde, and had already seen two battles and three sieges in Savoy, and now had only leave of absence for the winter before rejoining his regiment in the Low Countries.
Yet he looked as bashful as a maiden. It was true that, as my father said, his bashfulness was as great as an Englishman's. Indeed, he had been bred up at his great uncle's chateau in Anjou, under a strict abbe who had gone with him to the war, and from whom he was only now to be set free upon his marriage. He had scarcely ever spoken to any lady but his old aunt—his parents had long been dead— and he had only two or three times seen his little sister through the grating of her convent. So, as he afterwards confessed, nothing but his military drill and training bore him through the affair. He stood upright as a dart, bowed at the right place, and in due time signed his name to the contract, and I had to do the same. Then there ensued a great state dinner, where he and I sat together, but neither of us spoke to the other; and when, as I was trying to see the viscount under my eyelashes, I caught his eyes trying to do the same by me, I remember my cheeks flaming all over, and I think his must have done the same, for my father burst suddenly out into a laugh without apparent cause, though he tried to check himself when he saw my mother's vexation.
When all was over, she highly lauded the young gentleman, declaring that he was an example of the decorum with which such matters were conducted in France; and when my father observed that he should prefer a little more fire and animation, she said: 'Truly, my lord, one would think you were of mere English extraction, that you should prefer the rude habits of a farmer or milkmaid to the reserve of a true noble and lady of quality.'
'Well, dame, I promised that you should have it your own way with the poor lass,' said my father; 'and I see no harm in the lad, but I own I should like to know more of him, and Meg would not object either. It was not the way I took thee, Margaret.'
'I shall never make you understand that a widow is altogether a different thing,' said my mother.
I suppose they never recollected that I could hear every word they said, but I was full in view of them, and of course I was listening most anxiously for all I could gather about my new life. If I remember right, it was an envoy-extraordinary with whom the marquis and his nephew had come, and their stay was therefore very short, so that we were married after a very few days in the Queen's Chapel, by her own almoner.
I do not remember much about the wedding, as indeed it was done very quietly, being intended to be kept altogether a secret; but in some way, probably through the servants, it became known to the mob in London, and as we drove home from Whitehall in the great coach with my father and mother, a huge crowd had assembled, hissing and yelling and crying out upon Lord Walwyn for giving his daughter to a French Papist.
The wretches! they even proceeded to throw stones. My young bridegroom saw one of these which would have struck me had he not thrown himself forward, holding up his hat as a shield. The stone struck him in the eye, and he dropped forward upon my mother's knee senseless.
The crowd were shocked then, and fell back, but what good did that do to him? He was carried to his chamber, and a surgeon was sent for, who said that there was no great injury done, for the eye itself had not been touched, but that he must be kept perfectly quiet until the last minute, if he was to be able to travel without danger, when the suite were to set off in two day's time. They would not let me go near him. Perhaps I was relieved, for I should not have known what to do; yet I feared that he would think me unkind and ungrateful, and I would have begged my mother and Eustace to thank him and make my excuses, but I was too shy, and I felt it very hard to be blamed for indifference and rudeness.
Indeed, we four young ones kept as much together as we could do in the house and gardens, and played all our dear old games of shuttlecock, and pig go to market, and proverbs, and all that you, my children, call very English sports, because we knew only too well that we should never play at them altogether again. The more I was blamed for being childish, the more I was set upon them, till at last my mother said that she was afraid to let me go, I was so childish and unfeeling; and my father replied that she should have thought of that before. He and I were both more English at heart than French, and I am sure now that he perceived better than I did myself that my clinging to my brothers and sister, and even my noisy merriment, were not the effect of want of feeling.
As to my bridegroom, I have since known that he was dreadfully afraid of us, more especially of me, and was thankful that the injury kept him a prisoner. Nay, he might have come downstairs, if he had been willing, on the last evening, but he shrank from another presentation to me before the eyes of all the world, and chose instead to act the invalid, with no companion save Eustace, with whom he had made friends.
I will not tell you about the partings, and the promises and assurances that we should meet again. My father had always promised that my mother should see France once more, and he now declared that they would all visit me. Alas! we little thought what would be the accomplishment of that promise.
My father and Eustace rode with us from London to Dover, and all the time I kept close to them. M. de Bellaise was well enough to ride too. His uncle, the marquis, went in a great old coach with the ladies, wives of some of his suite, and I should have been there too, but that I begged so hard to ride with my father that he yielded, after asking M. le Vicomte whether he had any objection. M. le Vicomte opened great eyes, smiled, blushed and bowed, stammering something. I do not think that he had a quite realised previously that I was his wife, and belonged to him. My father made him ride with us, and talked to him; and out in the open air, riding with the wind in our cheeks, and his plume streaming in the breeze, he grew much less shy, and began to talk about the wolf-hunts and boar-hunts in the Bocage, and of all the places that my father and I both knew as well as if we had seen them, from the grandam's stories.
I listened, but we neither of us sought the other; indeed, I believe it seemed hard to me that when there was so little time with my father and Eustace, they should waste it on these hunting stories. Only too soon we were at Dover, and the last, last farewell and blessing were given. I looked my last, though I knew it not at that dear face of my father!
CELADON AND CHLOE
My tears were soon checked by dreadful sea-sickness. We were no sooner out of Dover than the cruel wind turned round upon us, and we had to go beating about with all our sails reefed for a whole day and night before it was safe to put into Calais.
All that time I was in untold misery, and poor nurse Tryphena was worse than I was, and only now and then was heard groaning out that she was a dead woman, and begging me to tell some one to throw her over board.
But it was that voyage which gave me my husband. He was not exactly at his ease, but he kept his feet better than any of the other gentlemen, and he set himself to supply the place of valet to his uncle, and of maid to me, going to and fro between our cabins as best he could, for he fell and rolled whenever he tried to more; sharp shriek or howl, or a message through the steward, summoned him back to M. le Marquis, who had utterly forgotten all his politeness and formality towards the ladies.
However, our sufferings were over at last. My husband, who was by this time bruised from head to foot by his falls, though he made no complaints, came to say we should in a few moments be in port. He helped me to dress, for Tryphena thought she was dead, and would not move; and he dragged me on deck, where the air revived me, and where one by one the whole party appeared, spectacles of misery.
M. le Marquis did not recover himself till he was on shore, and caused himself to be assisted to the quay between his nephew and the valet, leaving me to myself; but the dear viscount returned for me, and after he had set me ashore, as he saw I was anxious about Tryphena, he went back and fetched her, as carefully as if she had been a lady, in spite of the grumblings of his uncle and of her own refractoriness, for she was horribly frightened, and could not understand a word he said to her.
Nevertheless, as soon as we had all of us come to ourselves, it turned out that he had gained her heart. Indeed, otherwise I should have had to send her home, for she pined sadly for some time, and nothing but her love for me and her enthusiastic loyalty to him kept her up during the first months.
As to my husband and me, that voyage had made us as fond of one another's company on one side of the Channel as we had been afraid of it before on the other, but there was no more riding together for us. I had to travel in the great coach with M. le Marquis, the three ladies, and all our women, where I was so dull and weary that I should have felt ready to die, but for watching for my husband's plume, or now and then getting a glance and a nod from him as he rode among the other gentlemen, braving all their laughter at his devotion; for, bashful as he was, he knew how to hold his own.
I knew that the ladies looked on me as an ugly little rustic foreigner, full of English mauvaise honte. If they tried to be kind to me, it was as a mere child; and they went on with their chatter, which I could hardly follow, for it was about things and people of which I knew nothing, so that I could not understand their laughter. Or when they rejoiced in their return from what they called their exile, and found fault with all they had left in England, my cheeks burned with indignation.
My happy hours were when we halted for refreshments. My husband handed me to my place at table and sat beside me; or he would walk with me about the villages where we rested. The ladies were shocked, and my husband was censured for letting me 'faire l'Anglaise,' but we were young and full of spirits, and the being thus thrown on each other had put an end to his timidity towards me. He did indeed blush up to his curls, and hold himself as upright as a ramrod, when satire was directed to us as Celadon and Chloe; but he never took any other notice of it, nor altered his behaviour in consequence. Indeed, we felt like children escaping from school when we crept down the stairs in early morning, and hand-in-hand repaired to the church in time for the very earliest mass among the peasants, who left their scythes at the door, and the women with their hottes, or their swaddled babies at their backs. We would get a cup of milk and piece of barley-bread at some cottage, and wander among the orchards, fields, or vineyards before Mesdames had begun their toiles; and when we appeared at the dejeuner, the gentlemen would compliment me on my rouge au naturel, and the ladies would ironically envy my English appetite.
Sometimes we rested in large hostels in cities, and then our walk began with some old cathedral, which could not but be admired, Gothic though it were, and continued in the market-place, where the piles of fruit, vegetables, and flowers were a continual wonder and delight to me. My husband would buy bouquets of pinks and roses for me; but in the coach the ladies always said they incommoded them by their scent, and obliged me to throw them away. The first day I could not help shedding a few tears, for I feared he would think I did not value them; and then I perceived that they thought the little Englishwoman a child crying for her flowers. I longed to ask them whether they had ever loved their husbands; but I knew how my mother would have looked at me, and forbore.
Once or twice we were received in state at some chateau, where our mails had to be opened that we might sup in full toilet; but this was seldom, for most of the equals of M. le Marquis lived at Paris. Sometimes our halt was at an abbey, where we ladies were quartered in a guest-chamber without; and twice we slept at large old convents, where nobody had lived since the Huguenot times, except a lay brother put in by M. l'Abbe to look after the estate and make the house a kind of inn for travelers. There were fine walled gardens run into wild confusion, and little neglected and dismantled shrines, and crosses here and there, with long wreaths of rose and honeysuckle trailing over them, and birds' nests in curious places. My Viscount laughed with a new pleasure when I showed him the wren's bright eye peeping out from her nest, and he could not think how I knew the egg of a hedge-sparrow from that of a red-breast. Even he had never been allowed to be out of sight of his tutor, and he knew none of these pleasures so freely enjoyed by my brothers; while as to his sister Cecile, she had been carried from her nurse to a convent, and had thence been taken at fourteen to be wedded to the grandson and heir of the Count d'Aubepine, who kept the young couple under their own eye at their castle in the Bocage.
My husband had absolutely only seen her twice, and then through the grating, and the marriage had taken place while he was in Savoy last autumn. He knew his brother-in-law a little better, having been his neighbour at Nid de Merle; but he shrugged his shoulders as he spoke of 'le chevalier,' and said he was very young, adored by his grandparents, and rather headstrong.
As to growing up together in the unity that had always existed between an absolute surprise to him to find that my dear brother was grieved at parting with me. He said he had lain and heard our shouts in the passages with wonder as we played those old games of ours.
'As though you were in a den of roaring wild beasts,' I said; for I ventured on anything with him by that time, voices, I teased him about his feelings at having to carry off one of these same savage beasts with him; and then he told me how surprised he had been when, on the last evening he spent in his chamber in our house, Eustace had come and implored him to be good to me, telling him—ah, I can see my dear brother's boyish way!—all my best qualities, ranging from my always speaking truth to my being able to teach the little dog to play tricks, and warning him of what vexed or pained me, even exacting a promise that he would take care of me when I was away from them all. I believe that promise was foremost in my husband's mind when he waited on me at sea. Nay, he said when remembered the tears in my brother's eyes, and saw how mine arose at the thought, his heart smote him when he remembered that his sister's marriage had scarcely cost him a thought or care, and that she was an utter stranger to him; and then we agreed that if ever we had children, we would bring them up to know and love one another, and have precious recollections in common. Ah! l'homme propose, mais Dieu dispose.
It was only on that day that it broke upon me that we were to be separated immediately after our arrival in Paris. M. de Bellaise was to go to his regiment, which was at garrison at Nancy, and I was to be left under the charge of old Madame la Marquise de Nidemerle at Paris. I heard of it first from the Marquise himself in the coach, as he thanked one of the ladies who invited me—with him—to her salon in Paris, where there was to be a great entertainment in the summer. When I replied that M. de Bellaise would have rejoined his regiment, they began explaining that I should go into society under Madame de Nidemerle, who would exert herself for my sake.
I said no more. I knew it was of no use there; but when next I could speak with my husband—it was under an arbour of vines in the garden of the inn where we dine—I asked him whether it was true. He opened large eyes, and said he knew I could not wish to withdraw him from his duty to his king and country, even if he could do so with honour.
'Ah! no,' I said; 'I never thought of that.' But surely the place of a wife was with her husband, and I had expected to go with him to his garrison at Nancy, and there wait when he took the field. He threw himself at my feet, and pressed my hands with transport at what he called this unheard-of proof of affection; and then I vexed him by laughing, for I could not help thinking what my brothers would have said, could they have seen us thus.
Still he declared that, in spite of his wishes, it was hardly possible. His great-uncle and aunt would never consent. I said they had no right to interfere between husband and wife, and he replied that they had brought him up, and taken the place of parents to him; to which I rejoined that I was far nearer to him. He said I was a mutinous Englishwoman; and I rejoined that he should never find me mutinous to him.
Nay, I made up my mind that if he would not insist on taking me, I would find means to escape and join him. What! Was I to be carried about in the coach of Madame de Nidemerle to all the hateful salons of Paris, while my husband, the only person in France whom I could endure, might be meeting wounds and death in the Low Countries while I might be dancing!
So again I declined when the ladies in the coach invited me to their houses in Paris. Should I go to a convent? they asked; and one began to recommend the Carmelites, another the Visitation, another Port Royal, till I was almost distracted; and M. le Marquis began to say it was a pious and commendable wish, but that devotion had its proper times and seasons, and that judgment must be exercised as to the duration of a retreat, etc.
'No, Monsieur,' said I, 'I am not going into a convent. A wife's duty is with her husband; I am going into garrison at Nancy.'
Oh, how they cried out! There was such a noise that the gentlemen turned their horses' heads to see whether any one was taken ill. When they heard what was the matter, persecution began for us both.
We used to compare our experiences; the ladies trying to persuade me now that it was improper, now that I should be terrified to death now that I should become too ugly to be presentable; while the gentlemen made game of M. de Bellaise as a foolish young lover, who was so absurd as to encumber himself with a wife of whom he would soon weary, and whose presence would interfere with his enjoyment of the freedom and diversions of military life. He who was only just free from his governor, would he saddle himself with a wife? Bah!
He who had been so shy defended himself with spirit; and on my side I declared that nothing but his commands, and those of my father, should induce me to leave him. At Amiens we met a courier on his way to England, and by him we dispatched letters to my father.
M. de Nidemerle treated all like absurd childish nonsense, complimenting me ironically all the while; but I thought he wavered a little before the journey was over, wishing perhaps that he had never given his nephew a strange, headstrong, English wife, but thinking that, as the deed was done, the farther off from himself she was the better.
At least, he no longer blamed his nephew and threatened him with his aunt; but declared that Madame de Rambouillet would soon put all such folly out of our minds.
I asked my husband what Madame de Rambouillet could have to do with our affairs; and he shrugged his shoulders and answered that the divine Arthenice was the supreme judge of decorum, whose decisions no one could gainsay.
THE SALON BLEU
We arrived at Paris late in the day, entering the city through a great fortified gateway, and then rolling slowly through the rough and narrow streets. You know them too well, my children, to be able to conceive how strange and new they seemed to me, accustomed as I was to our smooth broad Thames and the large gardens of the houses in the Strand lying on its banks.
Our carriage turned in under the porte cochere of this Hotel de Nidemerle of ours, and entered the courtyard. My husband, his uncle, and I know not how many more, were already on the steps. M. de Nidemerle solemnly embraced me and bade me welcome, presenting me at the same time to a gentlemen, in crimson velvet and silver, as my brother. My foolish heart bounded for a moment as if it could have been Eustace; but it was altogether the face of a stranger, except for a certain fine smile like my mother's. It was, of course, my half-brother, M. le Baron de Solivet, who saluted me, and politely declared himself glad to make the acquaintance of his sister.
The Marquis then led me up the broad stairs, lined with lackeys, to our own suite of apartments, where I was to arrange my dress before being presented to Madame de Nidemerle, who begged me to excuse her not being present to greet me, as she had caught cold, and had a frightful megrim.
I made my toilet, and they brought me a cup of eau sucree and a few small cakes, not half enough for my hungry English appetite.
My husband looked me over more anxiously than ever he had done before; and I wished, for his sake, that I had been prettier and fitter to make a figure among all these grand French ladies.
My height was a great trouble to me in those unformed days. I had so much more length to dispose of than my neighbours, and I knew they remarked me the more for it; and then my hair never would remain in curl for half an hour together. My mother could put it up safely, but since I had left her it was always coming down, like flax from a distaff; and though I had in general a tolerably fresh and rosy complexion, heat outside and agitation within made my whole face, nose and all, instantly become the colour of a clove gillyflower. It had so become every afternoon on the journey, and I knew I was growing redder and redder every moment, and that I should put him, my own dear Viscount, to shame before his aunt.
'Oh! my friend,' I sighed, 'pardon me, I cannot help it.'
'Why should I pardon thee?' he answered tenderly. 'Because thou hast so great and loving a heart?'
'Ah! but what will thine aunt think of me?'
'Let her think,' he said. 'Thou art mine, not Madame's.'
I know not whether those words made me less red, but they gave me such joyous courage that I could have confronted all the dragoons, had I been of the colour of a boiled lobster, and when he himself sprinkled me for the last time with essences, I felt ready to defy the censure of all the marchionesses in France.
My husband took me by the hand and led me to the great chamber, where in an alcove stood the state bed, with green damask hangings fringed with gold, and in the midst of pillows trimmed with point-lace sat up Madam la Marquis, her little sallow face, like a bit of old parchment, in the midst of the snowy linen, and not—to my eyes— wearing a very friendly aspect.
She had perhaps been hearing of my wilfulness and insubordination, for she was very grand and formal with me, solemnly calling me Madame la Vicomtesse, and never her niece, and I thought all the time that I detected a sneer. If I had wished for my husband's sake to accompany him, I wished it ten thousand times more when I fully beheld the alternative.
Ah! I am writing treason. Had I been a well-trained French young girl I should have accepted my lot naturally, and no doubt all the family infinitely regretted that their choice has fallen on one so impracticable.
I was happier as the supper-table, to which we were soon summoned, for I had become accustomed to M. de Nidemerle, who was always kind to me. Poor old man, I think he had hoped to have something young and lively in his house; but I never thought of that, and of course my husband was my only idea.
M. de Solivet set by me, and asked many questions about my mother and the rest of the family, treating me more as a woman than anyone else had done. Nor was it long before I caught slight resemblances both to my mother and to my brother Berenger, which made me feel as home with him. He was a widower, and his two daughters were being educated in a convent, where he promised to take me to visit them, that I might describe them to their grandmother.
Poor little things! I thought them very stiff and formal, and pitied them when I saw them; but I believed they were really full of fun and folic among their companions.
M. de Solivet was consulted on this wild scheme of mine, and the Marchioness desired him to show me its absurdity. He began by arguing that it was never when to act in the face of custom, and that he had only known of two ladies who had followed their husbands to the wars, and both them only belonged to the petite noblesse, and were no precedent for me! One of them had actually joined her husband when wounded and made prisoner, and it was said that her care had saved his life!
Such a confession on his part rendered me the more determined, and we reminded M. de Nidemerle of his promise to consult Madame de Rambouillet, though I would not engage even then to abide by any decision except my father's, which I daily expected. I overheard people saying how much M. de Bellaise was improved by his marriage, and how much more manly and less embarrassed he had become, and I felt that my resolution made him happy, so that I became the more determined.
Children, you who have laughed at Les Precieuses can have little idea what the Hotel de Rambouillet was when, three nights after arrival, I went thither with my husband and his uncle and aunt.
The large salon, hung and draped with blue velvet, divided by lines of gold, was full of people ranged in a circle, listening eagerly to the recital of poem by the author, an Abbe, who stood in the midst, declaiming each couplet with emphasis, and keeping time with his foot, while he made gestures with his uplifted hand. Indeed, I thought at first he was in a furious passion and was going to knock someone down, till I saw calmly everyone sat; and then again I fancied we had come to a theatre by mistake; but happily I did not speak, and, without interrupting the declamation, chairs were given us, and exchanging a mute salutation with a lady of a noble cast of beauty, who guided us to seats, we quietly took our places. She was Julie d'Argennes, the daughter of Madame de Rambouillet. A gentlemen followed her closely, the Duke of Montausier, who adored her, but whom she could not yet decide on accepting.
I found it difficult to fit from laughing as the gestures of the Abbe, especially when I thought of my brother and how they would mock them; but I knew that this would be unpardonable bad taste, and as I had come in too late to have the clue to the discourse, I amused myself with looking about me.
Perhaps the most striking figure was that of the hostess, with her stately figure, and face, not only full of intellect, but of something that went far beyond it, and came out of some other higher world, to which she was trying to raise this one.
Next I observed a lady, no longer in her first youth, but still wonderfully fair and graceful. She was enthroned in a large arm- chair, and on a stool beside her sat her daughter, a girl of my own age, the most lovely creature I had ever seen, with a profusion of light flaxen hair, and deep blue eyes, and one moment full of grave thought, at another of merry mischief. A young sat by, whose cast of features reminded me of the Prince of Wales, but his nose was more aquiline, his dark blue eyes far more intensely bright and flashing, and whereas Prince Charles would have made fun of all the flourishes of our poet, they seemed to inspire in this youth an ardour he could barely restrain, and when there was something vehement about Mon epee et ma patrie he laid his hand on his sword, and his eyes lit up, so that he reminded me of a young eagle.
This was the Princess of Conde, who in the pride of her youthful beauty had been the last flame of Henri IV., who had almost begun a war on her account; this was her lovely daughter, Mademoiselle de Bourbon, and her sons, the brave Duke of Enghien, with his deformed brother, the Prince of Conti.
When the recital was over, there was a general outburst of applause, in which M. de Nidemerle joined heartily. Madame de Rambouillet gave her meed of approbation, but her daughter, Mademoiselle d' Argennes, took exception at the use of the word chevaucher, for to ride, both as being obsolete, and being formed from the name of a single animal, instead of regularly derived from a Latin verb.
The Abbe defended his word, and for fully twenty minutes there was an eager argument, people citing passages and derivations, and defining shades of meaning with immense animation and brilliant wit, as I now understand, though then it seemed to me a wearisome imbroglio about a trifle. I did not know what real benefit was done by these discussions in purifying the language from much that was coarse and unrefined. Yes, and far more than the language, for Madame de Rambouillet, using her great gifts as a holy trust for the good of her neighbour, conferred no small benefit on her generation, nor is that good even yet entirely vanished. Ah! If there were more women like her, France and society would be very different.
When the discussion was subsiding, Mademoiselle d' Argennes came to take me by the hand, and to present us to the queen of the salon.
'Here, my mother, are our Odoardo and Gildippe,' she said.
You remember, my children, that Odoardo and Gildippe are the names bestowed by Tasso on the English married pair who went together on the first crusade, and Gildippe continued to be my name in that circle, my nom de Parnasse, as it was called—nay, Madame de Montausieur still gives it to me.
The allusion was a fortunate one; it established a precedent, and, besides, English people have always been supposed to be eccentric. I am, however, doing the noble lady injustice. Arthenice, as she was called by an anagram of her baptismal name of Catherine, was no blind slave to the conventional. She had originality enough to have been able to purify the whole sphere in which she moved, and to raise the commonplace into the ideal. 'Excuse me,' she said to her friends, and she led my husband apart into a deep window, and there, as he told me, seemed to look him through and through. And verily he was one who needed not to fear such an inspection, any more than the clearest crystal.
Then, in like manner, she called for me, and made me understand that I was condemning myself to a life of much isolation, and that I must be most circumspect in my conduct, whole, after all, I might see very little of my husband; I must take good care that my presence was a help and refreshment, not a burden and perplexity to him, or he would neglect me and repent my coming. 'It may seem strange,' she said, 'but I think my young friend will understand me, that I have always found that, next of course to those supplied by our holy religion, the best mode of rendering our life and its inconveniences endurable is to give them a colouring of romance.' I did not understand her then, but I have often since thought of her words, when the recollection of the poetical aspect of the situation has aided my courage and my good temper. Madame de Rambouillet looked into my eyes as she spoke, then said: 'Pardon an old woman, my dear;' and kissed my brow, saying: 'You will not do what I have only dreamt of.'
Finally she led us forward to our great-uncle, saying: 'Madame le Marquis, I have conversed with these children. They love one another, and so long as that love lasts they will be better guardians to one another than ten governors or twenty dames de compagnie.'
In England we should certainly not have done all this in public, and my husband and I were terribly put to the blush; indeed, I felt my whole head and neck burning, and caught a glimpse of myself in a dreadful mirror, my white bridal dress and flaxen hair making my fiery face look, my brothers would have said, 'as if I had been skinned.'
And then, to make it all worse, a comical little crooked lady, with a keen lively face, came hopping up with hands outspread, crying: 'Ah, let me see her! Where is the fair Gildippe, the true heroine, who is about to confront the arrows of the Lydians for the sake of the lord of her heart?'
'My niece,' said the Marquis, evidently gratified by the sensation I had created, 'Mademoiselle de Scudery does you the honour of requesting to be presented to you.'
I made a low reverence, terribly abashed, and I fear it would have reduced my mother to despair, but it was an honour that I appreciated; for now that I was a married woman, I was permitted to read romances, and I had just begun on the first volume of the Grand Curus. My husband read it to me as I worked at my embroidery, and you may guess how we enjoyed it.
But I had no power of make compliments—nay, my English heart recoiled in anger at their making such an outcry, whether of blame or praise, at what seemed to me the simplest thing in the world. The courtesy and consideration were perfect; as soon as these people saw that I was really abashed and distressed, they turned their attention from me. My husband was in the meantime called to be presented to the Duke of Enghien, and I remained for a little while unmolested, so that I could recover myself a little. Presently a soft voice close to me said 'Madame,' and I looked up into the beautiful countenance of Anne Genevieve de Bourbon, her blue eyes shining on me with the sweetest expression. 'Madame,' she said, 'permit me to tell you how glad I am for you.'
I thanked her most heartily. I felt this was the real tender sympathy of a being of my own age and like myself, and there were something so pathetic in her expression that I felt sorry for her.
'You are good! You will keep good,' she said.
'I hope so, Mademoiselle,' I said.
'Ah! yes, you will. They will not make you lose your soul against your will!' and she clenched her delicate white hand.
'Nobody can do that, Mademoiselle.'
'What! Not when they drag you to balls and fete away from the cloister, where alone you can be safe?'
'I hope not there alone,' I said.
'For me it is the only place,' she repeated. 'What is the use of wearing haircloth when the fire of the Bourbons is in one's blood, and one has a face that all the world runs after?'
'Mais, Mademoiselle,' I said; 'temptation is only to prove our strength.'
'You are strong. You have conquered,' she said, and clasped my hand. 'But then you loved him.'
I suppose I smiled a little with my conscious bliss, for this strange young princess hastily asked: 'Did you love him? I mean, before you were married.'
'Oh no,' I said, glad to disavow what was so shocking in my new country.
'But he is lovable? Ah! that is it. While you are praying to Heaven, and devoting yourself to a husband whom you love, remember that if I ruin my soul, it is because they would have it so!'
At that moment there was a pause. A gentleman, the Marquis de Feuquieres, had come in, bringing with him a very young lad, in the plian black gown and white collar of a theological student; and it was made known that the Marquis had been boasting of the wonderful facility of a youth was studying at the College of Navarre, and had declared that he could extemporise with eloquence upon any subject. Some one had begged that the youth might be fetched and set to preach on a text proposed to him at the moment, and here he was.
Madame de Rambouillet hesitated a little at the irreverence, but the Duke of Enghien requested that the sermon might take place, and she consented, only looking at her watch and saying it was near midnight, so that the time was short. M. Voiture, the poet, carried round a velvet bag, and each was to write a text on a slip of paper to be drawn out at haphazard.
We two showed each other what we wrote. My husband's was—'Love is strong as death;' mine—'Let the wife cleave unto her husband.' But neither of them was drawn out. I saw by the start that Mademoiselle de Bourbon gave that it was hers, when the first paper was taken out— 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!' a few minutes were offered to the young Abbe to collect his thoughts, but he declined them, and he was led to a sort of a dais at the end of the salon, while the chairs were placed in a half-circle. Some of the ladies tittered a little, though Madame de Rambouillet looked grave; but they composed themselves. We all stood and repeated the Ave, and then seated ourselves; while the youth, in a voice already full and sweet, began solemnly: 'What is life? what is man?'
I can never convey to you how this world and all its fleeting follies seemed to melt away before us, and how each of us felt our soul alone in the presence of our Maker, as though nothing mattered, or ever would matter, but how we stood with Him. One hardly dared to draw one's breath. Mademoiselle de Bourbon was almost stifled with the sobs she tried to restrain lest her mother should make her retire. My husband held my hand, and pressed it unseen. He was a deeper, more thoughtful man ever after he heard that voice, which seemed to come, as it were, from the Angel at Bochim who warned the Israelites; and that night we dedicated ourselves to the God who had not let us be put asunder.
I wished we could have gone away at once and heard no more, and so must, I think, the young preacher have felt; but he was surrounded with compliments. M. Voiture said he had never heard 'so early nor so late a sermon;' while others thronged up with their compliments.
Madame de Rambouillet herself murmured: 'He might be Daniel hearing the compliments of Belshazzar on his deciphering the handwriting,' so impassively did he listen to the suffrages of the assembly, only replying by a bow.
The Duke of Enghien, boldest of course, pressed up to him and, taking his hand, begged to know his name.
'Bossuet, Monseigneur,' he answered.
There were one or two who had the bad taste to smile, for Bossuet (I must tell my English kindred) means a draught-ox; but once more the lovely sister of the young Duke grasped my hand and said: 'Oh, that I could hide myself at once! Why will they not let me give myself to my God? Vanity of vanities! why am I doomed?'
I was somewhat frightened, and was glad that a summons of 'my daughter' from the Princess of Conde interrupted these strange communications. I understood them better when we were called upon to ell the old Marchioness the names of every one whom we had met at the Hotel de Rambouillet, and on hearing of the presence of Mademoiselle de Bourbon she said: 'Ah! yes, a marriage is arranged for the young lady with the Duke of Longueville.'
'But!' exclaimed my husband, 'the Duke is an old man, whose daughter is older than I.'
'What has that to do with it?' said his aunt. 'There is not much blood in France with which a Montmorency Bourbon can match. Moreover, they say the child is devote, and entetee on Madam de Port Royal, who is more than suspected of being outree in her devotion; so the sooner she is married the better!'
Poor beautiful girl, how I pitied her then! Her lovely, wistful, blue eyes haunted me all night, in the midst of my own gladness; for a courier had come that evening bringing my father's reply. He said my mother deplored my unusual course, but that for his part he liked his little girl the better for her courage, and that he preferred that I should make my husband's home happy to my making it at court. All he asked of me was to remember that I had to guard the honour of my husband's name and of my country, and he desired that I should take Tryphena with me wherever I went.
I am almost afraid to dwell on those happiest days of my life that I spent in garrison. My eyes, old as they are, fill with tears when I am about to write of them, and yet they passed without my knowing how happy they were; for much of my time was spent in solitude, much in waiting, much in anxiety; but ah! there then always was a possibility that never, never can return!
Nancy seems to me a paradise when I look back to it, with its broad clean streets and open squares, and the low houses with balconies, and yet there I often thought myself miserable, for I began to learn what it was to be a soldier's wife. Madame de Rambouillet had kindly written to some of her friends in the duchy of Lorraine respecting me, and they assisted us in obtaining a lodging and servants. This might otherwise have been difficult, for the Duke was I the Spanish army, while we held his territories, and naturally we were not in very good odour with the people.
My husband had to leave me, immediately after he had placed me in my little house at Nancy, to join the army in Germany under Marshal Guebrian. I lived through that time by the help of the morning mass, of needlework, and of the Grand Cyrus, which I read through and then began again. My dear husband never failed to send me a courier once a week with letters that were life to me, and sometimes I heard from England; but my mother's letters were becoming full of anxiety, affairs were looking so ill for the king.
After a gallant victory over the Swedes my Viscount returned to me without a wound, and with distinguished praise from the Marshal. That was an important winter, for it saw the deaths of the great Cardinal and of King Louis XIII., moreover of the old Marchioness. My husband's loving heart sorrowed for her and for his uncle; but that same week brought thee to my arms, my dear son, my beloved Gaspard! Oh! what a fight Tryphena and I had to prevent his being stifled in swaddling clothes! And how all the women predicted that his little limbs would be broken and never be straight.
That winter was only clouded by the knowledge that spring would take my husband away again. How good he was to me! How much pleasure and amusement he gave up for my sake! He had outgrown his bashfulness and embarrassment in this campaign, and could take his place in company, but re remained at home with me. Had neither the grace nor the vivacity that would have enabled me to collect a society around me, and I seldom saw his brother officers except my brother M. de Solivet, and his great friend M. de Chamillard, who was quite fatherly to me.
The Duke of Enghien took the command of the army of Picardy, and asked for our regiment. I entreated not to be sent back to Paris, and prevailed to be allowed to take up my abode at Mezieres, where I was not so far from the camp but that my dear M. de Bellaise could sometimes ride over and see me. He told me of the murmur of the elder men of the army that the fiery young inexperienced prince was disregarding all the checks that the old Marshal de l'Hopital put in his way; but he himself was delighted, and made sure of success. The last time he came he told me he heard that Rocroy was invested by the enemy. I was made to promise that in case of any advance on the enemy's part I would instantly set off for Paris. He said it was the only way to make him fight with a free heart, if a battle there were, and not repent of having permitted me to follow him, and that I must think of my child as well as myself; but he did not expect any such good fortune as a battle, the old marshal was so set against it!
But I knew that he did expect a battle, by the way he came back and back again to embrace me and his child.
I have waited and watched many times since that day, but never as I then waited. With what agony I watched and prayed! how I lived either before the altar, or at the window! how I seemed to be all eyes and ears! How reports came that there was fighting, then that we had the day, then that all was lost! Then came a calm, and it was said that Marshal de l'Hospital had refused to fight, and was in full retreat, with the Duke of Enghien cursing and swearing and tearing his hair. My landlord had a visit from the mayor to say that he must prepare to have some men billeted on him, and I sent out to inquire for horses, but decided that, as it was only our own troops retreating, there would be plenty of time. Then one of the maids of the house rushed in declaring that firing was plainly to be heard. Half the people were out in the streets, many more had gone outside the city to listen. Tryphena sat crying with fright, and rocking the baby in her lap, and wishing she had never come to this dreadful country. Alas! poor Tryphena she would have been no better off in her own at that moment! I ran from window to door, unable to rest a moment, listening to the cries in the streets, asking the landlady what she heard, and then running back to my own room to kneel in prayer, but starting up at the next sound in the streets.
At last, just before sunset, on that long, long 19th of May, all the bells began to ring, clashing as if mad with joy, and a great roaring shout burst out all over the city: 'Victory! Victory! Vive le Roi! Vive le Duc d'Enghien!'
I was at the window just in time to see a party of splendid horsemen, carrying the striped and castellated colours of Spain, galloping through the town, followed by universal shouts and acclamations. My man-servant, Nicole, frantic with joy, came in to tell me that they had only halted at the inn long enough to obtain fresh horses, on their way to the Queen-Regent with the news of the great victory of Rocroy. More standards taken, more cannon gained, more of the enemy killed and captive than could be counted, and all owing to the surpassing valour of the Duke of Enghien!
'And my husband!' I cried, and asked everybody, as if, poor little fool that I was, any one was likely to know how it fared with one single captain of the dragoons of Conde on such a day as that.
The good landlady and Tryphena both tried to reassure me that if there were ill news it would have been sent to me at once; but though they persuaded me at last to go to bed, I could not sleep, tossing about and listening till morning light, when I dropped into a sound sleep, which lasted for hours. I had longed for the first morning mass to go and pray there, but after all I only heard the bells through my slumber, feeling as if I could not rouse myself, and then —as it seemed to me, in another moment—I heard something that made me turn round on my pillow and open my eyes, and there he stood—my husband himself. His regiment had surpassed itself; he had received the thanks of his colonel; he had but snatched a few hours' sleep, and had ridden off to assure his Gildippe of his safety by her own eyes, and to rejoice over our splendid victory.
And yet he could not but shudder as he spoke. When they had asked a Spanish prisoner how many there had been in the army, 'Count the dead,' he proudly answered. Nor could my husband abstain from tears as he told me how the old Spanish guards were all lying as they stood, slain all together, with their colonel, the Count of Fontanes, at their head, sitting in the armchair in which he had been carried to the field, for he was more than eighty years old, and could not stand or ride on account of the gout.
The Duke of Enghien had said that if he had not been victorious, the next best thing would be to have died like that.
But his charges, his fire, his coolness, his skill, the vehemence which had triumphed over the caution of the old marshal, and the resolution which had retrieved the day when his colleague was wounded; of all this M. de Bellaise spoke with passionate ardour and enthusiasm, and I—oh! I think that was the happiest and most glorious day of all my life!
When we went together to mass, how everybody looked at him! and when we returned there was quite a little crowd—M. le Gouverneur and his officials eager to make their compliments to M. de Bellaise, and to ask questions about the Duke and about the battle, and whether he thought the Duke would march this way, in which case a triumphal entry should be prepared. They wanted to have regaled M. de Bellaise with a banquet, and were sadly disappointed when he said he had only stolen a few hours to set his wife's heart at rest, and must return immediately to the camp.
There was little after that to make me anxious, for our army merely went through a course of triumphs, taking one city after another in rapid succession. I remained at Mezieres, and M. de Bellaise sometimes was able to spend a few days with me, much, I fear, to the derision of his fellow-soldiers, who could not understand a man's choosing such a form of recreation. We had been walking under the fine trees in the PLACE on a beautiful summer evening, and were mounting the stairs on our return home, when we heard a voice demanding of the hostess whether this were the lodging of Captain de Bellaise.
I feared that it was a summons from the camp, but as the stranger came forward I saw that he was a very young man in the dress of a groom, booted, spurred, and covered with dust and dried splashes of mud, though his voice and pronunciation were those of a gentleman.
'Do you bring tidings from M. le Marquis?' inquired my husband, who had recognized our livery.
'Ah! I have deceived you likewise, and no wonder, for I should not have known you, Philippe,' cried the new comer.
'Armand d'Aubepine! Impossible! I thought your child was a girl,' exclaimed my husband.
'And am I to waste my life and grow old ingloriously on that account?' demanded the youth, who had by this time come up to our rooms.
'Welcome, then, my brother,' said my husband a little gravely, as I thought. 'My love,' he added, turning to me, 'let me present to you my brother-in-law, the Chevalier d'Aubepine.'
With infinite grace the Chevalier put a knee to the ground, and kissed my hand.
'Madame will be good enough to excuse my present appearance,' he said, 'in consideration of its being the only means by which I could put myself on the path of honour.'
'It is then an evasion?' said my husband gravely.
'My dear Viscount, do not give yourself the airs of a patriarch. They do not suit with your one-and-twenty years, even though you are the model of husbands. Tell me, where is your hero?'
'The Duke? He is before Thionville.'
'I shall be at his feet in another day. Tell me how goes the war. What cities are falling before our arms?'
He asked of victories; M. de Bellaise asked of his sister. 'Oh! well, well, what do I know?' he answered lightly, as if the matter were beneath his consideration; and when I inquired about his child, he actually made a grimace, and indeed he had barely seen her, for she had been sent out to be nursed at a farmhouse, and he did not even recollect her name. I shall never forget how he stared, when at the sound of a little cry my husband opened the door and appeared with our little Gaspard, now five months old, laughing and springing in his arms, and feeling for the gold on his uniform. The count had much the same expression with which I have seen a lady regard me when I took a caterpillar in my hand.
'Ah! ah!' cried our Chevalier; 'with all his legs and arms too! That is what comes of marrying an Englishwoman.' [he did not know I was within hearing, for I had gone in to give Tryphena orders about the room he would occupy.] 'Beside, it is a son.'
'I hope one day to have a daughter whom I shall love the more, the more she resembles her mother,' said my husband, to tease him.
'Bah! You will not have to detest her keeping you back from glory! Tell me, Philippe, could a lettre de cachet reach me here?'
'We are on French soil. What have you been doing, Armand?'
'Only flying from inglorious dullness, my friend. Do not be scandalized, but let me know how soon I can reach the hero of France, and enroll myself as a volunteer.'
'The Duke is at Binche. I must return thither tomorrow. You had better eat and sleep here tonight, and then we can decide what is to be done.'
'I may do that,' the youth said, considering. 'My grandfather could hardly obtain an order instantaneously, and I have a fair start.'
So M. de Bellaise lent him some clothes, and he appeared at supper as a handsome lively-looking youth, hardly come to his full height, for he was only seventeen, with a haughty bearing, and large, almost fierce dark eyes, under eyebrows that nearly met.
At supper he told us his story. He was, as you know the only scion of the old house of Aubepine, his father having been killed in a duel, and his mother dying at his birth. His grandparents bred him up with the most assiduous care, but (as my husband told me) it was the care of pride rather than of love. When still a mere boy, they married him to poor little Cecile de Bellaise, younger still, and fresh from her convent, promising, on his vehement entreaty, that so soon as the succession should be secured by the birth of a son, he should join the army.
Imagine then his indignation and despair when a little daughter—a miserable little girl, as he said—made her appearance, to prolong his captivity. For some centuries, he said—weeks he meant—he endured, but then came the tidings of Rocroy to drive him wild with impatience, and the report that there were negotiations for peace completed the work. He made his wife give him her jewels and assist his escape from the window of her chamber; bribed a courier—who was being sent from M. de Nidemerle to my husband—to give him his livery and passport and dispatches, and to keep out of sight; and thus passed successfully through Paris, and had, through a course of adventures which he narrated with great spirit, safely reached us. Even if the rogue of a courier, as he justly called his accomplice, had betrayed him, there was no fear but that he would have time to put himself on the roll of the army, whence a promising young noble volunteer was not likely to be rejected.
My husband insisted that he should write to ask the pardon of his grandfather, and on that condition engaged to introduce him to the Duke and to the lieutenant-colonel of his regiment. M. de Bellaise then inquired anxiously after the health of our uncle, who, on the death of his wife, had retired to his own estate at Nid de Merle, close to the Chateau d'Aubepine. Of this the young gentleman could tell little or nothing.
'Bah!' he said, adding what he thought was a brilliant new military affirmation, unaware that it was as old as the days of the League. 'What know I? He is, as all old men are, full of complaints.'
Handsome, graceful, courteous, spirited as was this young Chevalier, I could not like him, and I afterwards told my husband that I wondered at his assisting him.
'My love,' he said, 'the Chateau d'Aubepine is dull enough to die of. The poor fellow was eating out his own heart. He has followed his instinct, and it is the only thing that can save him from worse corruption.'
'His instinct of selfishness,' I said. 'His talk was all of glory, but it was of his own glory, not his duty nor the good of his country. He seems to me to have absolutely no heart!'
'Do not be hard on him; remember how he has been brought up.'
'You were brought up in like manner by two old people.'
'Ah! but they loved me. Besides, my tutor and his were as different as light and darkness.'
'And your poor little sister,' I said.
'She must have won his gratitude by her assistance. He will have learnt to love her when he returns. Come, ma mie, you must forgive him. If you knew what his captivity was, you could not help it. He was the play-fellow of my boyhood, and if I can help him to the more noble path, my aid must not be wanting, either for his sake or that of my sister.'
How wise and how noble these two years had made my dear husband; how unlike the raw lad I had met at Whitehall! It was the training in self-discipline that he had given himself for my sake—yes, and for that of his country and his God.
VICTORY DEARLY BOUGHT
No difficulty was made about enrolling the Chevalier d'Aubepine as a volunteer in the regiment of Conde, and as the lettre de cachet, as my brother De Solivet said, the Cardinal understood his game too well to send one to bring back a youth who had rushed to place himself beneath the banners of his country in the hands of a prince of the blood.
Indeed, we soon learned that there was no one to pursue him. His grandfather had a stroke of apoplexy in his rage on hearing of the arrest, and did not survive it a week, so that he had become Count of Aubepine. The same courier brought to my husband a letter from his sister, which I thought very stiff and formal, all except the conclusion: 'Oh, my brother, I implore you on my knees to watch over him and bring him back to me!'
Yet, as far as we knew and believed, the young man had never written at all to his poor little wife. My husband had insisted on his producing a letter to his grandfather; but as to his wife, he shrugged his shoulders, said that she could see that he was safe, and that was enough for her.
He was, in fact, like one intoxicated with the delights of liberty and companionship. He enjoyed a certain eclat from the manner of his coming, and was soon a universal favourite among the officers. Unfortunately, the influence and example there were not such as to lead him to think more of his wife. The Duke of Enghien had been married against his will to a poor little childish creature, niece to Cardinal de Richelieu, and he made it the fashion to parade, not only neglect, but contempt, of one's wife. He was the especial hero of our young Count's adoration, and therefore it was the less wonder that, when in the course of the winter, the chaplain wrote that the young Madame le Comtesse was in the most imminent danger, after having given birth to the long desired son and heir, he treated the news with supreme carelessness. We should never have known whether she lived or died, had not the courier, by whom M. de Bellaise wrote to her as well as to his uncle, brought back one of her formal little letters, ill-spelt and unmeaning, thanking Monsieur son frere and Madame sa femme for their goodness, and saying she was nearly recovered.
'It cuts me to the heart to receive such letters,' said my husband, 'and to feel how little I can be to her. Some day I hope I may know her better, and make her feel what a brother means.'