Charlotte Mary Yonge.

The chaplet of pearls; or, The white and black Ribaumont (Volume 1) online

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And brought the king that very niglit,
And brake my bower and slew my knight."

The Border Widoiv's Lament.

That same Latin hymn wliicli Cecily St. John daily chanted
in her own chamber was due from the choir of Cistercian
sisters in the chapel of the Convent of our Lady at Bellaise,
in the Bocage of Anjou ; hut there was a convenient practice
of kimping together the entire night and forenoon hours at
nine o'clock in the morning, and all the evening ones at
Compline, so that the sisters might have undisturbed sleep at
night and entertainment by day. Bellaise was a very com-
fortable little nunnery, which only received richly dowered
inmates, and was therefore able to maintain them in much
ease, though without giving occasion to a breath of scandal.
Founded by a daughter of the first Angevin Eibaumont, it had
become a sort of appanage for the superfluous daughters of the
house, and nothing would more have amazed its present head,
Eustacie Barbe de Eibaumont, — conventually known as La

1 Bellaise is not meant for a type of all nunneries, but of the con-
dition to which many of the lesser ones had come before tire general
reaction and purification of the seventeenth century.



M^re Marie Seraphine de St. -Louis, and to the world as
Madame de Bellaise, — than to be accused of not fulfilling the
intentions of the Bienheureuse Barbe, the foundress, or of
her patron St. Bernard.

Madame de Bellaise was a fine-looking woman of forty, in
a high state of preservation, owing to the healthy life she had
led. Her eyes were of brilliant, beautiful black, her com-
plexion had a glow, her hair — for she wore it visibly — formed
crisp rolls of jetty ringlets on her temples, almost hiding her
close white cap. The heavy thick veil was tucked back be-
neath the furred purple silk hood that fastened under her chin.
The white robes of her order were not of serge, but of the
finest cloth, and were almost hidden by a short purple cloak
with sleeves, likewise lined and edged with fur, and fastened
on the bosom with a gold brooch. Her fingers, bearing
more rings than the signet of her house, were concealed in
embroidered gauntlets of Spanish leather. One of them held
an ivory-handled riding-rod, the other the reins of the well-
fed jennet, on which the lady, on a fine afternoon late in the
Carnival, was cantering home through the lanes of the Bocage,
after a successful morning's hawking among the wheat ears.
She was attended by a pair of sisters, arrayed somewhat in
the same style, and by a pair of mounted grooms, the falconer
with his charge having gone home by a footway.

The sound of horses' feet approaching made her look
towards a long lane that came down at right angles to that
along which she was riding, and slacken her pace before
coming to its opening. And as she arrived at the intersec-
tion, she beheld advancing, mounted on a little rough pony,
the spare figure of her brother the Chevalier, in his home
suit, so greasy and frayed, that only his plumed hat (and a
rusty plume it was) and the old sword at his side showed his

high degree.


He waved his hand to her as a sign to halt, and rode
quickly up, scarcely giving time for a greeting ere he said,
" Sister, the little one is not out with you."

" ISTo, truly, the little mad thing, she is stricter and more
headstrong than ever was her preceptress. Poor Monique !
I had hoped that we should he at rest when that casse-tete
had carried off her scruples to Ste. -Claire, at Lu^on, hut
here is this little droll far beyond her, without being even
a nnn ! "

"Assuredly not. The business must be concluded at
once. She must be married before Lent."

" That will scarce be — in her present frame."

" It must be. Listen, sister. Here is this miserable
alive !"

" Her spouse !"

" Folly about her spouse ! The decree from Eome has
annulled the foolish mummery of her infancy. It came a
week after the Protestant conspiracy, and was registered
when the N"orman peasants at Chateau Leurre showed con-
tumacy. It was well ; for, behold, our gallant is among his
English friends, recovering, and even writing a billet. Anon
he will be upon our hands in person. By the best fortune,
Gillot fell in with his messenger this morning, prowling
about on his way to the convent, and brought him to me to
be examined. I laid him fast in ward, and sent Gillot off
to ride day and night to bring my son down to secure the
girl at once."

" You will never obtain her consent. She is distractedly
in love with his memory ! Let her guess at his life,
and "

"Precisely. Therefore must we be speedy. All Paris
knows it by this time, for the fellow went straight to the
English Ambassador j and I trust my son has been wise



enough to set off already ; for should we wait till after Lent,
Monsieur le Baron himself might be upon us."

" Poor child ! You men little heed how you make a
woman suffer."

" How, Keverend Mother ! you pleading for a heretic
marriage, that would give our rights to a Huguenot — what
say I ? — an English renegade ! "

" I plead not, brother. The' injustice towards you must
be repaired ; but I have a certain love for my niece, and I
fear she will be heartbroken when she learns the truth, the
poor child."

" Bah ! The Abbess should rejoice in thus saving her
soul ! How if her heretic treated Bellaise like the convents
of England?"

" No threats, brother. As a daughter of Eibaumont and
a mother of the Church will I stand by you," said the Abbess
with dignity.

" And now tell me how it has been with the child. I
have not seen her since we agreed that the request did but
aggravate her. You said her health was better since her
nurse had been so often with her, and that she had ceased
from her austerities."

" Not entirely ; for when first she came, in her transports
of despair and grief on finding Soeur Monique removed, she
extorted from Father Bonami a sort of hope that she might
yet save her husband's, I mean the Baron's, soul. Then,
truly, it was a frenzy of fasts and prayers. Father Bonami
has made his profit, and so have the fathers of Chollet — aU
her money has gone in masses, and in alms to purchase the
prayers of the poor, and she herself fasting on bread and
water, kneeling barefooted in the chapel till she was trans-
fixed with cold. No cliaufferette, not she ! Obstinate to the
last degree ! Tell her she would die — it was the best news


one could bring ; all her desire, to be in a more rigid house
with Soeur Monique at Lu^on. At length, Mere Perrine and
Veronique found her actually fainting and powerless with
cold on the chapel-floor ; and since that time she has been
more reasonable. There are prayers as much as ever ; but
the fancy to kill herself with fasting has passed. She begins
to recover her looks, nay, sometimes I have thought she had
an air of hope in her eyes and lips ; but what know I ? I
have much to occupy me, and she persists in shutting herself
up with her woman."

"You have not allowed her any communication from

"Mere Perrine has come and gone freely; but she is
nothing. JSTo, the child could have no correspondence. She
did, indeed, write a letter to the Queen, as you know, brother,
six weeks ago ; but that has never been answered, nor could
any letters have harmed you, since it is only now that tliis
young man is known to be living."

"You are right, sister. JSTo harm can have been done.
All will go well. The child must be wearied with her frenzy
of grief and devotion ! She wUl catch gladly at an excuse
for change. A scene or two, and she will readily yield ! "

" It is true," said the Abbess, thoughtfully, " that she has
walked and ridden out lately. She has asked questions about
her chateaux, and their garrisons. I have heard nothing of
the stricter convent for many weeks ; but still, brother, you
must go warily to work."

" And you, sister, must show no relenting. Let her not
fancy she can work upon you."

Ey this time the brother and sister were at the gateway of
the convent; a lay sister presided there, but there was no
cloture, as the strict seclusion of a nunnery was called, and
the Chevalier rode into the cloistered quadrangle as naturally


as if lie had been entering a secular chateau, dismounted at
the porch of the hall, and followed Madame de Bellaise to
the parlour, while she despatched a request that her niece
would attend her there.

The parlour had no grating to divide it, but was merely a
large room furnished with tapestry, carved chests, chairs, and
cushions, much like other reception-rooms. A large, cheerful
wood-fire blazed upon the hearth, and there was a certain
air of preparation, as indeed an ecclesiastical dignity from
Saumur was expected to sup with the ladies that evening.

After some interval, spent by the Chevalier in warming
himself, a low voice at the door was heard, saying, " Dem
vobiscum." The Abbess answered, " Et cum spiritu tuo ;"
and on this monastic substitute for a knock and " come in,"
there appeared a figure draped and veiled from head to foot
in heavy black, so as to look almost like a sable moving cone.
She made an obeisance as she entered, saying, " You com-
manded my presence, madame?"

" Your uncle would speak to you, daughter, on affairs of

" At his service. I, too, would speak to him."

" First, then, my dear friend," said the Chevalier, " let me
see you. That face must not be mufiled any longer from
those who love you."

She made no movement of obedience, until her aunt
peremptorily bade her turn back her veU. She did so, and
disclosed the little face, so well known to her uncle, but less
childish in its form, and the dark eyes less sparkling, though
at once softer and more resolute.

"Ah! my fair niece," said the Chevalier, "this is no
visage to be hidden ! I am glad to see it re-embellished,
and it will be lovelier than ever when you have cast ofi" this


" That will never be," said Eustacie.

" All ! we know better ! My daughter is sending down a
counterpart of her own wedding-dress for our bride of the

"And who may that bride be?" said Eustacie, endea-
voming to speak as though it were nothing to her.

"ISTaj^, maintite! it is too long to play the ignorant when
the bridegroom is on his way from Paris."

" Madame," said Eustacie, turning to her aunt, "you can-
not suffer this scandal. The meanest peasant may weep her
first year of widowhood in peace."

" Listen, child. There are weighty reasons. The Duke
of Anjou is a candidate for the throne of Poland, and my son
is to accompany him thither. He must go as Marquis de
Nid-de-Merle, in full possession of your estates."

" Let him take them," began Eustacie, but broke off half-
way through, with a muttered " Oh — no."

" That is childish, as I see you perceive," said her uncle,
"inconsistent with his honour."

"Does he speak of honour," said Eustacie, "who first
commits a cowardly murder, and then forces himself on the
widow he has made ?"

" Polly, child, folly," said the Chevalier, who supposed her
ignorant of the circumstances of her husband's assassination ;
and the Abbess, who was really ignorant, exclaimed — "i^i
done, niece ; you know not what you say."

"I laiow, madame — I know from an eye-witness," said
Eustacie, firmly. " I know the brutal words that embittered
my husband's death ; and were there no other cause, they
would render wedlock with him who spoke them sacrilege."
E'esolutely and steadily did the young wife speak, looking at
them with the dry fixed eye to which tears had been denied
•ever since that eventful night.


"Poor child," said the Chevalier to his sister. "She is

under the delusion still. Husband ! There is none in the

case." Then waving his hand as Eustacie's face grew

crimson, and her eyes flashed indignation, while her lips

parted, " It Avas her own folly that rendered it needfid to put

an end to the boy's presumption. Had she been less wilful

and more obedient, instead of turning the poor lad's head by

playing at madame, we could have let him return to his

island fogs ; but when she encouraged him in contemplating

the carrying her away, and alienating her and her lands from

the true faith, there was but one remedy — to let him perish

with the rest. My son is willing to forgive her childish

pleasure in a boy's passing homage, and has obtained tlie

King's sanction to an immediate marriage."

"Which, to spare you, my dear," added the aunt, "shall
take place in our chapel."

" It shall never take place anywhere," said Eustacie,
quietly, though with a quiver in her voice ; " no priest will
wed me when he has heard me."

"The dispensation will overcome all scruiDles," said the
Abbess. " Hear me, niece. I am sorry for you, but it is
best that you should know at once that there is nothing in
heaven or earth to aid you in resisting your duty."

Eustacie made no answer, but there was a strange half-
smile on her lip, and a light in her eye which gave her an air
not so much of entreaty as of defiance. She glanced from
one to the other as if considering, but then slightly shook her
head. "What does she mean?" asked the ChevaHer and
the Abbess one of another, as, with a dignified gesture, she
moved to leave the room.

" FoUow her. Convince her that she has no hope," said
the uncle ; and the Abbess, moving faster than her wont,
came up with her at the archway whence one corridor led to


the chapel, another to her own apartments. Her veil was
down again, but her aunt roughly withdrew it, saying, "Look
at me, Eustacie. I come to warn you that you need not look
to tamper with the sisters. Not one will aid you in your
headstrong folly. If you cast not off ere supper-time this
mockery of mourning, you shall taste of that discipline you
used to sigh for. We. have home with your fancy long
enough — you, who are no more a widow than I — nor wife."

"Wife and widow am I in the sight of Him who will,
protect me," said Eustacie, standing her ground.

" Insolent ! Wliy, did I not excuse this as a childish
delusion, should I not spurn one who durst love — what say
I — not a heretic merely, but the foe of her father's house 1"

" He ! " cried Eustacie ; " what had he ever done ? "

" He inherited the blood of the traitor Baron," returned
her aunt. " Ever have that recreant line injured us ! My
nephew's sword avenged the wrongs of many generations."

" Then," said Eustacie, looking at her with a steady, fixed
look of inquiry, " you, Madame 1' Abbesse, would have neither
mercy nor pity for the most innocent offspring of the elder
line 1 "

" Girl, what folly is this to talk to me of innocence. That
is not the question. The question is — obey willingly as
my dear daughter, or compulsion must be used 1 "

"My question is answered," said Eustacie, on her side.
" I see that there is neither pity nor hope from you."

And with another obeisance, she turned to ascend the stairs.
Madame paced back to her brother.

" What," he said ; " you have not yet dealt with her? "

" No, brother, I never saw a like mood. She seems neither
to fear nor to struggle. I knew she was too true a Eibaumont
for weak tears and entreaties ; but, fiery little being as once
she was, I looked to see her force spend itself in passion, and


tliat tlien tlie victory would liave been easy; but no, slie ever
looks as if she bad some inward resource — some security — and
tberefore could be calm. I should deem it some Huguenot
fanaticism, but sbe is a very saint as to the prayers of the
Church, the very torment of our lives."

'* Could she escape ? " exclaimed the Chevalier, who had
been considering while his sister was speaking.

" Impossible ! Besides, where could she go 1 But the
gates shall be closed. I will warn the portress to let none
pass out "without my permission."

The Chevalier took a turn up and down the room ; then
exclaimed, " It was very ill-advised to let her women have
access to her ! Let us have Yeronique summoned instantly."

At that moment, however, the ponderous carriage of
Monseigneur, with out-riders, both lay and clerical, came
trampling up to the archway, and the Abbess hurried off to
her own apartment to divest herself of her hunting- gear ere
she received her guest ; and the orders to one of the nuns
to keep a watch on her niece were oddly mixed with those to
the cook, confectioner, and butterer.

La Mure j\Iarie Seraphine was not a cruel or an unkind
woman. She had been very fond of her pretty little niece in
her childhood, but had deeply resented the arrangement
which had removed her from her own superintendence to
that of the Englishwoman, besides the uniting to the young
Earon one whom she deemed the absolute right of N"arcisse.
She had received Eustacie on her first return with great joy,
and had always treated her with much indulgence, and when
the drooping, broken-hearted girl came back once more to the
shelter of her convent, the good-humoured Abbess only
wished to make her happy again.

But Eustacie's misery was far beyond the ken of her aunt,
and the jovial turn of these consolations did but deepen her


agony. To be congratulated on her release from the heretic,
assiu'ed of future happiness with her cousin, and, above all, to
hear Berenger abused with all the bitterness of rival family
and rival religion, tore up the lacerated spirit. lU, dejected,
and broken down, too subdued to fire up in defence, and
only longing for the power of indulging in silent grief,
Eustacie had shrunk from her, and wrapped herself up in the
ceaseless round of masses and prayers, in which she was
allowed to perceive a glimmering of hope for her husband's
soul. Tlie Abbess, ever busy with affairs of her convent or
matters of pleasure, soon relinquished the vain attempt to
console where she could not sympathise, trusted that the
fever of devotion would wear itself out, and left her niece to
herself. Of the seven nuns, two were decorously gay, like
their Mother Abbess; one was a j)rodigious worker of
tapestry, two were unrivalled save by one another as con-
fectioners. Eustacie had been their pet in her younger
days; now she was out of their reach, they tried in turn
to comfort her; and when she would not be comforted,
they, too, felt aggrieved by the presence of one whose
austerity rei:)roached their own laxity ; they resented her
disappointment at Soeur Monique's having been transferred
to Lugon, and they, too, left her to the only persons whose
presence she had ever seemed to relish, — namely, her maid
Veronique, and Veronique's mother, her old nurse Perrine,
wife of a farmer about two miles off. The woman had been
Eustacie's foster-mother, and continued to exert over her
much of the caressing care of a nurse.

After parting with her aunt, Eustacie for a moment looked
towards the chapel, then, clasping her hands, murmured to
herself, " ISTo ! no ! speed is my best hope ; " and at once
mounted the stairs, and entered a room, where the large
stone crucifix, a waxen IMadonna, and the holy water font


gave a cell-like aspect to tlie room ; and a straw pallet
covered with sackcloth was on the floor, a richly curtaiaed
couch driven into the rear, as unused.

She knelt for a moment before the Madonna, " Ave
Maria, be with me and mine. Oh ! blessed Lady, thou
hadst to fly with thy Holy One from cruel men. Have thou
pity on the fatherless ! "

Then going to the door, she clapped her hands; and, as
Veronique entered, she bade her shut and bolt the door,
and at the same moment began in nervous haste to throw off
her veil and unfasten her dress.

" Make haste, Veronique. A dress of thine "

" All is known, then ! " cried Veronique, throwing up her

" N"o, but he is coming — Xarcisse — to marry me at once —
Mardi-Gras "

" Et quoi ? Madame has but to speak the word, and it is

" And after what my aunt has said, I would die a thousand
deaths ere speaking that word. I asked her, Veronique I
She would have vengeance on the most guiltless — the most
guiltless — do you hear 1 — of the Norman house. ISlever, never
shall she have the chance ! Come, thy striped petticoat ! "

" But, oh ! what will madame do ? Where would she go?
Oh ! it is impossible."

" First to thy father's. Yes, I know. He has once called
it a madness to think of rallying my vassals to protect their
lady. That was when he heard of it from thee — thou faint
of heart — and thy mother. I shall speak to him in person
now. Make haste, I tell thee, girl. I must be out of this
place before I am watched or guarded," she added breath-
lessly. " I feel as if each moment I lost might have death
upon it ; " and she looked about her like a startled deer.


** To my father's. Ah ! there it is not so ill ! But the
twilight, the length of way," sobbed Veronique, in grievous
distress and perplexity. " Oh ! madame, I cannot see you
go. The Mother Abbess is good. She must have pity.
Oh, trust to her ! "

" Trust ! Did I not trust to my Cousin Diane 1 E"ever !
Nothing will kill me but remaining in then hands."

V(5ronique argued and implored in vain. Ever since, in
the height of those vehement austerities by which the
bereaved and shattered sufferer strove to appease her
wretchedness by the utmost endeavour to save her husband's
soul, the old foster-mother had made known to her that she
might thus sacrifice another than herself, Eustacie's elastic
heart had begun to revive, with all its dauntless strength of
wiU. What to her women seemed only a fear, was to her
only a hope.

Frank and confiding as was her nature, however, the cruel
deceptions already practised on her by her own kindred,
together with the harsh words with which the Abbess spoke
of Berenger, had made her aware that no comfort must be
looked for in that quarter. It was, after all, j)erhaps her
own instinct, and the aunt's want of sympathy, that with-
held her from seeking counsel of any save Perrine and her
daughter, at any rate till she could communicate with the
kind young Queen. To her, then, Eustacie had written,
entreating that a royal mandate would recall her in time to
bestow herself in some trustworthy hands, or even in her
husband's own Norman castle, where his heir would be both
safe and welcome. But time had passed — the whole space
that she had reckoned as needful for the going and coming
of her messenger — allowing for all the obstructions of winter
roads — nay, he had come back; she knew her letter was
delivered, but answer there was none. It might yet come —


perhaps a royal carriage and escort — and day after day liad
she waited and hoped, only tardily admitting the conviction
that Elisabeth of Austria was as powerless as Eustacie de
Eibaumont, and meantime revolving and proposing many a
scheme that could only have entered the brain of a brave-
spirited child as sbe was. To appeal to her vassals, garrison
with them a ruinous old tower in the woods, and thence
send for aid to the Montmorencys ; to ride to Saumur, and
claim the protection of the governor of the province ; to make
her way to the coast and sail for England ; to start for Paris,
and throw herself in person on the Queen's protection, — all
had occurred to her, and been discussed with her two con-
fidantes ; but the hope of the Queen's interference, together
with the exceeding diflS.culty of acting, had hitherto prevented
her from taking' any steps, since no suspicion had arisen in
the minds of those about her. Veronique, caring infinitely
more for her mistress's health and well-being than for the
object of Eustacie's anxieties, had always secretly trusted
that delay would last till action was impossible, and that the
discovery would be made, only without her being accused
of treason. In the present stress of danger, she could but
lament and entreat, for Eustacie's resolution bore her down ;
and besides, as she said to herself, her Lady was after all
going to her foster-father and mother, who would make her
hear reason, and bring her back at once, and then there
would be no anger nor disgrace incurred. The dark muddy
length of walk would be the worst of it — and, bah ! most

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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeThe chaplet of pearls; or, The white and black Ribaumont (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 23)