Charlotte Mary Yonge.

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

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likely Madame would be convinced by it, and return of her
own accord.

So Veronique, though not intermitting her protests,
adjusted her own dress upon her mistress, — short striped
petticoat, black bodice, winged turban-Hke white cap, and a
great muffling grey cloth cloak and hood over the head and


shoulders — the costume iu which Vcrouique Avas wont to
run to her home in the twilight on various errands, chiefly
to carry her mistress's linen ; for, starching Eustacie's plain
hands and cuffs, was Mt;re Perrine's special pride. The
wonted hundle, therefore, now contained a few garments, and
the money and jewels, especially the chaplet of pearls, which
Eustacie regarded as a trust,

Sohbing, and still protesting, y(^ronique, however, engaged
that if her Lady succeeded in safely crossing the kitchen in
the twilight, and in leaving the convent, she would keej) the
secret of her escape as long as possihle, reportmg her refusal
to appear at supper, and making such excuses as might very
probably prevent the discovery of her flight till next day.

"And then," said Eustacie, "I will send for thee, either
to Saumur, or to the old tower ! Adieu, dear Veronique, do
not be frightened. Thou dost not know how glad I am that
the time for doing something is come ! To-morrow ! "

" To-morrow ! " thought Veronique, as she shu.t the door ;
"before that you will be back here again, my poor little
Lady, trembling, weeping, in dhe need of being comforted,
But I will make up a good fire, and shake out the bed.
I'll let her have no more of that villanous palliasse. !N"o,
no, let her try her own way, and repent of it j then, when
this matter is over, she will turn her mind to Chevalier
Narcisse, and there will be no more languishing in this
miserable hole."



" I winna spare for his tender age,
Nor yet for his hie kin ;
But soon as ever he born is,

He shall mount the gallows' pin."

Pause Foodrage.

Dusk was closing in, but lamps had not yet been lighted,
•when with a trembling, yet almost a bounding heart, Eustacie
stole down the stone staircase, leading to a back-door — an
utterly uncanonical appendage to a nunnery, but one much
used among the domestic establishment of Bellaise.

A gleam of rod light spread across the passage from the
half-open kitchen door, whence issued the savoury steam of
the supper preparing for Monseigneur. Eustacie had just
cautiously traversed it, when the voice of the presiding lay-
sister called out, *• Veronique, is that you 1 "

" Sister !" returned Eustacie, with as much of the Angevin
twang as she could assume.

" Where are you going 1 "

" To the Orchard Farm with this linen."

" Ah ! it must be. But there are strict orders come from
Madame about nobody going out unreported, and you may
chance to find the door locked if you do not come back in
^ood time. Oh! and I had well-nigh forgot; tell your


mother to be here early to-morrow, Madame would speak
with her."

Eustacie assented, half stifled by the great throb of her
fluttering heart at the sense that she had indeed seized the
last moment. Forth then she stepped. How dark, waste,
and lonely the open field looked ! But her heart did not
fan her ; she could only feel that a captivity Avas over, and
the most vague and terrible of her anxieties soothed, as she
made her way into one of the long shady lanes of the Bocage.
It was nearly dark, and very muddy, but she had all the
familiarity of a native with the Avay, and the farm, where
she had trotted about in her infancy Hke a peasant's child,
always seemed like home to her. It had been a prime treat
to visit it daring her time of education at the convent, and
there was an association of pleasure in treading the path that
seemed to bear her up, and give her enjoyment in the mere
adventure and feeling of escape and liberty. She had no
fear of the dark, nor of the distant barking of dogs, but the
mire was deep, and it was plodding work in those heavy
sabots, up the lane that led from the convent ; and the poor
child was sorely weary long before she came to the top of
the low hill that she used scarcely to know to be rising
crround at all. The stars had come out ; and as she sat for a
few moments to rest on a large stone, she saw the lights of
the cottage fires in the village below, and looking round
could also see the many gleams in the convent windows, the
red fire-light in her own room among them. She shivered a
little as she thought of its glowing comfort, but turned her
back resolutely, tightened her cloak over her head, looked
up to a glimmer in the watch-tower of her own castle, far
above her on the hill, and closed against her; and then
smiled to herself with hope at the sparkle of a window in a
lonely farmhouse among the fields.



With fresli vigour slie rose, and found her way through
lane and field-path to the paddock where she had so often
played. Here a couple of huge dogs dashed forward with an
explosion of barks, dying away into low growls as she spoke
to them by their names, and called aloud on "Blaise !" and
"Mere Perrine!" The cottage-door was opened, the light
streamed forth, and a man's head in a broad hat appeared.
" Veronique, girl, is this an hour to be gadding abroad?"

" Blaise, do you not know me ?"

" It is our Lady. Ah!"

The next moment the wanderer was seated in the ample
wooden chair of the head of the family, the farmer and his
two stout sons standing before her as their liege Lady, and
Mere Perrine hanging over her, in great anxiety, not wholly
dispelled by her low girlish laugh, partly of exultation at
her successful evasion, partly of amusement at their wonder,
and partly, too, because it was so natural to her to enjoy
herseK at that hearth that she could not help it. A savoury
mess from the great caldron that was for ever stewing over
the fire was at once fished out for her, before she was allowed
to explain herself ; and as she ate with the carved spoon and
from the earthenware crock that had been called Mademoi-
selle's ever since her baby-days, Perrine chafed and warmed
her feet, fondled her, and assured her, as if she were still
their spoiled child, that they would do all she wished.

Pierre and Tiennot, the two sons, were sent out to fodder
the cattle, and keep careful watch for any sounds of pursuers
from the convent ; and Blaise, in the plenitude of his respect
and deference, would have followed them, but Eustacie
desired him to remain to give her counsel.

Her first inquiry was after the watch-tower. She did not
care for any discomfort if her vassals would be faithful, and
hold it out for her, till she could send for help to the allies


of her husband's house, and her ej'-es glanced as she

But Blaise shook his head. He had looked at the tower
as Madame bade, but it was all in ruins, crumbling away,
and, moreover, M. le Chevalier had put a forester there — i
a grim, bad subject, who had been in the Itahan wars,
and cared neither for saint nor devil, except Chevalier
Narcisse. Indeed, even if he had not been there, the place
was untenable, it would only be getting into a trap.

" Count Hebert held it out for twelve days against the
English ! " said Eustacie, proudly.

"Ah ! ah ! but there were none of your falconets, or what,
call you those cannons then. No ; if Madame would present
herself as a choice morsel for Monsieur le Chevalier to snap
lup, that is the place."

Then came the other plan of getting an escort of the
peasants together, and riding with them towards the Hu-
guenot territories around La Rochelle, where, for her hus-
band's sake, Eustacie could hardly faU to obtain friends. It
was the more practicable expedient, but Blaise groaned over
it, wondered how many of the farmers could be trusted, or
brought together, and finally expressed his intention of
going to consult Martin, his staunch friend, at the next
farm. Meantime, Madame had better lie down and sleep.
And Madame did sleep, in Perrine's huge box-bedstead,
with a sweet, calm, childlike slumber, whilst her nurse sat
watching her with eyes full of tears of pity and distress ; the
poor young thing's buoyant hopefulness and absence of all fear
seemed to the old woman especially sad, and like a sort of
want of comprehension of the full peril in which she stood.

Not till near dawn was Eustacie startled from her rest by
approaching steps. " Nurse, is all ready ? " she cried. " Can
we set off? Are the horses there ? "



" No, my child ; it is but my good man and Martin who
would speak with you. Do not hasten. There is nothing
amiss as yet."

" Oh nurse," cried Eustacie, as she quickly arranged the
dress in which she had lain down, " the dear old farm always
makes me sleep well. This is the first time I have had no
dream of the whirling wheel and fiery gates ! Oh, is it a
token that he is indeed at rest ? I am so well, so strong. I
can ride anywhere now. Let them come in and tell me."

Martin was a younger, brisker, cleverer man than Blaise,
and besides, being a vassal of the young Lady, was a sort of
agent to whom the Abbess entrusted many of the matters
of husbandry regarding the convent lands. He stood, lilce
Blaise, bareheaded as he talked to the little Lady, and heard
her somewhat peremptorily demand why they had not
brought the horses and men for her escort.

It was impossible that night, explained Martin. Time
was needed to bring in the farm-horses, and summon the other
peasants, without whom the roads were unsafe in these times
of disorder. He and Blaise must go rouiid and warn them
to be ready. A man could not be ready in a wink of the
eye, as Madame seemed to think, and the two peasants
looked impenetrable in stolidity.

" Laggards that you are ! " cried Eustacie petulantly,
clasping her hands ; " and meantime all will be lost. They
will be upon me!"

"Not so, Madame. It is therefore that I came here,"
said Martin, deferentially, to the little fuming impatient
creature ; " Madame will be far safer close at hand while
the pursuit and search are going on. But she must not stay
here. This farm is the first place they will come to, while
they will never suspect mine, and my good woman Lucette
will be proud to keep watch for her. Madame knows that


the place is full of shrubs and thickets, where one half of
an army might spend a fine day in looking for the other."

" And at night you will get together the men and convey
me?" asked Eustacie, eagerly.

"All in good time, Madame. Now she must be off, ere
the holy mothers be astir. I have brought an ass for her
to ride."

Eustacie had no choice but compliance. None of the
Orchard family could go with her, as it was needful that
they should stay at home and appear as unconcerned as pos-
sible ; but they promised to meet her at the hour and place
to be appointed, and if possible to bring Veronique.

Eating a piece of rye-bread as she went, Eustacie, in her
grey cloak, rode under Martin's guardianship along the deep
lanes, just budding with spring, in the chill dewiness before
sunrise. She was silent, and just a little sullen, for she had
found stout shrewd Martin less easy to talk over than the
admiring Blaise, and her spirit was excessively chafed by the
tardiness of her retainers. But the sun rose and cleared
away all clouds of temper, the cocks crew, the sheep bleated,
and fresh morning sounds met her ear, and seemed to cheer
and fill her with hope ; and in some compunction for her
want of graciousness, she thanked Martin, and praised his
ass with a pretty cordiality that would have fully compen-
sated for her displeasm^e, even if the honest man had been
sensible of it.

He halted under the lee of a barn, and gave a low whistle.
At the sound, Lucette, a brown, sturdy young woman with
a red handkerchief over her head, and another over her
shoulders, came running round the corner of the barn, and
whispered eagerly under her breath, "Ah ! Madame, Madame,
Avhat an honour!" kissing Eustacie's hand with all her might
as she spoke ; " but, alas ! I fear Madame cannot come into


the house. The questing Brother Frangois — plague upon
him — has taken it into his head to drop in to breakfast. I
longed to give him the cold shoulder, but it might have
brought suspicion down."

" Eight, good woman," said Martin ; " but what shall
Madame do 1 It is broad day, and no longer safe to run the
lanes !"

" Give me a distaff," said Eustacie, rising to the occasion,.
" I will go to that bushy field, and herd the cows."

Madame was right, the husband and wife unwillingly
agreed. There, in her peasant dress, in the remote field,
sloping up into a thick wood, she was unlikely to attract
attention ; and though the field was bordered on one side by
the lane leading to the road to Paris, it was separated from it
by a steep bank, crowned by one of the thick hedgerows
characteristic of the Bocage.

Here, then, they were forced to leave her, seated on a stone
beneath a thornbush, distaff in hand, with bread, cheese, and
a pitcher of milk for her provisions, and three or four cows
grazing before her. From the higher ground below the
wood of ash and hazel, she could see the undulating fields
and orchards, a few houses, and that inhospitable castle of
her own.

She had spent many a drearier day in the convent than
this, in the free sun and air, with the feeling of liberty, and
unbounded hopes founded on this first success. She told
her beads diligently, trusting that the tale of devotions for
her husband's spirit would be equally made uj) in the field
as in the church, and intently all day were her ears and eyes
on the alert. Once Lucette visited her, to bring her a basin
of porridge, and to tell her that all the world at the convent
was in confusion, that messengers had been sent out in
all directions, and that M. le Chevalier had ridden out


himself in pursuit ; but they should soon hear all about it,
for Martin was pretending to be amongst the busiest, and
he would know how to turn them away. Again, much later
in the day, Martin came striding across the field, and had
just reached her, as she sat in the hedgerow, when the great
dog who followed him pricked his ears, and a tramping and
jingling was audible in the distance in the lane. Eustacie
held up her finger, her eyes dilating.

" It must be M. le Chevalier returning. Madame must
wait a little longer. I must be at home, or they may send
out to seek me here, and that would be ruin. I will return
as soon as it is safe, if Madame will hide herself in the

Into the hedgerow accordingly crept Eustacie, cowering
close to a holly-tree at the very summit of the bank, and
led by a strange fascination to choose a spot where, unseen
herself, she could gaze down on the party who came clanking
along the hollow road beneath. N'earer, nearer they came ;
and she shuddered, with more of passion than of fear, as she
beheld, not only her uncle in his best well-preserved green
suit, but Narcisse, muddy with riding, though in his court
braveries. Suddenly they came to a halt close beneath her !
Was she detected ? Ah ! just below was the spot where the
road to the convent parted from the road to the farm ; and,
as Martin had apprehended, they were stopping for him.
The Chevalier ordered one of the armed men behind him to
ride up to the farm and summon Martin to speak with him ;
and then he and his son, while waiting under the holly-bush,
continued their conversation.

" So that is the state of things ! A fine overthrow !" quoth

" Bah ! not at all. She will soon be in our hands again.
I have spoken with, or written to, every governor of the


cities slie must pass tliroixgli, and not one will abet the little
runaway. At the first barrier she is ours."


" Oil, we shall have her mild as a sheep." (Eustacie set
her teeth.) "Every one will be in the same story, that her
marriage was a nullity ; she cannot choose but believe, and
can only be thankful that we overlook the escapade and
rehabilitate her."

" Thank you, my good uncle," almost uttered his unseen

" "Well ! There is too much land down here to throw away ;
but the affair has become horribly complicated and distasteful."

" No such thing. AU the easier. She can no longer play
the spotless saint — get weak-minded priests on her side —
be all for strict convents, l^o, no ; her time for that is past !
Shut her up with trustworthy persons from whom she will
hear nothing from without, and she will understand her case.
The child ? It will scarce be born alive, or at any rate she
need not know whether it is. Then, with no resource, no
hope, what can she do but be too thankful for pardon, and
as glad to conceal the past as we could wish 1 "

Eustacie clenched her fist. Had a pistol been within her
reach, the speaker's tenure of life had been short ! She was
no chastened, self-restrained, forgiving saint, the poor little
thing, only a hot-tempered, generous, keenly-sensitive being,
well-nigh a child in years and in impulses, though with the
instincts of a mother awakening within her, and of a mother
who heard the life of her unborn babe plotted against. She
was absolutely forced to hold her lips together, to repress the
sobbing scream of fury that came to her throat ; and the
struggles with her gasping breath, the surging of the blood
in her ears, hindered her from hearing or seeing auytliing
for some seconds, though she kept her station. By the time


her perceptions had cleared themselves, Martin, cap in hand,
was in the lane below, listening deferentially to the two
gentlemen, who were assuring him that inquiry had been
made, and a guard carefully set at the barriers of all the
cities round, and that it was impossible that the fugitive
could have passed those, or be able to do so. She must cer-
tainly be hidden somewhere near home, and Martin had
better warn all his friends against hiding her, unless they
wished to be hung up on the thresholds of their burning
farmsteads. Martin bowed, and thought the fellows would
know their own interest and Mademoiselle's better.

"Well," said the Chevalier, "we must begin without loss
of time. My son has brought down a set of fellows here,
who are trained to ferret out heretics. Not a runaway weasel
could escape them ! We will set them on as soon as ever
they have taken a bit of supper up there at the chateau ; and
do you come up with us just to show them the way across
to Leonard's. That's no unlikely place for her to lurk in, as
you said this morning, good fellow."

It was the most remote farm from that of Martin, and
Eustacie felt how great were his services, even while she
flushed with anger to hear him speaking of her as Made-
moiselle. He was promising to follow immediately to the
castle, to meet ces Messieurs there almost as soon as they
could arrive, but excusing himself from accompanying them,
by the need of driving home the big bull, whom no one else
could manage.

They consented, and rode on. Martin watched them out
of sight, then sprang up by some stepping stones in the
bank, a little below where Eustacie sat, and came crackling
through the boughs to where she was crouching down, with
fierce glittering eyes and panting breath, like a wild animal
ready to spring.


"Madame has lieard," said Martin under Lis breath.

" If I have heard ! Oh that I were a man, to slay them
where they stood ! Martin, Martin ! you will not betray
me. Some day tve will reward you."

" Madame need not have said that to me," said Martin,
rather hurt. " I am only thinking what she can do. Alas !
I fear that she must remain in this covert till it is dark, for
these men's eyes are all on the alert. At dark, I or Lucette
Avill come and find a shelter for her for the night."

Long, long, then, did Eustacie sit, muffled in her grey
cloak, shrinking together to shelter herself from the sunset
chill of early spring, but shuddering more with horror than
"vvith cold, as the cruel cold-blooded words she had heard
recurred to her, and feeling as if she were fast within a net,
every outlet guarded against her, and search everywhere ;
yet still with the indomitable determination to dare and
suffer to the utmost ere that which was dearer than her own
life should come into peril from her enemies.

The twilight closed in, the stars came out, sounds of life
died away, and still she sat on, becoming almost torpid in
the cold darkness, until at length she heard the low call of
Lucette, "Madame! Ah! la pauvre Madame." She started
up, so stiff that she could hardly move, and only guided by
the voice to feel her way through the hedgerow in the right
direction. Another moment, and Lucette's warm arms had
received her ; and she was guided, scarce knowing how or
where, in cautious silence to the farmyard, and into the
house, where a most welcome sight, a huge fire, blazed cheer-
fully on the hearth, and Martin himself held open the door
for her. The other occuj)ants of the kitchen were the sleep-
ing child in its wooden cradle, some cocks and hens upon
the rafters, and a big sheep-dog before the fire.

The warmth, and the chicken that Lucette had killed and


dressed, brought the colour back to the exhausted wanderer's
cheek ; and enabled her again to hold council for her safety.
It was plain, as Martin had found in conversation with the
men-at-arms, that precautions had been taken against her
escaping in any of the directions where she might hope to
have reached friends. Alone she coidd not go, and any
escort sufficient to protect her would assuredly be stopped at
the first town; besides which, collecting it in secret was
impossible under present circumstances, and it would be sure
to be at once overtaken and demolished by the Chevalier
Narcisse's well-armed followers. Martin, therefore, saw no
alternative but for her to lurk about in such liiding-places as
her faithful vassals could afford her, until the search should
blow over, and the vigilance of her uncle and cousin relax.
Hope, the high-spirited hope of early youth, looked beyond
to indefinite but infinite possibility. Anything was better
than the shame and horror of yielding, and Eustacie trusted
herself with all her heart for the present, fancying, she
knew not what, the future.

Indeed, the Vendean fidelity has often been tested, and
she made full proof of it among the lanes, copses, and
homesteads of her own broad lands. The whole country
■was a network of deep lanes, sunk between impenetrable
hedgerows, inclosing small fields, orchards, and thickets, and
gently undulating in low hills and shallow valleys, inter-
spersed with tall wasp-waisted windmills airily waving their
arms on the top of lofty masts. It was partitioned into
small farms, inhabited by a simple-hearted peasantry, re-
ligious and diligent, with a fair amount of rural wealth and
comfort. Their love for their lords was loyally warm, and
Eustacie monopolized it, from their detestation of her uncle's
exactions ; they would risk any of the savage punishments
with which they were threatened for concealing her ; and as


one by one it was needful to take tliem. into tlie secret, so
as to disarm suspicion, and she was passed from one farm to
another, each proved his faithful attachment, and thought
himself repaid by her thankful smile and confiding manner.

The Chevalier and his son searched vigorously. On the
slightest suspicion, they came down to the farm, closed up
the outlets, threatened the owners, turned out the house,
and the very place they had last searched would become her
quarters on the next night ! Messages always had warned
her ia time. Intelligence was obtained by Martin, who
contrived to remain a confidential agent, and warnings were
despatched to her by many a strange messenger — by little
children, by old women, or even by the village innocent.

The most alarming days were those when she was not the
avowed object of the chase, but when the pursuit of game
rendered the coverts in the woods and fields unsafe, and the
hounds might lead to her discovery. On one of these
occasions Martin locked her up in the great hayloft of the
■convent, where she could actually hear the chants in the

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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeThe chaplet of pearls; or, The white and black Ribaumont (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 23)