Charlotte Mary Yonge.

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

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fully of the debt of gratitude that the family owed to him for
the relief he had brought to Berenger ; and, moreover, Dame
Annora giggled out tliat, "if he would teach ISTan and Bess
to speak and read French and Italian, it would be worth
something to them." The others of the family would have
hushed up this uncalled-for proposal ; but Mericour caught
at it as the most congenial mode of returning the obliga-
tion. Every morning he undertook to walk or ride over
to the Manor, and there gave his lessons to the young
ladies, with whom he was extremely popular. He was a
far more brilliant teacher than Lucy, and ten thousand times
preferable to Mr. Adderley, who had once begun to teach
Annora her accidence with lamentable want of success.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE EMPTY CRADLE.

" Eager to know
" The worst, and with that fatal certainty
To terminate intolerable dread,
He spurred his courser forward — all his fears
Too surely are fulfilled."— Southey.

Contrary winds made the voyage of the Throstle miich more
tardy than had been reckoned on by Berenger's impatience ;
but hope was before him, and he often remembered his days
in the little vessel as miich happier than he had known them
to be at the time.

It was in the calm days of bright October that Captain
Hobbs at length was putting into the little harbour nearest
to La Sablerie. Berenger, on that morning, had for the first
time been seized by a fit of anxiety as to the impression his
face would make, with its terrible purple scar, great patch,
and bald forehead, and had brought out a little black velvet
mask, called a tour de nez, often used in ridiag to protect the
complexion, intending to prepare Eustacie for his disfigure-
ment. He had fastened on a carnation-coloured sword-knot,
wound a scarf of the same colour across his shoulder, clasped
a long ostrich plume into his broad Spanish hat, and looked
out his deeply-fringed Spanish gloves j and Philip was laugh-



294 THE CHAPLET OF PEAELS ; OE,

ing merrily, not to say rudely, at him, for trying to deck
himself out so bravely.

" See, Master Hobbs," cried the boy in his high spirits, as
he followed his brother on deck, " you did not know you had
so fine a gallant on board. Here be braveries for my Lady."
"Hush, Phil," broke in Berenger, who had hitherto taken
all the raillery in perfect good part. " What is amiss,
Master Hobbs 1 "

" I cannot justly say, sir," returned Master Hobbs, with-
out taking his gaze off the coast, " but by yonder banks and
creeks this should be the Sables d'Olonne ; and I do not see
the steeple of La Sablerie, which has always been the land-
mark for the harbour of St, Julien."

" What do you understand by that 1 " asked Berenger,
more struck by his manner than his words.

" Well, sir, if I am right, a steeple that has stood three or
four hundred years does not vanish out of sight like a cloud
of smoke for nothing. It may be lightning, to be sure ; or
the Protestants may have had it down for Popery; but
methinks they would have too much Christian regard for
poor mariners than to knock down the only landmark on this
coast till yon come to JSTissard spire." Then he hailed the
man at the mast-head, demanding if he saw the steeple of
La Sablerie. "ISTo, no, sir," But as other portions of the
land became clearer, there was no doubt that the Throstle was
light in her bearings ; so the skipper gave orders to cast
anchor and lower a boat. The passengers would have pressed
him with inquiries as to what he thought the absence of his
landmark could portend ; but he hurried about, and shouted
orders, with the deaf despotism of a nautical commander ;
and only when all was made ready, turned round and said,
"]N"ow, sir, maybe you had best let me go ashore first, and
find out how the land lies."



THE -WHITE AND BLACK EIBAUMONT. 295

" Never ! " said Berenger, in an agony of impatience.
"I tliouglit so," said the captain. "Well, then, sir, are
your fellows ready 1 Armed 1 All right."

So Berenger descended to the boat, followed by Philip ;
next came the captain, and then the two serving- men. Six
of the crew were ready to row them to the shore, and
were bidden by their captain to return at once to the
vessel, and only return on a signal from him. The surging
rush of intense anxiety, sure to precede the destined
moment of the consummation of hope long deferred, kept
Berenger silent, choked by something between fear and
prayer ; but Philip, less engrossed, asked Master Hobbs if
it were not strange that none of the inhabitants of the
squalid little huts on the shore had not put out to greet
them in some of the boats that were drawn up on the
beach.

" Poor wretches," said Hobbs ; " they scarce know friend
fi'om foe, and are slow to run their heads into the lion's
mouth. Strange fellows have the impudence to sail under
our flag at times."

However, as they neared the low, flat, sandy shore, a few
red caps peeped out at the cottage-doors, and then, appa-
rently gaining confidence from the survey, some wiry, active
figures appeared, and were hailed by Hobbs. His Bordeaux
trade had rendered him master of the coast language ; and
a few incomprehensible shouts between him and the natives
resulted in a line being thrown to them, and the boat dragged
as near as possible to the landing place, when half-a-dozen
ran up, splashing with their bare legs, to offer their shoulders
for the transport of the passengers, both of whom were seized
upon before they were aware, Philip struggling with all his
might, till a call from Captain Hobbs warned him to resign
himself J and then he became almost helpless with laughter



296 THE CHAPLET OF PEAELS ; OR,

at the figure cut by the long-legged Berenger upon a small
fisherman's back.

They were landed. Could it be that Berenger was only
two miles — only half an hour's walk from Eustacie ? The
bound his heart gave as he touched the shore seemed to stifle
him. He could not believe it. Yet he knew how fully he
had believed it, the next moment, when he listened to what
the fishermen were saying to Captain Hobbs.

" Did Monsieur wish to go to La Sablerie 1 Ah ! then he
did not know what had happened. The soldiers had been
there ; there had been a great burning. They had been out
in their boats at sea, but they had seen the sky red — red as
a furnace, all night ; and the steeple was down. Surely,
Monsieur had missed the steeple that was a guide to all poor
seafarers ; and now they had to go all the way to Brancour
to sell their fish."

" And the townsj^eople 1 " Hobbs asked.

"Ah! poor things; 'twas pity of them, for they were
honest folk to deal with, even if they were heretics. They
loved fish at other seasons if not in Lent ; and it seemed but
a fair return to go up and bury as many of them as were not
burnt to nothing in their church ; and Dom Colombeau, the
good priest of Nissard, has said it was a pious work ; and he
was a saint, if anyone was."

" Alack, sir," said Hobbs, laying his hand on the arm of
Berenger, who seemed neither to have breathed nor moved
while the man was speaking : " I feared that there had been
some such bloody work when I missed the steeple. But
take heart yet : your Lady is very like to have been out of
the way. We might make for La Kochelle, and there learn !"
Then, again to the fisherman, " ]N"one escaped, fellow 1 "

" I^ot one," replied the man. " They say that one of the
great folks was in a special rage with them for sheltering the



THE WHITE AND BLACK ItlBAUMDNT. 297

Lady be should have wedded, but who bad broken convent
and turned heretic ; and they had victualled jNIontgomery's
pirates too."

" And the Lady 1 " continued Hobbs, ever trying to get a
more supporting hold of his young charge, in case the rigid
tension of his limbs should suddenly relax.

" I cannot tell, sir. I am a poor fisher ; but I could guide
you to the place where old Gillot is always poking about.
He listened to their preachings, and knows more than we do."

"Let us go," said Berenger, at once beginning to stride
along in his heavy boots through the deep sand. Philip,
who had hardly understood a word of the patois, caught hold
of him, and begged to be told what had happened ; but
Master Hobbs drew the boy off, and explained to him and
to the two men what were the dreadful tidings that had
wrought such a change in Berenger's demeanour. The way
over the shifting sands was toilsome enough to all the rest
of the party ; but Berenger scarcely seemed to feel the deep
plunge at every step as they almost ploughed their way along
for the weary two miles, before a few green bushes and half-
choked trees showed that they were reaching the confines of
the sandy waste. Berenger had not uttered a word the whole
time, and his silence hushed the others. The ground began
to rise, grass was seen still struggling to grow, and presently
a large straggling mass of black and grey ruins revealed
themselves, with the remains of a once well-trodden road
leading to them. But the road led to a gateway choked by a
fallen jamb and barred door, and the guide led them round
the ruins of the wall to the opening where the breach had
been. The sand was already blowing in, and no doubt veiled
much ; for the streets were scarcely traceable through rem-
nants of houses more or less dilapidated, with shreds of
broken or burnt household furniture within them.



298 THE CHAPLET OF TEARLS ; OVx,

" Ask him for la rue des Trois Fees," hoarsely whispered
Eerenger.

The fisherman nodded, but soon seemed at fault ; and an
old man, followed by a few children, soon appearing, laden
Avith pieces of fuel, he appealed to him as Father Gdlot, and
asked whether he could find the street. The old man seemed
at home in the ruins, and led the way readily. "Did he
know the WidoAV Laurent's house ?"

"Mademoiselle^ Laurent! Full well he knew her; a
good pious soul was she, always ready to die for the truth,"
he added, as he read sympathy in the faces round ; " and no
doubt she had witnessed a good confession."

" Knew he aught of the Lady she had lodged V

"■ He knew nothing of ladies. Something he had heard of
the good widow having sheltered that shining light, Isaac
Garden, quenched, no doubt, in the same destruction ; but
for his part, he had a daughter in one of the isles out there,
who always sent for him if she suspected danger here on the
mainland, and he had only returned to his poor farm a day
or two after Michaelmas." So saying, he led them to the
threshold of a ruinous building, in the very centre, as it
were, of the desolation, and said, " That, gentlemen, is where
the poor honest widow kept her little shop."

Black, ; burnt, dreary, lay the hos]3itable abode. The
building had fallen, but the beams of the upper floor had
fallen aslant, so as to shelter a portion of the lower room,
where the red- tile pavement, the hearth with the grey ashes
of the harmless home-fire, some unbroken crocks, a chain,
and a sabot, were still visible, making the contrast of dreari-
ness doubly mournful.

Berenger had stepped over the threshold, with his hat in
his hand, as if the ruin were a sacred place to him, and stood

1 This was tlic title of lourgeoise wives, for many years, in France.



THE WHITE AND BLACK EIBAUMONT. 299

gazing in a transfixed, deadened way. Tlie cajHain asked
where the remains were.

" Our people," said the old man and the fisher, " laid them
by night in the earth near the church."

Just then Berenger's gaze fell on something half hidden
under the fallen timhers. He instantly sprang forward, and
used all his strength to drag it out in so headlong a manner
that all the rest hurried to prevent his reckless proceedings
from bringing the heavy beams down on his head. "When
brought to light, the object proved to be one of the dark,
heavy, wooden cradles used by the French peasantry, shining
with age, but untouched by fire.

"Look in," Berenger signed to Phihp, his own eyes
averted, his mouth set.

The cradle was empty, totally empty, save for a woollen
covering, a little mattress, and a string of small yellow shells
threaded.

Berenger held out his hand, grasped the baby-plaything
convulsively, then dropped upon his knees clasping his hands
over his ashy face, the string of shells still wound among his
fingers. Perhaps he had hitherto hardly realized the exist-
ence of his child, and was solely wrapped up in the thought
of his wife ; but the wooden cradle, the homely toy, stirred
up fresh depths of feeling ; he saw Eustacie with her tender
sweetness as a mother, he beheld the little likeness of her in
the cradle ; and oh ! that this should have been the end !
Unable to repress a moan of anguish from a bursting heart,
he laid his face against the senseless wood, and kissed it
again and again, then lay motionless against it save for the
long-drawn gasps and sobs that shook his frame. Philip,
torn to the heart, would have almost forcibly drawn him
away ; but Master Hobbs, with tears running down his
honest cheeks, withheld the boy. " Don't ye, ^Master



300 THE CHAPLET OF PEARLS; OR,

Thistlewood, 'twill do him good. Poor young gentleman! I
know how it was when I came home and found our first
little lad, that we had thought so much on, had been taken.
But then he was safe laid in his own churchyard, and his

mother was there to meet me ; while your poor brother

Ah! God comfort him!"

'■'■ Le paiivre Monsieur !" exclaimed the old peasant, struck
at the sight of his grief, '' was it then his child ? And he,
no doubt, lying wounded elsewhere while God's hand was
heavy on this place. Yet he might hear more. They said
the priest came down and carried off the httle ones to be
bred up in convents."

"Who? — where?" asked Berenger, raising his head as if
catching at a straw in this drowning of all his hopes.

" 'Tis true," added the fisherman. " It was the holy priest
of Mssard, for he sent down to St. Julien for a woman to
nurse the babes."

" To Nissard, then," said Berenger, rising.
'* It is but a chance," said the old Huguenot ; " many of
the innocents were with their mothers in yonder church.
Better for them to perish like the babes of Bethlehem than
to be bred up in the house of Baal ; but perhaps Monsieur
is English, and if so he might yet obtain the child. Yet he
must not hope too much."

"N"o, for there was many a little corpse among those
we buried," said the fisher. " Will the gentleman see the
place?"

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Philip, understanding the actions,
and indeed many of the words ; « this place will kill
him."

" To the grave," said Berenger, as if he heard nothing.
" See," added Philip, "there are better things than graves,"
and he pointed to a young green sucker of a vine, which,



THE WHITE AND BLACK EIBAUMONT. 301

stimulated by the burnt soil, had shot up between the tiles of
the floor. " Look, there is hope to meet you even here."

Berenger merely answered by gathering a leaf from the
vine and putting it into his bosom ; and Philip, whom only
extreme need could have thus inspired, perceived that he
accepted it as the augury of hope.

Berenger turned to bid the two men bear the cradle with
them, and then followed the old man out into the place, once
a pleasant open paved square, now grass-grown and forlorn.
On one side lay the remains of the church. The Huguenots
had been so predommant at La Sablerie as to have engrossed
the building, and it had therefore shared the general destruc-
tion, and lay in utter, desolate ruin, a mere shell, and the
once noble spire, the mariner's guiding star, blown up with
gunpowder in the lawless rage of Anjou's army, one of the
most cruel that ever desolated the country. Beyond lay the
burial-ground, in unspeakable dreariness. The crosses of the
Catholic dead had been levelled by the fanaticism of the
Huguenots, and though a great dominant stone cross raised
on steps had been re-erected, it stood uneven, tottering and
desolate among nettles, weeds, and briers. There seemed to
have been a few deep trenches dug to receive the bodies of
the many victims of the siege, and only rudely and shghtly
filled in with loose earth, on which Philip treading had
nearly sunk in, so much to his horror that he could hardly
endure the long contemplation in which his brother stood
gazing on the dismal scene, as if to bear it away with him.
Did the fair being he had left in a king's palace sleep her
last sleep amid the tangled grass, the thistles and briers that
grew so close that it was hardly possible to keep from stum-
bhng over them, where all memorials of friend or foe were
alike obliterated 1 "Was a resting-place among these name-
less graves the best he could hope for the wife whose eyes he



302 THE CHAPLET OF PEAllLS ; OE,

had hoped by this time would be answering his own — was
this her shelter from foe, from sword, famine, and fire 1

A great sea-bird, swooping along with broad wings and
wild wailing cry, completed the weird dismay that had
seized on Philip, and clutching at his brother's cloak, he
exclaimed, " Berry, Berry, let us begone, or we shall both
be distraught ! "

Berenger yielded passively, but when the ruins of the
town had been again crossed, and the sad little party, after
amply rewarding the old man, were about to return to
St. Julien, he stood still, saying, " Which is the way to
Mssard 1 " and, as the men pointed to the south, he added,
"Show me the way thither."

Captain Hobbs now interfered. He knew the position of
Nissard, among dangerous sandbanks, between which a boat
could only venture at the higher tides, and by daylight. To
go the six miles thither at present would make it almost
impossible to return to the Throstle that night, and it was
absolutely necessary that he at least should do this. He
therefore wished the young gentleman to return with him on
board, sleep there, and be put ashore at JSTissard as soon as it
should be possible in the morning. But Berenger shook his
head. He could not rest for a moment till he had ascertained
the fate of Eustacie's child. Action alone could quench the
horror of what he had recognised as her own lot, and the
very pursuit of this one thread of hope seemed needful to
him to make it substantial. He would hear of nothing but
walking at once to Nissard ; and Captain Hobbs, finding it
impossible to debate the point with one so dazed and crushed
with grief, and learning from the fishermen that not only
was the priest one of the kindest and most hospitable men
living, but that there was a tolerable cabaret not far from the
house, selected from the loiterers who had accompanied them



THE WHITE AND BLACK RIBAUMONT. 303

from St. Julien a tnistworthy-looking, active lad as a guido,
and agreed with Philip to como to Nissard in his boat with
the high tide on the morrow, either to concert measures for
obtaining possession of the lost infant, or, if all were in vain,
to fetch them off. Then he, with the mass of stragglers from
St. Julien, went off direct for the coast, while the two young
brothers, their two attendants, and the fisherman, turned
southwards along the summit of the dreary sandbanks.



CHAPTEE XXIV.

THE GOOD PRIEST OF NISSARD.

" Till at the set of sun all tracks and ways

In darkness lay enshrouded. And e'en thus

The utmost limit of the great profound

' At length we reach'd, where in dark gloom and mist

Cimmeria's people and their city lie

Enveloped ever."

OdysscTj (Musgrove).

The October afternoon had set in before the brothers were
on the way to !Nissard ; and in spite of Berenger's excited
mood, the walk through the soft, sinking sand could not be
speedUy performed. It was that peculiar sand-drift which is
the curse of so many coasts, slowly, silently, irresistibly
tlowing, blowing, creeping in, and gradually choking all
vegetation and habitation. Soft and almost impalpable, it
lay heaped in banks yielding as air, and yet far more than
deep enough to swallow up man and horse. Nay, tops of
trees, summits of chimneys, told what it had already
swallowed. The whole scene far and wide presented nothing
but the lone, tame undulations, liable to be changed by every
wind, and solitary beyond expression — a few rabbits scud-
ding hither and thither, or a sea-guU floating with white,
ghostly wings in the air, being the only living things visible.
On the one hand a dim, purple horizon showed that the
inhabited country lay miles inland ; on the other lay the pale



THE CIIAPLET OF PEAELS. 305

grey, misty expanse of sea, on which Philip's eyes could
lovingly discern the Throstle's masts.

That view was Philip's chief comfort. The boy was
feeling more eerie and uncomfortable than ever he had been
before as he plodded along, sinking deep with every step
almost up to his ankles in the sand, on which the bare-
footed guide ran lightly, and Berenger, though sinking no
less deeply, seemed insensible to all inconveniences. This
desolateness was well-nigh unbearable ; no one dared to speak
while Berenger thus moved on in the unapproachableness of
liis great grief, and PhUip presently began to feel a dreamy
sense that they had all thus been moving on for years, that
this was the world's end, the land of shadows, and that his
brother was a ghost already. Besides vague alarms like
these, there was the dismal English and Protestant prejudice
in full force in Philip's mind, which regarded the present
ground as necessarily hostile, and all Frenchmen, above all
French priests, as in league to cut off every Englishman and
Protestant. He believed himself in a country full of mur-
derers, and was walking on with the one determination that
his brother should not rush on danger without him, and that
the Popish rogues should be kept in mind that there was an
English ship in sight. Alas ! that consolation was soon lost,
for a dense grey mist was slowly creeping in from the sea,
and blotted out the vessel, then gathered in closer, and
obliterated all landmarks. Gradually it turned to a heavy
rain, and about the same time the ground on which they
walked became no longer loose sand-hills, but smooth and
level. It was harder likewise from the wet, and this afforded
better walking, but there lay upon it fragments of weed and
shell, as though it were liable to be covered by the sea, and
there was a low, languid plash of the tide, which could not
be seen. Twilight began to deepen the mist. The guide

VOL. I, X



306 THE CHAPLET OF PEARLS; OE,

was evidently uneasy ; he sidled np to Philip, and began to
ask what he — hitherto obstinately deaf and conteniptiioiis to
French — was very slow to comprehend. At last he found it
was a question how near it was to All Souls' day ; and then
came an equally amazing query whether the gentleman's
babe had been baptized ; for it appeared that on All Souls'
day the spirits of unchristened infants had the power of
rising from the sands in a bewildering mist, and leading
wayfarers into the sea. And the poor guide, white and
drenched, vowed he never would have undertaken this walk
if he had only thought of this. These slaughters of heretics
must so much have augmented the number of the poor little
spirits ; and no doubt Monsieur would be specially bewildered
by one so nearly concerned with him. Philip, half frightened,
could not help stepping forward and pulKng Berenger by the
cloak to make him aware of this strange peril ; but he did
not get much comfort. " Baptized 1 Yes ; you know she
was, by the old nurse. Let me alone, I say. I would follow
her wherever she called me, the innocent, and glad — the
sooner the better."

And he shook his brother off with a sadness and im-
patience so utterly unapproachable, that Philip, poor boy,
could only watch his tall figure in the wide cloak and
slouched hat, stalking on ever more indistinct in the gloom,
while his niiich confused mind tried to settle the theological
point whether the old nurse's baptism were valid enough
to prevent poor little B^rang^re from becoming one of these
mischievous deluders ; and all this was varied by the notion
of Captain Hobbs picking up their corpses on the beach, and
of Sir Marmaduke bewaUiag his only son.

At last a strange muffled sound made him start in the dead
silence, but the guide hailed the sound with a joyful cry —

" Hola ! Blessings on Notre-Dame and holy Father Colom-



THE WHITE AND BLACK EIBAUMONT. 307

laeau, now are we saved ! " And on Philip's hasty inter-
rogation, he explained that it was from the bells of Nissard,
which the good priest always caused to be rung during these
sea-fogs, to disperse all evil beings, and guide the wanderers.

The guide strode on manfully, as the sound became clearer


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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeThe chaplet of pearls; or, The white and black Ribaumont (Volume 1) → online text (page 22 of 23)