Grace Aguilar.

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bands; now and then the loud voice of the herald, or the shrill
prolonged blast of the trumpet, and ever and anon a thrilling burst of
martial music, lingering awhile in its own rude tones, then subsiding
gently into the softer song of minstrelsy and love, more fitted to the
ears of beauty than the wilder notes of war.

And beauty was indeed assembled in the many galleries erected round the
lists. Even had there been no Catherine de Medicis, whose character was
not yet fully known, and who now, as the queen consort, claimed and
received universal homage; no fair and gentle Elizabeth, the youthful
bride of Spain, whose child-like form and diminutive though most
expressive features accorded little with the heavy gorgeousness of her
jewelled robes; no retiring yet much-loved Margaret, the sister of Henri
and bride of Savoy; no Anne of Este, whose regal beauty and majestic
mien would have done honour to a diadem—had there been none of these,
there was yet one in the royal group who, though girlhood had barely
reached its prime, fascinated the gaze of every eye and fixed the homage
of every heart. The diamond coronet of _fleur de lis_ entwining the
sterner thistle, that lightly wreathed her noble brow, betrayed her
rank; and the simple mention of Mary of Scotland, the queen dauphine, is
all-sufficient to bring before the reader a fair, bright vision of
loveliness and grace, that imagination only can portray. She sate the
centre of a fair bevy of young girls, indiscriminately of France and
Scotland, all bearing on the smooth brow, the smiling lip, the unpaled
cheek true tokens of those fresh unsullied feelings found only in early
youth.

The trumpets breathed forth a prolonged flourish, echoed on every side
by the silver clarion and rolling drum, and Henri himself entered the
lists. Clothed in the richest armour, mounted on a beautiful Arabian,
and still wearing across his breast the black and white scarf in homage
to Diana, the chivalric monarch challenged one by one the bravest
warriors and the first nobles of his kingdom. Excited by the presence of
his distinguished guests, he appeared this day urged on by an ardour and
impetuosity which, while it endeared him to his subjects, caused many a
female heart to tremble.

“Has thy knight turned truant, Idalie, or is he so wearied from the
exertions of the last two days he has no strength or will for more?”
asked the queen dauphine of one beside her, whose large dark eye and
soul-speaking beauty betrayed a birth more southern than Scotia’s colder
shores.

“He enters not the lists, royal madam,” she answered, in a lowered
voice, “for, he fears the challenge of the king—fears not defeat, but
conquest. The king has skill as yet unrivalled, courage none dare
question; but the practice of a soldier brings these things to greater
perfection than monarchs ever may obtain. Our gracious sovereign
challenges the bravest knights to-day, and therefore does the count
avoid the lists.”

“Perhaps he does well. But see how gallantly thy father bears himself;
disease hath worked him but little, or rusted his sword within its
scabbard. I would trust myself to the men of Montemar, Idalie, with
better faith than to many of those more courtly-seeming bands. And who
is yon gallant, bearing thy colours? Is the young esquire of thy father
a rival to the goodly count?”

“Not so, gracious lady. Louis de Montemar and I are cousins in kindred,
friends in affection, and playfellows from infancy. I broidered him the
scarf he wears as token of my love, when he doffed the page’s garb and
donned the squire’s. When he hath won his spur, perchance my scarf will
be of little value.”

“Thinkest thou so? Methought the lowly homage that he tendered spoke
humbler greeting than that of a brother. But there is some stir below;
the trumpets sound the king again as challenger.”

A long flourish of trumpets again riveted the attention of the
spectators, and the heralds in set phrase, challenged, on the part of
their liege lord and gracious sovereign Henri of France, Gabriel de
Lorges, Comte de Montgomeri, to run three courses with the lance or
spear, and do battle with the same. Thrice was the count challenged
according to form, but there was no answer.

A deadly pallor spread over the flushed cheek of Idalie de Montemar,
and, clinging to the dauphine’s seat, she exclaimed, “Lady, dearest
lady, oh, do not let this be! in mercy speak to her grace the queen,
implore her to avert this combat!”

“Thou silly trembler, what evil can accrue? Nay, an thou lookest thus, I
must do thy bidding,” and Mary hastily approached the seat of Catherine
de Medicis, whom, however, she found already agitated and alarmed, and
in the very act of despatching an esquire to implore the king to leave
the lists. Somewhat infected with the terror she witnessed, yet unable
to define it, the dauphine returned to her seat, seeking to reassure the
trembling Idalie, and watch with her the effect of the queen’s
solicitation.

At the moment of the esquire’s joining the knightly ring, the Comte de
Montgomeri, unarmed and bareheaded, had flung himself at the king’s
feet, imploring him in earnest accents to withdraw his challenge, and
not expose him to the misery and danger of meeting his sovereign even in
a friendly joust. It was no common fear, no casual emotion impressed on
the striking countenance of Montgomeri; he was not one to bend his knee
in entreaty, even to his sovereign, for a mere trivial cause. The
princes and nobles round were themselves struck by his earnestness,
knowing too well his great valour and extraordinary skill in every
martial deed to doubt them now. The king alone remained unmoved.

“Tush, man!” he said, joyously; “what more harm will your good lance do
our sacred person, than those whose blows yet tingle on our flesh? we
have run many a gallant course to-day, and how shall we be the worse for
a tilt with thee? Marry, thou art over bold, sir knight, we will not do
thy courage such dishonour as to tax it now; yet, by our Lady, such
presumption needs a check. Come, rouse thee from this folly, and don
thine armour, as thou wouldst were our foes in Paris; my chaplet is not
perfect till it hath a leaf from thee.”

“It may not be, my liege. I do beseech your grace to pardon me, and seek
some opponent more worthy of this honour.”

“I know of none,” replied the king, so frankly and feelingly, that the
warrior’s head bent even to the ground; “and Montgomeri will obey his
sovereign, if he will not oblige his friend. Sir Count, we COMMAND your
acceptance of our challenge.”

Sadly and slowly the count rose from his knee, and was reluctantly
withdrawing, when the king again spoke—

“We would not, good my lord, that you should prepare to accept our
challenge even as a criminal for execution; therefore, mark you lords
and gentles, and bear witness to our words—whatever ill or scathe may
chance to us in our intended course, we hold and pronounce Gabriel de
Lorges, Comte de Montgomeri, guiltless of all malice, absolving him from
all intentional evil, even if he work us harm. How now, sir squire, what
would our royal consort, that ye seek us thus rudely?”

The esquire bent his knee, and delivered his message.

The king laughed loud and lightly.

“By our Lady, this is good,” he said. “Heard ye ever the like of this,
my lords? What spell doth our brave Montgomeri bear about him, that we
may not meet him even as others in friendly combat? Back to your royal
mistress, Conrad; commend us in all love and duty to her grace, and say
we will break this lance unto her honour. Would she have our noble
guests proclaim Montgomeri so brave and skilful that Henri dared not
meet him even after his challenge had gone forth? Shame, shame, on such
advisers!”

The esquire withdrew, and the king taking a new lance, and mounting a
fresh charger, slowly proceeded round the lists, attended by pages and
esquires, and managing his fiery steed so gracefully as to rivet on him
many admiring glances. He paused beneath the queen’s gallery, doffing
his deep-plumed helmet a moment in the respectful greeting of a faithful
chevalier; then looking up, he smiled proudly and undauntedly. At that
moment the trumpets proclaimed the entrance of the challenged, and the
king hastily replacing his helmet, clasped it but slightly, and galloped
to his post.

A loud shout of welcome greeted the appearance of Montgomeri, and as the
spectators marked the pink and white scarf across his shoulder, and the
opal clasp that secured the deep plumes of his helmet, all eyes
involuntarily turned to see the fair being to whom those colours
proclaimed him vowed; nor when they traced the bandeau of opals on the
pale high brow of Idalie de Montemar, her flowing robes secured by a
girdle of the same precious stones, and discovered it was to her service
the knight was pledged, did they marvel that at length the cold, stern,
unbending Gabriel de Lorges had bowed beneath the spell of love.

The lists were cleared, and deep silence reigned amidst the assembled
thousands. The combatants, ere the signal sounded, slowly traversed the
lists, meeting at both extremities, and greeting each other in all
solemn and chivalric fashion. Montgomeri’s lance sank as he saluted the
queen’s pavilion, but it was to Idalie his lowest homage was tendered.
She sought to smile in answer; but her lip only quivered, for her eye,
awakened by love, could trace his deep reluctance to accept the
challenge.

The signal was given, and with a shock and sound as of thunder the
knights met in the centre of the course. The lances of both shivered. A
loud and ringing shout echoed far and wide, forming a deep bass to the
military music bursting forth at the same moment; but then the sound
changed, and so suddenly, that the shout of triumph seemed turned, by
the very breeze which bore it along, to the cries of wailing and
despair. The horses of both combatants were seen careering wildly, and
with empty saddles, round the lists. Princes, nobles, and knights
crowded so swiftly and in such numbers to the spot where the combatants
had met, that the eager populace could trace nothing but that one
warrior was down and seemingly senseless, the which no one could assert.
Order and restraint gave place to the wildest tumult; the people, _en
masse_, rushed indiscriminately into the lists, heedless of the efforts
of the men-at-arms to keep them back, and scarcely restrained even by
the rapid and agitated approach of the queen consort and the princesses
towards the principal group. Words of terrific import were whispered one
to another, till the whisper grew loud and rumour became certainty. The
music ceased, save the solitary flourish of trumpets proclaiming the
warlike sports concluded. As if by magic, the lists were cleared, the
tents struck, and every trace of the tournament removed. But even then
the popular ferment continued; there were men hurrying to and fro,
little knots of persons assembling in the street, speaking in anxious
whispers, or hastening in silence to their homes. Ever and anon the
muffled tone of heavy bells came borne on the air, and then the dead
silence, ever the shapeless herald of some dread calamity. Ere night all
trace of the morning’s glittering splendour and animated life had
disappeared, and Paris seemed changed into a very desert of solitude and
gloom.


II.


Eleven days had passed since the sudden termination of the fatal
tournament, and Henri of France still lay speechless and insensible as
he had fallen in the lists, when, from the insecure fastening of his
helmet, it had given way before the lance of Montgomeri, and caused him
to receive the full force of the blow on his eyebrow, thence fatally
injuring the brain. Still life was not extinct, and, though against all
reason, hopes were still entertained by many for his eventual recovery.
In one of the apartments of the Louvre, forming the suite of the queen
dauphine, sat the unfortunate Comte de Montgomeri and his betrothed
bride. Sometimes sanguine that Henri would, nay, must recover; at others
plunged in the depth of despair—had been the alternate moods of the
count during these eleven days. His friends conjured him to lose no time
in retiring from France, at least for a time; and Idalie herself, though
she shrunk from the idea of parting, with an indefinable feeling of
foreboding dread, yet so trembled for his safety if he remained, as to
add her solicitations to those of others. Still the count lingered. The
very thought of his having been the ill-fated hand to give the
death-blow to the monarch he revered, and the friend he loved, was too
horrible to be realized. He could not believe that such would be; yet so
dark was his despair, so agonizing his self-accusations, that even his
interviews with Idalie had lost their soothing sweetness, and he did but
deplore that her pure love had been given to one so darkly fated as
himself.

It was after one of these bursts of misery that the Comte de Montemar,
who had been engaged with papers at the further end of the apartment,
approached and sought to comfort him by an appeal to those holier
feelings, which Montgomeri possessed in a much higher degree than most
of his countrymen.

“It is not well, my friend,” De Montemar said, “to poison thus the brief
moments we may yet pass together. Remember, thou wert no willing agent
of that higher power, by whose mandate alone it was that our monarch
fell. All may seem dark, yet even out of darkness He brought forth
light—out of a very chaos the most unwavering order; and does He not do
so still? Abide by the advice of those who urge thee to quit France till
order is restored, and our gracious sovereign’s last words remembered
and acted upon. Italian blood is hot and eager to avenge; but fear not,
we shall meet again in happier days, and, oh, embitter not thus the few
moments still left my poor child!”

Softened and subdued more than he had been yet, Montgomeri folded his
arm round the weeping Idalie, kissed the tears from her pale cheek,
conjured her forgiveness, and promised to battle with the despondency
that almost crushed him.

“And wilt thou indeed do this?” she rejoined, imploringly. “Oh, bless
thee for such promise! Yet I fear thee, Montgomeri. And when apart from
me, and these troubled thoughts regain ascendency, thou wilt rush on
danger, on death, to escape them. Think, then, dearest, that it is not
your own life alone which you risk; that one is bound up in it which
cannot rest alone. Will the ivy blossom and smile when the oak has
fallen? And as the oak is to the lowly yet clinging ivy, so art thou to
me.”

Folding her still closer, Montgomeri in his turn sought to reassure and
soothe, but with less success than usual. Every look and tone of Idalie
betrayed that heavy weight which had increased with each day that
brought the hour of parting nearer. Breathed to none, and battled with
as it had been, still it seemed to hold every faculty chained, and at
length caused her head to sink on the bosom of De Lorges with such a
burst of irrepressible anguish as to excite his alarm, and tenderly he
conjured her to reveal its cause.

“I know it is a weakness, a folly, Gabriel, unworthy of the woman whom
thou lovest; but scorn it not, upbraid it not, bid it go from me! Is
there not woe enough in parting, that before the hope of meeting ever
rises a dim and shapeless darkness impossible to be defined, yet so
folding round my future as to bury all of hope, of trust, of every
feeling, save that _we shall not meet as we have parted_?”

“Is it change in me thou fearest, love? No. Then heed it not; ’tis but a
baseless fancy, which will come when the frame is weakened by the
anguish of the mind. Believe me—”

He was interrupted. The hangings over the door leading by a private
passage to the dauphine’s own rooms were suddenly drawn aside, and,
closely muffled, Mary of Scotland stood before them, with anxiety and
haste visibly imprinted on her features.

“This is no time for ceremony, my lord, or we would apologize for our
intrusion,” she said, turning towards the Count de Montemar; “our
business is too weighty for an indifferent messenger. Count de Lorges,”
she added, addressing him abruptly, and pausing not for Montemar’s
courtly words, “tarry not another night in Paris; you have been unwise
to loiter here so long. Pause for no thought, no marvel. Fly at once;
put the broad seas between you and France, and there may be happiness in
store for you yet. Dearest Idalie, for thy sake, even as for
Montgomeri’s, I am here: do not look upon me thus.”

“_Now_ must we part—now? Your highness means not now!” exclaimed Idalie,
as her cold hands convulsively closed round the count’s arm. “What has
he done that he should fly?”

“Nothing to call the blush of shame to his cheek or thine, dear child.
The words I have heard may mean nothing, may be but wrung from woman’s
agony, for the grief of Catherine de Medicis is of no softening nature;
yet ought Montgomeri to leave Paris without delay, for there may be some
to act on broken words, even as on an imperial mandate. Detain him not,
Idalie; we shall visit Scotland perchance ere long, and there no grief
shall damp a bridal.”

“Stay but one moment more, royal lady,” entreated De Lorges, as the
dauphine turned to go; “one word, for mercy. How fares the king? Is
there no more hope? Does he still lay as he has done ever since that
fatal stroke?”

Mary looked at him somewhat surprised, and very sorrowfully.

“No, Montgomeri, no!” she said, after a pause of much feeling; “the soul
has escaped the shattered prison, and Henri is at rest.”

Montgomeri staggered back with a heavy, almost convulsive groan. He knew
not till that moment how powerfully hope had sustained him. The shock
was almost as fearful as if he had never thought of death; and yet the
horrible conviction that he was a regicide had scarcely for one instant
left his mind.

“Montemar, let not this be, for the sake of thy poor child, of both.
Part them ere long,” whispered the queen (dauphine no more), as the
count knelt before her in involuntary homage; “think not of us now.
Would to God we were still Dauphine of France and not her queen.
Montgomeri’s danger, I fear, is imminent; let him not linger, and may
our Lady guard him still.”

She departed as she spoke; and Montemar, infected with her evident
anxiety, hesitated not to obey.

“Rouse thee, Montgomeri,” he said, earnestly; “fly, for the sake of this
poor, drooping flower; let not our Idalie weep for a darker doom than
even this sad parting. Come to thy father’s heart awhile, my child. Have
I no claim upon thy love?”

Gently he drew her from Montgomeri’s still detaining arm, almost
relieved to find her insensible to any further suffering. His beseeching
words to fly ere Idalie again awoke to consciousness, moved the count to
action. Still he lingered to kiss again and again the pale cheek and
lips of his beloved; then convulsively wringing the count’s hand, rushed
from the room and from the palace at the very moment that voices shouted
“Long live Francis the Second, God preserve the King!”


III.


Eighteen months had passed, and still was the Count de Montgomeri an
exile from his country; and so virulent was Catherine against him, so
determinately forgetful of Henri’s last words, absolving the count of
all intentional evil, whatever might ensue, that even his best friends
dared not wish him back. For Idalie, this interval was indeed heavy with
anxiety and sorrow, and all the bitter sickness of hope deferred. No
doubt of his affection ever entered her heart; she knew him fond and
faithful as herself; but there seemed no end, no term to the long, long
interval of absence. Her future was bounded by the hour of meeting, and
a very void of interest, and hope, and pleasure seemed the space which
stretched between. Yet, for her father’s sake, her ever unselfish nature
struggled with the stagnating gloom. The court was loathsome to them
both, for even the friendship of the young queen could not remove from
Idalie the horror which Catherine de Medicis inspired. In the Chateau de
Montemar, then, these eighteen months had mostly been passed, and Idalie
compelled herself to seek and feel interest in the families of her
father’s vassals, and in the many lessons of feudal government and
policy which, as the heiress of all his large estates and of his proud,
unsullied name, her father delighted to pour into her heart.

One other subject engrossed the Count de Montemar, and of which he spoke
so often and so solemnly to his daughter, that his feelings on the
subject became hers; it was the wide-spreading over France of the new
religion, deemed by all orthodox Catholics as a heresy, which, if not
checked, would entirely subvert and destroy their ancient faith, and in
consequence bring incalculable mischief to the country, both temporally
and spiritually. De Montemar was no bigot, looking only to violent
measures for the extermination of this far-spreading evil; but it
grieved and affected him in no common degree. He spent hours and hours
with his confessor and his daughter in commune on this one engrossing
subject; and from the sincere and earnest lessons of the priest, a true
and zealous though humble follower of his own church, he became more and
more convinced of the truth of the olden creed, and what he deemed the
foul and awful apostasy of the new.

Yet no violence of party spirit mingled in these discussions, and
therefore it was that Idalie felt the conviction of the truth and beauty
of her long-cherished religion sink into her soul like balm. Saddened by
her individual sorrow, shrinking in consequence from all the exciting
amusements then reigning in France, her fathers favourite subject became
equally a resource and comfort to her, thus unconsciously fitting her
for the martyr part which she was only too soon called upon to play.

The Count de Montemar had been a soldier from his youth, and was still
suffering from the serious wounds received in his last campaign. Within
the last three months he had gradually become weaker and weaker, till at
length Idalie watched beside the couch, from which she had been told
that her beloved and loving parent would never rise again. She had heard
it with an agony of sorrow, which it was long ere the kindly sympathy of
the benevolent priest and of her cousin Louis could in any degree
assuage. Motherless from early childhood, a more than common tie bound
her to her father; and so deep was the darkness which those cruel
tidings seemed to gather round her, that even love itself succumbed
beneath it, and the strange, wild yearning rose, that she, too, might
“flee away, and be at rest.”

Unable to endure any longer these sad thoughts, Idalie arose from the
seat where she had kept vigil for many weary nights and days, and looked
forth upon the night. The moon was at the full, and shed such clear and
silvery light around, that even the rugged crags and stunted pines
seemed softened into beauty. The vale beneath slumbered in shadow, save
where, here and there, a solitary tree stood forth, seemingly bathed in
liquid silver. Sweet odours from the flowers of the night lingered on
the breeze, and the rippling gush of a streamlet, reflecting every star
and ray upon its bosom, was the only sound that broke the silence. The
holy calm of Nature touched a responding chord in the heart of the
watcher, and even grief felt for the moment stilled. A few minutes
afterwards the voice of the count recalled her to his side.

“Is it a fancy, or was Louis here but now, my child?” he asked, feebly.
“Is he from the court? and did he not bring news? Wherefore came he?”

“Because he heard that I was in sorrow, my dear father; and he sought,
as he ever does, to soothe, or at least to share it.”

“Bless him for his faithful love! He has in truth been to me a son, and
will be to thee a brother, mine own love; but tell me, is it indeed
truth, or have my thoughts again wandered, has my young sovereign gone
before me to the grave?”

“Alas! my father, ’tis even so.”

An expression of deep sorrow escaped the lips of the dying man, and for
several minutes he was silent. When again he spoke, his voice was
firmer.

“Idalie, my child, I shall soon follow my royal master; and it is well,



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