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"Storms may rush in, and crimes and woes Deform that peaceful bower; They may not mar the deep repose Of that immortal flower. Though only broken hearts be found To watch his cradle by, No blight is on his slumbers sound, No touch of harmful eye." KEBLE.
The news was even worse and worse in that palace of despondency and terror. Notice had arrived that Lord Dartmouth was withheld from despatching the young Prince to France by his own scruples and those of the navy; and orders were sent for the child's return. Then came a terrible alarm. The escort sent to meet him were reported to have been attacked by the rabble on entering London and dispersed, so that each man had to shift for himself.
There was a quarter of an hour which seemed many hours of fearful suspense, while King and Queen both knelt at their altar, praying in agony for the child whom they pictured to themselves in the hands of the infuriated mob, too much persuaded of his being an imposture to pity his unconscious innocence. No one who saw the blanched cheeks and agonised face of Mary Beatrice, or James's stern, mute misery, could have believed for a moment in the cruel delusion that he was no child of theirs.
The Roman Catholic women were with them. To enter the oratory would in those circumstances have been a surrender of principle, but none the less did Anne pray with fervent passion in her chamber for pity for the child, and comfort for his parents. At last there was a stir, and hurrying out to the great stair, Anne saw a man in plain clothes replying in an Irish accent to the King, who was supporting the Queen with his arm. Happily the escort had missed the Prince of Wales. They had been obliged to turn back to London without meeting him, and from that danger he had been saved.
A burst of tears and a cry of fervent thanksgiving relieved the Queen's heart, and James gave eager thanks instead of the reprimand the colonel had expected for his blundering.
A little later, another messenger brought word that Lord and Lady Powys had halted at Guildford with their charge. A French gentleman, Monsieur de St. Victor, was understood to have undertaken to bring him to London--understood--for everything was whispered rather than told among the panic-stricken women. No one who knew the expectation could go to bed that night except that the King and Queen had--in order to disarm suspicion--to go through the accustomed ceremonies of the coucher. The ladies sat or lay on their beds intently listening, as hour after hour chimed from the clocks.
At last, at about three in the morning, the challenge of the sentinels was heard from point to point. Every one started up, and hurried almost pell-mell towards the postern door. The King and Queen were both descending a stair leading from the King's dressing- room, and as the door was cautiously opened, it admitted a figure in a fur cloak, which he unfolded, and displayed the sleeping face of the infant well wrapped from the December cold.
With rapture the Queen gathered him into her arms, and the father kissed him with a vehemence that made him awake and cry. St. Victor had thought it safer that his other attendants should come in by degrees in the morning, and thus Miss Woodford was the only actually effective nursery attendant at hand. His food was waiting by the fire in his own sleeping chamber, and thither he was carried. There the Queen held him on her lap, while Anne fed him, and he smiled at her and held out his arms.
The King came, and making a sign to Anne not to move, stood watching.
Presently he said, "She has kept one secret, we may trust her with another."
"Oh, not yet, not yet," implored the Queen. "Now I have both my treasures again, let me rest in peace upon them for a little while."
The King turned away with eyes full of tears while Anne was lulling the child to sleep. She wondered, but durst not ask the Queen, where was the tiler's wife; but later she learnt from Miss Dunord, that the woman had been so terrified by the cries of the multitude against the 'pretender,' and still more at the sight of the sea, that she had gone into transports of fright, implored to go home, and perhaps half wilfully, become useless, so that the weaning already commenced had to be expedited, and the fretfulness of the poor child had been one of the troubles for some days. However, he seemed on his return to have forgotten his troubles, and Anne had him in her arms nearly all the next day.
It was not till late in the evening that Anne knew what the King had meant. Then, while she was walking up and down the room, amusing the little Prince with showing by turns the window and his face in a large mirror, the Queen came in, evidently fresh from weeping, and holding out her arms for him, said, after looking to see that there was no other audience--
"Child, the King would repose a trust in you. He wills that you should accompany me to-night on a voyage to France to put this little angel in safety."
"As your Majesty will," returned Anne; "I will do my best."
"So the King said. He knew his brave sailor's daughter was worthy of his trust, and you can speak French. It is well, for we go under the escort of Messieurs de Lauzun and St. Victor. Be ready at midnight. Lady Strickland or the good Labadie will explain more to you, but do not speak of this to anyone else. You have leave now," she added, as she herself carried the child towards his father's rooms.
The maiden's heart swelled at the trust reposed in her, and the King's kind words, and she kept back the sense of anxiety and doubt as to so vague a future. She found Mrs. Labadie lying on her bed awake, but trying to rest between two busy nights, and she was then told that there was to be a flight from the palace of the Queen and Prince at midnight, Mrs. Labadie and Anne alone going with them, though Lord and Lady Powys and Lady Strickland, with the Queen's Italian ladies, would meet them on board the yacht which was waiting at Gravesend. The nurse advised Anne to put a few necessary equipments into a knapsack bound under a cloak, and to leave other garments with her own in charge of Mr. Labadie, who would despatch them with those of the suite, and would follow in another day with the King. Doubt or refusal there could of course be none in such circumstances, and a high-spirited girl like Anne could not but feel a thrill of heart at selection for such confidential and signal service at her age, scarcely seventeen. Her one wish was to write to her uncle what had become of her. Mrs. Labadie hardly thought it safe, but said her husband would take charge of a note, and if possible, post it when they were safe gone, but nothing of the King's plans must be mentioned.
The hours passed away anxiously, and yet only too fast. So many had quitted the palace that there was nothing remarkable in packing, but as Anne collected her properties, she could not help wondering whether she should ever see them again. Sometimes her spirit rose at the thought of serving her lovely Queen, saving the little Prince, and fulfilling the King's trust; at others, she was full of vague depression at the thought of being cut off from all she knew and loved, with seas between, and with so little notice to her uncle, who might never learn where she was; but she knew she had his approval in venturing all, and making any sacrifice for the King whom all deserted; and she really loved her Queen and little Prince.
The night came, and she and Mrs. Labadie, fully equipped in cloaks and hoods, waited together, Anne moving about restlessly, the elder woman advising her to rest while she could. The little Prince, all unconscious of the dangers of the night, or of his loss of a throne, lay among his wraps in his cradle fast asleep.
By and by the door opened, and treading softly in came the King in his dressing-gown and night-cap, the Queen closely muffled, Lady Strickland also dressed for a journey, and two gentlemen, the one tall and striking-looking, the other slim and dark, in their cloaks, namely, Lauzun and St. Victor.
It was one of those supreme moments almost beyond speech or manifestation of feeling.
The King took his child in his arms, kissed him, and solemnly said to Lauzun, "I confide my wife and son to you."
Both Frenchmen threw themselves on their knees kissing his hand with a vow of fidelity. Then giving the infant to Mrs. Labadie, James folded his wife in his arms in a long mute embrace; Anne carried the basket containing food for the child; and first with a lantern went St. Victor, then Lauzun, handing the Queen; Mrs. Labadie with the child, and Anne following, they sped down the stairs, along the great gallery, with steps as noiseless as they could make them, down another stair to a door which St. Victor opened.
A sentry challenged, sending a thrill of dismay through the anxious hearts, but St. Victor had the word, and on they went into the privy gardens, where often Anne had paced behind Mrs. Labadie as the Prince took his airing. Startling lights from the windows fell on them, illuminating the drops of rain that plashed round them on that grim December night, and their steps sounded on the gravel, while still the babe, sheltered under the cloak, slept safely. Another door was reached, more sentries challenged and passed; here was a street whose stones and silent houses shone for a little space as St. Victor raised his lantern and exchanged a word with a man on the box of a carriage.
One by one they were handed in, the Queen, the child, the nurse, Anne, and Lauzun, St. Victor taking his place outside. As if in a dream they rattled on through the dark street, no one speaking except that Lauzun asked the Queen if she were wet.
It was not far before they stopped at the top of the steps called the Horseferry. A few lights twinkled here and there, and were reflected trembling in the river, otherwise a black awful gulf, from which, on St. Victor's cautious hail, a whistle ascended, and a cloaked figure with a lantern came up the steps glistening in the rain.
One by one again, in deep silence, they were assisted down, and into the little boat that rocked ominously as they entered it. There the women crouched together over the child unable to see one another, Anne returning the clasp of a hand on hers, believing it Mrs. Labadie's, till on Lauzun's exclaiming, "Est ce que j'incommode sa Majeste?" the reply showed her that it was the Queen's hand that she held, and she began a startled "Pardon, your Majesty," but the sweet reply in Italian was, "Ah, we are as sisters in this stress."
The eager French voice of Lauzun went on, in undertones certainly, but as if he had not the faculty of silence, and amid the plash of the oars, the rush of the river, and the roar of the rain, it was not easy to tell what he said, his voice was only another of the noises, though the Queen made little courteous murmurs in reply. It was a hard pull against wind and tide towards a little speck of green light which was shown to guide the rowers; and when at last they reached it, St. Victor's hail was answered by Dusions, one of the servants, and they drew to the steps where he held a lantern.
"To the coach at once, your Majesty."
"It is at the inn--ready--but I feared to let it stand."
Lauzun uttered a French imprecation under his breath, and danced on the step with impatience, only restrained so far as to hand out the Queen and her two attendants. He was hotly ordering off Dusions and St. Victor to bring the coach, when the former suggested that they must find a place for the Queen to wait in where they could find her.
"What is that dark building above?"
"Lambeth Church," Dusions answered.
"Ah, your Protestant churches are not open; there is no shelter for us there," sighed the Queen.
"There is shelter in the angle of the buttress; I have been there, your Majesty," said Dusions.
Thither then they turned.
"What can that be?" exclaimed the Queen, starting and shuddering as a fierce light flashed in the windows and played on the wall.
"It is not within, madame," Lauzun encouraged; "it is reflected light from a fire somewhere on the other side of the river."
"A bonfire for our expulsion. Ah! why should they hate us so?" sighed the poor Queen.
"'Tis worse than that, only there's no need to tell Her Majesty so," whispered Mrs. Labadie, who, in the difficulties of the ascent, had been fain to hand the still-sleeping child to Anne. "'Tis the Catholic chapel of St. Roque. The heretic miscreants!"
"Pray Heaven no life be lost," sighed Anne.
Sinister as the light was, it aided the poor fugitives at that dead hour of night to find an angle between the church wall and a buttress where the eaves afforded a little shelter from the rain, which slackened a little, when they were a little concealed from the road, so that the light need not betray them in case any passenger was abroad at such an hour, as two chimed from the clock overhead.
The women kept together close against the wall to avoid the drip of the eaves. Lauzun walked up and down like a sentinel, his arms folded, and talking all the while, though, as before, his utterances were only an accompaniment to the falling rain and howling wind; Mary Beatrice was murmuring prayers over the sleeping child, which she now held in the innermost corner; Anne, with wide-stretched eyes, was gazing into the light cast beyond the buttress by the fire on the opposite side, when again there passed across it that form she had seen on All Saints' Eve--the unmistakable phantom of Peregrine.
It was gone into the darkness in another second; but a violent start on her part had given a note of alarm, and brought back the Count, whose walk had been in the opposite direction.
"What was it? Any spy?"
"Oh no--no--nothing! It was the face of one who is dead," gasped Anne.
"The poor child's nerve is failing her," said the Queen gently, as Lauzun drawing his sword burst out--
"If it be a spy it shall be the face of one who is dead;" and he darted into the road, but returned in a few moments, saying no one had passed except one of the rowers returning after running up to the inn to hasten the coach; how could he have been seen from the church wall? The wheels were heard drawing up at that moment, so that the only thought was to enter it as quickly as might be in the same order as before, after which the start was made, along the road that led through the marshes of Lambeth; and then came the inquiry-- an anxious one--whom or what mademoiselle, as Lauzun called her, had seen.
"O monsieur!" exclaimed the poor girl in her confusion, her best French failing, "it was nothing--no living man."
"Can mademoiselle assure me of that? The dead I fear not, the living I would defy."
"He lives not," said she in an undertone, with a shudder.
"But who is he that mademoiselle can be so certain?" asked the Frenchman.
"Oh! I know him well enough," said Anne, unable to control her voice.
"Mademoiselle must explain herself," said M. de Lauzun. "If he be spirit--or phantom--there is no more to say, but if he be in the flesh, and a spy--then--" There was a little rattle of his sword.
"Speak, I command," interposed the Queen; "you must satisfy M. le Comte."
Thus adjured, Anne said in a low voice of horror: "It was a gentleman of our neighbourhood; he was killed in a duel last summer!"
"Ah! You are certain?"
"I had the misfortune to see the fight," sighed Anne.
"That accounts for it," said the Queen kindly. "If mademoiselle's nerves were shaken by such a remembrance, it is not wonderful that it should recur to her at so strange a watch as we have been keeping."
"It might account for her seeing this revenant cavalier in any passenger," said Lauzun, not satisfied yet.
"No one ever was like him," said Anne. "I could not mistake him."
"May I ask mademoiselle to describe him?" continued the count.
Feeling all the time as if this first mention were a sort of betrayal, Anne faltered the words: "Small, slight, almost misshapen--with a strange one-sided look--odd, unusual features."
Lauzun's laugh jarred on her. "Eh! it is not a flattering portrait. Mademoiselle is not haunted by a hero of romance, it appears, so much as by a demon."
"And none of those monsieur has employed in our escape answer to that description?" asked the Queen.
"Assuredly not, your Majesty. Crooked person and crooked mind go together, and St. Victor would only have trusted to your big honest rowers of the Tamise. I think we may be satisfied that the demoiselle's imagination was excited so as to evoke a phantom impressed on her mind by a previous scene of terror. Such things have happened in my native Gascony."
Anne was fain to accept the theory in silence, though it seemed to her strange that at a moment when she was for once not thinking of Peregrine, her imagination should conjure him up, and there was a strong feeling within her that it was something external that had flitted across the shadow, not a mere figment of her brain, though the notion was evidently accepted, and she could hear a muttering of Mrs. Labadie that this was the consequence of employing young wenches with their whims and megrims.
The Count de Lauzun did his best to entertain the Queen with stories of revenants in Gascony and elsewhere, and with reminiscences of his eleven years' captivity at Pignerol, and his intercourse with Fouquet; but whenever in aftertimes Anne Woodford tried to recall her nocturnal drive with this strange personage, the chosen and very unkind husband of the poor old Grande Mademoiselle, she never could recollect anything but the fierce glare of his eyes in the light of the lamps as he put her to that terrible interrogation.
The talk was chiefly monologue. Mrs. Labadie certainly slept, perhaps the Queen did so too, and Anne became conscious that she must have slumbered likewise, for she found every one gazing at her in the pale morning dawn and asking why she cried, "O Charles, hold!"
As she hastily entreated pardon, Lauzun was heard to murmur, "Je parie que le revenant se nomme Charles," and she collected her senses just in time to check her contradiction, recollecting that happily such a name as Charles revealed nothing. The little Prince, who had slumbered so opportunely all night, awoke and received infinite praise, and what he better appreciated, the food that had been provided for him. They were near their journey's end, and it was well, for people were awakening and going to their work as they passed one of the villages, and once the remark was heard, "There goes a coach full of Papists."
However, no attempt was made to stop the party, and as it would be daylight when they reached Gravesend, the Queen arranged her disguise to resemble, as she hoped, a washerwoman--taking off her gloves, and hiding her hair, while the Prince, happily again asleep, was laid in a basket of linen. Anne could not help thinking that she thus looked more remarkable than if she had simply embarked as a lady; but she meant to represent the attendant of her Italian friend Countess Almonde, whom she was to meet on board.
Leaving the coach outside a little block of houses, the party reached a projecting point of land, where three Irish officers received them, and conducted them to a boat. Then, wrapped closely in cloaks from the chill morning air, they were rowed to the yacht, on the deck of which stood Lord and Lady Powys, Lady Strickland, Pauline Dunord, and a few more faithful followers, who had come more rapidly. There was no open greeting nor recognition, for the captain and crew were unaware whom they were carrying, and, on the discovery, either for fear of danger or hope of reward, might have captured such a prize.
Therefore all the others, with whispered apologies, were hoisted up before her, and Countess Almonde had to devise a special entreaty that the chair might be lowered again for her poor laundress as well as for the other two women.
The yacht, which had been hired by St. Victor, at once spread her sails; Mrs. Labadie conversed with the captain while the countess took the Queen below into the stifling crowded little cabin. It was altogether a wretched voyage; the wind was high, and the pitching and tossing more or less disabled everybody in the suite. The Queen was exceedingly ill, so were the countess and Mrs. Labadie. Nobody could be the least effective but Signora Turini, who waited on her Majesty, and Anne, who was so far seasoned by excursions at Portsmouth that she was capable of taking sole care of the little Prince, as the little vessel dashed along on her way with her cargo of alarm and suffering through the Dutch fleet of fifty vessels, none of which seemed to notice her--perhaps by express desire not to be too curious as to English fugitives.
Between the care of the little one, who needed in the tossing of the ship to be constantly in arms though he never cried and when awake was always merry, and the giving as much succour as possible to her suffering companions, Anne could not either rest or think, but seemed to live in one heavy dazed dream of weariness and endurance, hardly knowing whether it were day or night, till the welcome sound was heard that Calais was in sight.
Then, as well as they could, the poor travellers crawled from the corners, and put themselves in such array as they could contrive, though the heaving of the waves, as the little yacht lay to, did not conduce to their recovery. The Count de Lauzun went ashore as soon as a boat could be lowered to apprise M. Charot, the Governor of Calais, of the guest he was to receive, and after an interval of considerable discomfort, in full view of the massive fortifications, boats came off to bring the Queen and her attendants on shore, this time as a Queen, though she refused to receive any honours. Lady Strickland, recovering as soon as she was on dry land, resumed her Prince, who was fondled with enthusiastic praises for his excellent conduct on the voyage.
Anne could not help feebly thinking some of the credit might be due to her, since she had held him by land and water nearly ever since leaving Whitehall, but she was too much worn out by her nights of unrest, and too much battered and beaten by the tossings of her voyage, to feel anything except in a languid half-conscious way, under a racking headache; and when the curious old house where they were to rest was reached, and all the rest were eating with ravenous appetites, she could taste nothing, and being conducted by a compassionate Frenchwoman in a snow-white towering cap to a straw mattress spread on the ground, she slept the twenty-four hours round without moving.
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