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A LITTLE MUTUAL AVERSION.
I had cried half the night, and when in the morning little Nan wanted to hear about my ball, I only answered that I hated the thought of it. I was going to be married to a hideous old man, and be carried to France, and should never see any of them again. I made Nan cry too, and we both came down to breakfast with such mournful faces that my mother chid me sharply for making myself such a fright.
Then she took me away to the still-room, and set me for an hour to make orange cakes, while she gave orders for the great dinner that we were to give that day, I knew only too well for whose sake; and if I had only known which orange cake was for my betrothed, would not it have been a bitter one! By and by my mother carried me off to be dressed. She never trusted the tiring-woman to put the finishing touches with those clumsy English fingers; and, besides, she bathed my swollen eyelids with essences, and made me rub my pale cheeks with a scarlet ribbon, speaking to me so sharply that I should not have dared to shed another tear.
When I was ready, all in white, and she, most stately in blue velvet and gold, I followed her down the stairs to the grand parlour, where stood my father, with my brothers and one or two persons in black, who I found were a notary and his clerk, and there was a table before them with papers, parchment, a standish, and pens. I believe if it had been a block, and I had had to lay my head on it, like poor Lady Jane Grey, I could not have been much more frightened.
There was a sound of wheels, and presently the gentleman usher came forward, announcing the Most Noble the Marquis de Nidemerle, and the Lord Viscount of Bellaise. My father and brothers went half-way down the stairs to meet them, my mother advanced across the room, holding me in one hand and Annora in the other. We all curtsied low, and as the gentlemen advanced, bowing low, and almost sweeping the ground with the plumes in their hats, we each had to offer them a cheek to salute after the English fashion. The old marquis was talking French so fast that I could not understand him in the least, but somehow a mist suddenly seemed to clear away from before me, and I found that I was standing before that alarming table, not with him, but with something much younger--not much older, indeed, than Eustace.
I began to hear what the notary was reading out, and behold it was-- 'Contract of marriage on the part of Philippe Marie Francois de Bellaise, Marquis de Nidermerle, and Eustace de Ribaumont, Baron Walwyn of Walwyn, in Dorset, and Baron de Ribaumont in Picardy, on behoof of Gaspard Henri Philippe, Viscount de Bellaise, nephew of the Marquis de Nidemerle, and Margaret Henrietta Maria de Ribaumont, daughter of the Baron de Ribaumont.'
Then I knew that I had been taken in by the Prince's wicked trick, and that my husband was to be the young viscount, not the old uncle! I do not think that this was much comfort to me at the moment, for, all the same, I was going into a strange country, away from every one I had ever known.
But I did take courage to look up under my eye-lashes at the form I was to see with very different eyes. M. de Ballaise was only nineteen, but although not so tall as my father or brother, he had already that grand military bearing which is only acquired in the French service, and no wonder, or he had been three years in the Regiment de Conde, and had already seen two battles and three sieges in Savoy, and now had only leave of absence for the winter before rejoining his regiment in the Low Countries.
Yet he looked as bashful as a maiden. It was true that, as my father said, his bashfulness was as great as an Englishman's. Indeed, he had been bred up at his great uncle's chateau in Anjou, under a strict abbe who had gone with him to the war, and from whom he was only now to be set free upon his marriage. He had scarcely ever spoken to any lady but his old aunt--his parents had long been dead-- and he had only two or three times seen his little sister through the grating of her convent. So, as he afterwards confessed, nothing but his military drill and training bore him through the affair. He stood upright as a dart, bowed at the right place, and in due time signed his name to the contract, and I had to do the same. Then there ensued a great state dinner, where he and I sat together, but neither of us spoke to the other; and when, as I was trying to see the viscount under my eyelashes, I caught his eyes trying to do the same by me, I remember my cheeks flaming all over, and I think his must have done the same, for my father burst suddenly out into a laugh without apparent cause, though he tried to check himself when he saw my mother's vexation.
When all was over, she highly lauded the young gentleman, declaring that he was an example of the decorum with which such matters were conducted in France; and when my father observed that he should prefer a little more fire and animation, she said: 'Truly, my lord, one would think you were of mere English extraction, that you should prefer the rude habits of a farmer or milkmaid to the reserve of a true noble and lady of quality.'
'Well, dame, I promised that you should have it your own way with the poor lass,' said my father; 'and I see no harm in the lad, but I own I should like to know more of him, and Meg would not object either. It was not the way I took thee, Margaret.'
'I shall never make you understand that a widow is altogether a different thing,' said my mother.
I suppose they never recollected that I could hear every word they said, but I was full in view of them, and of course I was listening most anxiously for all I could gather about my new life. If I remember right, it was an envoy-extraordinary with whom the marquis and his nephew had come, and their stay was therefore very short, so that we were married after a very few days in the Queen's Chapel, by her own almoner.
I do not remember much about the wedding, as indeed it was done very quietly, being intended to be kept altogether a secret; but in some way, probably through the servants, it became known to the mob in London, and as we drove home from Whitehall in the great coach with my father and mother, a huge crowd had assembled, hissing and yelling and crying out upon Lord Walwyn for giving his daughter to a French Papist.
The wretches! they even proceeded to throw stones. My young bridegroom saw one of these which would have struck me had he not thrown himself forward, holding up his hat as a shield. The stone struck him in the eye, and he dropped forward upon my mother's knee senseless.
The crowd were shocked then, and fell back, but what good did that do to him? He was carried to his chamber, and a surgeon was sent for, who said that there was no great injury done, for the eye itself had not been touched, but that he must be kept perfectly quiet until the last minute, if he was to be able to travel without danger, when the suite were to set off in two day's time. They would not let me go near him. Perhaps I was relieved, for I should not have known what to do; yet I feared that he would think me unkind and ungrateful, and I would have begged my mother and Eustace to thank him and make my excuses, but I was too shy, and I felt it very hard to be blamed for indifference and rudeness.
Indeed, we four young ones kept as much together as we could do in the house and gardens, and played all our dear old games of shuttlecock, and pig go to market, and proverbs, and all that you, my children, call very English sports, because we knew only too well that we should never play at them altogether again. The more I was blamed for being childish, the more I was set upon them, till at last my mother said that she was afraid to let me go, I was so childish and unfeeling; and my father replied that she should have thought of that before. He and I were both more English at heart than French, and I am sure now that he perceived better than I did myself that my clinging to my brothers and sister, and even my noisy merriment, were not the effect of want of feeling.
As to my bridegroom, I have since known that he was dreadfully afraid of us, more especially of me, and was thankful that the injury kept him a prisoner. Nay, he might have come downstairs, if he had been willing, on the last evening, but he shrank from another presentation to me before the eyes of all the world, and chose instead to act the invalid, with no companion save Eustace, with whom he had made friends.
I will not tell you about the partings, and the promises and assurances that we should meet again. My father had always promised that my mother should see France once more, and he now declared that they would all visit me. Alas! we little thought what would be the accomplishment of that promise.
My father and Eustace rode with us from London to Dover, and all the time I kept close to them. M. de Bellaise was well enough to ride too. His uncle, the marquis, went in a great old coach with the ladies, wives of some of his suite, and I should have been there too, but that I begged so hard to ride with my father that he yielded, after asking M. le Vicomte whether he had any objection. M. le Vicomte opened great eyes, smiled, blushed and bowed, stammering something. I do not think that he had a quite realised previously that I was his wife, and belonged to him. My father made him ride with us, and talked to him; and out in the open air, riding with the wind in our cheeks, and his plume streaming in the breeze, he grew much less shy, and began to talk about the wolf-hunts and boar-hunts in the Bocage, and of all the places that my father and I both knew as well as if we had seen them, from the grandam's stories.
I listened, but we neither of us sought the other; indeed, I believe it seemed hard to me that when there was so little time with my father and Eustace, they should waste it on these hunting stories. Only too soon we were at Dover, and the last, last farewell and blessing were given. I looked my last, though I knew it not at that dear face of my father!
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