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I have gone on with the d'Aubepine side of the story, but while these two devoted wives were making exertions at Bordeaux so foreign to their whole nature, which seemed changed for their husband's sake, I was far away at the time, even from my son.
It was in March that we received a letter from my brother, Lord Walwyn, bidding us adieu, being, when we received it, already on the high seas with the Marquis of Montrose, to strike another blow for the King. He said he could endure inaction no longer, and that his health had improved so much that he should not be a drag on the expedition. Moreover, it was highly necessary that the Marquis should be accompanied by gentlemen of rank, birth, and experience, who could be entrusted with commands, and when so many hung back it was the more needful for some to go. It was a great stroke to us, for besides that Sir Andrew Macniven went on reiterating that it was mere madness, and there was not a hope of success--the idea of Eustace going to face the winds of spring in the islands of Scotland was shocking enough.
'The hyperborean Orcades,' as the Abbe called them, made us think of nothing but frost and ice and savages, and we could not believe Sir Andrew when he told us that the Hebrides and all the west coast of Scotland were warmer than Paris in the winter.
After this we heard nothing--nothing but the terrible tidings that the Great Marquis, as the Cavaliers called him, had been defeated, taken by treachery, and executed by hanging--yes, by hanging at Edinburgh! His followers were said to be all dispersed and destroyed, and our hearts died within us; but Annora said she neither would nor could believe that all was over till she had more positive news, and put my mother in mind how many times before they had heard of the deaths of men who appeared alive and well immediately after. She declared that she daily expected to see Eustace walk into the room, and she looked round for him whenever the door was opened.
The door did open at last to let in tidings from the Hague, but not brought by Eustace. It was Mr. Probyn, one of the King's gentlemen, however, who told me he had been charged to put into my hands the following letter from His Majesty himself:--
'Madame--If you were still my subject I should command you, as you are ever my old playfellow. Meg, I entreat you to come without delay to a true subject and old playfellow of mine, who, having already sorely imperiled his neck and his health, and escaped, as they say, by the skin of his teeth, would fain follow me into the same jeopardy again did I not commit him to such safe warship as that of Madame de Bellaise. Probyn will tell you further. He also bears a letter that will secure you letters and passports from the Queen-Regent. When next you hear of me it will be with one of my crowns on my head.
Therewith was a brief note from Eustace himself:--
'Sweet Meg--Be not terrified at what they tell you of me. I have been preserved by a miracle in the miserable destruction of our armament and our noble leader. Would that my life could have gone for his! They take such a passing ailment as I have often before shaken off for more than it is worth, but I will write more from shipboard. Time presses at present. With my loving and dutiful greetings to my mother, and all love to my sister,
'E. WALWYN AND RIBAUMONT.'
Mr. Probyn told us more, and very sad it was, though still we had cause for joy. When Montrose's little troop was defeated and broken up at the Pass of Invercharron my brother had fled with the Marquis, and had shared his wanderings in Ross-shire for some days; but, as might only too surely have been expected, the exposure brought back his former illness, and he was obliged to take shelter in the cabin of a poor old Scotchwoman. She--blessings be on her head!--was faithful and compassionate, and would not deliver him up to his enemies, and thus his sickness preserved him from being taken with his leader by the wretched Macleod of Assynt.
Just as he grew a little better her son, who was a pedlar, arrived at the hut. He too was a merciful man, and, moreover, was loyal in heart to the King, and had fought in Montrose's first rising; and he undertook to guide my brother safely across Scotland and obtain his passage in one of the vessels that traded between Leith and Amsterdam. Happily Eustace always had a tongue that could readily catch the trick of dialects, and this excellent pedlar guarded him like his own brother, and took care to help him through all pressing and perplexing circumstances. Providentially, it was the height of summer, and the days were at their longest and warmest, or I know not how he could have gone through it at all; but at last he safely reached Leith, passing through Edinburgh with a pack on his back the very day that the Marquis of Huntly was executed. He was safely embarked on board at Dutch lugger, making large engagement of payment, which were accepted when he was known to have estates in France as well as in England; and thus he landed at Amsterdam, and made his way to the Hague, where all was in full preparation for the King's expedition to Scotland on the invitation of the nation.
So undaunted was my dear brother's spirit that, though he was manifestly very ill from the effects of exposure and fatigue, and of a rough voyage in a wretched vessel, he insisted that he should recover in a few days, and would have embarked at once with the King had not absolute orders to the contrary, on his duty as a subject, been laid upon him. Mr. probyn did not conceal from us that the learned Dutch physician, Doctor Dirkius, though his condition very serious, and that only great care could save his life.
Of course I made up my mind at once to set forth and travel as quickly as I could--the King had kindly secured my permission--and to take Tryphena with me, as she knew better than any one what to do for Eustace. Annora besought permission to accompany me, and, to my surprise, my mother consented, saying to me in confidence that she did not like leaving her in Lady Ommaney's care while she herself was with the Queen of England. Lady Ommaney was not of sufficient rank, and had ideas. In effect, I believe my mother had begun to have her suspicions about Clement Darpent, though separation a good thing, never guessing, as I did, that one part of Nan's eagerness to be with her brother was in order to confide in him, and to persuade him as she had never been able to do by letter. There remained my son to be disposed of, but I had full confidence in the Abbe, who had bred up his father so well, and my boy would, I knew, always look up to him and obey him, so that I could leave him in his care when not in waiting, and they were even to spend the summer together in a little expedition to Nid de Merle. I wanted to see my son love his country home as English gentlemen lover theirs; but I fear that can never be, since what forms affection is the habit of conferring benefits, and we are permitted to do so little for our peasants.
Thus, then, it was settled. I went to Mademoiselle, who was always good-natured where her vanity was not concerned, and who freely- granted me permission to absent myself. The Queen-Regent had been prepared by her nephew, and she made no difficulties, and thus my great traveling carriage came again into requisition; but as an escort was necessary, we asked Sir Andrew Macniven to accompany us, knowing that he would be glad to be at the Hague in case it should be expedient to follow His English Majesty to Scotland. We sent a courier to find my brother Solivet at Amiens, that he might meet and come part of the way with us. As to M. de Lamont, I was no longer in dread of him, as he had gone off to join the troops which the Duke of Bouillon and Rochefoucauld were collecting to compel the deliverance of the Princes; but the whole time was a dangerous one, for disbanded soldiers and robbers might lurk anywhere, and we were obliged to take six outriders armed to the teeth, besides the servants upon the carriage, of all of whom Sir Andrew took the command, for he could speak French perfectly, having studied in his youth in the University of Leyden.
Thus we took leave of Paris and of my mother, many of our friends coming out with us the first stage as far as St. Denys, where we all dined together. I could have excused them, as I would fain have had my son all to myself, and no doubt my sister felt the same, for Clement Darpent had also come. for the Frondeurs, or those supposed to be Frondeurs, were at this time courted by both parties, by the friends of the Prince in order to gain their aid in his release, and by the Court in order to be strengthened against the Prince's supporters; and thus the lawyers were treated with a studied courtesy that for the time made it appear as if they were to be henceforth, as in England, received as gentlemen, and treated on terms more like equality; and thus Clement joined with those who escorted us, and had a few minutes, though very few, of conversation with my sister, in which he gave her a packet for my brother.
I was not obliged to be cautious about knowing anything now that I should be out of reach of my mother, and all was to be laid before my brother. I could say nothing on the road, for our women were in the coach with us. the posts were not to be so much relied on as they are at present, and we had to send relays of horses forward to await us at each stage in order to have no delay, and he, who had made the journey before, managed all this excellently for us.
At night we two sisters shared the same room, and then it was that I asked Nan to tell me what was in her heart.
'What is the use?' she said; 'you have become one of these proud French nobility who cannot see worth or manhood unless a man can count a lineage of a hundred ancestors, half-ape, half-tiger.'
However, the poor child was glad enough to tell me all, even though I argued with her that, deeply English as she was in faith and in habits and modes of thought, it would hardly result in happiness even if she did extort permission to wed one of a different nation and religion, on whom, moreover, she would be entirely dependent for companionship; since, though nothing could break the bonds of sisterly affection between her and me, all the rest of the persons of her own rank would throw her over, since even if M. Darpent could be ennobled, or would purchase an estate bringing a title, hers would still be esteemed a mesalliance, unworthy the daughter of Anselme de Ribaumont the Crusader, and of the 'Bravest of Knights,' who gained the chaplet of pearls before Calais.
'Crusader!' said Annora; 'I tell you that his is truly a holy war against oppression and wrong-doing. Look at your own poor peasants, Meg, and say if he, and those like him, are not doing their best to save this country from a tyranny as foul as ever was the Saracen grasp on the Holy Sepulchre!'
'He is very like to perish in it,' I said.
'Well,' said Nan, with a little shake in her voice, 'if they told those who perished in the Crusades that they died gloriously and their souls were safe, I am sure it may well be so with one who pleads the cause of the poor, and I despite of his own danger never drew his sword against his King.'
There was no denying, even if one was not in love, and a little tete montee besides, like my poor Nan, that there was nobility of heart in Clement Darpent, especially as he kept his hands clear of rebellion; and I would not enter into the question of their differing religions. I left that for Eustace. I was certain that Annora knew, even better than I did, that the diversity between our parents had not been for the happiness of their children. In my own mind I saw little chance for the lovers, for I thought it inevitable that the Court and the Princes would draw together again, and that whether Cardinal Mazarin were sacrificed or not, the Frondeurs of Paris would be overthrown, and that Darpent, whose disinterestedness displeased all parties alike, was very likely to be made the victim. Therefore, though I could not but hope that the numerous difficulties in the way might prevent her from being linked to his fate, and actually sharing his ruin.
She was not in my hands, and I had not to decide, so I let her talk freely to me, and certainly, when we were alone together, her tongue ran on nothing else. I found that she hoped that Eustace would invite her lover to the Hague, and let them be wedded there by one of the refugee English clergy, and then they would be ready to meet anything together; but that M. Darpent was withheld by filial scruples, which actuated him far more than any such considerations moved her, and that he also had such hopes for his Parliament that he could not throw himself out of the power of serving it at this critical time, a doubt which she appreciated, looking on him as equal to any hero in Plutarch's LIVES.
Our brother De Solivet met us, and conducted into Amiens, where he had secured charming rooms for us. He was very full of an excellent marriage that had been offered to him for one of his little daughters, so good that he was going to make the other take the veil in order that her sister's fortune might be adequate to the occasion; and he regretted my having left Paris, because he intended to have set me to discover which had the greatest inclination to the world and which the chief vocation for the cloister. Annora's Protestant eyes grew large and round with horror, and she exclaimed at last:
'So that is the way in which you French fathers deliberate how to make victims of your daughters?'
He made her a little bow, and said, with is superior fraternal air:
'You do not understand, my sister. The happiest will probably be she who leads the peaceful life of a nun.'
'That makes it worse,' cried Annora, 'if you are arranging a marriage in which you expect your child to be less happy than if she were a nun.'
'I said not so, sister,' returned Solivet, with much patience and good-humour. 'I simply meant what you, as a Huguenot, cannot perceive, that a simple life dedicated to Heaven is often happier than one exposed to the storms and vicissitudes of the world.'
'Certainly you take good care it should prove so, when you make marriages such as that of the d'Aubepines,' said Nan.
Solivet shrugged his shoulders by way of answer, and warned my afterwards to take good care of our sister, or she would do something that would shock us all. To which I answered that the family honour was safe in the hand of so high-minded a maiden as our Annora, and he replied:
'Then there is, as I averred, no truth in the absurd report that she was encouraging the presumptuous advances of that factious rogue and Frondeur, young Darpent, whom our brother had the folly to introduce into the family.'
I did not answer, and perhaps he saw my blushes, for he added:
'If I thought so for a moment, she may be assured that his muddy bourgeois blood should at once be shed to preserve the purity of the family with which I have the honour to be connected.'
He was terribly in earnest, he, a Colonel in His Majesty's service, a father of a family, a staid and prudent man, and more than forty years old! I durst say no more but that I though Eustace was the natural protector and head of the Ribaumont family.
'A boy, my dear sister; a mere hot-headed boy, and full of unsettled fancies besides. In matters like this it is for me to think for the family. My mother depends on me, and my sister may be assured that I shall do so.'
I wondered whether my mother had given him a hint, and I also considered whether to put Annora upon her guard; but there was already quite enough mutual dislike between her and our half-brother, and I thought it better not to influence it. Solivet escorted us as far as his military duties permitted, which was almost to Calais, where we embarked for the Meuse, and there, when our passports had been examined and our baggage searched, in how different a world we found ourselves! It was like passing from a half-cultivated, poverty-stricken heath into a garden, tilled to the utmost, every field beautifully kept, and the great haycocks standing up tall in the fields, with the hay-makers round them in their curious caps, while the sails of boats and barges glided along between the trees in the canals that traversed them unseen; and as to the villages, they were like toys, their very walks bright with coloured tiles, and the fronts of the houses shining like the face of a newly-washed child. Indeed, as we found, the maids do stand in front of them every morning and splash them from eaves to foundation with buckets of water; while as to the gardens, and with palings painted of fanciful colours. All along the rivers and canals there were little painted houses, with gay pavilions and balconies with fanciful carved railings overhanging the water, and stages of flower-pot arranged in them. Sometimes a stout Dutch vrow with full, white, spotless sleeves, many-coloured substantial petticoats, gold buckles in her shoes, and a great white cap with a kind of gold band round her head, sat knitting there; or sometimes a Dutchman in trunk hose was fishing there. We saw them all, for we had entered a barge or trekschuyt, towed by horses on the bank, a great flat-bottomed thing, that perfectly held our carriage. Thus we were to go by the canals to the Hague, and no words can describe the strange silence and tranquillity of our motion along still waters.
My sister and her nurse, who had so often cried out against both the noisiness and the dirtiness of poor France, might well be satisfied now. They said they had never seen anything approaching to it in England. It was more like being shut up in a china closet than anything else, and it seemed as if the people were all dumb or dead, as we passed through those silent villages, while the great windmills along the banks kept waving their huge arms in silence, till Annora declared she felt she must presently scream, or ride a tilt with them like Don Quixote.
And all the time, as we came nearer and nearer, our hearts sank more and more, as we wondered in what state we should find our dear brother, and whether we should find him at all.
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