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At last we passed a distant steeple and large castle, which we were told belonged to Ryswyk, the castle of the Prince of Orange; then we went along through long rows of trees, and suddenly emerging from them we beheld a vast plain, a great wood, and a city crowned with towers and windmills.
Sir Andrew had been there before, and after showing our passports, and paying our fare to the boatman, who received it in a leathern bag, he left the servants to manage the landing of the carriage at the wharf, and took us through the streets, which were as scrupulously clean and well-washed, pavement and all, as if they had been the flags of an English kitchen, and as silent, he said, as a Sunday morning in Edinburgh. Even the children looked like little models of Dutchmen and Dutchwomen, and were just as solid, sober, and silent; and when Sir Andrew, who could speak Dutch, asked a little boy our way to the street whence my brother had dated his letter, the child gave his directions with the grave solemnity of a judge.
At last we made out way to the Mynheer Fronk's house, where we had been told we should find my Lord Walwyn's lodgings. It was a very tall house, with a cradle for a stork's nest at the top, and one of the birds standing on a single long thin leg on the ridge of the very high roof. There were open stalls for cheese on either side of the door, and a staircase leading up between. Sir Andrew made it known to a Dutchman, in a broad hat, that we were Lord Walwyn's sisters come to see him, and he thereupon called a stout maid, in a snowy round cap and kerchief, who in the first place looked at our shoes, then produced a brush and a cloth, and, going down on her knees, proceeded to wipe them and clean them. Sir Andrew submitted, as one quite accustomed to the process, and told us we might think ourselves fortunate that she did not actually insist on carrying us all upstairs, as some Dutch maids would do with visitors, rather than permit the purity of their stairs and passages to be soiled.
He extracted, meantime, from the Dutchman, that the Englishman had been very ill with violent bleedings at the lungs, but was somewhat better; and thus we were in some degree prepared, when we had mounted up many, many stairs, to find our Eustace sitting in his cloak, though it was a warm summer day, with his feet up on a wooden chair in front of him, and looking white, wasted, weak, as I had never seen him.
He started to his feet as the door opened and he beheld us, and would have sprung forward, but he was obliged to drop back into his chair again, and only hold out his arms.
'My sisters, my sisters!' he said; 'I had thought never to have seen you again!'
'And you would have sailed again for Scotland!' said Annora.
'I should have been strong in the face of the enemy,' he replied, but faintly.
There was much to be done for him. The room was a very poor and bare one, rigidly clean, of course, but with hardly and furniture in it but a bed, table, and two chairs, and the mistress or her maid ruthlessly scoured it every morning, without regard to the damp that the poor patient must inhale.
It appeared that since his expedition to Scotland the estate in Dorset had been seized, so that Harry Merrycourt could send him no more remittances, and, as the question about the Ribaumont property in Picardy was by no means decided, he had been reduced to sad straits. His Dutch hostess was not courteous, and complained very much that all the English cavaliers in exile professed to have rich kindred who would make up for everything, but she could not see that anything came of it. However, she did give him house-room, and, though grumbling, had provided him with many comforts and good fare, such as he was sure could not be purchased out of the very small sum he could give her by the week.
'And how provided?' he said. 'Ah! Nan, can you forgive me? I have had to pledge the last pearl of the chaplet, but I knew that Meg would redeem it.'
He had indeed suffered much, and we were eager to do our utmost for his recovery. We found the house crowded with people, and redolent of cheese. This small, chilly garret chamber was by no means proper for a man in his state of health, nor was there room for us in the house. So, leaving Nan with him, I went forth with Sir Andrew to seek for fresh lodgings. I need not tell how we tramped about the streets, and asked at many doors, before we could find any abode that would receive us. There were indeed lodgings left vacant by the gentlemen who had attended the King to Scotland, but perforce, so many scores had been left unpaid that there was great reluctance to receive any cavalier family, and the more high-sounding the name, the less trust there was in it. Nothing but paying down a month beforehand sufficed to obtain accommodation for us in a house belonging to a portly widow, and even there Nan and I would have to eat with the family (and so would my brother if he were well enough), and only two bedrooms and one sitting-room could be allotted to us. However, these were large and airy; the hangings, beds, and linen spotless; the floors and tables shining like mirrors; the windows clean, sunny, and bright; so we were content, and had our mails deposited there at once, though we could not attempt to move my brother so late in the day.
Indeed, I found him so entirely spent and exhausted by his conversation with Annora, that I would not let him say any more that night, but left him to the charge of Tryphena, who would not hear of leaving him, and was very angry with Mistress Nan, who, she said, in her English speech, would talk a horse's head off when once she began. In the morning Sir Andrew escorted us to the lodgings, where we found my brother already dressed, by the help of Nicolas, and looking forward to the change cheerfully. I have given Sir Andrew my purse, begging him, with his knowledge of Dutch, to discharge the reckoning for me, after which he was to go to find a chair, a coach, or anything that could be had to convey my brother in, for indeed he was hardly fit to walk downstairs.
Presently the Scottish knight knocked at the door, and desired to speak with me. 'What does this mean, Madame?' he said, looking much amused. 'My Lord here has friends. The good vrow declares that all his charges have been amply paid by one who bade her see that he wanted for nothing, and often sent dainty fare for him.'
'Was no name given?'
'None; and the vrow declares herself sworn to secrecy; but I observed that by a lapsus linguoe she implied that the sustenance came from a female hand. Have you any suspicions that my lord has a secret admirer?'
I could only say that I believed that many impoverished cavaliers had met with great and secret kindness from the nobility of Holland; that the King of England, as he knew, had interested himself about my brother, and as we all had been, so to say, brought up in intimacy with the royal family, I did not think it impossible that the Princess of Orange might have interested herself about him, though she might not wish to have it known, for fear of exciting expectations in others. Of course all the time I had other suspicions, but I could not communicate them, though they were increased when Sir Andrew went with Eustace's pledge to redeem the pearl; but he came back in wrath and despair, telling me that a rascally Dutch merchant had smelt it out, and had offered a huge price for it, which the goldsmith had not withstood, despairing of its ransom.
Eustace did not ask who the merchant was, but I saw the hot blood mounting in his pale cheek. Happily Annora was not present, so inconvenient questions were avoided. He was worn out with the being carried in a chair and then mounting the stairs, even with the aid of Sir Andrew's arm.
Tryphena, however, had a nourishing posset for him, and we laid him on a day-bed which had been made ready for him, where he smiled at us, said, 'This is comfort,' and dropped asleep while I sat by him. There I stayed, watching him, while Nan, whose nature never was to sit still, went forth, attended by Sir Andrew and Nicolas, to obtain some needments. If she had known the language, and if it had been fitting for a young demoiselle of her birth, she might have gone alone; these were the safest streets, and the most free from riot or violence of any kind that I ever inhabited.
While she was gone, Eustace awoke, and presently began talking to me, and asking me about all that had passed, and about which we had not dared to write. Nan, he said, had told him her story, and he was horrified at the peril I had incurred. I replied that was all past, and was as nothing compared with the consequences, of which my sister had no doubt informed him. 'Yes,' he said, 'I did not think it of Darpent.' I said I supposed that the young man could not help the original presumption of loving Annora, and that I could bear testimony that they had been surprised into confessing it to one another. He sighed, and said: 'True. I had thought that the barrier between the robe and the sword was so fixed in a French mind that I should as soon have expected Nicolas to aspire to Mademoiselle de Ribaumont's hand as Clement Darpent.'
'But in her own eyes she is not Mademoiselle de Ribaumont so much as Mistress Annora Ribmont,' I said; 'and thus she treated him in a manner to encourage his audacity.'
'Even so,' said Eustace, 'and Annora is no mere child, not one of your jeunes filles, who may be disposed of at one's will. She is a woman grown, and has been bred in the midst of civil wars. She had refused Harry Merrycourt before we left home, and she knows how to frighten away all the suitors our mother would find for her. Darpent is deeply worthy. We should esteem and honour him as a gentleman in England; and were he there, and were our Church as once it was, he would be a devout and thankful member of it. Margaret, we must persuade my mother to consent.'
I could not help rejoicing; and then he added: 'The King has been well received, and is about to be crowned in Scotland. It may well be that our way home may be opened. In that case, Meg, you, my joint-heiresses, would have something to inherit, and before going to Scotland I had drawn up a will giving you and your Gaspard the French claims, and Annora the English estates. I know the division is not equal; but Gaspard can never be English, and Annora can never be French; and may make nearly as much of an Englishman of Darpent as our grandfather was.'
'Nay, nay, Eustace,' I said; 'the names of Walwyn and Ribaumont must not be lost.'
'She may make Darpent deserve a fresh creation, then,' he answered, smiling sadly. 'It will be best to wait a little, as I have told her, to see how matters turn out at home.'
I asserted with all my heart, and told him what our brother Solivet had said.
'Yes,' he said; 'Solivet and our mother will brook the matter much better if she is to live in England, the barbarous land that they can forget. And if I do not live, I will leave them each a letter that they cannot quite disregard.'
I said I was glad he had not consented to Annora's notion of bringing Darpent to Holland, since Solivet might lie in wait for him, and besides, it would not be treating our mother rightly.
'No,' said Eustace; 'if I am ever strong enough again I must return to Paris, and endeavour to overcome their opposition.' And he spoke with a weary sigh, though I augured that he would soon improve under our care, and that of Tryphena, who had always been better for him than any doctor. Then I could not help reproaching him a little with having ventured himself in that terrible climate and hopeless cause.
'As to the climate, that was not so much amiss,' said Eustace. 'Western Scotland is better and more wholesome than these Dutch marshes. The sea-gull fares better than the frog.'
'But the cause,' I said. 'Why did you not wait to go with the King?'
'There were reasons, Meg,' he said. 'The King was hounding---yes, hounding out the Marquis to lead the forlorn hope. Heaven forgive me for my disloyalty in thinking he wished to be quit of one so distasteful to the Covenanters who have invited him.'
And when I broke forth in indignation, Eustace lowered his voice, and said sadly that the King was changed in many points from the Prince of Wales, and that listening to policy was not good for him. Then I asked why, if the King hounded, as he called it, the Marquis, on this unhappy expedition, should Eustace have share in it?
'It was enough to anger any honest man,' said Eustace, 'to see the flower of all the cavaliers thus risked without a man of rank or weight to back him, with mere adventurers and remnants of Goring's fellows, and Irishmen that could only do him damage with the Scots. I, with neither wife nor child, might well be the one to share the venture.'
'Forgetting your sisters,' said I. 'Ah, Eustace, was there no other cause to make you restless?'
'You push me hard, Meg. Yes, to you I will say it, that there was a face among the ladies here which I could not look on calmly, and I knew it was best for her and for myself that I should be away.'
'Is she there still?' I asked.
'I know not. Her husband had taken her to his country-house last time I heard, and very few know that I am not gone with the King. It was but at the last moment that he forbade me. It is better so.'
I thought of what his hostess had told me, but I decided for the present to keep my own counsel.
We thought it right to pay our respects to the Princess of Orange, but she was keeping very little state. Her husband, the Stadholder, was on bad terms with the States, and had just failed in a great attack on Amsterdam; and both he and she were indisposed. The Princess Royal replied therefore to our request for admittance, that she could not refuse to see such old friends of her family as the ladies of Ribaumont, but that we must excuse her for giving us a private reception.
Accordingly we were conducted through numerous courts, up a broad staircase of shining polished wood, through a large room, to a cabinet hung with pictures, among which her martyered father held the foremost place. She was a thin woman, with a nose already too large for her face, inherited no doubt from her grandfather, the Grand Monarque, and her manner had not the lively grace of her mother's, but seemed as if it had been chilled and made formal by her being so early transported to Holland. She was taken thither at ten years old, and was not yet nineteen; and though I had once or twice played with her before my marriage, she could not be expected to remember me. So the interview was very stiff at first, in spite of her kind inquiries for my brother, whom she said the King loved and valued greatly. I wondered whether it could have been she who had provided for his needs, and threw out a hint to see if so it were, but she evidently did not understand me, and our visit soon ended.
Our way of life at the Hague was soon formed. Eustace was our first thought and care, and we did whatever we thought best for his health. I would fain have taken him back to Paris with us, but autumn was setting in, and he was not in a state to be moved, being only able to walk from one room to the other, and I could hardly hope that he would gain strength before the winter set in, since a sea voyage would be necessary, as we could not pass through the Spanish Netherlands that lay between us and France. Besides, while the King was in Scotland, he always entertained the hope of a summons to England. Other exiles were waiting in the same manner as ourselves, and from time to time we saw something of them. The gentlemen would come and sit with my brother, and tell him of the news, and we exchanged visits with the ladies, whom Annora recognised at the room where an English minister held their service; but they were a much graver and quieter set of exiles than those we had known at Paris. They could hardly be poorer than those; indeed, many were less strained, but they did not carry off their poverty in the same gay and lively manner, and if they had only torn lace and soiled threadbare garments, they shut themselves up from all eyes, instead of ruffling gaily as if their rags were tokens of honour.
Besides, more than one event occurred to sadden that banished company. The tidings came of the death of the young Lady Elisabeth, who had pine away in the hands of her keepers, and died a week after her arrival at Carisbrooke, where her father had been so long a prisoner, her cheek resting her open Bible.
Annora, who had known her as a grave, sweet, thoughtful child, grieved much for her, broken-hearted as she seemed to have been for her father; and the Princess of Orange, knowing that Nan had seen the poor young lady more lately than herself, sent for her to converse and tell of the pretty childish ways of that 'rosebud born in snow,' as an English poet prettily termed the young captive.
Ere long the poor Princess was in even more grievous trouble. Her husband, the young Prince of Orange, died of smallpox, whereupon she fell into such transports of grief that there was the greatest anxiety respecting her, not only from compassion, but because she was the staunch supporter of her exiled family to the best of her ability.
Eight days later, on her own nineteenth birthday, her son was born; and in such gloom, that it was a marvel that mother or babe survived, for the entire rooms were hung with black, and even the cradle of the child was covered completely with black velvet, so that the poor little puny infant seemed as if he were being put into a coffin. We saw the doleful chamber ourselves, for Eustace sent us to pay our respects, and Queen Henrietta honoured me with commands to write her a report of her widowed daughter and first grandson.
For we were still at the Hague, Eustace gradually regaining strength, and the bleedings had almost entirely ceased; but the physician who attended him, the best I think whom I have even known, and whose regimen did him more good than any other he had adopted, charged me, as I valued his life, not to attempt a journey with him till after the winter should be over, and summer entirely set in. If the effusion of blood could be prevented he might even yet recover and live to old age, but if it recurred again Dr. Dirkius would not answer for his life for an hour; nor must he do aught that would give him a rheum or renew his cough.
After all, we were very peaceful and happy in those rooms at the Hague, though Eustace was very anxious about the King, Annora's heart was at Paris, and I yearned after my son, from whom I had never thought to be so long parted; but we kept our cares to ourselves, and were cheerful with one another. We bought or borrowed books, and read them together, we learned to make Holland lace, studied Dutch cookery, and Annora, by Eustace's wish, took lessons on the lute and spinnet, her education in those matters having been untimely cut short. By the way, she had a real taste for music, and the finding that her performance and her singing amused and refreshed him gave her further zeal to continue the study and conquer the difficulties, though she would otherwise have said she was too old to go to school.
Then the frost set in, and all the canals and sluggish streams were sheets of ice, to which the market people skated, flying along upon the ice like birds. We kept my brother's room as warm as it was in our power to do, and made him lie in bed till the house was thoroughly heated, and he did not suffer much or become materially worse in the winter, but he was urgent upon us to go out and see the curious sights and share the diversions as far as was possible for us. Most of the Dutch ladies skated beautifully, and the younger ones performed dances on the ice with their cavaliers, but all was done more quietly than usual on account of the mourning, the Prince of Orange being not yet buried, and his child frail and sickly. The Baptism did not take place till January, and then we were especially invited to be present. Though of course my brother could not go, Annora and I did so. The poor child had three sets of States-General for his godfathers, his godmothers being his grandmother, the elder Princess of Orange, and his great aunt, Queen Elisabeth of Bohemia. The Duke of York, who had lately arrived, was asked to carry the little Prince to church, but he shuddered at the notion of touching a baby, as much as did his sister a the idea of trusting her precious child with him, so the infant was placed in the arms of one of his young aunts, Mademoiselle Albertine of Nassau.
I saw no more than a roll of ermine, and did not understand much of the long sermon with which the Dutch minister precluded the ceremony, and which was as alien to my sister's ideas of a christening as it was to mine. Many other English ladies were mingled with the Dutch ones in the long rows that lined the aisle, and I confess that my eyes wandered a good deal, guessing which were my countrywomen. Nearly opposite to me was one of the sweetest faces I have ever seen, the complexion quite pearly white, the hair of pale gold, in shining little rings over the brow, which was wonderfully pure, though with an almost childish overtone. There was peace on the soft dark eyes and delicately-moulded lips and the fair, oval, though somewhat thin cheeks. It was a perfect refreshment to see that countenance, and it reminded me of two most incongruous and dissimilar ones--namely, the angelic face of the Dutchess de Longueville when I had first seen her in her innocent, untainted girlhood, and of the expression on the worn old countenance of Madame Darpent.
I was venturing a glance now and then to delight myself without disconcerting that gentle lady, when I felt Annora's hand on my arm, squeezing so hard, poor maid, that her fingers left a purple mark there, and though she did not speak, I beheld, as it were, darts and arrows in the gleam of her eyes. And then it was that I saw on the black velvet dress worn by the lady a part of a necklace of large pearls--the pearls of Ribaumont--though I should not have known them again, or perhaps would Nan, save for the wearer.
'Flaunting them in our very faces,' muttered poor Nan; and if eyes could have slain, hers would have killed the poor Vrow van Hunker on the spot. As it was, the dark eyes met her fierce glance and sunk beneath it, while such a painful crimson suffused the fair cheeks that I longed to fly to the rescue, and to give at least a look of assurance that I acquitted her of all blame, and did not share my sister's indignation. But there was no uplifting of the eyelids again till the ceremony was ended, and we all had to take our places again in one of the thirty state coaches in which the company had come to the christening.
I saw Madame van Hunker led out by a solid, wooden-faced old Dutchman, who looked more like her father than her husband; and I told Annora that I was sure she had worn the pearls only because he compelled her.
'Belike,' said my sister. 'She hath no more will of her own than a hank of flax! That men can waste their hearts on such moppets as that!'
But though we did not at all agree on the impression Madame van Hunker had made on us, we were of one mind to say nothing of it to Eustace.
Another person laid her hand on Annora's arm as she was about to enter our carriage. 'Mistress Ribmont!' she exclaimed; 'I knew not that you were present in this land of our exile.'
I looked and saw a lady, as fantastically dressed as the mourning would permit, and with a keen clever face, and Nan curtsied, saying: 'My Lady Marchioness of Newcastle! let me present to you my sister, Madame la Vicomtesse de Bellaise.'
She curtsied and asked in return for Lord Walwyn, declaring that her lord would come and see him, and that we must come to visit her. 'We are living poorly enough, but my lord's good daughter Jane Doth her best for us and hath of late sent us a supply; so we are making merry while it lasts, and shall have some sleighing on ice-hills to-morrow, after the fashion of the country. Do you come, my good lad is cruelly moped in yonder black-hung place, with his widowed sister and her mother-in-law, and I would fain give him a little sport with young folk.'
Lady Newcastle's speech was cut short by her lord, who came to insist on her getting into the coach, which was delaying for her, and on the way home Nan began to tell me of her droll pretensions, which were like an awkward imitation of the best days of the Hotel Rambouillet.
She also told me about the noble-hearted Lady Jane Cavendish, the daughter of the Marquis's first marriage--how she held out a house of her father against the rebels, and acted like a brave captain, until the place was stormed, and she and her sister were made prisoners. The Roundhead captain did not treat them with over-ceremony, but such was the Lady Jane's generous nature that when the Royalists came to her relief, and he was made captive in his turn, she saved his life by her intercession.
She had since remained in England, living in a small lodge near the ruins of her father's house at Bolsover, to obtain what she could for his maintenance abroad, and to collect together such remnants of the better times as she might, such as the family portraits, and the hangings of the hall. I longed to see this very worthy and noble lady, but she was out of our reach, being better employed in England. Nan gave a little sigh to England, but not such a sigh as she would once have heaved.
And we agreed on the way home to say nothing to my brother of our meeting with poor Millicent.
My Lord Marquis of Newcastle showed his esteem for my brother by coming to see him that very day, so soon as he could escape from the banquet held in honour of the christening, which, like all that was done by the Dutch, was serious and grim enough, though it could not be said to be sober.
He declared that he had been ignorant that Lord Walwyn was at the Hague, or he should have waited on him immediately after arriving there, 'since nothing,' said the Marquis, 'does me good like the sight of an honest cavalier.' I am sure Eustace might have said the same; and they sat talking together long and earnestly about how it fared with the King in Scotland, and how he had been made to take the Covenant, which, as they said, was in very truth a dissembling which must do him grievous ill, spiritually, however it might serve temporally. My Lord repeated his lady's invitation to a dinner, which was to be followed up by sleighing on hills formed of ice. Annora, who always loved rapid motion as an exhilaration of spirits, brightened at the notion, and Eustace was anxious that it should be accepted, and thus we found ourselves pledged to enter into the diversions of the place.
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