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And what was this expedient of their? Now, Madame Meg, I forewarn you that what I write here will be a horror and bad example to all your well-brought-up French grandchildren, demoiselles bien elevees, so that I advise you to re-write it in your own fashion, and show me up as a shocking, willful, headstrong, bad daughter, deserving of the worst fate of the bad princesses in Madame d'Aulnoy's fairly tales. Nay, I am not sure that Mademoiselle de Nidemerle might not think I had actually incurred a piteous lot. But chacun a son gout.
Well, this same expedient was this. M. de Poligny, who claimed the best half of the Picardy estates in right of a grant from Henry III. when in the power of the League, had made acquaintance with our half- brother, Solivet, who had presented him to our mother, and he had offered, with the greatest generosity possible--said my mother--to waive his claims and put a stop to the suit (he knew it could not hold for a moment), provided she would give her fair daughter to his son, the Chevalier de Poligny, with the reversion of the Ribaumont property, after my brother, on whom, vulture that he was, he had fixed his eyes, as a man in failing health. My mother and her eldest son were absolutely enraptured, and they expected Eustace to be equally delighted with this escape from all difficulties. They were closeted with him for two hours the morning after our return, while Meg was left to enjoy herself with her son, and to converse with M. d'Aubepine. That poor little thing's Elysium had come to an end as soon as the Princes were released from prison. No sooner did her husband find that his idol, the Prince on Conde, showed neither gratitude nor moderate civility to the faithful wife who had fought so hard for him, than his ape must needs follow in his track and cast off Cecile--though, of course, she still held that his duty kept him in attendance on the Prince, and that he would return to her.
I do not know whether they were afraid of me, for not a word did any of them say of the results of their conferences, only I was informed that we were to have a reception in the evening, and a new white taffeta dress, with all my mother's best jewels, was put out for me, and my mother herself came to preside at my toilette and arrange my curls. I did not suspect mischief even then, for I thought it was all in honour of Solivet's poor little Petronille, whom he had succeeded in marrying to a fat of Duke. What a transformation it was from the meek little silent persionnaire without a word to say for herself, into a gay butterfly, with a lovelock on her shoulder, a coquettish twist of her neck, and all the language of the fan, as well as of tongue, ready learned! I do not think her father was quite happy about her manners, but then it served him right, and he had got a dukedom for his grandchildren by shutting up his other poor daughter in a convent.
By and by I saw my brother bowing with extra politeness, and then Solivet found me out, and did himself the honour to present to me Monsieur le Comte de Poligny, who, in his turn, presented M. le Chevalier. The Count was a rather good-looking Frenchman, with the air of having seen the world; the Chevalier was a slight little whipper-snapper of a lad in the uniform of the dragoons, and looking more as if he were fastened to his sword and spurs than they to him. I think the father was rather embarrassed not to find me a little prim demoiselle, but a woman capable of talking about politics like other people; and while I rejoiced that the Cardinal had been put to flight by the Prince, I told them that no good would come of it, unless some one would pluck up a spirit and care more for his fellow- creatures than for his own intrigues.
Solivet looked comically dismayed to hear such independent sentiments coming out of my mouth; I know now that he was extremely afraid that M. de Poligny would be terrified out of is bargain. If I had only guessed at his purpose, and that such an effect might be produced, I would almost have gone the length of praising Mr. Hampden and Sir Thomas Fairfax to complete the work; instead of which I stupidly bethought me of Eustace's warning not to do anything that might damage Margaret and her son, and I restrained myself.
The matter was only deferred till the next morning, when I was summoned to my mother's chamber, where she sat up in bed, with her best Flanders-lace nightcap and ruffles on, her coral rosary blessed by the Pope, her snuff-box with the Queen's portrait, and her big fan that had belonged to Queen Marie de Medicis, so that I knew something serious was in hand; and, besides, my brothers Solivet and Walwyn sat on chairs by the head of her bed. Margaret was not there.
'My daughter,' said my mother, when I had saluted her, and she had signed to me to be seated, 'M. le Comte de Poligny has done you the honour to demand your hand for his son, the Chevalier; and I have accepted his proposals, since by this means the proces will be terminated respecting the estates in Picardy, and he will come to a favourable accommodation with your brother, very important in the present circumstances.'
I suppose she and Solivet expected me to submit myself to my fate like a good little French girl. What I did was to turn round and exclaim: 'Eustace, you have not sold me for this?'
He held out his hand, and said: 'No, sister. I have told my mother and brother that my consent depends solely on you.'
Then I felt safe, even when Solivet said:
'Nor does any well-brought-up daughter speak of her wishes when her parents have decided for her.'
'You are not my parent, sir,' I cried; 'you have no authority over me! Nor am I what you call a well-brought-up girl--that is, a poor creature without a will!'
'It is as I always said,' exclaimed my mother. 'She will be a scandal.'
But I need not describe the whole conversation, even if I could remember more than the opening. I believe I behaved very ill, and was in danger of injuring my own cause by my violence; my mother cried, and said I should be a disgrace to the family, and Solivet looked fierce, handled the hilt of his sword, and observed that he should know how to prevent that; and then Eustace took my hands, and said he would speak with me alone, and my mother declared that he would encourage me in my folly and undutifulness; while Solivet added: 'Remember we are in earnest. This is no child's play!'
A horrible dread had come over me that Eustace was in league with them; for he always imperatively cut me short if I dared to say I was already promised. I would hardly speak to him when at last he brought me to his own rooms and shut the door; and when he called me his poor Nan, I pushed him away, and said I wanted none of his pity, I could not have thought it of him.
'You do not think it now,' he said; and as I looked up into his clear eyes I was ashamed of myself, and could only murmur, what could I think when I saw him sitting there aiding in their cruel manoeuvres, --all for your own sake, too?
'I only sat there because I hoped to help you,' he said; and then he bade me remember that they had disclosed nothing of these intentions of theirs in the letters which spoke of an accommodation. If they had done so, he might have left me in Holland with some of the English ladies so as to be out of reach; but the scheme had only been propounded to him on the previous morning. I asked why he had not refused it at once, and he pointed out that it was not for him to disclose my secret attachment, even had it been expedient so to do. All that he had been able to do was to declare that the whole must depend on my free consent. 'And,' he said, with a smile, 'methought thereby I had done enough for our Nan, who has no weak will unless by violence she over-strain it.'
I felt rebuked as well as reassured and strengthened, and he again assured me that I was safe so long as he lived from being pressed into any marriage contract displeasing to me.
'But I am promised to M. Darpent,' was my cry. 'Why did you hinder me from saying so?'
'Have you not lived long enough in France to know that it would go for nothing, or only make matters worse?' he said. 'Solivet would not heed your promise more than the win that blows, except that he might visit it upon Darpent.'
'You promised to persuade my mother,' I said. 'She at least knows how things go in England. Besides, she brought him here constantly. Whenever she was frightened there was a cry for Darpent.'
Eustace, however, thought my mother ought to know that my word was given; and we told her in private the full truth, with the full approbation of my mother, the head of the family, and he reminded her that at home such a marriage would be by no means unsuitable. Poor mother! she was very angry with us both. She had become so entirely imbued with her native French notions that she considered the word of a demoiselle utterly worthless, and not to be considered. As to my having encouraged Avocat Darpent, une creature comme ca, she would as soon have expected to be told that I had encouraged her valet La Pierre! She was chiefly enraged with me, but her great desire was that I should not be mad enough, as she said, to let it be known that I had done anything so outrageous as to pass my word to any young man, above all to one of inferior birth. It would destroy my reputation for ever, and ruin all the chance of my marriage.
Above all, she desired that it should be concealed from Solivet. She was a prudent woman, that poor mother of mine, and she was afraid of her son's chastising what she called presumption, and thus embroiling himself with the Parliament people. I said that Solivet had no right over me, and that I had not desire to tell him, though I had felt that she was my mother and ought to be warned that I never would be given to any man save Clement Darpent; and Eustace said that though he regretted the putting himself in opposition to my mother, he should consider it as a sin to endeavour to make me marry one man, while I loved another to whom I was plighted. But he said that there was no need to press the affair, and that he would put a stop to Darpent's frequenting the house, since it only grieved my mother and might bring him into danger. He would, as my mother wished, keep out attachment as a secret, and would at present take no steps if I were unmolested.
In private Eustace showed me that this was all he could do, and counseled me to put forward no plea, but to persist in my simple refusal, lest I should involve Clement Darpent in danger. Had not Solivet ground his teeth and said order should be taken if he could believe his sister capable of any unworthy attachment? 'And remember,' said Eustace, 'Darpent is not in good odour with either party, and there is such a place as the Bastille.'
I asked almost in despair if he saw any end to it, or any hope, to which he said there always was hope. If our King succeeded in regaining his crown we could go home, and we both believed that Clement would gladly join us there and become one of us. For the present, Eustace said, I must be patient. Nobody could hinder him from seeing Darpent, and he could make him understand how it all was, and how he must accept the ungrateful rebuffs that he had received from my mother.
No one can tell what that dear brother was to me then. He replied in my name and his own to M. de Poligny, who was altogether at a loss to understand that any reasonable brother should attend to the views of a young girl, when such a satisfactory parti as his son was offered, even though the boy was at least six years younger than I was; and as my mother and Solivet did not fail to set before me, there was no danger of his turning out like that wretch d'Aubepine, as he was a gentle, well-conducted, dull boy, whom I could govern with a silken thread if I only took the trouble to let him adore me. I thanked them, and said that was not exactly my idea of wedded life; and they groaned at my folly.
However, it turned out that M. de Poligny really wished his little Chevalier to finish his education before being married, and had only hastened his proposals because he wished to prevent the suit from coming up to be pleaded, and so it was agreed that the matter should stand over till this precious suitor of mine should have mastered his accidence and grown a little hair on his lip. I believe my mother had such a wholesome dread of me, especially when backed by my own true English brother, that she was glad to defer the tug of war. And as the proces was thus again deferred, I think she hoped that my brother would have no excuse for intercourse with the Darpents. She had entirely broken off with them and had moreover made poor old Sir Francis and Lady Ommaney leave the Hotel de Nidemerle, all in politeness as they told us, but as the house was not her own, I should have found it very hard to forgive their expulsion had I been Margaret.
As for me, my mother now watched over me like any other lady of her nation. She resorted far less to Queen Henrietta than formerly, and always took me with her whenever she went, putting an end now, in my twenty-fourth year, to the freedom I had enjoyed all my life. She did not much like leaving me alone with Eustace, and if it had not been for going to church on Sunday, I should never have gone out with him. he was not strong enough now to go to prayers daily at Sir Richard Browne's chapel, but he never failed that summer to take me thither on a Sunday, though he held that it would be dishonourable to let this be a way for any other meetings.
My mother had become devout, as the French say. She wore only black, went much more to church, always leaving me in the charge of Madame Croquelebois, whom she borrowed from the d'Aubepines for the purpose, and she set all she could in train for the conversion of my brother and myself. There was the Abbe Walter Montagu, Lord Mandeville's brother, and one or two others, who had despaired of our Church and joined hers, and she was always inviting them and setting them to argue with us. Indeed, she declared that one chief reason of her desiring this wedding for me was that it would bring me within the fold of the true Church. They told us that our delusion, as they called our Church, was dead; that the Presbyterians and Fifth Monarchy men and all their rabble had stifled the last remnant of life that had been left in her; that the Episcopacy, even if we scouted the Nag's Head fable, was perishing away, and that England was like Holland or the Palatinate. But Eustace smiled gravely at them, and asked whether the Church had been dead when the Roman Emperors, or the heretic Arians, persecuted her, and said that he knew that, even if he never should see it, she would revive brighter and purer than ever--as indeed it has been given to us to behold. That dear brother, he was so unlike the Calvinists, and held so much in common with the French Church, that the priests always thought they were converting him; but he stood all the firmer for knowing what was truly Catholic. Of course it was no wonder that as Walter Montagu, like all my Lord Mandeville's sons, had been bred a Puritan, he should have been amazed to perceive that the Roman Catholics were not all that they had been painted, and should find rest in the truths that had been hidden from him; but with us it was quite otherwise, having ever known the best alike of ours and of theirs. The same thing was going on at the Louvre.
Queen Henrietta was bent on converting her son, the Duke of Gloucester. He was a dear good lad of twelve years old, who had just been permitted to join her. I think the pleasantest times I had at all in those days were with him. He clung to us because I had known and loved his sweet sister, the Lady Elisabeth, who had been his companion in his imprisonment, and though he seldom spoke of her it was easy to see that the living with her had left a strong mark on his whole character.
I knew that Eustace had seen the Darpents and made Clement understand that I was faithful, and that he was to believe nothing that he heard of me, except through my brother himself. That helped me to some patience; and I believe poor Clement was so much amazed that his addresses should be tolerated by M. le Baron de Ribaumont that he was quite ready to endure any suspense.
There were most tremendous disturbances going on all the time out of door. Wonderful stories came to us of a fearful uproar in the Parliament between the Prince and the Coadjutor de Gondi, when the Duke of Rochefoucauld got the Coadjutor between two folding-doors, let down the iron bar of them on his neck, and was as nearly as possible the death of him. Then there was a plot for murdering the Prince of Conde in the streets, said to be go up by the Queen-Regent herself, after consulting one of her priests, who told her that she might regard the Prince as an enemy of the State, and that she might lawfully rid herself of him by private means when a public execution was inexpedient. A fine religion that! as I told my mother when M. d'Aubepine came in foaming at the mouth about it; though Eustace would have persuaded me that it was not just to measure a whole Church by one priest. The Prince fortified his house, and lived like a man in a state of siege for some time, and then went off to Chantilly, take d'Aubepine with him--and every one said a new Fronde was beginning, for the Queen-Regent was furious with the Princes, and determined to have Cardinal Mazarin back, and the Prince was equally resolved to keep him out, while as to the Parliament, I had no patience with it; it went on shilly-shallying between the two, and had no substance to do anything by hang on to some selfish Court party.
There were a few who understood their real interests, like the old Premier-President Mathieu Mole, and these hoped that by standing between the two parties they might get the only right thing done, namely, to convoke the States-General, which is what really answers to our own English Parliament. People could do things then in Paris they never dream of now; and Clement Darpent worked hard, getting up meetings among the younger counsellors and advocates, and some of the magistrates, where they made speeches about constitutional liberty, and talked about Ciecero, who was always Clement's favourite hero. My brother went to hear him sometimes, and said he had a great gift of eloquence, but that he was embarked on a very dangerous course. Moreover, M. Darpent had been chosen as a deputy of the Town Council at the Hotel de Ville. This council consisted of the mayor and echevins, as they called them, who were something like our aldermen, all the parish priests, deputies from the trades, and from all the sixteen quarters of the city, and more besides. They had the management of the affairs of the city in their hands, and Clement Darpent, owning a house, and being respected by the respectable citizens of his department of St. Antoine, was chosen to represent it. Thus he felt himself of use, which always rejoiced him. As to me, I only saw him once that whole autumn, and then I met him by accident as I was walking with Eustace and Margaret in the Cours de la Reine. [Footnote: the Champs-Elysees]
We were in high spirits, for our own King had marched into England while Cromwell was beating the covenanting rogues in Scotland, and Eustace was walking and riding out every day to persuade himself that he was in perfect health and fit to join his standard. That dear brother had promised that if he went to England I should come with him, and be left with old Mrs. Merrycourt, Harry's mother, till Clement could come for me. then Eustace, with his own lands again, could marry his Millicent, and throw over the Dutchman's hoards, and thus we were full to the brim of joyous plans, and were walking out in the long avenue discussing them most gladly together, when, to add to our delight, Clement met us in his sober lawyer's suit, which became him so well, coming home from a consultation.
The Queen-Regent had promised to convoke the States-General, and he explained to us both how all would come right there. The bourgeois element from all the Parliaments of the provinces would be strong enough to make a beginning towards controlling the noblesse, divided as it was, and at feud with the Crown. Some of the clergy at least would be on their side, and if the noblesse would bear part of the burthens of the State, and it could be established that taxes should not be imposed without the consent of the people, and that offices should not be sold, all would be well for the country. Meg herself took fire, and began to hope that a new state of things would begin in which she might do some good to those unfortunate peasants of her son's who weighed so heavily on her tender heart. Eustace told him he would be another Simon de Montfort, only not a rebel. No; he was determined to succeed by moral force, and so was his whole party (at least he thought so). They, by their steady loyalty, would teach the young King and his mother how to choose between them and the two selfish factions who were ready to fight with the King himself, provided it was also against a Conde or a Mazarin.
It looked very beautiful indeed. I was roused from my selfish ill- humour, felt what my Clement was worth, and went heart and soul into the matter, and we all four were just as happy over these hopes as if we had not seen how things had turned out at home, and that no one, either Kings or Parliaments, or nobility either, know where to stop; but that if you do not get an absolute tyrant, you run the risk of a Long Parliament, a ruling army, a 30th of January, and a Lord Protector. But we were all young and hopeful still, and that straight walk in the Cours de la Reine was a paradise to some of us, if a fool's paradise. For look you! in these great States-General, who but Clement Darpent the eloquent would make speeches, and win honours that would give him a right to rewards for higher than the hand of a poor exiled maiden, if I were still an exile? Though he declared that I had been his inspiration, and helped to brace him for the struggle, and far more truly, that my dear brother had shown him what a nobleman, bred under English law, could be, when neither ground down by the Crown, nor forced to do nothing but trample on his vassals.
And Meg began to hope for her Gaspard. She told how the young King was fond of him, and really seemed fired by some emulation at finding that a boy so much younger than himself knew more than he did. Our boy was reading Virgil and Plutarch's lives. He told the stories to the young King, who delighted to listen, though the Duke of Anjou thought everything dull except cards, tennis, and gossip. The King was even beginning to read to himself. 'And,' said Clement, when he heard it, 'let him be fired with the example of Agis or Clomenes, and what may he not do for France?' Oh, yes! we were very happy, though we talked of hardly anything but politics. It was the last happy day we were to have for a good while to come.
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