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- The Chaplet of Pearls - 20/101 -

'Bah! You know better than that!' Then, as Eustacie was about to speak, but checked herself, Diane added, 'Yes, my poor friend, he has a something engaging about him, and we all would have hindered you from the pain and embarrassment of a meeting with him.'

Eustacie smiled a little saucy smile, as though infinitely superior to them all.

'_Pauvre petite_,' said Diane, nettled; 'she actually believes in his love.'

'I will not hear a word against my husband!' said Eustacie, stepping back, as if to return to her place, but Diane rose and laid her hand on hers. 'My dear,' she said, 'we must no part thus. I only wish to know what touches my darling so nearly. I thought she loved and clung to us; why should she have turned from me for the sake of one who forgot her for half his life? What can he have done to master this silly little heart?'

'I cannot tell you, Diane,' said Eustacie, simply; and though she looked down, the colour on her face was more of a happy glow than a conscious blush. 'I love him too much; only we understand each other now, and it is of no use to try to separate us.'

'Ah, poor little thing, so she thinks,' said Diane; and as Eustacie again smiled as one incapable of being shaken in her conviction, she added, 'And how do you know that he loves you?'

Diane was startled by the bright eyes that flashed on her and the bright colour that made Eustacie perfectly beautiful, as she answered, 'Because I am his wife! That is enough!' Then, before her cousin could speak again, 'But, Diane, I promised not to speak of it. I know he would despise me if I broke my word, so I will not talk to you till I have leave to tell you all, and I am going back to help Gabrielle de Limeuil with her shepherdess.'

Mademoiselle de Ribaumont felt her attempt most unsatisfactory, but she knew of old that Eustacie was very determined--all Bellaise know that to oppose the tiny Baronne was to make her headstrong in her resolution; and if she suspected that she was coaxed, she only became more obstinate. To make any discoveries, Diane must take the line of most cautious caresses, such as to throw her cousin off her guard; and this she was forced to confess to her father when he sought an interview with her on the day of her return to Paris. He shook his head. She must be on the watch, he said, and get quickly into the silly girl's confidence. What! had she not found out that the young villain had been on the point of eloping with her? If such a thing as that should succeed, the whole family was lost, and she was the only person who could prevent it. He trusted to her.

The Chevalier had evidently come to regard his niece as his son's lawful property, and the Baron as the troublesome meddler; and Diane had much the same feeling, enhanced by sore jealousy at Eustacie's triumph over her, and curiosity as to whether it could be indeed well founded. She had an opportunity of judging the same evening--mere habit always caused Eustacie to keep under her wing, if she could not be near the Queen, whenever there was a reception, and to that reception of course Berenger came, armed with his right as gentleman of the bedchamber. Eustacie was colouring and fluttering, as if by the instinct of his presence, even before the tall fair head became visible, moving forward as well as the crowd would permit, and seeking about with anxious eyes. The glances of the blue and the black eyes met at last, and a satisfied radiance illuminated each young face; then the young man steered his way through the throng, but was caught midway by Coligny, and led up to be presented to a hook-nosed, dark-haired, lively-looking young man, in a suit of black richly laced with silver. It was the King of Navarre, the royal bridegroom, who had entered Paris in state that afternoon. Eustacie tried to be proud of the preferment, but oh! she thought it mistimed, and was gratified to mark certain wandering of the eye even while the gracious King was speaking. Then the Admiral said something that brought the girlish rosy flush up to the very roots of the short curls of flaxen hair, and made the young King's white teeth flash out in a mirthful, good-natured laugh, and thereupon the way opened, and Berenger was beside the two ladies, kissing Eustacie's hand, but merely bowing to Diane.

She was ready to take the initiative.

'My cousins deem me unpardonable,' she said; 'yet I am going to purchase their pardon. See this cabinet of porcelain _a le Reine_, and Italian vases and gems, behind this curtain. There is all the siege of Troy, which M. le Baron will not doubt explain to Mademoiselle, while I shall sit on this cushion, and endure the siege of St. Quentin from the _bon_ Sieur de Selinville.'

Monsieur de Selinville was the court bore, who had been in every battle from Pavia to Montcontour, and gave as full memoirs of each as did Blaise de Monluc, only _viva voce_ instead of in writing. Diane was rather a favourite of his; she knew her way through all his adventures. So soon as she had heard the description of the King of Navarre's entry into Paris that afternoon, and the old gentleman's lamentation that his own two nephews were among the three hundred Huguenot gentleman who had formed the escort, she had only to observe whether his reminiscences had gone to Italy or to Flanders in order to be able to put in the appropriate remarks at each pause, while she listened all the while to the murmurs behind the curtain. Yet it was not easy, with all her court breeding, to appear indifferent, and solely absorbed in hearing of the bad lodgings that had fallen to the share of the royal troops at Brescia, when such sounds were reaching her. It was not so much the actual words she heard, though these were the phrases--'-mon ange_, my heart, my love;' those were common, and Diane had lived in the Queen-mother's squadron long enough to despise those who uttered them only less than those who believed them. It was the full depth of tenderness and earnestness, in the subdued tones of the voice, that gave her a sense of quiet force and reality beyond all she had ever known. She had heard and overheard men pour out frantic ravings of passion, but never had listened to anything like the sweet protecting tenderness of voice that seemed to embrace and shelter its object. Diane had no doubts now; he had never so spoken to her; nay, perhaps he had had no such cadences in his voice before. It was quite certain that Eustacie was everything to him, she herself nothing; she who might have had any gallant in the court at her feet, but had never seen one whom she could believe in, whose sense of esteem had been first awakened by this stranger lad who despised her. Surely he was loving this foolish child simply as his duty; his belonging, as his right he might struggle hard for her, and if he gained her, be greatly disappointed; for how could Eustacie appreciate him, little empty-headed, silly thing, who would be amused and satisfied by any court flatterer?

However, Diane held out and played her part, caught scraps of the conversation, and pieced them together, yet avoided all appearance of inattention to M. de Selinville, and finally dismissed him, and manoeuvred first Eustacie, and after a safe interval Berenger, out of the cabinet. The latter bowed as he bade her good night, and said, with the most open and cordial of smiles, 'Cousin, I thank you with all my heart.'

The bright look seemed to her another shaft. 'What happiness!' said she to herself. 'Can I overthrow it? Bah! it will crumble of its own accord, even if I did nothing! And my father and brother!'

Communication with her father and brother was not always easy to Diane, for she lived among the Queen-mother's ladies. Her brother was quartered in a sort of barrack among the gentlemen of Monsieur's suite, and the old Chevalier was living in the room Berenger had taken for him at the Croix de Lorraine, and it was only on the most public days that they attended at the palace. Such a day, however, there was on the ensuing Sunday, when Henry of Navarre and Marguerite of France were to be wedded. Their dispensation was come, but, to the great relief of Eustacie, there was no answer with it to the application for the CASSATION of her marriage. In fact, this dispensation had never emanated from the Pope at all. Rome would not sanction the union of a daughter of France with a Huguenot prince; and Charles had forged the document, probably with his mother's knowledge, in the hope of spreading her toils more completely round her prey, while he trusted that the victims might prove too strong for her, and destroy her web, and in breaking forth might release himself.

Strange was the pageant of that wedding on Sunday, the 17th of August, 1572. The outward seeming was magnificent, when all that was princely in France stood on the splendidly decked platform in front of Notre-Dame, around the bridegroom in the bright promise of his kingly endowments, and the bride in her peerless beauty. Brave, noble-hearted, and devoted were the gallant following of the one, splendid and highly gifted the attendants of the other; and their union seemed to promise peace to a long distracted kingdom.

Yet what an abyss lay beneath those trappings! The bridegroom and his comrades were as lions in the toils of the hunter, and the lure that had enticed them thither was the bride, herself so unwilling a victim that her lips refused to utter the espousal vows, and her head as force forward by her brother into a sign of consent; while the favoured lover of her whole lifetime agreed to the sacrifice in order to purchase the vengeance for which he thirsted, and her mother, the corrupter of her own children, looked complacently on at her ready-dug pit of treachery and bloodshed.

Among the many who played unconscious on the surface of that gulf of destruction, were the young creatures whose chief thought in the pageant was the glance and smile from the gallery of the Queen's ladies to the long procession of the English ambassador's train, as they tried to remember their own marriage there; Berenger with clear recollection of his father's grave, anxious face, and Eustacie chiefly remembering her own white satin and turquoise dress, which indeed she had seen on every great festival-day as the best raiment of the image of Notre Dame de Bellaise. She remained in the choir during mass, but Berenger accompanied the rest of the Protestants with the bridegroom at their head into the nave, where Coligny beguiled the time with walking about, looking at the banners that had been taken from himself and Conde at Montcontour and Jarnac, saying that he hoped soon to see them taken down and replaced by Spanish banners. Berenger had followed because he felt the need of doing as Walsingham and Sidney thought right, but he had not been in London long enough to become hardened to the desecration of churches by frequenting 'Paul's Walk.' He remained bareheaded, and stood as near as he could to the choir, listening to the notes that floated from the priests and acolytes at the high altar, longing from the time when he and Eustacie should be one in their prayers, and lost in a reverie, till a grave old nobleman passing near him reproved him for dallying with the worship of Rimmon. But his listening attitude had not passed unobserved by others besides Huguenot observers.

The wedding was followed by a ball at the Louvre, from which, however, all the stricter Huguenots absented themselves out of

The Chaplet of Pearls - 20/101

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