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- The Chaplet of Pearls - 5/101 -
and a ripe scholar who had shared the friendship of More and Erasmus. The lady who sat opposite to him was several years younger, still upright, brisk and active, though her hair was milk- white; but her eyes were of undimmed azure, and her complexion still retained a beauteous pink and white. She was highly educated, and had been the friend of Margaret Roper and her sisters, often sharing their walks in the bright Chelsea garden. Indeed, the musk-rose in her own favourite nook at Hurst Walwyn was cherished as the gift of Sir Thomas himself.
Near her sat sister, Cecily St. John, a professed nun at Romsey till her twenty-eight year, when, in the dispersion of convents, her sister's home had received her. There had she continued, never exposed to tests of opinion, but pursuing her quiet course according to her Benedictine rule, faithfully keeping her vows, and following the guidance of the chaplain, a college friend of Bishop Ridley, and rejoicing in the use of the vernacular prayers and Scriptures. When Queen Mary had sent for her to consider of the revival of convents, her views had been found to have so far diverged from those of the Queen that Lord WalWyn was thankful to have her safe at home again; and yet she fancied herself firm to old Romsey doctrine. She was not learned, like Lady Walwyn, but her knowledge in all needlework and confectionery was consummate, so that half the ladies in Dorset and Wilts longed to send their daughters to be educated at Hurst Walwyn. Her small figure and soft cheeks had the gentle contour of a dove's form, nor had she lost the conventual serenity of expression; indeed it was curious that, let Lady Walwyn array her as she would, whatever she wore bore a nunlike air. Her silken farthingales hung like serge robes, her ruffs looked like mufflers, her coifs like hoods, even necklaces seemed rosaries, and her scrupulous neatness enhanced the pure unearthly air of all belonging to her.
Eager and lively, fair and handsome, sat the Baronne de Ribaumont, or rather, since the higher title had been laid aside, Dame Annora Thistlewood. The health of M. de Ribaumont had been shattered at St. Quentin, and an inclement night of crossing the Channel had brought on an attack on the lungs, from which he only rallied enough to amaze his English friends at finding the gay dissipated young Frenchman they remembered, infinitely more strict and rigid than themselves. He was never able to leave the house again after his first arrival at Hurst Walwyn, and sank under the cold winds of the next spring, rejoicing to leave his wife and son, not indeed among such strict Puritans as he preferred, but at least where the pure faith could be openly avowed without danger.
Sir Marmaduke Thistlewood, the husband to whom Annora Walwyn had been destined before M. de Ribaumont had crossed her path, was about the same time left a widower with one son and daughter, and as soon as a suitable interval had passed, she became a far happier wife than she had been in either the Baron's gay or grave days. Her son had continued under the roof of his grandfather, to whose charge his father had specially committed him, and thus had been scarcely separated from his mother, since Combe Manor was not above three miles across the downs from Hurst Walwyn, and there was almost daily intercourse between the families. Lucy Thistlewood had been brought to Hurst Walwyn to be something between a maid of honour and a pupil to the ladies there, and her brother Philip, so soon as he was old enough, daily rode thither to share with Berenger the instructions of the chaplain, Mr. Adderley, who on the present occasion formed one of the conclave, sitting a little apart as not quite familiar, though highly esteemed.
With an elbow on the table, and one hand toying with his long riding-whip, sat, booted and spurred, the jovial figure of Sir Marmaduke, who called out, in his hearty voice, 'A good riddance of an outlandish Papist, say I! Read the letter, Berenger lad. No, no, no! English it! I know nothing of your mincing French! 'Tis the worst fault I know in you, boy, to be half a Frenchman, and have a French name'--a fault that good Sir Marmaduke did his best to remedy by always terming his step-son Berenger or Berry Ribmount, and we will so far follow his example as henceforth to give the youth the English form of his Christian name. He was by this time a tall lad of eighteen, with straight features, honest deep blue eyes, very fair hair cut short and brushed up to a crest upon the middle of his head, a complexion of red and white that all the air of the downs and the sea failed to embrown, and that peculiar openness and candour of expression which seems so much an English birthright, that the only trace of his French origin was, that he betrayed no unbecoming awkwardness in the somewhat embarrassing position in which he was placed, literally standing, according to the respectful discipline of the time, as the subject of discussion, before the circle of his elders. His colour was indeed, deepened, but his attitude was easy and graceful, and he used no stiff rigidity nor restless movements to mask his anxiety. At Sir Marmaduke's desire, he could not but redden a good deal more, but with a clear, unhesitating voice, he translated, the letter that he had received from the Chevalier de Ribaumont, who, by the Count's death, had become Eustacie's guardian. It was a request in the name of Eustacie and her deceased father, that Monsieur le Baron de Ribaumont--who, it was understood, had embraced the English heresy--would concur with his spouse in demanding from his Holiness the Pope a decree annulling the childish marriage, which could easily be declared void, both on account of the consanguinity of the parties and the discrepancy of their faith; and which would leave each of them free to marry again.
'Nothing can be better,' exclaimed his mother. 'How I have longed to free him from that little shrew, whose tricks were the plague of my life! Now there is nothing between him and a worthy match!'
'We can make an Englishman of him now to the backbone,' added Sir Marmaduke, 'and it is well that it should be the lady herself who wants first to be off with it, so that none can say he has played her a scurvy trick.'
'What say you, Berenger?' said Lord Walwyn. 'Listen to me, fair nephew. You know that all my remnant of hope is fixed upon you, and that I have looked to setting you in the room of the son of my own; and I think that under our good Queen you will find it easier to lead a quiet God-fearing life than in your father's vexed country, where the Reformed religion lies under persecution. Natheless, being a born liegeman of the King of France, and heir to estates in his kingdom, meseemeth that before you are come to years of discretion it were well that you should visit them, and become better able to judge for yourself how to deal in this matter when you shall have attained full age, and may be able to dispose of them by sale, thus freeing yourself from allegiance to a foreign prince. And at the same time you can take measures, in concert with this young lady, for loosing the wedlock so unhappily contracted.'
'O sir, sir!' cried Lady Thistlewood, 'send him not to France to be burnt by the Papists!'
'Peace, daughter,' returned her mother. 'Know you not that there is friendship between the court party and the Huguenots, and that the peace is to be sealed by the marriage of the King's sister with the King of Navarre? This is the most suitable time at which he could go.'
'Then, madam,' proceeded the lady, 'he will be running about to all the preachings on every bleak moor and wet morass he can find, catching his death with rheums, like his poor father.'
There was a general smile, and Sir Marmaduke laughed outright.
'Nay, dame,' he said, 'have you marked such a greed of sermons in our Berry that you should fear his so untowardly running after them?'
'Tilly-vally, Sir Duke,' quoth Dame Annora, with a flirt of her fan, learnt at the French court. 'Men will run after a preacher in a marshy bog out of pure forwardness, when they will nod at a godly homily on a well-stuffed bench between four walls.'
'I shall commit that matter to Mr. Adderley, who is good enough to accompany him,' said Lord Walwyn, 'and by whose counsel I trust that he will steer the middle course between the pope and Calvin.'
Mr. Adderley bowed in answer, saying he hoped that he should be enable to keep his pupil's mind clear between the allurements of Popery and the errors of the Reformed; but meanwhile Lady Thistlewood's mind had taken a leap, and she exclaimed,--
'And, son, whatever you do, bring home the chaplet of pearls! I know they have set their minds upon it. They wanted me to deck Eustacie with it on that unlucky bridal-day, but I would not hear of trusting her with it, and now will it rarely become our Lucy on your real wedding-day.'
'You travel swiftly, daughter,' said Lord Walwyn. 'Nor have we yet heard the thoughts of one who ever thinks wisely. Sister,' he added, turning to Cecily St. John, 'hold not you with us in this matter?'
'I scarce comprehend it, my Lord,' was the gentle reply. 'I knew not that it was possible to dissolve the tie of wedlock.'
'The Pope's decree will suffice,' said Lord Walwyn.
'Yet, sir,' still said the ex-nun, 'methought you had shown me that the Holly Father exceeded his power in the annulling of vows.'
'Using mine own lessons against me, sweet sister?' said Lord Walwyn, smiling; 'yet, remember, the contract was rashly made between two ignorant babes; and, bred up as they have severally been, it were surely best for them to be set free from vows made without their true will or knowledge.'
'And yet,' said Cecily, perplexed, 'when I saw my niece here wedded to Sir Marmaduke, was it not with the words, 'What God hath joined let no man put asunder'?'
'Good lack! aunt,' cried Lady Thistlewood, 'you would not have that poor lad wedded to a pert, saucy, ill-tempered little moppet, bred up that den of iniquity, Queen Catherine's court, where my poor Baron never trusted me after he fell in with the religion, and had heard of King Antony's calling me the Swan of England.'
At that moment there was a loud shriek, half-laugh, half-fright, coming through the window, and Lady Thistlewood, starting up, exclaimed, 'The child will be drowned! Box their ears, Berenger, and bring them in directly.'
Berenger, at her bidding, hurried out of the room into the hall, and thence down a flight of steps leading into a square walled garden, with a couple of stone male and female marine divinities accommodating their fishy extremities as best they might on the
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