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- The Chaplet of Pearls - 50/101 -
lightning flash of joy and gratitude in the bright blue eyes, and the fervent pressure and kiss of his hand, as Berenger exclaimed, 'Ah! sir, Eustacie will be such a daughter to you. You should have seen how the Admiral liked her!'
The news of Lord Walwyn's consent raised much commotion in the family. Dame Annora was sure her poor son would be murdered outright this time, and that nobody cared because he was only HER son; and she strove hard to stir up Sir Marmaduke to remonstrate with her father; but the good knight had never disputed a judgment of 'my Lord's' in his whole life, and had even received his first wife from his hands, when forsaken by the gay Annora. So she could only ride over the Combe, be silenced by her father, as effectually as if Jupiter had nodded, and bewail and murmur to her mother till she lashed Lady Walwyn up into finding every possible reason why Berenger should and must sail. Then she went home, was very sharp with Lucy, and was reckoned by saucy little Nan to have nineteen times exclaimed 'Tilley-valley' in the course of one day.
The effect upon Philip was a vehement insistence on going with his brother. He was sure no one else would see to Berry half as well; and as to letting Berry go to be murdered again without him, he would not hear of it; he must go, he would not stay at home; he should not study; no, no, he should be ready to hang himself for vexation, and thinking what they were doing to his brother. And thus he extorted from his kind-hearted father an avowal that he should be easier a bout the lad if Phil were there, and that he might go, provided Berry would have him, and my Lord saw no objection. The first point was soon settled; and as to the second, there was no reason at all that Philip should not go where his brother did. In fact, excepting for Berenger's state of health, there was hardly any risk about the matter. Master Hobbs, to whom Philip rode down ecstatically to request him to come and speak to my Lord, was a stout, honest, experienced seaman, who was perfectly at home in the Bay of Biscay, and had so strong a feudal feeling for the house of Walwyn, that he placed himself and his best ship, the THROSTLE, entirely at his disposal. The THROSTLE was a capital sailer, and carried arms quite sufficient in English hands to protect her against Algerine corsairs or Spanish pirates. He only asked for a week to make her cabin ready for the reception of a lady, and this time was spent in sending a post to London, to obtain for Berenger the permit from the Queen, and the passport from the French Ambassador, without which he could not safely have gone; and, as a further precaution, letters were requested from some of the secret agents of the Huguenots to facilitate his admission into La Sablerie.
In the meantime, poor Mr. Adderley had submitted meekly to the decree that sentenced him to weeks of misery on board the THROSTLE, but to his infinite relief, an inspection of the cabins proved the space so small, that Berenger represented to him grandfather that the excellent tutor would be only an incumbrance to himself and every one else, and that with Philip he should need no one. Indeed, he had made such a start into vigour and alertness during the last few days that there was far less anxiety about him, though with several sighs for poor Osbert. Cecily initiated Philip into her simple rules for her patient's treatment in case of the return of his more painful symptoms. The notion of sending female attendants for Eustacie was also abandoned: her husband's presence rendered them unnecessary, or they might be procured at La Sablerie; and thus it happened that the only servants whom Berenger was to take with him were Humfrey Holt and John Smithers, the same honest fellows whose steadiness had so much conduced to his rescue at Paris.
Claude de Mericour had in the meantime been treated as an honoured guest at Combe Walwyn, and was in good esteem with its master. He would have set forth at once on his journey to Scotland, but that Lord Walwyn advised him to wait and ascertain the condition of his relatives there before throwing himself on them. Berenger had, accordingly, when writing to Sidney by the messenger above mentioned, begged him to find out from Sir Robert Melville, the Scottish Envoy, all he could about the family whose designation he wrote down at a venture from Mericour's lips.
Sidney returned a most affectionate answer, saying that he had never been able to believe the little shepherdess a traitor and was charmed that she had proved herself a heroine; he should endeavour to greet her with all his best powers as a poet, when she should brighten the English court; but his friend, Master Spenser, alone was fit to celebrate such constancy. As to M. l'Abbe de Mericour's friends, Sir Robert Melville had recognized their name at once, and had pronounced them to be fierce Catholics and Queensmen, so sorely pressed by the Douglases, that it was believed they would soon fly the country altogether; and Sidney added, what Lord Walwyn had already said, that to seek Scotland rather than France as a resting-place in which to weigh between Calvinism and Catholicism, was only trebly hot and fanatical. His counsel was that M. de Mericour should so far conform himself to the English Church as to obtain admission to one of the universities, and, through his uncle of Leicester, he could obtain for him an opening at Oxford, where he might fully study the subject.
There was much to incline Mericour to accept this counsel. He had had much conversation with Mr. Adderley, and had attended his ministrations in the chapel, and both satisfied him far better than what he had seen among the French Calninists; and the peace and family affection of the two houses were like a new world to him. But he had not yet made up his mind to that absolute disavowal of his own branch of the Church, which alone could have rendered him eligible for any foundation at Oxford. His attainments in classics would, Mr. Adderley thought, reach such a standard as to gain one of the very few scholarships open to foreigners; and his noble blood revolted at becoming a pensioner of Leicester's, or of any other nobleman.
Lord Walwyn, upon this, made an earnest offer of his hospitality, and entreated the young man to remain at Hurst Walwyn till the return of Berenger and Philip, during which time he might study under the directions of Mr. Adderley, and come to a decision whether to seek reconciliation with his native Church and his brother, or to remain in England. In this latter case, he might perhaps accompany both the youths to Oxford, for, in spite of Berenger's marriage, his education was still not supposed to be complete. And when Mericour still demurred with reluctance to become a burden on the bounty of the noble house, he was reminded gracefully of the debt of gratitude that the family owed to him for the relief he had brought to Berenger; and, moreover, Dame Annora giggled out that, 'if he would teach Nan and Bess to speak and read French and Italian, it would be worth something to them.' The others of the family would have hushed up this uncalled-for proposal; but Mericour caught at it as the most congenial mode of returning the obligation. Every morning he undertook to walk or ride over to the Manor, and there gave his lessons to the young ladies, with whom he was extremely popular. He was a far more brilliant teacher than Lucy, and ten thousand times preferable to Mr. Adderley, who had once begun to teach Annora her accidence with lamentable want of success.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE EMPTY CRADLE
Eager to know The worst, and with that fatal certainty To terminate intolerable dread, He spurred his courser forward--all his fears Too surely are fulfilled.--SOUTHEY
Contrary winds made the voyage of the THROSTLE much more tardy than had been reckoned on by Berenger's impatience; but hope was before him, and he often remembered his days in the little vessel as much happier than he had known them to be at the time.
It was in the calm days of right October that Captain Hobbs at length was putting into the little harbour nearest to La Sablerie. Berenger, on that morning, had for the first time been seized by a fit of anxiety as to the impression his face would make, with its terrible purple scar, great patch, and bald forehead, and had brought out a little black velvet mask, called a _tour de nez_, often used in riding to protect the complexion, intending to prepare Eustacie for his disfigurement. He had fastened on a carnation-coloured sword-knot, would a scarf of the same colour across his shoulder, clasped a long ostrich plume into his broad Spanish hat, and looked out his deeply-fringed Spanish gloves; and Philip was laughing merrily, not to say rudely, at him, for trying to deck himself out so bravely.
'See, Master Hobbs,' cried the boy in his high spirits, as he followed his brother on deck, 'you did not know you had so fine a gallant on board. Here be braveries for my Lady.'
'Hush, Phil,' broke in Berenger, who had hitherto taken all the raillery in perfect good part. 'What is amiss, Master Hobbs?'
'I cannot justly say, sir,' returned Master Hobbs, without taking his gaze off the coast, 'but by yonder banks and creeks this should be the Sables d'Olonne; and I do not see the steeple of La Sablerie, which has always been the landmark for the harbour of St. Julien.'
'What do you understand by that?' asked Berenger, more struck by his manner than his words.
'Well, sir, if I am right, a steeple that has stood three or four hundred years does not vanish out of sight like a cloud of smoke for nothing. I may be lightning, to be sure; or the Protestants may have had it down for Popery; but methinks they would have too much Christian regard for poor mariners than to knock down the only landmark on this coast till you come to Nissard spire.' Then he hailed the man at the mast-head, demanding if he saw the steeple of La Sablerie. 'No, no, sir.' But as other portions of the land became clearer, there was no doubt that the THROSTLE was right in her bearings; so the skipper gave orders to cast anchor and lower a boat. The passengers would have pressed him with inquiries as to what he thought the absence of his landmark could portend; but he hurried about, and shouted orders, with the deaf despotism of a nautical commander; and only when all was made ready, turned round and said, 'Now, sir, maybe you had best let me go ashore first, and find out how the land lies.'
'Never!' said Berenger, in an agony of impatience.
'I thought so,' said the captain. 'Well, then, sir, are your fellows ready? Armed? All right.'
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