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- The Chaplet of Pearls - 60/101 -
'Nor with one in Paris,' said the King dryly; 'but in the country the good mothers may still honour their King's hand. Here, Ambroise, take pen and ink, and write the order. To whom?
'To the Mother Prioress of the Ursulines at Lucon, so please our Majesty,' said Berenger, 'to let me have possession of my daughter.
'Eh! is it only a little girl?
'Yes, Sire; but my heart yearns for her all the more,' said Berenger, with glistening eyes.
'You are right,' said the poor King. 'Mine, too, is a little girl; and I bless God daily that she is no son--to be the most wretched thing the France. Let her come in, Madame. She is little older than my friend's daughter. I would show her to him.
The Queen signed to Madame la Comtesse to fetch the child, and Berenger added, 'Sire, you could do a further benefit to my poor little one. One more signature of yours would attest that ratification of my marriage which took place in your Majesty's presence.
'Ah! I remember,' said Charles. 'You may have any name of mine that can help you to oust that villain Narcisse; only wait to use it--spare me any more storms. It will serve your turn as well when I am beyond they, and you will make your claim good. What,' seeing Berenger's interrogative look, 'do you not know that by the marriage-contract the lands of each were settled on the survivor?
'No, Sire; I have never seen the marriage-contract.
'Your kinsman knew it well,' said Charles.
Just then, Madame la Comtesse returned, leading the little Princess by the long ribbons at her waist; Charles bent forward, calling, 'Here, _ma petite_, come here. Here is one who loves thy father. Look well at him, that thou mayest know him.
The little Madame Elisabeth so far understood, that, with a certain lofty condescension, she extended her hand for the stranger to kiss, and thus drew from the King the first smile that Berenger had seen. She was more than half a year older than the Berangere on whom his hopes were set, and whom he trusted to find not such a pale, feeble, tottering little creature as this poor young daughter of France, whose round black eyes gazed wonderingly at his scar; but she was very precocious, and even already too much of a royal lady to indulge in any awkward personal observation.
By the time she had been rewarded for her good behaviour by one of the dried plums in her father's comfit-box, the order had been written by Pare, and Berenger had prepared the certificate for the King's signature, according to the form given him by his grandfather.
'Your writing shakes nearly as much as mine,' said the poor King, as he wrote his name to this latter. 'Now, Madame, you had better sign it also; and tell this gentleman where to find Father Meinhard in Austria. He was a little too true for us, do you see--would not give thanks for shedding innocent blood. Ah!'--and with a gasp of mournful longing, the King sank back, while Elisabeth, at his bidding, added her name to the certificate, and murmured the name of a convent in Vienna, where her late confessor could be found.
'I cannot thank you Majesty enough,' said Berenger; 'My child's rights are now secure in England at least, and this'--as he held the other paper for the King--'will give her to me.
'Ah! take it for what it is worth,' said the King, as he scrawled his 'CHARLES' upon it. 'This order must be used promptly, or it will avail you nothing. Write to Ambroise how you speed; that is, if it will bring me one breath of good news.' And as Berenger kissed his hand with tearful, inarticulate thanks, he proceeded, 'Save for that cause, I would ask you to come to me again. It does me good. It is like a breath from Montpipeau--the last days of hope--before the frenzy--the misery.
'Whenever your Majesty does me the honour---' began Berenger, forgetting all except the dying man.
'I am not so senseless,' interrupted the King sharply; 'it would be losing the only chance of undoing one wrong. Only, Ribaumont,' he added fervently, 'for once let me hear that one man has pardoned me.
'Sire, Sire,' sobbed Berenger, totally overcome, 'how can I speak the word? How feel aught but love, loyalty, gratitude?
Charles half smiled again as he said in sad meditation--'Ah! it was in me to have been a good king if they had let me. Think of me, bid your friend Sidney think of me, as I would have been--not as I have been--and pray, pray for me.' Then hiding his face in his handkerchief, in a paroxysm of grief and horror, he murmured in a stifled tone, 'Blood, blood, deliver me, good Lord!
In effect, there was so sudden a gush of blood from mouth and nose that Berenger sprang to his feet in dismay, and was _bona fide_ performing the part of assistant to the surgeon, when, at the Queen's cry, not only the nurse Philippe hurried in, but with her a very dark, keen-looking man, who at once began applying strong essences to the King's face, as Berenger supported his head. In a few moments Pare looked up at Berenger, and setting him free, intimated to him, between sign and whisper, to go into Philippe's room and wait there; and it was high time, for though the youth had felt nothing in the stress of the moment, he was almost swooning when he reached the little chamber, and lay back in the nurse's chair, with closed eyes, scarcely conscious how time went, or even where he was, till he was partly aroused by hearing steps returning.
'The poor young man,' said Philippe's kind voice, 'he is fainting. Ah! no wonder it overcame any kind heart.
'How is the King?' Berenger tried to say, but his own voice still sounded unnatural and far away.
'He is better for the time, and will sleep,' said Pare, administering to his other patient some cordial drops as he spoke. 'There, sir; you will soon be able to return to the carriage. This has been a sore trial to your strength.
'But I have gained all--all I could hope,' said Berenger, looking at his precious papers. 'But, alas! the poor King!
'You will never, never let a word of blame pass against him,' cried Philippe earnestly. 'It is well that one of our people should have seen how it really is with him. All I regret is that Maitre Rene thrust himself in and saw you.
'Who?' said Berenger, who had been too much engrossed to perceive any one.
'Maitre Rene of Milan, the Queen-mother's perfume. He came with some plea of bringing a pouncet-box from her, but I wager it was as a spy. I was doing my best to walk him gently off, when the Queen's cry called me, and he must needs come in after me.
'I saw him not,' said Berenger; 'perhaps he marked not me in the confusion.
'I fear,' said Pare gravely, 'he was more likely to have his senses about him than you. M. le Baron; these bleedings of the King's are not so new to us familiars to the palace. The best thing now to be done is to have you to the carriage, if you can move.
Berenger, now quite recovered, stood up, and gave his warm thanks to the old nurse for her kindness to him.
'Ah! sir,' she said, 'you are one of us. Pray, pray that God will have mercy on my poor child! He has the truth in his heart. Pray that it may save him at the last.
Ambroise, knowing that she would never cease speaking while there was any one to hear her, almost dragged Berenger out at the little secret door, conveyed him safely down the stairs, and placed him again in the carriage. Neither spoke till the surgeon said, 'You have seen a sad sight, Monsieur le Baron: I need not bid you be discreet.
'There are some things that go too deep for speech,' sighed the almost English Berenger; then, after a pause, 'Is there no hope for him? Is he indeed dying?
'Without a miracle, he cannot live a month. He is as truly slain by the St. Bartholomew as ever its martyrs were,' said Pare, moved out of his usual cautious reserve towards one who had seen so much and felt so truly. 'I tell you, sir, that his mother hath as truly slain her sons, as if she had sent Rene there to them with his drugs. According as they have consciences and hearts, so they pine and perish under her rule.
Berenger shuddered, and almost sobbed, 'And hath he no better hope, no comforter?' he asked.
'None save good old Flipote. As you heard, the Queen-mother will not suffer his own Church to speak to him in her true voice. No confessor but one chosen by the Cardinal of Lorraine may come near him; and with him all is mere ceremony. But if at the last he opens his ear and heart to take in the true hope of salvation, it will be from the voice of poor old Philippe.
And so it was! It was Philippe, who heard him in the night sobbing over the piteous words, 'My God, what horrors, what blood!' and, as she took from his tear-drenched handkerchief, spoke to him of the Blood that speakth better things than the blood of Abel; and it was she who, in the final agony, heard and treasured these last words, 'If the Lord Jesus will indeed receive me into the company of the blest!' Surely, never was repentance deeper than that of Charles IX.--and these, his parting words, were such as to inspire the trust that it was not remorse.
All-important as Berenger's expedition had been, he still could think of little but the poor King; and, wearied out as he was, he made very little reply to the astonished friends who gathered round him on his return. He merely told Philip that he had succeeded, and then lay almost without speaking on his bed till the Ambassador made his evening visit, when he showed him the two papers. Sir Francis could hardly believe his good fortune in having obtained
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