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- The Chaplet of Pearls - 70/101 -


by the Chevalier.'

'See the boy, brother! How should he have heard the Chevalier? Nay, you might hug your own belief, but it is hard that we should both be in durance for your mere dream that she lives.'

'Come, Phil, it will be the devil indeed that sows dissension between us,' said Berenger. 'You know well enough that were it indeed with my poor Eustacie as they would fain have us believe, rather than give up her fair name I would not in prison for life. Or would you have me renounce my faith, or wed Madame de Selinville upon the witness of a pool of ink that I am a widower?' he added, almost laughing.

'For that matter,' muttered Philip, a good deal ashamed and half affronted, 'you know I value the Protestant faith so that I never heard a word from the will old priest. Nevertheless, the boy, when I asked of our release, saw the gates set open by Love.'

'What did Love look like in the pool? Had he wings like the Cupids in the ballets at the Louvre?' asked Berenger provokingly.

'I tell you I saw nothing,' said Philip, tartly: 'this was the Italian's interpretation of the boy's gesture. It was to be by means of love, he said, and of a lady who---he made it plain enough who she was,' added the boy, colouring.

'No doubt, as the Chevalier have instructed him to say that I--I--' he hesitated, 'that my--my love--I mean that he saw my shield per pale with the field fretty and the sable leopard.'

'Oh! it is to be my daughter, is it?' said Berenger, laughing; 'I am very happy to entertain your proposals for her.'

'Berenger, what mocking fiend has possessed you?' cried Philip, half angrily, half pitifully. 'How can you so speak of that poor child?'

'Because the more they try to force on me the story of her fate, the plainer it is to me that they do not believe it. I shall find her yet, and then, Phil, you shall have the first chance.'

Philip growled.

'Well, Phil,' said his brother, good-humouredly, 'any way, till this Love comes that is to let us out, don't let Moor or fiend come between us. Let me keep my credence for the honest Bailli's daughters at Lucon; and remember I would give my life to free you, but I cannot give away my faith.' Philip bent his head. He was of too stubborn a mould to express contrition or affection, but he mused for five minutes, then called Humfrey, and at the last moment, as the heavy tread came up-stairs, he turned round and said, 'You're in the right on't there, Berry. Hap what hap, the foul fiend may carry off the conjurer before I murmur at you again! Still I wish you had seen him. You would know 'tis sooth.'

While Berenger, in his prison chamber, with the lamplight beaming on his high white brow and clear eye, stood before his two comrades in captivity, their true-hearted faces composed to reverence, and as he read, 'I have hated them that hold of superstitious vanities, and my trust hath been in the Lord. I will be glad and rejoice in Thy mercy, for Thou hast considered my trouble and hast known my soul in adversities,' feeling that here was the oracle by which he was willing to abide--Diane de Selinville was entering the cabinet where the secrets of the future were to be unveiled.

There she stood--the beautiful court lady--her lace coif (of the Mary of Scotland type) well framed the beautiful oval of her face, and set of the clear olive of her complexion, softened by short jetty curls at the temples, and lighted splendid dark eyes, and by the smiles of a perfect pair of lips. A transparent veil hung back over the ruff like frostwork-formed fairy wings, and over the white silk bodice and sleeves laced with violet, and the violet skirt that fell in ample folds on the ground; only, however, in the dim light revealing by an occasional gleam that it was not black. It was a stately presence, yet withal there was a tremor, a quiver of the downcast eyelids, and a trembling of the fair hand, as though she were ill at ease; even though it was by no means the first time she had trafficked with the dealers in mysterious arts who swarmed around Catherine de Medicis. There were words lately uttered that weighed with her in their simplicity, and she could not forget them in that gloomy light, as she gazed on the brown face of the Italian, Ercole, faultless in outline as a classical mask, but the black depths of the eyes sparkling with intensity of observation, as if they were everywhere at once and gazed through and through. He wore his national dress, with the short cloak over one shoulder; but the little boy, who stood at the table, had been fantastically arrayed in a sort of semi-Albanian garb, a red cap with a long tassel, a dark, gold-embroidered velvet jacket sitting close to his body, and a white kilt over his legs, bare except for buskins stiff with gold. The poor little fellow looked pale in spite of his tawny hue, his enormous black eyes were heavy and weary, and he seemed to be trying to keep aloof from the small brazen vessel formed by the coils of two serpents that held the inky liquid of which Philip had spoken.

No doubt of the veritable nature of the charm crossed Diane; her doubt was of its lawfulness, her dread of the supernatural region she was invading. She hesitated before she ventured on her first question, and started as the Italian first spoke,--'What would the Eccelentissima? Ladies often hesitate to speak the question nearest their hearts. Yet is it ever the same. But the lady must be pleased to form it herself in words, or the lad will not see her vision.'

'Where, then, is my brother?' said Diane, still reluctant to come direct to the point.

The boy gazed intently into the black pool, his great eyes dilating till they seemed like black wells, and after a long time, that Diane could have counted by the throbs of her heart, he began to close his fingers, perform the action over the other arm of one playing on the lute, throw his head back, close his eyes, and appear to be singing a lullaby. Then he spoke a few words to his master quickly.

'He see,' said Ercole, 'a gentleman touching the lute, seated in a bedroom, where lies, on a rich pillow, another gentleman,'--and as the boy stroked his face, and pointed to his hands--'wearing a mask and gloves. It is, he says, in my own land, in Italy,' and as the boy made the action of rowing, 'in the territory of Venice.'

'It is well,' said Madame de Selinville, who knew that nothing was more probable than that her brother should be playing the King to his sleep in the medicated mask and gloves that cherished the royal complexion, and, moreover, that Henry was lingering to take his pastime in Italy to the great inconvenience of his kingdom.

Her next question came nearer her heat--'You saw the gentleman with a scar. Will he leave this castle?'

The boy gazed, then made gestures of throwing his arms wide, and of passing out; and as he added his few words, the master explained: 'He sees the gentleman leaving the castle, through open gate, in full day, on horseback; and--and it is Madame who is with them,' he added, as the lad pointed decidedly to her, 'it is Madame who opens their prison.'

Diane's face lighted with gladness for a moment; then she said, faltering (most women of her day would not have been even thus reserved), 'Then I shall marry again?'

The boy gazed and knitted his brow; then, without any pantomime, looked up and spoke. 'The Eccellentissima shall be a bride once more, he says,' explained the man, 'but after a sort he cannot understand. It is exhausting, lady, thus to gaze into the invisible future; the boy becomes confused and exhausted ere long.'

'Once more--I will only ask of the past. My cousin, is he married or a widower?'

The boy clasped his hands and looked imploringly, shaking his head at the dark pool, as he murmured an entreating word to his master. 'Ah! Madame,' said the Italian, 'that question hath already been demanded by the young Inglese. The poor child has been so terrified by the scene it called up, that he implored he may not see it again. A sacked and burning town, a lady in a flaming house---'

'Enough, enough,' said de; 'I could as little bear to hear as he to see. It is what we have ever known and feared. And now'--she blushed as she spoke--'sir, you will leave me one of those potions that Signor Renato is wont to compound.'

'_Capisco_!' said Ercole; 'but the Eccellentissima shall he obeyed if she will supply the means, for the expense will be heavy.'

The bargain was agreed upon, and a considerable sum advanced for a philter, compounded of strange Eastern plants and mystic jewels; and then Diane, with a shudder of relief, passed into the full light of the hall, bade her father good night, and was handed by him into the litter that had long been awaiting her at the door.

The Chevalier, then, with care on his brow, bent his steps towards the apartment where the Italian still remained counting the money he had received.

'So!' he said as he entered, 'so, fellow, I have not hindered your gains, and you have been true to your agreement?'

'Illustrissimo, yes. The pool of vision mirrored the flames, but nothing beyond--nothing--nothing.'

'They asked you then no more of those words you threw out of Esperance?'

'Only the English youth, sir; and there were plenty of other hopes to dance before the eyes of such a lad! With M. le Baron it will be needful to be more guarded.'

'M. le Baron shall not have the opportunity,' said the Chevalier. 'He may abide by his decision, and what the younger one may tell him. Fear not, good man, it shall be made good to you, if you obey my commands. I have other work for you. But first repeat to me more fully what you told me before. Where was it that you saw this unhappy girl under the name of Esperance?'

'At a hostel, sir, at Charente, where she was attending on an old heretic teacher of the name of Gardon, who had fallen sick there, being pinched by the fiend with rheumatic pains after his deserts.


The Chaplet of Pearls - 70/101

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