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- The Chaplet of Pearls - 80/101 -


all but giving the stuff to my little angel in very spite--and then---' Eutacie's voice was drowned in passion of tears, and she devoured the old lady's hand with her kisses.

'Come, come,' said the Duchess, 'let us be reasonable. A man may be a thief, but it does not follow that he is a poisoner.'

'Nay, that will we see,' cried Eutacie. 'He was resolved that the little lamb should not escape, and he left a flask for her with Mademoiselle Perrot. I will fetch it, if Madame will give me leave. Oh, the great mercy of Heaven that made her so well that I gave her none!'

Madame de Quinet's analytic powers did not go very far; and would probably have decided against the syrup if it had been nothing but virgin honey. She was one who fully believed that her dear Queen Jeanne had been poisoned with a pair of gloves, and she had unlimited faith in the powers of evil possessed by Rene of Milan. Of course, she detected the presence of a slow poison, whose effects would have been attributed to the ailment it was meant to cure; and though her evidence was insufficient, she probably did Ercole no injustice. She declined testing the compound on any unfortunate dog or cat, but sealed it up in the presence of Gardon, Eutacie, and Mademoiselle Perrot, to be produced against the pedlar if ever he should be caught.

Then she asked Eutacie if there was any reason to suspect that he recognized her. Eutacie related the former dealings with him, when she had sold him her jewels and her hair, but she had no notion of his being the same person whom she had seen when at Montpipeau. Indeed, he had altered his appearance so much that he had been only discovered at Nid-de-Merle by eyes sharpened by distrust of his pretensions to magic arts.

Madame de Quinet, however, concluded that Eutacie had been known, or else that her jewels had betrayed her, and that the man must have been employed by her enemies. If it had not been the depth of winter, she would have provided for the persecuted lady's immediate transmission to England; but he storms of the Bay of Biscay would have made this impossible in the state of French navigation, even if Isaac Gardon had been in a condition to move; for the first return of cold had brought back severe rheumatic pains, and with them came a shortness of breath which even the Duchess did not know to be the token of heart complaint. He was confined to his room, and it was kneeling by his bedside that Eutacie poured out her thankfulness for her child's preservation, and her own repentance for the passing fit of self-will and petulance. The thought of Rayonette's safety seemed absolutely to extinguish the fresh anxiety that had arisen since it had become evident that her enemies no longer supposed her dead, but were probably upon her traces. Somehow, danger had become almost a natural element to her, and having once expressed her firm resolution that nothing should separate her from her adopted father, to whom indeed her care became constantly more necessary, she seemed to occupy herself very little with the matter; she nursed him as merrily as ever, and left to him and Madame de Quinet the grave consultations as to what was to be done for her security. There was a sort of natural buoyancy about her that never realized a danger till it came, and then her spirit was roused to meet it.

CHAPTER XXXVI. SPELL AND POTION

Churl, upon thy eyes I throw All the power this charm doth owe MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

Her rival lived! The tidings could not but be communicated to Diane de Selinville, when her father set out _en grande tenue_ to demand his niece from the Duke de Quinet. This, however, was not till spring was advancing; for the pedlar had not been able to take a direct route back to Nid-de-Merle, since his first measure had necessarily been to escape into a province where the abstraction of a Huguenot nobleman's despatches would be considered as a meritorious action. Winter weather, and the practice of his profession likewise, delayed Ercole so much that it was nearly Easter before he brought his certain intelligence to the Chevalier, and to the lady an elixir of love, clear and coloured as crystal, and infallible as an inspirer of affection.

Should she administer it, now that she knew her cousin not to be the lawful object of affection she had so long esteemed him, but, as he persisted in considering himself, a married man? Diane had more scruples than she would have had a year before, for she had not so long watched and loved one so true and conscientious as Berenger de Ribaumont without having her perceptions elevated; but at the same time the passion of love had become intensified, both by long continuance and by resistance. She had attached herself, believing him free, and her affections could not be disentangled by learning that he was bound--rather the contrary.

Besides, there was plenty of sophistry. Her father had always assured her of the invalidity of the marriage, without thinking it necessary to dwell on his own arrangements for making it invalid, so that was no reasonable ground of objection; and a lady of Diane's period, living in the world where she had lived, would have had no notion of objecting to her lover for a previous amour, and as such was she bidden to rank Berenger's relations with Eutacie. And there was the less scruple on Eutacie's account, because the Chevalier, knowing that the Duchess had a son and two grandsons, had conceived a great terror that she meant to give his niece to one of them; and this would be infinitely worse, both for the interests of the family and of their party, than even her reunion with the young Baron. Even Narcisse, who on his return had written to Paris a grudging consent to the experiment of his father and sister, had allowed that the preservation of Berenger's life was needful till Eutacie should be in their power so as to prevent such a marriage as that! To Diane, the very suggestion became certainty: she already saw Eutacie's shallow little heart consoled and her vanity excited by these magnificent prospects, and she looked forward to the triumph of her own constancy, when Berenger should find the image so long enshrined in his heart crumble in its sacred niche.

Yet a little while then would she be patient, even though nearly a year had passed and still she saw no effect upon her prisoners, unless, indeed, Philip had drunk of one of her potions by mistake and his clumsy admiration was the consequence. The two youths went on exactly in the same manner, without a complaint, without a request, occupying themselves as best they might--Berenger courteously attentive recovered his health, and the athletic powers displayed by the two brothers when wrestling, fencing, or snow- balling in the courtyard, were the amazement and envy of their guard. Twice in the course of the winter there had been an alarm of wolves, and in their eagerness and excitement about this new sport, they had accepted the Chevalier's offer of taking their parole for the hunt. They had then gone forth with a huge posse of villagers, who beat the woods with their dogs till the beast was aroused from its lair and driven into the alleys, where waited gentlemen, gendarmes, and game keepers with their guns. These two chases were chiefly memorable to Berenger, because in the universal intermingling of shouting peasants he was able in the first to have some conversation with Eutacie's faithful protector Martin, who told him the incidents of her wanderings, with tears in his eyes, and blessed him for his faith that she was not dead; and in the second, he actually found himself in the ravine of the Grange du Temple. No need to ask, every voice was shouting the name, and though the gendarmes were round him and he durst not speak to Rotrou, still he could reply with significative earnestness to the low bow with which the farmer bent to evident certainty that here was the imprisoned Protestant husband of the poor lady. Berenger wore his black vizard mask as had been required of him, but the man's eyes followed him, as though learning by heart the outline of his tall figure. The object of the Chevalier's journey was, of course, a secret from the prisoners, who merely felt its effects by having their meals served to them in their own tower; and when he returned after about a month's absence though him looking harassed, aged, and so much out of humour that he could scarcely preserve his usual politeness. In effect he was greatly chagrined.

'That she is in their hands is certain, the hypocrites!' he said to his daughter and sister; 'and no less so that they have designs on her; but I let them know that these could be easily traversed.'

'But where is she, the unhappy apostate child?' said the Abbess. 'They durst not refuse her to you.'

'I tell you they denied all present knowledge of her. The Duke himself had the face to make as though he never heard of her. He had no concern with his mother's household and guests forsooth! I do not believe he has; the poor fellow stands in awe of that terrible old heretic dragon, and keeps aloof from her as much as he can. But he is, after all, a _beau jeune home_; nor should I be surprised if he were the girl's gay bridegroom by this time, though I gave him a hint that there was an entanglement about the child's first marriage which, by French law, would invalidate any other without a dispensation from the Pope.'

'A hard nut that for a heretic,' laughed the Abbess.

'He acted the ignorant--knew nothing about the young lady; but had the civility to give me a guide and an escort to go to Quinet. _Ma foi_! I believe they were given to hinder me--take me by indirect roads, make me lose time at chateaux. When I arrived at the grim old chateau--a true dungeon, precise as a convent--there was the dame, playing the Queen Jeanne as well as she could, and having the insolence to tell me that it was true that Madame la Baronne de Ribaumont, as she was pleased to call her, had honoured her residence for some months, but that she had now quitted it, and she flatly refused to answer any question whither she was gone! The hag! she might at least have had the decorum to deny all knowledge of her, but nothing is more impertinent that the hypocritical sincerity of the heretics.'

'But her people,' exclaimed the Abbess; 'surely some of them knew, and could be brought to speak.'

'All the servants I came in contact with played the incorruptible; but still I have done something. There were some fellows in the village who are not at their ease under that rule. I caused my people to inquire them out. They knew nothing more than that the old heretic Gardon with his family had gone away in Madame la Duchesse's litter, but whither they could not tell. But the _cabaretier_ there is furious secretly with the Quinets for having spoilt his trade by destroying the shrine at the holy well, and I


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