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- The Chaplet of Pearls - 90/101 -
'Rise, cousin, I entreat you,' said Berenger, much embarrassed, as he disappeared in the darkness.
'I must speak thus,' she answered, in a hoarse, exhausted voice. 'Ah! pardon, pardon!' she added, rising, however, so far as to raise clasped hands and an imploring face. 'Ah! can you pardon? It was through me that you bear those wounds; that she--Eustacie-- was forced into the masque, to detain you for THAT night. Ah! pardon.'
'That is long past,' said Berenger. 'I have been too near death not to have pardoned that long ago. Rise, cousin, I cannot see you thus.'
'That is not all,' continued Diane. 'It was I--I who moved my father to imprison you.' Then, as he bent his head, and would have again entreated her to rise, she held out her hand as if to silence him, and spoke faster, more wildly. 'Then--then I thought it would save your life. I thought---' she looked at him strangely with her great dark eyes, all hollow and cavernous in her white face.
'I know,' said Berenger, kindly, 'you often urged it on me.'
There was a sort of movement on the part of the kneeling figure of the priest at the altar, and she interrupted, saying precipitately. 'Then--then, I did think you free.'
'Ah!' he gasped. 'Now---!'
'Now I know that she lives!' and Diane once more sank at his feet a trembling, shrinking, annihilated heap of shame and misery.
Berenger absolutely gave a cry that, though instantly repressed, had the ring of ecstasy in it. 'Cousin--cousin!' he cried, 'all is forgiven--all forgotten, if you will only tell me where!'
'That I cannot,' said Diane, rousing herself again, but speaking in a dull, indifferent tone, as of one to whom the prime bitterness was past, 'save that she is under the care of the Duchess de Quinet;' and she then proceeded, as though repeating a lesson: 'You remember the Italian conjurer whom you would not consult? Would that I had not!' she added, clasping her hands. 'His prediction lured me? Well, he saw my father privately, told him he had seen her, and had bought her jewels, even her hair. My father sent him in quest of her again, but told not me till the man returned with tidings that she was at Quinet, in favour with the Duchess. You remember that he went from home. It was to demand he; and, ah! you know how long I had loved you, and they told me that your marriage was void, and that all would be well upon the dispensation coming. And now the good father there tells me that I was deceived--cruelly deceived--that such a dispensation would not be granted save through gross misrepresentation.' Then, as Berenger began to show tokens of eagerness to come at tidings of Eustacie, she continued, 'Ah! it is vain to seek to excuse one you care not for. My father could learn nothing from the Duchess; she avowed that she had been there, but would say no more. However, he and my brother were sure she was under their protection; they took measures, and--and the morning my poor father was stricken, there had been a letter from my brother to say he was on her track, and matters must be ended with you, for he should have her in a week;' and then, as Berenger started forward with an inarticulate outburst, half of horror, half of interrogation, she added, 'Where, he said not, nor did I learn from him. All our one interview was spend in sneers that answered to my wild entreaties; but this I know--that you would never have reached Tours a living man.'
'And now, now he is on the way to her!' cried Berenger, 'and you kept it from me!'
'There lay my hope,' said Diane, raising her head; and now, with glittering eyes and altered voice, 'How could I not but hate her who had bereaved me of you; her for whose sake I could not earn your love?'
The change of her tone had, perhaps, warned the priest to draw nearer, and as she perceived him, she said, 'Yes, father, this is not the way to absolution, but my heart will burst if I say not all.'
'Thou shalt not prevail, foul spirit,' said the priest, looking earnestly into the darkness, as though he beheld the fiend hovering over her, 'neither shall these holy walls be defiled with accents of unhallowed love. You have made your reparation, daughter; it is enough.'
'And can you tell me no more?' said Berenger, sadly. 'Can you give me no clue that I may save her from the wolf that may be already on her track? Cousin, if you would do this, I would bless you for ever.'
'Alas! I would if I could! It is true, cousin, I have no heart to deceive you any longer. But it is to Madame de Quinet that you must apply, and if my brother has though me worth pursuit, you may be in time! One moment,'--as he would have sprung away as if in the impulse to fly to the rescue,--'cousin; had you gone to England as I hoped, I would have striven to deserve to win that love of yours, but you have conquered by your constancy. Now, father, I have spoken my last save as penitent.'
She covered her head and sank down again.
Berenger, bewildered and impelled to be doing something, let the priest lead him out before he exclaimed, 'I said nothing to her of pardon!'
'You do pardon?' said the priest.
He paused a moment. 'Freely, if I find my wife. I can only remember now that she set me on the way. I would ease her soul, poor thing, and thinking would make me hard again.'
'Do the English bring up their sons with such feelings?' asked the cure, pausing for a moment.
'Of course,' said Berenger. 'May I say that one word, sir?'
'Not now,' said the priest; 'she had better be left to think of her sin towards Heaven, rather than towards man.'
'But do you leave her there, sir?'
'I shall return. I shall pray for her true penitence,' said the priest, and Berenger perceived from his tone that one without the pale might inquire no further. He only asked how safe and honourable shelter could be found for her; and the cure replied that he had already spoken to her of the convent of Lucon, and should take her there so soon as it could safely be done, and that Abbess Monique, he trusted, would assist her crushed spirit in finding the path of penitence. He thought her cousin had better not endeavour to see her again; and Berenger himself was ready to forget her very existence in his burning anxiety to outstrip Narcisse in the quest of Eustacie.
CHAPTER XLI. OUR LADY OF HOPE
Welcome to danger's hour, Brief greeting serves the time of strife.--SCOTT
As soon as it was possible to leave Nissard, Berenger was on his way back to head-quarters, where he hoped to meet the Duke de Quinet among the many Huguenot gentlemen who were flocking to the Bourbon standard; nor was he disappointed in the hope, for he was presented to a handsome middle-aged gentleman, who told him, with much politeness, that his mother had had the honour to receive and entertain Mme. de Ribaumont and that some months ago he had himself arranged for the conveyance of her letters to England, but, he said, with a smile, he made a point of knowing nothing of his mother's guests, lest his duties as a governor might clash with those of hospitality. He offered to expedite M. de Ribaumont's journey to Quinet, observing that, if Nid de Merle were, indeed, on the point of seizing the lady, it must be by treachery; indeed he had, not ten days back, had the satisfaction of hanging an Italian mountebank who had last year stolen a whole packet of dispatches, among them letters from Mme. de Ribaumont, and the fellow was probably acting as a spy upon her, so that no time was to be lost in learning from his mother where she was. On the next morning he was about to send forward twenty men to reinforce a little frontier garrison on the river Dronne, and as M. le Baron must pass through the place, it would be conferring a favour on him to take the command. The men were all well mounted, and would not delay; and when once across the frontier of Guyenne, no escort would be needed.
Berenger gladly accepted the proposal. It did not occur to him that he was thus involved in the civil war, and bearing arms against the sovereign. In spite of Queen Elisabeth's alliance with the French court, she connived at her youthful subjects seeking the bubble reputation in the mouths of Valois cannon; and so little did Henry III. seem to Berenger to be his king, that he never thought of the question of allegiance,--nay, if the royal officers were truly concerned in his arrest, he was already an outlaw. This was no moment for decision between Catholic and Calvinist; all he wanted was to recover his wife and forestall her enemies.
Henry of Navarre gave his full consent to the detachment being placed under charge of M. de Ribaumont. He asked somewhat significantly what had become of the young gentleman who had attended M. de Ribaumont, and Philip blushed crimson to the ears, while Berenger replied, with greater coolness than he had given himself credit for, that the youth had been nearly drowned on the Sable d'Olonne, and had been left at Dom Colombeau's to recover. The sharp-witted King looked for a moment rather as Sir Hugh the Heron did when Marmion accounted for his page's absence, but was far too courteous and too INSOUCIANT to press the matter further, though Berenger saw quite enough of is expression to feel that he had been delivered from his companion only just in time.
Berenger set forth as soon as his impatience could prevail to get the men into their saddles. He would fain have ridden day and night, and grudged every halt for refreshment, so as almost to run the risk of making the men mutinous. Evening was coming on, and his troop had dismounted at a cabaret, in front of which he paced up and down with Philip, trying to devise some pretext for hastening them on another stage before night, when a weary, travel-
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