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in the burnt house, and deemed them all I should ever have of my babe.'
'Poor Noemi! poor Noemi! She always longed to be a martyr; but we fled from her, and the fate we had brought on her. That was the thought that preyed on my dear father. He grieved so to have left his sheep--and it was only for my sake. Ah! I have brought evil on all who have been good to me, beginning with you. You had better cast me off, or I shall bring yet worse!'
'Let it be so, if we are only together.'
He drew her to him and she laid her head on his shoulder, murmuring, 'Ah! father, father, were you but here to see it. So desolate yesterday, so ineffably blest today. Oh! I cannot even grieve for him now, save that he could not just have seen us; yet I think he knew it would be so.'
'Nay, it may be that he does see us,' said Berenger. 'Would that I had known who it was whom you were laying down "_en paix et seurte bonne_!" As it was, the psalm brought precious thoughts of Chateau Leurre, and the little wife who was wont to sing it with me.'
'Ah!' said Eustacie, 'it was when he sang those words as he was about to sleep in the ruin of the Temple that first I-- cowering there in terror--knew him for no Templar's ghost, but for a friend. That story ended my worst desolation. That night he became my father; the next my child came to me!'
'My precious treasure! Ah! what you must have undergone, and I all unknowing, capable of nothing wiser than going out of my senses, and raging in a fever because I could convince no one that those were all lies about your being aught but my true and loving wife. But tell me, what brought thee hither to be the tutelary patron, where, but for the siege, I had over-passed thee on the way to Quinet?'
Then Eustacie told him how the Italian pedlar had stolen her letters, and attempted to poison her child--the pedlar whom he soon identified with that wizard who had talked to him of 'Esperance,' until the cue had evidently been given by the Chevalier. Soon after the Duke had dispatched a messenger to say that the Chevalier de Ribaumont was on the way to demand his niece; and as it was a period of peace, and the law was decidedly on his side, Madame de Quinet would be unable to offer any resistance. She therefore had resolved to send Eustacie away--not to any of the seaports whither the uncle would be likely to trace her, but absolutely to a place which he would have passed through on his journey into Guyenne. The monastery of Notre-Dame de l'Esperance at Pont de Dronne had been placed there, as well as a colony of silk-spinners, attracted by the mulberry-trees of the old abbey garden. These, however, having conceived some terror of the ghosts of the murdered monks, had entreated for a pastor to protect them; and Madame la Duchesse thought that in this capacity Isaac Gardon, known by one of the many aliases to which the Calvinist ministers constantly resorted, might avoid suspicion for the present. She took the persecuted fugitives for some stages in an opposite direction, in her own coach, then returned to face and baffle the Chevalier, while her trusty steward, by a long _detour_, conducted them to Pont de Dronne, which they reached the very night after to Chevalier had returned through it to Nid de Merle.
The pastor and his daughter were placed under the special protection of Captain Falconnet, and the steward had taken care that they should be well lodged in three rooms that had once been the abbot's apartments. Their stay had been at first intended to be short, but the long journey had been so full of suffering to Isaac, and left such serious effects, that Eustacie could not bear to undertake it again, and Madame de Quinet soon perceived that she was safer there than at the chateau, since strangers were seldom admitted to the fortress, and her presence there attracted no attention. But for Isaac Gardon's declining health, Eustacie would have been much happier here than at the chateau; the homely housewifely life, where all depended on her, suited her; and, using her lessons in domestic arts of nursing and medicine for the benefit of her father's flock, she had found, to her dismay, that the simple people, in their veneration, had made her into a sort of successor to the patroness of the convent. Isaac had revived enough for a time to be able to conduct the worship in the church, and to instruct some his flock; but the teaching of the young had been more and more transferred to her, and, as he ingenuously said, had taught her more than she ever knew before. He gradually became weaker through more suffering, and was absolutely incapable of removal, when an attack by the Guisards was threatened. Eustacie might have been sent back to Quinet; but she would not hear of leaving him; and this first had been a mere slight attack, as if a mere experiment on the strength of the place. She had, however, then had to take the lead in controlling the women, and teaching them to act as nurses, and to carry out provisions; and she must then have been seen by some one, who reported her presence there to Narcisse--perhaps by the Italian pedlar. Indeed Humfrey, who came in for a moment to receive his master's orders, report his watch, and greet his lady, narrated, on the authority of the lately enlisted men-at-arms, that M. de Nid de Merle had promised twenty crowns to any one who might shoot down the heretics' little white _diablesse_.
About six weeks had elapsed since the first attack on Pont de Dronne, and in that time Gardon had sunk rapidly. He died as he lived, a gentle, patient man, not a characteristic Calvinist, though his lot had been thrown with that party in his perplexed life of truth-seeking and disappointment in the aspirations and hopes of early youth. He had been, however, full of peace and trust that he should open his eyes where the light was clear, and no cloud on either side would mar his perception; and his thankfulness had been great for the blessing that his almost heaven-sent daughter had been to him in his loneliness, bereavement, and decay. Much as he loved her, he did not show himself grieved or distressed on her account; but, as he told her, he took the summons to leave her as a sign that his task was done, and the term of her trials ended. 'I trust as fully,' he said, 'that thou wilt soon be in safe and loving hands, as though I could commit thee to them.'
And so he died in her arms, leaving her a far fuller measure of blessing and of love than ever she had derived from her own father; and as the enemy's trumpets were already sounding on the hills, she had feared insult to his remains, and had procured his almost immediate burial in the cloister, bidding the assistants sing, as his farewell, that evening psalm which had first brought soothing to her hunted spirit.
There, while unable, after hours of weeping, to tear herself from the grave of her father and protector, had she in her utter desolation been startled by the summons, not only to attend to the wounded stranger, but to lodge him in the chancel. 'Only this was wanting,' was the first thought in her desolation, for this had been her own most cherished resort. Either the _bise_, or fear of a haunted spot, or both, had led to the nailing up of boards over the dividing screen, so that the chancel was entirely concealed from the church; and no one ever thought of setting foot there till Eustacie, whose Catholic reverence was indestructible, even when she was only half sure that it was not worse than a foible, had stolen down thither, grieved at its utter desolation, and with fond and careful hands had cleansed it, and amended the ruin so far as she might. She had no other place where she was sure of being uninterrupted; and here had been her oratory, where she daily prayed, and often came to hide her tears and rally her spirits through that long attendance on her fatherly friend. It had been a stolen pleasure. Her reverent work there, if once observed, would have been treated as rank idolatry; and it was with consternation as well as grief that she found, by the Captain's command, that this her sanctuary and refuge was to be invaded by strange soldiers! Little did she think---!
And thus they sat, telling each other all, on the step of the ruined chancel, among the lights and shadows of the apse. How unlike to stately Louvre's halls of statuary and cabinets of porcelain, or the Arcadian groves of Montpipeau! And yet how little they recked that they were in a beleaguered fortress, in the midst of ruins, wounded sufferers all around, themselves in hourly jeopardy. It was enough that they had one another. They were so supremely happy that their minds unconsciously gathered up those pale lights and dark fantastic shades as adjuncts of their bliss.
CHAPTER XLIII. LE BAISER D'EUSTACIE
No pitying voice, no eye, affords One tear to grace his obsequies.--GRAY
Golden sunshine made rubies and sapphires of the fragments of glass in the windows of Notre-Dame de l'Esperance, and lighted up the brown face and earnest eyes of the little dark figure, who, with hands clasped round her knees, sat gazing as if she could never gaze her fill, upon the sleeping warrior beside whom she sat, his clear straight profile like a cameo, both in chiseling and in colour, as it lay on the brown cloak where he slept the profound sleep of content and of fatigue.
Neither she nor Philip would have spoken or stirred to break that well-earned rest; but sounds from without were not long in opening his eyes, and as they met her intent gaze, he smiled and said, 'Good morrow, sweet heart! What, learning how ugly a fellow is come back to thee?'
'No, indeed! I was trying to trace thine old likeness, and then wondering how I ever liked thy boyish face better than the noble look thou bearest now!'
'Ah! when I set out to come to thee, I was a walking rainbow; yet I was coxcomb enough to think thou wouldst overlook it.'
'Show me those cruel strokes,' she said; 'I see one'--and her finger traced the seam as poor King Charles had done--'but where is the one my wicked cousin called by that frightful name?'
'Nay, verily, that sweet name spared my life! A little less spite at my peach cheek, and I had been sped, and had not lisped and stammered all my days in honour of _le baiser d'Eustacie_!' and as he pushed aside his long golden silk moustache to show the ineffaceable red and purple scar, he added, smiling, 'It has waited long for its right remedy.'
At that moment the door in the rood-screen opened. Captain
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