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- The Chaplet of Pearls - 96/101 -
Falconnet's one eye stared in amazement, and from beneath his gray moustache thundered forth the word 'Comment!' in accents fit to wake the dead.
Was this Esperance, the most irreproachable of pastor's daughters and widows? 'What, Madame, so soon as your good father is under ground? At least I thought ONE woman could be trusted; but it seems we must see to the wounded ourselves.'
She blushed, but stood her ground; and Berenger shouted, 'She is my wife, sir!--my wife whom I have sought so long!'
'That must be as Madame la Duchesse chooses,' said the Captain. 'She is under her charge, and must be sent to her as soon as this _canaille_ is cleared off. To your rooms, Madame!'
'I am her husband!' again cried Berenger. 'We have been married sixteen years.'
'You need not talk to me of dowry; Madame la Duchesse will settle that, if you are fool enough to mean anything by it. No, no, Mademoiselle, I've no time for folly. Come with me, sir, and see if that be true which they say of the rogues outside.'
And putting his arm into Berenger's, he fairly carried him off, discoursing by the way on _feu_ M. l'Amiral's saying that 'over- strictness in camp was perilous, since a young saint, an old devil,' but warning him that this was prohibited gear, as he was responsible for the young woman to Madame la Duchesse. Berenger, who had never made the Captain hear anything that he did not know before, looked about for some interpreter whose voice might be more effectual, but found himself being conducted to the spiral stair of the church steeple; and suddenly gathering that some new feature in the case had arisen, followed the old man eagerly up the winding steps to the little square of leaden roof where the Quinet banner was planted. It commanded a wide and splendid view, to the Bay of Biscay on the one hand, and the inland mountains on the other; but the warder who already stood there pointed silently to the north, where, on the road by which Berenger had come, was to be seen a cloud of dust, gilded by the rays of the rising sun.
Who raised it was a matter of no doubt; and Berenger's morning orisons were paid with folded hands, in silent thanks-giving, as he watched the sparkling of pikes and gleaming of helmets--and the white flag of Bourbon at length became visible.
Already the enemy below were sending out scouts--they rode to the top of the hill--then a messenger swan his horse across the river. In the camp before the bridge-tower men buzzed out of their tents, like ants whose hill is disturbed; horses were fastened to the cannon, tents were struck, and it was plain that the siege was to be raised.
Captain Falconnet did his ally the honour to consult him on the expedience of molesting the Guisards by a sally, and trying to take some of their guns; but Berenger merely bowed to whatever he said, while he debated aloud the PROS and CONS, and at last decided that the garrison had been too much reduced for this, and that M. le Duc would prefer finding them drawn up in good order to receive him, to their going chasing and plundering disreputable among the enemy-- the Duke being here evidently a much greater personage than the King of Navarre, hereditary Governor of Guyenne though he were. Indeed, nothing was wanting to the confusion of Berenger's late assailants. In the camp on the north side of the river, things were done with some order; but that on the other side was absolutely abandoned, and crowds were making in disorder for the ford, leaving everything behind them, that they might not have their retreat cut off. Would there be a battle? Falconnet, taking in with his eye the numbers of the succouring party, thought the Duke would allow the besiegers to depart unmolested, but remembered with a sigh that young king had come to meddle in their affair!
However, it was needful to go down and marshal the men for the reception of the new-comers, or to join in the fight, as the case might be.
And it was a peaceful entrance that took place some hours later, and was watched from the windows of the prior's rooms by Eustacie, her child, and Philip, whom she had been able to install in her own apartments, which had been vacated by the refugee women in haste to return home, and where he now sat in Maitre Gardon's great straw chair, wrapped in his loose gown, and looking out at the northern gates, thrown open to receive the King and Duke, old Falconnet presenting the keys to the Duke, the Duke bowing low as he offered them to the King, and the King waving them back to the Duke and the Captain. Then they saw Falconnet presenting the tall auxiliary who had been so valuable to him, his gesture as he pointed up to the window, and the King's upward look, as he doffed his hat and bowed low, while Eustacie responded with the most graceful of reverences, such as reminded Philip that his little sister-in-law and tender nurse was in truth a great court lady.
Presently Berenger came up-stairs, bringing with him his faithful foster-brother Osbert, who, though looking gaunt and lean, had nearly recovered his strength, and had accompanied the army in hopes of finding his master. The good fellow was full of delight at the welcome of his lady, and at once bestirred himself in assisting her in rectifying the confusion in which her guests had left her apartment.
Matters had not long been set straight when steps were heard on the stone stair, and, the door opening wide, Captain Falconnet's gruff voice was heard, 'This way, Monseigneur; this way, Sire.'
This was Madame la Baronne de Ribaumont's first reception. She was standing at the dark walnut table, fresh starching and crimping Berenger's solitary ruff, while under her merry superintendence those constant playfellows, Philip and Rayonette, were washing, or pretending to wash, radishes in a large wooden bowl, and Berenger was endeavouring to write his letter of good tidings, to be sent by special messenger to his grand-father. Philip was in something very like a Geneva gown; Eustacie wore her prim white cap and frill, and coarse black serge kirtle; and there was but one chair besides that one which Philip was desired to retain, only two three-legged stools and a bench.
Nevertheless, Madame de Ribaumont was equal to the occasion; nothing could have been more courtly, graceful, or unembarrassed than her manner of receiving of King's gallant compliments, and of performing all the courtesies suited to the hostess and queen of the place: it was the air that would have befitted the stateliest castle hall, yet that in its simplicity and brightness still more embellished the old ruinous convent-cell. The King was delighted, he sat down upon one of the three-legged stools, took Rayonette upon his knee, undertook to finish washing the radishes, but ate nearly all he washed, declaring that they put him in mind of his old hardy days on the mountains of Bearn. He insisted on hearing all Rayonette's adventure in detail; and on seeing the pearls and the silver bullet, 'You could scarcely have needed the token, sir,' said he with a smile to Berenger; 'Mademoiselle had already shown herself of the true blood of the bravest of knights.'
The tidings of the attack on Pont de Dronne had caused the Duke to make a forced march to its relief, in which the King had insisted on joining him; and they now intended to wait at Pont de Dronne till the rest of the troops came up, and to continue their march through Guyenne to Nerac, the capital of Henry's county of Foix. The Duke suggested that if Philip were well enough to move when the army proceeded, the family might then take him to Quinet, where the Duchess would be very desirous to see Madame; and therewith they took leave with some good-humoured mirth as to whether M. le Ribaumont would join them at supper, or remain in the bosom of his family, and whether he were to be regarded as a gay bridegroom or a husband of sixteen year's standing.
'Nay,' said the King, 'did his good Orpheus know how nearly his Eurydice had slipped through his fingers again? how M. de Quinet had caught the respectable Pluto yonder in the gray moustache actually arranging an escort to send the lady safe back to Quinet _bon gre malgre_--and truly a deaf Pluto was worse than even Orpheus had encountered!'
So laughing, he bowed again his compliments; but Eustacie demanded, so soon as he was gone, what he meant by calling her by such names. If he thought it was her Christian name, it was over-familiar--if not, she liked it less.
'It is only that he last saw you in the Infernal Region, _ma mie_,' said Berenger; 'and I have sought you ever since, as Orpheus sought Eurydice.'
But her learning did not extend so far; and when the explanation was made, she pouted, and owned that she could not bear to be reminded of the most foolish and uncomfortable scene in her life-- the cause of all her troubles; and as Berenger was telling her of Diane's confession that her being involved in the pageant was part of the plot for their detention at Paris, Osbert knocked at the door, and entered with a bundle in his arms, and the air of having done the right thing.
'There, sir,' he said with proud satisfaction, 'I have been to the camp across the river. I heard there were good stuffs to be had there for nothing, and thought I would see if I could find a coat for Monsieur Philippe, for his own is a mere ruin.'
This was true, for Eustacie had been deciding that between blood and rents it had become a hopeless case for renovation; and Osbert joyfully displayed a beautifully-embroidered coat of soft leather, which he had purchased for a very small sum of a plunderer who had been there before him. The camp had been so hastily abandoned that all the luggage had been left, and, like a true valet, Osbert had not neglected the opportunity of replenishing his master's wardrobe. 'And,' said he, 'I saw there on whom M. le Baron knows, --M. de Nid de Merle.'
'Here!' cried Eustacie, startled for a moment, but her eyes resting reassured on her husband.
'Madame need not be alarmed,' said Osbert; 'M. le Baron has well repaid him. Ah! ah! there he lies, a spectacle for all good Christians to delight in.'
'It was then he, _le scelerat_?' exclaimed Berenger; 'I have already thought it possible.'
'And he fell by your hands!' cried Eustacie. 'That is as it should be.'
'Yes, Madame,' said Osbert; 'it did my very heart good to see him writhing there like a crushed viper. M. le Baron's bullet was
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