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- A Modern Telemachus - 4/31 -
These were the stiffest of days, just before formality had become unbearable, and the reaction of simplicity had set in; and Estelle had undone two desperate knots in the green and yellow silks before the preliminary compliments were over, and Lady Nithsdale arrived at the point.
'Madame is about to rejoin Monsieur son Mari.'
'I am about to have that happiness.'
'That is the reason I have been bold enough to derange her.'
'Do not mention it. It is always a delight to see Madame la Comtesse'
'Ah! what will Madame say when she hears that it is to ask a great favour of her.'
'Madame may reckon on me for whatever she would command.'
'If you can grant it--oh! Madame,' cried the Scottish Countess, beginning to drop her formality in her eagerness, 'we shall be for ever beholden to you, and you will make a wounded heart to sing, besides perhaps saving a noble young spirit.'
'Madame makes me impatient to hear what she would have of me,' said the French Countess, becoming a little on her guard, as the wife of a diplomatist, recollecting, too, that peace with George I. might mean war with the Jacobites.
'I know not whether a young kinsman of my Lord's has ever been presented to Madame. His name is Arthur Maxwell Hope; but we call him usually by his Christian name.'
'A tall, dark, handsome youth, almost like a Spaniard, or a picture by Vandyke? It seems to me that I have seen him with M. le Comte.' (Madame de Bourke could not venture on such a word as Nithsdale.)
'Madame is right. The mother of the boy is a Maxwell, a cousin not far removed from my Lord, but he could not hinder her from being given in marriage as second wife to Sir David Hope, already an old man. He was good to her, but when he died, the sons by the first wife were harsh and unkind to her and to her son, of whom they had always been jealous. The eldest was a creature of my Lord Stair, and altogether a Whig; indeed, he now holds an office at the Court of the Elector of Hanover, and has been created one of HIS peers. (The scorn with which the gentle Winifred uttered those words was worth seeing, and the other noble lady gave a little derisive laugh.) 'These half-brothers declared that Lady Hope was nurturing the young Arthur in Toryism and disaffection, and they made it a plea for separating him from her, and sending him to an old minister, who kept a school, and who was very severe and even cruel to the poor boy. But I am wearying Madame.'
'Oh no, I listen with the deepest interest.'
'Finally, when the King was expected in Scotland, and men's minds were full of anger and bitterness, as well as hope and spirit, the boy--he was then only fourteen years of age--boasted of his grandfather's having fought at Killiecrankie, and used language which the tutor pronounced treasonable. He was punished and confined to his room; but in the night he made his escape and joined the royal army. My husband was grieved to see him, told him he had no right to political opinions, and tried to send him home in time to make his peace before all was lost. Alas! no. The little fellow did, indeed, pass out safely from Preston, but only to join my Lord Mar. He was among the gentlemen who embarked at Banff; and when my Lord, by Heaven's mercy, had escaped from the Tower of London, and we arrived at Paris, almost the first person we saw was little Arthur, whom we thought to have been safe at home. We have kept him with us, and I contrived to let his mother know that he is living, for she had mourned him as among the slain.'
'You may well pity her, Madame. She writes to me that if Arthur had returned at once from Preston, as my Lord advised, all would have been passed over as a schoolboy frolic; and, indeed, he has never been attainted; but there is nothing that his eldest brother, Lord Burnside as they call him, dreads so much as that it should be known that one of his family was engaged in the campaign, or that he is keeping such ill company as we are. Therefore, at her request, we have never called him Hope, but let him go by our name of Maxwell, which is his by baptism; and now she tells me that if he could make his way to Scotland, not as if coming from Paris or Bar-le-Duc, but merely as if travelling on the Continent, his brother would consent to his return.'
'Would she be willing that he should live under the usurper?'
'Madame, to tell you the truth,' said Lady Nithsdale, 'the Lady Hope is not one to heed the question of usurpers, so long as her son is safe and a good lad. Nay, for my part, we all lived peaceably and happily enough under Queen Anne; and by all I hear, so they still do at home under the Elector of Hanover.'
'The Regent has acknowledged him,' put in the French lady.
'Well,' said the poor exile, 'I know my Lord felt that it was his duty to obey the summons of his lawful sovereign, and that, as he said when he took up arms, one can only do one's duty and take the consequences; but oh! when I look at the misery and desolation that has come of it, when I think of the wives not so happy as I am, when I see my dear Lord wearing out his life in banishment, and think of our dear home and our poor people, I am tempted to wonder whether it were indeed a duty, or whether there were any right to call on brave men without a more steadfast purpose not to abandon them!'
'It would have been very different if the Duke of Berwick had led the way,' observed Madame de Bourke. 'Then my husband would have gone, but, being French subjects, honour stayed both him and the Duke as long as the Regent made no move.' The good lady, of course, thought that the Marshal Duke and her own Count must secure victory; but Lady Nithsdale was intent on her own branch of the subject, and did not pursue 'what might have been.'
'After all,' she said, 'poor Arthur, at fourteen, could have no true political convictions. He merely fled because he was harshly treated, heard his grandfather branded as a traitor, and had an enthusiasm for my husband, who had been kind to him. It was a mere boy's escapade, and if he had returned home when my Lord bade him, it would only have been remembered as such. He knows it now, and I frankly tell you, Madame, that what he has seen of our exiled court has not increased his ardour in the cause.'
'Alas, no,' said Madame de Bourke. 'If the Chevalier de St. George were other than he is, it would be easier to act in his behalf.'
'And you agree with me, Madame,' continued the visitor, 'that nothing can be worse or more hopeless for a youth than the life to which we are constrained here, with our whole shadow of hope in intrigue; and for our men, no occupation worthy of their sex. We women are not so ill off, with our children and domestic affairs; but it breaks my heart to see brave gentlemen's lives thus wasted. We have done our best for Arthur. He has studied with one of our good clergy, and my Lord himself has taught him to fence; but we cannot treat him any longer as a boy, and I know not what is to be his future, unless we can return him to his own country.'
'Our army,' suggested Madame de Bourke.
'Ah! but he is Protestant.'
'A heretic!' exclaimed the lady, drawing herself up. 'But--'
'Oh, do not refuse me on that account. He is a good lad, and has lived enough among Catholics to keep his opinions in the background. But you understand that it is another reason for wishing to convey him, if not to Scotland, to some land like Sweden or Prussia, where his faith would not be a bar to his promotion.'
'What is it you would have me do?' said Madame de Bourke, more coldly.
'If Madame would permit him to be included in her passport, as about to join the Ambassador's suite, and thus conduct him to Sweden; Lady Hope would find means to communicate with him from thence, the poor young man would be saved from a ruined career, and the heart of the widow and mother would bless you for ever.
Madame de Bourke was touched, but she was a prudent woman, and paused to ask whether the youth had shown any tendency to run into temptation, from which Lady Nithsdale wished to remove him.
'Oh no,' she answered; 'he was a perfectly good docile lad, though high-spirited, submissive to the Earl, and a kind playfellow to her little girls; it was his very excellence that made it so unfortunate that he should thus be stranded in early youth in consequence of one boyish folly.'
The Countess began to yield. She thought he might go as secretary to her Lord, and she owned that if he was a brave young man, he would be an addition to her little escort, which only numbered two men besides her brother-in-law, the Abbe, who was of almost as little account as his young nephew. 'But I should warn you, Madame,' added Madame de Bourke, 'that it may be a very dangerous journey. I own to you, though I would not tell my poor mother, that my heart fails me when I think of it, and were it not for the express commands of their father, I would not risk my poor children on it.'
'I do not think you will find Sweden otherwise than a cheerful and pleasant abode,' said Lady Nithsdale.
'Ah! if we were only in Sweden, or with my husband, all would be well!' replied the other lady; 'but we have to pass through the mountains, and the Catalans are always ill-affected to us French.'
'Nay; but you are a party of women, and belong to an ambassador!' was the answer.
'What do those robbers care for that? We are all the better prey for them! I have heard histories of Spanish cruelty and lawlessness that would make you shudder! You cannot guess at the dreadful presentiments that have haunted me ever since I had my husband's letter.'
'There is danger everywhere, dear friend,' said Lady Nithsdale kindly; 'but God finds a way for us through all.'
'Ah! you have experienced it,' said Madame de Bourke. 'Let us proceed to the affairs. I only thought I should tell you the truth.'
Lady Nithsdale answered for the courage of her protege, and it was further determined that he should be presented to her that evening by the Earl, at the farewell reception which Madame de Varennes was to hold on her daughter's behalf, when it could be determined in what
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