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- A Modern Telemachus - 6/31 -
movement, and some familiar object in the streets of Paris struck the eye of Madame, the Abbe, or Estelle, there was a little cry, and they went off on a fresh score.
'Poor wretched weak creatures!' he said to himself, as he thought the traditions of Scottish heroic women in whose heroism he had gloated. And yet he was wrong: Madame de Bourke was capable of as much resolute self-devotion as any of the ladies on the other side of the Channel, but tears were a tribute required by the times. So she gave way to them--just as no doubt the women of former days saw nothing absurd in bottling them.
Arthur's position among all these weeping figures was extremely awkward, all the more so that he carried his sword upright between his legs, not daring to disturb the lachrymose company enough to dispose of it in the sword case appropriated to weapons. He longed to take out the little pocket Virgil, which Lord Nithsdale had given him, so as to have some occupation for his eyes, but he durst not, lest he should be thought rude, till, at a halt at a cabaret to water the horses, the striking of a clock reminded the Abbe that it was the time for reading the Hours, and when the breviary was taken out, Arthur thought his book might follow it.
By and by there was a halt at Corbeil, where was the nunnery of Alice Bourke, of whom her brother and sister-in-law were to take leave. They, with the children, were set down there, while Arthur went on with the carriage and servants to the inn to dine.
It was the first visit of Ulysse to the convent, and he was much amazed at peeping at his aunt's hooded face through a grating. However, the family were admitted to dine in the refectory; but poor Madame de Bourke was fit for nothing but to lie on a bed, attended affectionately by her sister-in-law, Soeur Ste. Madeleine.
'O sister, sister,' was her cry, 'I must say it to you--I would not to my poor mother--that I have the most horrible presentiments I shall never see her again, nor my poor child. No, nor my husband; I knew it when he took leave of me for that terrible Spain.'
'Yet you see he is safe, and you will be with him, sister,' returned the nun.
'Ah! that I knew I should! But think of those fearful Pyrenees, and the bandits that infest them--and all the valuables we carry with us!'
'Surely I heard that Marshal Berwick had offered you an escort.'
'That will only attract the attention of the brigands and bring them in greater force. O sister, sister, my heart sinks at the thought of my poor children in the hands of those savages! I dream of them every night.'
'The suite of an ambassador is sacred.'
'Ah! but what do they care for that, the robbers? I know destruction lies that way!'
'Nay, sister, this is not like you. You always were brave, and trusted heaven, when you had to follow Ulick.'
'Alas! never had I this sinking of heart, which tells me I shall be torn from my poor children and never rejoin him.'
Sister Ste. Madeleine caressed and prayed with the poor lady, and did her utmost to reassure and comfort her, promising a neuvaine for her safe journey and meeting with her husband.
'For the children,' said the poor Countess. 'I know I never shall see him more.'
However, the cheerfulness of the bright Irish-woman had done her some good, and she was better by the time she rose to pursue her journey. Estelle and Ulysse had been much petted by the nuns, and when all met again, to the great relief of Arthur, he found continuous weeping was not de rigueur. When they got in again, he was able to get rid of his sword, and only trod on two pair of toes, and got his legs twice tumbled over.
Moreover, Madame de Bourke had recovered the faculty of making pretty speeches, and when the weapon was put into the sword case, she observed with a sad little smile, 'Ah, Monsieur! we look to you as our defender!'
'And me too!' cried little Ulysse, making a violent demonstration with his tiny blade, and so nearly poking out his uncle's eye that the article was relegated to the same hiding-place as 'Monsieur Arture's,' and the boy was assured that this was a proof of his manliness.
He had quite recovered his spirits, and as his mother and sister were still exhausted with weeping, he was not easy to manage, till Arthur took heart of grace, and offering him a perch on his knee, let him look out at the window, explaining the objects on the way, which were all quite new to the little Parisian boy. Fortunately he spoke French well, with scarcely any foreign accent, and his answers to the little fellow's eager questions interspersed with observations on 'What they do in my country,' not only kept Ulysse occupied, but gained Estelle's attention, though she was too weary and languid, and perhaps, child as she was, too much bound by the requirements of sympathy to manifest her interest, otherwise than by moving near enough to listen.
That evening the party reached the banks of one of the canals which connected the rivers of France, and which was to convey them to the Loire and thence to the Rhone, in a huge flat-bottomed barge, called a coche d'eau, a sort of ark, with cabins, where travellers could be fairly comfortable, space where the berlin could be stowed away in the rear, and a deck with an awning where the passengers could disport themselves. From the days of Sully to those of the Revolution, this was by far the most convenient and secure mode of transport, especially in the south of France. It was very convenient to the Bourke party; who were soon established on the deck. The lady's dress was better adapted to travelling than the full costume of Paris. It was what she called en Amazone--namely, a clothe riding-habit faced with blue, with a short skirt, with open coat and waistcoat, like a man's, hair unpowdered and tied behind, and a large shady feathered hat. Estelle wore a miniature of the same, and rejoiced in her freedom from the whalebone stiffness of her Paris life, skipping about the deck with her brother, like fairies, Lanty said, or, as she preferred to make it, 'like a nymph.'
The water coach moved only by day, and was already arrived before the land one brought the weary party to the meeting-place--a picturesque water-side inn with a high roof, and a trellised passage down to the landing-place, covered by a vine, hung with clusters of ripe grapes.
Here the travellers supped on omelettes and vin ordinaire, and went off to bed--Madame and her child in one bed, with the maids on the floor, and in another room the Abbe and secretary, each in a grabat, the two men-servants in like manner, on the floor. Such was the privacy of the eighteenth century, and Arthur, used to waiting on himself, looked on with wonder to see the Abbe like a baby in the hands of his faithful foster-brother, who talked away in a queer mixture of Irish-English and French all the time until they knelt down and said their prayers together in Latin, to which Arthur diligently closed his Protestant ears.
Early the next morning the family embarked, the carriage having been already put on board; and the journey became very agreeable as they glided slowly, almost dreamily along, borne chiefly by the current, although a couple of horses towed the barge by a rope on the bank, in case of need, in places where the water was more sluggish, but nothing more was wanting in the descent towards the Mediterranean.
The accommodation was not of a high order, but whenever there was a halt near a good inn, Madame de Bourke and the children landed for the night. And in the fine days of early autumn the deck was delightful, and to dine there on the provisions brought on board was a perpetual feast to Estelle and Ulysse.
The weather was beautiful, and there was a constant panorama of fair sights and scenes. Harvest first, a perfectly new spectacle to the children and then, as they went farther south, the vintage. The beauty was great as they glided along the pleasant banks of Rhone.
Tiers of vines on the hillsides were mostly cut and trimmed like currant bushes, and disappointed Arthur, who had expected festoons on trellises. But this was the special time for beauty. The whole population, in picturesque costumes, were filling huge baskets with the clusters, and snatches of their merry songs came pealing down to the coche d'eau, as it quietly crept along. Towards evening groups were seen with piled baskets on their heads, or borne between them, youths and maidens crowned with vines, half-naked children dancing like little Bacchanalians, which awoke classical recollections in Arthur and delighted the children.
Poor Madame de Bourke was still much depressed, and would sit dreaming half the day, except when roused by some need of her children, some question, or some appeal for her admiration. Otherwise, the lovely heights, surmounted with tall towers, extinguisher-capped, of castle, convent, or church, the clear reaches of river, the beautiful turns, the little villages and towns gleaming white among the trees, seemed to pass unseen before her eyes, and she might be seen to shudder when the children pressed her to say how many days it would be before they saw their father.
An observer with a mind at ease might have been much entertained with the airs and graces that the two maids, Rosette and Babette, lavished upon Laurence, their only squire; for Maitre Hebert was far too distant and elderly a person for their little coquetries. Rosette dealt in little terrors, and, if he was at hand, durst not step across a plank without his hand, was sure she heard wolves howling in the woods, and that every peasant was 'ce barbare;' while Babette, who in conjunction with Maitre Hebert acted cook in case of need, plied him with dainty morsels, which he was only too apt to bestow on the beggars, or the lean and hungry lad who attended on the horses. Victorine, on the other hand, by far the prettiest and most sprightly of the three, affected the most supreme indifference to him and his attentions, and hardly deigned to give him a civil word, or to accept the cornflowers and late roses he brought her from time to time. 'Mere weeds,' she said. And the grapes and Queen Claude plums he brought her were always sour. Yet a something deep blue might often be seen peeping above her trim little apron.
Not that Lanty had much time to disport himself in this fashion, for the Abbe was his care, and was perfectly happy with a rod of his arranging, with which to fish over the side. Little Ulysse was of course fired with the same emulation, and dangled his line for an hour together. Estelle would have liked to do the same, but her mother and Mademoiselle Julienne considered the sport not convenable for a demoiselle. Arthur was once or twice induced to try the Abbe's rod, but he found it as mere a toy as that of the boy; and the mere action
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