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- Stray Pearls - 20/67 -
other that they affronted one another on their first introduction, and Sir James entirely surrendered himself to his new wife; the match was broken off, and Millicent was carried away into the country, having returned the ring and all other tokens that Eustace had given her.
'I never esteemed her much, said Nan. 'She was a poor little white, spiritless thing, with a skin that they called ivory, and great brown eyes that looked at one like that young fawn with the broken leg. If I had been Eustace, I would have had some one with a little more will of her own, and then he would not have been served as he was.' For the next thing that was heard of her, and that by a mere chance, was that she was marred to Mynheer van Hunker, 'a rascallion of an old half-bred Dutchman,' as my hot-tongued sister called him, who had come over to fatten on our misfortunes by buying up the cavaliers' plate and jewels, and lending them money on their estates. He was of noble birth, too, if a Dutchman could be, and he had an English mother, so he pretended to be doing people a favour while he was filling his own coffers; and, worst of all, it was he who had bought the chaplet of pearls, the King's gift to the bravest of knights.
The tidings were heard in the midst of war and confusion, and so far as Nan knew, Eustace had made no moan; but some months later, when he was seeking a friend among the slain at Cropredy Bridge, he came upon Sir James Wardour mortally wounded, to whom he gave some drink, and all the succour that was possible. The dying man looked up and said: 'Mr. Rib'mont, I think. Ah! sir, you were scurvily used. My lady would have her way. My love to my poor wench; I wish she were in your keeping, but---' Then he gave some message for them both, and, with wandering senses, pained Eustace intensely by forgetting that he was not indeed Millicent's husband, and talking to him as such, giving the last greeting; and so he died in my brother's arms.
Eustace wrote all that needed to be said, and sent the letters, with the purse and tokens that Sir James had given him for them, with a flag of truce to the enemy's camp.
Then came still darker days--my father's death at Marston Moor, the year of losses, and Eustace's wound at Naseby, and his illness almost to death. When he was recovering, Harry Merrycourt, to whom he had given his parole, was bound to take him to London for his trial, riding by easy stages as he could endure it, whilst Harry took as much care of him as if he had been his brother. On the Saturday they were to halt over the Sunday at the castle of my Lord Hartwell, who had always been a notorious Roundhead, having been one of the first to take the Covenant.
Being very strong, and the neighbourhood being mostly of the Roundhead mind, his castle had been used as a place of security by many of the gentry of the Parliamentary party while the Royal forces were near, and they had not yet entirely dispersed, so that the place overflowed with guests; and when Harry and Eustace came down to supper, they found the hall full of company. Lord Walwyn was received as if he were simply a guest. While he was being presented to the hostess on coming down to supper, there was a low cry, then a confusion among the ladies, round some one who had fainted.
'The foolish moppet,' said my unmerciful sister, 'to expose herself and poor Walwyn in that way!'
I pitied her, and said that she could not help it.
'I would have run my finger through with my bodkin sooner than have made such a fool of myself,' returned Nan. 'And to make it worse, what should come rolling to my poor brother's feet but three or four of our pearls? The pearls of Ribaumont! That was the way she kept them when she had got them, letting the string break, so that they rolled about the floor anyhow!'
She had heard all this from Harry Merrycourt, and also that my brother had gathered up the pearls, and, with some other gentlemen, who had picked them up while the poor lady was carried from the room, had given them to my Lady Hartwell to be returned to Madame van Hunker, not of course escaping the remark from some of the stricter sort that it was a lesson against the being adorned with pearls and costly array.
Madame van Hunker's swoon had not surprised any one, for she was known to have been in very delicate health ever since a severe illness which she had gone through in London. She had been too weak to accompany her husband to Holland, and he had left her under the care of Lady Hartwell, who was a kinswoman of her own. Harry had only seen her again at supper time the next day, when he marveled at the suffering such a pale little insignificant faded being could cause Eustace, who, though silent and resolute, was, in the eyes of one who knew him well--evidently enduring a great trial with difficulty.
I heard the rest from my brother himself.
He was in no condition to attend the service the next day, not being able to walk to the Church, nor to sit and stand in the draughty building through the prayer and preaching that were not easily distinguished from on another. He was glad of such a dispensation without offence, for, children, though you suppose all Protestants to be alike, such members of the English Church as my family, stand as far apart from the sects that distracted England as we do from the Huguenots; and it was almost as much against my brother's conscience to join in their worship, as it would be against our own. The English Church claims to be a branch of the true Catholic Church, and there are those among the Gallicans who are ready to admit her claim.
Harry Merrycourt, who was altogether a political, not a religious rebel, would gladly have kept Lord Walwyn company; but it was needful not to expose himself to the suspicion of his hosts, who would have bestowed numerous strange names on him had he absented himself.
And thus Eustace was left alone in the great hall, lord and lady, guests and soldiers, men and maids, all going off in procession across the fields; while he had his choice of the cushions in the sunny window, or of the large arm-chair by the wood fire on the hearth.
All alone there he had taken out his Prayer-book, a little black clasped book with my father's coat-of-arms and one blood-stain on it --he loved it as we love our Book of the Hours, and indeed, it is much the very same, for which reason it was then forbidden in England--and was kneeling in prayer, joining in spirit with the rest of his Church, when a soft step and a rustle of garments made him look up, and he beheld the white face and trembling figure of poor Millicent.
'Sir,' she said, as he rose, 'I ask your pardon. I should not have interrupted your devotions, but now is your time. My servant's riding-dress is in a closet by the buttery hatch, his horse is in the stable, there is no sentry in the way, for I have looked all about. No one will return to the house for at least two hours longer; you will have full time to escape.'
I can see the smile of sadness with which my brother looked into her face as he thanked her, and told her that he was on his parole of honour. At that answer she sank down into a chair, hiding her face and weeping--weeping with such an agony of self-abandonment and grief as rent my brother's very heart, while he stood in grievous perplexity, unable to leave her alone in her sorrow, yet loving her too well and truly to dare to console her. One or two broken words made him think she feared for his life, and he made haste to assure her that it was in no danger, since Mr. Merrycourt was assured of bearing him safely through. She only moaned in answer, and said presently something about living with such a sort of people as made her forget what a cavalier's truth and honour were.
He were sorely shaken, but he thought the best and kindest mode of helping her to recover herself would be to go on where he was in the morning prayer, and, being just in the midst of their Litany, he told her so, and read it aloud. She knelt with her head on the cushions and presently sobbed out a response, growing calmer as he went on.
When it was ended she had ceased weeping, though Eustace said it was piteous to see how changed she was, and the startled pleading look in the dark eyes that used to look at him with such confiding love.
She said she had not heard those prayers since one day in the spring, when she had stolen out to a house in town where there was a gathering round one of the persecuted minister, and alas! her stepdaughters had suspected her, and accused her to their father. He pursued her, caused the train-bands to break in on the congregation and the minister to be carried off to prison. It was this that had brought on the sickness of which she declared that she hoped to have died.
When Eustace would have argued against this wish, it brought out all that he would fain never have heard nor known.
The poor young thing wished him to understand that she had never been untrue to him in heart, as indeed was but too plain, and she had only withdrawn her helpless passive resistance to the marriage with Mr. van Hunker when Berenger's death had (perhaps willfully) been reported to her as that of Eustace de Ribaumont. She had not known him to be alive till she had seen him the day before. Deaths in her own family had made her an heiress sufficiently well endowed to excite Van Hunker's cupidity, but he had never affected much tenderness for her. He was greatly her elder, she was his second wife, and he had grown-up daughters who made no secret of their dislike and scorn. Her timid drooping ways and her Majesty sympathies offended her husband, shown up before him as they were by his daughters, and, in short, her life had been utterly miserable. Probably, as Annora said, she had been wanting in spirit to rise to her situation, but of course that was not as my brother saw it. He only beheld what he would have cherished torn from him only to be crushed and flung aside at his very feet, yet so that honour and duty forbade him to do anything for her.
What he said, or what comfort he gave her, I do not fully know, for when he confided to me what grief it was that lay so heavily on his heart and spirits, he dwelt more on her sad situation than on anything else. The belief in her weakness and inconstancy had evoked in him a spirit of defiance and resistance; but when she was proved guiltless and unhappy, the burden, though less bitter, was far heavier. I only gathered that he, as the only like-minded adviser she had seen for so long, had felt it his duty to force himself to seem almost hard, cold, and pitiless in the counsel he gave her.
I remember his very words as he writhed himself with the pain of remembrance: 'And then, Meg, I had to treat the poor child as if I were stone of adamant, and chide her when my very heart was breaking for her. One moment's softening, and where should we have been? And now I have added to her troubles that fancy that I was obdurate in my anger and implacability.' I assured him that she would honour and thank him in her heart for not having been weak, and he began to repent of what he had left to be inferred, and to assure me of his
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