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- Stray Pearls - 40/67 -


dragon, though I did trust that she was entreating for me.

I would not move away from her, I might need to clasp her at any moment; but I prayed fervently before the altar, where I knelt till I grew faint with weariness; and then I sat at her feet, and thought over all the possibilities of being rescued. If my sister were free I knew she would leave no stone unturned to deliver me, and that my rescue could be only a matter of time; but she might also have been seized, and if so---? Anyhow, I was absolutely determined that they should kill me before I consented to become the wife of M. de Lamont, or to give him any right over my son.

After a time the door was cautiously opened, and one of the dragoons came in, having taken off his boots and spurs that he might move more noiselessly.

'Madame,' he said, 'pardon me. I loved our brave captain; I know you. You sent me new linen in the hospital. Captain de Bellaise was a brave man.'

'And you will see no wrong done to his widow and child, my good friend?' I cried.

'Ah, Madame, you should command all of us. But we are under orders.'

'And that means doing me unmanly violence, unworthy of a brave soldier! You cannot help me?'

'If Madame would hear me! The gentlemen are at dinner. They may sit long over their wine to give them courage to encounter Madame again. My comrade, Benlot, is on duty. I might find a messenger to Madame's friends.'

Then he told me what I had little guessed, that we had been driven round and round, and were really only in the Faubourg St. Medand, in the Priory of the Benedictines, giving title and revenue to the Abbe St. Leu, which had contained no monks ever since the time of the Huguenots. He could go into Paris and return again before his turn to change guard was likely to come.

Should I send him, or should I thus only lose a protector? He so far reassured me that he said his comrades were, like himself, resolved not to proceed to extremities with the widow of their captain--above all in a chapel. They would take care not to exert all their strength, and if they could, without breach of discipline, they would defend me.

I decided. I knew not where my sister might be searching, or if she might not be likewise a prisoner; so I directed him first to the house of M. Darpent, who was more likely to know what to do than Sir Francis Ommaney. Besides, the Rue des Marmousets, where stood Maison Darpent, was not far off.

I heard a great clock strike four, five, six, seven, eight o'clock, and by and by there was a parley. M. de Lamont opened the door of the chapel, and as I shuddered and kept my arm on my patroness, he implored me to believe that no injury was intended to me--the queen of his thoughts, or some such nonsense--I might understand that by the presence of my brother-in-law. He only besought me not to hurt my precious health, but to leave the cold chapel for a room that had been prepared for me, and where I should find food.

'No,' I said; 'nothing should induce me to leave my protectress.'

At least, then, he conjured me to accept food and wine, if I took it where I was. I hastily considered the matter. There was nothing I dreaded so much as being drugged; and yet, on the other hand, the becoming faint for want of nourishment might be equally dangerous, and I had taken nothing that day except a cup of milk before we set out from home; and it was now a matter of time.

I told him, therefore, that I would accept nothing but a piece of bread and some pure water, if it were brought me where I was.

'Ah, Madame! you insult me by your distrust,' he cried.

'I have no reason to trust you,' I said, with a frigidity that I hoped would take from him all inclination for a nearer connection; but he only smote his forehead as if it had been a drum, and complained of my cruelty and obduracy. 'Surely I had been nurtured by tigresses,' he said, quoting the last pastoral comedy he had seen.

He sent M. d'Aubepine to conduct some servant with a tray of various meats and drinks; I took nothing but some bread and water, my brother-in-law trying to argue with me. This was a mistake on their part, for I was more angry with him than with his friend, in whom there was a certain element of extravagant passion, less contemptible than d'Aubepine's betrayal of Phillipe de Bellaise's widow merely out of blind obedience to his Prince. He assured me that resistance was utterly useless, that bets had passed at the Prince's court on the Englishwoman's being subdued by Lamont before mid-night, and the Prince himself had staked, I know not how much, against those who believed in my obstinacy. Therefore Armand d'Aubepine, who was flushed with wine, and not in the least able to perceive how contemptible he was, urged me to yield with the best grace I could, since there was no help for it. And so saying he suddenly pinioned both my arms with his own.

No help! Was there no help in Heaven above, or earth below? Was my dragoon on his way?

The doors opened. Again the Abbe opened his book.

'Brave dragoons!' I cried out; 'if there be not a man among you who will stir a hand to save me, bear witness that I, Margaret de Ribaumont, widow of Philippe de Bellaise, your own officer, protest against this shameful violence. Whatever is here done is null and void, and shall be made known to M. l'Abbe's superiors.'

There was a dead pause. Then Lamont whispered something to the priest, who began again. I felt Armand's held relaxing, and making a sudden struggle, I shook myself free with such force that he staggered back, while I bounded forward and snatched the book from the priest's hand, throwing it on the floor, and then, regaining once more the statue of St. Margaret, I stood grasping her with one arm with desperate energy, while I cried: 'A moi, soldiers of Freibourg!'

'Drag her away,' said d'Aubepine to the men.

'By your leave, my captain,' said their sergeant, 'except in time of war, it is not permitted to lay hands on any one in sanctuary. It is not within our discipline.'

D'Aubepine swore an oath that they would see what their Colonel said to their insubordination; but the sergeant replied, not without some malice:

'It falls within the province of the reverend Father.'

'I command you, then!' shrieked the Abbe, in a furry.

'Nay, Monsieur l'Abbe is not our officer,' said the sergeant, saluting with great politeness.

'Madame,' cried Lamont, 'will you cause these men to be put to death for disobedience to their officer?'

I scarcely believed him. And yet---

There was a sound at the outside.

'Make haste!' cried d'Aubepine. 'Here is the Prince come to see whether he has won his wager.'

CHAPTER XXII

ST. MARGARET AND THE DRAGON

(By Annora)

A fine country to live in was la belle France, where a godly, modest, discreet, and well-living widow could be spirited away by main force from her sister and her servants, on the King's highway in broad daylight, and by soldiers wearing the King's own uniform! 'In the name of the Prince!' said they. Verily, I think it was in the name of the Prince of darkness. They tore poor Meg from me, though we both fought and struggled as hard as we could, in hopes of some one coming to our rescue. Luckily my gloves were off, and I think I gave a few tolerable scratches to somebody's face, in spite of his abominable cache-nez. If the servants had had a tenth part of the valour of our poor fellows who lie dead at Newburry and Alresford we could have brought her off; but these were but Frenchmen, and were overawed by those dragoons, or dragons, in their cuirasses.

When poor Meg was dragged out, I held her fast, and tumbled out with her; but even as we fell, she was rent from me, and I think I must have been half-stunned. At any rate, I found myself flung back into our own carriage, and the door shut upon me, while the horses were turned round, and we were made to gallop back by the road we had come.

Our women, screaming and crying like mad things, helped me up from the bottom of the carriage. I bade them hold their tongues and stop the horses. The one they could not do, the other they would not. So I was forced to open the door myself, and shout to the coachman to stop that instant. He would not at first, but happily I saw a pistol, which one of the wretches had dropped in the scuffle, and I threatened him with it. Then, when my voice could be heard, I ordered the two outriders to gallop after the coach in which my sister had been carried off, and see where she was taken, while we made as much speed as we could after them; but the cowardly rogues absolutely began to cry, and say that the leader of the party had turned the horses' heads, and declared that he would shoot any one dead who attempted to follow.

Luckily I was in a close-fitting black cloth suit, being still in mourning for our blessed martyr, and intending to make my toilette at Rambouillet. I bade one of the fellows who had dismounted to give me his cloak, and while they were still staring at me, I sprang into the saddle, arranged the cloak, and rode off in pursuit. I knew I could keep my seat even on a man's saddle, for cavaliers' daughters had had to do strange things, and it was thus that I was obliged to come away from my dear Berenger's side. But then I rode between my father and Eustace. Now, if I did not find out where my poor Margaret was gone, who was to deliver her?


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