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- Two Penniless Princesses - 30/42 -


'Ah! sire, he speaks against me. He says--'

'Hush! hush, child. Whoever vexes my daughter shall have his tongue slit for him. But here we must give place to Maitre Bertrand.'

Maitre Bertrand was a fat and stolid personage, who, nevertheless, had a true doctor's squabble with the Jew Samiel and drove him out. His treatment was to exclude all the air possible, make the patient breathe all sorts of essences, and apply freshly-killed pigeons to the painful side.

Margaret did not mend under this method. She begged for Samiel, who had several times before relieved her in slight illnesses; but she was given to understand that the Dauphin would not permit him to interfere with Maitre Bertrand.

'Ah!' she said to Dame Lilias, in their own language, 'my husband calls Bertrand an old fool! He does not wish me to recover! A childless wife is of no value. He would have me dead! And so would I--if my fame were cleared. If my sisters were found! Oh! my Lord, my Lord, I loved him so!'

Poor Margaret! Such was her cry, whether sane or delirious, hour after hour, day after day. Only when delirious she rambled into Scotch and talked of Perth; went over again her father's murder, or fancied her sisters in the hands of some of the ferocious chieftains of the North, and screamed to Sir Patrick or to Geordie Douglas to deliver them. Where was all the chivalry of the Bleeding Heart?

Or, again, she would piteously plead her own cause with her husband--not that he was present, a morning glance into her room sufficed him; but she would excuse her own eager folly--telling him not to be angered with her, who loved him wholly and entirely, and begging him to silence the wicked tongues that defamed her.

When sensible she was very weak, and capable of saying very little; but she clung fast to Lady Drummond, and, Dauphin or no Dauphin, Dame Lilias was resolved on remaining and watching her day and night, Madame de Craylierre becoming ready to leave the nursing to her when it became severe.

The King came to see his daughter-in-law almost every day, and always spoke to her in the same kindly but unmeaning vein, assuring her that her sisters must be safe, and promising to believe nothing against herself; but, as the Lady of Glenuskie knew from Olivier de Terreforte, taking no measures either to discover the fate of the princesses or to banish and silence Jamet de Tillay, though it was all over the Court that the Dauphiness was dying for love of Alain Chartier. Was it that his son prevented him from acting, or was it the strange indifference and indolence that always made Charles the Well- Served bestir himself far too late?

Any way, Margaret of Scotland was brokenhearted, utterly weary of life, and with no heart or spirit to rally from the illness caused by the chill of her hasty walk. She only wished to live long enough to know that her sisters were safe, see them again, and send them under safe care to Brittany. She exacted a promise from Dame Lilias never to leave them again till they were in safe hands, with good husbands, or back in Scotland with their brother and good Archbishop Kennedy. 'Bid Jeanie never despise a true heart; better, far better, than a crown,' she sighed.

Louis concerned himself much that all the offices of religion should be provided. He attended the mass daily celebrated in her room, and caused priests to pray in the farther end continually. Lady Drummond, who had not given up hope, and believed that good tidings of her sisters might almost be a cure, thought that he really hurried on the last offices, at which he devoutly assisted. However, the confession seemed to have given Margaret much comfort. She told Dame Lilias that the priest had shown her how to make an offering to God of her sore suffering from slander and evil report, and reminded her that to endure it patiently was treading in the steps of her Master. She was resolved, therefore, to make no further struggle nor complaint, but to trust that her silence and endurance would be accepted. She could pray for her sisters and their safety, and she would endeavour to yield up even that last earthly desire to be certified of their safety, and to see their bonnie faces once more. So there she lay, a being formed by nature and intellect to have been the inspiring helpmeet of some noble-hearted man, the stay of a kingdom, the education of all around her in all that was beautiful and refined, but cast away upon one of the most mean and selfish-hearted of mankind, who only perceived her great qualities to hate and dread their manifestation in a woman, to crush them by his contempt; and finally, though he did not originate the cruel slander that broke her heart, he envenomed it by his sneers, so as to deprive her of all power of resistance.

The lot of Margaret of Scotland was as piteous as that of any of the doomed house of Stewart. And there the Lady of Glenuskie and Annis de Terreforte watched her sinking day by day, and still there were no tidings of Jean and Eleanor from Nanci, no messenger from Sir Patrick to tell where the search was directed.

CHAPTER 9

BALCHENBURG

'In these wylde deserts where she now abode There dwelt a salvage nation, which did live On stealth and spoil, and making nightly rade Into their neighbours' borders.'--SPENSER.

A terrible legacy of the Hundred Years' War, which, indeed, was not yet entirely ended by the Peace of Tours, was the existence of bands of men trained to nothing but war and rapine, and devoid of any other means of subsistence than freebooting on the peasantry or travellers, whence they were known as routiers--highwaymen, and ecorcheurs--flayers. They were a fearful scourge to France in the early part of the reign of Charles VII., as, indeed, they had been at every interval of peace ever since the battle of Creci, and they really made a state of warfare preferable to the unhappy provinces, or at least to those where it was not actually raging. In a few years more the Dauphin contrived to delude many of them into an expedition, where he abandoned them and left them to be massacred, after which he formed the rest into the nucleus of a standing army; but at this time they were the terror of travellers, who only durst go about any of the French provinces in well-armed and large parties.

The domains of King Rene, whether in Lorraine or Provence, were, however, reckoned as fairly secure, but from the time the little troop, with the princesses among them, had started from Nanci, Madame de Ste. Petronelle became uneasy. She looked up at the sun, which was shining in her face, more than once, and presently drew the portly mule she was riding towards George Douglas.

'Sir,' she said, 'you are the ladies' squire?'

'I have that honour, Madame.'

'And a Scot?'

'Even so.'

'I ask you, which way you deem that we are riding?'

'Eastward, Madame, if the sun is to be trusted. Mayhap somewhat to the south.'

'Yea; and which side lies Chalons?'

This was beyond George's geography. He looked up with open mouth and shook his head.

'Westward!' said the lady impressively. 'And what's yon in the distance?'

'Save that this land is as flat as a bannock, I'd have said 'twas mountains.'

'Mountains they are, young man!' said Madame de Ste. Petronelle emphatically--'the hills between Lorraine and Alsace, which we should be leaving behind us.'

'Is there treachery?' asked George, reining up his horse. 'Ken ye who is the captain of this escort?'

'His name is Hall; he is thick with the Dauphin. Ha! Madame, is he sib to him that aided in the slaughter of Eastern's Eve night?'

'Just, laddie. 'Tis own son to him that Queen Jean made dae sic a fearful penance. What are ye doing?'

'I'll run the villain through, and turn back to Nanci while yet there is time,' said George, his hand on his sword.

'Hold, ye daft bodie! That would but bring all the lave on ye. There's nothing for it but to go on warily, and maybe at the next halt we might escape from them.'

But almost while Madame de Ste. Petronelle spoke there was a cry, and from a thicket there burst out a band of men in steel headpieces and buff jerkins, led by two or three horsemen. There was a confused outcry of 'St. Denys! St. Andrew!' on one side, 'Yield!' on the other. Madame's rein was seized, and though she drew her dagger, her hand was caught before she could strike, by a fellow who cried, 'None of that, you old hag, or it shall be the worse for thee!'

'St. Andrew! St. Andrew!' screamed Eleanor. 'Scots, to the rescue of your King's sisters!'

'Douglas--Douglas, help!' cried Jean. But each was surrounded by a swarm of the ruffians; and as George Douglas hastily


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